Monday, February 29, 2016

Date Night? Date Night!

We have recently made the move back to South Carolina after serving for seven years down in the middle of South America. We didn't expect it, we weren't prepared for it, and we are still reeling from how quickly it happened. Extended family situations made it very clear that we needed to be back in the US about the same time I felt God shifting things inside my heart, and it was undeniable that He was going ahead of us to lead the way for our big move.

We left the US for Paraguay back in 2008 with 9- and 11-year-old girls, smack in the middle of homeschooling and community basketball league and children's church. My husband had a secular job in addition to being the youth pastor at our local church, and I was the at-home mom taking side jobs and short-term mission trips. We had no idea what the words free time meant. Our best attempts at date nights often looked like a bad sit-com episode where the sitter calls about the kid running a fever about the time we place an order at the local fast-food joint on our way to a youth rally.

Fast forward a bit to our years in Paraguay, when our girls were going through adolescence and we were learning two languages, adjusting to all the cultural changes, building a ministry, going through major health challenges and a serious accident, and continuing to homeschool. Free time was still this elusive concept, and date nights were a movie and popcorn after sending the girls to their room early for the night.

And now here we are back in the states. One daughter has graduated high school and is in a gap year, and the younger one is a junior in high school. They are old enough and in a safe enough area that we don't have to be near them at all hours here. We have a car that cranks when we turn the key and can drive around without the feeling that we may, at any moment, die. My husband is still looking for a job, so we are seeing a lot of each other every day. The modern appliances and giant, all-inclusive stores have simplified daily activities to the point that I feel like I suddenly have that thing I'd only heard whispered about in certain circles and seen played out in movies and books--free time.

And it hit me that we are now in prime position to have what I've always dreamed date nights should be. We can go out, just the two of us. We can wear decent clothes that won't be ruined on public transportation. We can choose from a crazy-huge selection of restaurants or activities. We can stay out late. We can find time on the calendar that isn't covered in commitments. I struggle with feeling guilty over such indulgences, or enjoying the convenience and pure joy of these sorts of things because, well, it's just strange and rare and odd and weird and different and…

…really exciting.

So as we adjust to all the negative aspects of re-entry, I have this little thought in the back of my mind that makes me giggle and feel a bit like a movie star--I get to date my husband again!

Have you found ways to date your spouse on the field? How has your typical date night evolved through the different stages of your marriage?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Our Story

Years ago, a dark-haired freshman girl walked slowly out of her Spanish class and towards the street running through campus, her thoughts filled with dreaming (and doubting) about the future.  Should she keep studying Spanish when her heart was for another part of the world?  What should she major in?  Where would she serve in ministry when she graduated from college?  Would she get married?  Her mind full of thoughts and details (and not so much on what was going on around her), she made her way towards the curb...

Meanwhile, a tall blond sophomore guy was whizzing down the main street of campus, really thinking about nothing else but how fast he could ride his bike, and if he could make a new record time getting across campus to his dorm where he served as a resident assistant.  He was focused on the goal, when suddenly...


Dark Haired Freshman Girl and Tall Blond Bike Riding Guy collided... literally.  He hit her as she walked (without looking both ways!) into the street.  She fell down.  He stopped to make sure she was ok.  They were both embarrassed.

That is the beginning of Our Story.

That is my husband's and my first memory of each other!  It wasn't really the beginning of a love story at that time (in fact, I stayed clear of blond guys riding bikes on campus for a long time after that!).  He went off to Scotland for study abroad, and I dropped Spanish and started focusing on Slavic linguistics.  When he came back from Scotland a year later, I went off to teach English in Russia.  Eventually, we were both back on campus, living in the dorms, in the same group of friends, serving together on our campus ministry's leadership team.  A year after that, he was the resident assistant on my dorm's floor.  A year after that, we started dating, after being friends for four years.    Two years later, after a break up, getting back together, him going to Guatemala, and me going to Ukraine, we got married.

