Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lucy in Kinder

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Lucy in Kinder

Today is Lucy’s teacher’s birthday. She loves her teacher and her teacher loves the children she cares for every day. She often takes pictures of the kids and sends them to the parents so they see the fun things that go on in Kinder every day. She’s a really special lady! Happy Birthday Yolanda! We love you!! (Lucy and her buddy Bethany playing in moon sand.)

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Guest Blogger: Missionary Tim Strange, on Discipleship among the Bri Bri Tribe in Talamanca, Costa Rica

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Missionary Tim StrangeWhat is our obligation to new Christians?  Is it enough to lead them to salvation like leading a horse to water or do we have a further obligation to disciple new believers and help them grow deep roots into their new faith?  What is our responsibility and how much time are we willing to commit?

In the past few months I have found myself working among the Bri Bri Indians here in Costa Rica.  A good friend and fellow missionary, Miguel, introduced me to a group of Costa Rican pastors and Bible school students who go to the Talamanca Indigenous Reserve near the Panamanian border every second weekend to minister and lead discipleship groups at 5 churches using curriculum from Global University.  They have been making this trip every month for 6 years, ever since one pastor caught the vision of discipleship!  I was invited to go along and see what had been happening. Miguel said the trip down is rough.  It’s a different world down there.  The Adventure Bug bit me hard!

The packing list that Miguel sent included the usual items like a sleeping bag, bug repellent, drinking water, etc… Somehow I ended up with two tents.  I was excited for the six hour road rally!  We left San Jose at 3:30 am.  After a few hours, we left the highway for a gravel road which passed through creeks and villages built on stilts.  We passed pigs roaming free and scraggly chickens in every yard.  Eventually the trail brought us to the River.  After crossing the river, we continued up the mountain.  We talked about the Bri Bri as we traveled.

The more I learned about the Bri Bri and their history, the more upset I became.  Not just at their struggle for social justice, but also at the injustice of the church.  If you were to ask a Bri Bri on the street if they knew Jesus, they would tell you yes, for many have accepted Christ as their savior multiple times.  Many evangelists have come to town and set up their tents and sound systems and sold tapes and CDs.  But what happens after the evangelist leaves?  The Bri Bri have been left at the altar and have become wary and jaded at the sight of gringos bearing gifts, even the free gift of salvation, paid by the Son.

We all know the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 which gives Christians the mandate to Go and make disciples.  I love how The Message paraphrases it, “Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you:  Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you.  I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.'”  Matthew 28:18-20

It seems we sometimes we get so caught up in winning the lost at all costs that we forget about discipleship.  I remember a picture on a stamp at Christmas time, years ago.  A teenager from Boys’ Town is carrying a smaller boy on his back.  The caption reads, “He’s not heavy, He’s my brother.”  Often times missions teams come and minister, leaving a stack of decisions cards with the pastor.  They tell the pastor, “We won 500 people to the Lord this week and they are your responsibility.”  Really?  Does our responsibility end when we get back on the plane to go home?  Is it OK to leave people at the altar?  I’m not knocking evangelism, but I think many see it as the end game and not as a starting point or part of the journey of discipleship.

I don’t know what my future with the Bri Bri looks like, but I’m excited about the possibilities.  Discipleship now excites me!  Count me in!  I have seen how one Costa Rican pastor who was impacted 6 years ago has been faithful to making disciples and now we are seeing true results.  Yes, it starts at the altar, but it doesn’t end there.  We much reach, equip and send out laborers to the last harvest, but evangelism is only a part of it.  Discipleship is where the real work begins.

Getting there is half the fun!  Click to see my youtube video of crossing the river to get to the Bri Bri Tribe.

EARTH without ART is just EH

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I had lunch with a missionary friend of mine the other day.  She talked about her deep desire to just be a normal woman, a mom and wife with few responsibilities outside her home.  She said she envied her sister who is not a missionary and does not have to write newsletters to supporters.  She day dreamed about taking art classes and expanding her new veggie garden.  She longed for her childhood days on the family farm where they worked just to survive without a thought as to how their lives appeared to others.

