Friday, May 18, 2018

The Front Gate

"¡Buenaaaaas!" ("Hellooooo!")

"¡Voy!" ("Coming!")

One of my favorite features of our house is that a window and a few feet separate the kitchen sink from the front gate. The kitchen is where I spend a lot of time, and I can easily monitor neighborhood activity (it's like a local TV channel!) or have a conversation with someone at the front gate while washing dishes.

The kitchen window behind the front gate, with a hammock hung on the porch

Here you don't need to call ahead if you want to visit a friend and, whether you want to or not, you usually know your neighbor's favorite genre of music or if they are sick with a cough. The call "¡buenaaas!" or "¡vecinaaa!" ("neighbor!") could be, among many possibilities:

  • A little boy asking if we want to buy the coconut bread his mom has just made (of course!).
  • A request to borrow $10 until pay day the following week.
  • "Where is the pastor because I'd like a ride to church tonight."
  • A friend who brought me an extra plate from their BBQ lunch ("Oh, I noticed that smell while hanging laundry this morning!")
  • A relative coming over to see us, sometimes with plantains, fish, or cassava bread for us.
  • Flyers for a nearby air conditioning business.

As newlyweds Fernando and I lived in a small apartment without room for overnight guests. When Jonathan was born, we moved to a house, ushering in the transition of motherhood as well as something I grew to dread: hospitality. I knew the important role of hospitality in spreading the gospel and developing relationships on the mission field; of course a "good" pastor's wife and missionary would willingly welcome people into her home.

The glamorous life: cooking in the topics.

However, I clearly remember one Friday when Mr. J. was a few months old. I was about to serve lunch (the main meal) for the guys who were working with Fernando and a relative who would be arriving for the weekend. Just then, the water went out, J. had a blowout, and an extra person arrived. I felt like disappearing into a (sweaty) puddle. Unexpected visitors while I was nursing babies, or just getting them down for naps, about to Skype with my mom for a few minutes, sitting down to talk to Fernando after a busy day -- this found me resentful, exhausted, and counting down to the next visit to Washington. Would my life be like this for years to come? I cried out to God for help.

This year I have noticed a breakthrough, an answer to those frustrated and desperate prayers. What has changed?

* God has freed me from dealing with chronic pain. Surgery last fall has helped me feel better physically and emotionally. What a difference that has made!

* My kids have grown and enjoy being around people more, even if they are still on the shy side. If they don't nap or get to bed on time, it is not a big deal, and meals get easier as they grow.

J's best friend, who lives two houses away.

* I am more confident preparing meals and almost always have extra food to share. Cooking was never something I enjoyed, but I have been finding deep satisfaction in sharing from the abundance God has given us. Once a young man told Fernando that it was the first time that year that he felt really full after a meal! Another time I listened to Fernando sharing the gospel and praying with visitors at our table while I washed dishes.

* God has helped me find ways to set boundaries and be refreshed. Our baby-sitter is like a member of our family, and her help has been invaluable for me to escape the house or wash up extra dishes, without neglecting my kids. Our little neighbor friends love her, too.

Miss A loves Katy, our baby-sitter!

Also, God has been surprising me, giving me great joy and energy as He allows our family and home to be a welcoming haven for others. Here are a few examples

* A few months ago, my sister-in-law needed emergency surgery (based on reactions at the hospital, she must have won the "largest cyst" record). Since she works in another city, and we encouraged her to come as soon as possible. I went with her to pre-op appointments and took her to the hospital the day of surgery. It was such a privilege to have her stay with us during recovery, especially after having had surgeries myself. She had a lot of friends and family visit her, and I was very tired, but I was blessed through our conversations and the reminder of the family God has given us.

* Two sweet little girls across the street live in a dysfunctional home, being raised by an aunt. They love being at our house, or at least outside the front gate (more conversations while washing dishes). Sometimes they crave attention and a listening ear, other days they want lots of hugs, or a safe place to play away from unhealthy gatherings in their own house, or the way they eat indicates they have been hungry. My prayer is for salvation and restoration for their family, and I also hope they understand they are not a nuisance to our family, but rather a gift to us.

We love having this girl in our home!

