Archive for ‘choiceful living’

September 6, 2016

Vulnerability and Telling the Truth

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I used to have a hard time telling the truth, especially if it had the potential to cause someone to be unhappy with me.  I couldn’t reconcile the command to “speak the truth” with the “in love” part. So often in Christian circles the “love” part is emphasized but we don’t call each other out because we want to avoid shame to the other person or to ourselves.  I have also seen many people hurt by immovable idealists.  What I mean is people who think they are telling the truth but really are dogmatic in their own beliefs and unwilling to hear other points of view. The tension of living cross culturally is that you are always going to run into someone who makes different choices. It’s the lack of grace that makes people feel like they’ve been thrown into the gutter. I’ve been thrown into the gutter and I know I’ve been guilty of throwing others in. That’s the hard thing about being human…we will hurt each other. But if we can’t talk about it, there’s no way to move forward.

I began boundaries training with my friend Kay many years ago, and it started with me approaching strangers politely asking for more cream in my coffee, or asking for something in the store that wasn’t on the shelf. This progressed to me saying that I had to think about an invitation or request before saying “yes” or “no” to them.  It meant listening to the Holy Spirit (and to my heart instead of denying my thoughts and feelings as I was conditioned to do) and facing my paralyzing fear of disappointing people. I had to keep asking myself “what if I say ‘no’ to …….?” what could happen? (For example: she could get mad. I might lose a friend. I won’t die. I might be able to say ‘no’ more easily next time.) And “am I responsible for ………’s response?” (nope!) I had to remind myself that I have value (and so does the other person) and to say “yes” when I really mean “no” is a way of devaluing myself (or my family). Often I find that the fallout extends to my husband and kids as well as myself.

What I learned was that I needed to accept the consequences of telling the truth and practice it, even if it meant that it cost me something. No longer would I be angry at someone for asking me for a favor. Because it was my responsibility to respond appropriately. I can’t say the gut wrenching feelings ended with me learning to speak truthfully/honestly, but I think they have subsided some as I’ve put what Kay taught me into practice.

Telling the truth means that there will be personal consequences. Here’s where the vulnerability comes in. It’s a risk to tell the truth. Someone won’t like what I said. We might have completely different ideas of what is “respectful” behavior or even what is normal. Or, sometimes I get it wrong by the story I told myself about what happened. Sometimes I confront on my own strength without seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Sometimes the thing I said gets blown out of proportion and the thing I was hoping to convey gets lost in the conflict. Another result is that I’ve said my peace and there is no response or worse, a hostile one. At that point, I can choose to stop engaging with the crazy. I usually conclude in the end that I’m glad I said something because it’s worth it not to allow myself to be victimized. My previous efforts to be ‘nice’ damaged me because I lived in a constant state of fear of making people unhappy. In his book, ‘When Panic Attacks’, David Burns writes, “If you show me a hundred people who are anxious, I’ll show you a hundred of the nicest people you ever met!”

One of my friends tells the truth unapologetically. She has no problem approaching others to find out what really happened, and I think she’s really good at diffusing a situation that could get ugly. The reason I find safety in our friendship (and others like it) is that I know she’s going to tell me the truth every time. We don’t have to agree on everything but we both know each other’s hearts so we can assume good intentions right from the start.

It took time to build up our friendship and trust each other. She would never put me above her family or relationship with her husband and nor would she expect me to do that for her. We both have other close friends and freely expect each other to spend time with them. When I’m with her, it’s common for her to share with me what she’s studying in the Scriptures. Her desire to grow spiritually is infectious.  Also, she makes me laugh. I don’t have time for emotional games or drama in friendships, because I am stretched with all that I’m called to do here (wife, mother, teammate, etc.) I have several friendships here like this, where there are no ‘shoulds’ or guilt trips and for that I’m really thankful!

Living in community means more opportunities for truth telling and for loving confrontation.

 But you, dear friends, carefully build yourselves up in this most holy faith by praying in the Holy Spirit, staying right at the center of God’s love, keeping your arms open and outstretched, ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ. This is the unending  life, the real life! ( The Message, Jude 20-21)

March 11, 2016

“I’ve got this.”

by mendibpng

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(above) The flowers in our village and here in Ukarumpa lure a multitude of butterflies so I rarely go a day without seeing several. Each time I see one, it is a reminder to me of God’s love for me and of his transforming grace. They often appear at times when I need encouragement the most, or when the daily grind of the mundane has me teetering on the ledge of self pity…

Periodically, I encounter the “what if’s.”

