Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Let the Games Begin!

When the kids were younger they used to play this goofy game with their friends where they would spin around and around until they got so dizzy they would fall down. The last one standing was the winner. Then they would stand up and do it again, still giggling and spinning in circles. Isn’t that a picture of life sometimes? Why are we playing this silly game anyway? And what’s so funny about it?

Right now in Mexico, folks are playing the “summer exodus” game. Living so close to the U.S., many missionaries opt to go to the States or Canada every couple of summers rather than investing a whole year in taking a traditional “furlough”* (not-a-vacation) like people serving in other hemispheres.

In this game, the contestants pass the contents of refrigerators from missionary to missionary, and the last one “standing” for the summer (in other words, the one who doesn’t leave the country) gets all the ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. I would use the more generic term for those items, but that’s another quirk of mine, avoiding words that start with those two syllables. You know what I mean!

Last year one of our neighbors did the unthinkable and left her refrigerator on instead of participating in the food-swap game. Let me tell you, it was not a good idea. Something electrical popped in their system, and the refrigerator went off, never to return to power. By the time I sent a maid to clean up the house for my neighbor’s return, it was nasty! Just imagine fish, meat, and chicken no longer frozen, but dripping down hidden coils in the works of the fridge. You could smell it all the way out on the road. The next time she left Mexico, I was given all the contents of her refrigerator, which I was able to pass along to a new missionary family arriving the same week.

That’s the way the game is supposed to be played.

This summer, however, there are not enough people remaining in town to bear the burden of all the (whispered) “condiments.” I mean, there are only so many bottles of ketchup a door can hold. I decided three months is a short enough trip. Why not live dangerously? I left Mexico for California last week with the refrigerator still plugged in!

A housekeeper friend of mine will go feed our cocker spaniels and check on the house while we are gone; so hopefully, she will discover any malfunction before it becomes a major stench to the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, here I am in southern California, settling in, cleaning an apartment formerly occupied by nine college men. It’s not as bad as rotten fish and meat, but, well, it did need a bit of serious scrubbing. At least they left us some ketchup and mustard on the door of the fridge. Hey, I’m back in the game!

Sometimes what we leave behind ketchups with us...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Battle Rages

One of my few Facebook claims to fame was the day several e-maginary* (online acquaintances as opposed to IRL) friends quoted me in their status. For a brief moment my head swelled, and I felt like a true writer. Pretty sweet.

Considering the “light and momentary afflictions” which are multiplying in my life, I thought I would revisit and edit my statement:

"All I know is that it is so much easier to play the part of the Christian when I'm in a climate controlled room with proper lighting and familiar food and no disasters looming outside my door. But is that real? "

That’s what I said then. I have no idea what was the context. Today I can add:

“…and when I’m not dashing to the bathroom every few moments in intestinal agony. I can add, “…when my children are not suffering emotional trauma.”

A lot of situations would seemingly make it easier to be a Christian.

It’s the last line that keeps sticking in my head: “But is that real?” Let me just add that “Real sometimes hurts!” As I was suffering the violent effects of E. coli last week, I honestly had to ask myself how I would possibly endure torture. I always prided myself on the small sacrifices I have made “for the sake of the kingdom.” But when the house is hot and stuffy and my stomach is achy and rumbly, somehow I step out of my Christian character role and become unlovely from the inside out. My husband and kids will testify that this sometimes witty writer becomes snarky and impatient.

There’s a sane side of me that says I NEVER want to go through a sickness like that again, but then there is an irrational part that cries, “I’m so sorry. Try me again. I promise I won’t let you down. I can do better. Really I can!”

Really? I’m not so sure.

How can the folks back home ever think we are heroic or super-spiritual? We all know that when the heat’s on (literally and figuratively) and the battle rages, we still fall short of God’s perfect design. We still succumb to fleshly nature. I don’t know about yours, but mine prefers comfort to pain any day.

I am in a season of testing unlike anything I remember since my very first season on the field. It was intense back then. It is intense again now. As much as I’d prefer to be lighthearted and funny, this is where I am. Frankly I feel more like a wimp than a warrior. Others are sustaining me through their faithful prayers and encouragement. I am grateful.

