Beautiful Things

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This is something I found a while ago, and I’ve just been saving it for a rainy day.  I am just winding down the second of two intense weeks at work.  It’s nice to breath and watch a few minutes of creativity.  This makes me think of several of my students who are doodlers like I was when I was a teenager.  I wish I could give this song to each of them.  {Hearts to you kids!}

No room for jealousy, or is it envy?

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You would think that by listening to how people make small talk and how people interact with each other on social media that jealousy is something cute and harmless.  We banter about the phrases, “OMG I’m so jealous!” and “look what I’m doing, are you jealous?”  I think we’ve numbed ourselves to how cutting and dangerous jealousy really is.  If you don’t believe me, just try being genuinely happy for someone who has succeeded in life.  Hard, isn’t it.

Deuteronomy 5:21 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. You shall not set your desire on your neighbor’s house or land, his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Jealousy has a sister named Envy.  I actually had to google the differences between these two words because in our culture, they are often interchangeable.  However, they are indeed different, according to one of my favorite nerdy websites “Grammar Girl.”  Jealousy is usually a relationship type of word meaning “apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced.”  Jealousy is the emotion you feel when you fear that you will lose someone you love to another.  Envy, on the other hand, means “to bear a grudge towards someone due to coveting what someone has or enjoys.”  Envy is the emotion you have when you want what someone else has.  So grammatically speaking, it is more accurate to say, “OMG I’m so envious!”

BEEN THERE DONE THAT

However, both jealousy and envy will tear you apart if you let them.  It is highly possible that you have looked longingly at the details of someone else’s life and envied them.  Perhaps you’ve envied their status or their possessions.  Perhaps you’ve envied their physical appearance or their lifestyle.  I’ve been there myself.  Honestly!  I had a Facebook friend that I hardly knew, but her photos showed such a perfect, carefree lifestyle that she made me pea green with envy!  I had to hide her posts or I’d have to repent every time I logged on.  (Turns out her husband was professional photographer who retouched all her picts before she posted them.  So that made me feel a little better.)  So I know Envy, personally!

But here’s my point, when you envy someone, you never see the whole picture.  Your mind zooms in on the detail that you are fixating on, and you don’t see the negatives at all.  You don’t see the price that the other person has paid to get that rock hard body.  You don’t see the pain that they have endured in failed relationships crushed by climbing the corporate ladder.  You don’t see the sacrifices they have made to get where they are.

NOT WILLING TO COUNT THE COST

As a missionary, yes, I could talk all day long about how wonderful it is to live in the tropics.  And you may envy me the life I live.  But you have the luxury of asking your parents to babysit your kids while you go on a date night with your spouse.  My parents live 3,000 miles away.  You have the potential to own your own house while I will borrow used furniture to fill a rental house for a year when I come home on itineration next spring.   I don’t own a house.  We have one car which belongs to the mission.  And this morning when I made my breakfast I found ants in my French Press… AGAIN.  You don’t see all that when you envy a missionary.

You also don’t see the hours spent standing in lines in government offices.  You don’t see the “tips” paid to police officers to ensure that they don’t syphon gas out of your car at night.  (Yes, police officers.)  You don’t see the mounds of trash that pile up in the streets or the stray dogs that tear into the bags and spread it all over your driveway.  You never give a second thought to flushing your toilet paper.  You don’t think to thank God for a hot shower.  And you’ve never had to use a bigger shoe than the one you were wearing to kill a cockroach.

So yeah, you may envy the pretty pictures of nature that the missionary posts, but unless you’re ready to live in that nature as if you were camping in your own house, you better just look around you and appreciate all that you do have.  Don’t zoom in on one detail of the missionary’s life while ignoring the high price he’s paid.  Walk a mile in a missionary’s shoes and you probably won’t covet what he has.  Envy isn’t a good thing.  Be thankful for what you have and don’t try to take what others have.  That’s healthy living 101.

