Saturday, May 31, 2014

Muddling through Metamorphosis


“How does one become a butterfly?" she asked. 
"You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

Yep, you guessed it! Another butterfly quote by anonymous!


Don't you wish there was some sort of formula for life transitions? One that was quick and easy to remember (like r*t = d... or the Pythagorean theorem...?) and that always worked, regardless of all those other circumstances and differing perspectives? Or some sort of herbal medication - a few drops under the tongue twice a day and improvement seen rapidly?

But there isn't one... at least not that we've found.

Even within our family. There are ten of us, and each one of us responds differently, needs different things, hurts in different ways. As a family, we experience a cacophony of celebrations and catastrophes.
  • One anticipates a new adventure. 
  • Another misses a system and a schedule to life that was was just the perfect pace.
  • At times we all feel partnership development frequently feels purposeless and ultimately self-serving especially when compared to making God's Word accessible to those who long for it.
  • Friends and people who get it seem so remote and far away.
  • And how do you really explain that while you are home... you are also far from home?
  • Reminders knock you over out of the clear blue and can totally make your day or shatter your heart, in an instant - but it never happens to more than one... occasionally two... at a time.
  • Someone struggles with all the new, all over again.
  • One child, in particular, who after years of battling and working to succeed, is - finally. That one is terrified of falling back into failure because of parents who are convinced they are following God's leading, and facing all that work, all over again.
  • Biggers flying the nest and wondering what all this will look like for them, what will it be like to go visit Dad and Mom at home that is unknown and isn't really home.
  • This mama heart finds it more terrifying raising children in North America than she ever did on the backside of the Sahara.
Really, that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

The only question I feel qualified at all to address is that next-to-last one: many moons ago, right after my graduation, we packed our van and moved from Oklahoma to not far outside Boston. Before I graduated from university, my parents moved again and I had to get directions to find "home."

But all of those other questions, fears and concerns? I don't know. I'm living them, though.

There really is no road map. So where do I go? What do I do?

Frankly, in this uncharted territory, I'm focusing on these things:
  1. Trying, as David did, to "strengthen myself in the Lord." That means going to Him first, to His Word, asking Him to speak to my here and now through texst that He has promised are profitable... and then waiting in confident quietness and gentleness even if I'm not hearing immediate answers.
  2. Discipling our family through this very same process.
  3. Following that rejoicing with... weeping with... principle. Asking permission to grieve with/for my children in the hard moments has been an incredibly powerful and growing experience.
  4. Listening more than we talk and offer advice. 
  5. Lots of praying ...and then praying even more.
  6. Making sure that our children know we love them and would do anything for them to help them with the hard choices we've made for our family - except refuse to make those hard choices or only make the easy ones. 
  7. Allowing and encouraging their involvement in other ministries and supporting them as they branch out in areas and with ideas that were uncomfortable or hard for us. One unexpected benefit has been that our kids have seen how they help us to grow as a result. 
  8. When we so often mess up, be it a little bit or royally - when they hurt because of our choices and decisions, apologizing and asking forgiveness. 
  9. When by God's grace, we stumble on right things "by accident" - clearly thanking the One Who enabled. 
  10. Remembering and reminding ourselves often that we shouldn't expect easy or immediate reward and redemption of our sacrifices. Jesus warned us that following Him wouldn't be, that we should count the cost. Which means that while "cost" is uncomfortable, "cost" isn't wrong.

The crazy amazing thing about this crazy, amazing and still on-going ride through the turbidity of transition has been that we strengthen ourselves in the Lord to hopefully help our children and loved ones... who in turn encourage and help strengthen us as they walk into and begin to explore our brave new-to-us world.

As I was typing that last sentence, two little girls came running into the house, squealing in amazement and excitement. Outside, God has gifted us with a beautiful Saturday and they are playing in the hose as they help Daddy water the garden and wash the cars. They'd just seen a rainbow in the water and figured that it was something that just couldn't be true. As I stopped writing for a moment to explain just exactly why it could be true, the growing awe and delight on my brand new second grader's face was simply beautiful. Then, she giggled and as she skips back outside, she hollered back over her shoulder something to the effect of, "Mama, God is so coooool (as only an exuberant second grader can exclaim)! He didn't just put His promise in the big rainbows! He put His promise in every drop of water if I just look at it the right way!"