She said, “I just want to care for my family and to fill the world with beauty.  Is that enough?”

I smiled.  I’m pretty sure that’s one of the main purposes why God made women to love beauty.  God is the Creator of all things beautiful.  He’s the Artist.  I too am an artist.  Speaking as an artist, I like it when people are inspired and moved by what I make.  I think God likes that too.  He likes it when we are inspired and moved by what he makes.  God made Woman and she was exceedingly beautiful.  Man was moved by her beauty.  Woman looked around her and saw the exceeding beauty of Nature.  Woman was inspired by Nature’s beauty to create more beauty through her Art.  It’s a layering effect of appreciating beauty which brings glory and pleasure to the Great Artist.  It’s a reflecting of the very nature of God within us.

As an artist, there is something in my soul that comes alive only when I am creating.  I feel like it’s an extravagant element in my personality.  Creating art doesn’t actually DO anything in the grand scheme of life.  It’s not particularly productive or practical (that’s the other side of my nature at war with my artistic side).  But Art reveals something about us spiritually and enhances our relation to God.  I relate to God on a deeper level when art is part of the equation, because my Creator made me this way.  I think he wanted there to be some people who can appreciate the beauty he creates.  These people are just extravagant touches to his Grand Masterpiece.  When I appreciate beauty, it brings glory to God and that pleases him.

So is it enough to just want to fill the world with beauty?  Maybe, because it brings Glory to God and mirrors his character in us as we long to create beauty as well.  Maybe for now, that is enough, my friend.

http://www.deshow.net/cartoon/fantasy-art-painting-566.html

here’s the website to this artist’s page. Josephine Wall. http://www.deshow.net/cartoon/fantasy-art-painting-566.html

Don’t Worry, I Tell Myself…

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One of my favorite passages is the “Don’t worry” section of Matthew 6:24-36. As a matter of fact, my Bible flops open to that passage when I set it down because I’ve worn the spine out by reading that page so much. But sometimes I get bored with the version I’ve memorized. So this morning I read this passage in 5 or 6 different versions looking for a fresh perspective on this old and beloved path. I liked The Message version the best. I can just imagine Jesus telling this to me in person:

“You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both. If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

So I’ve spent my day thinking about this passage while going about my work of cleaning, packing and taking care of the kids. I’ve tried not to worry about getting all we need in our suitcases. I’ve tried to focus on how God is working in me and around me. I’ve tried to keep the right perspective about my possessions vs. my life’s calling. It’s not easy and it seems to require moment by moment adjustments and corrections in my thoughts. But I think these verses helped me today.

Idolizing America

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We spent our first year out of America in 2006 when we went to language school in Costa Rica.  We were thrust from the womb of our dear country and culture into a harsh new reality of Spanish with a side of beans and rice.  Among the women at language school that year we developed certain coping mechanisms unique to women.  One form of self soothing was to talk about recipes.  We talked about what worked here and what didn’t work here and why it didn’t work here.  We shopped together and swapped tips for which new products were a decent substitute for Campbell’s condensed soups and Lipton flavor packets.  When someone discovered that another store carried an American product we descended en mass and cleared out the shelf like a plague of locusts.  Food became a way to cope with too much change in our lives.

We obsessed about food so much that I started feeling like we were on the TV show Survivor.  I really started feeling deprived.  We didn’t have any American TV in the first apartment that we lived in, so we didn’t see American commercials much.  But after about 8 months we moved into a home owned by Americans who were out of the country for several months and needed someone to care for the house.  They had satellite TV.  For the first time in 8 months I saw a commercial for Olive Garden and I nearly cried!  We all groaned with despair whenever we saw a commercial featuring hamburgers or steak.  We missed America so much… with our stomaches.  Each of us had a list of places that we wanted to eat at when we returned home for Christmas.

I was craving red meat.  Josh was desperate for Chipotle.  The kids wanted Olive Garden and Krispy Kreme Donuts.  And we all wanted Starbucks.  But after inhaling our first meal back in America, we all sat there with horrible stomach aches.  Too much, too fast.  American food suddenly felt greasy and heavy.

