Thursday, December 6, 2018

Living and Loss

  It has been a long time since I wrote (as I seem to begin most posts), but let's pick up as though we are old friends in the midst of conversation.

   My grandfather passed away the other day. Night? Day? I'm not exactly sure. I received the message from my brother in the middle of what was the night for me, but for them, I believe it was late afternoon.
   My grandfather, Charles L. Wiggins, Sr., was wonderful, witty, creative, and talented. He loved Jesus, my Grandma Jane, and the five of us grandkids just a little bit more than he loved black coffee with two pink packets of sweet-and-low, and that's saying something. He loved my mom and her brother, too, but really, they became chopped liver once I entered the scene.
   When I was a baby, I would spend the night at my grandparents' house, and I would wake them in the mornings with my whistling. I learned to whistle at a very young age because my PawPaw whistled whenever he walked, wherever he walked. And I liked him a lot, so whistling was naturally how I would get his attention.
   Pawpaw would be the one who would wrap us up like burritos in our bath towels and then toss us on the bed to unroll in a spinning heap of laughter. When we had school assignments requiring artistic ability, PawPaw would become a comic strip writer and complete our homework beautifully, our teachers somehow none the wiser. PawPaw taught us how to set trotlines and tie proper knots on our fishing hooks, although I think Grandma would like to claim credit for gifting us the luck of drawing fish to our lines.
   My grandfather retired before my grandma did, so when my mom went back to work, PawPaw was the one who would pick us up when the school nurse called to say we were sick. Depending on what ailed you, he would prepare the most delicious mashed baked potato, chocolate milkshake or chicken noodle soup. He would talk about his days as an army cook and the number of potatoes he had peeled for one meal, and I always thought how kind he was to even look at another potato, but especially one made just for me. After you were fed, you were promptly set up in the guest bedroom with your very own television, and for me, he made sure to have it tuned to the Great Chefs program on PBS.
   Every Christmas Eve, PawPaw insisted we read the Christmas story from Luke chapter two before we were allowed to go near our presents. His prayers at dinners and family gatherings always felt like they were from down deep, from a place I wanted to know--soulful, knowing prayers, like he talked to Jesus regularly, because, well, he did.
   When I went to stay with my parents in the depths of my post-partum depression with Emma Jane, my PawPaw came to babysit me. I think he looked at me and said a few off-color words, and then he just held my baby and made me laugh for the day.

  One can fall into a false thinking that while you are away from your homeland, all will remain the same without you. You see glimpses of change on your yearly visits, perhaps a few more gray hairs or a slower gait, but you somehow push those things aside and pretend everyone will live in a time vacuum for the remainder of your assignment away. So when mortality arrives, and you lose someone who you love (more than coffee), it is hard, and it takes a bit longer to process.
   I wasn't there to regularly see my grandfather getting older, weaker, and more tired, and even if my parents had tried to tell me it was happening, I probably would not have listened. So when I was crying and asking God why he couldn't have waited just a little longer (we go home in the summer), I heard in my heart, "He didn't want to do therapy." If you knew my grandfather (and knowing different forms of rehabilitative therapy are part of life as you age), you would know why that whisper in my heart made me laugh even through my tears.

   I believe that my PawPaw is now in Heaven with Jesus, that he is standing tall and worshiping with his beautiful voice. I know I will see him again one day, but until then, I treasure each and every moment of living that we had together.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Lonely Loveliness of Snow