Psalm 16:6   “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

 

Of Sloths and stuff

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This past weekend was a  holiday weekend in Costa Rica.  Here Columbus Day is called “Day of the Races” or Culture Day.  It was convenient that we have Monday off of school since most of the high school kids were on a retreat with our local youth group.  With the two big kids gone, and only the little one at home with mom and dad, we made spontaneous plans with friends to go to the beach for a night.  The beach is so much more restful when you only have one child to keep an eye on!

Normally packing to go away even for one night is like packing for a trip to the moon.  Not only must I pack for myself… which would only take about 30 minutes if that’s all I had to do… but I must also pack (or check the packing of) 3 kids.  We always bring food to the beach too.  We save money by eating breakfast and lunch picnic style so we can eat dinner at a restaurant… that’s a mother’s luxury.  So food for 5 times however many breakfasts and lunches there will be must be packed.  Then there’s all the swimming gear:  boogie boards, goggles and snorkels, sand toys and diving rings, sun screen, water shoes, beach towels, and inflatables.  Usually it’s all stored in one place between trips, but occasionally someone has taken things out of the stash and we must hunt down a lost pair of goggles or the bottle of SPF 85 that I bought last month.  It’s never as easy as I imagined it would be when we first talked about leaving.

Then because it frequently rains at the beach, we bring things to entertain the kids during rainy afternoons and evenings.  A couple of board games, a bag of Barbies, and our computers to watch a movie or two are the preferred methods of entertainment for the family.  I’m just happy with my Kindle and a chair on the balcony with a jungle view.

Once we get packed into the car, the fun begins.  Just getting out of the city for a while is relaxing.  Seeing the mountains split by the ribbon of highway clinging precariously to cliffs facing deep, cloud filled gorges lined with combed rows of coffee bushes causes me to relax my shoulders and breath in the scenery.  I love where I live.  All the way to the beach there are fruit stands marking the places where little towns touch the high way.  If you need a bite to eat, there are “sodas” or little Mom-and Pop diners accompanying the stands of “Mangas” and “Pipas Frias” all along the way.

crocsEven though we’ve seen them a million times, we always stop at one particular bridge to count the giant salt water crocodiles lounging on the banks of the Tarcoles River.  Then we walk back to the road side restaurant for a plate of Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) before continuing on our way to the coast.  As I sit on the wooden benches watching my children sip fresh fruit juice to wash down their rice and beans, I look up to the palm frond roof and think about how much I love this life.  I hear chickens and a rooster outside the door and an iguana climbs up the tree that serves as a wall for the dining area.  The heat is oppressive and I’m sweating through my sarong which only makes the fresh squeezed fruit juice all the more refreshing.  This is the life!

I can’t believe that I GET to live here.  When I stand on the beach and take in the scope of the bay I fall in love with Costa Rica all over again.   I realize that this is where some people come on vacation, but for me, this is my home.  And I never want to leave.

monkeyOne of our family’s favorite things about the beach is all the animals that we get to see there.  San Jose is closing down it’s zoo sometime this year, because it’s pretty pointless when you can see the same animals in the wild for free.  At the beach we spot howler monkeys, “titi” monkeys and white faced capuchins.  Iguanas the size of dogs sun themselves along the steaming hot pavement of the road.  It pays to keep your eyes on the trees, because sloths are everywhere as well.  This past weekend, we spotted a Momma sloth carrying a baby on her belly.  How cool is that?

slothI feel the stress of the last week melt off my shoulders when I consider all the amazing things about where I live.  I am reminded all over again why I love living here.  A weekend at the beach is just what the doctor ordered.

Dying Out Loud

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This weekend I picked up a book called “Dying Out Loud: No Guilt in Life, No Fear in Death” about the death of missionary Stan Steward in the Muslim country of Turkey.  Normally I would have flown through an easy read like this, but I ran out of kleenexes and had to slow down.  This book is tearing my heart out!

