Keeping in Touch Long Distance

Like pretty much all Life Overseas readers, my kids are growing up 12,290 miles from both sets of grandparents. Their aunts, uncles, and cousins are equally far away. Sometimes my youngest spends a month away from me in order to visit her grandparents. My oldest two attend boarding school. And yet, I think my kids have a pretty close relationship with their immediate and extended family. We’ve worked at it and with a lot of help from innovative and loving grandparents, have discovered creative ways to stay in touch beyond Skype and emails.

Photo Books

My mom and my mother-in-law are masters at designing gorgeous photo books and calendars that depict the times we do spend together. My kids spend hours pouring over these photo book and remembering. Those are the memories that stick, the ones they can continually revisit.

Daily Journals

When my youngest went to Minnesota for a month and I stayed in Djibouti, her grandmother had her keep a daily journal. Nothing fancy, but each night before going to bed, Lucy jotted down brief notes about what they did that day. Went to McDonald’s, caught three fish and threw them back, wrestled with Grandpa. When she came home, Lucy read through the entire journal with me so I wouldn’t miss a day.


Making Silly Bets

One grandpa sends out a group email to all the cousins and aunts and uncles and says, “What color shirt will Grandma wear on Friday? $2.00 to the person with the right answer.” Or, “Who will win the Vikings game and by how much? $3.00 for the closest guess.” “When will the Nerf dart finally fall off the window?” (answer: six years later) Emails flurry back and forth with bets, smack talk, and eventually, congratulations.

Intentional Visits

When we are in physical proximity, we make every attempt to see our family and to enjoy being together. My brother-in-law was recently in Nairobi and caught lunch with my son. In Minnesota, simple things like sleepovers and lazy afternoons at the lake. Fancier things like a marathon/half-marathon/5k race weekend together or paint ball battles. As possible, when significant life events occur like marriages and deaths and births, we make every attempt to be there or to send a family representative.

Interactive Experiences

One year my father instituted a Family Olympics, which was featured in Family Fun magazine. Each family had to walk a mile in their neighborhood and take note of everything they saw. We had watermelon seed spitting contests and timed how long we could collectively balance spoons on our noses. We emailed the larger group our results and kept score. Another year we had a Lego-building competition in which photos flew around the globe via email of creations using certain numbers of Legos. We spent months ahead of a scheduled in-person visit planning a talent show, videotaped it, and still watch our oh-so-talented family perform.

talent show

The most significant way our kids have kept in touch is experientially. All of the above suggestions move beyond talking over Skype into the realm of shared experience and that is where memories are built and treasured. That is where the family tie holds strong and, I hope, will continue to hold strong over the miles and the years.

How do you keep in touch with people far away? Especially kids?

Celebrate and Vacate

Today is my daughter’s Golden Birthday: 12 on the 12th! Yeah for Gabrielle! So today’s A Life Overseas post is dedicated to celebrations… and vacations!

Washington kids (Gabrielle is in the middle)
Washington kids (Gabrielle is in the middle)

Celebrate the small stuff! Celebrate the big stuff!

Don’t let the work take up so much room that you “don’t have (make) time” for: celebrations, travel, relaxing, fun, vacations, parties… breathing.

When one finds themselves in a long season of frustration the reasons can come from two different places:

#1 – – One has lost the vision / passion / motivation and must return to face the question eyeball to eyeball: why? Why am I here? Why have I sacrificed? Why can I hope?

#2 – – One is exhausted and needs to combat the fatigue with exhaling.


Work is like inhaling. We inhale stress. We inhale troubles. We suck it up and push through and that taxes our beings.

Exhaling is breathing out all that we have sucked up. It takes the form of a break. Because, really, if the work is breaking our backs maybe that is a sign we need to take a break from the work.

Little breaks are vital. Take one day off a week. Contrary to the opinion of some, I do not believe that two half days constitute a full day off. I say a day off is: no work from the time you lay your head down to sleep one night until you lay your head down to sleep the next night.

