Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Sense of a Fresh Start

[what's brewing: find out on New Year's Day!]

Isn’t it interesting that so often people who try to create a fresh start in life through a relocation, new job, or new marriage often end up making nearly the exact same choices and following the exact same patterns as they did in their previous situation? It seems we are predisposed to make certain choices consistently, despite the details of our surroundings. Maybe this is why New Year's resolutions don’t often turn out to be quite as life changing as their makers have envisioned them to be – they are all too often focused on large scale changes rather than the momentary choices that collectively create a lifestyle.

After a series of failed resolutions, I have finally started to focus on little decisions that are consistent with who I am becoming, rather than who I would rather be.

For example, I have friends who deal with their stress by engaging in physical activity – they love nothing more than going for a 3-5 mile jog to burn off stress, sadness or frustration. I, on the other hand, prefer to deal with those emotions through physical inactivity – I don’t want to do anything (though it should be noted that enough anger topped off with my own stubbornness can put me in a turbo-cleaning mode that accomplishes a remarkable amount of work in a short period of time). I would love to be the type of person who craves a long jog when feeling homesick or frustrated with language learning, but quite honestly, that is the most unnatural response I can think of. So it will not surprise you to hear that my resolution back in 2004 to become the type of person who turns negative emotions into physical activity did not prove successful.

However, my decision in 2005 to try to exert myself more in unfamiliar social situations has proven much more successful, which I attribute to the small, momentary nature of the issue.

I have often wished that I were more confident and outgoing in unfamiliar social situations. I marvel at people who can enter a room full of new people and easily delve into conversations with nearly everyone in the room by the time the night has ended. While no amount of effort will turn me into an extrovert, I do find that pushing myself to initiate conversations when it feels unnatural to do so is a practical step I can take in building relationships with people in a new setting.

And now that we are here in a new culture where social interactions are even more complex because of the language issue, this has been a vital commitment for me to come back to time and again. It’s a moment-by-moment choice to do things differently, not an attempt to change the personality that is engrained within me.

I know people who only make resolutions based upon spiritual qualities (fruits of the Spirit, prayer habits, commitments to fasting, etc.), and I also know people who don’t make resolutions at all because they believe we should always be striving for personal change and betterment. I personally love New Year's resolutions because they provide a sense of a fresh start – a time to take inventory and identify particular areas for personal growth in every aspect of who I am.

My decision to take risks in initiating conversations has been crucial in my ability to connect with people in my new setting. While it may not be a fruit of the Spirit, it reveals my dependency upon Christ for strength and confidence in a tangible way that I may not experience if I were simply focusing on joy, peace or patience. It opens the door for new relationships as it reveals my own vulnerability, which many times the women I work with need to see.

Worldly wisdom would guide me to make choices that protect and cover my own vulnerabilities and sinful ways of being. For me, resolutions are concise declarations of my desire to leave those ways behind and apply the wisdom of heaven to my life by intentionally making different and healthier choices.

With 3 short days left in the year, I’ve been thinking carefully about the resolutions I want to make this year. I always have a hard time narrowing my list down and I rarely finalize my selection until New Year’s Day – this year is no different.

Check back on New Year’s Day (Thursday) for my 2009 Resolutions!

What about you? How do you feel about New Year's resolutions?

What are you considering for your 2009 resolutions?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Nothing is Inconsequential

[what's brewing: did I really order this???]

There are certain elements of the Christian faith that I have wrestled with for most of my adult life – such as the question of how (and in my most desperate moments, if) prayer works, the role of God’s omnipotence in allowing suffering in the world, and the historically troubling issue of free will vs. God’s divine will. At times these topics are distressing to the point of tears, while at other times I feel at peace with taking them by faith and leaving my lack of understanding in the grace of God’s hands.

This week as I read over the Christmas story and followed several passages along through my Advent reading guide, I was struck by the theme of God’s specific control over the events of the world. I’ve known these passages for years. They’ve even been included in Christmas services and readings I’ve seen before, but for some reason they impacted me today like they never have before. His orchestration of minute yet magnificent details is clearly depicted in the story that leads to Jesus’ birth: a descendent of Abraham, in the line of David, born to a virgin in Bethlehem, the child who would bring “the redemption of the world” (Luke 2:38).

I can scarcely imagine how out of control life must have felt for Mary. She did not choose the absurdity of a virgin birth for herself – God orchestrated it, in accordance with the prophets’ message of years ago. Had the census not been imposed by Caesar, there would have been no reason for the journey to the town of David, Bethlehem, to occur. I can’t imagine Mary was very pleased about traveling such a distance by donkey while 9 months pregnant, but she had to go, just as it had been foretold. Believing that he would not die before seeing the Lord’s Christ, Simeon was “moved by the Spirit” to go the temple courts, and there he found the child Jesus. He didn’t know where he would see the child, but the Spirit moved him to go to the temple, and he went – another fulfillment of what had been foretold.

As clear as it may seem to us as we read this familiar story, I doubt these individuals would have seen their daily actions as part of the fulfillment of God’s perfect plan (certainly not Caesar!). They were moving along in daily life, and God was at work within the mundane details – a woman pledged to be married, a ruler calling for a census, an innkeeper offering a stable, an old man being prompted to go the temple. Those who worshipped God were open to this working in their lives: Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna. All praised God immediately for what he had done. In the midst of uncertainty, they responded with worship.

If there is any doubt within you about where you are today, where God is and what he is doing, the reason for a certain area of suffering, the loneliness or hopeless you may be feeling this week of Christmas, may you be encouraged by the truth depicted in the story of Christ’s birth. There is nothing inconsequential about the circumstances we are facing. By logical necessity God must either be intricately involved in every circumstance of the world, or not at all. He has shown himself to be sovereign over circumstances in amazing stories like this one, and therefore we can trust that he is sovereign over circumstances in broken, challenging stories like our own.
Wherever you may be, whatever you may be facing, you are not alone and you are not forgotten. God has known this day for all of eternity, and he will use it to demonstrate his faithfulness to humankind throughout history and bring glory to his name.

Lord, help us to say, as Mary did:

I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

[what's brewing: a familiar note with a hint of nostalgia]

Starbucks’ red cups and their fine Christmas pastries,
Children lined up to see Santa in Macy’s,
The Salvation Army bell faithfully rings,
These are a few of my favorite things...

Okay – I’ll spare you the rest of my silly song, just as long as you now have the song stuck in your head as well. I have been doing a lot of remembering this week, thinking of the aspects of my home culture that help to create the special sense of excitement during the holidays. While their ties to the commercial nature of the season are clear, I also see them as contributing to an overarching sense of the Christmas spirit throughout society.

Simple as it may have been, the arrival of those red holiday cups at Starbucks always seemed to herald in the Christmas season. While personally grateful that I had no kids to oblige me to stand in line at Santa’s Workshop in the mall, I always smiled at the look of joyful anticipation on a child’s face who had made it to the front of the line and was next to sit on Santa’s lap. Although I rarely put money in the buckets of the Salvation Army as the volunteers manned their stations outside grocery stores and Walmarts, the ringing of their bells served as a subtle reminder that the Christmas season was here, even as I rushed in to get normal, everyday groceries.

Some days it feels like salt in a wound to think about my favorite things of the Christmas season. This week I’ve been thinking that Maria had the right idea in The Sound of Music when she sang, “I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don’t feel so bad!” Rather than dog bites and bee stings, things like water shut-offs and market thieves leave me feeling sad. But fond memories of my favorite things bring a smile to my face and conjure up the warm feelings of holiday joy, despite the disparity between those memories and my present reality. Add to those memories the Christmas lights that hang in our doorway and the tinsel that has been strung around our office, the Christmas spirit is alive and well here.

What are some of your favorite things?