Outta the mouths of babes, eh?

We're right where we need to be - wanting and trusting God to redeem these lives He's given in whatever way He sees fit, so much so that we're willing to brave the darkness of the chrysalis while He works this change... and the next... and the next...

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Here, 
for the first post in this two part series.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Adding to My List of Accomplishment: Emergency Surgery

Well.  I was suppose to share with you guys a few weeks ago and then I decided that emergency surgery in my second language would be a fun thing to add to my list of accomplishments.  Sorry to cut out on you like that!

It was weird, one day I felt fine, was going about my business of cleaning up from the Easter Holiday and then next I was curled up on the floor in pain.  My husband finally said, "We are going to the doctor.  Get in the car!"  Even on the way there I started to feel a little better and kept saying, "it's probably nothing.  We should just go home."  Am I the only one who does that?

We are blessed with a completely bilingual doctor who has a heart for missionaries and does a fantastic job of walking us through the medical care here.  While he was trying to figure out what was going on, he finally looked at me and said, "did you tell anyone here you were in this much pain?"  "No."  "Ok, we are heading to ER."
 


The clever thing about the doctor's offices here in Costa Rica is that they are in the hospital.  So, when the doctor said "We are heading to ER" that meant going down an elevator and around the corner.  Which was good, because I was in a lot of pain. You know the scale deal, 1 to 10?  Probably around a 8.  Sorta like labor, but no break in between contractions.

They had the typical hard time of finding a vein for an IV, but in just about a half hour, they wheeled me down the hall to radiology and I had an ultrasound to figure out exactly what was going on.  The same ultrasound doctor we had with our last baby came in and gave us much less exciting news.  Instead of discovering we were going to have a baby boy, we found out I had a giant cyst, well, two giant cysts (that actually turned out to be one big huge one that had twisted twice...but I am getting ahead of myself.)  After I learned the new vocabulary word "quiste," we also learned that I was going to be having surgery that night.  As in just a few hours.

When we thought I was just going to hang out in the ER for a few hours, we had called friends that lived close to the hospital to come take our two littlest for the day (we live about 10 miles from the hospital, but it takes 45 minutes to get there).  So, at the point we learned I as going to have surgery, they were already with there.  Those same friends picked our oldest up from school, and took care of all the boys for the next three days.  Can you say AMAZING friends?  Yeah, all at the drop of a hat.



The hospital we were at is one of the best in Central America, Clinica Biblica.  People actually come here for medical tourism and a lot of the staff has some English.  And yes, the nurses still wear the cute little nursing hats here.  The surgery was successful and they got that nasty thing out.  Also, my Spanish is much better under the influence of pain killers!  I got to spend two days in the hospital. 

Meanwhile, we had tons of support!  People jumped right in to take care of the boys, to bring meals, to get groceries, to take care of our dog, to help our families in the States know what was going on (yeah, that is a whole story in and of itself! Stupid internet!) My mom was able to come down for about a week and a half to help!  Amazing!

The pathology report came back and everything is fine, for which we are thankful! What a wild few weeks! 

But all this brings up some questions, some we had thought about ahead of time and some we hadn't.  It might be good for you to think through some of these in case you are in the same situation!

  • Where would you go to take care of minor medical issues?
  • Where would you go for major medical issues?
  • What language is the medical care in?  How comfortable do you feel in that language?  Is there anyone who could help you navigate in an emergency?
  • What would happen with your kids/pets? 
  • How would you communicate with family/supporters in your passport country?
  • How does your medical insurance work in your country of service? 
  • Does your mission provide any support/services for emergencies?


Alright, your turn.  What is your best story of medical care overseas?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

"If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies."


Someone named "Anonymous" once said that... and others have been repeating it since, usually when they are talking about...


Transition.


