Participating in Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday… the day that many observe the Lent season. The following I mostly posted back in 2014 Observing Lent along with some updated thoughts relevant to this year.

I was not raised in a family that participated in Lent. I always thought that Lent was a Catholic ritual. In high school I asked several friends why they came to school with ash on their foreheads and they could never give me a good reason for why they “observe” Lent. They seemed to be doing it because they were told to do it or because that is what they have always done. I never actually participated in an Ash Wednesday service until 2010 when we were living in Japan. When the pastor of our church did the service, I found that I really liked the concept behind Lent.

Got Questions?org gives this definition of Lent:

“Lent is a period of fasting and repentance traditionally observed by Catholics and some Protestant denominations in preparation for Easter. The length of the Lenten fast was established in the 4th century as 40 days. During this time, participants eat sparingly or simply give up a particular food or habit. Ash Wednesday and Lent began as a way for Catholics to remind themselves to repent of their sins in a manner similar to how people in the Old Testament repented in sackcloth, ashes, and fasting (Esther 4:1-3; Jeremiah 6:26; Daniel 9:3; Matthew 11:21).”

I have found online that there is great controversy between Christians who think it is okay or not okay to observe Lent. It is important to note that Lent or any other Christian tradition or act of faith is NOT required in order to receive God’s gift of salvation and it will not win God’s blessing or make us more holy. It is not commanded in scripture to celebrate Christmas or Easter but we do so because it brings us joy to celebrate the birth, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior. In the same way, Lent can be a focused time of reflection. While participating in Lent or other traditions, some people may have wrong motives or they will be doing it because that is what they have always done. For me, it is a time of reflection and a time to remove something from my life that is hindering a closer relationship with God and/or to add something to my life that I should have been doing already.

I think that this graphic gives a good representation of how I choose to observe Lent (I can no longer find the original link I had to the graphic):

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This, of course, is something we should keep in mind all year and not just in the weeks leading up to Easter. I think that observing Lent is a humbling way to focus our thoughts and actions. We also need to keep in mind that while doing any type of fasting/abstaining/self-denial that it should be personal between you and God. While there is nothing wrong with telling others that you are observing Lent, it should not be used as a way to bring attention and glory to ourselves. Instead, we should be humble and desire to bring glory to the Father.

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18 NIV

Some years, I do not feel lead to participate in Lent and do not give it a second thought once I decide not to participate. Other years, like this year, I have a strong desire to participate which leads to prayer as to what I should eliminate from and/or add to my daily life.

This year, after much prayer, I presented the idea of participating in Lent to my girls ages 10 & 8. I explained the basics of Lent to them and when I told them what I was giving up they were in shock. I told them that they did not have to give up the same thing that I was but that they should choose something that would be difficult for them so that they can use the time they desire to pray. Even more important than giving something up, I plan to use this season to do a family devotional with the girls.

Lately, the girls and I have been having daily struggles of frustration of completing chores, attitudes (mine included), getting out the door on time for school or church, as well as other things. My oldest and I battle it out with yelling matches that unfortunately remind me of how much anger is a stronghold in my life. With my husband overseas and a newborn in the home, I need to find a way to bring peace between me and the girls. So, along with implementing consistent chore charts and behavior plans, we will be doing a daily devotional during Lent.

The church that we attend does not do an Ash Wednesday service, so we will not have ashes on our foreheads today. However, my girls and I will still begin our reflection journey together. I am praying for peace, reconciliation, obedience, and respect to be present in our home. I have a bad habit of starting things and not finishing them, so if you think of me or this article sometime over the next couple of months, please consider taking the time to say a prayer for us!

Presidential Inauguration 2017

I am sure that my post today will be one of many about the inauguration. To be honest, I do not expect anyone to read this post other than my loyal followers. Still, I wanted to share my thoughts.

Donald And Melania Trump Arrive At White House Ahead Of Inauguration

(Photo found on Google Images/Fox News)

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Here are some of my random observations about today’s ceremony:

Melania Trump and Michelle Obama were absolutely beautiful.

Hillary Clinton looked like she was not happy to be there. The first time I noticed that her smile seemed genuine was when Michelle Obama walked out.

President Bush and Laura Bush looked genuinely happy to be there.

Mike Pence seemed very humbled as he took his oath. I could hear the conviction in his voice as he spoke. He meant every word that he said.

President Obama was singing along with the Morman Tabernacle Choir as they sang “America the Beautiful.”

President Trump’s family were very proud of him as he took his oath.

No matter what side of politics we are on, there is no doubt that this is a historical day!

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Although I was quiet on my blog when it came to the election campaigns, I was very vocal about my opinions on my personal Facebook page. If you know me at all, then you know that I have very conservative views. I am a registered Republican in the state of Delaware (home of Vice President Joe Biden). The first election that I was eligible to vote was in 2000. I have voted by absentee ballot in the last four elections because my husband is active duty military. I view voting as a privilege and a right as an American. I am truly blessed to live in a country where the people can take part in electing their government.