  • There’s a decision we need to make about our near future. What if we make the wrong decision?
  • Ben and I are leaving for the weekend. What if one of our children needs a medevac while we are gone? What if the little ones end up being a lot to handle for their aunties who have kindly offered to look after them?
  • Our son is researching colleges and universities. What if we don’t know how to best help him with this process?
  • There are often concerns in the missionary community where we live. What if the truth gets minimized or buried?
  • We encounter needs and important tasks for our our project and family life: what if we can’t handle it and end up burned out again?

These are just a few of questions swirling around (incidentally, it actually helps to get them out of my head an write them down because some of them I wasn’t even aware of until just now!)

This morning, I fed my soul with God’s Word. Comfort and direction come without fail. Here’s what I read today:

Easy come, easy go, but steady diligence pays off. Proverbs 13: 11 (The Message)

My coffee is cold, vegetables waiting to be soaked, bread dough is unmade….but I can’t give up.

I read Acts 22-23 as well as all of Proverbs 13 and once again felt encouraged by the presence of the Holy Spirit. I may not hear an audible voice as the Apostle Paul did at times, but I do receive clear direction from the Word and from the Voice speaking to my heart. I’ve come to rely on it, so much that it’s easy to discern it from my own thoughts.

But here’s the difficulty. I know I need Quiet to hear. I know I need Solitude. Yet, as a missionary, mom of five, and wife to Ben, I feel like I can barely remember to brush my hair sometimes, much less sit down with my Bible. The crazy seems to be hiding in the next room and being quiet is often a luxury I don’t give myself. I’ve come to realize, however, that spiritual food is as necessary to me as physical food. My awareness of God in everything and worship is also as necessary as me being conscious of my ‘to do’ list.

That night the Master appeared to Paul: ‘It’s going to be all right. Everything is going to turn out for the best.’ Acts 23:11 (The Message)

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….to me, the Master says, “I’ve got this.”

 

February 10, 2016

Nothing is wasted…

by mendibpng

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Nothing is wasted,” says Brene’ Brown, in her book, ‘Rising Strong.’ Those words marinated in my heart and mind for he past week. Why would they be so important? And, after so many months, why would I take up blogging again?

Regrets:

The girl/teenager/young woman Me was a person who, though unusually resilient, (according to a counselor who knows me well) was an extremely numb people pleaser. Sometimes I cringe thinking about what I was like back then.

The expat life:

I’ve covered topics like transition, culture stress, living in community, parenting and marriage here on this blog. What if I had known earlier what I know now about myself and boundaries? Would I have been able to bypass some of the grief and pain?

Goodbyes:

This one is a hard one. We have extraordinarily deep friendships with our missionary friends and colleagues. I have heard it said that this is not only due to a common purpose and sacrifice, (leaving behind the comforts of our home countries) but it’s also because we live and work in the trenches together. We don’t have our family around in times of crisis or trauma, but we do have our expat friends and colleagues. Also, since we live in community, we do life together easily. The longer we stay overseas, the more of these precious friends are led elsewhere. It is an intense grief that I have talked about here. So, why invest in people if the parting will bring such grief?

And now to the reason I have had a break from blogging. While we were on furlough last year, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. My main symptom was extreme fatigue….until I sat through several hours of testing, and we were surprised by the severity of my depression and anxiety.  While we were overseas, I knew I was not well and so I began doing everything I could to get better….exercise regularly, take vitamin B tablets, cut out sugar (but not coffee!) and practice good boundaries. I saw a doctor who ordered tests for my blood sugar and thyroid, and those checked out fine. What he didn’t know was, both my husband and I were burned out and that resiliency was used up. My furlough doctor described it as ‘air in my tires.’ I began taking medication to help me sleep and also to ‘get the air back in my tires.’ Ben went to every appointment and completely supportive me. By the time we were ready to go back overseas, I was taking meds that I felt good on, and we had strategies in place to ensure that we wouldn’t end up in burnout again. The single thing that haunted me once the meds began to make a difference in my ability to thrive was, why didn’t I pursue this earlier? What if it all started with adrenaline depletion and post partum depression after having the twins five years before?

