Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It's Chime for Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Jamie Jo and Women of the Harvest! Wherever you are, whether the weather outside is frightful or downright balmy, may you experience the true joy of the season, and may Jesus be very near and dear to your heart.

For some of you this may be your first Christmas away from extended family, and my heart goes out to you. This week may trigger more homesickness than happiness. That’s only natural. Here’s a (((cyber hug))) for those who secretly or outwardly wish you were elsewhere.

Take time to journal about your struggles this week. Later on you will be amazed to compare your current feelings with how far you have come. You might also figure out creative ways to make new Christmas traditions that will make it seem like Christmas each year, even though it’s never quite the same as Christmases of the past.

On my first Christmas overseas, I had one other single American friend who shared a summery holiday with me in Thailand. We listened to a bootlegged cassette of Bing Crosby crooning “White Christmas” while sweat dripped on the Christmas cards we were signing. Being in a Buddhist country where there was no such celebration as Christmas was very odd. The only highlight was getting together with a small group of believers in a village church for an actual Christmas service.

I can count on one hand the number of Christmases I have spent north of the border in the past 24 years. For me, Christmas south of the border is the norm— poinsettias in full bloom in the yard, tamales and pozole served at the local church programs, fireworks, and warm weather.

Besides Christmas stockings and big parties (and all the baking involved with that), one other tradition I have maintained is directing a Christmas Chime Choir. Years ago I decided to invest a bit of inheritance money on a 3-octave set of chimes. My own children would never experience playing handbells in a big American church, but they could play chimes here in Mexico.

For about fourteen years, I have taught MKs to ring choir chimes, and now it is tradition to play for special services at Christmas time. Our signature piece is “Carol of the Bells.” For me, it literally rings in the Christmas season to fill my living room with two long banquet tables and young people making music together each week in anticipation of the holidays.

Christmas Eve will find me at a candlelight service with many other English-speaking families singing carols, ringing chimes, and watching the little kids act out the Nativity story while it is read aloud from Luke 2. Why? It’s tradition. I love tradition. I love the holidays. I hope you will, too.

IRL* Still missing my married sons and ddils*, but choosing to be joyful for all my many blessings this week, including my two college kids who are home.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Party @ Jamie Jo's : Y'all Come!

As some of you have figured out, I live in a location with many missionary colleagues in close proximity. It’s my tradition to throw a big Christmas party every year. One neighbor loves to call me “the hostess with the mostest.” Sometimes I graciously thank her outwardly, while swallowing the ungracious responses that pop into my mouth. “Yeah, the most dishes to wash afterward, the most stains on my furniture, the most migraines the day afterward….”

When we were in Guatemala twenty-some-odd Christmases ago, I remember a certain hostess who fully expected young couples to hire a baby-sitter for parties at her house, which were clearly "for adults only." I used to take offense at her stance, but now I understand. I really do.

Equally clear is the memory of the family-friendly Christmas party I hosted that same year. I was aghast at one mother’s unruffled attitude as her son took a piece of chocolate cake and ground it into my rug with his little foot. She smiled innocently and said, "Boys will be boys" to which I retorted (with a less-than-genuine smile), "And mothers will be mothers and clean up after them!"

It's all well and good that children be allowed to be children as long as parents remain parents and don't leave the poor hostess such a huge disaster to clean up after the party's over. Within the missionary community, I'm afraid that isn't always the case, which is also why, I suspect, some people simply refuse to invite children into their homes. What a shame.

Now that I have no little ones of my own, I hope I have grown less peevish about spills and messes, but I admit I still need to work on my heart that cringes when children come over for parties. Too many memories.

Is it sinful pride that makes me crave a nice orderly house? Is it selfish to not want neighbor children to destroy my house? Or is it simply good stewardship to try to protect my belongings? After all, I know what agony we endured to find each and every piece of furniture and rug, which we carefully selected and brought from the city, and even the support necessary to buy them. I don’t know. There has to be a balance. All I have is a gift from the Lord, and on my good days, I acknowledge that it all belongs to Him. I want to claim none of it as my own.

Nothing challenges this resolve like a good old Christmas party. Next week I’ll have to have my head examined heart checked. Again. I just hope I can be gracious and not just act gracious. I hope the snarky remarks don’t even appear as a thought bubble over my head like in the cartoons.

IRL* The party is set for December 20. If you live close enough to come, you are welcome, kids and all!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Purl One, Knit Two Together

Back in the early 1950's, my mom found a pattern for knitting a Christmas stocking for my older brother. That one project led to more than fifty years of Thomas family tradition as she proceeded to knit stockings for my sisters and me as we were born, and then for each of our spouses as they were added to the family. In all, my mom has lovingly created a keepsake for over thirty family members including her grandchildren, their spouses, and great-grandchildren.

My newest ddil,* Amy, received a stocking to match my son’s for a wedding present. The story I want to share is about the one stocking Mom didn't make. Jim and I had only been seeing each other a scandalously short time when it became apparent that our parallel life journeys were about to converge into one single path together.

I'll never forget the conversation we had with my parents, discussing the feasibility of a very low-key, informal wedding ceremony one week before Christmas (1984), with just the two of them as our witnesses. Dad thought this plan was greatly preferable to the alternative, which was for me to travel to Illinois with Jim to meet his family before we got married at a later date. Mom's only objection was a practical (though sentimental) one. She could not possibly knit Jim a stocking in only a few weeks, and it would be unfortunate to spend our first Christmas together without the tradition of matched stockings.

At that point, Jim innocently made a remark, obviously unaware of the significance of "the stocking" my mom was proposing to knit. "Not a problem," he declared simply. "I already have a stocking!" What I feared would turn into an unpleasant scene actually became an amazing confirmation of what we perceived to be God's confirmation of our December wedding date. It turns out that Jim's Aunt Betsy, back in 1953, had chosen the exact same stocking pattern and knitted him a Christmas stocking identical to the original Thomas family stockings from the same decade.

How's that for weird and wacky? True story!

Now it’s your turn. Care to share some Christmas memory with us in the comment section? We love stories!

IRL* Contemplating a new hobby during this next season of life as I face the reality that my 80-something-year-old mom may not live to see all my grandbabies outfitted with the family stocking.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Introspective Mini-Funk

Who am I fooling? Here I had promised to be “real” with you, and then I find myself tippy-toeing around the issues I’m facing, tempted to sugarcoat them. Frankly I am feeling swamped. Too much to do, too little time….

Maybe some of you experience that this time of year. Thanksgiving is over, and the rest of the year flies in double time and ends before you’re ready. Particularly in December I become nostalgic and just want to scream at the clock to STOP, if not just slow down or even rewind a bit. At the very least I want time to stand still for an hour or so while I recover from the jet lag of zooming through seasons of life so fast.

Last week my baby turned twelve. That alone was enough to throw me into an introspective mini-funk. After 25 years of being a mother, I am beginning to see the end in sight. Just like the month of December, I know it’s going to speed by in fast motion. Meanwhile I am mourning the loss of four children who have grown up and moved on.

With so many serious crises in the world and people dying without knowing our Savior, it seems petty to complain when my life is so blessed, but that is the reality. It still hurts to face the holidays with only a partial family. I am thankful my two college kids will join us, but still, only seven of us around the table for Christmas dinner? That seems tragic somehow.

Now I understand how my own parents must have felt when I flew the coop for foreign lands. They never complained or made an issue of it, but mercy, this stinks! Back when I had four children under six years old, I used to laugh when those older missionary ladies would sigh and tell me, “Enjoy them, sweetie. They grow up so fast.” It made no sense back when my one goal was to teach them to tie their own shoes, but they were right.

Now that I have whiled away the morning whining over what can’t be changed, I really must get back to the “to do” list. The trouble with time speeding up all of a sudden is that I can’t find enough hours to properly prepare the Bible study in Spanish for Fridays. What was I thinking when I committed to do that?

