Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Sin That Feeds Me

What do Kool Aid, peanut butter, and M&Ms have in common?

As I shared with a group of missionary women last Saturday, I have been rereading a book called Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, by Jerry Bridges. With Easter just around the corner, I have been examining my own heart and dealing with some resistant sin issues that are lurking there.

One of my pet sins came to light when I went to answer this missionary ethics question posed by a friend overseas:

A sweet and valuable short-term helper who is due to return to the U.S. in just a couple of weeks asked if I had any Crystal Light she could add to her water. I told her that I had none to spare, but was I wrong to not share with her? All I have is a private stash I’ve been rationing to last until my next trip to the States.

My initial reaction is, “Mercy, no! I’m sure if you explained your plight to your visitor, she certainly would have understood.” However, in light of the book I have been reading, I think I must change my answer to choice #2. Yes, by all means you should be generous and share your limited supply with your short-term helper.

Before y’all shoot me down, let me say that I have been in this position many times myself. Usually I respond selfishly, like answer #1, feeling fully justified. Then again sometimes I have had no choice but to share, but honestly I don’t always feel very gracious about it.

When my two oldest sons were still in high chairs, my sister came to visit with her two children. She asked what she might bring us, and I begged for some American peanut butter. All we had available in Guatemala was a local brand called “Gato Gordo” (Fat Cat) which was expensive and not very tasty. I had plans of hoarding that one jar of peanut butter to last a good long while.

However it turned out that my niece and nephew were picky eaters (and who could blame them, being in a foreign country with a weird aunt who only cooked from scratch). Each time they turned their noses up at my meals, my sister would jump up and quickly offer them a peanut butter sandwich. “No problem,” she would say; but each time I would just about cry, watching our precious new jar being consumed in one short week.

Selfishly I hid away the package of M&Ms she brought, figuring her children could have all they wanted in another week when they went home. But even worse, I hid them from my own sons, figuring they didn’t need to be introduced to American candy anyway. They were just little guys after all; they’d never be the wiser.

After further contemplation, I think we’d have to agree that selfishness in any form is a sin. Making up new rules to compensate for being poor deprived missionaries doesn’t quite add up to what Scripture clearly teaches us. I think I owe an apology to a friend or two.

The truth is that I have seen God multiply things like vitamins when my supply was dwindling. Without a doubt I know that He can stretch or replenish our stockpile of Crystal Light and Jif— if and when we are generous to people who ask.

IRL* Kool Aid, peanut butter, and M&Ms all bring out the miserly side of missionaries.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tired, Run Down, Listless?

Are you tired, run down, listless? Do you poop out at parties? These are words that make us Lucy fans smile. The rest of you can view this classic Vitameatavegimin skit here.

If the truth were known, many of us could benefit from a strong swig of Lucy’s health tonic. People tease me about my home brewed Kombucha, which I confess to imbibing for an afternoon pick-me-up, but seriously, we need something to give us more pep and zing. The more women I talk with, the more I am convinced that living cross-culturally takes a heavy toll on our bodies, and at some point we need to take measures to undo the damage to our adrenal system.

Three years ago, I suffered a health crisis leading me to an alternative treatment center, where a “wellness doctor” (specializing in applied nutrition) did some extensive testing to discover the true source of my complaints. I’m not suggesting that all of you break the bank to go this route, since insurance frowns on anything not considered standard treatment; however, I do recommend researching to see if Adrenal Fatigue could be causing some of your symptoms of being “tired, run down, and listless.”

Do an online search and you will come up with some questionnaires like this one to pinpoint whether you have been running on adrenalin to the point that it is failing you. Some telltale signs include weight gain (especially around the middle), allergies you never had before, mood swings, restless sleep, headaches, and of course, lack of energy.

This is my little public awareness campaign for the week. Please get help if you think this could be your problem. You will not suddenly find the enthusiasm for diet or exercise until you address the underlying cause. Of course for some of you, perimenopause could be the real issue.

That’s one of many things Mama never experienced or warned me about. I suspect that our poor diets and high-stress lives play into menopause being more of an obstacle than it used to be. Did you know that (without nutritional support) you could suffer for ten years of gradual weight gain, emotional craziness, and other self-defeating problems before you ever hit menopause? Sad, but true.

So, if you don’t mind my using this blog as a bit of a soap box, here’s my counsel to you younger ladies:

  • After your 30th birthday, gradually cut back your meal portions each year until you are barely consuming anything by the time you turn 50. ( Click here to calculate your actual caloric intake > 50 years old.)
  • Find some form of exercise you like and do it at least half an hour four times a week. Every week.
  • Cut way back on sugar, grains, and packaged/processed foods.
  • Find leisure activities to counter the continual stress.
  • Put some margin back in your life so you don’t wear out your adrenals.
  • Don’t ignore seemingly unrelated health complaints. Get help soon.

And remember, “Be bright and vivacious!” and “Join the happy, peppy people.” Also keep laughing. It’s good medicine.

