Tuesday, December 29, 2009

52 Weeks of You

[what's brewing: a global blend]

Above is a slideshow of all the weekly Picture Praises that went out to 1400 (and growing!) subscribers worldwide this year. The power of a great shot and verse is beyond my meager words. It goes deep into the soul.

And the beauty is...they came from you: Women of the Harvest!

As we go into 201o, we need your global photos (300 dpi is the best) and accompanying verse that makes the photo sing! We'll do the layout; you submit the assets. Some of you submitted some beautiful photos for the "Painted Red" contest. Would you consider re-submitting them, along with a verse for Picture Praise? And think beyond, "Let the children come..." when submitting photos of children.

Email to: editor@womenoftheharvest.com

And just a bit of a teaser: our new Coffeegirl-esque Blog debuts next week!

Happy New Year!

Cindy

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

For Unto Us the Coffeebean is Born!

[what's brewing: the sweetest and finest in all the land!]

All is calm...at my house, but not at Coffeegirl's.

I'm so pleased to announce to you: it's a girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Vital Stats: 8 lbs. 12.5 oz, 21.1 inches long.

Both are doing well and are enjoying the holidays at home with husband, and some of CG's family, who flew in to see lil' coffeebean.

Merry Christmas, everyone! Blessings to you as you celebrate the one who is called, "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace"--Jesus.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wait for it...Be the First to Know!

CG's Community Tuesday's post is delayed until ?...sorry for the mystery, but I have something that is worth waiting for. Have I told you about the benefits of following WOTH on Twitter?
This is one instance where you would be the first to know (via a Tweet) what I'm holding out for in delaying this post.

Sign up by going to www.Twitter.com/wotheditor and click on "Followers" in the right sidebar.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

OPEN MIKE: Where Do You Live?

[what's brewing: an answer to the question]

"Do you live around here?", the cashier at 7-11 asks me as he recognizes me and my coffee order for the third week in a row. The lady at the park, with the super cute 4 year-old, asks me "Do you live nearby?" In church, after a casual introduction to the couple behind me, they ask the question, "Where do you live?" "Where do you live?" is a common question we ask each other in our day-to-day interactions. Those who have an easy answer to this question may never really notice it being asked.

This question has been a difficult one for me these many years. How do I even begin to answer this very simple question? Are they asking: Where did I used to live? Where have I ever lived? Where do I live this week or where will I live next week? Where did I live last month? Where do I want to live?

When someone asks the question, I must I get a funny smirk on my face, because they usually sense that the question is oddly hard for me.

Well, I say, I am from California... actually I am from Indiana, but have lived in California most of my life. Well, most of my adult life I have lived overseas...except for the few years in between when I lived in California again. First we lived in Kazakhstan--that is near Russia, you know--and for the last few years I have lived in Turkey, but I don't live there any more, however all my stuff is still there. So, technically I am homeless, but I am not living in my car or anything like that (I chuckle at this point and the person who is listening to me usually doesn't). I have lived in Long Beach for the past few months and am living right now in Los Alamitos, but I'm headed to Big Bear for the foreseeable future. I am really anxious to move to the UK, we are waiting on our visas; yes, the UK, I know it's crazy! (at that point I get the clue that it is time to change the subject by asking about their lives).

"So, where do you live?", I ask.

When the cashier at the 7-11 asks me “Do you live around here?”, I just say : Yes, I live nearby. Do you live around here?

The lessons of "home" and "homelessness" have proved to be a constant struggle for me. I want to be settled, to be home. When I first began to read the Kazakh language, I remember reading in Kazakh the verses that describe our lives as "in Christ." In the Kazakh language, "in" is the exact same grammatical form (and meaning) as we would use when saying "I live in Indiana." It is a directional word; it is concrete. I live in Oregon... I live in Kazakhstan... I live in Christ. Imagine knowing your home "in Christ" as surely as you know your home is in Long Beach, California.

His word tells me that "he is my dwelling place... he has been my home" (Psalm 90); but, I still find my heart searching for home outside of Him alone. What if I answered that infamous question, "Where do you live?" with a confident and secure, “I live in Christ”? The thought makes me smile and chuckle a bit as I wonder how the 7-11 cashier would respond to that answer.

Lord, make this the deep truth and response of my heart!

I live in Christ. Where do you live?

[editor's note: Thanks, Stephanie! You can connect with Stephanie on her blog, www.hisgirlalone.blogspot.com Would you like to "live in" CG's Community for a week? Submit your post to me during this OPEN MIKE season: editor@womenoftheharvest.com ]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OPEN MIKE: Tangible Taste of God's Goodness

[what’s brewing: the familiar taste of comfort]

Do you ever have no good, terrible, very bad days where you need something comfortable and familiar? I do. Today was that day! The car had a dead battery. Using one foreign language to learn another was just too much effort. And when my email went haywire--that was the last straw.

How I would have loved to find a Starbucks drive-thru!

We are in our second field term in East Africa where people grow coffee and drink coffee, but do not serve any variety of 'fancy' coffee that is so comfortable and familiar to me (I grew up in Seattle with a coffee shop on every corner). I may not get to choose the exact way God provides what is comfortable and familiar, but there is always something somewhere, anywhere, in this, our Father's world.

