Names are omitted to protect the innocent, although they probably wouldn’t care or see anything wrong with it if their names were included, because they have no issue with the topic or the fact that this occurred, but… well, just read on.
I am always amazed at the things that we talk about when I am with my other-culture friends. Topics of conversation are a very cultural thing, in case you didn’t know. Things that we would never talk about in polite company in The South are common conversation fodder here. Take my breakfast group the other day, for example. I went to my friend’s home for breakfast and a small devotional time. By the way, “short time of breakfast and devotional” means that I was there from 9:15 – 12:15 and the only reason it ended was because I said that I needed to get some things done in town before I picked up Sarah from school! Time is cultural, too. Anyway, I went to my friend’s house. It was an unusually cold day for May, and it was dreary and rainy. In her home, all the lights were off. The only light was coming from the television and it was showing cartoons (my friend and her spouse are both in their 50s, no children in the home). We sat on the sofa and chatted while we waited for another friend to arrive. Husband joined us in the chatter. When Friend 2 arrived, the TV was turned off, the lights were turned on, and we pulled up to the table and began to have breakfast. Coffee was poured. My friend made a traditional cornbread-type cake for breakfast, which she served with a bowl of fruit. There was a basket of individual pre-wrapped store bought cookies on the table, too, since Husband won’t eat cornbread for breakfast... another story.
I had eaten Friend 1’s cornbread before (delicious!), but today it was covered – I mean COVERED thick – in sesame seeds. I thought that was interesting, but I am forever in “learner mode”, so I just observed and took mental note. Pretty soon, she announces that she read an article on Facebook about the incredible health properties of sesame seeds and how they could be the cure for cancer. The others at the table were impressed with this and pronounced it wonderful that she had added sesame seeds to the cornbread and that we would not die of cancer, Hallelujah Gloria a Dios.
This started a conversation on another article that Friend 2 had read on “the Facey Booky” regarding bananas (she never ceases to make me smile when she says “the Facey Booky”). She read that very ripe bananas also have incredible anti-cancer properties. So she has been buying bananas and letting them go brown before she eats them so she won’t get cancer. And she has been eating several bananas each week as a preventative. Friend 1 pronounced this as good, as she had also heard that bananas were excellent for our health and that all the ‘futbolistas’ (professional soccer players) eat bananas and drink a certain bottled water to keep them in top form. Friend 1 only buys Aquarius brand bottled water for this reason (guess the marketing campaign is working).
Well, now, Husband had to chime in with a skepticism on the fruit article. He just didn’t think that we should be eating so many bananas. Here it comes, Folks… When he eats bananas, he gets constipated. Therefore, bananas couldn’t be good for you, because it is not good to be constipated. If he eats bananas, and he gets constipated, then he has to have Friend 1 cook special foods for him to get him moving again. And when he finally gets moving again, it is a diarrhea explosion. I can’t believe we are having this conversation. I want to crawl under the table. Can this man truly be telling these three ladies all about his constipation and diarrhea??? Friend 1 supports his claim and goes in to even more detail as to his potty habits. She says that Husband potties at the same time every day, and she knows that something is intestinally wrong when he doesn’t potty at the right time. So she commences to cooking the special diet that will make him potty. Husband says, “No. Bananas could not be good for you.” He says this as he opens his third pre-packaged store bought cookies for breakfast.
Just as quickly as it started, it was over and the question was raised as to what the Bible has to say about the sanctity of marriage. WHAT?! Did we really just make that dramatic jump and switch from constipation and diarrhea to the sanctity of marriage? Yep, we did.
Then we flopped over to the Great Commandments and how they fit in with the 10 Commandments. Whew! Another dramatic swing in topic!
A knock on the door brought Friend 3 in to the game, and she brought a new topic to the table… being lazy in our prayer lives. My head feels like it is spinning. Did we just spend half of our breakfast and study time talking about potty habits, and now we are talking at the depth of comparing the Great Commandment to the 10 Commandments and the importance of prayer in our lives? Yes, yes we did and yes we are… that is exactly how it happened.