I’ve listed a few of tried-and-true and new favorite online places and resources on the sidebar – check them out and add to the list by leaving a site in your comment as well!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Christmas Spirit

[what's brewing: bold overtones with a hint of authority]

It is strange, yet somehow encouraging, realizing that some of the sights and experiences that caught my attention when I first arrived now seem to be normal elements of the landscape.Broken pieces of glass or cacti that are cemented into the top layer walls and properties are now an understandable form of security. Seeing small taxis with towers of goods precariously strapped onto the roof still makes me smile, but it doesn’t necessarily seem out of the ordinary. I am sympathetic to traffic jams that are caused by herds of cows and sheep crossing the road. Roadside vendors selling drinks in plastic bags may not appeal to me exactly, but it seems normal within the context we’re living in.

Another less fortunate normal are the unwarranted traffic stops we seem to face on a monthly basis here.

Jason consistently blames me for these unwarranted pull-overs since his features are dark enough to blend in here while my pale skin not only confirms, but announces to everyone that I am a foreigner. I concur with his assessment but insist that the true blame goes back to him for purchasing a red Jeep – not the most discrete selection around here to say the least. Whatever the reason, we do find ourselves being pulled over quite frequently. What follows is a fairly predictable scenario: a careful review of our paperwork, thorough questioning of who we are and what we’re doing in the country, a lot of waiting, and ultimately an accusation of a random, often fabricated, offense that is followed by the threat of a pricey citation.

Unless, that is, we can think of “another way to solve the situation”, which is an indirect request to be paid off (which makes it legal). Jason refuses to pay anyone off, which generally leaves us in a long exchange with the police officer and a delay in my schedule that I find to be very annoying. Thankfully we’ve always managed to escape without paying the officer or receiving the citation.

This weekend Jason was driving out to the Children’s Home for his regular game of Friday midnight soccer when he was pulled over once again. (This time it was my brother’s white skin that allegedly caught their attention, not mine!) The charge? An out of date emissions clearance, even though the emissions testing center has been closed for months. Following the standard procedures, Jason began to talk with the police officer, presenting his case for why he should be free to go without a penalty. After a nearly 30 minute deliberation period, the officer insisted that in the spirit of Christmas, some type of repayment was necessary for his generosity if he were to let Jason go. Jason decided to go along with the Christmas spirit idea and offered a panetone in return for his kindness (which is a holiday sweet bread, similar to fruitcake but much better. Very popular here at Christmas time).

The officer’s response: “Okay, it’s a deal. But you know, why don’t you save yourself the trouble of going to buy the panetone. Just give me the money you would spend on it instead.”

Jason’s response: “No, no – it’s free. We bake them at the Children’s Home to raise funds during the holidays. It’s no trouble at all. I’ll bring several by the police station for you and your buddies. A small gesture of the Christmas spirit!”

The officer’s (disgruntled) response: “Great. A couple of panetones will be great.”

The officer was rather surprised to see the panetones actually arrive yesterday at the station, accompanied by a small card from the Children’s Home. He and his fellow officers were thankful for the treat and hopefully enjoyed a taste of the Christmas spirit he’d negotiated so long for!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


[what's brewing: anticipation]

Thanksgiving has now passed, which in my family signals the official start of the Christmas season. Decorating can now begin, Christmas music can rightfully be played and sadly, waist lines will begin to expand. While in years past I may have been jumping into December with memories of the savory Thanksgiving meal and perfectly crisped pecan pie in mind, this year we are remembering the seasoned pork, fried rice, lemon soaked vegetables and mashed potatoes that were thoughtfully and graciously prepared for us by our national workers in honor of our national holiday. I giggled quietly to myself this past Thursday when presented with my plate of Thanksgiving dinner. I found myself affirming the old saying, “It’s the thought that counts,” as I saw the look of satisfaction on their faces.

Beyond the decorations, music, and holiday goodies, the passing of Thanksgiving also signifies the approach of Advent, the highlight of the Christmas season for me. As a little girl I was always eager to begin our Advent calendar on December 1st. I could not wait to begin opening the little windows hidden within the Christmas scene to uncover the verses concealed behind them. My siblings and I took turns opening the windows each morning, and every year I exercised all the restraint I had to willingly go last so that the rotation would allow me to open the window on my birthday in mid-December. I felt so lucky to have been born in December; I couldn’t imagine having to watch someone else open the advent calendar window on my special day.

My memories of the waiting and eager anticipation to open those little windows each morning are the best description I have of the anticipation and waiting for our Savior that Advent calls us to. I confess that while my intellectual appreciation for His coming (and eventual return) has increased as I have matured, the experience of truly waiting for and anticipating His coming has diminished. The passage of time somehow stole my sense of wonder over the Christmas miracle as I grew up, as if tied to my belief in Santa Claus that was never abruptly shattered but slowly lost its charm. And now after all these years, I cannot seem to recreate the enchanting sense of wonder I felt as a child as I waited and waited for the day we could open the window and find Jesus waiting inside.

Oh, to be given a chance to go back and relive those 24 days of December as a child, enchanted with the story of God coming to earth as a baby, born into a manger, surrounded by barn animals while shepherd’s followed the brilliant star to worship the swaddled little baby.

I find myself praying each year that God would restore that child-like wonder, even if just for a moment. I want to be captivated by the story again and to live in eager anticipation of His return. Advent is a time to be captivated once again by the birth of Jesus, heightened now by a longing for His return to bring an end to the evil and suffering that have scarred the face of humanity. It’s a time to remember the tension we are living in as we celebrate our freedom in Christ and wait for Him to come and reconcile the world to Himself again.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

(editor's note: Coffeegirl's birthday is December 12...I thought you ought to know)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Candy Corn Reflections

[what's brewing: gratitude, does that sound corny?]

One of the family Thanksgiving traditions that I particularly cherish is the time that we take to reflect genuinely on all that we are thankful for. Each guest at the Thanksgiving table has a simple garnishing of three pieces of candy corn waiting on their yet-to-be-filled plate. With everyone in their seats, each guest shares three things that they are particularly thankful for, one per piece of candy corn. As a young child, my siblings, cousins and I usually had fairly similar ‘thankful’ lists: family, God and the opportunity to go to school or something along those lines.

One favorite memory is of my little brother sitting down at the table, dressed up as a Native American with a fully feathered headdress (made of construction paper). Studying Native Americans in school, he was particularly excited about Thanksgiving that year. He proudly shared with us that he was thankful for God, for his family, and “for Squanto who became friends with the Pilgrims so that we could have this yummy Thanksgiving dinner, except for mashed potatoes that make me throw up.”

I remember shifting a bit uncomfortably when aunts and uncles, parents or grandparents would shed a few tears as they talked, so moved by the gratitude they were expressing. I knew that I only cried when I was sad, and I was too young to have any alternative understanding of those tears. I knew I was growing up when I came home from college to celebrate Thanksgiving and found myself tearing up as I expressed my gratitude for my family after saying goodbye to several friends who preferred to stay alone in the dorms than willingly subject themselves to the chaos of their family life.

This year I find that I am impacted again by the experience of moving to another country and engaging in such challenging and rewarding work. My understanding of gratitude has been shaped and molded by the many answers to prayers we’ve experienced, as well as the many unanswered prayers that have left us wondering and waiting. The fickle nature of my own heart in the face of seemingly unheard prayers has been challenged by the song Gratitude by Nichole Nordeman. The chorus of this song brilliantly depicts the gratitude of a heart in the face of unmet needs:

We'll give thanks to You
With gratitude
For lessons learned in how to thirst for You
How to bless the very sun that warms our face
If You never send us rain

I confess that I struggle to give thanks despite the continued suffering and sickness around me, but this song has been a reminder and a guide as I seek to expand my gratitude in the midst of unmet needs.

This week my family will be gathering to celebrate Thanksgiving, starting with their candy corn reflections. We’ll be celebrating here, carrying on the tradition in a far away land as we express our gratitude together. My candy corn reflections of gratitude for this year are:

1. Living here in the city where we fell in love, surrounded by reminders of those blissful summer months, I am continually grateful for Jason. He is my husband, counselor and best friend. I think I would have gone home by now if it were not for him.

2. Living thousands of miles away has given me a new awareness of the depth of gratitude that I have for my family, for the ways they love and support us so well even from a large distance. My gratitude for my family has deepened exponentially through our work with orphaned and abandoned children who do not know the safety and comfort of being loved and protected by their families.