Something as simple as a favorite staple food can be the 'taste of home' for me.We have African friends who have moved from a sweet potato area to a plantain banana area and craved their familiar 'home foods.' I can relate. Is it universal to need the comfortable and familiar once in a while?

In case you were wondering, we are officially in the sweet potato region, and their cousins, potatoes, are definitely my home food! You can bake 'em, fry 'em, boil, mash or steam 'em—add some form of cheese or butter— and I am a happy lady. I'm so thankful good potatoes are grown here locally. While I'd like to think my 'home food' is chocolate creamy coffee goodness, it is deep down something simpler. Potatoes. Comfort food. A tangible taste of God's goodness and provision.

So while you may be in a place where your most comfortable and familiar foods are not available, what comfort foods are available?

How do you take in a tangible taste of God's goodness and provision this week at your house? It doesn't have to be food. Drink in the goodness of a gorgeous sunset, a child's laughter, some hidden flowers. Taste and see. While I'd rather have that venti decaf mocha, I'm looking forward to steamed potatoes with homemade butter next time I need to taste and see. What's your 'home food'?

Kim in Congo

[Editor's note: yummo, Kim! You've got my mouth watering for...]

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

OPEN MIKE: He's My Home

[what's brewing: longing for the everlasting cup]

We had just moved again. Tearfully saying goodbye to a beautiful season of ministry, I was propelled into another unwelcomed one. For the first time in my life, I was somewhere I didn’t want to be. I was hanging onto my calling to missions, but only loosely. My hand limp, I cried weakly, “God, I can’t do this. It’s too much, this missionary life; this inevitable, unstoppable series of moves from one place to another.”

In the darkest and loneliest season of my life, I wanted only one thing. I wanted to go home. Except we couldn’t. So my cries of inadequacy were quieted only when I sat down with my Bible. One day in that fleeting quietness, I reached Psalm 90: 1, “Lord, through all the generations you have been our home!” Tears streaming down my face, dotting the page, I could not move my eyes from that word. Home. It wasn’t a place 3,000 miles away, it was a person. It was Him.

Slowly over the course of the next few days, I was able to identify what home meant to me, release it and delight in the perfection of my new Home.

I started out by declaring that I wanted to live in the same house on the same street for the rest of my life. No more moves. No more suitcases.

He gently corrected me.

What I really wanted wasn’t a white house on Main Street, but Him. “Child, the stability you crave is only found in me! I am the eternal, incorruptible Lord. I do not change! I’m the same yesterday, today and forever. I am your home.”

Then I explained that I wanted to be one of the belongers, to have my name written in the collective story, the shared history of a people. No more wondering how I fit. No more being an outsider.

He spoke back, “Have you forgotten? You are already one of the belongers. I chose you before the foundation of the earth. I wrote your name in the epic of the redeemed with My own Son’s blood. You’re not an outsider! You’re accepted in the Beloved and seated at My right hand forever. I am your home.”

Finally, I confessed my longing for deep, meaningful relationships. Friendships that would allow me to barge through the front door with barely a knock, plop down on the couch and tell my truth without fear. Ties unthreatened by the brokenness of my humanity, ties unadulterated by judgment. No more being weighed in the balance. No more exhausting guardedness.

This time He whispered. “Child,” he said, “this freedom to barge into an earthly den and be met with open arms? It’s only a shadow. I am the fulfillment, the One casting that shadow. You have free access to Me through the Spirit! I welcome you to pour out your heart boldly and frankly, though you are broken and naked and lacking. There is no condemnation for you at this throne. Only grace. I am your home.”

It’s been seven years (and as many moves) since the light of Home shined hope into that dark season of my life. Still, I have much to learn about this exchange of temporal for eternal, of seen for unseen, of the shadow for the fulfillment. How thankful I am that the Spirit faithfully directs me Home to the One who satisfies my every longing.

“That something we long for, whether it be an island in the west or the other side of a mountain or perhaps a schooner yacht, long for it in the belief that it will mean joy, which it never fully does, because what we are really longing for is God.” --Sheldon VanAuken, A Severe Mercy


[Editor's note: Thanks, Shilo! Connect with Shilo on her blog: myplaceofpeace.blogspot.com What's brewing with you? "Open Mike" will go through the end of December; please submit your post to editor@womenoftheharvest.com]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

OPEN MIKE: from Laura in Mexico

[what's brewing: a nice blend from Mexico]

We are anticipating a possible furlough of about 3 months during which I’ll be working part time as a temporary in my old profession (Medical Physicist). While we are at it, if it works out, we are hoping for time to take care of some other “stuff”–detox, training, raise support, clarify our ministry focus, and simply be with the Father. I’ve been thinking about what I’ll miss and not miss about this place. I’ve decided I’ll miss the “everyday people” the most:

The little guy who comes by every day selling squash seeds to my husband.

The store owner across the street.

The little kids in my English “story hour” class.

I’ll miss the “church people” too, but I think I’ll miss the “everyday people” even more.

Re-entry is never easy – sometimes I think it’s tougher than the culture stress of acclimating to a new environment. This is especially tough when we know we are going to be rubber-banding back into our “new” culture, so we don’t want to fully embrace everything about our country of origin.

