Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tuesday Topic: Anti-American sentiments

(Thank you for your feedback last week. This question came in, so I'll keep thinking about what will be in this space later....)

A reader writes: "We recently had a situation with a missionary friend here in which a [local person] told him that [local people] as a whole do not like Americans. We have sensed it in numerous situations but no one has actually said it out loud to us. Is this normal? Do most missionaries feel that the country, in which they are serving, does not like them and does not want them to be there?" I also add: Please share any anti-American/Western/your nationality experiences that you would like to tell and let us hear how you've dealt with them.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Overseas Friendly Desserts

So, it seems like I am making goodies about 4 times a week now to bring places!  And in an attempt to keep things fresh and overseas friendly, I have found two new recipes with which I am in LOVE.  Since I love you all and know that we all could use some inspiration in the kitchen every once and a while, I am passing the goodness on!

First up, it's nearing the apex of cirtus season here in Costa Rica.  There are all shapes and varieties and colors of cirtus.  I am a sucker for anything tart, and this fits the bill!!  I stole this from a friend here who told me it was super easy and I really couldn't mess it up.  She was right!

I give you Límon Curd (or Lemon Curd, or Lime Curd)

Límon Curd
Makes enough curd to fill a large pie plate

8 límons (or lemons or limes), zest and juice
2 cup sugar
8 eggs
pinch salt
10 tablespoons butter

In a small saucepan whisk together lime juice and zest,sugar, eggs, and salt. Turn on the the burner to medium heat and whisk constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil one minute, still stirring and remove from heat. Stir in butter and cool. Pour over graham cracker crust or eat it straight up!  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to a week.

It's that easy!  I made it twice in one week it was so good!!

Next up, who doesn't love a receipe for the crock pot!?  I know there are times with sketchy power where they aren't the most helpful, but I really have enjoyed becoming good buddies with my crock pot.

This recipe is oh so simple too.  Here goes...

Crockpot Hot Lava Cake
1 c. sugar
1 c. flour
4 T  unsweetened cocoa
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. saltMix these all together.

3/4 c. milk
2 T. butter
1/2 t. vanilla
Mix these all together.  Then mix in with the dry ingredients.  Dump the whole thing in a greased crockpot.

Add a layer of cholcate chips.  About a cup will be enough.

Mix another 3T of cocoa powder with 1 3/4 cup hot water. Pour over top the cake batter and chocolate chips.  Set the crock pot on high for 2 hours. Make sure to watch so the sides don't burn.  After about 2 hours, turn it down to low for another 2 hours.  Enjoy with ice cream or whipped cream, or straight up!

Ok, your turn!  What is your favorite go to overseas friendly dessert recipe?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Longevity in Ministry - of rest and rescue

A few months back I began a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement - it has definitely been a challenge for me. The information I'm discussing is based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church. My notes started off with these words: "Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed - right genes, right diet, right exercise, and right environment." The same principle applies to longevity in ministry on the mission field.

In the first few posts of the series, I shared the foundation my pastor laid out:t to "start, run and finish well," includes two key components. First, we must trust in the sovereignty and sufficiency of God which includes praying like everything depends on God. At the same time we must be obedient, working daily as though everything depends on us in God's strength and for God's glory.

What does the practical outworking of that look like:

I've identified seven priorities that are absolutely essential - ones that protect me from burnout and the temptation of sin, ones that give me direction and hope for the future, ones that remind me from whence comes any and all measure of progress and success.

Those priorities are:
  1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
  2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
  3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry
  4. Welcoming accountability; 
  5. Committing to marriage and family; 
  6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
  7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
Today, I'm considering that third priority. 

On the border between Israel, Palestine and Jordan is a body of water called the Dead Sea. Thirty-one miles long and nine miles wide at its widest point, it lies in the Jordan Rift Valley, and its main tributary is the Jordan River.The surface of the sea and its shores are 1,401 feet below sea level which is the Earth's lowest land elevation. It is nearly ten times as salty as the ocean. The hyper-salinity results in a harsh environment meaning neither plants nor animals thrive or proliferate in the environs. The Jordan River is the primary tributary, and because of the low surface level, water only flows in. It never flows out and is lost only by evaporation, hence the high mineral concentration.