More disappointment awaited me on the corner at Starbucks.  I took my first sip and  the only thing I could taste was the paper cup!  I was shocked and sad.  Did I always taste the cup before but never noticed it?  That cardboard flavor just ruined the whole experience for me.  All the things that we had spent the last year obsessing about, talking about, dreaming about, longing for one by one fell off their pedestals.  It turns out that our IDEAS about America were more delicious than reality.  We had spent the last year Idolizing America, and when we finally got home our fantasies deflated and anticipations fell flat.  It was a rude reality check.

They say the grass always looks greener from the other side, but it’s also true that hamburgers look amazing from 3,000 miles away.  It’s so easy to imbrue our memories with the essence of our longings and thus plump them up way beyond what is true and natural.  It takes an effort to keep our expectations in check with reality.  For me, the best way to do that is to remind myself not to idolize America, but to look around me and be thankful for where I am right here and now.  Living in the moment is better than being disappointed in the future.

Fringe Benefits: The side of missionary life that doesn’t make newsletters

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A couple years ago I had a Facebook friend that I had to “hide” because her posts were making me so jealous.  Her husband has his own business and she spends her life shopping and lounging on tropical beaches.  But the weird thing was that it wasn’t so much that I envied her life of luxury and leisure- it was that I envied her freedom to share those cool things without being condemned by others.  I figured, my life is just as cool as her life (in different ways) but I don’t feel the same freedom to talk about it like she does.  She doesn’t have supporters back home reading newsletters, I reasoned.  So rather than deal with my own jealousy, I just hid her so I didn’t have to look at her beautiful pictures anymore.

The beach where we spent our best day ever.The truth is that although often times I write about how difficult missionary life can be, most days I wake up and feel like the Luckiest Girl in the World!  Most days I still can’t believe that I GET to live here and to do what I do (When I’m not flying around in a cape saving the world, I’m a mild mannered English teacher).  I feel so blessed and spoiled by my Father God.  I live in a tropical country where the beach is just a 2 hour drive away.  Parrots fly over my head every morning.  I pass palm trees and people selling tropical flowers and street vendors with trucks full of mangos and Jeeps with surf boards strapped to the roof every day in my commute.  I shiver when the temps drop to 60 degrees Farrenheit.  And my “cup runneth over” with the best coffee in the world!  I live in Costa Rica.  I am a Blessed Girl!

So today I am going to be THAT girl who revels in her wonderful life.  I’m going to write about the best visa trip we ever took.  We used to have to leave the country every 90 days to renew our visas (now we’re in the process of getting our residency- so no more visa trips).  Here in Costa Rica we are bordered by Nicaragua to the North and Panama to the South.  This particular year our visas were coming due in December.  We didn’t have the money to go all the way to Minnesota for Christmas, so we scheduled a trip to Panama during our kids’ Christmas break.  Christmas overseas is not as exciting as Christmas in America.  Tamales and Bull Fights just don’t say “Christmas” to this Minnesota girl.

So since we were feeling “blah” about Christmas we decided to spend a bit of our Christmas money and stay somewhere nice with some of our friends while in Panama.  We chose Bocas del Toro, a string of islands on the Caribbean side of Panama.  On the map it looked like we could take a boat from the last port in Costa Rica directly to the island.  In reality the trip down was more like the deleted scenes from “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”.  Ports were closed, water taxis were hired, busses and taxi vans meant crowding in shared transportation without air conditioning.  Basically the trip down was horrific.  But once we arrived… it was all forgotten.  We found paradise!

We stayed on Playa Tortuga.  With our friends we were two of about 5 other families in the entire hotel.  The rooms were nothing special, but the ocean was literally right at our toes.  I love looking for shells on the beach.  I’ve always dreamed of finding a perfect conch shell.  On this trip I found several small ones right on the beach.  I was thrilled!

Lucy finds Patrick StarOne day we decided to hire a taxi to go to the other end of the island.  From there we hired a water taxi to take us to another island that was famous for it’s giant starfish.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when we arrived at the beach!  There were starfish every few feet!  It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever experienced.

