It wasn’t a mosquito bite…or gross missionary bug story #1.

It’s not a good feeling when you realize that the red bites on your baby are not mosquito bites. It’s a horrible feeling when they start to develop a center, and you realize what they really are.

Kaylee had a few red bites on her body on Saturday night. At first, I shrugged it off thinking it must be a mosquito or some other random bug. I’d keep an eye on it. Sunday, she had several more, and I wondered if there was something in her bed. Que the washing and drying of all the linens, blankies, and fabric toys. On Monday morning, I got suspicious and took a closer look. Que the googling. I was picking up my phone to text my neighbor (she of this story) when she walked in and confirmed my suspicions. Kaylee had mango worms.

What’s a mango worm, you ask? A mango worm is the larvae of a mango fly that grows in large mammals…yes, including humans. It’s why we don’t dry anything outside or take fabric toys and blankets outside. The fly lays its eggs in something damp (ground, clothes, etc.). After they hatch, the larvae find a mammal and burrow into the skin. In humans, it causes a red “bite” that then becomes inflamed like a little boil. In the center of the bite is the little larvae…the “worm.” (If you want to see one, check out the link above.) And yes, you’ve got to get that little sucker out.

So, throughout the last couple of days, we have had the joy of holding down a screaming, squirming baby while we pop every last one of the 15 or 20ish wormies out of her little body. Though to be honest, some have not been that bad, and some have been removed with the help of Vaseline which makes it easier. Outside of the removal, it hasn’t seemed to bother my smiley, joyful girl that much.

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For the life of me, I can’t pinpoint where she might have picked up so many bites. We don’t dry our clothes outside, and I’ve been strict about soft toys going out (again, because of this story). I had one pop up on my arm, but everyone else is clean. If I had to bet on one of my children getting mango worms, it would be the one that plays outside in the dirt all day. But here we are, we’ll probably never know.

As of tonight, I think we’ve gotten them all. And, fortunately, they don’t cause any kind of disease or lasting effect (except maybe some scars). Every missionary in Africa needs a gross bug story, right?

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4 month update

We’re coming up on four months in Kinshasa. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind getting settled and adjusting to new routines, sending off teammates and welcoming new ones, and figuring out life in our city. There have been wonderful moments and some we’d rather not repeat.

Sometimes, our life looks a lot like it would in the US. Stephen goes to work every morning, and Ruth stays home with the kids. We go to church, have friends over for meals and games, and do all the normal stuff that comes with living in a house. In other ways, it’s totally different. We have national employees that help with managing the property here and our house. Every time we go outside, we slather on bug repellent because the bugs here can cause everything from malaria to yellow fever to chikungunya. We filter our drinking and cooking water. We have to be constantly ready for power and water outages.

Stephen is thrilled to be flying again and finally doing the work to which God called him so many years ago. He flew his first solo as an MAF pilot a month or so ago and has been busy flying since then. He’s flown several flights with passengers—doctors and missionaries—traveling out to remote mission stations as well as flights with humanitarian organizations or supplies. When he’s not flying, he’s helping out with our hangar remodel or airplane maintenance. He’s also enjoying getting to know the national staff that work in the hangar.

The kids and I have been working on unpacking, setting up our home, and figuring out how to live in Kinshasa. We’re thankful that there are other families with young kids nearby for Malachi and Kaylee to play with. I’ve really been enjoying getting to “just” be a wife and mom without trying to balance being a French student as well. I am looking forward to checking out some local ministries when we return from furlough and hopefully finding a way to get involved.

Yes, furlough. We’ll be returning to the US in a week for a short mini-furlough for my sister’s wedding and some rest. Here’s to Chick-Fil-A, 24/7 power, and people following the traffic laws!

Some days it’s hard

Many days pass by where I don’t feel the distance. Technology helps close the gap between Africa and America…my kids get to “see” their grandparents via Skype. I get to text my sisters and friends. Email takes a fraction of the time of snail mail. Facebook keeps me updated with pictures. Thank God for technology!

