Wednesday, March 30, 2011

CHAOS: Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome

Giving people the benefit of the doubt, another viable reason people don’t have us over is that maybe, just possibly, their homes are a mess. It’s a thought. Flylady calls it CHAOS—Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome. In fact I'm suffering from CHAOS myself right now.

Being married to a neatnik tidy husband, my sloppy creative approach to housekeeping had to be somewhat modified. Early on I realized that my scatterbrainedness temperament type was not going to work as an excuse for long. I read Side-tracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise by Pam Young and Peggy Jones, and made up my own system for tidying up the house without making Jim [dh*] insane.

I vowed to never again lose eyeglasses and keys. A huge blessing was having free radial keratotomy surgery on my eyes. After my vision was corrected, I no longer directed the daily game of “Hunt for Mommy’s Glasses.” When the computer fonts started mysteriously shrinking (once I hit forty), I succumbed to reading glasses, but I seldom lose them. I simply hide them everywhere. I leave a pair in every room of the house. That, too, makes my dh* a tad crazy, but he doesn’t complain [much].

In order to prevent lost keys, I systematically put them on a particular hook in the kitchen as soon as I walk in the house. When I am out, the keys go in my right front pocket. When I am in town using a parking garage, I always put the ticket in my back right pocket. My cell phone goes in my left front pocket. When I’m wearing a skirt without pockets, I am in trouble. At home I am almost as compulsive about where I put certain things. In fact, I never noticed this before, but I’ve become a bit obsessive compulsive to compensate for my tendency toward scatterbrainedness.

Until now, that is.

Dh* hired some guys to cover our ugly cracked cement floors with tile. This project required emptying each room and closet one by one while the men worked. We're talking seventeen years' worth of accumulated treasures. Ugh.

This month I realized how systematic I usually am. My little routines all went haywire. I’ve become a certifiable ADD scatterbrain again. No order anywhere. All my compensating techniques are out the window (while the flies and dust are coming in the doors the workers never close). How does a reformed space cadet slob keep from sliding down that slippery slope to old bad habits?

To stop the pendulum from swinging from ADD to OCD and back again, I am clinging to the Holy Spirit to again take control of my temperament. Impulsive and compulsive are both dangerous zones. Meanwhile I'm thankful for tips and encouragement from the SHEs (Sidetracked Home Executives) on their website, and from Flylady. (If only Flylady could help me get rid of all the flies in here!)

How about you?

IRL*Do you need Flylady to rescue you so you can be hospitable again?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Garbage and other Silly Games

As a spin-off of last week's discussion, the following are true stories showing how false expectations might hinder selfless ministry. The only danger in giving specifics is that the offenders might be offended. I won't name any names, and if you think I am talking about you or someone you know, please be reassured that I harbor no hard feelings. It is with grace and humor that I recall these incidents.

Back in 1989, I was still in the beginning of my parenting and missionary years. My extrovert self was still alive and well, and I suffered from loneliness while living in a remote village. I took full advantage of the time we were assigned to live and work in Guatemala City. That one year, I delighted in opening our home to others, and decided that I should extend hospitality to those who might need it the most.

Whenever Jim was out of town, I would invite the single gals over for a game night. I loved putting the three babies to bed early and then setting out snacks to enjoy a frivolous evening of "garbage" with friends. One time in particular it was a riot with many hearty laughs. Jim's mom was visiting, and she is always good for a fun evening.

It didn’t bother me [much] that they never reciprocated, since of course I wasn't single. Subsequently I got a phone call about another "garbage" night at a certain apartment. To think I was being invited out! Maybe they really were accepting me as their friend.... Mentally I had already hired a sitter and was out the door. No, then the caller went on to say they were wondering if my dmil* (see sidebar: Jamie Jo Speak) could join them. Honest to Pete. (My southern mama thought surely I made this story up.) I've laughed about this ever since.