3. Our work with these children, each with traumatic backgrounds, and involvement in a community afflicted by poverty makes me grateful each day for the redemptive work of Christ and the hope for the future that this provides even in the face of unmet needs and unanswered prayers.

What are your candy corn reflections this week?

Monday, November 17, 2008

This One's for the Goodies!

Yahoo! I received 6 entries for the Fall Challenge #2 from all over the world. I love each and everyone's ideas and photos...thanks for taking the time to write in. And now, let the games begin. Everyone is invited to vote on their favorite by going over to the right sidebar and marking your vote in this week's poll.

I encourage all the women who entered to get ALL their friends to vote (for them). Remember the winner will be announced next Tuesday and the goodies (pecans, pumpkin filling and chocolate chips) will be mailed directly within a few days to hopefully reach the winner by Christmas!

Contestant # 1: Sarah, Botswana

My husband and I have served overseas in Botswana, Africa for almost 5 years now. While we swelter in over 100 degree temps you would never know walking into my home. We always decorate and celebrate as much as we would if we were in the US. Over the years I’ve learned to become very creative during the holidays and often times start asking for certain things to be sent over starting in July! Now that I have my own little one, it’s even more important to us to make sure that we keep our traditions alive. This year we hosted a “Harvest Party” for the Missionary Families. We baked goodies and the kids even did a bit of “trick or treating” in the house with their famous Shoprite bags. This picture is of me with “the spread”.

Contestant #2: Angie, Bolivia
My name is Angie. I serve in Bolivia, South America. Pictured here I am holding a mixing bowl ready for baking oatmeal cookies; the kids help me make mountains of cookies. Next, I painted and sent out advent candles to my family around the globe. We remember each other as we burn down one number a day from December 1st to the 25th. Lastly, you see a screen shot of an online radio station that streams Christmas music so I don't miss out on all the new songs; and it is English. Happy Holidays to all my Coffeegirl gals!

Contestant #3: Diane, Costa Rica

Fall in Costa Rica is non-existent as it will be in Ecuador’s jungle. The preschool teacher in me came out and I cut leaf shapes and attached them with thread to the window sill at different lengths. I found this vine wreath discarded on the side of the road, decorated it for fall with cut out foam leaves and substituted a green squash for a pumpkin, then transformed it again into winter. We hail from Maine and are spending a year in Costa Rica at language school before we head out to Shell, Ecuador. Like Coffeegirl said sometimes it’s the little things you bring from home. My mom and daughter-in-law sent down real pressed leaves!

Contestant #4: Ginny, RAC

The day before Halloween, my 2 little teammates and I headed out to get a pumpkin (which we heard would be no problem finding). We went to the closest market – nothing. So we made the 20 minute trip to the grocery store – nothing. Finally we went to another outdoor market that I knew would have pumpkins. Little did I know that [in this country] pumpkins are cut up and sold by the kilo for meat dishes. So we improvised as you can see by the picture. They had a blast and didn’t seem to notice their pumpkin was green and striped.

Contestant #5: Crystal, Thailand

First of all, I make pumpkin pies with homemade pumpkin pie filling (lots of them...this batch of two was for a Mom's Group Thanksgiving meal we were having (all of them are non-believers). I shared what Thanksgiving is and why, we as Christians give thanks. I then had them write what they were thankful for and why on some leaf cutouts and then we shared together. I am in the back (in the turquoise shirt) in the picture with all the Thai women who come to our Mom's Group.

I also decorate with our homemade cornucopia (from two years ago) and thanks to our parents we have a fresh bag of "spice pumpkin" potpourri to make the house smell like fall. . In the picture, I have the little leaves the women wrote on with their words of "thanks" to God surrounding the cornucopia.

And, this year, my oldest son and I made a Pilgrim hat and an Indian headband. Lots of fun! =) (Pictures attached of oldest son, PJ, sporting the Pilgrim hat and youngest son, Calvin aka "Squanto". We also watch A Charlie Brown's Thanksgiving and The Mayflower Voyagers (another Peanuts cartoon but it's quite educational!). We usually get together with our teammates on Thanksgiving Day and have a feast (usually without the turkey) but it's a feast all the same! We reflect of God's goodness and faithfulness and thank HIM for His great salvation and the work He is doing in our lives.

Contestant #6: Shan, Japan

Hello from Japan! I like to go to Starbucks -- confession, I do not like coffee!-- and buy a hot chocolate. Then I go across the street to the walking path which is lined with trees. I purposely walk through the fallen leaves, even going off the path sometimes, just like my sister and I used to do on our way to and from school when we were little. It is even better when it is a crisp, cool day!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'tis the season, right?

[what's brewing: pumpkin spice latte]

No matter the warm weather, blue skies and blossoming trees around me, everything inside of me firmly believes that it is fall. I doubt I will ever naturally think of spring when I turn my calendar over to the month of November. Knowing the time would come when my seasonal expectations and seasonal reality would conflict, I packed a scented candle into my bag last summer despite the precious weight it consumed in my allotted 50 pounds per bag.

I pulled the candle out last week, enjoying the familiar aroma that fills my house as it burns.

The bag of candy corn we’ve been snacking on has helped to create a pseudo sense of autumn as well. But the lingering disparity between my internal sense of fall and the seasonal elements around me has me thinking about things I can do to help create a sense of familiarity and enjoyment of this time of year in such a different setting.

I used to satisfy my fall cravings with slices of pumpkin loaf, hot cups of apple cider, brisk walks in the cool air, crunching the dry leaves that pile up on the sidewalk and turning my sights toward holiday preparations. Now, I must expand my considerations and create a new sense of the fall (and eventually Christmas!) season within my home.

This leads me to my next Coffeegirl Challenge #2!

This week, I’m asking you to submit photos of what you’re doing to create a sense of familiarity during the holiday season, whether you’re south of the equator or living through the fall season far from home and familiar customs. Be sure to include yourself in the photo and send along a brief (100 word max) description or comment to post with your picture. Next week the photos will be displayed here and we’ll ask you to vote for your favorite one.

The winner will receive a special holiday package of pumpkin filling, pecans and chocolate chips for your holiday baking!

Photos should be emailed to editor@womenoftheharvest.com by Monday, November 17, 2008 at 9:00am Mountain Standard Time (2 hours behind East Coast time).

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

If You Can Read This...

[what's brewing: double shot of fun!]

You’re Invited to
The Coffeegirl Book Club

Could you use more than your weekly Tuesday fix of interaction with other Coffeegirl Regulars? If yes, you’ll be glad to know that soon we’ll be offering a supplemental posting every week through The Coffeegirl Book Club.

Who? Coffeegirl Readers
What? Online book club
When? January 2009
Where? coffeegirlconfessions.blogspot.com
Why? To read, discuss and learn together.

Though I’ve always been drawn to the concept of a book club, I have never been part of one before. I thought that moving to another country would finish off any possibility of ever participating in one, but with a bit of creative thinking I’m now joining (and hosting!) this blog-based book club. No, we may not have the luxury of convening in each other’s homes or a local coffee shop to discuss our reading, but the idea of readers from across the world participating from their own living rooms, cozied up with their own cups of coffee or tea now seems even more appealing to me. It’s another level of connection as we come together to share our thoughts and learn from one another.

The inaugural book for this club is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken. It’s a favorite of mine and my tattered copy was a “must bring” item when we packed our bags to head to the field. I stumbled upon the book at a mid-summer yard sale just over 6 years ago. It was one of many books thrown in a box and marked “25 cents”, which I admit was the initial bait that sent me searching through the titles. This one caught my attention and the black and white photo of the couple, along with the brief description on the back page, closed the deal. I found many aspects of myself in the pages of this book and it has become a central piece in the literary landscape of my life.