My pastor likes to use the Dead Sea as an example of what happens if we focus on priorities one (growing in knowledge) and two (praying) without ever serving and giving back out:  we become like the Dead Sea, rich in mineral content but no place where flourishing and surviving will occur. 

It sounds a bit crazy to think that missionaries, of all people, would struggle with too much spiritual food and not enough spiritual service. Most of us often feel right on the edge of burnout. But I know from my own experience that sometimes, the temptation was great to cocoon within the expat or missionary community, to hole up with my family and hardly interact with people in the local community. Strangely enough, that retreat never helped the exhaustion... depression... anxiety... discontentment. What did help was finding and maintaining that balance between rest while still actively being a part of God's rescue mission.

We need to regularly give out the Word of God: evangelism, discipleship and through meeting practical and physical needs.  We must commit to intentional service while trusting God for those things that don't fit into the daily schedule. We must minister to our family, our neighbors, our community, within our official ministries... and at the same time allow God and others to minister to us. Sometimes that means accepting help - and sometimes missionary types aren't so good at that. We're so busy making God's business our business of rescue that we forget the rest.

Thus, as we look at these priorities, I can't say that one is more important than another. I can say that some more naturally come easily while others I have to work out. Yet they are all important and we must find a balance.

Back to that Dead Sea example... All inflow and no outflow leads to death. All outflow and no inflow leads to nothing left to flow out. 

Neither extreme contributes to longevity or productive ministry.

What are some strategies you use to protect this balance when surrounded by so many needs?

Which tempts you more: retreating within your family/expat community and withdrawing from ministry and rescue... or never taking the time to rest and retreat? Why do you think that is? What can you do about it?
      Series: Longevity in Ministry
      5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014

      Please note: 
      Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
      and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
      The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

      To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

      photo credit: linh.ngan via photopin cc

      Tuesday, October 21, 2014

      Tuesday Topic: Weekly feature?

      Tuesday Topics are my favorite part of this blog. I love the interaction and discussion! However, as we've been working toward "relaunching" here, we've considered changing the weekly feature to... something else. (What?) There haven't been as many questions sent in lately, and I've had trouble coming up with them on my own. So, this week's topic is:
      Should we keep going with Tuesday Topics or not? If not, what should we replace them with? Do you have any suggestions for a different weekly feature, one that would still involve interaction?

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

      Monday, October 20, 2014

      Sowing In Our Own Garden

      I recently read an old Spurgeon sermon meant to encourage Sunday school teachers that was such an encouragement to me as a mother. He spoke about the tiny mustard seed parable from Luke 13:18-19:
      'He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”"
      He talked about the simplicity yet the depth of these two verses and how it can be applied to those of us teaching young ones. 

      Spurgeon spoke about how the sower takes that mustard seed and sows it into his own garden. Like this sower, we as mothers take this seed which is the gospel, truth, and love of Jesus, and are called not to just hold it to ourselves to pour over and enjoy, but to actively sow it with care. And where might be a good place to sow these seeds? Though we are missionaries on a foreign field, sowing the gospel in places far from home, our own gardens, which are our own families, are especially precious and to be cultivated with special care. Spurgeon then elaborates on the simple fact of how that tiny seed, sown in the sower’s own garden, then grows from something tiny into a great tree, providing refuge.  That is what I desire so deeply for my children, and I know you do too; that those gospel seeds take root in their young hearts, and that our children grow and thrive on the love and truth of Christ and become great “trees” who bless others and touch lives with the light of Jesus.

      Of course we have heard these truths countless times and all have this desire and commitment, but I never cease to be greatly encouraged as we see these truths repeated in so many ways throughout God's word.

      Be encouraged again, mothers, your labor for souls in lands all over the earth is eternally precious to the Lord, but so is the careful sowing and care of your very own garden. Every day you are doing meaningful and powerful work for the kingdom of God!

      What passages of scripture are most encouraging to you personally about sowing in your own  “garden?” Do you currently feel encouraged about the value of the ministry you do at home, or are you feeling discouraged or hindered in any way? Let's pray for one another, that God will use us greatly for His kingdom on our foreign mission fields, as well as especially in our own gardens.

