Kill the Buzzer

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A week after we moved here, my downstairs neighbor showed up with an armload of board games. My kids were ecstatic because apparently I’m allergic to board games so we have none. Today when we cracked open Operation for some good old fashioned fun, my four-and-a-very-important-to-include-half-year-old son had an almost crippling meltdown, and I had a revelation.

Let me back up. Two weeks ago, we moved east across the ocean to a small but strong democracy in the Middle East. (Like the last time we moved, I’m not planning to put the name of the country in writing, but you can figure it out pretty easily. My reason for this is that I don’t want to draw attention from bots, trolls or google searchers looking to harass or gather info on people who live here. I might anyway, but I’ll do what I can to prevent it.)

Though moving every few years is part of the job we (my husband really, but we are one) signed up for, it comes with so many mixed emotions. People constantly asked, “Are you excited about moving to I—?” I would stutter something back about feeling a lot of things, with excited being the last (but not least) of them.

In the leaving part of moving, there are the feelings of apprehension, stress, loss and grief. There is the physical and mental work of sorting, purging, packing, and planning/attending goodbye get togethers that is rewarded with feelings of satisfaction in an effective process (or the inverse), appreciation for all the help and value from loved ones who soak up their time with you.

In the arriving part of moving, you can be met with feelings of awe and wonder at the newness of everything, curiosity and frustration as you try to figure out how things work, loneliness and isolation as you work to make new friends and find your place. There’s exhaustion as your body works through jet lag and adrenaline surges to cope with stress. Oh, and there’s also excitement.

With all this talk of emotions, I should mention that I usually score pretty high on the T side of the Feeler-Thinker spectrum. That’s not to say I don’t have feelings or emotions, but I’m most comfortable operating without their overwhelming influence.

So, when these huge transitions come and there are as many emotions to sort through as there are boxes of everythingweown to put away, I have a tendency to get overloaded with it all and just want to shut down. When Judson was ready to throw the Operation game out the window, I knew just how he felt.

His fine motor skill of extracting a small piece of plastic from an odd shaped space with a pair of tweezers had yet to be developed. This was a brand new task for him. The game’s buzzer of failure continually reinforced his feelings of inadequacy and limited his capacity for learning. He was quickly becoming Not-A-Fan of the game.

And then I realized I could kill the buzzer.

He could learn the grip and motions necessary to play the game and if the tweezers touched the side, he wouldn’t be frozen by the fear of failure. After a few rounds like that, we tried it with the buzzer on and he was much more confident in his new ability and still didn’t mind when he messed up.

Since we don’t get practice rounds in most of life, I want so badly to get things right the first time I do something that anything less sounds a giant buzzer in my head. Moving involves a lot of doing things (again) for the first time and a lot of not getting them right. It involves handling a lot of different shaped emotions for myself and my family and learning how to navigate them through all the different spaces. And of course, there’s plenty of touching the sides with the tweezers. Cue the buzzer.

Or not.

Maybe if I kill the buzzer in my head, I can allow myself to learn with more grace. Of course I’m going to mess up, this is my first time doing this. Of course I’m going to drop the ball, there are a lot of things I can’t control. Of course I’m going to get overwhelmed, this is a lot for anyone to handle.

Now, I’m not advocating a life free from the consequences of bad decisions. I’m just realizing more about how I learn by watching my kids. If I can tell them, “You’re doing fine, just keep trying. Don’t get too upset about it, try to have fun. Try it a different way if that’s not working,” then I can definitely say them to myself.

Hours after the near disastrous morning session, my kids ran in from the park asking if they could play Operation, Judson insisting, “It’s my favorite game!” Now that’s the sound I want to hear, not that silly buzzer!

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Tears on Loan- National Infertility Awareness Week

Tears on Loan-2It’s been exactly seven years since I struggled with infertility. 10 1/2 years if you count when it started.

I’ve written at length about my journey through that hard time, but many of you are newer to reading my story and may not want to go scroll through my old blog (annasjoyblog.blogspot.com), so I’ll share a bit of it here.

We were married in 2005 and a year later planned to start trying for a baby. In anticipation of this, I prepared to separate from active duty service in the Air Force and we started clearing out the room that would be the nursery. It’d be more dramatic to say that room stayed empty for four more years, but the truth is that it served as a guest room and housed foster kids in the meantime.

