Seeing God’s blessing with fresh eyes: Guyana Part 2

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Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and everything in them—
    he remains faithful forever.
He upholds the cause of the oppressed
    and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets prisoners free,
the Lord gives sight to the blind,
the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down,
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the foreigner
    and sustains the fatherless and the widow…(Psalm 146: 5-9)

We’ve had the honor and privilege of serving folks in multiple countries in many capacities with several non-profits over the years. However, our recent mission to Guyana’s jungle and remote areas brought a new task for Bruce and me.

It was a joy to fit men and women with reading glasses! Such a small token can change a life. I know because I’ve worn glasses for most of my adulthood. Not only do glasses help make words easier to see, but no more eye strain means no more chronic headaches. Hallelujah! No squinting. More reading!

I love how Psalm 146 describes the mercy and compassion of God our Father. Yes, he is focused our salvation and eternal destination, but he also cares about the here and now. The Bible is full of ways he offers tangible help to meet people’s needs.

We’ve all been the recipient of his gracious heart. The farmer gives thanks for rain. The sailor gives thanks for wind. We give thanks for medicine, help with a broken car on the side of the road, and neighbors who offer to help chainsaw huge branches that fall in the storm (Thanks, Jesse!!). All of us receive blessings every single day from our Creator as said beautifully by the anonymous author of Lamentations.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

It’s always exciting to wake up on mission and see what the day will bring. Fitting folks with reading glasses was a tangible way to help better the lives of others. We enjoyed great conversation with them, helping improve their reading vision, and serving them in this personal way in the name of our Lord.

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There’s also a physical exchange that was quite meaningful. The exchange of glasses hand-to-hand; helping gently fit them on their faces; the eye-to-eye contact when asking how they well they worked for them; and cleaning the lenses & straightening the arms of the glasses for them once their perfect pair were found was personal and sweet. It felt intentional. Care-filled. Love-driven. One person at a time. One pair of glasses at a time. It was beautiful.

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The process is remarkably easy. Start with a 1.0 lens and ask them if it makes it easier to read. If it’s too strong, then they don’t need glasses. If it’s not strong enough, keep going up until we find their perfect number. Then they can pick out the frames they like and that’s all there is to it! They leave with a new pair of reading glasses free of charge.

ICA buys the glasses from dollar stores so they’re an affordable, helpful way to bless someone in need. I have no idea how many pairs of reading glasses we gave out on this mission, but a few folks’ smiles stay with me.

One woman only had sight in one eye and that eye was strained. Keeping her only seeing eye is imperative to her quality of life and independence. She owned a pair of glasses, but they were the old, were the wrong strength and were pretty much useless. She was THRILLED to have a new, correct pair. Her smile said it all!

One man, in his late 40’s, never spoke a word. Bruce and I helped him together as we tried pair after pair. We knew we found the perfect ones for him when he did one thing – he gave two thumbs up, way up! His enthusiasm was contagious.

Another man showed up hours early because he was going to be at work when we opened the reading glasses clinic. We were more than happy to fit him with new specs, just in time for his shift. Yay!

Missions is God’s time, not ours. It’s not volunteer tourism – though that in itself is a great thing. Our daughter volunteered in Costa Rica to rehabilitate injured animals for eight weeks. Amazing work!!! We are huge fans!!

Mission work for God is surrendering oneself to the cause of Christ however needed; easy or hard, in our comfort zone or way outside of it, it’s all good. Even a simple conversation can be life-changing, both for us and those we serve. That’s a different blog post. 😉

There is nothing more rewarding than to be a vessel to help heal hearts while meeting tangible needs. This assignment was to give away as many reading glasses as possible. I loved every minute of it and hope to do it again and again.

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One of my favorite quotes is from Schoolhouse Rocks, “Knowledge is power!” The more people can easily read, the more information they will have that can change their lives and others’ in countless ways. This was one of those tasks that you walk away from knowing it will have a lasting effect and that feels GREAT!!!

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Below are photos of some of the recipients. I never grew tired of seeing people walk in with curiosity and leave with new reading glasses and big smiles. We can’t wait to do it again! See below how you can get involved.

