Tuesday, July 31, 2007

I Want It All

Might as well face facts: I've never been one of those either/or types. I much prefer both/and. (This may explain why I often have a hard time making decisions.)

Yesterday I had one of those moments in which I was desperate to somehow make time stand still. There I was, caught by the sudden thought, This is exactly how it should be, and I didn’t want the moment to end.

I was sitting on the patio with two friends from our church in Cyprus. One of them still lives there, but the other one left about six months before we did. They were passing through town separately and ended up crossing paths at our house! Being together again felt so normal, just like we’d never been apart. How I love it when that happens!

It was wonderful to catch up face-to-face, hear news of mutual friends and see photos of recent events (Rhonda, you were a gorgeous bride!). The moment was doubly special for me because Jack and Sophie were playing in the garden at the time, so I had both the pleasure of being with Jude and Natalie again and the joy of sharing our sweet kiddos with them. (Jack and Sophie are really interactive now -- just so much fun!)

Right then it was like having the best of both worlds, yesterday and today. I could drink from that cup forever.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Last Week, According to Jack

"We live in a castle!"

"Mommy, I love you big as the world!"

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Our (Slightly Soggy) English Holiday

What is with the weather? Seriously. This time last year, England was boiling. This year our summer came in April and left in May. Yesterday people were walking around in long-sleeved, turtleneck sweaters. And as you’ve probably seen on the news, this week’s flooding in Gloustershire has left 130,000 people still without clean water in their homes. It's horrible, but thankfully the UK has the infrastructure to repair and rebuild.

I’m happy to say we had a lovely time in Shropshire. We even enjoyed a few glimpses of sunshine! The place we stayed was gorgeous -- built around 1595 (incidentally, that was the year Pocahontas was born, if you're wondering about an American parallel) and restored in the 1980s; surrounded by open sky, an apple orchard and four horses in a nearby field. Stunning! A few of the places we wanted to see were flooded, but we visited nearby Stokesay Castle, walked across the first iron bridge in the world and wandered along the medieval streets of Shrewsbury.

A surprising highlight was discovering the RAF museum and a one-of-its-kind, permanent exhibit on the Cold War. Matt and Jack were fascinated by the extensive collection of airplanes. I was amazed at how little I knew about world events that happened in my lifetime! If you’re ever in the Birmingham area, I highly recommend setting aside a day in Cosford.

Now we’re home, preparing to welcome an English friend we knew in Cyprus who’s currently living in Afghanistan. I finally read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini while we were away, so my mind has a fresh imprint ready for her stories and pictures.

Gosh, with the multiple cultural/historical lessons of the past week, it feels like we were gone a lot longer than seven days. And it definitely feels like we went further than just a few hours up the M40.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Few Thoughts Before We Go

The only thing better than having 35 hours with a bosom friend and mentor I haven’t seen in eight years is getting to know the lovely young woman her (then 10, now 18 year-old) daughter has become and finding in her a true friend as well.

Emily, I’m excited about all that God will do in and through you in your university years -- and in the years to come after that. You’ve got more depth, more insight and a better grasp on grace than most women twice your age. I’m really glad I knew you as a sweet, fun and joyful child, but I’m even more thankful for the chance to know you as a strong, kind and faith-filled young woman -- and I’m happy to say the sweetness, fun and joy are still there, too!

On another note, school's out so this afternoon we’re off for a week’s holiday to the midlands! As in, the middle of England. This is our first chance to spend time away from the urban sprawl that is greater London, and I’ve pictured gorgeous countryside awash in wildflowers and hedgerows, dotted with sheep and thatched-roof cottages, all beneath a cloudless sky. At the moment, however, it’s pouring outside -- and the weather report is calling for FLOOD warnings in Shropshire.

Raining or not, we’re excited to get away together and discover a new part of the country. And stay in a castle! Well, not exactly a castle. A banqueting tower (one room downstairs and one room upstairs, in the middle of a vineyard). But it’s old! And it looks very castle-like. This is my Happy-40th-Birthday present from my amazing husband. Yeah, baby, it's good to be queen!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

CAUTION: Every Morning As He Leaves the House

"Daddy, watch out for bees and mosquitoes!"

Monday, July 16, 2007

Being Booksmart

I've always been one of those people who knows better how to answer questions on a school exam than how to use common sense (which, it turns out, isn't all that common after all) in real life. Maybe that's one of the subconscious reasons I pursued the field of education, I don't know. I mean, given time to think through a situation, weigh the options and consider various outcomes before settling on my final answer, I’ll pass with flying colors. But if it’s a question of responding right away, verbal or otherwise, without the cushion of mental/emotional analysis or being able to change my mind and erase my first answer before going on, I’ll fail very nearly most of the time. Anyway, thanks mostly to a gracious God and partly to my sweet husband, for whom common sense seems as natural as breathing, this has been a focused area of growth over the years. (Still so far to go, but baby, we’ve come a long way!)

