Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Up and Downs of being a Seminary Family

Girls getting spoiled with ipod shuffles at Christmas
by an anonymous donor, who gave gift cards
to ALL seminary families with children for Christmas
I've been thinking about my last post and there is really much more that could be said on realities of life as a seminary family. Again like the last post this is not a whinging session but fact, take them as such :).

I thought this time I would list some up and down sides of the seminary family. None of these are complains nor regrets as we (us, family and session) believe that this is the path God has called us on in this time. This is what keeps us going through the 'bad/homesick' (these are very rare) times.

Another fact to keep in mind with regard to me specifically. I have already been there done that with regard to moving to another country. God prepared the way with my family (my Dad, Mom and brother) emigrating to New Zealand from Holland when I was fifteen. People thought my parents were mad emigrating when the kids were teenagers when in fact it was the best thing that ever happened to our family! When I first came to New Zealand my English in particular wasn't very good and it took me a good couple of years to learn to speak/read/write it fluently. My parents chose to 'move' to another country/lifestyle and so complaining/looking back to what we had had was never an option for them. I think this shaped my view on coming to the USA. I had already been there done that and a huge bonus was that at least the language was the same (mostly). So our transition as a family to the USA has been a piece of cake, thanks to God preparing the way.

The downside of training for the ministry.
To put some of the 'fun' in perspective I thought I would share some of the 'down' sides of leaving our comfortable life in NZ and starting on a new 'career' path.
  • Family - This is a big one. We haven't yet met two soon to be three of our new 'cousins'. The girls also have a great relationship with both grandparents and this is hard on both sides. So when we set a budget, fast speed internet was/is a necessity not a luxury in order to keep the relationship up with family and friends. Skype is a HUGE blessing.
  • Wanganui - We actually really enjoyed living there, the beautiful river, the small town, the people, my very good friend, our church friends and some 'dog' friends. When we left our house for the last time we knew that we wouldn't be back to live for a long while, if ever. A sad day. 
  • Pesto - My dog, I was sad to have to give her up for the 'sake' of the Gospel. I have done so happily and realise that while you are a student family, it is simply not practical. While I'm glad that I don't have that responsibility now I do miss the companionship. 
  • House - I realize that life doesn't revolve around material things and I'm fine with that. The prospect of ever owning a house again in the future is more out of reach now than before. I fully trust God for our future and He has provided for us more than we need already!
  • School - For those of you who think that taking them out of our beloved school was easy, it was not. It was a very sad day. Our girls thrived that at school, while it had it's faults, we loved the teachers, loved the atmosphere and loved the teaching methods. School is just not a possibility here due to the expense and also homeschooling suits Albert' study hours/lifestyle. God has been faithful here too and again despite their mothers failings in 'teaching/self discipline' the girls are doing well!
Now to the good news of some of the unexpected advantages of Seminary life.
  • Rental House - This is actually nicer than what we had back in Wanganui. We have central heating/Air Con, a dryer (which costs 'peanuts' to run), a fenced playground out the back, an icemachine in our fridge and a HUGE lined basement for the kids to play in! To top it all off, excellent neighbors both above us and next to us. 
  • Travel - We actually get to travel lots and lots and lots. Most of this is paid for as churches usually pay mileage to and from their church for pulpit supply, in addition to getting paid to 'exhort'. So this has enabled us to see a small amount of the USA already. 
  • Preachers - This deserves a mention under it's own heading. Believers here are so spoiled to have soo many excellent Preachers here in such a short radius. We have again taken the opportunity to visit different churches both URC (United Reformed Churches) and OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church) both locally and in Grand Rapids (Michigan), NY, New Jersey and Philadelphia. This experience is simply priceless!
  • Generosity - This is hard to put into words as I wouldn't want to miss anyone out who has blessed us so richly. From the benefactors who support Mid-America Reformed Seminary (students fees only account for 10% of the running costs!!!) to providing financial gifts, practical gifts, giving of talents (ie haircutting), hospitality, prayers, encouragement etc. It is so hard to put all of that into a generosity 'box'!
  • Seminary Student Body - This is truly an unexpected bonus of Seminary. Families that are all in the 'trenches' together to be able to laugh (lots and lots of that!), weep (deaths of little ones), rejoice with 'new life' after 'miscarriage' and share our 'common' struggles. It's a three year 'bubble' that we will be very sad to leave. This too is priceless!
  • Weather - This is rather 'tongue in cheek' but we are LOVING the snow probably more so than the hot summer only because it's something that we haven't got in New Zealand. 
I promise that will be all for now and I'll share some more 'fun' photo posts from my adorable little 'angels'!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reality and Money

Marae! A little taste of home in Chicago City!
Been thinking a lot lately about ideas for the blog, just haven't put 'pen' to 'paper'. No excuses really, ok maybe this week when a nasty throat bug hit me! All is ok, little white (panadol) and red (ibuprofen) pills came to the rescue! So I thought I would write you all a post on the realities of living with a seminary student. You see you might think judging from my 'lovely' blog posts that all we do here is fun, fun and more fun. Well we do a lot of that but also behind the scenes there is a LOT of hard work. Seminary is NOT for the faint hearted! Please read the post as is, fact/reality, not a whinging/complaining post. 

