What being a mom has taught me about serving others

One of the greatest joys of this whole host family process has been the chance to serve someone else daily, perhaps multiple times a day.  For example, while Elisa is perfectly capable of packing her own lunch, and some days does, I enjoy serving her in this small way.  

It also is a way I actually can help toward the process of getting a teenager out the door halfway on time in the morning.  I can’t control the rest of her rushed morning routine, but I can make her lunch.   This is just one of many ways being “mom” has taught me about serving others: I can’t do everything but I can figure out what my role is and serve wholeheartedly there, doing my small part. 

Also, parent to a teenager provides an everconstant reminder that servants are often overlooked and undervalued.  While we all experience this ourselves in different ways, it’s a great reminder to be more grateful for the people who serve ME and to keep my eyes open for what others do that may often go unnoticed.  

It’s also a great mirror for my motive behind serving and an attitude check in the midst of it.  I have a few choices when serving someone doesn’t go as I planned.  I may go out of my way to make sure dinner is waiting for her when she home from a volleyball game on a day I won’t be there to make something.  Then, instead of eating what I make she invites friends over, makes pancakes (along with a big mess in the kitchen).  I have some choices to make… I can either let myself get worked up or frustrated that my efforts were in vain and seemingly unnoticed. OR I can be grateful that she seems to understand the value of having people over… that she IS self-sufficient enough to make dinner… that she did promise before I even got home that she’d clean everything up… that she feels comfortable enough here to invite people into our home. (…and that’s she’s okay with leftovers and I don’t have to think about what to cook for tomorrow night ūüôā ). I can get frustrated or I can get grateful.   

As I mentioned before, it shines a light on my motives and expectations… why was I making her dinner in the first place… was I doing it simply out of love and care for her or was I doing it to gain some kind of approval or affirmation. (Most likely in this case I was doing it because providing food for my kid is kind of important haha).  But in the bigger picture of serving anyone, when I’m left frustrated often I can trace it back more to my own unrealistic expectations or motivations, more so than anything someone else did or didn’t do. 

I’m sure Jesus felt unnoticed and undervalued all the time as He served people all around Him.  He would do great things for them… even miraculous things, and they’d forget a few days later.  If nothing else, there’s the whole fact we often forget that, well, He DIED for us.  How quickly we forget that huge, ultimate act of service.  Not being noticed is part of the deal in serving, I think.  But Jesus kept focused on His purpose.   God’s Word even tells us that serving people WAS his whole purpose in coming… that He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give His life.  When we can keep our purpose in view as we serve, we are able to leave the frustration and bitterness out of the picture. 
Serving someone in the role of mom has also taught me so much about developing others in servanthood.  While Elisa’s parents already did all the hard work on this part, I get to continue to help build on what they’ve done to grow her into someone with a heart to serve others. I pray that if I have more children of my own in the future what I’m learning now will help me in the early stages as well.  

Above all, serving Elisa has reminded me of the sacrificial and unconditional love of Jesus for me.  In the end, I love and care for Elisa.  No matter what happened yesterday, I can joyfully get up and serve her today because of that love.  Even greater is the love of Jesus and even more perfect.  As humans it’s easy for us to carry around a list of past offenses, to let things build up overtime and become more and more bitter and frustrated. But Jesus, His mercies never come to an end, they new every morning. His faithfulness is great and His love is steadfast (Lamentations 3:22-23). 

Jesus as we serve others, in whatever role we may serve them, may our mercy and compassion be new this day.  Free us from any frustration of past days and set our hearts on love.  May you give us opportunities to serve out of that love with no other motives.  May we be faithful to the places you’ve called us to serve even on the days it gets hard.  May we seek to glorify you and not worry about being noticed or appreciated by anyone else.  Show us the purpose you have for our lives and use that to joyfully prompt acts of service in our lives out of your grace. Above all, thank you for serving us, each and every day, and ultimately in the giving of your life. What great love!  Help us rest in and live out of that love today. In Jesus’ name, Amen

On Plants and Parenting

At our host family orientation for AFS, one of the activities involved looking at a bunch of small plants and describing all the difference.  The cacti ware different than the leafy plants different still from the flowering ones. And even within a variety of categories each plant on the table was still unique… different colors, shapes, etc.  

We used these plants to discuss difference in the teenagers who would be coming to join each of our homes.  Even putting aside the fact that they’re coming from different cultures and countries, each student is already unique with their own personality, experiences, and outlook on life.  

While some common things are needed to help plants grow… water, light, air, etc… each plant is unique.  Some plants need direct sunlight while others need shade. Something like grass needs water multiple times a day when it first starts growing from seeds. while other plants… well let’s just say I might have killed a few plants with too much water.  Different temperatures and climates also help various plants thrive. 

