What I miss about Christmas back home…

The longer I am away from the USA and ‘home’ during Christmas holidays, the more I realize what it is that I ‘miss’ and what it is that I do not. Spoiler alert:  I will tell you right now… I do not miss the hustle and bustle and shopping.  I do not miss gifts and all the stuff under the tree.

What I DO miss:

  • I miss the Christmas tree decorations that are so sentimental to me.  The ornaments that belonged to my grandmother or my mother, the ornaments that I made when I was a little girl, the ornaments that my children made when they were little ones.  I miss the fancy china Lenox and Wedgewood ornaments that are super glued together because the cat climbed the tree that one year and sent all 12 feet of it crashing to the ground in the middle of the night.  I miss the silly ornaments that we have bought over the years, and the ones that represent years of family vacations and places traveled.
  • I miss the annual Christmas services at church all during the month of December.  The Hanging of the Greens service, the children’s choir service, the symphony and choir performance, the Christmas pageant.
  • I miss driving around town to see Christmas lights.
  • I miss making Christmas cookies and candies.
  • I miss all the yummy Christmas smells… candles and cinnamon and cloves, peppermint, apples, and cedar trees.
  • I miss having a big family Christmas dinner, complete with nice tableclothes and china and silver and crystal.  I miss what that special time in the kitchen meant to me – a time of preparation for the family, a time of memory making with the hubby and kids.
  • I miss the cute Christmas crafts and the Christmas programs from elementary school.
  • I miss family, and friends, and all the time we spent together around fireplaces and Christmas trees, laughing and keeping warm.
  • I miss singing Christmas carols in church.  And I especially miss singing Silent Night and lighting candles on Christmas Eve during the Candelight Service.  I cry during that part… every time.

I’m a little sad to not be ‘home’ for those parts of Christmas that I miss.  But I do not miss all the calendar and schedule clashes of different events and how to fit them all in.  I don’t miss the last minute shopping for the gift that was forgotten.  I don’t miss the gift part at all, actually. I don’t miss parking lots and fussy consumers in crowded stores.

I miss people.  And traditions. And feelings.  And scents.  And sounds. But not gifts…

 

If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things,
and again with things,
if we consider ourselves so unimportant
that we must fill every moment of our lives with action,
when will we have the time
to make the long slow journey across the desert
as did the Magi?
Or sit and watch the stars
as did the Shepherds?
Or brood over the coming of the child
as did Mary?
For each of us, there is a desert to travel,
a star to discover,
and a being within ourselves to bring to life.

-Michael Podesta

Send Christmas to a Missionary, the 21st Century way!

“WHAT!?!? Christmas is just around the corner? How did that sneak up on us again?!”

I always loved the part in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace training when he talks about how Christmas is on the same date every single year, yet people act like it snuck up on them and they had no time to plan out how to deal with gifts and budgets.  He always says, “how much more advance notice did you need?!”  Cracked me up, every time!

So, guess what… it’s Christmas time, again.  Did it sneak up on you?

Chances are, it’s too late to put something in the mail for that special mission worker that you love and support in another land far away.  BUT WAIT!  It’s not too late to show them how much you love them and care for them, how much they are thought of and remembered during this special time.  Forget the mail… let’s jump in to the 21st century and get all technological on this!

Ideas that don’t require you relying on snail mail:

