On This Day: Facebook-Archived Memories I Might Rather Forget

The ever popular social network is faithful to remind me every day of the memories on this date in the past years. Most days, I scan posts between friends I am no longer even online acquaintances with. Some I even have to go look at their profile picture and think long and hard about who in the world that person is.

Most days are boring and uneventful as such is life. But some days bring back floods of memories. Some of these reminders pull warm fuzzy moments from deep within that bring a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. Others swell with waves of painful gut-wrenching grief that threaten to overwhelm me again.

Did you know that you can set dates for this Facebook application so that you can avoid painful reminders on certain days you’d rather just pretend didn’t happen? Tempting, in some cases.

This week, I’ve been receiving reminders about two major events in my life.

A pregnancy announced in February, 2013 that would end in May of the same year.

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Visa issues that resulted in a major change of plans as we were not granted access into India for church planting work and changed fields within a month of receiving this news.

Countless prayers for a healthy baby graced the ears of God. Perhaps many more did the same begging God for access to the country which He had placed in our hearts.

A due date. A departure date. Both came and went without the expected outcome.

We planned, we prayed, we hoped. We trusted God as we held our breaths in reckless obedience to His supposed will for our lives.

We were heartbroken, disappointed, and let down when our plans were derailed, our self-sculpted worlds crumbled, and our hands were forced to change. I guess the ball was never really in our court, anyway, but why was it so comforting to think that it was?

In these scenarios when everything fell apart and we were left wondering what just happened as we sat helpless in the debris, we had nothing to cling to but the Cross.

Why would the God of the universe give us an unexpected blessing in rosy cheeked flawless form just to let him rot in my womb for weeks while I dismissed my fears in attempts to fully trust the One who watched him take his last breath?

Why would God impress this needy country, these people lost without the gospel of Christ upon our hearts, allow us to see the need with our own eyes, and raise the support needed to go…only to allow the hands that held the power to grant us entrance to clench them in their unrelenting fists?

I wish I could tell you. Even now, I still wonder about these things, and on the hardest days when the memories I’d rather make sure to avoid sweep around my swimming thoughts, I ask these questions again.

But when I rise above the waves and get a nice big breath of the sweetness of the Lord to this child of His and I steal a glimpse of the grace He has extended to my family, I am in awe of the beauty He has created out of what I once thought was such a heaping mess.

Isn’t that just like him?

I have a perfectly beautiful family only an egregiously gracious God could give me. I have two constant reminders of the miraculous work He wrought inside of my Creator-crafted body to bring two more of His fearfully, wonderfully made masterpieces into this world broken by sin.

I live in a country I knew nothing of exactly a year ago. I speak a language (sort-of) I didn’t know existed. I have friends it would kill me to leave now should He relocate me again and opportunities for life-changing kingdom work on the horizon. This is mind-blowing to me!

We make plans, we move forward, and we trust once more. Knowing He can wreck them all again. But knowing He will carry us through it if He does and will bring about something so right and so beautiful. The growing hurts. There’s no getting around that. And the beautiful is usually real ugly before it is brought to the light.

I would have never chosen to make some of the memories of the past, and the Lord knows they are painful to recall.

And while some days, I wonder what life would be like with my 2 1/2 year old son bouncing around the house I imagined we would live in in New Delhi, India, most days I just bask in the admittedly weird (and inexplicably challenging) but wonderful life I lead looking forward to the memories yet to be made.

Bring on the memories of old. Don’t hold back. Don’t pour on the perfect and protect me from the pain.

And you know what, while I’m at it, I better start adding to the stockpile so I can have the precious and painful memories of a life lived for Christ to look back on in the years to come. Seeing always that He is good, faithful, and kind. And that I have never lacked a perfect gift from His hand. That His plans for me, though not in accordance with my own, are forged in unharnessed hands that work only to bring about good work in my life.

And sweet, sweet memories. Thank you, Jesus.

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Feeling all the Feels: Family Visits on the Foreign Field

I had and have no intentions of abandoning this blog. BUT I took a little unplanned hiatus for my in-laws visit! Can I get a whoop-whoop?! We had a wonderful Christmas celebration with them (on New Years) and an over-all fantastic time. No land-slides or major crises this time! Can I get an Amen?! You don’t have to do that…really. I’ll be happy anyway.

We did lots of things and saw lots of stuffs. There were hugs and kisses and snuggles and squeezes. Lots of laughs and countless calories consumed (Non-essential diets are NOT honored here if you visit us). Games played, gifts given, and good times had all around! Way too much love to be packed into 12 days, but we managed it somehow.