I’ve written about this family before, and though they insist there is nothing remarkable about them- I am in awe of their strength of commitment to sharing the gospel with the lost.  They determined to live among the remote villages along the ancient Silk Road in the area between the border of Turkey and Iran.  They integrated their lives as completely as possible with the people and they were accepted as one of them.

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: jessleecuizon / Foter / CC BY

This alone is admirable.  As a missionary I know what that kind of a decision costs.  I make those small decisions a million times a day- will I chose my own personal comfort or will I empty myself for others?  I’m ashamed to say that too many times I chose my own preferences because I am still working in my own strength and not God’s.  I say, I’m tired.  I don’t want to speak Spanish anymore today.  I just need to get into my house where things are familiar and comfortable and within my control so I can decompress with my family tonight.  I make those choices for myself all the time.  I am convicted.

Not only did they integrate into the culture, but prayed a risky prayer.  They asked God to use them to reach the Turkish people… whatever the cost.  Always a risky prayer.  We talk a lot in our denomination about why the Muslims haven’t responded to the gospel like other groups have.  Many believe that because we revolt from the idea of watering the hard soil with our martyr’s blood, the Muslims have not been won.  We have not counted the cost.  We have not cried for their souls because our fears and hatred mingle too freely with our determination and passion to make any kind of a combustable concoction.  We have watered down the message of the cross to make it more acceptable to the world and this weak message is powerless to save now.  I am challenged.

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: NYCandre / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

So their risky prayer lead them to heart break.  Stan was diagnosed with colon cancer that filled his body in a short amount of time.  Stan and his wife Ann felt the Lord asking them to “Live this dying out loud” in order to show their Muslim brothers and sisters how Christians die with peace and assurance of their salvation.  A Muslim has no such assurance in death.  He can only hope that he’s done enough good to counterbalance the bad in his life.  He only has a sad, dark form of hope to cling to.  God was asking Stan to show them how to live and die in the vibrant, confident hope in Jesus Christ.  It was an intensely difficult price to pay.  I am humbled by their Yes when so often I’ve said No.

It is this story of commitment and sacrifice that is tearing me apart.  I am being challenged and called all over again.  If I had other lives to live and give I would go and replace Stan in Turkey.  I am challenged to pray more.  I see how pathetic my own strength is in comparison with all that God can do when I am completely at his disposal. I am hungry for that kind of love for the lost that says “At Any Cost”.  Have I ever loved like that?  This book is challenging me to the roots of my commitment.  And I am Called all over again.

True Love Doesn’t Count the Candles on Your Cake

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Today is my husband’s 40th birthday.  He’s been a little bummed about this number for the better part of a year now.  I just can’t believe that we’ve been together for so many years.  He’s my best friend.  There is no one I’d rather spend a free day with.  There is no one I’d rather travel the world with.  At the end of the day, he’s the one I want to talk to.  When he’s with me, everything feels better.

We have history together.  I don’t care to remember much about life before Josh came along.  All of our adult life has been spent together.  We have celebrated more than 20 birthdays together and almost that many anniversaries.  We’ve made plans and dreamed together.  We’ve become parents together.  We’ve bought and sold houses, started and quit jobs, gotten lost and found ourselves again, laughed and cried together.  We share our past.  Occasionally when I look at a newly wed couple and think how sweet it would be to be falling in love all over again- I stop myself and think of all that history that we would lose if we started over again.  I remind myself that I would never really want to go back and do it again- it’s too much work to recreate what we have.  I don’t envy those just starting out.  Our relationship just keeps getting richer and deeper and more fulfilling as the years roll by.

We also have chemistry with each other.  I remember one time when I was talking with my girlfriends about our husbands.  I said, “I love that Josh can still give me butterflies in my stomach with just one look across a crowded room.”  I wasn’t being sappy or gushy, I was just making a comment that we hadn’t lost that spark.  I was shocked and sad when several of my girlfriends commented that their spouses had NEVER given them butterflies in their stomaches.  I thought,  “Wow, we really have something special then.”  I quit taking that for granted and now I know that we have a rare thing.  We can read each other’s moods without saying anything.  We know each other better than anyone else knows us.  We are one.