I’ve recently realized that one thing that has slowed me down from fully acclimating to our “new” culture is that we live pretty close to the border (about an 8 hour drive). We have reasons to travel back and forth fairly frequently – 4 or more times a year. We HAVE to go back twice a year to deal with visas (arrgggghhh).

This yo-yo is becoming more common with all of us (or most of us) since we have Internet access and therefore “on the spot” (or nearly) communication with everyone and exposure to the many things we left behind. Take this blog for instance! What a treat to share a cup-o-joe with you, me here in the bookstore we run while you are ???. I wouldn’t trade for it – but I think it does change the dynamics of assimilating into a new culture.

What is your experience with re-entry?

Some of you have been out there a lot longer than I; what have you observed about our “information” age and how living in this time is different from the ancient days before the Internet? (Ouch, burned my tongue on that sip of coffee - ancient being oh, what, 15-20 years?) I know there are others out there who have to spend months in the US between visas. What about you? Do you feel like you are always a stranger in either world, or is it just me?

How do you handle the constant interruption of your ministry focus – in either place – not to mention the every-day life adjustments?

Thanks for sharing a cup with me. If you like, next time I’ll make us some cappuccinos – do you want vanilla in that?

Laura in the central mountains of Mexico

[Editor's note: Thanks, Laura!]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Open Mike

[what's brewing: a cup needing to be filled]

I miss Coffeegirl already. This is Cindy, editor for WOTH and overseer of this blogspot. What happens here every week is so exciting--an average of 250 readers click in from over 88 countries, one of which is you.

Between now and the end of the year, I'd like to fill the every Tuesday post with some of your musings. I call it "OPEN MIKE." Here's how it would work:

1. Submit a post to editor@womenoftheharvest.com that is 300-500 words in length on what is on y0ur heart as you serve cross-culturally. OR you can simply ask a provocative question for all your fellow CGs to answer.

2. You must be currently serving cross-culturally.

3. The post must be universal in scope, appealing to any woman whether single or married, with or without kids, youngish or oldish...

And may I suggest heading over to the WOTH Writer's Blog today. Our guest host and author, Taryn Hutchison has some inspiring ideas on writing!

Other blog news: WOTH will be debuting a new blog, similar in style and scope to Coffeegirl, on Wednesday, January 6.

Have a great week, Cindy

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So long, farewell

[what's brewing: Coffeegirl, good to the last drop!]

The thought of composing my last Coffeegirl Confessions post has brought a multitude of thoughts and emotions to the surface. I’ve faced a jumbled lot of emotions, knowing that this is indeed a necessary change but knowing that nonetheless, it brings with it elements of loss. Physical loss is often far easier to deal with because there are tangible representations of the change, but the intangible losses in life are many times just as, if not more significant than tangible losses.

It is the sting of those intangible losses that I am feeling the most in the midst of this change.

Looking back at where this journey started , I am reminded of the intangible losses that made saying goodbye to our first house so difficult – memories of our first Christmas, the process of making the decision to come here, lazy Saturday morning breakfasts, and the crazy ways we tried to stay cool during the blistering summer heat with no air conditioning. It was hard to leave that tangible space because of all the intangible yet treasured memories that had been created there.

So it is with this goodbye. Coffeegirl Confessions has been a place to share my journey in a way that I couldn’t have done in any other way. It’s been an endeavor of processing my experiences in ways I likely would have missed otherwise, and sharing them with other people on a weekly basis (well, almost).

It’s been a place of connecting with other women who understand the complexities of cross-cultural living – a place of hearing, “I know exactly what you mean!” even when I wrote about things I was sure would reveal my true neurosis. It’s been a place of seeing women from different cultures, backgrounds, denominations, fields of service and life circumstances come together on common ground to share their experiences and encourage one another.

If you’ve never noticed the CG’s Global Friends map on the sidebar before, take a look at see all the places where readers are located around the world. That map provides a profound visual representation of the experience of Coffeegirl Confessions – a global community of readers who come together to connect on common ground, setting aside the matters that so often lead to division rather than unity within the family of believers.

When Cindy Blomquist, Editor of Women of the Harvest, and I first started talking about the idea of starting a blog like this we were really unsure what would come of it. We agreed to run it for 6 months and see what happened. We hoped for the best but braced ourselves for the real possibility of a low reader turnout. When the first post went up I was hoping for just one comment from someone, anyone out there. I was delighted when I checked in and found 7 comments, and was amazed when the comments continued to come not just that day, but in the weeks and months to follow.

And it is there, in your comments and your weekly visits to read along, that the real value of this blog resides. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to share my thoughts, but you have turned the ramblings of a lone Coffeegirl into a community. And therein lies my reassurance to each of you that despite the ending of my weekly posts, the community and connection that has been built here can be sustained.

I have learned many things through my experience as Coffeegirl, but if I leave you with just one last thought it would be this:

The experiences that make you feel alone wherever you are living are the same experiences that can unite you with others who are living this cross-cultural adventure. Hiding our fears, failures and honest emotions only isolates us from the community of believers that God has intended for us to rely upon. There is no place for competition or comparison among us. Whether it be a language disaster, a cultural mishap or a deep disappointment in your ministry or personal life, sharing the experience leads us to dwell in the unity we are called to.

