The summer I got it all together (and other fairy tales)

I had such plans.  Such dreams.  This was going to be the summer that I got it right.

Stop laughing.

We had to move–I knew that.  In my perfect little la-la-la world, we would find the perfect place (it would be miraculously inexpensive and glorious–think penthouse), I would casually pack up our stuff, tossing what we didn’t need with joyful abandon, and one day Dan and I would just throw our remaining belongings in the back of our Trailblazer and ride off into the sunset.

Stop.  Laughing.

We found the perfect place.  It is not a penthouse, nor is it cheap.  It is nice though.  I’ll take nice.  The packing of our stuff somewhat resembled a beagle digging frantically for the mole that just disappeared into it’s home.  Stuff flying everywhere, no rhyme or reason to what went and what stayed…and the moving.  Oh sweet mercy.  Dan and our friend Brian moved about 90% of our stuff in one day while Fibro and I hung out and Fibro made me progressively crazier and sicker.  On Sunday, our friend Pete joined in the moving fun while I sat in a chair and wondered why I wasn’t dead yet, because clearly Fibro had decided my time had come.  By Sunday night, most of our stuff was in the new apartment.  Turns out that I hadn’t gotten rid of quite enough stuff, which would be fine if we didn’t mind having our bed double as the dining room table and letting Patrick sleep on the couch.  Forever.

Clearly I should not be in charge of my life.

Things are somewhat settled now (please don’t open the guest bedroom door) and we are not eating on the bed, which is kind of nice.  Patrick is sleeping in his own room, and being the complacent child that he is, doesn’t seem to mind my “cardboard box” decorating style.  Bless it.  Dan goes cheerfully off to work each morning (which is literally right next door) and I attempt to discover just exactly what is in the boxes that are in the guest room and unpack stuff and put it away.  Yesterday I actually managed to get two boxes unpacked before I looked around at the sheer insanity of it all and went to find a snack.


This is the second part of my “summer that I get it all together” plan.  I was going to start running (STOP.  LAUGHING.  I’m warning you.) and lose weight and get myself into shape.  Instead, in what can only be described as the kind of freak accident that can only happen to me, I managed to tear both my ACL and meniscus.  Boarding.  An.  Airplane.  I don’t know how, so don’t ask.  I immediately realized that I would not be able to run this summer and decided to go with Plan B, otherwise known as “Eat like food is going to be banned tomorrow”.

I got this, people.  Like.  A.  Boss.

If there is a category in the Olympics for sitting and eating, you can all just go home, because I’ve won gold, silver and bronze.  Throw in Facebook and Pinterest surfing and I am Queen of the World or something.  Don’t even try to best me.  I am the bomb diggity on this one.

The final part of my “summer that I got it all together” was going to involve homeschooling Patrick all through summer.  I was going to be “that mom”.  No TV or electronics for that boy.  No way.  We were going to do field trips and every day was going to be a magical learning experience.

OK, Now I’m laughing.

Patrick has spent the summer with teams, with his dad.  He has helped build a house, and spent an entire week with a team of nursing students who thought he was the cutest thing they had ever seen and kept asking if they could just take him back with them.  It’s a 10-year-old boy’s dream, right?  17 girls all clamoring to be your favorite and get their picture taken with you?  I am going to choose to believe that even though we did no field trips (the Middle of the World doesn’t count when you’ve been there so many times that even the cleaning guys know who you are), he still carried his iPad around like it was an extension of his body and my battle cry during the move from Hell was “Oh, just go put a movie on”…he still had a good summer.  Please don’t burst my bubble on this one.  I’m fragile.  And by “fragile”, I mean “woman on the edge”.

School starts in less than a month–September 1st, to be exact.  By then, the apartment will be completely in order, those boxes will be unpacked and I will have lesson plans laid out through Christmas.  Or at least the second week in September.

This is going to be the Fall that I get it right.

Stop laughing.




I swear, we have not dropped off the face of the earth.  Allow me to catch you up. 