Then there’s the progressive dinner for the MK teens I volunteered to help host, and the chime choir to direct for different Christmas programs, the short story I had hoped to submit for the WOTH Writer’s blog, and the prayer letter that needs to be written and sent before the end of the year. I expect some of you are in the same dilemma. Maybe you aren’t even reading this until weeks after it was posted. I understand.

IRL* Like it or not, December has begun, the fastest month of the year.
Another book suggestion for your Amazon wish list: A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich, my all-time favorite book. She “gets” the too-fast passage of time as well as the challenges of settling far from family and friends.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I'm Grateful

First of all, thanks to Debbie Peck for the fun recipes and resources for Thanksgiving. What a fun encouragement that was. I’m assuming all of us are receiving the WOTH onlineMagazine and the subsequent email from the Editor, “In Between the Lines,” in which it appears. If not, click here.
Now to balance my more negative posts about head lice, car-sickness, and things we don’t take for granted, I want to give some serious thought to the many benefits of living exactly where we do. Your list will not necessarily look like mine, but I offer these to inspire your own. Please add yours in the comment section.

Here is a partial list I made for Thanksgiving (in random order).
I love the simplicity of life here. No junk mail, no telemarketers, and in fact, few phone calls in general. I enjoy the quality and quantity of family time without so many outside distractions. No sports practices or youth events requiring me to be a chauffeur. Cheap reliable public transportation means the kids can get around independently, even to school in the city three times a week.

Living close to our friends means even the youngest can walk back and forth to each other’s houses during daylight. After some upheaval earlier in the year, I am extremely thankful for no further incidents in our town, and that our kids are safe in their comings and goings.

One thing that remains on my list every year is my house. Being settled in my own home for almost 17 years is a tremendous blessing. I love that it is climate- controlled simply by opening and closing windows and drapes. Being adobe, it maintains the warmth or coolness without air-conditioning or heating.

Of course a huge bonus of living where we do is that it provides a meaningful purpose in life. The ministry opportunities alone are a tremendous blessing that short-term teams only glimpse. Even with the challenges and difficulties, we receive intangible benefits. Does that sound weird to say I am thankful for the very problems that cause me to grow more like Jesus?

After that horrible bout with E-coli, I am thankful for good health, which I do not take for granted. I am thankful to see the scales finally inching their way down after ten years of gradually going up. I’m thankful for affordable fresh fruits and vegetables available year-round.

As always, I am grateful for my family and friends, and for modern technology that helps us stay in touch. I love my family, and I thank the Lord daily that my children are all walking with the Lord, knowing so many heart-broken mothers who pray for this daily. I love the fact that we all still want to be together, even though we can’t.

And lastly, I adore each and every one of my very odd diverse friends, both near and far away. I’m thankful for my e-maginary friends on the Sonlight forums, and for my new WOTH friends (you!).

IRL*Gratitude is the gift I give to you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Nit-picking. What mental image does that conjure up? A persnickety mother nagging at her children for a job done not quite well enough? If so, I salute you! More than likely many of you see an instant play-back of a scene you never want to repeat.

Let’s talk about head lice. Makes you scratch just remembering it, doesn’t it? Sorry, but with Thanksgiving coming up, I find myself thanking the Lord for a year free from head lice. How many of you can join me in saying “Glory Hallelujah!”?

For those of you not similarly blessed in 2010, my sympathies go out to you. All I can say is that I’ve been there, done that, and DON’T want the t-shirt OR a photo. No one in my family would have dared take a picture of me looking like a Smurf with a trash bag covering my mayonnaise-slathered head.

Another memory forever stamped on my brain is of sitting with my daughter for hours at a stretch, inspecting her hair strand by strand, then tapping the comb on a white piece of paper. It was revolting to see the number of teeny lice and egg sacks that dropped from the comb, but I must admit there was something weirdly gratifying about hearing that little click when I crushed each live egg with the surface of my thumbnail.

Two vital items for every missionary’s first aid kit are tea tree oil and a good metal nit comb. Not to be superstitious or anything, but in my experience it’s like carrying an umbrella to ensure it won’t rain. Leave it at home, and you’ll wish you had it. We haven’t had a single outbreak since I bought mine.

A couple of years ago, we were (scratch, scratch) on the verge of leaving for a summer furlough when I discovered a lice infestation on my own head and my daughter’s, too. I was absolutely desperate to get rid of the little buggers to avoid sharing them with unsuspecting supporters and hosts in the U.S. There’s nothing funny about spreading head lice to friends from Texas to Ohio.

Consequently I tried every antidote known to man, first starting with the lice shampoo sold at the local pharmacy, proceeding to attempt every home remedy on the internet (to no avail), and finally resorting to something my local friends guaranteed would work. We sprayed Raid in a glass, mixed it with oil, and then slimed that on our heads until every louse and egg was dead.

It worked all right, but getting those toxins out of my system was a long expensive process. I don’t recommend it, not even to prevent head lice at the in-laws’ house. Go for tea tree oil instead.

So, what are you thankful for this year?

IRL* Itching to see the response to the “louse-iest” post I’ve ever written.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cinnamon and Sandwiches

Another true confession.

I used to try to manipulate my kids' memories of their mother by purposely doing amazing things that I was sure would win me a place in the Missionary Mom Hall of Fame. Things I could imagine my children remembering fondly after I die. Things to place me on a pedestal right up there with Edith Shaeffer, Mrs. "Art of Homemaking" herself.

One of these fabulous feats was to start every long road trip with fresh homemade cinnamon rolls. Yes, just for the sake of future glory, I began a tradition of making a big batch of cinnamon rolls the night before we would leave for a journey to the States (see sidebar for recipe). I would put them in the fridge to rise overnight, and then first thing in the morning, I would pop them in the oven to bake while Jim finished loading the car.

Then the children would experience the indescribable blessing of waking to the amazing aroma of cinnamon rolls, which would soon permeate the car as we piled in and prepared for breakfast on the road. What a wonderfully devoted mother I was, right?

Ah, it's a fond memory to me even now. I love cinnamon rolls!

Unfortunately, my kids don't see it that way. What they remember (besides the long grueling 20-plus hours in the car before reaching Texas) is regurgitating those lovely cinnamon rolls on the first stretch of barfy, curvy highway. One child in particular still cannot stand cinnamon rolls because of that negative association. Walking through a mall and smelling Cinnabon does not stir up fond memories for her, but evokes a gagging sensation instead.

Even worse, this same child cannot stand sandwiches for the same reason. Living in Mexico, we seldom eat sandwiches for a quick easy meal. Instead we tend to eat beans and rice, quesadillas, nachos, or leftovers. (Okay, and even cereal when Dad's away.) But seldom sandwiches unless they are tortas (hot submarine-type sandwich made on a bolillo--like a French roll--with smashed beans, avocado, Oaxaca cheese, tomato, jalapeno, and sometimes a slice of lunch meat or scrambled eggs with chorizo - yum!).

On a long car trip, I would make tuna or egg salad, and simply make the sandwiches as we needed them, so we wouldn't waste any uneaten sandwiches. I would also take along a few peanut butter sandwiches for the first day on the road. That's the only time they remember eating sandwiches, and the memory grosses them out.

Great. Now I have children who hate not only cinnamon rolls, but sandwiches, too.

IRL*So much for manipulating memories...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Tie that Binds

When I grow up I want to be just like … Quick, who just came to mind? Isn’t it funny that no matter how old we get, we (hopefully) always have friends a step ahead of us whom we admire, women we would love to follow as they are obviously following Jesus?

These past few weeks I have had the rare treat of having one such woman here in town, close by, to enjoy and to learn from. I first met Ann and her husband 22 years ago this very month, when they attended a conference in Guatemala. Back then I was a young mother with a baby and a toddler, expecting my third. Bob and Ann loved on me and encouraged me in a tangible way that I’ll never forget.