Fast forward now to today. We arrived back in country, and we poured ourselves into our family and into team building. We navigated some devastating news of friends leaving, worked through some difficult issues in an expat relationship, and helped our kids transition back to life here. I decided to focus on living in the moment.

Brene’ Brown also said this in her book ‘Rising Strong.’ (I can relate to this because of being in boarding school self at age six, this is NOT how my family operates)

You were raised in an environment where emotion was minimized, seen as weakness, invalidated, shut down, perceived as wasteful (e.g., crying won’t help), or even punished, then giving yourself permission to feel, recognize, and explore may be a bigger challenge. You might be the first person in your life to grant yourself the permission you need to experience emotion. If you’re worried that giving permission to experience and engage with emotion will turn you into something you’re not or someone you don’t want to become— it won’t. It will, however, give you the opportunity to be your most authentic self. We are wired to be emotional beings. When that part of us is shut down, we’re not whole.

I don’t know the answers to the questions of why I went through so many things as a child, or had to face myself now, instead of early on in my career in missions. But those words from Brene’ reminded me that the broken pieces exist for a reason. I don’t need to go on as if my history is not important to who I’ve become today.

I’ll end with truth from God’s Word:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-15New International Version (NIV)A Time for Everything

1 There is a time for everything,

and a season for every activity under the heavens:

2     a time to be born and a time to die,

a time to plant and a time to uproot, and a time to heal,

a time to tear down and a time to build,

4     a time to weep and a time to laugh,

a time to mourn and a time to dance,

5     a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

6     a time to search and a time to give up,

a time to keep and a time to throw away,

7     a time to tear and a time to mend,

and a time to speak,

8     a time to love and a time to hate,

a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from their toil?

10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race.

11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; no one can fahom what God has done from beginning to end.

12 I know that there is nothing better for people to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat or drink and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.  13 know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

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March 21, 2015

Mercy, not sacrifice

by mendibpng

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I have been thinking a lot about the word “mercy” because this week I took several Spiritual Gifts inventories online. It turns out, that was my top categories in all of the inventories. (By the way, if you are interested in taking one, I thought this free one was the most detailed/helpful.)

I looked it up online at Meriam-Webster and the definitions were

: kind or forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly

: kindness or help given to people who are in a very bad or desperate situation

: a good or lucky fact or situation

The gift of mercy does resound with me because I gravitate towards righting injustice, caring for those who are downtrodden, and showing compassion to those who are left in the gutter. (A note here, this gifting can quickly lead to compassion fatigue, but that is a post for another time!)

As our return to Papua New Guinea fast approaches, I have begun praying for a renewed sense of what God wants for me over there. In December of this year, I clearly heard Him tell me that we would return and He would provide for all of our needs. But the question I have now is…what does He want for me? So far, my roles of wife, mother and team leader (a job I share with Ben) keep me busy. But I don’t want to end up tired and burned out again because I was seeking my own list of tasks without pursing what God has for me.

I usually like to write posts AFTER I’ve figured things out, because that makes me feel less insecure and more justified in writing. Credibility is something I value…but as I said in my last post maybe it’s not as important as being authentic.

I have loved the book “The Emotionally Healthy Church,” by Peter Scazzero for many years now, and end up re-reading it once a year. This year, I came across his wife Geri’s book called “The Emotionally Healthy Woman.” While her husband was pastoring a church that they planted, she quit. Her book explains the things she had to quit in order to become a more healthy person. I haven’t progressed in the book because I got stuck on chapter three, where she says,

“Quit dying to the wrong things”

I’ve never asked myself that question, ie, “what am I dying to that I shouldn’t be?” quite so succinctly. When Ben and I joined the Bible Translation movement over 15 years ago, God spoke to me personally. I asked Him to speak to me clearly because I didn’t want to wake up one day overseas and blame my husband for dragging me over there. He did. I left relationships, material things and cultural comforts and traded them for new relationships, a labor intensive lifestyle, culture stress/conflicts and a ministry where we could see God’s Word directly impacting people’s lives. As I often say, it’s hard, but good. Painful, but purposeful. There are some days when the sacrifices feel like they are too much. Then there are the days when we feel encouraged by the stories we hear or by prayer times we have with our PNG colleagues who face constant injustice and hardship and we know we are in the right place.