More recently a man in our small group asked if I might throw a dinner party in honor of his wife's birthday. I was more than happy to accommodate. Having no expectations that anyone should play by silly rules, I could laugh when this same couple later borrowed my folding table and chairs so they could have a dinner party at their house. You guessed it. I wasn't invited.

In that case, I was almost flattered that they could freely invite others to dinner without fearing I might take offense. I am truly thankful people don't just include me from a sense of obligation, and I am thrilled to see people showing hospitality to others I suspect need it a lot more than I do at this season of life.

The new "me" we talked about last month isn't the party animal she used to be, and if I'm ever lonely, I can certainly pick up the phone and invite someone over. I shudder to think how miserable I would be if I hadn't discovered the source of my discontent was faulty social expectations.

IRL*Inviting but not "expecting" you to socially connect with me here!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

My Southern Little Mind

Here is my latest epiphany: not everyone plays by the same rules.

A high value where I come from is "to not be beholden to anyone." That just means we never want to owe anyone a debt of gratitude. It's a sort of payback society in which every act of kindness or hospitality is acknowledged, if not actively reciprocated. It's not required, but somehow everyone knows that it's expected.

No one ever taught me this, but I "caught" it by observation. I watched my mom phone people to say "what a lovely time we had at your house for supper last night!" I listened when other people called her, as she responded predictably, "It was our pleasure. We sure enjoyed having you. And thanks for the thoughtful hostess gift. Y'all sure didn't have to do that!" Thus I learned the rules.

What got me into trouble was assuming that everyone had been raised accordingly and then judging each infraction as a "social blunder."

In the early years in Guatemala I drew some ugly and hasty conclusions that in retrospect I realize were inaccurate. I mistakenly thought people didn't like me because

1. They never phoned to say they enjoyed my hospitality, and

2. They never invited us back.
In my southern little mind, the game ended there, since etiquette prevented me from further initiating social interaction. Clearly it was the other person's turn.

None of this was a conscious thought on my part, but simply an invisible, unspoken factor in my fledgling friendships in the missionary community. "Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” meant not inviting anyone over for a second time. Since I wouldn't want to be beholden to anyone, I wouldn't put others in that position either.

Once I analyzed this silly game, I gladly stopped playing it.

On further examination, I think missionaries from all cultural backgrounds get so accustomed to being on the receiving end of people's generosity that they never attempt to "even the score." Even I am guilty. I do send a thank-you note or email to acknowledge an occasional gift from a new donor, but I can't possibly keep up with all our regular supporters except with monthly updates and photos on my blog.

Some of our partners in ministry are southern-bred folks with a keen sense of what they consider good and bad manners, and surely I have offended them by not playing by the rules. For that I am truly sorry.

My only defense is that on the mission field, I receive from some (supporters in the U.S.) and give (hospitality, finances, etc.) to others. It's not a direct payback. My philosophy now is that all I receive is a gift from God, and therefore it is to God I owe the debt of gratitude. I make small payments on my account when I, in turn, bless others or simply praise and thank Him daily. Regardless of my meager attempts, I can never repay my debt to Him.

Even though I am inexcusably a slacker in the thank-you note department, my gratitude is sincere. I’m grateful to God and to the individuals and churches He uses to bless us, and through us, to bless the people of Mexico and beyond.

      IRL*Grateful, always.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Too many friends?

The day my first friend from prison was released, I realized something.  I hate losing friends.  Even though I was thrilled for Rosa to return to her family in Guatemala, I knew I would miss seeing her at our Friday Bible study together.  Worse, I knew I would not likely ever see her again this side of heaven.

For those of you who grew up as global nomads, you may think it absurd to waste such needless tears over a prisoner getting released, but I grew up in a Texas neighborhood where people were not transient.  In fact, I vividly recall the shock and disappointment when Susie Darby moved away after the third grade. (I still remember her name.)  Good-byes were simply not part of my childhood.  Even my grandparents lived locally.

