Monthly Archives: February 2012

Plan B

Standard

I want to preface this post by saying that this is purely MY experience.  This is not a reflection on my missions organization or my family.  This is not a political commentary on Mexico.  This is a story of my personal experience living in Mexico City, and should not be construed in any other light.

We lived in Mexico City as missionaries for 2 years.  It is a hard city to live in.  But we aren’t complainers and we aren’t quitters.  We made a commitment to God and we were going to stay there until God moved us on.  But living in a place where the bad guys had police badges and guns was stressful.  OK, that’s probably the understatement of the century!  It was super scary sometimes!  Living in a society controlled by corruption meant living with a plan B always in play.

Every time we set foot outside our house, we were vulnerable.  At any moment while driving our car we could be stopped by the police.  Usually they wanted money.  Eventually we learned enough Spanish to be able to argue that we knew the law, we knew our rights, and we knew that they couldn’t do what they are doing.  Sometimes it worked.  A few times we were sure that these guys were not really police and that they were trying to steal our car!  Once a guy said, “I have a gun!  You have to obey me!”  We had our kids in the car.  I went BALLISTIC!  I’m not sure what all I said in Spanish, but the guy gave back our papers and we drove on.  I was shaking with rage.

When I was alone, I worried.  I made a plan B every where I went.  I felt like a spy always scoping out the exits and paying attention to who came and went.  I never let my kids out of my sight.  (While we lived there the US State Department moved Mexico to the #1 spot in the list of countries who kidnap Americans.  We moved ahead of Colombia.)  I always left the “escape hatch” open.  Being stuck in traffic always left me feeling especially vulnerable.  There was very little wiggle room in that plan B.  I decided that if I was ever car-jacked, I would get out of the car and just let them take it.  But if my kids were with me, that complicated the matter since I wasn’t going to leave them.  I was not opposed to running down bad guys with my missionary vehicle if it meant saving my children.  We installed a panic button on our car alarm.  If we hit the button, the car would run for 10 minutes and then automatically shut off.  Plan B was always clear in my mind wherever I went.

Even inside our house we were vulnerable!  Our house was robbed once, fortunately we weren’t home at the time.  After the robbery we installed an alarm system in the house.  It went off sometimes in the night.  Once we heard someone down by the kitchen, the dog went nuts and the alarm went off.  Someone had tried to get in the house while we were sleeping!  Our home alarm had a panic button too.  In case anyone was holding a gun to your head and making you type in the “off” code, you would type in the panic code instead.  The alarm looked like it shut off, but actually it called the police.  That did not make me feel any better.

I was scared of the police.  Sometimes at night the police would come by and siphon gas out of our car, and there was nothing we could do about it aside from installing a lock on our gas cap.  When our house was broken into we called our friends down the street first and asked if they thought we should call the police.  For our insurance company we needed a police report, so we called them.  We had to pay bribes at the police station to get them to do their job and release the report to us.  Even inside the house, I was scared of the police.

When Josh was out alone, I worried too.  If he was ever late, and sometimes he was hours late, he was very likely being held up by the police at some check point.  I had a plan B in my mind in case someday he just didn’t come home.  I knew who I would call, I knew where the passports were, and I knew how I would get my kids back to America safely.  Plan B was always in play.

When we finally returned to America for our furlough year I was still very skittish around the police.  Every time I saw a police car on the side of the road my heart would clench and I would advert my eyes.  I would hold my breath until we passed safely by.  It took me a long, long time to trust the police again.

Back home in America I started noticing symptoms of  Post Traumatic Stress.  Because we were traveling around to churches and talking about our ministry in Mexico I had a portion of our story that I could tell without crying, but push me beyond that point and the tears would well up in my eyes.  I always felt like the tears were very close to the surface but I couldn’t verbalize “Why?”.  It’s been more than 3 years now since we lived in Mexico and I am just now feeling like I’m ready to talk more about these experiences without crying.  It no longer matters to me how this story sounds to others, it’s my story.  No one can tell me that I over reacted or blew things out of proportion, you weren’t there. It’s my story.  Taking ownership of my story has helped me feel less like a victim and more in control of how I react, what I tell, and in what form I tell it.  It’s my story and I’m ready to tell it.

Speaking for the Victims of Human Trafficking

Standard

Last week I asked my friend Michele Perez to write a guest blog about her ministry to victims of Human Trafficking here in Costa Rica.  Though sex with minors is against the law here, no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.  Costa Rica is famous world wide for sex tourism.  It’s the underbelly of society that no one here wants to admit exists.  Michele comes from a family caught in gangs, drugs and prostitution, but Jesus saved her family.  Jesus turns ashes to beauty.  So here is my friend in her own words.  