Unfortunately about 10 minutes into our stay at Starfish Beach, the children started crying.  There was something sharp and pokey floating around in the water.  It was like fiberglass strands!  They got between our toes and in our swim suits.  We started picking out the slivers (and didn’t stop for the next 2 days).  After about 10 more minutes we couldn’t stand it any more.  We hailed another boat and asked to be taken back to our island.  For the rest of the afternoon we snorkeled and swam and built sand castles on the most perfect secluded beach.  We had the whole place to ourselves.  It was my best day ever!!

That night as we wandered into town to find something to eat we were surprised to find that the town was preparing for a parade, complete with fireworks and “floats” made from pickup trucks and delivery vans, Caribbean music and firefighters tossing candy to the children.  It was fantastic and carefree!  We had so much fun.  What a perfect end to the perfect day, not a bad way to spend Christmas.  Back at home, I have a conch shell that I keep as a reminder of what a Blessed life I lead.  I really am the Luckiest Girl in the World, but that’s a story you’ll never read in our newsletters.

If…

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This is one of my favorite poems. I read it frequently while we were in youth ministry because it inspired me to rise above the irritations and frustrations that come with the job. I hope it encourages someone else now.

“If”
–By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ‘em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you’
If all men count with you, but none too much,
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Taylor’s fish

 

Hey! Who rescheduled my play-date?

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My friends in Latin America actually think it’s weird that American kids move out of their parents’ house before they get married.  Their idea of family is that multiple generation can live together for the benefit of all.  From the looks of things, it appears that America is swinging towards the Latin way of doing family, which might not be all bad- just different than what we’re used to.

It was just a few years ago that my sister, who works at a university, first used the term “helicopter parents” in a conversation with me.  I had never heard that before so she explained to me that it is the term used to describe parents who hover over their kids and get too involved in the details of their adult kids’ lives.  This generation of kids (Gen-Y) think nothing of having mom talk to their college academic advisor, or their boss at work, or their room mates.  These kids are so dependent on their parents that often times they return to the nest after they’ve vacated it.  When this happens, the adult kids are called “Boomerang Kids.”

We’re way beyond soccer moms and the loud mouth Dad at the Little League game.  This has become a national trend- a cultural shift.  According to this article, 3 out of 10 adults between the ages of 24 and 35 now live with their parents.  Which translates into about one third of all American men in this age bracket still living with their parents.  That’s a lot of Mama’s Boys.

When I was growing up we didn’t have the same terminology for this phenomenon.  We used words like “spoiled,” “babied,” or if we were feeling generous “pampered” when speaking of kids who failed to cut the apron strings.  So when I met my future husband and he still lived at home I didn’t realize that he was just ahead of his time.  I decided that we’d have to practice stretching those wings before we tried to fly together.  I insisted that he move into the dorms for at least a year before we got married.  It was a wonderful and worthwhile experience for him.  Along with moving out, I made him get a checking account, learn to iron his own shirts (which he now refuses to do), learn to make some basic meals and generally clean up after himself.  It was a year of training well spent, in my opinion.

With these kinds of independence issues in mind, our son is turning 16 soon.  We plan to send him back to Minnesota this summer to get his driver’s license and his first job.  This plan sounds crazy to our Latino friends, but I want to do everything I can do- outside of being a helicopter parent- to ensure that when my kid goes off to college in a few years that he has already flexed those wings and he’s ready to fly.  We are all a bundle of excitement and nervousness at this prospective adventure for Taylor.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the flying lessons go well for the boy.

My Son, Spiderman.  Boy, you need to get INSIDE the car to learn how to drive.

My Son, Spiderman. Boy, you need to get INSIDE the car to learn how to drive.

Narcissism: The Lie that teaches us we can be anything we want

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When I was a little girl my parents were both hairdressers.  They were part owners in their own salon in Des Moines, Iowa.  Business was good.  I spent the first few years of my life running wild around the salon, eating sugar cubes in the break room, spinning on the pump up chairs, and chatting with the other hairdressers.  One afternoon I was thumbing through a hair magazine and I found a picture of a model with a perfectly smooth bobbed hairdo and bangs that fell straight across her eyebrows.  I fell in love… with the hair style.