We are moving.

Those three words have pretty much consumed my every waking thought since we arrived home at the end of May.  We knew that we were going to have to find another place to live, and we had pretty much decided that it would have to happen this summer.  When we got home, we had a talk with our landlord, who told us that we had until at least December to find a place, and not to worry, because he would give us at least two months notice if something happened.  Hold that thought.

After looking at about 20 of the smallest apartments we had ever seen, and one apartment that we really liked…but it included a crazy landlady (within five minutes of meeting her she informed me that I was a terrible person for “abandoning” my three older children in the US, I don’t need any more children and I need to get rid of my dog).  Ahem.

AHEM.  As my mother will attest to, I don’t like being told what to do.  Especially not by complete strangers.  And I certainly don’t need anyone else in my life to heap on the guilt.

ANYWAY.  We ditched the crazy landlady and eventually found a wonderful, delightful apartment that is literally right next door to Extreme Response, has a lovely view and is within our price range.  After praying about it and measuring our giant king sized bed to make sure it would fit in the master bedroom, we signed the lease.  We had been holding off on telling our landlord that we had a new place until the lease was signed, just to make sure everything was copacetic.  The day that he came to get the rent, I was opening my mouth to tell him that we were moving when he said “Sra. Cynthia, I have bad news.  The house has been sold and you need to move by September 1st.”  I had two issues with that (Yes, I know we had a new place already, but allow me my issues).  The first was that instead of two months, we now had about five weeks.  The second (and I didn’t find this out until later) was that the house has not ACTUALLY been sold.  We think that he wants to rent it for more money.  I hate being lied to. 

ONWARD.  We have spent the last two weeks frantically getting rid of excess furniture and STUFF that we have accumulated over the past 10 years.  I know that once we are moved and settled I will be very glad that it happened, but right now I am spending an awful lot of time looking around anxiously and trying to figure out where to put stuff in the apartment when we don’t even have the keys yet. 

I PROMISE that once we are moved and settled (we are officially starting the moving process around August 7th) that I will do a real update, and tell you all about the teams that we’ve run this summer (it’s been a GREAT summer), the ministry that is happening, the sewing ladies and our family in general.  Until then, here’s a smiling giraffe.


The Comfort Zone…

“You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Comfort Zone!”  (cue creepy music)

Yesterday the first team that Dan and I were involved with this summer left to head back home.  They were a smallish team–just 11 people–and a shortish team–just 8 days.  They worked hard and connected hard, and I honestly think that when they got back on that plane, they knew that it had been good.

It’s been awhile since I interacted with a team at this level.  True, I wasn’t at the project with them each day–my knee has become a bit of a professional liability–but I had dinner with them every night and got to really chat with them.  It was neat to see their hearts expand as the week went on, and to be excited about the ministry that is happening here and around the world.  Some had been other places, and for some this was their first time off of North American soil.

A couple of nights I was able to listen in as they did their daily debrief, and then Tuesday as they did a final debrief with Dan and Paul before they left for home.  One recurring theme that caught my attention was “comfort zone”.  Being outside of it, what it looks like for different people, how to be a part of ministry and not get so caught up in details that you miss the big picture…I started thinking about “comfort zones”.  And as you all know, when I think about serious stuff I think someone should read it, so here we go.

Our comfort zone may be the most intensely personal thing that we own.  And we do own it.  It’s ours.  Yes, our personality, background, surroundings, genetic makeup and other environmental factors can play a huge role in shaping it, but in the end, it is ours, intensely personal and not necessarily open or willing to change.

I picture it like a bubble.  Some people appear to have a bubble that encompasses the whole planet.  It’s a big bubble.  They will go anywhere, talk to anyone, try anything…for these people, especially in the context of a team, they appear to have never met a stranger.  Little kids hang off of them like they are a jungle gym.  When they sit down, children fight to sit on their lap.  Those who don’t get the coveted lap spot sit as close as possible, touching a sleeve or an arm, jostling for position…and the “Big Bubble” person loves it.  The more the merrier, right?  People with “global bubbles” don’t ever appear to be bothered (or even realize) when things are out of control, but rather see it as an adventure.