How about you? What have you learned along this journey together?

And now with a very thankful heart, I bid you farewell. Thank you for reading, for commenting, and for sharing yourselves in this Coffeegirl Confessions community. There are many more good things to come…so ya’ll come back now!!

[Editor’s Note: OK, all you cyber lookie-lou’s and loyal CG comment post-ers, I have one HUGE request: please post a comment to our dear Coffeegirl and let her know how she has impacted you!

This site will remain intact and will guide you to new blogs—one is being launched today: WOTH Writer’s Blog-- and resources hosted by WOTH.


The blog roll of Coffeegirl Regulars will keep you connected to one another through the experiences you’re sharing in your own words.

Updates--including the arrival of CG's little coffee bean--and highlights will be posted here to keep you connected to the global community that has been established over the last year and a half. Follow WOTH Editor on TwitterI promise not to post frivolous tweets!]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Change Me

[what's brewing: I'll have tea...not!...I'm still Coffeegirl, that will never change]

Last week’s post about the winds of change that have been blowing in my life went out with some anxiety on my part, and your gracious and encouraging responses have been much appreciated in light of that. Change is hard, and not just when it’s the result of difficult circumstances. Changes that result from desirable circumstances – like ministry growth and even the arrival of little “coffee beans” (loved that phrase from last week!) – can still be hard to go through, which is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Changes in roles and responsibilities are often accompanied by a sense of loss of identity.

I often construct my sense of identity out of the roles I fill or the activities I’m involved with; so when those basic elements are changed, I feel unsettled and insecure. I feel like a child wanting to cling to a security blanket that will reassure me of who I am despite my changing circumstances. I know that many of the roles and responsibilities that I take on are the result of God-given abilities. I also know that my reliance upon them can quickly cross the line and move into the prideful realm of self-reliance.

Isn't it far too easy to go beyond the God-intended parameters of understanding our gifts and abilities as extensions of our true identity in Him and to instead see our roles and responsibilities as the lone source of our identity?

Grief and loss over changes in our lives are healthy and necessary processes. I have experienced the consequence of stifling or ignoring the significance of change in my life. So with the acknowledgement of the importance of grieving the losses that result from change, I would also suggest that a good litmus test of where I am drawing my identity from is the degree of distress that results from having my role or responsibilities stripped away from me. On some level, the values of this world have led me to equate value with capacity and identity with accomplishments.

Do I really believe myself to be just as valuable, just as loved and just as useful to the Lord when I am only capable being with Him as when I am able to accomplish, attain and achieve masses of work for Him?

By extension, can I confidently say that I value the lives of the incapacitated beggars on the streets as much as the efficient and productive leaders of society? It’s the same influence that kept the devoted Jews waiting for a valiant messiah when the King of Glory was instead born in a humble stable and laid into a manger. The true identity of the Messiah was clouded by the role he assumed.

So my prayer as I have been blown about by the winds of change on many fronts over the past few months has been that I would not just endure these changes, but that I would be changed by them. I want to be changed by the experience of laying certain things down and opening new doors of possibility. I want to reaffirm my true identity above any other role or responsibility that I have carried up until now.

Missionary, counselor, director, leader, teacher, writer, wife and mother are simply roles that I fill.

Redeemed child of the Creator is my identity. I long for that to be the ultimate satisfaction of my being.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Winds of Change

[what's brewing: I'm gonna change it up]

I’ve been thinking a lot about change lately. If there is one element of life that seems to remain constant, it is the continually changing nature of things. Ironic, isn’t it? Just when I start to feel settled, or at least comfortable, in one area of life, things start to shift in another.

As the winds of change have been blowing in my life, I’ve had to sit and reevaluate many things. I feel a bit like Mary Poppins, actually – sensing a shift in the winds that are blowing through my life and knowing that change is looming in the air. It was the West Wind that eventually carried Mary Poppins away to new and unknown places. For me, it is the swiftly approaching due date of our first child, combined with the cumulative effect of changes in a number of different aspects of our life, that is carrying me away.

Ms. Poppins exuded much more confidence in the face of impending change than I have, but honestly I always found her matter-of-fact departure to be a bit insensitive—I don’t mind the emotional impact that change has on me. So yes, despite my confidence that the changing circumstances in my life are rightly carrying me away from this role, it is still difficult to tell you, my readers and trusted companions, that Coffeegirl Confessions is coming to a close.

After a year and a half of confiding in you many of my experiences, dilemmas, dismays and delights in this cross-cultural adventure, my chest tightens and my throat begins to ache when I consider the size of the canyon that will be left when our weekly coffee chats come to an end.

But I am also reminded that as a result of this year and a half of my weekly confessions and the dialogue they have created, the expanse before us looks very different now than it did when we began. Slowly but surely we have bonded together as a community of bloggers (in fact, several new Coffeegirl Regulars have just joined us in the past week or two, and their enthusiasm created pangs of guilt for me as this change has been pending…).