So, as we prepare to go again for our third term, I’m asking Him again, “what do you want of me?” and adding to it, “what am I sacrificing that I shouldn’t be?” and “Am I really ready to say my goodbyes and pack up my family again for another term overseas?”

So, back to my spiritual gift of mercy…the ideas of mercy and sacrifice are actually together in the Bible, but for some reason I never linked them, even though the following verse is one I memorized as a small child. I don’t understand how they fit together (if you do have some insight for me please comment, because I really want to know!) I can’t have mercy without sacrificing some part of myself, either in some material way or an emotional one…but maybe the key is in “acknowledgement of God.” So once again I’m asking for His wisdom, rather than seeking my own.

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 (NIV)

March 5, 2015

On putting on my Mandy face…

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Just before leaving for a missions conference last Thursday, I emailed a friend last week that I had to go “put my missionary face on…” and she replied, “put your Mandy face on!” I had to smile at that, because she was right. Even if I try to put on a façade, the real me will eventually seep out. As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), it is much easier for me to go straight to a deep conversation, rather than making small talk (which I’m not very good at!) I always have the fear that I’m over-sharing and that I’ve scared someone off because of the things I share. But, it’s how I operate and I can’t seem to help myself. I found myself voicing these insecurities during the missions conference a few times to another adult TCK who assured me that this is what is good, and necessary. I’m thankful for people in my life who ‘get’ the whole roller coaster of emotions that go along with what to share and how far to go….

When Ben and I speak in groups, whether small or large, it is always a goal of ours to be authentic. Sometimes that means admitting some of the things we struggle with. Other times it means sharing where we feel like we have failed in our work, in our marriage, or as parents. The life we live can seem glamorous at times, and although we find a lot of joy and purpose in it, it can be really hard and full of struggles at times, in some cases even traumatic.

Letting our true selves hang out has a lot of benefits, like connecting with those who want to have a grasp of our situation and know us well (I call them the ‘unshockable’ people!) Also, some of the themes in our struggles are the same whether you are overseas or living in the First World, like parenting, marriage and cross cultural conflicts. It gives a level of safety, where you wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to have a meaningful conversation.

Opening up has risks. Sometimes well meaning people think they assume they know you after having only a small glimpse of your life. Other times, they might give unsolicited advice that isn’t always helpful (and although I want to have a loving response–it’s extremely awkward to find an appropriate one!) I am all for a word of timely advice! I’m just talking about the kind of advice which isn’t so helpful.

Also, a side note here: as someone who has struggled with boundaries my whole life, in the area of vulnerability, I have found Henri Nouwen’s advice in my favorite book by him “The Inner Voice of Love” to be really helpful,

You must decide for yourself to whom and when you give access to your interior life. For years you have permitted others to walk in and out of your life according to their needs and desires. Thus you were no longer master in your own house, and you felt increasingly used. So, too, you quickly became tired, irritated, angry and resentful…

and

It is important for you to control your own drawbridge. There must be times when you keep your bridge drawn and have the opportunity to be alone or only with those to whom you feel close. Never allow yourself to become public property where anyone can walk in and out at will. You might think that you are being generous in giving access to anyone who wants to enter or leave but you will soon find yourself losing your soul.

As I speak with people and feel my insecurities invading, I try to remember to pray “Lord, let me be who You want me to be today. Let me only speak Your words.” If I choose this, He always comes through for me, and He is my place of safety every time. I suspect this is going to be a lesson I come back to often because I am a fallen & sinful person…I am always going to feel the pull to ‘put my missionary face on,’ as I was going to do last week before my friend encouraged me to be me.

All this to say, I had the opportunity again yesterday to ask myself, “how much am I willing to let others, even strangers, see my deepest struggles?” Almost as soon as that thought appears, I fall back to, “if my life is not my own, and it really belongs to Jesus, then all it really matters is what He thinks of me.” And if me being transparent opens the doors for people to extend grace (and care) to themselves and especially to my fellow overseas workers, then that is well worth it. Authenticity, transparency….this is where I want to live.

And to my brave brothers and sisters who have gone before me in living authentically, thank you. You are the hands at feet of Christ to me.