Wow! These folks are rockin’ their new specs!!! 🙂

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If you’re inspired to help, there are two easy ways. You can donate to ICA as they continue to ship reading glasses, clothes, shoes, Christian books and cds, and a non-denominational bible study to Guyana on a regular basis. The Guyanese team with this ministry directly receives it, no middle man. They also organize food distribution to those in need all over the country of Guyana. Everything given away is a gift of the ministry with no cost to the recipients.

Another way to help is to choose International Celebration Association as a charity that receives a portion of your Amazon orders. There is no cost to you as Amazon donates a portion of your order. Simply to go AmazonSmile to find out more.

(Disclosure: Bruce and I are volunteers with this ministry and do not receive any compensation of any kind for our time or service. We serve in a volunteer role and do not work in any official capacity for this non-profit.)

 

 

 

 

Tyrique: Guyana Part 1

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We were serving a village deep in the jungle. It was our fourth mission to Guyana and Bruce and I were thrilled to back. However, this was our first time in the jungle. We came by ourselves from America, representing this ministry, and partnered with three of the ministry’s Guyanese team for this mission.

We were guests in a small, wooden, hand-built church where we worked and slept. It was nestled between the dirt road before us, the river they call “black water” behind us, and the warm spring sun above us.

It had been a couple of hours since we climbed out from under the mosquito net and began another day in the “interior” (locally known as the jungle).

Our team lead, Jai, was cooking lunch while we fitted folks for reading glasses as part of our ministry when a man with a long, desperate face walked into the church through the back doors propped open for ventilation. His eyes were swollen and glassy. His clothes disheveled. His countenance down and body utterly depleted.

We will call him Tyrique for privacy. He came for prayer.

The service we planned to hold did not start for several hours, but his body raged with malaria and spiked a high fever, nausea and joints screaming in pain.

Bruce, Wayne and I gathered around his body slumped on the wooden bench, one arm slung over the back holding him up. I stood next to him, and for a moment we caught eyes. His eyes were bloodshot and tired. As he wearily looked up at me, they pierced my soul and told me he wasn’t only struggling with malaria.

Bruce gently placed his hand on Tyrique’s back. Wayne clasped his hands together in reverence, and I rested my hand on Bruce’s back, agreeing in prayer.

The prayer was simple and to the point. We asked God to heal his body and for relief from the symptoms of the illness.

Tyrique softly muttered, thank you, and slowed peeled himself off the bench. A young guy, he walked hunched over in pain and weakness like an old man. Slowly, he shuffled through the doors and down the steps of the little church built on stilts.

He disappeared into the bright sunlight, and I left him in the Lord’s hands and went back to the people waiting for reading glasses.

Hours later, our evening service began. Music played and I could feel the thin boards beneath me rumble with vibrations of enthusiastic kids and adults singing to the worship.

I was alone at the back of the church photographing the service because one of my primary assignments of going on this mission was to photograph and videography the jungle part of this ministry.

Behind me in the dark night air, I heard a horrific screeching howl and chills ran down my spine. I thought it was a child. I quickly turned around to see one of the feral dogs who had been sitting on the steps of the church being attacked by a much larger feral dog. It was awful. Bruce ran past me and chased them off. My heart raced as they reminded me, I was in their element; a guest of the jungle.

Focusing back on the task at hand, photography, I caught a glimpse of someone on the back row through my lens. I lowered the camera and took a closer look.

It was Tyrique!

He wore the same dirty white undershirt and black jeans. His dreads were wrapped in black cloth. Something about him was different, but I couldn’t figure it out. He was standing for one thing. He clapped his hands to the beat of the worship music as his body swayed back and forth.

I thought to myself, “Wow! He looks totally different from this afternoon.”

His body had strength again. He participated in the worship. His face was no longer drawn and depressed.

And just like that, my job as photographer turned to speaker as Jai opened in prayer and I stepped up to the mic to give my testimony. I’ve had the privilege of sharing my story all over the world. Each time, God gives me the pieces of it to share for that particular audience. This night was no different.

Before speaking, I always pray that God will put his words in my mouth for that moment. Indeed, He did. God pulled out parts of my story that were right for these folks. As I spoke, I gazed into the faces looking back at me. No one even blinked. They sat silent, captured in the moment. I knew God was doing something.

