Monthly Archives: June 2013

He’s My Father Too!

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I love having friends who challenge me and push me to think deep thoughts that I haven’t pondered yet.  For me, a good friend has plenty of conversation that leads me to Jesus.  I like hearing what is happening in the hearts of others.  Last week we got together with some really good friends of ours for dinner.  Of course the conversation turned to Jesus and the lessons we were learning from Him.

We were discussing how some missions families were struggling financially and some were blessed.  Our friend said, I think about it like this- we both have the same Father, right?  Well if my Father chooses to bless my Brother, then I can rest assured that my Father will also take care of me.  We don’t treat all our children the exact same way because they don’t need the exact same things.  We take care of our children in the way that we feel is best for each one on an individual basis.  If my Father is good to one of His Sons, then He will also be good to me because I’m his Son too.  But His goodness will look different in my life from how it is revealed in my Brother’s life.

ice cream2And it’s true.  As parents we don’t treat all our kids the same way.  When I was younger, my little sister was struggling with her weekly spelling tests.  My Dad motivated her by promising to take her out for ice cream if she got 100% on a test.  She studied hard each week to earn her weekly ice cream date with Dad, and I don’t think she ever missed another word again.  I, on the other hand, would not have been so highly motivated by ice cream.  I didn’t NEED ice cream to encourage me to study.  Our Father didn’t love me any less or my sister any more.  He just knew what each of us needed to become the best version of ourselves.  This is how our Heavenly Father treats His children as well.

I’ve been thinking about that all week.  Not that I had begrudged my Brother any of his blessings, but it changed my perspective about both blessings and trials.  Both come from the hand of God and both are given to serve a purpose.  I don’t always know God’s purposes for sending hardships, but neither do I know the purposes for blessings either.  God does what He sees as best for me.  I can rest assured that I lack nothing when God is my Father.  I have all I need because He is watching over me and treating me as a unique, beloved daughter.

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Why do I even bother?

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I wrote this blog last September and I just stuck it in my “drafts” folder.  I don’t even remember why I wrote it, but the emotion of the moment has passed.  Obviously I am much less heated now which is why I feel it’s safe to post this now.  Just consider this a “rant” against immaturity in the public arena.  I have learned my lesson.  

Why do I even bother to get involved?

This is a question that I ask myself so often, specifically concerning Facebook.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to console someone who has posted something sad or depressing, or tried to give advice to someone who complained about a problem, or tried to help someone who really just wants to play the martyr only to have all my best intentions flung back in my face with a pious huff.  “Why do I even bother?”  I ask myself after the conversation turns sour.  I should know better by now.

I should just make a policy to never comment on someone else’s status unless I’m making a joke.

dirty laundryIt just seems logical to me that if you air your dirty laundry on Facebook you are opening your life up to comments and observations and criticisms and advice that might be wholly unwanted or completely contrary to your feelings at the moment.  But, hey, you invited the whole world to your personal pity-party, so why should you be surprised when others feel free to comment about your life?

It used to be called “minding your own business,” but what are the new social rules concerning personal broadcasts into the public arena?  No one really knows.  Do we have social networking etiquette now?

I think there’s a proverb in the Bible about this.  It goes something like this If you correct a fool, he’ll just turn on you and beat you up.  I want to shout, “Hey!  I’m not the enemy here.  I’m trying to help you… you fool!”

Sigh, I should just keep to myself more and let the vocal ones all clamor around each other, howling their individual complaints.  It does make me think long and hard about just closing my Facebook account completely.

But then I think about all the fun things that social media has to offer.  I can “talk” to my family every single day either in messages or with video chat.  I can share pictures of exciting things that happen in my little world.  I can quickly contact people that I do business with and pass along information with amazing speed.  And I can keep in touch with missionary friends all over the world.

friendly frogsThen I also think about how positively social media affected our past Itineration (or Deputation or Home Leave, depending on your organizational vocabulary).  We spent a year back home to reconnect with our supporting churches and raise funds for the next 4 year cycle on the field.  I was shocked at how people had followed us on Facebook for the last few years.  People that I hadn’t remembered ever meeting in person would approach me in a church lobby and talk to me like we were old friends!  I was shocked at their warm feelings for our family.  I was pleased at the way so many churches treated us like we were part of their family because they all knew so many details of our lives from Facebook.  It was a dramatically different experience from Itineration pre-social media.