Personally I’d rather be your comic relief for the week than to fight in the trenches with you. Apparently that isn’t an option. Meanwhile I just want to learn my lessons well. My heart goes out to those of you who serve under equally daunting circumstances, especially those with chronic health issues. Pain does reveal the true nature of the heart. Mine apparently needs some more work.

IRL*in the trenches, in the bathroom, in but not of …

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dignity Lost

This photo sums up my experience in the past week. First of all, I was recruited to be in a skit at the ladies’ retreat, which involved being transformed into a "princess"—complete with new teeth, nose, glasses, make-up, wig, tiara, fan, and scepter. It was pretty, all right. Pretty awful! Rather humiliating, but funny for the onlookers.

On Friday I suffered another loss of my misplaced dignity when high blood pressure led me to the ER with two tampons shoved up my nostrils. It was not a glamorous sight.

Note to self: next time cut the strings off before rushing to hospital.
The doctors did manage to get my blood pressure down, which possibly explains why I was having trouble sleeping the week before. I think this has been brewing for a while now, and finally came to a crisis. I am truly thankful that the outcome was not worse than it was. I am grateful to be alive!

Now I am pondering the ridiculous reality of my embarrassment to be seen entering a hospital in such a sorry state. Whenever I think I have the old “what will people think” mindset conquered, somehow it sneaks back up. Deep down I had been patting myself on the back for my behavior at the ladies’ retreat— allowing myself to get thrown into the pool fully clothed, being seen in a bathing suit orchestrating synchronized swimming, becoming hideous (see photo, again) in the Princess skit. I’m not sure which was worse, but I know none was particularly attractive. I totally swallowed my pride, all for a few laughs.

Yet in spite of it all, I’d rather look good than bad, not necessarily for God’s glory, but for my own. That’s what stinks. You’d think fifty years would be enough to overcome such silliness. I hereby confess this, and pray that I need no further lessons in humiliation to conquer my pride.

Oh, did I mention that almost all of the retreat attendees and speakers have come down with a bad dose of E. coli infection? Now there’s an unladylike illness if ever there was one. ‘Nuff said. (Intestines gurgling.)

IRL*still struggling to die to self!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Friendless in Mexico

This month I am blessed to have WOTH publish another one of my stories in their onlineMagazine. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out “Guilt Trip.” It’s not as embarrassing as the Target episode that launched my writing career, but it’s another typical Jamie Jo moment.

Normally when the magazine is first posted, I rush to see what fun photo the editor found to spruce up my writing. Not this time. First thing I will do today is read the bio line for each author.

I am curious to read what others have to say about their favorite national friend. Do others actually have good friends from their host country? For me, I came up blank. Frankly, this is a matter of deep shame and regret for me, to not have any national friends.

Me, the ultimate extrovert. Me, who would have trouble naming my closest three friends out of a dozen truly amazing kindred spirits I consider “best friends.” So what’s up with not having any national friends? I don’t know. I find it nearly impossible to break through the cultural barrier to develop friendships.

Here in Mexico I have many acquaintances. Some of them might even miss me if I ever left for good. But on a daily basis, they simply do not need my friendship. Culturally, the women in our town stay at home, and if they host a special event or take a vacation, they only include their extended family. They need no friends. Even in our local church, I don’t see the depth of friendship among the ladies that I have with my fellow missionary friends.

This past weekend I was blessed to participate in a ladies retreat for the English-speaking missionary community. Just like the WOTH Furlough Retreat last summer, it took no energy or effort for me to relate to such like-minded women.

In contrast, I remember taking a van-load of Mexican women to a retreat several years ago. There was lively chatter and laughter the same as our ex-pat retreat, but the difference was that none of the conversation was directed at me. In fact, the women reverted to their native Zapotec language instead of Spanish, leaving me completely in the dark. I was merely the chauffeur, the benefactor, the I-don’t-know-what. I certainly was not a “friend” the way I would normally define it.

In a closed community that has seen its share of missionaries come and go through the years, even ten years is considered “short term.” In the national women's experience, all the missionaries eventually leave to go back to their passport country. Even after sixteen years of living here, I am still considered an outsider and a relative newcomer.

Just like the movie Sleepless in Seattle, I had to sign my blog post: “Friendless in Mexico.” Sad but true. How about you? Are you blessed with genuine friendships cross-culturally?

IRL* just wondering if my story is unique...


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