Tag Archives: Mexico City

Stuck in traffic for hours

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Photo credit: CarlosVanVegas / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: CarlosVanVegas / Foter.com / CC BY

When we lived in Mexico City, a city of about 40 million people, we spent a lot of time in traffic.  We lived in the north of the city and several of our friends lived in the south of the city.  It was only 30 miles as the crow flies, but on more than one occasion it took 4 hours to make the voyage one way.  Once we spent 2 hours in virtual grid lock creeping the vast distance of 3 city blocks.  Traffic is thick.

Because we could never be certain how long we would be trapped in the car, we always brought along water and snacks.  I called it our survival box.  We even taught our kids how to pee in the empty water bottle when Nature Called.  If we ever ran out of snacks and water, there was plenty available for purchase just outside our air-conditioned bubble.  As we waited in traffic, vendors would walk up and down the highway selling things window to window.  We could buy bottles of water, frozen juice treats, sandwiches, bags of nuts or fried plantains, mints and gum, cigarettes (not us, but others might want that), newspapers, a map, or a prepaid phone card!  Sometimes those vendors were a real life saver!

Here in Costa Rica we are not plagued with such horrendous traffic and hence, we are less desperate.  There have only been a handful of times that we have sat in traffic for an obnoxious length of time.  But each time I looked around wishing for the little old ladies selling bottles of water, and I missed them.  Here vendors sell anything they can get their hands on, but not necesarily things a person would NEED while camping out in their car for an hour.

If you are trapped in your car and you need a bra strap, a wallet, or super glue, then a Costa Rican street vendor is your go-to guy.  If you’re hankering for an inflatable Hello Kitty doll or an ipod screen cover, a scratched pair of sun glasses, or a ball point pen you know where to go.  Sure we do have some folks who sell the fried plantains, individual cough drops and cigarettes.  But sometimes I would like to ask the vendors to sell something that I actually NEED while I’m in my car.  On the other hand, I will be home in less than 20 minutes so I guess my needs are not critical while I’m waiting in traffic.

Behind the 8 Ball

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8 ballDo you ever have those seasons in life where you feel like you’re barely hanging on by a thread.  You feel like you can never get caught up on all you have to do.  Just when the “In Box” is at it’s urgent fullness, life dumps an avalanche on your desk.  Latinos have a saying, “All the Gringos have watches, but none of them have time.”  Hurry, Rush, Busy Busy Busy!

I don’t like going through long stretches of time feeling like I’m just doing enough to make it through today.  I’m a planner.  I want to get stuff done so I don’t have to think about it for weeks on end.  For example, in school I do my lesson plans for an entire month at one time.  I have a yearly plan that is less specific.  I don’t want to plan too far in advance because things happen and the schedule needs a cushion to accomodate unexpected changes.  But I want to plan far enough in advance that I don’t have to scramble each night to prepare for tomorrow’s lessons.

Unfortunately we have to be flexible.  Back in Minnesota we had the occasional “Snow Day” and school would be canceled.  Here we have various natural disasters to contend with.  We had a huge earthquake at the beginning of the school year and we lost a day for that.  Two years ago we had a huge mudslide on one side of the city and the government closed school all over the city for a few days to keep parents from having to drive around the closed off area.  And in Mexico City sometimes they close school for “Smog Days” when it’s just too polluted for kids to be playing outside during recess.  One of those days can throw off a whole month of lesson plans.  Being flexible is part of life.

But on the Mission Field, my commitment to flexibility is tested almost daily.  Plans change sometimes hourly.  I either adapt or go through life frustrated.  My skills in “flying by the seat of my pants” come in handy when someone doesn’t show up for a meeting (usually without calling) or an event is canceled the hour it’s supposed to begin.  I have to “wing it”.  This means I constantly feel like I can’t rely too heavily on my plans.  I still DO plan, because it’s my nature, but I can’t get upset when plans fall through.

This makes me feel like I’m constantly making decisions in the moment, living behind the 8 ball, but that’s how the world runs here.  No one is upset by this but the Gringos.  No one expects things to happen on time except the Americans.  No one is surprised when plans change except the Foreigners.  Change happens.  What’s the big deal?  Go with the flow, “just keep swimming,” and you can survive here in Latin America.  Flexibility is a necessary life skill.  It will either make you or break you on the mission field.