      Sunday, October 19, 2014

      Fall Recipes: my favorite pumpkin cake

      Yesterday, I shared with you about my love for fall, and gave a hint of my love for pumpkin.  I have to admit... if there is any food that I'm obsessed with, it's pumpkin.  When I was pregnant with our first child (and still living in the States), I craved pumpkin like crazy and spent hours baking and cooking everything I could think of -- pumpkin bread, pumpkin soup, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin granola, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin pecan pie -- the list was endless! 

      Then, we moved to Costa Rica, where it's pretty much impossible to get pumpkin except from a can at the upscale grocery store in the capital city.  When we first moved to this little coffee town in the mountains, I learned that pureed carrots can be a good substitute in a lot of recipes... and carrots, I'm sure, are more common than pumpkin in a lot of countries (so, if you can't get a hold of pumpkin where you are, try this recipe with cooked and pureed carrots!).  Now, friends occasionally bring us down cans of pumpkin, or we splurge on buying some while shopping in the capital, so I still indulge in some of my favorite pumpkin recipes every fall. 

      In honor of my favorite season, I'm sharing with you my favorite (and very simple) pumpkin cake recipe!  Our daughter has requested it for her birthday cake for as long as she could talk - a girl after my own heart! 

      2nd birthday

      3rd birthday
      A couple of disclaimers:

      - This is not one of those "healthy" recipes you can find on Pinterest.  I have tried various substitutions at times to attempt to make it somewhat healthier, and I'm including those suggestions in parentheses.  But, I prefer the original, lots of oil and sugar version... so, maybe try that first!

      - I don't remember where I originally got this recipe, and I don't follow recipes closely when baking, so all of these measurements can vary!

      Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

      Ingredients for Cake:

      - 4 eggs
      - 1 cup vegetable oil (you could substitute applesauce for this)
      - 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar (you can decrease the sugar, especially if using applesauce for the oil)
      - 15oz. can of pumpkin (you can substitute 1 3/4 to 2 cups pureed carrots in place of pumpkin)
      - 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (or 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour)
      - 2 teaspoons baking powder
      - 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
      - 1 teaspoon salt
      - 1 teaspoon baking soda

      Ingredients for Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting:

      - 4oz. cream cheese, softened
      - 1/4 cup butter, softened
      - 1 teaspoon vanilla
      - 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (I never measure this, so this is an approximation)
      - cinnamon to taste (again, I've never measured this)


      - Preheat oven to 350F.

      - Combine eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin with an electric mixer at a medium speed, until ingredients are light and fluffy.  In a separate bowl, stir together the rest of the dry ingredients.  Add this to the pumpkin mixture and mix at a low speed until thoroughly combined and smooth.  Spread the batter into a greased 13 by 10in. baking pan or lined muffin tins.  Bake for 30 minutes, and allow to cool completely before frosting.

      - To make the frosting, beat together cream cheese, butter and vanilla with an electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Gradually beat in powdered sugar until it reaches your desired consistency and taste.  Beat in cinnamon to taste. 

      I hope you enjoy this simple, fall recipe.  Please share your favorite fall recipes here! 

      Saturday, October 18, 2014

      Homesick for Fall

      I absolutely love fall.  I love the cooler weather and crisp air, the colorful leaves, wearing boots and scarves, sipping apple cider or homemade soups... and consuming all things pumpkin.  But, living here in the tropics means that we really only experience fall through Facebook photos of friends' kids at the pumpkin patch or frolicking in leaf piles.  Throughout our six years in Costa Rica, the months of October and November are always my most homesick times.  Over the years, I've learned to adapt and make the most of these months being the rainiest months here; I can kind of pretend that the slightly cooler temperatures feel like fall (I actually wore jeans for a full day this week without feeling hot once!). 

      When we were newly arrived missionaries still in language school, I was having a hard time with not being able to take our baby to the pumpkin patch, so I posted a "tropical version" of the optimal fall photo shoot:

      October 2008 - our first "fall" in the tropics
       A few years ago, we were back in the States on furlough in the fall and it was glorious!  Since then, when there is an especially cool day during our rainy season, I try to do some fall activities to ease my homesickness for fall, and the kids love remembering their special time in the fall in the States.  The kids and I throw and jump in cloth leaves in the living room, or walk down to the mango grove at the end of our street and hear the crunch of the dead leaves under our feet.  We roast vegetables and drink hot tea and, now that I'm acclimated to the tropical heat, I'll even pull out a pair of boots and a light scarf on the coolest of evenings.   