According to the dictionary, I can define transition, as a noun, as the process and/or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. As a verb it means all those actions and things that happen as such a transformation or metamorphosis is made

Transitions are often intricate and beautiful - think of a piece of music modulating from one key to another. 

Transitions usually require finesse and delicate treatment - think of a word smith choosing specific words to help his reader's thoughts progress in a logical and connected way from one key idea to the next.

Transition, in physics, can refer to the change from one quantum state to another by either the emission or the absorption of radiation, which just sounds, at least a bit, risky and liable to have unintended or unforeseen consequences.

Transition, etymologically, comes from Latin, through French, with the original meaning being "go across." Any time you have to step across... go through... anything that involves feelings, change and people can claim a status of complicated.




Transition is smack dab right where my family sits right now. And it feels like we've been here for forever, even though I know we haven't.

We are transitioning from ministry in developing world, poverty and disease stricken desert world of West Africa to the very post-modern, highly educated and materialistic developed and nearly Arctic world of Qu├ębec, Canada. It is hard to imagine all of the ways our lives will be different. Even knowing there will be so many things we gain, our hearts are broken and will long bear visible scars from what we're trying to count as loss.

To date, one of the most challenging parts of this transition has been the loss of ministry partners who - after fifteen years or more, in some cases, of working to build strong, transparent collaborative relationships - still do not feel they can move through this change and continue to partner with us. We understand that churches strive to be strategic with their missions programs and try to keep themselves aligned to certain key goals and objectives as they seek to best steward the funds for which they are responsible. Yet every time we get another letter or a phone call saying someone will no longer be partnering with us... for people rarely want to sit down with you and discuss this sort of thing face to face and in person... it feels, frankly, more like a sucker punch... than anything else.

Is there some way to prevent this from happening? Probably not...

As I said, we do understand. Maybe the crux of the issue is that from our perspective, we disagree with those decisions because we can usually give an answer THAT. MAKES. GOOD. SENSE for every question asked or concern raised. What gets really hard and discouraging is that we've ended up questioning decisions made after much prayer, since seeking significant counsel, and postliminary to persistent waiting on clear discernment from God. When others that we've counted on in the past essentially say that they can no longer "support" us because of this decision, it is hard to separate that from supporting us in this decision. And frankly, experience speaks pretty loudly. When people stop sending those checks, they also tend to stop (to borrow a biblical phrase) "strengthening our hand[s] in God" in other ways.

It is not bad to examine and rethink through these decisions. It is wrong, though, to hold our breath every time we hear from a church or pastor or other partner. It is wrong to wonder if it will be more bad news every time we check email or the phone rings. 

But it comes down to this:
  • We've already said goodbye to many people - neighbors, fellow expats, church family, colleagues, classmates, friends, favorite vendors, employees, pets, etc.,... that we love.
  • We've said goodbye to a home we loved as well as dreams and plans for the future built around that home.
  • We naively hoped that we wouldn't also have to "bid many adieus" to the tremendous family of ministry partners we've built through the past twenty years.
We are finding that we've were wrong, ...and are quite surprised by where and with whom we've been wrong. It hurts. It's scary. It can, on those harder days, cause us to wonder, question, re-examine, worry, doubt...


Loss upon loss feels heavy and dark, blinding and suffocating - kinda like that caterpillar must feel as the chrysalis closes around. Really, though, our only good choice is trusting in God and remembering the beautiful illustration from creation: 

"If nothing ever changed, there'd be no butterflies..."

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When you are feeling the many different weights of transition, what thoughts, Bible verses, activities... what encourages you?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Seasons


Every year on a mid-April evening we hear it for the first time. You can hear it coming as it taps on tin roofs down the hill, and as it splashes onto the broad, dry leaves of palm trees. I love to rush outside and listen as it rolls across the volcano toward us. Soon a smell rises up from the bone-dry earth, it is a smell that is known by everyone who lives in a land of two seasons.

The rainy season has come.