Just Another White Trash Family Tradition

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In the city where my husband grew up, once a year the city offers its services for a week of free trash collection to encourage people to clean out their garages and safely dispose of hazardous things like batteries and fluorescent light bulbs and old motor oil.  But most residents use this week as a chance to dump unwanted junk on the curb and let the city deal with it.  I myself am not opposed to a little curbside browsing during that week.  I have collected several pieces of furniture with loose joints that were easily repaired with wood glue which had been abandoned to the dump.  I consider it my contribution to “Green” to reuse and repurpose other people’s junk. I also love a good garage sale (thought I haven’t actually GONE to one in years since they aren’t so common here in Latin America.)  Though I am not opposed to a little “dumpster diving” when I see something I could use, my husband’s sisters, on the other hand, take dumpster diving to a whole new Entrepreneurial level.  During the week of Clean Out the Garage, my sisters-in-law become vultures.  At night, they cruise around the neighborhood in their pick up truck with flashlights in hand and they collect junk.  TONS OF JUNK.  Then the following week they hold a massive garage sale and SELL THE JUNK BACK TO THEIR NEIGHBORS!

It horrifies me every year.  It reads like an episode of the iconic white trash TV drama “My Name is Earl”. I can’t imagine looking my neighbors in the eye as I haggle over $5 for the lamp they threw out last week.  But they DO it!  And they make a KILLING every year!  (For me, though, no amount of money can buy my dignity.)  With this family tradition fixed firmly in my psyche, when we moved to Latin America I would habitually find myself browsing curb-side garbage piles with my eyes.  But I can tell you with confidence that the only thing I have ever picked out of the trash in 6 years living in Latin America is a sickly Ficus plant that someone had dumped out of its pot and onto a garbage heap.  I did indeed save that little tree, and it is doing wonderfully in my yard this year.  But aside from that I have never, EVER seen anything worthwhile in the trash here.  I can safely say, if it’s in the trash… it really is trash.

scene from the movie Slumdog Millionaire

This is why I think it is so shocking to think of families living in the dump.  Here in San Jose, no one lives IN the dump, just around it.  But in Mexico City, people DO live in the dump.  So here’s how our trash was filtered in Mexico:  I put the trash out twice a week.  And twice a week the mafia run garbage collection company would come around with a huge dump truck.  Two guys would be walking along the street, and four guys would be up on top of the trash heap in the back of the truck.  The street walking guys would throw the bags up to the top guys who would rip the bags open right on the spot.  They would take out anything they wanted, and separate the trash right there in the truck.  Then at the dump, the people who lived there would further sort through the trash looking for anything of value to them.  What a hard way to live.

It is thoughts of those families living in the dump that cause me to give careful thought to the things that I call “trash”.  Life outside of the USA is so very different, shockingly different, that I know it’s hard to find a comparison to help you see.  (Try watching the movie “Slumdog Millionaire” and tell yourself that people really DO live like this, it’s not just a movie.)  We don’t all need to make a buck selling our neighbor’s junk to our other neighbors, but we should all think carefully before we casually throw away things that aren’t really garbage.  And if we are believers in the Lord Jesus, we should be praying for the people who accept our trash as their treasure.

Shut up and listen

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When we moved to Mexico City right after language school, we met another missionary couple who were new to the city as well.  They had not gone to language school though, because the wife was deaf and no one at the school could teach her Spanish sign language!  That was a problem that had never once crossed my mind!  But my new friend was amazingly adept at reading lips.  She was also quite verbal.  Her language was not at all clear speech, mostly a combination of grunts, clicks and half words.  But if I focused my attention, listening intently to her, I could understand her.  We talked for hours!

Another friend of ours noticed this and asked me, “How can you understand her?”  I thought about it. The woman who asked the question had grown up in a completely bilingual home.  She had never had to struggle to understand anyone.  She had never trained herself to focus intently when someone was speaking.  She didn’t need to watch someone’s mouth while they spoke.  So naturally she was quickly frustrated and easily deterred by the amount of work it required to have a conversation with a deaf woman.

