Every time I get a chance to read about how my passport country is doing, it is difficult to digest. Division seems to rule the day. One friend genuinely fears for her safety as a young single mother of two, afraid to walk her city. Another friend is marching across the landscape with her children, trying to be heard – trying to ensure their future safety. Online, people post cheap shots in both directions and true listening is elusive. Last night on a main-stream news from Wisconsin, two men from opposing sides faced off on the street. In the clip, one man shouts, “I just want a real dialogue!” When his ‘enemy’ responds, he shouts over him. They both shout over each other. Neither hears the other. Neither is listening to the other.
My Scripture reading of the day included Zephaniah 3:
“What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime! No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction. It does not trust in the LORD or draw near to it’s God. Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims. Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey. Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain. Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions.
But the LORD is still there in the city, and he does no wrong.
The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will not tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid.”
Whatever the current state of your city, whatever the current chaos in the media, whatever your level of fear, perceived or real… there is hope. The LORD is still there in the city. He is where you are. And He promises a time when we can eat and sleep in safety when no one will make us afraid. It may not happen right here, right now. We may have to wait for eternity for that much peace, but there is HOPE now because we have the LORD with us in the city.
In the meantime, I pray Zephaniah’s ancient words of Truth for the Church: that we would not tell each other lies, that we would not deceive one another, that we would obey God, humbly accepting correction.
Listening to one another.
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
In this song When It Was Over, Sara Groves sings this verse after a fight between husband and wife, but I think it can easily apply to any division in human relationships.
This is all new to me. I’ve never sent a kid to college. And certainly never sent one to the other side of the world during a pandemic! There were so many skills I felt he needed. So many supplies, life lessons. So many adult things he knew nothing about. We held a little James-specific TCK Boot Camp: Banking, buses, bike safety, phone plans, health insurance, modern food systems, choosing a church and job applications. Just in case it helps another Mom going through it… I’ll detail a bit about the process.
Last year a good friend of mine put together what she called ‘Mom in a Box’ for her daughter heading off to college. Mom-in-a-Box included a first aid kit, some essential snacks, vitamins and a document that included subjects like: Sickness, Finances, Job, Church – things that you might definitely want to ask Mom about that first year away from home. Sickness includes which vitamins to take, which hospitals are in-network for us, etc. For James, I expanded this to include a Contacts list and a Food Source list. Contacts includes full names, address and phone numbers for local family/friends who have offered to be there for him when we cannot. Under each name I included tags: Emergency – for those who would do anything for him 24/7, Guest Room Offered/Ready – for those who offered him a place or had one ready now, and then other tags like Files or Storage – in case he needed to find things we left behind in a garage. Under Food Sources, I listed his closest grocery stores and where to find some of his favorite allergy-free foods.
I both Emailed him this document and printed it hardcopy. I filled the box with every medicine, vitamin, cream he could need, three jars of organic chicken soup, tea (for when he’s sick), a sewing kit, and an envelope. In the envelope, I wrote out 12 little post-it encouragements with prayers for his year. I only told him about them the day I left and encouraged him to pull one out and read it each month or on a hard day. I won’t be local to send him little things or visit, so I tried to front-load the Mom encouragement inside Mom-in-a-Box.
I know there is absolutely no way to avoid all homesickness, but as a TCK who has grown up in 5 countries on 3 continents, sometimes you need a piece of a place that feels like home. I wanted to provide James with that, and I’m a quilter. I quilted him a graduation stole with a fabric for each place he celebrated a birthday. I quilted him a Fibonacci Sequence quilt out of African cotton wax print (kitenge) for his bed. For graduation, he also asked for two African-style shirts and I made him matching masks. These fabrics can surround him with his TCK heritage when he needs it. This could also be done with family photos, a flag from your country other traditional wall hangings to remember your last feeling of ‘home’ on the other side of the world.
