Tag Archives: Friends

I feel so heartless

Photo credit: Hamed Saber / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: Hamed Saber / Foter / CC BY

Missionaries say good bye a lot.  At first I didn’t know if I would ever get used to loving so deeply and then tearing apart my heart.  I thought about my options.  I could build a wall around my heart and never love fully, never share myself with anyone, never connect beyond the superficial.  Or I could throw my whole self into loving people in the moment, not considering that one of us will be leaving in the future, and take the risk.  I chose the risk.  Over and over again, I chose the risk.

Even though I didn’t want to become hardened and calloused, it just sort of happened after so many good byes.  I still love deeply, but the tearing apart isn’t so raw and damaging.  Now it’s more like a “see you later” either later in another Earthly location or later in Heaven.  But either way, it’s a hasta luego not an adios.  It’s become a part of my reality.  People come and people go.  I come and I go.

I live more in the moment that I have ever done before.  I think this is the best way to handle all the change in my world, but it does feel so cold and sterile when I come to the moment of saying good bye to someone I really have connected with.  A fellow missionary friend said, “We never lose friends, we just collect new friends.”  I have a huge collection of friends… that I have said good bye to.

It’s hard to express to someone just how much they mean to me in the time we spend together, yet I don’t shed a tear when they leave.  I feel so heartless.  I’m really not that cold.  But if I cry for one person, I have to cry for everyone.  And I just don’t think I can do that.  It reminds me of when we went to see “Schindler’s List”.  I knew the story of the Holocaust, so that wasn’t a surprise.  But I couldn’t bring myself to cry for one person because then something in my head told me that if I cry for one person, I have to cry for the millions of others as well.  The dam would break and I’d never stop the tears.  That’s how I feel about saying good bye.  I just can’t cry any more, but my heart still aches each time.

In my opinion, this is the absolute hardest thing about being a missionary.

Kissing Friends


air kiss greetingOne of the first lessons you learn when you arrive in a new country is how they greet each other.  Sometimes it’s a handshake, a pat on the back, a hug, a kiss or a combination of any of these gestures.  It’s cultural adaption 101.

Here in Costa Rica, the standard greeting between friends is to lean in and go right cheek to right cheek.  Then you air kiss by the ear and pat the left shoulder at the same time.  Then if you’re close friends or family you also follow up the kiss with a warm hug.  You would think for a Minnesotan like me it would be a difficult adjustment to make to learn to kiss everyone, but it really wasn’t that hard to get into the kissing mode.  Everyone was doing it, so it quickly became natural!

So the other night I had a really funny moment.  Our best friends Chino and Marcela, who we consider our Costa Rican family, live not very far from us.  So my husband had invited Chino to go play softball with “the guys”.  Chino came over a little early and spent a few hours playing X-box with my son and husband.  I arrived home later to a living room full of cheering male voices, a happy scene in our home.

When it came time to leave, my husband came over and kissed me good-bye and told me they would be home late.  My son came over and kissed me on the cheek, “bye Mom.”  Next in line was Chino!  I gave him the usual cheek-to-cheek air kiss with a hug and told him to have a good time.

When they all left I chuckled to myself thinking about how “normal” that strange scene seemed to me in the moment.  My husband, my son and my friend all lined up for a kiss before they go off to play.  All I can say is that I am sure to freak out some of our Minnesotan friends if I try that back home.  Cultural adjustment does weird things to you.

Thanksgiving for a New Friend


Recently I have made a new friend at the school where I teach.  She is more than 10 years younger than me, but age has never been an issue with me.  I have had friends who are much older than me and friends who are much younger than I.  The quality that really attracts me to any friend is her authenticity.  Nothing is more delightful than someone who is comfortable just being her self.

A friend like that is like your favorite pair of jeans.  Sometimes you just want to grab your “go-to” outfit without thinking too hard about how nice you look.  Sometimes you just want to wear something comfortable that you won’t have to be adjusting or fussing with all day long.  Sometimes you just want those jeans that are a bit worn and always the perfect fit.  Yeah, a real friend is like a great pair of jeans… you never want to take them off.

My new friend is “sweet”.  That is the first word that I would use to describe her- and it’s a genuine quality in her.  The other day I had a crazy thought.  I wondered if it could actually hurt to be so sweet.  I mean, it would pain me to try so hard to be sweet, but she seems to come by it naturally.  I don’t think anyone would use the word “sweet” to describe me.  I have a stubborn, ornery streak that spices up the flavors of my personality.  (I come by that naturally too.  My mom says I’m just like my dad.)  At least I don’t perceive myself as being sweet like my friend is.

