Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday Topic?

Oops! I thought I had something scheduled for yesterday, but--as you can see--I didn't. I'm sorry about that. Can we just start the discussion today, and then carry on as usual?

Here is one from a reader who is not yet on the mission field, but who is probably headed in that direction. She asks: "We would of course have to raise financial support for part/most of our living expenses. If most of your income is from supporters, how do you decide about spending some of that money on 'wants' or gifts, especially for your kids at Christmas, birthday, etc?"

(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, November 24, 2012

Advent is coming!

Click here for more graphics and gifs!

And what do we have planned? On this blog, we'll be providing weekly devotionals that you can print out and use with your family. The traditional time to read them would be each Sunday of the month of December, so they'll be published on Saturdays. Each week has a theme to focus on, and these devotionals are designed to be used with an Advent wreath.

In our own family, we haven't ever had a traditional Advent wreath. Don't worry, if you don't either! You can pull together some candles, with or without greenery or other decorations. My favorite "wreath" that we've ever had looked like this:

Those are plain glass jars, covered with tissue paper, candles placed inside. I'm planning to try to remake it this year. I'd love to see what you use in your family!

We light our candle(s)--the appropriate number for the week--every evening during Advent. So, we'll be using the new devotional reading each Sunday, but also drawing its theme out for a whole week, plus reading a little more Scripture each day.

No matter what you're planning, please read this: it is probably my all-time favorite Advent blog post.

Posts on this blog will slow down, in order to give the writers more time to quietly focus at home. I was even planning to stop Tuesday Topics, but now we have some good holiday themed discussion starters, so I'll schedule those to post, at least some Tuesdays. I hope you all will participate in the discussion, as you have time.

I'm excited about this season! May the Lord use the month ahead of us to prepare our hearts for His coming and to draw us closer and closer to Him.

What does Advent look like in your home? Do you observe Advent? How? What are your plans for this year? Will you read along with us in the weekly devotionals we have coming up?

Every Day, Driving a Gauntlet

I was driving to one of the actual grocery stores here in town recently. (That means aisles, shopping carts or baskets, meat counter, bakery, refrigerator and frozen section - even Kellogg's Special K, sometimes... It's not Walmart or Winn Dixie, but "I ain't complainin'!") I don't often navigate this section of town, at least not this year, and there are a few trickier round-abouts... or rotaries... or round points, depending where you are from... In fact, I thought I'd run over a guy on a bike at one of them just a few months ago. Now, nervousness tags along each time I try and merge into the traffic fray in that place.

That morning, after successfully merging and driving up the hill amid the bikes, motorcycles, large and small vehicles as well as pedestrian and animal traffic, a Land Cruiser goes flying around me, crosses the double yellow line, weaves through thankfully minimal head on traffic, swings wide again while passing a small, blue car in front of me before finally jerking mostly back into the correct line of traffic and abruptly halting due to circulation paused by a red light enforced by a traffic cop down the road... Then, that last, little blue car passed drives right up on to the curb, goes back around the Land Cruiser on the right, sorta settles back into line while still partially resting on the curb... and they both wait for the signal to change, the police to assent and traffic to resume. At that point, the Land Cruiser, seemingly more calm, simply slips back into line behind the smaller blue compact and everyone drives down the road, more or less normally... at least until I turned off to pull into the grocery store parking lot.

It really was a pretty typical thing to see driving around in this town. People ignore the double yellow line, if there is one. Lights are suggestions and stop signs totally optional unless a policeman is standing nearby. Whoever honks first and loudest has the right of way, even if you have no idea where they are coming from when you hear the honk. I'm vividly aware that each time I climb into a vehicle, I'm risking my life and limb, as well as that of my passengers and anyone who might be on the road at the same time. The nightmare-hued possibilities display in my mind every time I venture into traffic. It is easy to have a cynical, negative attitude and my first reaction to that particular vehicular display on that day was neither kind nor gentle - neither in my mind nor with the words that  almost instinctively spurted from mouth. Thankfully, it was just me out and about in the car that day.

My initial reaction? 

"Stupid, selfish, aggressive driver!" (paraphrased...) 

Clearly the guy figured that as a very important person, his plans took precedence over all other considerations and the 3 seconds of time he might have gained through his reckless driving obviously justified the risk of life and limb - his own as well as others. I've always said that drivers in a developing country (particularly where any consequence for violating the theoretical traffic laws is totally haphazard and undoubtedly random) demonstrates man's self-centered, sinful, me-first ugliness minus the tethering influence of the Holy Spirit more vividly that just about anything else... except, perhaps, toddlers fighting.