 

 

January 10, 2015

I was burning out… (part 1)

by bzephyr

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In June we ended our last 4-year term in Papua New Guinea in the agony of burnout. I felt a lot like this pickup truck that we came across one day with its rear bumper hung up on one edge of this narrow creek and it’s front end pressed into the opposite bank. The back wheels were spinning in the air, well, in the water really. It was working hard, going nowhere, and they were burning out the transmission.

After 6 months away, we want to go back for more. But not more of the same. In this and the next post: the circumstances in which I was burning out. In an upcoming post: learning to burn bright without burning out.

Too many hats

During our last two years in PNG, I felt more and more overwhelmed by the many hats I wore in our 10-language Bible translation project…

  • Translation trainer/advisor
  • Translation consultant
  • Language development specialist
  • Team leader
  • Budget and reporting administrator
  • Transportation facilitator
  • Purchasing and shipping coordinator
  • Building and maintenance supervisor
  • IT support technician
  • Community relations spokesperson
  • Crisis manager

Whenever we left the village and stayed at our national training center, I wore those same hats in a different location, but added a few more…

  • Translation & NT Greek instructor
  • Translation software troubleshooting assistant
  • Branch policy and strategy contributor

Too little too late

As time went on, I thought I was getting better at managing a myriad of tasks. I did start learning to say ‘no’ and to have better boundaries. And there were many people inside and outside our team who took various parts of the load. But it was all too little too late for what I had already done to myself, and the heavy load that I had placed on my own shoulders came at a cost to my health and to my family.

On many occasions we talked about change and we tried to make improvements to how we planned and how we responded to the overwhelming needs around us, but these intentions were like brief blips on the screen that are gone as soon as they appear.

A year is not too much for the most important thing

By June we were ready for a real furlough, and not one where our work triples because we keep doing our overseas work while adding all the speaking engagements and taking on a study program at the same time. We needed a year of intentional evaluation of our circumstances, retraining of our minds, and revitalization of our spirits. Our hope is that it will be hard to forget a year of redefining who we are and the patterns we follow. It will be hard to forget a year of being remade. It will be hard to forget a year of intentional focus on reestablishing who we are and whose will we’re called to serve.

You don’t even know what tomorrow will bring — what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  James 4:14-15 (HCSB)

February 16, 2014

A world where norm will no more be

by bzephyr

Robertson Norman
The lines below were penned after I received the news a bit more than a week ago that my great uncle Norm had left this earth after 88 years and gone to be with Jesus. He and my dear Aunt Doris had recently celebrated 65 years of marriage. At nearly 6’6″ Uncle Norm was the biggest man I had ever seen when I first met him as a small boy. Even more than his sheer size, the stories my father told of him pioneering in the Pacific Northwest made him larger than life to me. With his big “Cat” bulldozer and his crew of men and logging trucks, he would contract work from the forest service, and the adventures that he had as they pioneered new roads and slipped down rugged mountain slopes are the stuff that hero tales are made of.

Yet more than all that, Uncle Norm represents to me the strength of character and firm faith of one who was confident that he served the King and Creator of the majestic world surrounding him. And he also served his family, community, and fellow man with the same kindness of Another who had stooped so low to care for a world in need to lead them to a higher place and a better Home. My family and I have benefited from Uncle Norm and Aunt Doris’s daily prayers on our behalf. I wish that I’d have had the chance to live closer to him and experience life with my Uncle Norm more intimately. I know that Norm provided a certain exceptional quality of life that is joy and peace and strength to those who lived within the shade of his shelter, anything but the norm in this present world with dark valleys and with devils filled. But Uncle Norm and I share in the confident hope of an abundant adventure of the new and glorious creation of our Savior, whose life and light will have no end for those who trust in him.

A world where norm will no more be

…a giant tree’s been felled this morn
this norm, i hardly knew
and though half a world away i too am shaken
and long that i could go
home,

where my dad grew roots
with other boughs of family line,
had nearly split apart,
yet for this sapling and my seed
the Wind has carried far
and we know not our mountain land
that beckons in my blood.
it’s kin is dear to them who are so very close to me
but i mourn the loss i can not now find,
this giant of a man.

