When Someone Else’s Life Looks Better Than Yours

Earlier this week I ran into a friend I’ve known since high school in the grocery store.

We briefly updated each other on the happenings of our lives, mostly the adorable and annoying things our kids have done lately, and I told her about developments in my family’s plan to move abroad again soon.

She laughed and said, ‘I live vicariously through your adventures!’

My friend lives in her hometown and is married to a man from her hometown, they own a home, have great jobs, a beautiful daughter and are surrounded by family.

Her response made me smile.

‘I live vicariously through your stability!’

Yes, my life is full of adventure. Plans are solidifying for Ryan’s internship and we will move to our fourth country in seven years (update to come). It’s fun, it’s exciting and I love it. But not all of it. I know it’s a blessing but sometimes I long for more consistency.

The stability my friend has is a precious gift. There are so many blessings that come from the choices she and her husband make that grow their already deep roots even deeper. It can be easy for me to look at her, and others like her, and see how she is surrounded by people she has known for decades, lives in the house she will be in for many years and her strong connection with the community and long for what she has.

After my friend and I said goodbye and continued with our shopping I thought about how we both have it pretty good. We both love our lives and wouldn’t change them. They are very different and that means they come with different blessings and challenges.

That’s what I need to remember: no matter how anyone lives, there are blessings and challenges. There’s no point in idealizing and one situation or set of circumstances and looking only at where my life lacks. I get the greatest blessing from being thankful for all aspects of my life and choosing gratitude to a God who puts me in places where I can learn to be more like him.

So when someone else’s life looks better than your own, remember the benefits that come from your life and how you live and know that she faces hardships, too, and it’s better when you can share them together.…

6 Small Habits to Increase Contentment – Guest post at Red+Honey

I’m posting at Red + Honey. Read the teaser here and click over to read the rest. While you’re there, stay a while! It’s one of my favorite blogs and I am constantly blessed by it.

The couch is covered in unfolded laundry. The kitchen sink is pilled with dirty dishes. My unchecked ‘to-do’ list mocks me, my weekly goals are untouched. It’s already half an hour past bedtime and the kids are still running around, not even in their pjs. My husband asks where his work clothes are and I hear a child scream out through hot tears, ‘He hit me!’

What I want to do in this moment is scream, cry, run away. I want to be as far removed as possible from the responsibilities and pressures of managing a home and raising a family.

But what I need to do in this moment is to choose joy. To choose love for those entrusted to me. To choose contentment. Click here to read more…

Pessimism, Optimism And What Faith Has Got To Do With It

I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve always believed that things will turn our all right in the end. In high school a teacher nicknamed me ‘Annie’ because of my sunny view of life.

While in university I really believed I could change the world and was convinced I would maintain my high ideals and not become cynical like most people eventually did.

I would always have hope.

Then the responsibilities and realities of adult life began to set in.

Moving to Europe was really hard at first and I didn’t easily pick up the language.

My daughter’s birth didn’t go as planned.

We had to give up the dog we loved because we couldn’t give him the home he needed.

Ryan had to delay going to grad school.

We moved back to our hometown.

Now we’re preparing for the next stage in our life journey and I’m having a hard time believing everything is going to turn out okay. There are so many unknowns, so many things that could go wrong or we can’t plan for that for the first time in my life I’m struggling to hold onto hope. I worry that my optimism is giving way to pessimism.

But deep down, this is more than tension between optimism and pessimism – it’s a question of choosing faith or fear.

Fear believes that no good can come from a difficult situation. That we will be abandoned and left on our own, helpless to accomplish anything. It wants to paralyze us and keep us from being willing to try anything risky.

Faith believes that God works all things for our good and his glory and the circumstances in our lives, whether easy or hard, are the tools God uses to shape us more into his image. So even when things don’t go how we want we can trust that God is actively working and desires for us to grow in our faith and trust in him.

I want to choose faith, faith that believes God loves me and is actively working in ways I can’t see, who has plans and dreams for me that are greater than what I plan and dream for myself.

My prayer has been a modification of the father’s prayer in Mark 9:24:

God I have faith; help my lack of faith!