I’ve only seen these dear friends a total of five times in all the years following that divine appointment, but they left an indelible mark on my life. They soon left the pastorate to join a group called Barnabas International, which, like Women of the Harvest, is all about encouraging missionaries on the field. It is a perfect fit for the gifts and abilities of this precious couple. Maybe some of you even know them. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Ann first taught me about hospitality when we visited them in Texas on one of our long journeys from Guatemala to Ohio. I can still picture how she took me in her kitchen and swung wide every cabinet and pantry, showing me the contents. If there was anything we needed or wanted, we could help ourselves. It was the most welcoming home I have ever visited.

Another time Bob and Ann made a special quick trip all the way to Oaxaca simply because they read between the lines in a personal letter I had written them, and they knew I was in desperate need of encouragement. I will never forget their sacrifice that provided a healing balm for my weary soul. Our hearts are bonded permanently simply because of their love and care.

Last Saturday I had the privilege again of walking to our local market to help Ann buy fresh produce. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was a privilege just to spend time with such a woman of God. I am smiling just typing this up. It sounds almost silly to say how much I admire and adore this dear friend.

A few months back, I think some people misunderstood a comment a reader left on this blog admitting she had a “crush” on me. I was not in the least confused by her remark. I know exactly what she meant. I was, however, honored, assuming she meant the same kind of affection I have for my friend Ann.

IRL* Hoping to pave the way for other weary women just like Ann has for me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Escape Artist

It was our final Sunday in the States many summers ago. Dropping off the toddler in the nursery, I noticed one of the volunteers was a woman just like me, a tired mother with seven children still at home. I was thanking her for her dedication, and added that working in the nursery was about the last place I would prefer to be that morning. I was looking forward to one last good sermon in English before returning to Mexico. Her words are etched in my memory after all these years:

“But you would if God asked you to, right?”

As I walked away, I had to face the unwillingness in my heart. I whispered to myself, “No, maybe not even then,” wondering if I would have even hear God’s voice if he asked me to volunteer for Sunday school that morning. I was so intent on worshiping in English.

Dropping off the next child for class, I found the teacher all in a panic because she had already taught Sunday school during the earlier hour, and was really counting on going to the upcoming service. I nobly offered to stay until a replacement teacher could be found. The teacher was almost in tears as she explained that there was no substitute coming to fill in; she would simply have to stay and teach the class again.

I began to argue with the Holy Spirit, begging for the blessing of just one more live sermon in English, but I heard words coming from my mouth about how it would be a privilege to teach her class that morning. It was one of the most fun impromptu lessons I ever taught. Preschoolers are so easy to teach, especially when God Himself puts the ideas in my head.

This story came to mind because again I find myself in a situation where surely God could find other people more willing and capable of filling a need, but for reasons beyond my understanding, his hand is on me, compelling me to do the right thing. Everything fleshly in me (insecurity, selfishness, pride, etc.) begs me to say no, but again I hear the words come out of my mouth: “It would be a privilege to teach this class.”

This class is a Bible study in our local church. This will be only my second time to ever lead a class in Spanish. I know, after all these years, right? It’s shameful how I have avoided all such entanglements with the Mexican church. The time has come, and I am actually looking forward to this new challenge. Friday afternoon is our first lesson. If you think of me then, I’d appreciate some prayer.

Someone’s got to do it…. Why not me?

IRL* Over my head and way beyond my comfort zone, but right where I need to be.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A-Z Things I Took for Granted

They say that misery loves company. While I don’t want to turn this into a gripe-fest, I thought you might enjoy participating in a recent discussion I had with some of my online colleagues. In some warped way, as my friend Latte Mom says, it is always encouraging to be reminded that we are not the only ones….

First, I have to tell you a funny on myself. The title of our discussion was: “I don’t take “that” for granted any more.” Here’s what my initial response was before I started reading about washing machines and things like “that.” I am still just blushing that I actually thought that “that” was, well, “that” is generally what I call, um, in my prudish way, I say "THAT" when I don't want to say... Oh, never mind.

My head is in the gutter. (*see below to join me)

Here is the compiled list of serious answers people submitted. Feel free to add to the list in the comment section.

A = availability of grocery items
B = bridges (here we drive through rivers)
C = chicken packaged nicely with no evidence that this was once a breathing, pecking, feathered, living thing
D= death not displayed for my children in newspapers and on the side of the road
E = exercise in air-conditioned house or outdoors without being stared at
F = fuel at the gas station
G = grains and flour that aren’t bug-infested
H = hot water any time I want it
I = Internet working reliably
J = just being able to drive where people respect the laws and speed limits
K = keeping the house presentable with no sand, dirt, and dust after cleaning
L = laundry without hanging, ironing, etc.
M = menu items I order at the restaurant actually being available
N = neighbors that don’t have loud music blaring all night
O = oven and stove not shutting off when the gas runs out unexpectedly
P = power
Q = quality for a price (here you pay more but it may not be better quality)
R = restaurants open before 7:00 P.M.
S = seatbelts and other safety measures
T = telephone service everywhere
U = urgent care help, ICU, emergency room facilities
V = vegetables and fruits that don’t require soaking and scrubbing
W = water
X = expiration dates being accurate and expectation that people will stand in line
Y = yucky stuff removed from the nicely packaged, already dead, meat
Z = zoos and other safe, fun places to take the kids to play

IRL* “THAT” is what you can't take for granted on furloughs when every bed in America is super squeaky and behind thin walls.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Of Leaves and Leaving

Autumn is in the air. Or is it? For many of us, autumn is just a tricky spelling word we must teach our children, totally apart from any physical colors, sounds, or smells from our own childhoods.

Personally I miss that feeling of crunching through the leaves and the cooler air that smells of bonfires. Every year I reminisce, and then go back to life in perpetual springtime. We only have two seasons here: wet and dry. I love when the bougainvillea and jacaranda provide a bit of color, but it’s still not the same.

What do you do to celebrate the changing of a season that doesn’t exist? Do you drape your house with fake fall leaves like I do around Thanksgiving time? (This week for Canadians, next month for Americans) Do you put hot cider on the stove to make your house smell autumny? I would mention baking pumpkin bread, but I’ve learned that the very suggestion of canned pumpkin can make some women who can’t get it, weep.

The one thing we can do in the autumn is to look back and reminisce. I’ve spent the last week doing nothing more than to revamp my old blog full of personal stories, and to start up a new ministry blog. That has been an interesting project in itself.

Some of you may prefer to look ahead during the dreary days of fall. This brings up a question I have been mulling over for several weeks since it came up on the Sonlight international forum. My friend Kris wrote:

You know that old saying...

"Send Me, Send Me"...

we hear about it all the time, back home, everywhere.

Where's the saying "Go back, Go back"...

how come there is never any talk of that?

Is there such thing as a graceful exit strategy? Just curious.

Several readers wrote very insightful remarks, but I thought I would open it up to a wider audience. Having never done it, I’m not the one who can say. We just take it a day at a time, a year at a time, and trust God to speak clearly if He wants to redirect our steps. That sounds so overly simplistic.

I agree with one of my cyber-friends who said she wants to be as intentional about leaving as she was about going to the mission field in the first place. I don’t want to stay until one day I go berserk and miss the grandchildren (again with the imaginary grandchildren of the future), and just pack up and go home to be closer to them. Others have been forced to leave the mission field on short notice, and there was nothing graceful about their “exit” for sure.

Is there such a thing as a graceful exit strategy?

IRL* we know what clumsy looks about graceful or even grace-filled?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Until Last Week

Today is my dad’s birthday. It’s been eight years this week since he died unexpectedly, and I still miss him. I’ll never forget those tears of anguish when I heard the news of his death, how I cried inconsolably for hours. I haven’t cried that hard since then, until last week.