Let me just tell you about a few of the 'realities' that we face. 

Albert's study hours!
Now to give you a bit of a background here. For those of you who know Albert in real life, you will know that he is extremely focused to the point of it being a weakness. Albert & I and our deputies/session/family knew that this would be an issue coming into seminary which was a HUGE help. See this is where is lovely wife comes in, to help him with the study/family balance. So we made a decision for Albert to have some structured time with the girls. On Monday mornings generally he does language arts (English) with all the girls while I do some errands/shopping. On Thursday afternoon he is taking the devotions and PE at our local home school group. It's worked out brilliantly, his grades haven't even suffered! PHEW!

He still keeps long study hours. He get's up at 4.30am studies to about 6.45, showers, eats, drives to seminary to start at 8am. He gets home again at about 5pm and goes to bed at about 8.30-9pm. During the last couple of weeks of the semester, he only sleeps and eats, just about with studying again after dinner from 7pm to about 9.30-10pm, getting up again at 4.30am! I can cope with exceptions and I know that some of the other students are keeping even crazier hours during those last weeks. The only way Albert has been able to keep normalish hours is because he tries to 'space' out his work over the semester. 

During the last few weeks of the semester just about everything falls onto me, homeschooling, parenting, washing, cooking (7 meals a week), shopping etc. I do it by God's grace and plenty of prayers (THANK YOU!!)

So the 'fun' that you see on this blog here, are the times/opportunities we take when we can. 

By God's grace the girls are thriving and our marriage keeps getting stronger. We try to have regularly date nights. Lately we have been going out with lovely donations people have given us. One lovely couple gave us movie tickets with babysitting for Christmas, what a lovely idea, we enjoyed our night very much!

I know this is just about a taboo subject but I thought I would write a bit about the realities of being a student and 'eating/drinking' someone else's money. We so much appreciate our donors from New Zealand and the fact that we don't have to worry about where our next dollar is coming from is humbling. We can't even begin to 'pay' you back, we'll do our best to pay some of it 'forward'! 

Ok the reality is that living of someone's money can also be a 'burden' that I think twice about each $1 I spend. Thoughts go through my head about what people will think if they see us eating icecream and (bought) pizza again or drinking that beer occasionally or 'catch' us eating at that fastfood restaurant again! Or going/visiting yet another museum or the amount of money I spend on our homeschool curriculum. Now I realize that I'm accountable to our Deacon/session and God ultimately. For the record, our deacon has access to our 'open' book financials, we have nothing to hide but still my 'sin' creeps in. What will people think? 

So a couple of facts regarding me and money. 
I dislike thrift stores, I'm sure I have a phobia (see this is another excellent reason why I can't be a Pastor's wife, I don't like thrift/secondhand store shopping! said very tongue in cheek!!!). You see the reason I don't like them, is that you need to know what a bargain is to start with, because if you don't, then you will get ripped off even at the thrift store. Clothing thrift/secondhand store shopping oh dear, help me! I strongly dislike clothes shopping at the best of time and then for me to do that in a shop where I need to know, what I want, what goes together, reasonably modest and it has to be in my size, HELP!

Note about this though, I see the value in thrift/secondhand store shopping and realise that if you know your prices you could do very well. I have done well getting most of the girls winter gear from there, some appliances, books. Thankfully I have not have had to do any shopping for the girls as most of their clothes I either bought from home or have had donated. I bought a whole lot of clothes for me before we left so again, there is no need to shop here either (although I got some money from my lovely Mom for some new things!). Albert has been the only one that we've had to buy 'work clothes' for suits etc. 

Money and Fun/Extra's Facts.

  • Most of the luxury foods, chocolate, pizza, soft drinks, travel foods etc I have got either cheap or free from coupons/sales. I enjoy sharing those with our guests. 
  • Fun outings - most of those are petrol/parking fees only 
  • Toiletries - very cheap or free, just got Hannah 6 L'Oreal shampoo's and conditioners for $0.64 including tax! Free toothbrush, anyone?
  • I use money to make money or to get freebies. For example, I ordered a years supply of contact lenses and got a $50 rebate back by mail. I 'invested' $50 cash into a hardware store and keep 'rolling' my $50 rebates for 'free' things regularly. One of the last freebies from that store was smoked sausages (bought 16 packages for free after the rebate!)
  • Rent (our biggest expense every month) - After owning a house for most of our married life, paying rent can 'hurt' me sometimes. So we decided to use our house for HIS service and so we have all sorts of gatherings at our house regularly. It is perfectly suited to have our fellow students over for a potluck meal once a month. Plenty of room to play both in summer (fenced backyard with playground) and a heated/lined basement in winter! 
  • People here are SUPER generous, this is not to underestimated. We have been blessed with many gifts and opportunities. So when you read about the fun things that we are doing, most likely we have been given some money for this purpose or we are doing it for free. 
  • Compared to private Christian education, our homeschooling curriculum is a drop in the bucket. For someone (me) who loves school, the complete/extremely descriptive homeschool curriculum is priceless!! 
  • We actually eat a lot of 'meatless' meals substituting beans instead which we actually love, although meat is always nice :). 
One final fact for you all: It is just simply soo much cheaper to live in the USA!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Albert's Update Jan 2014

Winter 2013
2014! Happy New Year! May the Lord bless you all in this year to come.