So I’m trying to have faith and to be optimistic. It’s hard, a lot harder than I expected, but each time I choose faith over fear I see how God was always there and I had no need to consider fear as an option.

The Long Journey – A Family Update

I am SO excited  in so many ways to FINALLY be writing this post! A lot, and I mean a lot, has been happening over the last two months, and weeks in particular, and I am glad I can finally share it with all of you!

Since getting married almost seven years ago, Ryan and I have been through our fair of major life changes. We have:

  • turned down a good paying job in Japan to take low paying jobs in Hungary
  • had a baby in Hungary
  • accepted a job in Ottawa, Canada the day before we left Hungary
  • had a baby in Ottawa
  • Ryan started grad school
  • moved ‘home’ to Oregon to pay for grad school without loans

Each step in our journey has been one of faith and with each step we see that God is infinitely more faithful than we are. We also see that the next step always requires more faith. 

This year in Oregon has been extremely faith building. God has called us to have faith in him time and time again. We never knew if we were going to be able to make the next tuition payment (we made every one) and we waited and waited and waited for an internship to come together.

While it became easier for me to trust that God would somehow provide the money for tuition, I’ve had a hard time believing that he would bring an internship together. I feared we would end up stuck in our small town for the rest of our lives. Irrational, I know, but that’s what fear does to me. It’s not pretty.

Before Ryan started the program it seemed like he had an internship in Cyprus and it become more certain as time went on. But in the fall the situation changed and it fell through. Stuck back at square one Ryan began searching as much as he could between working full-time, studying full-time and, oh, you know, being a dad and husband. No real options came up and eventually the search was put on the back burner while Ryan focused on finishing classes.

In March we met with a missionary from Ryan’s childhood church. We knew he was well connected and thought he might know someone (or at least know someone who knows someone) who might be able to help.

He did.

He put us in contact with a man who works in the Balkans, the region of the world we want to live in. That man wrote a Macedonian colleague he thought might know of some options for us.

He did.

He wrote back to the first man and said that his foundation would be willing to have Ryan as an intern, though they wouldn’t be able to pay him. The first man forwarded the email to us.

Ryan wrote to the man in Macedonia right away, saying he was very interested in the internship and that he wanted to start figuring out the details.

He didn’t hear back.

Several weeks later he wrote again.

He didn’t hear back.

He wrote again.

By this time I’m panicking. It was June and Ryan was at school in Victoria and he was the only one in his cohort who didn’t have something lined up for the next year. He had to start the internship by the end of September so we didn’t have a lot of time.

Then one of the students told Ryan she could get him an internship in Rwanda and a couple of days later had one lined up.

If I was panicking before I was hysterical at this point. There are four things I’ve told God I will NEVER do: 1) raise financial support (Ryan’s getting his MA so he can get a paid job) 2) live in Africa (visit: YES! live: HELL NO!) 3) homeschool (I want to enjoy my children) 4) adopt (it’s too high of a calling for me).

It already seemed like for Ryan to do an internship #1 was inevitable and now #2 was looking like a real possibility (and I knew #2 would lead to #3 and #4).

After a lot of prayer both Ryan and I were okay with pursuing the internship in Rwanda. If that was where God wanted us to go, we were willing (and I would do my best to not go kicking and screaming). We decided Ryan would email the man in Macedonia one more time but if he didn’t respond quickly, we would go to Rwanda.

I prayed so hard for an answer to that email.

Ryan got a different email address and this time he got a response within two hours. The other emails had gone to spam and the man wanted to talk on Skype the next day.

They talked and Ryan knew it would be a good fit for him and for our family. He’s going to set up a program that will bring kids from the various ethnic groups together to play sports and build relationships that will ease tensions between the groups. It’s exactly what he wants to do.

Relief.

After so many months of not knowing, of uncertainty, of limbo, we know. We know where we’re going. We know where our next ‘home’ is going to be.

I was so excited I even forgot that we-won’t-have-an-income-for-six-months. Pfff. WE’RE MOVING BACK TO EUROPE!