We have learned from one another and we have connected on shared common experiences that run deeper than denominations or global localities. There are now 66 of you on the Blog Roll who have opened the doors for other readers to step into your world and walk alongside you. As I step back from my work as Coffeegirl and begin to navigate the waters of motherhood, I know I will continue to benefit from the writing you all do on your personal blogs as I click in to see what you’re saying and learn from your insights and experiences.

And it is my hope and prayer that you all will do the same – that the words of “Who’s Coffeegirl?” (see blog sidebar) will ring true and you’ll see that there is a piece of Coffeegirl Confessions in every woman who has served outside her home culture. There is so much we can learn, so much we can gain, and so much we can give to one another beyond the confines of this blog, for you all are the ones who have given this blog life.

This isn’t goodbye just yet – it’s just another confession. I’m being carried away by the winds of change, but you won’t be left on your own. The winds of change are blowing at Women of the Harvest too, so keep coming back to hear more about what’s coming next…

[Editor’s note: Coffeegirl’s last column will be posted on November 3…sniff, sniff]

Monday, October 12, 2009

Coffeegirl Challenge #6 - Tribute to Seasons

[what's brewing: a global perspective]

As the seasons are shifting around the globe, 5 Coffeegirl readers have given us a glimpse of the scenery in their part of the world.

So pour yourself a cup of coffee in true Coffeegirl fashion,
enjoy the global variety represented in their photographs,
leave a comment telling us about the scenery in your part of the world,
and be sure to VOTE for your favorite photograph before jumping into the reality that awaits you!

The poll closes next Monday, October 19 at 9am Mountain Standard Time (2 hours behind Eastern Time) so tell your friends and family to get out and vote before then. The winner will be announced next Tuesday, and I'm sure she'll be eager to claim her gift card to Amazon, iTunes or Shutterfly - wouldn't you be too?! And now...

A Tribute to Seasons Around the World:

Tribute #1 - Harvest Festival in the desert in western Mongolia
by Michelle


Tribute #2 - An afternoon of flower planting to celebrate the arrival of spring!
by Lisa B., Peru


Tribute #3 - Pecan Tree: pecans are in season as fall arrives...this state produces 70% of Mexico's entire pecan crop!
by Becky A., Mexico


Tribute #4 - The rice harvest in the city
by MCS, Sendai, Japan


Tribute #5 - Australian Wattle
by Wendy M., on home assignment from Japan

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Coffeegirl Challenge #6

[what's brewing: depends where you are...]

It's that time of year again when my internal clock resounds with the fullness of fall. As the calendar turns over to the autumn months, my seasonal sensations kick in and I start to crave the quintessential elements of fall. Choosing my favorite fall element would be an impossible task (apple cider? pumpkin patches? candy corn?), but certainly one of my all time favorites has to be the crunching of leaves after they've changed color, fallen to the ground, and been blown about on the sidewalks. Ooh, I just love that feeling.

Knowing that those of us who convene here at Coffeegirl Confessions are presently scattered throughout different hemispheres, climates, cultures and countries, we certainly aren't all in a place where we can enjoy a taste of fall. On several blogs I've seen creative efforts being put forth to create a sense of fall where it is nowhere to be found, and I've seen others who are embracing their chance at spring while those in the north are slipping into autumn. And there are others who are indeed experiencing fall, but in a different way in a different land than they are used to.

I love the diversity that is represented among us in so many different ways and I thought this would be a good time to celebrate that diversity...

Coffeegirl Challenge #6: a tribute to seasons around the world!

Your task: Take an artistic photograph that captures the current season where you are living, be it hot, cold, fall or spring - or something in between - and submit it as an entry into Coffeegirl's Celebration of Seasons photo contest. All photos will be displayed next week, October 13th, and readers will vote for their favorite entry to determine our winner. (If you submit a photograph, be sure to let your friends and family members know so that they can turn out and vote for you!)

As a reminder, by asking for an artistic photograph I mean nothing against your kids, teammates or home decorations...but leave them out of it, indulge your creative side and give us a taste of the culture you're living in. Remember this definition from our Field Day event?

Artistic Photograph: photography that is…done to express the artist's perceptions and emotions and to share them with others.

The stakes: The winner will receive their choice of a $20 gift card to iTunes, Amazon.com, or Shutterfly.

Details, details: Photos should be submitted to coffeegirlconfessions@yahoo.com by Monday, October 12 at 9:00am Mountain Standard Time (2 hours behind East Coast Time). Please specify which details you would like to have posted with your photo, i.e. name, Blogger name, or initials; country of service, etc.

Need some inspiration? Check out the last batch of artistic photographs that were submitted for our Field Day event back in June!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Time Like the Present


[what's brewing: I'm trying not to guess...]

With my recent post on looking back and last week's post on containing my expectations for the present, I suppose it seems somewhat predictable that my thoughts this week are related to the future. Funny how that happens. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is that it allows me to see themes in my thought patterns that I would otherwise miss out on - a glimpse at the common thread that is running through the widely varied experiences of my daily life. And lately the theme seems to be about both time and contentment. Or perhaps more accurately, my struggle against time and quest for contentment.

