Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Saying Goodbye to iHouse Fullerton

One year ago, we committed to renting a house we couldn't afford with the plan to rent rooms to international students and with the hopes of building community and relationships.  Now, a year later, we are planning to leave...with deeper relationships than we ever thought possible, and with the house continuing on in the same vein as our friends take it over and continue hosting students.

Here are some of my reflections as I say this hard, hard goodbye:

 I'm going to miss...

...the roommates harassing each other about how clean or not clean the bathroom was on their assigned cleaning week.

...Evan having his own personal soccer coach (Adam), who came to cheer him on in the championship soccer match

...coming home late (on the rare occassion when I was out of the house late alone) and pulling up into the driveway to see warm light coming through the window and people I loved around the kitchen table, talking about anything from butter being better (say that with a Pakistani accent, it is awesome) or the meaning of life.

...introducing them to things like S'mores for the first time.

...seeing one student helping another with maths (that's what they call it in British English), and all the free technological assistance from these tech geniuses.

...laughing at the sight of two students huddled around a laptop in late into the night watching Iran vs. Iraq in soccer.

...Adam and Janyl teasing each other like long-lost brother and sister

...discovering the nuances of the English language along with my students as they ask me the difference between words like "commitment" and "promise" or "look" and "search."  Once, Yousef asked me what the word for "a memory that makes you feel a little good and sad at the same time" and I said, "nostalgia."  Mohammed from Iraq added that nostalgia in Arabic means "a memory with a sweet taste."  I will also miss hearing Samuel be the best English tutor--explaining things in a way the students could really understand.

...messages on our whiteboard.  It's like we were secret pen-pals.  But not secret.

...spending a Sunday with my mom, a brand new mom from Dubai/Egypt, and my special tutoring family who have memories of their mom on Mother's Day.  (And the moment when Annie held a terrified-looking baby with glee for the first time)

...talking delicately about news items in the kitchen, and having my eyes and heart opened to headlines I have read being told from a different perspective. Some were saddening, others were funny. Once, we were talking about Y2K and I was saying how Americans were worried that they would wake up and everything would be broken and ruined.  Yousef said that in Saudi Arabia, they thought they would all wake up and find five million dollars in their bank accounts.  That's a difference between American and Arab thinking!  Another time we were talking about what American kids say when they dig a deep hole--"We're digging to China!" and Mohammed said that in Iraq, they always said "We're digging to the ocean!" games in the cul-de-sac and volleyball games in the backyard and falling down because I was laughing so hard.

...worrying about them when they came home late (which is preparing me for having my own college-aged children).

...the food.  Cross-cultural experiences always involve lavish spreads of food.  Don't blame me for the 10 pounds I gained this year, it's our international friends' faults.

...that one time when I had the terrible idea of preparing curry for the Indian students who came over to eat and watch Bollywood movies.  Um, yeah, hostessing fail.  But we still had fun.

...funny things these guys say, like my concern that they don't properly refrigerate their food and Adam responding: "Kaci, I brought my stomach with me from Pakistan," or Yousef (after I scolded him for leaving a mess in the kitchen): "Tomorrow I will get a wife and be done with this problem."  The next day, I asked him if he had gotten a wife and he said, "No, that is my mother's job.  She chose wives for 4 of my brothers and they all have happy families."  I warned the students one day that many children were coming for a birthday party and Yousef (who comes from a family with 26 children) shrugged and said, "Oh, it sounds just like my family."

...listening and watching these two sitting at the counter being sweet together.

The end of our time here at iHouse Fullerton is bittersweet.  It is an upheaval for our students who were comfortable and happy here together, but good things do have to come to an end in order for us to grow and make room for more good things in our hearts.  In this last month here, our two car batteries died, a child of ours puked terribly and repeatedly inside the interior of the one vehicle we are taking with us, my phone fell in the toilet and died, Sam broke his arm, and it rained on our goodbye party.  Yousef said "The house is angry at you for leaving."  I am sad that we only went to the beach for less than two hours, that I didn't get to take the students on a day trip somewhere like I promised, that there is no more time for silly games and family dinners, that I won't get to annoy a sleepy Adam in the kitchen in the morning, or tease a cheerful Yousef about his messes, or answer Mohammed's questions about life in America and what I was like as a child, or try to eavesdrop on Mohammad as he makes secret plans to take over the world.  Janyl is coming to help me clean one last time...for old time's sake, but I already miss her laugh and cheerful disposition.  Man, she sure covered up for those boys by always cleaning the kitchen those first few months!  