As I'm muttering under my breath, trying to decide if I'm going to ask the Lord to forgive my well-justified-in-my-eyes verbal outburst and uncharitable thoughts, the still small voice of God snuck a word in edgewise. He asked me:  "Are you really so sure of the motivations behind such driving?" 

Why did I consider myself a righteous judge, jury and executioner?

Perhaps the two cars were actually traveling together - the first leading the second - desperate to catch up to his guide? Perhaps someone was ill and they were headed to the clinic up the road? What if they'd been commandeered as temporary ambulances and were heading for an emergency room? A whole realm of other possibilities existed... things are neither always as they appear, nor as I assume them to be.

Only the Lord is able to see, knows and is qualified to rightly judge actions as well as the intents of the heart.

That thought provoked more thinking. 

How often do I, a proclaimed Christ-follower - do something similar as I judge the actions and motivations of fellow Christians as well as others... even of God. I assume the worst instead of trusting the best? Even if I don't come right out and bluntly... or even tactfully... say so, I communicate my pronouncement of guilty via body language, facial expression, disgusted glances, heavy sighs... 

It never helps.

God encourages us to be wise as serpents yet innocent as doves. I wonder if He said that for times like this? 


Can we successfully drive the gauntlet, 
recognizing precarious situations around us and avoiding them... 
without judging the intent or the spirituality 
of those somehow implicated or involved in those circumstances? 

How do you achieve this balance?

Thursday, November 22, 2012



For most Americans, the word brings to mind family and friends gathered warmly around a table, a big turkey, and a football game in the background. Traditionally, it's a day that the nation pauses to be grateful for all that we have. However, this year I've heard many complaints coming from the homeland about the fact that "Black Friday" has begun to encroach more and more on the Day of Thanksgiving. I'm glad to avoid that aspect of the Thanksgiving weekend, but I always feel a pang of homesickness as I picture my family together enjoying all the Thanksgiving traditions without us.

Moving to a new culture means giving up some very "American" things as part of the process of fitting in to a new way of life, but Thanksgiving is something we have managed to hold on to. It's a family tradition that we've celebrate as a family and to invite some friends. We've introduced our Latin American friends to our traditions, and they greatly appreciate the fact that we have a day to express our gratitude.

For us Thanksgiving falls in the same week that we celebrate our "anniversary" of life and ministry in the country of El Salvador. I don't know about all of you, but the date of our arrival is forever burned in my memory. Thanksgiving week has become a time for us to reflect on the past year and the ways that God has blessed us, and also the ways that we have struggled and even hurt. We acknowledge the ways that we have grown, and rejoice in the hopes that we have for the next season of ministry.

This idea of remembering and honoring isn't something new. The book of  Joshua tells us in chapter 4 that God helped His people to miraculously cross the Jordan River. After the crossing, God called them to build a memorial from stones so that future generations would know that God was with His people. For me, Thanksgiving has become more than just an American holiday that I know and love (although I do really love it!), but beyond that it is a day to honor how God has worked in our lives. It is a day to stop what we are doing, and say "God has done this." It is a day to gather our family and friends together and be grateful for what we have, but also to be grateful for the One who has given it. I hope that my children will remember what He has done, and I hope that they will carry this tradition on...a tradition of simply being thankful.

Today I will thank God for our family, and I will celebrate that God has worked beyond my dreams to move our ministry into a new and exciting direction. I thank God that I can say with confidence "God is here, God is working, God has done this."

What about you? What has God done for you this year? What is your family memorializing as this year draws to a close?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Furlough holidays

From a reader: Does anyone have any advice about furlough during the holiday season? Last time we were back we had a lot of culture shock, cold weather shock, and family drama shock. Thanks!

(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, November 17, 2012

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 9

I'm still blogging about Calm My Anxious Heart. Here is what I've written so far: chapter 1chapter 2chapter 3chapter 4chapter 5chapter 6chapter 7 and chapter 8.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1
Remember last time I wrote, I shared that we had to move? It's been rough. We're moved, and of course, God is good and faithful, but it's been one of those messy moves where nothing seems to go right at all. Plus, the apartment we're in now is just not what I would have chosen. I've been struggling emotionally every day. Studying through this chapter right now has been such a wonderful reassurance for me. I won't say that my faith has been shaken by the circumstances I'm in, but I have been very upset, and I need this reminder.