I have a complicated relationship with the concept of time. The passage of time is something I hold dearly. My nostalgic nature thrives on it as I cling closely to my treasures. I find the feeling of sentimental wistfulness that emerges from looking at old pictures or turning the delicate pages of my grandfather's worn Bible so moving that it feels as if I could be transported back in time by the strength of those feelings. I am enchanted by the passage of time.

Yet I also hold a certain amount of disdain for time in its more powerful form as the holder of the unknown future. There is no speeding it up, bribing it to move faster or threatening it to reveal its secrets. It holds its position firmly - fists clenched and arms crossed, forcing me to wait, wait, wait for the natural passage of time that will answer my questions and calm my anxieties.

This nature of time not only contributes to my propensity for worry but robs me of the value of living in the present. Currently there are so many variables shifting around in my life that I'm having trouble focusing on the present and the tasks that are before me. The majority of my thoughts are caught up trying to imagine what things would be like if this or that came to pass, and by the end of the day I feel the impact of living in the solitary world of my own preoccupations despite the fact that I've been with people all day.

I am enticed to think about the future by the way it can temporarily ease my anxiety of the unknown. The satisfaction of imagining myself on the greener grass that could come with a change of circumstances enables me to forget momentarily that even I know it would look different on the other side.

In recent days my attention has been caught by the reality of what I miss when I am busy thinking about the future. I have realized how many opportunities for meaningful conversations naturally slip by when I am looking up instead of ahead. I find less joy in the work we are doing here when my heart isn't engaged because its busy thinking about the satisfaction that could be. Relationships go untended, meaningful moments are hurried past, and ultimately, contentment slips right through my fingers as I'm busy searching for it in other places.

I would love to say that I have no idea what Eve was thinking when she listened to the serpent's sales pitch and decided to take that fruit, but lately I've been seeing a lot of Eve in my own reflection. The desire to know more, the discontent of being limited by present circumstances, the appeal of instant gratification when bound by a restriction - I can understand these things.

And I can see the consequences of choosing to live in the future rather than the present. I know the disappointment that comes over me at the end of a day when I realize how disengaged I have been. I am sobered by the ways I foster discontentment in my own heart in my quest for contentment in future possibilities.

Therefore, I am setting my resolve to keep my eyes looking straight ahead, not up the road or into the sky where the world seems a happier, easier place to be. I have been brought into this world, to this place, at this precise moment to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

Oh Lord, let my heart be satisfied by you alone. Let my knowledge of your faithfulness and goodness sustain me. Be the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Expectations

[what's brewing: dissention]

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “great expectations”? Charles Dickens, perhaps? An inspiring sermon you may have heard about having great expectations for the work God is going to do in a certain situation or setting? I have to confess that my first thought when I hear this phrase is…great disappointment.

I’m not usually such a pessimist, but it’s true – over time I have come to believe that the higher and greater my expectations are, the more likely I am to be disappointed. I would suggest that this perception is actually a part of what keeps me optimistic in many situations – my expectations are low, so I am always hopeful for what may transpire. I don’t go around expecting the worst; I just try to keep an openness of mind with most things so that I don’t set myself up for disappointment.

(I was reminded of the importance of this approach when we pulled into the gate of the summer camp we took all of the kids to for a week of fun and play. I had a distinct image in my mind of what it would be like, which was supported by the high expectations I’d gathered from various stories over the year. I only realized how unrealistic my expectations were as the gate opened and I realized that our “beach camp” was a walled-in plot of dirt in a coastal town!)

Part of my cross-cultural adjustment has been finding a healthy balance between this low-expectation approach and still waiting expectantly upon the Lord to do great things and remaining faithful as I wait. I’ve been challenged to sift through my own expectations in order to set realistic ones – weeding out elements that are based on my own cultural background and trying to develop a more realistic view for this time and place that I’m living in.

I’ve shared pieces of my cross-cultural ministry experiences (all largely stemming from my expectations) here on CG Confessions before – the good, the bad and the funny. I know that setting more appropriate expectations has become a central point in my coping strategy with some of the issues that we’ve faced here. From perusing your blogs, reading your comments and conversing with other cross-cultural ministry comrades, I have taken comfort in knowing that we’re not the only ones who seem to encounter almost comically frustrating episodes of drama in local church ministry.

After watching too many seemingly successful conflict resolution efforts dissipate within days, sometimes even hours, of seeking biblical resolution between members of our church, my expectations for genuine forgiveness have become very low. After hearing people respond to wise and truth-laden sermons by wishing So-And-So could have been there to be convicted of their sin, my expectations for repentance and confession have dropped as well.

As I have lowered my expectations to help combat my frustrations, I have also focused on reminding myself of these truths:

change is slow,
Christ’s call is radical,
and old fleshly habits can be powerfully gratifying in difficult times.

So recently I have been praying with great expectations for Christ’s transformational touch to be upon us all, while maintaining low expectations for day to day change, which has been giving me the patience I need to keep going.

And then out of nowhere, at a meeting I didn’t even want to attend because of the inter-church drama that has drying me up this week, my expectations were so greatly exceeded that I hardly knew what to think. Dissention was brewing even as the meeting was beginning and my low expectations had dropped even lower. We moved through our agenda and as I set my weary eyes on the clock, wishing I could transport myself home to bed, the Spirit began to move…

One brave woman confessed her anger towards another woman in the church and sought her forgiveness.

