Monday, November 14, 2011
• 99 percent are happy with their lives
• 97 percent like who they are
• 96 percent like how they looked*
Do you think it’s the top 1% most wealthy in America? Is it the top 10% most attractive people? Could it be the most religious people? Is it the top quarter of a percent with an IQ over 140?
Does this describe you?
Let me also say this demographic has very few ‘bad habits.’ In a study of 3,000 people in this group, there were NO drug addicts or gamblers, only two alcoholics and a very small number of smokers.**
Who is it? People with Down syndrome.
When I read that, I thought...yup...it’s about like that.
Emme, our daughter with Down syndrome, is likely to fall asleep laughing at her own jokes and wake up singing her own little made-up songs.
When Karl had to take her in for some very painful shots – she screamed so loudly you thought they were cutting off her leg. Karl kept telling her “I’m sorry.” As she balled her eyes out, she kept doing the “I forgive you” sign.
At family gatherings while the other kids are running around, she loves to sit next to the person with the guitar and sing along.
The truth is, I often forget she has Down syndrome. Sure, there are few tell-tale signs...
1. She’s 3 ½ years old and has just started walking. Thank you, sweet Jesus!
2. She likes a small range of foods and will only drink coconut juice (SERIOUSLY! Coconut juice?!?)
If you give her something she doesn’t like, she seems to say, “Sure mom...go ahead, shove that in my mouth. You think you’re in control here – but I’ll just spit that right out. You can put it my mouth, but you can’t make me swallow it.”
3. She can’t yet tell us about her day at school, if she has a tummy ache or what her favorite color is. Well, Emme may disagree...she probably is telling us – we just aren’t fluent in “Emme-ese.”
4. Once she catches a regular old cold or sickness of any kind – it can takes weeks and weeks to get over it (and many times only with medication).
However – I have to say...I love everything about her. We love...
• How she liberally dishes out “Bye, Bye, Bye...” if she feels your presence is no longer required.
• How she definitely says “All Done” when she’s had enough of the vegetables I keep trying to feed her.
• How she bows her head and prays before a meal (although we can’t understand – we’re sure she’s saying something pretty good to God)...and ends it with "OK!" (Emme-ese for "Amen")
• How she thinks a wedding is actually a party for her (last weekend at a wedding she walked from table to table, greeting nearly everyone and giving out free hugs)
And getting ready to have Baby Girl #3...I am reminded again that life rarely goes as planned.
We have a 1.25% chance of having another baby with a chromosome abnormality. Before we got pregnant again – we had to ask ourselves if we were ready to receive any kind of child God wants to give us.
I’ve changed my statements from “I want a girl” or “I want a boy” or “I want a healthy baby” to “I want the next gift God wants to give.”
Do we want the next gift God has to give? Do we sometimes mistake the gifts – thinking they are curses?
In many areas of my life...from getting in the wrong check-out lane at the grocery store and the price of gas...to working with a difficult person or facing yet another disappointment, I say... “No, God, this is NOT the gift I wanted. Take it back – give me something else. Something different – something better.”
I am learning that His gifts are ALWAYS good. It’s up to me to see the gift, unwrap it, and say, “Thank You.” I say I want joy and grace – but see now the joy and grace come AFTER the “Thank You” - never before.
This Thanksgiving (and really every day), I want to be thankful not just for the seemingly good - but for everything...
Thankful for the shirt I shrunk in the drier, burned toast, and broken dishes. Thankful for medical bills. Thankful for Down syndrome.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 5: 19,20
..Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
** National Association for Down Syndrome
Friday, October 28, 2011
Fell Pregnant = get pregnant
Example: “She keeps falling pregnant.” (Not to be confused with falling while you’re pregnant – which really could hurt. Of course pregnancy can hurt too, or at least the end result, so maybe "falling" IS the fitting description).
Example: Jensen, “Mom, can I go play in the garden?”
(I try to use my English accent - but it's not very good and Karl mistakes it for my southern accent - very confusing)
Monday, October 17, 2011
You were close!