After writing about contentment and barriers to it, Linda Dillow now moves on to "Faith: The Foundation." She says:
Faith raises us above our circumstances. Faith enables us to be content even when life doesn't make sense. Faith is the bulwark that keeps us strong even when we're assailed by agonizing thoughts about what might happen or by what has happened (page 134).
God wants us to have real faith, faith that we own. Linda Dillow mentions Amy Carmichael, which speaks right to my heart. (I usually turn to Amy's books in hard times, and this is not an exception. I just finished Things As They Are.)
Amy Carmichael, missionary to India's children, said her ability to trust God began with her confidence in God's character. Here is what she believed:
  • God is, first and always, a loving Father.
  • God is in control, and everything He allowed into her life was ultimately for her good.
  • Like a little child, she "tucked" herself into God by trusting Him--and He was able to carry her through all things (page 137).
And that is the first part of our faith foundation: God's character. We can trust Him, because we know Him! Also, our faith must be based on His Word, not what we feel. Talking about faith and feelings like a train must be a common illustration, because I remember hearing it in Bible school years ago. Our faith in the facts of God's Word has to come first, pulling the caboose of our feelings behind it. "Regardless of what I can see or how I feel, by faith I choose to put the coal into the engine and not the caboose" (pages 140-141).

Really, once again this whole chapter is so good that I'd just like to quote it all!

What are you learning about faith these days? Anything you want to share? What is showing you God's love most of all right now?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recipes that Translate

Boy wouldn't that be great?!  To have a recipe that makes it so you could speak the language of your host culture perfectly?  Sorry to bait and switch on ya, but that's not what this is about.

I hope I am not the only one who sorta stumbles when it comes to cooking in our host culture.  Sure you get the hang of it, but there is process to it, right?   I remember one meal I made early on in language school that was just ground hamburger.  I couldn't figure out what to do with it beyond just cooking it.  My dear husband said, "well, honey, we have some cheese and some chips, let's make nachos."  That you Lord for giving me a man who has a brain when I don't!

Some of the go to recipes we all had in our home countries can't be duplicated in our host culture.  And sometimes they can.  Or they might taste just a bit different.

One of our family favorites is chicken curry.  It was funny when we were back in the states this summer and I made it, someone mentioned, "this doesn't taste the same." Nope, sour cream is different here in Costa Rica, plain yogurt is just a bit different too.  Oh well.  But overall this reciepe works well in both places.

And because I have told you it's a family favorite, I would be oh so mean if I didn't ive you the recipe!  Maybe it will work in your country.

Chicken Curry
olive oil
1 onion, minced
bit sized carrots, potatoes and cauliflower
salt and pepper

curry powder
chicken chunks
plain yogurt
sour cream/natilla

Saute onions, some curry powder, salt and pepper and veggies in a skillet with the olive oil. When onions are soft, add cubed chicken breast. Cook until chicken is almost done. Then add some plain yogurt, sour cream and more curry powder to taste.

Serve over rice.

Ok, now there are other things that we are used to buying, but you can make them.  Yeah, really, you can.  Food is so wrapped up in who we are and our culture and traditions.  And while we are all striving to integrate into our host cultures, sometimes you just really need some comfort food. 

One of those things for us is bagels.  And really, you can do this!  Here's the reciepe I use

The Bagel Recipe
Mix together:
1 tsp yeast
1 1/4 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)

1/4 c. softened butter
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg yolk

3 3/4 cup flour (enough flour for soft dough)

Knead 8-10 minutes. Rise until double (or so)
Make 12 balls. Thumb in center. Place on floured surface. Cover and let rest 10 minutes.
In large saucepan, boil water. Drop bagels, one at a time, into boiling water. When bagels float to surface, remove with slotted soon and place 2 inches apart on a baking sheet.

Bake 400 degrees 20 minutes  or until golden brown.

Ok, one more and then I am done.  We found that mangos are so intresting!  Ripe mangos taste a lot like peach and make a great pie!  And green mangos taste a lot like apples and work get for crisps.  Here's the recipe I use for mango pie

Mango Pie
Double pie crust
Mangoes to fill pie crust, peeled, sliced to the size of peach quarters.  (oh, and FYI, if you allergic to poison ivy, be careful.  Some can eat them, but not touch the skin.  Some can eat them, but not touch the sap.  Some can't eat them, or touch them, or breath the pollen!)
1/2 c. sugar
3 tbsp. flour
Half a limon (or lime or lemon) squeezed

Basically, do what you think.  Slice the mangoes, squeeze limon (or lime or lemon) over it, put into bottom crust.  Sprinkle sugar and flour over it all.  Cover with top crust.  Bake at 375 for 40 minutes or so.  Although, since I don't really time anything, that's just a guess.  Check it...make sure it's done.  And then eat! 

So now, here's the fun part of this post...where you get involved!  What is your favorite recipe that translates?  And when you give it to us, let us know where in the world you are, if that's ok to put all over the interwebs.

