Month: November 2014

New Neighbours and Forever Neighbours

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20141121_0399We recently joined a facebook group called Al Ain Weekends.  They organize fantastic day trips, or over-nighters within driving distance of Al Ain.  I’ve noticed several enticing trips they’ve had posted since we arrived, and we were finally able to join them last Friday.  We crossed the border into neighbouring Oman for a morning hike in the Buraimi area.  Our guide took us out to a trail that we certainly never would have found on our own, and we spent a few hours exploring the stark and magnificent mountains, some homestead ruins, and even a beautiful little oasis.

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20141121_0426In the heat of the desert, I was surprised at how cold this little pool felt.  It was crystal clear, and very enticing.

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20141121_0418These rocks are the remains of a family home.  We came across a handful of them in a small area, and our guide said it was likely two families who had settled there.  So, do you know who was on our minds, even in the middle of the desert in Oman?  We texted our dear former neighbours with a photo of our next potential lot.

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Blank Slate

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My life is really well analyzed right now.

We’ve spent months pondering, discussing and praying through our values, vision, priorities, and calling, all of which led us to this move. And since we’ve arrived, we’ve done plenty of soul-searching, reflecting and questioning. If the unexamined life is not worth living, let’s just say I’m really making life worth something these days.

I find myself in an intriguing situation, especially considering my life stage. I’m 39 years old, married, and in the middle of raising two children, and yet my life has become a sort of empty canvas. We’ve been radically cut off from our former life and I’m faced with the question: What would you do if your life were a blank slate? Where would you start if most of your previous roles and responsibilities were stripped away? What sort of art would you choose to create out of your life, knowing what you know now?

Of course, it’s not entirely a blank slate. I’m a wife, a mother, and a Christ follower. The major pillars of my life remain in tact. I’m a home educator, so that remains an essential role that I fill here. But the newness and otherness of this experience has really caused me to reflect on what other pieces I want to add or not add to this current chapter.

I don’t have to work while we’re here. Dwayne’s job more than meets our needs financially, and allows us to contribute to long term savings and a travel fund. One of the reasons we pursued this path was so that I could homeschool and fully invest in our kids without the added responsibility of contributing to our household income. And even though I am torn by it at times, and know that I could earn an income and that there is plenty I’m passionate about and gifts I have to invest, I’m grateful to know that I can look for the places God has called me to serve, without worrying about the pay or our bottom line. I can cross that off the list of things to be added to my plate.

Our apartment has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, and a living/dining room. We have no basement, no spare room, no storage rooms, no garage, no yard. When the kids and I commit to half an hour a day, we can essentially keep the dishes and laundry washed, the bathrooms cleaned, and the floors swept. Once a week I do a few additional chores. Cleaning our home is super manageable in a very short period of time, so I can cross that off the list too.

We are making friends here, which is a blessing. But they are still new, and our expectations from one another are low. And of course, we don’t have any family here, so our social calendar isn’t exactly full. We’ve found a marvelous church family in Al Ain, but at this point, we don’t have commitments there, other than attending once a week. I believe it’s essential to our own spiritual health, and the health of our church family, for us to get involved and serve, but we have allowed ourselves a couple of months to settle in and see where God would have us. Overall, the demands of community, (which are some of life’s greatest blessings, mind you,) are not filling up our schedules.

Our kids are not part of a traditional school, so we’re not faced with the demands of time tables, events, or homework. They’ve each signed up for one extra-curricular activity, only 5 minutes from our apartment, with no additional time commitment required outside of class time. As I mentioned, our friend situation is new and blossoming, but right now there aren’t birthday parties or sleepovers or play dates to juggle, so our kids’ social calendars aren’t filling up our days either.

paintsThere were many days in my previous life where I would have begged for this sort of fresh start. When the demands of life felt never-ending and I longed to slow down, but couldn’t figure out what to cut. And now here we are. But, if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that this blank slate came at a high cost. So now that I’m faced with this white canvas, I want to be intentional about the colours I splash on it. I want to choose wisely. I don’t want to fill up our days with the first requests to come along, simply to avoid boredom or to recreate a life we once had. I want to know what life God has for us here. What priorities he would have me hone in on in this chapter. I want to structure my days around those priorities.

Over the last year I have boiled down my top priorities to a list I keep before me each day. It has been a long process of tweaking and revising, especially in our new circumstances. And I’m sure it will continue to morph as the years roll by. But for now, if I were living my best and most faithful life, I would be:

*Saturated in God’s Word and devoted to prayer
*Committed to meaningful relationships
*Truly educating my children
*Serving my church, my community, and the world
*Impacting people through speaking, writing, and friendship
*Taking care of myself physically
*Creating opportunities for personal growth
*Building a lasting business that improves people’s lives
*Enjoying the blessings of each day

If you’ve read my blog this year, you may recognize some of these pieces. It has been an amazing exercise to work this out, write it down, and share it with people I love. And then, to have it in front of me as I begin each day, before me as I make decisions, and as a reminder when I’m feeling confused. And it’s never been more helpful than right now, as I consider every new opportunity that comes before me. Does this fit what God has called me to for this time in my life?