I think about how time is so much a part of culture. In my home culture, if a breakfast conversation spent an hour or so talking about potty habits and intestinal issues, people would have left the table. Not only because of the topic of conversation, but because it wasn’t an “efficient or effective use of time”… how could you spend devotional and study time talking about this? But I’m so glad that relationship and conversation trumps time in my new culture. Sitting for half of the time talking about bodily functions and food and life is just a part of how this culture works, and it leads in to deep conversations about the good stuff! So, I’m learning how to just roll with it – to just roll with the fact that bowel movements and The Gospel somehow do have a place together at the table. It’s a tough one for this Southern girl who was raised on manners and proper etiquette, but I think that God was sitting at the table, too, and He was probably just laughing at watching me squirm in the cultural intrigue of the day. And I’m sure that He was very happy with the whole scenario, because deeper relationship was built and a lot of love was sitting at the table, talking about whatever came up, and enjoying each other’s company in it all, and learning about The Word along the way.
Got to tell you how God works... I took Sarah to school this morning and ran in the market (across the street from her school). When I went back to my car, the anti-theft lock was flashing on my dash and my key wouldn't work. (I didn't even know that I HAD anti-theft! It's a Ford Focus, for Pete's sake! Not a BMW...) I tried all sorts of things, but nothing changed. I got out the manual (have you EVER tried to read the car manual... IN SPANISH!?!) and all I got from that was that there is a code in the key and if the car doesn't recognize the code, it will lock down. Awesome! Just then, my missionary friend from Puerto Rico drove by and saw me. This is odd, because she is usually in another town in the mornings doing mission work. She stopped and tried to help me read the manual (because she is a native Spanish speaker). Then she called the dealer for me to see what we should do. They said to try the extra key (of course, it is out in the country at the house!). So Delilah drove me out to get the other key. When we got back, the second key still wouldn't work. By this time (1.5 hrs), Delilah needed to go to an appointment, but she also wanted to wait. I told her that it was okay...go ahead and go... I would call Miguel - our Spanish pastor. So she left, I got back in my car and sat there and had a big fat ugly cry. Then I called the number in my phone for Miguel (Billy had entered it for me before he left)... but Francisco answered (odd?). Yep... Billy put the number in wrong! But Fran said he would call Miguel (they are cousins) and send him to me. Cry more. Just then, Delilah comes back and says that "Friends are more important than anything else today, and my husband said to come back - I'll stay with you." A couple more tears escape. She says, "Don't worry. This is just 'paja en la leche' (Grass in the milk... a Puerto Rico saying for when something spoils your plans.) Then Miguel drives up and Delilah goes on and leaves. Miguel jumps in the car, wiggles things around a bit, and the car starts right up (Miguel used to be a truck driver and mechanic before he was a pastor). Many thanks to him, and I get back in the car to go home. I try to call Delilah real quick to let her know that all is well, and the little cell phone recording comes on to tell me that my cell phone is out of minutes (we pre-pay) and it is locked until I recharge my acct. I CAN'T BELIEVE I had enough money on it to make it through this morning until all was okay!!! God is SOOOO GOOD! Then I had another big ugly cry all the way home, the kind that is a mixture of relieved and amazed and frustrated and everything all rolled in to one. I'm so glad Delilah just happened to drive by. I'm so glad I have good friends. I'm so glad God let my cell phone work until it was over. I'm so glad I have a pastor that came to my rescue. I'm so glad that none of this affected Sarah and she didn't have to witness me having an emotional breakdown, or get left waiting for me at school. I'm so glad I didn't have to call Billy and say that the car wasn't working and I needed to have it fixed or pay for a rental car or anything... so glad I didn't have to pull him out of his focus!
I swear, if I make it through this next month, it will be a complete miracle!!!
