Thursday, August 30, 2012

When Culture Shock Rears Its Ugly Head...

The first time it happened to me I was in a grocery store. I stood holding some type of baking product and tears began to trickle down my cheeks.  Now, I'm not a cryer, but this was the last straw. I couldn’t read the ingredients, and I couldn’t effectively ask for help. I felt like the walls were closing in, and I felt trapped. I felt completely disoriented, and utterly alone. I hate it here, I thought. I just want to get out…to go home.
The grocery store incident happened to me just a month or so into my life in El Salvador. We weren’t even doing ministry yet, we were just learning Spanish but all I wanted to do was get out! How could I so quickly feel burned out, culture shocked, completely disoriented and ready to head running back to the good ‘ol U.S. of A.?
It happens to me still, unexpectedly sometimes. Traffic, medical billing, and education issues for my kids are frequent culprits. But the daily grind gets to me too…people asking me for money on the same street corner, the poverty, the crime, the diesel bus fumes…all of these things make my insides twist as I battle down resentment, depression, and anger. Nagging irritation at anyone and everyone gnaws away until I feel joy slipping through my grasp and the future looks hopeless, pointless, and like one long stretch of language miscommunications and cultural mishaps.
In our training, we learned about the stages of cultural shock…the honeymoon at the beginning, the disorientation and feeling of complete chaos, and the eventual acceptance and settling in to a new home and a new way of life. Sometimes I find myself spinning through those stages again but it seems to happen when I am also battling burn-out from taking on too many responsibilities and not allowing myself to take the “time-out” that I need.  The old, familiar resentment washes over me. So, how do we deal with things like burn-out and culture shock? How do we keep the little things from becoming big things and robbing our joy as we seek to live out God’s calling in our lives?
I need to give a disclaimer: I am not an expert in cultural adjustment. I'm even laughing a little as I share this with you because the fight for contentment has been a difficult one for me. The search to see joy in the daily ups and downs of cross-cultural living has not come easy, to say the least. But I have learned to cope in my own way, and here are a few of my strategies:
1.       Write it down.  Writing in a journal has helped me immensely. It helps me to get the frustrations off of my heart,  and sometimes I realize how petty I am being when I see my thoughts staring back up at me from the page.
2.       Laugh at yourself.  I often have to laugh at myself and my “gringa” moments. My accent, and my adventures in shopping and medical bill paying. Someday I will have great, and hilarious, stories to share with my grandkids.
3.       Take a break. Often a break is all that’s needed, whether it is a trip to the beach, or an afternoon hiking. Find moments to enjoy and celebrate the country and culture where you live. Just a change of scenery can be refreshing and the whole family can be encouraged after a “time-out.” We have really made an effort to clear our schedules so that Sunday truly is a day of rest for us. We go to church and then spend the afternoon relaxing as a family. I know that even in a difficult week, there is always Sunday to look forward to.
4.       Be thankful. Living overseas has so many benefits that are easy to overlook when the negatives are pressing in. Making a list, or asking your kids what they like best, are great ways to focus on all the beautiful and unique opportunities that you have living in your host culture.
5.       Pray about it. Lastly, and most importantly, bring the whole thing to God. Remember Jesus was the ultimate cross-cultural minister of the Gospel. He left the perfect culture of heaven to come to earth with all of its dirt, and pain, and misery. He’s been there and He knows. Pray to Him and ask Him to renew your heart with the truth of the Gospel and enable you to continue to press on.
This is a short list of some things that have worked for me, but there are many other ways to cope with culture shock and burn-out. The key is finding what helps your family to thrive, not merely survive, as you work through the challenges that come with cross-cultural living. I am grateful for this community of moms because I know that there are others going through this too all day, every day, all over the world.
So...what are your best coping strategies when culture shock rears its ugly head?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Topic: "Imports"

What do you buy or have sent from your home country? What are your treats or the things that you would just rather have from there? What can't you get where you are now?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Talking to the wind

I love the way God moves. 

How he works. 

Don't You? 
My 8 year old read to me from her devo the other
morning about how God is like the wind. 
How we know He is working even when we cannot actually see
Him with our eyes doing it. 
Our living room curtain blew as she continued to read to me. 
She was fascinated by this. 
I must admit,
so was I.

   (This photo takes my breath away as I now reflect back on it.)


I remember the days back in Kansas. 
I was a Beth Moore bible study junkie. 

That was me. 

I attended every one that was ever available for a number of years. 
I have broke Free,
ascended through the Psalms,
met Esther,
 walked with James
 and revelled at the pages of Revelations with my sisters. 

And my daughters the second time through as
I facilitated to a group of missionary mamas in Colorado. 
When I lived in a hotel room. Before I got a kitchen back again.

Nothing, not even a DTS, then some more training, and 4 years at
Celebrate Recovery
could have prepared me for this. 
This one is Huge.
No prepared shopping lists,
Nothing I can fabricate and no 'dance' to make my girls' think
missions and obeying God is Cool.

(Not even bringing  American Girl dolls to make that journey with our

American Bulldog Puppy (and us) to the new land...