It’s pretty stereotypical to say that men struggle with turing 40- I’ve known many women who struggle with that number too.  But I want my husband to know that in my eyes, he’s never been more handsome than he is right now.  In my heart, I’ve never loved him more than I do at this moment.  I love that we are growing older together and we still want to be together.  I don’t take that for granted.  I know that is the stuff that dreams are made of.

So happy 40th birthday to the love of my life and my best friend.  Our adventure is just getting exciting!  I love you, Babe!

Clean Your Room!

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Francis Chan is one of the most amazing speakers for his use of illustrations.  In this 2 minute video clip he talks about “how NOT to make disciples”.  Seriously, I think this has amazing applications for the church.  What if we stopped memorizing the Great Commission and actually DID it.  What if we stopped arguing about titles and worship styles and started leading people to Jesus.  What if we stopped listening to podcasts about “what is missions” and actually WENT.

“I desire obedience, not sacrifice.”

Even on my worst day…

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Even on my worst day, I have so much to be thankful for.  My complaints are pathetic and selfish in comparison with real life for a huge portion of the world.  Look at this post that a fellow missionary in Nicaragua posted earlier this week.

“Please pray for precious Keyling. She has a high fever and an infection in her chest. You can only imagine the struggle to remain healthy living in these conditions. 8 people trying to sleep on this one piece of plywood to keep off the cold, muddy, wet ground because of the heavy rains. We were able to get Keyling the antibiotic she needs. As we told her mother to make sure she takes the meds 3x a day with a small piece of bread or something in her stomach the mother humbly told us that wouldn’t be possible. They cook a small pot of yucca (like a potato) every morning. Each person in the family gets one small piece. Please pray for Keyling today. That God would supernaturally touch her body, keep her safe, warm and provide this families every need.”
Pictures by Kendra Dout, missionary to Nicaragua

Pictures by Kendra Dout, missionary to Nicaragua

 I am so blessed, and so are you.  We see this kind of poverty where we live too.  I often wonder how those people live day by day in those kinds of conditions.  I complain that there are too many ants on my counter tops in the mornings… and her counter top is a log.  I complain that my washing machine is making a funny noise and not draining properly.  Look at how they must do their washing by hand and hang things out to dry. I complain that my wardrobe is getting thread bare after 5 years of use.  Look at her one shirt and how the family’s clothes are doubling as pillows and blankets.  I complain that the store didn’t restock my coffee creamer for the 3rd week in a row, and this family eats one piece of potato a day.  I am a selfish, spoiled person.  I have so many blessings for which I forget to thank God.
Kendra told me that she found this girl on the streets 2 years ago.  She was probably 4 or 5 years old.  The mother was living with all 6 kids in this shack.  She was selling the older 2 children (ages 11 and 14) for sex in the market.  Lack of money leads to desperation.  But lack of Jesus leads to sin and death.  You know the saying, “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life time.”  Well there is a Spiritual extension to that proverb.
You can come into a poor community and just pour money into the gap, but the people are still spiritually poor and headed for an eternity without hope.  However, when a missionary brings Jesus to the poor, he brings an eternal change to the situation.  There is now hope where there was once despair.  With Jesus in their lives, the family makes better decisions… like not selling their children for sex because that’s wrong… like not drinking alcohol because that deprives the family of food.  Economics can change when there is a heart change.
We don’t feed people in exchange for them becoming Christians.  We feed people so that they can hear the message of Jesus’s love instead of being distracted by the rumble of their stomachs.  It is unjust and morally wrong to just say, “Jesus bless you” and not actually feed the hungry or give a cup of water to the thirsty.  The message isn’t the cup or the plate.  The message is always “Jesus”, the food and water are just vehicles for the message- tangible expressions of the abstract concept of love.  Plus it’s just what Jesus told us to do.
 