…a servant of creation’s King
this norm, i hardly knew
is summoned forth to hear “well done”
while i, in service yet, remain in this world
history,

where relations whom i wish i’d known
impressed their hands like works of art for all to see
deep in the planet’s soil
engineered behind the scenes
not only earth’s terrains,
fine landscapes brushed on hearts and souls
in a little place that calls to me,
a dale, with those to whom i’d flee,
a town where faithful home was made,
a world where norm will no more be.

…a big ol’ rig has slipped down new road
this norm, i hardly knew
and too, though in another world, my view is cleared
to use whatever Master’s “cat” might cut new bush
highway,

where humps and roadblocks bar the way
and trail’s end is yet uncharted
by brothers, sisters too, in fellowship,
heirs who share our Pioneer’s faith
on paths to home or distant shores,
blazed with blood and sweat and prayer,
roads revealing old and New, tracks to reunite.
earthly routes both smooth and worn, dirt and stone,
will not endure like narrow Way that we must seek,
converging on that golden Street.

such norm of life that some have known
through highways, history and house
has come and gone, though we’re not surely left alone.
a taller Tree has toppled death and new creation grows,
uniting every clan on earth to serve their King,
alive again, and bound for our true Home…

printersornament1

The verses above are a poetic duet that I wrote with some help from a fellow pilgrim of the faith after reading this other poetic duet moments after I heard the news that my Uncle Norm had waved goodbye to this earth. Thanks Hasty for your thoughtful input on stanzas four and six.
November 20, 2013

Giving Thanks for Unmet Expectations and Burnout

by mendibpng

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This topic is a little heavy for the week of Thanksgiving. However, I can’t seem to get away from the burning issue that is upfront in my heart and mind today. Here it is:  I’m thankful for every crack in the road that took Ben and me from our fledgling newly married life to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I guess you could say we grew up together here. I think about the deep caverns of richness that have built up from the struggles we have had. I don’t really ever want to go back and do it again. (well, if I did, I’m sure I’d do a lot of things differently, but that’s another story.) BUT I am thankful for each of those hardships because I’m essentially not the same person I was twelve years ago. I started writing this post weeks ago, after reading Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss. It became a reflection of the expectations I had as a brand new missionary. I wonder if I had read the book before I came here, would it have opened my eyes to things I hadn’t been aware of, or if the ideas would have been way over my head?  I am not quite sure!

Here are some words that come to mind when I think about the “new missionary” me:
idealistic
untested
dreamy

Back in 2002, I knew I was heading into one of the most beautiful, untouched lands. I was going to share the Love of God with Those Who Did Not Know Him. Little did I know about God’s love myself and little did I know Him like I do now! I will add here that I didn’t really know much about  joy, either, because I didn’t believe it was possible or necessary. I had blocked off many of my strongest emotions–anger, fear, joy, sadness–in order to protect myself.

I knew that mission work was going to be hard–I had seen my missionary parents suffer in many ways as a child–but I knew that God had called me to it. I knew I was leaving for a great adventure with Ben. I was all in!

There was NOTHING wrong with being idealistic or excited. But I was unprepared for the traumatic realities ahead of me. Some of my most guarded secrets began to rise to the surface within weeks, even months of arriving. I didn’t want to admit that depression consumed me, making it hard for me to function or sleep at times.

Expectation #1: I was tough. I was a missionary kid after all…shouldn’t I be able to handle cross cultural living with a smile on my face?
On the day we first met, I rolled an apple on the floor and took a bite out of it, after Ben challenged me by saying “you really are a missionary kid, aren’t you?”
I stomped through the creek and slathered myself in clay.
I walked barefoot over rocks at a national park.
And yet, that college girl looks a lot different from the woman I am today. I’m still up for adventure, but only safe ones! (I suspect the change in my desire to go after safe adventures now has to do with me being a mom.) I’ve learned that my highly sensitive nature is both a blessing and a curse: it’s ok to be vulnerable because it creates safety for others who might relate to my struggles….the other side of it is, I have to deal with strong emotions as they come and respect them because they tell me a lot about what I think. (as opposed to squishing them and living in the world of ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts.’)

Expectation #2: I thought that service to God meant denying myself the ability to say “no.”
I spoke to counselors on furlough and learned from a good friend that it takes practice to look at my life and see what I could say “yes” to and what I had to say “no” to. If I didn’t notice where I was spiritually and emotionally, I quickly began to burn out. I began putting things in place, like a self care plan, before heading back to our second term here.

