Bittersweet

Image by KathyBarclay from Pixabay

Bittersweet is a plant. It has bright colored berries that would seem sweet and juicy, but are actually toxic and harmful if eaten. Another definition of bittersweet is, “arousing pleasure tinged with sadness or pain” (Lexico). This is what most people are familiar with.

Life is generally like this. A little bit bitter. A little bit sweet. It mixes together and creates the story of our life. Sometimes the bitter seems toxic – and maybe it is, in which case, seek help – but most of the time, the bitter is just a time of growth.

My son just graduated from high school. Bittersweet was the one description I think I heard and felt through this whole experience.

Bitter – My first born completely finished this chapter of his childhood. That book is completed. It is shelved; to be looked at like a scrapbook full of memories. He’ll be leaving and living across an ocean soon; 12-24 hours away.

Sweet – We’re proud of his accomplishments. This new adventure is just beginning and it is exciting. Who will he become? How will he grow?

These two words together capture the feelings of a parent or sibling – and possibly even the graduate, as well.

But, aren’t most transitions “bittersweet”?

Bitter – packing, saying good-bye to places, saying good-bye to people, watching your children hurt

Sweet – maybe living closer to family, new adventure with new foods & culture, recognizing how many good friends you have

As this summer plays out and the time gets closer to board that plane with my oldest, my emotions teeter back and forth from feeling bitter and sad, to sweet and proud and then back to sad.

I want him to go, yet I don’t.

I want him to grow up, yet I want him to need me, to need his father.

I believe this is the dilemma of many parents. We work and endure those early years to train our kids to be responsible mature adults, but when the time comes to send them off we feel that this isn’t the right time. It’s too soon.

As a Christian, I wondered if the word “bittersweet” was in the Bible. I couldn’t find the word, but I found a passage where both words are used. Exodus 15:22-25. This is the point in the story where Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and crossed the Red Sea. They were headed into the Desert of Shur, where there was no water.

The people complained because the only water they found was at the place “Marah”, which was bitter.

Moses cried out to God.

God showed him a piece of wood.

Moses threw the piece of wood into the water.

Sweet water. Drinkable water.

It doesn’t say, but I’m guessing the crowds were happy once again – or at least relieved.

This little word search led me to an old story from long ago, in which God used a stick to make bitter water sweet.

My situation isn’t terrible. It’s not life-threatening, but it has some bitterness that is harder to walk through.

It requires trust.

Trusting my son.

Trusting God.

Right now sitting in my home where my son is just in the next room I can honestly say it’s easy to trust.

But,

I know that when “move-in” day comes and I drive away with him standing in the parking lot of his dorm, my eyes will be blurry from the streams of bittersweet tears as I put that trust into action.

How have you seen “bittersweet” play out in your own life?

Mother’s Day and one month until…

It’s Mother’s Day weekend and technically less than a month until my oldest dons the cap and gown of a graduate. (Yes, his class will be one of a handful of graduates in the world who actually gets to experience a real ceremony.) Yet, even if they didn’t, I think I’d be pondering and reminiscing this weekend anyway.

My oldest was the one who first called me “Mama”.

Besides his father, of course, he was the first to steal my heart, bring such pure joy and delight.

And in less than a month – he graduates. Three months later he’ll be living across the ocean from us – not just over the mountains.

I knew living overseas was going to be hard. I knew when I married Uwe that life would be full of good-byes. I mean, I’ve said my fair share of good-byes, but I’ve also watched friends say good-bye to their own graduates. I’ve listened to them in their mixture of grief and excitement. I’ve been preparing my heart and mind all school year for this.

But, let me tell you – No matter how you think you’ve prepared for this day:

It. Still. Hurts.

I’ve looked back at other posts that I’ve made in previous years regarding Mother’s Day. I wrote about a surprise weekend that my husband and kids pulled off; a quiet picnic at the beach; and a letter to my younger self where I wish I had my “more mature self” write a letter to guide me through the teenage years.

This Mother’s Day feels different.

I feel like it is the last with my son.

And, well to be honest, it probably is the last where we’ll be “together”. But, that doesn’t mean I will stop being Mom, right? Of course not.

I can’t get a letter from my “more mature self”, but I can listen to those who have been on this path of motherhood and learn from them.

Like this morning.

My son’s school had a Mother’s Day Brunch for the mom’s of the graduating seniors. Crista Blackhurst, a mom who had her oldest graduate not too long ago, was the speaker. She had great wisdom for us, but the take away I am keeping for this weekend is.