  • Amazon gift certificate / gift card… did you know that you can buy a gift card or gift certificate and EMAIL it to your mission friend? YEP!!!  The only thing they need from the gift card is the code on the back, not the actual card!  Or buy the gift certificate online and send them the notification via email.  Missionaries love Amazon!  They can buy Kindle books and download them, or even use their gift credit to buy something and ship it directly without the hassle of customs and foreign mail offices.  And don’t forget Itunes… same thing… just send the code off the back of the card.
  • How about a video greeting? Most mobile phones have video capability now. How about making a quick video greeting from your family or church or Sunday school class or small group? Then push ‘send’!
  • Pick up the phone!!! Or Skype!  Most mission workers have a VOIP phone number or a Skype number. Give them a call and say Merry Christmas!  How about Christmas caroling via phone?!  Or calling them from the annual Christmas party and letting everyone say Hi.  At this time of year, many mission workers are feeling lonely and missing the traditions of home.  How can you include them?  Even better if you have a video feed on your computer or phone!!!
  • How about a special year-end gift to their account? Ministry funds are running low by this time of the year.  Did you know that year-end giving is the main venue for boosting ministry accounts for the rest of the year?  Many mission workers barely scrape by during the other months, and year-end gifts give them a boost and help cushion them in the lean months during the rest of the year.  If you are a regular monthly donor, could you commit to raising your commitment by $10 extra dollars next year?  This would be such a nice way to say, “We believe in you and in the work you do.  Merry Christmas.”
  • Is there a special way to include Missionary Kids (MKs) in your Christmas well-wishes this year? Again, an online Amazon gift or Itunes gift just for them.  Or a special video or phone call from their buddies back in The States, their Sunday School class, scout troop, etc?  Could you decorate cookies together, long-distance?  Or call up a little one and read a Christmas story together on Skype?  Make a craft together, long-distance?  Lots of possibilities!!!
  • How about 12 Days of Christmas specialized just for them? Send a photo or a song or a poem or a special greeting each day for 12 days.  You could post it to Facebook, or send it via email, or call them every day for 12 days.  How about 12 special scriptures just for them, or 12 prayers, or 12 Christmas recipes… use your imagination!
  • Text greetings every day until Christmas… did you know that Whatsapp is a texting app for your mobile phone that is easy and cheap (less than a dollar) and goes all over the world?! Most missionaries are using Whatsapp.  Or another one is Viber.  Check with your missionary and get on their text app!!!

It’s not too late to share some Christmas spirit with those missionary workers you love!

Merry Christmas!!!

The C-word

The ministry pedestal… that terrible place that many in ministry are placed, yet many hate being there.  That place where many missionaries find themselves suddenly thrust from just-another-Joe in my bible study group to Superman Missionary who hacks through jungles and saves entire populations, who has all the answers and is a super genius in all things Bible.  And we all live with the knowledge that WE AREN’T THAT GUY!  We aren’t super human.  We aren’t perfect.  We don’t have all the answers. Why does everyone think that about me?

On most days, we feel pretty much like normal folks.  We struggle just like the rest of the world.  We have kids who aren’t perfect.  WE aren’t perfect.  We burn the dinner rolls.  We forget to pack our kid’s lunch.  We scramble to find answers during Bible study.  Heck, we have even been known to lose our religion trying to get our family out the door and to church on time (or anywhere, for that matter).

Yet, in our newsletters and prayer updates, we are faced with the everlasting question… “What do we share this month? How will it be read and understood? Will our funding be effected if we share our struggles and failures?”  Living the missionary life (or ministry life) for many of us is walking a tightrope of trying to live up to what others think of us, trying to not fall off the pedestal we have been placed on, but knowing that we are broken and struggling and ‘normal’ and we need help and prayers and understanding.

Which brings us to the C-word.  After our first term (5 years) in mission service, we were burned and bruised and battered and very broken.  Don’t get me wrong, it was also wonderful and I wouldn’t trade it for the world!  And that is part of the problem… how can you be broken and dying inside, and at the same time be so stinkin’ fulfilled?  I just didn’t even know what to do with all of those emotions!  I wore the good emotions on the outside, and hid the yucky ones – because no one wants to see your yuck, right?  Well, newsflash… you can only wear that mask for so long before you die from the inside out and everyone starts to see the truth.