I caught eyes with Tyrique more than once. His body leaned to the left, so he had an unobstructed view from the person sitting in front of him. He stared at me the entire time I spoke. This time his eyes gave a different message. They looked like my dry plants at home in that, when I remember to water them, their dehydrated soil soaks up the water faster than I can pour it.

His eyes absorbed every word. I knew for a fact God was doing something in Tyrique’s heart.

The service continued and then we concluded and said warm goodnights to everyone and the little church on stilts was once again quiet.

Bruce and I pulled out our air mattress and mosquito net while the Guyanese team hung their hammocks for another day’s job done.

The next morning, while packing up to leave for another village, Tyrique came back. He told the team that the day before, when he came for prayer, he was completely healed! He said that on his way home after praying with us his fever broke and malaria symptoms simply vanished.

He. Was. Healed.

God’s healing he experienced was why he came back for the service that evening. And what happened at the service was why he came back the next day.

Turns out, Tyrique is a drug dealer, and at the end of the service he prayed to accept Christ.

He came back the next day for counseling and sat with Jai, Bruce and Wayne for a while.

He has amazing potential for change and we are thrilled to know a local pastor will follow up with him for discipleship.

God surely had his hand on Tyrique’s heart. He was calling Tyrique and he answered the call.

Just think, if Tyrique had never caught malaria, he would have never wandered into this church for prayer which led to him accepting Christ as his Savior. It’s all about perspective.

This was the first time this ministry has witnessed a healing in its 12 years.

His miracle was water to my thirsty soul. In the excitement of it all, I’m glad I didn’t know what was coming next…

Stay tuned for more posts about our Guyana mission.

If you’d like to know more about the ministry, check out InternationalCelebration.org.

 

 

Mission-heart lag

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When people hear that we’re coming home from a mission trip to Guyana, their response is always the same, “So there’s no time change. That’s great! No jet lag!”

I wish that were true.

It would be far easier to feel the physical effects of jet lag versus the emotional, mental and spiritual effects of mission-heart lag.

This year in particular, I packed my bags with a quivering lip. My hands loaded luggage ready to go. My feet refused to move, longing to stay.

Three airplane rides home were heavy, weighted with quiet moments staring at the floor, out the window at the clouds, or lost in the darkness of my eye mask, trying to block out the world.

Logic says that it should get easier to go on mission trips. I’ve been blessed to be a part of several all over the world. But my heart disagrees. Sure, I’m much more able to handle the sights and smells from a traveler’s perspective, but the stories and circumstances behind those sights and smells haunt me long after the last load of laundry has been washed and put away.

The long-term effects of corrupt politics, poverty, a lack of resources and all forms of abuse grip my heart and won’t let go. Over the years and across continents, I’ve served the perpetrator and the victim; the ill and disabled; those voiceless and powerless; the hard-hearted; the tender and a kaleidoscope of backgrounds, ethnicities, colors, personalities and religions.  So why don’t I just tick the “do good” summer box and move on?

Because these are real people and our real God loves them. They are valuable and matter as much as anyone else in the world and it makes my heart ache to know that there is so much still to do in places where the world has turned a blind eye.  The hurt continues. Abuse continues. Poverty continues. Helpless and hopelessness continue long after luggage has been claimed and the pause button on our lives lifts as we re-enter what we know as normal.

Time change or not, there is definitely a mission-heart lag, as so there should be. If not, the trip was merely an adventure.

Coming home, there are things about here I can’t stand. But there are things about there I can’t stomach.  When I’m here, I want to be there. When I’m there, I know I need to here. With every mission, my heart splits farther in two.

Air-conditioning is wonderful. A hot shower is marvelous. My own pillow and puppy, they’re the best. But so is listening to exotic tree frogs serenade us in the evening on the porch of a home in the middle of a foreign country. Nothing compares to looking into the eyes of a soul who is amazed we went all the way there for them, and then to realize that this God we speak of did so much more by sending His Son for them.