Expectation #3: I thought that God needed me to do work for Him. That’s all.
I didn’t really understand or believe that He loved me. (I never could have verbalized this though!) I had a vague idea of Him being distantly aware of what we were doing, providing enough money for us to be here and being pleased if we followed the Right Way of doing things, rather than the Wrong Ones. My perception included a lot of pretending…that we were o.k. even though we weren’t.

I am still devoted to serving God as long as He gives me strength to do it.  In all honesty, there’s not much of ‘me’ left to boast about now. Don’t get me wrong. I am not speaking as a jaded disgruntled missionary. Rather, I’m writing as someone who realizes that I’m nothing without God’s help. It’s so easy to write those words but even now as I write them, I must admit that I have so little understanding of how that works practically because I tend to grab control back as soon as I’m starting to feel on top of things. I suppose my life has been a constant ‘catch up’ game between what I believe and how I truly act or speak in my heart.

Newer Realizations: If I believe God loves me…then…He is enough
The authors of the “Expectations and Burnout” book say that we often don’t even know what expectations we have until they are unmet. I planned on having infinite strength to do literacy work…until I realized that the bare essentials of living, cooking, and caring for my children took a great deal of my time and mental energy. I could do both literacy and my work at home until we went from a family of five to seven when the twins joined us.

Similarly, I had planned on having harmonious relationships with the people I lived amongst, both expats and Papua New Guineans. Once again, my expectations began to slide into a completely different picture. Not a bad one, just different than I had expected. At the time, it looked like I was being used, rejected, left to navigate my stresses by myself, or that my family was being targeted. Even if those perceptions were true, they were the best things that could have ever happened to me. Because, if I had everything I had expected, I don’t think I would have been quite as willing to throw myself at God’s mercy.

Now that I’ve been here a few years, I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who has had to shift her expectations. Some come here grieving the loss of convenience food or comfortable furniture. Others come, thinking that it’s going to be easy to maintain relationships at a distance but then realize how much they miss their families back home, particularly in times of great joy or major crisis. Some grieve the loss of autonomy or freedom to travel safely that they might have in their home countries. Still more find it really hard to maintain a close relationship with their spouse when there are no places to go for date nights and the stress of work and living cross culturally and raising Third Culture Kids piles up. It can also be a shock and sorrowing to see a spouse struggling with his or her own issues, which, essentially cannot be separated from the rest of the family. The possibilities are endless. Whatever one’s expectations are, it’s not fun and sometimes it can last for months, even years, for some until their service overseas is completed.

Some things I’ve been able to process and receive healing from but I suspect there are other things that I will find hard until the Lord takes me Home. I’m thankful that I’m here despite all of that. I’m thankful for the things I see now that I never noticed before–the deeper things I had thought were just a part of me that are coming to light. Where God is taking those broken bits and putting them back together in a healing way.

A couple of days ago came the Voice I have come to recognize and love so much whispered, “Just wait and see what I’m going to do with you…” every time I think of that, I smile, because that’s what I deeply desire the most. I am all in!

for further reading (or, “Books I wish I had read before heading overseas….”)
“Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission,” by Sue Eenignburg and Robynn Bliss“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High,” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler
“Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
(there’s a whole series: “Boundaries in Marriage,” “Boundaries with Kids”)
“Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” by Peter Scazzero
“The Way of Transition,” by William Bridges
“The Inner Voice of Love,” by Henri Nouwen
“Grace Based Parenting,” by Tim Kimmel

July 8, 2013

Confessions of a missionary wife: inner voices and building altars

by mendibpng

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About eight months ago, I sat under my mosquito net on my bed (my one place of refuge in our village house) feeling pretty overwhelmed and lost. I looked at all the things I did every day and felt like I couldn’t do anything well. I would drag myself out of bed only to retreat to it as soon as I completed my ‘mom’ duties each day. In a word, I felt miserable. The causes are complicated and difficult to explain in concrete terms but I think it boiled down to me trying to navigate being a wife, mother, missionary and friend all alone. I pictured myself on an empty island. By myself. Daily I was being poured out, piece by piece, and never having the time or energy to put me back together. Every meltdown I had in the privacy of my room took me a step closer to burnout, and I couldn’t fix myself anymore.