I, on the other hand, had just spent a year in language school, intently focusing on sounds, mouth positions, non-verbal gestures and contextual clues.  These were things I focused on daily in my communications with Mexicans as well.  So focusing on a conversation with my deaf friend didn’t seem that much different to me.  I was able to enjoy her company even though it required effort.  I feel blessed for having known her while we lived there.

Learning to listen to God’s voice is not that much different.  It requires us to shut up and listen intently.  It requires us to focus, sometimes with great effort.  And sometimes we learn God’s voice by looking back to our past and seeing how God dealt with us before.  We learn through hind sight.  Most of the time, when God speaks to me, I know it instantly.  But sometimes I’m not so focused.  I hear a lot of “voices” from my culture, my own worries, my surroundings.  Sometimes I am easily distracted.  I must shut off the other “voices”, the white noise around me, and use concerted effort to focus on hearing God’s voice.  In those times, it takes me a while to catch on.

Learning to listen requires us to stop talking and focus.  But the Bible says that the Sheep know the Shepherd’s voice and won’t follow any other voice.  If you want to learn to hear God’s voice, you can!  Follow close to the Shepherd and listen daily.  Train your ear to hear, train your heart to focus.  Learn the Shepherd’s voice so you won’t be lead astray by a stranger’s voice.

 

Rescuing People from the Trash

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s the cool thing that happened today. 

Picking up trash in the street.

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

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

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

Wow!

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

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

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

Yes, she’s Mexican and yes, she’s supposed to be that color.

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In the hospital, we were all excited to finally have our little Lulu in the family. Notice that they didn't give me a hospital gown. They told me to change back into my own clothes. Weird.

Today is the 5th birthday of our daughter Lucy, our little Mexicana.  Lucy was born on Labor Day, May 1st in Mexico City.  When I tried to explain the pun that I was in labor on Labor Day, it just didn’t translate well.  My friends just smiled politely at me.

Having a baby in a foreign country was the biggest set-up for culture shock that anyone can experience, in my humble opinion.  It was like having a baby in the 1950s with all the modern technology of the 2000s.  I was totally unprepared for my own intense reactions to “the way things are done” in my new country.  Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, maybe I was just at the brink of “losing it”.  It’s not an experience I recommend to anyone.  I was just glad that I had done this before in America.  I knew what was medically necessary and what was just local traditions imported into a modern medical facility.

The hospital we chose was one of the best private hospitals in Mexico City, and really, they had all the most modern equipment anyone could want… it’s just that not everyone knew how to use it!  For example, my doctor who had studied in America for a while and finished his degree in Spain, had a new 3D ultrasound machine right in his office.  For each visit, I received a DVD with a copy of his ultrasound exam for that week.  It was really cool… but I quickly got the feeling that he didn’t really know how to read the thing and was just playing with his new toy- testing out new features of the machine each week.  It was amusing, but it didn’t raise any red flags yet.

My first hint that this was not going to be the smooth sailing that I planned was when we had our final visit before our due date arrived.  Sitting in his office he said to me, “So, do you want me to do anything else while I’m in there, like tie your tubes or give you a tummy tuck?”  I sat there with a blank look on my face as I contemplated, “how the heck to you do THAT from THAT angle?”  Not that I was opposed to a tummy tuck, but that’s when it occurred to me that we were talking apples and oranges here.  Apparently in our socio-economic class ALL women schedule a cesarean birth, for the convenience of everyone involved and for the esthetics of being bikini ready just days after birth.  I said, “What do you think you’re going to be doing IN THERE?  You just show up and catch the baby- I’ll do all the work.”  Because he was eager to please his only American patient, he nervously consented.

The night that I went into labor, my doctor was on a plane returning from a conference in San Francisco, California.  He begged me to hold on until he arrived at the hospital.  I obliged.  We met him at the hospital and though he was cheerful (and a bit more excited than I expected a doctor to be) he scolded me a bit.  “See this is why we schedule it, so the doctor doesn’t miss it.”  I thought, “I’m sure I could have managed this without you.”