2004 - our wedding
While our story may have started like a good romantic comedy, it definitely hasn't been all perfect movie material.  Of course, there were special, romantic moments -- like the first picnic he took me on under a weeping willow by a lake on campus, or the breezy evening he first talked to me about marriage while we sat on the rooftop terrace of his apartment building in Guatamala City, listening to mariachi music wafting up from the street.  There were the many times I noticed character attributes I admired in him...

2005 - back in Guatemala
But, it took years of us getting to know each other and realizing our personality differences (the over-thinker vs. the driven goal-oriented, as seen in our first memory) could be strengthening rather than hindering to our relationship.  We see now that we can balance each other out.  Together, we can carry out a plan (he is the one with a plan; I'm the one that questions and second guesses all the details).  We both had dreams of how we'd serve in ministry overseas, and now we're doing something different than either of us had expected... but, we know it's right where God wants us to be, together, even though I do still find it ironic that the day he hit me on his bike was the day I decided to stop studying Spanish... only to follow him to Latin America years later.  I'm so thankful to be married to this man who loves adventure, when I err to the side of caution; who is out-going and extroverted, when I'm more introverted; and who loves the Lord and his family with all his heart (ah - we strive to be the same on that!). 

celebrating 11 years of marriage and almost 8 years serving in Costa Rica
We, as missionary moms, are blessed to be married to men who have a heart for ministry.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a very different personality than her husband.  Are you able to focus on how this can be a strength and blessing as you work together?

How did you meet your husband?  What's your first memory of each other?  We'd love to hear your stories!!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Is Heaven our Only Beloved Home?

One of my heroes, Billy Graham, is known for saying "My home is in heaven. I'm just traveling through this world." True, when we only consider the overwhelming enormity of eternity. 

However, missionaries - or any expat worker - should understand the fact that sometimes it is hard to choose to love... learn to love... or persevere in loving... that place and those people to which God has called us. In fact, just a few days ago, Ashley posted about this. This is especially true if we only consider the place a transient place, a place we can leave if it gets too hard or too uncomfortable or, in our opinion, too purposeless.

Easy to do, when our lives are full of transition... after transition... after transition... 

It would be nice if our ministries were always filled with warm fuzzies, deepening love, a good dose of nostalgia and always forward looking and measurable forward progress. If there was never any nastiness, violent and angry words, depressing divisions and certainly never any of the infamous instances of taking two steps forward only to slide back three. 

But they aren't.

Never say never... always avoid always... 

At least that's my strategy. It helps keep me a little more honest.

Focusing so much on heaven can distract from the here and now... resulting in aimlessness and to becoming of "no earthly good." Riveting eyes and efforts on the here and now only can overwhelm any hope of heaven to come and floundering and purposeless.

Reading through John 1 today, in the New Living Translation - not my normal version of the Bible, I stopped to meditate on verse 14: "So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son."

Normally, I've heard that verse rendered: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." But today reading "made His home" started me thinking.

We define a home as the physical residence or shelter of a person or household... But more profoundly, home is (according to also the place where affections are centered, a place of retreat or refuge. Frankly, a home must be made - whether by the person him/herself... or for him/her by others. It requires effort. Once you move in to the actual physical residence, more work is necessary. Stuff has to be put into its place, pictures on the wall, curtains in the windows, bedrooms assigned, towels folded, pantry filled. 

Then comes the work of figuring out routines and quirks to fit the new home. Where's actually the best place to put that kitchen table so that everyone can fit and move around the table? You try something and it doesn't work so you tweek it... or try something totally different. What's the best schedule to fit everyone through the shower when there are several of you sharing limited space. Sometimes there are arguments and disagreements about how something should work out. Living with other people calls for both dependence and independence, and keeping on at keeping on to find the balance.

A home doesn't just happen. It takes effort.

What kind of effort did Jesus put into making His home among us? What effort does He continue to make as He makes His home in the hearts of those who've invited Him in? He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. He stayed near to the heart of his Father, always keeping heaven in view. In so doing, He revealed/reveals His Father to us.

The only way to make a home on this earth, in whatever place God has us for however long He chooses to keep us there, is to follow this example of the Son. 

