Modern Missionary Mamas

Because Christ is our all in all, all over the world.

To-do’s and ta-da’s

Attainable goals, mamas! Self care counts!

Heard a great thing this week: we’ve all got “to-do” lists, but what about “ta-da” lists? Can you make a list of all the meaningful stuff you did, all the times you played megablocks, the times you let yourself be interrupted to have a conversation with a neighbor, the nights you spend working for the family instead of goofing off…I look at all that and say, “Ta-da! Look what I did!” Cheer yourself on! Give yourself a little pat on the back for those small choices; they add up to glory.

Happy weekend. 🙂


Monday Meme

…especially true when parenting TCK’s!

On time travel

I’ve been thinking, mamas. Thinking, as I take my laundry off the line. Thinking, as I boil my beans. Thinking, as I darn a sock and put a button back on my kid’s shorts. And what I think is this: “When did I step back in time?” My role in our family has been dialed back decades compared to many of my friends’ lives in the U.S. I never did laundry by hand unless I was camping. I cook almost everything from scratch…but without the “open and pour” option regarding ingredients at times. And many expats here in Haiti would consider me spoiled with all the options I DO have, since I live in a city. 

And it isn’t just the work itself, although it isn’t exactly how I’d pictured my life as a girl. It’s the way people treat me…as if it’s what I’m good for. When we moved to our new house last year, I instructed the helpers we hired to lift with their legs, not their backs. They snickered…not because they knew, but because they assumed I didn’t know. (And putting my hands on my hips and informing them that I’d been to college only made it more hilarious.) After all, what would a white lady know about carrying heavy things? They snicker when I hammer a nail into the wall to hang a picture. A lady using a hammer…They stare at me in wonder when I pull up alone to pick them up for work. “Madam, I didn’t know you could drive…” 
In some ways, it hurts that people expect so little of me. It makes me wonder how Haitian women feel. I was a valued professional in my pre-field life…I know what I’m capable of…but the magic of time travel sometimes messes with my head. And what makes it worse is that this menial housework I’m “too good for”? I’m really bad at some of it. My compost has just been a pile of ant-ridden dry leaves for six months. Despite my years of Girl Scouts, which taught me about how capable and like totally equal to men I am, I’m still terrible at starting fires. (Hello, kerosene.) I wasn’t a good housekeeper in the States, so when they took away my swiffers and my vaccuum cleaner? Disaster. I intended at first to go without househelp…and it quickly became obvious to me why that wasn’t going to work. Well, let me clarify: if I wanted to do nothing but housework, that would work fine. If I wanted any other interests, I was going to need help. Thankfully, I found some wonderful employees, but I still had to put some hard work not only into my house, but into my attitude about how I could best serve my family here.

So I tried to use my professional skills when I wasn’t needed at home. Teaching English still felt time-traveled, when a goat wandered into my classroom and one student insisted that dogs couldn’t learn any name except “chen”…the Kreyol word for “dog.” But at least I was seen as an authority, if only for a few hours a week. And I learned something I value to this day: ignorance is no barrier to love. I can bless you even if you laugh at me, even if you see me as “less than” because I don’t speak French. A well-meaning friend once commented, “International Baccelaureate students don’t become house mothers!” Well, this one did. She did it for love. And believe it or not, my intellect still benefits my family and my students on a daily basis…even if they don’t have any clean underwear. 

You and your brain have got this, mamas. 

What I Wish I Knew Before Teaching Abroad

One thing I’ve noticed is that people think teaching is easy. And maybe it is for some people…but for many of us, things like classroom management and bonding with students must be taught. Loved this gal’s perspective on teaching abroad, especially her teachable spirit to glean from local teachers. That’s success right there.


Getting real about missionary struggles

This is a quote from the article above:

“We need to hear stories about the real struggles and joys of missions work. These kinds of stories have the power to improve our missiology; unless we are honest about the challenges missionaries face, we won’t find realistic solutions. But if we are forthright about what the job requires, we’ll stand a better chance of attracting the right people and preparing them adequately for long-term service, rather than sending them home early, disillusioned and depressed.”

This. This is why I write this blog. It hasn’t happened yet, but one day, I imagine someone will accuse me of deterring people from becoming missionaries with my excessive honesty…and all I can say is that if Jesus is the truth, we must love it everywhere we find it and embrace it even when it hurts.

Mike drop.

When your “exotic overseas life” feels ordinary

I especially like what she has to say about capacity. Don’t miss the comments section on this one.

Love you, mamas.

Vegetable gardening in the tropics

These are fairly thorough books on vegetable gardening in the tropics…not necessarily an easy topic to find information on. Tropical Permaculture has also been a helpful website for me.

Happy growing, mamas!