For those who have read it, come again and turn the pages with us. For those who’ve never read it, the powerful love story and the deep grappling with the difficult questions of life and faith will draw you in. To whet your appetite, I’ll share with you the brief description that I read that hot summer day:

Sheldon “Van” Vanauken and Jean “Davy” Vanauken were lucky enough to discover that radiant love so often written of in books, so seldom found in real life. Van and Davy got married, crossed oceans and became inextricably bound up in a search for Christian faith. At Oxford they met C.S. Lewis and through his influence became believers. But then Davy fell prey to a mysterious illness. What follows is an almost unbearably powerful story of hope and sorrow. Van turned to Lewis, his friend and mentor, for guidance. Their letters, published here for the first time, ask the difficult questions, and show the saving grace
of a tragedy courageously borne.

I am announcing this book club now so that you can consider asking for a copy of the book if you have friends or family members asking for suggestions as they prepare to send a box of Christmas goodies to you. Depending on where you are, there are some online bookstores who provide international shipping for an extra cost and you may be able to order a book to be sent to you on the field. For those who don’t get a copy of the book, I’ll include a portion of the text in each posting so that you can follow along and participate in the discussion as well.

I hope you’ll join us - I can’t wait to get started!

P.S. – The Coffeegirl Challenge

As I picture you reading and writing from your own living rooms in hundreds of different cultural settings, I love the glimpses you provide through your comments and postings on your own blogs. I’d like to encourage you to continue getting to know the other readers as we’re building our blogging community.

My challenge to you is this:

  • Go out to one blog on the Coffeegirl Blog Roll and leave a comment on her most recent post.
  • The catch? If another CG regular has already posted a comment, you must move on to another blog until you find one without a comment.
  • How will you claim yourself as the CG commenter? You must mention “Coffeegirl” somewhere in your post.

Let the commenting begin!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

It's All Relative

[what's brewing: tastes rich to me!]

In hindsight I can see that I probably would have accomplished much more in the technical aspects of language learning if I had gone with a professional language tutor rather than an acquaintance who had been recommended by several other missionaries for her work as language tutor. Our social connections have become the grounds for getting severely off track during the majority of my lessons. While I get frustrated at times that we aren’t progressing through the book as quickly as I’d hoped, I have to admit that our tangential discussions have proved to be a good language learning tool, as well as a great forum for understanding the culture here and who I am in relation to it.

We have discussed many safe and simple topics, as well as several controversial and more significant topics like domestic abuse, sexuality, and the handling of sin within leadership in the church. I occasionally find myself a bit shocked by what she’s telling me while simultaneously incapable of properly expressing my point of view. I am stretched to my language-ability limits by these conversations, but even so, I love the way they challenge my thinking.

Recently she asked me a question that has stuck with me and helped to formulate my own thinking on the issue.

“Is it true that compared to other people in the United States, missionaries don’t get paid very well? A missionary once told me that she feels like people think she’s made of gold but in reality she has to be careful with her spending just like we all do. Do you think she was a poor missionary, or is it true that missionaries don’t get paid very well?”

I hesitated, wanting to respond carefully. My mind was already filled with the complexities of discussing finances in a way that wouldn’t belittle the experience of the people we work with, nor dismiss the “luxuries” of our lifestyle as insignificant reflections of our financial status. When the ownership of standard items in the US such as a car, laptop, digital camera, or television and DVD player would indicate certain wealth in this area, how could I explain that although we own not just one, but all of those items, we are not rich?

The truth is that we are very rich in relation to the poverty around us, but we’re not rich in relation to the cultural standards of the United States.

In that moment I was haunted by my own negative remarks just this week about the stress of living on a support-based budget. I had complained about the cost of postage to send a batch of personal notes off to our supporters, and then about the extra expenses we had this month for the anniversary celebration of the church. Our personal financial stressors are real, but they pale against the background of poverty and the socioeconomic limitations that plague this community.

I too have felt the frustration of being perceived as an endless money source, or being “made of gold”, but I have never voiced my frustration because relatively speaking, that perception is understandable. I could not bring myself to dismiss the comforts of our life as standard possessions for many Americans when many people around us struggle to meet their daily needs. At the same time, I want others to know that we’re not as “rich” as we may appear to be, perhaps to appease the guilt I feel when considering my own material blessings in relation to the culture around me.

I continually struggle with issues such as this. I’m curious about you, dear readers.

Do you ever wrestle with the disparity between your own resources and those of the people you are working with? Do you feel guilty for the comforts of internet access, digital cameras, vehicles, etc.? Or do you choose to live without them to align yourself with the people you work with? Last week one of you used the term “my adopted nation” in your comment, and that phrase has stuck with me. How do you integrate the norms of your “home nation” with the realities of your “adopted nation”?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Did You Just Laugh??

[what's brewing: a missionary walks into a coffeeshop...]

Given all the great discussion last week on the process of language learning, it seems rather fitting to share the highlight of my week with you all. In my Guidebook to Language Learning, I didn’t even touch on the issue of cross-cultural humor. I’m still so baffled by it, but it is definitely a key player in the process of language learning, and the cross-cultural experience in general.

Every month our secretary updates the office bulletin board with announcements, birthdays, events and adds a few photos and jokes just for fun. Every month, I read the jokes and stand there wondering what’s supposed to be funny about them. I think I understand the words correctly, it just doesn’t strike me as particularly funny.

We’ve hosted dinners for church members in our home and have utilized some icebreakers to get everyone interacting on a more personal level. Each time, someone makes a comment that causes the whole room to erupt in laughter while I sit there wide-eyed, looking around for some hint of what was so funny. Sometimes I laugh too after receiving an explanation, but many times I’m just as baffled after the explanation as I was before.

When it comes to humor, word choice is crucial. Many times I think of something funny to say, piece it together and say it aloud, but am met with blank stares. Then Jason repeats the concept of my comment but with a slight twist in the words, and everyone laughs. And then they think he’s the funny one!

I’ve become pretty comfortable with the fact that I still don’t get the cultural bounds on humor and am content with getting my humor fix from the little kids at the Children’s Home who will laugh at almost anything. I continue trying to express myself with adults when I find something to be funny, but brace myself for the courtesy smiles and nervous giggles offered to appease my expectant look. So you can imagine my delight this week when I made a joke based on the content of the discussion we’d just finished in Bible study and dear Anna burst out in laughter and then proceeded to repeat the joke to the women sitting next to her. The ladies all laughed and looked at me approvingly, nodding their heads as if responding in unison to the question of disbelief in my head, “Did you just laugh at my joke?!”

I sat up straight, proud as could be, with a beaming smile spread across my face. The meeting had carried on despite the laughter I had created among the women, and it was all I could do to restrain myself from interrupting Jason to tell him what I had said and proclaim that all the laughter was about MY joke!! It was ME that caused this distraction!! It really wasn’t all that funny, what I had said. In fact, it was more sarcastic than anything, but they understood why I thought it was funny and were enjoying the moment with me. The sound of their laughter was like dipping my toes into an oasis in the middle of the desert of language learning. Thank you, Lord.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Guidebook to Language Learning

[what's brewing: Vous avez cafe au lait?]

The world of language learning is a rather complex one, and as I’ve continued my journey through it I have made a number of observations in my guidebook. These observations probably wouldn’t have made the process any easier, but are interesting to note nevertheless.

Rule #1: There are no hard and fast rules.

- While learning a language is generally easier when you are younger, this does not mean it is easy if you are young.

- While learning a language is generally easier when you don’t have children to care for as well, this does not mean it is easy if you do not have children.

- Asking the “why” questions of language rules and conjugations to someone who has been fluent in the language since a young age generally results in one of these responses, “I don’t know why, it just is that way,” or “I don’t know why your rulebook doesn’t apply here, but trust me, I’m right.”

- What you understand in a controlled classroom setting generally makes no sense at all the first few times you attempt to utilize the information in a social setting.

- God is good to give us nonverbal cues to follow in addition to verbal statements. Tonal inflections, facial expressions and body language can speak quite clearly even when the details are muddled.

- You must be willing to take risks in order to advance your understanding and language abilities.

- One-on-one conversations can become the most terrifying experiences when the content goes beyond your understanding, especially when the other person is crying about whatever it is they are saying.

