Archive for the 'Missionary Mom Issues' Category

Surviving and Thriving while Dad is Away

While my husband was away at a ministry conference a couple of weeks ago, I made a goal for myself to try to figure out how to have a fun, non-exhausting, meaningful week even though I was alone holding down the fort with all three kids.  Sometimes such weeks pass soooo slowly, but this time, with some intentionality, we had a great time!  Here were my ideas for making the week doable and even enjoyable:

1) Have fun! It’s just plain rough having to do all of the parenting work by yourself, so I tried to give my kids lots of extra reasons to be happy and fun to be around, as well as to give myself things to look forward to each day. The work doesn’t feel so hard when you’re having a good time! Your “fun” may look different than mine, but we spent lots of time with friends (the kids’ friends and mine too), made trips out for ice-cream, went to our mall with an indoor play area (since it was -20 degrees Celcius or even colder all week), and took a fun trip the toy store to spend some of the kids’ Christmas money that we had saved.

(My kids after spending their Christmas money from their great-grandma! Sorry for the poor photo quality, but my husband had our good camera!)

2) Minimize housework. I spent the couple of days before my husband left working a little extra to get the house into decent shape so I wouldn’t have to spend much time cleaning. And I also just let some tasks slide that didn’t matter to me.

3) Simple meals. I cooked larger meals for a few days before we were on our own, which meant I had lots of left overs. I then made a big pot of stew to fill in as an instant meal for visitors as well as a random lunch or dinner here or there when needed. Chicken nuggets and hot dogs also played their part!

4) Paper plates. We don’t have a dish washer, so dish-washing is always the most time consuming chore of my day. During this particular week, for several dinners we used paper plates that  I had left over from Christmas. It was so nice to just eat dinner and throw away the mess!

5) “Play and Pray!” Some friends whose husbands were also at the conference came over to our place Sunday morning with their children in place of church. Obviously, if you can manage going to church, wonderful, but in our situation it isn’t very manageable with all of our kids and without our husbands. In order to still have fellowship, we got together and did a little Bible story for the kids (my friend had the kids act out Jesus feeds the 5,000 and Jesus walks on water with toys), sang some worship songs, and then prayed with our kids. Then as the kids played, the moms and spent time talking and praying for one another. It was such a fun alternative to church!

(We had 9 great kids at our “Play and Pray!”)

6) Pray for your husband and the ministry event.  My husband was at a conference that I would have very much loved to have attended, but was unable to (with any sort of sanity) on the account of our kids. I love knowing that I can play a vital role through prayer and tried to be intentional about praying for the conference and for my husband and his various roles throughout the day.

Those were some of the things that really helped me to not just survive but honestly have a great week during my husband’s absence. What things do you do to survive and even thrive during those times when you’re left parenting on your own? Please share your ideas with us all!

(Post by: Ashley)

