Family Away From Family

“God sets the lonely in families.” (Psalms 68:6)us

I left home at eighteen when I moved to Tennessee for college. After graduation, I headed straight to Ukraine to teach for five years, and after that, Cincinnati. Now we’re living in Nebraska, so I’m nowhere close to my home state of Indiana. I can’t say I’ve actually missed it much. Not that Indiana’s not a great place because I liked it fine enough. I’ve just noticed a phenomenon that occurs in each place where I live. Even though we left behind our families long ago, we have seen met people who became like family to us in every location.

In Matthew 19:29 Jesus says, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sister or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much…” This has definitely proven true for us, a fact that I see more and more in our relatively new home state of Nebraska.

The main campus of our church, Calvary Christian Church

The main campus of our church, Calvary Christian Church

When we moved here, we only knew a few people here, and we knew them just barely. We began attending a huge church. We loved the music and the professional feel of the worship services, and we loved the preaching as well. However, it quickly became clear how difficult it could be to make friends in a church of 1,700. We hardly saw the same people twice in a row, and those we did see already had lives and friends and plenty of stuff going on to keep them from taking on newcomers. That’s not to say they weren’t welcoming. It was actually at one of the meetings for new people that the church set up that we met our new “family.”

Andrew went to the meeting because I stayed home with the kids. He came home uncharacteristically excited about some new people he met (he’s an introvert–see the previous post about how he feels at parties and the like!). He invited them to our house, and somehow we decided to start a new small group together. I’m not sure how this all happened because we have traditionally balked some at such endeavors, us being introverts and needing our space and all, but the timing was right for everyone. They had just moved to this area and needed friends as well. We all have the unique perspective of outsiders looking at the culture of the region from a newcomer’s viewpoint, so we could all talk freely about our experiences here without worrying about stepping on a native’s feet.

Since that day, we have done so much fun stuff together. I mean, seriously, a lot of stuff. Stuff people sometimes do with family. Here are some pictures of us all together, doing fun stuff:

Hayride at the pumpkin patch

Hayride at the pumpkin patch


And then we had a pumpkin carving party on our back porch.

And then we had a pumpkin carving party on our back porch.



It was fun!

It was fun!

We all dressed up for Halloween.

We all dressed up for Halloween.

We've celebrated quite a few birthdays together...

We’ve celebrated quite a few birthdays together…


Two Thanksgivings and Christmases

Two Thanksgivings and Christmases, some even with their extended families.





We've eaten a LOT of food together.

We’ve eaten a LOT of food together.









We got to spend a fantastic day at the air show with up front "seats" since we have connections in the Air Force!

We got to spend a fantastic day at the air show with up front “seats” since we have connections in the Air Force! (Tip: Never wear jeans to the air show in the middle of a Nebraska summer, and if you do, never fall asleep on a blanket while watching it. A lot of so-called “friends” will take your picture and text it to you and to each other!)

The value of our new family away from family became clearer this Christmas break. Most of the group has been out of town because the guys are all in the Air Force and have been deployed. Their wives have been scattered all over visiting family while they’re gone, so we were left with just our family and two of the guys who couldn’t get enough time off to travel. We invited them over to spend the night on Christmas eve. They got up with us and watched the kids open presents, ate breakfast, and lounged around the house with us all day, just like part of the family. And guess what! It was totally comfortable and fun! I sometimes feel sorry for my kids not growing up around aunts and uncles and cousins, but I see in this family away from family that God has provided more aunts and uncles for them, and he even gave them a cute little cousin!

Christmas morning, 2014

Christmas morning, 2014

I’ve learned a lot from this group:

  1. Weird things happen when you’re in your twenties. Like flat tires, leaving curling irons on when you go to work, and getting locked out of your house, sometimes all in the same week. I remember these kind of things happening to me and having to deal with them on a regular basis, and now I see them happening to my small group friends.
  2. When we leave things behind, we gain new things. Like aunts and uncles for our kids. It’s hard to say good-bye, but when we said good-bye to our last home and the friends there, we opened the door to a new group of friends who have become so important to us.
  3. Military families face a lot of special issues. They sacrifice a lot, and it’s not just the person in the military who sacrifices. Their wives Hannah and meand children give up just as much, if not more in some ways.
  4. In being friends with a group of younger adults, we get the unique experience of doing a trial run for when our own children are their age. We can see the relationships with in laws from the safely removed distance of not being involved and learn things to do and not to do.
  5. I’m not as young as I used to be. When we first met them, I thought of us as all being the same age, and then one of their parents thanked us for being such good examples and being a home away from home for their children. Then the oldest one in the group told us that his mother is the same age as me, and I almost died of shock!