- Even though it can get you in trouble, the simple act of smiling and nodding can be a lifesaver at times, especially after seeking unsuccessful clarification multiple times in a row.

- People usually know when you are simply smiling and nodding but don’t really understand.

Rule #2: Remember the "CG 60/100 Formula".

- The only mathematical formula that applies to language learning is the following:

60% understanding = 100% confusion

- This mathematical formula has been evidenced over and over again in my life and the lives of many others which, I believe, establishes it a verified formula in the scientific world.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Candygirl Confessions

[what's brewing: coffee with sugar, hold the coffee]

Had the name of this blog been determined this week, you very well could be reading Candygirl Confessions, for I have consumed far more candy this week than I’ve consumed of coffee in the past month! No parent would ever allow their child to consume the amount of sweets that Jason and I have indulged in, but that’s the beauty of being an adult.

Our first visitors arrived this week. In addition to their own luggage, they kindly brought along an entire extra suitcase thoughtfully filled by my family back home. We coordinated to have some things sent along that, over time, we realized we needed here, as well as some fun supplies for the Children’s Home. It felt like Christmas-in-October as we rummaged through the bag and found the items we’d been waiting for, along with many thoughtful extras that had been included.

But the items producing the most instant gratification were, hands down, the bags of candy and goodies.

It quickly became clear that my suggestion of opening only one package and rationing the others through out the month was not going to be observed. All of the bags were opened in a matter of 15 minutes and we were sampling small handfuls of each one: Reese’s Pieces, Peanut M&M’s, Swedish Fish, red licorice (both Twizzler’s and Red Vine’s to satisfy our personal preferences – Jason and I will never come to agreement on the issue), a Costco-size bag of NestlĂ©’s chocolate chips and a homemade batch of my favorite chocolate, peanut butter bars.

We’re now in a state of blissful sugar overdose, due to our “confessed” gluttonous indulgence (see previous post), and feeling rather remembered by our loved ones back home. I am occasionally tempted with the thought that moving so far away has moved us to the peripheral margins of the lives of those we left behind, and then a giant Christmas-in-October package like this arrives and reflects the careful listening that my family has been doing to put together so many treats and surprises. To think of it creates a warmness that nearly feels like the actual warmness of their embrace.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


[what's brewing: a deep, dark blend]

While I was in graduate school I used to frequent a small used-book shop near the campus. One afternoon I found a small, green book of verses, prayers and poems that quickly became a favorite of mine. I don’t read it daily or even weekly, which heightens my amazement that God so often uses the words of a randomly selected reading to address a specific need in my heart. Today I opened the small book and found a prayer that perfectly articulated what my heart has been trying to say to the Lord all week. But first, let me explain how this week developed.

I recently discovered a podcast of a woman I heard speak at a conference some time ago. As I listened, I was struck by her profound gratitude for the daily covering of God’s grace in her life. She was immensely grateful for the saving grace of God, and she poured this gratitude out in worship to the Lord in a way that I have never seen before. I knew right away that, as much as I would like to tell myself otherwise, I do not have that same level of gratitude to the Lord. I express my gratitude in prayer and worship, but it does not move me the way it moves this woman.

After contemplating this realization for awhile, I have identified one critical difference between myself and the woman I was listening to: the lack of awareness of sin in my daily life.

I have somehow come to think of my sin in general categories -- specifically, the areas in which I am struggling or being molded by the Lord. I am quick to admit my sinful ways to my close friends, and I appreciate discussions with others over my failures in the pursuit to be like Christ because I leave feeling edified and encouraged. I know and believe that I am a broken sinner, dependent on God’s grace, but when I really stop to think about it, I have sorely neglected the practice of daily confession before the Lord.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve purposefully stopped to take an account of my day, confess my specific sins (whether they be blatant or silent), and ask God to forgive those specific things which offend His very character. I pray for forgiveness and for the power to change, but I am convinced that moving towards this type of daily confession would develop a keen awareness of my desperate need for grace and forgiveness, which would then result in a profound gratitude for a God who not only lavishes this grace upon me but does so freely and joyfully. Hopefully, this whole process will then ignite a passion for purity and holiness in my daily activities as well.

This type of reflection and personal confession has become the longing of my heart, and I’m inspired by what I heard in the speaker's heart. I want to overflow with gratitude for God’s forgiveness as she did, and I’m ready to develop a habit of examining my own heart before the Lord, not just discussing my struggles and failures with friends for accountability. So you can now understand my delight when I read these words of prayer, the very cry of my own heart, in the little green book today:

O God, my God, abide with me throughout the whole course of this day, and so support my weakness that, when evening comes, although none may be justified in Thy sight, I be not altogether ashamed to render unto Thee an accounting. And do Thou, in Thy mercy, pardon whatsoever shall be amiss in thought, word, or deed. Then, O Lord, let me not be blind to my sins, but discover them to me, that I may sorrow unto life and sleep not unto spiritual death; and to Thee shall be honor and praise forever. Amen.

I read it silently and then aloud in the stillness of the morning hours, so many aspects of this prayer resonating with my soul:

Abide with me.
Support my weakness,
Render unto Thee an accounting.
Amiss in thought, word, or deed.
Let me not be blind.
Discover them to me…that I sleep not unto spiritual death.
Honor and praise forever.


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My First Women's Event

[what's brewing: my own concoction]

It was the day of my first women’s event in the church and to say I was nervous would be severely understated. I had written my lesson out in English two weeks earlier, translated it on my own to the best of my ability, then took it to my language lesson to get some extra editing help from my tutor. I had been reading it aloud to myself and to Jason all week, and still I felt nervous to deliver it before the group of women that would be gathered together that afternoon.

I had created a schedule for the entire event, breaking each song, game, craft and lesson down into their respective time chunks so that I could stay on track and effectively fill the 2 hour timeslot I had been planning for. I had prepared several American treats to serve in addition to the potato chips, popcorn and soda that the ladies had volunteered to bring. I showed up early to get the room set up and by the time I finished, things were looking good. The back table looked festive and well arranged for the women to grab a plate and select their treats at the appropriate time. The napkins were swirled with a feminine touch, the paper plates and plastic forks were creatively displayed and the arrangement of food on my serving trays impressed even my husband. I had my supplies set out so that I could easily move through the program without getting lost in the transitions. I was relieved that no one had come early so that I wouldn’t feel pressured to sit and make conversation when I wanted to be getting things ready, but now that I was ready to go and had 10 minutes to spare I was once again reminded of my nervousness and wished someone would show up to distract my nerves.

Three o’clock slowly turned into 3:15 and the room remained cold and empty. I couldn’t believe that I’d done all this preparation and absolutely no one had shown up. I called Jason in my shock and he reassured that the ladies would come, refuting my every doubt that we’d announced the wrong time, or forgotten to remind them last week, or perhaps I’d simply misunderstood their enthusiasm to start these events up again…

Just after I hung up the phone, I heard footsteps and turned to see two women coming through the doorway. They were followed by two older girls from the Children’s Home and my confidence was slowly being restored. By 3:40 we were still only a group of six; we were far behind my original schedule and I started to flounder, unsure if I should begin or continue to wait for the others to arrive. I had planned to start the meeting off with several songs but it seemed awkward to sing with such a small group. The games would definitely flop if we only had six participants, and I knew if we started a craft project it would be drawn out longer and longer as other showed up and started late.

The rest of the afternoon continued to reveal that my carefully laid plans held no clout here in this place. Women slowly trickled in throughout the event – one lady actually showed up as we were closing in prayer. There were awkward moments as we sang our songs with no chorus of voices to cover the missed notes and off-key voices. I floundered in trying to explain the rules of the game, and we ended up playing a new and different version of the game than I had intended. I cut the craft project out of the schedule entirely since we had started nearly an hour behind schedule. My mind ran ahead of my mouth as I shared my lesson with the ladies; I couldn’t keep my place on the page, much less deliver it with any semblance of confidence or animation. I called on someone else to say the closing prayer and was hit with a wave of relief when she said, “Amen.”