Kr2Our home this evening is still as jazz plays faintly in the background. Everywhere I look there is travel clutter. The exhaustion from a twenty-two hour venture home has numbed the urgency to make all of the mess go away. So to forget it all I schlepped to the grocery store to fill an empty fridge. I found myself drawn to the aisle with some of the ethnic foods we just enjoyed there. I will look for guava in everything for a long time. I’ll make roti bread and cook-up rice with chicken to remember the flavors of mission. But it’s not the same as being there.

I think about those who denied accepting Christ when asked; precious babies sleeping on mamas’ shoulders; the reluctant, mischievous teens in the back row; the mothers (of a different religion) who looked on with both gratefulness that we came, and skepticism toward our motives; and those who were just passing by and stopped in to see what all the hullabaloo was about as we sang with the kids, washed their feet and gave them new shoes.

I can tell you countless awesome stories of those who asked Jesus to be their Savior; men and women, boys and girls who asked for prayer for their families and themselves; and those who traveled a long way just to be a part of the celebration. I thank God and rejoice over each one. But, for those whose story doesn’t include Christ, they are why I continue to go.

Leaving the grocery store this afternoon, the bagger began chatting with me. She asked how my day was going. I responded with a soft, “Fine, thanks,” hoping she’d leave it at that. Then she asked, “So what are your plans for the rest of the day?” Her question was like a tiny hole punctured in a balloon as I felt the last bit of energy deflate. I mustered up a smile and response, “I don’t have any plans. We just got back in town and I’m really tired.”

(Could that be the end of conversation for now, please?)

“Oh yeah, from where?”

(sigh) “Guyana.”

“Cool. Were you there for vacation?”

Wait for it….

“No, it was a mission trip.”

Any other day I’d be ecstatic to talk about all things mission. Today, I just needed milk, dinner and tissues to wipe the tears from my eyes. My response was the Pandora’s box for a delightful, but draining conversation. She was so sweet. It was me who crawled to the car playing all the social cards in my hand.

There’s a lot to unpack and put away strewn about the house, but there is much more to unpack in my heart. The problem is I don’t know where to put it all. The demands of daily life and international mission life have little overlap in this season, sans the insane, and very thankful, amount of fundraising we have to do to afford going. A few pictures on the wall and some local, handmade trinkets on a shelf help to be something my heart can focus on as I move through the day. All of our personal effects still smell like Guyana, just like they smelled of burnt wood when we returned from Africa. The same is true for smells unique to the other countries which now have pieces of our hearts.

At the end of the day, this mission was just a shift, if you will. Helping and encouraging those working in the mission field full-time. We took a shift to go and be salt and light to them and those they serve.

I gave it my all, but feel like it fell far short of what is needed. Jet lag is something that can be slept off. Mission-heart lag can’t be shaken off, nor should it be. I hope and pray the pains of mission never go away, lest I forget the needs and fall into a pleasure coma of the society in which I live.

I am haunted and humbled by what I’ve experienced. Come quickly, Lord. Until then, I’ll keep going wherever You lead.

The path of a new year

New Year’s day seemed like the perfect time to take a hike. You know, fitness resolutions, take-more-time-to-experience life resolutions, all that jazz.

My husband and I went to a familiar park, but we decided to take a trail we’ve never blazed. This was an impromptu date, but we weren’t alone.

Just a short ways in, step-by-step, God began speaking encouragement over this new year. Receive it, friend.

Sometimes the path is uncomplicated and clearly marked.

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Sometimes it’s not.

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If I brought you to it, I’ll get you through it, under it or over it.

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I never promised the path would be easy. Keep walking even if you get dirty, really dirty.

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When the journey is effortless, remember me. It is my gift to you.

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Ask me when you don’t know which way to go. I will tell you.

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It’s possible I will bless either decision. I can do that. Include me.

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When you don’t know what’s around the corner, trust me and keep walking. I am with you.

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When life goes sideways, I’m still right here, walking with you. I haven’t left you.

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If the path seems exhaustively uphill, ask for my strength. I will give it to you. Just keep climbing.

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Sometimes I have a different plan than yours. Trust me. I know the best path for you.

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I am with you. Sojourners are also on the path. You are not alone.

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Leave your mark on the path…for my glory.

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I put people in your path for a reason. Some go before you to help blaze the trail…

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…others come behind you to follow it.