Here is how everyone voted at our “Gender Reveal Cake Parties” (we had the ultrasound lady write the gender in an envelope, took it to a baker and had them put “blue” or “pink” frosting in the cake – we found out with everyone else what we were having when we cut the cake).
Watch the 5 minute video:
Before we had kids Karl said, “You know Julie...we’re going to have 3 girls.”
I thought “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.” However, it looks like my husband who is always right, is right YET AGAIN.
Someone asked recently if I was a little disappointed we are having another girl. No way! We're so excited about girls. Sisters are built-in girlfriends. A slumber party every night!
Its a girl!
When we told Jensen we were going back to Africa to have the baby, said she said, “Uh...Mom...will the baby be black?”
Seriously...not a bad question.
Here’s Jensen's top 10 list of baby names for her sister:
1. Bambi (this is her absolute favorite – she is very insistent we name her sister after a Disney character)
2. Sara (this is a close second after Bambi – ever since her cousin told her Bambi is not a real name this one has been creeping up on her list)
3. Nana (kinda like your grandma)
4. Malea (this has been one of her top names for about a year now – we thought she made it up till someone told us it was a real name)
Note: A friend from Ocean View was pregnant a few months ago and asked Jensen what she should name her baby. Of course Jensen was confident Malea would be the perfect name for her. And I guess it was – she named her baby Malea last August.
5. Sunny (I have to admit...it IS cheerful!)
6. Kiki (we did see the other day that Kikka means “mistress of all” - nice!)
7. Namala (a bit African sounding)
8. Isala (I guess she threw this in there just in case we didn’t pick Namala)
9. TikaTock (inspired by her new favorite nursery rhyme "The Mouse Ran Up the Clock”)
10. Sugar Pop (my personal fav)
Maybe we should go with Bambi Nana Isala TikaTock?
What do you think would be a great name? Something to go with Jensen, Emerson...???
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
If at all possible, I prefer to avoid failure...it’s just a bit too much like failing.
Success just looks better, smells better, feels better.
For some, success is about “big” - the big promotion, the big sale, the big house, the big car. For others it’s about being “right” - being the right weight, from the right school, with the right degree, running with the right friends, your kid on the right team, living in the right neighbourhood, in the right part of town.
In Africa for me – it’s tempting for it to be about numbers – the numbers of lives changed, programs started, jobs landed, babies saved, desperate mothers helped, etc.
My big epiphany? Obedience to God is really my only success. That’s it. Obeying God. Even if it looks like failure, it’s not.
For any upcoming decisions, problems, dilemmas – I usually like to think about it, discuss it, rethink it, ask a few more people, perhaps throw a little worry at it. In general, mull it over.
What happened in Africa? I had friends who would often say, “Julie, have you actually prayed about that?”
So now...I ask God what He thinks. You know what? He actually tells me! I may not always like it...but nothing compares to God's voice.
#3: My 2%
Some people believe destiny finds you and others believe you find destiny. When people in the “destiny finds you” camp say “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be” I think “Oh please...you clearly don’t realize your choices can change everything! Make better choices! You can make it happen! Stop dilly dallying around!”
The problem in my case – with the “you find destiny” camp - is that every choice matters, every decision is crucial – and hard work takes the cake.
What I learned in Africa? Both camps are right, but for anything lasting to actually happen –I need to put in my 2% and totally, utterly rely on God for the other 98%.
It is a fine, razor thin line between helping and enabling.
My shocking realization? Enabling is doing something for someone they CAN do for themselves. Helping is doing something for someone they CAN’T do for themselves.
Too often I am helping myself right into enablement.
My mother is the most amazing helper, non-enabler I have ever known (you would think 37 years of watching Dot Jensen in action would rub off sometime soon).
Since this mind blowing realization – I am rethinking how much I pick up after my tutu-trailing, sequin-spreading 5 year old and spoon feed my I-only-eat-mac-n-cheese-popcorn-and-bananas 3 year old. Not to mention a whole new look at how I give money away, distribute clothing donations, design employment programs and approach micro-enterprise.