* Just two nights ago while I was getting dinner ready a young woman, toddler son on her hip, asked me for advice and prayer. She is the only believer in her home, the only one to attend church, and she is struggling with difficult decisions to make, fear, and the need to be freed from her past. What a blessing to have a welcoming little living room with toys for her son to play with while she for me to hold her hands and pray for her, to simply be available for this unexpected moment.

I am not going to lie: Some days I want to hide because I feel tired, overwhelmed, and irritable, and some days my kids crave and need my undivided attention. Some days at home are calm, restful, and orderly, while others go completely differently than what I thought out getting up that morning. Every day I realize how much I need God's wisdom and strength. But I am grateful for how He has changed dread of hospitality into willingness and expectancy of Him to work through our little home and family beyond my own ability or understanding.

Enjoying time together as a family.

I can't tell you how many times I think, "I'm so glad people are praying for us!" Or, "If only our supporters knew how their giving allows us to fill hungry stomachs." Please continue to pray for me to follow God's leading in how to respond to needs around us, including those of my husband and kids first and foremost. Pray for God to mold me and use me as He chooses.

Also, if there is something you feel you should do but you really don't like it, some kind of "front gate" you find tiring or annoying, turn to the Lord. He is gracious and powerful. He can change our hearts and our circumstances and use all for His glory.

P.S. This was written in the corner of a coffee shop, far from our front gate. :)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Furlough Timeline

Dear friends,

We are looking forward to seeing many of you when we are on furlough this fall. Here is a timeline of what we expect to be doing:

We will arrive mid-September and stay in Enumclaw. The first few weeks we will get settled and take care of practical matters, such as doctors appointments and scheduling meetings.

Our priority is to reconnect with friends and supporters. We would like to set up two different dates to share in the Auburn area with whomever would like to come, and we also would love to see people individually. Most of our time will be in the Puget Sound region, plus visits to Oregon and to Bellingham.

Fernando will attend an annual theological training conference in Iowa, for the fifth year in a row, and he will share with a supporting church and individuals in Minnesota. I will stay in Washington with the kids and prepare to have surgery for endometriosis, ideally sometime in late November (details pending).

Fernando and my parents will help out during my recovery, and we anticipate celebrating Christmas together. This will be a good time for Fernando to think, pray, and plan for the coming year.

We will finish meetings, medical appointments, and preparing to return to Honduras in late January.

Prayer Request
1) For encouraging, Spirit-led meetings with our prayer and financial partners as we hear about their lives and thank them for their role in how God has been at work in Honduras.

2) For many opportunities to share with potential supporters and for more people to join our support team.

3) For those Fernando mentors and works with in Honduras to grow spiritually and serve faithfully. Fernando will be in touch with them during this time.

4) For our family to adjust well, be a strong team, and create special memories.
We will really miss Miss K, our beloved baby-sitter!

5) For successful surgery and adequate time to recover before returning to Honduras.

Ways to Help
1) Introduce us to your friends, family, or small group -- whoever might like to learn about mission work with Garifuna people. This would be easy and low-key, such as meeting at a coffee shop or us providing beverages and snacks for a home gathering.

2) Send us an email or Facebook message with questions you have (ministry, Garifuna culture, daily life in Honduras, our family, etc.) or to schedule a time to get together, which will greatly aid us as we prepare.

3) Send a special gift, if the Lord leads you, for expenses such as gas for car travel, personal items (see below), and printed materials (updated prayer card, for example). Our round-trip plane tickets are purchased, some friends have offered to sell us their car for a low price, and my parents have graciously offered to let us live with them, greatly reducing expenses (praise God!).

4) We would like to borrow or buy a used refrigerator (medium-sized), and our kids will need cold-weather clothes and shoes (our son wears size 4T and our daughter 2T).
My kids' typical at-home attire (and they are still hot!)

Thank you for all the ways you have joined with us and blessed our family, and thank you for taking the time to read our blog! See you soon!

Our family has changed a bit since our 2013 furlough!

Monday, November 7, 2016

The "R" Word

Some days I forget that we are a biracial, multi-cultural, dual-citizenship family. I become absorbed in the details of "wife" and "mom"; I see Fernando simply as "husband"; and I see my kids as "son" and "daughter." Other times, I am acutely aware of our physical appearances, linguistic habits, and family idiosyncracies.