But my favorite thing about my new friend is how she talks about Jesus.  Our conversations nearly always wind their way around to Jesus.  We both love God with all our hearts and have dedicated our lives to serving Him, so naturally we would talk about God a lot.  My friend’s conversations are always so uplifting and refreshing.  I’ve had some friends who talk about God in a pious, self-righteous sort of tone and that just rubs me the wrong way.  But my friend talks about Jesus in a personal way that I can identify with.  She is not ashamed to tell of times when Jesus has scolded her in her heart for a bad attitude or revealed a falsehood in her way of thinking.  She is not afraid to admit when she screwed up and to ask God to forgive her.  And this is a lesson that I am still learning for myself.  I always feel closer to Jesus after I’ve talked with my friend.

In my taxonomy of friendship, I know I have a really great friend when I feel like I never get enough of spending time with this person.  Normally people wear me out, but when I realize that a friend fills me up instead of drains me, this is a good thing.  I only get to eat lunch (18 minutes) a few times a week with my friend and to see her a few times in passing in the hallway.  So yeah, I feel like I don’t get to spend enough time with her.  She doesn’t drain me; she leaves me always wanting more.

Since she is a single girl living overseas and away from her family, I invited her to our Thanksgiving dinner with the other missionary families that we work with here.  Secretly I was hoping that we would get to spend more time talking together… and we did.  We spent the whole afternoon in the kitchen together.  (I broke a wooden spoon stirring my thick, gluey mashed potatoes and we died laughing at that!)  Then we joined the other missionaries for our big feast.

Not only did we get full of food, but we filled up our spirits as well.  We talked of Jesus and what he’s doing in our lives.  We laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.  We got teary-eyed telling each other touching personal stories.  I feel like our hearts were even more knitted together over our turkey and pie.  So for me, it was a wonderful Thanksgiving Day and I have so much to be thankful for.  I am very thankful for my new friend who encourages me and builds up my faith.  I wish we all had a friend like her.

My sweet friend. Isn’t she adorable?!

Please pass the “Salad of Lettuce”


When we lived in Mexico, we invited our Mexican friends over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.  I included tortillas for a touch of familiarity for our friends, but I assure you that was the first time that tortillas were present on my Thanksgiving table.  I remember one of the little boys sat staring at his plate, dumbfounded.  Then he whispered loudly to his mother, “Que es esto?/ What is this?”

She quickly shushed him and explained hurriedly, “Es ensalada de lechuga./ It’s salad of lettuce.”  I stiffled a giggle at her description.  I can only imagine what turkey and mashed potato tacos tasted like to them.  But they ooh-ed and ahh-ed appropriately throughout the meal.  Then once I brought out the pumpkin pie, they thought they died and went to heaven!  From then on, I have had regular requests from my friends (in both Costa Rica and Mexico) to make pumpkin pie at all times of the year.

Last year, I made 11 pies during the month of November.  Each time my Latino friends rolled their eyes in ecstasy as they savored every bite.  Then they asked for the recipe.  I doubt that any of them will actually USE the recipe, since it’s much easier to just ask the Gringa to bring a pie.  But they loved it.

So at the end of last November, I cleared out the store shelf and bought a dozen cans to last throughout the year.  Wouldn’t you know it, this is the year that the store decided to stock pumpkin pie filling ALL YEAR LONG.  They’ve never had it year round until the year I stock up.  Well, never mind, I’ve been well prepared all year.

So I started THIS holiday season off right.  This past weekend I made 5 pies.  Some were for the school bake sale this week, and others were to treat my kids’ classmates to a bite of spicy heaven.  But my middle daughter has decided that she does not want to share her pie with her friends.  She would rather keep the pie here at home and make some less-coveted treat like pumpkin bars or chocolate chip cookies for her friends.  I assured her, I have more pie where those came from!

The Pencil in the Crack


When I was in high school I had a boy friend that my parents really were not happy with.  This kid was trouble.  My parents tried a lot of different tactics to get rid of this bad influence in my life.  Finally, out of desperation, they asked my youth pastor’s wife to have a chat with me.

As we sat on the couch in their family room, my pastor’s wife pointed to the breakfast bar where her daughter sat on a stool every afternoon to do her homework.  She said, “One day Lindsay was sitting there doing her homework and I was sitting right here on the couch watching her.  Suddenly she dropped her pencil.  Rather than getting down off her stool to look for her lost pencil, she just twisted around on the stool looking for it.  From where I was sitting, I could see the pencil perfectly.  It had rolled into the crack between the carpet and the breakfast bar.  But from her vantage point, the pencil was no where to be found.”

