January 24, 2015

Just a wife and mom

I used to think there had to be something more than this. 'Surely,' I thought, 'I've been created for something greater than adding cream of mushroom soup to chopped, cooked chicken. But what? What is my purpose?' (other than the Great Commission, of course, but that is everyone's purpose). The answer came to me quite quickly. Writing. Writing, for me, is like kissing my husband in the kitchen. It is exhilarating, to be sure, and yet it is the most natural thing in the world. So I wrote a novel, loving every painstaking minute of it. My blood ran warmer, my dreams came clearer, and the sun shone brighter. I was more alive than the day I was born. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. And with each passing month that no word came from an interested publisher, the picture I had of myself in my mind began to fade around the edges, until I could no longer distinguish its features. Was I an author? Or was I just a wife and mom? I no longer knew. No one was offering me a publishing contract, and because of that it seemed all of my self worth hung in the balance. I checked my email several times a day, halfheartedly attending to my other tasks. I wasn't writing anymore, as I was waiting for someone to confirm that I had talent before going to all the trouble of pouring my heart out again.
Daniel on his rented motorcycle here in Thailand.
But then we came to Thailand for January, as we are accustomed to doing. This is the place where I usually get the most writing done, since the guesthouse provides meals and laundry services. But this time the L0RD whispered, "Don't write," into my heart.  I felt Him urging me, "There will be years and years to write books, Kayla, but Gene is just a few hot showers away from needing to wear deodorant and your youngest doesn't need you between meals, and faster than an author can finish writing a mystery series, these kids will be gone." It was a big thing for G0D to be asking of me, giving up this one thing that keeps me sane. But alas His ways are higher than mine and He can be trusted, and so I told Him I would not write this month. In fact I will not write until further notice, other than this silly blog, of course, which is really more of a gift to my kids than anything else. So instead of plunking away at the computer while the kids play, I will be playing right along with them.
Eugene and his new glasses, which he refuses to wear. He says he doesn't feel like himself. If he only knew how handsome he looks!
Because you see, it doesn't matter that no one has offered me a publishing contract. Someone much more important offered me a diamond ring 13 years ago, and his are still the furry forearms I depend on to guide me through the doors of life. And every day, it seems, someone offers me a crayon drawing, or a drooping flower for my hair. I am offered handmade bracelets, faulty in the middle and too small for my wrist. Funny-colored pot holders like the ones I used to make for my own mom (and those were the only pot holders she ever used). Hugs around the middle, bleeding knees, peanut butter kisses on the mouth...all offered to me. Only me. Lucky me. And so it would seem I have come full circle, losing myself, and then finding myself again, in the daily miracle of being just a wife and mom.

January 12, 2015

Staying married for the full 8 seconds

Dad "bull-riding" at a rodeo in Texas last week. Pure awesomeness.
I have a special diet. This is tricky when we travel, especially to places where I won't be having my own kitchen. Right now we are at a guest house in Thailand, which has always felt like a second home to me. But on our first morning here, I got my heart broken by the management when they bawled me out for writing a "bloody rude" email about what I can and can not eat. I ended up running from the dining hall in tears.

After coming out to comfort me, Daniel went back to finish feeding the kids their breakfast, and so there I was, alone in our cabin, where I cried without consolation. I realized my heart was broken because I felt so completely unknown, so I decided I needed to call the two people in this world who know me the best.

My parents.

The Facetime call rang and rang, and for a moment I thought maybe they wouldn't or couldn't pick up. But then they did, and there they were, their smiling faces crammed together into the camera shot on Mom's iPhone. The backdrop behind them was the color of dust and filled with the sound of blaring country music.

"Hi Honey!" they hollered over the noise. "We're at a rodeo in Texas with Denny and Laura."

"Hi!" I said. I tried to smile but my swollen face and quivering lip betrayed me.

"Honey, are you okay?" They both leaned in closer to the camera, looks of concern on both of their brows.

"I'm okay," I said, and then the tears started to flow again, along with the whole story.

"I'd like to get my hands on them," Mom said lovingly when my story was through. Only moms can say stuff like that and sound loving.

"If they only knew your heart, Honey," Dad said, his voice deep and even. A constant.

We talked a little more and then I let them go, and Mom sent me the above pic a minute later to lift my spirits. It is a perfect picture of Dad because my parents, like most married people, had a rough go of it there for while. But Mom and Dad refused to give up on each other. They hung on, white knuckles and all, for the full 8 seconds, until the buzzer finally sounded this year and Dad retired! Now he has a wife who loves him and an RV that still runs, and six months of open road ahead of them to do whatever they please (like go to the rodeo with Denny and Laura). And here's the thing: when I needed them most, there they were, crammed together in the camera shot on Mom's iPhone. My parents, married. And all the world was right.

Everybody knows that kids never stop needing their parents, but maybe kids never stop needing their parents married. Maybe moms and dads considering divorce should look down the road at their daughter when she's 34, calling from across the world in tears to be utterly comforted by the fact that her parents are still together. A pastor was once asked by a couple in marriage counseling, "Are the kids reason enough to stay married?" To which the pastor responded by saying, "What better reason is there in all the world?"

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for hanging on for the full 8 seconds. Your love for each other, richer now than it ever was (in spite of, or because of, the tough times) is the best gift you have ever given me. I love you.

January 10, 2015

A Tween in Thailand

Momo leaves Monday. I have a lump in my throat just typing it out. We always loathe seeing grandparents off. It feels like throwing out a half-eaten, freshly-baked cake, frosting and all.

