06 October 2014

Noah turns 11

Our first born turned 11 today! (well... this weekend, when I wrote this)

As a parent its impossible not to be proud of a son like Noah... he's loved by his family, friends, teachers, coaches and anyone else he comes across... he excels in the class, on the field, in the pool and on the court... he is constantly surprising from his fluency in French to his constant stream of new dance moves and his humor among family and friends... Noah makes parenting a joy!

This year he has hit some major milestones... he's made the school futbol and basketball teams and hit his first winning shot in a game... he has gone off to camp leaving mom, dad and brother behind... he's run a couple 5Ks and is not far from leaving mom and dad in the dust... he doesn't particularly enjoy hugs from mom and dad in front of friends...  he's concerned about how he looks and smells... we'll, let's just say the boy is growing up!

8+ years ago when we were leaving for Uganda Christine and I were working with jr high students... in less than a year we will have one in our house... that's exciting and terrifying all at the same time... I love the direction he is heading... he loves his family... knows the Lord... and has a great head on his shoulders... I think he is more ready to be a teenager than I am ready to raise a teenager! 

Noah... now that you are old enough to read this blog... hears a few things I'd love for you to know... and a few things I hope you hear from us every day!
 1) we are so proud of you... very proud!
2)  we love you... a ton!
3) chase any dream you want... you can do it!

08 June 2014

Bye Bye Bartels

Every guy needs a best friend... especially for his wife! I don't know how we could have ever survived the past 8.5 years without Abby... but we are about to find out!

The met on our first Sunday... two moms with toddlers who for some reason couldn't sit through the 3+ hour service at the Mukono Cathedral... while the three boys ran around and the toddlers Sunday School teacher preached about "the blood of the lamb" to babies... the two moms met and saw something everyone needs... a friend! Separated by an ocean and 11 times zones from family and friends back home a friend on the mission field is comparable to a life boat... or at times life support!

Sunday fellowship turned into week day coffees, double dates with the husbands, family vacations and holidays. Over our married life Christine and I have celebrated more birthdays, Easters, Thanksgivings and Christmases with the Bartels than any member of our own families... not to mention tears after defeats and discouragements... celebrations over the births of Mary and Rachel... commiseration over cultural blunders... and belly laughs over the most rookie missionary mistakes we could make.  A good friend on the mission field becomes your family support... filling the role of sibling, cousin and friend!

But back to Abby... she is hardly a friend of convenience... as Abby often likes to point out God puts people and circumstances in our lives for a reason... or in my case God even gives divine illnesses to teach me a few lessons! The girls met that first Sunday because God knew we would need Abby and Mark... Abby is compassionate, tender, able to listen without fixing and able to advise without imposing... in most conversations you simply can't wait for her advice!

Abby taught me a lot about being a husband... I often admired that she could give Christine something that in the moment I couldn't give... I could see Christine struggling at times and I wanted to be the answer but that's more my need to be needed than what Christine really needed... Watching Abby I admired the way she could listen and understand... hear a good rant and not react... sympathize with struggles... and be a friend to lean on until the storm had passed... at one point I simply started asking myself in each encounter with Christine "what would Abby do?"

Mark and I had to be friends... when wives get along so well the "bro-code" dictates that the guys just need to get along... but Mark is another voice I constantly needed in my head... Mark is rationale and I'm emotional... Mark rolls with the punches and I either want to fight back or tap out... Mark understands and explains Ugandan culture so well while I've pulled half my hair out trying to figure it all out... Mark is also my favorite conversation... whether it is family, kids, sports or trying to figure out new cultural phenomena back home like "u-tube" (we later discovered it was youtube) or "selfies" (wow, we were way off on what that was)... and for the last 8+ years Mark has been the first friend that I want to talk through struggles at work, Uganda in general or communicating back home.. I couldn't have asked for a better husband to my wife's best friend!

Mark and Abby will leave on Tuesday and life will change... we will now have a reason to visit Pittsburg... we will get to see close up what life is like "off the island" ... and a part of us will feel like our family is moving away. Mark and Abby won't be replaced... family is irreplaceable! They will just become the new standard for the friends we want to be and the friends we want to find!

16 May 2014

Kadin's Very Belated Birthday Blog...

Apparently we still have blog readers... the outcry for a Birthday Blog for Kadin has been burning my conscience for the last 40 days... so here we go!

Kadin... today you brought home your first book... don't be surprised if I still have a copy of this book when you have your own kids... the book brought me to tears...

Here's a quick read of Chapter One of The Lost Treasure on the Island by Kadin Atherstone...