Once again, the same is true of the students who came through AFS this year.  All need attention, love, food, support, shelter, encouragement, and more. But it’s not a one-size-fits all thing.  What works for one student doesn’t work for others.  The key is paying attention and being intentional.

Throughout this year my little plant on the kitchen counter, taken home from that first host parent orientation, has reminded me of that.  

Thankfully it’s a pretty forgiving plant.  It needs attention but seems to bounce back pretty well if it gets neglected.  However not without a few lost leaves.  Like my relationship with Elisa I must pay attention to it, watching for signs when more care is necessary.  I must be intentional about not letting things go on auto-pilot as we go through the year and find some routines. I must take time each day to water our relationship.  I must be attentive to areas in her life where a little extra care and attention would be helpful.  I must help get rid of any “dead leaves” between us so new ones can thrive. 

I can’t help but think this morning about how God does the same with his children.  Each of us are created in His image, yet unique.  He doesn’t treat us all with cookie cutter responses.  Rather, He carefully tends our hearts and minds with intentionality based upon what He knows we each need.  He gives a little more water or a little less sun; He prunes when necessary even if it hurts Him to see us Hurt.  The Master Gardener knows exactly what we need today. Not only does He know what we need, He will provide.

So many great reminders to start a new week all from one little plant on the kitchen counter. 

Parenting is Hard. 

At the church where I work, we strongly believe that children and youth ministry is not just for children and youth, but also about equipping parents.  At the top of our resource page online we simply have these words: 

Parenting is Hard. 

For years I have known this fact.  I truly respect parents for all the hard work they do day in and day out trying to raise up children to be respected and respectful human beings, to give them a clear picture of their identity and purpose. (That’s not to mention the huge task of being the primary faith nurturer in their child, whether they want that role or not.) 

Yes… Parenting is Hard. 

There’s all the logistics of balancing all the activities and events, schedules and “who needs to be where, when.” There’s figuring out boundaries and figuring out how to, over the course of about 18 years, gradually give them more and more independence.  There’s the practical struggles of the sleepless newborn months and the helping with homework when 5 x 5 somehow isn’t so easy as it just simply being 25 anymore. 

The logistics and everyday “stuff” of parenting is hard.  

But then there’s the heart stuff… the character building … the teaching a 2 year old “let’s learn how to share” that somehow, perhaps overnight it seems, turns into discussions about bullying and breakups, sex and suicide, driving cars and deciding on colleges. 

Parenting is hard. 

This is nothing new to me. As I said before, I completely recognized this fact and try to be the biggest cheerleader I can be for the parents I see around me… friends with kids, the parents of students in our ministries, strangers on the street. Nothing I’ve learned so far as an AFS mom (which has been a lot) has been things I didn’t already know on some level. However, I pray that as I experience some of these things first hand, I’ll be an even better cheerleader moving forward.

So parents out there, you’re doing a great job. Even when it feels like this is the craziest job you’ve ever had, even when you mess things up, even when you’re not sure how in the world to handle a situations… yep, even then, you’re doing awesome.  Parenting is hard, but you’re not alone… look around you… MILLIONS of other people are doing it right alongside you.  It may FEEL like you’re alone, but you’re not. Reach out, encourage each other, walk with each other.  We need each other! And above all, lean into Jesus.  He’s got energy when we’re weary, wisdom for the tough decisions, grace when we feel like we’ve messed, and love. Yea, he’s got a lot of love… an abundance actually. And he wants to pour it all over our lives so that we can pour it out into our children.  Lean in, parenting may be hard, but it’s also amazing!

On Mom Time РEfficency 

I’m all for being as efficient as possible and often think through a day or tasks to see what might be the best game plan for getting everything done.  This skill has become extremely useful as a mom and I’ve even managed to be even more resourceful with my time.  An example was Wednesday night.  I went straight from my work at the university and timed it right to get to the high school with about 2 minutes until Elisa’s game started.  I was originally just planning to hang around after the game before her Homecoming Powderpuff game, but then realized I had a whole hour.  Instead of sitting on uncomfortable bleachers for an unnecessary hour I instead went and got gas, picked up the groceries I needed for tomorrow, dropped the perishables back off at home and made it back in time for kick-off.  Not only that, but I actually remembered some shopping I needed to do for work at the grocery store and got it all done in one trip instead of having to go out tomorrow during work to pick it all up.  Yay for efficency!  Yay for a Tonawanda win for the volleyball game!  And yay for a senior win at the Powderpuff game. 