In my case, it started with lots of unexplained health stuff.  Toward the end of our first term, I was just plagued with one little illness after the other.  As soon as one would get better, another one would get me.  I just couldn’t seem to get away from it.  And then there were the muscular things.  I had constant back pain for the entire last year of that first term.  Then I had a mysterious shoulder problem that even doctors and physical therapists couldn’t understand.  Then, the dreaded shingles… a derivative of the chicken pox virus that lays dormant in your nerve endings and is brought to life via stress.  I loved the day that my doctor said, “you have to get rid of stress in your life – you just have to”.  Was this woman an alien?  Did she know what my life looked like?  How on earth was I going to get rid of stress?!  At that point, I was in the middle of a transition from the first mission term to a second one – one that was taking us to a new role and a new country, even further away than the first one.  HA!  Get rid of stress…

Well, folks, it didn’t get better.  It got worse.  The more I was sick or injured, the more depressed I got.  I’m not a good patient, nor am I good at being dependent or quiet or still.  And the more I was knocked down, the more stressed and upset I got.  We moved to our new locale.  It wasn’t an easy transition – more stress.  Then I ruptured a calf muscle.  Great!

Stress on top of stress.

I know… you’re still wondering what the C-word is…

COUNSELING!

What!?!?  Missionaries need counseling?

YES!

Not only do we need counseling, but we need specialized counseling.  We need counseling from folks who get us.  Who get what it is that we do.  Who get what it means to live on that pedestal.  Who get what it means to live in another culture and try to keep some semblance of life and normalcy.  Who get our special intricacies and who aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and love us through the answers.

I’ve had several different counselors during my missionary service, different ones for different reasons.  One helped my hubby and I with transition issues.  One helped us both with grief issues from leaving our first term and host country.  One helped us walk through what it means to daily deal with being a family split apart by an ocean and living on two continents.  And one helped me personally to deal with my own self-esteem and the effects that external life has on my internal thoughts about myself.  Did I mention that missionaries aren’t perfect?

Just some quick statistics from a recent survey of mission workers in Europe and Asia… Top reasons missionaries have received counseling:

  • Depression 73%
  • Stress 64%
  • Anxiety 55%
  • Marital issues 46%
  • Life transition and career transition 36%
  • Fear / trauma / PTSD / team dysfunction 27%

Other reasons… emotional and behavioral issues in children, family therapy, anger management, grief and loss therapy, loneliness, eating      disorders, cross-cultural adjustment, health problems.

As the statistics suggest, many of us are in the same boat.  If you are ‘normal’, you are probably in the I-need-help- I’m sinking category.  Don’t suffer alone and think that you are the only one.  That pedestal is pretty shaky and a pretty lonely place to be.  Why don’t you come down and breathe, then get some of the C-word… without shame or dishonor.  There are special counselors just for you, who have a heart for loving cross-cultural witnesses / missionaries.

PS… after 3 sessions and some good counseling, much of my stress started to melt away.  My mystery illnesses ALL went away!  I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I have tools to help me manage stress now.  And I continue to find help and a listening ear when I’m feeling a little shaky.

So, do you think that maybe you could benefit from talking to a counselor? Shoot me a private email for references to some great mission counselors. Many of these folks do this as a ministry to YOU and do it at greatly reduced (sometimes nearly free) rates!   I’m happy to share resources!

from Vulnerability to Courage

I woke up, stepped into my slippers and walked in to the bathroom, and I looked in the mirror as tears welled up and spilled over.  How could I possibly be crying at 7:00 in the morning?!  “What is wrong with me?!”

My husband looked across the room and through the bathroom door and said, “Oh my gosh!  What’s wrong?  What’s the matter?”  And all I could do was cry more and choke out the words, “I can’t do it today. I just can’t.”

I was supposed to give the devotional that morning at our home church’s staff meeting.  While we were home on furlough, we had been given an office at the church to use as our home-base for work.  We had been home for several months, in transition between the ending of our first five-year mission assignment to new role in a new country.  The staff at the church had been great, giving us a work space, welcoming us back in to the family, and treating us like we belonged.  It had been great!  Yet, here I was… crying.  The normally confident I-can-do-anything missionary who had just managed to survive founding three eductional programs, a feeding program, starting a community garden project and raising goats and chicken in rural Peru was now cratering at the bathroom sink and saying, “I can’t do it.”  How did I get to that place???

Bottom line… I’m great at wearing the mask.

