Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cure for the Food Rut

Happy Saturday! 
I have found myself in a food rut lately.  You know, making the same thing over and over and over and OVER again!  I can tell that we're all burnt out on what I've been making.  Every been there?  Maybe you're there right now.  Well, here's a couple of quick reciepes to get you into a new groove!

First up,
 Power Balls
Now, I know that peanut butter is a luxury in most places, but sometimes a splurge is nice, right?  Right.

Behold the wonder of power balls!

They are a yummy sweet, sorta sticky, chocolately, mostly healthy treat.  And yes, you eat them just like this.

Here's the deal,
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup honey
3 cups oats
1/2 cup flax seed meal
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup of any combination of dried soft fruit and nuts

 Mix it all together and make balls out of the mix.  I used my small cookie scoop and it works well. Stick 'em in the fridge or freezer and enjoy!

And sometimes you just need a good go to dough recipe.  This is our pizza crust recipe, but I use it to make stromboi sometimes too.  Super simple, no need to let rise.

Pizza Crust
1 Tablespoon dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cup white all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (you can use 2 1/2 cups white if you want)
2 Tablespoons flax seed meal (optional, but that stuff is so good for you!)

-Dissolve yeast and sugar in water, set aside
-Mix all other ingredients together, add water and yeast
-Stir until combined
-Knead for 5-7 minutes or until smooth

-Roll out, place on sprayed cookie sheet. Bake for about 20 minutes at 350
-Add toppings, bake again.

Sometimes I will brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle Italian herbs. 


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Tea Cups Full of Grace

(I am currently on a trip to the US for my brother's wedding, so I wanted to share this post from my previous blog. When at home in Russia, I am still reminded daily of the Lord's love and provision for me when I look at these tea cups displayed as a reminder of His grace.) 

I remember my daydream years back before our little family had moved to Russia. I had spent a summer here previously, but I really had no idea what life would be like, and especially life as a family with a baby. Being the optimist that I am, despite the worries of leaving family and familiarity, my imaginary future life was bright and vivid. I can still see the crisp image in my mind of the home that I imagined I would have, and the life that I would soon lead.

My quaint little imaginary home was bright and inviting with a little kitchen that opened up to our living room, perfect for frequent hospitality. The sun shone in the windows (really this was not as fanciful as it sounds since we were to move to southern Russia that is indeed quite sunny and bright), and I would sit there on the couch with my new Russian friends sipping tea out of little blue and white china tea cups, sharing deeply about our lives and talking about the gospel. I am not particularly prone to daydreaming, but for some reason this image remains vivid in my mind.

What a shock it was to enter our new apartment for the first time, dead exhausted in every way, and to walk into our dark, dingy flat late on that first night. I had always considered myself relatively adaptable, as does anyone planning to leave family and culture for the international mission field, but as my eyes beheld these first images of my new home, the tears defied my will to hold them back. The furniture and decor was all very dark, the ceilings were low, electrical sockets practically hung out of the wall, and the dirt was abundant. The windows of my tiny kitchen were on the dark side of the building, crossed with iron bars, and the dishes were chipped and mis-matching and not enough in number to create a set even for our little family of three, let alone containing a beautiful set of ornate blue and white tea cups.

And not only did the reality of my home contrast so sharply with the new Russian home of my daydream, but the reality of my new ministry was also just as strikingly different. I could hardly say, “Hello, my name is Ashley,” let alone have a heart-to-heart in Russian. And my supposed “natural language ability” proved to be quite circumstantial. This ability existed in a past life where I studied language for over 20 hours a week, without kids, learning Chinese. Studying Russian a few hours a week with a baby did not pan out quite the same. Rarely did anyone come to sit on my couch for tea, let alone to hear the gospel, and I wondered how on earth I would ever be a thriving and fruitful missionary.

I remember the feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and even hopelessness as I began this life that seemed far less beautiful or fruitful than I had daydreamed. I wondered and prayed if God would ever fill my living room with friends for tea and opportunities to share about God's love with others, but honestly that now seemed even more of a fantasy than my original daydream about the bright, inviting home and blue and white china tea cups. I was thrilled to love and serve my family, as all-consuming as that task was especially when we first arrived, and to help enable my husband to have a fruitful ministry, but was there ever going to be an opportunity for me to really feel like I, too, was a part of our work here as I had desired?