      The longer we've lived here, the more and more rice and black beans we eat, but when it's fall in the States, I want to make (and eat!) fall-ish food.  Last week, an American team blessed me and a sweet Costa Rican friend with a fun trip to the capital city here, where they took us to Starbucks (isn't that funny that there is a Starbucks even here, in the land of coffee?).  They bought us pumpkin spice lattes and it was like balm to my homesick heart.  As I sipped what they referred to as "fall in a cup," I was surprised about how something as simple as a pumpkin-y drink could make me feel at home and blessed.  And, sharing something so simple with one of my closest Costa Rican friends, who knew of my recent homesickness, made a sweet connection between my life in the States and my life here. 

      We're not quite dressed for fall, but we'll take what we can get!
      Are you feeling homesick these days?  While, of course, we want to spend the majority of our efforts on adapting to and learning about our host cultures, I would encourage you to sometimes enjoy some of your home culture, too.  This will probably look different for each of us... for me, in the fall months, at least, it means lots and lots of baking.  So, tomorrow come back here to get my favorite fall pumpkin recipe! 

      I would love to hear from you in the comment section today!  Do you have fall where you live?  If so, what fall traditions does your host culture have?  If not, what fall traditions do you still enjoy in spite of not having fall weather? 

      Come back tomorrow for my favorite recipe, and to share your favorite fall recipe in the comments!

      Thursday, October 16, 2014

      Answering The Tough Questions

      "Mommy, what's a safehouse?"

      My 9 year old daughter had just overheard a phone conversation regarding a safehouse where we minister to underage victims of sex-trafficking. I froze. How was I supposed to explain this one?

      "Why did Herber die?"

      Rewind to a few months ago when one of the young men in our street ministry died from years of alcohol abuse on the streets. We've known him since he was a teenager and the kids had seen him for years. There was just no way to talk this one away.

      A week before the safehouse conversation I was driving my daughter to her violin lesson when I suddenly saw a dead body laying up ahead of us on the street. A man had been struck by a bus and his body was sprawled across the busy street as traffic crawled slowly by. I quickly told my daughter to duck her head and look away. She obeyed and thankfully was spared the scary sight of seeing the dead man. Later that day she asked me, "Mommy, what happened? I thought a gang member was nearby with a gun. Was he going to shoot us?" I told her carefully that someone had been hit by a bus, and that we were not in any danger.

      All of these conversations brought a familiar guilt rising to the surface. Her tough questions made me ask a tough one of myself.

      "Am I traumatizing my children?"

      I find myself questioning this from time to time. Are we denying our children a trauma-free childhood? By taking them out of suburbia and raising them in Central America am I scarring them for life? Do they live in fear? Am I instilling that in them?

      I struggle with this even five years into our adventure. A year and a half ago my purse was stolen right from the back of my chair while my kids and I were chatting with friends in a local coffee shop. My children were shaken by the experience wondering if it would be just as easy for them to be stolen from me. That night they huddled next to me in bed crying and shaking...convinced someone was coming for them.

      Choosing life outside of our home countries can be a risky venture. I have meet expats who live in fear of being robbed, raped, or murdered. In foreign countries how can we help our children to understand the risks, but not be ruled by them?

      Remember that life is not risk free. It's easy to fantasize about a life back "home" free from risks and pain. Life just is not like that and there is no guarantee that we won't be robbed or hurt in some way on home soil.

      Find security in our obedience. When we are where God is calling us to be we can trust His provision, and His protection whatever may come. It is important for us to communicate this truth to our children consistently and confidently. If we show an example of fearfulness, they too will be fearful.

      Focus on the positives. It's easy to get caught up in the "doom and gloom" of statistics and news stories. In fact, we can focus on this negative press so much that we forget about all of the wonderful joys to be found in learning a new language, discovering a new culture, and embracing all of the beautiful things in our host countries.

      Use the tough things to remind our children of God's purpose for our family. It will never be easy to explain to my daughter that some girls need to live in special homes to keep them safe, or that violence exists, or that sometimes people die on the streets. As she grows up, I will share more and more about these things but for now it is enough to simply tell her that pain exists. Sin and suffering have tainted our world, but God is still at work. The amazing thing is that we get to be a part of it, and God has called our family to those who are hurting and that is a special thing.