The organization that Michele partners with here in CR, though this is not Michele in the picture

It was a Tuesday morning as I entered the foundation where I volunteer to help victims of human trafficking and women desiring to come out of the commercial sex industry.  The ladies were gathered in the hall quietly talking as they waited for our session to begin.  I slowly walked over to greet them one by one and invited them to join us because we were ready to begin.  The previous week we had been discussing childhood development and today we were going to discuss some of the things in their upbringing that they wish they could have changed.

We gave out a large piece of paper and some markers and had them write out and draw some pictures of those things that had caused them the most pain.  We then collected each paper and (with the permission of each lady) had them explain what they had written or drawn.  I already knew some of the victims stories but had never really heard there childhood experiences.  Maria was the first up and she began to cry almost instantly as she shared how she had experienced so much pain in her own home.  She held a lot of anger in her heart and it showed with every word she spoke.

As we handed her some Kleenex she wrapped up her story and then we moved onto Anna.  I had known Anna the longest.  She always seemed so distant and cold.  She immediately began to talk about her dad.  She said “My dad is awful!  He was and still is a drunk!  I remember being 9 and him coming home drunk.  He would take all of our money and we would be so hungry.  He would come home and make himself something to eat and as we watched he would smash the food in our faces!  He would then enter our room and do horrible things to us!”

My heart began to pound as emotions began to rise within me!  So many of these stories are so close to home for me. As I went over to comfort Anna I couldn’t say a word, but we just embraced and cried together.  I know that even though there were no words spoken that Jesus was present at that moment!

Each lady present that day shared so many deep wounds and with every word spoken my heart was overwhelmed.  It was overwhelmed because I now knew how some had ended up in prostitution, and it ached even more for those ladies who after experiencing such horrific childhoods were then forced into a lifestyle where they had to sell their bodies up to 25 times a day!

Some have asked me why I have gotten involved in such a dangerous and almost taboo ministry.  I can’t picture myself anywhere else!  I often ask God why he has led me down this road and his answer to me is found in Proverbs 31: 8-9:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.    Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”

*Names changed to protect victims identity

I die daily

Standard

I have this mental picture of Heaven.  For the first time that we all gather to worship the Lord we are divided into sections in a vast auditorium.  We are divided by language groups, and though when we speak to each other we use a common heavenly language, when we worship we sing in the language of our hearts.  In my mind, every missionary who has ever struggled to learn a language will be honored on that day with a seat in the section of their adopted language.  It makes me cry when I let this image rise up in my mind.  For the honor of worshipping side by side with the people I have given my life to, I die daily to my mother tongue.

It is a daily death, this struggle to learn another language.  I die to my personality which is best expressed in English.  I die to years of education and speak Spanish like a child.  I die to what I want to do and who I want to be.  I die to my image of myself.  I die to my independence.  I die to my pride… over and over again.

If it were not for love, I could not do this.  Yes, I love the Costa Ricans in all their contradictions and “Pura Vida”.  But more than my love for others, I mean I die for the love of God for me.  If it were not for God’s love towards me, I would not try this.  I would not give like this.  I would not hurt like this.  I would not humble myself like this.  If I was not 100% sure of my Father’s love for me, I would’ve stayed home in Minnesota.

But I am compelled.  In the light of His love for me, I am compelled to go, to lay it all down, to die daily to all that was, to share this compelling love with others, to pick up my cross.  I am compelled to love by dying.  I know no other way anymore.  The old life looks dull and flat.  It does not entice me any more.  My all and all hangs on the cross.  The way to my one and only love lies through a valley of death.  I give it all away in order to gain more than I could ever imagine.  “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and then loses his soul?”  When I die, I gain.

I can’t express it any more clearly how painful this death is to me.  It is not a metaphor.  It is real.  And every time I open my mouth to speak Spanish I lay my will down for Jesus.  Not my will, but yours be done.  What I wouldn’t do for this love?  It consumes me.

To live is Christ, to die is gain.

Holiday HoHum.

Standard

My Favorite Valentine Candies- If anyone wants to send me some, I'd love you!

When I moved overseas I carried my old culture with me.  But my holiday joy fell out when the bottom of the box broke.  Holidays just aren’t the same in another country.  You don’t realize how much emotion is packed around each holiday until you try to unpack them and realize that no one around you feels the same way about this date on the calendar.  Much of the culture built into each holiday is developed in childhood.  But if you don’t spend your childhood in this country, you don’t have all the same packaging around your memories.