I took the picture to my Dad and asked him to make me look just like this.  My Dad looked at the magazine picture, looked at my poofy, wavy hair with a strong cowlick in my bangs and asked me, “What do you like about this picture?”  I was 6-years old and couldn’t exactly pin point what I liked, but she was so different from the image I saw in the mirror.  I said I liked everything about her and wanted to look just like her.  “But Honey,” my Dad tenderly explained, “You’re not Asian.  You’re never going to look like this girl.”  I was devastated.  But it was the hard truth.

My parents never fed me the lie that I could be anything I wanted to be.  I remember when the whole “Self Esteem” movement hit the public schools around 5th grade.  (click here to read an article about the aftermath of our collective brain bath in narcissism.) My Dad said it was totally stupid.  “You can’t be anything you want to be.  You can’t be a boy, you can’t be a crowd, you can’t be a butterfly, you can’t be the President of France.  That’s a stupid thing to teach children!”  He was right.  Not only was it unrealistic, it was dangerous.

Slowly a generation of kids grew up thinking that they could be anything they wanted to be without ever putting in the hard work required to achieve anything.  It used to be that you had to DO something significant to be able to say that you were something special.  But apparently that was all wrong, apparently you just have to wake up in the morning to be considered special.  Remember the scene in the Pixar movie “The Incredibles” where Dash and his mom are talking about being Super heroes living amongst ordinary people?  Mrs. Parr says, “Everyone’s special, Dash.”  Then Dash mutters, “Which just means that no one is special.”

This generation of Special People truly believes that everyone who participates should get the same reward as the one who wins.  Everyone who wants to call themselves a leader should be able to self publish a few books and feel like a success- who cares if anyone is really following him or not.  The average Joe on the street is equal to the President even though their salaries are vastly different (as are pretty much every other detail of their lives).  Any child sitting in a public school classroom can aspire to be an astronaut… even though NASA is closed down now.  It doesn’t matter the circumstances that life has dealt you, you can BE someone… you don’t even have to want it badly enough, it’s just your birthright.

In the movie “The Iron Lady” Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher delivers a line that is both powerful and true.  She basically says, “It used to be that you had to DO something, now it’s all about BEING someone.”  That is the essence of the Great Lie of Self Esteem, or as Lady Gaga put it, “I’m teaching people to worship themselves.”  But I, for one, plan to follow in the honest footprints of my parents who taught me that Life is hard and you must work hard for everything you earn.  And even then, no one is promising you that you will succeed at what you do.  But do it anyways because no one will just hand you your dreams while you’re sitting on the couch eating a bag of chips and watching “The Biggest Loser”… at least that’s not how Margret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain.

The Carte Blanche of Word Play

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It’s true that political correctness is the new religion.  But have you noticed that we’ve invented a few clever linguistic acrobatics to say what we mean and still twist around the risk of directly offending someone?  For example, here in Costa Rica you can begin any insult with the phrase “con todo respeto” (basically meaning “with all due respect”).  With this carte blanche you can speak your mind freely and no one can accuse you of intending to insult someone… even if you really did intend to insult them.

In the South of the United States they use the phrase, “bless his heart” to soften the blow.  One might hear sentences like, “He’s just an idiot, bless his heart.” Yet no one can accuse the speaker of mal intent, unless you really have something against Paula Dean.  Bless her heart.

In other circles, one can add the phrase “just saying” and then just say anything you want.  Other politically correct, carte blanche phrases include “in my humble opinion” or “Support the Troops” or “God Bless America” or whatever political catchphrase is the mode of the day.  Unless you are of the moral elite who “refuse to cut your conscience to fit the latest fashion,” these phrases are super handy to whip out anytime you need a shield.  Because, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion” is the modern day equivalent of “Thou shalt not murder” we have exchanged the principle of Let Freedom Reign for the motto Don’t Tread on Me.