    She is adorable in every picture!

    She is adorable in every picture!

  6. Our children have grown up friends who can relate to them in a different way than we do and can provide guidance from different perspectives. In fact, the members of our small group are closer in age to our children than they are to us. I cannot even begin to tell how valuable this is to me as a parent. These people are such great examples to our children, too. How did we get so blessed with such a good group of mentors to our children?!

So here’s to leaving home and stepping away, to letting God provide the relationships we need. Here’s to taking God at his word and trusting that he will give us the family we need when we need it!

Why You Can Go Home Again

This one really isn't packed. I've seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on one once.

This one really isn’t packed. I’ve seen them with people hanging out the doors. Saw a babushka beat a man with an umbrella to force her way on once.

A few weekends ago, I went to Cincinnati to pick up my children after their visit with friends. I experienced something I hadn’t experienced since I lived in Ukraine and traveled back and forth every summer. No, it wasn’t a good bowl of borscht (although I kinda wish it were) or a packed trolleybus in 90 degree heat (very glad it wasn’t that). What I experienced was that feeling of going home again.

I drove into town from the south and caught sight of the skyline across the Ohio River. I have never been a big fan of cityscapes, but seeing it reminded me of how my husband always pointed it how beautiful it looked when we drove into Cincinnati from that direction. I drove across the Ohio River and remembered that claustrophobic feeling of being caught in the very narrow space between the wall of the bridge and a semi truck in the lane next to me. That bridge was the one that gave me an unreasonable fear of accidentally driving over the edge and plummeting into the water below, not knowing which child to save if they were all buckled into their car seats. I’m glad I rarely cross any bridges these days! Even more glad my kids can swim!

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

This is the view of Cincinnati I saw, but I did not take this picture. I was busy driving.

Seeing the place we used to live and our friends who still live there reminded me of a few things.

1. Living in a new place and navigating around it for the last year, I forgot the feeling of knowing where I was going and understanding where places are without having to plot out my driving plan ahead of time or plug addresses into Mapquest. Being back in the place we called home for 13 years made me miss living somewhere that I felt connected to in a deeper way than just knowing the path to the grocery store and back. Not only did I remember where things were, but I remembered that sense of really being a part of life in a particular location. It takes a while to feel completely integrated into the new place, and being back home reminded me that we aren’t really at that stage here yet.

On a positive note, though, moving somewhere new shows us all that we really can learn a new place, find friends, and fit in. We may feel a sense of “otherness” at times, but we still feel like part of what’s going on in our new place. I think that has built confidence in our children, and I’ve seen them become more outgoing and mature since we moved.

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I'm not the one holding the camera?

Our first selfie together. Wait! Is it still considered a selfie for me if I’m not the one holding the camera?

2. Not only did I see places I remember, I saw people I hadn’t seen in a year. In my experience, when I see the people I know and love after an absence, I often feel like we are just picking up where we left off. Maybe I have these grand ideas about emotional and exciting reunions, hugging and crying, but in reality those things don’t usually happen to me. When I arrived at my friend’s house to pick up the kids, one of her children greeted me nonchalantly, and then my friend walked in the room. We both said, “Hey!” like we’d just seen one another last week. I love that. I wouldn’t trade that easy familiarity for all of the hugging, crying, made-for-tv-moments in the world!

The kids and I went to dinner with other friends on the spur of the moment. I called them up, and before I knew it we were all sitting in Skyline laughing and eating and having fun. More fun than I remember having had together when we actually lived within five hundred miles of one another. When you live close, you just think you’ve got all the time in the world to get together…but then you don’t.

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

Feeling good and hungry? Skyline time!