Jensen's question..."What is this 'bed making' you speak of?"
One of the perks to moving to Africa is people expect you need a lot of prayer. And we do!
We have a “Prayer Circle” of about 20 people who really do pray for us...we’ve sent out the “Prayer Red Alert” for our job skills program, women needing work, little girls who were raped, a boy that was kidnapped, Karl’s back, our bed bugs – you name it. Anything that just wasn’t going to change unless God intervened. It’s surprising how much stuff that is.
The point is – you don’t need to move to Africa to get a prayer team. We all need friends who will really, truly pray for us.
I would encourage you right now to pick 5 people who really like you and would be happy to pray for you. Guess what? People want to know you – the real you. They WILL pray for you.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
If you’re picturing a nice, spacious New York city yellow cab – adjust that visual to slightly more of a mini-bus...van’ish thing– that holds about 15-18 people.
Apparently it’s an extremely competitive market. The taxis have been known to bomb other taxis for being on their “turf” and start open shooting at full taxi’s with people in them. I gather they are a bit annoyed when you don’t ride in their taxi.
Although quick tempered and impatient, with a slight tendency toward terrorism, they do appear to be quite resourceful.
On occasion they will make space for extra people by putting a crate in the middle part between the driver’s seat and the front passenger seat...and they’ve even been known to pull out the steering wheel and drive WITH A WRENCH in place in order to squeeze in one more passenger.
The government frowns upon this sort of ingenuity.
The Taxi Bosses (that’s really what they’re called) also don’t like to have their taxi impounded for being a teensy bit unsafe. They responded last month by burning tires in the street to protest the unfairness of the government to require that their vehicle be “road worthy” (similar to a car inspection in the US to prove your vehicle is safe to drive). I guess the police prefer that when you drive a dozen people around – you do so with a properly installed steering wheel instead of a rusty ole wrench. Picky, picky, picky.
The whole thing is a bad combination of the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine meets the Sopranos.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I’ll actually say to my husband, “You know me better than I know myself – what’s WRONG with me?” Most of the time he can tell me.
We are always thinking...always calculating...then rethinking and recalculating.
When we’re not talking (IF we’re not talking)...it’s because we are thinking, thinking, THINKING. Don’t mistake that blank stare for a serene mind of nothingness (a skill many men posses – I’ve heard they can actually do this – sit there and think about NOTHING!).
You might be impressed we’re multi-tasking by making dinner and talking enthusiastically to one of our kids about their latest school project and checking Facebook simultaneously – but you have NO idea. We are really taking multi-tasking to whole new level by thinking...
• Are my kids eating enough vegetables? The answer to this is always NO. Bust out some more frozen broccoli. Quick!
• Am I paying enough attention to my kids? NO! Is it even possible to pay too much attention to your kids? I’ve never heard of that!
• Did I permanently damage my child beyond the point that any amount of therapy can fix when I did that? Most likely! How much is that going to cost me in 10 years?
• Did I forget to get that at the store? Yes!
• Did my HUSBAND forget to get that at the store? Yes! Yes!
• When can I go get that at the store? Who knows? My schedule is too full already!
• Do my friends actually forget ME or does it just seem that way? (Quietly) I hope it just seems that way.
• Did she take it the wrong way when I said blah blah blah? Lord, please let that not be the case!
• Did everything seem OK last time I saw her – or was she acting “funny?” I really hope she’s OK and I imagined the “funny.” Yes...I MUST have imagined the “funny.”
• Should I ask her? How the heck do I do that?
• Do we have any money? No!
• How can we get more money? Not sure!
• Should I take that back to the store to get some money? Probably!
• Should I get a different job? Can’t think about that – quick think about something else!
• Should I cut back? Yes! But I already cut back everything!
• Can I possibly take on more? Not really!
• Can I squeeze in ONE SECOND to exercise today? No!
• Can I make up for not exercising by eating another pound of vegetables? Yes! Of course! I think I read that somewhere.