IRL* Stepping down from the soap box, I’m off to exercise and get back in shape before an exhausting spring and summer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Missionary: Noun or Verb?

Is "missionary" a noun or a verb?

A friend on furlough in the U.S. told me this true story, which cracked me up. It’s a conversation between two MKs:

The second day we were here, an 8-year-old girl from that family (staying in a mission house right down the street) knocked on our door to introduce herself and see if my kids wanted to play. Her opening line was:

"Hey! My name is ________. We missionary in Armenia. Where do you missionary?"

It’s hilarious in its innocence, and we could have some serious fun using missionary as a verb, couldn’t we?

But it does make you pause and think. Is the term “missionary” who we are (noun) or what we do (verb)?

That’s one question for you.

Another question this raises is whether our children have any idea what a missionary is or does.

Once we were on furlough, and when I went to check on the children in new Sunday School classes with complete strangers, I found my five-year-old in front of the class answering the teacher’s questions about “being a missionary in Guatemala.” Those are the moments when I forget to breathe. (Being the first-born, I’m sure he rose to the occasion and did just fine. I have no memory of his answer.)

Another trip, a nursery worker was trying to figure out where my daughter (a first-time visitor in my home church in Dallas) was from. She had no idea how to answer that. Then they said, “Where do you live?” No answer. “Honey, where do you sleep?” Ah, that one she knew! “In the van,” she responded, thus painting the image of a homeless family under a bridge somewhere.

“What does your father do?” the persistent teacher asked.

“He fixes the van,” she replied.

Obviously it was one of “those” trips when we must have broken down a time or two between Oaxaca and Dallas.

IRL*Where do you missionary?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Furlough Boot Camp: Getting the Lil' Soldiers Ready

Getting ready for a summer furlough is so much easier with only three children who are actually not children, but teens. It's an amazing blessing that they can each pack and carry (!) their own bags, decide what books and music they need for the trip, and even go to the store on their own for whatever snacks they might want for travel days.

In the early days I used to put the little ones through "furlough boot camp." To prepare them for a season of being completely thrown out of their routines, I would make the preschoolers take naps in strange places around the house. No more comfy cribs or familiar beds. I would put a blanket and pillow somewhere on the floor and say, "Nighty-night," and leave them to figure out I meant business. This did help once we were on the road and staying in different people's homes because they were accustomed to going to sleep wherever and whenever I told them.

During boot camp, no matter what food I served them, they were not allowed to comment unless they really liked it. They were never to beg for seconds unless I specifically offered them. They had to say please and thank you with a smile on their faces. I trained them to respond to a discrete snap of my finger, wave of my hand, or lifting of an eyebrow. We'd make a game of "coming quickly when called." We even practiced walking in tight formation so we wouldn't appear to be as big a family as we really were. Each older child had a younger one they were responsible for, and the middle child was responsible for the diaper bag (or dog when we were dumb enough to travel with a pet). By the time we left for furlough, we were looking good!

With this said, I must confess that I took the "training exercises" a bit too far, and pridefully drilled into my children how to be perfect little house guests. After all, we wouldn't want unruly children destroying the houses where we would be staying. Seriously! We do need to train our children, and furlough is a good excuse to go into high gear. On a deeper level, though, God only knows my true motives were nothing short of arrogance. I didn't want to risk anyone seeing what we were really like. Instead I painstakingly taught my children to become little hypocrites, acting the part of loving, well-mannered Christians, when their hearts were not quite there yet. I am sorry for that.

It wasn't until after I read the book Shepherding a Child's Heart (which I HIGHLY recommend, by the way), that I became convicted about only working on the outer appearances rather than focusing on heart issues. From then on I vowed to discipline my children for the purpose of training their hearts to fear God, not merely to make Mom look good in front of her friends. I'll never forget the time we went up with one teen and his big ol' afro, and other teen with his long stringy hair. It was still a struggle to not consider "What will people think?" but I forced myself to look at it from God's standpoint. No sin was being committed. Their hearts were good. Why should I require a haircut just to please our conservative support base?

Ironically, it wasn't until I stopped being so paranoid about our "real selves" being revealed in the presence of our supporters that people began to connect genuinely with me. I once had a woman tell me that she used to berate her children after we passed through as house guests, saying things like, "Why can't you be more like the Loker kids? They never...." Oh, my, what damage was done due to my pretense of having well-behaved children? This same woman was quite relieved on a later trip we made to the States, when she saw my children acting like the kids they really were, and even not acting very "Christian" (read between the lines: they were fighting!). Then she began to talk to me on a deeper level. No pretense. No shame. Just honesty. It was a good thing.

With that said, I have heard some frightening tales of things missionary friends' children have done on furloughs that made me glad I had trained mine to be inhumanly perfect. (Ha! Like that's possible.)

Maybe you can flesh this out with some real life experiences of funny things your children have done on furloughs.

IRL* The flip side is that I have fewer stories to tell.


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