 I really tried to prepare to serve God here, happy American family and happy ministry.  Right?

Drum roll please........
I am now

  Walking with the Invisible Creator God. 
The God of the Nations, that I used to think was the God of America.

In Kansas I learned to walk with people,
in Central Asia I have learned to walk with God.

How very unexpected I must say.
Refreshing to have yet another revelation of His goodness playing out in my life.

I almost withered away into a flaky daisy before
 I came to this realization.
Like last week.
This was recent.
I have so not 'arrived' yet.
Jesus, help me.
I am still but as fragile as a flower.
I just never really understood that frailty before I had
all of the distractions stripped away.
No more Christan book store just off exit 213.
Or a car to drive me there if there was one.
No more biblical morals in the society.
No more Dairy Queen?
I ride a scooter now friends.
I drive it too.
I feel like I should let you know that I never would
have done that in the States.
Gone without decent icecream
and trusted myself on a motorbike.


I need that Big Man upstairs that I have spent so
much time reading about to really meet me these days.
As I ponder about things I have Never had to ponder about.

Like for real,
'cause the Bible study friends
are no longer a Thursday away.

And my attempts at making life super fun here for my
family are wearing thin when I am not calling out for Him. 
 'Cause without my abiding, I am no fun. 
Therefore the fun cannot spillith over.
That is so not my gig, at least it wasn't before!

I am almost 5 months into actually living, aka setting up a new life abroad.
In the past 5 months I have literally felt every feeling a human can
(p.s and I am not even a feeler.)

Through it all, the blessings of finally having a kitchen again and the hardships of looking my daughters in the face when they cry about having no friends...

We have this to stand on.

We are truly learning to walk with God.

All of the frills removed.
No smoke and stage lights on Sundays anymore.
How radical is that?

He is Invisible here it seams. 
Like the wind holding up that curtain,  
Like I might be checked into the hospital if someone hears me these days
talking to the wind as I call it as I go about my day.

But boy, do I see him moving behind the scenes.
I see him in my broken man as
he sees for the first time human trafficking.
My man is growing stronger as he
spends more time on his knees and prayer
walking these streets.

I feel the presence of God when he gives me insta-discernment
at the most random of times that I really
needed to "see" into motives of our unredeemed neighbors.
Even when the old me would just be naive.

When I hold my camera these days it feels like I am seeing what He sees. 

Beauty in the purest of things, 
when the world says they are worth nothing.

I see him as the waves hit this dry and barren coast line.  I know his harvest is ripe and ready for the picking.

I am one of many that have the honor of being called abroad.
I speak for us all in that this transition is the most challenging thing that we never knew would be so challenging. 
Yet, I think the reward goes far beyond any ministry on behalf of the Gospel that we could do.
It comes along with the
greatest gift of all.

Learning to walk hand in hand with the Invisible God.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Moving Across the World: Buying and Acquiring

So, you've gotten rid of a bunch of stuff, you've stored a bunch of stuff (maybe) and now you realize that this new life in your new country is going to require different things than you life here.

You, my friend, are in the stage that is known as "Buying and Acquiring".  Yep, that is the technical term.  What?  They didn't mention that to you at your mission's orientation?  Hehe, well, even if they didn't mention it, it exists.

See, there are things that you are going to need for this new life, things that may or may not be available in your new country.  For us, it was stuff like rain covers for our backpacks, a water filter system, a GPS that can handle map updates for our new country, and linens.  These are all things that are hard to come by, or they are very expensive, or aren't the quality that we would want.  Constantly ask yourself the question, "can I get this in our host country?"  If you can, do.  Unless of course you really want that particular (fill in the blank).  And even if you decided that you are only going to use what is in your new country, you still have to buy it or acquire it.

This is another stage where lots of lists help.  I have several pages in my "moving notebook" that have all the things we need to buy.  It helps keep me on track and give me a place to dump all those thoughts so I don't have to continually keep reminding myself of what we need.  I was just out today getting some things on that list because we head back to Costa Rica in just a month.  Such a random assortment of things, dish towels, a belt, a foot locker and some cloth napkins.  Anyway.

This is also a good time to talk with people on the ground in your new country.  Hopefully you have someone you can ask questions, like "will I be able to get kids' clothes there easily?"  Or "what is the best thing you decided to bring with you?"  Of course these answers might be different from what is important to your family, but at least it gives you a place to start.  Also, think about things that you use often or that you love.  For example, I use white washcloths for cleaning rags and dishes.  I hate sponges.  So one of the things I asked a fellow missionary before we got to Costa Rica was "can I get white washcloths there?"  And the answer, amazingly enough, was no.  What?!  Yeah, no white washcloths.  So, I brought some.  And white washcloths were on the "What to buy when we are in the States" list.

Now, something to think about with all of this buying and acquiring, cash flow.  Sigh...this can get a bit tricky.  But you can do it.  One of the things that has helped us is to buy a little at a time each month.  That way, you don't have to wait until the very last month to go by everything all at one time . Also, don't overlook thrift stores, garage sales, dumpster diving, family members.  I use Facebook often for this, something like, "Does anyone have a (blank) they want to sell or get rid of?"  And so many times there is someone who is looking to get rid of what you are needing to acquire.