Think about it.  Do you remember the first Valentine’s Day heart you decorated in Elementary school?  Probably not, but I bet you remember the joy (or stress) of passing out your cards and candy in class.  And where did you learn about Martin Luther King Day?  Probably in school.  And who doesn’t remember all the hype and build up before Easter and Halloween?- holidays synonymous with Candy in the kid world.  And what if you moved to a country where Thanksgiving and Christmas were no big deal- or worse- didn’t exist?!  Would you feel jilted if you had to go to work when your American friends and family back home were celebrating together?

Holidays aren’t the same overseas.  For us here in Costa Rica, Juan Santamaria Day just doesn’t thrill my soul.  And unless we go buy them ourselves, July 4 comes and goes without fireworks (but you can hear fireworks on random other days… like last night.).  Unless you are Catholic, Easter means a two week vacation to the beach instead of a new dress, an Easter basket, and a special church service.  No one has ever heard of the Easter Bunny here!  (And they have a Rat instead of a Tooth Fairy!  Imagine growing up with THAT legend crawling under your pillow!)

So when I unpacked my box of holiday memories, I feel the sadness of losing something that I didn’t even know I had.  We make a lot of sacrifices to be where we are and to do what we do, and this one hurts me a lot.  We do our best to replace or replicate the broken holiday joy, but it’s never the same.  We will always be outsiders on those special holidays in our adopted country, and over time, we start to forget about the American holidays that come and go without a Hallmark card reminder.  I guess holidays don’t travel well.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

Standard

10 things I love about my husband (I had to limit myself to 10 or you would all quit reading my blog!)

1.  I still get butterflies in my stomach when I see him across the room.  Sorry Ladies, but I have the best looking husband around.  Your guys might be nice, but they just can’t hold a candle to My Man.

2.  He buys me flowers for no reason, just because I love flowers.  And he knows which kinds I like the best and why.  One time he mentioned that he liked a particular flowering bush that we walked past.  I told him, “That’s a gardenia.  I wear gardenia perfume.”  He replied, “Oh THAT’S why I like that bush so much!”  Gardenia is one of my favorite flowers.

3.  He works.  He’s responsible with money.  He pays the bills on time, I never have to worry about that.  He puts away money in savings for us and our kids.  He doesn’t believe in having debt.  I can trust him with this part of our lives and I never have to worry about it.  He’s also a really good Father.  He’s involved in the kids’ lives and helps out around the house more than most husbands I know.  He works for the good of the family.

4.  He’s generous.  When we looked for a house to rent we agreed that it needed to be big enough to host large groups of people.  We have people over for dinner all the time.  When we chose a vehicle we agreed that it needed to be for more than just our family.  We wanted to be able to give people rides and haul stuff for ministry.  My husband’s thoughts are always for the wellbeing of others.  He is generous with his time, money, resources, and talents.

5.  He’s athletic.  I know I give him a lot of teasing about watching a sport for every season, but I actually like that in a guy.  Being athletic, to me, is synonymous with MANLY.  I may not enjoy sports personally, but I enjoy watching my husband enjoy sports.  (And sometimes when he’s not home, I turn the game on just to make it sound like he’s in the living room watching TV.)

6.  I miss him when he’s not around.  If we go for too many days with out spending time together I get really cranky.  When I’m with him, everything feels better.  Even if we have to be apart, we talk on the phone every day.  We just like being together!

7.  He makes me a better person.  Left to my own devices, I’d be a pretty difficult person.  He keeps me from saying things I’ll regret later, he helps me see the other side of the situation, he takes me down a few notches when I need it.  He lets me talk through my thoughts even when he thinks my ideas are crazy.  He encourages me to develop my dreams and talents.  One time when I was upset about something he actually told me, “You should go paint, you’ll feel better then.”  He’s my soul mate

8.  He knows what I look like first thing in the morning and he still loves me.  He has seen me pregnant 3 times and knows the havoc that wreaked on my figure and he still loves me.  He has seen me with really bad haircuts and he still loves me.  He has seen me in the hospital all drugged up and sick and he still loves me.

9.  When I was facing cancer treatment he cleared a month and a half off his calendar just to be with me the whole time.  He had to call and reschedule meetings and preaching engagements with pastors and churches.  He had to UNDO literally months of work to be with me when I was sick.  He took care of the kids while I slept for days and days.  He was there when I would wake up.  We walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death together, and I love him for that.