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Don’t be too proud to accept help. 

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You don’t always have to forge your own way.

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Follow my narrow path regardless of how narrow it gets.

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Sometimes you have to take a running leap of faith to stay on the path.

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When you’re between a rock and a hard place, my path will lead you through it.

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Look for my beauty along the path. It’s there to encourage you.

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In every season, follow me.

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Follow my path, but be smart about it. You don’t have to be the hero. I already am.

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A friend to walk with is a blessing from me.

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My children are rooted in me.

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The wind cannot blow over they who are grounded in me.

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 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

 

 

Making a local, global and eternal difference

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Twenty-five years ago, God told my husband, Bruce, and me His vision for our marriage in the most unexpected, nearly unbelievable, way. To skip to the spoiler, His message was that our marriage is to be an extension of His open hand.

Huh? Not sure what that meant.

In the last two and a half decades, we both graduated from college, celebrated weddings, retirements, births & baby dedications, buried loved ones, moved, changed jobs, honored anniversaries, graduated our firstborn from high school and sent him off to college (with two more teens right behind him), endured surgeries and illness, learned a lot of lessons and made a million memories along the way.

We did not understand what God meant all those years ago about being an extension of His open hand as we just did our best at living life.

We were cruising along to the rhythm of the American dream of the house with a picket fence, kids running barefoot on the lawn with the family dog, and saving for retirement while planning the next annual vacation.

Then, five summers ago God rocked our world through several very significant moments placing us at life-changing crossroads.

He was totally setting us up for a one-way ticket from a life and future we worked hard for to a life He had planned for us since before the beginning of time.

Cut to the chase again, and we found ourselves on our first mission trip (and first trip out of the country sans the Bahamas for our honeymoon) with our 10, 12, and 14 year old children in tow.

Are you kidding me? Bring our children? This mama bear was hyper-vigilant, anxiety-ridden, and fear-filled about doing this at all, much less as a family, much less to Africa. I felt utterly unequipped to handle being a chaperon with school to the local museum (stressful!) to taking my kids so far out of our comfort zone I can’t even describe the angst that churned inside me. Our trip leader stills says that he really didn’t think I’d actually get on the plane.

But I did! We did! And, our family has never been the same.

God blew our hearts away with a bursting love for this world in a way we could never conceive. He took us to four more countries around the world over the past four summers on mission, and we have never been so in love with a world He so loves.

This love continues to multiple in our hearts every single day as we laugh with, cry over and pray for those from every walk of life around the world who we now consider family.

Fast forward to this past December 29th. Bruce went in for simple shoulder surgery, which proved to be anything but.

After a full tear was reattached and repaired, he had some serious, and extremely painful, recovery waiting for him.

Four months into recovery, after not having been able to return to work due to the pain, he was unexpectedly laid off. We felt like we were kicked when we were down.

However, God reminded us of a conversation Bruce and I had a year ago. Bruce said to me, “I’ll be honest. I’m never going to have the courage to leave this job. It’s too stable.” To which I replied, “Since we’re being candid, I’ll never have the courage to tell you to jump. It’s too stable of a job. The most stable company you’ve ever worked for.”

Bruce then said, “If God ever wants us to make a change, He’s going to have to take this job from me.”

So when he came to me on a regular ol’ Tuesday morning, after almost nine years with the company, and sat down at our son’s desk and looked at me, I should not have been surprised when he said, “Well, God took it.”

We both knew exactly what he meant.

Ever since then, Bruce has looked for work.

Nothing.

He told me in the beginning of his job search there is nothing for him in this city.

Then came an interest in him, but it involved relocating. I’ll save that story for a blog post, but here we are. No relocating. No more job prospects.

All the while, he was meeting weekly with a dear friend in albeit a different kind of work situation, the end result was the same – unemployed.

They began meeting as encouragement to each other over coffee.

Like a good pot of coffee, their hearts began to percolate an idea that brought both of their long-term visions into one plan.

NEED POINT, Inc. was born.

Nothing quite like this exists in America, much less the world. As God has brought people across their path over the past few months, something beautiful began to take shape. Something neither of them could have ever imagined.