TCK BOOT CAMP
[These activities will need to be determined by where your kid will be and what they need specifically.] James had his driver’s license already, which was helpful for many other things like getting his student ID card. He wasn’t going to own a car, so instead purchased a bike, was given a helmet and awesome locks. He has complicated food allergies, planned to live on campus and get around by bike and bus, so our boot camp focused on that. We complicated things a bit further because he won’t be 18 until October, so he can’t have his own credit card yet and I had to co-sign anything to do with finances in person. We traveled to his college town 10 days before he moved in and stayed nearby so we could get to know the area well, and I’m so glad we did. We could take our time purchasing items for his dorm room ahead of the crowds, check out different churches, tour the nearby grocery stores, try out a couple allergy-friendly restaurants, etc. Here are the topics we covered and practiced in Boot Camp: – Cell Phones: plans, payment, apps, cases, cords, etc – Groceries: sourcing clean foods, reading ingredients, budgeting, dorm cooking – Transportation: reading bus routes/schedules, biking rules & safety – Banking: deposits, ATMs, cash-back, app management – College: campus tour (with specifics in mind), ID card, first semester books
James is a kid who is usually up for an adventure if someone else plans it, but who doesn’t naturally go explore new things. This Boot Camp had some days where I required weird jobs and forced him to do them. I had a long list of tasks to master or practice and most often he could choose between, for example, planning a bus trip across town to Trader Joe’s, or walking the college campus to find his dorm room window and get his ID card and books. Our bank account appointment was thankfully on our first full day in town and they gave him his debit card on the spot, so over the next 10 days I had him do much of the purchasing on his own and then we could log into the banking app and check his account as we went. Once, the register asked him if he wanted cash back. He just froze. He’d never heard of it. These are the little things that make coming from overseas a challenge. And I’m thankful we took our time working through them day by day together.
On top of life skills, I was teaching COVID safety as we went: Not to open doors with hands when possible, washing hands whenever possible and always before eating, etc. He would be managing it all on his own this year. He registered himself for an Amazon Student account and we ordered something to a nearby drop box. He picked it up on his own. In the grocery stores, we scouted out his favorite allergy-friendly options and noted which places have higher/lower prices. A few times I would challenge him to find three sources of broccoli (his favorite veg) and compare prices: frozen v. fresh v. steam bags. We blocked up the ice cream aisle reading ingredients and ranking which brands were better for his allergies. The one practice we didn’t fit in was a solo trip to the barber, though I did talk him through what is expected (a tip at the end) and we located a good one within walking distance.
There were two other things we did, which prepared him more on an emotional level. First, we booked an afternoon having lunch with the MK Care Coordinator of our organization. This man has kids like James on his heart, and got to debrief him about his life overseas and transition to the US, which opens the door for future connections there. Second, we participated in a campus ministry camp (all virtual this year), which placed James in an online small group of other Christian incoming freshman in his department (math/science). These were the first students he met, and his small group has gathered already a couple times at a park in these first 2 weeks. They text each other often, and it made James feel a bit of connection before beginning all virtual classes on a campus of 70,000 students.
We moved him in on a Tuesday morning and spent most of the day unpacking and settling his room. We planned to stock his fridge and go out to lunch Wednesday before I left town (and flew out Friday). Having a plan is important!! We found the outlets in the dorm were all far from his desk, so in the evening I ordered a curbside pickup of cords at Lowe’s. I checked out of our AirBnB. He texted me his food wishlist and it was easy for me to find because we had toured every store in the area. We went out to lunch and got to debrief his first 24 hours of dorm life. I told him I would not park and come in, but just drop him and go. We planned out when to call and check-in. And that was it! I drove away. I didn’t want to. I had to. I did pause to bawl a moment in a parking spot. I am human. The waves have been coming for a year, and will continue another year I’m sure. It wasn’t easy, but all the planning and preparations gave me a lot of peace of mind that we were ready for whatever this first year on the other side of the world may hold!
Looking back over all the years of James’ childhood, it is obvious without a doubt that God has plans for him. It was not easy to do it solo, but better than not doing it at all. I felt the prayers for God’s Peace and Strength with me every hour. It is painful to leave the country and not take your kid with you, but I have no doubt God will continue to be faithful to James. And the Family Weekends and Holiday Breaks we will miss this year we can all surrender to Jesus. He is worthy. How to leave your kid on the other side of the world? It can only be done in obedience and worship! I also recommend having people pray! This song came on the radio on multiple stations in multiple towns across Texas as I drove away from my son: You Get the Glory.
[Before I journal out what a typical day of Quarantine in Cameroon is like, I want to say there are some big differences between Quarantine here v. in the US with unlimited high-speed internet streaming services, curbside pickups, Amazon deliveries and Door Dash from your favorite restaurant. In Cameroon, power and internet are a costly privilege. I am Quarantined on our office compound where there is a backup power generator, so if it all cuts out – it is back on within about 60 seconds. Still, I have traded streaming music/movies for using my list of downloads while power lasts, and singing or listening to a flock of tropical birds outside when it doesn’t. I’ve traded curbside pickups and Amazon deliveries for friends and neighbors sharing/swapping. And I’ve traded restaurant meals for my own kitchen creativity (and some simple meals)… Add the cool, wet season of tropical ‘winter’ and a whole lot of bugs – and it’s the same! Just about…]
6:30am – I wake up to birds praising their Creator and the slam of a screen door nearby. All windows are open louvers with screens, so noise travels! Slowly getting up, I put my clean coffee mug outside on the front porch chair and set up my own seat for morning coffee.