This used to happen when I attended a local Garifuna congregation. Sometimes I would be absorbed in greeting a friend or singing along when, suddenly, I'd notice someone staring or feel a child rubbing my arm and be reminded of my foreigner status. Other times I felt so much like a fish out of water I felt like all eyes were on me when, in reality, people around me were going about a usual Sunday morning as if I looked just like them.

Having children has added a new element to my understanding and experience of "us" and "them," "white" and "black," "same" and "different." Likewise, living in a neighborhood that is fairly representative of the ethnolinguistic mosaic of this region has broadened my perspective of these concepts, leading me to four conclusions:

1) We live in an excellent location for raising a biracial/bicultural family.

La Ceiba, a port city, is home to several ethnolinguistic groups:
  • Spanish-speaking Latinos form the majority.
  • Garifuna people are the largest minority.
  • English creole speakers from the nearby Bay Islands ("Islanders" or "English) move to the mainland in search of jobs; their ancestory is African often mixed with British.
  • Miskito people hail from remote eastern Honduras and western Nicaragua and speak an Amerindian language with influence from English.
  • Quite a few North American retirees, missionaries, aid workers, and tourism entrepreneurs live in the city and surrounding areas.
Discipleship group I led a few years ago with Garifunas, a Misquito girl, and a North American girl

As for Garifuna speakers, many have excelled in a variety of fields, from politics to law, education and medicine. Their food, music, and dance is popular among the general population. Garifunas have the reputation of being more peaceful and less violent than other groups and are known to take care of each other and even outsiders who live in their communities. For example, it is unheard of for Garifuna children to be abandoned to the streets, while several families in Fernando's home community have raised non-Garifuna children who were given to them by desperate families. For these reasons and more, I am grateful to be included in this group.

Friends in some good times and some bad times in the past six years

In general, we live in a location characterized by diversity and an easy-going acceptance of differenes, from pronunciation to style of dress, from music preference to religious affiliation. Consequently, we can go about our daily lives as a mixed family with a lot of freedom. At the same time, this kind of environment can create the illusion that racism does not exist, which leads me to the second conclusion:

2) A multicultural environment does not create immunity to stereotypes, negative attitudes, and racial tension.

I've mentioned before that if you were to take a walk with me and the kids just along our block, we would greet neighbors in Garifuna, Spanish (Latinos), and English (Islanders); a small space is called home by three distinct groups, four if my ex-pat status is included. Furthermore, we have Garifuna neighbors from distinct regions of the country; some are from the rural area where Fernando grew up, while others are from communities near urban centers, and still others grew up speaking Spanish in the city. Some of our Latino neighbors are proudly from La Ceiba, while others moved from other regions.

OneStory workshop with Latinos in Costa Rica in 2011

It is common to see kids of different races playing together and overcoming language barriers to have fun together. However, some of the adults don't always associate with each other apart from a brief greeting, and others even use what I consider derogatory terms to relate to people of other races. Sometimes nothing is explicit, but one can perceive a general sense of distance and the drawing of lines between "us" and "them," between obvious ethnic differences and the more subtle distinctions within a larger group. And before you know it, suddenly one has thoughts like, "___ are loud. ___ are superstitious. ___ are generous. ___ are hard-working. ___ are unfriendly."

In this apparently peaceful and friendly environment with less obvious fissures, how does our family respond?

3) Being a mixed family gives us unique vantage points into racial and cultural dynamics.

Mixed families are not uncommon in La Ceiba, and I have enjoyed meeting more than a few North American women married to (Latino) Hondurans. Our particular combination tends to bring out curiosity by friendly strangers when we go out. Being a mixed family allows us to interact with a variety of people. Our main social circle is Garifuna, but Fernando and I speak Spanish and have had significant interaction with Latinos, and we both speak English, which is a bridge with our Islander neighbors. We have gotten to know other missionaries and ex-pats, and Fernando has interacted with Misquito believers in various projects. Our kids look "Latin American" and wouldn't draw attention to themselves by themselves (fascination with their appearance is a topic for another blog post...).

One of Fernando's cousins ready to dance Wanaragua, a masked dance reenacting a battle technique Garifunas used against British who took over their land on St. Vincent island; men would dress as women and dance for the colonists, and when the drum music reached peak intensity and volume, they would stab them so their cries would not be audible.