But, yea, about that whole no income thing…

We are raising support. It’s very humbling for me but even in the very short amount of time we’ve actually been doing it, I am seeing God’s faithfulness in amazing ways. We just launched an Indigogo campaign and we are trying to raise $6,000 through that avenue. Please check it out and consider giving.

We’ve got a lot ahead of us, besides the money. We plan to leave in early to mid September and, oh man, life is crazy. But it’s (mostly) the good kind of crazy.

The exciting crazy.

The ‘we’re actually doing this!’ crazy.

The ‘are we crazy? crazy’

The faith-building crazy.

And that’s where we want to be: where our faith can grow.…

More with Less: The Freedom of Debt-Free

Welcome to the series More with Less where we look at various ways we can live a more abundant life with fewer possessions. I hope this series helps you to rethink how you view your money and possessions. You can read the intro My Journey with Money and previous installments: The Four Purposes of MoneyGive Your Money AwayCultivate ContentmentOwn Less Stuff, and Fear, Faith and Money.

Today we make the Ryan’s final master’s degree tuition payment. It’s a day we’ve been working hard towards for over two years and, oh man, am I ready for it!

Before Ryan was accepted to his program we decided we would not take out loans to pay for his education. We knew it would mean big sacrifices, from making major cuts to our grocery budget (and spending in general) to moving back to Oregon. We knew it would be hard but going debt-free was best for our family1. 

In the time since we made that decision we have seen God work in amazing ways. I have learned so much about spending money wisely (and I’m definitely still learning!), using our resources well and most importantly we’ve seen God’s faithfulness in incredible ways.

It’s been hard to never know for sure where the money for the next payment was going to come from but the money was always there. Through one means or another God provided the funds we needed when we needed them. I didn’t have to worry about it, though I did at first, and I slowly recognized that Ryan and I do not hold the responsibility of providing for our family. We are responsible for working hard and being wise with what we have but ultimately it’s not up to us to provide all our family’s needs2. That’s God’s job.

By making the radical choice to not go into debt we have experienced the freedom that comes along with it. We don’t owe any money to anyone and we are free to move forward without the burden of monthly loan payments. We can pursue what God is calling us to without the past holding us back. After having my own student loan for over six years, we know what it’s like to have the weight of debt and it’s not something we are likely to take on again (except perhaps in the form of a mortgage).

As we make that final payment, we will remember how God has provided for us and give thanks for all the ways he brought in money to pay for tuition. We will marvel at a God who loves us enough to enable us to live in financial freedom.

Will you allow God to do the same for you?

While I do believe that everyone can benefit from debt-free living, I would never presume to say that everyone should be debt-free. It’s what we’ve judged to be best for our family and our situation.

I say this in full recognition that for the next six months (and in some ways the last two years) we are living off the generosity of others. It’s been a growing experience for us, and some other people as well, and while we are thankful for this experience, the reason Ryan’s getting his MA is so he can get a full-time, permanent job, God willing!…

Kids and Major Life Changes – Guest Post at Red+Honey

[A note from Beth: I am really grateful to Erin for writing on major life changes this month. If you’re a regular around here, you know that my family just moved into our new house this past weekend, so we are in the thick of all of this transition stuff. I think our kids have settled in remarkably well, and I totally credit some of these ideas that Erin outlines here. Good, good stuff here. xoxo. B.]

It’s well known that kids need routine and predictability. They behave better when they know what is happening now, what is coming up next and they understand what is expected of them.

But what about when everything changes? What about when their routines are altered?

In September my husband, two kids and I are moving to Macedonia. Ryan and I have moved internationally three times already, twice with kids in tow, so we have a pretty good idea of how to handle the challenges we’re going to face. But when we moved before our kids were babies and while there were adjustment periods, they were minor. They’re 3 and 1½ now so we need to prepare them for the change and help them understand their new life when we arrive. We need to help our kids make this major life change.

Even if you’re not moving your kids to a foreign country, every change has the capability to cause your child distress.

Whether it’s moving to a new house in the same city, potty training or the arrival of a sibling there are some simple steps we as parents can take to help make the transition a gentle one.

