Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus'
1 Thessalonians 5:18
We moved into our home two days before Christmas, and now I finally feel we are settling into life here. Where we were before was beautiful, peaceful, convenient, but somehow felt like staying in a deserted, dilapidated 1970s hotel, and there were also unfenced swimming pools which meant I was not happy for the boys to play outside without close observation. We have much to give thanks for, and thought I would share a handful of these encouragements.
1) Our next door neighbours are Christians who homeschool! This really was a surprise, as homeschooling is still quite unusual here. At work, I often feel there is an undertone that I should put the children in one of the big international schools and then I'd have more time to work! Even when people speak reasonably positively about homeschooling as a concept, they still don't seem to understand that time and effort it can take, and that I will not be at work every day of the week. This is fine; I would not expect people to automatically understand our lifestyle choice! But to have people who share our compound who totally understand our motivations is amazing. The children are similar ages, and already they have spent many afternoons playing together and we need to consider some activities that can be done as a group. (They use ACE, whereas we use Sonlight, so the structures are a little different, but there is so much potential to overlap). It was also quite humbling to realise we were an answer to their prayers as much as they were to ours; our house had been occupied by older single people for some time, so I think it is a breath of fresh air to have a group of lively children.
2) The boys continue to achieve milestones. I know this is normal and to be expected in any family, but it is still awe-inspiring when it happens. For example, my elder six year old has grasped reading, and now sees that he can read just about anything he wants - it is like a whole new world that is opening up in front of him, and today he thanked me for teaching him to read. My younger six year old learnt to swim - from being petrified of the water, the other day he shocked me by jumping into the deep end of a friend's pool, swimming a lovely length and nonchalantly climbing out again. For him, this is a huge milestone, and he was delighted to have planned this surprise for me (I was overseas for the final week of swimming lessons, when he really grasped it). My three (almost four) year old is learning his letters fast, and has been enjoying having his own workbooks and sitting at the table with his big brothers. He too can see the excitement of new concepts opening up. One could argue, more importantly than that, we are seeing some nice character development. My eldest told me how he regretted doing something cruel to his younger brother about a year ago. My middle son meticulously tidies up, and they actually argue about whose turn it is to wash up (as in, they both want it to be their turn, and the youngest is going to wash up for a special treat on his birthday). The little one offers me cold water or coffee when he thinks I need it!
3) We are happy with our choice of curriculum - I've written about this before, but it took a while before we decided to use a curriculum at all, and Sonlight really does map nicely to the style we had already developed. We don't stick only to the materials - we try to ensure we are not too rigid, and continue to have flexibility to really delve into a topic, or to embrace a one-off opportunity that may present itself. People often comment to this effect, but it really is important to remember that a curriculum is a tool, not something we should become a slave to. The boys are excited to be learning - whilst the intensive swim camp over the last couple of months was great, they were actually asking to return to their normal 'school' routine and are enjoying it as much as before. We have some more materials arriving soon with our shipment, and that is exciting.
4) We can run! This might sound like a really strange, and perhaps trivial point. But when I first saw this city, although confident that God was leading us here, I despaired at the traffic. We know those who spend several hours a day in traffic. My husband's workplace is 8 Km away. He can run in 45 min, walk in 1 hr 15 min, and once he went by car and took more than 1.5 hours. So running is actually the fastest and most efficient way to travel around this city, and of course it brings huge health benefits. My workplace is 4 Km away, which I find a lovely distance. We are at a bit of altitude and it is hilly - it can be quite tiring. We both feel more energetic when we run regularly, and I know for sure that the exercise and fresh air are good for my mood. When we previously lived in southern Africa, I found it difficult to run - it was an unusual thing to do, and I found I attracted too much attention, felt immodest in shorts, and never really got used to the altitude. Here, we are relatively close the the altitude training centres in the East African highlands, and there are many runners out and about in our neighbourhood, both expat and local. The boys have been doing Fartlek training on the road outside our compound, and they are also getting very fit.
5) We are beginning (beginning....) to feel more part of the church community. There is a small township next to our road and some of our friends live there; we often meet on the way to church. It is only 15 minutes walk from here, and there was a fortnight of daily prayer meetings after new year. By going to these, and taking the boys to the start of some (to be collected by the second parent on the way home from work), we got to know some people in a different way than you might on a Sunday morning alone. It does take longer in a different culture, that is for sure. When I have visited expat (or more mixed) churches, they are more welcoming on face value. But it has been rewarding to keep working at it here, especially as we are here for a good few years. The Bible teaching is amazing, very solid and clear. In Africa in general, there can be problems with 'prosperity' teaching and the 'celebrity pastor', and that is very much not the case here; it is often spoken against. Many of the congregation are from a tribe from the north - a place which had some real hardships some years ago with the war, child soldiers and so-forth. I think this experience has refined the faith of many, and also taught very clearly that our true home and true rest will come in heaven.
I could say so much more, but these are five examples of recent encouragements as we continue to settle into life here.
How have you been encouraged this week?