The point is, God puts people in your life (like parents and youth leaders and spouses and friends) who have a different perspective than you do.  You would be wise to listen to what they have to say and to consider that maybe they are seeing things that you can’t see.  Rather than considering these people as nosy intruders in your life, think of them as God’s gift to you.  By listening to wise counsel, you can save yourself a lot of trouble caused by your own mistakes and limited point of view.

Why wait for the funeral?


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.

Children Playing with Matches


I stepped out of my house to see the sky filling with billows of ominous, black smoke just a few blocks away.  Something was on fire.  The newspaper the next day said that two children were playing with matches in the shanty-town behind the mall and 50 families lost their homes.  It started with the flicker of a match and a puff of sulfur and ended in total devastation.  Children playing with matches.

 When I was 13 years old my family moved to Naperville, Illinois.  My Dad joined the staff of a great church, Calvary Temple, and there I met some of the most influential friends I would ever find.  One of the first services we attended was a New Year’s Eve prayer service.  There were microphones stationed in each isle were people could approach and offer a prayer for all to hear.  Suddenly my bowed head snapped to attention when I heard the voice of a young girl praying into the microphone on the other side of the large auditorium.  I looked up in surprise and saw a girl about my age passionately pouring her heart out to the Lord for all to see and hear.  I said to myself, “I don’t know who that girl is, but she’s going to be my best friend.”  She was brave and passionate and I heard my heart reflected in her prayer.  Many years later Hana Margaron was a bride’s maid in my wedding.  But in 1989 she was just a girl playing with matches.

 It wasn’t long before I found myself surrounded by a little group of friends.  The girl friends that I met at Calvary made a deep impression in my malleable spirit.  We formed a girls’ prayer group, just a bunch of Junior High girls- no adult leader.  And we began exploring the Holy Spirit together.  We were playing with matches.

 It wasn’t long before our cozy little campfire of a prayer meeting started getting out of control.  Suddenly we had a raging fire on our hands.  We became consumed with the passion of sharing the Gospel with everyone.  We brought our school friends to youth group, we started prayer meetings in our High Schools, we provoked religious discussions in Public School classrooms.  During the summers our church hosted Sunday Evening in the Park at the band shell in downtown Naperville.  With my group of young friends in tow, we walked the River Walk every Sunday night inviting strangers to the service in the park and sharing our faith when the conversational door opened.  These kids with matches were consumed with the fire of God.

 Since then I’ve fanned that fire of the Holy Spirit and it has utterly consumed my life.  On first blush it appears that I have nothing to show for my 37 years of life.  The fire has burned it all up.  I have no house of my own.  I don’t have a car of my own.  When it comes time to collect social security I’m going to be screwed because I’ve never received one paycheck for what I do.  There are no schools or hospitals with my name on them.  You will not find a single book written by me (yet).  I have only the degrees I actually need and use, no honorary doctorates hang on my wall.  Here in this world I only have a little handful of ashes that show that a fire has blown through here.  I’m just a girl playing with matches… and I love it.

 There’s an old Amy Grant song called “1974” that always makes me think of those days when our little group of young girls started praying together.  I’m not sure that any of us really knew what we were in for when we asked for more of God.  We were just kids innocently exploring our faith.  I want to say thank you to all my friends from that time of my life.  Thank you for loving God in a way that stirred up a flame in me.  Thanks for warming your hands by the fire with me.  I still love you, Friends.  Did any of us really know what we were getting into?  We were just children playing with matches.

Sunset from my window

 ******In case you are curious, I’m including the lyrics for the song 1974, or you can just look for it on youtube.  Here’s my heart in music.**********

We were young

And none of us knew quite what to say

But the feeling moved among us in silence anyway

Slowly we had made

Quite a change

Somewhere we had crossed a big line

Down upon our knees we had tasted Holy wine

And no one could sway us in a lifetime!

Purer than the sky behind the rain

Falling down all around us, calling out from a boundless love

Love had lit a fire we were the flame

Burning into the darkness, shining out from inside us.

Not a word

No one had to say we had changed

Nothing else we lived through would ever be the same

Knowing the truth we had gained!

Culture: The Mole on the Back of Your Neck


Unless you are a cultural anthropologist, you probably don’t give much thought to your own culture.  You don’t think about what makes your nationality or ethnic group different from other groups.  You don’t consider where your opinions come from or what deep seated believes inspire your reactions to the world.  You never see all the different colored strands that go into making the tapestry of your world view.