The next “level” in the “bubble hierarchy” is the people who have a pretty good sized bubble, but it isn’t a global bubble.  It’s more of a “world as I know it” bubble.  Their community, the world that they know…things that are “controllable”.  They are willing to step out of their comfort zone and go, but the details and experiences need to be pretty manageable.  These people are the ones on teams that make sure that everyone gets on the bus on time.  They are more detail focused.  When it comes to interacting with people, they prefer a more controlled environment.  Rather than having 37 children crawling all over them, they prefer a few children, and preferably the ones who are a little quieter, who want a lap to snuggle on or a hand to hold.  They are the rational ones on the team that make sure things get done and done well.

Then…there are the “bubble-wrapped” people.  This is where I fit in.  My bubble fits me like a second skin.  For the bubble-wrapped person, a missions trip is something akin to a trip to the moon.  The details (and this is just to actually GET there) are overwhelming.  Many won’t even consider it.  Those that do need every detail, every list, every assurance.  Once they get there, assuming that they manage to do so, they are so consumed with the details and the worries about what could go wrong that they often miss the big picture.  They are not going to have mountains of children crawling all over them, or even a few.  You might find them with one child, one very quiet child, sitting next to them.  This whole experience is so far outside their comfort zone that it’s hard to tell if they have even had an experience.  They did, though.  These are the people watchers.  They can read a room, and a situation, like an open book.  The insight that they bring to the table during things like debrief never fails to astound me.

I guess my point is that our “comfort zone” is not an excuse to avoid missions.  Just because we don’t all see, or experience things the same way, doesn’t mean that we didn’t step outside.  For the “Big Bubble” person, stepping outside their comfort zone might mean that instead of being the human jungle gym for 50 children, they spend some time one-on-one with that elderly gentleman that no one noticed over there in the corner.  The “Community Bubble” person might need to let go of the details for a bit and go play soccer with those children.  You’re going to lose–badly–but it will be so good for both of you!  And the “Bubble Wrapped” person needs to stop watching people and actually talk to them.  I know–because I am this person.  And for most of us–I don’t care what kind of bubble you are wrapped in–stepping out of our Comfort Zone begins with stepping out of our front door.  The difference is in how far we step.

How big is your bubble?

“By stepping outside your comfort zone to do something peculiar, you confirm that you can do more than you’ve done. Move out!”
Israelmore Ayivor

We made it home!

I know you all thought I dropped off the face of the earth.  Sorry about that.  We did indeed fly home to Quito on the 24th of May, although it didn’t go quite like I expected it to.

Dan and I ended up with two different routes to Miami.  Patrick and I flew through JFK and Dan flew through Chicago, and we met up in Miami.  When Patrick and I arrived at JFK, we had just enough time to race to the other end of the terminal and catch our connecting flight.  In all of the chaos, I ended up twisting my knee very badly, tearing both the meniscus and the ACL.  By the time we arrived in Quito, I could not walk.  Fortunately Dan had asked in Miami for a wheelchair or I would probably still be sitting on the plane waiting for someone to get me out of there!  *Sidenote.  Coming through Customs in a wheelchair while crying does wonders for expediting their system.  That poor guy looked at me like he thought I was going to keel over right there, and waved us on through.  I will remember this.*

On Sunday, Dan took me to the emergency room to see what was up with my knee.  The doctor there did his level best to be useless, and I must say he succeeded admirably.  He did manage to let me know SEVERAL times that they only had one knee brace there, and it was TOO SMALL for me.  He emphasized this multiple times, just to make sure that I understood.  -_- .  On Tuesday I went to my hand doctor, who is very good at both hands AND knees.  He sent me for an MRI (let’s just say it’s a good thing I only had to be in up to my middle!) and then sent me to get a brace.  I went to the store where they sell them, and the poor guy working there came over and goes “Senora, this is the only…here.  You had better try this on.”  He must have seen the look on my face.  Apparently his momma taught him to recognize the signs of a woman on the edge.  Fortunately for both of us this one fit my very large knee!  (Seriously–I don’t have huge knees.  It was just crazy swollen.)