All in the Family

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Isn’t the Family of God an amazing thing?  I find believers all around the world that have that same “click” in our hearts when we meet.  It’s the Spirit of God in me that recognizes the Spirit of God in you and there’s a “testifying” that we are from the same family.  Romans 8 talks about that special connection we have as members of the family of God.  (Read the whole chapter- the whole thing is amazing, but this is the part I’m talking about.)

Romans 8:14-17 14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[f] And by him we cry, “Abba,[g]Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

When I first met my friend Courtenay at our school here in Costa Rica, my spirit testified that she was also a member of the family of God.  Others call that being “a kindred spirit”.  Yeah I do like her a lot as a friend, but more importantly, my heart is connected to her because we share the same Father.  She is the missionary that I wrote about yesterday who is just hoping to survive until December.  Do me a favor and click here to read her blog from last week where she talks about the realities of needing money while living on the mission field.  I think her honest description of how things look from our perspective is important.

Later on in the week I’m going to highlight some other missionaries so you can see just how far your missions dollars go.  Missionaries buy antibiotics for sick kids.  Missionaries buy cement blocks and toilets for poor families.  Missionaries buy tin roofs and build schools and plant gardens in poor communities.  These are the realities of where your monthly pledge is making a difference in people’s lives.  To you, it’s a small sacrifice.  To others it’s the difference between live and death for today.  Life is precarious and precious and something miraculous happened when we prayed for Courtenay.  You’ll just have to go to her blog to find out what it was.

A Frank Talk about Finances

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Today I want to speak frankly to you about a missionary’s budget.  This is not a personal plea for help.  What I want you to see is what happens on our end when supporters “drop” us.  There is a ripple effect that builds as it moves like a tsunami wave.  For some supporters, giving to a missionary means that you sacrifice 2 or 3 Starbucks drinks per week to give $100 a month.  For those types of supporters, you may not see how that $100 a month makes much of a difference, so it’s not a big deal for you if you “shift” that money to another “need” every once and a while.  For the missionary, it’s a different story.  That $100 pledge is significant- it counts… EVERY MONTH.   Let me show you how.

Each sending agency is different, but in our agency each missionary raises his own budget which is set by the agency.  Our agency does not have any reserve funds for us. We are responsible for all our own support raising.  If the funds do not come in, we must come off the field before we are so low that we can’t buy a plane ticket home.  This has happened to several of our friends in the last few years.  Some of them never recover financially and can never return to the field.  This does not mean they lack faith.  This means their supporters stopped giving.  Let’s be practical.

In our system of fund raising we have many, many small supporters which we bring together over the course of a year or more of itineration.  For us it’s a lot of work, but it’s a blessing, because if one or two supporters drop off, we can survive with belt tightening.  That’s where we are right now.  At the moment, our ministry budget is at zero, and it has been there for months now.  That means that any money we spend on ministry comes right out of our personal account.  We are personally funding our own ministry.  For example, this Friday night we have a meeting for our leadership core at our house.  I am making dinner for all of them.  The cost of the food will come out of our own grocery budget.  The students coming from far off will stay over night in our house.  In the morning they will eat our cereal and drink our milk and coffee.  Somehow, God always takes care of us and our own children have never gone hungry as we give hospitality to others.  That’s where the faith happens.  That’s where the miracles occur.

In other missionary sending agencies, one or two large donors support one missionary. That means way less fund raising for the missionary.  But I have a friend here working under a system like this and last week they lost one of their two supporting churches.  In their bank account they currently have $2,000 will is supposed to last until December when they go home for a month of support raising.  They can’t live on that.  At this point they don’t even have the money to buy those plane tickets to come home and raise more support.  They are living on faith, and God is surprising them with little blessings that trickle in.