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I wanted to contrast the first day, mid-visit, and last day activities, thoughts, and feelings for anyone who might be interested in the good, bad, and ugly of this life. Missionaries are real people too, you know. And we love our families in a real big way from real far away. When we get them in close proximity, we suck all the life and love out of them and manipulate minutes into years of memories.

DAY 1: So many things to do, but all I want to do is watch the clock. I clean things I’ve already cleaned and prepare more food than can possibly be consumed. My daughter asks how long it will be until G&G get here. I tell her 12 hours (ok I lied a little..it’s more than that). She says, “That is a LOOOONG TIIIIIIIME!” Ditto, sweet baby. We eat breakfast…lunch… dinner…drink way too much coffee…go to church…watch a few movies. Hubby goes to the airport, bubby goes to bed and the little princess falls asleep on the couch at 5 minutes after 8. I keep checking my phone. Nothing but a plea to put some Diet Coke in the fridge for their arrival. I go to get it out of the pantry which might as well be the refrigerator. It’s already cold. Head back to my cocoon and check my phone repeatedly for the next hour. No word. But wait! I hear our little Maruti-Suzuki-that-could huffing and puffing up the hill to our house. I use all my best techniques to wake my drooling diva, a little worried that she will be a scared sleepy head or the grumpy bear she usually is when woken prematurely. She sleepily squeals at first sighting and jumps (ok…falls…) right into their arms. She spends the next hour showing off her things, chattering non-stop, and playing an endless game of I-Spy in which she ALWAYS tells the thing she spies before Grandma guesses. After catching up and oggling the suitcases full of Christmas presents, we reluctantly head towards the bed. It’s gonna be a great week.

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Mid-visit: How can it be half-way over all ready? Our time is going too fast. We’ve stayed home a lot. Are they bored? They seem happy. Everyone seems happy. I know I’m happy. This has certainly been a stressful year. It sure does feel nice to just relax. I cry happy tears in bed with my husband and whisper my worries that the joy I feel will leave when they do.

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The Final Day: There’s a little less chatter over our coffee cups this morning. They sit half-empty on the breakfast table. I feel a little like that coffee cup and wonder if everyone else does too. I swear I was just full to the brim last night and warm…so warm (my friends in Nepal know this is not a literal warmth). I just know it won’t last. This day will drain me. The memories will remain but will suddenly feel distant. We will fall back into our routines but we will feel that emptiness, the cold for a while. We stay in, silently packing and getting things ready to go. The silence is repeatedly broken by baby giggles and toddler banter…beautiful sounds of oblivion. I’m so thankful they don’t know how many miles it is to America and how long a year is. We pass the time with coffee, snacks, games, waiting for the inevitable. I know they have to go home. I know we have to let them. We will all be happy to get back to normal life, of course, but right now that doesn’t seem to matter. The moment comes for lingering hugs and loose lips sharing all the love we can summon. Teetering between making this a special goodbye for Jo without opening up her eyes to the painful reality of this departure. The nanny takes the baby from Grandma and I can tell she feels a little guilty for doing so. As the car pulls away, I spy a tutu-clad toddler waving and yelling the sweetest sentiments in her best outside voice (it’s the only one she has). IMG_1302

My heart hurts and my stomach does too. It’s pretty quiet on the way to the airport. We help them find their way to the departure door. We pray over a pile of suitcases with hundreds of eyes watching us. Our own fight back tears that finally cascade down my face as we give the final squeeze. I watch them walk out of sight and for the first time in a long time I think, “Why do we do this to ourselves?” My husband hugs me on the long walk back to the car and says, “You know I couldn’t do this without you,” and I remember the answer to the question I asked myself. I smile a weak smile as we begin the quiet ride home.

It had been a great week.

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Tell me about your visits with family after extended absences!
I would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!

 

 

How Hospitality Saved my Christmas and Changed my Heart

Showing up unannounced at someone’s house on Christmas…GASP!

This would be a shocking act in American culture on this holiday and, really, on any day on the calendar. Typically, we aren’t fond of visitors finding their way to our doorstep without a serious heads up.

With some hesitation, we committed this heinous crime on Christmas Day here in Nepal. We gave a friend and his daughter a ride home from church and declared that we would come in and say hello to his wife who was hindered by a headache from attending the special Christmas service that day.

From the backseat, I heard the warning call, “Paul and Amber are coming over. Put some tea on.” Or something like that. It was in my second language, ya know.

And that was it. I didn’t hear on the other end if she became frazzled and rushed, overloaded by the stress of unforetold company. I worried if we had somehow overstepped our bounds. I know she loves our kids and would want to see them but does that still stand on Christmas Day with a headache?