So when I get my feathers ruffled about someone else’s emotional disfunction, I go back to all the reasons why I’m still on Facebook and I’m still blogging and I’m still doing what my mother always told me never to do.  I’m talking to strangers.  But we really aren’t strangers when I know all your problems, are we.  🙂

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Love is in the details

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pizza faceWhen we were in Youth ministry all those years ago we were poor… dirt poor.  And most of the time we did not get reimbursed for things like having teenagers drop by the house after school for a snack and a bit of conversation.  I always assured the kids that if they stopped by the house I could always make popcorn and Koolade even if I had nothing else in the house.  Sometimes I had enough ingredients to make cookies.  And we tried to keep a stash of frozen pizzas on hand for those spontaneous “parties” when a bunch of kids would land at our house after youth group.  But anyone who knows teenagers knows that they are worse than a plague of locust- they can clean out your pantry in a matter of minutes.

I discovered that many of our kids really liked the strawberry lemonade I made from scratch.  I started freezing large ziplocks full of lemonade to have on hand too.  Eventually I started giving away frozen lemonade as birthday presents to some of my girls who particularly loved it.  It may seem like an odd gift, but I paid attention to what people enjoyed and remembered what made them happy- that was the real gift.  The girls loved getting frozen lemonade for their birthdays.

Here in Costa Rica, in the absence of Starbucks and Caribou Coffee shops, I have started a new trend among our students.  I serve iced coffee.  I have asked various missions teams to bring me bottles of coffee syrups and we set up a regular coffee shop in my kitchen.  Our “regular” students know the formula now and can instruct the newbies in how to prepare the best iced coffee drinks on the planet.

Just because I know someone will ask me for the recipe, I’m going to share it here.  It’s pretty easy.  It’s a cold press base which means you dump a small package of coffee into a pitcher, fill with cold water, and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.  Then you scoop and strain off the grounds and top off the pitcher with more cold water if needed.  That’s the coffee base.  Now you need sweet cream.  This is made my mixing one can of evaporated milk and one can of sweetened condensed milk.  To make the iced coffee drink, start with a cup of ice.  Pour half of the cup full of coffee base and half full of sweet cream.  You can add syrups if you like.  I like to drink mine with a straw… because I like straws. 🙂

Anyhow, my point is that love is in the little things like paying attention to the details of a person, knowing the things they like, remembering their birthday, or being causally gracious when they stop by your house unannounced.  You don’t need to be fancy to show someone they are loved and accepted.  Nothing makes me happier than to see my kitchen full of teenagers or University students munching on handfuls of popcorn and enjoying a homemade iced coffee drink.  Love is in the details.

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Don’t Ask Why

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I’m a “Why” person.  I probably drove my parents nuts when I was young with all my questions.  I just feel like if I know Why something is the way it is, then it’s easier to accept the way it is.  If I know the history behind something or if I can see the sense behind a decision, I feel at peace and I can move on with my life.  But when the reasoning behind something evades my logic… it drives me bonkers.

In language school I brought my unique brand of annoyance into the classroom as I asked “Why” each grammar rule existed or where each verb irregularity originated from.  Finally one of my teachers exploded in exasperation, “Once you learn to quit asking ‘Why’ all the time, you will be much happier in Latin America!!”  The Life-Long-Learner in me was shocked and offended.

Six years later I have learned to keep my questions to myself and to isolate my frustrations with not having answers because AMBIGUITY IS PART OF LIFE ON THE MISSION FIELD.  My teacher was right.  If you can learn this hard lesson, you will be at ease here.  If you can not master this lesson, your life will be a constant misery.

lightbulbsLet me give you an example.  In our house we have these really modern looking, eye ball shaped lights in the ceiling.  They shine a spot light directly down, so there has to be a lot of them to light up a room.  When the first one burned out, we discovered that they are not the screw in type of lightbulb.  Each bulb is hardwired directly into the electrical circuit in the ceiling.  So to change a lightbulb, we have to call an electrician.