And we will miss all our guests, long and short ones...our times were special and many remarked about the joy they experienced here.  We have a guestbook that our guests have signed (I only sometimes forced them to) and repeatedly, they have mentioned the warm feeling in our house.  I can only say that I experienced it, too.  I was not the giver of the warm feeling and my banana muffins are not the best in the world, it is a warmth that flows from the peace that we have through Jesus' forgiveness and a joy that overflows because of how He has welcomed us, the weak and poor and heavy-laden sojourners in a pilgrim land.  We have experienced it and been blessed by the spirit of this home right along with all of you guys.

I don't know if the kids totally understand the uniqueness of this year but I could see it in their sad reaction to us realizing we couldn't host students next year in Chicago.  It has been hard to see this passion of ours for living life together with "strangers" shrunk away as we realized what we could afford during the next phase of our life and recognizing the way that God seemed to be leading, but over the past 2 weeks, I have quietly realized a deeper vision.  Even if we don't have students officially living with us (which we still hope to do in the future), we have a passion for people and for hospitality.  A few of our students and even some long-time friends have shared with me (in uncanny timing, of course, as I was pondering these things) that they are lonely and want a friend.  Two of our students within days of each other confided in me that they want American friends, but everybody is too busy.  "How will I make a friend?" they asked.  So that is my new vision, as I go off to a place with no known friends nearby: to be a friend to those who need it.  It may sound simple, but to me, it is a battle-cry that moves my heart.  So even though our new house has outdated flooring and a tiny kitchen and no extra bedrooms (said the American woman who lives like a queen compared to most), we will open our doors and invite outsiders in.  Always.

You, yes you who are reading this post, can experience the joy of hospitality like we have.  You can invite people to your imperfection and pray that God will show you someone who needs a friend.  You can inquire about American friendship programs at your local university or start one yourself.  You could even rent out your spare bedroom to an international student who wants to do a homestay.  One of our wonderful, responsible, conscientious (I taught him that word because it describes him perfectly) students still needs a room ASAP.  Yes, they will cook in the middle of the night and misunderstand you and something might even get broken, and you will annoy them, too.  But great things will happen, things the United Nations doesn't even comprehend (countries and religions who can't seem to get along in the world see eye-to-eye over food prepared with love. The UN needs to start baking cookies together). You will learn each other's differences and even disagree but love each other fiercely.  You will never read the news the same. You will experience their joy as you take them to the beach or the mountains for the first time. They will wear their nicest clothes to your Thanksgiving dinner and suddenly your traditions will gain a new richness as they eagerly listen to you explain them.  You will be blessed more than you know.  You will eat good food and learn new things and see the ways other cultures are funny and beautiful (really, you will laugh a lot!).

And hanging out with international students opens up the possibility of receiving really rad gifts.

This year has been one of the richest and best years of my life.  Maybe because it was only a year and it ended while it was still sweet, maybe because we had wanted it for so long, maybe because we got the best students in the world...or maybe because God loves giving good gifts to his children.  

To our original four:  Thank you for making this dream a reality for us and for being more wonderful than we could have ever imagined.  You will forever have a spot in our family.  We love each of you.  Thank you for opening your lives to us.  To Yousef, Nadine, Mahmoud, and our adopted friends Alexandra, Hakam, Safaa, and all the rest:  May God richly bless you and keep you and draw you to Himself.  We love you all and you are always part of our family and can stay with us whenever you need!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Too Much Moving: An Update

If you read the title of this post and thought I was complaining due to an achy back from packing boxes and scrubbing door jams late into the night, you are wrong.  I've packed a box or two, but life keeps calling and we go.  I think the hardest part about moving is the way the process of transition and packing (which I haven't figured out how to skip) seems to "steal" from the here and now.  So my tendency is to say yes to the invitations and road trips and can't quite buckle down to start the hard work of packing.  So today is my day.  After I finish this blog post.

I feel a little weird about our move--I mean, moves are always responsible for inducing a roller coaster of emotions, but this one feels really strange.  I've never been to Chicago, but then again, I had never been to Kazakhstan, either.  We are having to say goodbye to my parents, but then I've said goodbye to them before, and I never imagined I would live so close to them for 3 years, and that feels like a gift.  We've wanted the opportunity for Jeremy to get a PhD for almost 6 years, but we don't feel ready (I mean if I feel weird, that poor guy has to become proficient in German (snort) and be reading books that would put you and I to sleep in 30 seconds before the start of classes that are in like a month).  We had a hard time saying goodbye in Flagstaff, and now we are going to drive back through (headed in the opposite direction) and say goodbye again.  The list goes on and on.

