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.