10.  Finally, he makes me laugh.  I laugh nearly every day at something he says or does to entertain me.  He does funny little dance moves with the kids.  Together they play with their stuffed animals and make them dance and sing.  He loves lip syncing to 80’s music which cracks me up.  He messes up EVERY movie line and punch line and story he tries to quote… and it’s always funnier when he does it.  He makes me happy.

I love you Josh!  I’m a happy wife.

Orosi Valley, Costa Rica on our Anniversary

Culture: The Mole on the Back of Your Neck

Standard

Unless you are a cultural anthropologist, you probably don’t give much thought to your own culture.  You don’t think about what makes your nationality or ethnic group different from other groups.  You don’t consider where your opinions come from or what deep seated believes inspire your reactions to the world.  You never see all the different colored strands that go into making the tapestry of your world view.

Unless you physically move into another culture, you have very little to compare yourself to.  Up until that point, your culture is like a mole on the back of your neck that you never knew existed.  How can you possible know it’s there unless someone points it out to you?  For example, when we visited Thailand, our missionary friend humorously informed us that Thai people think Americans stink.  I was incredulous!  We don’t stink!  They stink!  (Americans tend to think the smells of fish, cumin or garlic are potent, so anyone who eats a lot of those foods will stink to the American nose.)  But the amazing thing was that after sweating profusely for 5 days straight, I was out of clean clothes.  And so was everyone else in the group.  Now I agreed with the Thai people… we do stink.  But unless I came in contact with someone with a different perspective than mine, I never would have seen myself from a different point of view… or smelled myself from down wind.

When missionaries enter a new culture, one of the things we pray for is that God would give us friends who can unlock the culture for us… gatekeeper friends, I call them.   These are friends that are able to love you for who you are and help explain their culture to you in a non-judgemental way.  These are the friends that will gently correct any mistakes you make without causing you additional embarrassment.  These are the friends that you can trust with your questions like, “why don’t we flush the toilet paper here?”  and “what does it mean when someone rolls their eyes at me?” and “how am I supposed to take my turn if we don’t form a line?”  A gatekeeper friend is an invaluable resource for learning a new culture.

I am continually amazed when God gives me friends like this because sometimes it is very difficult being friends with an outsider, a foreigner.  Having a conversation takes a lot of work on both sides, for me to struggle through Spanish and for them to concentrate so hard on understanding my meaning.  It’s exhausting for both of us!  Always having to explain things that are automatic or that are generally taken for granted requires patience.  Noticing the tired, glazed over look in my eyes or the look of confusion or of shock means paying attention to the details of someone else and taking compassion on them when their reactions are not your reactions.  It’s a lot of work being friends with a foreigner!  And I am so grateful for the friends that are willing to put in that kind of work to be my friend.  In their compassion towards me I feel the love of Jesus.  It’s a beautiful thing!

Me Monster

Standard

One of our favorite comedians is Brian Regan.  He does a really funny bit about people that he calls “Me Monsters”.  They are people who talk about themselves all the time… no, they DOMINATE the conversation with stories about themselves.  Being a Me Monster is something that I try hard to avoid in conversations.  That’s why I started a blog, so I have an appropriate place to tell all of you how wonderful I am (that’s a joke, it’s OK to laugh).  But in this clip, Brian Regan tells about a social fantasy he has about being one of the men who has walked on the moon, because those are the guys that have earned the right to top everyone else’s Me Monster stories.

“Why do people need to top other people?  I’ve never understood it and I see it all the time.  Obviously people get something out of it.  At best they wait for your lips to stop moving…[wait for it] Yeah, you, ME!  ME!  you see the difference?!”  Then he goes on to describe his social fantasy, “I wish I was one of the 12 astronauts who have been on our moon.  They must love knowing they can beat anyone’s story… whenever they want.  They can sit back quietly at a dinner party while some other person, some Me Monster is doing his thing and let him go.  Let him run with the line while you be quiet.  (zzzzz, he makes the noise of a fishing line reeling out)  Let him have his moment… yeah, I’m a big traveler… I’ve got a global enterprise… you know, driving on the Autobahn, cause I keep a fleet of sports cars over in Zürich… blah, blah, Me!  Meeee!… Well, I walked on the moon… You know, you mentioned driving on the Autobahn.  That reminded me.  Once I was driving on the Sea of Tranquility… in my Lunar Rover.  And I too was worried about our speed, until I remembered, Wait!  We’re the only ones on the moon!”

Man, I wish I knew this guy in person!