I showed up at church the next morning feeling rather embarrassed by the events of the previous afternoon. I wanted to stand up and explain that I was capable of leading a much more interesting, fun and meaningful event than the one they attended yesterday. I wanted to tell them what it was supposed to be like, and part of me wanted to blame them for showing up late and ruining the ambiance that my plan had been resting on.

And then I talked to Anna.

She explained that her disappointment over missing the meeting was doubled when she arrived at church and heard the ladies talking about the great fun they had together at the meeting. She recounted their reflections on the fun new game, the integration of music, and the challenge I had given them in my lesson. She said they had all agreed that we ought to do this more than once a month because it was so encouraging to them. I could hardly believe we were talking about the same meeting, because I’d been wondering if I could turn this into a quarterly event, rather than monthly. She explained that she wasn’t able to come because, like many women in the area, she must accomplish many tasks on Saturdays – an early morning market trip to negotiate for the best prices of the week, washing the children’s school uniforms in order to dry and press them for Monday morning, preparing lunch for the day and preparing lunch for Sunday since they’ll be at church the entire morning, etc. My embarrassment over the quality of the meeting quickly shifted to embarrassment over my own ignorance. I was humiliated that I had been offended by the tardiness of the ladies when I should have been grateful that they would take time out of their busiest work day to fellowship with other women in the church. My day of leisure is in fact their day of labor.

Several important lessons that I continue to learn as a result of that day:

* I frequently measure success by my own cultural standards, even when my plans have been adapted for proper cultural application.
* I am the only one concerned about the sound of my voice during worship; these women sing their hearts out before the Lord and may not even know when they’re off key.
*A quiet and primarily empty room is only awkward to me – these women perceive it as intimate. I perceive a situation as intimate if it was intended to be a small group in a small space. Large, empty spaces make me uncomfortable.
*God can allow others to hear His words even when I stutter, lose my place, and mispronounce the key words in my lesson.
*I need to let God set the expectations for my ministry; I will be sorely unsuccessful in telling him what it should look like.
*The presence of the Holy Spirit should be the only ambiance I rest my plans on.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Roll Call!

[what's brewing: look who's on the menu...]

As much as I would like to say that I am a creative and artistic type of person, the reality is that I am not naturally that way. I always wondered if I would develop those gifts over time, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s most likely not going to happen if it hasn’t happened yet. (My friend Bethany says that everyone is an artist in their own way, so I can call myself an artist in an unconventional way. I like that.) I’m the type of person who enjoys creating things, but has to copy someone else’s ideas in order to get started. I’ve tried my hand at scrapbooking, card making, knitting, home decorating, and countless numbers of craft projects, all with the same result. If I can look at a sample or a picture in a catalog I can usually create something half way decent, but if I start with a blank slate I usually finish with a blank slate.

I’m a creativity copycat.

As I’ve slowly entered the blogosphere over the past year, I’ve realized that my copycat behaviors carryover to this realm as well. Nearly every sidebar goodie that I have on my personal blog was placed there after seeing it on someone else’s blog – book lists, world maps, countdown tickers, etc. I love to see the ideas and features that are out there that I would never think of on my own. One of the features I like to see most on blogs is a blog roll.

I love clicking through to other people’s blogs via the blog roll - not just to see what creative ideas they may for me to steal, but also to see what the lives of my fellow readers are like. I am consistently amazed by the diversity of reader’s that congregate on the same blogs, and I know that the same must be true for the readers of this very blog, Coffeegirl Confessions. Thus, we are proud to introduce The Blog Roll, aka The Coffeegirl Regulars.

Starting this week, I’d like to begin contacting you “regulars” out there to ask you if you’d be interested and/or willing to join The Blog Roll. As you maintain your “regular” status here through your comments (how else will I know you’re still a regular?) we’ll keep you on The Blog Roll and continue to build it as our group of “regulars” expands. My hope is that we will be providing one another with easy access to reading about the experiences, perspectives and reflections that are represented among us.

As you all know, Women of the Harvest (the host of this blog) is a ministry of support and encouragement for women serving cross-culturally. Coffeegirl Confessions fits into that vision by creating a forum for presenting authentic reflections and inviting you to share your perspectives and experiences in turn. The Blog Roll will help to expand that concept by putting you in easy contact with other women who know what it’s like to serve cross-culturally. Now that’s a great result, even if it does come from a copied idea. Let the roll call begin!

P.S. It struck me as funny when I realized that the word “blogosphere” up in the 2nd paragraph didn’t come up as a misspelled word on my computer. That’s the only word that seemed right, and it turns out that it’s a legitimately recognizable domain!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Bring On The Rain

[what's brewing: half-empty? half-full?]

Email has taken on a whole new significance since we’ve been here, for better or worse. There are some emails that I feel I must respond to out of duty, some that quite honestly feel like work, and a handful that are simply enjoyable to read. Some people have the ability to write exactly as they talk when you’re face-to-face, and those are my favorite emails to read.

I received an email like that from a friend of mine this week. I recently wrote to her about how I am doing several months into this experience. I talked about the occasional waves of homesickness that catch me by surprise. I have felt frustrated and thrown over my stress-threshold when homesickness is added to the everyday challenges but I am slowly growing accustomed to it.

Her response has encouraged and challenged me this week. She writes:

I know you. You are choosing to live your life with purpose and to serve with great love despite your personal feelings about home. I admire that selflessness so much. The cause of Christ there is more important to you than your own happiness. This, my dear, pleases God's heart. I will pray for strength for you as you push through the work you've been asked to do... and that your heart will be overflowing with joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.

Joy is something He gives, and I will pray that He showers you with it this week. There's this song by MercyMe that responds to the issue of how anyone can praise the Lord in the midst of dire circumstances -- they sing, "How could my circumstances ever change who I forever am in YOU?" I love that line. It's from a song called "Bring the Rain", and I love that they're not afraid to sing it. I am going to pray that the rain in your life will bring God glory, for that is its intent (and I wouldn't say that if I hadn't been asked to walk through some rainy days myself).

This was just what I needed to hear this week.

The timing was perfect, and I absolutely love the way God can use the people in my life to remind me of his truth and love when it becomes clouded in my mind. I felt a small twinge in my stomach when I read that line from my friend's email – the cause of Christ is more important to you than your own happiness. I believe the cause of Christ is far more important than my own happiness, but somehow I forgot that this week when I was feeling overwhelmed and stretched in too many directions. My happiness is secondary to his cause and the holiness he is trying to create within me.

The rain in my life is intended to bring glory to God, and having been reminded of that, I’m ready to go dance in the rain.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

mosaic of grace

[what's brewing: sugar and spice and...]

weak vessels – deep hurts – great weaknesses – sin, mistakes, self-righteousness and pride – ordinary people – love, joy and tears – hopes, dreams and fears – broken obedience - resilience – a core of God’s strength – broken pieces – glued together with love and mercy – vulnerable – love for people and cultures – moldable clay – walking the broken road together with those around us – adventurous – unabashed love – failings filled with grace – reflecting God’s glory – reliant upon grace – courageous – cracks with God’s grace shining through them – complex threads woven into a story of incredible grace

Broken pieces held up to reflect God’s glory.

These are your words, your reflections and depictions of what missionary women are like. Your descriptions created a beautiful picture in my mind of a mosaic or a stained glass window, constructed of many broken pieces, collectively creating a beautiful image that reflects God’s glory. While reading a bit about stained glass windows, I read that the “small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame.” What a great description of the support and shape that the Lord provides for our mosaic of broken pieces. He couldn’t use perfect, whole sheets of glass to create the image he wanted; instead, he works within our brokenness. He glues our broken pieces together with his love and mercy, and brings beauty from ashes.