Another brave soul followed suit and confessed resentment and distrust towards a fellow elder in the church, who then offered his forgiveness and reconciliation in return.

A young woman on the brink of scandalous divorce exposed her hardened heart and asked for help from those around her.

Testimonies of broken patterns of alcoholism, domestic abuse and marital unfaithfulness came from several others.

Spontaneous prayer was offered over individuals as they shared their stories.

And we simply sat back and watched as our expectations (low though they may have been) were not just exceeded, but shattered by the movement of the Spirit in our presence.

And I’ve been relishing this powerful reminder of the importance of continuing to have great expectations for what God can do without expecting great disappointment as a result.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Just as we are

[what's brewing: your aromatic words]

flexible, reliant, with a sense of humor,
prayerful, dependent, born of Light,
creative, diligent,
part of a community of faith,
filled with perseverance.


love and courage, hope and prayer, faith and patience,

laughter and tears, strength in weakness, loneliness and godliness,

clear purpose and yet difficult, unclear paths to get there.

language barriers to leap over, and cultural barriers to learn,

families in 2 parts of the world.


two:

homes,

traditions,

diets,

churches (or more),

groups of friends,

sets of clothes,

of so many important parts of our lives.


one:

God

who is everywhere and unchanging.


a huge need to have Christ be our everything


hands that cling to God and His Word,
a heart that aches for those dying without Christ who will probably never hear.


beautiful feet

as I struggle to share in a tongue not my own of God's grace and hope;
legs and arms

that seek to serve my family and live out my relationship with God

in a way others know He is real.

whatever can fit into a suitcase

simplicity and a willingness to let go of things

lots of tears

flesh and blood...

real people with real struggles, real pain, real frustrations...

and real joys!


We are nothing more special,

nothing more note worthy,

nothing more unique

than any woman created by God;

just a "hand" or a "foot" in the body of Christ.


real people who need a really reliable God.


Amen, and thank you for your words.



Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Looking Back


[what's brewing: last year's grind...]

As I've confessed before, I am a saver – a treasure keeper, that is. Two of the many things that I keep every year are my wall calendar and my daily planner. I keep them as a record of what filled my days in a particular year – the milestones, the events, the insignificant details that come to be fond memories over time. To my credit, I am not the only one who does this; it runs in the family. My brother-in-law has asked the same questions of my sister that Jason asks me each time I direct these items into the treasure box rather than the trash can: “Why? You’ve just copied all the significant dates into your calendar for next year – what do you need this for?” But the battle is lost for the men in our family; the calendars stay and that’s all there is too it.

Having recently copied dates into my new daily planner (it runs on the academic year, not the calendar year; I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking in terms of semesters!) I was reflecting back on the events of the last year and the many milestones that we passed. It got me wondering what I was thinking about and writing about at this time last year so I clicked back to September 2008 on Coffeegirl Confessions and found this post. Rereading your words and comments in response to the previous post, What are we made of?, warmed me through like a soothing cup of coffee in the early morning. I just loved reading your comments and reflecting on who we see ourselves to be.


I thought of the many experiences I’ve personally had since then and was struck by the depth and complexity of the events, emotions and experiences that we have collectively endured over the past year. I reconsidered the question, “What are missionary women made of?” and reflected on the different answers I might give today than I would have a year ago, which I assume may be true for some of you as well.


Because of this, and thinking of the many of you who have joined us since that post last year, I’m re-posting the following question to you all from last year’s post:


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?


How would you answer this today? Has your answer today changed from what it would have been last year?


I personally see now that I’m made of a far deeper dependency on others than I knew before –transparent relationships with other people are essential for me. I’m more adaptable than I ever thought I could be – what I used to see as laborious routines in everyday life are now familiar (dare I say comforting?) norms that structure my lifestyle. And I have to say I’m also made of a lot more resistance to foul odors than I ever thought possible!


How about you?


Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Laboring to See the Day

[what's brewing: what's the occasion?]

As I went to jot something down on my calendar for next month, I was reminded that Labor Day is coming up next week in the US. Feeling the need for a day off and a fun weekend, I found myself wishing that Labor Day were observed here. We could host a barbecue, go swimming, go camping…ah, the possibilities for a 3 day weekend in the US!

My Labor Day-dreaming eventually got me thinking about the number of national holidays that are observed here, which is actually quite high though it doesn’t feel like it because we so rarely end up having the day “off” on national holidays. There are all kinds of holidays and festivals here and I still couldn’t tell you what even half of them are commemorating. One thing is for sure though - the people love to celebrate each and every one, a fact I am most often reminded of by the celebratory fireworks (more bang than beauty around here though…) that seem to be going off nearly every week.

We’ve celebrated some of the holidays with our national friends and we’ve hosted events in the Children’s Home for the major holidays, but I’d have to say that I feel little to no connection to the holidays themselves. I have no special memories connected to the historical dates here, and the festivities are more of a learning cultural experience at this point than a relaxing pastime. I don’t feel inspired to decorate in certain ways or to make certain foods to contribute to the celebrations; the traditions here don’t resonate with me.

