It’s been so long since I’ve sent out an update like this! I’m sorry. I used to publish these lists of my favorite things once a month, and this past year it’s been much less often. Now that my anxiety is under much better control, I’m going to try to write more frequently. I’m feeling good physically and mentally (and have been for a while). But for now, here’s a (rather long) update on my life, along with some quality reading material. ~Elizabeth
Hearing both my girls (on separate occasions) singing “Tell me the Story of Jesus” in the shower. When I heard them, I thought, it’s working! Let me explain. About a year and a half ago I realized my kids weren’t growing up with love for or even knowledge of hymns. At our international church we sing mostly modern worship songs, which of course I love. But I was raised on the meaty theology in hymns. Hymn lyrics are what come to me in the dead of night when I am in crisis. I want my kids to know them and depend on them too, but they didn’t really know any.
So we started slowly, one song a week. And sometimes it takes more than a week to fully learn a song. But you know what? The songs really start to add up, and after a year and a half we have quite a few hymns and camp songs we can sing together as a family. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” is especially nostalgic because it’s not only a classic in the hymnal, but it’s also the song that all the campers and counselors always sing at the end of hymn sing at Camp Takodah, just before being dismissed to Bible class. This leads me to my next story.
I was doing yoga to The Majesty and Glory album (hymn music from Jonathan’s and my adolescence that I loved to listen to and recently re-discovered through iTunes). In walks my daughter who says, “Where did you get this good music??!” And I thought again, it’s working! My love for traditional worship music is slowly being passed on to my children and shaping their hearts and minds too.
Talking about the Enneagram with our kids. Jonathan and I started describing the Enneagram numbers to our kids, based on a book we’re both reading. It was fun to explain who my husband and I are and to figure out who the kids are, together. It was fascinating to watch their faces as we read through each description and slowly, each child figured out which number they were. Some were happy, and some were annoyed, but we’re pretty sure we know which number each of our children is. It has given us a shared language and helped us all understand each other better.
Drama production and ballet solos. One of the great privileges of the last few years has been to watch my children grow through the performing arts. It started with drama at our coop and has continued with dance lessons for my two youngest. Every time I watch the performing arts I am moved spiritually and emotionally. The arts speak a language without words, and it’s difficult to put the experiences into words (which feels so surprising to a wordsmith like myself). Maybe some day I’ll be able to explain these things better, but for now just know they are a highlight of my life and I’m so thankful for the chance my children have had to be a part of these performances (especially since our drama teacher just moved away).
Velvet Ashes Retreat with my dear friend who is moving away. We’ve done this together the last 3 years, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to bring myself to do the Velvet Ashes Retreat without her next year. I also don’t know how I’m going to survive without this girl. But I am thankful we had this extra time to spend together.
2 Renew, a monthly Saturday evening worship time at our church. Realizing how much I need extra worship services besides Sundays, this spring I committed to attend 2 Renew at least every other month. It’s not fireworks, but it is consecrated time to talk to God without my children (I love Sunday mornings with my family, but they are inevitably slightly distracting). The times I have gone have been significant because God just seems to repeat all the things He has been saying to me, things I need reminding of, things I know but have not been heeding. And sometimes we just need repetition, right? I can pinpoint a big turning point in my anxiety journey to the first 2 Renew I attended in March and another turning point in addressing a deep father wound to the service in May. Thankful for these times!
I also attended Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services at the Anglican church. I wrote about Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Again, these are simply times of worship that I attend alone without my family, and I tend to be able to draw more strength from them from than regular Sunday morning services.
Dance class. Contemporary dance class is a place I consistently meet God. I started attending last October when my anxiety and OCD began spiking. Every week in the beginning, I would nearly start to cry at some some aspect of the dance teaching that was reflecting something God had just been speaking to me about. This semester we learned some choreography to the classic hymn Amazing Grace. We danced it every week, and though I had a hard time keeping up and was quite unsure of myself, I kept going. Wow. All I can say is, dancing to the words of Amazing Grace every single week for 5 months did something to me internally. Every week I left dance class with that song in my head, and with a new understanding of my need for grace.
(The hymn was recorded by a friend here in town, and you can hear her beautiful version of it beginning at 5:30 on this video.)
A series of counseling appointments at Living Well. When I hit rock bottom, my best friend noticed. She has walked with me through many dark days over the past 13 years, so when she said, “I’ve never seen you like this,” I sat up and paid attention. Her concern made me finally seek counseling help. It was a short season of counseling (before that counselor left the country), but it pulled me out of the depths. I have a plan in place now to stay on top of the anxiety and OCD.