I can get tired of this stage.  I just said to my husband, Noah, that I am sick of shopping!  I talked with a veteran missionary about this, and she said, "Honey, enjoy it!  Chances are you won't be buying stuff for another two years when you are on the field."  And she is right.

So now that you have your Buying and Acquiring plan, go shopping!  And stay tuned, because next time we get to the really fun (cough cough) part of  how to pack up all this stuff.

 So, do you love or hate the Buying and Acquiring stage?  Why?

Want more MAW?  Check these out
Want more MAW?  Check these out
Moving Across the World:  The Beginning
Moving Across the World:  Toys 
Moving Across the World: Packing 
Moving Across the World:  The Big Day(s) 
Moving Across the World:  Helpful This and Thats

Thursday, August 23, 2012

How to Start a Ladies Bible Study

I am by no means an expert on this. I have only led a few Bible Studies, but that being said, I struggled with how to start one. I googled for information, but really didn't come up with anything. So I thought I would share with you how I started a Bible study.

A few years ago before we moved to Australia, I went to my pastor and asked him what he thought of having a ladies Bible study for the moms in our church. He said it was a great idea, and to go ahead and start it. Um, me? I had no intention in leading it, I just wanted to attend a Bible study!

With the encouragement of some friends we started a Bible study for moms in our church. I was a bit nervous, I felt the women in the group were far more qualified than I was, but looking back I am so thankful for the experience! We simply used Elizabeth George's Bible study books. I think we ended up doing three of her books. 

When we arrived in Australia, I wanted to start a Bible study here, but since I didn't know many people I didn't know where to start.

Where to Begin...
  • Pray! Pray! Pray! If it's the Lord's will, He will show you what to do!
  • If the Lord leads, post flyers at your supermarket, library, or places like that.
  • Talk to your friends about your burden, it is possible they are wanting to attend a Bible study!
  • Begin searching for Bible studies. (I will share some links below.)
  • Continue to pray for the Lord's leading. A Bible study without the Holy Spirit is pointless!
I prayed about starting a Bible study, and simply asked the Lord that if it was something He wanted me to do that He would open the doors. A few weeks later I was visiting another homeschool family, and as I was talking with the mom she mentioned that she would love to attend a Bible study. I told her it was something I had been wanting to do. She said that if I would lead it she had many friends that would be interested. I came home and prayed about it and discussed it with my husband, and knew this was the Lord opening the door.

How to Start...
  • Pray! Pray! Pray! Seek the Lord's direction.
  • Choose a Bible study. Seek the Lord's direction.
  • Set a date, time, and place. Again, seek the Lord's direction.
  • Send out invitations.
  • Begin the Bible study yourself.
Once you have chosen your Bible study, the date, time, and place, I'd encourage you to look thoroughly over your curriculum and begin the first lesson a week or so before the actual start date. You want to be familiar with what you are going to be teaching.

Bible Study Schedule...
  • Open in prayer
  • Introduction...have each lady introduce themselves and tell something about themselves
  • Icebreaker game. We played the purse game...this is a good game to get to know each other!
  • Explain the Bible study. Go over the schedule, how often you will meet, homework for them to do throughout the week, Bible reading, book reading, etc. Try not to make this overwhelming.
  • Ask for questions.
  • Give a short devotional pertaining to the lesson. After the first week, you can use this time to go over what you have learned since your last Bible study.
  • Prayer Requests
  • Closing prayer
  • Food and fellowship
Our Bible study meets every other Monday evening at 7:30pm. It normally gets over around 9pm, then everyone stays and chats a little longer.

Please know, this is how it works best for me...these are only suggestions for you!

Bible Study Suggestions...
*Please note, I do not necessarily condone all that these authors have to say. I've learned that there is not perfect Bible study material out there (except God's Word itself), you have to learn to take the good, and skip over the not so good.
  • Good Morning Girls (I am currently using their study on the Proverbs 31 Woman. These are helpful because it gives a schedule of verses to read each day. This blog also gives helps on leading a Bible study)
These are just a few that I have used as Bible studies and have enjoyed and learned much from. I'd love to hear your suggestions!

What are your suggestions in starting and leading a ladies Bible study?  What study guides do you/have you used?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Back to school

This is from Danielle: I know right now is "back to school" time in the U.S. and in some other countries. I know some are in January or other times as well. I just thought it might be an interesting time to ask how schools are different in different countries, what kinds of things do kids learn, school traditions, etc. as well as asking how homeschooling families incorporate local culture and educational values into their homeschool curriculum.

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dealing with Homesickness

Something strange happened a few weeks ago. Every Sunday, my husband and I listen to a sermon together online, sort of as 'extra food' for us. Usually, we listen to a sermon from our family of churches in England, my home church or our sending church. This particular week we listened to a couple from our sending church. It was a good sermon, but I'm not going to talk about that. What really caught me off guard was the feeling of homesickness I felt after listening to that sermon.