1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

The more you know about what to expect and how to help your child transition, the better. Read up on potty training methods, find out about activities in your new city, know what behaviors your child is likely to exhibit. If you’re already an ‘expert’ in the area you’re helping your child transition to, it will give him confidence and help you proactively respond to negative behaviors.

2. ONLY ONE TRANSITION AT A TIME

As much as you can, limit the number of changes your child goes through at one time. It can be too much for a child to transition to a ‘big kid’ bed and get a new sibling at the same time. Try to space the changes out over time and don’t rush your child to progress more quickly than she’s ready to – let her dictate the pace.

3. GET YOUR KIDS EXCITED

Making the change seem as exciting as possible will help your child understand that though the change might be hard or scary, there are positives. Focusing on the bright side will give your child the right perspective and help her optimistically interpret what’s happening. Even if there are setbacks or difficulties, it’ll be easier to get back to a good place if you started there.

4. GIVE YOUR KIDS AS MUCH INFORMATION AS YOU CAN

Tell your child as much as she will understand about what’s happening and what to expect. If he has an idea about what life will be like during and after the change, it could provide some sense of normalcy and not completely rock her little world. It could be detailing what life will be like with a new baby or when dad’s away for a long time. Or visiting a new school before the first day. Anything to make a new situation familiar will be helpful.

 5. SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS

While some kids do handle change well, it can take some a while before they’re fully comfortable with the new situation. When starting out, don’t expect everything to go smoothly or quickly. If it does, great! Enjoy it. But know that there will probably be regression and bumps along the way. Have grace for your child and yourself, especially if you’re teaching a new skill, like reading, for the first time. You’re on a steep learning curve, too!

6. TAKE TIME TO LISTEN AND CONNECT

It can be easy to minimize kids’ experiences in light of what we’re going through as adults but it’s important to recognize that even small changes can be big in a child’s life. Taking time to really listen to your child and understand what she’s thinking and feeling will give you invaluable insight on how to best support her. It could make all the difference in the world.

Real life application is the hard part, isn’t it? So here’s how I’m going to take my own advice:

  • Read as much as I can about raising third culture kids – also talk to friends and family who are raising kids abroad.
  • I’m going to do as much research about family activities in Skopje, the city we’re going to live in, before we go. It’ll be a relief for all of us to take the kids somewhere they’ll enjoy while we’re recovering from jet lag and unpacking.
  • My son, 1 ½, is showing signs of being ready for potty training. I’m going to introduce him to the idea of peeing in a toilet before we leave but hold off full-on training until we’re completely settled into our new life.
  • My daughter, Eleanor, is already super excited about the move so I don’t need to hype it much more before we go. But I do need to keep her excited after we get there. We’ll make things like going to the grocery store fun (and I’ll try not to get too stressed trying to read in the Cyrillic alphabet!) and go on scavenger hunts for playgrounds.
  • I will also tell Eleanor as much as I can about what our life will be like in Macedonia; about our apartment, how the other kids won’t be able to understand her, that we’ll get to walk everywhere and we won’t have to drive a car.
  • Because this transition is such a big one, I’ll need lots of grace for all of us. I know we’ll be in survival mode for a while and that’s okay.
  • I know there will be plenty of tantrums and meltdowns at first so I’m going to do my best to be patient and help them understand what they’re feeling and suggest positive alternatives.

With some proactive parenting, support and lots of love kids can make transitions well. While each child is different and will respond differently to each transition, these steps can provide a baseline for making transitions gentle.

A Day in The Life

I always love hearing or reading about other mom’s everyday lives. I usually learn something, am convinced to incorporate something new into our family life and I am always encouraged. I’ve wanted to do a post about what a ‘typical’ day looks like in my life for a while and I realized I am quickly running out of days in Oregon (20 days until we move to Macedonia!) so this is my chance. I’m not one to look back but I do enjoy remembering so while I do hope you can get something from this, I am also glad that I have one day of our time in Oregon captured in detail.

Here’s what Thursday, August 21st, 2014 looked like for us:

5:15 – Ryan wakes me up right before he leaves for work. I wave at him letting him know he can stop patting my leg because I am going to get up. I immediately fall back asleep.