I DID like my doctor though.  When he was in the room, I was sure to get my own way on every detail.  I wasn’t a diva about the whole thing, but I knew that certain things were not necessary so I refused to consent to them- you do not need to be totally naked nor shaved anywhere in order to give birth naturally.  Then I would hear the nurses in the hall way complaining loudly.  When the doctor left the room, the fear of the nurses gripped my heart.  It really is the nurses that kill you or keep you alive.  I knew that.

Sparing the details, at the hour of delivery I had to point blank tell everyone that I wanted my husband in the room with me- so MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW!  They balked, I threw out my trump card:  That’s how we do it in America.  So Josh was suited up and ushered into the room just moments before the anesthesiologist leaned down to me and asked, “do you remember how to push?”  I smiled and said, “watch me.”  I asked the doctor if he was ready on his end and in one push, Lucy popped out.  When my doctor said “WOW!” very loudly, I wondered if this was the first time he had ever seen that done before.

I didn’t get to hold Lucy, they showed her to me and then whisked her off to the nursery and threw me into a recovery room all by myself.  After about an hour I decided I wanted my baby and started asking for her.  About 6 hours later, someone brought her to me.  I kept saying, “I want to nurse her”  and they insisted that I didn’t make any milk yet.  I counter-insisted, “bring me a baby and I’ll show you!”  What they meant was, women in your social class don’t nurse their babies.

At some point the nurses wrapped my stomach and my legs in very tight ace bandages.  I wondered if they could see that I didn’t have any stitches on my stomach… and the legs, well, if I didn’t die of a blood clot then I would surely succumb to heat stroke!  When my feet swelled up and turned purple I took off the bandages.  My nurse about had an INFARTO (heart attack).  I just persisted in telling them that I don’t want them or need them so quit worrying about those dumb bandages!  What they were telling me was that women in my class care very much about looking skinny.

The nurses also told me that Lucy was looking a little pale and I should lay her in the sun.  I told them, “I’m a white woman- this is the color of white babies.”  I couldn’t wrap my brain around that one.  I just shrugged.

In addition to all of this, a lawyer came to our room and filled out the paperwork for Lucy’s birth certificate.  That was very convenient for us, but she was terribly confused when we didn’t want to give Lucy the traditional Mexican last name of father’s family name + mother’s family name.  We debated and then stuck to our guns, we are Americans, she will have an American first, middle, and last name.  It about threw that poor lawyer into a fit.

Later in the day, I found myself all alone in the room.  There was a knock at the door and in walked a tiny woman in a Catholic nun’s habit.  She asked me if I would like to take The Lord’s Supper (Communion).  Being a Christian, I knew what that this was part of the Catholic heritage of Mexico, but it was also part of MY religious heritage too.  I gladly accepted.  She gave me the elements (a tiny cracker an a plastic cup of juice), said a prayer and then I took over.  I grabbed her by the arms and burst out in worship to the Lord- the Spirit just took over me!  I started praying in the Spirit.  This poor woman was clearly shocked and overwhelmed by what I was doing.  But I couldn’t help it, I worshipped.  When I released her arms, she left the room shaking from head to toe.

I needed that moment with God to sustain me for the rest of my time in the hospital.

The next day and a half was filled with more new Spanish vocabulary than my sleep deprived brain could absorb.  Hospitals come with their own language and if you don’t know what a Tamiz is (a lab exam for the baby) or a Dia de Alto (discharge day) then you won’t learn those words any faster when someone yells them at you like you are deaf.  Speaking louder and faster does not explain the definitions.

Eventually I broke down and cried, “I just want to go home!  Someone bring me my baby and let’s get out of here”  After hours and hours of asking the nurses to bring Lucy to me, we finally called the head nurse to our room and asked what the hold up was.  Apparently, no one had told us that we must PAY FOR OUR BABY before we would be allowed to have her back.  Josh had to find the person who had our hospital bill, go down to the administrative office and pay the bill, return to the nursery and show the head nurse the receipt, THEN they would start the check list to discharge me and the baby.  No one had explained this to us.  It did not occur to one person that we did not know the hospital procedures.  Not one person bothered to explain step by step what was required of us.  Live and learn.