Coming home unable to walk put a damper on all of my “coming home” plans.  I am up and about now, although I have to be very careful what I do, as my knee is very unstable and keeps wandering off in the opposite direction from the rest of my leg.  Typically, I have everything unpacked and put away, and my house back the way I like it within a couple of days.  This time it took me two weeks, and put a lot more strain on my poor hubby than I had intended!  I am hoping and praying that I can heal this without surgery, as the surgery that my doctor described to me sounds crazy painful and very invasive.

As many of you know, we are facing a move for the first time in 10 years.  Our sweet elderly landlord is no longer able to care for the rental properties that he has, and so he is selling them.  The other half of our duplex was being rented by Extreme Response to use as overflow housing, but we terminated the lease on June 1st, since we did not need it for our teams this summer and we didn’t know how long we could have kept it.  Our sweet landlord rented it AGAIN.  Ahem.  To some kind of security company.  They are hands-down the loudest neighbors we’ve ever had.  I feel like I’m living next door to some bizarre combination of construction site and frat house.  We had originally decided to ride out the sale of our house (the paperwork here could take six months or six years–it’s a terribly long process) but now I am thinking that maybe we need to step up looking for somewhere else to live before my nerves are shot.

We are diving into Team Season–in fact, Dan’s first team arrives tomorrow night.  It’s always a crazy time around here–most of the guys are out with teams all summer.  It is not unheard of for us to have five teams on the ground at once!  I don’t think our schedule is quite that packed this summer, but it will still be a good time!  Patrick and I are looking forward to spending some time with teams this year.  This is the first time in three years that we’ve been home for the summer and we’re very excited about it.

Patrick’s schooling is going well.  We’ve moved to a “summer schedule”.  Because of his learning issues, his retention is not good, so we are going to continue working on a limited schedule over the summer.  Mostly he will continue with reading and some math, and the rest of his subjects will start up again in September.  He continues to make me laugh all the time–he is just a very funny little boy.

I will post a ministry update soon.  There is an awful lot happening here right now, but because of my handicapped status I haven’t gotten out to see most of it.  Hopefully next week, after this team leaves, I’ll have lots of news!


The home stretch.

“I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it’s like.” ~Audrey Hepburn:  Breakfast at Tiffany’s


We are down to less than four weeks before we head back to Quito, and as usual, my emotions are all over the place.  When we’re here, we find ourselves looking at houses for sale, and thinking about where we might possibly live if we came back, and who would Dan work for, and what color would we paint the living room, and what church would we go to, and so on.  Then we go back to Quito, and our thoughts turn to how to make our ministry better and what kind of apartment are we looking for and does it really matter if we paint it or not because it isn’t ours…

I don’t know if there is any way to reconcile those two worlds.  Ecuador is not the place where we plan to buy a house and be forever, but it IS the place where we need to be right now.  Our house that we’ve lived in for 10 years is being sold, and we have to find somewhere else to live.  This is the house where we raised our children.  It’s the house that we moved into just 8 short months after we arrived on the field.  We struggled through the first months and years of missionary life there.  We had Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings and birthdays and vacations there.  This house was robbed once, and even though it took months for our sense of security to return, it was still home and we knew that healing from that trauma didn’t mean finding somewhere else to live.  It was as if we needed each other–the house and us.  When our house sells, it will be torn down.  It is old, and it would take way more money to fix things than it would to just start over.  And the property is worth probably a half million dollars or so, and we know that a developer will snap it up and raze our memories and put up a high-rise with apartments made of glass and steel, and our house with the aggravating wood floors and the crumbling bricks and the 16 foot ceilings and the huge master bedroom and the crazy plumbing will just go quietly into the night.