We also have a lot of power surges here.  So when one lightbulb burns out, the chances are that several will burn out at the same time.  Each bulb costs about $5 to replace, plus the cost of hiring the electrician.  Because of all this, when a bulb burns out, we just learn to do without.  We had gone without light in the kitchen for so long that now that we DO have lights again, I keep forgetting to turn them on.  When it starts getting too dark in the house to do anything, then we call the landlord and ask him to get his electrical guy out here.  The last time he came out he replaced 12 lightbulbs.  The next day 2 of the ones that he DIDN’T replace burned out too.

burned lightbulbWHY?!?  Why would anyone build a house around such expensive lightbulbs!  They bought “the very best” in lighting fixtures, but totally skimped on the baseboards and wood trim- half of which isn’t even stained!  (Seriously, two sides of a doorway will be stained and the third is forgotten or only half way done.)  Clearly this was not a well thought out plan.

Well, I could tell you a million other stories like this where the Why behind something frustrating continues to elude my mental grasp.  But the point is, this is just life outside of America.  Our American school system fosters this kind of curiosity in us as children.  We are encouraged to ask questions and make connections and plan ahead and draw conclusions based on our observations.  These skills don’t serve us very well in a society that often lives day by day and focuses on the here and now.  It’s a different way of thinking and it’s a hard adjustment to make.

I have discovered in this process of bending my mind to another form of thinking, that I have reaped a spiritual benefit in the process.  Now I can more easily accept the verses where God teaches us not to worry about tomorrow.  “I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear… Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”  Matthew 6:25, 34

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Called to be a Dandelion

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gardeniaLast year on the campus of our school there was a beautiful, ancient gardenia bush that bloomed and bloomed for the pleasure of all who would pass by it.  It was about the size of a VW bug… the old kind.  I loved that bush.  I know what it takes to keep a bush like that alive and blooming.  I’ve had three of them in my past gardening history.  They are spoiled, temperamental plants.  I currently feed mine coffee grounds every few weeks… it likes coffee.

But one day I came to school and was horrified to see that the old gardenia bush was under attack.  Every single leaf had a huge bite taken out of it.  During the night, leaf cutter ants had demolished the ancient bush.  The gardener pruned it hard, but it could not be saved.  I mourned the day that they cut the bush down completely.

One of my first purchases when we moved to Costa Rica was to buy a pair of books about the Birds and Plants of Costa Rica.  Yes, I’m kind of a nerd like that.  I like to know the names of things.  Back home in Minnesota I have a huge Encyclopedia of Gardening, 900 pages worth!  I spent many a winter day reading about the Ph of soils and the light requirements of various plants.  I just really like plants.

dandelionsIf I were to compare myself to a flower, I would say that I’m not a gardenia, a rose, or a jasmine.  I’m a dandelion.  I have read that dandelions are not native to America, though they seem quite happy in Minnesota lawns.  I read that one of the first governors of Minnesota had a wife who heard about dandelion salads being in vogue in Europe.  So she imported the stylish “flower” to cultivate in her kitchen garden.  Little did she realize that she would single handedly blanket the state with the yellow weeds which are the bane of every weekend gardener’s existence.

blowing a dandelionI am a dandelion.  I’m not saying I’m a weed to be hated.  I’m saying I’m common, ordinary, and imported.  Being a missionary, I am not native to my soil here in Costa Rica.  But my plan is to reproduce our ministry prolifically.  We are in University ministry.  We hope to blanket the country with students who will reach out to other students who will reach out to other students… on and on.  This is the goal of every missionary- spiritual reproduction.

I don’t want what I do to be so fragile and finicky that it is easily destroyed by an army of pests.  I don’t want what I plant to be beautiful but high maintenance.  I want the wind of the Holy Spirit to carry the hardy seeds of our ministry to distant soils.  I want University Campuses to become the natural environment for Christian small groups and Bible studies to spring up every where.  I want Christian university students to be so numerous that they are no longer rare.  I want us to be common.  I am called to be a dandelion.

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The Ironing Fairy

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wrinkled-front-white_lI hate the Ironing Fairy.  Every night I lay out my clothes for tomorrow and go to bed with the hope that she will come while I sleep and magically iron my clothing.  She is such a disappointment.  I’m starting to doubt that she really exists, but I’m not ready to give up hope just yet.  If I give up hope, it means that I have to admit that I have to do my own ironing.  If I had any extra money, I would hire someone to do this job for me.  I hate ironing.  It’s so tedious and boring.