Advertisements

Guest Post: Surviving the New Adventure

(Jolene, who has been serving in Ukraine for the past ten years, has kindly offered to share this honest and deeply encouraging post that I think will strike a cord, either in our past or present experience, with each one of us serving overseas. And what a blessing for moms preparing for the field to learn and store up this wisdom for the future!)
You have waited many years for this moment.  You surrendered to the mission field, graduated from Bible college, spent many months on deputation, and now you are headed to the field!  Life could not be more exciting, more adventurous!  The moment you have anticipated, dreamt about, and talked about is finally here.
When you get to the field, it is exactly as you dreamed.  Everything is so different, yet so intriguing.  The people live differently, shopping takes a whole adventurous day, the local language sounds just like you stepped into a foreign film setting.  It is a lot to take in, but you are basking in the thrill of it all.  “Yes, this was exactly what I had in mind.  This is exactly what I have been looking forward to all of my life,” you reflect.
The people do quirky things, and you think it is charming.  Things happen that you just know the people at home will not believe, so you write home about it with great pleasure, knowing your friends and family will be just as amused as you are.  You journal each day (whether on paper or on your blog) about the incredulous things you are seeing and experiencing.  This is the life!
And then, a few months down the road, those funny things slowly start to lose their humor.  They start becoming ordinary, and the excitement that got you through those first few months starts to subside.  You have thrown yourself whole-heartedly into learning the language, and you are coming to the realization that learning a language is a much slower process than you anticipated.  After all, you have been here nearly a year and still cannot say an intelligible full sentence correctly.  People still ask you where you are from everywhere you turn, especially whenever you speak.  Winter comes and it is bitterly cold (or even the opposite extreme and in the 90’s!)…. not at all like back home.  Christmas Day arrives and you might find yourself completely alone or, at best, with another missionary family; and well, quite frankly, you are slightly disappointed because you were not able to celebrate like you know your family was celebrating at home.
Living on the mission field becomes harder and harder, and suddenly you look back and realize that it is no longer an adventure.  Those customs that were “cute” to you at first are, really, just rather annoying.  After all, don’t these people know that there are better ways of doing things?
And slowly, little by little, the adventure has worn completely off.  Life trudges on and does not always take the directions you had anticipated.  People are not asking “What must I do to be saved?” like you always dreamed they would.  In fact, if they were to ask, you would not even be able to tell them.  “Does everyone realize how hard it is to learn a foreign language?” you wonder as you think about how embarrasing it is that you have not been able to lead one person to Christ’s sweet salvation yet.
The letters from home stop coming as often, and everyone expects that you have settled into a happy, little routine.  And you have… except that you feel kind of stuck.  “This is where I am supposed to be, but I did not realize it would be so lonely.  Every time I open my mouth to speak, people hang onto my words trying to understand me like a mother watches her toddler trying to speak.”  You feel foolish and want to crawl into a shell and hide.  And it does not help that you do not understand anything that is being preached at church either.  You, the “great missionary” who left all behind to serve Christ, even start feeling un-churched.  Of course, you sit faithfully in every service (while training under a veteran missionary) but still only catch words here and there – certainly not enough to feel conviction or encouragement.  You miss your home church; you miss traveling to the greatest churches of America and being in the greatest Missions Conferences ever to be conducted.  Forget all of that… you just miss hearing English everywhere you turn!
Slowly, discouragement sets in.  “I will never fit in here.  I will never speak this language correctly.  I will never adapt to the way they do things, etc…”  And then you find that you are in a place you never thought you would be.  After all, was it not you who, when you talked about foreign missions to children’s Sunday school classes, watched as those small eyes widened in wonder at the adventure of taking the Gospel to a foreign mission field?  Was it not you who gave touching testimonies to ladies’ groups about your burning desire to reach these people?
But, oh, dear young missionary wife!  You are crossing a bridge between two mountains.  The first mountain is the one you left back home, and the second mountain is the one you will reach once you start making friends and learning to adapt in your new home.  But, right now you are caught between those two mountains, on a shaky, rattling, swinging bridge.  It seems so much safer to turn around and run back to the first, comfortable mountain that you left not so long ago.  But, if you will just endure and keep taking one small, shaky step at a time, one day you will find that you have reached the other side.  And, it is a beautiful mountaintop, filled with the greatest pleasures and beauty one could ever imagine!   From one who has made it to that second mountain, I encourage you to hang on!
I often wonder, if young missionary wives understood this transition process… from adventure to loneliness and change and, finally, to adaption, would there be more missionaries who made it through those first, transitioning years?  Most missionaries who give up on their calling, do so during the first four or five years.
I also wonder if praying friends back home truly realize the lonely tears that are shed during that transition period.  If they did, I am sure they would be more faithful to write little notes and send little care packages to those young missionary families.  If you are one of those praying friends, let me encourage you to find a missionary family who has been on the field anywhere from one to five years and focus on that family.  And when the devil comes and tries to rattle that already-unsteady bridge, the missionary family will hold on tighter and take another step forward…. another step toward their future of staying.
Where are you today on this journey? Are you on the first mountain top preparing to leave? On that shaking, rattling, swinging bridge, feeling lonely and discouraged? On that second mountain top of adaptation? Let’s join together in praying for our dear sisters in Christ who are crossing that bridge. And if you are looking on that bridge, do you have a minute to share a word or two of encouragement to spur your sisters on?
Post by: Jolene

Making time with God

God greatly desires relationship with us and for us to continually acknowledge and experience His presence. We need His love, encouragement, and instruction and to be filled by His Spirit in order to succeed each day in what He has called us to do! How do we do this when the duties of motherhood don’t really come a with a whole lot of spare time or freedom from interruption? Here are some of my ideas, but what I’d really love is if you could share your wisdom and ideas in the comments! Let’s encourage each other to make our relationship with the Lord of utmost importance and priority!

1) Pray or listen to sermons while doing laundry or dishes- One of my dear friends here has a collection of little spiral note-pads by her sink, and on each page she has different prayer requests. Some are for our team, some are for our ministry, some for family, some for friends… She spends her dish washing time praying through those requests.  Another thing that I love to do sometimes is to listen to sermons on my computer as I do the dishes.