The memory of this daydream and the feelings that came so strongly after I first arrived in Russia are what made a gift that I received last night in my kitchen over tea with friends so incredibly special. My dearest Russian friend, not yet a believer but with whom God has blessed me with true friendship, many heart-to-heart talks over tea, and conversations about the gospel, brought me a set of lovely blue and white china tea cups. She had no idea about the little daydream of my past, so to receive these little cups, just like I had imagined, from such a truly dear friend, is such a vivid and perfect picture to me of the Lord’s amazing grace in my life here in Russia. He has provided friends, he has provided a ministry that even I with all of my limitations can do, and He has even provided the blue and white china tea cups to remind me of His grace. God didn’t have to do it that way to remind me of His plan and power and perfection, but how incredibly grateful I am for this special display of His love.

Do you remember your imaginary life on the field before you set foot in your new country? Does that image differ from the reality of the life that you stepped into? How has God shown you grace in this life that is perhaps not what you had expected, but all the same His perfect will?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Longevity in Ministry ~ Passionately Committed to Marriage and Family

"Like longevity in life, some basic things are needed -
right genes [to be a child of God], right diet [God's Word],
right exercise [involvement in ministry]
and right environment [a place in God's community - the Church].
The Apostle Paul set it as his goal to walk worthy and finish well. So should we!"

Yet what does the practical outworking of this look like in real life and ministry? How do expats working, ministering and seeking to be Christ’s  “…witnesses… [in] Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1.8, NASB) sustain long and productive careers?

Based off of a sermon by my home church pastor and subsequent study, I’ve identified seven essential priorities that help protect those in ministry, particularly cross-cultural ministry, from burnout and the temptation to sin... ones that direct and give hope for the future... ones that remind that all is grace and a gift from God… ones that will hopefully allow us serve well for exactly the time God has chosen for us…

Those priorities are:
  1. Continuously and consistently seeking the Lord
  2. Praying without ceasing
  3. Balancing personal growth, rest and 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.
This post is looking at priority number five – committing to marriage and family.

Let me start off by saying that I do not believe there is one hard and fast way to do this… this commitment thing. How I demonstrate my commitment to my marriage and family might look quite different than how you do. Key is that 1) an intentional, purposeful choice to first made - choosing commitment, 2) a continuous effort is made - working on commitment, and 3) a covenant relationship is kept, clinging to commitment… regardless.

Regardless of the difficulties.

Regardless of the inconveniences.

Regardless of the words and opinions of others…

So what do I mean by commitment to family, in a biblical sense, if you will? I wasn’t exactly sure. It is something we talk about, casually throwing into edifying conversation – but what does God say commitment looks like? To try and find out, I searched both commit and commitment in an online concordance.

First, there are verses like “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act” (Psalm 37.5 ESV), and “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Proverbs 16.5 ESV). These verses remind that God has chosen to work through us, but He doesn’t need us to accomplish His plans. Believing and living according to this principle frees us to also minister inside our homes. Yes, we work and work intensely – but our work… our ministry… is no excuse to ignore (at one extreme) or slack off even a little bit (at the other extreme) at working on those family relationships and dynamics.

“Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife” (1 Corinthians 7.27) speaks of marriage as a being bound… a binding, knitting, tying and winding together of a man and a woman that should remain.  That means I support my husband in the ministry opportunities God gives him; he also supports me, giving me opportunity to serve and work, using the talents and abilities with which God has graced me. It isn't 50/50. It is 100/100.Today, what did that look like for us? Less than a week after moving (and after an extended furlough/home assignment), he’s itching to dive into a new ministry. So I continue lugging boxes, unpacking suitcases, trying to fit our family into our new (and beautiful) home while trying to keep six kids (who’ve gone from friend-overload to all-alone-in-a-new-city-with-nothing-but-siblings-overload) at least moderately content and engaged all day. After his long day and taking apart a desk that we needed to squeeze down into the basement, he’s now taken all of the kids out and about, exploring our new city, but also giving me the time to put my notes and this post together.  In Matthew 19, Jesus speaks of the marriage commitment – marriage is something God has put together and that men should not seek to separate. Our ministries, at least for this moment, are separate – but we need each other to do them well… sometimes to do them at all. Working together to help each other accomplish individual goals, works to further unite us.

Just a few verses later in Matthew 19, the disciples are rebuked for hindering the little children; in the previous chapter (and additionally in both Mark and Luke), a direly strong warning is given to any who would cause a little one (usually thought to mean a child) to stumble. Consider the list of qualifications given for “overseers” – above reproach in personal life, public life but also family life – husband of one wife, family managed well, obedient children, and mutual respect (i.e. by parents, spouses and children) demonstrated in the home (1 Timothy 3).  Although not all missionaries are “overseers” in a biblical sense of the word, there is no doubt that we are often seen as such and considered ones among the people to whom we minister. Regardless of our ministry, our actions and choices should not cause our children to "stumble" and turn away from God. They must always feel confident that their parents consider them more important than "the work."