Your honesty is refreshing to me – honest evaluations of who we are, and honest admissions of the insecurities, fear of exposure, and demands on your time that can keep each one of us from engaging fully with those around us. For me, those are some of the most interesting aspects of missionary life that can work to keep us emotionally isolated. I have been overwhelmed at times with the number of performance-based evaluations that are involuntarily placed on us, and your frequency of reading and/or commenting on this blog should not be another source of self-evaluation or expectation. My only hope is that those who are looking for (or truly needing) connection and discussion with other women will choose to let their voices be heard. Several of you have chosen to share your blog sites with us, and I am looking forward to creating a community of readers where we can engage and encourage each other around the world.

Thank you for your responses – it’s great to know you’re out there. As Kristy said this last week, together we are made of many complex threads, woven into a story of incredible grace. Let’s share that story of grace together.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What are we made of?

[what's brewing: don't know, you tell me...please]

When I was a little girl, I had a copy of a well-known poem that I enjoyed reading and reciting for my parents and other lucky visitors.

What are little girls made of, made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice and everything nice,
That’s what little girls are made of.

I rather enjoyed thinking that I was comprised of sugar and spice and everything nice, especially when I considered the alternative. My brother was apparently comprised of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails and I couldn’t imagine wanting any of that to be a part of me!

This poem came to mind as I’ve spent time wondering about you – yes, you – whoever and wherever you may be. If you’re reading this, I want to know more about you. It turns out it’s a bit strange for me to be in a predominantly one-sided conversation. I love hearing from you in comments (and I want to give a big THANKS to those who are commenting!) and I’ve wondered why more of you don’t let your voice be heard on a regular basis. I’ve considered possible answers to that question and have decided that I’m most interested in one particular aspect of the issue.

What are missionary women like?

I want to know more about you, as individuals and as a like-minded group of women. I want to know the factors that lead you to comment or remain a silent reader. I want to know what your need for connection with other women is like – perhaps it varies based on location or team situations. I’m curious about the considerations you make before deciding to say something that reveals something about yourself (whether it be in a blog or before a group of people). I have my own thoughts on how I would describe what we missionary women are like, but I am only a beginner.

I would like to hear from YOU about the components you think should be included in the following poem. It doesn’t have to be clever or even rhyme – my goal is to hear more about you all and how you describe yourselves. If you’ve never commented before, this is your time!! Let your voices be heard!!

What are missionary women made of, made of?
What are missionary women made of?

P.S. Did you know that you can receive all of the follow-up comments from this blog post by email? Before you leave your comment, be sure to have signed in to your Google account. Then simply check the box in the comment section marked “Email follow up comments to…”. If you’re not a Google user, sorry to say, you’ll have to keep checking back here to follow the conversation!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Far, Far Away

[what's brewing: wanting a "to-go" cup for home]

When we first moved here, the distance between my family back "home" and us felt enormous. As we’ve become more comfortable with maintaining family relationships from what feels like a world away, the distance seems to have shrunk steadily over time. Suddenly, through the events of these past few weeks, I feel so far, far away from home once again.

After several years of struggling, a marriage in my extended family had begun to disintegrate. The whole family had been coming together to support, encourage and pray for them. The situation seemed to fluctuate daily and no one was sure what would happen. My family was faithfully calling to keep us updated. I exchanged several personal emails trying to express my concern and support as this couple went through this difficult time. I was longing to be nearby, to be able to talk face to face. Even though I was informed about the crisis, I still felt so far removed from my loved ones. No amount of information could recover the thousands of miles between us. Not that I would have been able to do or say anything to change the outcome of the situation, but when I heard that the wife had decided to leave, I felt helpless and useless being this far away.

My heart is right there with them, but my physical body is stuck here and somehow this whole experience is just different because of that.

Although no one in my family was able to say goodbye before she left, somehow I feel robbed of my chance to say goodbye to a good friend because I’m so far away. How strange to realize that she won’t be there when we go back to visit. Every loss brings about its own form of grief, and I’m grieving this loss in a place that seems so far removed from the impact and reality of her departure. It is sometimes hard to believe it’s really happening because my life here is so separated from the happenings of these last weeks, but at the same time I have felt incapable of carrying on with my responsibilities here because my thoughts are so consumed with questions and details about the situation. It is difficult to concentrate on teaching a lesson at church when all I really want to talk about is what’s happening in my family.

As I’ve been thinking about all of this lately, I pulled up an article, Long-Distance Grieving--the Unexpected Sacrifice , that was published in the Women of the Harvest magazine in 2004. I found this line particularly interesting: “It’s funny, but being absent in times of loss is not one of the typical missionary sacrifices that people think about.” I never thought about it in that way – it is a sacrifice that inevitably comes with life on the field. I was so grateful for this author’s perspective – what a blessing to glean from the women who’ve gone ahead of me in this journey. What about you, my readers? How have you dealt with this unexpected sacrifice of being absent during difficult times?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cry Out

[what's brewing: a full {broken} bodied blend ]

A young boy of 11 years sat in our office yesterday afternoon with wide eyes, carefully watching and listening to everything we said. He spoke softly, answering our questions and helping us determine what was needed to settle him in to his new home at our orphanage. We gave him a set of new sheets, a warm blanket and comforter for his bed, a haircut and a pack of personal hygiene products that he could keep. We introduced him to the other boys in his room and then carefully unpacked his one backpack of belongings. I caught a glimpse of a smile when I introduced our puppies to him, warning him of the kissing attacks that they attempt to sneak in when an opportunity presents itself. The pain of the past 6 years was revealed in his eyes – the abuse, abandonment, the struggle to survive on the streets.

The details of his life follow a similar storyline to the lives of many other children in our home, but as I listened to the details of his story, I was deeply struck by the world’s injustice that necessitated his placement in our home. He has been robbed of his innocence; he's been abused and oppressed by the world around him, inundated with painful messages that sharply contradict the truth about who he is as a child of God. I can only imagine what kind of questions and thoughts must be racing around in his mind as he is cautiously taking in his new surroundings, debating whether he should trust us or not. My heart is broken as I watch him navigate this new environment, yet I am desperately hopeful for the healing that God can provide.

I barely made it through our Bible study last night – I could not keep my mind from thinking about the painful events he has endured, and each time I thought about it my eyes would fill with tears. As we drove home, I stared out the window and prayed for a peaceful first night in the Children’s Home for this sweet boy. As I prayed, I was reminded of a Third Day song that came out several years ago. It communicates a great truth about the hope of Christ for the hurting. As I listened to it, tears rolled down my cheeks and I simply rested as my heart sang along –

There is hope for the hopeless, rest for the weary
And love for the broken hearts;
There is grace and forgiveness,
Mercy and healing that meets you wherever you are.

Cry out to Jesus.

[To hear the song, click on the video screen in the right column]

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


[what's brewing: cup's empty, fill me up!]

A national friend of ours recently house-sat for us while we traveled with some friends for the weekend. Upon our return she reported that all had gone smoothly, but she had two questions to ask me. First, why are you keeping brown bananas in your freezer? I laughed and explained that I was keeping them to make banana bread with eventually, a habit I had picked up from my mother. Second, why do you have a salt shaker sitting on your nightstand? Shouldn’t it be in the kitchen? Oh, that is a gift from a friend in the US. It’s not meant to be used in the kitchen; it’s a special reminder for me.

A week before we left for the field, a dear friend gave me a thoughtful gift package. Inside was a piece of hand-pressed paper with a blessing written on it. Each verse that was written on this delicate piece of paper was accompanied by a physical object. One of the inclusions was this small salt shaker, corresponding to this note:

“You are the salt of the earth…” Matthew 5:13
May the Lord bless your love for His children…for that is what is truly tasty.

Upon arriving, I set the little salt shaker on my nightstand where I would be sure to see it each time that I reach for my glasses in the morning. I’m reminded of Christ’s call to be the salt and light in this world. I’m reminded of my friend’s prayer that the Lord would bless the love I have for these children, because my own love falls so very short of what I want to offer them. I lack patience and motivation; I run out of love to give. I find myself wishing that Christ himself were here to offer these kids an unending amount of love, but he’s gone and he’s chosen me, and each of you, to do the loving in his absence – to be his hands and feet in a world of hurting people.