I suppose that’s why the thought of Labor Day conjured up such different sentiments than the various local holidays than have come and gone over these summer months. I couldn’t tell you the reason that many US national holidays feel different to me, they’re simply part of my cultural identity.

And as I’m developing my cross-cultural identity, this is one of the elements that sticks out to me.

I do enjoy participating in the cultural holidays here, even if just for the insight it gives me into the people I’m living and working with. And many times I find there’s a good bit of humor tied into the various holiday traditions and festivities. Who’d have thought that running around the block with an empty suitcase would bring good luck for the New Year? Or that seeing an owl on a holiday or wedding day brings good luck?

I’m curious to hear from you all about the holidays and traditions in the countries where you are serving. Do you have any favorite new holidays, or strange commemorations that are observed? Any funny traditions or festivities, whether you understand why or not?!

As you consider it, have a happy Labor Day weekend, wherever you may be!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Metaphorically Speaking

[what's brewing: is coffee an animal, vegetable or metaphor?]

I have been quite fond of metaphors ever since I learned what they were back in elementary school. I can imagine our teacher had an amusing time reading through the metaphor-writing exercises after that lesson, presented with the most extravagant and over the top examples of metaphorical imagery – like a...

What I like about metaphors is their capacity to concrete a concept in my mind by creating a visual image or connection to a familiar concept. Some of the most significant lessons I’ve learned in my life have come as a result of effective metaphors. Many of my favorite verses and passages, at least the ones I’m most able to remember, contain metaphors.

… so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe, as you hold out the word of life… Philippians 2:15

I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land… Psalms 143:6

He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart… Isaiah 40:11

Recently I read a passage of Scripture (Exodus 17:8-13) that, while not literarily metaphorical, contains a powerful image that has brought all kinds of metaphorical connections to my mind. (Ever since my Biblical interpretation class in seminary I’m very cautious to suggest that any passage means any particular thing or contains metaphorical implications. But I do believe that God can use passages like this to teach us important lessons that are in line with His truth. So, in that way I am referring to this passage, even if my metaphorically inclined mind is drawing more from this than the text actually suggests.)

8) The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9) Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." 10) So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12) When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13) So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

The image of Moses sitting on the rock, exhausted and weary, with Aaron on one side and Hur on the other, together holding his hands up has burrowed deeply into my mind this week. Aaron and Hur offered this type of support when Moses could no longer do it alone, and they did so to allow God to continue working through Joshua as he had declared. They gave him a seat, they held up his hands, and Joshua overcame the Amalekites.

The metaphorical connections that this passage brings to my mind are countless, and undoubtedly greater in number since our move into a cross-cultural life. But I want to hear from you.

What does this passage bring to your mind?
What elements of the story stick out to you most?
Who are you in the story?
Who is holding your arms and bringing you a stone to sit on?
How are your arms being held up, or how are you holding the arms of others?
What do you see God accomplishing through obedience, despite weariness and fatigue?

I can’t wait to hear what you have to say.

And thank you for holding up my arms through your comments and companionship over the last 14 months here on Coffeegirl Confessions.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Toughest Critic

[what's brewing: leave room for grace]

First of all, thank you for your gracious responses to my confession this past week. While failing to get things done is nowhere on my list of enjoyable experiences, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the relief I found in simply acknowledging my oversight and apologizing. No scrambling to recover. No rush to get something in as I would have if I’d remembered in the middle of the night. Simply taking responsibility and then letting it go.

I didn’t realize how un-like me it was to experience that type of relief until I read Kimom’s comment about being brave enough to not just take responsibility for our failures but then to forgive ourselves, without holding onto guilt.

It’s true – forgiving myself is one of my greatest challenges.

It is far easier for me to forgive others for their failures than to forgive myself. I extend much more grace to others than I am able to give myself (which is probably why I end up running myself ragged and forgetting things like writing my weekly blog post!).

I am indeed my own toughest critic.

In thinking about Kimom’s comment, I realize that I tend to think of Christ’s sacrifice as covering the serious offenses, the deep wounds and the grievous sins that we carry around. I don’t think of the little things or the general inability to perform at levels of perfection that I somehow think I need to.

And this reveals the real source I am going to for my strength to accomplish all that is on my plate, whether by choice or by circumstance: myself.

I rely on my ability to multi-task, maximize efficiency, and manage my time far more than I rely upon the grace and goodness of God. Ultimately, I know that each breath is a gift from God and therefore my ability to do anything is dependent on His sustaining grace; but practically, I rely upon my own abilities to get so many things done. Self-reliance makes it especially hard to do anything but blame myself when things don’t go as I’d planned.

As novel as these thoughts seem to be, they are all too familiar. I’ve had similar realizations in the past; I’ve wrestled with the idea of extending grace to myself in recent years. And yet this all feels so new. It’s similar to the surprise I feel when I am so encouraged by a verse I hear or read somewhere that I go to find it in my own Bible, only to see I have underlined it myself previously.

Last week I was glad to find I’m not the only one who drops the ball and then wants to give excuses for why it happened. This week I’m wondering if anyone other than Kimom and myself struggle to extend forgiveness to yourself, whether for great things or small. And I’m wondering how you deal with it.

Any thoughts? Pour yourself a cup of coffee and let’s talk.

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