That means lots of hard work and hope, patience and persistence - for me; it also necessitates dependence on the One Who's unfailing love and faithfulness is available for me whenever I ask... and sometimes even when I forget to or choose not to.

This makes me think of the words of a song that my girls all really like right now, Home, by Philip Phillips:

Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along

Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

Settle down, it'll all be clear
Don't pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble—it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm gonna make this place your home

I don't know about you, but I find it encouraging to know that the same Jesus who made a home among us is not bound by space or time. In that sense, He is still making His home among us.

It is one of the many ways He demonstrates His love for us...

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Loving Where God has Called Us

"Love Locks" on a bridge in the city of our first overseas assignment

This month as we talk about the theme of love, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it looks like to love the places that we are called as missionaries.  Just as with individuals, there are so many circumstances under which we are called to love the places where we are sent, and there are seasons and phases of love too. Sometimes our first interaction is that head-over-heels sort of "just-can’t-help-falling-in-love" sort of love. I felt that on my first mission trip to East Asia. I LOVED it right away and would have been thrilled to have lived there forever, though God had other plans. Sometimes we experience the type of love that grows from an indifferent or even negative first acquaintance into a deep appreciation and true and passionate enjoyment. Sometimes it is pure sacrifice where we simply love because we know that God has called us to love the unlovable just as He does.

My love for my host country has been all over the map these past nearly 10 years. Our “relationship” was definitely not love at first sight, but my love soon grew deep and true for this place that God has me. It grew into true appreciation and enjoyment.  While loving was a difficult and reluctant choice during my rocky first year here, it soon grew seemingly effortless. Even the imperfections of this place often seemed to me to be endearing.

But as of late, we’ve hit a rocky spot in our relationship. Things are strained. I don’t feel a whole lot of love from my host country and honestly sometimes I desire to withhold my own affection and would like to snap back every once in awhile. We have a lot of political strain between my home and host countries, and despite the fact that I am not one to be much into politics, the growing coldness can be felt even by me.  As a result of the negativity all around, my natural affections are waning. It is hard to feel warm and fuzzy when you know what is being said about you; or maybe not said about me personally, but about Americans in general.  Where I used to feel free to openly love and share my affections for the people and culture here, it almost feels foolish to show this sort of love as openly as I used to. People who know where I am from and hear me express such affections think I am strange and assume that I must either have no idea what is going on between our countries or have left my home country because I too believe that it to be horrifically wrong in its views and actions. 

It has been a weird season. Though I still deeply love my host country, I feel a bit estranged from it, like it is pushing me away. I have realized again in this season what we know to be true about love: It is not a feeling, but a choice. I want to succeed at loving well in spite of not being loved in return. God has called me here to love. He has called me to love by sharing His truth, and to love in my actions and attitudes and conduct. Though in our ministry we have talked often about how the current troubles are a hindrance to ministry because of all of the mistrust that has arisen, I wonder what new doors are opened when we succeed at loving even in spite of the fact that it is plain as day that we are not loved in return. 

This is the circumstances under which Jesus did His ministry. He was not loved or welcomed by thw majority of the world or the people that He came to save. We often pray that we will be able to love like Jesus, and though my fleshly self would prefer to go back to the time when love was flowery and free, perhaps this is my best opportunity yet to love like He did and does. Lord, please help me to love as you do!

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.- Ephesians 5:2 (ESV)

How about you? What sort of love are you currently experiencing between yourself and your host country? Have you experienced times of strained relationship? What helped you to keep loving during those times?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

When You're Marked by Love

Today is my husband's birthday - the twenty-second one we've celebrated as a couple... and he's out of the country - a missionary on a missions trip to yet a different distant place with one of our girlies. He's far from perfect, but he's committed to his God, to me, our children, our family, friends literally scattered across the globe and to our community - and I'm so glad he's mine. But... if I wrote a sappy piece about love... it might embarrass him... 

So, in keeping with this theme of love for the month of February, I'd like to consider a slightly different perspective as it has been pinging and ponging around in my soul of recent.

