Tag Archives: family

Watching Family Movies

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Shirley TempleLast year we asked our family to send our giant, unorganized box of hours of unedited family videos to a professional to have them put on DVD for us.  We told them, don’t worry about cute menus or putting them in order, we just want them in a form that we can watch.  No one has a VHS player anymore and even fewer no ones have an adapter for the mini cassettes that we used for years.  We hadn’t seen our kids’ baby videos for literally years!  We had forgotten about all the birthday parties and lost teeth and bedroom Karaoke performances.

So at Christmas time we received a large stack of burned DVDs labeled by year.  I was thrilled!  My daughters have been watching hours and hours of themselves as babies, memorizing every cute facial expression and infant squeal that they made.  It makes me wish I had video of myself as a toddler.

So last night we sat down as a family and watched a hour or so of random cuteness.  It made me realize two things:  Number one, my children really ARE as adorable as I think they are.  It was not a figment of my maternal bias to believe they were stinking cute.  And Number two:  I really DO have justification for being exhausted.  Just watching those videos made me tired all over again.  If it weren’t for having a cam-corder I wouldn’t remember hardly anything from those years of sleepless nights and multi-tasking days.  No wonder I’ve been tired for the last 16 years.

I am not yet to the stage where I am pining away for my babies.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be that kind of mother since I’m actually looking forward to the empty nest phase (don’t call me cruel).  For 16 years, I have dedicated myself, body and soul, to raising my kids well.  I am proud of the progress we are making, and I celebrate their milestones as they grow towards independence.  I know I’m going to enjoy them as adults too.  There is a season for everything:  a time to grow, a time to harvest; a time to shelter, a time to release into the world.  These are happy thoughts for me.  As one season ends, another begins.

Ecclesiastes 3

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Photo credit: Walter Lang, director; 20th Century Fox film. Screenshot by 808Starfire. / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a&gt; / <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/public_domain”>Public domain</a>

When the Heat is On

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I take no credit for this.  I found it on Facebook.  I wanted to share this with the hopes that certain people I know, who are going through trials, would pause and think about their response to the Heat.

A young woman went to her grandmother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her grandmother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs and the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil without saying a word.

In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl. Turning to her granddaughter, she asked, “Tell me what do you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they got soft.She then asked her to take an egg and break it.

After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.

Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The granddaughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma. The granddaughter then asked. “What’s the point,grandmother?”

Her grandmother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked her granddaughter.

“When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff?

Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you.

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?

—AUTHOR UNKNOWN

Mom’s losing it!

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I’m not a perfect parent.  Actually I would hate to meet the perfect parent because I would probably hate her or him out of self preservation instincts.  I’m not a perfect parent.  I just screamed at my 5-year old… then she made me laugh.

Today I woke up at 5 a.m. as usual to get ready for school.  We left the house 5 minutes late, and we arrived at school 5 minutes late.  I taught all day long.  After school my daughters had gymnastics, my son had an orthodontist appointment, and I had teacher paper work to do.  We got home at 4 p.m.  I made a snack for the girls, put on a movie, and changed into something more comfortable.

I started making dinner at 4:45, but the power went out. We ate at 6:30.  Actually this is just about the normal amount of time to make dinner because in Latin America EVERYTHING is made from scratch.  No “semi-homemade” or frozen dinners here so it takes an hour or more just to make a normal dinner.  After dinner I started the girls’ baths while my husband cleared the dishes from the table.  After baths, I will put Lucy to bed and start taking down the Christmas tree… and write a blog.

So this was my day.  I’m tired.  I’ve been dealing with kid drama all day long.  For example, as I was making dinner I heard screaming- like blood curdling screaming- from Lucy.  I sprinted up stairs and urgently examined the child for blood.  Nothing.  No, she has an owie on her finger from a few days ago and it still hurts.  That’s what the screaming was about.  So by bath time, I’m out of patience.  Yet she dawdles.  I finally scream, “get over here and get your jammies on!  I’m losing my patience with you!”  Actually it was already gone by that point.