Unless you physically move into another culture, you have very little to compare yourself to.  Up until that point, your culture is like a mole on the back of your neck that you never knew existed.  How can you possible know it’s there unless someone points it out to you?  For example, when we visited Thailand, our missionary friend humorously informed us that Thai people think Americans stink.  I was incredulous!  We don’t stink!  They stink!  (Americans tend to think the smells of fish, cumin or garlic are potent, so anyone who eats a lot of those foods will stink to the American nose.)  But the amazing thing was that after sweating profusely for 5 days straight, I was out of clean clothes.  And so was everyone else in the group.  Now I agreed with the Thai people… we do stink.  But unless I came in contact with someone with a different perspective than mine, I never would have seen myself from a different point of view… or smelled myself from down wind.

When missionaries enter a new culture, one of the things we pray for is that God would give us friends who can unlock the culture for us… gatekeeper friends, I call them.   These are friends that are able to love you for who you are and help explain their culture to you in a non-judgemental way.  These are the friends that will gently correct any mistakes you make without causing you additional embarrassment.  These are the friends that you can trust with your questions like, “why don’t we flush the toilet paper here?”  and “what does it mean when someone rolls their eyes at me?” and “how am I supposed to take my turn if we don’t form a line?”  A gatekeeper friend is an invaluable resource for learning a new culture.

I am continually amazed when God gives me friends like this because sometimes it is very difficult being friends with an outsider, a foreigner.  Having a conversation takes a lot of work on both sides, for me to struggle through Spanish and for them to concentrate so hard on understanding my meaning.  It’s exhausting for both of us!  Always having to explain things that are automatic or that are generally taken for granted requires patience.  Noticing the tired, glazed over look in my eyes or the look of confusion or of shock means paying attention to the details of someone else and taking compassion on them when their reactions are not your reactions.  It’s a lot of work being friends with a foreigner!  And I am so grateful for the friends that are willing to put in that kind of work to be my friend.  In their compassion towards me I feel the love of Jesus.  It’s a beautiful thing!

God came and sat with Us


Chino walked out of the house shortly after sunrise and carefully picked his way down the grassy lane where the cows had recently passed.  A farmer in the community had donated a calf to the church and Chino, the young pastor from the big city, was going to collect the animal.  The calf was to be sold and the proceeds donated to a poor family whose child had just received a kidney transplant.  In addition to the medical expenses, the family was required to build a new, cleaner house before their fragile child would be released from the hospital.  So Chino was off to collect the donated calf.

We ate a leisurely breakfast while we waited for him to return, but he didn’t come and he didn’t come.  Finally his young wife Marcela suggested that we drive to the church and see if he was there.  He was not.  Brave little Marcela took the lead and started the worship service.  My husband got up to preach and sometime later he noticed that Chino had slipped in the back of the little sanctuary.

The calf had escaped and gone running through the fields.  It took several men- all professional ranchers- several hours to pen the beast.  Then Chino, covered in mud and smelling like sweaty cow, went home to clean up before arriving late to church.  I wonder if he ever imagined starting a Sunday in such a manner when he signed up for the job of pastoring a tiny church in rural Costa Rica.

This church was super tiny, but cute and quaint with it’s heavily plastered walls and colonial arched doors.  It had pretty tiles on the floor and rough, hand made benches to serve as pews.  The stage was bare except for a hand made, wooden pulpit; no worship band, no big sound system, not even a cross, just simple furnishings.  But in that humble, one room church next to the dirt road in the middle of nowhere the King of Glory, the Maker of the Universe came down to be with his children made of dust.

I’m not sure I have ever grasped the magnitude of the coming of the Son of God in the way that I did on that Sunday.  I have never fully grasped the disparity between the throne room of God and the humble stable where baby Jesus was born.  Yet the God of all creation, the God of the wonders of the Universe, Maker of all life, Author and Artist of all I know came down to this dirty, poor, messy, painful planet to be one of us.  God came down to us!  The King got off his throne and came to sit in the mud with us.  We are nothing- made of dirt- and yet our Creator-King GAVE life to us, GAVE us love, GAVE us understanding and sympathy, GAVE us mercy, GAVE US HIS OWN DEAR SON to save us from ourselves, to save us from the mess we make of all that our dirty hands touch.

And on that Sunday morning God came down to a little, rustic, one-room church in the middle of cow pastures and grassy lanes.  God’s Spirit filled the little church where the young, inexperienced pastor and his wife lead 10-12 very poor church folk in giving the only thing they really had to offer- their worship.  God came down and sat with us.