I can’t stand Me Monsters.  You know, a tell-tail sign that you’re dealing with a Me Monster is that he over uses Singular First Person Pronouns (me, myself, and I).  Now hang on for a second while I indulge my Inner Grammar Nazi with a moment of freedom.  I pick up on this when I hear married people speak of shared moments or objects using the singular first person pronouns.  They say things like “my wedding” and “my house” and “my bank account” and “my children” all the while their spouse is sitting in the same room, at the same table and participating in the same conversation!  In my mind, the Me Monster should be using PLURAL first person pronouns:  We, our, ours… They should say  “our wedding” and “our house” and “our children” to be inclusive of their spouse.  But the Me Monster doesn’t understand the subtleties of grammar and what pronouns can communicate.  Pronouns have power.  The Me Monster doesn’t realize that I’ve just zeroed in on his “Tell” like a professional poker player spots an amateur player who’s bluffing.  Uh oh, we’ve got a Me Monster in the room.

You know how I handle a Me Monster?  I undercut him.  He expects me to try to top his story with a better one.  But that’s HIS game.  He plays that game better than anyone in the room.  But he’s a one-note-song.  I know his only move.  He can move UP but he can’t move side to side or down.  That’s why I undercut him.  I bait him with  a story that is so far below his, so ordinary, that he has no where to go with it.  Instead of trying to top him with a story of how much better I am, I tell him how ordinary I am.  It kills the conversation quicker than anything.  I love the nervous laugh he gives at the end of my deliberately unfunny story.  Now where are you going to go with THAT one, Me Monster?  Are you going to try to tell me how much more ordinary you are than me?  You got no where to go.  Check Mate.

Homemade Creative Kids

Standard

While the kids are creating crafts, I am crafting creative kids.

If you come to our house on any given Saturday morning you will find the TV off and the living room vacant.  In the kitchen/dinning room you will hear us rocking out to super stimulating music like Coldplay, Jamie Grace, Toby Mac or sometimes Christmas Carols on an internet radio station if the season is right.  The table will be covered with newspapers.  There might be wads of paper towels tossed on the floor.  We will all still be in our jammies.  My coffee will be cooling in the mug off to the side.  There might be paint under my fingernails or glue in my hair.  It’s a beautiful scene of creative mayhem.

The craft of the day will be spread all around the room.  Sometimes we paint.  Sometimes we cut and glue.  Sometimes we draw. And sometimes we sew.  I try to keep the craft to a level that they can manage with success.  My goal is to help them create something they can be proud of with as little help from me as possible.  Ultimately I want to help them become creative individuals.  While they are making a project for the day, I am making a project for a lifetime.

I really think that children have great creative potential.  It needs to be encouraged.  It needs to be exposed to resources like paint and glue and paper and glitter.  It needs to be stimulated with new ideas.  It needs to be challenged with inspiring surroundings.  Creative potential should be unleashed and set free!… all over the kitchen table.  Then the results need to be praised and admired because that primes the pump for more creativity to flow.  The potential to create something fantastic is in each of us, I believe.  It only takes a little planning and a little tolerance of the messy process for each child to find what they love and what they are good at.  I love that process!!

So if you drop by my house on a Saturday morning, the place will be a bit of a mess.  But we are working on creating a masterpiece- we are making creative people.  And it’s a whole lot of fun!

Making homemade Valentine's cards

Finding Your “Thing”

Standard

The other day I was taking my friend to the airport and she asked how my kids were doing.  I told her that my son was excited to start up guitar lessons again after an 18 month hiatus.  I explained that several years ago my dad bought the boy his guitar and amp.  He was at that age where kids really need to find their “thing” in order to solidify their place in the social arena.  So guitar became the boy’s Thing.

My friend then told me a story about a girl she knew who was the middle of 3 sisters.  The older sister had a Thing, the younger sister had her Thing, but the middle child couldn’t find her Thing.  So her mother started teaching her how to cook, grocery shop, and prepare meals.  Cooking became her Thing.  It was so much her Thing that the other sisters truly believed they were not smart enough to cook and it wasn’t their Thing.  The sisters didn’t learn to cook until they were adults.

So we had this whole conversation about Things and we understood each other perfectly.  Everyone needs to find their Thing in life.  Sometimes we need a wise parent or grandparent to offer direction and encouragement in finding our talents and interests.  Sometimes it takes a youth pastor or a mentor or a teacher to breathe inspiration into a young life.  So my question for you is, Who was the person who inspired you to discover your talents or develop your interests?  Have you thanked them lately?  Sometimes we aren’t even aware of all the people we inspire and it’s a pleasant surprise to receive a Thank You for an example well lived.  So do it!  Go ahead!  Find the person who inspired you and say Thank You.  It will mean a lot to them.