Thankfully, it did. I pushed my worries aside as we shoved our American-size selves into her tiny apartment. We joined her on the balcony where she was  bent over a fire, cooking sel roti, a traditional sweet snack prepared on special days, and she greeted us with HUGE hugs, smiles, and squeals. What was I worried about anyway?

She shared with us the meal (complete with meat!) that she had prepared for her little family. We felt a guilty but thankful that they would welcome us into their family on this special day. Though we were absolutely full to the brim from the feast at church, we found room somewhere for the smaller feast they offered.

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We stayed and chatted an hour without a word of English and went home satisfied on sweetness and with smiles that just wouldn’t subside. This precious family had saved my Christmas.

I so enjoyed our Christmas celebration at church and just adored how Christ-centered that week had been. Though, I would be lying if I tried to make you believe that this was the state of my heart throughout the week in its entirety.

I had a wandering eye to Christmas celebrations happening Stateside. I longed to be with my family in the house I grew up in taking in the sights sounds, and smells of familiar holiday tradition.

But while everyone was knee-deep in pre-planned Christmas festivities, I was being loved on by precious people whose language I don’t yet fluently speak and enjoying treats they had set aside for their own family…all during my spontaneous stop-over.

I had been residing in the selfish hole where I had surrounded myself with all my wishes and wants that blocked my view of the blessings around me. This family’s gracious hospitality had pulled me out, embraced me, and opened my eyes to the amazing things God has done here and the wonderful people He has put in my life.

I have a new family here. And while they don’t resemble mine in any way and their traditions are much more reserved, I realized the basis of their treatment of us has the same underlying cause of the most precious moments Stateside.

They love Jesus. They have servant-hearts. They love us and they love our kids. Not because we don’t butcher their language on the daily (we do) and not because we don’t make silly cultural offenses (we do). But because they realize the big thing that happened on Christmas, and it changed them.

They live in a culture that doesn’t see what Christ has done. They walk in a world that doesn’t give Him a thought. They realize the weight of what has been done in their lives, and they aren’t afraid to pass it along.

I have seen this family love and serve believers and unbelievers alike. They have learned hospitality from this culture where it plays a big role in daily life and relationships, but theirs has a special touch. It has a touch of Jesus. And I really believe that his open home, open door policy plus a touch of Jesus can really bring a wonderful change to this world that has long forgotten or never known the Christ who came so many years ago.

Perhaps those who wouldn’t look for Him could stumble upon Him over a cup of coffee at my table, sitting on my couch playing Uno, or sharing freshly popped popcorn on the front-porch.

Maybe after casual chit-chat about the latest movies and where I bought the kids shoes, I could tell them what brought us to this wild and wonderful place and the amazing plan we have lived out in light of the gospel.

Maybe the greatest, most life changing moments don’t ALWAYS happen at the altar. Maybe they happen in our homes. So maybe it really wouldn’t hurt to invite someone into the tornado debris and toddler tantrums. Maybe here is where they could meet Jesus.

Announced or not, I can welcome visitors in and introduce them to the greatest friend I’ve ever known.

This year, I resolve to keep my door open a little more often, linger a little longer, and tell my frazzled spazzy self to take a hike in the name of Christ-honoring hospitality. To find the heart inside that loves the people Jesus does. Which is, uh, everyone.

Christ-centered hospitality saved my Christmas. Maybe it could save someone’s life. Jesus takes our measly offerings and does pretty awesome things like that.

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What do you resolve to improve in the New Year for the sake of the gospel?
I would love to hear from you in the comment section below!

 

Christmas Where I Don’t Belong

Before leaving for the field, I often wondered what my first Christmas would look like. I fantasized about what it could or should be. I dreamed of starting family traditions with my little ones and sharing our Christmas festivities with new friends, believers and unbelievers alike.

But just like many things in life, the reality just hasn’t lived up to the hype. I guess I should have known. This is not my home. At least not yet. This country doesn’t celebrate Christ’s coming. And while I would not argue that Christmas is truly a Christian holiday in its modern form, there are comforts that come in the community that shares at least a nod at the King that came to earth as a babe to save the souls of the world.

We aren’t less busy because it’s Christmas. In fact, we are even busier! Learning a language is time and thought consuming. There are very few moments in my day where my brain isn’t being racked for all the grammar and vocab knowledge crammed somewhere within. Walking to school, studying, preparing meals for my family, gift shopping, special Christmas services, making ready for guests…I don’t think my Christmas season has ever been more busy.

We’ve spent hours looking for a tree topper that was never found. Our plastic green toothpick turned Christmas tree is adorned with an elephant puppet. Because…seriously, that’s all we have.