NEED POINT combines our team’s passions for both global and local missions in new and innovative ways that meets individual needs on a community level.

NEED POINT is a non-profit that connects people in need with people in local churches and faith-based businesses to help meet their needs. From needing lawns mowed, to helping with medical bills, to befriending the lonely and beyond, NEED POINT is the liaison to match the person in need with someone who can help meet it.

The vision is to expand this blueprint to local communities all over the world!

Curious as to how this all works? CLICK HERE to visit the website.

This grassroots movement is swelling as folks get excited about how they can be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Our team is stoked about this opportunity and trusting God for every step of the way.

Between global missions and NEED POINT, Bruce and I are beginning to understand what God meant by our marriage being an extension of His open hand. We only wish I didn’t take twenty years to get there. But, better late than never, right?! 🙂

We would LOVE to have you join us in the journey. Check out NeedPoint.org and like us on Facebook at facebook.com/needpoint. Let’s get going!

Private thoughts of a short-term missionary

Monday morning greets me with mixed emotions. I woke up today feeling very frustrated. I have been consistently diligent in putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) and working with all the logic that’s in my crazy brain to get things ready for an upcoming mission trip. On paper everything looks good. But, read in between the lines and there are struggles and doubts and frustrations that eat away at my thoughts.

I am grateful for the Proverbs 31 Ministry’s devotions that appear in my inbox every day. Today, it’s like Lysa Terkeurst read my heart. Her words speak more clearly than mine as I sit here tired and sick. Here is an excerpt from her devotion, “When God’s Assignments Feel Almost Impossible”

* * * * * * * * * *

I pulled into my driveway and stared at this gathering place my people call “home.” And my heart whispered …

Lord, am I doing all of this right?

This life You’ve entrusted to me, these people You’ve entrusted to me, this calling You’ve entrusted to me … I desperately want to get it right. To live without painful regret gnawing deep within. To know that I gave it my very best. To please You. Love them. Smile more than frowning. Laugh more than I complain. See the beauty tucked within all these sacred moments of just being together and remember to whisper, Thank You.

Thank You for all of it. The whole package deal of good and bad and highs and lows. For all that mixed together sets about a process of making me. The me that needs the tough stuff to mature me. The sad moments to soften me. The thrilling moments to invigorate me. The poignant moments to endear me. The complicated moments to challenge me. The quiet moments to unrush me.

I need it all.

But sometimes, in the midst of all the moments that are making me into the woman You created me to be, I get awfully tired and discouraged.

And I find myself sitting in my driveway wondering. Staring at the culmination of thousands of decisions I’ve made that have brought me here. To this home. This family. This life. I made my decisions and then my decisions made me.

I’m thankful, yes. So very thankful. But I need You to whisper reassurance into my heart that You’re with me. That You see me. And that You are pleased with me. I just need to know, Lord, am I doing this right?

Jesus instructed us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:15). That seems an impossible task for someone who sits in her driveway and feels fragile and wonders all the things I sometimes wonder.

* * * * * * * * * *

Fragile indeed. I told Bruce the other day that I wrestle with opposite dichotomies warring within:

* Continue to pursue short-term global and local missions as long as God allows and I am physically able.

* Sell it all and move to a distant land to serve full-time.

* Move to a tropical island and forget everything (just kidding, sort of!).

I feel like a nomad. When I am home doing the suburban housewife and mom thing, my heart is restless even though serving my family sometimes takes everything in me! When I am serving abroad, I reach a tipping point where I need normalcy and a sense of home. When I serve locally, I feel I am not doing enough. It makes my heart spin.

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my favorite people. She is the mother-in-law of one of my dearest friends and she turns 80 this month. I just love talking with her! Her mind is sharp as a tack and conversations with her are thought-provoking and always entertaining.

She’s been through some major unexpected illnesses lately that have left her fragile, frail and in spinal therapy. Her already tiny frame of less than 5 feet is now curled over and even thinner than she was before. She asked me all kinds of questions about our mission trip as she has always had a keen interest in them. Once we talked through the logistics of the trip, she turned the conversation to why we go.

She asked questions that she really wanted sincere answers to. Questions like – You feel this is right for your family? And you enjoy this? Do the kids enjoy it? What do they get out of if? How long do you think you will continue to do these mission trips?