For all these years I have often lamented that I have no ministry outside the home. However one thing I take very seriously is prayer, which I can do from home. I love hosting short-term teams partly because I am more actively involved in the ministry, but mostly because I know I can recruit a few more prayer partners.

There is one unreached people group not far from where we live that has been on my prayer list for many years. I remember recruiting a prayer team back in 1999 and asking them specifically to target this group for prayer, that God would open the doors for ministry to the Mixe of Tlahuitoltepec.

That’s a hard name to pronounce, let alone remember, and I often wondered if people were still praying for Tlahui. I sent an email prayer update in September, rejoicing that we have finally found someone (an unbeliever) to help us record the Mixe New Testament for the non-literate people of Tlahui.

Tuesday, September 28, I awoke after a fitful night of attempted sleep, having had nightmares about villages being washed away by the non-stop rain of the prior few days and weeks. Later in the morning, my husband showed me the Internet news about a tragic mudslide that had washed at least 100 homes down the mountain in Tlahuitoltepec.

How can that be? After all my years of prayer, to think of 1000 souls (as the paper predicted) facing eternity without knowing the Lord, I just bawled. My family didn’t know what to think, but I would not be consoled. I wanted so badly to go back to bed and wake up to discover it was all a bad dream. Like the day my dad died.

Instead I sent an urgent email prayer request, which soon got forwarded all over the globe, especially once I posted it on my Facebook page. We even got a call from Mission Network News, who interviewed my husband and broadcast the prayer needs for Tlahui across Christian radio stations in the U.S.

Later in the evening we read updated news reporting that it had been a mistake. Only 11 lives were lost, not 500-1000. What a crazy thing! Only God could orchestrate the events, creating such media hype, to bring attention to one unreached people group in Oaxaca, Mexico.

I’m humbled, amazed, and very grateful for the hand of God preventing the destruction of people just as undeserving of His mercy as I am.

IRL* Tears for a loved one preceding me to heaven are very different than bitter tears for people who die without hope.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jamie Hush

During my week in Colorado, I had the privilege of representing you, the readers of WOTH online publications, by saying a few words at the Women of the Harvest Celebration Brunch. It was great to meet with donors who help fund these publications and the Retreats. I trust I expressed appreciation on behalf of all who enjoy the WOTH onlineMagazine, the WOTH Writer’s blog, Coffeegirl, the Weekly Word, and even this IRL blog.

The theme of the celebration was “Value Her Voice.” Check out the video in the side bar with a gripping story that was shared at the brunch. (Feel free to share it with friends who might be interested in sponsoring someone to attend the Retreat in India next month.)

It was a bit daunting to have to stand up and speak after this heart-felt testimony from our sister in India. Secretly, though, as I was watching her interview and listening to another woman who was speaking via Skype, I was thankful to be there in person so my face wouldn't be plastered across a BIG ol’ projection screen. Then as I was introduced, my new friend and visionary for this blog, our dear editor, Cindy, began a series of Photoshopped images of me that she created to liven up my sometimes otherwise “blah” posts. So much for not having my big face up on the screen my face on the big screen!

Well, I recovered my questionable poise and started my talk with a story of my own journey to having my voice valued. The audience laughed when I shared the family joke that until the age of six I honestly believed my name was “Jamie Hush!”

Later on I admitted to Cindy the less funny reality behind that joke, how we have a true enemy who wants nothing more than to shut us up. He knows that he is defeated by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony. Somewhere along the way, we all get discouraged trying to share a story that no one seems to want to hear.

Granted, when I was younger I gabbed non-discriminately, and I needed to learn to listen. But then somehow I took people’s admonishment to be quiet as a personal wound to my heart. John Eldredge and other authors have noted that Satan can do nothing to stamp out the glory of God, so instead he attacks us in the unique ways that we reflect God’s glory.

For me it is the gift of story telling and communication, which even as I admit this, triggers an irrational dose of shame. That’s my lifelong battle.

Can you think of areas like that in your own life, where you especially shine with God’s glory, only to have it squelched? I’d love to hear your stories about that.
IRL* Thankful for my new friends at WOTH who really do value my voice (our collective voice!) and help me (us) to shine shamelessly.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Between Honky-tonk and Steinway

I’m not sure if you would consider me a has-been or a mighta-been, but piano playing used to be a central focus of my life. Nowadays I barely even listen to music. Come to think of it, there is no excuse with all the fabulous technology allowing me to make a play-list with symphonies and worship songs…if I had an iPod. Which I don’t. Gone are the days when we had to lug huge recording collections to the mission field.

For the first-however-many-years on the field, I grieved my loss of music, but counted it a worthy sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Then my parents bought me an electronic piano, which got hauled all over Guatemala and then up to Mexico. Later I graduated to a real piano. I enjoy playing piano sporadically, but I’ve had to endure imperfectly tuned pianos, which is the norm down here. (Sigh.)

Last week in Colorado was an interesting contrast in music standards.

My daughter and I entertained ourselves by playing old pianos along Denver’s 16th Street Mall. All were painted in fun designs, but they were badly out of tune. Not knowing any ragtime pieces by memory, I banged out “Malaguena” (my signature piece back in high school Spanish Club days). A random tourist even videotaped my “performance.” So you never know, someday maybe I’ll become a YouTube sensation.

On Sunday I had an opportunity to play the offertory for a church in Buena Vista, overlooking the Rockies. The view was amazing with aspen trees in full color, but the piano was even more beautiful (if that’s possible). After years of honky-tonk sounding instruments, it was a rare privilege to play a well-tuned Kawai baby grand. Anything I played would have sounded lovely. I wasn’t self-conscious in the least, even though I had every reason to be.

Instead I just played from the heart.

Just as the off-key pianos on the mission field or on 16th Street can’t compare to a Steinway grand, I figure the most awesome symphony on earth cannot compare to the glorious music awaiting us in heaven. Whether I’m a has-been or a coulda-been, one thing is for certain: I “will be” spending eternity making heavenly music for my Savior.

IRL* Somewhere between honky-tonk and Steinway Grand, I am finding the notes of contentment again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

When It Rains...

Life comes in waves. A couple of weeks ago I was complaining about being bored. No sooner had I published that than life got interesting in a hurry. Unexpected guests showed up for meals several days straight, followed by two weeks of some out-of-towners needing breakfast, lunch and dinner. My dear husband, dh*/Methuselah*/Jim helped with breakfast each morning with a typical Mexican breakfast they would like, so I can’t complain, but it did make the pace pick up around here.

Then circumstances forced us to do the daily “Laundry Line Dance. “ Living in a desert, we come to expect sunshine almost daily, 365 days a year. Even during rainy season we can generally manage without clothes dryer, hanging clothes in the mornings and removing them in the afternoon before the rain. Not the last few weeks, though. Several hurricanes and tropical storms have sent torrential rains even to this high desert.

Oh, and then the water pump died. That made for an interesting day. And wouldn’t you know it that was the very day the sun came out? Finally I could have dried the clothes if only I could have washed. My dh* came to the rescue once again, and brought a new pump back from a trip to the city. The next sunny morning, he was off to the city for yet another ministry errand while I was gleefully washing clothes, and then I realized something was terribly wrong.

Water was pouring – and I mean pouring! –off the roof. My dear daughter [dd*] and I looked at each other dumb-founded. This had happened many times through the years, but always one of the boys took care of it, shimmying up the tree to the roof to jiggle the floater that is supposed to indicate the tanks are full. Neither dd* nor I knew how to get on the roof since the one essential branch had broken. The gardener next door saw our dilemma, and brought a ladder over to solve the problem for us. Thank you, Lord.

Finally we settled back into home schooling, taking a break to hang the laundry when the rinse cycle completed itself. Within an hour, it started to rain. No sooner had the laundry been brought inside, it stopped. The sun came out, and we had to hang it all again (this time with the help of a local girl who helps me a few hours several times a week). It was just one of those days. We’ve all had them.