From the very beginning of this election season, I have not understood the support that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were able to sustain. It baffles me how either one of them made it as far as they did in the election process. Although Clinton is a woman, she does not at all represent me as a woman. Her policies and beliefs most often go against everything I stand for. Although Trump was the Republican nominee, he does not represent me as a Republican. His speeches and actions portrayed a man who also went against what I stand for. As such, I did not vote for either Clinton or Trump in November’s election. I voted for another candidate who better represented me. Still, I respect the election process and will respect Trump for the position that he holds even when I disagree with him.

If you are hoping that Trump fails, or even worse that he is assassinated, then YOU are what is wrong with America. We should be praying/hoping that our country stays strong, that we become more unified, that Trump becomes a leader fit for the office he was voted into. I will pray for him just like I have been doing since President Obama has been in office and President GW Bush before him. As a kid, I remember praying for President Bush and President Clinton. It doesn’t matter that you disagree, what matters is that America continues to be a great country. If Trump fails, we all fail. If Trump (or any other president) is assassinated, we as a nation look weak.

I do not know what the future of our country holds. We are entering this new presidency as a very divided nation. We the people need to unify and work towards the healing of America. It starts in our homes. We need to teach our children to love and respect others. Whether we agree or not, whether we look the same or not, whether we make the same amount of money or not, whether we practice the same religion or not: We Are Americans!

When Our Military Spouse Is Deployed…

It is difficult to make an all-inclusive list of everything that goes on in the lives of a military family during deployment and TDYs. I have read several attempts at making lists so that friends and family may better understand our perspective. Unfortunately, they all fall short of giving the full picture of our lives. My list will fall short as well. Many things on my list apply even if my husband is not deployed but when he is gone for any length of time it makes these points much more applicable. In no particular order, and with the understanding that this can’t possibly include everything, here is some things you should know about us…

We live paycheck to paycheck.

B1~Even when my husband is home, we are out of money by the end of the month. This is not because we are always careless with our money. Anyone who knows me well knows that I do my best to manage the money well. I realize that not everyone is as organized as I am but I personally have a large binder that holds all of the bills that we pay monthly. I diligently budget out where our paycheck goes… down to the penny. Inevitably, something comes up that requires money that we were not expecting to spend and our budget for the month goes out the window.

~We do tend to spend more during deployment. Usually there is a little more money coming in the paycheck. This is the time to try and catch up with the bills, to buy that extra “toy” that we haven’t been able to afford, and to treat the kids to a restaurant or activity… all before the money runs out and we are back to our normal routine.

~We also do whatever we can to help earn more money to help the finances. If we do not have a full or part-time job, we have yard sales, home businesses (Norwex, Thirty-One, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, Scentsy, etc…), we babysit, do yard work, and basically will do anything we can to earn that extra cash. The money we earn ensures that we will be ok if we grab happy meals for lunch or get an extra outfit that the kids fall in love with, so our kids can do extra curricular activities, and so that every once in a while we can pay a babysitter and go run errands for a few hours without kids.

We stay busy so that we (and the kids) don’t have time to think about Daddy (or Mommy) being gone.

B5~Very few days go by that we do not have to leave the house and go somewhere. School, appointments, play dates, church services, church activities, library, pool, lessons and practices, clubs, etc. Even if we are home, we are cleaning house, making meals, having friends over, reading, watching movies, and sleeping. A full day keeps everyone distracted so that we don’t worry about Daddy or Mommy (What they are doing, How & Why they are doing it, Where they are, and When they will get at chance to call us).

~We often do things that we do not want to do for the sake of our kids. As an example, a few weeks ago, I took the girls to the BBQ on base for families with deployed family members. It is way outside of my comfort zone to interact with people I don’t know. I was the one sitting on the bench watching the kids and not talking to anyone. But, I felt it was important for the girls to play on the bouncy house and get a backpack. This gave them something to do that was a treat out of the normal routine.

We do not know when Daddy (or Mommy) is coming home.

~We may or may not know an approximate time frame. If we do, we will answer your question usually sounding like this: “Hopefully he will get back the end of August or the beginning of September. There is a chance he could be extended and have to stay a couple of months longer. You never know with the military!” There was a time that I was told 4 different changes to his return schedule within a 4 hour timeframe!

~Most of us have learned our lesson about avoiding the countdowns with the kids. One time we were told he would get back the night before Easter. So we set out the Easter baskets early and bought a cake that said “Welcome Home!” Then, I had to deal with the aftermath of telling a 2 1/2 year old why Daddy didn’t come home while she was sleeping. Never again will I tell them he is coming home until he has set foot in our town. Often, we just surprise them and let them figure it out when he walks in the door or when they wake up in the morning and find him sleeping in bed.