• Should I have said (here is a review of about a million things we should have said)? Yes to about 17 things on the list of 100 possibilities.
• Am I dying of a strange disease? Probably!
• How do I feel about Bin Laden? Can you actually get Princess Kate’s dress at Nordstrom’s? Will this economy ever recover? Will the price of gas ever go down? Who knows!
Yes...it’s true. We are actually thinking ALL of these things in the 10 minutes it takes to boil some noodles.
I must say...if it seems like a lot- it’s because IT IS A LOT.
I thought things would be different in Africa – but let me just put your mind at rest. It’s not. If you’ve ever thought, “Maybe I should run off to Africa like Julie- then I wouldn’t have to worry about this...” rest assured that I am probably thinking at the same time, “Maybe I should run back to America, then I wouldn’t have to worry about this...”
I recently had some issues with girl friends. Imagine. I was asking myself about 100 times a day (instead of the usual 5-10), “ Did everything seem OK last time I saw her – or was she acting “funny?”
Although I was REALLY hoping she was OK and that I just imagined the “funny,” I was not imagining it.
Turns out...I disappointed her (one of my top MOST UNFAVORITE things to do is disappoint someone). I hurt her without realizing it. I miscalculated a few things. Said the wrong thing...did the wrong thing...thought the wrong thing.
So we had to talk about it.
As in telling each other what was bothering us. Actually saying it out loud.
I’ve discovered, if it’s a little thing that bothers you – it’s tough to share. You don’t want to bring it up – after all – it’s just a little thing. If it’s a big thing that bothers you, that’s worse. To share a big thing – something that hurts you to your core and shakes your very depths – you have to become very vulnerable. You give people the ability to look deep down inside you and see you at your most vulnerable, naked state – and it’s entirely possible they could dismiss, misunderstand or worst of all - reject you.
So we talked and talked and talked some more. I saw her side, she saw mine. Just a little at first and then some more.
I told my friend – once we had thoroughly gone over all the details and apologized where necessary...“Listen, I have misunderstandings with my friends back home who come from my country, my very same Nebraskan culture...that are the same colour, speak the same language, come from the same religious background and have the same economic resources as me. I AM going to disappoint you. I disappoint them. I will do it again. We HAVE to talk about it. Every time. Every single time.”
So after we got to the bottom or our INDIVIDUAL issues – we then had to get to the bottom of some other issues in our GROUP. So not just 2 women having a real discussion – but now 5 women! Have you ever done this? Is this something you can imagine doing?
We read the verse together... "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, "leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." (Matt. 5:23-24).
Then we had to ALL hear each other. Really hear each other. We were defensive, we raised voices, we cried, we agreed, we disagreed, we apologized. We were real. This is life.
I’ve learned if you haven’t had to have a hard conversation with someone, it’s only because you haven’t known them long enough or spent enough time together. Period.
So that said...let me encourage you. Go ahead and ask your friend - ask if everything is alright between you. Admit to being jealous and angry and hurt and disappointed and frustrated. Listen. Understand. Listen again. Apologize.
And then afterwards –get some nachos together. Talk about Jesus and his overwhelmingly shocking goodness. We did. Everything looks a little brighter with a plate of cheesy goodness in front of you. Even if you are nowhere near a Nordstrom’s, are tired of hearing about Bin Laden and just spent too much in gas to get there - order the extra guacamole and sour cream.
BONUS: You can cross two questions off your list: “Is she acting funny?” and “Am I eating enough vegetables?” (Guacamole counts as at least three veggies)
Thursday, March 31, 2011
Sweetie = Candy
Although this seems like a term for endearment, it’s actually what Jensen now calls “candy.”
Example: “Mama, can I have a sweetie?” (I have to remind myself she’s not asking for a boyfriend)
“But mommmmmm…I’m not tall enough. I’m only 4!”
Jensen now consistently uses the word “Hey” where we Nebraskans would generally use “Huh.” She always catches me off guard with this one.