So the child, wrapped Yoda style in a towel, hops over to me and submits to being clothed.  Her hands are on my shoulders while I wrestle damp feet and legs into “footie pajamas”.  Then she looked right in my eyes and said, “Mom!  You’re eyes are so beautiful.  They’re BOTH blue!”  The scowl wrinkles on my forehead smooth out as I laugh off the tension of the last 5 seconds.  Then I tossed the child into bed and she was asleep before I could say prayers with her.  She was one tired Kindergartener and I’m one tired Mommy.  Hopefully someday she will forget all the times that Mom lost it.

Life on a Paper Plate

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As I carried multiple piles of folded laundry to the various corners of the house, I passed by 3 small pictures propped up against the wall in the hallway.  We have lived in this house for 2 ½ years and I have still not hung those pictures.  As missionaries we live our lives in 4-year segments: on the field 4 years, home 1 year raising funds.  Since we only have 18 months left in this cycle, those pictures will likely stay leaning against the wall instead of being hung.

I sigh when I think about how temporary our life feels.  As a mom, nothing I do stays done permanently.  I make food; the children are hungry again 4 hours later.  All week long I clean the house; then I start over again on Monday.  I wash and fold laundry; by bedtime there is another load to wash (I’ve thought about ordering everyone to be nude for a day or two just to give me a break, but only my youngest would comply.)  Nothing stays done.

As a teacher, I can teach a whole year only to start over in the same book next year and reteach the same material.  As a missionary, we can raise funds only to have the account empty to zero each month.  We teach the basics of leadership and discipleship over and over and over again because kids keep graduating and a new batch comes along.  Nothing stays done.

One time I asked my dental hygienist what attracted her to this job (because frankly you couldn’t pay me enough to clean someone’s teeth!)  She said, “Nothing in my life stays done.  But when I clean someone’s teeth, I can look at that and say, ‘there, it’s done.’”  In my mind I was thinking, it’s only done until the guy eats his next meal, but I guess she doesn’t see that.

My point is, this feeling of life being temporary seems to be universal.  Don’t go reading Ecclesiastes when you’re in this mood.  Solomon was in a dark mood when he penned the words, “Meaningless!!  Everything under the sun is a meaningless chasing after the wind.”  And it’s true, sometimes.

Life can feel temporary and meaningless.  My dad grew up in a dysfunctional home with an alcoholic and often suicidal mother.  She served dinner on paper plates.  To this day, my dad hates eating on paper plates because it reminds him of how temporary life felt as a child.  I guess his paper plates are my unhung pictures.

And this is the very reason that I can’t imagine doing anything with my life except serving the Lord.  Only what is done for the Kingdom of God has eternal significance.  Why build another kingdom here on this temporary earth when you could be investing your energies in something that will last forever?  The Bible says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

On Holiday

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Just a little blog talk this morning.  I wanted you to know that I will be taking the next week off from posting blogs to spent Christmas with my family… and I hope you do too!  I will be back to blogging again on Monday, December 31.  Oooh, the last day of the year!  So I’ll see you next week.  Enjoy your holiday!

xmas tree

Honorary Auntie

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Missionary families often say that the hardest part of our job is being far away from family.  Especially when you have a close and loving extended family, you miss them a lot.  When we were preparing to become missionaries, the “experienced ones” all told us that the other missionaries on your field become like the aunties and uncles and grandmas and grandpas for your children.  I was offended by this idea.  My kids already HAVE aunties and uncles and grandparents.  I didn’t want them forgetting their real family, and I didn’t want them replacing those roles in their hearts.  And I wasn’t really keen on the idea of someone else’s kids calling me Auntie.  I wasn’t impressed with this substitute idea of family.

But time has passed and my attitude has softened.  My kids have NOT forgotten their real family and thanks to Skype and Face Time, we can talk to them face to face whenever we want to!  They know who their real family is and they love them like no other.  But it can get kind of lonely and sad out here.  There are no relatives to babysit for you when you need a date with your spouse.  There are no proud grandparents taking pictures at your school plays or sporting events.  And don’t even get me started on all the birthday parties that my family has missed and we have missed in our turn!