A year and a half into the trying, we decided to get tested to see why we weren’t getting pregnant. The tests, including a Hysterosalpingogram, came back inconclusive. My obgyn suggested some things that might help; Metformin (a diabetes drug that was thought to help fertility), Clomid (a fertility drug that is supposed to regulate ovulation), seeing a urologist who specialized in male fertility, but nothing helped. We still didn’t have a baby and still didn’t know why.

I started following several bloggers who wrote about their journeys through infertility and started a support group with other women in my church desiring to be moms. Fortunately, I never felt alone, but I did feel lost because for us, there was no roadmap or timeline to the end of the journey.

If something can be both long-awaited and sudden, that’s how our infertility journey ended. In April 2010, Ayla came in to being. I knew someone was “in there” after about 12 days because I’d been Taking Charge of My Fertility. We wanted to have kids close(r) in age, but ours are three years apart (almost exactly. April is a good month for us!), so we had a second–shorter–trip in the waiting lane.

Sometimes I see one of my kids interacting with someone, creating joy with their magical smiles and hugs, and I think, “yep, that’s why they are alive and this age at this very moment.” And while that might be a comfort to me now, I’m not naive enough to try to use it as hope bait for someone still waiting for the end of that journey.

I still struggle with infertility because I still have precious friends walking through it. It feels somewhat trite for me to sit here with my life full of mommyhood, saying “I know what you’re going through.” But there isn’t a month that goes by that I don’t remember what it was like to want to be pregnant, to mourn on the day it was clear I wasn’t and to hold the questions of Why and When like burning coals in my heart.

No, it’s not the season I’m in anymore, but I want to remember it and honor those who have been through it and are still there. My tears for the loss of dreams, expectations crushed and unanswered questions may be stored in the vault of memories, but today I’m taking them out on loan for my loved ones still in the wait.

In honor of this week, a time to recognize that infertility exists and affects millions of women (1 in 8 couples), I’m raising my hand and waving my banner to support those I love in this battle.

One of my favorite warrior mamas, JM, shared an incredible blog post about her story of Unexplained Secondary Infertility, and I’d love for you to read it. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with any type of infertility, there’s a list of resources at the end of her blog you should check out.

Finally, I’d love to pray for you (for this or any other issue) if you’d trust me with that. Leave a comment or email me at annasjoy at gmail. Thank you.

 

 

What’s in a Day

Our Saturdays here are weirdly normal. Sometimes.

The work/school week starts on Sunday, while Friday and Saturday is the weekend. (Fun fact: the weekend here used to be Thursday and Friday, but right before we came, the king changed it to align with the weekend in the rest of the Middle East because kings can do that.) So, for most of the time I’ve lived here, I’ve been confused about what day it is, especially when looking at social media.

It doesn’t help that we have our (home) church on Fridays, so Friday afternoons feel like Sunday afternoons in the States, so we want to call our families, but they’re not home yet. Then Sunday is our Monday here and I get confused why people are posting stuff about church or other weekendy stuff.

And then there’s Saturday. Lovely Saturday. Weekends all around. Daddy is (usually) home from work, the locals don’t come out until the evening so the traffic is good for running errands and if we should happen to figure out what time it is in the States (day light savings time, what? #thanksobama), we have a good chance of making  internet-connection-willing calls to loved ones. There are even cartoons on TV (You know, for if I was one of those moms who lets their kids have screen time. #Iamoneofthosemoms)!

  
Something else weirdly normal about this Saturday is the holiday many around the world are celebrating. In this country, it is forbidden, which of course means the celebrations are everywhere and over the top. Stores sell surplus candy and toys, the international schools celebrate with “Storybook character” parades and many compounds offer trick or treating, haunted houses and parties with no attempt to hide the purpose.

So, even though this is my least favorite holiday no matter where in the world I am, there’s a strange home-style comfort in the pervasive normalcy of mutilating pumpkins and encouraging sugar intoxication.

Having a day that feels weirdly normal is a small grace for me in this season of life where most things in my world seem upsidedown and I’ve all but given up on making sense of anything.