We do not watch the news.

~With the exception of articles I see on facebook (which I can choose to read or not read), I do not want to see what is going on in the part of the world where he is at. It is better for me not to know and not worry as much (we never stop worrying) then for me to be constantly trying to figure out what part he may or may not play in the overseas drama. He will tell me (if he can) when he gets home. If he cannot tell me, then it confirms my reasons why I don’t want to know while he is there.

We need help but there are very few people we will ask because we do not want to be a burden.

B2~Unless you are family or a friend who we absolutely consider family, we will not ask for your help. The exception is if we are paying you to do a service like babysitting, yard work, etc. We attempt to do most everything ourselves but if for some reason we can’t it is embarrassing for us to actually ask for help.

~We “save” our favors. If we know that we may need to ask a certain person for help during a deployment, we limit our requests to when we have no other option but to ask them. We do not want to overwhelm the same person with all of our potential requests.

~Even if you offer to help us, we most likely will not take you up on the offer (unless you are family or a friend who we consider family). We have found that most offers are half-hearted or completely insincere. We would rather that you do not offer at all then offer and not really mean it.

~There are a few women who act like they cannot lift a finger to do anything for themselves. These women are constantly calling their husband’s shop to demand help with everything and cause hardworking men to resent them because they insist that they be taken from their jobs & families to tend to the needy wife of their co-worker. These women give military wives a bad name but I assure you there are very few who actually fall into this category. The majority of us would only call our husband’s shop in case of emergency or something that legitimately cannot be solved without the help of a military organization (finance, family readiness, etc.).

We will help others even if we need help ourselves.

B4~This goes along with keeping busy. We often over book ourselves with activities and helping others. You may really need someone to watch your kids, carpool kids, help you with your house or yard, take care of your pets, run to the store, hang out and watch a movie, have a deep conversation about something important, etc. We will most likely do any and all of these things, even if it causes us to burn out from exhaustion, because you are our friend and we care about you.

~At any given time, WE could also need any and all of these things.

We may look like we have it all together but inside we are crumbling.

~We miss our husbands (or wives).

~We carry the fear of the unknown and the “what if’s.”

~We carry all of the stress of running a household, finances, everything that goes wrong, raising/teaching/disciplining the children, etc. because there is no way our spouse can handle any of it from afar.

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We are exhausted.

B3~We do not get enough sleep, we wake up frequently during the night, we do not get to sleep in. Enough said.

~Coffee (& coffee creamer), Tea, and Wine are essential to our survival. If we go to get a drink of any of these items and they are not in our kitchen, we feel like a tidal wave has engulfed our entire body. Coffee in the morning to help us wake up, coffee or tea for lunch or snack to keep us going, tea or wine to help relax us enough so we can go to sleep. All three (at different times) are essential to a great conversation with a friend, reading a good book, or soaking in a hot bath.

We take lots of photos.

~During deployment so that we can post them on facebook so our husbands (or wives) do not feel so disconnected from the family.

~Before deployment so that we might just happen to get photos like these:

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Here are some practical ways of helping us during a deployment or TDY:

~Pray for us.

~Write us an encouraging note.

~Bring us a meal… or a cup of coffee… or a bottle of wine.

~Support our home businesses if we sell something you love and spread the word to your friends!

~If we are relying on you for something, make sure that you follow through with what you said you would do for us.

~If you go by our house on trash day and our garbage is not on the curb, take a minute to stop and do it for us. We most likely completely forgot.

~Watch our kids for a day so that we can get some things accomplished without the constant interruption of kids. Or better yet, watch them for a whole night so that we can actually get some sleep.

~Recognize when we are crumbling and allow us to vent our frustrations or cry on your shoulder.

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All photos not marked with “Heart Treasures” were found on Google Images.

As 2013 Ends…

Here is our Christmas Letter for this year!

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Dear Family and Friends,

As you all know, we moved to New Mexico in December 2012. We found a home and moved in just in time for Christmas. We closed on our house in January. In February, we became members of Central Baptist Church. It is a much larger church than what we are used too but we connected with the people in our Sunday School class and there are many programs, activities, and ministries that have allowed us to feel at home there. By summer, we all had adjusted to our new home and with autumn came busy schedules. Throughout the year, we have met amazing friends and are grateful that God has given us family away from home so quickly!

Shane has finally completed his training to become a Flight Engineer. It was a long journey but he is now enjoying his career more so than he did before. As a part of a flight crew, he travels more frequently but he has already traveled to some amazing places in the past few months!

Alysa is currently not working outside of the home but has been keeping busy with many activities. She is in the church choir and helps in the church library. She is also a women’s core-group leader with Community Bible Study and she teaches a Crafting Through the Bible class for the homeschooling co-op kids. She is still a Juice Plus+ Distributor as well.