6:30 – I wake up and finally get out of bed at 6:50. I am pretty excited because even though Eleanor will join me soon (she shares our bed and gets up within 15 minutes of me no matter what time I get up) Edward should be asleep for at least another hour. I can read my Bible and maybe get some yoga in. Woohoo!

7:00 – Edward is awake. Blast! So basically any hope I had of productivity in the day is done. So all I got done before kids woke up was putting in contacts, pouring a cup of leftover tea and turning on the computer to start earning Swagbucks. I get Edward and he seems heavier than last night. I think he’s out to prove to me that he’s not a baby anymore. He’s all smiles, which is rare for first thing in the morning, and we head to the kitchen. I heat up my tea and Edward helps me get his kefir ready.

7:30 – Eleanor wakes up

7:32 – Edward, who has been happy for the past half-hour because big sister wasn’t around, has his first meltdown of the day.

7:34 – Edward has meltdown #2 and Eleanor has meltdown #1 – something to do with a yogurt. It’s one of those moments when I just love being a mom.

7:45 – Kids are settled down and eating on the patio just off the kitchen. Only problem is because I have to keep the door open I’m watching fruit flies swarm in. But the kids are happy so it’s worth it. I start on my breakfast, medium boiled eggs from my friend’s chickens and toast, and I finally get to drink the tea I heated up an hour ago.

8:00 – We’re all out on the patio and the kids decide they want my breakfast but I am not giving up much of my beautiful eggs! We play and snuggle in the warm yet crisp morning air. It’s lovely.

Breakfast!

8:45 – Back inside to get ready for the day. The kids help me unload the dishwasher, I hand wash some dishes that soaked overnight, make my bed, sort laundry and get a load started, kill a bunch of fruit flies, brush teeth and get dressed. I usually wear makeup, though it’s happening less often, but I don’t today. The kids have only had minor meltdowns and I don’t want to do anything that might upset their delicate balance.

10:00 – Out the door for a walk! It’s been at least 90° by this time for most of the past month and I do not want to leave the AC when it’s that hot but today it’s around 70° so we’re going to take full advantage. On our three block walk we stop to play duck, duck goose and enjoy an obliging sprinkler.

10:45 – We get home from the walk and the kids play in the back yard. Ryan get’s home at 11:15 and we are all very, very excited. He’s harvesting pears right now so he gets home any time between 8 am and 3 pm. I like when he gets home early.

11:30 – Inside for lunch. The kids have cheese and crackers with some dried fruit and Edward has a few grape tomatoes. I know I should make a green smoothie (you know, something nutritious) but I don’t feel like it. Oh well. When they finish eating Eleanor announces they’re still hungry so I make some popcorn and we eat it on the front lawn.

12:30 – We come inside and Ryan and I talk while the kids play in the living room. I realize it’s the longest stretch of time Ryan and I have had to talk in several days. It’s nice to just catch up and the kids are having fun together.

1:00 – Ryan takes a nap and I continue watching the kids who aren’t playing as nicely now. I tell Edward to not hit Eleanor and help her to stay calm.

1:20 – That most blessed of moments: naptime. I put Edward down and Eleanor and I finish cleaning up the last few lunch dishes and we go downstairs so she can watch a movie while I do some work on the computer. Ryan’s upstairs working on internship stuff. Eleanor watches a Veggie Tales and I let her pick out another movie. Yes, I did write a whole post about ways to create a healthy amount screen time. But this is the first time I’ve let her watch two movies in one day so I’m over it. And she decided she was done watching halfway through, anyway.

4:15 – Edward wakes up and Ryan reads to and plays with both kids while I look over what he had worked on and make plans for my mom to take the kids on Friday so I can write this post! I then read to the kids for a while.

5:30 – We’re having leftover tomato and basil cream sauce and polenta for dinner. Ryan starts heating it up while I clean the living room.

6:00 – We sit down to eat but because the kids’ food was reheated first, they’re almost done eating by the time both Ryan and I are ready. So to keep the kids relatively happy and seated at the table, something that’s important to us, we give them high fives and exploding pounds in between bites. It works.