The rains have begun. This hot season was brutal, with daily power cuts due to a shortage of electricity in our country. The power cuts have resolved, and the rains make life more bearable each June.
In Need by Keith Lancaster. A friend shared with me when I spoke of the struggles of the last year. Beautiful a cappella. “I am your child, I am in need.”
Goodness of God by Bethel. “All my life you have been faithful.” “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”
Come Alive by Lauren Daigle: “We cry out to dry bones come alive, come alive.” For much of the last year I was like the walking dead, but it was only when I started to come alive again (by working with a counselor here in town) that I realized I had been dead. It’s so good to be alive again, and I don’t ever want to live dead again.
Who You Say I Am by Hillsong. “In my Father’s house there’s a place for me.”
Oh Come to the Altar by Elevation Worship. “O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.”
Ever Be by Aaron Shust: “You father the orphan and your kindness makes us whole. You shoulder our weakness and your strength becomes our own.” This phrase caught my attention because WHOLE is my theme for the year, and I’ve definitely felt the need for His strength to become my own.
Even Then by Micah Tyler: “Even when it feels like my world is shaken, even when I’ve had all that I can take, I know You never let me go, whoa. And even when the waters won’t stop rising, even when I’m caught in the dead of a night, I know, no matter how it ends, You’re with me even then.”
My Defender by Rita Springer: “When I thought I lost me you knew where I left me, you reintroduced me to your love.” I think I’ve shared this before, but it’s just so good.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This was a read aloud, and boy does it have good dialogue! And the wisdom about life that gets woven into this children’s book is superb, especially the conversation about vacation towards the end. Written over 50 years ago, the conversation has amazing and unexpected applicability to our digital age.
Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. The sea. The stars. Grief. Loss. Education. Empowerment. The nomadic life. I see why this book is many people’s favorite (and for TCKs especially). We haven’t quite finished this read aloud, but we need to.
The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair has always been my favorite Narnia book. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to appreciate Narnia books that I didn’t particularly love as a child, but The Silver Chair has remained my favorite. I knew I wanted to read some Lewis over Khmer New Year (spring break), and this is the one I chose. All these years later, it is still just as good as the first time.
Brainlock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz. Recommended by both Jonathan’s counseling mentor and the member care person in our org. So far it’s really helpful, both enlightening and practical.
Something that’s really intriguing to me is that 11 years ago during a particularly anxiety-ridden pregnancy, it was a children’s book about OCD that helped me work through the worries. And years ago, before I ever knew I actually had OCD, I had saved a Discover magazine article that detailed Schwartz’s career and passion and brought it with me to Cambodia, slipped inside the children’s OCD book. I had clipped it out mainly because it felt to me to be scientific proof that we have free will. This was back in the days when parsing out the truth of free will versus God’s sovereignty seemed of utmost importance. Now it seems less so, but it was quite the experience to begin Brainlock and think to myself, I have heard this man’s story before, and then to go searching and to find both the OCD book and the article.
I talk about worry and that children’s book in this article/video. These strategies “starved the OCD monster” and kept it at bay for over 8 years. This year I found myself
(Other than that, I didn’t get much book reading done this spring. I’d like to reverse this trend.)
BLOG POSTS, THEOLOGICAL IN NATURE
Job’s Wife: Authenticity in Suffering by Anna E. Hampton. A thoughtful and encouraging interpretation of Job’s wife. If you read no other articles this month, read this one.
Matthew 18 is Not Instructive for Book Reviews, But Much of the New Testament Is, by Jen Oshman. Clear-headed and true.
What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil For? by Daniel Hoffman. A lot to chew on here, and I probably need to re-read it.
How Universalism, the “Opiate of the Theologians,” Went Mainstream, Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond.
When Self-Discovery Becomes Self-Worship by Josiah Dangers.
Scenery, Machinery, People — Rethinking our view of humans by Jerry Jones. Thought-provoking.
Canandian Mennonite University Scientist in Residence | Student Forum with Dr. Dennis R. Venema [VIDEO]. This lecture was so healing for me to hear. I cried through some parts.
BLOG POSTS, NARRATIVE IN NATURE
When Cuss Words, Addiction, and Shame Show Up at Church by Scott Sauls. I dare you not to cry.