Kendal and Audrey will be turning 7 and 5 in January. Both girls are also involved with many activities. They are in Awana clubs, Kid’s Central, Community Bible Study, and they play soccer on local teams. We started out the year homeschooling but after a lot of prayer and wise counsel, we decided to put Kendal in a public elementary school. So far she is enjoying the classroom setting but we are still in the process of getting her caught up academically. Please keep her in prayer as she adjusts to the new routine. Audrey is now able to have more one on one time with Alysa and Shane which has been a blessing.

Noriko has been a part of our family since August! She is an exchange student from Okinawa, Japan (which is where we were stationed for 4 years). She will be staying with us for the entire school year. She is attending the local high school, participates in dance classes at a local studio, and attends youth group at church. The girls absolutely love their new big sister! Shane and I have enjoyed having her here.

This year, we are planning to spend Christmas in Iowa with Shane’s family and New Year’s in Michigan with some of Alysa’s family. We are also hoping to take a trip to Delaware to see Alysa’s family sometime before the school year ends so that we can take Noriko to places like Washington DC. Please pray that we can work out the timing, finances, and Shane’s leave approval so that we can take these vacations!

As 2013 comes to a close, we have been reflecting on the changes our family has experienced throughout the past year. It has been said that “Change is always in your favor when you are walking with the Lord.“ Overall, we have had a very good year!

May “the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” this Christmas season and new year! (Numbers 6:24-26)

Love, Shane, Alysa, Kendal, Audrey, & Noriko

Tough Decision

0ES2We made a very tough decision to find a new home for our dog, Bear, several weeks ago. We asked around to see if anyone knew of a family who might be interested in having him. Having no luck, a friend recommended that we should contact Shooke Unleashed Animal Rescue facebook page to see if they could help. While they do not have an actual rescue shelter, the page owner goes to the local animal control shelter, which is a kill shelter, almost daily and takes photos of the dogs and cats that are there. She then posts the photos on her facebook page and tries to network and find homes for the animals. She often arranges transportation for the animals to other towns and she also makes an effort to help raise funds for military families who can’t afford to take their pets when they move overseas. The page owner posted Bear’s information and photo on the page and after a few days a family said they were interested in him! The problem was that they live in Albuquerque which is 3 three hours away from us. It turned out that the page owner had a friend who was going to ABQ and she was able to take Bear with her to meet the new family. After a couple of hours of him interacting with the family and their pets, they decided to keep Bear! We were in constant communication with them over the whole process and felt really good about Bear staying with them. From the photos I have seen, Bear seems to be very happy!

We rescued Bear when he was 7 weeks old from the Animal Control Shelter. We understood the work involved with owning a puppy. Shane has always been good at training dogs (ours and friends’). We made sure he was healthy and up to date on all vaccines and we had him fixed when he was 6 months old. At the end of July, Shane’s schedule started changing when he moved to a new squadron and he was away from home more frequently. In August and September, my schedule changed drastically because of all of the activities and events the girls and I participate in during the school year. Bear was always kenneled at night and now because of our schedules was kenneled most of the day as well. He was not getting much attention and when he was not kenneled he was being destructive (indoors and outdoors) as a way to let out his pent up energy. When we found out that Shane was going overseas, we made the decision to find Bear a new home.

Surprisingly, we were met with a lot of criticism for making this decision by people who don’t even know us (or the page owner). Comments on Bear’s photo included… “Sad this family is willing to just let him go after they rescued him. When will people quit treating their pets like disposable trash? If your child was hyper, would you rehome him or her??? Hope they never consider getting another dog!” I saw similar comments on other photos of dogs who needed to be re-homed for various reasons. Honestly, I was offended by the rude comments on Bear’s photo and other photos. I love animals and would never do anything to intentionally harm them. We felt that we were doing what was best for Bear and us. While taking him back to the shelter we rescued him from could have been an option, we did our best to find a good family who would love him and care for him so that wouldn’t happen. We didn’t ask for money and we gave everything we had that belonged to Bear to the new family. It is not unusual for people to just dump their unwanted pets on the side of the road or in a field. It is also not uncommon for someone to shoot an unwanted pet. We did neither of those things. We rescued him and gave him a good home for the many months that he was with us. I have a hard time with the fact that we were basically being called bad parents because we found a new home for our pet. Yes, we treat our pets as members of the family but they are not equal to our children. And sometimes finding a new home is what is best for the pet.

This was a decision we made over a period of time and after many tears the process of finding Bear a new home is over. We will miss Bear but we are still okay with the decision we made because it is what was best for everyone and Bear. We hope the new family and Bear will be happy together for a long time.