(Yes, our cul-de-sac has been graced with a Christmas tree in the window all year long)

It's hard to decide what to do here in So Cal with the little time we have left.  The last two weeks have been filled with road trippin' with my mom (and dad)--we went to Palm Springs, my grandparent's (now my uncle's) ranch in Utah, and my sister's house in San Diego.  We have had rich times together, connecting with family and enjoying each other's company, but I still want to go to the beach a few times, go to an Angels game, visit Carlsbad, take our students somewhere fun, go to LA and see the space shuttle we never got to, etc.  And the kids' So Cal bucket list is like their favorite parks and local places and there are just too many to go do all of them!  PLUS all the people. I wake up calm in the morning for a few minutes and then I feel my blood pressure sky-rocket as I immediately feel seconds, minutes, hours, days, slipping away.  I think it isn't even necessary that we revisit all our favorite places--why can't I be satisfied with the good memory I already have of somewhere instead of thinking I need to rush to all those places "one last time" as if I'm a dog marking my territory?  It's hard for me sometimes, living in America with our charmed lives of entertainment and glorious weather (well okay, specifically CA on that one, Chicago not so much) and everything wonderful for our kids to do and we're constantly trying to store up good good-experience hoarders.  But my kids are happy, we've been blessed, and now I am in danger of feeling cheated or dissatisfied all because I think of something fun I wish we could do and now we don't have time.  I have no deep thoughts or pithy statements about this phenomenon except to just state it as it is and then report back to you on how I got through it.  I did read in Psalm 90 this morning--and it was filled with statements about our times being in God's hands and our lives being fleeting, like a breath, and our dwelling place being with God and him establishing the work of our hands.  It was so applicable!  Which brings me to my next update: our plans for Chicago.

Our plans for Chicago are that we have had countless plans and have spent countless hours and many high-blood pressure moments pursuing said plans, and at this moment, we have 0% of anything about our upcoming move (on July 25th, I think) actually planned.  For those who might have missed it, we are moving to the Chicago area (because, see, I shouldn't even really actually be allowed to say Chicago because I never let Jeremy say we lived in LA because we don't, we live in Orange County, so now the same rule applies to me because we probably won't actually live in the city of Chicago but a suburb, so this is a touchy subject among city-dwellers and suburban folks so whatever), ANYWAY (this is totally an insight into how my brain works, if you ever wondered.  Can you imagine what it's like to be Jeremy?),we are moving to Chicago-ish for Jeremy to get a PhD at Wheaton College.  Everyone who has been to Wheaton loves it, but I haven't been there so I don't know much.  Except that there aren't mountains.  That stinks.

We "planned" to sell our house in Flagstaff ("The market's hot, houses are in high demand!" they told us) but that was a futile attempt.  Because we didn't sell our house in Flag, we decided we couldn't buy in Illinois, so we stopped spending hours looking for houses to buy and fix up and turn into an international student house like we have here in Fullerton.  We started looking at rentals, but there weren't a lot and we were all over the map with ideas of where we could live, how we could commute, how we could rent rooms to students, etc.  In the meantime, Jeremy's work gave him permission to stay on as a part-time employee, working remotely from Illinois, so that was an answer to prayer and a huge provision (well, depends on how you look at it--aren't we crazy for celebrating his pay being cut in half? :) ).  He went out there last week to look at rentals for us, and part way through the week changed gears and started looking to buy again.  What we can afford (hopefully) is quite "modest" (ahem), so our plans of housing students or living in some exciting part of town were edited, and now we are looking at small houses that need some fixing as near to Wheaton College as possible.  Pray for us to find the right house and to be able to close quickly!  We want the kids to be able to transition as smoothly as possible, and it would be great to know where they will be going to school.  I sent Jeremy off saying, "Spy on people's backyards, looking for trampolines and swing sets so we can live somewhere that the kids will have friends," and he did.

That's the crazy thing about doing research and trying to make a "plan" when moving to a new place.  You can't tell from Google street view (though believe me, we've tried) what the neighbors are going to be like or what experiences you are going to have.  Placentia, CA doesn't look that exciting on a map, but it was a great place to grow up, and for the past 3 years was where we had great neighbors and made so many new friends.   If we could just stop making new friends every time we move, this whole thing would be a lot easier!

I need to get off to cleaning and packing and fretting more about how to spend my last days here, but thanks for joining us on our journey.  Probably everyone reading this blog is a friend we've made along the way, and we value you and the impact you've had on our life, no matter how big or small it's been.  We love God and people, and we see God in you all--how you have loved us and supported us in our pilgrim life.  And whenever we settle down at home, wherever that are welcome to come over!  Dinner's at 6.  (Except maybe not everyone at once because like I said, small house).