It's scary to think that next year we will be back home. While we are very much looking forward to coming back, we also realize that this special time in our lives is drawing to a close. With the completion of last Semester I am halfway through my Seminary education. It is going fast.

Last Semester went well. I have received back all my marks, and I am thankful to report that the Lord has once again blessed my work. I have passed all my subjects, and have done well. I will post a link to my grades, for those that are interested, once I have confirmed my final grades. These grades are in no small part due to your support and prayers.

Last Semester I began taking the devotions and P.E. at the girls homeschool group. This has been a good opportunity to spend more time with the family. For devotions we have been working through the Ten Commandments, as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. I am getting the children to memorize the framework of the Catechism. I am amazed at the power of their memories! It is also very helpful for me, as I need to improve my knowledge of the Confessions, so we both win.

I have also been doing some language work with the girls. They are doing well in their work, although it is very easy to fall behind in the programme, especially when their father gets distracted by exams. It has been good to see their progress. Zara especially is doing well, and is taking to reading with great gusto. We have been getting all the girls to take turns in reading verses in our family devotions, and this has been extremely helping in developing their reading ability. Just this morning as Zara was reading a verse she said as she was working through the sentence - "That doesn't make sense", showing that she was working at understanding the sentence and not just reading it out.

We have had a great break since exams. Immediately following exams we were able to go away to a Water Park for a couple of nights, thanks to some friends who were able to get us a great discount. We were able to pay for this from various donations given to us by USA friends. Thank you! You know who you are. I am sure that some photos will be forthcoming.

While away we also celebrated my 40th birthday. So I am supposedly middle aged now.

We also had three of Hanneke's cousins visit with us from Holland over the Christmas break. It was lovely to spend some time with them, and have a family Christmas.

I have also had a new first. I was due to preach at a Church on a Sunday night, but the service was cancelled due to ice. Not something that happens every day. No doubt you will have seen the news about the weather over here. It has been extremely cold outside for a couple of days, but we have been fine. We are blessed with a lovely warm house, and the furnace has been working well, even in the extreme cold.

I begin work proper with a course on Church Planting in the week of January 20th till the 24th. After that it is two days break before starting the Semester proper. It looks like it is going to be another busy one. This is good, as that is what we are here for.

In the meantime I have not been idle. I have been doing some readings for my church planting course, as well as some readings for next semester. That was a great help last semester in managing my workload.

Next time I will update you with what courses I am tackling this Semester.



Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snow, Snow and more Snow!

I thought instead of posting all these photo's on Facebook, I would quickly put them in a blog post for all to see. I've Skyped with most of our immediate family to show them the AWESOME snow storm that hit Chicago Saturday night/Sunday. Today we have temperatures of -17F (-27C) with a windchill of -41C. Schools are cancelled, major interstates were closed last night and most Sunday services were cancelled yesterday. I put a ruler into the snow to measure how much we got but once it was covered, I gave up measuring it. Albert and I also helped out one of the neighbors yesterday to help clear their driveway by hand. Most people here have a snow blower which is almost essential when you live here. Our next door neighbor has been gracious and did some snow blowing for us. We did go out there regularly as well to shovel. I have never seen snow drifting either and it is quite an experience, wow! OK now for some photos!

self portrait

back yard at the beginning of the snowfall
WOW this looks like a lot of snow but wait....
Snowboarding, Michaela.
(Grace had a go too and did well, no photo's)
Notice the two jackets I'm wearing,
better be warm then sorry :)
Family sled
Jumping into a snowdrift bank
Family shot
Is it not beautiful?
losing count on how many times we have shoveled
Albert wants one of those to clear his paths!
oh dear, our visitors car getting stuck
after coming back from church (am)
How cool is that? Plenty of snow
WOW 25cm but wait....

see the straight edges the snowblower does this :)
Albert shoveling again.... notice the amount of snow
lost my feet
Now that is quite a bit of snow isn't it?
My shoveling handiwork.
Notice that there is yet more falling?
oh dear where is his head?
getting close to 30cm
Grace's snow cave
how sweet!
(that is our INSIDE bedroom window!)
just to prove to you that I wasn't lying or exaggerating the truth 
our snow drift driveway
Table this morning, I wonder how many cm?
It was so cold that the shutter on my
camera wouldn't open fully hence the black lines.