The new owner posted this photo on the rescue page with the following message:

“Nyla and Bear are bff’s now!

I really can’t thank you enough for helping us out and bringing him to us!”

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We are very happy that Bear has found a good home.

Thank you Shooke Unleashed and volunteers for helping us!

 

My Valley

Several years ago, I shared part of my personal testimony as a Mother’s Day post (you can see original post here). A couple of weeks ago, I had an opportunity to share a devotional with my women’s Bible study group. A few days before I had to share,  I had a pretty personal conversation with Noriko that lead to me sharing my testimony with the women (most of which had not heard it before). I did make some changes from my original post but most of it is unchanged or just rearranged. I did not share all of this with Noriko [my exchange student from Japan who was with us during the 2013/2014 school year] just the parts below that I specifically mention her. So here is what I shared with my friends:

I was saved as a young child and grew up in a Christian but very dysfunctional home. As the oldest of 4 kids I had to grow up way too quickly while we dealt with severe illnesses, divorce, remarriages, constant moves, financial insecurity, and a whole lot more. When I was young; all I wanted in life was to get married and have kids. I dated several guys throughout high school and had serious relationship my senior year and after high school another serious relationship that lead to engagement. Shane and I started dating a few months after my previous engagement ended. We got married in 2002. I jumped into a marriage expecting it to cure all of life’s problems but I carried a lot of my childhood baggage with me. I quickly found out that life’s problems didn’t go away just because I switched households and who I was accountable to. We had a great first year of marriage. After that our careers (Shane-Military & Me-Nursing) and different shifts carried us in different directions and from there our marriage went downhill on so many different levels. We also experienced several difficulties which included me being in a major car accident which God totally and graciously spared my life. In February 2005; I found out that I was pregnant. I had always wanted children and was very excited. I called and told a lot of my family and friends as soon as I found out. My excitement was soon crushed with pain and bleeding. At first the doctor didn’t say for sure that I was miscarrying. But as a nurse who had worked in the OB-GYN field, I knew what was going on. In my pain and while I was still hoping for the best; I wrote the following poem:

My Valley

As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death;

You give me strength to sing.

Only you know why I am going through this trial.

I can rest in your comforting arms.

Not knowing what the future holds for this life inside of me;

I give this child to you.

Like Hannah gave you Samuel before he was born,

Like Abraham gave you Isaac before the sacrifice,

I trust your will.

When I rest upon wings as eagles;

You will give me strength.

I shall run through this valley and not be weary.

I shall walk and not be faint.

When I found out that I was pregnant again in November of 2005; I was cautious and did not let everyone know. So when I miscarried again; I did not have to explain to a lot of people who offered their congratulations like the first time. During that time and for several months after; our marriage was in turmoil because of sin that Shane and I each individually had let into our lives. We almost got divorced but during the time we were trying to reconcile we got pregnant for a third time in May of 2006. I believe that God used that pregnancy to keep us together.

We moved to Okinawa, Japan where Kendal and later Audrey was born. For seven months after Audrey was born; I dealt with medical issues including a couple of surgeries. On top of that; our family experienced another major marriage crisis and I started to fall into depression. In 2009, we left Okinawa for about a month and went home to deal with our family situation. During that experience I started to learn what it meant to fully rely on God for comfort and strength.

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In the years since then I have been allowing God to work on me in a way that I never have before that year. The biggest continuing struggle for me has been the anger and bitterness in my life. Each time I experienced a crisis it just added to the problem. I have been able to truly forgive those who have hurt me just like Jesus forgave me on the cross. And I have been able to make time to focus on my relationship with God and my family. I journey with God regularly by praying, writing, singing, and accountability and He continues to heal me on a daily basis. I have not made it to where I need to be yet; but I am daily running the race and pressing towards the goal of being more Christlike. Through everything; God has continued to bless me, my marriage, and my family as a whole.

A few days ago, Noriko (my exchange student) and I had a conversation that inspired me to share all of this with you. Keep in mind that often when we have to explain things to her we have to continuously use her translator for words or concepts she is unfamiliar with. So it is not always a quick explanation. She was asking why Americans have middle names. This led into me explaining that we often choose names based on meaning or family connection. Audrey means Noble Woman and her middle name, Lynae, pays tribute to both my mom whose middle name is Lynn and Shane’s mom who’s first name is Lynn. I told Noriko that Kendal’s name was even more meaningful and explained to her that I had lost 2 babies through miscarriage before she was born. We chose the name Kendal back during our first miscarriage based on the poem which I wrote “as I walk through the valley of death”. In one name book; the meaning for Kendal is: “Ruler of the valley.” We thought that it would be a fitting name for a baby who overcame the valley of death and lived. Noriko seemed to be in awe over all of this.