An MIT Professor Meets the Author of All Knowledge by Rosalind Picard. I also cried reading this one.
Yours Also the Night by Julie Spencer. I had a lot of early morning wakings last year, so I relate.
BLOG POSTS, PRACTICAL IN NATURE
Surviving College: Go to Church, Go to Class, Call Your Dad by Joshua Gibbs. This advice is all so true. I almost never skipped church or class my first year in college, and I called my mom a lot. Definitely kept me grounded.
Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework by Heather Shumaker.
BLOG POSTS, EXPAT IN NATURE
9 Ways MKs Can Navigate Their Grief by Michèle Phoenix. Vitally important.
We Spent Our Best Years Overseas. And They Were Hard. by Jen Oshman. So thankful she said these things.
When Your Yes Impacts Other People by Sarah Hilkemann. Another hard truth about living and working overseas.
4 Ways to Give Yourself Grace During Re-Entry by Bernie Anderson.
15 Things I Want to Tell Graduating Third Culture Kids by Rachel Pieh Jones.
Even Jesus Had a Boat by Anisha Hopkinson.
The Reality of Being a Foreign Service Spouse by Donna Scaramastra Gorman. Being mostly in missionary circles, this is a perspective I don’t hear about very much, and I was thankful for the insight.
How To Get Into Missions in Just One Month by Anisha Hopkinson. Funny!
MOVIES AND TELEVISION
Kim’s Convenience. This hilarious show details the life of an immigrant Korean family to Canada. I think I like it because I relate to the cross-cultural difficulties and also to the specifically Asian context.
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. A show from my own childhood, I watched the first season with my kids. There are some historical inaccuracies, of course, but I didn’t expect to find the gospel story plastered on the surface of this show, screaming loud and clear for all to hear. It’s Hosea/Israel, Christ/Church, Redeeming Love all over the place and had me crying in front of my kids. We don’t shy away from those stories with our kids – prostitution is on the surface of life here too.
The Lego Movie 2. It wasn’t a particularly enthralling movie, but the best part came at the end: “Because everything is NOT awesome, but we can make it more awesome.” This is so deeply, painfully true. Everything is not awesome. This world is deeply and painfully broken. People are hurting, and people hurt other people. The systems of the world are broken, and the natural world itself does not function as it should. But when we build community, the pain diminishes.
Captain Marvel. We watched this as a family in the theater. I like Marvel but am not overly fanatical about their movies. That said, I really liked the way this story portrayed strong female characters and strong, non-sexualized female friendships and mentorships.
End Game. Of course we all went to End Game too. I hadn’t even seen some of the pre-cursors to this Avengers movie, so my kids tried to update me. I cried so much. There are so many tearjerker scenes. The movie perfectly ties up nearly every Marvel/Avengers storyline. (I particularly like what they did with Captain America’s and Iron Man’s storylines.) Speaking of Avengers, here’s a fun article identifying many of the Avengers’ Enneagram numbers. It’s been informative for our family.
North and South. I love this movie. I agree with everyone else out there who thinks North and South wins the prize for best kiss. I watched this one with some of my kids while Jonathan was out of town (he was gone for 21 out of 27 days). Although it takes place in England (where every good drama takes place), this movie also related to a lot of the industrialism/strike issues we were studying in American history.
It held my girls’ attention well enough that I introduced them to Pride and Prejudice (the Hollywood version). They recognized Matthew McFadyen as Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit, a really long Dickens mini-series that we watched together last summer at my mom’s house and which is now a family favorite. Anyway, after watching Pride and Prejudice, Jonathan loaded the soundtrack onto my girls’ devices, and they are in love!
MATH AND SCIENCE
STEMWA, a Facebook group that Jonathan created. I was lamenting yet one more time about how lonely it can be to be an expat woman in math or science. Finding other math and science people is hard enough, but finding female expat math and science people is even harder. Voila! Jonathan created this group for me.
Teaching at coop. I’ve mentioned before how much I love teaching math and science at our coop, and this semester was no different. I taught younger students, and it was still fun (though my favorite are the teenagers). In the fall I’m teaching younger students again, but I really like the content areas, so it will still be fun. I will miss my teenagers though!
HEALTH AND FITNESS
New hand weights. For Christmas I asked for new 3 kg weights to replace my 2 kg weights. The 2 kg weights were all I could find when I moved here, and they were only ever so-so for my fitness preferences, but after 7 years with them I knew I needed heavier weights. These weights make every video workout I have so much harder, even the ones I thought were easy before.