Even if someone had warned me in advance that this would be a traumatic experience, I think I would have believed that I could handle it.  The next few months were filled with more culture shock moments than I could have anticipated.  Being a new parent in a foreign country means opening yourself up to all kinds of “helpful” advice and vicious criticism.  You will never “do it right” in the eyes of others if you “do it” the American way.  It’s amazing to me just how much culture is subconsciously packed into the theme of parenting.  But that, my readers, is for another blog another time.
She is a child with dual citizenship.  She is a “Third Culture Kid“.  We have had more trouble than you would imagine crossing borders with this child who looks American but whose passport says she was born Mexican.  It’s just a difficult concept to grasp when the color of the kid is “wrong”.  But through this whole crazy experience, our family was blessed with our Bonus Baby Lucy who is turning 5 today.  It’s hard to believe that we have all survived this long.  🙂  My baby is growing up.  We love you Lucy Lu!

Our friends Nely and Izi visit Lucy on her first day home. We violated tons of cultural rules within the first few weeks of her life. It's amazing the child didn't die of a draft! :0)

She Left Her Mark on Me

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Today (April 16th- this is posting later) is the anniversary of the death of a dear friend of mine.  She was one of the first victims of Swine Flu in Mexico back in 2009.

Nely and her family.

That was a really rough year for me.  We had just come home from our first term in Mexico with a sick baby and I myself was going through cancer treatment.  At the same time, we were traveling around raising our funds for our next 4 year term overseas.  One day between my surgery and my radiation treatment, I was at home with Lucy when I received a call from my husband who was out of town.  He said he had received a call from Mexico from our friends telling us that Nely had died unexpectedly that morning.  I felt like someone punched me in the stomach.

I remember falling back against the wall and trembling all over.  How?  What happened?  All the details were sketchy.  We called several friends to try to piece together the details.  We called the airlines and booked tickets for that afternoon.

Our two oldest children were in school and would not be able to accompany us on the trip since their passports had just expired.  That was terribly hard to leave them behind, but we made the arrangements for them to stay with family and called the school to break the news to them over the phone since we would be leaving for the airport within the hour.  It was so hard not to be with them when they cried.

The service in front of her parents' house.

There is no embalming in Mexico.  Bodies are buried within 24 hours of death.  Often times, memorial services are held in the home with the rented casket and the body right there in the home.  Nely was a well loved pastor’s wife.  People came from all over the city to attend one of the 4 or 5 services that were held in her parents’ house.

The thing that I remember the most is looking into the faces of her three children and wondering Why.  Her youngest son Abel, stands out in my memory.  His face brightened to a wide smile when he saw us then immediately crumbled into tears.  I scooped him up in my arms and just hugged him without saying anything.  What could I say?  I had too many questions unanswered in my heart.

Friends comforting Nely's husband

Nely was the kind of friend that every missionary needs.  I feel like God gave her an instinct to understand foreigners.  She left school when she was pre-adolescent and was married by age 15.  Nothing in her education could have prepared her to understand me.  She had never lived outside of Mexico City, even visiting relatives in the country side stressed her out.  She had never even visited many of the famous tourist sites in Mexico City!  So what could have prepared her to understand someone coming from another culture and country, speaking a strange language?  Only God could have given her the understanding and compassion to befriend a foreigner.  Only God could have given me a friend like Nely.

I lack the words in English OR in Spanish to describe the indelible mark that Nely left on my heart… on my life.  And I’m not the only one.  Everyone who knew her loved her and misses her tremendously.  A mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend.  She was so very ordinary by the world’s standards, but so very EXTRAORDINARY in all the ordinary things she did day in and day out.  She left her mark and in some small way the world is a better place for having known Nely.  And Heaven is all the more extraordinary because someday I’ll see her again up there.

Choosing between the Good and the Best

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As they continued their travel, Jesus entered a village.  A woman by the name of Martha welcomed him and made him feel quite at home.  She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word he said.  But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen.  Later, she stepped in, interrupting them.  “Master, don’t you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me?  Tell her to lend me a hand.”