And eventually I will get all the recipes together and make a cataloge for the blog.  So, what is your favorite recipe that translates?  Ready, set GO!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Travel documents

Shannon asked: How do you or what do you use to keep all your papers organized when travelling overseas (ie: birth certificates, passports, tickets, etc)? I'm trying to figure out the best way to keep everything organized.

(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, November 10, 2012

Of elections and such...

Election Day in the United States has come and gone. From what I can gather here on the back side of the desert, some are celebrating, others are mourning and some are fearful for the future. I read (and at times thought myself) much about choices between the lesser of two evils, the failures of our political system, and wondered what all this meant for the future of my homeland. It is easy to get sidetracked by the media hype and the social media outlets. It is easy to forget...

Nations, where the right to participate in choosing political leaders and governmental authorities occurs without fear for personal safety, violence or reprisal, have an amazing opportunity. I hope I remain ever thankful for this privilege - never taking for granted, or helplessly, fatalistically approaching my responsibility to contribute to the decisions that will impact the future of my country.

That isn’t the case in many places all around the world…

It was a morning I’ll never forget…

Approximately one year previous, our country experienced a coup d’├ętat… quick and with little bloodshed. Nevertheless, the military still overthrew the sitting government. Martial law resulted. Traffic patterns throughout town altered and curfews imposed. Liberties taken for granted just the day before were now curtailed. Although we were on home assignment when the actual takeover occurred, when we returned a few months later, the effects of these events could be clearly seen.

Tensions crept upward throughout the January preceding the scheduled elections and hopeful return to civilian rule… clear and intense differences of opinion existed. 

The number of armed soldiers, military vehicles and tanks moving around town increased. Marches and demonstrations occurred, disrupting planned activities. The day before the election, warnings were published to be on alert as we moved about town the next day.

As normal, that morning I was up before dawn baking bread and preparing lunches for my children to take to school. Finishing up in the kitchen, I started back to the bedrooms to begin waking the kids when I heard the first explosion. At first I thought it was my imagination or maybe a large truck backfiring. Then, a second. 

Shortly after that, several successive blasts shattered the last vestiges of early morning quiet. A quick look outside confirmed black smoke billowing one neighborhood over.

Although all was quiet again within 10 minutes, it seemed too hushed. The everyday morning sounds had dissipated like the plume of black smoke that had appeared over the city. Less traffic than normal announced the beginning of a new work day, and sirens rang in the distance and cell phones buzzed as parents quickly decided the kids weren't leaving the house for school. 

Was this another coup? Had election fervor erupted into violence?

Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

It took some time to piece together what had transpired, but apparently a military vehicle had crashed into a storage rack of gas bottles, which then began to explode. Injury, death and property destruction resulted, but later that day, the polls did open with armed guards everywhere and the election proceeded without any further hitch.

Those uncertain minutes starkly reminded (me, at least) that... 

nonviolent transfers of power in a nation where the government encourages 
the population to participate, voting for the candidate of their choice 
can be neither lightly considered nor assumed many places around this world. 
It is an awesome privilege and responsibility 
citizens of the United States (and other countries) are blessed to have.

The Bible is also clear about another, accompanying privilege and responsibility: I'm commanded to pray for my authorities

Independent of whether or not I support a particular person or agree with his/her political stands or agenda, I can choose to obey: “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:1-4)

Please share your reflections on this beautiful right, privilege and responsibility that Americans (and others) enjoy.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"I Think I Can Trust You"

The other day my son came home from school with a skinned knee. It was scabby, red, sore, and very dirty.  He wasn't happy about having his knee cleaned off, and he was even less thrilled about having it touched by a band-aid. He hesitantly followed me into the bathroom, hopped up on the counter, closed his eyes, and stuck his leg out.

"Mommy, I think I can trust you, but I'm not sure. I'm just not sure if this will hurt, or what you are going to do, but I think I can trust you." Then he opened his eyes and looked up at me. "I think I can," he repeated to himself more than to me.

I explained to him that it might sting a little to put some antibiotic cream and a band-aid on, but he could trust that I was doing it so that he would heal faster and he would ultimately experience less pain. He understood and he was very brave.

I saw my own heart revealed in this little exchange. My son was honest, and he was willing to trust but he was very unsure because he knew that pain would be involved.  He knows I am his mom, but he wavered a bit in the face of suffering…just like me. I am the same way with God. "God, I know who you are, but this is going to hurt...I think I can trust you." It's easier to trust myself, and harder to trust God when I know that life stings. I want to trust him, but there's that doubt...that hesitation.