      Pray together. This is the most important and simple way to deal with these tough questions. As moms, we pray for wisdom to explain these things to our kids. When our children feel fear and uncertainty, we can go to our knees together to ask God to protect our family and to protect those we serve. We start and end each day in prayer, and my children have come to ask for it when they are feeling anxious.

      It is not always easy to help our children fight down fear and worry, and honestly those are hard things for us to fight ourselves. Those conversations are tough, but our God is big enough for them and it's amazing to see how readily children embrace the part that they can play in serving the world around them. Watching their hearts open in love to the children that are suffering, and to the people without families is a beautiful thing to witness.

      I have a few things to learn from my son and daughter as they trust their parents to care for them as they are serving, and to have simple faith that God is looking out for them. Just maybe I can learn to trust Him too, even as I ask Him the tough questions. I can trust that He is keeping us safe and using even the trauma and hard times to make us into who He wants us to be.

      Saturday, October 11, 2014

      Longevity in Ministry ~ One Priority that Can NEVER be in Excess ~

      It's a relief to know that there's at least one thing of which we can NEVER
      do... or get... or have to much!

      What might it be?

      Several weeks ago, I started a series that I'm hoping will be both a challenge and encouragement - it has definitely been a challenge for me - based off of a sermon by the senior pastor at my sending church
        I've identified seven priorities that are absolutely essential - ones that protect me from burnout and the temptation of sin, ones that give me direction and hope for the future, ones that remind me from whence comes any and all measure of progress and success. Those priorities are:

        1. Growing an increasingly intimate relationship with the Lord by consistently, daily and throughout the day, seeking Him
        2. Praying without ceasing (steadfastly, continuously, patiently, powerfully); 
        3. Striving to maintain a good balance between personal growth and service or ministry; 
        4. Welcoming accountability; 
        5. Committing to marriage and family; 
        6. Choosing to be teachable even in difficult circumstances; and 
        7. Determining to be a genuine team player.
        Two weeks ago, we explored some of what it means to walk with God... The conclusion? It's an essential habit that must be intentionally developed if godliness as well as longevity in ministry is a goal.

        Prayer is the second priority. I believe it was Spurgeon who said something along the lines of "We can never pray in excess." Some may disagree, but the older I get, the more I'm convinced that is truth. After all, God, Himself, tells us to "Pray without ceasing!" and if you look carefully into the original meaning of, it means to pray without intermission. In other words, that means to pray without any interval, break or respite in between.

        What else does God say about prayer? It inspires hope and encourages (Psalm 43); prayer is a refuge where we can run to enter the presence of God for hope, for care, for comfort and for strength - just to name a few. (Psalm 71) Through prayer, we can both praise and petition (Psalm 71). We should feel the liberty to pray every day, at scheduled times throughout the day, but also whenever God's Spirit compels us to talk with Him, or to listen to Him (Psalm 55:16-17). He longs for us to cast the heavy things of this life on His capable shoulders and trust Him (Psalm 55:22).  And He promises that when we pray for things in His name, according to His will, He will answer - so we have that confidence each time we approach prayer (John 15)

        How do we know if we are praying according to His will? First, we have to make spending time with Him, intentionally seeking His presence, a priority. Jerry Richards defines ungodliness as characteristic of those who live their daily lives with very little thought or consideration of God and what He might think. Thus, to know what pleases God, we must be spending time with Him, in His Word and allowing Him to disciple us. I also love this quote by Dutch Sheets: “Prayer is not a check request asking for things from God. It is a deposit slip – a way of depositing God’s character into our bankrupt souls.” Prayer changes us.

        Prayer should guide our strategic planning: Just as the ant prepares, the rabbit anticipates, the locust organizes and the spider remains determined - we are first to see these examples in Scripture; then we learn them and apply them. This drives our vision to reach future generations for God - it must flow out of hearts who love and long to pray (Proverbs 30:24-28).

        The really unbelievable thing is that what is mentioned in the above verses is barely the tip of the iceberg of all that God's Word shares about prayer and its importance.

        What prevents us from spending significant time, then, under our knees? As Charles Stanley has said more than once: "God's voice is still and quiet and easily buried under an avalanche of clamour."