After months of dryness, and dust, and brownish-green plants everything will be green again. Things will change and grow, and some will die because they grow best in the dry season. The rivers will rise, mud will coat everything, and I will be truly sorry when I forget to keep an umbrella in my car.

I love the tropical rainy season that we get in Central America. The rains are awe-inspiring and I still marvel at them even after living through four rainy seasons. Sometimes they bring destruction as hurricane season follows closely behind and the rains can bring both life and death to our tiny nation.

The seasons are distinctly different. We trade blue cloudless skies for ones that are usually overcast but soon the colors of flowers are seen making the misty days and rain-soaked nights well worth it.

As the rainy season is arriving this year, I have seen so many parallels to life in ministry. There are seasons that we walk through when we make the commitment to join God full-time in His work. I am learning that every season has its own unique beauty. There are times of great, green, bountiful blessings when things seem at last to be blooming as they should. There are also times when the pain falls like rain and hopelessness is like a flood threatening to destroy the hard-won victories.

God is showing me that He is God of all of it. He has a plan when the rains fall, the rivers dry up, the flowers bloom, and the clouds cast a dark shadow. He is there in every detail, and He is faithful, just like the seasons.

Some days I want to rip my hair out in frustration, other days I want to cry in gratitude because I get to be living this life.  On most days I just try to get through the day following God, failing, getting back up and doing it all over again.

The seasons may change, but our God never well. That brings me a deep peace that I know God is in the low moments, and the beautiful moments, and the sad moments, and the celebration moments. Right now I am walking through a bit of "rain" but I know that it is only for a season, and I thank God that He is in it with me.

What about you? What season are you in? How has God spoken to you in that place? 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Simon says ...

Have you ever played the game, "Simon says?" While perusing Pinterest the other night I came across this pin ...

"Go then and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Matthew 28:19  
"...all the nations..." Powerful! Not just cities, not just neighborhoods, but ENTIRE NATIONS!  
All of us have not only memorized that verse, but we have also "gone." 

When I was a teenager my heart burned for the nations, especially Africa. I would lay on my floor in my bedroom and cry out for God to use me to reach the nations with His love. Turning the channels on our TV one day, I came across Reinhard Bonnke, missionary/evangelist to Africa. He was preaching in Africa and he began chanting, "Africa will be saved. Africa will be saved." The presence of God filled my living room as I wept, prayed and I believed that one day the entire continent of Africa would be saved. 
Sitting and serving in Germany right now, my heart continues to burn for the nations. More than ever before we need to pray for laborers and the funds needed to "go." In the past few months I have had missionary friends having to leave the field due to lack of funding. 

Let's stand and pray for each other because ... 
Sometimes ... discouragement threatens to snuff the fire out. Bills intimidate and attempt to encircle me like mountains on every side. A thick fog named stress dares to cloud my view and my perception becomes skewed. 
Let me see if I can explain it. 
A few weeks ago I received a call from a friend requesting touristy help regarding Switzerland. She's lived here for at least 10 years and she's traveled quite a bit, but since we lived in Luzern before, she wanted to ask some questions. I told her it was a beautiful city and it's close to a magnificent mountain named Pilatus. Breathtaking, really. She chuckled and said that for years of visiting Luzern she never saw the mountain and thought those postcards showing the mountain were a joke. Until one clear day. She sucked in her breath, slowly releasing, then told me about the first time she actually saw Pilatus.
Recently, I heard a message about "seeing." What do you see when you pray? Do you "see" your situation turning around? Do you "see" the entire nation where you are serving being set free in Christ? We have to "see" it in the spiritual before we ever "see" it in the natural. 
Look at the picture below of Luzern. You may be saying, "how could she not see that mountain. It's huge!" Like my friend, I have driven through Switzerland on foggy days and the alps have seemingly disappeared. My vision is skewed and if I didn't know they were there, I wouldn't believe it.  If I hadn't seen them for myself I would have doubted their very existence. 
"I would have lost heart, unless I had believed That I would see the goodness of the Lord In the land of the living." Psalm 27:13



Like Psalm 27:13 states, "...we would have fainted unless we believed to see His goodness..." We are "seeing" the mountains in our life dissolve. Why? Because He's done it before. 

Let's trust through discouragement. 

Let's lean on Him at all times especially when we find it hard to stand. 

Let's rely on His word. 

Let's stay in His presence because ... 

The mountains take one look at God and melt, melt like wax before earth’s Lord. 
Psalm 97:5

I absolutely love that verse! Isn't it great?! Our mountains will melt like wax in His presence. The fog lifts in His presence. Discouragement has to go in His presence. 

May we be a testimony of His glory together as we ask God for the nations.

May we see the ruins come to life. 

May we witness His glory being poured out on this Earth. 


"Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
    the whole earth as your possession."
Psalm 2:8

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tuesday Topic: Staying sane :-)


I thought of this one last night during a little "emergency" sanity walk that I took by myself. What are your favorite little sanity measures? I mean, simple, everyday kinds of things that you do to take care of yourself. I'm not talking about a week at the beach, or a Paris vacation, or anything like that here, just the simple things. :-)

(If you have a “Tuesday Topic” question, please email it to me at fylliska@gmail.com. Provide your blog address if you would like to be linked to, or specify if you would like to remain anonymous. Thanks!)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

5 Things I’ve Learned in 25 Years Overseas


I remember like it was yesterday landing in the airport in Izmir, Turkey with 2 kids and 17 suitcases. (Believe me, the suitcases were lots easier to handle than the kids.) The team mate we’d never met wasn’t there to pick us up. Since I had a few jumbled bits of Turkish that I hadn’t used in 15 years stored somewhere in my brain, I was the natural person to solve this problem. My husband knew none. That was my fourth and last international move twelve years ago.

Next week I celebrate my 50th birthday, and I’m thinking about how I still don’t have it all together, but I’m making progress and learning.  After twenty-five years of cross-cultural living, here are my musings on what I’ve learned I’m still learning about serving overseas.

Make God Your First Priority

Ministry has ups and downs, but God never changes. Sometimes I get discouraged by not seeing results in our ministry, but I’m not here in Turkey to see a fruitful ministry, I’m here to obey and please God. All I have to do is remain in Him and trust that fruit will follow. Even if the people I disciple fall away, even if the people I share with reject the message, nothing takes away the joy of knowing God!

Your Kids Will Be Okay

Ever since the day we went to the circumcision of a neighbor’s son, and our 5 year old boy ended up behind a locked bedroom door with all the neighborhood boys WATCHING THE CIRCUMCISION while we waited helplessly outside, I’ve wondered “Are we messing up our kids by raising them here?”

I’m amazed at how God has blessed them despite challenges. We’ve had kids at the park say they don’t want to play with Christian kids. We’ve seen most of their TCK friends return home to America or Europe, but today our kids are happy and thriving. They’ve had unique and precious opportunities growing up in Turkey.

Don’t Take Life (or Ministry) Too Seriously

Learning to laugh and enjoy life keeps me alive here.  This is a country where you spend the first two years of your church plant staring at the other foreign couple seated across from you on Sunday mornings in your living room. This is the place where your star disciple falls away from Jesus or gets mad at the other believers and leaves the church. Oh the tears do fall, but it helps me to remember that our lives are about much more than ministry. So I keep looking for things to enjoy and give thanks for.

Make Friends with Nationals

Relationships with Turkish nationals make our lives richer. My closest friend is a Turk. It’s a privilege for my kids to rub shoulders with believers who choose Jesus over friends, family, and a job when the rubber hits the road. We’ve learned so much from these people about kindness, generosity, sacrifice, and God’s grace.

Take Time for Yourself

A bit of self-cares helps me to live beyond survival mode, you know what I mean? When my kids were little, I would leave the house for a few hours on Saturday mornings. Now that they’re older, I carve out time for hobbies like writing, and I try to spend a bit of time every day, okay some days, reading.  A daily morning walk, quiet time with God, and coffee dates with friends keep me sane (most of the time).

What about you? How long have you been on the field, and what is something you’ve learned that you can share with the rest of us?