From this guide, I’ve made a weekly checklist of what I hope to accomplish. Activities that line up with my priorities. Gone are the to-do lists full of unimportant tasks. My checklist now includes my personal time with God, with Dwayne, with each of my kids. It includes homeschool prep, writing, working out, and personal reading. Many things I would have once considered a luxury, or something I would get to if I accomplished the other tasks on my to-do list. Now it’s reversed. I will get to the other things on my to-do list when I’ve first focused on my true priorities. This has resulted in a daily contentment that no amount of meaningless accomplishment could compete with.

So, I have a few brushstrokes painted on this blank canvas. Some things that fill up each day. But I know they are the most important things. My favorite colors. And the best part is, even when I focus on these priorities, I have margin. I have room right now, for the unknown things God is preparing me for here. I can still see plenty of white space. Sometimes I’m anxious to fill it up, but I’ve been resisting. Allowing my life in Al Ain to unfold a bit more and watching for the opportunities that make my heart sing. I know when those come, I’ll be so glad there was still plenty of room in my life to say yes.

Foreign Field Trips

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I have really fallen in love with homeschooling.  It’s only been 14 months, but it has given me such joy, and been such a great fit for our family.  How we all choose to educate our children is such a personal family decision, and is all wrapped up in different personalities and needs and circumstances.  I’m grateful that we have choices, and I’m grateful that we found our way, down this very unexpected path, to home educating.

I have also, surprisingly, started to fall in love with the expat life.  With being a foreigner.  Despite the most obvious difficulty of missing loved ones back at home, there is a lot to love about moving to another culture.  It’s such a privilege to learn about different people and lifestyles and values.  And these two pieces- homeschooling and life in a foreign land- really came together this weekend.

In history, the kids and I are studying the middle ages this year, having worked through ancient history last year.  This past week brought us to the rise and spread of Islam in the 6th and 7th centuries.  All of us have been so interested in learning more about Islam and the Muslim faith since we’ve been here.  No one more than Josiah- he is so full of questions all the time about this country, the countries surrounding us, and the faith and ways of the different people groups we’ve encountered.  It’s been so good for my heart to see his curiosity rise again.  And even more than that, it’s been amazing to talk about what our faith in Jesus really means.  The conversations that we’ve had about spiritual matters as a result of our time here have been so real.  The similarities and differences between Muslims and Christians.  The different expressions of Christianity world wide, and what really lies at the heart of the gospel.  The principles true Muslims strive to live out, versus those portrayed in western media.  It’s been so fantastic for deepening the kids understanding and personal commitment.

So, we’ve decided to park ourselves here in this part of history for a few weeks longer than the curriculum calls for, in order to really soak up and study more about the UAE and the Muslim people.  We were given some really helpful resources from the Zayed House of Islamic Culture here in Al Ain, and I often catch Josiah reading ahead because he can’t wait until we get back to our family reading.

20141107_0303For further enrichment, I asked myself the other day, “I wonder if there is a mosque nearby that would allow us in and give us a tour….”  …..?  Seriously?  I temporarily forgot that we live an hour away from one of the most beautiful mosques and significant tourist attractions in the world: The Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.  I’ve actually been dying to see it up close since we arrived, but in the week we were in Abu Dhabi, we were adjusting to the time change, dealing with a puking little girl, and generally trying to figure out heads from tails.  Being tourists took a back seat to figuring out how to be residents.  But now!  Now we are residents, and we have the privilege of combining the joys of homeschooling with the joys of discovery in a new land.  So off we went to Abu Dhabi.  We started with some time at Corniche Beach, since the mosque doesn’t open to the public until late afternoon on Fridays.  And also…. I love the beach.  Any time we’re in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, it’s pretty much a given that I’d like to spend some time listening to the waves and dipping my toes in the gulf.

But then, we were off to enjoy the beauty of this place of worship for so many.  We missed the guided tour, and didn’t find the self-guided tour supplies until we were almost done our time, so we still have plenty more to learn about this mosque.  But, I’m sure we’ll be back, as we plan on bringing all our family and friends for a tour when they come and visit.  It’s so amazing, and so close, with so much to study- it will likely become sort of a given that we take a field trip there every year.  Kind of like the Chilliwack Corn Maze.  Only not so muddy.

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