While their daddy's been gone, I've been trying to do some special things with our other children, including listening to books on CD (Anne of Green Gables) and revisiting a favorite television series (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman). We've all been loving it - I mean, who doesn't find "Anne with an e," at the very least, amusing and at least a little endearing. And, as far as family TV that provokes great discussion from curious little and not so little minds, Dr. Quinn is, perhaps, my favorite. 

“There's such a lot of different Annes in me. 
I sometimes think that is why I'm such a troublesome person. 
If I was just the one Anne 
it would be ever so much more comfortable,
but then it wouldn't be half so interesting.” 
~Anne in LM Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

I love this Anne quote because of its deeply profound veracity. Anne acknowledges the beauty that is her: 
  • she is not just intelligent... but insidiously impetuous
  • she is not only imaginative... but also quixotic and impractical
  • despite the fact that she could be incredibly irritating... the next moment, she'd be fabulously entertaining
  • stubborn yet teachable and once "taught," she forgives wholeheartedly
  • unpredictably predictable
  • romantic yet extremely practical
  • vainly egocentric while still open to perceive the beauty, not just in the natural world but in others all around her
Anne couldn't be summed up by a single word.
In fact, people defined by a single aspect become nothing more than caricatures. 

Often comic, sometimes repulsive, usually stereotypical - a caricaturized version of someone is never flattering, even if the highlighted aspect is typically one we'd consider positive, simply because it leaves the person looking one dimensional.

As we discuss the different episodes in the Dr.Quinn series, my children are noticing this truth. A character that is heroic and awesome in one episode is surprisingly unlikable in the next - even the title character. It is pretty funny (unexpected, ironic and SO. VERY, REAL) when Hank, the owner of the saloon, suddenly demonstrates a generous spirit  in contrast to Dr. Mike's pettiness and unforgiving spirit. But that's because every single being on thus earth is created in the image of God - and will sometimes reflect that breathtaking image. At the same time, every single person is also born with a sinful nature - and will, sadly more often than not, demonstrate that nature.

Just as Anne recognizes this multiplicity within herself... we must do the same, if we want to genuinely love people. Not only that, we must also recognize... and appreciate... its presence in those all around us. People are intricately complex, so loving them is messy. 

Consider the following statement, offered not as a justification, but merely an observation: Some awful, atrocious sins are rooted in good impulses and beautiful ideas, but unrestrained (i.e. racism often grows out of a good desire to protect and care for "my own").

My challenge, and the one I've offered to my children, is to seek things to love in every person you meet. Don't allow yourself to caricaturize the souls God has placed in your community by only seeing those first few characteristics or dimensions that rise to the surface. Because love - the kind of love Jesus offers - looks deep and is willing to take a risk on what could be. I want Jesus to offer that same love to others through me.

Living within the confines of an expat (or smaller for whatever reason) community, this kind of love binds and strengthens members while attracting and welcoming newcomers. After all, it is a key mark of Jesus"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

As I've gotten older and braver, especially when it comes to loving those I don't find myself drawn to on first... second... or even forty-third impressions... I find myself agreeing more and more with that "Anne-girl" when she wonderingly remarks:

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. 
It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” 
~Anne in LM Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables

Monday, February 1, 2016

Welcome to February!

In January we had a theme--at least behind the scenes--of Beginnings. Was January a month of good beginnings for you? Beginning a healthy routine of self-care? Being reimagined? Or was it one of those struggle months, maybe one where you worked with faith and doubt? I know that with our different schedule of winter holidays in Slavic countries, plus sickness, plus a flu quarantine, plus a week away from home, I myself am just now starting to feel like sticking my head out of my shell and looking for a beginning. Oh, well. Like Liz reminded us, God's mercy is new every morning.

For the month ahead, many of our posts will focus on LOVE. Maybe it's a bit cliche: February, love, Valentine's Day, and such. But it's real, and love should be a foundation for all of us. Some may write about how they met their husbands, or what marriage looks like on the mission field, or any other aspect of love. I'm excited to see what comes up.


I have a few links to share, before I leave you today:
So, how was your January? What are you looking forward to in February? What is God teaching you about His love these days?

*Drawing of our family, by our four-year-old son. The creature in the foreground is my pet duck.