Not so long ago a little boy named Kadin lived on a boat in Los Angeles. He was eight years old. He wore a jacket and a belt. He had a white face and was big and short. He had magic powers. He was very dumb in school. He was teased and had to follow wrong orders. One day on the boat his parents gave him a magical and powerful map. The map told him about the island and he rowed himself to Treasure Island. 

I'm not going to transcribe the whole book but Kadin goes on to conquer weapons of every kind, befriend pirates and outsmart gators and spiders on his way to the treasure.

Kadin it's true! You do have magical powers. You have the power of laughter, imagination, memory, conquering kingdoms and befriending animals of every kind. You have the power of persistence, creativity and likability. You have powers to shine on any stage and capture peoples hearts and attention.

It is not true that you are dumb... learning is just much more difficult for you than others. And even though other kids may read faster now or make their letters correct every time that doesn't mean they are better than you. It just means your powers are different.

Kids can be mean. I can't protect you from that every time... although on many days I'd love to! They just don't understand that you don't see social situations the way they do. But always remember that it never pays to return their evil with evil.  Just use your magic powers of laughter, love and friendship in return for whatever harm they bring.

This year mom and dad received a treasure map for your life. When we saw the spiders, alligators, pirates and weapons that you would have to face on your journey ahead we were very sad. Not sad about who you are... just sad that your treasure map seemed to have more obstacles along the way that any boy should have to face. In our sadness I forgot about the one magic power that I have always prayed you would have and have seen in you since the day you were born... bravery!

Everyone will face alligators, spiders, pirates and weapons of some kind in their life. Some sit down and give up. Others strap on bravery and go after the treasure with all their might. Just reading this book of yours has me convinced that you are the brave boy who will go after the treasure no matter what stands in his way.

I am so proud of my big 9 year old (and 40 days) and the young man that you are becoming... their are many obstacles still in our way but together I know we will reach the treasure!

Love you forever,

16 January 2014

8 Years in Uganda...

Last night I reminded the boys that we are celebrating 8 Years in Uganda today... Kadin immediately asked "But I'm 8 years old - does that mean I have been in Uganda my whole life?
Pretty much son! Here's a look at the boys two months into Uganda... Noah is sporting his favorite yellow shirt that he whole almost everyday that first year...

Seeing pictures of the boys really puts it into perspective for me... Uganda will forever be a part of their lives and the first home they will ever remember!

I am so proud of Christine and the boys and all that they have sacrificed and done to make Uganda home. These 8 years have not only shaped the boys but they have also shaped us as a family and left a mark on our hearts and minds that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Here is a look at us after 11 months on the field... man, I love all that hair on my head!

To all of you who have joined us on this journey... thank you for your love, encouragement, counsel and support! We could not have asked for a better support than the one we have with our families, friends and churches back home. The stonesinuganda has been a team effort from the very start and we are so grateful for everyone of you that has joined us in some way on this journey!

15 October 2013

Noah's belated birthday blog...

This blog has evolved over the years from... hey, we live in Africa... to Jeff's manic rants about missions... and finally to hopefully something the boys can one day read to help them remember their early years in Uganda...

Along the way... the Birthday Blog... was invented! Something of a letter to the boys describing who they were at that age and all the mushy stuff this Dad feels about them...

So for the last 11 days I have been experiencing blogger guilt over missing Noah's Birthday... and I couldn't let his 10th year go by without a few words...

First to Christine... Are we old enough to have a 10 year old? It feels like this whole parenting thing is flying by way to fast!

Noah you are simply an amazing kid... recently I have been amazed by your confidence... this weekend Noah asked me to race him in the pool but I gave him a lame excuse about being tired from dropping off Christine off at the airport after mid-night and suggested he challenge other people to the race... there were another 8 or 10 kids in the pool but instead Noah started walking up to all the  men at the pool asking them to race... what a kid! His confidence can be seen everywhere from the classroom, to the stage, to the field or in the pool... and I love to see that confidence spur him on to continually try new things!

Noah I also love that you aren't too cool to hang out with your family... Sunday I drug the boys to a village church service... we are talking about 3 hours and 15 minutes of singing, praying and dad preaching... Noah sat there in the front row smiling at me the whole time... laughing at the dancing, trying to sing the songs in Luganda and then he pulled out my phone and recorded the all 5 points of my sermon... I couldn't even believe your were paying attention!

Noah you are so good with people... your teacher's comment at parent / teacher day was priceless... she said "I fear the day when Noah doesn't come to class... even when I am teaching a boring lesson or the project has totally failed... Noah is the only kid I can always count on to interact and keep the lesson going!" I feel that way often as a dad... like Noah completely understands that I'm not a perfect dad but he is still willing to make it work anyway... thanks kid!