I answered each question with a thoughtful answer: For now, this is what God has called our family to. Everyone has a purpose, and we believe this is ours. Yes, we enjoy it very much. It’s the hardest, most demanding thing we’ve ever done (besides parenting) and it’s worth every drop of blood, sweat and tear. The kids love it! Mission trips are great to strip away the entitlement and materialism that our society imposes and encourages. Although our children don’t have overt problems with these anyway, still if we live in a society long enough its way of thinking creeps into our thoughts as being normal. These missions remind them that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that’s a good and necessary truth to know. More importantly, it’s training them to share the Gospel whenever, wherever God leads. We will go as long as the Lord allows and we are physically able.

To every answer she smiled, nodded her head and replied, Okay. Alright. However, she paused at my last answer about being physically able. As we stood in the kitchen, she asked if I wanted a piece of cake and I said yes. She carefully, slowly, struggled to cut and serve it to me, but I knew I needed to let her do it. It was a beautiful moment. I felt God whisper, She needs to do this. Let her. As she worked on the slice of cake, she said, You know, one day you have your health and then the next day you don’t. It’s taken away without warning. I never thought I would go through what I’ve been through, and getting back to where I was is a great struggle. Do what you can while you can do it. Enjoy life. Go on these mission trips. Do it all before you no longer can. Wise words which brought a tear to my eye as I bent over to hear her talk above the white noise in the crowded room of her grandson’s graduation party.

I’ve told Bruce this before. We were walking through Wal-Mart one day and I said, You know, it would only take one car accident. One illness. One life change that could keep one of us from ever being able to go on mission again. Life is fragile. Health is fragile although no one wants to admit it out loud. It’s partially this thought that makes me second guess if I really am doing what God purposed for me in Psalm 139:16 –

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is where Lysa Terkeurst and I share the same wonderings and ponderings. Are we getting it right?

Do I feel restless here because we are supposed to be there? Do I miss home there because we are supposed to be here? It’s maddening, really.

Life is so so short. As proactive and intentional as I have been about preserving my body specifically for ministry with all of the surgeries, procedures and physical therapy I’ve had since 2008, I can’t figure out how to stop time. It marches on and takes no prisoners. At the end of my life, whether that be in a year or 40+, I yearn for no regrets – not that I checked off everything on my bucket list, but that I checked off everything on God’s bucket for me. I desperately want to please Him even when human nature screams otherwise. I am starving for Isaiah 30:21 to be read over my life –

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.

My job is to reject my idols and images and run with passion in the direction He leads (v 22). This is much easier said than done. But, when I think about my dear friend who is struggling just to once again stand erect after her physical struggles, I hear a clock ticking in my head and heart. So I write openly on a blog what I’ve been praying in my heart, in a thousand different ways for a long time, that which Psalm 139:23-24 sums up best –

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Lead on, God. I will follow You all the way home no matter where the journey takes me to get there.

 

The secret to an awesome family vacation

 

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As teachers, students and parents breathe a collective exhale at the end of another school year, families begin planning, packing and preparing for vacation.

It took me years to learn the secret to an awesome family vacation, but I’m going to share it in two short words.

Transition Day.

Each year as we packed up the van with suitcases, the dog, a hedgehog, pillows (and for the beach – every known piece of beach paraphernalia) a few extra items got packed as well as got left home.

What got left behind:

* patience

* joy

* laughter

* camaraderie

* perseverance

What snuck into our luggage:

* a bad attitude

* everything that goes along with a bad attitude

I just couldn’t figure it out. All of us were so excited to take a break, spend family time together and have an adventure. Why oh why were we fighting before we crossed the city limit? I was all over my kids nagging them for “plugging in” too fast to their technology and how we weren’t bonding as a family (at least not in positive ways).

Like summer thunderstorms in Florida where I grew up that we could set our watch by, bickering and arguing were predicable accomplices in ruining our first day of vacation.

To be honest, I could feel the fight swelling up in me.  Why?

One vacation, we were truckin’ down the road and I was biting my tongue. Why was my husband so annoying to me? Why could no one do anything right around me? This quiet moment became surreal as I stared out the window on a lonely stretch of highway. Without warning, it seemed that the mystery completely unfolded before my very eyes.