So here is where the missionary family comes in handy.  We KNOW we aren’t really related, but we ACT like we are.  I have taken care of children who are not mine– overnight, while their parents were out of the country.  I have pulled loose teeth, tucked them into bed, bandaged owies, and packed school lunches for kids who are not mine.  I have driven kids to school, picked them up again and taken them to youth group.  I have watched school plays and cheered at sports games.  I’ve taken kids to the movies and McDonalds and go carts.  I’ve attended every birthday party we’ve been invited to.  I’ve earned my Auntie status in a million ways.

It in no way diminishes my love and connection to my real family, but we all need a “Jesus with skin on” so to speak.  We all need the Village to raise a child (we just hope and pray that our village isn’t full of idiots!).  And we try to be that kind of community for others that we are missing ourselves.  It’s about living in harmony with people that you don’t get to choose… just like a family.

Doing the Birthday Party Rounds!

Doing the Birthday Party Rounds!

Time Travel Jet Lag

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We are coming up on “summer vacation” here in Costa Rica.  As a family we are looking forward to returning to the States for a few weeks of R&R for Christmas and to attend a World Missions Summit.  We are totally blessed to be able to travel with relative ease between our mission field and our home state.  But in many ways, making short trips back home sort of has the same effect as traveling through time might have.  I feel like I get Time Travel Shock and the space-time continuum is interrupted.

When I am in Latin America, the third world is my “normal”.  It’s like I exist in a completely different period of time now.  There are so many aspects of life that I just take for granted at this point.  The things that used to shock me or catch my attention have become part of my background white noise and I hardly notice them any more.  But when I am dropped like a paratrooper back into my original setting, everything that used to be “normal” before I was a missionary seems stunning or note-worthy.  Not only do I change locations physically, I seem to travel into the future to a time that has not yet existed in Costa Rica.  The bouncing back and forth can be quite a shock to me both mentally and emotionally.

Let me expound on just one feature of my time travel shock.  When I return to Minnesota the first thing I notice is the SPACE around me.  There is just so much SPACE!  Even in a crowded airport, I have ample elbow room.  When we get in the car and drive from the airport to the house, the cars all keep a reasonable distance from each other. The highway is buffered on both flanks by wide hills of grass or dunes of snow depending on the season.  So much unused SPACE!  In the grocery store, I have lost all sense of what is an appropriate distance to maintain between myself and the other shoppers.  Either I fall into my Latin American patterns of driving my cart right up to the behind of the person in line in front of me, or I over compensate and leave a confusing gap between us.  My sense of space is all out of wack.

When I return again to Latin America, the first thing I notice when I step outside of the airport is the closeness of everything and everyone.  The humidity wraps around my head and presses against my face, making me feel like I am breathing through a wet blanket.  The people press in all around me asking to carry my bags or find a taxi for me.  I have to resist the urge to start pushing people out of my way.  I want to shove everyone and shout, “Back off!  I have been folded into an airplane seat for hours and I really need some space.”  The smells of wet pavement, rotting sewer, and over perfumed humanity all press in against my senses leaving me no where to turn.  Then we get in the car and start driving home.  The traffic zooms up to us and stops suddenly, no buffer, no fear of hitting us.  They are just taking up space as fast as they can lest another car come along and claim that inch of pavement.  We zoom, they zoom.  The buildings on both sides of the highway hug the road, dangerously close.  When we stop, people swarm the car trying to sell us things through the car windows.  We keep the windows rolled up.  That 3/4 of an inch of glass between us and the street vendors feels like enough space.  Personal space has become relative.

In addition to our awkward use of space and the gawking our family of 5 will do in every public space, going back for Christmas time is a surreal experience in and of itself.  My parents want my kids to make a Christmas list.  My kids don’t know what toys are “out there” now.  They ask me, “What do I need, Mom?”  I just shake my head.  I am stuck back in time from when we first left America 6 years ago.  I think about what will fit in a suitcase- again, I have space issues.  Before we leave, I will search the internet for what clothes are in fashion now.  I will try to pack things that are neutral enough so that I blend into the background and don’t make me stick out like someone who just arrived from the year 2006.  Not only to we change spaces, we change times as well.  I am already anticipating the Time Travel Jet Lag.