On the way back to Nebraska, we talked about how weird it was to see everyone and how Nebraska seemed almost like a dream. The children wistfully said they felt like they’d never left Cincinnati in the first place. I reminded them how nice it is that we have people we love in both places, how if we’d never moved we would never know that out here on the prairie live a whole bunch of great people! My children are learning early in life a lesson I didn’t realize until my adult years. A seasoned missionary once told me, when talking about how hard it was to leave people you love, “When you’re a missionary, no matter where you go, you’re leaving people you love, but you’re also going to other people you love.” That concept has stuck proven true time and time again in my life.

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter's. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world's best ice cream place?!

Gratuitous picture of our trip to Graeter’s. Because what trip to Cincinnati is complete without a trip to the world’s best ice cream place?! Alex looks a little less-than-ecstatic about it, though. Can you tell who the introvert is after a lot of social interaction?

3. Some things are more important than sleep. I hadn’t willingly pulled an all-nighter for years. Having babies cured me of the desire to stay up past about 1 am. However, I stayed up late both nights I was there. One friend and I stayed up until 4 am! Does that time even exist anymore? After hours of sitting on the couch talking about everything in the world, she asked me, “What time is it?” I looked at my nearly useless watch that has not one real number on it, and my exhausted eyes crossed. I said, “I think it’s 4:00. Is that what this says?” The next night I went to Applebee’s and then cruised around Colerain Township with my former coworkers until way late. Who needs sleep when you have such a limited time together?!

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

My two beautiful former coworkers. Look at those faces! See how much fun we had at work?

I think that the longer I live, the more I realize that it’s not true that you can’t go home again. Home just changes definition, becomes more fluid, and grows to include a new place after you leave the old one!


Hannibal, a Hermit Crab, and a Hairy Dog

One year ago tonight, we slept in a hotel in Hannibal, Missouri. We smuggled our dog in, although this will remain our secret since I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule. We had her with us because we had everything we owned with us. One year ago today, we packed up everything and headed west.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.

The kids stopped for one last picture as they closed the door on our old house.


Ready to go!

Ready to go!

My oldest girl and I drove the car. The un-air-conditioned car. She held the dog on her lap. I chose to drive the car because I didn’t like the alternative: our 12-passenger van. The weather people predicted thunderstorms and lots of rain, and the thought of navigating that enormous thing over the prairie with all of our most important earthly belongings packed tightly around our invaluable children in the back pushed me to choose the car. Of course, the only rain came on the very last leg of the trip, when our son had just guilted me into driving the van so he could see me for a while, but we all survived anyway.

The little one brought her hermit crab, so in the back of my mind I worried that a small Rubbermaid container would not be enough room, that the hermit crab that had lived three or more years would die on the trip and what would become of my child’s emotional health during a big move when she’d already left everything behind?! Of course, it lived until a few months ago and she remained emotionally healthy, but that’s a story for another day.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

This is our youngest with Missus, her hermit crab.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I'm sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without complaining.

Gracie behaved herself very well. I’m sure her fur made her pretty uncomfortable, but she and my daughter made the trip without much complaining.

So, anyway, we stopped in Hannibal just so we could see Mark Twain’s boyhood home, and it did not disappoint. We had dinner in a quaint little restaurant and walked down to the river. The town has fixed up the riverfront to look like it did when Mark Twain lived there, and if you visit during regular business hours (which we didn’t), you can tour some of the homes. We settled for looking at them from the sidewalk.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone's eyes and blinding them. At least that's what they claimed.

It was extremely sunny. We had trouble finding a spot to take a picture because the sun was apparently burning everyone’s eyeballs, turning them to small spheres of char, and, therefore, blinding them. At least that’s what they claimed.

He's a stranger to hard work.

Yep. He’s a stranger to hard work.

We took the obligatory tourist picture of our boy acting out the famous paint-the-fence scene from Tom Sawyer.

We got up the next morning and drove the rest of the way to our new home. We rolled into town around dinner time. I snapped a photo of the water tower in town as we drove by. I pass this every day on my way to work, and I almost always think of that first day here. Especially on rainy spring days when the green fields contrast with the purplish blue sky. You can’t see it in this picture, but the colors stand out so beautifully on days like that.

Don't judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

Don’t judge. We were at a stop light when I took this.

We didn’t have a home yet, although we would in a few days. My family, along with the dog, spent the weekend in the dorms at the college, where I’m pretty sure they had a no pets rule too, and one of the very first things I did after settling our stuff in was take my daughter to buy a cage for that hermit crab!