Homesickness? Where in the world did that come from? I've lived in England for over a year and a half and have not really struggled with homesickness. Until now.

I could speculate why I'm experiencing it now. Maybe it's because my life has changed dramatically in the past 4 months. Maybe it's because we now have a baby, and I long to be around family so our son can grow up with his grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Maybe it's because my parents and in-laws have both come and gone recently. I really don't know, but all of a sudden I had this wave of missing the US.
Lake District—The top of High Spy

 How do I deal with homesickness?

Maybe I haven't experienced it since moving to England because I've been intentional in trying to not to be homesick. I've learned a few things about preventing it since moving here as well as from when I was in college. There is, however, something about moving to a foreign country that trumps going away to college in terms of being homesick.

Keep busy.

I had to get involved in things right away. It really helped me to have things to look forward to every week. That could have been working at the church office, meeting ladies for coffee, bringing my husband lunch, or whatever other event that would come up. I found that if I didn't have something to look forward to, it was probably going to be a rough week!

Find a place that reminds you of home.

This was a tip that a friend of mine gave me a few months after moving to England. She told me that sometimes it helps if you can find a place that reminds you of home, like getting coffee at Starbucks or lunch at Subway. For me, it was grocery shopping at Aldi. :)

Find 'family.'

Honestly, it helps a lot that I'm married to Leon, who's lived in England longer than myself. He and Asher are my family now. At the same time, it's helpful to find a family we can be a part of. For example, it will be nice for Asher to have a 'substitute' granny, aunt, uncle, etc. when his real grandparents can't come visit (or we can't go visit them).

Thank God for Skype!

Modern technology has come a long way. Now we have the ability to see our friends and family back home on Skype video. It helped Leon and I as we grew our relationship early on, and it helps us now as we keep in touch with family and friends back home. My favourite part about Skype right now is introducing Asher to my friends and family by way of video (although it hasn't happened that often). I think my parents are glad they can watch Asher grow up through such an amazing technological invention.

Enjoy a cup of tea.

You know I have to say this since we live in England. :) There's just something about a cup of tea that makes my troubles seem to go away. And I can have my cup of tea while doing my next tip.
At Carlisle Cathedral

Look to God.

In reality, this should have been first on my list. As a Christian I should look to God in struggles such as homesickness. He will give me strength. It also helps to keep an eternal perspective—This earth isn't my home, and I'm longing for my home in heaven with Jesus.

So those are some things that I've found help me deal with homesickness while living in England. Have you struggled with homesickness? What have you done to deal with it? How do you help your children deal with homesickness?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 4

This is the next installment in my series on Calm My Anxious Heart. You can read the earlier parts here: chapter 1chapter 2, and chapter 3.

Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Matthew 20:28
Am I content with my role? Yes! There is nothing I would rather be than a wife and mother. But... also, no? Am I content with every part of every role that I play now?

My roles--wife and mother--are probably the same two main roles for most of us here. Some of you can add grandmother, missionary (well, we're all missionaries, but I mean in a specific, active ministry role; I'm not there now), and maybe something else. For me mothering is natural; I'm not saying that it's not hard, but it just comes naturally to me. Being a wife is what I have to work at. Is it the opposite for you, or can you relate to me? This chapter challenged me in that, most of all. There weren't too many specifics, and I don't know that I actually complain about my role as a wife, but I could definitely grow in it.

Also, I am obviously not a widow or a single women, but the parts about loneliness directed to them spoke to my heart. I'm not longing for a husband. I have a wonderful husband! But there are so many times when I sigh for a friend. God has not given me anyone for many years now, and I struggle with that. I don't know if loneliness can be counted as a "role" in the sense that this chapter is speaking of, but I was encouraged once again to accept the loneliness I feel as my portion for now and let it constantly turn me toward my heavenly Father.

A few good quotes...
After saying that young people long for when they will finally grow up and be able to do what they want, and then asking when that finally comes: 
"We grow up when we see our life and our role from God's perspective; when we thank God for the role He has assigned us and begin to see our cup as a gift instead of a cross; when each morning we ask, 'God, how can I glorify You today in my given role?'" (page 56)
"If we're trusting God that His portion for us is best, we can make the secret choices that will bring us a heart of contentment" (page 58).
"What is God's standard of evaluation for you and me in our given roles? Success? Perfection? ...Fathfulness is God's standard! ...Will you pray this prayer?
Holy Father, You know the joys, the heartaches of my role. I confess that I have fought against what You have given. Grant me the courage to be a servent. Oh, God, I long to be faithful to You. I accept my assigned role as a gift. Teach me to 'cease striving and know that You are God'" (page 62).