Thursday was another of those days, with a near-impossible trip to the orthodontist amid another deluge, traffic, roadblocks, detours, and potholes. On our arrival home, the road was under water, and we sloshed through deep mud, slid around a bit, and well, you get the idea. Two of my friends’ houses were ankle-deep in water, so I really can’t complain.

IRL* This week I have an escape. I am in Colorado, meeting our WOTH editor. This excitement is more to my liking.

[*see sidebar, Jamie Jo Speak]

Wait for it...

good morning, IRL people...come back in a couple of hours, and I promise, Jamie will be showing up in a whole new way!!!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Memoirs of a Bad Mother

On my favorite home school support forum (provided by Sonlight Curriculum – see the side bar for more information about SL), someone on the international forum recently asked us veteran moms how old our children were when we allowed them to leave the house by themselves.

It never occurred to me what a horribly negligent mother I was until I started typing my answer to this e-maginary friend.

The truth is that I let my oldest two boys walk to the corner to buy fresh tortillas when they were about three and four years old. Usually I went with them, but if little brother needed attention just then and I didn’t want to carry him, I would send the boys on their own. What was I thinking?

Oldest children are born half-grown-up, just because moms like me are so clueless and trusting. I am so thankful God protected them. Even with my seventh, I used to let her walk a beaten path through the desert to a friend’s house (the distance of about two city blocks) when she was only about eight years old.

Nowadays things are different. Life isn’t quite so safe in these parts any more. I had to laugh at myself when I fretted over the possibility of our single houseguest having to take a city bus by herself, when I had let my own daughter take a bus to the dentist in the city with only a little brother for a bodyguard back when she was 15. Now I am concerned about a 23-year-old?

Then there was the time I sent my 17-year-old daughter on a plane by herself to the Philippines to help out a family for seven months. What was I thinking? I never considered there could be a glitch in the scheduling, requiring her to spend one night alone in a hotel in Tokyo, that’s for sure.

I guess the bottom line is that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone my method of child-rearing. Maybe it helped the older four adjust to college in the U.S. and Canada, having been so independent for so long. But still, looking back at all the what-if’s gives me the shivers.

Our houseguest has moved into a more permanent housing situation with a roommate now, and I am trying not to smother her with my motherly counsel, but still I can’t help praying for her safety each day as she travels to the school where she teaches and back.

I hope my college kids have a mama nearby, worrying over their comings and goings. I’m thankful for ddils watching over my oldest two sons, who survived their childhoods with little help from their negligent mother. At the same time I am trying not to restrict my younger three kids beyond what is healthy, even in these uncertain times.

Last week’s brief funk sent me back to the Word. This week’s worries are sending me back to my knees. Both are good places to be.

IRL* Discovering my apparent developmental delay in the area of motherly instincts and child preservation.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

My Old Restless Companion

In the early years our visas only lasted six months at a stretch. We made the dreaded border runs twice a year to renew them. The absurd thing is I actually enjoyed those journeys, especially the trips to Texas, which allowed me a visit to Stuff-Mart* to restock on things we needed and frivolous items we simply preferred.

On our last official “border run,” we were bummed to only receive sixty days instead of the usual six months on our visas. No way could we pack up however-many-kids-we-had-at-the-time and run back to the Rio Grande every eight weeks, even if the children managed to outgrow their clothes that fast! We finally switched over to more permanent resident status.

That’s when I noticed that my coping mechanisms seemed to only last about five months; after that, I became antsy and ready to plan a trip of some sort.

In fact, I would hit a downright slump twice a year right on schedule. I would wake up in a funk with no logical explanation. Once I figured it out, I just laughed over it, and then went on with living cross-culturally with no escape in sight.

Today, things are different once again. The three remaining children at home are Mexican-born, and therefore need no visas. That’s nice. I’ve learned to cope with Mexican living, the good with the bad, year-round. More or less. Some days I still get overwhelmed with the noise and stench interesting smells.

I was doing fine, pondering our lovely summer in the States—a time of blissful invisibility while some wounds healed over. I was enjoying our first week of home schooling, hosting a young teacher while she looks for housing, and honestly feeling content. Then one morning I woke up with my old restless companion, and I felt a funk coming on. This is way too soon to start feeling that again.

All I can say is that life has become too routine, too predictable. My old norm (especially when there were seven children living at home) was high-stress, crazy, and anything BUT predictable. I had no time to even think about contentment or lack of it. Now I find myself on auto pilot. Life seems too easy somehow. I’m not sure I like it this way.

How ungrateful can I be? God has blessed me with every good and perfect gift, and I am momentarily discontented. After what I said (and thought) last week in my blog post about “those” kinds of missionaries, I can honestly see the potential to become a snarky, bored missionary if I’m not careful. Yikes. Pardon me while I run back to the true Source of all contentment.

IRL*Striving to restore my old sense of adventure, minus my old restless companion.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hall of Shame

Now that we have partially explored the idea of a "Missionary Hall of Fame," let’s very carefully and humbly consider the opposite. Without naming names or being too specific, let’s simply describe those we would mentally nominate for the "Missionary Hall of Shame."

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? This one is tricky, because of course we should all look at our own shortcomings first. For me with my weird grasp of time and inability to remain entirely in the present (remember the post on time travel?), I not only face my current sins, (thankfully my past sins are washed away!), but also my potential sins in the future. Hopefully y’all will also find it fun and even beneficial to consider the missionary you don’t want to become.

I’ll start us off by nominating one I must be oh-so-careful not to resemble. Let’s call her Miss You-Think-You-Have-It-Bad. Rather than commiserating with my suffering and offering a word of wise counsel from Scripture or from her own experience, she would respond with a predictable one-upper. “You think you have it bad?! Well let me tell you how it was when we real missionaries were starting out forty years ago….” Blah, blah, blah.

Now that I have returned to Mexico, celebrating the beginning of our 25th year of being overseas, I want to follow Christ and become more like Him so that those following me will have a good example. I seriously don’t want to become a joke like Miss You-Think-You-Have-It-Bad or worse – like Penelope on the hilarious Saturday Night Live skit I saw this week on Facebook.

IRL* Strongly preferring to become like the Hall of Famers I admire, and examining my heart for bad habits that might land me in the Hall of Shame.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Women Who Defy...

Jamie Jo is on her way back to Mexico this week. In order to give her a break, this week's content is provided by the sole respondent (thanks, Karin!) to her request last week to submit their nomination for a woman working cross-culturally that defied the missionary stereotype. Thank you, Diane, for nominating Lil in the comment section of last week's blog--she sounded like an amazing woman!

Here's Karin's nominee:

"Dear Lady"

Our years living in the village in Central Asia were not a beautifying experience for me physically. The water was scarce and hard, the weather had no grace. Summers were baking hot and winters freezing cold with very little heating. Life was primitive with not many body products for sale to smooth rough skin and quench dry brittle hair. If you were willing to haul some beauty products in your suitcase from abroad it could come...if you had the weight allowance.
I still smile at my interesting observation. When we ladies living and working there would come back from our trips from our home countries we would have the newest haircuts, cute clothes and shoes. We even put make-up on daily. Then as time passed, our beauty routines would slowly fade. The hairstyles would become a daily ponytail, the make-up lessened and the clothes would fade. It was the more natural look—at times even leaning towards looking somewhat neglected.

One day a dear lady came to our town. She gathered the women together for a time of visiting and sharing. I vividly remember us sitting in a circle around the typical low table with flat mattresses on the floor with green tea being served in round Chinese printed cups on a brightly printed plastic tablecloth.