It was grace. Grace invited itself along for the ride. I stopped what was on the tip of my tongue, and grace spoke into my heart. I saw that my anger towards my husband was not at him at all. It wasn’t even anger. It was frustration. Exhaustion. Missing him.

He can say the same about me.

What happened in the car at the start of every trip was a lot of pent up stuff. Months or weeks of topics we had not had any time to discuss typically flew out of my mouth like bullets. Frustration over not having any time to discuss them was the trigger. A lack of communication during our exhaustive days led to feeling distant (a woman does not like to feel distant from her man). Hurt feelings ensued and so on. It’s a giant house of cards that is built one busy day after the next, blurry month after blurry month, and by the time vacation comes I’ve got my panties in a wad, he’s tired, and neither one of us wants to deal with the kids.

On this particular vacation I blurted out with wide eyes and a smile, Hey! Let’s try something new. Let’s have a transition day!

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We’re all tired. We’re spent. With the energy left in our pinky toes we set off for an adventure. But, let’s be realistic –

Families need to time to adapt. We all need time and energy to mentally and emotionally leave our routines behind as much as we do physically. We need to have flexibility to do that in ways that are right for us. As much as it is uncomfortable for me, I need to let my kids unwind with their technology for the first leg of the trip if that’s what works. For my husband, it may be listening to tunes or simply not talking. For me, I adapt by catching up on all of the things I’ve wanted to share with my man that our routines rob us from communicating.

So, how does his not wanting to talk jive with my need to talk?  After 24 years of marriage, I found out that what I am really looking for is for him to listen. I decompress by exhaling my words, feelings, emotions, etc. I don’t regenerate by him wanting to solve or fix every issue I bring up. I just need to get it out. It’s beautiful, really. I talk and talk and talk. He listens. We both win because I am not asking for him to share equal words in the conversation. I’m not asking anything of him. Sometimes I am just venting or processing things out loud and would rather him not say a word. In order for me to embrace the vacation and be in the moment, there needs to be room in my heart and mind to hold the new memories we will make. I can’t do that if I’ve drug all of the muck from home with me. He feels no pressure to respond except for the occasional smile, glance, or head nod. It’s perfect for us! Meanwhile, the kids have tuned into their music and miss all of my introspective downloading.

Also, we’ve learned that the first day of vacation isn’t our best, so we need to extend intentional grace to each other. It’s likely my husband has just finished a conference call as we’re packing the van. Being it’s a time for a break, the kids have most often just come off of hard tests and papers and presentations. We all need grace to fill in the blanks when we are not enough for each other.

The vacation I mentioned above was a turning point in our family. We declared Transition Day (out loud) and all of the stress of regular life, the stress of travel, the stress of wanting to have a good time, and all of the other stress that keeps my shoulders and neck muscles rock hard began to melt away.

Now, we actually laugh about it. When someone’s attitude tanks on that first day, we just smile and say “Transition Day!” and give grace. This has helped to cut down how long the transition takes, because the pressure of performance is gone. We can show our weaknesses. We are not “on” like we have to be in so many venues of our lives. We don’t have to begin making scrapbooking memories the moment our tires leave the driveway.

Giving each other freedom to have a transition day has been very healing. I can stop being wife and mother and just be Kristi – whether Kristi is tired, emotional, happy or mad. Likewise, each member of our family can simply be who we are. The van is peaceful even if someone is bent out of shape. Odd, huh?

By the second day (or even that evening) we are all ready for fun! We have switched gears and truly let it all go – without unnecessary friction that is draining and spoils the fun.

I’ve now started doing a mini version of Transition Day on the weekends. It’s not a formula. It’s simply putting ourselves in each others’ shoes and remembering we are humans who are imperfect but are trying to be the best we can anyway.

Grace is now not only at the top of my packing list for vacations and weekends, but it’s becoming part of my daily to-do list. And as often as I need to give it, I realize I need to receive it.

Vacation Transition Day has become part of our family’s everyday moments and is a game-changer because in giving grace – love wins – and that’s the main goal no matter where we are.