But then there are days like today. Today the distance hurt. My whole family is together this weekend. And while I got to Skype to say “hi” and let my kids see their cousins and aunts and grandparents, I didn’t get to share a cup of coffee in the morning. I didn’t get to cook with my sisters and mom. I didn’t get to laugh and be silly with my nieces and nephews.

Two of my dear friends are pregnant for the first time. I’m so glad to have gotten to text with them during their pregnancies and see pictures of their beautiful bellies. But I didn’t get to pat their bellies and talk to their little ones. I didn’t get to sit and share a cup of tea and swap stories of cravings and other pregnancy symptoms. One friend had her baby this weekend. I wish I was there to snuggle him and love on them with a meal.

Another dear friend has been dealing with a series of job frustrations. We can email and occasionally talk on the phone, but I’m not there to give her a hug, take her out for Tex-Mex, and be a shoulder to cry on.

I don’t write this to be pitied. Many people live far from their friends and families. Even if we still lived in the US, we’d be far from family. We have it a hundred times better than my grandparents and parents who relied on snail mail that could take weeks to arrive. Phone calls and texting were a dream. But it is a reality of the missionary life, and today I need to share it.

Kaylee’s Birth Story

I love to read birth stories. Each birth is different and a wonderful miracle worked by God. I’ve already recorded Malachi’s birth story on here and would like to include Kaylee’s as well.

Kaylee was due on January 15, but we were really hoping that she’d come a bit early. My dad was going to be here for a brief visit so everyone was praying that he’d get to meet her before having to leave (my mom was here for much longer). Dad arrived on Thursday, January 12. That day I had some suspicions that labor might not be far off, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. We had a great family dinner and game night and before leaving to go to bed, Dad leaned down, patted my tummy, and said, “OK, Kaylee, it’s time to come now!”.

I went to bed early that night (again, suspicions), but I woke up at 11:30 with contractions. I timed a few curious about how long and far apart they were, but I was able to go back to sleep and sleep fitfully until 2:30ish. At that point, I had to get up and start working on managing the discomfort. Managing the contractions was a lot better this time around as I had some experience to draw on as well as new ideas to try. Ice for back pain? Yes, please. I also was able to use my exercise ball a lot more effectively. One thing that was helpful was to concentrate on some other sensation such as tapping my fingers or having my shoulders rubbed.

Stephen woke up around 4 and started to help me through the contractions. We decided around 6 to go ahead and let my parents know what was going on so that they could come over and help with Malachi. When he got up, he could tell something was going on and was very sweet in trying to comfort me.

We decided that it was time to go to the hospital around 8 the next morning. At our little hospital, you are first put into a “receiving room” where they can assess your progress and decide to send you to a labor room or a delivery room. Almost as soon as we arrived, my water broke so we were sent to a delivery room. Contractions significantly ramped up as soon as my water broke. When we got to the room, I picked up the birthing ball and put it on the bed to lean on. The midwives worked on getting the monitors and IV set up. About 3 strong contractions later, I suddenly felt the urge to push. I think the midwives were a bit surprised as they hadn’t even gotten the IV started yet. And just a little bit later, Kaylee made her entrance into the world at 9:04! It was a good thing we went to the hospital when we did! I was still standing by the bed, but I climbed right in so I could snuggle my girl. We stayed in the same room for another couple of hours while we got to know our little girl, and all the other after delivery stuff was taken care of. Then we were moved to our room on the maternity floor. We were impressed with the care we received and the willingness of everyone to work with our “weird” American practices and desires.

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Our squishy little precious newborn!

My parents and Malachi came later that day to meet Kaylee. Malachi didn’t quite know what to make of the hospital and the new baby, so the visit was short. We were able to go home the next day. We had had a beautiful snowstorm that weekend, and the school parking lot was dotted with snowmen including a snow-mama with a new baby!