She shared from her heart about her personal experiences and difficulties. Then she hit our hearts full on with these words; "In twenty years time you ladies are not going to be the beauties in the world. Your skin is going to be telling a story of many hot summers and cold winters. You would have probably suffered diseases and hardships. Life would have taken its toll on your age." We did not need to hear much more than this. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. The lump in my throat testified to the truth of what she was saying, as I looked across the table, I did not see one person whose eyes were not full of tears. Life felt harsh, I did feel run down and the mirror did not lie. Yes, when last did I have a good haircut?

She continued: ”But God says you are going to be beautiful to Him in your hearts and souls. You would have walked a life of suffering and faith. You would have endured much. You would be strong in Him. You would be the spiritual giants of this world.” Some of us were wailing now. We were touched to the core. What a beautiful opportunity we had to share our hearts and longings that day to understand one another's needs. We prayed together and were comforted by the beautiful truth of this message.

She then played this song by a group called Delirious:

"FIND ME IN THE RIVER...find me in the river find me on my knees. I've walked against the water now I'm waiting if you please. We've long to see the roses but never felt the thorns and bought our pretty crowns but never paid the price.

Find me in the river; find me on my knees with my soul laid bare. Even though you are gone and I'm cracked and dry...

Find me in the river...I'm waiting here.

We didn't count on suffering we didn't count on pain but if the blessing is in the valley then in the river I will wait."

...see sidebar to click on the YouTube screen to hear it.

Looking back, now almost twelve years ago, I fondly but thoughtfully carry this message in my heart. I do think the weather and difficulties of life have taken its toll on my age and physique. But I do hope that one day I can look into the mirror of my heart and see myself as He sees me. It is true: physical beauty fades with time. But I do believe what lasts are those beauties in our hearts: the choice we make to forgive, to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to do without some things so someone else can have, giving to others from ourselves more than what we hoped or planned.

These things then would be the true jewels in our hearts.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


“They laugh alike, they walk alike, at times they even talk alike.
You can lose your mind!”

This silly song has been running through my head for days. If you were born before 1970, you might recognize it from watching reruns of the black and white TV series called “The Patty Duke Show” about two identical cousins. Yeah, like that is even possible, right?

What triggered this endless tune was a comment I saw on the WOTH Writer’s Blog where one of the readers coined the term “Missionaryesque” in her comment. She inspired a topic that could be a future book title: Missionary Stereotypes and the Women Who Defy Them.

When I first landed in Guatemala in August 1986, my mental image of a true missionary was pretty much everything I wasn’t. She was quiet, even bordering on mousey, very subservient and a bit plain, with no trace of make-up or styled hair. I also had vivid impressions of the taboos—things she would never think, say, or do. Where exactly these ideas came from, I have no idea, but it didn’t take me 24 years to figure out that a “typical” missionary is as fictional as identical cousins.

One of the greatest blessings of attending the WOTH Furlough Retreat last summer was getting to meet 99 unique women with diverse talents and personalities. If you look at the photo from my very first IRL blog, you can see that each one was a true beauty from the inside out. Some were enduring epic battles, and still managed to glow as we worshiped God together. I noticed that same quality at the infamous women’s retreat I helped organized this past spring. A group the world might not glance twice at, but who possess a deep inexplicable beauty and charm.

What I propose this week is a “Women Who Defy” Hall of Fame.

I want you to nominate a woman missionary and tell us how she has touched your life, how she is different from any other “woman of the harvest,” and how she does and says things that defy your earlier impressions of how a missionary should act. (For security reasons you might not want to include their full name or country of service.)

As I’m cleaning house, packing bags, saying goodbye to my two college kids again, and then returning to Mexico on the 16th, I look forward to taking a break from the blog and reading your nominations. Please submit them to and we’ll start posting them next week. I’m counting on you to provide the content for next week…so please defy the stereotype and contribute!

IRL* Debunking Missionaryesqueness

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Malibu Jamie

Since the day I arrived in California, I’ve been getting more and more tan. This is very puzzling, considering I haven’t even been trying. Back when vanity had full reign in my life (even though I was young, thin, and cute), I always regretted my pale red-head-type complexion. Every now and then I would attempt the boring art of sunbathing, which consistently resulted in sun burning, peeling, and freckled skin.

In Mexico I cautiously avoid the sun at peak hours, and still occasionally burn if I hang too much laundry too late in the morning. So you can see why it surprised me to inexplicably turn brown by merely going for a late afternoon or early morning swim.

It became almost a joke, as I would ponder what on earth had caused this strange phenomenon. I even suggested to my daughter that maybe Californians spray something in the atmosphere to force the “Malibu Barbie” effect on unsuspecting newcomers so we can blend in. She would humor me, probably rolling her eyes behind my back, but could offer no alternate explanation.

Clearly I was growing darker by the day.

While in Wisconsin for the wedding (see photo in sidebar), a casual chat with my 1st ddil* revealed the source of my tan. As I was sharing with her some of my latest cheap natural skin care tricks, I mentioned using coconut oil in place of antiperspirant (it really works!) and body creams for my desert dry skin. That’s when she added that her mom uses coconut oil for tanning. Ding-ding-ding! Light bulbs flipped on like in the cartoons.

Mystery solved. The irony is that I never could tan when I desperately wanted one, but once I stopped caring about such vain trivialities, voila! Instant California-bronzed arms and legs. It also explains why the only place I have burned is on my back, where I can’t reach with the coconut oil.

Here’s another mystery, as yet unsolved. Maybe you can help me with this one. Why is it that we all meticulously study photos to find our own flaws exposed, so focused that we honestly don’t notice other people’s bad hair, double chins, flabby arms, or whatever… and yet when we read certain books and hear convicting sermons, we quickly remember others’ imperfections (sins) and not our own?

Admit it. How many times have you read a book only to think, “My coworker So-and-So should read this.”?

I guess I am coming full cycle. Caring too much what others think, to not caring at all what others think, to finally caring only as it might help me in my quest to become Christ-like.

IRL* Wondering what books my husband and friends wish I would read…

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

When God Says...

Another helpful and fun book for your Amazon wish list is Diving Off the Pedestal, by one of my closest friends and coworkers, Lila Joy Quezada. She’s another down-to-earth, very genuine person you will appreciate. In her book, Lila tells the story of how her family came to join us nine years ago as a result of a timely (God-orchestrated) email from Jim and me.

The rest of the story (shortened blog version) is that we had been discussing with the president of our sending organization our desperate need for more workers on the field. Sadly, even if we recruited someone that very day, I told him, it would take at least a year and a half for anyone to go through interviews, orientation, support-raising, packing, language learning, and house-hunting before finally beginning to work with us. Surely God saw this crisis well ahead of time and had already prepared someone in advance. Right?

Within 24 hours of this discussion, we received their prayer letter, asking people to pray for direction for them. After 12 years of pastoring a Hispanic church in Oregon, they felt it was time to return to Latin America. Since we already knew them from our early days in Guatemala, of course we jumped at the possibilities, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Today is a different story.

Since, once upon a time, God provided a coworker for my husband, a dear friend for me, and many companions for all of my children among the now 8 Quezada kids, I was ever so hopeful that God would work a similar miracle and bring the “Hayes Zoo” (one of our faithful WOTH readers) and family to work with us. They, too, already spoke Spanish and were already working in Latin America. They also had children who were becoming good friends with my youngest two. It all seemed so perfect…until we got their email indicating it’s just not going to happen. After a few months of unsuccessfully trying to raise support, the door is closed tight. They are settling back in the U.S. instead.

Now we are back in the position of praying for a younger couple like the Hayes, who might catch the vision for reaching unreached non-literate people groups in southern Mexico. While personally disappointed, my heart really goes out to the Hayes family back in limbo, readjusting to life in America. Their question is “How do you respond when God says ‘No’ to something you think is just perfect?”

IRL*How would you answer them?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Used To Be My Least Favorite Question

A few weeks ago, we discussed my second least favorite question, “Where do you live?” Today I will confess what used to be my least favorite question: “When are you due?”