I hadn’t been ‘okay’ for a long time.  I had been on a downward spiral for well over a year or so. I had been suffering and hurting for more months than I could count.  But, I am a master at covering it up.  So, other than my husband, no one really knew what was going on inside of me.

tumblr_lvkca8lBxy1qf70r5o1_500On the outside, I still looked like that I-can-do-anything missionary.  I continued to go to speaking engagements and talk about our life and work with passion and poise.  I continued to teach at missions conferences and bible studies and church groups.  In fact, the deeper I got with my own pain, the more things I signed up to do.  I wrote a curriculum for a six-week missions course.  I traveled and spoke and taught.  I took online master’s courses.  I volunteered to help anyone and everyone.

My to-do list was keeping me alive… but it was killing me, too.  Busyness is my coping mechanism.  If I’m busy, I don’t have to face the truth about my feelings.  So I stayed busy.  REAL busy.  It’s better than sitting alone and crying, right?

On that morning, I woke up and crawled out of bed, and then I lost it.  Where I usually would have strolled right in to that staff meeting and given an awesome, thought provoking devotional and led a rousing discusion afterward, I was now crying and paralyzed and unable to make a coherent sentence other than, “I can’t do it.”

It had to be God-given instruction after that, because the idea certainly wasn’t coming from me!  When I stopped crying and got myself dressed, I knew what I had to do.  I had to come clean.

I walked in to that staff devotional time and I stood up and said, “I don’t really have a devotional for you today.  I have a confession.  I’m tired of lying to you.  I’m tired of people asking me, ‘How are you?  How does it feel to be home? How are you doing with the transition?’ and my answer is always a happy, ‘Fine.  I’m good.  I’m excited about the transition.  Life’s good.’   Well… it’s not.  I’m not.  I’m not fine.  Life’s not good.  I’m not excited.  I am sad and I am scared and I am worried about the transition and I am not at all okay.  I’m not fine.”

I remember looking out at the chapel and seeing a room full of stunned faces and thinking to myself, Now they think you’re crazy… good job. You scared them to death.

I continued to tell about what I was feeling, even though I thought that I had just sealed my fate and ended my career.  I mean, once you messed up, you might as well mess it up big, right?  I told about how sad we had been to leave Peru.  I told about how hard it was to be back in The States and how hard it was to be ‘home’ when it didn’t feel like ‘home’ anymore.  I told about how scared I was about changing mission fields and assignments, and how I didn’t know if I could do it again.  I told about how I was afraid that I had been so successful in Peru and I was petrified that I couldn’t live up to that success in another context… what if I am a failure in another country?

It was the hardest talk I ever gave.

Vulnerability is hard.

But, guess what…

After that talk, my office was flooded with people who came in and sat down to talk.  People who usually just chatted in the hallway or stuck their head in to say hi were now pulling up and chair and staying for an hour or so.  People started to tell me real things, deep things, honest things about their lives and their struggles.  It was like, not only did I take off my mask, but I gave everyone else permission to take off theirs, too!  Everyone became real, all at once.  It was great.

I had felt so vulnerable and so raw at that moment of coming clean.  It was so hard.  Seriously, it had to be God’s hand and his spirit moving me to do it, because I certainly wouldn’t have made that step alone!

But something else was really interesting, too.  Where I felt vulnerable and raw, other people were saying, “thank you for having the courage to share with us” and “that was so courageous of you to!  I couldn’t stand up and do that.  You’re amazing.”  I even had one person say, “Thank you for telling me the truth.  I always thought of you as superhuman and untouchable. Now you are real to me.  I love you so much more for it.”

Wow.

I’ve learned a lot about myself since then.  I’ve learned a lot about vulnerability, too.  And I know more about how to keep myself mentally healthy while I serve others.

When have you witnessed someone else being vulnerable with their story?  Did it seem courageous to you, or crazy?

Have you had a big vulnerability moment?  

What are your coping mechanisms when you are stressed or overwhelmed?

To learn more about vulnerability, I highly suggest you see these:

or read one of her many books… my favorite is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown