Full schedules, full hearts

So, as this month-long blogging journey has gone on, it’s been harder and harder to keep up with this daily task of coming here to write.  I wish I had more time for it as blogging has often been a great way for me to process and celebrate and thank God for the life He’s given me.  However, some days that’s just not reality and I’d much rather just enjoy the moments than worry about blogging about them.  

Truth is I have a lot less spare time these days, and I’m totally okay with that!  At the end of a day where we’ve been going 18 different directions all day, if my daughter wants to talk and tell me what happened in her day, I’m going to sit and listen (no matter how much I’d love to be in bed fast asleep).  If it comes down to it, telling other people about my journey isn’t nearly as fun as living it.  

Two and a half months have already passed. That’s crazy.  As one sports season ended yesterday and Elisa prepares for another (she’s giving Basketball a shot), I look forward to even more days with full schedules, and full hearts! 

Laundry, Pancake Batter, and a Throne of Grace

The last few days have been tough. Nothing specific has made them such, just the little things of normal life that add up to some frustrating, busy, chaotic, hard, or just random days.  

As I went to bed last night I decided to pick up a book I’m in the middle of to unwind a bit before heading to bed.  When I did, I was met with these beautiful words: 

“Draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Wow… those were the words I needed. As I read on the author of the book continued sharing about this verse and how that plays out on the tough days:

“The writer of Hebrew might as well be saying, ‘Hey fresh-out-of-amazing girl, you are welcome here.’ Do you know what being ‘welcome at this throne’ of God means? We can bring our burdens and busyness, we can lay down our shattered dreams, we can tell God we have never felt amazing, we can pour out all the lies our hearts have been believing, and we can certainly cry the bitter tears stored up in our grieving hearts. Friend, simply put, it is good for us to approach the throne of grace.” – Stacey Thacker, Fresh Out of Amazing (page 178)

Mmmm… that’s some good stuff for the soul!  As I got up this morning I decided I’d start the day at this throne of grace… and wow did God meet me there today.  The busy schedule didn’t get any less busy… the confusing situations didn’t get any less confusing… the hard work is still hard… and there’s still the task of getting your teenager to finish cleaning up the pancake batter that’s still down the front of the kitchen cabinet from Monday’s adventure with her friends… BUT at this Throne of Grace I did receive mercy and was able to find, to search for, to notice grace in time of need. 

Today, that grace just came in wave after wave… “grace upon grace”… as John talks about.  Oh yes, I had to look but once I did, I found grace all over the place today… 

Grace came in gathering with a friend, as we do each Wednesday morning, to pray the things of our hearts together. 

Grace again in praising Jesus while leading preschool chapel… reminding myself as I taught them that God really does have the whole world, including me, in His hands… and the sidewalks and the cows too 😉

Grace found in abundance while listening to the heart of an overwhelmed college student and being able to help her give herself a little grace.

Grace in the crockpot working hard all day making yummy a porkchop dinner for us and grace in a quick 10 minute nap on the couch while waiting for the rice to cook. 

Grace in working together with Elisa to do the dinner dishes (and finish cleaning up the pancake batter) allowing for conversation and connection in the process. 

Grace still crashing in again when Elisa remembered before me that she needed to wash her volleyball uniform, took initiative to do laundry herself, AND stopped to ask me if I needed anything washed while she was doing a load. Oh so many graces there. 

And now, to end the night, putting my laundry away listening to Elisa playing beautiful music on the keyboard which is in my room… 

Yea, there again … grace upon grace upon grace. 

Thank you Jesus for letting us draw near at your Throne… and while at work… and in the car… and while doing housework… thank you for the mercy that we receive there and the grace we find again and again and again.  Keep drawing us near. Amen. 

Ice Cream and Laughter and Laundry, Oh My!

Last week I was around a lot of people who were finding out for the first time that I was hosting an AFS student.  After their initial reactions (whatever they might have been) often conversation would come around somehow to how the experience was matching up with my expectations.  I knew there would be hard days… and there has been. I knew there would be times when I’d have no clue what to do… (fake it til ya make it right?!?).  I knew there would be challenges that I could have never guessed and so I didn’t even try.  