6:30 – Ryan goes outside to mow the lawn and both kids decide they want to go outside, too. So I go out with them and read The Giver (I think this is the fourth time I’ve read it) while they run around.

7:30 – Bathtime! I keep reading and enjoy that both kids are old enough for me to not give them my complete attention (don’t worry – I was in the room the whole time).

7:45 – Kids out of the tub, I put Edward in his pjs and we read a big stack of Mo Willems books.

8:00 – I put Edward in bed while Ryan gets Eleanor in her pajamas. She wants me to put her in bed (she wants mom, not dad, to do everything for her lately) so I read her one more book in bed, I sing to her and pray over her and sneak in one more chapter of The Giver as she drifts off to sleep.

8:30 – Ryan’s made a pot of tea, our nightly ritual, and he continues working on internship stuff while I blog, fold and put away laundry and do some final cleaning.

10:00 – Head to bed, hoping I’ll be able to pull myself out of bed earlier tomorrow!

While today was a fairly standard day, I wouldn’t say it was a ‘typical’ day. We usually don’t spend as much time outside (though I know we should) and we do get out most days – we had spent most of the two days before running errands and seeing people. Because Ryan was home for so much of the day I had an easier time with the kids and my stress levels didn’t reach as high as they usually do. In general I try to keep our days simple, fun and productive but it’s a balance I rarely achieve! But on the whole I like how our days go. I’m very thankful!

Backpacks, Stories and Faith

It’s been two weeks since we left Oregon for Skopje, Macedonia, our home for at least the next six months.

It’s a crazy thing to do: pack your family’s life into seven checked bags and six carry-ons and move to a country you’ve never been to, where you don’t speak the language and put yourself in the hands of complete strangers.

It only took long enough for us to hit cruising altitude on our flight out of Portland for me to wonder, ‘What the hell are we doing?’.  The fact that we were on a redeye, I’d hardly slept the night before and the kids were restless might have had something to do with it, but the thought crept into my head and stayed with me for the rest of our travels (which was a total of 30 hours – I don’t know how we survived).

Why would we leave the familiarity of our home country, move far away from our kids’ grandparents and give up access to anything we could ever want to live in a tiny country in Eastern Europe?

Sometimes I’m not sure. But I know this is where God wants us to be.

God is writing a story and our lives are the words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters.

Just like when I read Eleanor a new book for the first time and she is anxious to know what’s going to happen next, I want God to tell me the exact point and purpose of us being here. I want to read ahead. Yes, I know it’s so Ryan can do an internship to finish his master’s degree, but why are we really here?  What is God teaching us? What is he preparing us for? What difficulties and joys will we experience? Why does it have to be here and not in the US or even Western Europe (or anywhere with fitted sheets*)? Is anything meaningful or worthwhile going to come out of this crazy, transient life I lead?

I know the answers will become clearer as time goes on but I get impatient. I want the Author of my story to tell me how it ends now.

But instead of skipping pages, he looks at me and asks a question, ‘Do you believe I can do it?’ (Mt. 9:28).

Right now my answer is a tentative ‘yes…’ but I can already see the areas where my faith is weak, the areas of my heart and life I don’t want to trust God with.

Seeing my weakness helps me to remember what’s God’s purpose for my life is: to be made more like Jesus. And for some reason God has moved me to Macedonia for that. I just have to remain open to whatever it is he doing and let him do his good work.

It’s not easy but, even still, I’m glad we’re here. And I look forward to reading the next sentence in my story.

* Since writing this I found fitted sheets – guess it’s not so rough here after all!

For a more personal view of our life in Macedonia, follow me on Instagram!

My Two Greatest Fears In Moving Abroad (And Why Vulnerability Is Hard For Me)

Vulnerability is not my strong point. I appreciate and admire it in others but me getting vulnerable? Woah – not gonna happen.

I’m an encourager, a support person, a biggest fan. That means I listen to other people and I affirm them. I love telling others I think they can do it, that they’re great and that they matter (at least I try to do this — I’m still learning).  But I don’t like when the tables are turned I have to share and be the one whom attention is given to. And I’m also terrified that if I let people really see me, they won’t like me. That they’ll see that I’m nothing special, kind of boring and there are boatloads of people more worth their time. I don’t pretend to be someone I’m not but I definitely am selective with what parts of me I share. And because I really want to encourage others I don’t mention the areas I’m struggling in or the challenges I’m facing. In my mind it’s just better for the other person if I don’t burden them with my own messiness.