I wish that every experience was meaningful and profound, but it’s not.  A lot of life is just drudgery.  Oswald Chambers writes:

“Drudgery is the test of genuine character.  The greatest hinderance in our spiritual life is that we will only look for big things to do.  Yet Jesus took a towel and began to wash the disciples’ feet… (John 13:3-5)  We all have those times when there are no flashes of light and no apparent thrill to life, where we experience nothing but the daily routine with it’s common everyday tasks.  The routine of life is actually God’s way of saving us between our times of great inspiration which come from Him.  Don’t always expect God to give you His thrilling moments, but learn to live in those common times of the drudgery of life by the power of God.”

I know, I should be thankful that I even HAVE clothes to iron.  It’s not the end of the world.  I guess I’ll put on some worship music and attack my pile of ironing for the month. That darn Ironing Fairy is such a let down.

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Die! Die! Die!

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Remember the scene from the Pixar movie, A Bug’s Life, where the little ants are doing a play for the ‘warrior bugs’ and they end with the words, “Die, Die, Die” to everyone’s horror.  Well I heard those words in my head as I wrote this blog.  To my flesh, I say, “Die, Die, Die.”

One of the most painful things about following Jesus is dying to your own desires.  As long as you choose what God wants above what you want, your flesh will cry out.  You will be at war with yourself.  You have to get used to the idea of disappointing your “nature”.  It’s not easy to deliberately put down what you naturally long for in exchange for something that seems unnatural and unappealing at first.  I never get used to this struggle.  Once I seem to conquer one desire, another crops up.  This is not easy.

Oswald Chambers talks about this struggle in his famous devotional My Utmost for His Highest.  “Where our individual desire dies and sanctified surrender lives” is the title of this devotion.

“One of the greatest hinderances in coming to Jesus is the excuse of our own individual temperament.  We make our temperament and our natural desires a barrier in coming to Jesus… There is actually only one thing which you can dedicate to God, and that is your right to yourself… The one true mark of a saint of God is the inner creativity that flows from being totally surrendered to Jesus Christ.  In the life of a saint there is this amazing Well, which is a continual Source of original life.  The Spirit of God is a Well of water springing up perpetually fresh.”

I find my own desires lead me to a dry, empty well inside of me.  It is a well of deep, unfulfilled longings.  When I deny myself, unnatural as that seems, and take up the Cross of Christ, choose things that please Jesus instead of myself, I find my well filling up with fresh water, fresh ideas, fresh perspective, fresh creativity.  I will have to learn and relearn this lesson a million times in my lifetime.  My flesh has more than 9 lives.  It keeps rising from the dead and trying to make demands again.  “Oh who will deliver me from this body of death?” lamented the Apostle Paul.  And I can relate to that.

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” Galatians 5:16-17

“I have sweaty!”

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By now you have probably discovered my new love of the “Kid Snippets” videos on Youtube.  My kids and I watch them all the time and still laugh at every one.  One of my favorites is “The Basketball Class” where one kid protests exercising by saying, “I’m serious guys!  I have sweaty!”  Now I use that line all the time.

Here in Costa Rica I have sweaty all day and all night.  We are 9 degrees above the equator, but above 3,000 feet in altitude.  So though the temps stay between 70 and 90 degrees year round, the humidity wraps around your head like a wet blanket.  Most buildings are made of cinder blocks which are earthquake, termite and (sort of) mold resistant AND have the added benefit of keeping the buildings cool like a basement.

But the classroom building where I teach is not made of cinder blocks.  It’s some kind of particle board covered with drywall.  It’s about a million degrees in there.  I start sweating at 8 a.m. and by noon it’s hard to breathe in there.  My students sometimes complain of headaches, and it’s hard for them to concentrate.  Often we take our books and search out a cool, back hallway where my kids can lay on the tile floor and read their lessons.

I have asked for an air conditioner for my classroom, but electricity is terribly expensive here.  Recently the office informed me that I would need to completely pack up my classroom at the end of the year because they are planning on raising the roof on the building over the summer break.  The idea is that with a higher roof, the heat can rise and ventilate out the top instead of pressing down on us.  Apparently raising the roof is cheaper than running an air conditioner all year long.  In the meantime, I have sweaty.

Done.