Hey, guys!
   I know my friends and family back in the Houston area are complaining about 78 degree temps, so let me just give you a glimpse into our Budapest weather at the moment. There is currently about a foot of snow on the ground in my yard. Yesterday the sun came out for a blissful few hours, and the snow on roofs and balconies began to melt a bit, but the air temperature remained below freezing for the day, as it has been for the past 5 days. Five days. Of below freezing temperatures. You guys, it's one thing to step outside and to be grateful for pockets to keep your hands warm on a cold day; it is another thing entirely to step outside and have any bit of unprotected skin immediately begin stinging as the frozen air slaps that 98.6 degrees right off the surface. To safely go outside, you have to prepare 30 minutes beforehand by putting on an additional 12 layers of warm, waterproof clothing.
    Last year, the snow was a novelty. This year, I am seriously ready for spring.
    In all seriousness, though, there is a depressing loneliness that accompanies the gray days of winter. I had heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but even with my firsthand knowledge of depression, I questioned its actuality. After walking into the elementary school counselor's office this morning and falling apart over little nothings, I can tell you, SAD exists, and for good reason.
   As mentioned before, it takes time and effort to get dressed to go out in this weather, so even if the sun does make a quick appearance, you sometimes talk yourself out of the effort of soaking up some Vitamin D. When there is snow and ice on the ground, it is difficult to find the motivation to get out of the car at school drop-off, so you kiss the kids, watch them walk in, and then you drive away, never speaking to or connecting with the few English speaking friends you would have had in your day. The roads can be messy and dangerous, so rather than have your friend meet you at a coffee shop, you tell them to stay home where they are safe. There is an isolation that can come from the elements. The hibernation can be nice and needed at times, but when connection with people is what gives you refreshment and life, sitting inside your snow globe of a house can be a very lonely thing.

  I promise I did not write this post to depress you guys or make you worry about me. I am treating myself with grace, preaching the Gospel to myself, taking my Prozac and chocolate regularly, and excercising to keep the Serotonin flowing. What I really intend in writing this post is if you are in a place where it is 78 degrees, I want to challenge you to get together with your people and to be grateful that the weather is encouraging community rather than isolation.
   I was listening to my favorite podcast (The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey), and she had a guest on her show who talked about this awesome thing she does called Neighbor's Table. (*see more info here) She just has people over, gathered around an outdoor dining table. They share a meal, and they enjoy sweet conversation. They connect and share life, even if they began the evening as strangers. Y'all. You can bet your sweet apple pie that once Spring comes to Budapest, I will be doing something of the sort. As much as I love alone time, I believe God created us to do life together. This season of hibernation will come to an end (praise Jesus), and when it does, I want to have my heart and my home ready for people to be welcomed into our space.
   But my friends back in Texas, you have no excuse to not get on this now. Today. If you can safely drive to a girlfriend's house and have coffee while you fold each other's laundry, that is life-giving. If two families can get together in one of your backyards and let the kids run and play while you sit and drink tea, you will all be blessed. A potluck dinner shared among friends new and old can only lead to more shared life in the future. You need to do this... because your soul needs it...and because 2000 miles away, I am counting down the days until the snow melts and I can invite people to come to my house and be the best medicine for my SAD.

   Last week, Clark, the kids, my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and I were in Austria skiing in the Alps (life is really hard for us, I know). We had a wonderful time, and Clark and the big kids are becoming great skiers. Our next vacation will be with friends to Dubai--- FRIENDS+SUNSHINE! WHOOHOO. Here are some pictures from our week in Austria.

Love you more than hot chocolate!

Friday, February 16, 2018

How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

    Good afternoon from the once again snow-covered hills of Buda.
    As most of my friends and family know, I really like for people to be happy, especially in relation to me. It is very important that I always do the right thing, whatever that may be, and I struggle with wanting to somehow ensure everyone else's satisfaction with my performance in life. This is not always possible, nor should it be our focus in life. Below are some helpful tips on how to overcome the issue of people pleasing.

1.)Move to a foreign country.

     I don't speak the language. You don't speak English. You want to read my gas meter, but I
    don't know where it is.
    There was a sign on the road back there that looks like I'm approaching a railroad crossing, but   
    now someone is yelling at me in Hungarian and motioning with their hands that they want me to
    move my car...
    I'm sorry I am going slow, but I am deathly afraid of being pulled over by the police here.

    See Hungarian driving laws here.