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The funnest snowman I’ve ever seen!

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Snuggles with Dad.

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One of my new favorite pictures…Malachi getting to know his little sister.

Funny things about birth in France? They want you to dress your newborn in a onesie, footie jammies, socks, sweater, gloves, and a hat. This while the radiators are on full blast. My first meal after giving birth was moules frites…that’s mussels and fries. For an uncomplicated, regular delivery, a normal hospital stay is 5 days.

One of my favorite memories of this labor? My sweet son, knowing that something was going on with Mama, laying his head on my shoulder to comfort me and bringing me his stuffed animals.

We are super thankful for our little girl and for an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery. God blessed us in so many big and little ways!

First Impressions

This blog post is coming to you from Kinshasa, DRC! We are excited to be here, get settled, and learn about life here.

It’s been a long time since either of us has been in Africa, and neither of us had been to DRC before, but there’s a sense of familiarity all the same. Though I always hesitate to speak of things that are “African” rather than country or people group specific, certain sights, sounds, and smells are similar to what we remember from West Africa.

Some familiarities:

-The heat: Apparently April is the hottest month, so we timed it just right! Though it’s not as hot temperature wise as some of the places we’ve lived, the humidity can really suck the life out of you. Most houses have some air conditioning, but the power is generally off every day, so that’s not always a help!

-The rain: We’ve had some glorious downpours already in our short time here. There’s nothing like a tropical rainstorm (plus you don’t have to worry about tornadoes!). It’s so fun to see Malachi experience them for the first time.

-The city sites: Vendors by the side of the road (and sometimes IN the road), motos, women braiding hair on doorsteps, bright-colored fabric…it’s all a beautiful and unique hustle and bustle.

-The traffic: We’ve lived in cities where traffic laws are more generally viewed as guidelines, but Kinshasa kicks it up a level. It’s CR-AZY. 4 lanes of traffic where there’s meant to be two, intersections jammed with cars pointed every which way, and traffic jams where cars don’t move for hours are all normal occurrences. Once it took us an hour and a half to go 5 kilometers.

-The Coke: Y’all. The Coke in Africa is so good. Not much can compare to the refreshing-ness that is an ice-cold, glass-bottled Coke on a hot afternoon (or really anytime!).

We’re super thankful for our team who have fed us, answered all our questions, and even opened their homes for us. Several people have worked really hard to get our house ready. We’re enjoying living in it and getting settled even though we’re waiting on our shipment, and there are still various projects to finish.

Stephen has been working in the hangar for a couple weeks now and is looking forward to starting flying soon. He’s especially enjoyed getting to know and interacting with MAF’s national staff.

We are looking forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks and months about our life and ministry here! We’ll for sure try to take some pictures!

A Super-Brief Update with News

Oh you guys, I’m embarrassed by my lack of communication on here. And I wish I could sit down and write a long newsy update about the last 7ish months but…toddler, newborn, packing (!), an unforeseen hospital stay and just life say otherwise. So, I’ll try to give all the news briefly and in no particular order.

  • We were so excited to welcome Kaylee Ann-Christine into our family on January 13. The Lord was so good to us in bringing her into the world during my dad’s 4-day visit and in giving us a short, uncomplicated labor and delivery. She’s just the sweetest baby!
  • Our eldest is hilarious. He cracks us up on a daily basis, and it’s so fun to see his personality develop…even if some of that development means pushing boundaries and trying to assert his will. He loves his baby sister and notices she’s fussing before I do. If she’s hanging out on the floor, chances are he’s going to go snuggle with her and give her kisses.
  • We both officially finished our French language studies in December. At our graduation ceremony, we were honored to present a bit about our experiences and what we learned. We recounted some of our more hilarious mistakes such as talking about “curly chicken” rather than fried and thanking someone from the bottom of our body rather than heart. Stephen has continued attending classes, and I have enjoyed getting to focus on being a wife and mom.
  • We were super blessed to spend the holidays with my parents and little sister. Malachi got to bond with his grandparents and auntie, and we got to enjoy celebrating our family traditions together.
  • Ruth got to enjoy a three day “vacation” at the local hospital after developing an abscess. We are so thankful for the compassionate and skilled care that we received.
  • We took a quick day trip to Paris to declare Kaylee’s birth and apply for her passport, and we applied for our visas! Which means…we are on track to leave for Congo in March! We have loved our time in France and there are many aspects of life here that we will miss, but we are so ready to make a home in Congo and start our ministry there.