Happy “This” Day to you and yours. May your Saturday(s) also be full of weirdly normal things and small graces to keep you sane.

Roads and Roots

The car trip from the Entebbe airport to the town of Jinja took longer than either segment of plane travel from our home in the Middle East. Our driver, appropriately named Abdullah, took as many back “roads” as he could to get around the congestion on the clogged two-lane highway. He told us the traffic that day had two main causes, heightened security due to the tragic terrorist attack in neighboring Kenya, and the holiday weekend where thousands poured out of the city to spend Easter with family in their villages.

In countries like Uganda, where modern technology like cell phones and wi-fi are more prevalent in the rural areas than basic social services like a working sewage system or driveable roads, you can see this tension as traditions shift and give way to modernization and globalization.

Far more tragic than a four-hour traffic jam is the toll this shift has taken on the family unit. Not too terribly long ago in tribal cultures, when biological parents couldn’t care for their children, the village absorbed them. There was still a loss, but children remained in families, retaining their heritage, language and culture.

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According to the Child Rights International Network’s 2010 study called Families Not Orphanages (a very interesting read if you have the time): “Long-term residential care for children is an outdated export. In the history of many developing countries, institutional care is a relatively recent import. In most cases, it was introduced early in the twentieth century by missionaries or colonial governments, replicating what was then common in their home countries. At the same time, institutional care has largely been judged to be developmentally inappropriate and phased out of developed countries that continue to support this care in poorer countries.” (emphasis mine)

More than 85% percent of occupants in orphanages in Uganda have at least one, if not two, living birth parents. (Source here) Parents or relatives bring children to orphanages because they are out of options. Now, granted, for some the orphanage stands in place of a foster care system, providing temporary care to children whose parents are not capable of providing them with an emotionally and physically safe place to live, but still desire to be in their lives and reunited with them eventually.

The Ugandan Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, estimates there are more than 800 orphanages in Uganda. Jinja is home to countless orphanages (literally, many operate unregistered, so there is no way to count them). Some organizations focus on getting the children into a pipeline for foreign adoption, while others do their best to keep the children with local families.

We toured one of the latter, Good Shepherd’s Fold, and were very impressed with the facilities. They had immaculate landscaping, tidy houses, clean children laughing and dancing together and sprawling property with chapels, school rooms, livestock and farming. It seemed to be a thriving, comfortable community for children to grow up in.

Ayla swinging with a new friend at Good Shepherd's Fold
Ayla swinging with a new friend at Good Shepherd’s Fold

In contrast, Abide Family Center is on a small, gated compound, surrounded on all sides by tall brick walls topped with broken glass shards to deter thieves. The centers of activity are a classroom with no walls where the staff meets daily to pray and plan the day and caregivers take parenting and business classes to help get them back on their feet.

In the small, outdoor kitchen, the cook, Margaret, and her rotating roster of helpers, prepare tea, snacks and lunch for all the children, their caregivers and the staff.

Margaret and helper, Sylvia, prepare lunch for the families and staff at Abide
Margaret and helper, Sylvia, prepare lunch for the families and staff at Abide
Lunch time!
Lunch time!

Two small classrooms, decorated as brightly as possible, house the Childhood Development Center, where dedicated staff care for and teach pre-school aged children and infants while their caregivers are in class.

Nakato, Child Development Center director, pours herself into teaching the kids
Nakato, Child Development Center director, pours herself into teaching the kids

Their new sustainability venture, Stitched Together, takes up a few more rooms, where women are learning to sew, so they can support themselves and give back to Abide.IMG_6336

In other small but clean rooms on the property, families can stay in Emergency Housing for up to three months while they’re going through Abide’s programs.

The major differences between these institutions  are not the size of the property or provisions available. The presence of caregivers (biological mothers, fathers, grandparents and such) with their children and the emphasis on the temporary make Abide stand out in a crowd of orphanages. Megan Parker, and the staff at Abide, don’t want the families to be too comfortable there. They should want to complete the programs and move out and up. Most of the families going through the programs are not staying on Abide’s property, so the social workers spend most of their days doing visitations with them at their businesses and homes.