As a result, it's been fairly natural for me to get to know our neighbors of different backgrounds, crossing over the unspoken lines, hearing bits and pieces of what they think of each other. While interesting from an anthropological perspective, it can be challenging as a believer. As a Christ follower, mother, and ex-pat, how do I respond to these dynamics? This has led me to the fourth conclusion:

4) We (I) must be vigilant, humble, and intentional as we interact with others in a way that honors God and those He sent His Son to die for (the world).

As I mentioned, we live in a context that, at first glance, is quite friendly to a variety of races and cultures but, upon greater examination, has less obvious divisions, stereotypes, and distrust. In the same way, it could be tempting to think that, as a mixed family, we are one step ahead and just a bit better than others at showing the love of Christ without discrimation. But, suddenly, the realization comes that this kind of mentality is yet another nuance of the "us versus them" phenomenon. Do I consider myself superior to others because I claim to be more open-minded and fair? Do I think I am superior because my kids and I step over those invisible lines? If so, I am back to square one and sorely missing the entire point of the gospel of Christ.

Earlier this year, reading through the gospel of Matthew, I was struck by the wide variety of people Jesus interacted with. Regardless of race, age, gender, social status, and other affiliations, Jesus addressed sin, spoke truth, showed compassion, and maintained His singular focus on the Father's will -- something truly un-human. In Ephesians, Paul describes God's purpose of revealing His salvation to all people and uniting believers in Jesus Christ. While I eagerly anticipate the fulfillment of God's kingdom, in the meantime I must be vigilant, humble, and intentional.

I must be vigilant to guard against negative attitudes toward "others" and prideful attitudes about myself or those I affiliate with. This includes responding to gossip and comments; am I honoring Christ and loving my neighbor in conversations? Do I think of myself more highly than I should? Am I open to what God wants to teach me and how He might want to alter my understanding of someone and the group they represent? Am I being intentional about treating all people with kindness and respect? This really isn't easy or natural! Yet I can't afford to coast along trusting in my own understanding because I have two small people following behind me. What example do I set for them and the other kids on our street who like to observe me, neighborhood "gringa"?

Miss A and our beloved baby-sitter, Miss K

May the Lord, the Creator of all people, who sent His Son for whoever would believe in Him, grant us wisdom and genuine love in our daily lives as we interact with the people and groups around us. May we look beyond the lines of "us versus them," be that between different races or even subgroups in our social circles. May He give us hearts to quickly repent when we are tempted to consider ourselves better than others and believe we have all the answers, but instead may the Holy Spirit lead us to follow Jesus' footsteps of seeking the Father's will, standing up against sin, and showing compassion to all He has sovereignly placed in our lives. And may He give us grace to help those who are watching us and looking for an example to follow.

"14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord." Ephesians 2:14-21

Friday, September 16, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 5: No Place Like "Home"

This is the final post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a missionary wife and mom. Strategies mentioned so far include:

Strategy #1: early morning solitude
Strategy #2: a weekly day of rest
Strategy #3: friends and mentors
Strategy #4: a pretty and organized home
Strategy #5: getting out of the house

Strategy #6: No Place Like "Home"
A particular area of vulnerability for missionary women is "rootlessness" and raising a family far from where we grew up and/or where our family members live. Fernando and I both think it's important for me and our kids to go back to where I'm from every few years, and having his full support to do this is incredibly helpful. Also, looking forward to the next planned trip "home" is a powerful antidote to the occasional and inevitable bout of homesickness.

Five benefits of spending a few weeks in Washington State include:

1. Family Time
My parents are great sports about living far away from their two grandchildren, and we stay in close contact via Skype and email. But there's nothing like spending time together face-to-face. Every single day Mr. J mentions memories of our trip in May. We hear airplanes two or three times a day, and he runs to the window because he thinks they're all going to Washington!

2. Strengthening Roots

Mr. J and Miss A are experiencing a very different childhood than I had, from the obvious material world (climate, food, etc.) to intangible cultural values (polite versus impolite behavior, for example) to the deeply-rooted worldview around them (such as explanations of the supernatural, death and illness, or people's relationship with nature).