At the end of my poem I referenced my favorite Bible verses Isaiah 40:29-31 “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

While I was Okinawa, I found a plaque that has the passage in both English and Japanese which is now hanging in our hallway. I showed it to Noriko and after she read it, I explained that when we are tired and broken and are going through things that bring us down, we put our trust in Jesus and he carries us back up so that we can fly again. In response, Noriko said that she likes Christian thinking 🙂

So in conclusion, I would like to emphasize that I give God all of the glory for continuing to work in my life through my trials. My message to all of you is God never promised that we would always be happy when we have Jesus as our Savior; instead he uses Paul’s testimony to tell us that Christians can have hardships far beyond our ability to endure.

In 2 Corinthians 1:8-11 Paul says “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

Through our hardships; God wants us to fully rely on him so that he can deliver us and heal us. God wants to draw us into a closer relationship with him. He will always rescue us but sometimes it is in the midst of our hardships. He doesn’t always remove us from circumstances but allows us to go through them in order to draw us nearer to Him. And he can always use our testimonies to impact other people and draw them into His kingdom.

(Eagle Photo found here)

Busy! Busy! Busy!!!

Busy really doesn’t even describe my life in the past two months! Which is why my blogging time has been non-existent. Noriko arrived and Fall came and all extra commitments started within the same few weeks.

August for the most part went pretty smoothly. The beginning of the month we were preparing for Noriko. When she arrived we eased her into our routine, registered her for school. She started school and quickly started to make friends. She changed a couple of her classes during the first couple of weeks and I met most of her teachers during the open house during the second week of school. (I was frustrated that one of her teachers didn’t even know she was an exchange student but that is off topic). We found out that there is a Japanese teacher at the school. She was excited when we met her and I know that she has been instrumental in helping Noriko adjusting to American High School!

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In September, I was struggling to manage our schedule to point that I could not figure out when I had time to homeschool. We were in and out of the house multiple times a day. We would come home from one thing but since we are leaving the house in an hour or two that there was no point in trying to do schooling. So my days were flying by without accomplishing my homeschooling goals.

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Even though I had two calendars and a day planner, I had to come up with a better way of keeping track of my schedule. During the course of a week, I wrote my schedule several times in several places in the hopes of finding what would work the best. Completely frustrated I went to an office store in town and spent an hour looking at calendars and day planners. I found a day planner that puts each week on a two page spread with spaces for times between 7 am and 8 pm.

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I finally was able to visualize my schedule! I started out using post-it tabs and color coded my schedule. My idea was that I could fill in my schedule for 2-3 weeks then transfer the tabs over to the following blank weeks. I realized that this would not work during the first week. With as much as I was using the planner, the tabs were bending and falling off. So, for following weeks I decided to color my planner! (Yes, I think I have OCD) I even scheduled lunch and dinner for most days! Even though most of the white space is full, I still have been able to be somewhat flexible. I generally know that all white space is free and all homeschooling space we should try to be home. But things do still come up like the lunch invite or the come over for coffee invite. Dinner time needs to be flexible and often is not when I have it blocked off but if I have it on the schedule I can still visualize the time I have (or don’t have) available when scheduling appointments and other things that come up.

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October is now here. Getting into routine has been challenging and stressful but I think we are starting to find our groove! Consistently we have the following out of the house schedule:

Sunday-Church and Awana, Monday-Soccer (K), Tuesday-Community Bible Study (Leadership) and Soccer (K & A), Wednesday- Community Bible Study and Church, Thursday-Library and Soccer (A), Friday-Homeschool co-ops (3 class periods), Saturday-2-3 Soccer games (K & A)

And between all of those times I can schedule meals, homeschooling, house cleaning, rest time, etc. Did I mention my husband is deployed? All the more reason to have a well planned schedule!

Noriko seems to be adjusting well. She is continuing to make friends and finding activities that interest her. Since she has been here, her school assignments and church involvement have lead to several good conversations about relationships, religion, history, etc. (I will share more specific conversations as I find the time to blog…I really should block out blogging time on my schedule). The girls love Noriko and she loves them. Even though we have had some miscommunications and frustrations, I have enjoyed having her here. So far this has been a good experience and I hope and pray that we continue to be smooth for our whole family.

Questions & Answers…Preparing To Host A Student

First, I will say that it was not my idea to write a question/answer post but I thought it was an excellent idea from The Ann Arbor Exchange. The following questions come from them. This is their second year hosting a student so they included how their previous expectations actually worked with their first student and what changes they will be making with this year’s student. For this post though, I only have my current expectations to go on. Maybe after we have had our student for awhile I can revisit this to see if my expectations were reasonable.

So the idea behind these questions, is to evaluate your expectations before you choose a student. If you know the answers to these questions then when you receive student profiles you can compare common interests and look for red flags that might affect your family. This may help you avoid major conflicts throughout the time your student is a part of your family.