Just before we left California, I met one of my neighbors at the mailboxes. She was shocked after asking “the question” to discover that, in fact, I am not pregnant. After all these years, I finally came up with a response to put people at ease. I told her that I really need another major surgery to repair this deformity, but I’m not willing to risk my life when it’s more fun to watch people squirm after blurting out the question.

Of all the strangers who have innocently inquired about my baby-that-isn’t, this woman had the nicest comeback. Without a blush or apology (the usual reaction), she said, “I just noticed how you are so happy and glowing, that I assumed you had been blessed with a late life surprise, and I wanted to rejoice with you.”

In case you ever make the mistake of asking a non-expectant woman this horrible question, please concoct a similarly gracious reply.

What gives me hope is that on a good day, people respond to the evident beauty of Christ reflected in my life, wrinkles and poochy stomach and all. Little by little, I am gaining victory over my sin and flesh, and learning to apply the power of the gospel even in the mundane struggles of life. The fact that I was not embarrassed helped the mailbox lady to be at ease after her “bloop.” She wasn’t even apologetic. I love that.

Rejoicing over this blow to my usual sin of vanity, it seemed a contradiction to then attend a formal social gathering where appropriate MOG* (see sidebar) attire required me to squeeze into that torture contraption known as “shapewear.” Ugh. Even then the dress did not fit properly.

My mom always says, “You can’t have looks and comfort.” In this case I achieved neither, and I have serious regrets. I enjoyed watching my husband and kids enjoy themselves and each other, but I was too physically miserable to enter into the fray at the reception. For that I am sorry.

There, I said it. Keeping it real. The dress will not be worn in Mexico or anywhere else. I’m dumping it at Goodwill this week. Next time I will wear a tent if necessary, just so I can breathe and be myself. By then, maybe I will obviously be old enough to avoid “the question.”

From my summer reading program, I recommend these for your Amazon wish list:

IRL* Learning the hard way that “Why aren’t you dancing?” is worse than “When are you due?”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bittersweet Bundt

Your heart-felt stories about the “WORST” things in missionary life leave me humbled. Each one is an illustration of our common bond in suffering for the sake of the gospel. Thank you for sharing your comments.

At times I hesitate to share from my heart, knowing how trite and silly it might sound to those who are in a truly dark valley battling for your very life and soul. However, in the spirit of “keeping it real,” I want to add a word about my current struggle.

This week finds me in Wisconsin celebrating the marriage of my firstborn, Chris (the cute one in the tub at Jungle Camp), and his bride. This is my second time as MOG* (Mother of the Groom), first in Canada, and now in the U.S. Since none of the same people will be attending, I have recycled (shortened) the same dress I wore the first time. Maybe my third son will choose a Mexican wedding, allowing me to wear the same dress yet again.

Weddings for me are bittersweet. I remember attending the wedding of a pastor’s daughter in Ohio, and being impressed that most everyone there knew the bride so well. Several stood at the podium and gave quick testimonies of how they had watched her grow into such a lovely young woman.

For Chris, it will be a different story. Only his immediate family and a very select few friends will be able to attend. It was the same when my son Tim got married. I find this to be a tragic side effect of living overseas. It’s not THE worst, but it’s on my list. There are no Sunday school teachers, Boy Scout leaders, or youth pastors who have known and loved my children. Those who share memories of Christopher’s childhood are nowhere close to Wisconsin.

In addition to this, I grieve over the fact that I haven’t been able to share special occasions with my nieces and nephews. I have missed every single graduation and wedding so far. They don’t know me very well, and I don’t know them as well as I’d like either.

My younger children cannot even name all their first cousins, some of whom they have never met. I find this to be tragic, too. After growing up with two parents who were only children (thus not a single cousin, aunt, or uncle), I always thought it would be cool to have a big extended family close by like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Instead I feel like the MOG in that movie, an obvious outsider, contributing a bundt cake, trying to fit in and enjoy my son’s new family.

Once again, in light of eternity, this is a small sacrifice. At least all seven of my children will be together this week, and one of my sisters will be there with her husband. For that, I am grateful. It will be good.

IRL* Viva La Familia~I'm celebrating my son's wedding!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is 2DAY Gr8 4 U?

My big accomplishment for June was learning to send text messages. Ever the frugal missionary, I love sending a quick text for half the cost of a one-minute call. My kids have laughed at my early attempts to use this technology. I’ve finally figured out how to punctuate, but my spelling is often intrstng. It took me a while to discover why the word “can” always came out “2n” and “will” looked like “wik.” For a while I was convinced my phone was faulty. Now I love it.

For less than a nickel, I sent a text to my college daughter to pick up milk on her way home from class one day. It was cheaper than driving a separate car to the closest store. On a side note, I do miss the corner store (tienda) back home. As slowly as I thumb type, I might have walked there and back in the same time, but I digress (and exaggerate).

All this instant communication is in sharp contrast with the total lack of contact with my husband the past few weeks. He’s been in Mexico hosting short-term teams from the States. Last Wednesday I received a couple of emails from the church whose youth team was in Oaxaca, concerned about the 6.2 earthquake not far from the ministry site.

Since they were working in a secluded area lacking cell phone service and Internet access, I didn’t expect to hear back from my husband until later in the week. I’m used to that, but there wasn’t much I could do to reassure the parents back home. I was convinced the group was fine. (They were.) I later learned they had slept through the shaking; but they did not, however, miss out on the opportunity to update their Facebook status with such sensational news reports.

This incident got me thinking about the new generation of missionaries arriving on the field, both young and old. It must be difficult to adjust to the lack of reliable instant communication they are used to 24/7. What the old-timers consider a tremendous blessing, having even sporadic Internet and cell phone coverage, the new folks must perceive as a challenge.

Someone recently asked what the WORST things are about being a missionary--she wanted the nitty-gritty. The inside scoop. Before I share my response, I want to pose the question to you.

Maybe for you it is the communication issue. Maybe not.

I suspect the answers will vary depending on how long you have been on the field, so please include this in your comment.

First, I want to hear from you. Next week, I’ll answer the question more fully from my viewpoint as a (reluctant) old-timer.

IRL*Now I’m tri-lingual.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Amazon Question

“Where do you live?” is my second least favorite question. This summer alone, I can’t count how many times I’ve pulled out a cheat sheet with my temporary address and cell phone number. To get groceries at the lowest prices, you need a special card, but to get the little card you have to give your address and phone number.

Today’s task is memorizing our summer address and teaching it to the children. One trip to the U.S., I failed to do this, resulting in two lost teenagers being hauled into the police station. The line of questioning went like this: Where do you live? We don’t know. (Yeah, right.) Where are you from? Mexico. (Yeah, right.) Where were you born? Guatemala. (Yeah, right.) What is your phone number? We don’t have a phone. (Yeah, right.) And so forth.

Another embarrassing incident happened on a summer mini-furlough while adding 15,000 miles to our family van. We were visiting a nice church, where we already stood out because of the size of our family, plus the fact that my kids were not wearing proper “Sunday shoes.” To make matters worse, the Sunday school teacher thought that we were homeless street people because my toddler didn’t know where we lived. When the teacher tried to rephrase the question “Where do you live?” by asking, “Where do you sleep?” - my little one innocently answered, “In the van!”

Each time a child fills out college applications, we get stumped with the second question: Address? Should we put the Mexico address, thus establishing that our child is a TCK (third culture kid)? No, because then any possible acceptance letter might get lost in the mail. If we use a stateside address, which one would be the most logical one to use? Such a simple question yet it has no obvious answer.

You laugh, but how about you? How many options are currently in your Amazon address book? Unless you regularly tidy up and delete unused addresses, you likely have at least a dozen addresses where you have had things shipped. A mission house here and there, a short-term mission team leader’s house, a supporting church, your home office, your parents’ house, etc.