So yes, I did well in school. I’m a book lover and always have been. I can really, totally, utterly lose myself in a good story. So much so that, once I get into it, unless there’s a super-urgent need like a baby to be fed/changed/entertained or a boy to be fed/entertained/walked to school, I can let the world go by until I’ve read through to the very last page. Since my life is filled with said super-urgent needs most of every day, I don’t do as much reading as I used to, but I can’t go too long without it. I’m an early-to-bed type of person normally, except when I’ve got a good book going. Evenings are prime reading time.

When I lived in Nairobi there was this really fab second-hand bookshop in the YaYa Centre. All the books were in English, and since it was practically a library with rental fees because so many expats from so many agencies bought and sold their books there, I came across several interesting, international books that I wouldn’t have gravitated to otherwise. (Confession: I also became addicted to M.M. Kaye mystery novels for a spell, reading them one after another until I’d greedily devoured them all -- Death in Kenya; Death in Berlin; Death in Zanzibar; Death in Kashmir -- say the titles with the back of your hand to your forehead, in a dramatic swoon, and you get the picture.)

It was at that bookstore that I first picked up Amy Tan’s The Kitchen God’s Wife, Betty Mahmoody’s Not Without My Daughter, Ursula Hegi’s Floating in My Mother’s Palm and Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day. Because of the work I was involved in at the time, I also read Bilquis Sheikh’s absolute classic I Dared to Call Him Father. (Haven’t read it? Do yourself a favor and beg/borrow/buy a copy. Then pass it along to all your friends!)

And that was it, really. I’ve been drawn to novels and memoirs by and/or about non-Anglo women ever since. They aren’t exactly easy reading (well, except for the hilarious Mma Ramotswe tales by Alexander McCall Smith) -- but eye-opening, compelling and, at times, heart-breaking. Reading these stories has confirmed what I’ve experienced through my real-life friendships with international women: Underneath our different cultural customs, all women have the same needs and the same longings. As mothers, daughters, sisters and friends, we have a whole lot more in common with one another than we tend to think we do.

So a few weeks ago, when the kids and I had a nasty fever/cold, I snuggled down with a book I’d heard about from Maheesa, a Sri Lankan friend whose daughter is in Jack’s class. We were in the library together one day after dropping the kids off at school, and she was checking it out based on the recommendation of another friend. It’s called Aman: The Story of a Somali Girl.

I’d never read anything about Somali women, although I’d long been curious since one-third of the residents of South C, my neighborhood in Nairobi, were Somali when I lived there. As soon as Maheesa returned the book, I checked it out for myself, reading it cover-to-cover in several big gulps. I couldn’t help myself. Aman’s story was, by turns, fascinating and devastating. It gave me personal insight into articles like this one on CNN.com about the routine genital mutilation of countless innocent girls like Aman every year. (See what I mean? Absolutely NOT easy reading for you and me sitting here with our genitals intact, but a harsh and cruel reality for only-God-knows-how-many girls and women across Africa and living around the world.)

(I should also say that I recently finished Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. While his story is obviously from the male perspective -- he was a child soldier in Sierra Leone -- it was great to read another memoir by someone from an oral, story-telling culture. They have an incredible capacity for remembering the tiniest details of something that happened years and years ago and can often recount the names of their ancestors up to fifteen generations. Amazing!)

I guess all this reading, all this immersing myself in the experiences of women from a variety of backgrounds and belief systems, has impacted the way I think and the way I act. You know how reading, rereading and studying the Bible, asking the Holy Spirit to open your heart and mind to its Truth, dramatically affects your inner life as well as (hopefully) the things you say and do? That’s what I’m talking about, in a way.

To be fair, I guess it has also come from living outside America -- interacting with international believers outside the American context and living as a guest in countries that are not my own -- but over time I’ve started to see myself and other people more as individuals with common hopes, fears, desires, frustrations, etc. rather than members of diverse ethnic groups, good guys/bad guys, us/them. I’ve started to consider things from the minority point of view rather than agreeing too easily with the majority (yes, even the so-called Christian majority). And I’ve started to understand that, as a Christian, how I act toward, think about and talk to/about people from other ethnic/religious/lifestyle/ideological backgrounds has the potential to show Christ’s love and joy, hope and peace, grace and mercy more clearly and more powerfully than anything else I may ever do or say.

At least, in the eyes of a watching world.

* * * * * * *
God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9 NLT)

My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly -- living in God's reality. (1 John 3:18-19 The Message)

I am the Good Shepherd; I know My own sheep, and they know Me... I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to My voice, and there will be one flock with one Shepherd. (John 10:14-16 NLT)

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Where Do Fish Go When They Die?

Matt and I would really like to know.

When we were between countries last spring, part of our helping Jack look forward to moving to a new house was promising him a pet fish for his room. So after most of the unpacking was done, Matt and Jack walked up to the local pet shop to pick his fish.