Coming back to the US presents it’s own set of realities.  This part of our world has changed.  People move on.  We’ve missed births and deaths and job changes and house changes and kids growing up and church changes…so coming back to Ohio would not be “coming home”.  It would present it’s own set of challenges that would be, in their own way, more difficult than the reality of our move to Ecuador.  We would be returning to a home that has no history for us.  Our three oldest children are grown, and they will probably never actually live with us again.  There is no “home where we raised our family” here for us.  There are places and people that make things more homelike FOR us, but it’s not OURS.  We are always on someone else’s turf, and that’s a harsh reality sometimes.  The other reality that would come with returning to the US is that Ohio is no longer necessarily the only place where we feel loved and welcomed.  We have people in Georgia and Texas and California and Indiana and Illinois and Arizona…people who love us.  So where exactly would “home” be, anyway”?

We are not planning to move back anytime soon, unless the Lord makes it quite clear that it’s time.  We are going to head back to Ecuador and pack up our memories and move them to a new place, whether it’s an apartment or a duplex or a house, and we’ll start making some memories there.  Dan, Patrick, Oliver and I.  Maybe the Lord will finally give us that baby girl that has been tugging on my heartstrings.  I don’t know who she is, but in my heart she has a name and she needs a momma and a daddy and some brothers and sisters.  Maybe He won’t.  Maybe He will bring things to an end and we’ll be back on US soil before we know it.  Maybe He will change things up and we’ll end up somewhere else on the planet, doing something that we could never have imagined.


“It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, ‘I want to go home.’ But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere.”
Danzy Senna

He’s a gentleman.

We need some gentlemen in this life.   If you go back to the caveman days, when Org went out and caught the dinosaur and brought it home and cleaned it and got rid of all the icky parts because his wife (not sure that’s the right term–there aren’t any real statistics on cavemen and marriage) didn’t like them, and then figured out how to build a fire because she was tired of eating cold dinosaur, and then when it was all over, he did the dishes…it’s apparent.  He was the first gentleman.  Things have changed a little, what with the shortage of dinosaurs and all, but the basic idea is still the same.  There are important qualities in a gentleman, and I think it’s time we recognize them.

My Sweet Hubby is a gentleman.  Seriously.  This man of mine can find the good in anyone.  I can be going OFF about someone because they are just dumber than a fencepost and they irritated the daylights out of me today with their breathing and living and stuff, and Dan will say, very quietly, “You know?  That guy has a firm handshake.  I like that.  It shows character.”  And I’m over here thinking “Handshake?  I’ll give him a handshake.  I’ll whap him upside his head with his handshake.  Handshake my EAR.”  And Dan just smiles and goes on about his business and goes on thinking that the guy has a firm handshake while I huff and puff and blow the house down.

He is a man of few words (which is probably good because I am a woman of a LOT of words) but when he speaks, it’s worth listening to.  He thinks about what he is going to say (let’s just not go there, K?  Thanks.) and he makes sure that his words are positive when at all possible.  He kills spiders for me.  Even the little teeny ones that I could step on if I wasn’t already heading out the front door to go somewhere else because SPIDER.  He lets my dachshund sleep in our bed.  Not that he really has any choice–Oliver kind of does what he wants to most of the time–but SH doesn’t complain about it, so I count that as gentleman behavior.

He gives me the last Reese’s, even though it’s going to be months before we can get another one, because Ecuador has not discovered this little piece of heaven quite yet, so we only get them when someone brings them to us or we come back to the US.  He used to pick me up from work when it was raining even though we only lived three blocks from the school, because he knows that I hate to be unnecessarily wet.

He rocks babies and plays with the toddlers at the day care.  This is a very important gentleman quality, because if you can stand there and watch your husband rock that little baby and play with that sticky little toddler and not just break down and SOB…He holds little old ladies hands, and they gaze up at him adoringly and hang on his arm and I just MELT, I’m telling you.  Puddle all over the floor.  Gentleman.