The past few weeks have been a real roller-coaster of emotions for me. My husband just left for a multi-week trek. It is part of his ministry work, as well as having been a dream of his for a long time. He is walking the Camino de Santiago from St. Jean-Pied du Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain – a 769km ancient pilgrimage. He is walking with a group of college students and professors from Texas, as well as with the many other pilgrims for all over the world who make the decision to enter in to this daunting trek. Most are seeking to know Jesus in a deeper way, while some are just plain seeking. So he walks in order to spend his days walking alongside people who need to know more, know deeper, talk and be heard, or just walk in silence with someone who understands.
I am really excited for him! I am so happy that he has the opportunity to realize this goal and dream. I’ve been helping him get ready, helping him pack, helping him with devotionals. I am praying for him and doing everything that I can to encourage him and hold down the fort at home.
But there is this other side of me that isn’t happy. This ugly side of me that raised it’s ugly head and that I haven’t known what to do with. The Ugly Me has cried. The Ugly Me has been depressed. The Ugly Me has been jealous and envious and has worried about ridiculous things. I really haven’t liked the Ugly Me and I just wish she would go away!
It is like there have been two of me fighting an inner-battle for weeks now. Me #1 is excited, while Ugly Me is jealous. Me #1 is proud of him and is telling everyone about what he is up to, while Ugly Me is so envious that I’m not there, too. Me #1 is helping him complete his checklist for packing, while Ugly Me is so depressed that he is leaving for several weeks. Ugly Me is wondering, “Why am I helping him pack?! I’m actually helping in the process of him leaving!” And Me #1 is still 100% in love with this man who is about to take on hundreds of miles of trail and has willingly signed up to be dehydrated and exhausted and have feet full of blisters and sleep on whatever bed is available at the end of the day, all for the sake of helping someone else grow closer to Christ… what’s not to love in that?!
In all honesty, there has been a lot of fear in my heart. Fear that for the first time in our married life, he is doing something of major importance without me at his side. We have always been a team, and this is the first time that the team is not hand-in-hand.
I have feared that I can’t actually do life without him for weeks at a time. I haven’t ever changed the gas tanks on the water heater and the stove, I haven’t ever done the banking, I haven’t ever paid attention to how to set up the computer when we hook it to the television, or how much we feed the dogs in the morning. Those have all been his jobs.
I have had fear that he is going to grow deeper and closer to Christ and be changed in the process… I pray that for him!... but at the same time, I’m scared to death that he will come home so changed and so different that I won’t understand him anymore. What if we actually grow apart in this process? Serious fear creeps in deeper.
As we have tried to talk through my feelings about all of this, he has seen emotions in me that he doesn’t know what to do with – Who is this woman? Who is this usually very independent woman?
I think a big ah-ha moment came for me about a week ago, just before he left, when I realized that our families and friend probably had some of these same feelings when we started out on our journey as cross-cultural workers. When we took that big step and said “Yes” to moving overseas to live in another culture and work in ministry. I think about my mom and my family and how it must have felt to help us pack and have conflicting feelings of excitement and being proud of us, and also wishing that we wouldn’t go and wondering why they were helping us pack. Hmmm…
I think about my fear of not knowing how to live life without this man by my side for the next several weeks, and then I realized that I have friends who have lost spouses to cancer, who are single, who have lived through divorce. They all manage to make it. They all manage to do the banking and feed the dogs and change the gas tanks and all the things that need to get done. Ugly Me is a big, fat whiney baby who thinks she might die a catastrophic death if her almost-perfect husband goes on an out-of-town work trip for a while! Shame on Ugly Me. How embarrassing!
Maybe part of this whole process has changed me. Maybe I have grown deeper and stronger. I hope so. I know I feel less fear now, and I’m back to being Me #1 (mostly).
Pray for Billy from May 19-June 22 as he ministers to pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago. You can follow his updates from the trail at http://www.drumsforchrist.org/france-to-compostela.html And pray for me a little while you’re at it – Pray that Ugly Me stays away and the Me #1 continues to remain supportive and prayerful and strong in his absence.
Sometimes I sit here and I reflect and my mind takes me down the questioning road and I ask myself things like, “Why am I here, Lord? Why did you put me here, at this time, in this place? What am I doing that is of any real significance? Please let me know, because I am having one of those days where it isn’t clear to me and I’m wondering what in the heck I’m doing. It seemed so clear before, but now I feel like I’m just not sure that I heard You correctly when you called me here.”
