Monthly Archives: May 2012

I Became a Foreigner

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I totally relate to this blog!  I’d only add that going to Walmart becomes something surreal for us missionaries.  If we aren’t crying about not being able to make a choice in the salad dressing aisle, then we are straining our ears to hear the Spanish being spoken by the shoppers in the next aisle over.  Just a quick run for diapers can require a week of therapy.  It’s such a roller coaster ride!

ReEntry Shock is a real thing for missionaries.  This is a raw, bare bones account of what becomes a universal experience for people who live overseas.  Coming home is never the same again- home changes, people change, and we wonder if you still remember us and love us.  Please read this blog and feel free to comment.

I Became a Foreigner.

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You’ve got quite the personality

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This blog is just a fun quickie (you might kill some time at work playing with this).  I recently discovered a super short version of the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory and I made all my family members take it.  Normally the test is pretty long, but this is a condensed version… only 4 question.  But it’s insanely accurate!  So here’s how this works,  go to this page and answer the four questions mid-page in the yellow box.  Then when you have your four letters, go to this page and read your profile.  It has the best descriptions of the 16 personality types that I’ve found yet.  It’s kind of creepy to read such an accurate description of yourself written by total strangers!

I think you’ll like this, and feel free to share with your friends and family.  Then you can all analyze each other and compare personality profiles and see how compatible you all are.  Maybe you can save yourself a few bucks in therapy.  Drop me a message if you take the test and tell me if you thought it was accurate too.  (I’m an INFP in case you’re curious.)

And all the introverts cheered… in our heads!

Shy Missionary: An Oxymoron?

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It always kind of surprises people when I confess that I really am an introvert.  For years and years I have worked hard at learning how to talk to people, so I think I have everyone pretty much snowed.  But at my core, I am a shy girl.  People wear me out.  Conversations are work for me.  And I recharge my batteries by being alone and quiet for a few hours every night.

But it never occurred to me that this personality trait might be viewed as a liability in my profession until about a year before we left for our first term overseas.  Someone who knows me well and was sad to see me leaving expressed her hurt feelings with a harsh remark.  She said, “Why would God call YOU to be a missionary?  You don’t even LIKE people!”  I knew where she was coming from, so it didn’t hurt me.  But it  made me think.

Up until that point, I don’t think I had ever thought about what qualities might make a good missionary.  And it never occurred to me that I might struggle with what the Lord had called me to do.  I just assumed that I would be totally equipped with whatever skills would be required to be a successful missionary.  In my mind, this job didn’t really depend on what I was bringing to the table.  I just believed that God would fill in my gaps some how some way.

After all, I knew the Gospel.  I had experience leading people to the Lord and discipling them.  I was willing to go and was excited to go.  What more did I need… besides the language?  So we went to language school and that is where my shy personality experienced the worst trial by fire imaginable.  Interaction class.  Each week we met individually with a teacher and she helped us write a “texto”, a paragraph about any topic we were interested in.  Then during the week, we took our texto out onto the streets and used it to start a conversation with a total stranger, actually 10 strangers.  Then we were graded on how many minutes we conversed.  I cried every week.

Talking to strangers never got any easier for me.  As a matter of fact, once you added Spanish to the mix, it just got that much harder.  It became something I absolutely dreaded.  But I reasoned, this is what missionaries do, this is how we meet people and make friends.  So I forced myself to do it.

In the back of my mind the question still rings, “Why would God call a shy person like me to be a missionary?”  It’s like Moses in the book of Exodus telling the Lord, “I’m not so good with the putting-words-together-thingy.  Maybe you should send someone else to talk to Pharaoh.”  

In the conversation between Moses and God, through the burning bush, God promised Moses that he would go with him.  God said he would use whatever little thing Moses had in his hand.  God promised to teach Moses what to say and put the right words in his mouth.  And finally, God sent Aaron to help Moses.

What missionary could want more?  God will go with me, will use my ordinary for the extraordinary, will teach me, will put words in my mouth, and will send someone to help me with the work.  These are all promises that a Shy Missionary can cling to.  I don’t know why God chooses people like me or like Moses, but he does.  And when he gives them success, he gets all the glory.

What are you afraid of?