At this point I have a long list of coworkers who have come and gone, first in Guatemala and later in Mexico.  Many of them I have dredged back up via Facebook, not just for curiosity, but because I genuinely care what is happening in their lives.  Same thing with really old-time friends from high school.

For many years I wondered whatever happened to a couple of boys who used to tease me mercilessly in Spanish class, thinking how they would laugh to imagine me living in a Spanish speaking country for the past 25 years.  Now they are friends on Facebook.  I love that.  They were just silly classmates who made my life interesting for one hour a day for a single year in high school, but they left their mark.  

My list is long.  People whose lives have touched mine and then moved on.  Last week we hosted a short-term team with four members who were here a couple of years ago.  The one was amazed that I remembered him giving me some reading glasses.  The other was impressed that I remembered she preferred tea to coffee.  Is that really so odd?  I just like people.

You might even say I collect friends.  It's true.  I am blessed with a rich, priceless collection of fascinating, unique friends.  Each one has left a mark on my life, and I love each and every one.

Once the WOTH forums become a reality, I will add many of you to my list, sharing your joys and sorrows, praying for you, and honestly loving you without ever meeting in person.

Last Friday I attended a going-away party for a Dutch couple who are in their 80's.  Each time they come to volunteer in Mexico, I am sad to see them leave, knowing that someday they will not return.  I hate permanent good-byes most of all.  Swapping stories and laughing together that night, I was suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude to God for this precious gift of friendship.  Earlier in the day I had experienced the same feeling with the local ladies at Bible study.  Finally they, too, are truly becoming my friends.

Some would counsel me to let the past go and just enjoy the people right in front of me.  I certainly have plenty of friends close by.  But I never can seem to do that.  My earlier friends are all part of the "me" I have become.  I cherish each and every one.

Back to the question in the title, is it possible to have too many friends?

IRL If keeping friends is a spiritual gift, maybe that’s mine.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Am I lost?

How do you keep from losing “you”?

This isn’t technically an “Ask Jamie Jo” question, but since no questions were submitted before our editor retreated to Dubai, I will address this very complicated issue that I’ve been mulling over for several months. An e-maginary * (refer to Jamie-Jo Speak in sidebar) friend in Africa asked this on a different online forum, but I’d like to open the discussion here as well.

Obviously many of us were formerly identified with certain occupations, roles, hobbies, and personality traits that have shifted or become hidden on the mission field. In one of my very first posts on this blog I shared about my 20-plus years of living in obscurity. Back then I did feel that the very essence of who I am had been completely stripped away.  Even my southern drawl was becoming less pronounced as I mingled with a wider sampling of English speakers.

I guess what I’m saying first is that yes, it is a process of dying to self and becoming almost invisible. For years I was Jim’s wife, missionary, and “mother to many” without much of a profile to call my own. During that season, though, I was changing into a new me. Hopefully it is an improved, upgraded version, fading on the outside, but subtly shining from the inside out, with or without my old panache.

Rather than giving you a bunch of tips for how to keep from “losing yourself” (which might include helpful suggestions like digital scrapbooking, journaling, and using the creative gifts God has given you), I’d rather add a question of my own.

If you do happen to lose a bit of yourself in ministry to others, would that be such a bad thing?

It’s like when a friend helps you during a major move to another house or location. While you carefully pack the senseless junk that is neither useful nor particularly lovely, your friend - who has no sentimental attachment to your clutter - gently rebukes you: “Why would you want to keep that?”

Yes indeed. Why would you want to keep that?

Maybe it’s time to let go of who we think we are, and let the Master Potter have a go at remaking us more into His image. As my WOTH writer friend Shelley pointed out, we are actually blessed in losing ourselves. “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

IRL* Reminded again that my real life is hidden with Christ


Join me today in lifting up those attending the conference in Dubai, that they would be particularly encouraged as they serve under the radar, purposely hidden.  We won't likely see a slide show with photos of these dear women, but let's keep them in our prayers.


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