1. Is your family religious? How would you feel about hosting a student with a different religion? No religion? Can you commit to transporting a religious child to services if they are a regular attendee? Can you provide a quiet, distraction-free place for prayer if this is needed? If you are a non-religious family these questions are just as important!

144185625539529204_KGDI6yf4_cAbsolutely! While we don’t necessarily use the word religious to define ourselves, that is how most other people would define us. We are Christians. We go to a Baptist church. Our faith in God defines who we are and how we live our daily lives. We read our Bibles, we pray, we worship, we attend church services and activities throughout the week.

Although it would be easier to host a student with no religion, we would be okay with hosting a student with a different religion. We will ask our student to visit our church services and activities but we will not force her to come if she chooses not to. The youth group at our church will be very welcoming and would be a great way to meet friends since the majority of them go to the same high school. Also, there are 3-4 exchange student host families who attend our church and our hope is that they will be more comfortable here if they spend time with the other students and families.

 It would be difficult to transport a student to and from services of a different religion if they were during days/times that conflict with our schedules or own church services. If our student desires to attend services at another church or religious place, we would more than likely require that she makes transportation arrangements with someone whom we have met and who we are comfortable with driving her. If she chooses to pray privately, she will have her room to do so.

We have not brought up religion in our emails with Noriko but according to her profile she has no religion. We know from our experience living in Okinawa, Japan that Shintoism and Buddhism are the most common religions there and that one or both of them will probably have influenced her belief system whatever that may be.

2. Is your family active? Do you want a student who will be open to being active?

Shane is active. I am not. I do not think that this will be a problem for our family. If she is active, we will find avenues (like school or community sports) for her to be a part of.

3. Are you financially ready to provide three meals and snacks? Can you pay for school activities or will the student? How will you handle expenses? Will you work with the natural parents ahead of time to decide on the student’s allowance? Will the student give you cash? Or will you have them pay for an equivalent dollar amount of things?

We do not feel that adding one more person to feed will be that much of an added expense. We tend to cook enough to have left overs. Our girls are hit or miss as to whether they will eat a whole meal or not. And I try to save money by buying produce through a co-op and couponing (not extreme couponing) as I am able too. Our exchange organization requires that the student will have a $300.00 (or more) per month allowance. This money is for the student to pay for all school and extracurricular expenses. If she chooses to buy lunch at school, that will be her expense also. We personally will require her to have a cell phone and she will be responsible for paying the monthly bill. When the student arrives we will set up a savings account with a debit card at our local bank. We will also help the student budget her money so that she does not over spend and so that she plans ahead for larger expenses that she may have while here.

4. What are your family’s unspoken rules? Being aware of these is imperative – an exchange student will not simply intuit them.

The biggest one that I can think of is that Shane is military and his schedule is always changing. We as a family need to be respectful and understanding if he needs extra sleep, will leave for work extra early, will get home extra late, or will be away from home for days, weeks, or months.

Because we have never had a teenager live with us, there may be things that come to our attention along the way. I think we need to be somewhat flexible but if something starts to bother us (that wasn’t already mentioned as a “rule”) that we should explain it to the student tactfully.

5. What are your expectations for school? Chores? Technology? Dating? Social stuff? Curfew?

This question is a little hard for us since we have never had teenagers. So, I think there may be some learning on our part as to what is appropriate for our student. If something comes up that we are unsure of, we have several friends that we can go to for teen parenting advice 🙂 But here are some initial thoughts…

Our exchange organization requires that students maintain a C or higher in all classes. I feel that this is reasonable but will highly encourage Noriko to do her very best to get A’s and B’s. If she brings home C’s I will more than likely be talking to the teachers and arranging tutoring.

We do not really have set chores. Shane and I do what needs to be done as needed. We take turns when we can but more often than not, I take care of indoor chores and he takes care of outdoor chores. I asked Noriko what chores she likes to do and she said she likes to do dishes and vacuuming. It will be easy to set up a schedule for her to help with each of these. As well as, general care of her room and bathroom. We will probably have her help with watching the girls on occasion.

Our exchange organization has limits of 1 hour per week of communication with student’s home family and friends (phone or Skype). They feel that the more a student is interacting with home, the harder it is for them to adjust to being here. Their limit for internet (email, facebook, etc.) is 2 hours per week with the exception of school related internet usage (studying, research, etc.).

We will meet all friends and dates before Noriko spends any significant time outside of school with them. We will encourage her to invite her friends to our house and we will be open and honest with her about any concerns we may have about someone. We will not allow her to ride with friends unless we have met them and feel comfortable with them driving. We will also have an open policy with her. If she feels at all uncomfortable, she can call us and we will come get her. She can use us as an excuse to get out of an activity or date by saying she needs to be with us at that time.