Why wait for the funeral?

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A funeral for a dear friend of mine in Mexico a few years ago.

This last week was full of death.  No one that I knew personally, but several of my friends here in Costa Rica and Minnesota have lost family members or friends.  One uncle was diagnosed with cancer and died within a few days.  One teenager was killed in a car accident.  One father was shot in the back during a robbery.  And another man was just in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone went crazy and sprayed bullets through an office.

Statistically speaking, between 250,000 and 300,000 people die per day.  So the chances are that death will brush up against your life sometime.  But isn’t it sad that so often when a loved one dies, we feel like there was so much left unsaid. We say pretty things at the funeral, but during their life, we let days and weeks and months go by without telling our loved ones how we feel about them.

Why wait for the funeral?  You should tell people how you feel about them before they die.  I know that sounds morbid, “um, just in case you die today… I want you to know that I really appreciate you.”  You don’t have to tell them WHY you’re slathering them with compliments.  But vocalizing your good feelings does more than leave you with a clear conscience at a funeral.  It makes LIFE so much sweeter.

Mark Twain is famous for saying, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”  But a good compliment can actually have a much longer shelf life.  I still remember compliments from my childhood.  My second grade teacher said I was the neatest at cutting with scissors of all the kids in the class.  My 4th grade Sunday school teacher said she liked how I prayed to God in a familiar style (as opposed to a formal style).  I still remember many, many little compliments.

More recently, my husband (who is a man of few words) told me he loved my hair.  I can probably count on one hand the number of times he’s spontaneously complimented me.  Though he shows his love in a million other ways, words are not his “go-to” Love Language.  But it meant a lot to me!  A lot!!

You may be like my husband and feel like words are not your strength.  You many feel like, “my wife knows that I love her, I don’t need to SAY it.”  But what if… just what if… today were your last day with her.  Are you sure you’ve told her enough times that you love her?  Do your children know how much you love them?  Have you told them lately?  Do your friends know how much you appreciate them and why?  Have you told them?

Why wait for the funeral?  Words are free!  They are free, yet so precious.  Don’t be stingy with your compliments.  Don’t hold back your admiration or appreciation from your friends.  Tell them today.  Tell them what they mean to you.  You never know how much time you have to express how much you love someone.  Don’t wait for a funeral.

What will my obedience cost others?

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When I was in college I had to read a book called “Silence” by Shusaku Endo (1966).  It is a historical fiction novel about Portuguese Jesuit missionaries who are sent to Japan to investigate the alleged apostasy of one of their superiors.   In Japan, the church is “underground” meaning they are persecuted and can not meet in public.  When the the main character (one of the Jesuit priests) is finally betrayed and arrested, he is threatened with torture unless he commits apostasy by placing his feet on an image of Jesus placed on the floor.  He is hung upside down until he bleeds from his eyes, and yet, he still will not give in.  Then he is told that a little boy will be tortured in his place until he relents.  At the thought of his stubborn refusal hurting an innocent child, the priest relents and puts his feet on the image of Christ.  Though he is released, he is forever disgraced among the Japanese Christians.  He concludes that the apostasy of his superior was not as simple and straight forward as it appeared back in Portugal.

I have thought of this book often, and my opinion of the message behind the plot has changed as I have grown spiritually.  I am now resigned to the thought that my obedience will also cost others.

On one of the missionary group/chat pages that I am a member of someone recently opened up a long thread based on the lament of leaving behind aging parents in order to go to the mission field.  This honest missionary was deeply conflicted and pained by the grief his decisions caused his parents.  He was taking the grandchildren far, far away.  When he should have been home helping with his ailing parents, he was leaving, abandoning his post.  His obedience was costing others.

I enjoy reading the devotional “My Utmost For His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.  In January, the daily reading talks about this very theme.  Chambers writes:

If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins.  If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything— it is a delight.  But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal.  If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset.  They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?”  We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God.  We must let the cost be paid.