2) Listen to the Bible in the car or on headphones as you walk if you’re traveling alone- There is really something amazing about listening to God’s word!  I have heard many people say that it is good to engage as many of our senses as possible when learning, as it aids in understanding and retention. This is true for study of the word! If you haven’t already, I think you will be surprised at the little nuances that you pick up while listening that you might not catch as easily while reading. You may also find that you remember it even more easily! (And as a quick note, you can listen to the Bible for free at Biblegateway.com . I’ve been listening to the ESV version, also during dish time, and though I don’t really love the narration style, I still find that I get a lot out of it!)

3) Memorize scripture with your kids– Find verses that you would like to memorize that you can also teach to your kids! It is so great for  both us and for our children to store up God’s word in our hearts, and it is more fun to do together! One thing my daughter and I like to do is choose a verse and then draw a picture or make a craft that goes along with it. Again, engaging with the word through various means helps with memorization.

4) Pray or meditate on scripture as you wait- If there is a place where you often find yourself waiting, either in line, or for a child to get out of a lesson, etc, (living in a former soviet country, the post office immediately springs to my mind!), perhaps designate that time as a time for prayer meditating on memorized scripture.

5) Listen to praise music at home– You can be busy at home doing pretty much anything, but the words of worship songs can serve to edify you and the rest of your family throughout the day.

6) Post scripture around your home- I have seen many beautiful pieces of art lately where people have incorporated scripture into their home decor. Whether it be something artistic in a frame, or simply a verse on a note-card on your bathroom mirror, having scripture around your home gives you opportunities to reflect on scripture all throughout the day.

7) Set aside time when the kids are sleeping or are otherwise independently occupied where you will make a habit of reading the Bible and praying- This is not really an easy thing to just squeeze in wherever, but we simply need to be spending time in the word each day!  Other “needs” should come after our need to be with God, and though it is often easiest to push to the edges of our schedule, meeting with God and being in His word is the most vital of tasks. We cannot live and continue to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit without this source of strength, truth and communion with the Lord! I was recently reminded that if you do something each day for 7 weeks, it is more likely to form a habit. If you struggle with making consistent time for study of the word, pray and make a commitment to read your Bible and pray every day at about the same time for 7 weeks and see if it doesn’t become much more of a habit after that time!

Ok, like I said, those are a few ideas, but I’d really love to hear other things that work for you! Please share your ideas!

(Post by: Ashley)

Homesick

This is our 11th year in Niger, so it really shouldn’t catch me by surprise, yet it does.

Every year.

Just before my September birthday, I find myself moody, easily angered, tearful, rapidly frustrated by the idiosyncrasies of living here, and continually questioning God. My husband remarks on my unusually temperamental nature, wondering if I’ve been getting enough sleep. My kids know that I’m going to fuss at them about the messy state of their room – and on particularly bad days, the state of the entire house. Others words that would normally roll right off like water on oil penetrate and hurt, whether intended that way or not. Oversensitive, glum, fatigued by everything about life in this land, I plug along for another month or so.

Then one day, usually sometime in early November, the sky changes from unrelenting sun and faded blue to bright but cool blue, a breeze blows and most days there is a morning haze of harmattan dust or fog over the river. I look for my single cozy sweater to wear while sitting on the terrace and drinking my morning tea. The children (and sometimes even their daddy) dig out socks to wear with their flip-flops. Orange squash are plentiful next to the bridge on the far side of the river. And yellow leaves begin to tumble from one particular type of tree.

And I remember.

I remember why I’ve felt so not me. I’m homesick. Fall is my absolute favorite season of the year, beginning from my birthday and lasting through Thanksgiving. The chill in the air, snuggly sweaters, hiking boots and hot chocolate… Hayrides and bonfires, roasting marshmallows, harvesting apples and fresh mulled apple cider… College football (any football, really) vivid and vibrant colors gracing the trees, piles of raked leaves and giggly children playing, and deer season… Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and all the delight of friends and family at Thanksgiving… Autumn arrives back home, leaving me here, melancholy and nostalgic, wistfully longing for favorite things I miss, and on those really hard days, evoking regret for this decision to live, work and minister in this place.

As one living in an adopted home that is far away and so different from what I’ve always considered home, bouts with homesickness are not surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is the strength of that longing for another place, my place– and the guiltiness that wells up within because in this moment, I’m not content where God has placed me doing what He has called me to do. I don’t doubt that I’m where I’m supposed to be. I simply don’t want to be here. If I let this continue, I’m stepping into sin.

At least once I remember, once I’ve recognized the problem, I know what to do. It really isn’t a 1-2-3 list of steps to follow to banish homesickness. I wish I could wave some sort of biblical wand, like the fairy godmother in Cinderella, to erase that longing for another place, but I find that for me, it is actually a process of confession, choosing contentment, thankfulness and praise.