Could you please pour my latte into a disposable paper cup? Because I forgot that the standard is a real, latte glass, and you expect me to sit and read while I enjoy my coffee. In America, the standard is "to-go".  I'm not saying that's right, but I am feeling guilty about making you, Mr. Barista, change my coffee into a paper cup.

I forgot to label my produce with the SKU, so now you, un-smiling-grocery-checker-lady, can either wait while I go weigh my bananas, or you can put them back later.

2.) Have Three Children.
I think, instead, that should just read, "Have children." Just TRY to keep everyone else in the world happy while you pinch your misbehaving two year old. Somebody won't like the misbehavior, but somebody won't like the discipline. Good luck.
No matter how much I try, those little people are bound to sin at some point today, and I feel like if they mess up or bother someone or breathe, I will receive "the look" from some perfect person at some point in my day implying that surely I could do better. Nope. I am leaning hard on Jesus, I'm already tired tomorrow, and the doctor said I should run instead of take prozac (Hahaha. She's got a sense of humor, that one does.). If you want to enter my circus, these monkeys will become your monkeys.

3.)Hire a house cleaner.
    Y'all. Okay, so this is an area where I'm still a work in progress. The non-people pleaser
    Katelyn would be like, "Hello! Here's my house. Thank you so much!"
    I am so worried about how my mess will reflect on me that I literally just lied to the new house
   cleaner. "I'm so sorry about how messy the house is. I've been sick for, like, two weeks."
   If you add the word "like", it can be hyperbole, right? It felt like I was sick for two weeks, but it   
   was one..., and it was a month ago.  Really I was just trying to throw my husband and kids under
   the bus for the messy state of my house. WE ARE ALL TO BLAME! And why am I apologizing
   for my messy house and all the work they will have to do? Why am I seeking their approval? I have
   just guaranteed them job security. In fact, one pulled me aside a few minutes ago and said very
   kindly, "If you call my number, I can come more often." Sounds like a win for all of us!

   So there you have it, friends, my tips for how to stop being a people pleaser. Let me know how these tips work for you and if you have any other tips and tricks you would like to add.


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Foreign Exchanges

   Sziastok! (*Howdy, y'all!)

    January somehow disappeared, and I've been told we are already to the 3rd day of February! Between sick kids and then succumbing to "The Budapest Plague" myself (a really bad cold... possibly the flu), the last few weeks have left me feeling disconnected from "normal" life. Strangely, I draw comfort from knowing that Texans are dealing with the flu, too... like it's not an issue isolated to my current setting. That probably sounds terrible, like, "Yay! Y'all are sick, too!" I guess a common problem just makes the distance not feel so great. 

   Something I absolutely love about our time here is all the amazing people from all around the world that I get to do life with. We live in Hungary, so obviously there are many Hungarians with whom we interact on a regular basis, but the diversity within my social circles makes my heart happy. I regularly enjoy coffee with women from The Netherlands, Romania or Canada. A hug from my friend from India is a welcome greeting in the middle of the week. Last week Clark and I ate haggis and danced to Scottish folk songs at the Burns Supper with our Scottish friend. "Hello, mate!" from a New Zealand-er always makes me smile. Waving at my English friend when it looks like no one is in the driver's seat of her car is a bit unnerving, but then I remember her car is from the UK. In my short time in Hungary, I have made acquaintances with people from every corner of the world, and in getting to know them and a small bit about their culture, my life has been so enriched. 
    Being that we non-Hungarians are all in a land foreign to us, we have arrived on fairly neutral territory. There are perhaps European similarities from country to country that might afford one expat a slight advantage over another, but in general, we are all here representing our unique cultures, not trying to assimilate or blend in with the Hungarians, just trying to live well among many people different from us. And the varied struggles to maintain our individual, cultural norms somehow unite us. 

  Another blog for anther day would be about how different Texans are from the rest of the United States... 

  Sending Texas-sized hugs from Budapest!