I think to many people this makes me come across as very confident (and in some ways I am) but deep down I’m insecure.

Lately it’s become more and more clear to me that vulnerability is what lies at the heart of relationships. It’s only when we’re vulnerable and share ourselves and our stories that true friendship and community emerges. And that’s what I want: meaningful friendships and community.

So here’s my attempt at vulnerability. I’m sharing my two greatest fears in moving abroad. I planned to write this post at some point but only after I shared about the brighter side of our move to Macedonia. I don’t want to be a downer and I don’t want to give a wrong impression about what life has been like for the four weeks we’ve been here. But right now this is what God has on my heart.

So here goes.

Fear #1: I can’t do it

I think most people feel this way when they start something new and different: they worry that they don’t have what it takes to see things to completion.

Right now I’m terrified I’m not good enough, strong enough or resilient enough to live in the Balkans long-term with young children.

I’ve wanted to live in the Balkans since my first year of university. I’ve been asked many times what’s our ideal country to live in and the answer has always been Bosnia. Both Ryan and I have a heart for the people there and neither of us have a strong desire to live in the States so our plan since before we were married was to move to Bosnia, or at least as close as we could get, and do some form of humanitarian work on a long-term basis.

Now here we are in Macedonia, the region of the world I’ve wanted to live in for almost a decade and my heart almost stops at the thought of being here beyond June. I have come a long way since we first touched ground here (that thought gave me heart attacks the first week) but I am deeply terrified that I just can’t do it.

Macedonia is a  second-world country and it wears on me. I fight to get our stroller off and on the sidewalks and the playground outside our apartment building is neither safe nor clean (though it doesn’t stop the kids from enjoying it). I’ve wanted to move to Western Europe since the day we arrived and that makes me feel selfish and entitled. I’m struggling through these feelings and trying to understand where the line between selfless giving and being a martyr falls. Because right now I feel more like a martyr. (I wholeheartedly recognize that Macedonia is far better off than many countries in the world and the ‘sacrifices’ I make in living here are pretty minor. I know I don’t have what it takes to live in a third-world country and I greatly admire people who do).

Ryan and I have always chosen jobs that provide meaningful experiences over jobs that pay well (okay, we’ve never been offered jobs that pay well but we’ve always pursued the meaningful ones). So we’ve always been on a tight budget and we’ve learned to live with that. But now because Ryan’s volunteering and we’re living off money our friends and family have given us, we’re on a really tight budget, like I don’t think it’s even a rice-and-beans-budget, it’s more of a ramen-budget. I’m not complaining and it could change in the coming months but looking at the funds we have at this very moment and the amount of time we have here, there’s not much wiggle room. We are confident in God’s faithfulness and provision but it’s hard, particularly for me. I want to feed our family highly nutritious meals made with the best ingredients possible. Those ingredients are either unavailable or so expensive we can’t afford them (as in whole wheat flour is $1 per cup so forget about anything like einkorn even being available – on the plus side most of the produce at the market is organic). Every day I struggle as I try to prepare healthy meals on a very slim budget. It’s something I’m getting figured out as I pull out the know-how that got us through three months of no income in Ottawa and adapt it to what’s available here. I’m just on a very steep learning curve with no room for error. If anything’s going to break me here, it’s lack of access to the types of food I want to feed my family.

Living abroad has become part of my identity and I feel it’s the one thing that makes me stand out in a crowd so not knowing if I truly have what it takes to make a good life for my family and I here cuts to the very depth of my being. And even if we did move back to the States neither Ryan nor I know what we would do there. In my darkest moments I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place: pour myself into making this less-than-ideal place home or go ‘home’ and create an entirely new vision for my life from scratch. So I pray that my heart will become more and more like Christ’s and that I will surrender all my ideals, thoughts and desires to him and that I will trust that he is doing good work in me and through me.