Oh Lord, keep my salt shaker full through the renewing work of your Spirit. Bless the love that you have given me for your children – may it be your love that they experience, not my own, for it is your love that is truly tasty in this broken world.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pink Bunny

[what's brewing: a warm cup of comfort]

Soft, and a bit raggedy now, Pink Bunny has holes poked through her loosely knit frame and bares some frayed edges where she’s been pulled across the ever emerging teeth of my darling niece. My sister has sent videos of Pink Bunny being transported around the house in Nora’s mouth as she scoots herself from one room to the other. In this stage of separation anxiety, Pink Bunny seems to be the only one capable of consoling Nora in her mother’s absence. Apparently Donald Winnicott knew what he was talking about when he introduced the concept of a transitional object to the world of psychology.

In a child’s world, a transitional object is an item that serves a soothing function during the time that they are moving from complete dependence to growing independence. Their perception of themselves and the world around them changes, but the object remains constant. It’s been around awhile, it smells like home, it’s available even in the absence of anything else familiar. It brings comfort to the child, especially during times of change or stress. Some of this sounds quite familiar…

Here in this foreign land, I find myself being comforted by the “transitional objects” of my adult world. Prior to leaving, I carefully selected the items I would bring with me – a tattered copy of A Severe Mercy, treasured photographs, a letter of blessing from my mother that lives inside the cover of my Bible, a candle with a fragrance that seems to fill the room with fall leaves, pumpkin pie and apple cider. Each one of these things reminds me of the comfort and familiarity that was our life in the US. There are moments when I have felt like a small child who’s been separated from her proverbial mother who signifies the stability and familiarity of my comfort zone.

And just as Pink Bunny reminds my niece that not everything has changed in her moments of insecurity, so my own transitional objects provide a sense of comfort in this new place.

The moving words of an oft read book strike me just the same here as they did in my old bedroom. Favorite passages and verses, underlined and annotated in my English Bible, bring the same, if not more, peace and inspiration as I read them here on my couch. God’s word, a gift to humankind, has proven to be the ultimate transitional object for this girl who’s ventured beyond the borders of her home country into the absence of anything familiar.

What are the “transitional objects” in your life? Have they lost their comforting ability over time, or do they still impart a sense of calmness after years on the field?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

You're Where?? Part II

[what's brewing: drinking from the cup given to me]

I’m still flying solo and just had what feels like a major accomplishment. A new pizza shop opened in town and they offer delivery service. After a long day at work, I thought it sounded pretty great to order a pizza to the house and cozy up on the couch for the evening. Despite feeling that phone calls are still my greatest nemesis in language learning, I decided to give it a try. What should have been a 3 minute conversation took us about 10. They needed to know what denomination of money I would be paying with, which was outside of my framework of expected questions and thus took me awhile to figure out, but I placed my order and waited for the little motorcycle to pull up and deliver my pizza.

I am proud to say that I just opened the box and inside was the pizza, just as I had intended to order it. Success!

I have to say that after a week of managing matters on my own, I feel more personally connected to the work we’re doing here at the Children’s Home. Had I not been stranded, (okay, Jason may be the one who’s stranded if we want to be literal about it!) I may not have noticed that I have been hiding behind my husband to cover up my insecurities here. I hate the feeling of not understanding what’s being said – it reveals my weakness. I’m used to being efficient, confident in my role and sure of the decisions I make. My ability to communicate clearly and my full understanding of the context in which I’m working have been stripped from me.

And I’ve been hiding from that uncomfortable reality.

This week, I’ve been forced to step out into the light, ask questions when I don’t understand, and try my hand at explaining my thoughts and perspectives even if they don’t sound half as interesting as they would in English. I’ve assertively walked out onto what seemed to be shaky ground, and I am surprised at how well things have gone. Relationships with my coworkers have deepened tremendously, as has my understanding of what it means to rely upon the Lord. Oh how unsuspectingly pride can creep in and prevent God’s goodness from being at work among us.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

You're Where??

[what’s brewing: not sure, letting it cool off before I swallow]

Although I felt a bit vulnerable in our new environment, I was sure I could manage on my own while my husband took a three-day trip to the capital city to purchase our vehicle. That sounded reasonable to me. I was willing to skip the 18-hour bus ride there, a day of paperwork and legal processes, and the 18-hour drive back. I would gladly try my hand at managing the affairs of the Children’s Home with my basic language skills for a couple of days in order to avoid the inevitable carsickness that plagues me on road trips.

I was a bit uneasy sleeping alone at night. My awareness of each creak in the house and scuffle on the sidewalk outside was heightened, but I managed to keep my imagination under control and drift off to sleep eventually. My confidence increased with each taxi fare I negotiated, each meeting I conducted and each phone call I understood. (Phone calls remain my biggest nemesis – somehow it’s so much more difficult to understand another language when I can’t see the mouth moving with the words. Anyone else know what I’m talking about?!)

I was feeling good about my time flying solo until I received a late night phone call from Jason.

He was about half way into the 18-hour drive back when the drive shaft fell off our newly-acquired car on the highway in the middle of nowhere. He was sure that he would be back on the road within a day or two, but his cell phone was going to die soon and he wanted to let me know he wouldn’t be home by morning as we’d anticipated. This extension was not part of my plan. I wanted to cry out, “What? You’re WHERE?,” but instead I remained calm and said I would be waiting for his call in the morning.

I had mentally prepared myself for a couple of days on my own, but I was not ready to do this for another week. The confidence that I had built in the previous three days melted into nervousness. I began to think of the appointments and meetings we had scheduled for the rest of the week. My stomach was in knots thinking of handling all of that on my own without having Jason there to fall back on. He knows the language, not me. He’s familiar with the legal processes and cultural considerations, not me.

I don’t want to do this!

And then I begin to think. What is my problem? When did I become so dependant? I have many single girlfriends who are in missions and they face these types of challenges every day on their own. They don’t have a crutch to rest on when they don’t understand what’s happening, so why do I feel so overwhelmed by this? How have I come to rely more on my husband’s cultural confidence than on the Lord for the strength I need to walk this unknown journey? I didn’t even realize that shift was happening. Oh Lord, how quickly I put my faith in things I can see. Keep me dependant on you and you alone. You are the source of strength my soul draws upon.

Stay tuned for next week’s post to see how I fared.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


[what's brewing today: expresso-ing it oh so wrongly]

It’s not very often that I am privy to a language mix-up that my husband is not, nor is it common for him to be the one making the mistake while I look on with a smile. I’ve asked someone to water the pasta, instead of the grass; I’ve asked someone if they’re stir-fried instead of single; I’ve asked for fried bones instead of fried eggs – the list goes on. But this time, it was perfectly-fluent Jason that didn’t realize why he was getting some strange looks from his audience. It was great.

We had received a donation of wonderfully scented lotions and bath gels for the girls at the children’s home. They had never heard of bath gel before and weren’t entirely sure what we meant when we said it was like a liquid bar of soap, so Jason was giving them a play-by-play of how to use it. We had previously given each girl a shower poof (“shower poof” being the technical term we use to describe those ball-shaped, mesh sponges you use in the shower – does anyone really know what those are called?), which is what Jason was referring to when he gave the following explanation:

"You take your poof, put a little bit of this gel on it,
and rub it all over your body just as if it were soap."

Now, I don’t know how I would have translated poof either so I don’t fault him for simply saying “poof” in the explanation. But as I observed the girls’ faces while Jason demonstrated this process with his invisible poof and shower gel, I knew that we had hit a language problem.

“Poof” is the word that is used for “poop” here, which has always struck me as funny anyhow. But even funnier was this – watching Jason perform the charade of putting gel on his poop and rubbing it all over his body in the shower as the girls looked on with disgust! I made eye contact with one of the older girls and we both burst out laughing, and then it spread to the other girls in the room. I was finally able to stop laughing long enough to say, “You’re saying poop!”

It only took a moment to clarify the whole situation, but our laughter did not end once the explanation had been made. His point was now clear, but the unintended point was the one we all preferred to latch on to. Oh, it’s so good to laugh, isn’t it?!


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