7:00am – Kent arrives before his work day to pour me coffee with whipped cream! He backs away, so I can reach out to pull the coffee inside, and then sits down on the other side of the porch. Once I am back behind the screen door, he takes off his mask and we share long-distance coffee. We talk about the kids getting out the door at 6:45, or what’s going on in the house or at the office. We often share thoughts about current events. Today it’s about Critical Race Theory and how the Church should respond. Basically, we pretend to solve all the world’s problems in our 45 minutes… 🙂
8:00am – Kent rushes back to set up an online portal to a linguistics conference in the Netherlands he and another colleague are attending virtually all day. I pray for them, finish Bible reading and throw some breakfast together. Goals of the day are blogging, Email, finishing my 1000-piece puzzle. It’s hard not to count the hours left – three more full days! Joel and Anna haven’t seen me except on phone calls for 5 weeks. Feels like forever.
1:00pm – My puzzle is almost done and I need to stop or I won’t have anything to do for the next few days. I watch one more episode of a TV series I downloaded, but it’s the second to last one I have. Unless I want to rewatch the whole season again, I’ll need to find something else to do. I decide to save it at least another day. I could reread a book, but decide to read online instead.
1:30pm – Kent texts me from his conference that Anna is in tears about online school because her computer is down (that she built). I call her. She doesn’t pick up. Teenagers and their headphones with loud music! I call her brother and finally get her on the phone. She needs to be creative and not put more on Dad today. She agrees to try working on her brother’s old dinosaur laptop that sounds like a jet engine.
3:00pm – My friend Lori knocks outside. My first week of Quarantine, I was the only one, but now there are 4 households of us and we are allowed to walk outside on the path between 3-6pm at a distance. I’m late for walk-time! I change into exercise clothes and begin putting on my shoes when Anna calls in tears. She just saw an Email saying that her Zoom violin lesson across the globe started a few minutes ago. She’s panicking and not sure what to do. I postpone the walk by an hour, calm her down, and log in to listen to her lesson with her from here.
4:15pm – Violin Lesson salvaged in spite of high winds and rain ( = spotty internet/power). Hopefully I can still get in a walk! I find my fellow-Quarantiner and we start around the 1/4mi path. After one lap, it starts sprinkling and the hills in the distance disappear behind a looming wall of water. We make it a fast 2 laps and retreat to warm up inside. It is ‘winter’ with weather in the 65-80 range and it often rains during our ‘outside time’. It makes taking out trash and drying laundry a bit complicated. Thankfully, no laundry or trash runs for me today! I have a thick blanket on the hard tile for a yoga mat and can stretch out.
6:00pm – I decide to cook a real dinner, not just eat fruit & cheese. I have chicken drumsticks, a moldy onion, a questionable zucchini and some drying out carrots. I clean up the onion and sautee it with peeled carrots. I add water and chicken to simmer, and am pleasantly surprised by the zucchini – not one worm inside! It gets sliced up and steamed on top of it all. I found a steak seasoning mix that I spice it with and serve topped with butter and sea salt. Food for a king! I notice a little river of ants coming in a crack in the wall, but can’t figure where they are feasting… ominous.
9:00pm – After eating my dinner, chatting with family and reading a bit more (only a few more puzzle pieces!), it’s time to get ready for bed. The empty apartment gets dark quickly after 7:00 and then the bugs feel free to take over. I catch a mosquito in mid-air and feel victorious. Last weekend a big rainstorm brought in several huge cockroaches and I had to convince both myself and them that I was in charge. But I drew the line at the enormous spider in the bathroom! I just couldn’t get close enough to kill him with a shoe. He disappeared somewhere near the back of the door and my towel. I named him Henry. We are peacefully coexisting. I pretend he’s not there, and he pretends that I am not there. I use a different towel. And I bring my broom in with me – just in case.
10:00pm – I’ll wash my 3 dishes tomorrow. And handwash a few last things to wear. Lights out. I’ve had lots of time to chat with Jesus. To puzzle. To sleep. To fight bugs. The crickets are chirping. All that goes through my head is spider nightmares, so I sing a praise song half asleep. Think on only what is good. Most of all I am thankful that I am not sick and not bringing COVID back home next week!