Make space for margins in your life. Anticipate holidays and enjoy them. Put birthdays, anniversaries, and other special days on your calendar and in your budget so that you can fully embrace the importance of the days.

7 – 7 – 7

Every 7 days how about you take a break? (I know you’ve heard it before… but you need to hear it again: Even God took a rest.)

Every 7 weeks how about you get away for a few days? (It’s about every other month.)

Every 7 months how about you take a vacation? (But that is almost 2 vacations a year!?!? Yes. I hear you. Please keep reading…)


Here’s a nice way to look at it.

Single? Once a year do a vacation just for you. And then once a year do a vacation with friends or family.

Married? Once a year do a vacation with your spouse. And then once a year do a vacation with another married couple or a group of friends.

Kids? Once a year do a vacation with the whole family. And then once a year do a vacation by yourself (if you are a single parent) or just with your spouse.

family vacation

Furloughs are NOT vacations

When you travel back to your passport country and you are speaking in churches, meeting with potential donors, and going to conferences you are working. That is not a vacation. If you would like to combine your vacation time within your furlough time, by all means do so. Be sure you, and others, can distinguish vacation from furlough, though. Maybe a week of vacation before furlough or a week after. Maybe the middle week to break up the work time. Guard it. Value it. Enjoy it!

What’s the next celebration on your calendar?

What creative ways have you found to “exhale”?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Reminiscing and Dreaming

Today’s guest post comes from missionary mom Shannon Kelley. Here, Shannon shares a practical idea for being intentional as family as we leave last year behind and look forward to the New Year.


I’m a big fan of the New Year. There is something hopeful and exciting about it. I love reminiscing over the past year and dreaming about what will be in the next. This New Year was very different from years past.  Instead of hanging with family and watching the ball drop went to sleep at 8, since the sun goes down here at about 6pm and we now think 8pm is late. We celebrated by pumping water into buckets for a shower and trying to not jump every time a homemade firework went off right outside our window.

Before we moved to Haiti our family made a couple promises. One was to sit down yearly and have a family meeting where we are truly honest about: where we are, what needs to change, and are we still aligned with what God called us to. In an effort to spice up New Years in a little remote fishing village in Haiti, and keep our promise of sitting down as a family to really talk about where we are in this crazy journey of following God, we did just that on New Year’s Eve.

It’s not really about resolutions. It’s about coming together to be honest and take inventory over the past year and prepare as best we can for the New Year. It’s about realizing life is too short to not really dive in to what God is calling us to. Want to join us?

Make it fun. Make snacks, give everyone fun paper and a pen to write on, make it a game or sharing time. Give the kids crayons so they can draw their answers if they want. Or if your kids are older, designate a “scribe”. Take is seriously but make it fun! If you are single or want to do this alone, find your favorite place to cozy up, grab your favorite journal and make it a special moment just for you.

Write it down. Don’t just talk about it. Writing it down makes it a memory, holds you accountable, and helps propel you after this exercise is over.

Pray.  Ask for blessings and honesty during this time. Take time for the questions; force yourself to authentic answers, past the pat answers.

Here’s the list we use. Feel free to modify the questions to suit your situation. Grab some pens and paper, get some popcorn popping and ask your family some or all of these questions.

-Think back over the past year. What would the theme of the year be for you?

-Where did you see God specifically move?

-What worked for you and your family and ministry?

-What could have been better?

-Set aside 5 minutes of brainstorming big dreams for the New Year.

-What are you letting go of in 2013.  Quit something.

-2012 was the year….

-2013 is the year I will…

Now share some of your answers, even if it’s just with your immediate family. Telling others has boldness in it and inspires others while empowering you.

You can leave a comment here with some of your family’s answers so we can motivate each other. I added some of the answers from our family below.

Shannon Kelley – lives in a remote fishing village in Haiti working with Harvest Field Ministries.  blog:   twitter: @alohashannon