        We get so busy or so tired or so distracted that we really believe we don't have time to pray. We begin to think like a "practical atheist," and relegate prayer to the realm of those who have nothing better to do, a great ministry for the bed-ridden, home-bound, or others who can't do what we qualifiy in our minds as "real ministry." We don't actually sound a whole lot different from Madalyn Murray O'Hair: "An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that deed must be done instead of prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanished, war eliminated." The world has convinced us... Satan has blinded God's people so that prayer is trivialized and less important than some other priorities. We forget the truth that the Spirit laid upon the heart of Oswald Chambers and which he later penned for all of us to benefit. Chambers believed that "...prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work." 

        It comes back to that truth my pastor started off saying at the very beginning of his sermon: "Work like it all depends on you; pray like it all depends on God."

        Or perhaps even more compelling, look at Hudson Taylor's thought on this subject. "I have seen many men work without praying, though I have never seen any good come out of it; but I have never seen a man pray without working."

        If you want to live it, you must believe it.
        Do you have any testimony of how you've seen, very specifically, God work to answer one of your prayers?

        Series: Longevity in Ministry
        5. Habituate yourself? 27/09/2014

        Please note: 
        Italicized words are from my notes or from the guided notes in the church bulletin
        and are, to the best of my recall, actual content from the sermon.
        The rest comes from my continued study and meditation prompted by that sermon.

        To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

        Thursday, October 9, 2014

        Under construction!

        Hello all! Tammy is back as a contributor here, and her first new contribution is a facelift for the blog. Please be patient as the look changes around here, and feel free to comment and let her know what you think.

        We're still doing our beginning-of-the-quarter planning behind the scenes. The months ahead should be good ones!

        Saturday, October 4, 2014

        Host Culture Mommy Wars

        We've all heard lots of talk about "mommy wars" and the various ways that mothers often end up competing with one another. Recently there was an excellent post at A Life Overseas about missionary mommy wars, but I recently realized that not only do we feel special pressure as missionary moms, as well as pressure from our home culture, but we also feel it from our host culture! In my efforts to "become all things to all people,"  I've found that the cultural requirements of Russian mothers have really impacted me. If I am not careful to listen closely to God, I can feel like there are just that many more "requirements" upon my shoulders in order to succeed at motherhood.

        My children looking Russian (Mommy points for managing appropriate winter attire...at least for this picture... oh but wait, we can't tell if my son is wearing obligatory tights in the picture or not... the verdict is still out...)

        Here are a few of the things that are "required" of good mothers in the Russian culture: Children must always be dressed appropriately for the weather (according to Russian standards, of course.... a.k.a., WAY warmer than we dress our American kids... I always mess this up.); mothers should take their children out to walk or play at least once but preferably twice a day, year-round; children from about age 2 must be "socialized" by attending pre-school for a minimum of 5 hours a day; children from pre-school age should also be involved in enrichment activities often including a foreign language, music, dance, art, technology...; mothers should take their children to various doctors every month during the first year of life, if not more, as well as every time they have anything more than a slight cold all throughout their school years, and nothing should ever be self-treated; babies should have the right kind of (very expensive) stroller; birthday parties should be a large to-do; little girls should have beautifully braided hair on the first day of school and other holidays; children should have the opportunity to go on an extended vacation "out of the city" every summer (often to a rustic summer cottage in the countryside), preferably for a month or more...

        First day of first grade and faux fancy braids. Braided pig tails are fancy, right?!

        Here are our kids picking berries out in nature when we, too, went on vacation to a summer cottage...for four days. Shhh!

        Having four kids as opposed to the traditional one or two, these standards would not only be difficult to adhere to, but pretty much impossible. I often feel initially judged by mothers when they find out that I don't do A, B, or C, like all of the "good mothers," and often find myself explaining the differences of living life with a larger family. Sometimes moms are very understanding, and other times not. I find that there is a fine balance between striving to become all things to all people for the sake of the salvation of others, and becoming all things to all people for the sake of the salvation of my own pride. Just like in all of the other mommy-wars, I need to remember to seek the Lord and His gracious requirements of me in my mothering rather than measuring myself by the requirements of my host culture or anyone else.

        What are the mommy-war issues in your host culture? In what ways have you been able to become all things in non-competitive ways? What areas are some areas where you have had to resist getting caught up in mommy wars?