I first recognize that, while that feeling homesick is not a sin, my resulting discontentment and ungracious attitude towards God and others is. I repent and confess, remembering that contentment is learned. It is also a choice I can make each time someone or something tempts me to let disgruntlement consume. After setting things right with the Lord, I also have to admit my sinful behavior and ask forgiveness from those who’ve been hurt or offended by my season of short temper, spiteful words and other “yuckiness” boiling over.

Then I begin to give thanks. Homesickness is living at least one thing the Savior knew quite well: a longing for another place that never quite goes away. In that opportunity to share in the earthly experience of the Lord, I can begin to give back to God a sacrifice of praise, a gift of gratitude and obedience. I think of words in Philippians 3 and Romans 8:17:

“What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…”

“Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

That longing I feel for another place? It brings to mind so many blessings that I could never begin to number them all. People, places, poignant memories, precious moments, perfect splendor as I regard God’s handiwork… all are priceless treasures. I do have a choice: I can mope and complain that I can’t live those moments every minute, that I can’t metaphorically grasp them all in my hand all at once… or I can be overwhelmed and overcome by infinite mercies and graces bestowed each day and then let my cup of praise and thankfulness run over.

I can also permit this yearning for home remind me of an ever growing longing for my forever home and the awesome presence of God – directing my thoughts upward, near to the heart of God, toward heaven and eternity.

The Lord, in His grace, allowed me to remember a bit sooner this year. Maybe that means I’m making progress!

How has homesickness appeared in your life? Would you have a moment to share a bit and encourage others with how God has led you personally through these tough seasons? Would anyone appreciate prayer as they walk through a time of homesickness? Let’s all be praying today for our sisters around the world who are facing this heartache right now.

(Post by: Richelle)

Blessed Inconvenience

After over four months of furlough in the US, here I am again hand washing dishes, cooking from scratch, and hanging clothes to dry (at least for the past several months since my dryer broke),  and I am seeing how many of the “inconveniences” of life here that I have so often sought to minimize actually carry with them a quite wonderful blessing.

This past summer was exhausting as we ran here and there, doing way more each day than I am used to. Part of this was just the reality of trying to fit so much into a short period of time (any of you who have been back on furlough can totally relate I’m sure!), but I also think part of what stressed me out was a pressure that I felt to do a bazillion things every day, and that I could actually do it since there were so many conveniences to eliminate much of the mundane daily work that I’ve become accustomed to. Pre-made food, jumbo sized washers, dryers, dish washers, one-stop shopping, a personal back yard where the kids could play without constant supervision giving me more time to get more things done as they played…

Are these things bad? No way! I love the convenience of America!! This is a huge blessing and privileged aspect of our culture. What a blessing to find ways to create time in our days! What happened for me though was that with all of this saved time each day, I kept packing in more and more stuff that often required greater emotional energy than scrubbing dishes or hanging laundry. Though my days were often full of wonderfully fun and meaningful experiences, those quiet moments usually spent on mundane work were greatly minimized, often leaving me completely exhausted!

I remember my mom telling me that when computers were first being invented, the idea was that eventually people’s work would be decreased to a mere couple of hours a day due to increased productivity. Has that happened? Of course not! We work the same number of hours, and often more, and have now have simply increased our standard of productivity! Please don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of productivity, but I personally experienced a great loss when my productivity increased at the expense of the peaceful and apparently restorative mundane.

Since our return, though the amount of work that I need to do each day just to keep our household running has increased greatly, I  feel so much more healthy and at peace with my life. Washing dishes is a chore and consumes hours of my week, but I can think, and pray, and just let my mind wander as I do this monotonous but stress-free task. I don’t enjoy the task of hanging laundry and can’t wait for the day that my little dryer is repaired, but at the same time, I have found myself glad for the quiet moments that demand simply hanging things neatly in rows on racks. No-stress. It is often inconvenient to have to go out of the apartment every time the kids need time to play outside, but it forces me to be outside, away from my house work, away from projects, away from the computer, just with the kids and in the fresh (or sometimes fresh) air.

I am all in favor of streamlining tasks and redeeming time, and sometimes I crave to spend those moments spent on laundry and dishes on other things that would seem more worthwhile, but sometimes monotony is a blessing too! Since these sorts of mundane tasks are a non-negotiable part of my daily life, I am thankful that God used this experience to help me dread them less and see them even as a blessing.

What do you think? How do you view the mundane tasks in your life? I pray that you might received these things in your own life as a blessing today!

(Post by: Ashley)

Fitting in While Standing Out

Here are two very popular verses that Christians often talk about when it comes to living as believers in a world where many do not believe.