We will have a 9:00 curfew on school nights, a 11:00 curfew on weekends, and a 12:00 curfew on special occasions (like prom). Exceptions may be made if Noriko specifically asks ahead of time (for instance, she is going to a movie and it will get out later than curfew).

6. If you have other children in the house how do they feel about hosting?

Our girls are ages 6 and 4 years old. We honestly did not consult them before deciding to have a student. In fact, we avoided talking to them about it until we knew for sure that our application was accepted and that we would be getting Noriko. After we were approved, we talked to them about it and told them that it would be like having a big sister while she was here. It took a few times of talking about it before they really understood that she was coming for more than just a short vacation. Now they both seem to be excited about having Noriko here!

7. Do you have pets? Have you honestly assessed their behavior? Have you shared any pertinent information about them with your student? What are the pet-related expectations for your student?

0ES1We have a black cat named Hashi (Japanese word for chopsticks) who is about 3  years old. He doesn’t like a lot of commotion or attention and usually hides away in our room throughout the day. He tends to explore during the night. It is not unusual for him to come out to the living room while guests are here (as long as it is somewhat quiet and calm) but if anyone moves in his direction he usually retreats back to the bedroom. He tolerates me the most out of anyone in the family. He will be okay with a student once he gets to know her.

0ES2We also have a black dog named Bear (lab mix) who is around 9 months old. He is all puppy. Very hyper and loves attention. He likes to play bite (but won’t intentionally hurt someone) and he chews anything he can get his teeth on (toys, brushes, headbands, bowls, cups, etc). We keep him locked up in his kennel at night and when we are not at home. We also make a habit of closing bedroom doors or putting up a baby gate so that he cannot get into them.

One of our requirements was that there be no animal allergies. I really liked everything about a Brazil girl’s profile until it said she was allergic to cats. This is something that we just cannot work around. Noriko’s profile said that she has a cat and loves pets. She said as much when we had the opportunity to Skype with her this past weekend. She was surprised that Bear was an indoor dog though.

8. How long will your student be with you before school starts? How will you handle the downtime?

Noriko will be with us for 5 days before school starts. There really will not be much downtime. We will allow her to sleep and rest for a couple of days but we also have to go to a school appointment to get her registered and make her class schedule. We will most likely need to do some shopping. And we will be spending a lot of time discussing rules and expectations, answering questions, and generally getting her settled and preparing for school to start.

9. Do you have any dietary restrictions? Does the student? Is everyone comfortable with this?

We do not have any dietary restrictions. According to Noriko’s profile, she does not either. We looked at several student profiles and a couple of them were vegetarians or vegans. Initially, I wanted to say that it wouldn’t be a problem. After thinking about it, though, I realized that with young children it would be almost impossible to cater to a dietary need or preference. Maybe when our girls are older (or out of the house) it would not be an issue but for now my girls need to be the priority when it comes to food preparation. I need to be able to prepare what I know they will eat. We do eat a wide variety of foods but having to eliminate whole food groups because of an allergy or preference just is not practical for us at this time.

10. What are your expectations around travel? Holidays? Family time?

We want to travel to visit our families in Iowa and Delaware while Noriko is here. Right now we do not know if we will have the finances to be able to take these long distance trips or not. Our plan is to start saving for them now and hope that we are able to do them. I feel that if we can help Noriko see other parts of our country, it would be a great experience for her. If we make it to Delaware, I will most definitely take her to Washington DC for a day and possibly New York City as well. For most travel (long distance or not), we will require that she pays her portion of the trip. If we fly, she will have to pay for her plane ticket. If we go to a museum or amusement park, she will pay for her entrance tickets.

375547_2593634049248_1506571575_32756780_628022001_nFor holidays, we will celebrate them the way we usually do. Most holidays that we celebrate have a Christian theme or history (Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, St. Patrick’s Day, etc.) and we will make it sure she knows the purpose and/or history behind each holiday. Our church is planning to do a Passover dinner next spring which will also give her a the experience of a Jewish holiday. The only major American holiday that we don’t really celebrate is Halloween. We tend to participate in whatever our church does for this holiday (harvest parties, trunk or treat) but we have only been attending our church since February so I don’t know what they do. I also plan to ask Noriko about her holiday traditions and would like to incorporate them into ours while she is here.

Most of the time family time is spent at home at meals and watching tv or movies together. I am a stay at home mom who homeschools, so family time (at least with the girls and I) is usually not an issue. When Shane is away for an extended period of time or due to long hours at work, the girls may start to be clingy and start to act out (attitudes, tantrums, etc.). When I notice this happening, I usually suggest that we go out to eat as a family so that we don’t have the distractions of being at home. We also try to go out as a family to the pool or park to spend time together. We will treat Noriko as a daughter and a part of the family. We want her to feel we are her family away from home.

How would you answer these questions? Can you think of any others that may be helpful?