When our obedience begins to cost others, our human pride entrenches itself and we say, “I will never accept anything from anyone.”  But we must, or disobey God. We have no right to think that the type of relationships we have with others should be any different from those the Lord Himself had (see Luke 8:1-3).

A lack of progress in our spiritual life results when we try to bear all the costs ourselves.  And actually, we cannot.  Because we are so involved in the universal purposes of God, others are immediately affected by our obedience to Him.  Will we remain faithful in our obedience to God and be willing to suffer the humiliation of refusing to be independent?  Or will we do just the opposite and say, “I will not cause other people to suffer”?  We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will grieve our Lord. If, however, we obey God, He will care for those who have suffered the consequences of our obedience.  We must simply obey and leave all the consequences with Him.

Beware of the inclination to dictate to God what consequences you would allow as a condition of your obedience to Him.  (Emphasis is mine).

Jesus himself said only if your love for God exceeds your love for your parents and siblings and children… only if your love for God makes your love for your family look like hate, will you be worthy to follow Him.  It’s not that we DO hate our family.  No, we love them, but in comparison to our love for God, family love takes a distant second place.  Let the chips fall where they may.  God will reward and repay.  God will comfort and console.

In the same way that they seized a man named Simon and forced him to carry the cross for Jesus in Luke 23:26, sometimes our commitment to pick up our cross and follow Jesus will cost  the innocent bystanders in our lives.  Our decision to be missionaries is not made only with ourselves to consider, but neither does our concern for our loved ones water down our passion to serve Christ.  Our obedience will cost others.

Homesick

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As a missionary, it’s natural to be homesick sometimes.  It’s a human emotion that everyone feels sometimes.  But it’s weird for me to dig my spade in the dirt of my heart and excavate my own roots.  As I dig, I search for the remains of the life I used to lead.  I find bits and scraps and shards of my former life in the States and I marvel at what used to be important to me.  Like an archeologist who reconstructs the daily lives of spectors and ghosts of lost civilizations, I look through the remains of the woman I used to be.

Most of my sifting and sorting of memories begins with “once upon a time”.  We have moved internationally 5 times.  Sometimes I feel like my “carbon footprint” is wide and ample as I leave a wake of clutter behind me with each move I make.  I don’t know how many times I’ve said to myself, “Once upon a time, I used to have a [fill in the blank with the random household item].  What ever happened to that?”  It’s been sold in a garage sale, abandoned in a drawer, or given away to family and friends.  For example, I use to have an apple-peeler-corer.  I have no clue where that thing landed ultimately.

But it’s not the loss of a random garlic press or knick-nack that causes the sore lump in my throat.  It is the uprooted feeling of longing for HOME, whatever and wherever that may be.  Most of the time it’s a vague sense of having lost something.  Sometimes it’s the sharp pang of knowing that my whole family is getting together in my parents’ back yard on a summer night and I’m far, far away.  My roots ache for soil.

Last Christmas we were fortunate enough to be able to go home for 3 weeks.  I wasted no time in pressing my thirsty roots down deep into the soil of home.  I didn’t care that I would transplant again in 3 weeks.  I needed to suck up the nourishment of family and friends.  I spent literally hours and hours reconnecting with old friends over cups of coffee or slices of pizza.  I never looked at my watch, I never counted calories.  I just soaked it all up.

It was a miraculous blessing to me to discover that my friends had not forgotten me, that they were still interested in me.  And for my part, I wanted to hear every detail of the past 2 years of their lives as well.  I wanted to see their kids’ school pictures, to hear the news from their latest job change, to listen to them share about a sermon they heard recently.  I soaked it all up and stored it in my roots for the long, dry summer days ahead.  I was happy that they made room for me in their lives again.  I was so pleased that they made room for me in their schedules.  My roots wiggled happily in the space my friends created for me.

When we finally returned to Costa Rica and the kids and I once again picked up the school books and backpacks, I was exhausted but happy.  Knowing that I was still a part of home, even though I’m far away, was the best cure for a homesick heart.