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.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

What's In Your Cart?

One of my pet peeves about prayer letters is when people moan and groan about their needs and then fail to mention God’s abundant provision later. Therefore, I think it’s time for an update of sorts about different gripes I have blogged about.

First of all, I am now the proud holder of a California driver’s license. Woo-woo! Yes, I passed the written test on the very first try, and was not required to start over with the learner’s permit and driving exams. Thank you, Lord! Now I am not such a burden on my college kids who were my willing chauffeurs the first few days after my arrival.

Secondly, I think this intestinal infection is finally clearing up. Most of the 40 or so people who were infected seem to be recovering now. That was one crazy powerful bug. I honestly wondered if I would ever feel normal again. Isaiah 41 has come to have new meaning for me: “He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” I’m actually out walking again, and not completely exhausted afterward. That’s high on my thankfulness list these days.

With that said, can I admit something (confidentially, between friends, right?) that I seldom mention to our supporters? I miss my affordable household help! Since the three youngest kids were babies, I have had a part-time housekeeper to keep me caught up on chores and meals while I home school. Living in the U.S. always takes a bit of adjustment as I plan, execute, serve, and clean up after every meal, plus do some of the shopping. (Methuselah* does most of it in Mexico since he’s in the city more often than I am.)

One of my other (pardon me for boasting) accomplishments last week was learning how to navigate the self-check-out lanes in the stores. That was thrilling, to be so independent.

Spiritually, it’s just the opposite. It is so nice to feast on live sermons in English and books galore after years of having to hunt for "food" in the self-service aisle. In fact, I am auditing a summer class with my daughter at Eternity Bible College. That’s an amazing provision in itself.

After a season of extreme weariness and pain, I am being rehydrated spiritually, getting some counseling, and gaining eternal perspective on my troubles. And though I am not soaring with the eagles (yet), I am enjoying this time of rest, unhindered by a cloud of oppression. If I had to summarize in one word, I’d say I am coasting. The encouraging part is that I don’t have to do the steering. I like that.

It’s a refreshing change, nourishment I don’t have to shop and prepare for myself.

IRL* Life still isn’t necessarily “fun” but it sure is good.


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