I tagged along with Income Generator Director, Juliet, as she went to visit two of her graduates, Justine and Anna. After going through Abide’s business class, Justine learned how to style hair and with small grant was able to open her own hair salon. She’s already training another woman and looking to open her second location. I had read about her on Abide’s blog, so I told her she was a celebrity to me. She smiled graciously and agreed to a photo (no autograph though).IMG_6323

Anna operates a fruit and vegetable stand in an open-air market and is now able to send her children to school.

Juliet does some post-graduate mentoring with Anna, at her market stand.
Juliet does some post-graduate mentoring with Anna, at her market stand.
Judson enjoying one of Anna's bananas.
Judson enjoying one of Anna’s bananas.

These two represent the many lives Abide has changed, but the staff doesn’t stop for long to reflect on these success stories. There are too many clouds overhead with storms brewing, too many families on the brink of separation, and too much work to do to keep Abide’s doors open to help them.

They know that the road to their goal, to move the orphan-prevention and family preservation agenda forward, to keep children in their families, is long and full of potholes and obstacles. But they also have such strong faith in the people of Uganda, that they can return to the beautiful roots of their tribal culture, at least in this regard, and one day make orphanages obsolete.

A few pictures

I’ve got words to use and stories to tell about our time with Abide Family Center, but I’m taking extra special care with what I write to get it right. Meanwhile, here are a few pictures I posted on Instagram during our trip (apologies if these are a re-run for you!).

We got to attend church on Resurrection Sunday. Highlight for us was worshipping Jesus in public with fellow believers from other nations. Highlight for Ayla was the orange soda she got to drink in children's church. Wired much?
We got to attend church on Resurrection Sunday. Highlight for us was worshipping Jesus in public with fellow believers from other nations. Highlight for Ayla was the orange soda she got to drink in children’s church. Wired much?
We took a boat trip to the source of the Nile River. (See that little blue sign on the left? That's it.)
We took a boat trip to the source of the Nile River. (See that little blue sign on the left? That’s it.)
Oh Ayla. You do not experience Uganda as much as Uganda experiences you.
Oh Ayla. You do not experience Uganda as much as Uganda experiences you.
This part of Uganda is so lush and green, a welcome and needed break from the drab desert we call home.
This part of Uganda is so lush and green, a welcome and needed break from the drab desert we call home.
If #hotmessmoses can wear a fancy dress, he needs his fingernails painted blue, too! #nailsbyAyla (Moses is the child in the purple polkadot dress. His mom likes to put him in dresses. He's Abide's official mascot.)
If #hotmessmoses can wear a fancy dress, he needs his fingernails painted blue, too! #nailsbyAyla (Moses is the child in the purple polkadot dress. His mom likes to put him in dresses. He’s Abide’s official mascot.)
Judson learning some football skills from Alamanzan.
Judson learning some football skills from Alamanzan.
Kids are in school while moms are in business class.
Kids are in school while moms are in business class.
Kyomukama is a new student in Abide's @stitchedtogetheruganda shop. Here the ladies learn how to hand make items to support their families. Items will be available for sale once inventory is increased, so follow Stitched Together for the latest news!
Kyomukama is a new student in Abide’s @stitchedtogetheruganda shop. Here the ladies learn how to hand make items to support their families. Items will be available for sale once inventory is increased, so follow Stitched Together for the latest news!
Like this necklace? So did I. Sadly, Judson already broke it. BUT, I have more styles to give away as sponsorship incentives for the families at @abidefamilycenter! Stay tuned for more info!
Like this necklace? So did I. Sadly, Judson already broke it. BUT, I have more styles to give away as sponsorship incentives for the families at @abidefamilycenter! Stay tuned for more info!

My Foster Babies Made Me Do It!

Five years ago this month, we welcomed our second baby, a boy, into our home.

“Baby Z” was two weeks old. He was strong and scrumptious. Though we only had him for two weeks before the county placed him with another foster mom, his mark on our family is permanent. Something changes in you when you’re responsible for someone this fragile.

I just happened to be babysitting Baby F when Baby Z was dropped off.