Chances are, if you’ve come to visit us, you’ve been introduced to Thomas, Dorothy and the Four Little Fish. Thomas is blue, just like Thomas the Tank Engine. Dorothy is orange, just like Elmo’s goldfish. And the Four Little Fish are tiny minnows that all look alike, so they just got lumped together.

Matt has taken full responsibility of periodically cleaning the fish tank. Today, as he was about to begin the process, he realized that Thomas wasn’t there. He called me in to ask if I knew what had happened, but I was as surprised as he was. The other fish were just swimming along as if nothing unusual had happened...

So now we’ve got to grapple with explaining, at a 4 year-old level, the theology of pet afterlife and the possibility of pet rapture as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Boy Culture Meets Girl Culture

To hear it from Jack, who absolutely adores his nursery school, he doesn’t really do much there except ride bikes. Not so for the girls in his class! To celebrate the end of term (next Friday), ten of us mums met for dinner last night at a local high street restaurant. Eight of them have girls, and we spent the first part of the evening comparing notes about the differences between the boys’ version of What You Did in School Today (“Oh, nothing”) and the girls’ version (elaborate, fanciful stories). As I was chatting with one, she said, “Oh, you’re Jack’s mum! My daughter informs me that she’s married to Jack.” (Pardon me?) “Yes,” this woman continued, “She came home one day and said, ‘Mum, Jack and I are married. He’s the Handsome Prince.' ”

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I Feel Good (na na na na na na na)

We went to the beach yesterday. No, we didn’t jet away anywhere, but right here in England, we woke up to sunshine! (In case you heard something unusual out your window this weekend, that was me singing the Hallelujah Chorus from all the way over here.) After more than two weeks of rain-rain-rain, it was a very happy Saturday indeed. So we spent the morning doing some much-needed home and garden maintenance and the afternoon playing at the edge of a nearby reservoir. There’s no swimming allowed due to all the swans and ducks, but the beach has a fresh layer of brown-sugar sand this summer and it’s one of our favorite parks around. Jack got more practice riding his bike: “Let go of me, Daddy. I can do it by myself!” Sophie got used to putting her toes in… then sitting in… then walking on the sand. It really felt like summer!

Another highlight of our week was that Jack had his first school Sports Day on Thursday. Normally I try to maintain my composure and blend into my environment, but that day I was the Loud and Proud American Mom. Oh my goodness, the next 15 years flashed before my eyes as I stood cheering my boy on to victory in the beanbag toss and other relay games.

But our biggest news is that, as of this week, we passed the one-year mark of living here. That may not sound like a long time, but after putting down roots and being uprooted several times in our eight years together, finally being at this stage of settling into our present place just really feels good.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Elijah Update (June 28)

Dear Friends,

Elijah has been home now for almost two weeks. What a great feeling to be sleeping in our own beds. (Sleeping when we can, that is...)

Every day we see improvements in Elijah's health. Elijah came home with a feeding tube and a nasal canula for his oxygen. Because of the dry oxygen you get in a home setting, Elijah developed an irritation with his feeding tube and oxygen. This resulted in a nose bleed. Now for any child, a nose bleed can be a problem to get stopped. For a little boy with Hemophilia B we had more of a problem. We took Elijah to Hays Medical Center to get an infusion of Factor IX. At that point we decided as well to remove his feeding tube. He has done very well with taking his medicines in a wee bit of milk and then drinking up most of the rest of his bottle. Driving to Hays to get his infusion was good practice for what we will be needing to do with him in the future. The entire process went very well. We got home and put Elijah back on oxygen through his nasal canula. A few days later his nose was still bleeding, so we thought we would try getting his infusion here in Ness City. After a few tries we went back to Hays and finally got home about 2:30 in the morning. Many people are trying to help make this easier on us, and we are praying for a neonatal nurse to live close to us and be able to help us. When we finally got home that morning we made the decision to remove the nasal canula to avoid any more nose bleeds. The Lord has allowed Elijah to improve and no longer need the oxygen. We praise the Lord for no further nose bleeds and no need for all the paraphernalia we came home with (his feeding pump, feeding tubes and oxygen). Thank you for praying with us.

We took Elijah out to the wheat fields for his first harvest. This was his first trip out of the house without oxygen, but he did great. We decided that he would have to wait a year before he could ride the combine. This year's harvest was a success for most of the farmers in Ness County. After many years of questionable harvests, this year is a gift from God.

We are so grateful to all of you who read our story and pray. We are overwhelmed with the outpouring of love for us and for Elijah. We know that many think of Elijah as "their baby", and we are grateful for all who have held us up and continue to hold us up in prayer. People come up to us in tears and tell us how blessed they have been by Elijah. Please tell us your story. Has Elijah somehow touched your life? Send us a note at: jjfitz@gbta.net

We look forward to hearing from many of you as you share with us as we shared with you.

In Christ,
Joel, Judy and Elijah