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Several years ago our local news station did a report about the “homeless” men that pan handle illegally in our city.  It turns out that most of them were not what they presented themselves to be.  They were not homeless, not out of work, not looking for a job, not hungry.  They were professional con artists with cellphones in their pockets and Mercedes Benzes parked a few blocks away and brand new clothes under their ratty army surplus jackets.

My friend’s husband was a manager at Outback Steak House at the time.  On several occasions he brought job applications out to the guys under the bridge near the restaurant.  Every time he was met with cursing and rejection from the con artists.  The whole business smacked of fraud and entitlement.  Coupled with the news report, it put everyone on edge and hardened our compassion towards the less fortunate.  Now the question is always in my mind, “is this person really needy?”

Other questions fill the minds of Christians too.  (Here’s another blog about that by another Christian.)  What is my responsibility to the needy?  Can I be sure that this person isn’t a con artist or a professional beggar?  What if they’re just lazy and don’t want to work a real job, am I being an enabler if I give to that kind of person?  What if they buy drugs or alcohol with my money?  Is it being responsible with my resources if I give to someone who really isn’t needy?

So fast forward a few years and I find myself living in a third world country where there are beggars at every intersection.  Every single day I see the same people begging.  There is no welfare system here, no social services to care for the homeless, mentally ill, old, sick and poor.  As a missionary, I feel the need to help them naturally, but those old questions still linger in my mind.  I have had years worth of dissonance in my spirit about what to do.  I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t feel good about my attitude.

One day I decided to ask Jesus about it (I know!  Revolutionary thought.  I should have done this years ago.)  In prayer, I presented my dilemma to the Lord and asked him what should be my attitude and my course of action.  “What are you afraid of?” he asked me.  “Are you afraid that if you give to a con artist or to someone who begs as a lifestyle that you won’t have enough for yourself and your family?  Don’t you think I’ll still take care of you?”  That was exactly it.  My fear was rooted in a lack of trust in God.

Hadn’t God always taken care of me and my family?  Hadn’t we always had enough?  Hadn’t I memorized the Don’t Worry section of Matthew 6?  And who am I to determine who is really needy and who isn’t- that’s kind of a relative measurement.  Needy in America doesn’t look the same as needy in Africa or Latin America or anywhere really poor.  So who gave me the measuring stick?

God is still honored when I give to someone who begs as a lifestyle, because he’s not looking at the size of the need that I meet, he’s looking at the motivation of MY heart.  He doesn’t care if I meet a big need or a little need.  He doesn’t care if the person was appropriately grateful or bitterly entitled.  He doesn’t expect me to be able to read the motivations of others.  He didn’t ask me to teach someone a lesson on hard work and personal finance with a side of hygiene and grammar.

He asked me to love my neighbor as myself.  And when I do that, without judging my neighbor or his need or his motivation, I please God.  Just love your neighbor.  That’s all God asks of me.

So I make a point of keeping spare change in the car and in my purse and I keep my spirit open for when the Lord prompts me to do something more… and often he does.  “More” means something different in each situation and I just trust that the Lord is meeting a specific need in a way that I never could have discerned on my own.  And never once have I found myself at the bottom of my own barrel with nothing to provide for my family.  God has been generous with me even when I didn’t understand generosity, even when I wasn’t appropriately grateful or was bitterly entitled.  God’s generosity towards me has been my example of generosity towards others.

“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the Righteous forsaken, nor their children begging bread.  They are always generous and lend freely.”  Psalm 37:25-26  Be sure to read the whole Psalm 37, it’s really good!

Memorial Day

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Hi everyone, I just realized that today is Memorial Day in the United States.  I can’t remember when American holidays fall anymore.  So since most of my readers are in the USA I’ve pushed my posts all back a day.  I assume you will be using your holiday to enjoy your family  and you won’t be reading blogs.  Enjoy the day, hope you have nice weather!

Thank you to all our soldiers everywhere!  We honor your sacrifice and remember your fallen.  Happy Memorial Day America.

A day in the life of a Missionary Momma

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When we were first dipping our toes into this whole missionary adventure thingy, we found ourselves in Springfield, Missouri sitting across a cafe table from a real live missionary from Mexico City.  He said he was our “Area Director”, whatever that meant.  (We hadn’t learned all the organizational titles and lingo yet.)  For me, it was an opportunity to allay my biggest concern about going into missions.  I could ask my earth-shaking question and have the issue settled once and for all.  At the end of our little tete a tete, I cleared my throat and plunged into the deep end, “Um, can I ask a little question?  I know it’s silly but… where do you buy your groceries in Mexico?”