Plastics = Band-Aid
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
To commiserate with America’s Ridiculous Price of Gas Pain – the price of gas here is $6 a gallon. Since we typically buy gas in liters and rand (the currency here)…it took us a while to calculate fully HOW BAD IT IS. Our mouths fell open when we did the math last week and realized it’s $6 a gallon. Painful!
Shortly after I came to this realization...I kept a diary of my driving schedule. Let's just say - it's the LAST day I'll do that!
The Diesel Diaries - A day in the life of the Ostrand diesel truck (we decided to buy a 10 year old truck to transport soccer equipment and mass amounts of people who live in the townships).
Destination #1. 7:30 am - Go to Ocean View to pick up the women for the Sisterhood of Success class (NONE of them have cars and many cannot afford the 75 cents for a taxi to class)
SHOULDA BROUGHT MY HEELS: Today my crew of women is running a bit late (God bless Danielle who picked up the "on-time crew" and took them to class). The first two women stroll up (they are so tiny they look more like teenage girls). They still need to take one of their kids to creche (the word for preschool here), so I drive over to the creche to drop off the child.
Discussion going on in the truck at this moment? The fact that we are missing Beth, one of the other students. Beth told them she was sick…but they are concerned that she lied about being sick and that her abusive boyfriend is holding her captive in her flat (an apartment complex like “the projects” in the States). A gangster and drug addict, he doesn’t want Beth taking the Sisterhood of Success class – he’s terrified she’ll realize she can become successful without him…a REAL-LIFE “sister of success,” if you will.
They convince me to weave the truck around the back alleys of the flats and talk her into going to class today. I don’t usually roam around the flats – overrun with gangsters and drug addicts – but I tell them if the three of us go together, we can do it.
Note: Regret #45: Giving up high heels in Africa – those spikes could have come in handy today, coupled with a Fancy Nancy Karate Kid Kick to the kisser.
Trooping up the deteriorating stairs, we quickly knock on the door and she answers immediately…fully dressed and ready to go. Apparently her 4 year old ran out of the house when they started fighting, afraid her dad would beat her mom again.
Now we’re off to find the 4 year old girl! Somewhere! We track her down at a neighbor’s house and take her to crèche.
ON OUR WAY TO LIVING WAY CAMPUS (where we hold the Sisterhood class): I ask the girls…"What is your happiest childhood memory?"
- Mia says, “I remember being in school and going on field trips to museums. That was fun. I didn’t know then how hard life could be.”
- Lisa says, “I remember walking with my sister hand in hand on Christmas morning – through our neighborhood to my grandmother’s house. That was a nice memory.”
- Beth says, “I don’t have any happy memories.” Choking up… “but I know Jesus can change my life.”
- I say (still driving), “Beth…Jesus was there with you when you were a child – all those times you cried…He cried with you. He was there. He loves you.”
Destination #2. 8 am - Go to Living Way to drop off the women for class – I hop out of the truck and run through my morning Sisterhood routine: make sure there is enough food for snacks and lunch, collect money the students have earned to pay for the class, update the “contest board” (whichever team of women can pay off their $30 for the class first – wins a lunch out with Alli and me), answer questions, confirm the schedule. It’s a bit “hectic” (as they say here).
Destination #3. 8:30 am – Jump back in the truck at lightning speed and go home to pick up Jensen for school (we only have one vehicle that can take our kids). Karl has given her breakfast and packed her pink princess backpack with the required items for preschool in Africa: snack (she’ll only eat bread and butter – you’d think she spent her first 4 years in prison) and her “cozi” (aka swimming suit – daily swimming at school – why not?)
Destination #5. 9 am - Go back home (try to remember to grab everything else I may need for the day
Destination #6. 9:15 am - Go to Living Way again (pick up Alli – my fabulous partner in crime – her car is in the shop)
Destination #7. 9:30 am- Go to All Nations for presentation on what Baby Safe does and how Sisterhood for Success if making a difference. Meet Elmien for the first time – the newest member of the Baby Safe team - and ask her if she can help us with class today. Amazingly she agrees!