Although my husband and I moved a few times before the children were born, including a move to and Ukraine and back, we had never moved with children. I didn’t know what to expect, how they would adjust, if the move would traumatize them in some way. Not only did I wonder how the children would adjust, but I also wondered how I would do. I left behind friends and a support network, a place I had struggled for about a decade to feel like I belonged before I finally found my niche.

In the end, it was worth it, and everyone just settled down into life in the small town without much trouble. Surprisingly, it felt like home pretty quickly.  Here are some things we learned in the transition:

1. Wherever we go, there we are. We don’t leave ourselves behind, which means we bring all of our baggage with us when we move. Real change takes more than just a change of location. We can’t expect that everything that we hated in the old place will just disappear when we move. For example, I hoped that leaving a job in the mall with daily access to a food court and unlimited refills of every soft drink imaginable would help me improve my dietary habits and lose weight. Not true. I found that my new job boasted a pretty great cafeteria where I could eat lunch AND breakfast, and for a small fee could get as much Mt. Dew as my tummy could hold.

2.  Sometimes taking one step to change something really does change a lot of things. Seems contrary to number one, and maybe it is. Sometimes I am afraid to change things in my life. I prefer the known to the unknown, so I just stay in whatever mess I’ve made. Taking one step in a positive direction gives me a different perspective and encourages more positive change.

3.  The negative scenarios usually don’t happen. I worried that the kids wouldn’t like their new school, for example. I thought maybe it would take a long time for them to adjust to being somewhere new. That was unfounded, though. The principal told me a few months ago, “We love your children! They fit right in at the very beginning. I forget that they haven’t gone here all along!” The feeling is mutual with the children. When I ask them what they like most about living here, they say that they like the school and the people in it the best.

4.  We have to let go of some things to get other things. And its corollary: We don’t need half of the junk we keep around. This applies literally and figuratively. We had so much stuff in our house. Moving forced us to get rid of it and leave behind the things we never used. Even the kids gave away a lot of their toys. And guess what. We hardly even remember what we gave away!

5.  We’re not as indispensable as we think we are. I loved my job in Ohio. I knew I did it well, and I was proud that I could pierce ears and help manage that store, but now that I’m gone someone else does that job. Almost all of the people I knew there have moved on to other jobs in other places, and nobody there even knows who I am. And I’m OK with that.

This time, the change was good, and we all survived. Even the hermit crab!

Go West!

A few years ago, I drove home from work thinking, “This is it. This is what I’m going to spend the rest of my life doing. Driving to and from a mall to work in a little store with people half my age.” Despite the fact that I had a decent amount of education and remembered feeling some passion and drive in my life, at forty years old I felt stuck in a low-paying, low-respect customer service job. Not long after that, my entire world changed. My husband lost his job and found another one almost half a continent away, and we picked up and moved west to the prairie. When the chaos of the job loss hit, we feared everything. How would our kids react to moving? Would they have friends in the new place? Would we like the new town and our new jobs?

Oregon Trail Marker

Then we moved, and everything changed. When it changed, it changed for the better. Now I work in the same college that my husband does, and while I’m only working in an office, I still feel like I’m contributing to training the next generation. Not only did my work change, but somehow in the process of picking up and moving, my family and I changed. My kids grew up. My husband became a more constant presence in my day to day existence. We acquired a lot of pets. We eliminated a lot of debt. We began to learn to slow down and enjoy each other.

I decided to stop holding onto quite a few things I held dear before, a lot of stuff from the past that weighed me down, and start looking at what was good in life. And you know what I found? I found that there’s a lot of good stuff going on.

We now can say we have lived in Nebraska for an entire year. During that year, we weathered a cold Nebraska winter. We traveled along the path that many settlers traveled going west and visited quite a few historical sites along the way. We learned a new town, found our way around, and put down some roots. This blog is about the things that changed, the things we experienced and keep experiencing. I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and maybe the thing that stands out the most to me is how sometimes in life the things that look bad are, in the end, good. Very, very good!

I found this in the snow in our back yard. My daughter wrote it.

I found this in the snow in our back yard last winter. My daughter wrote it. She’s right. Thanks, God!