After a stunned pause in which I’m sure I saw the corners of his mouth curl up ever so slightly, he gently reassured me that there are indeed supermarkets in Mexico in addition to farmers markets that come to each neighborhood on a weekly basis.  I exhaled.  Oh good.  My life wouldn’t change THAT much, I reasoned.  At least I wouldn’t be foraging in the jungle for roots and grubs.

What I didn’t know was that my weekly chore of grocery shopping to feed the family was indeed destined for a massive overhaul.

Grocery shopping has since taken over my life.  For the first 8 months that we lived in Latin America (in Costa Rica for language school), we didn’t have a car.  Just stop and think about that.  How does an American grocery shop without a car?  Walking to and from the store meant carrying all my groceries home.  It meant I couldn’t shop for a whole week at a time.  It made me seriously rethink that second gallon of milk.  I found myself going to the grocery store about every other day, not because my cabinets or fridge couldn’t hold more food but because I only have two hands!  Every other day, I’d trek half a mile one way and shlep my bags home again.  Every other day.

The half mile trek wouldn’t have been so bad except that the closest grocery store was also the most expensive store… the gourmet grocery store of Costa Rica.  After a month, we realized that we were going to have to do something different because we were going broke!  I looked around at the average Costa Rican woman on the street and I wondered how she did it.  I saw she was wearing a lot of make-up, but I sure couldn’t afford to buy make-up at the supermarket!  I saw that she had fashionable clothes and a lot of jewelry, I saw that her nails were always manicured.  I wore practical clothes and had never once had a manicure.  Clearly I was missing something.  Either these women were wealthier than I was or they were shopping somewhere else.

Fast forward 6 years and I’ve learned how she does it.

I now have a running grocery list.  I regularly shop at about 5 different stores each week because I have learned that not every store carries all you need and some stores have some products for cheaper.  For example, I go to one store to buy shampoo, off brand make up for way cheaper, and school supplies whenever they are needed.  I can also buy tupperware, piñatas and candy, dollar store quality toys, and flip-flops at that same store.  There is another store within two blocks’ walk of my house where I can buy the most delicious fresh bakery bread, hot and steamy.  They have a good selection of baking ingredients (now I have to make all meals from scratch) as well as a nice little section of scented candles and hardware.  It smells like fish in there, but the prices are good.

On the low-cost end, I buy fruits and veggies from a truck on the side of the road or from the weekly “feria” (farmer’s market).  On the high cost end, if I want true American products I can still go to the gourmet grocery store where they almost always have Philadelphia Cream Cheese and American cereals.  Too bad a bottle of maple syrup costs $30 and imported cheeses can be even more than that!  Man, I miss coupons.  (The other night I dreamed that I opened the fridge and found 3 packs of bacon.  We can’t afford bacon normally, so it was a wonderful dream.)  If I ever need them, I know where to get them… for a price.

So my grocery list is never completely done.

Never once have I found absolutely everything I need at one store.  I usually have to walk or drive to at least 2 stores, sometimes more to find all I need.  And sometimes I just simply can’t find an item.  It forces me to reevaluate the list and prioritize, substitute, and  to take advantage of when I find a hard-to-find item.  I have been known to clear the shelf when I’m surprised by good luck.

Feeding the family has become a full-time occupation.  I call it hunting and gathering in the concrete jungle.  I’m glad that guy from Mexico didn’t tell me all this when we were starting out.  I might not have been able to leave behind the ocean of American-one-stop shopping for my puddle hopping Latina ways.

Rescuing People from the Trash

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An amazing “Book of Acts” type thing happened today (Monday) here in Costa Rica.  I just want to share it with you all.

A little background about what is happening right now in Costa Rica

We have 3 teams here with us right now.  One is from North Central University in Minneapolis.  One is a ChiAlpha group from Colorado State University, and they’ve worked with us for several years now both here and in Mexico.  The third is from our university ministry in Mexico City, Jovenes con Decision, and they’ve worked with the ChiAlpha team for years too.  This is the second year that both Mexico and Colorado have joined us in Costa Rica all together.  Students from Colorado, Minnesota and Mexico all working together in Costa Rica!

Students from Colorado, Minnesota, Mexico and Costa Rica worked together to clean this street in front of the school by the city dump.