“Be in the moment.”

As I began to ponder that phrase for this post I had some thoughts.

Be in the moment with my…

  • Body – that’s easy. I’m physically here with him now and will be with the girls tomorrow.
  • Mind – This one is harder. I want to think about the past or worry about the future, but I need to have my mind on the here and now when we are together. Soak in the moment. Trust that God has all the details worked out and will take care of my children.
  • Heart – This one is easier if the mind is in the moment. When we trust God, our hearts are at peace.

So, as this weekend begins and I get to celebrate with my son I want to fully enjoy it. And then when I’m celebrating later with my husband and girls, I want to fully enjoy them.

So, my Mother’s Day wish for each of you and myself is that we can

Be in the moment.

Be trusting of God.

Be at peace.

Happy Mother’s Day!

*photo credit: “Standing women facing speeding train” via pixels.com

Letting Go…

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PC geralt via Pixabay

The time of year has come for the expat communities of the world – that time of ebb and flow of suitcases, boxes and RAFT building. At times it may feel more like emotional waves crashing, letting go of a child who graduates can be specially daunting.

As a mom of a son who will soon begin his year of “lasts”, this has been on my heart: how will I let him go with grace and peace?

This week I am guest writing for Multicultural Kid Blogs about how to let our kids go as they prepare to leave “home”. Click here to read more.

How the Rapids Showed me Beauty

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Life can be like a journey down a winding river. Rivers can be calm and smooth, but usually along the way rapids appear. Life is like that. Sometimes the rapids are exciting and fun, like moving overseas. Other times they are downright frightening, like an unwanted diagnosis.

During those rapids I find myself wanting and sometimes even desperately trying to paddle back upstream away from it all. I long for an easier way, but usually there is no other way. And in the end, I find that God uses those hard situations in my life to transform me.

Fifteen years ago I found myself at one of those bends.

This week I’m a guest writer at Velvet Ashes. You can read more about my story and the lessons I learned by clicking here.

 

*PC Credit: Free-photos via pixaby

Celebrating Christmas with CCKs

IMG_20181205_215554_058It is the night before St. Nikolaus Tag, which my husband celebrated as a young German boy growing up in Taiwan. Even though I didn’t grow up celebrating like this we have made this part of our Christmas tradition with our own kids. Tonight the girls cleaned their shoes and in the morning they will find some chocolate and treats inside.

Celebrating the holidays with family from different cultures is interesting. I was allowed to write “Holidays for Cross-Cultural Kids” for Multicultural Kid Blogs. If you’d like to read more about what a CCK is or other ideas on this topic please read more here.

 

Language Learning and Special Needs…a conversation starter

RaisingTCKs for Mulitcultural Kid Blogs

My children are bilingual, including my daughter who has Cri-du-Chat Syndrome, a disability that affects her mentally and physically. She’s not the only bilingual person with special needs, though. In fact, I know a young adult with Down Syndrome who is trilingual. And I read about another boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder who speaks at least four languages. This goes against the belief of many educators and therapists that children with special needs should focus on one language only. Most of the research focuses on three specialty groups: Specific Language Impairment (SLI), Down Syndrome (DS), and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but the researcher still believes that other disabilities can learn a second language as well. This is great news for CCKs (Cross-Cultural Kids) and TCK s(Third-Culture Kids) who have special needs and their families who are raising them.

My daughter is fairly non-verbal, but she is able to communicate in both English and Chinese. She uses American Sign Language (ASL), speaks simple words in both languages, and sometimes uses communication boards. We speak mainly English at home and she goes to a Taiwanese special education school where they speak Chinese. Honestly, like most Third Culture Kids she is comfortable living in both worlds. It’s part of who she is.

But, what about just teaching a child with special needs a new language? Are there any benefits? Join the conversation over at Multicultural Kid Blogs where I share some benefits I’ve noticed.

Goodbyes and Skies – Signs of Letting Go

20180811_182558In books, movies, and even in TV shows the weather gives the audience a glimpse into the mood of the story. Other times it is the foreshadowing of something about to happen. Writers do that to captivate their readers. This past week, God used this same technique for me.

Last weekend we took our son to the dorm. The day before, we spent the afternoon at the beach. Heading into town we witnessed the sunset over the mountains. It was the perfect scene to a perfect day. I posted on my IG account, “Reminder of God’s continuing handiwork in creation, in me, in my family”. It brought me hope knowing that even though the next day would require me to “let go”, He would still be there working in my son, working in me.