Right now I am living in that wavering and uncertain trust. We are in the process of fundraising for a big project with our ministry. God has made it clear to us through prayer and circumstances that this is the next step. The door is open, the numbers have been crunched, and now we wait. Will people donate? Were we wrong? Will we fail? Will this hurt?

I wish I could say that my faith is always steadfast, and I wish I could say that I never tremble in the waiting…but that would be dishonest. Many times I simply sit before God, close my eyes, and wait for the sting while saying, “God I think I can trust you.” Maybe that is childlike faith after all…obedience in the unknowing and willingness in the waiting…living in the thinking instead of the fully knowing.

“God I think I can trust you, help me to be faithful, and help me to trust you more.”

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday Topic: Prayer requests

I don't have any fresh questions queued, we haven't done this for a while, and I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with life, so: How can we pray for each other today? When you read the comments, please be sure to take a few minutes to pray. In a month, I'll ask about answers to prayers....

(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, November 3, 2012

Pressed for Time

Okay, I have a confession to make that’s going to sound obsessive compulsive: I use a kitchen timer to help me with time management. This might sound like something you’d expect a from a software engineer in Silicon Valley, but not from a cross-cultural servant/housewife who lives in the Middle East, where time management is NOT a high priority.

I started using a timer for home school to keep my kids and me on task. We work for 25 minutes, take a 3 minute break, work for 25 minutes, and then break for ten.  Twenty five minute work sessions are supposed to help you to focus on your work and avoid interruptions. (This is the Pommodoro technique, named after the red tomato kitchen timer.)

While I certainly don’t want to live my life to the dictates of a timer, I use it occasionally after school as well. With so many demands, both at home and in ministry, it’s hard for me to stay focused on what I must do and to find time for what I want to do.

Using a timer to work for twenty-five minute Pommodoro’s helps me to:

Get started on large tasks, a little at a time.

Some tasks, like cleaning out my home school closet or writing a prayer letter, seem so overwhelming that I never get around to them. Breaking them down into shorter work sessions helps me to get started. Sometimes I make progress in small chunks by working for one or two 25 minute sessions over several days.

Avoid procrastinating

Honestly, I just don’t enjoy housework, so it’s easy to put it off!  Some days I tell myself, “You can do anything for 25 minutes,” and I set the timer and work like crazy on whatever seems most urgent at home. It’s amazing the difference just 25 minutes can make.

Avoid doing more work than a task merits

I’m a perfectionist, so I tend to spend too much time trying to get things perfect even when the task isn’t that important. For example, I send an e-mail ministry update every 3 weeks, and I could spend hours laboring to write a creative, brilliant letter, when in reality, all I need is a quick e-mail to let people know how we’re doing. It helps me to decide in advance how many Pommodoro’s I’ll need for a task and to try finishing in that amount of time.

Find time for hobbies and special projects

A reality for cross-cultural workers is that it is so hard to find time for ourselves. Writing is an outlet for me, but the only way I’m able to do it is in 25 minute time segments. Another personal project is to organize our last two years of digital photos, choose which ones to print, and frame some for our home.  It’s going to take forever, but I’m working on it, even if it’s just 25 minutes a week.  Making time to do the things I really want to helps me to be a happier wife and mother.

So do I sound totally obsessive-compulsive to you? What is your favorite time management trick?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Everyday Gratitude

Thanksgiving is in 3 weeks (to me, that's unbelievable!). This time of the year always brings about reflection and thoughts of gratitude for Americans.

But why do we seem to only give thanks around the time of Thanksgiving?
Image Credit: amboo who?
Thanksgiving is definitely a time of remembering what God has done. I want to challenge myself and you to do this all year round. It's so easy to complain when things don't go my way and not have a thankful attitude. Michele at Passionate Homemaking says this about being thankful:
"It’s the intentional, everyday thankfulness that I seek to cultivate in my...[heart]; illuminating the awe of everyday blessings amid both trials and goodness."
Now there's a challenge... being thankful in the midst of a trial. It's not necessarily about giving thanks for only the goodness; it's about being thankful even when things aren't going the way you thought they should go. What blessings do you find in the midst of the trial?
I can think of two specific trials that I'm thankful for this past year. The complications I faced after the birth of our son weren't expected. Recovery was difficult, but I'm thankful for a good labour and a healthy baby boy!

The other one is more recent with obtaining my driving licence in the UK. It's been a long frustrating process involving many test failures. In the end, I'm thankful that I'll be a better driver because of it and for the huge lesson in humility!
"I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever." Psalm 86:12 (ESV)
So what about you? What are you thankful for today?