He goes to work early and stays late, because there are things to be done.  He takes me to the grocery store because I don’t drive and don’t like taxis…and he’s usually just worked all day and he’s tired and he does it anyway.

He’s not perfect, my gentleman.  But he’s perfect for me.



When I grow up.

“Don’t try to make me grow up before my time…”
Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  I am pretty sure it’s the second most asked question of children, right after “Where is your nose?”  That’s quite a jump, when you think about it.  From locating a random body part to planning a career, in the blink of an eye.  And both before you even learn to feed yourself.

I wanted to be a doctor.  Except for the blood and the math and stuff.  Apparently math is necessary in medical school, and you have to be able to find “X”.  Don’t know where it is and don’t care, so there goes the medical career.

At some point I wanted to be a musician.  This was evidenced by my trying to learn every instrument in the band, and mastering none, although I finally did learn to play a reasonably good saxophone.  I gained a new appreciation for what my parents and grandparents went through, attending all of those elementary band concerts.  It’s an entire room full of parents all praying at once for the Rapture, so that they don’t have to listen to one.  more.  song.  Elementary choir concerts run a close second.  Every child in the choir (including the boys) sings soprano, except for that one girl whose voice changed last week and she’s singing bass and trying not to look self-conscious.  The wild applause at the end has nothing to do with the actual performance–everyone is just glad that it’s over, and hoping that there won’t be an encore.

Once, for a very short time, I wanted to be a pastor.  Please don’t ask me why.  I am pretty sure that even God laughed at that one.  I have a fear of speaking in front of people that is literally paralyzing.  When I was a senior in high school, I had to give a speech at the end of the year.  I begged my teacher to let me tape it, or do it for her privately, and she would not cooperate.  I stood up in front of the class, started to cry and ran from the room.  Most churches prefer that the pastor be able to actually get up there and say something profound.  Fortunately I realized pretty quickly that preaching wasn’t my gift.  Neither was being a ballet dancer (no coordination what.  so.  ever.), a pilot (one good eye, and it’s questionable), a singer (Oh Sweet Jesus.  Just.  NO.) and a whole lot of other careers that involved talents that I didn’t possess.  (And before you pop up and get all “But coordination isn’t really a TALENT, I beg to differ.  In our family, it’s a talent.  I can assure you that all of those singers on “American Idol” have not worked nearly as hard at learning to sing as my sister and I have at learning to walk across a room without needing medical attention on the other side.  It’s a talent, people.)

We ask our children to make a decision about the rest of their lives at the age of 18.  When I was 18, I shouldn’t have been choosing what to have for breakfast.  I slept with my teddy bear until I got married.  I probably would have slept with him longer, but he made Dan nervous.  I’ve been married for 23 years, raised three children (and am well on my way to getting the fourth one reasonably raised), done a bunch of stuff that was never on my radar…and I still don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up.  I have a lot of questionable skills now (I can plan a graduation ceremony in three days and run a week-long camp for junior high kids playing only games that involve food, including but not limited to octopus, ketchup, mustard and chocolate syrup), but the market for these amazing abilities is kind of limited here in the US.  For one thing, I am pretty sure that PETA would have a conniption if they found out that I can organize a volleyball game where the ball is an actual octopus.  Yeah.  I’ve got skills.

I have a lot of experience.  And a degree that says that I know some stuff about some stuff.  Maybe, someday, when I finally grow up, I will know what I want to do.  Until then, I will just keep learning stuff about stuff, and see what happens.

“People give you a hard time about being a kid at twelve. They didn’t want to give you Halloween candy anymore. They said things like, “If this were the Middle Ages, you’d be married and you’d own a farm with about a million chickens on it.” They were trying to kick you out of childhood. Once you were gone, there was no going back, so you had to hold on as long as you could.”
Heather O’Neill