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Today (Thursday) was the last day of school for my kids and my 5th graders too.  Teachers still have to go for another day to close up things and enter grades into the computers.  But we are done!  I just didn’t expect to feel sad.  I expected to feel giddy and happy, but instead I have said good-bye to some students who are going onto another country and some teacher-friends that I have come to love this year.  As I drove home alone in the rain, I actually cried a little.  No joke, I cry about 3 times a year, so this really surprised me.

Last day of school

Last day of school

Aside from knowing that I’m going to miss these smiling faces, I think it was the emotion of completion that got me chocked up.  This was a really hard year for me… but I succeeded.  I did it!  With God’s strength and constant help, I made it through something really tough.  The pressure of being “strong” has held me together for so long that once the need to be strong was no longer there, I collapsed under the weight of it.  I didn’t even realize that I had been carrying that burden.

Me and a flower from sweet Hannah

Me and a flower from sweet Hannah

Now it’s going to sound shallow when I tell you that I am coming home with some really nice and thoughtful teacher-gifts.  (I have some parents with good taste represented in my class!)  I had a special needs girl in my Bible class, and she gave me a flower and several hugs.  I love it!  And I have a collection of precious cards from my kids.  Here’s a few of my favorite lines from those cards:

~ I will miss you as long as I remember 5th grade memories.

~You have been my very favorite teacher this year so far.  (several kids have come mid-year)

~I enjoyed doing all the art projects and Bible class because you made me understand things from the Bible that I did not understand.  P.S.  Do not tell anybody that you are my favorite teacher.  (Just in case some other teachers are reading this… you didn’t see anything here.)

~I am thankful for all the hard work you’ve done this year.  I know it can be hard to not get angry at us. (haha!  I think I only lost my temper twice the whole year.)

~Thanks for keeping an eye on me this year.

And here’s the best one from one of my 9th graders.  Earlier in the year I surprised her by anonymously putting a couple of big bags of chocolate chips in her locker after she teared up in class telling me how she missed baking treats for her family back home.  Then she returned the surprise a few days later when I found a batch of cookies on my desk.  She said this poem wasn’t original, but I still really like this.  I’m going to keep this card, for sure!

“Once in a while you meet someone, and your thoughts are rearranged, ’cause their wise words affected you, and you realize you’ve been changed.  They give the special gift of truth, and teach you it’s okay to wonder; so you search ’till you find what you’re looking for, and your doubts are torn asunder.  God placed them in your life for sure, and He used them as a key, so I’ll take just a minute to thank you, because you were that person for me!”

That’s a keeper.  Pretty words nicely said, I like to have them in my head.

Date Night

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After having 3 straight weeks of hosting teams and not seeing my husband night after night, we have a date night this week.  We are going to the movies, and I don’t even care which one we are seeing.  I just want to talk.  I might “need” a coffee afterwards if I haven’t spent all my words yet.

I’m a pretty typical woman.  I’m wired for words.  I write in my blog AND a private journal AND a prayer journal AND I keep a notebook of quotes I like.  On top of all that, I fill up with words by reading a lot.  I don’t talk as much as most women, but I definitely talk more than my husband.  When he’s not around much, I’m overrun by children in my life (both my own and my school kids) who all talk my ear off while my own words just bottle up inside.  The pressure builds.

A few of the kids in my class are super random.  They will raise their hands in the middle of a math lesson and tell me that they once lost a tooth at their grandparent’s house or that they really like swimming.  “OK, back to planet earth,”  I think.  I can tell when I’ve had too many kid conversations when I no longer have patience for these random chatty moments.  I know when my eyes glaze over and I can’t even humor the child that I am in desperate need of “adult conversation.”  Date night is just the thing I need.

My poor husband, he feels like he has it so hard in life.  I don’t ask for much, just a well placed grunt every few sentences to show me that he’s listening.  But often times even that is too much to ask.  I accuse him of not listening to me, and he repeats the last sentence I said just to prove that he was listening.  I say that’s not listening, that’s repeating.

I no longer ask for him to tell me what he’s thinking.  I consider that an amateur question that young, inexperienced wives ask their baffled husbands.  I have found that I can continue a stream of thought without his verbal prompting or participating.  I only want the grunt to feel like I’m talking to a human.  My standards are low, I know.

So tonight I will unload the congestion of my thought life, empty 3 weeks worth of thoughts onto my husband.  Pray for him.