I always get to this place - this moment that is the turning of the calendar in to a new year - and I realize just how much of our USA culture and worldview continues to be ingrained in me, even after all these years of being away. I first realized it in Peru. The new year came about and my mind automatically moved in to reflection and goals mode. What went well in the old year? What do I want to improve on in the new year? What plans need to be put in to place for the coming year? Lots of reflection and self-evaluation, then using that to make plans for the new year. It’s also a time of year when my mind automatically goes in to health mode. I need to get back to the gym. I need to do better this year with my physical fitness and my health habits. I need to get in to a rhythm of healthier eating. What struck me in Peru was that, for the first time in my life, no one around me was thinking these things! How could it be that no one else was reflecting and planning? How is it even possible that the rest of society was not making exercise plans and healthy meal plans? I mean, it seemed that absolutely NO ONE had turned the calendar page and realized that a new year had begun!
Then it hit me - this is a part of my North American culture that I was unaware of. I did not realize that all this reflection and planning was cultural. Nor did I realize the effect that media has on our culture when it comes to all this health and new year business. Think about it… what is on TV commercials and talk shows and magazines right now? Diets! Gym promotions, exercise plans, etc. The new Weight Watchers plan. Planet Fitness has a deal going. Rachel Ray is cooking special meals to help you lose that holiday weight and start the new year right. Guess what’s on sale at Target and WalMart and IKEA and everywhere else… organizing supplies, planners, ways to get yourself in order so you can start the year off “right”. By the way, you need a new yoga mat.
Guess what, folks. This wasn’t happening in Peru. I realized that during our first year there and I had a little moment of panic. How will people go forward and achieve their goals if they don’t reflect and plan and make goals in January?! WHAT KIND OF CULTURE IS THIS???? (Yes, I freaked out, just a little.)
So, newsflash… it isn’t happening in Spain either. Nope. No big season of health and gym membership sales. No big discounts on planners or calendars or office supplies. No big promotion of self-help books or yoga mats or diet plans. January is just January.
Even now, ten years after moving out of the USA to live a life of service overseas, that strange feeling wafts over me in January. Even though nothing around me is promoting it or selling it, I get the feeling that I’m supposed to be in reflection and planning mode, and that I need to get back to healthy habits.
Billy and I have begun a monthly process of reflection and planning. It just works better for us. It keeps us a little more focused and a little more accountable to our various goals and projects, and we can make course corrections quickly to keep us on track. It also helps us to celebrate the little things and take stock of what’s going on. It’s easy to miss the little achievements and celebrations if you wait till the end of the year to try to reflect. And it’s really easy to find yourself way off course if you only visit your goals once a year! So, once a month, we have a day that is set aside for reflection and planning. We take a critical look at various aspects of our personal life and our work and we decide how to proceed. In some areas, we might be doing pretty great and have things to celebrate. And in other areas, we realize that we have let some things slip or we haven’t given enough attention to certain goals and we make corrections.
While we’re on the subject, let me share with you a recent celebration that came to light. One of the young ladies who taught for us in the educational projects in Peru recently connected with us. She (Tania) stays in touch and often sends us messages via Facebook messenger. Last month, she sent a message saying that she had been back to Iscos (one of the towns where we had a school outreach and discipleship program) and she had gone to visit Julia. You might recall that Julia was an older woman, a widow, who opened up her home and gave us a room to hold classes for our school children. She cooked meals for 30 kids every day in her kitchen and allowed us to have classes in her home for several years. In the afternoons, she opened up her home so community women could come and have bible study and workshops. Along the way, she became a believer through the discipleship of our young teachers. In many ways, she became a mother to us all and a grandmother to all of our students.
Tania went to visit Julia and then sent us a message. She said that Julia continues to be a believer and continues to read her Bible daily and try to continue learning. She said she will forever be grateful and have fond memories of us and of the school program, and she wanted Tania to specifically send a message to us thanking us for our time in Peru and telling us that we are still loved and remembered, and that the Bible teaching and discipleship that was done continues to live on. WOW! That was an awesome note to receive!!!
Then, Tania went on to give us even more! She asked for prayers for her new business endeavor… she has opened a school in Lima and is modeling it after the work that we did in Iscos and Patarcocha. The school opened in December, with the goal of reaching entire families for Christ via the education and love shown to their children. Again, wow! Those young teachers not only continued the work that we started in Peru, but they have now taken it in various directions and it has grown to something we never could have imagined. One of them continues to work in the area where we began, one of them answered a call for teachers to go in to the most unreached and dangerous parts of the jungle, and now Tania has opened her own school. All remain faithful to their calling and passion… to use their passion for teaching and for children and families, and to live out their calling of discipleship and loving others through their vocation.
Never during any of our reflection or planning did we foresee the future or the fruit that would occur in Peru. Honestly, that’s all God. What we did was to daily walk alongside those teachers, daily pour in to their lives, and stay true to our calling and passion. God did the rest. And we trust that this will be true in Spain as well. We reflect and we plan, we try to focus and be true to our calling. We daily practice our passion of loving and empowering people, of caring for others and walking alongside people in whatever life throws at them. And we trust that God will do the rest. He always does. He’s in the business of showing up and amazing us!
In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a soccer mom, a horsewoman, and the neighborhood hospitality queen. I did "Joanna Gaines farmhouse style" before Chip and JoJo were even a thing - we restored an 1884 Victorian farmhouse in small town Texas and did shiplap walls until I thought I'd go crazy. I taught at NASA, scuba dived with astronauts in training, and studied animals at Sea World for educational purposes. I've tried just about everything, because I have an insatiable need to know if I can do it! Never underestimate a Texas girl in cowboy boots!
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! 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 via teaching and training and care, and helping displaced people to navigate their new reality in Europe.
I'm passionate about fostering personal growth, growth in community, and growth in The Kingdom. Walking alongside others and helping them to use their unique design, their gifts and strengths and maximize their abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose - that's what makes my heart sing!