Friday, August 29, 2014

Dear Ashley From Two Years Ago...

Dear Ashley From Two Years Ago,

Hey, it’s me. (Or you, rather.) It is two years today that you have been here in Brazil (a year and a half in the Jungle) and I wanted to let you know a few things about this journey you are about to embark on. Go ahead and sit down. I know you’re tired with that baby girl growing in your belly and that two year old boy all wild and rowdy. I know you are experiencing the paradox of both utter excitement that your dreams are coming true and downright terror at the unknown that lies before you.

Let me assure you, this is normal and completely justified.

Here are some things you should know:

That little blonde-haired boy sitting next to you on the plane with his paci and airplane blankie? He isn’t as big as you think he is. He’s a little guy and he is going to prove to be both your sanity and source of insanity over the next several months. Enjoy him through and through because he is going to grow up before your very eyes and you are going to look back fondly on those times it was just three of you curled up watching Backyardigans in that 400 square foot air-condition-less apartment in the city with nothing to do and nowhere to go.

He will throw out his paci and trade in his Huggies for a mini-machete and Superman undies soon enough, so stop stressing the “when” of those things. Until then, let him have his paci in the line at the grocery store, even though it’s supposed to be just for bedtime now. Remember, he is trying to figure out what all these strange people are saying, too, so let him have his comforts. (By the way, stop stressing about him learning the language, too. He will learn it way before you and you will soon find your three year old correcting your grammar.)

That sweet baby girl curled up in your rib-cage that won’t let you sleep at night? You’re prayers will be answered in the affirmative and she is going to be the easiest baby God every created in the history of ever. You will survive giving birth to her in another country with a doctor that speaks your going-on-third language in a hospital where you feel painfully out of place. Everyone will think she is a baby doll when you take her out in public because that is exactly what she will look like. Hold her tight and rock her long because your life is going to get so busy soon that you are going to miss a lot of those moments and won’t even realize it before it is too late.

Your amazing husband and best friend? Your marriage going to have a tough go that first year. Life is going to get incredibly stressful and lonely and instead of leaning into one another, you’re going to push hard against each other. In fact, you are going to reach a point that you feel like roommates, simply coexisting. I know, you don’t believe it, but it’s true. Hang in there, because by God’s grace you make it through and you eventually find your footing again. You will laugh together and cry together and say, “What in the world were we thinking?!” more times than you can count. Lean into each other and remember you are both new at this thing called missionary life. Don’t be afraid to laugh and be quick to forgive. The seasons pass quickly.

Those plans to move into an indigenous village? Ain’t gonna happen, y’all. You will mourn your dream as you bury it, but trust me, later you rejoice. Life is hard enough in the small town you will move to and God is gracious to lead you elsewhere. And oh the plans He has!!

In fact, He will bring an Indigenous family to you. They will live with you for six months and it will be a stretching experience. Soak it in. You need these life lessons through this young family, lessons they don’t even know they are teaching. God will knit your heart with many of the indigenous people around you. Some of them with take advantage of you and turn their backs on you. Let it go. God sees. Others will teach you what it is to humbly serve, expecting nothing in return. You will see what it means to suffer for Christ and you will be stronger for it.

Which leads me to my next point and I hope you are still sitting down. In less than a year on the mission field, you will adopt a seven-year-old street girl… and she will undo all that you have ever known about love. She will steal your heart and you will beg God to make her your own. And when He does you will cry and ask Him to take it away. It is gong to be the hardest thing you have ever done. She will fight against your love. You will have to hold her down as she kicks and screams, demanding to go back to the street, after you just spent months fighting to give her your last name. God will put you through the fire with her and it will hurt. Don’t run away though. This, too, is worth it. He gives beauty for ashes.

There is more. God is going to give you a sweet lady in your life named Rosa. She will teach you to cut up a whole chicken and how to gut a fish (though she will laugh along with you when it takes you thirty minutes to do what she can do in five!) She will amaze you with her patience and awe you with her endurance. You will spend many hours talking and your kids will call her “Tia” (Auntie). She is going to be the Director of the Children’s Home that God is going to lead you to start.

Yes. Children’s Home. I know. I still think it’s crazy, too.

Your heart is going to break for the children on the streets of this town who have been abused and neglected. You will see their bruises and you will feed their bellies. You will bandage their wounds and you will give some of them the first hugs of their lives. You will lose sleep over them and you will pray for miracles. And God will allow you to be a part of those miracles.

During these first two years, you are going to be dumbfounded because you will come to realize something you never really considered before: you are totally ill-equipped for absolutely everything God has called you to do. You will fill inadequate as a mother. You will resist your role as wife. You will struggle to adapt to the culture. You will cry yourself to sleep many a night. You will get tired and lonely and scared and overwhelmed. You will miss family and friends back home. And also Chick-fil-a.

But you know what else? You will see God do amazing things. You will build strong friendships with people who look nothing like you. You will master your third language. You will learn what sacrifice really looks like. You will watch you kids speak multiple languages without even realizing that is STINKIN’ CRAZY! You will learn what ‘wife’ really means and it will become your favorite title.

And all of these will be to the glory of God for the very fact that you are inadequate. But with Christ, all these things are possible.

So relax. Laugh out loud. Soak it in. Endure.

It’s a beautiful journey you’re on. Don’t try to run it as you will miss too much. Just walk.

With still a ways to go,

P.S. And another thing. When everyone around you down here pretends they have it all together, don’t believe them. You will quickly discover that this missionary gig is full of just a bunch of inadequates who struggle with the same things you do. Be real. Be transparent. It will serve you (and others) well.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Spilled Water

I all but collapsed in the bed, exhausted physically, mentally, emotionally.

I had made a rookie missionary mistake earlier that day, one that cost us 3,000 liters of precious rainwater. Three. THOUSAND. Liters. In dry season, no less.

I had opened the upper tank valve to fill our cistern in an effort to prevent the pump from going dry as it often times does when it gets low. I was trying to help Richard, who was walking to town to get groceries in the sweltering heat because our motorcycle had been stolen, to check one more thing off the to-do list. In all my busyness, I completely forgot I had opened the valve until who even knows how many minutes later when Elliott came running in, “Mama!”

“Wait, son,” I quickly replied, trying to carry on a conversation with an indigenous friend who was over.

“Mama….” He said again, more persistent.

“Elliott, just a minute son,” was my answer, still not sensing the urgency.

“Mama, there is water back here.”

“Elliott, I said just a…. Wait, what?”

That’s the moment I looked out and saw our precious drinking, bathing, everything else water pouring out, watering the dirt on the ground.

It is possible you have never seen someone run so fast.

As I uttered words of disbelief and shut off the valve, I climbed up to the top water tank to see the damage. Just as I suspected, it was nearly empty. Wasted.

My efforts to alleviate one more item on the to-do list turned into a stern conversation with the kids that if they so much as LOOKED at a sink faucet without asking first, there would be consequence. And don’t even THINK about flushing a toilet unless prior approval is given.

When Richard got back, I broke the news. His shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh.

And then he said, “Oh well.”

He let it go. Just like that, he let it go.

I had just spent the last hour beating myself up and wondering how in the world I could forget something that important. I was thinking about how it had not rained for days and who knew when it would rain again and how we would have to conserve every last drop and… he let it go.

Because you know what? What else can you do? We certainly couldn’t stir up some rain clouds to refill our tanks. And we could freak out and talk about all the ways that our life just became more difficult. And we could regret mistakes and get frustrated and angry, but what would that do?

So I let it go, too. I stopped beating myself up about it and guess what: it rained last night. It didn’t rain because we let it go and we didn’t let it go because we knew it would rain. But it made the rain that much sweeter knowing that God knows our needs.

And even if it hadn’t rained, He has our back. He allows us to make mistakes like that one so that we can learn the practice of letting things go.

I am trying to apply this to other areas of my life as well. In little things, like when our son spills ANOTHER glass of water on the floor, I let it go. Or bigger things, like when our plans for the holidays are potentially changing again, I let it go. When a fellow missionary says untrue things about us, I let it go. When I am tempted to get stressed out about the future, I let it go.

If I say with my mouth that God is sovereign [Phil 2.13] and that he plans our days before they even begin [Psalm 139.16] and that He is loving and trustworthy even when we don’t understand the ‘why’ of our life [Isaiah 55.8-11], then I need to let those truths filter into my life. And that manifests itself in letting things go. It is exhibited by not getting so worked up when things don’t go ‘my way’. It is expressed when my children see that Mama and Daddy don’t get all up in arms when life gets stressful (or when it seems life is always stressful).

So today I am thankful for spilled water and reminders that life is better when we let it go and trust the Lord.

We are just walking on this beautiful, messy journey and we can do so in peace, knowing He has this whole thing figured out. And He will be sure to send the rain when the time is right.

Thankful Thursday posting began when I worked full-time outside the home and I always dreaded Thursday... because they stood in the way of Friday! So I began blogging what I was thankful for to help give a positive spin to the day. After a couple years of absence, I decided it was a good habit to pick back up. What are you thankful for today? Post it below or link up to your own blog! I'm happy for you to join me. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Thankful Thursday: Baby Steps

I finally had them all occupied. With my kids and the two other MKs staying with me splashing happily in the basin of water around back and soaking each other to the core, I quietly slipped into my bedroom for some “me” time.

About the time I unplugged the computer from the charger, my oldest walked in and in her newfound English speaking confidence asked, “Mommy, will you play game with me?”

No. I wanted to say it. No, I don’t want to play a game with you. I want to sit, alone, uninterrupted and try to get some things accomplished that have been calling out to me for days. That e-mail to the Consulate about the visa. Those e-mails to supporters. Those pictures uploaded.

These things were not going to accomplish themselves and as far as I could see it, now was my only time.

“Yes. What game would you like to play?” I felt the words squeeze from my lips. I regretted them as soon as they came out. But alas, it was done and I was walking back to the kitchen table to play a game.

She picked the matching rhyme game… the English matching rhyme game that I knew she didn’t know how to play. I held back my sigh. I didn’t want to play a game to begin with, but I CERTAINLY didn’t want to play a game I was going to have to teach.

And then it happened. She surprised me.

During rest time, she had worked with Jesse, another missionary kid who is staying with us for a few days while Richard is out of town, and had learned not only several new English words but also what they rhymed with.

To say I was shocked would be an understatement. She had taken the initiative and she had done something that she could be proud of. And I was proud, too.

And thankful. Thankful that I had taken the time out of my “busy” life to sit with her and be in that moment.

My mind went back to the little almost-savage girl that had sat in my living room floor just over a year ago, angry to the point of screaming because she couldn’t put together a simple puzzle made for a three year old. She was six and a half.


Some days—many days—are still filled with us struggling against that street girl who is still protecting herself from the cold world in which she survived her first six years. A world full of hate and abuse and neglect and hunger and abandonment. She does not yet fully grasp what it is to be adopted, rescued, chosen. She lies compulsively to protect herself because she doesn’t know what it means to be a daughter in a family that loves and speaks truth.

So I sat there and high-fived my brown-eyed big girl, amazed at how far she has come, though so keenly aware of how far she has yet to go.

Thankful for baby steps.

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