As their mom, I want them to have the opportunity to discover some of the world I grew up in and develop a sense of heritage from their North American roots. I feel my responsibility to is provide this opportunity and give each of them as individuals the freedom to respond according to their preferences as they grow up. (As I write this, I note personal expression and freedom as a value from my home culture!)

When we arrived to my parents' place, Mr. J walked around outside, looking around as if he had landed on another planet! He stayed close to the house and, over the next few weeks, ventured farther away until he was roaming with confidence and familiarity. It was beautiful to observe him experience springtime, picking dandelions, rolling in (antless!) grass, and "helping" my parents with gardening. He learned the word "piano" with the instrument I grew up playing; he enjoyed library books while being rocked in the chair where my grandma rocked my Dad and his siblings; he played with toys my mom had saved for when she'd have grandkids. It was a time to say, "This is where I'm from and, in part, where you are from, too. This is part of who we are."

Intrigued by an new-fangled contraption: the dishwasher

I rocked my babies in the chair where my grandma used to rock my dad as a baby

The 19th century piano I grew up playing

This rhododendron was a gift from Mr. J's baby shower in 2013, a symbol of roots, friendship, and belonging.

3. Soaking up Beauty

The last time I had been in Washington during springtime was in 2005; I couldn't wait to reacquaint myself with the green, flowers, and even the rain! I had forgotten about certain kinds of flowers and how good the fresh air smells when everything is growing (I don't have allergies, though!).

Changing climates and views can be a catalyst for awakening one's spiritual senses, and I was reminded of truth by what surrounded me: how God's creation is more majestic then human ability to admire it; how the temporary beauty of flowers reflects how life is fragile and fleeting; how God refreshes the earth and our souls by His lavish goodness; and how we long for the new earth and eternal home He promises us.

4. Quiet and Perspective

Having grown up in a rather private, quiet, and orderly context, I have learned that noise, unpredictability, and a more public way of life trigger culture stress. When this kind of stress accumulates. it really helps to know I will have a little break. My parents live in a very tranquil place, ideal for personal retreat, reading books, journaling, and regaining perspective on the "big picture." I have been incredibly blessed by this safe haven, where God has reminded me of what is most important and has given me strength to once again leave this comfort zone. I probably would get very bored and lonely and miss the spontaneity, interaction, and entertainment after awhile! But a few weeks of quiet and reflection are a welcome refreshment.

5. Practical Needs

Finally, another benefit of these trips is taking care of details, such as social security numbers for the kids or renewing drivers' licenses. Clothes and home items are usually less expensive and better quality in the States, and I can find things like mattress protectors, surge protectors, or kitchen utensils (I learned the hard way that surge protectors are imperative if a fridge is to survive power surges!). My parents had fun with the kids while I ran errands, included a much-needed haircut!

In conclusion, I praise God for the variety of ways He meets the needs of His daughters living in cross-cultural situations. I recently read through 2 Corinthians and was impacted by Paul's unwavering faith in God's strength despite human weakness and challenging circumstances. He truly is faithful in both small trials and overwhelming tests of faith. I'm also thankful for each person whose care and support are part of this provision!

Coming soon: what do immunizations have to do with culture shock and attitude checks?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 4: Decorating and Strollers

This is the fourth post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field through healthy habits, such as:

Strategy #1: early morning solitude
Strategy #2: a weekly day of rest
Strategy #3: friends and mentors

Strategy #4: A Pretty and Organized Home
"Homemaking" is not a skill I would identify as a strength or interest of mine. In fact, I didn't really cook until Fernando and I got married (fortunately, he is very easy-going when it comes to food!). However, I have learned that if my home is organized and aesthetically pleasing to me (even if it doesn't look professional or perfect), it adds inspiration, peace, and joy in everyday life.

I am an organized person by nature. One way I respond to stress is cleaning and decluttering. I find it both energizing and calming to put my living space in order, and even more where we live: many homes do not have built-in bedroom closets or bathroom cupboards and drawers; the humidity makes stored items smell like mildew; and roaches love plastic, cardboard, and paper. As a result, I am extra motivated to give away what we don't use and keep clutter to a minimum.