He answers. He always answers.
The past week has been “one of those days” and I have been asking myself those questions. This assignment is such a stark contrast to Peru. In Peru, there were so many physical things that we were doing each day – running the three school programs and mentoring the Peruvian teacher missionaries who were leading the programs, helping in the feeding program for the elderly, running a greenhouse and a small farm to supply food for the schools and feeding program, bible studies, home visits, health classes. Side note here… we were told on NUMEROUS occasions by superiors and well-meaning peers that we were doing too much and that we might need to cut back to avoid burnout, but I’m one of God’s stiff-necked people sometimes and I don’t heed warnings very well But I digress... My life seems vastly less “busy” physically than it was then, and my mindset wants to equate “less busy” with “boring, unproductive, unnecessary, and useless”. There are probably a lot of cultural reasons for that, some worldview and some family culture and some mission culture… lots of reasons. But “busy” and lots of programs somehow equates to being productive and doing a good job. Somehow the disciple work with the ladies I see each week seems so normal and so relaxed and so refreshing to me that there must be something wrong, right? I mean, how could drinking coffee and talking with immigrant women and workers possibly be ministry and equate to what my life was in Peru? (Hint… don’t ask stupid questions! God will answer and you will probably see your stupid ways!)
Then I got a message from a missionary peer who is need of a listening ear and a coaching spirit. We set a time to talk and I could almost hear the sigh of relief in the typed response. “Thank God you’re there! I’m looking forward to our talk. I need you.”
Another wanted my feedback on a few things and wanted to talk about a major transition in her life. I asked if she wanted to converse via email, or did she want to try to do a phone call. “Oh please, let’s talk on the phone! I need to hear your voice! I need to talk to a real person. Please, let me call you on the phone!” So we talked for over an hour that day.
I got another message from a missionary couple, “I didn’t want to ask you earlier and waste your time, but now I think I need you. We need some coaching. We need to talk to someone. Please, can you talk to us this weekend?” We set a day and time. I never think that talking to CCWs is a waste of time!
Later, I received another message from a friend who said, “I need you. I need your ear and your listening heart. Do you have some time for me?” I made time. We talked. She cried. I listened. And after a while, tears turned to laughter and strength. At the end, she said, “Thanks Friend! I needed that. I needed you to listen and be level-headed and help me find reason in all of this. I feel strong enough to put on my ‘big girl panties’ and face tomorrow. I love you!” I don’t feel like I did anything… I just listened to her heart.
This morning, a missionary couple from another agency came over for coffee. Lots of laughs and lots of talking about anything and everything turned in to a time of pouring out their heart and their need for others who understand and to whom they can tell all the hard stuff. Sometimes, as cross-cultural witnesses, we don’t have a lot of people who we can really tell everything to. Some things are only understood fully by other CCWs and people who live it daily. And some CCWs are in the field without a good agency or care people to back them, as is the case with this couple. They’ve been in the field for 10 months and they need some care and some love, a listening ear, some coaching, and a little mentoring here and there. Today was “one of those days” for them, as they began to relate struggles and frustrations and shattered expectations. Their situation is far from over, but someone is listening and they are not alone.
As I sat in my chair for a tiny moment of rest after lunch, God tapped me on my forehead and said, “Are you still wondering why you are here and what you are doing? Pay attention! You’re doing exactly what I asked of you! People need to be heard. People need to be listened to. People need someone by their side so they can keep going. Keep listening and keep being available. That’s all I asked of you.”
Okay, God. I get it. Just help me to retrain my brain to realize that listening IS ministry, listening IS active, and that listening really matters. My heart knows it, but my brain is stubborn and backwards sometimes. I may not be physically exhausted and sunburned and sweaty and falling-down-in-the-bed tired every day like I was in Peru, and I admit that it is hard for me to not be all of those things every day, but I’m right where you want me and that’s the best place to be!
I’m all ears – Bring it!
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!