The Master said, “Martha, dear Martha, you’re fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing.  One thing only is essential.  Mary has chosen what is the Best and it won’t be taken from her.” (Gospel of Luke 10:38-42 The Message Version)

Every day there are many Good things that vie for our time and attention.  Some of them are important too, like making dinner.  I’m sure if Martha hadn’t made dinner for everyone at some point Jesus would have gotten hungry!  So there are things that SOMEONE has to do because they are the basics of life.  But where we get off track is when we start to treat the basics like they are the most important thing there is.  Sometimes we are in the presence of something or someone far greater than the ordinary- and we need to recognize that.  We should be treating those special moments with greater honor and distinction.  The ordinary has it’s place as “good” in our lives, but when the “best” comes to visit we need to drop everything and spend some quality time right there.

When was the last time you just sat at Jesus’s feet?  Have you lingered around the altar lately or are you always rushing away after the sermon is done?

This is a hard lesson to learn.  I’m a Martha by nature.  If you come to my house I will automatically move to the kitchen to make you something yummy to eat.  That whole relational, spending time with people is something I’ve just begun to learn by living in Latin America.

When we lived in Mexico, getting together with friends often meant spending the whole day together or going for lunch and coming home after dinner.  It was such an ordeal to get anywhere in that city that once you got there, no one was in a hurry to leave.  A “get-together” could easily last 5 hours or more!  That was hard for us Americans to adjust to, but once we did, we found that we could place a higher value on the people we were with instead of on the schedule we were keeping.

Coming back to America, we felt rushed by our old routine of sitting down to the meal the minute we walked in the door and leaving about a half hour after the dessert.  It just felt like it went by too fast.  I missed our Latino way.

The big lesson to be learned here is that Jesus is much more interested in spending time with us than in what we can do to serve him.  I get the feeling that Jesus would have been fine with a more simple bite to eat if it meant that Martha could come and spend time with him too.  Sitting at his feet and hanging on his every word is the Best.  And when we find ourselves in that position, it won’t be taken away from us.

Plan B

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I want to preface this post by saying that this is purely MY experience.  This is not a reflection on my missions organization or my family.  This is not a political commentary on Mexico.  This is a story of my personal experience living in Mexico City, and should not be construed in any other light.

We lived in Mexico City as missionaries for 2 years.  It is a hard city to live in.  But we aren’t complainers and we aren’t quitters.  We made a commitment to God and we were going to stay there until God moved us on.  But living in a place where the bad guys had police badges and guns was stressful.  OK, that’s probably the understatement of the century!  It was super scary sometimes!  Living in a society controlled by corruption meant living with a plan B always in play.

Every time we set foot outside our house, we were vulnerable.  At any moment while driving our car we could be stopped by the police.  Usually they wanted money.  Eventually we learned enough Spanish to be able to argue that we knew the law, we knew our rights, and we knew that they couldn’t do what they are doing.  Sometimes it worked.  A few times we were sure that these guys were not really police and that they were trying to steal our car!  Once a guy said, “I have a gun!  You have to obey me!”  We had our kids in the car.  I went BALLISTIC!  I’m not sure what all I said in Spanish, but the guy gave back our papers and we drove on.  I was shaking with rage.

When I was alone, I worried.  I made a plan B every where I went.  I felt like a spy always scoping out the exits and paying attention to who came and went.  I never let my kids out of my sight.  (While we lived there the US State Department moved Mexico to the #1 spot in the list of countries who kidnap Americans.  We moved ahead of Colombia.)  I always left the “escape hatch” open.  Being stuck in traffic always left me feeling especially vulnerable.  There was very little wiggle room in that plan B.  I decided that if I was ever car-jacked, I would get out of the car and just let them take it.  But if my kids were with me, that complicated the matter since I wasn’t going to leave them.  I was not opposed to running down bad guys with my missionary vehicle if it meant saving my children.  We installed a panic button on our car alarm.  If we hit the button, the car would run for 10 minutes and then automatically shut off.  Plan B was always clear in my mind wherever I went.

Even inside our house we were vulnerable!  Our house was robbed once, fortunately we weren’t home at the time.  After the robbery we installed an alarm system in the house.  It went off sometimes in the night.  Once we heard someone down by the kitchen, the dog went nuts and the alarm went off.  Someone had tried to get in the house while we were sleeping!  Our home alarm had a panic button too.  In case anyone was holding a gun to your head and making you type in the “off” code, you would type in the panic code instead.  The alarm looked like it shut off, but actually it called the police.  That did not make me feel any better.