Currently, we are busy taking care of the many “last things,” purchasing items that we want to take with us, eating all the bread and cheese we can stuff into us, and even sorting and packing. If everything continues according to plan, we should be leaving for Congo in a month!

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So it begins….packing is slightly more complicated due to much less space and a very curious toddler.

If you think of us, please pray for this time of transition, especially for Malachi. His little world has been turned upside down with a new baby, mom being gone for three days, and now packing and moving. Pray for a sense of peace and graciousness towards one another as packing and moving can be a time of heightened stress. Pray that we finish well.

In Action

Despite the silence on this blog (guys, I’m sorry! I’ve told myself about a million times that I need to write a blog post and just haven’t found/taken the time to sit down and done it), we are still alive, still kicking, and still learning French.

One of the things that each student has to do is give a morning devotional in French to the whole student body. Stephen’s actually given two, because he’s amazing like that. Both of ours happened to fall within the last month, so here’s a little proof that we are indeed progressing and learning French!

First up is Stephen’s first devotional given back in February.

He followed it up with one a bit more serious.

Finally, there’s me.

It’s definitely a challenge to give a 20 minute devotional in French, but it’s a good opportunity to share what God has been teaching us and encourage our fellow students. And it’s a GREAT opportunity to practice French!

The alternative could be much worse!

“The alternative could be much worse,” I say to myself over and over again as another good-bye comes and goes.

I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I’ve had to say good-bye to loved ones. I’m not even sure I have enough hairs. I’ve said good-bye to dear friends, siblings as they’ve moved across oceans, and parents as they’ve moved across continents and oceans. I said good-bye too many times to Stephen while we dated long-distance, attending college in different states. It’s the season of good-byes here at language school as many have just finished a year of study and are departing for their country of service. We just enjoyed a wonderful visit with my parents and with dear friends from the US, but as always, there was a good-bye at the end.
It. never. gets. easier.
Sure, you learn to cope. You build rhythm and routine into your good-byes to make them more endurable. When family is leaving, we always check into the flight early, and then go enjoy coffee or a bite to eat before the goodbye. It’s a tradition we’ve all come to appreciate, especially since it helps avoid the last stressed, harried moments. But not matter how many times I do it, in those actual moments when you watch your loved ones drive away or disappear on the other side of airport security, my eyes fill with tears and my heart is oh-so-heavy.
But, the alternative could be so much worse! I am so thankful that I enjoy spending time with my family, and that God has blessed me with dear friends. I am thankful that the times together are good and full of joy. I am thankful that He has given us love in this world. I am thankful that unlike missionaries of the past, we get to travel back to our home country to visit friends and family. And I’m super thankful for Skype and phones that keep us connected over the distance.
Are there hard things about good-byes? Yes. Will they always be hard? I imagine so…but God is good and has shown his goodness and faithfulness even in the hard good-byes.

5 things I loved about today

A year or so ago I started the practice of recording each day 5 things for which I am thankful. I haven’t been super consistent these last few months, but here are my five for today!

A French thunderstorm

Thunderstorms are not very common where we are. Today we had the second in less than a week, and it makes me feel so happy! It’s really neat to hear the thunder rolling and echoing through the valley. Thunderstorms remind me of growing up in West Africa as well as our time in Texas. I’m just glad I don’t have to check the weather for tornadoes!