Yea we’ve had tough curfew conversations… and then ones about consequences.  We’ve had disagreements because, well, she’s a teenager and I am not.  There are some days we may be thankful to have two separate rooms to go to at the end of the evening. 

But more than any of that… 

we’ve had nights filled with laughter… lots of laughter… 

we’ve shared ‘firsts’ together … first day of school… first VB game here… first Baseball Game ever… first (American) football game…and hope to have many more to come… 

I get to cheer her on each week from the stands at her volleyball games (which comes with the distinct ‘mom privilege’ of putting her nose ring in my purse for safe keeping during the game)

I’ve taught her to do laundry and she’s taught me to use snapchat… 

we’ve eaten ice cream out of the carton (shhh) and I occassionaly get her to try some new vegetables … 

I correct her [already amazing] English … and she laughs as I make sad attempt to say 6 words I know in Faroese …

She’s done my make up for fun on a Saturday night because she was bored and she likes doing people’s make up (I told you there were new things for both of us!!!) …

we’ve had chances to hear about each others’ days at the dinner table and on the great days we celebrate together and on the hard days I’ve gotten to remind her that ‘boys are stupid’ or ‘just be yourself’ or some other almost-cliche truth … 

we’ve made Faroese pancakes …and American pancakes … and enjoyed them both… 

These are the things I hope I remember most when we get to the end of the year.  These are the moments that make all the hard ones worth it.  These are times I thank God for what He’s called me to and rejoice in one more day I get to be Mom. 

Night before school starts icecream and a movie

packing a lunch for her first day of high school in America

First Day Of School!

Meeting Elisa

Written August 13, 2016 … 2 days after becoming “mom”:

So I picked up Elisa this weekend. Yep, this is real… And crazy and perhaps really crazy. At the same time, not crazy at all, but somehow normal.  At different points I stop and think “what am I doing?” and at certain points I’m sure the reality (insanity?) of it all will probably hit me harder but at the same time it feels okay and good even.  I interact with teenagers all the time… Most people seem to get along with me just fine so why shouldn’t she… I actually enjoy leading and guiding and mentoring through things and that’s what this is.  I like being able to say “we’ll figure it out together”.  Yes it may be crazy, but it seems right… Right where I’m supposed to be right now.

My heart tends to lean toward wondering what other people think.  Seeking approval is rarely a good thing, but it’s true.  Lord, help me with that.  That being said it did my heart good to see a post Elisa put on Instagram, I suppose introducing me to her family and friends back home (at least that’s what I’m assuming the Faroese meant). 
The best translation I can come up with is that it says “me and my ‘fitta’ American mom”
When looking up “fitta” I found:
“Smart… Capable… Brave”
I’m pretty sure those aren’t the best translations and not quite what she was going for, but I guess I’ll take it! 
At first I resisted these titles in my mind. But then I realized that in Jesus, these can each be true of this year (even if that’s not at all the translation she was going for).  I am smart to be in what I believe is God’s will for me… Following His lead into the world of instant, temporary parenthood.  Capable. This is probably the one I most resist… Am I REALLY capable? But then I remember … It’s never about my abilities anyway.  It’s always all about Jesus and his strength and power and wisdom in my life.  “Apart from him I can do nothing.”  Brave.  Okay so this one I believe… Volunteering to parent a teenager you’ve never met before for 10 months whose first language is not English and came from across the world. Okay … That takes some bravery, yet again, the courage and confidence is not in myself but in trusting God goes before me and walks beside me and will be able to simply mirror the bravery in Elisa for actually coming here… in being adventurous … in trying new things and living life to the fullest.  If you ever read this, I’m already so proud of you Elisa!  I can’t wait to see what this year holds together! 

An International Community 

One of the things I’m loving about being an AFS host is that I have so many opportunities to learn about other countries and cultures. Throughout the year AFS plans various events for the exchange students and families.  There are currently about 35 students from over a dozen countries (maybe more) currently  placed around WNY.  Back at the end of August we went to a Bison’s Baseball Game and yesterday we enjoyed a family picnic.  To look around a room and see teenagers from Germany and Thailand and Japan and Spain and Switzerland and beyond was such a fun experience.  The night ended with the students having some “forced fun” learning some square dancing together!  I’m enjoying being part of this AFS community this year!

Elisa’s 1st Baseball Game

AFS Family Picnic and Square Dancing

Elisa with something close to her flag but not really 🙂

Where it all began…

“So how did it come about that you are hosting an exchange student?”

This question in various forms has passed through my ears into my brain countless times in the last couple months.  The fascinating thing is I literally have no clue where the idea came from initially.  I was standing at my stove making breakfast one morning and the next thing I knew I was pondering what it might be like to host an exchange student.  I quickly put it out of my mind for a multitude of reasons and went about my day. 

But, obviously, since here we are 8 months later with a teenager living in my home, it didn’t actually stay out of my mind for long.

Later that day I was preparing for a youth lock-in that weekend. We were going to hang out at the church that night and then do service projects with a local organization the next day.  A few hours before students arrived the director of the organization called and informed us that due to circumstances outside their control about 3/4 of the project we were supposed to do the next day wouldn’t be able to be done.  With a few hours to try to pull something together I began scouring the internet and other connections and resources to figure out what to do with 30 teenagers.  I had used a volunteer matching website to plan some past mission trips and decided to quick see if there happened to be any opportunity for groups on there.  Opportunities for 30 teenagers to serve in their community the next day were not among the results… but opportunities for WNYers to host a foreign exchange student next year were. Screen after screen, search after search, “host an exchange student” kept appearing before my eyes.  Again I quickly put the thought of a teenager in my home out of my mind to attend to the tasks necessary to welcome dozens of them into our church that night. 

However, the “coincidence” wasn’t lost on me and after recovering what turned out to be a great lock-in I began seriously praying about whether God was potentially leading me down this path.  Without giving details at first I also asked a few close friends to begin praying about this as well as another related idea that had come to mind, both of which would involve living with other people. 

As I prayed no clear answer was given, but the concept of hosting kept appearing in my life in the most random of places.

Later that week, or maybe the next, I was filling in for someone helping cook and serve the Lenten Dinners at our church.  While filling containers with applesauce so the woman next to me could put cinnamon on them, she made the statement, “I think we should leave some without cinnamon. I had a foreign exchange student 22 years ago and he didn’t like cinnamon. Maybe someone doesn’t like cinnamon.”  At least one or two times before the night was over, she had brought her exchange son up randomly in conversation. 

If this didn’t get my attention enough, I found myself only a few days later in a conversation with a woman in the choir I’m in as she described the trip she was preparing to go on to visit the AFS student her family hosted while she was in high school. 

Along with my prayers, I decided to start taking some small steps of exploration.  I visited some websites.  I had some conversations with people who know and love me. I researched different programs and step by step I found myself getting more and more excited about this opportunity.

So, really, I’m not exactly sure how I got into this adventure.  No one asked me to host.  No one even presented me with the idea.  It just came to mind as I cooked breakfast on February Friday morning, but my life has never been the same, and for that I’m grateful! 

Write 31 Days Challenge – Instant Motherhood

“So basically you’re an instant single mom to a 17-year old from another country whose third language is English?!?” 

As I heard someone say this to me this week, I realized again how “unconventional” this all really is.  Though those who know me aren’t surprised.  

My journey into, and now, through this year as “Mom” to my amazing foreign exchange daughter has been truly an adventure.  The awesome moments mix with the hard days; the excitement and confidence mingle with insecurity and doubt.  As people ask how I got to this point I’m not exactly sure how to respond, but I know God has been in it every step of the way and will continue to lead and guide. 

As we journey into October, a time when I have challenged myself in past years to join a 31 Day challenge to write every day for the month, some friends encouraged me to consider sharing some of my AFS Hosting journey here.  I’m not sure where the next 31 days will take us in this blog.  If it’s anything like my time with Elisa, there will be adventures around every corner.  But as best as I can be, I’ll simply show up.  I’ll write. I’ll mother. I’ll live this crazy awesome life God has called me to. 

Here we go.