So today we added a fourth group of kids to the mix.  Here in Costa Rica our ministry is to University students as well.  We have built a connection with a group of students at the main University.  They are all non-Christian kids.  All the Costa Rican students are required to complete 300 hours of community service for graduation.  So these students are in various environmental studies majors and together they come up with recycling and clean up and education projects to fulfill their graduation requirements.  This group is called TCU Esperanza Verde (Green Hope).  They are not Christians, but many of them were part of our ChiAlpha/Mexico outreach last year.  Our goal is to work together with them on a project in order to build relationships with them and to connect them with Christian students from Mexico and Colorado.  It’s been a successful partnership so far.

So here’s the cool thing that happened today. 

Picking up trash in the street.

Today we all joined the TCU kids in a clean up project.  We went to Tirrases, which is a neighborhood built on the side of the city dump.  This community is poor and despised by the rest of society.  Today the plan was to clean up the street in front of the school where we worked last year.  The school principal has worked hard to make the inside of the school fairly nice, by third world standards, but they have no soap or paper towels or toilet paper let alone books or papers.  They have 1,500 students each day in two shifts, over 40 kids per class room.  It’s madness.  And the street out front of the school is a dangerous disaster.

So the team all brought work gloves and garbage bags to clean up the street.  No big fan fare, no big sound system, no mention of  Jesus… yet.  They were just University students cleaning the street… and I can’t tell you how gross it was!  Suddenly their work was interrupted by people coming out of their houses and coming up to our students to talk to them.  (Thankfully the Mexican students were there so someone spoke Spanish.)  People started coming up to them and just telling them their life story and saying, “My life is a mess!  I need God!  Can you pray for me?”  It was just the Holy Spirit drawing them out to the street!!  

Of course our group surrounded the people, one by one, and laid hands on them right there on the street, right in front of our secular University students!  One poor man dropped to his knees right there in the street and accepted Jesus right there on the spot!  I have no idea what the TCU students thought of it all, but a few of them continued to hang out with us for the rest of the day as we moved on to other things.  They just wanted to BE with our Christian students!  It was just so amazing and so like the Book of Acts were people were just coming up to the Apostles on the street and asking “How can I be saved?”

Wow!

I know I’m a missionary, but that doesn’t happen every day… not even in MY world!  God just never ceases to amaze me.

We are so excited and praising Jesus for an amazing day of ministry!  Praise God with us!!  

If you are like those folks that we met today, your life is a mess and you just need Jesus, all you have to do is ask him for help.  Ask him to forgive your sins and to give you a fresh start on life.  Jesus can take the mess you’ve made of your life and turn it into something beautiful when you turn your life over to him.  He loves you and is waiting to hear from you.

I Double Dog Dare You!

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Could you make a list of 1000 things to be thankful for?

After my water bottle leaked in my bag one day and totally saturated a book I was carrying around, a friend of mine gave me a new book called One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp (here’s her blog).  I don’t normally read much Christian writing, but this had a pretty cover and I usually judge a book by its cover… and so do you, I’m sure.  I was pleasantly surprised at what an amazing writer this woman is.  She really has beautiful talent!

I’m reading it slowly to savor every sentence.  This is the best book I’ve read since Annie Dillard’s American Childhood back in college.  It’s beautiful, lyrical, poetic and deep.  I cried on the second page!  How is that possible?!

Anyhow, the book is about finding things to be thankful for and unlocking the secrets of the Abundant Life that God has planned for us and promised to us.  It’s really an amazing book and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone… but I encourage you to read this book and to start making a list of the Gifts in your life, things you are thankful for.  Coconut Lime Sugar Cookies are going on my list for sure.  I think I just heard the angels singing!  🙂

I know that hanging clothes on the line is a nostalgic experience, but here in Costa Rica where things never dry I am thankful for my washer and drier EVERY SINGLE DAY. Most Costa Rican’s don’t have both a washer and a drier.

How to avoid being robbed- part 2

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Maybe some of you can relate to this.  When God is working on something in my life, it kind of becomes a theme with me.  (I’m waiting for the theme about quiet and stillness, but that seems incompatible with this phase of Motherhood.  Someday I’d like to be alone with my thoughts… or at least alone in the bathroom.)  For the last 7 or 8 months, God has been teaching me about Thankfulness.  I’ve been putting it into practice and noticing the changes it has made in me and my circumstances.