It took hours of talking with Ben and others to figure out what I really really wanted. Purpose. Inner Peace. I read a book that one of our churches sent to us called “Pathway to Purpose” and all of a sudden it clicked. I needed something to hang on to…something that tied it all together. I started praying that God would show me His purpose for my life: what it was that I needed to walk in obedience to Him and love it at the same time? He showed me that I needed to stop ignoring myself. In the busy-ness of caring for others, I let myself get poured out to the point that I didn’t know who I was anymore.

So in the months that followed, I’ve tried to notice more, speak up for myself if needed and (gulp!) ask for help if needed. Part of that meant battening down the boundaries with my kids and requiring more from them. I’ve been praying for their character growth and asking God to help me teach them things like self sufficiency (anti-entitlement), humility, gratitude and serving others. I realize now that doing everything for my kids isn’t really the way I want to love them. This applies no only to my kids but also my husband. It turns out, he’s been willing and able to help me: I just made it look like I didn’t need anything from him. It’s a little hard to admit I can’t do everything myself, but I’m finding that I love doing things with him together and relying on his expertise and strength. That man doesn’t give up when something is hard. Never. (just look at our water tank that he has fixed FIVE times!)

I’ve dabbled in these ideas for years now, but only since that time 8 months ago have I really started choosing to listen to my inner voices.

The result? I am not sure yet…practically speaking I’m adjusting and growing. We as a family try to speak truth in love and to be authentic here. I’m looking for ways to navigate the chaos and find inner rest by trusting my feelings rather than ignoring them. I still struggle with compulsive caregiving and neglecting myself but I think I’m catching myself more quickly than before. I don’t always feel happy all the time (which is ok!) but Jesus is giving me that inner peace that I wanted so badly. I’ll end with a poem that I love that caused me to build the altar all the months ago.

Building an Altar

I have not listened
to my inner voices,

I have trampled
on sacred ground

I have chosen to tie up
the strong woman

and allowed my house
to be robbed.

Let this place be marked

I will gather stones,
heavy and rough edged,
and build an altar, here,
at this place in my life,

to honor the Spirit
who has led me

to this sacred ground where
the strong woman listens

to her Inner voices.

Carol Tyx (in May/June 1991 issue of Daughters of Sarah)

July 5, 2013

Confessions of a missionary wife: I choose JOY….

by mendibpng

Our lives have been full of ups and downs in the weeks gone by. There have been nights where my mind has been too busy to let me sleep. There have been moments weeks ago when grief became too much for me or when I was too exhausted from transition, packing and sickness to do much of anything. Added to that, we had some big decisions looming in the distance which felt difficult to navigate. I took a break from blogging and other social media and retreated to the safe haven of a few of my closest friends. But yesterday when I was going through our pictures from that time period, I felt a small whisper in my spirit to “choose joy…” In other words, I choose not to let those things keep me down. As someone said to me recently, even my worst day is probably not equal to someone else’s best day.

(Today was a GOOD day by the way, in case the above paragraph is making anyone question my sanity…although, on any given day it’s a perfectly legitimate question of a mom of five of my own kids plus one intern!) 🙂

So here are the pictures from our month in Ukarumpa that made me smile and remember to choose joy:

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Jacob and Jenny Beth dancing at an Aussie Bush Dance in Ukarumpa. She was pirouetting around like a princess while he was break dancing and thrashing about!

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Josiah and the rest of his 8th grade class put on a Living History Museum for the 3rd and 4th graders…Josiah and his friend Amechi’s booth? The Gladiators–where kids could fight with foam sticks on a gymnastics mat. Needless to say it was a hit!

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Ellie’s class put on several reader’s theater plays, one of which she wrote. She wrote “The Resurrection” play when we were in the village in May.

Noah bday

Noah turned twelve in June. We celebrated as a family on the day with his requested Vietnamese rice paper spring rolls, then a sleepover the next night with tacos and Avengers movie with a few of his buddies, and finally the next week at the Boutique Hotel in Wewak where we had a rare treat of eating at a restaurant! We sure celebrated that boy this year!!

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Oh and here are my girlies wearing their cute outfits from their Grandma Vivien!

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