Translation fails

Translation fails always make me chuckle. There used to be signs around the airport claiming that trespassers would be molested instead of arrested…boy, somebody regretted that one.

Putting your identity back together

A few weeks before we left for the field in 2010, we met a missionary who’d been in Mexico for about ten years. She was very open about her struggles, and I was grateful for her transparency, until she turned to me and said this: “You know, as soon as you leave here, you can never go home again. You can come back to the same place, but you won’t be the same person.” I didn’t want to believe her.

In addition to writing bossy informational blog posts, I also like to write fiction. Fiction, much like journalism, must have a who, what, where, when, why and how. And when I read about writing, there’s always an emphasis on letting the “who,” your characters, drive the plot. If your hero doesn’t act from a deep place, out of Who They Are, it’s not very satisfying. We don’t want to see the plot just happen to them; we want to feel that they are affecting change in their world.

Identity blog post

And this is partly why the missionary life is so confounding. Your character, dear mama, is changing. You may lose touch with your cultural center, that abiding sense of what you should do, when the rules you thought governed the universe turned out to be not be very useful in this corner of it. Your “why” has not changed: you love Christ deeply. You want to give your life in service to a Great King, who laid down his life for you. But the vastly different “what,” “where,” and “how” of your life has turned you upside-down and shaken you by the ankles…and now you’re not sure where your “who” ended up in the mugging.

Dr. Lois Dodds of Heartstream Resources for Cross-cultural Workers says it well:  “At home in the U.S., I had created an orderly and satisfying life, as a wife, a mother, a creative person serving the church, a nurturer of the extended family. With our move to the Amazon, it seemed like my carefully constructed life was suddenly thrown in the air, coming down like a jigsaw puzzle unable to hang together. Re-building and re-ordering life in the new culture meant I had to re-form myself as well.”

I can’t speak in complete sentences or do basic adult tasks like drive or go grocery shopping without help…does that mean I’m a child? 

When I started working at our ministry office, the national staff would compliment me on days when I dressed up, one of them going so far as to say, “That’s how you should dress every day.” Am I a slob now? I never felt like I was before.

Like Liz mentioned in the podcast, I too used to be a “to-do list, get it done” kind of gal. Not so now… I feel like I’m running hard, but I’m spinning my wheels a lot. Am I lazy?

So if you’re still looking for the corners on your identity jigsaw puzzle…you’re in good company. Dodd gives some ideas for growth in this article, which is well-worth reading if you have the time:

  1. Realize that you’re not alone. What’s happening to you is not uncommon. (And since you’re reading this article…you can check off that box.)
  2. Affirm your uniqueness and inherent worth. Apart from what you do, good or bad, right or wrong in any cultural context on the planet, you bear God’s image and you are precious to him. You just can’t imagine how loved you are.
  3. Nail down your identity “non-negotiables” : What things are essential to “you” feeling like “you”? For me, this meant finding outlets for my writing…one of which you are reading right now. Another was my sense of humor: I intentionally tried to learn how to tell jokes right away in Haitian Kreyol, because I love making people laugh, but most people here hate sarcasm. They do, however, love hyperbole and personification. The jokes changed, but the essential remained the same.
  4. Realize how much change you’ve already undergone. Write it out: how are you different today from the day you left your passport country? It’s amazing, really. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back.
  5. Meditate, pray, read the Bible to search out how God transforms people. Hint: it’s slower than you may think. The Holy Spirit is a gift to us; take advantage of his presence and his ability to speak truth and comfort to your soul.

Try to find a way to “pivot”–can you take that essential part of you and express it in a different direction? I taught elementary students in the States, but since arriving here, I’ve taught adults, teens, and tutored struggling students one-on-one…and I loved it all. I know a missionary mama who loved music, so she learned traditional African drumming overseas…and apparently, “the lady drummer” was quite the attraction when they went to churches to perform!

Even though it can be a chance to change and grow as a person and discover new interests, you must also acknowledge that this can be a heartbreaking, exhausting process, and implement a self-care plan. And if you think I’m going to stop mentioning self-care any time soon, you can just forget about it. My new favorite thing is baths. Once a week, I fill the WHOLE TUB with WARM water, adding epsom salts and lavender…it feels decadent, and in this world, it probably is.

You know what? I’m abandoning the jigsaw metaphor…it’s tougher than that. There’s no picture on the box to tell you what your life is going to look like. There is no stinkin’ manual, mamas. It takes more artistry than that. It’s more like a mosaic.

My friend JoAnn makes these (you can find more of her work here), and I will never get over how she can take tiny bits of broken tea cup or plate and suddenly, that same piece of material is now telling a completely different story. It has an entirely different use. It’s made up of the same stuff, but the whole is not the same at all.

How have your put your identity back together since arriving on the field, mamas? Be brave! Share!

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

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