New workout clothes. The last time I bought workout shorts was 2008. Over 10 years ago. I was in dire need of new shorts! I found better, more comfortable workout clothes for cheap at the Decathlon store at the new Aeon mall in Phnom Penh (the same place I found those new weights).
T-25. Jonathan bought this workout series several years ago, but it had been been lying dormant most of that time. It was too hard for me at the time he bought it, and now he goes to a gym instead. So I tried some of these workouts. There are some good ones in there. They’re definitely hard, and I don’t do them every day. I think that attending dance class increased my strength and stamina and gave me the courage to try T-25 again. I try to alternate difficult workouts with easier ones.
Fitness Blender. I think I’ve mentioned Fitness Blender before. I started using their videos again. When I’m low on time but want to get something in, I do their short upper body workouts. Kelly, the gal on this husband/wife team, has an eating disorder story very similar to my own (minus the bulimia). Plus, she also has OCD (which I think is the reason I struggled with an ED in the first place and the reason it manifested the way it did, with relatively few months of being underweight but so many years of mental anguish). It’s a good video if you want to get a glimpse inside my life.
Teeccino. Yum. I weaned myself off coffee last year – very slowly over two months and honestly, quite painfully. I received some herbal coffee substitutes in a Christmas package from the States. (And all to be drunk with coconut milk as the number one creamer in the world.) I am here to vouch for Teeccino’s teas. Roastaroma from Celestial Seasonings is also a good coffee substitute. And I can sometimes find Starbucks decaf ground coffee. It’s far superior than the Italian decaf espresso you can sometimes find in stores here (but that works in a pinch). Once in a store I found some decaf black tea and snatched it up before it was gone. You never know what’s going to be in stock here, so you buy it when you find it and assume you’ll never find it again. It’s an insidious scarcity mentality I’ve picked up from living here so long. I’ve talked to friends who feel the same way.
Lebanese Red Lentil Soup. I found this delicious lentil soup recipe while searching lentil recipes. It’s so good. I try to make it a couple times a month. Unfortunately, red lentils were one of those items that went out of stock for a couple months earlier this year. I was so bummed and thought I’d never see red lentils again. Then lo and behold, one day all the stores had them in stock again. We kind of joke that when we can’t find certain items, that “the whole country is out of stock.” I mean, who talks like that? Oh yeah, expats do.
Garam Masala Nuts. I searched for a recipe for a spiced nut and seed mixture after eating a divine nut and seed mix at a Christmas gathering. Salty and spicy yumminess! I use olive oil instead of butter, and I add pumpkin seeds, which are a great complete protein. Pumpkin seeds were out of stock for a while, but they’re back in stock now. The only problem now is, walnuts are way too expensive to buy.
Green Pea Hummus. I love this stuff, but my family doesn’t care too much for it. More for me! This is the recipe that taught me the 2 key ingredients for good hummus: tahini and cumin. I had never put cumin in my hummuses before, but this recipe convinced me. I also didn’t always use tahini. It could be expensive or hard to find, plus, it’s so thick that it didn’t mix well in my blender (blenders aren’t always the highest quality here). Then my blender broke and I started making hummus by hand with a potato masher instead. This spring I started adding the tahini (because of this recipe). The trick for any hummus is to look at the recipe for the amount of oil and cut it in half. You should use half olive oil and half tahini for your “oil.” Then you get perfectly flavored (even if not perfectly blended) hummus. Word to the wise: soak your green peas overnight, or else it takes a lot longer than 30 minutes to cook them.
Black Bean Hummus. My family may not like my Green Pea Hummus, but they devour the Black Bean Hummus and request it frequently. It also has the requisite cumin and tahini, as explained above.
(As you can see, I’ve made a lot of lifestyle changes since last fall when I hit bottom.)
Oswald Chambers, January 2, My Utmost For His Highest: “Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is.”
I don’t know the source of this quote. I found it from the blog of a friend walking through cancer, and she found it in a book she was reading. “We want to say that the knowledge of tomorrow would remove our anxieties, but this assumes that tomorrow holds sunshine, or that knowing what it holds means we could face it better. Whatever tomorrow holds, we can be certain that its contents will raise as many questions as they will answer. We can trust God to manage the future without our help.”
This quote reminded me of a quote from Cindy Morgan that has always helped me: “Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”
A Charlotte Mason quote, found through Angelina Stanford: “If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.”