It’s in these times I face myself. Is Jesus really the reason? Have I lost my focus? Is Christmas, to me, tree skirts and toppers, quality wrapping paper, and online shopping with ease?

Do I resent the things I am busy with that take precedence over the holiday traditions that seem so important? The things I am busy with are the important things after all. If Jesus is the reason I moved my family clear across the world, then it stands to reason He is the reason I am here now, removed from Christmas tradition and Christ reverence. The reason I am slaying myself to learn a language that doesn’t seem to want to stick. The reason I am putting myself out there to befriend difficult people, to cross cultural and language barriers to share the Christ who changed my life.

Christmas is not Christ. Christ is not for America only.Tradition and symbolism, while comforting, are not what my life is about. While nothing around me confirms the coming of the holiday season, no sounds of sleigh bells or Santa sightings, every day of my life is oozing of the grace of the once bundled babe indwelling the power of God and taking on the sins of the entire world. He is the reason for the season, the reason for my life, and the reason we can remain faithful when nothing is as it should be.

Wherever you find yourself this holiday season, with the comforts (read: distractions) of the Christmas season, give Christ more than a casual nod. Moving forward past Christmas and into the New Year, resolve to give Him every day of the coming year and every year. His grace isn’t given on one day or in one season. He is good and giving every day. Our response should be the same every day.

Amazed reverence. Willing obedience. Joyful submission. Complete confidence. Reckless trust.

In every season. On every day. Christ is the reason. Come, let us adore Him.

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And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:9-14)

In what ways do you center your Christmas around Christ?
I would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!

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Strategies for Saving and Spending in a Cash Society

One of the many adjustments we had to make upon moving to Nepal was learning to live in a cash society. While there are a few places that take credit (I can think of one!), the majority of shops, restaurants, services, and utility providers accept only cash. When you pay cash for every last little thing, it just seems to fly out of your wallet!

We came to this country with next to nothing, so there is always something that needs to be bought. Jo needs socks. Shep needs bigger pants. Mom needs shampoo. Dad needs undershirts. The trash guys need paid and the water bill is due, too.

Add all those up after a week of language school sans free time, and we have ourselves a pretty hefty shopping list. Putting it on the debit card would feel pretty painless. I could even tell myself its not THAT much, but handing over a stack of 1000 Rupee notes (equal to 10 USD) is enough to send me into a total panic!

Aside from our big monthly hauls, we are always picking things up here and there. There’s a shop for meat. A shop for fruits and veggies. A shop for clothes. A shop for underwear. A shop for office supplies. A shop for toys. A shop for beauty products. And so on.

I have a constant awareness of products around me that we want/need. The fresh strawberries call my name from the side of the road. The shoe shop with the fuzzy boots makes me suddenly aware my feet are cold. I saw a new brew at the coffee shop this week. I have 500 Rupees ($5) in my pocket. The wheels are turning… I wouldn’t swipe my debit card for a smoothie, but I could pull out a few of those rupees.

Separating my wants from needs has become increasingly difficult and sometimes overwhelming for me. If I have it in my head I need a new scarf, for instance, I am undoubtedly going to pass 40 shops hanging them in their windows!

Some strategies that have helped me with saving money in this cash society…

  • Let my husband handle the money. Ask him for money when I need it. Thankfully, he is a generous man!
  • Take the change when he pays taxis. A little bit adds up over time and pays for my needs here and there.
  • Resist the urge to buy a 40 cent snack every time I pass a shop–or 75 cent coffee…let’s be real, that’s the real struggle here.
  • Buy in bulk whenever possible. Nearly 18 lbs. of strawberries on my counter at the moment for which I paid $20. This is why freezer bags are constantly on my someone-send-me list.
  • Be willing to try brands other than the ones I am familiar and comfortable with.
  • Know when convenience is worth the extra $$$ and when it’s not.
  • Make a shopping list and STICK TO IT (even if they got a shipment of Reese Cups in this week!!)
  • Meal plan based on what is in season.
  • Know how much is/was in my wallet at all times. Be aware of what is being spent and where.
  • Shop American brands we like online during sales and arrange for them to be brought or sent. Many times this is cheaper than paying the import tax for clothes we aren’t necessarily fond of. Learning my lesson on that one.
  • Avoid the “dummy tax.” Know how much things should cost. Set a limit on what I want to spend. Know that many shopkeepers will start high because I am a foreigner. Speaking the language is insanely helpful in this scenario.Dave Ramsey probably wouldn’t let me advise anyone. I am just thankful for all the Lord has provided for our family and all that I have learned about stewarding His financial blessings in this wonderful country.

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Do you have money saving strategies that help you steward God’s money?
I would love to hear your experiences in the comment section below!