Now if only my daughter could remember everything she needs on any given day and prevent extra trips to home… 

A little about the Faroe Islands

Many of the questions I get (and I’m sure Elisa gets even more of) all revolve around where she is from.  One of the reasons I even signed up for this host parent gig was because of my love for travel and exploring the world and cultures.  This provided a chance for me to give someone else an opportunity to do that while welcoming all the things I love about travel into my own home.  That being said, here are some things I’ve learned so far about the Faroe Islands:

  • There are 18 islands that make up the Faroe Islands.  It’s located up by Norway and Island in the North Atlantic Ocean.
  • The Faroe Islands, Denmark, and Greenland all make up what is known as the Kingdom of Denmark. In that way it is kind of its own country and kind of not.  The Faroe Islands has its own currency (but also use Danish money), flag, and language, yet is still kind of under the rule of Denmark. The best comparison I’ve found would be like Puerto Rico and the US.  
  • There are about 50,000 people between the 18 islands making up the population of the entire country.
  • The school system is different than in America. Compulsory school goes through 9th grade (though they learn many “high school” topics long before 9th grade).  You can go one additional year (Grade 10) if you would like, or you can go straight to what they call college. From what she’s describe it seems like somewhat of a mix between upper level high school and early college, kind of like a community college here in the US.  They pick a specific educational path focused toward certain types of jobs and go for either 2, 3, or 4 years.   They typically don’t start college until at least 17 or 18 years old.  It is very common for students to go abroad for one year during their late teens. Some just go to Denmark. Others, like Elisa choose to go further.  This is especially helpful for them to become more fluent in another language besides Faroese which is, obviously not a very common language in the world.  Students begin learning Danish around grade 3 and English typically in grade 4, to help prepare them for any careers that may take them outside of the Faroe Islands.
  • Food overall is differnt in the Faroe Islands than here. There is more fish in their diet (which of course would be a similarity if she was placed in a location near the coast and not with a host mom who grew up in landlocked Kansas).  Where cows are prevelant in America, sheep is the main animal of the Faroe Islands and is common in their diet.  From what Elisa has said the best tasting and most traditional dishes in her country all smell horrible haha.  It’s been hard to replicate foods here in America, but we did manage to Skype with her mom a few weeks ago and have her walk us through making Faroese pancakes! 
  • The country is absolutely gorgeous!  I guess I’ll end with sharing a few pictures Elisa sent me before she arrived.  I look forward to a day in the future when I can come visit her homeland and experience it all firsthand! 

Culture is more than a country 

As I finished Monday’s blog post I couldn’t help but think there’s more to it than simply calling someone “daughter” and that being that.  I think of stories Elisa has told me about her friends who are also on AFS adventures this year around the world, one elsewhere in America and the other in France.  Both of them are currently in the process of being relocated to new host families.  

I’m not trying to say anything bad about these two students or their initial host families, just that in general this is a process that doesn’t always go smoothly. Think about it for a minute… a child grows up within a specific family with a specific family culture for years, in a specific country with a specific country culture.  Meanwhile, across the world another family is formed with a different life experience, in a culture with all of its own little specific details.  Then one family pics up a teenager from the other family and tries to instantly make the two mesh.  Add in that in some cases they may only speak a few words of a common language and, like I said before, it’s not quite as easy just saying “this is my daughter”. 

I am beyond thankful for many things that have helped in the transition process for me and for Elisa.  First of all, she speaks AMAZING conversational English. This has helped us out immensely as we have figured out life together.  Also, while going from single life living on my own to that of single mom has been quite the transition, there are only two people trying to mesh not a whole family.  

That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges with that.  For example, from what I can tell the area in which she lives back home it is much safer and logistically easier to get around which means there was lot more freedom and independence given teenagers in her culture.  This has made the concepts of curfew and letting me know where she is and having to have rides in a car everywhere a somewhat challenging transition for her.  On my end, I’m used to not having to really connect with anyone else’s plans when making plans of my own.  When you couple one person not used to telling people where they are and another trying to make plans based up on where the other person is (not to mention that teenagers typically don’t have “plans” and just spontaneously ‘do stuff’) we’ve both had a learning curve. 

What I love most though in all of this is the new family culture Elisa and I are creating together. It’s of course still in the works but it involves lots and lots of laughter for which I am thankful.  It involves a balance of having the honor of serving her as my daughter doing things like packing a lunch or washing her volleyball jersey mixed with teaching her how to do things on her own.  It involves learning how to use snapchat and hearing about her day at school.  It involves tough conversations and time to goof-off. It involves planning with space for spontaneity.  It’s all about taking time when cultures collide to try to understand each other and figure out a new normal.  In some cases, like that of her two friends, it just doesn’t work out.  I’m so thankful that for us, it has! 

Elisa the World Traveler becomes Dora the Explorer

Her trusty map and backpack in hand we sent off Dora the Explorer to school today for her first experience with Homecoming Spirit week.  Got the full mom experience of staying up until way past my bedtime helping her transform her backpack, create and old looking map, and provide moral support as she freaks out about walking into her high school dressed like a children’s cartoon character.  Despite limited time and resources I’d say we did a pretty good job pulling it all together.  Good luck Elisa for TV Character Tuesday.  (Now just to find a hat and boots we can borrow for Western Wednesday!?!)