The next day we drove up and over mountains to campus. We had decided to spend the night, which I believe helped me to truly be excited for him. I needed to be excited for him. It was exciting. He has a great place to live, a good roommate, wonderful dorm parents, and a great school to attend. What more could a parent ask for their child who will attend boarding school? It’s funny because I don’t remember the weather that day. It seems to be a blur.

But I remember what it was like the day we left…

Dark clouds loomed over us right before lunch. We said our goodbyes. He left us in the parking lot; walking back to the cafeteria with his backpack slung over his shoulder. We slumped down in the car and buckled up. As we pulled out, the first drops of rain began. I used my finger to wipe my damp cheek. The wipers swiped at the damp windows. As we merged onto the freeway, the heavens opened and the rain dumped its heavy load. We almost had to pull over. My heart felt the same crushing, drowning feeling. Goodbyes just stink, but I didn’t have time to sink to the abyss emotionally because I was co-pilot and had a job to do: keep the passengers quiet and help watch for traffic. It was seriously raining that hard.

Thirty minutes later the sky opened up like a dark blanket being lifted off our car. The mountains were once again in focus. The white clouds hung around the valleys and decorated the sky. It was gorgeous.

Hope returned.

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Isn’t that like life though, or shouldn’t it be? There are going to be days that are tough. Days we don’t want to go through. Days we don’t think we can get through.

We must get on the airplane and leave loved ones behind.

We can’t always take our pets with us when we move. Sometimes they die.

Our child breaks their foot two weeks before soccer season begins.

A typhoon (or insert tornado, fire, etc) destroys the scrapbooks, the photos. Memories lost.

Kids grow up and move on to university.

A diagnosis is learned.

But, we don’t have to stay in that dark and hopeless place. There is a path to where the sun shines down and the mountains can be seen from the valleys below.

Just as my husband kept moving forward in the torrential rain, we can keep moving forward. Sometimes it is a slow trudge, but it’s forward.

He kept his eyes on the road ahead of him. We keep our eyes on the path that is set before us (Heb 12:1).

We bring our focus on the One who put us on that path, who created the road, who created us. And we give thanks and praise to Him (Heb. 12:2, Phil. 4:4-7).

It is then, that the view becomes clearer and we are able to give more thanks. And as our hearts become grateful, the view only becomes more spectacular.

The road hasn’t changed.

No, he is there and I am here.

His first game was this weekend (though cancelled due to rain). There.

I am here. Still here.

The circumstance hasn’t changed. It won’t.

But, I get a phone call from the boy. He sounds happy. And I’m grateful.

Grateful for the age that I live in where he can pick up a phone and call.

Grateful that friends sneak photos of him on campus and message them to me within seconds after taking said photo.

Thankful that he gets to do something he loves to do.

Joy is found in the gratitude.

Your Turn: Have you ever noticed that the weather or the sky seems to reflect the mood or the circumstance that you are going through at the moment? Share your moment in the comments below.

The Countdown to Good-bye

 

20180720_213804If you followed the World Cup at all this year, you would recognize the mini posters hung on our wall. I just took this photo a few days ago. I haven’t taken those posters or flags down. Not even after Germany exited the tournament – enough said about that depressing night. 

Why are they still up?

I realized that this… THIS World Cup is the last one my son will be home for. The last one that we will be a family watching the games together. Okay, there is a chance we will all be together sometime in the future. It happened for my husband’s family in 2010 when all his siblings and kids were in Germany with us. But, that doesn’t happen often. I think I have kept them up because I know that when all the decorations comes down the countdown will begin. Usually this countdown starts their last year of high school, but for me it is starting the year before his last.

Why now?

He leaves in ten days for the dormitory. We will drive him the 6 hours it takes us to cross the island to settle him in his new room. This is not easy and something I thought I’d never need to do. I even prayed I wouldn’t have to, but here I am counting down the days.

And so is he.

One of us counts the days as if Christmas was just around the corner.

The other counts more like she’s watching dead leaves fall from a tree dreading the long, cold, bitter days of winter.

He’s growing up. He’s excited. He’s ready. I just don’t honestly know if I’m ready.

My hope is from those that have gone before me. Friends who have gone down this path putting their children into the dorm. Friends who have lived in the dorms as children. Dorm parents who have loved their “jobs” and share their lives with “their” kids.