While I always enjoy admiring others' interior decorating results, it is definitely not my area of expertise. But when I surround myself with simple, meaningful, and pretty (to me) objects, I feel much more at home. For example, one of my favorite items is a glass full of shells collected since I've lived here: the first time I went to Fernando's home community, our honeymoon, Mr. J's first trip to the beach, etc. Some other objects that remind me of dear people and rich memories:

Washington calendar on the fridge 

Pictures of both sides of our family

Wedding gift from my brother, who lives in China

A cross-stitch gift sent all the way from an Argentinian friend who serves in Papua New Guinea. We met in Mexico.

From my "Salvadoran mamá" who hosted in me for six months in 2009 

From a college friend's YWAM trip to Guatemala about ten years ago

Strategy #5: Getting out of the House
While creating a beautiful home environment is important, it's also good to get out of the house!
On the weekends, the four of us like to go out as a family for a walk: along the water in a nearby Garifuna community, the wharf in La Ceiba, or a botanical garden with large trees. It does us a world of good to spend time outside together.

Most late afternoons, when the sun gives way to shade, I put Miss A in the stroller and help Mr. J put his shoes on, and we take a walk in our neighborhood. After fresh air, exercise, and opportunities to get to know our neighbors better, we always feel better when we get back home. Mr. J has been more interested in the big kids' makeshift soccer matches, jump rope sessions, and bicycles.

Some days it can be tempting to stay home and avoid cross-cultural interaction or feeling observed, but usually I am refreshed by the beauty of God's creation, a safe neighborhood for our family, and the reminder of what I do have in common with friendly neighbors. One day, I ran into several mothers who, like me, were putting off going back into their hot kitchens to make dinner for picky kids! :) Conversations can include how to fish frijoles out of toddlers' noses, why the pesky ant population has suddenly increased, natural teething remedies, etc. A good laugh about commonalities is medicine to a foreigner's soul!

The next post is about one of my favorite strategies: visits back "home" to Washington State.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 3: Communicating with Friends & Mentors

This is the third post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field. (Find part one at this link and part two here.) In summary, although missionaries are vulnerable to burnout, we can intentionally and creatively maintain consistent rhythms, such as solitude early in the morning and weekly days of rest, and occasional breaks, such as visits back "home" to Washington State, customized to our needs.

Strategy #3: Communicating with close friends and mentors

Being a highly relational person, I derive joy, energy, and inspiration from communicating with others. Thanks to technology and the internet, missionaries can maintain ties with family and friends far away from where they live. God uses close friends and mentors to make me feel connected and cared for, as well as instill accountability.

A consistent habit I make high priority is answering personal emails at the end/beginning of each month. Receiving a note from a friend sharing their latest adventures, trials, opportunities, prayer requests, and insights from God is a beautiful gift and always makes my day. Throughout the month, I can think about these friends, pray for them, and then reply with news from here.

God has used friends to break into specific moments and needs when I least expected it. Here are a few examples that remind me of His faithfulness and care:
  • I was once on a trip to an island known for antagonism toward Christians (I'll let you guess where) in a rural area and quite sick. I needed to get better because seeking medical care would put our team and those hosting us at risk. I specifically remember being in a makeshift outdoor sanitary facility (!), while being observed by a cow, hoping someone would think to pray for my health. A few weeks later, in another country, I received an email from a girl I went to college with, telling me that a few weeks before that she felt a strong prompting to pray for my digestion but wasn't sure what that meant. Wow!
Sick, but covered in prayer
  • During a time of particular loneliness as a single missionary, a friend, who didn't know I was feeling so lonely, emailed me to say she felt the pressing need to pray for a husband for me, a partner in life and missions. I was more than OK with that, and I'm quite happy with how her prayer has been answered. :)
I was sitting alone at this table when I received that email

  • On the day of our red-eye flight from Seattle back to Honduras this past June, I was dreading the good-byes and returning to some of the challenges of life here. (Ironically, the sermon at church the day before was about Jonah...) A friend, who had no idea I was feeling this way, gave my mom a last-minute note for me detailing her prayers for me, including joy and perseverance, and a special gift for our work. What a blessing to remember her words even driving past the remnants of a crime scene on the way to our house from the airport in Honduras.
God uses people to remind me He is Emmanuel, God with us in the midst of specific, sometimes unseen, needs, reminding us we are not alone or forgotten.