A question from the study guide: "How can you apply Matthew 20:28 and serve the people in your life this week?" Do you have any thoughts to share with us about being content in your role(s)?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Connecting Across the Miles

“Mommy, sometimes I wish you could cut me in half. Half of me could stay at Nana’s house, and half of me could go to El Salvador with you.”
These were my daughter’s words as we boarded the plane to fly back to our home in El Salvador. I knew just how she felt. One foot here, and one there. The wanting to go, and the wishing to stay. The good-byes, the leaving, the sense of loss that is always there. The feeling of missing a birthday, a wedding, or an important moment in the life of a family member.
Living overseas, and raising our children far from family and long-time friends is a challenge. How do we maintain a connection with cousins? What about grandparents? Friends that we knew before the move? How can we firmly anchor our children to their extended family across the years and across the miles?
I am the first to admit that I fall short in nurturing connections with family back in the U.S. Life rushes ahead, and soon weeks or months go by without touching base with grandparents and cousins. It requires effort and planning but providing children with a familiar “home base” and a sense of identity and history is well worth it.
Here are a few things that we have done, and that I want to commit to doing on a more regular basis. I hope that you can find something useful to help your family create valuable connections.
1.       Face to Face Skype Calls. Anyone who is living overseas knows about Skype. We are so blessed to be raising kids abroad in the age of the internet. We can actually talk face to face in real time with friends and family half-way around the world. My biggest problem arises when I fail to be intentional about making these calls happen. With time differences and an overstuffed calendar,  we must make a point in our family to schedule time for our kids (and us) to chat with family members.

2.       E-Mail. I use email and Facebook to talk to friends and family back home but it wasn’t until recently that it dawned on me to start letting my kids use my email account to send messages. If they are feeling sad about missing a friend or family member, they can send an email. My daughter can type herself, and my son dictates to me what he wants to say. Grandparents have responded enthusiastically by sending everything from e-cards on the first day of school, to quick messages sharing something interesting that happened that day. For example, my daughter and her grandmother share a love of birds so they like to update each other with descriptions and pictures of birds that they have seen recently. It’s a small and convenient way to stay connected.

3.       Snail Mail. The mail system in El Salvador is unpredictable, but for the most part we have had success mailing postcards of places we’ve visited and receiving small letters and stickers from the U.S. Sending a small letter under a pound is around $1 from the U.S. to El Salvador and that has been another simple way to keep in touch. This obviously depends on where your country is and the mail service, but nothing delights my kids more than receiving a letter in the mail!

4.       Book Exchange. My daughter loves reading, and so does her cousin. One thing they like to do is a book exchange. They will each lend one of their favorite books to the other to read. This has worked for us because we try to connect with someone coming from the States to El Salvador and get the book into their hands. There is something special about knowing you are reading one of your cousin’s favorite books. Another idea is to read a book on the same topic at the same time as a loved one. My daughter and my father were both reading books about Benjamin Franklin at the same time and my daughter loved to talk about how Papa was reading about the same thing she was.

5.       Get to Know Grandma Book. Along the lines of the book exchange, is to have a special book or journal to keep up with grandma or another relative. My daughter and my mother have a book that they work on together when we are visiting the States or my mother is visiting El Salvador. They can play games, write down notes, and share secrets between the two of them. Here is a link to a great book by American Girl that even features tear out sections that can be kept and shared between a girl and her grandmother. 

6.       Sharing Clothes. This is one I love because we get free clothes, and my kids can get a souvenir from their older cousins. My kids truly love wearing a favorite shirt or pair of jeans that was once worn by a big cousin.

7.       Pictures and Scrapbooks. Keep pictures of family members displayed prominently around the home. Try to keep them current. I realized that I still had the same pictures we brought with us when we moved nearly three years ago…cousins change in that amount of time! Another idea is making a scrapbook of your furlough to keep for your kids to look at, or spend time creating one to be sent to a family member. Last year my kids helped to create a scrapbook of all the highlights from their year to be given as gifts to grandparents. They loved having the opportunity to share the things that were important to them. We created them online and had them shipped to the grandparents in time for Christmas. You can create these simple books online by visiting sites like Creative Memories, Snapfish, or Shutterfly.

8.       Be Creative! Brainstorm with your kids about ways to help them remember friends and family when they are far from home. Sometimes something as simple as baking cookies with an aunt's recipe and talking about favorite memories can help a child to feel connected.  Letting them make a special collage about their memories from a furlough or the visit of a relative can give them a sense of belonging to a family that they only see once every few years. The sky is the limit, so discover what works for your family.
It is difficult to stay close across the miles, but I encourage you to be intentional about making it a family priority to stay connected. What about your family? What ways have worked for you to stay close even when living across the country or overseas?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Kids and transitions

Again, I don't have a fresh question to ask, so I'm taking from the comments on Ashley's older postWhat are ways you help your children deal with many transitions?

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Moving Across the World: Toys

Alright.  Now, where did we leave off in this Moving Across the World bit?  Those decisions of what to get rid of, and what to keep.  Are you worn out yet from all the decisions?  Ha! Oh and if you are just joing us you can jump over here and read the first in this Moving Across the World Series

One of the hardest areas for me was figuring out what to do with all the kids’ toys.  It was one thing for me to get rid of my stuff, but to get rid of their stuff…well, that was a completely different matter.  And how do you pack for a year or two or three at a time when kids grow and change? Sigh.  Yep, it’s a big challenge.
Eventually I came up with a criteria for toys.  If they could be played with at multiple ages and stages, we brought them.  I brought things that required imagination and not batteries, that could be played with in a variety of ways, and stuff that was their current favorite.  I didn’t bring all the little McDonald’s toys or  dollar store toys  but quality stuff.