And that right there, folks, is where my pain lies. I know his dorm parents are going to be great and I pray they speak volumes into his life. But, I feel I’m handing my extremely precious jewel, a key to my heart over to someone else to care for and love. He’s my kid and I honestly don’t want to share him with anyone else.

My biggest fear? That he’ll love them more than he loves me.

Crazy? Maybe, but that is where my raw emotions are.

This new chapter is scary and unknown.

I’ve been at the scary unknown place before. Different reason, but it feels the same. Fear and Anxiety try to take a couch seat in my heart squishing Peace and Trust right off onto the floor. If Fear and Anxiety had their way, they’d push Peace and Trust right on out the door of my heart.

I don’t want that. I’m sure you don’t either.

What to do?

  1. Name what you are fearful of.
  2. Acknowledge if it is a real threat or not.
  3. Walk in truth.

For me my fear was losing my son to someone else. As soon as I wrote it out, peace broke through like a river (that song has never made sense to me until just now). And now I need to remind myself that I’m not losing my son. He’s just growing up. I can grieve that – but I also need to rejoice in the fact that he is growing up and becoming his own man.

Your Turn: Are you at a place that is Scary and Unknown? Or do you have some tips on sending your child to the dorm. Share your story and where you are in the comments below.

 

My Mother’s Day Surprise

Celebrating holidays while living overseas and far from extended family is hard. I come from a large family who once a week regularly sits at my mother’s large table for the Sunday meal. Most holidays everyone is there – it is how I grew up. So, I love hosting get-togethers with other families, especially when they become like family. It makes me feel at home.

Mother’s Day was no exception. We had a potluck lunch after church. People ate between conversations and laughs. Kids splashed in the small pool. It was just a beautiful day.

After everyone left and I had a lovely nap, my husband asked if I’d like to try a new coffee shop nearby. “Bring your writing stuff,” he says.

I grabbed a notebook, my draft of my novel, and the book/handbook PLOT WHISPERER by Martha Alderson (if you are a writer, I highly recommend them). I glanced at my laptop, but decided time was too short for that. I noticed Uwe’s bag bulging, and figured he would work, too.

Oh, well, my Mother’s Day has ended.

I sat at a sidewalk table while he went inside to order. It wasn’t too hot with the shade of the umbrella. It almost seemed like we were in Europe, sort of. We talked about the day and the upcoming things that we were going to be involved in. I wondered when we were going to pull out “work”. Okay, honestly, I was thinking about when would I get to pull out my writing.

Uwe then looked at his watch and mentioned that we should probably go. I looked at my unopened bag and sighed.

“Wait, I think you should see the inside. You want to see this funny/cute French style hotel, don’t you?” he asks.

I followed him in. We checked out the restaurant.  We took the elevator, which has a ceiling to floor Eifle Tower painted in it. We got off on the 7th floor. While I looked at the view, he entered an empty room. I peered in nervously because he just entered without knocking as far as I could tell. I mean, who just wanders into hotel rooms without a key? 

I stood in the hall peering into the room. “What are you doing?” I yelled in as much as a whisper as I could without actually yelling. My mind told me this was all wrong, but my feet seemed to have a mind of their own and pulled me in.

It isn’t your typical hotel room with one bed, desk, TV, and carpeted floor. This room has wooden walls and flooring. All the furniture had a dark wood, including the tiny wardrobe. It had two beds facing each other, not side-by-side. And to top it off the two windows, one long and narrow and the other short and set low to the ground, had wooden shutters! It was mesmerizing in a cheesy cute sort of way.

Uwe rested his bag on the bed and began empty out the contents.  I watched as my toothbrush, toothpaste and brush bounced on the bed. He continued with my clothes and a few other books.

“Did you get us a room?”

“No, I got you a room. You have your writing books. I brought your Bible and journal. One night for you,” he said as he handed me the keys (which had an Eifle tower key chain).

“What?!? Excuse me? Uhh, What? Man, you are good. I had NO idea.”

With a kiss on the cheek he vanished out the door. I’m sat on the bed and stared out the window. I love my family and I love spending time with them – but sometimes as a person, a writer, I need to break away with no distractions. No guilt. Freedom to be creative. My husband knew this – he knew I needed a surprise.

So, that is just what I did. I began deepening my characters and hashing out scenes – all are steps to finishing this novel I started a few years ago.

And that was my Mother’s Day surprise.

Have you ever been surprised by someone? Share your story in the comments below.