This year God has blessed me with a wise, fun, and caring prayer partner. I met Lori a few years ago at a Bible study for North American women. She and her husband have had lots of adventures as retirees in Honduras. We meet at her house every other week or so to pray together. What a blessing to receive her wisdom and encouragement in the Lord.

Miss A and I at Lori's house for a Christmas party

Another mentor figure is Tammie. She and her husband serve in pastoral care for CTEN. Tammie and I stay in touch via email and Skype, and I can always count on her to pray, be a sounding board, and share helpful information in crucial times. This kind of relationship can be a tremendous source of strength for missionary women.

I could list many others who bring a smile to my face, refocus my attention on what is most important, and strengthen my faith. No doubt, besides cultivating a close relationship with the Lord, friendships and mentoring relationships are one of the most crucial factors in maintaining vitality and avoiding burnout on the field.

Next post: what on earth do interior decorating and strollers have to do with avoiding burnout?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Maintaining Vitality Part 2: Obedience and Consistency

This is the second post in a series about maintaining vitality and preventing burnout as a wife and mom on the mission field (click here to read the first part). In summary, although missionaries are vulnerable to burnout, we can intentionally and creatively maintain consistent rhythms and occasional breaks customized to our needs.

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness..." 2 Peter 1:3a

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

Strategy #1: A sacred start to the day

A consistent rhythm that helps me thrive is rising early. A few years ago, I shared about a "typical day" here in La Ceiba, including reasons for an early start to the day. These days, I find it more helpful than ever to spend about an hour to an hour and half (depending on when my kids wake up) alone.

A refreshing thunderstorm early this morning

First, I read the Bible passages for the day according to a Scripture reading plan. I focus my mind on truth I can meditate on throughout the day, and I love working toward the goal of reading through the Bible this year.

Next, I plan tasks for the day, such as meals or errands, and answer emails.

I find this time incredibly energizing for these reasons:
  • It's quiet and cool, and I'm alone!
  • The rest of the day flows well when I plan ahead, stay organized, and have a disciplined start.
  • I thrive on completing tasks in a focused, uninterrupted way, which doesn't usually happen the rest of the day. :)
  • Regardless of what the day brings, I can enjoy some sense of accomplishment.
This habit is like making a deposit in my energy/vitality account, a safe and consistent space to gain perspective on life, and a sacred time dedicated first and foremost to the Lord.

Strategy #2: Sabbath

To be honest, a weekly day of rest has never appealed to me very much! But in college God taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of observing a Sabbath.

I was a workaholic, double majoring and double minoring while playing flute in the music department, exercising, and socializing... as soon as I finished homework. ;) Spring quarter of my last year, I felt very convicted about not taking a day of rest, but I thought it would be impossible to keep my grades up and perform a concerto (solo accompanied by orchestra), among other year-end concerts. If I hadn't managed to take a day of rest previously, how could I pull it off now?

Performing with the university orchestra, a big highlight from college

I committed to abstain from homework, practicing, and exercising on Sundays, as much as possible. To my surprise, it was a success! God provided the time and more energy Monday through Saturday for academics and music, and I had more time for Him and for friends on Sundays!

Graduating from Western Washington University in 2003

Recently, I felt the familiar sense of conviction, as I brushed off the idea of Sabbath. After all, taking babies to church (babies and children stay with their parents during the service) and the daily tasks of taking care them just doesn't seem restful, so why try? However, I find that when I prepare ahead of time to keep chores to a bare minimum and simply take a step back, breathe, and enjoy a quieter day to focus on Him, God refreshes me both physically and spiritually -- and this benefits those around me, too, of course!

Obeying God first and foremost is foundational in fostering vitality and reducing the likelihood of burnout, regardless of how this actually pans out as seasons of life ebb and flow. I smile when I think of God's generosity, giving us gifts that draw us close to Him and refresh us: His Word, His presence, solitude, rain, rest, and memories of His faithfulness. I'm curious what you find helpful for maintaining spiritual vitality and would love to hear from you, either a comment or personal message. May we walk in obedience to the Holy Spirit's leading and receive the blessings God has prepared for us!