Noah raising you has been the scariest thing I've ever done... but I hope and pray that I only pass on a fear of God rather than a fear of life to you. You were born 5 weeks early and they kept you in the "baby oven" (NICU)... nothing life threatening but just long enough for me to realize I was really a dad... and this last year when you had a peanut reaction and mom drove no less than 140 kph through Kampala  over speed bumps and sidewalks to get you to the hospital I was going 140 kph in the car behind you praying and begging God that you would be alright... but one thing I have had to learn and I'm still trying to learn... especially through raising you... is that living in fear of what could happen is no way to live at all... so just keep remembering to 1) Ask before you eat 2) Bring your Epi-pen everywhere and most importantly 3) Keep trusting God more and more each day... because He has an amazing plan for you my son!

24 July 2013

Joseline's Wedding

With two sons I never imagined that I'd one day be walking a bride down the aisle... but I was more than happy to walk Joseline down the aisle on her wedding day!

Her hands were shaking and her knees barely held her up... but by the time we reached Nicolas at the alter she was happy as anyone can be...thanks for the honor Joseline!

Kadin was thrilled to finally have his chance to be the "ring-berry"... Noah retired from service as a ring bearer and made the jump to groomsman... when did he get old enough (or at least tall enough) to be a groomsman?

Oh... and Kadin was well aware that he was looking good! It's amazing how much a suite can give a guy confidence... like Kadin needs any more confidence than he already has?

I've never seen Kadin hold still for so long but he was eager to be in as many pictures as possible... 

Noah also did a great job of coaching Kadin along the way... a seasoned pro of 4 weddings Noah was more than willing to share the spotlight with Kadin on this one...

At one point the flower girl almost lost her arm from Kadin dragging her around... but props to Kadin for holding the girls hand for so long without complaining... 

I got the family photo I was hoping for out of the event... lets be honest there are about 99 family photos like this... 

For every 1 of these that we happen to get... without naming names... there are a few family members that can't hold still... others who don't look at the camera... and others who get "smile fatigue" from the first 99 attempts... anyone else have a similar experience?

And finally the day ended with a recent Atherstone family tradition... the picture is a bit blurry but can you see who has their shirt un-tucked and is bustin' a move in the middle of that dance circle? When it comes to dancing the boys have no shame...

Congratulations Joseline and Nicolas!

22 July 2013

Joseline's Give-A-Way

Attending cross-cultural events is part of life overseas... and I'll be the first to admit that they aren't always completely enjoyable! 

Wearing a full-suit in 100 degree temperatures with the music set at levels that could split my eardrums open at any moment isn't my idea of a good time... add in food that isn't agreeable to my stomach and a set of expectations that are clear to everyone except for me... and it seems like most of these events take a few days or weeks to recover from!

But we may have just crossed a major cross-cultural bridge this summer... not only did we attend an Ugandan Introduction (give-a-way ceremony)... we actually hosted it at our house in Buloba!

On Friday June 28 we gave Joseline away to Nicolas... 

The "we" in that last statement is one of the biggest honors we have experienced in our time in Uganda... 

Giving away a bride is the responsibility of the bride's parents... it is their responsibility to set the value of the bride (just imagine how a girl with no value could be treated in the hands of the wrong man) and also to introduce themselves to the groom to show him who he is accountable to in the case that he decides to mistreat his bride...

Joseline came to our house with only two living sisters and no other family to speak of in September 2006... she didn't have hope of going to university or even marrying well which is a common fate for orphans.... so she chose to help a young missionary family settle into Uganda and help with their active 1 and 2 year old sons... but on Friday June 28, 2013 she left our home as a mature daughter with a Master's degree nearly complete and a job at a university now ready to enter into marriage and begin her own family... I will always see the transformation of Joseline's life as one of our greatest joys in Uganda!

Noah and Kadin enjoyed most of the ceremony dancing along to the music and getting as much soda and cake as they could get their hands on... but also keenly aware of the important role Joseline has had in their lives and filled with joy to see her so happy on her give-a-way day!

Nicolas kept his eyes on Joseline the whole day... well aware that he had just committed himself to the girl of his dreams... 

But what truly gave me all the confidence in the world that we were handing Joseline over to the right man was to see the joy in her eyes throughout the entire ceremony!

24 June 2013

Kampala Kids League

I'll be the first to admit I was not completely excited about giving up my Saturday mornings for kids soccer! We already drive 35-45 minutes each way into town 6 mornings a week so adding a 7th seemed like too much...

But it has been so good for the boys!

To be honest Kadin is not much of a "team guy"... he is more of the rugged individual that has little need for group or community acceptance... he is who he is... and he is more than ok with that! 

But for some reason he has really jumped on the bandwagon of team sports...