We ended up with Duplos, wooden trains and their tracks, matchbox cars (that used the same track), wooden food and dishes, Little People, and some musical instruments.  For our family, these were all really good choices.  Our boys were just 4 and 2 ½ when we left for the year of language school.  These things all grew with them and they enjoyed them all that year, and they still play with them.

Even though our kids were little, we talked about this all with them.  There were some things that we had to leave, like their little table and chairs, some of the dress up clothes and their  little kitchen, but we talked about how other kids would get to play with them and how it’s good to share.  We also asked them what they wanted to bring and let them bring something that seemed silly to us, but to them it was important at the time.

 And because I find things like this helpful to help me gauge, we brought two suitcases of toys.  Now, I will say, those suitcases also had the plastic storage bins for the toys in them as well.  And yes, for Costa Rica that was a great choice. Plastic bins and whatnot are quite pricey there.    

And this is a good time to say again, what works for us, may not work for you.  Your family might need to bring five suitcases of toys, or you may only need one.  You aren’t more spiritual one way or the other, this is simply about what your family needs to be sane on the field.  I often pray because I am utterly overwhelmed as I look at the suitcases, “Lord, give me wisdom on how to pack us all up.  And He is faithful  to give that wisdom.  For which I am very grateful!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

5 Steps to be Content

As women it is easy to look around and compare ourselves with others. We may think, “well if only I had a husband like hers, I could be the Proverbs 31 woman,” or “if only I had kids like hers I could be a better mom,” or “if only my house was bigger, cleaner, better, or fill in the blank _______.”

I want to encourage you to stop the “if onlys”. Stop comparing yourself to others, and compare yourself to God’s Word.

Philippians 4:11 says, “..for I have learned in whatsoever state I am therewith to be content.”

Let’s look at what the Bible tells us about comparing ourselves to others.

"For we dare not make ourselves of the number,
or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves:
but they measuring themselves by themselves,
and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."
II Corinthians 10:12

"I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live;
yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:
and the life which I now live in the flesh
I live by the faith of the Son of God,
who loved me, and gave himself for me."
Galatians 2:20, 6:4

5 Steps to be Content...
  • You need to be content with who God has created you to be.
  • You need to be content with the husband God has given you.
  • You nee to be content with the children God has given you.
  • You need to be content with the house and things God has given you.
  • You need to be content with Who God is. He IS all you need.
As Christians we have an identity in Christ…we are new creatures in Him.

“Don’t compare yourself to others
and don’t allow feelings of insecurity to rob you of your identity in Christ.
He loves you and created you for a purpose.”
Author Unknown

To read more about your identity in Christ, read these passages...
  • Colossians
  • Psalm 139
  • I Peter 2:9
  • Galatians 4:6-7
  • Jeremiahs 29:11
  • Ephesians 2:10
  • John 1:12-13
Work on your vertical relationship (your relationship with God) and the horizontal relationships (your relationships with your husband, children, family and friends) will be where they need to be.

Comparing yourself to others will only cause you to become discouraged and then you will believe the lies of the devil that you are not worthy of God's love, and that, my dear friend, is Satan's biggest lie!

"Wherever you are be all there."  -Jim Elliott

How have you learned to be content with where God has placed you?

Written by Jen, I also blog at  Be Thou Exalted and Baptist Missionaory Women.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Family size

Ashley asks: Have any of you experienced a difference between your family size and the culturally average family size in your host country? Maybe you have 5 kids in a country where people usually only have 1, or maybe you have 2 kids in a place where families usually have 10? Our family is vastly outgrowing the average Russian family size and I am starting to get a number of comments and just feel like quite a bit more of a cultural outsider. On one hand it has been a great opportunity to talk about the value of life and of motherhood, but at the same time I'm experiencing some loss because I feel like the difference between my family and our host culture is becoming greatly highlighted, creating a new distance that I haven't felt in awhile. (In the past, relating to fellow moms on the issues of normal life has been one of the best ministry opportunities for me... now my friends just think we're totally "unique" and I feel less common ground.) Have any of you experienced this or has it affected your choice of family size? If you have experienced this, what has helped you to continue finding ways to relate? How have you dealt with frequent questions? Thanks, friends!

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Making a House Your Home

I remember when I first moved to England. I was intimidated. Now, I know that from the outside, living in England isn't that much different from living in the US. It didn't take very long to realise that it is indeed different. The houses are smaller and quite often very old. Most of the houses in this country have heating in each individual room, and the rooms all have doors to keep the heat in. Yeah. I think that's a bit different.