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A Mother’s Day Letter to My Younger Self


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It is the night before Mother’s Day. For some reason my mind traveled to a time period fourteen years ago. I was a young mom about to hear my daughter’s diagnosis. With time wisdom grows. It’s through this wisdom that I wish I could have shared these few thoughts with that mom I was back then.

Dear Younger Self-

I know you forgot what today is, but let me gently remind you. It’s Mother’s Day. Don’t put your head down in shame. I know you’ve lived with your mother for the past several weeks. I know you forgot to buy even a simple card to thank her for her selflessness. For all the drives to the city, waits in the hospital, and the endless cooking she has done for you. I know you wish your husband and almost two-year old son were with you instead of back in China. The hospital visits and tests have taken a toll on your mind and body. It’s a scary place to be. You’ve talked with doctors, and even specialists. You’ve held your baby while nurses have poked her with needles. Yet, still no results. No diagnosis.

Emotions will visit you, strong emotions that will come when you least expect it.

Fear…

Don’t play the “What if” game. It will open wide the door to Fear. But, I know you will. The questions will come at you like quick shooting arrows. “What if she never walks?” “What if she dies?” “What if we have to leave China?” Don’t worry; he gets the best of me still today with his quiet whispers of doubt. Fear wants to consume you, but he won’t. Your daughter will get the diagnosis you don’t want to hear – Cri-du-Chat Syndrome. Your mother will be next to you in that small room in shock. Maybe it is a mother’s instinct, or maybe not – but you won’t be shocked because deep down you already know. Your world will be shaken though. Your baby will need a feeding tube. You will feel like all the air was taken from your lungs. Sit tight – the God who created that bundle of joy topped with red curls already knew. He’s not surprised. So, just breathe – in and out, in and out. You will feel like waves are pummeling you to the bottom of the sea, but dive deep into those waves. It is there where you will find peace. Dive deep into the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. Just breathe.

Grief…

Grief will come, in fact, she already has. This Mother’s Day you will grieve for that child you thought you knew. You will cry hot tears that seem to never run dry. They are tears of healing. Release them. Let them wash over your face while they wash over your heart. I wish I could tell you that Grief eventually exits your life, but I can’t. She will come back when you least expect it. Fourteen years later, she still visits me. When I see other kids in middle school laughing with their friends at the local 7-11 or tying up their shoes about to play in a soccer tournament, she comes back. My throat tightens and my eyes begin to drip tears. And there she is. Grief dressed in black. I’m learning that Joy can accompany Grief. It is those times I offer gratitude and praise that Joy is also there. I give thanks for what Matthea can do and I praise God for his many blessings in our life. So, as you grieve this Mother’s Day know that “joy will come in the morning.”

Loneliness…

This Mother’s Day you will feel lonely. Uwe and Marcus are miles away. You feel like you are the only one going through this, yet you know that is not true each time you enter the hospital. But, Loneliness comes and tries to squeeze out those in your life who love you. Don’t let her. Remind yourself that you are not alone. God is there with you. Your family is there. And remember your friends just drove a few hours to spend time with you. They are praying for you. Don’t let Loneliness crowd out the others.

Guilt…

Yes, you will feel guilt. Guilt will overshadow Grief. Guilt will remind you of friends who have lost children. Guilt will point a finger and say, “You’re child is living. Why are you grieving?” You won’t really know what to do with Guilt. You will try to hide Grief, but it will still be there. I want to give you permission to block Guilt out of your life. You have permission to grieve. This diagnosis is hard. There are a lot of unknowns. It is scary. So, don’t believe Guilt. Pray for those friends and be sensitive when you talk with them, but don’t bow down to Guilt.

Hope…

You may not feel like there is any hope right now, but she is there. Hope will come pouring in when you find out that you can go back to China. Hope will come when you gain confidence in using the feeding tube. And even this day, Hope will come in a form of a Mother’s Day gift from your sister. A small cut rock that says, “A Mother’s Love begins long before we can remember…And brings us Warmth and Happiness We Never Forget.”

Give yourself some grace today. Your love for your children comes through. I can’t tell you that everything is perfect and life is like a rose garden. Life isn’t easy. I mean whose life really is easy, huh? But, life is good and full. I can’t tell you all the great things because you need to experience some surprises in life.

I wish that the decade older version of me would send me a letter like this. I sure would like to know how these teenage years turn out.

Your loving “more mature” self,

MaDonna