Am I right?

Lastly, what about going in and out of your host country? The immigration papers require an address where you will be staying. (We never “stay” anywhere!) This recent trip I was corrected for putting my “country of residence” as the USA. I was told I should have put Mexico. In the past it was the reverse. As long as we keep a permanent US address, I was told to put our residence as the US, not Mexico. Whatever.

With all this confusion, I can honestly say I am very glad to know where my true citizenship lies. No question about that. My PERMANENT residence is in the arms of a loving, gracious, and generous Savior. Just like the apartment we left last week, I’m only passing through this old dirty world on my way to someplace much bigger and better. Heaven dominates my thoughts these days.

IRL* Today: No idea where I am. Tomorrow: not a clue. Forever: ;)

P.S. Someday I'll tell you what my least favorite question is.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Roof Over My Head

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where God didn’t seem to “come through” the way you expected Him to? That’s where I’ve been. Coming to California this summer has proven to be a huge leap of faith. Not that I ever want to put the Creator of the universe in a box, but somehow I tend to expect Him to do certain things just because that’s the way I’ve seen Him work in the past.

In the early years on the field, we moved about once every eight months. For seven years. Do the math. It was enough to drive me over the edge. Then we felt called from Guatemala to move to Oaxaca, Mexico. God miraculously provided a house and the funds to purchase it. We’ve lived there for the past 16 years.

Back in 2002 it became apparent that we needed to take a real furlough and seek help for our youngest daughter who still was not speaking at age four. We sent an email prayer update explaining how we needed a place to live, hopefully someplace that would allow not only seven children, but also three dogs. (Don’t even ask.) Within 24 hours, God had amazingly provided the perfect house. The owner gave us a hugely subsidized rent, and it was affordable. Even the location was ideal.

This summer, again, we had to be stateside for the sake of our family. This time we felt compelled to come to California to be with our two college kids. This time, however, we found no affordable housing whatsoever. All we found was a three-bedroom apartment recently vacated by nine college men. It was fully furnished, largely from dumpster “donations” –and, well, not to sound ungrateful, it was three times more than we had ever paid for any other housing situation, and did I mention it needed a serious cleaning?

Anyway, I kept praying and wondering if there wasn’t surely another place out there that we had simply missed. I sent an email to one of the two friends I have made since we arrived here. Right away she wrote back about a possibility. With that one connection, we met a young couple preparing for the mission field who “just happened” to buy a house even though they can’t move in until August 18, coincidentally two days after our return flight to Mexico.

They had prayed about what to do with this house over the summer, joking, “Maybe God will send a missionary family to Simi Valley, who ‘just happen’ to need housing for two months.” They had dedicated their house to God and asked him to use it. Then they got an email from our mutual friend, and found out about us.

This week we moved to a 2-story house where we will pay exactly what we can afford. Bonus blessings include a barbecue grill, a crock-pot, popcorn maker, dishwasher, and anything we could possibly want or need, including a swimming pool and tennis court run by the Home Owners’ Association. The funny thing is I am not surprised. I am, however, thankful for the month in the apartment just so I can fully appreciate this glorious provision.

How about you? How have you seen God’s faithfulness this week? Or His mercy and His love? We’d all love to hear about it.

IRL*In my Father's house...all the time.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jungle Camp

On Saturday we got together for a swim and barbecue with some of our dearest buddies and co-sufferers of so-called “Jungle Camp” (missionary training experience)—our first meet-up in 24 years! We laughed over our ludicrous antics back when we were young and silly, rebelling over the rules of “camp.” We were only allowed one suitcase and one apple box apiece for luggage, and once in the camp we had no access to our cars or telephones. If we wanted to go to town, we had to hike there. No food could be brought back into the camp.

The story I remember best was the time a couple with no kids walked the five miles into town one Sunday and ordered pizza. Following the letter of the law, Methuselah* and several other people snuck out late that night, and met the pizza deliveryman just outside the gate. I was back at the cabin with a sleeping infant, anxiously anticipating my first bite of “real” comfort food. To my extreme disappointment, Jim returned with empty hands, shocked that I had expected a slice. “But that’s against the rules, honey.” WHAT?!

Another time our friends received a visitor who managed to sneak in a whole suitcase of contraband. Late one night we were invited over to their cabin for a sneak peak and snack. Nothing ever tasted as good as that forbidden Snickers bar. The Jenisons became friends for life at that moment. My heroes.

The last memory is the most preposterous of all. We got our hands slapped for audaciously helping each other on what was meant to be an “independent assignment.” We had backpacked most of the day along a dry riverbed to our campsite. With one piece of plastic and some rope, we were expected to build a makeshift shelter for the night. Then we were to build a campfire and cook dinner for ourselves.

Our “sin” was that the men worked together (a no-no) to build both families’ sleeping quarters while the wives nursed babies and pondered how to turn our rations into dinner without too much cooking involved. By the time we got our fires started, the other campers (minus small babies) had already finished eating their own meals, and we could all but taste the delicious smells wafting toward our camp. One couple kindly offered us their leftovers, but we were informed that this, too, was “against the rules.” With friends sharing our misadvantures, we could laugh instead of cry.

In all these years, I can’t remember a single incident on the field where we met a new missionary and thought, too bad they didn’t go through Jungle Camp and learn to work more independently. On the other hand, many times we have wished our friends and coworkers had been taught the art of partnership and collaboration

IRL*which camp are you in?

[*see Jamie-Jo Speak in sidebar]

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What's Your Favorite American Idol?

Let’s talk about idols, shall we? Living in the land of plenty (California), I find myself daily assaulted by my former favorite American idols. It’s true I am not living under the heavy weight of oppression like in Mexico, where the name of our town in Zapotec means “The Place of the Dead.” I’m enjoying a reprieve from that, but the opposite is equally dangerous.

Here in the shadow of Hollywood, the gods of safety, beauty, health, happiness, wealth, convenience and time management taunt me. No wonder people don’t push and shove to be the first to sign up to be foreign missionaries any more. I totally get it. They simply can’t bear the thought of sacrificing their “right” to have the American dream.

A missionary’s version of “American Idol” would look very different from Hollywood’s. Who would you nominate for the final contestants on your “show”? Which were the last ones to die in your own heart? Which ones cause you to struggle and stumble on the field? Which ones do you still think you have a right to keep?

Safety. Oh how I fussed fearfully over having to take my first-born child, a mere 4-month-old infant, on a dilapidated bus in Mexico during our “Jungle Camp” experience – WITHOUT A CARSEAT! That was only the beginning. Finally safety had to be crucified for the sake of the gospel. Now I snicker at America’s attempt at preventing ANY and EVERY possible accident, and suing someone when they fail.

Beauty. I should have saved that one for last, since honestly it’s not dead yet. Living in the state with the most cosmetic surgeries per capita (just a guess), let me say that a tummy tuck has never been so tempting.

Health. Having just come through a bout of lingering un-wellness, I understand people’s reticence to leave the land of minor emergency clinics and 911 to go where hepatitis, whooping cough (even for the vaccinated), typhoid, malaria, and amebic dysentery are realities, and good medical care might be an MAF flight away. I get it.

Happiness, wealth, convenience, time management. We basically want it all. We just want to be in charge. Being a missionary means putting God back on the throne daily. It means trusting him for finances. It means jiggling the pipes and praying the water fills the tanks and hoping for a shower without muddy tap water. It means inconvenience. It means your time is no longer your own. Most people can’t imagine giving up those idols.

Yes I totally get why the message of missions often falls on deaf ears. Way too many idols to tear down before people will commit to go. My prayer is that I will not succumb to worshiping the blessings instead of the Savior who blesses me with every good and perfect gift.

IRL*smashing the sacred stones.
Reading Exodus 34:12-15 in a whole new light: “Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you. Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles. Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.”


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