But at least she came! At least we got to enjoy her, and she us, while it lasted. And we'll be Stateside again before we know it, so that softens the blow a bit. It's just rotten, though, saying goodbye. It always has been, and it always, always will be.

We've spent this last week in Thailand for Daniel's class. It was Momo's first time in The Kingdom of Thailand. She loved it, of course. Crispy kao soi for lunch, traveling by tuk-tuk, and shopping for handmade shoes. That's our kind of January.

And this time we've had a full-blown tween in Thailand. Too old for ball-pits at the mall, he says, though he reluctantly went to one and ended up having a blast. Too old for this and too old for that, he says. We roll our eyes and tuck him in for bed, kissing his face that displays two small pimples, even as his muscled arms hold tightly to a plush toy fox Zion gave him for Christmas. Ahh, the awkwardness of growing up. The letting go and the grabbing hold, like a gibbon swinging from one branch to another.

The other day Momo watched with delight as a perfect coming-of-age scenario unfolded before her very eyes. Eugene, our tween of whom I speak, was swaggering through the gardens of the guest house with an older kid (12 or so, I'd guess) named Micah. Micah had a flop of curls on his forehead and long, teenage legs. Gene was trying very hard to keep stride.

At that moment, Eugene's 5-year-old sister Jubilee burst onto the scene and hollered from the other side of the hedges, "Gene! Gene, did you make a new friend?"

The Tween turned and glared at the Halfling, who stood smiling at her big brother, oblivious to the fact that she had just dealt him a cripling blow in the social sense. "Yeah, of course I did, Jubi," he hollered back, fuming. Turning on his heel he fell back into step with Micah. Jubilee stood looking confused, and Momo sat chuckling in her lawn chair, happy to have been here to see it.

December 29, 2014

Momo for Christmas!

My MIL Shari, who the kids call Momo, surprised them with a Christmas visit!
Daniel prepared a PVC-pipe frame for her and then wrapped her up. The kids opened this "package" and it was the cutest thing!

We've had a WONDERFUL Christmas - our first spent with Momo in seven years.

She baked us her famous tea cookies.
This island was my Christmas gift! Somehow Daniel squeezed it into my teeny-tiny kitchen. Good guy.

We went sledding at Snow Mountain.
Riding the gondola up the mountain.
Good thing I remembered the carrot and raisins!

We had the Greenes for dinner, and the fellas fried another turkey. Men and fire, I tell ya.

Momo and I armed the kids with gingerbread houses, icing, and candies and set them loose.
These two houses are Jubi's (left) and Brave's (right). Daniel says it looks like a candy factory blew up.

Happy New Year, everyone!

December 16, 2014

He knows how

Back when we said, "You can't have sleepovers until you're ten," we thought we were buying ourselves an eternity before having to deal with it.

But then we blinked our eyes and our oldest became nine-and-a-half and his best friend is a wonderful kid with wonderful parents and we ran out of reasons not to let him spend the night at Reister's.

So here he is, backpack on his back containing a toothbrush, a change of clothes, and a stuffed Toucan named Taco.

Later that evening I got THE BEST text message from Reister's mom Michelle. It read, "Gene said to me, 'I might have to poop while I'm here but it's ok, I know how.'"

December 11, 2014

(never) hung out to dry

We've all had those days. 

It's the stuff of Country Western songs. I slept in too late. My jeans were too tight. There was nothing in the house for breakfast, and the kids just could not get along. None of us could get in gear in the home school room, and we all ended up griping at each other over stupid stuff. I had gotten a hurtful comment on my blog that week that I just could not shake. The pollution was so thick outside that I could taste it on my tongue, and the Christmas cookie ornaments that I kept pulling from the oven looked like nondescript blobs (thanks to cheap butter that won't hold up at high temperatures). 

And then around mid-morning, the dryer broke. Really?!

At that point I abandoned home school altogether and succumbed to a full-fledged pity party on the couch, warning any approaching children that I needed space and must not be messed with. My pity party turned into a fitful nap, during which the hand I was using as a pillow went completely asleep.

But when I woke up...

Oh sweet L0RD, when I woke up...

My precious children had built a clothes line for me in the living room, on which to hang our load of soaking wet clothes.

They weighed-down the chairs with pans of water and popcorn kernels.
Gene tied the knots, learned from his Klutz Book of Knots (I highly recommend the book for parents of boys).
Instantly, my pity party was over. I scooped up my four little ones and asked for their forgiveness for my bad attitude. They forgave me, of course. Kids are the best forgivers of all. And I went to bed that night thankful, because even though life is full of broken dryers and hurtful comments, none of us has to tread this earth alone. Praise G0D for family.

December 09, 2014

In college at 34

I am grossly out of place at my school.

First of all, I am not Asian, of course. But even among the foreign students, I stand out. I am not European. I am not young, hip, or available. I do not smoke cigarettes or curse like a sailor. I do not have tattoos behind my ears (the new place for tattoos???) and I am not trying to earn a Chinese degree.

In fact, I have kids at home and a husband of 12 years. I still wear pants to class that I wore to class at Hope College 15 years ago. And my motives for studying the language are...slightly complicated;)

But old, outdated, and mysterious as I am, I park my bike beside the cool kids three days a week and sit in class for 2.5 hours, trying, TRYING to learn this distressingly difficult language.
Our second-floor courtyard.
Our snack bar. Warms the belly on a cold day.
Our bookstore. I bought a used Sichuan travel guide here that I love!
For all your school supply needs!
The lady from whom I buy my breaktime snack (cashews and tea)