It all started last year sometime when I noticed a complaining and whiny tone in my voice.  I have a very low tolerance for people who complain and whine.  I can stand it for less than 5 minutes before I just have to walk away.  My excuse usually involves a pressing appointment with a dentist for a root canal, but don’t be fooled… I’m running away from the wet blanket personality.  It’s actually a form of mercy, because if I stood there listening any longer, I might slap someone in the face.  So when I heard this tone in my own voice, I was disgusted with myself.

Things lead to things and I found myself doing some Bible studies on Complaining.  That’s when I stumbled upon Thanksgiving as an antidote to feeling sorry for myself.  During the month of November, every single day I posted something on my Facebook status that I was thankful for.  It wasn’t hard to think of things, actually it was harder to narrow it down to one thing a day!  I found that the more full of Thanks I was, the less likely I was to find things to be cranky and whiny about.  By then, Thankfulness had taken on a life of its own and had become a habit.

Thankfulness breeds Joy.  That’s what I’ve discovered.  By nature, I am a Murphy’s Law- Glass Half Empty sort of person.  I call it Realistic, not Pessimistic.  So I’m still not going around like a Pollyanna always looking for sunshine in the gloom.  What has changed is my appreciation of both sunshine and gloom.  I can be Thankful for both.  I can thank God for sending both good things and hard things my way.  My Joy is unshakeable because it is no longer dependent upon my circumstances.  I can see the loving hand of God reaching out to me even in the darkness and I am thankful that He’s there.

God wants you to live a life full of Joy.  In the good times AND the bad times, you can have Joy.  Satan wants to steal your Joy, to make you feel guilty and sorry for yourself.  Nothing will kill your Joy faster than complaining.  And nothing will safeguard your Joy like Thankfulness.

If you feel like you’re being robbed of your Joy, I challenge you to be deliberate about practicing Thankfulness.  It’s an easy habit to acquire once you get started.  You’ll see results faster than you imagined.  Start a list of things to be thankful for, soon your Joy will be evident to everyone who knows you.

In addition, here’s another article called “15 Powerful things that Happy People Do Differently” Notice #12.

How to avoid being robbed- part 1

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“I feel so guilty that I’m here enjoying this beautiful day at the beach and back home, I know my family is going through a hard time.”

The student who said that during our team devotions was affirmed in his guilt by several others who nodded their heads in agreement and murmured parallel emotions.  It kind of made me mad.  Right in front of my eyes I was seeing the subtle theft joy by our Enemy.  These kids had worked for a week here in Costa Rica and there were two more weeks of ministry ahead of us.  Today was our only day at the beach to relax.  They may not have recognized their need for it, but my husband and I have been hosting teams for years and we know that not only did they need a day of rest, but we did too.  We were running on empty.  Our Enemy would like nothing better than to burn us out and to rob us of our joy.

God is the Lover of our Souls.  He fills this world with wonder and beauty for us to enjoy.  It’s a gift.  And rest is a gift too.  He calls us to come away with him to a quiet place where he will give us rest and refresh our weary souls.  Not only that, God uses the beauty of nature to draw us to him and to show us what a wonderful God he is.

We should never, ever feel guilty about enjoying nature or needing rest.

I think about God’s wooing of my soul in this way.  He is like a Lover who brings a special gift to the woman of his desires.  God made her, so he knows what she likes.  He knows what she needs.  He knows exactly what will make her happy.  Imagine that when the Lover brings the Woman the gift, she felt GUILTY about receiving it.  That was not his intention at all!  He wanted her to feel loved and to feel special and to feel cared for! 

But her Great Enemy has whispered in her ear again- just like he did in the Garden of Eden– and he has told her God doesn’t really love you, he wants you to be “suffering for Jesus.”  You have to earn good things like this and you haven’t worked hard enough to deserve this kind of joy.  You can’t fully enjoy this and still be a good Christian.  What will people back home say?

Our Enemy has a mission, he comes to Steal, Kill and Destroy us.  He hates that God loves us.  He hates that God gives us good gifts, and if he can, he’ll steal your gifts right out of your hands.  Don’t listen to his subtle lies.  Don’t let him rob you of your joy.

Tomorrow’s blog talks about how to prevent Satan from robbing you of your joy, part 2.