Fear #2: Relationships

My fear isn’t that I won’t make friends here; I’ve lived enough places to be confident in my ability to meet people (though it is more challenging here since Ryan has two coworkers, I have none and because we’re in a city people are less likely to reach out to us as they did in our small town in Hungary).

No, my fear is that I won’t have many (if any) meaningful friendships. I’ve lived in four states and four countries in my 29 years, which averages a move every 3.6 years (since getting married we’ve moved every 1.5 years). That doesn’t leave much time for relationships to really develop and right now all of my friendships are long distance. Because of my difficulty with vulnerability it takes me a while for my friendships to take root and usually by that point I’m moving. Again. And while I do try to take advantage of Skype, Facebook and email I struggle to find the time to invest in friendships and, honestly, I find most forms of correspondence exhausting.

I’m so thankful for my friends and family who are willing to put in the effort to stay in touch but I’m seeing old friendships slip through my fingers and I’m not able to replace them with new ones quickly enough. This leaves me feeling isolated much of the time.

I know that eventually we will settle somewhere and I will have the time to take friendships to an intimate level. But for now I feel separate from most of the people I know and love.

If you’re my real-life friend and you’re reading this, thank you. The last thing I would want is to sound like I don’t appreciate the people I have known and loved and left behind. The hardest thing about my transient life is I have met so many amazing people and then just as soon as I’m getting to know them I’m saying goodbye. I wish I could just pick you all up and move you here!

This is the point where my ‘encourager’ voice pipes up and says, ‘Make sure they know everything is fine! Let them know what God is teaching you and how even though it’s hard, you see the beauty in all of it! Don’t be a downer!’

Yes, things are going well. We feel more and more settled all the time and we’re meeting people who might become friends. Ryan’s work is going well, we love our apartment and even with the difficult sidewalks I love not driving a car.

All of us, expect for Edward, are going through culture shock but we know it’s a normal part of moving abroad and it will pass. I’m praying Eleanor’s passes quickly because her response is to be wound tight and she screams. A lot. And that makes me want to scream. A lot. (And Edward has always screamed. A lot). I do attribute much of what I’m struggling with right now to culture shock and that keeps everything in perspective. I didn’t have a honeymoon period here so I dove straight into culture shock but I hope this means I will come out of it more quickly. I am confident we will all adjust well, it just takes time and we haven’t been here long.

Through all this I feel God inviting me to himself, to turn to him for the strength I know I lack and the affirmation I need. I’m slowly turning more to him but not like I should (could you pray that I will?). Often I just look at him, scratch my head and wonder what he plans to accomplish through all this, what it’s supposed to be preparing us for and hoping I’m not screwing things up. I know God has good plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11) but they’re hard to conceptualize right now.

Okay, so maybe that wasn’t actually all that encouraging but I do promise we are doing well. We’re just in process. And that’s okay.

Now comes the point when I need to hit ‘publish’. I’ve not edited this much so my thoughts probably aren’t 100% clear but I feel that for vulnerability’s sake, it’s better this way.

I do hope this encourages you to be vulnerable with those around you. We all want to be known and loved, to know and to love and the only way that happens is when we take the risk and share ourselves with others. It’s scary but I’m being convinced it’s worth it.…

5 Ways to Sleep Better Naturally – Guest post at Red+Honey

Today I’m posting at Red + Honey. Read the teaser here and click over to read the rest. While you’re there, stay a while! It’s one of my favorite blogs and I am constantly blessed by it.

Does anyone understand why our ideal is to ‘sleep like a baby’? I’ve spent a lot of nights with babies and, let me tell you, I do not want to sleep like one.

But I don’t necessarily want to sleep like an adult, either. While sleep seems like it should come easily, it doesn’t always.

In general I sleep well but between pregnancy insomnia, times of high stress and jet lag I’ve had my fair share of sleep difficulties. While at times it can be easy to reach for the melatonin (it’s natural, right?) I’m learning some techniques to help me get a good night’s rest without heading to the medicine cabinet and that go beyond conventional wisdom (exercise, chamomile tea, relaxing baths, etc.).

Click here to read the rest!