You might not think your $100 pledge is a big deal, but it has a big impact on the missionaries.  This week as my husband and I discussed our finances we had a little argument which seems humorous now, but it illustrates how your small pledge makes a big difference.  I was complaining that we only have one finger nail clipper in the house and I can never find it when I need it.  I told my husband I wanted to buy another finger nail clipper to keep upstairs.  He said, No, we already have a clipper.  I said, Yes, but I can never find it.  He said, but we HAVE one already.  I raised my voice, Yes, but I can’t FIND IT!  I wrote “finger nail clipper” on the grocery list.  When he ran to the store next time, he did not buy one.  I rebelled and made a special trip to the store to buy a finger nail clipper.

This is a stupid argument, I know, but this is what happens when money is very tight.  You might not feel like it’s a big deal to skip a month of your missions pledge.  But it’s a big deal on our end.  It means we bicker about small purchases, fret over having enough milk for guests, or worse, get stranded in our field and don’t have enough money for a plane ticket home.  Please be faithful to your promises to your missionaries.  You should never take money from your missionary pledge to “give” to another need.  Extra giving should come above and beyond your missions giving.

When you miss a month, we feel it.  Imagine if your employer went on vacation and forgot to pay you one month.  Or image if he said, “Well, we had another speaker in who presented another need and I felt compelled to give what I normally would pay to you to this guy with the pictures of needy children.  I’ll pay you your salary next month, maybe.”  That’s exactly what happens to missionaries when supporters skip a month- we don’t get paid.  There’s no back up fund to cover your missed payment.  Please be faithful in your promises and don’t leave your missionaries hanging.  It makes a difference to us when you are faithful in your giving.

Not my picture.  I don't know who owns this.

Not my picture. I don’t know who owns this.

A Simplified Life

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This week I read a blog that someone wrote about living in Africa.  Her main point was that life is simpler but more complicated at the same time.  For example, she wrote about a man riding his bike down the road loaded up with a 6 piece bedroom set.  Simple, yet way more complicated at the same time.  She said in Africa a dishwaher is a person.  Simple, yet more work.  I related to everything she wrote… except the part about the hippos growling in the river.  I felt like she could have been talking about Costa Rica.

This week I had conversations… electronic conversations… with two professional teacher friends back in the United States.  One teacher friend is teaching in a huge school.  He is one of 6 third grade teachers!  They have 1,400 students in Kindergarten to 8th grade.  I tried to wrap my brain around that.  We have 6 teachers FOR THE ENTIRE PRIMARY DEPARTMENT at our school.  We have 126 students between Kindergarten and 12th grade.  My son is one of two Seniors.  We have one lone 9th grader.

Photo credit: boltron- / Foter / CC BY-NC

Photo credit: boltron- / Foter / CC BY-NC

The other teacher I spoke with was telling me that her district is starting an new 1 to 1 iPad instruction program.  Every kid will get an iPad and the teachers will use technology to teach them.  She has 45 kids with iPads and she’s looking for ways to use the technology.  She asked if we could set up pen pals for her students.  Can you imagine giving an iPad to a Kindergartener?  How many minutes will it take for them to drop it the first time?  How many will be ruined with spilled juice or sticky fingers?  What a waste of money.

So I was talking to my kids about this in the car on the way to school.  I explained that many parents in America wish that their kids had smaller classrooms where their kids could get one on one attention from the teacher, not from an iPad educator.  Many parents wonder why schools don’t just use books to teach kids.  In our school we use a combination of two popular, high quality Christian school curriculums, all book based.  Parents are lamenting the loss of a simpler life.

Can you image a world where the largest class in the whole school is 14 kids?  That’s our school.  Can you picture what a classroom looks like with real books in the desks and on the shelves.  Do you wish your kids had one on one attention throughout the day?  It happens here.  I pointed out to my kids that they have the kind of education that many people in the United States WISH they had for their kids.  Sure they have to wear hot, scratchy uniforms every day, but they have small class sizes, personalized attention from their teachers, and real books to use.  It’s all a matter of perspective. The simple life can be the good life.