He didn't score any game winning goals... and occasionally forgot which direction to run and once or twice let out a scream when the ball came his way... 
(Insert comment about getting his athletic genes from dad here)

But there wasn't a week where he wasn't the first to help his coach pass out the post game snacks to the other kids... he also excelled in joining team huddles and post-goal victory dances and team celebrations...

And he was more than excited to find out that his team ended up in first place... 

He has had is gold medal on since Saturday and I think we will just need to accept that he might wear it the entire summer... 

Team sports have also been a plus for Noah but for many of the opposite reasons... Noah is competitive about everything... just ask him! 

And in most situations whether in the classroom or on the sports field he usually is in first place or not far behind...
(Insert comment about his mom here) 
But for the last two seasons Noah has been on the last place team and the loses have been a bit rough... the final match was 10-0...

But I was so proud to see a huge smile on Noah's face in the awards ceremony as he watched his brother get a first place medal and his team followed up with a participation award for last place... learning how to lose graciously and appreciate others who do well is a part of life that I am happy to seen Noah understanding...

And getting a huge pile of SWAG also helped lighten his mood... his love for free t-shirts and free hats definitely comes from his dad!

And team sports are also good for mom and dad... in fact it is one of the few times of the week where I feel like a normal American... sipping my coffee, screaming at a ref and gushing over my kids to the other parents!

Way to Noah and Kadin... you are both champs in my book!

31 May 2013

Freedom of speech?

Today the Daily Monitor... a popular Ugandan newspaper... re-opened after a 10 day siege by the Ugandan police. The Daily Monitor is the second most popular newspaper in Uganda... but it is unique in that it is not owned by the government.

So why was a public newspaper shut down for 10 days which were filled with protests, violence and out cries from Human Rights agencies around the globe?

Because an article was written about a government plan to assassinate senior army and government officials who opposed the plan for the President's son to succeed him in office.

Talk about looking guilty... they should have just laughed and ignored the story...

Unless it is true!

Ever since the deadly "Walk to Work" protests of April 2011... which no one heard about since the world news was only covering Will and Kate's Wedding... I have been shocked to see the escalating abuse of power in Uganda... it seems that anyone who writes, says or even thinks negatively about the President or his government will be arrested, beaten or removed from their position...

We talk about the leadership crisis in Uganda at ARU all the time with staff and student... this last week was just further proof of the great need to train leaders to share the compassion of Christ and hope of the Gospel in the midst of pain and suffering!


14 April 2013

40 Years!

40 years ago today John Michael Atherstone and Sallie Catherine Pastula tied the knot... I wasn't there! But I also wouldn't be here if that event in history never took place...

As a child I heard the stories of them meeting around Halloween... being engaged by Christmas... and being married by Easter! For all the rush to get married those crazy kids have done an amazing job sticking together...

No one sees a marriage closer than the kids and for 18 years Jen and I got a first-hand look at what made our parents marriage click...

I will forever be grateful for the example the I saw from them...

I get my fire and my passion from my dad... I've never seen a harder worker... and a more committed father... for 18 years he left for work before we woke up but there was never a morning where we wouldn't find a hand written note from dad... I've come to realize as a dad that sometimes the words love and encouragement don't come easy but when I take the time to write I can truly feel and express the deep love I have for my own wife and kids... my dad was always the life of the party and my mom always seemed to enjoy him the most as he was making people laugh and making everyone in the room feel welcome and loved!

My dad is the reason I understand Ephesians 5:25... It seemed the older we got... and the longer they were married the more my dad traded in fire and passion for gentleness and care... he traded disputes for serving and he traded arguing for understanding... he is much quieter than when I was young... but he still has a gift of making everyone in the room feel welcomed and loved!

I get my deep love for family from my mom... mom was all-in all-the-time... she was our teacher, room mom, soccer mom, team driver, field-trip monitor, VBS leader and constant fan...our friends loved coming to our house because they knew my mom was waiting with hot food and warm words of encouragement..  Long after we left the house our friends were still visiting mom because they also knew she cared... Mom was always on our side... even when we were wrong... unconditional love for family is the legacy that my mom shared with me!

In another month Christine and I will be hitting 12 years... anyone who has ever been married knows that marriage is one of the greatest joys as well as one of the greatest struggles in life (being that half of all marriages end in divorce)... this year we have watched her parents reach 35 years and now see my parents reaching 40... I am so grateful for the example they have set... marriage isn't easy but the journey is the reward... the longer we are together the sweeter the journey gets... we've seen it first hand in our parents... and now we are experiencing the joy ourselves!

Mom and Dad... here's to another 40 years! I love you both and I am so grateful for the model of love and commitment that you have shared with me!