A few other passages (I’m sure there are many others, but this study was never intended to be exhaustive – especially as we are smack dab in the middle of transitioning to a new field of ministry and I sit typing surrounded by boxes and piles of clothes and disassembled furniture…) seem relevant. First, at the end of the book of Joshua, Joshua instructs the Israelites to make a choice… and then sets the example:  “…as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD." To serve and minister as a family is the model we’ve been given. No one should try and carbon-copy my family’s “style” of service… those dated machines have no relevance today anyway. But do adapt principles and incorporate ideas, commit to making them work in your family and in your situation – not to make them look just like some other family that appears to have it all together.  And frankly, even in our family, what worked before is no longer feasible. Opportunities change, ministries ebb and flow. Our goal should be to focus on the intentional choice to serve as a family, each one doing his/her part.

One passage I never fail to find inspiring and convicting when it comes to our commitment to our tck children: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments… are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6.4b-8). We learn to better disciple others as we take time and practice discipling our children… To serve as a family, we need to be taking these Old Testament words to heart.

Second Kings 19 contains a pretty amazing account – although it was a particular phrase that first caught my eye. Hezekiah is king and the Assyrians are after his people. It is God who miraculously delivers Jerusalem from annihilation. There’s also a prophecy given… what will be accomplished by and because of God’s zeal for His people. One translation renders that word zeal as passionate commitment. That was the phrase that grabbed my attention.

Passionate commitment for His people.

A commitment motivated by strong feeling, affection and belonging.

A choice motivated by selfless love and protection.

An intention of working for the absolute, very best for another.

God is zealous for His people. 

I believe He wants us to feel the same - and not just about ministries or other peoples and cultures. He wants us to have a passionate commitment to our marriages, our children… our family. 

Just as Hezekiah recognized He couldn’t protect or save his people, we must understand that it is highly likely our spouses, our children, our families WILL suffer at times because we’ve chosen to serve the Lord in cross-cultural ministry. Like Hezekiah, when we recognize and accept this reality, we are open to seeing our lives, our families, our situations for what they really are. We can see our abilities, but also our "helplessnesses." Then, like Hezekiah, we need to humbly seek the Lord and rest always aware of His continuous, sustaining grace, active and available. He wants the best for our spouse, for our children... even more than we do. Like Hezekiah, we need to seek the Lord and seek out guidance from His Word when it comes to finding those always changing balances between ministry within and without the confines of home. And last, but not least, like Hezekiah, we need to remember that our hope for our families and for our ministries lies in the Lord.

I’ve purposely not given a whole lot of “this is what it looks like in our lives and ministries” to describe "commitment to marriage and family" which is such a critical priority for longevity in cross-cultural ministry. But I do hope that some of these principles will be of help as you seek to discern what said commitment will look like for you in your place of ministry.


Series: Longevity in Ministry
To listen to the actual sermon "Start, Run and Finish Well," click here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

If you want to move to ____

Even after 14+ years overseas, I am far from an expert on living this life. And, when I give advice, much of it is from the perspective of "hindsight is 20/20" and what I wish we had done. But can I give that advice and not be a hypocrite? I hope so. Also, sometimes what I can say is from looking back and being thankful that we did do something a certain way, so there's that, too.

Sometimes people tell me that they're planning to move overseas, and they want advice. (Or they don't want it, but this is still what I'd like to say to them. ) So, without further ado, a few things:

1. Get training. If you're joining a mission, they'll probably help you with this, but if you're "independent," you need it too. (Maybe more so!) I'd recommend studying both Bible and cross-cultural living. (Can anyone recommend a general missions or cross cultural life training?) Learning on the job is great, but it's also wonderful when we can benefit from the experience of others who will teach us.

2. Language! Please plan to spend the first year or two in full time language study! It seems that so many people feel the urgency of ministry and choose the we'll-learn-as-we-go approach. And that can work; we did it to some extent. But it wasn't optimal! See all of my exclamation marks here? I really believe this is important... and neglected.

3. Visit. Here we have both followed my own advice and ignored it at different times. When we followed it, everything went so much better. Before you move full-time, it's really good to do a visit first, a focused visit that explores really living and working in that location. A generic short-term trip is a good start, and if that was a first taste that made you fall in love with a place, then come back again, before moving. No matter how wonderful a place seems, you look at it with different eyes when you live there or know that you will soon.

Do come on over! Moving overseas can be so overwhelming, so you have to start somewhere. Pick something to work and go with it. God will lead and guide you every step of the way.

That's just a start. What else would you all add to this? What do you wish that you had done before moving?