I was scared of the police.  Sometimes at night the police would come by and siphon gas out of our car, and there was nothing we could do about it aside from installing a lock on our gas cap.  When our house was broken into we called our friends down the street first and asked if they thought we should call the police.  For our insurance company we needed a police report, so we called them.  We had to pay bribes at the police station to get them to do their job and release the report to us.  Even inside the house, I was scared of the police.

When Josh was out alone, I worried too.  If he was ever late, and sometimes he was hours late, he was very likely being held up by the police at some check point.  I had a plan B in my mind in case someday he just didn’t come home.  I knew who I would call, I knew where the passports were, and I knew how I would get my kids back to America safely.  Plan B was always in play.

When we finally returned to America for our furlough year I was still very skittish around the police.  Every time I saw a police car on the side of the road my heart would clench and I would advert my eyes.  I would hold my breath until we passed safely by.  It took me a long, long time to trust the police again.

Back home in America I started noticing symptoms of  Post Traumatic Stress.  Because we were traveling around to churches and talking about our ministry in Mexico I had a portion of our story that I could tell without crying, but push me beyond that point and the tears would well up in my eyes.  I always felt like the tears were very close to the surface but I couldn’t verbalize “Why?”.  It’s been more than 3 years now since we lived in Mexico and I am just now feeling like I’m ready to talk more about these experiences without crying.  It no longer matters to me how this story sounds to others, it’s my story.  No one can tell me that I over reacted or blew things out of proportion, you weren’t there. It’s my story.  Taking ownership of my story has helped me feel less like a victim and more in control of how I react, what I tell, and in what form I tell it.  It’s my story and I’m ready to tell it.

When God Moved our Mountain

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We saw God move a mountain.  We used to be missionaries in Mexico City.  There we had complicated and ever changing laws that restrict driving for everyone, but especially cars with foreign plates.  When this story took place, new laws were about to go into effect.  Basically we would not be able to leave the house until 11 am every day.  We would have two days a week when we couldn’t drive at all and one extra Saturday per month of no driving.  Each of our 2 cars were restricted on different days.  I feel like I need to lay down now just thinking about all the rules!

Imagine how difficult it would be when we host teams to find vehicles that would be able to drive on each day that we needed them.  How would we get our kids to school or conduct any business before 11 am?  We had been told that vehicles that were newer than 5 years would be able to receive a special verification that would nullify all but the special Saturday restriction.  Unfortunately our second car was 6 years old, we tried to get it verified, but it was never allowed.  Even more frustrating, when Josh tried to renew our verification on our newer vehicle he was told that the government wouldn’t have the stickers ready for another 10 days.  The entire city was basically homebound for 10 days.

With these concerns on my mind and a team coming in 2 weeks I felt stressed, to put in mildly.  In the meantime, I had a Spanish song running through my head that says, “If you have the faith of a mustard seed,  you can say to this mountain ‘move yourself’ and it will move.”  So I took the matter to the Lord.  I said, “Lord, for us this is a big mountain.   We can’t change the law that doesn’t allow us to drive, and without our vehicles we can’t live here!  Please move this mountain.”

Immediately I felt the Lord say to me, “In 10 days take both vehicles to the verification station and don’t say anything about the one being too old.  Go first thing in the morning.”  Now believe me, I have prayed many, many times and not heard God respond this clearly or this quickly.  I was surprised, but I told this to Josh and that is exactly what we did.

Ten days later, on the day when the verification stickers were finally supposed to be available, we prayed and set out with both vehicles to the verification station.  We arrived at 8am.  There was a long line at the station already and the workers were stressed because their computers weren’t up yet.  We waited for about 45 minutes.  The other drivers were getting impatient.  The workers were getting more and more agitated.  We waited patiently, praying.

Suddenly the computer system came on line!  The workers started rushing the cars through the paperwork and examination process.  Our turn.  We saw right on their computer screen that our old car was not going to be allowed a permit because some Mexican car already had our same license plate number, plus it was too old.  But it was like the workers didn’t even see the screen!  They walked out to our car and slapped a sticker on the back window without even flinching!  Josh opened up the back of the vehicle and passed out bottles of water to all the workers as a celebratory “thank you”.  We drove home praising the Lord for moving that mountain for us!!