When I moved here, I had the task of making our house our home. It wasn't easy at first. My husband and I had just gotten married, so I felt like I was taking over his space. The other hurdle I faced was the cultural differences when it came to making our home.

Some friends of ours gave us the book, Dwelling: Living Fully from the Space You Call Home as a wedding gift. I found it helpful to read through the book as someone who was living cross-culturally because it gave me a new perspective on what "home" connotes.

Here are some things I've found helpful in making our house feel like home in England.

Don't change; adapt. For a long while, the cultural differences between England and the US are what held me back from really making our house a home. It's taken me awhile recognise that yes, there are cultural differences, but I don't necessarily have to follow the cultural norm in my own home. Instead, I've taken my own approach and put an American spin on the way I run my home. That way, I'm adapting to the culture and keeping some of my own American culture.

Our home is a refuge. My home is my own space... my own refuge from the rest of the world. When I've had a busy day, I look forward to coming home because I know I'll be safe there. I even have my own corner of the house where I can (sometimes) escape and be alone with the Lord. I know my husband feels comfortable in our home. I hope someday that my son will feel the same way when he comes home after a rough day.

Add a few things from the US. Don't get me wrong, I want to adapt to the English culture as much as possible. There are, however, a few things that I love to bring from the US that help our house feel more like home. Just about every time we have family come to visit, I ask them to bring me a big bag of cornmeal. I loooooove corn bread, and it makes me feel at home when I can have it with a big bowl of soup! The other things I loved bringing from the US are quilts. My mother has made us a few quilts, including ones I had from childhood. Having them in our house in England makes it feel more like home for some reason.

So those are some things that I've found helpful in making our house feel like home. What have you done to make your house feel like home?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 3

This is the next installment in my series on Calm My Anxious Heart. You can read the earlier parts here: chapter 1 and chapter 2.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
Psalm 139:15
This chapter is called "Content to Be Me." First Linda Dillow gives a lovely paraphrase of Psalm 139, that she meditated on while praising God when she found out that her daughter was expecting the child that would be Linda's granddaughter. She points out that God has specially created our personalities, our bodies, and our life purposes before we were even born. Do you struggle with any of those areas? Just over the past few days, I've been beating myself up over a personality issue. Now I am inspired to turn from that, and praise God for the way He made me. I am quite content with my body these days, but that has been a struggle in the past, and I recommend another book for all girls and women to read on that topic: Who Calls Me Beautiful? And life purpose... um, that might be a topic for a whole separate post.

There's another analogy in this chapter. We are God's workmanship, His art, and this word picture ties into that. Our lives are like pieces of art; the frames around them are our personalities, gifts and character. The art inside the frame is a work in progress:
God invites you to cooperate with Him to form the picture. If you yield to His artistry, the character of Christ will be reflected through the picture of your life. 
Stand back and look at the picture. What do you see reflected? Do you see the character of Christ, or do you see frantic activity? Do you try to paint with colors of character or colors of accomplishment? Too often in our lives, accomplishment and doing overshadow growth and becoming. We frantically scurry around, trying to paint the picture with our activities, but our being must be settled before our doing (page 43).
The next part is what really jumped out at me this time. When you think of the Proverbs 31 woman, what do you think of? Doing! At least, that's what pops into my mind right away. Feeding her household, buying fields, clothing everyone, helping the poor.... but really, as Linda Dillow says, "if you look carefully at the text, you will discover that all she accomplished flowed from her inner character" (page 44). Her husband and children praised her for her character and inner beauty, not for what she did.

And then the chapter is tied up in a lovely way that I'm not sure I can do justice to. In Genesis 1:28, we are given the jobs of ruling, subduing, and producing. The first thing for us to rule is our own selves. There are examples of a women who complains about her body, but doesn't strive to change the way she looks; a woman with a sharp tongue, who claims that she was just born that way; and a woman who says that God didn't give her any gifts or talents. (What about me? You? How do we fit in there? What excuses do we make?) "God intends to paint a beautiful picture.... But He can't create this work of art without our cooperation.... If you choose to criticize the frame or resist God's brushstrokes, you will not find contentment. It will elude you. If you focus on God's vision that integrates the picture with the frame, and the development of His message through you, you can say, 'I am content to be me" (pages 46-47).

And just another good quote to close with:
When I'm not pleased with the talents, gifts, and abilities God gave me, I remind myself that He is the Blessed Controller of all things (1 Timothy 6:15). If I believe this, I must also believe that God is the Blessed Controller of my "all things." My appearance. My personality. My gifts and talents. In my heart of hearts I long to please God, and it pleases Him when I am content with how He created me (page 41).