A few months earlier, we had provided a month of respite care for “Baby F.”  Even after two biological kids, I still consider her my first baby. The moment we met is crystalized for me. Forty-eight hours after her mom gave birth, her social worker brought this tiny human to my house. She set her in her car seat on my couch, handed me a small bag of clothes, a few bottles and gave instructions to feed her every three hours. That was it. The social worker left and it was just we three.

Someone just brought a baby to our house and left her with us.

Though we’d been pursuing and preparing for this moment for more than a year, we felt the change right there. Our hearts cracked open wide to let another part of this world have its place. We didn’t know it then, but that’s when we started preparing for our recent trip to Uganda, to visit Abide Family Center.

Our experience doing foster care* included excellent training, caring and responsive social workers, and biological parents from diverse backgrounds with varying degrees of willingness to participate in family preservation with us. During the training, we latched onto the idea of fostering as a process of restoration. We would do our small part in a larger effort to keep children safe, but ultimately place them back with their biological families when at all possible.

Keeping children in their families is possible so much more often when there are people who believe that’s the best thing for them, and are willing to do the hard work to make that happen. Now, I’ve never been accused of being an optimist, but maybe you could call me a “hope-ist.” My stubbornness grabs on to the good things that should be in the midst of a fallen world and just will not let go. So when I see people like Megan and Kelsey, the founders of Abide, go all in to keep families together, I’m shouting, “Yes! This needs to happen, all over the world! How can I help?”

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Abide Family Center social worker, Julia, holds current resident Naya, while co-founder Megan gets her daily dose of baby smiles.

To be continued…

(PS. I’m going to drag this story line out so you feel like you’re sitting with me in Uganda, waiting for the dinner we ordered an hour ago and we’ve just been chatting away!)

*I wrote extensively about our foster care experience on my old blog. If you’re interested in reading about it, you can do a search over here for posts with the label “Foster Care.”

For the First Time

For the first time in, well, since ever that I can remember, my little girl, Ayla (4 going on 14), hung limp in my arms at 7:30pm, telling me she was tired. She’s usually proclaiming how not tired she is even as she rubs her eyes and yawns, fooling no one. Today, she had a very long day. First, there was pre-school co-op, then a playdate, then a birthday party at the pool, complete with pizza and home-made ice cream.

She had a day filled with friends, and friends’ parents, with me as her bookends. Welcoming her into the day with a cup of milk and breakfast before rushing her out the door, then reading, singing, praying with her before we cuddled and I tucked her in bed with sweet kisses and hugs and vows of love.

Shouldn’t every child get a chance to start and end their days filled and surrounded by their parents’ love?

Photo Credit: Abide Family Center
Photo Credit: Abide Family Center

In less than 36 hours from now, we’ll be pulling our children out of bed just after midnight to get on a plane to go visit a place where two mighty women of God, Megan and Kelsey, together with their staff at Abide Family Center, are making this kind of day possible for the families in their corner of Uganda.

We’ve taken our kids to the Middle Eastern country where we live. They’ve visited nearby countries of Bahrain and Oman. We’ve trekked to further lands like Germany, Austria and the Canary Islands. Ayla’s been with us to Turkey and Costa Rica, and cruise-stopped in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Mexico. This isn’t our first rodeo! (We’ve never actually taken them to a rodeo, so that will be another first for another time!)

But for the first time, they’re going to need their yellow cards to enter a country. The kids are sporting bandaids on their chubby legs from shots to keep them safe. We’re taking another break from the desert, but this is different. This time our hearts are tuned to a bigger cause. This time our purpose is lifting up other families, to bless them and cheer them on.

Photo Credit: @maddypittman for Abide
Photo Credit: @maddypittman for Abide

My kids (and I) will get to play with the kids at Abide Family Center, including #hotmessMoses, that dashing fellow up there. I’ll get to meet the moms, grandmas, aunties, older brothers and daddies I’ve been adoring through their Instagram feed (@abidefamilycenter). I’ll buy up the goods the ladies of Stitched Together (@stitchedtogetheruganda) are making. I’ll get to encourage the social workers and teachers who work hard to make this a place for families to be safe and together. 

While my sweet little Ayla and Judson dream cozily in their beds, their mama’s dream of taking her children to see the big world God made is coming true! Will you take a minute to follow Abide on Facebook and Instagram, so you can see this good and beautiful work for yourself?