Paul encourages us to engage in the culture for the sake of the gospel as he says:

“I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”  1 Corinthians 9:22b-23

I don’t know about you, but I really enjoy finding common ground and I like  finding ways to fit in and be accepted.  I like the idea that the gospel is often better received when we can present it in a way that is culturally relevant. I love that it IS relevant to every person and culture! I really enjoy the practical applications of this verse that allow me to learn and engage in a culture and try to become more like those around me for the sake of the gospel.

…But there are also these very important words from Jesus in his prayer for believers in John 17 and other verses like it that speak to another aspect of how we are to live as believers in this world:

“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” – John 17:14-16

This one is much harder for me. Some people find it easy to be bold, are ok with standing out, and are less afraid of other people’s opinions, but I really like fitting in and the idea of being disapproved of or even hated for my beliefs is something that honestly is very difficult for me. God has spoken clearly in His word though, and when we commit ourselves to following Christ, we are accepting the fact that we will be hated for it in one way or another. Of course we don’t aim to be hated, but we should never compromise truth or living in the way that Christ has laid out, merely for the sake of fitting in.

As you live your life for the sake of the gospel, how do these two truths affect you? Do you struggle at all to balance fitting in while standing out? In what ways have you been able to “become all things” in the culture in which you live? Have you experienced being “hated by the world” for your faith in Christ?

(Post by: Ashley)

No Simple Task!

(Me with my daughter in front of the grocery store mentioned in this story, at about the same time that it took place)

I can clearly remember learning one of my first valuable lesson in cross-cultural living. It was a sunny afternoon during our first week in Russia, and I decided to take my 9 month old daughter to get some groceries. This would double as an afternoon outing for her, and would also help me tackle one more thing on my to-do list. I loved multi-tasking, and I loved getting things done.

I started filling my two baskets with groceries, one hanging off of each handle of the stroller. Of course this simple shopping trip ends up being a bit more complicated as I remember that I don’t understand any of the labels, apart from the pictures. “Hummm, I wonder if this is salt?… This little white bag is really cheap and leaking white granular stuff…” I give it a quick sample and toss it in the basket.”

My daughter finds the trip exciting to a point, but soon gets bored and starts to fuss and squirm, and then cry. I don’t blame her since it took me 10 minutes to figure out which can with tomatoes on it might be the closest thing to tomato sauce. With baskets overflowing and very unhappy baby in tow, having only figured out about half of the items on my list, I go through the checkout line as fast as possible, manage an awkward exchange with the clerk, and then hang my groceries on the handles of the stroller to head home. We arrive at the front steps to our flat and I heave the stroller, baby, and groceries up the first few steps and realize that the next 3 flights are going to take nearly all of my physical strength. I heave everything up the stairs and into the flat only to almost collapse from exhaustion, both physically and emotionally.

I wasn’t used to a simple grocery shopping trip requiring so much mental, physical, and emotional energy. I was used to being able to hop in the car, get in and out of the store with twice the number of groceries in half the amount of time, and only a fraction the amount of energy. This time I had come home with enough food for about 2 days worth of meals, minus a few key ingredients, and had given up all hopes of accomplishing anything else of worth that evening.

The next days continued on similarly. I had a few “simple” tasks on my to-do list, only to find myself exhausted after accomplishing only one or two tasks. I was getting half the amount done in a day as usual, yet I was completely exhausted!

A dear friend who had been there a few years longer than me kindly reminded me that even the simplest of tasks would be quite a heroic feat for awhile. To the newcomer, a simple grocery shopping trip is a language lesson, a time to figure out new systems (bag your own groceries or not? Do you have to buy the plastic bags, or are they free?), a new lesson in interpersonal communication, often times a physical workout, and more.

This was a hard lesson for me to accept as a person who values productivity, but it has been absolutely key to my sanity. Figuring out life in a foreign culture is exhausting! Praise God that it gets significantly easier over time, but even after years there are some underlying things that still add elements of stress that wouldn’t be there if we were doing the same task in our home culture. We have to be gracious with ourselves and adjust our expectations to make room for all of the other things that we are learning along with accomplishing our  normal daily tasks. And when looking over the things accomplished on our to-do lists, we should be sure to give ourselves credit for those extra language lessons,  culture lessons, and workouts too!

If you’ve been overseas for a long time, do you remember learning this lesson? What has “productivity” looked like for you over the years and how has it changed? If you are new to the field, do you sometimes struggle with feeling unproductive? Has it been easy or difficult to adjust your expectations of yourself and to plan your days accordingly? Be encouraged that your accomplishments are many, even if doesn’t feel like it!

(Post by: Ashley)


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.