Destination #9. 11 am - Go back to Ocean View (for the second time today)
- Drop off Elaine at her house
- Go to Ocean View library (post dance class flyer for 10 year old girls to attend a new dance class)
- Go to an Ocean View crèche (one of the crèche directors called very upset that the some of the Sisterhood children have been coming to creche on days we didn’t pay for/make payment for Sisterhood childcare)
We determine that of the 15 women attending the class - 10 are employment-ready and 5 are micro-enterprise-ready – which means the 5 will go on to “Sisterhood of Dreams” – a pre-entrepreneurial course. The others will start a genuine search for employment. We’ll help them with weekly support groups, accountability and internet training so they can search for jobs online. We also want to find out which women want to continue with the Bible studies after the course is over. Most of them want to! Exciting!
Destination #12. 12:45 pm - Go home (have some family time over lunch – crackers, cheese, turkey – with baby marrow dipped in hummus. Yum!)
Destination #13. 1:45 pm - Go back to Living Way (for the 4th time today) to finish up individual evals
ON THE WAY THERE PICK UP MAN ON THE STREET: See Shane at the robot (aka “stop light”) on my way and give him a ride in the back of the truck (he’s a man with a bad limp who begs on the street that Karl and I have befriended - we're praying for a job for him). Drop Shane off at a taxi stand and return to Living Way.
Finish up the evals with barely enough time to get the women back into Ocean View before the cresche closes early on a Friday. EVERYTHING seems to close early in South Africa - but especially on a Friday. 3 pm? Really? For closing a creche for working moms? What I wouldn't give for ONE 24 hour Wal-mart!
Destination #14. 2:55 pm- Go back to Ocean View (3rd time today) - we’re down a car for transport so the 9 of us pile into the front seat, back seat and bed of the truck.
- 3:02 pm - Drop Zimbini off at the Ocean View wholesale shop to buy baggies for her brownies (she is fundraising for the course by selling brownies – but needs the little bags to put them in)
- 3:08 pm - Drop off some women at Ocean View creche #1
- 3:12 pm - Drop off other women at Ocean View creche #2
- 3:15 pm -Arrange for some of the women to stay at another location (abusive boyfriends and family members make their current home situation unsafe)
- 3:20 pm - Pick up Zimbini from wholesaler to give her a ride home
- Do you feel like this is too much information about my gas mileage? It probably is...bear with me!
Destination #16. 3:45 pm - Go to Alli’s house (drop her off – this day has bedraggled us both!)
Destination #17. 4 pm - Go to the store (need chips for tonight – everything is much better with corn tortilla chips, isn’t it? Somehow a little Mexican goes a long way)
Destination #18. 4:30 pm - Go home (sit down for a half hour and discuss the day with Karl)
Destination #19. 5:00 pm - WALK to pick up Jensen from her play date in our neighborhood. Congratulate myself for zero gas mileage used for Destination #19.
Destination #20. 6:00 – Walk home with Jensen and make dinner for the family (pan sauté a flaky fish here called hake, and serve with broccoli and baked potatoes - Emme eats some fish!)
Destination #21. 7:00 pm - Meehan picks me up for our girls night (Thanks, Meehan! I don’t think I have the energy to drive ONE more block or the will to spend one ONE rand on gas).
I’m tempted to complain about the driving and Alli says, “You know Julie – there’s that verse about giving a cup of cold water– maybe giving a ride is the same thing?”
Maybe it is…I’m holding out for THAT! If so, I gave out about 20 cups of cold water today.
Note: Names of Ocean View community members changed.
On days like this Karl takes the bike to his meetings and soccer events so I can have the truck. Here are some photos of him transporting soccer players after practice a few days later. He has SERIOUSLY fit 27 kids in that truck!
Thank you again to all who gave towards our vehicle last fall! You've been giving out quite a few cups of cold water yourself. We are grateful and the people of Africa seem to think it's their truck. Looks like they're right!