Comfort food

Some of the stuff my mom made for us as kids is major comfort food for me. Today I managed to figure out how to whip up one of my favorites. Even though we live in a country where it’s easy to find groceries, not all the products are the same and not everything is available. I was so happy to be able to find close enough ingredients to make it work.

Time with this guy

WP_20160506_006I love this kid so much. He’s so busy these days making sure all his toys are in the “right” place (which generally means on top of things like the couch). It is so fun to watch him learn and explore. He has the funniest expressions and babbles. And he loves his time with his mom and dad!

Celebrating with friends

We got to celebrate today with MAF friends who found out that they are having a third girl! As one of three girls myself, I think it’s a pretty special combination.

Good quiet time

It’s hard during most of the week to have a good, uninterrupted quiet time with God. Mornings are busy with Chi and breakfast and getting ready for the day, the lunch hour is busy with lunch and playing with Chi, and after school it’s more playtime, dinner, studying, and bed. I always aim to get some time in Scripture and prayer and most days I succeed, but today I got to curl up in a comfey chair with a blanket and have some “real” study and reflection time.

In March (and the beginning of April)

Oh those elusive Hales! It’s been so long since I’ve heard from them…what have they been up to? Well, never fear, faithful readers, your burning questions are about to be answered!

Evaluations and language partners and exams-oh my!

We continue to steam on full speed ahead with French school. Not only are we in class 4 days a week, but we also meet weekly with language partners to practice speaking. Speaking is often the hardest part of a language to develop, and we have found these times invaluable. Our partners are becoming our friends and have also been wonderful resources for culture and travelling tips. To add to the busy weekly schedule, we have evaluations every weekend. These take home tests range from a more traditional test with fill in the blank exercises, etc. to essays to comprehension exercises. This last month also included level exams for both of us. These 8 exams (yes, 8!) are all inclusive and include written and oral comprehension and production, grammar (2.5 hours, yall!), Biblical vocabulary, and the French torture device known as the dictee. It’s a good opportunity to really buckle down and do some serious studying and reviewing. By God’s grace we both passed!

Oh Ibuprofen, how I love thee!

This last month has been a bit of a downer in terms of our health. Stephen caught a nasty strep throat–I’m talking totally out for three days, we were both sick with a virus, the changing seasons has my sinuses all wonky, and Chi is getting over the flu. My giant bottle of Ibuprofen is emptying much more quickly than I expected! We are so thankful to live here with some awesome and kind doctors and nurses and wonderful neighbors. We’ve been able to get input on whether doctors’ visits are necessary as well as getting groceries picked up for us when needed.

Spring has sprung!

You guys, it is so gorgeous here! Apparently, the French love gardening and just about every yard is bursting with daffodils and tulips and gorgeous yellow flowering bushes and gorgeous purple, pink, and white flowering trees. Not to mention the snow is melting on the mountains, and we are getting to watch them turn green. I will say, though, I am missing my fields of bluebonnets. I guess there are some parts of me that are Texan!

Coming up next!

We are about to head into another two week break. The French take their “vacances” very seriously, and our school follows the public school schedule of 6 weeks of class followed by two weeks of break. When I first heard that this was going to be our schedule, I was amazed and looking forward to all our free time. But y’all, by the end of 6 weeks of language class, our brains are done. We need the time to let our brains rest and to work on putting into practice what we’ve learned. And the idea of free time? A total myth…our professors see it as extra homework time! We will be taking some days to do some traveling (so you can look forward to some more pictures!)

Oh Yeah….

We also made kind of a big announcement on our last newsletter. We will now be heading to the West side of Congo to join the MAF team in Kinshasa, the capital city. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this team and the city where we’ll be living but for now, check out this blog post written by our teammates and this one about the incredible contrasts in Kin la Belle.

Stephen, in editing this, mentioned how many times I wrote “y’all”…so I guess there’s another part of me that’s Texas as well!