What gifts and abilities has God given you? What part of yourself do you struggle with accepting?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

When Your Child Doesn't Fit the Mold

We are outsiders when we come into another culture. Foreigners. The guests. Our kids feel it too. They don’t fit the mold, and sometimes they have problems making friends and finding their niche at school, church, or in other group settings. But what happens when your child is WAY outside the mold? What if they have a learning disability? Or an emotional condition? What if they are in need of an educational resource that just isn’t available in the country where you live? Is it time to throw in the towel, and head home to where public schools accommodate special needs and therapy sessions are free?
No child really “fits the mold” but what do you do when the health and peace of your family is threatened by your child’s struggles? What happens when your role turns from simply “missionary mom” to “therapy mom?”
This year I’ve had to work through all of these questions. Both of my children go to a local bi-lingual international school that graciously offers a discount to missionary families. The school has great academics and a student body made up of nationals and expats. We quickly enrolled our daughter when we moved here two and a half years ago.
Fast forward to this past year, and things were not going so smoothly for my kids. My son, age 5, was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder which contributed to significant speech and fine motor skill problems in school. Doing academic work in both Spanish and English seemed to aggravate things. Meanwhile, my daughter, age 7, was a constant frustration to teachers as she began to work well above her grade level and question teachers and classroom routines. Rewards and behavior charts did not seem to be helping, and every morning was a battle to get her out the door to school, which she found “boring.”
I know that many of you reading this have been through far worse struggles concerning your children. You may have had to leave the countries where you are serving, or battle your U.S. public school system for services. I admire so many mothers that have done that. I don’t know how you do it, because I began to fall apart in my efforts to help my children succeed in school each week. We started to consider other options but because of our ministry schedule, my responsibilities, and our children's needs we felt homeschooling was not the right choice for our family at this time.  I found myself praying, begging actually, for God to intervene. I didn’t know what to do as my son continued to fall behind, and the school was consistently sending negative reports home concerning my daughter.
Through all of this, I have been reminded of God’s great faithfulness. We seem to remember to count on Him for the big things like providing finances and helping our ministries. I have learned this year that He also cares about how our children are doing in school, and that He listens to a mother’s desperate cries. Through our children’s school, we were connected to a bi-lingual speech and occupational therapist that works with our son each week and gives us strategies to work with him at home.  He made a dramatic turnaround in school once he started therapy. We were also connected with a bi-lingual educational psychologist, who gave us some direction concerning our daughter. We have been able to develop a good plan for her education in this upcoming school year. The fact that we’ve found these helpful professionals is evidence that God is working in our children’s lives.
But I must be honest, it’s not easy. These services are private and costly. They cut into finances that could be spent other ways. They take our family away from time we could be spending together, even serving together.  My faith has wavered as I question why God would call us to a place where our children would struggle. In the States, resources would be free and I could connect with other families walking through the same thing. But that’s not the plan right now. The plan is to be here, and sometimes the plan includes “counting the cost” financially and emotionally.
I wanted to write this post to reach out to those of you who are in this same place. I know you are out there. I know there are many mothers who wish their child could just “go with the flow” and fit into the school system where you live. You may be thinking, "Other children seem to do it without all the issues...why can't my child?" I know that there are other moms who are homeschooling and trying to get through each day, balancing teaching and ministry, so that their child can get a good education in a way that works for that child.
So, how do you cope? What do you do if your child doesn’t “fit the mold” and you have to go to Plan B? I don’t have all the answers, but I wanted to share some practical things I have learned over this past year.
1.       Ask people to pray for your child. This seems like a no-brainer. Obviously we are missionaries and we have people praying for us all the time! At least that’s what I thought but I had a fellow missionary mom here in El Salvador challenge me to ask for specific prayer for our children. When I know people are praying, I somehow feel less alone.

2.       Research what your child needs. There are many articles, book reviews, and general information available on the Internet. We moms are good at finding out how to meet our child’s needs so take advantage of all the information that is out there. I've had to take time away from other things simply so I could dedicate time to researching how to advocate for my children.

3.       Find out what resources are available in your host country. Depending on where you are, there may be nothing available but don’t make that assumption without investigating. Talk to local international schools that have bi-lingual students, or connect with someone in the U.S. Embassy. Because many services are provided in the States, many embassies also provide them to their employees and they may have a list of local therapists. We live in the capital, so we have some interaction with embassy workers, and I have discovered resources available to bi-lingual students through these connections.

4.       Check with your insurance to see if they will cover some of the payment. In some countries, therapy isn’t covered by any kind of insurance but you don’t know if you don’t ask. Right now, we are working with our national insurance company to see if they will pay for a portion (even a small portion) of the therapy costs since some of it is medically related.

5.       Get support from other moms. To be completely honest, I don’t have much support. That is one reason I wanted to write this post.  I don’t know of any online groups specifically for parents dealing with special issues with their kids overseas. I’m sure they are out there, I just haven’t found them. I also don’t know of any in-country support groups either. Watching your child struggle is hard; we moms need each other.
Raising a child that doesn’t fit the mold is tough no matter where you do it, and adding cross-cultural and language issues can mean a lot more stress for everyone involved. I never anticipated this being a major struggle that I would experience as a missionary. But here it is. It is part of my life, and part of our family’s story and testimony to God’s work in our lives as we serve Him in El Salvador.  I hope that you can be encouraged that you are not alone, and hopefully we can cheer each other on as we take this journey together.
I would love to hear your stories , and please add your own practical advice on this topic…I am new to all of this and still learning!