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Guilt: a re-entry story

Liz Schandorff is with us once again to share how her re-entry is going. I’ve felt some of these same things on furlough: out of sight seldom seems to equal out of mind for a missionary mama, and there’s never enough to meet legitimate needs in our friends’ lives. Read on, mamas…enjoy!

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We’re about to spend our tax return on a sprinkler system. I’ll decline to mention the precise amount we’re going to pay but it’s more than $1,000, more than $2,000, more than $3,000… and (insert incredibly painful cringe here), more than $4,000.

Oh my word. Can’t believe I’m saying any of this publicly; sharing personal finances in public is scary! CRINGE again.

I should preface (to try and make myself feel better, at least a little) that my yard is a certified disaster area. Let me back up. We bought a fixer upper that had been foreclosed two owners ago. The owners previous to us, according to the neighbors, bought the foreclosure (also then fixer-upper) aiming to fix it up… and then spent their renovation money on alcohol. Seriously. I’m still finding broken beer bottle glass in the yard.

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Neglected yard, but not Liz’s yard. But it could be. 

Two years ago, the yard was chest high with weeds. Not even exaggerating. We have tamed the beast until the weeds are now ankle height or below and I have spent hours upon hours hand-weeding the front yard, which was the least-awful-and-most-likely-to-be-redeemable area. But the back is kind of still a wreck. It’s uneven, with trenches and random potholes sprinkled throughout but still manages to slope entirely towards the house. Idaho doesn’t get a ton of rain but it doesn’t take a genius to know that a yard that drains right into the foundation of your house is less than ideal.

And I’m a gardener. I love to have my hands in the dirt, creating beauty from, well, dirt! Right now my front garden beds are full of tulips and daffodils; the crocuses are done already but the irises are just about to start. My budget is limited (single-earner non-profit income, anyone? I know you missionary mamas can relate!) but I have begged plant starts from several family members and neighbors (and the occasional generous craigslister) and the front garden beds are starting to look downright respectable.

And my family thrives outside; my husband is never happier than when out in the fresh air and my soul is most at peace on my porch in the mornings when the rising rays of sun hit my face and the potential of a new day stretches out in front of me. My sons enjoy swinging and playing with the dog, whacking croquet balls and tossing bocce balls, swinging for (and missing, let’s be honest here!) baseballs, tossing Frisbees, finding bugs and playing in mud.

So sprinklers make sense, right? Let’s review: 1) Yard is a disaster zone ripe for the “before” setup of an HGTV show. 2) Family loves to be outside and spend quality time with each other; 3) Tax return will cover said sprinkler system as well as leveling the back yard safely away from the house and planting grass.

So… why do I feel paralyzed with guilt about this decision? Why do I feel the need to write such a lengthy tome justifying this purchase? We need it, we can do it, we will appreciate the heck out of it… should be simple, right?

Nope. Because those funds could help fix G & C’s house in Port-au-Prince… they wrote recently saying water is leaking in and they ran out of money before they could complete the roof. Because W has school registration fees to pay this summer and the primary donor who was helping with that has had a change to their income and may not be able to help with that this year. I keep hearing reports that J doesn’t have food to eat and gentle N is still trying to build a block house for his wife and children – an upgrade from the tin shanty on the bare hillside they currently live in.

How can I spend on myself when their needs are so grave? I have food and shelter; my children have multiple educational options. We have clothing, furniture, and extra money to spend on a pet. My older son is going on a (not cheap) youth group trip to a family fun zone this Friday and my younger is taking martial arts lessons… because he wants to and we can.

What would Jesus do? Would he sacrifice sprinklers and the foundation of his home to give it all away? Would he take care of his family this year and give generously next year? Would he get a second job so he could do both – but then not see his kids as much? Would he give half away this year and save half, and hope to get sprinklers next year? This may sound ludicrous but these are the thoughts going through my mind. I feel horribly selfish because I think we are going to go ahead and get sprinklers; the choice is all but made. Bids have been submitted and we will soon sign on the dotted line.

This is a larger amount of money and I’m now 3,000 miles away from the needs mentioned above, but I had the same struggles while living on the mission field. Should we spend this $1,000 on a sorely-needed vacation or give it to the orphanage? Replace the rotting futon or supplement our guard’s meager income so he can get medical care for his son with the broken arm? Buy the ice cream with the inflated, imported price as a treat after an awful week or give it to someone at the gate who doesn’t have rice and beans?

The struggle is real and, I believe, the struggle is right. After 5 years on the field I decided that the Lord values the struggle. He appreciates the thought we put into it. Not that we should obsess over each big decision, but we should pray. Not to nit-pick each purchase, but to carefully consider. This may be heretical, but at the end of the day, but for me, I’m not even sure that choosing Option A or Option B is the important part. It is embracing the struggle that is key.

Why? Because it means you care enough about the needs of those around you to pause and think. It means you are unselfish enough to wonder if spending your resources on yourself is the best choice. So embrace the struggle, mamas. Sometimes you’ll choose yourself, sometimes you’ll choose others – and you know that. Jesus knows it too, and I think he’s ok with it. After all, we are to love our neighbor as yourself. Sometimes we missionaries feel guilty about the “as yourself” part – but remember that it’s there, it’s Biblical too. We need to take care of ourselves as needed so we can keep ministering. That’s going to look different for different people. And that’s okay, too.

As for me? I’m also going to be praying about those needs (which are all real and current, by the way – not fictionalized or generalities for the sake of a blog post) and how the Lord might want to use me to meet them. But I’m also going to be giddy when those sprinklers are installed and I can wiggle my toes in that silky grass while my kids whiff those baseball pitches!

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Motherhood (is) Ministry

Do you ever want to give your younger self a good slap? I do. Often. But in particular, in the area of homemaking, I had it so wrong. I’m downright ashamed now.

Yes, someone else can make the beds and mop the floors, and for many of us, the people who do this are essential and they’re extremely grateful for the work. But there’s more to homemaking than just cleaning, right? God’s changing my heart on this. Especially overseas, making a space that feels comfortable and feels like home is a full-time job.

Did you catch that? It’s a full-time job. And if you can work outside the home and do two full-time jobs, I applaud you. But I can’t. And I remember the first time I judged a missionary mama who told me she was a homemaker. Man, I judged her so hard I’m amazed she didn’t fly across the room. What a waste; doesn’t she have house helpers?

Like I said, Former Me needed a good slap.

Nobody’s going to love this family like I do. Nobody’s going to drive all over town looking for backpacks for the first day of preschool or leave love notes on his keyboard. Nobody’s going to make pizza I can’t eat every Friday. Nobody else knows their great hates and secret loves and how to bless them in deeply authentic ways like you do, mama. No babysitter, no dishwasher, no chauffeur replaces your care and your influence, the calming effect your very presence can have. (Kids, keep it down, I’m trying to have a calming influence over here.)

Do not undervalue what you do.

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But I get it: this is a hard job. Little children are especially tiring, and lots of days, I’m pretty sure I’m screwing them up so bad they won’t come to visit me in the missionary retirement home when I’m old and shriveled. Because they can’t. Because they haven’t gotten time off for good behavior.

This is when you need a mantra. A catchphrase. An anthem, if you will. Weed out any lies that are playing on repeat and replace it with something true. For a while, mine was “God knows what I am.” God knows what I am, and he still gave me these kids, this husband, this life. He still loves me. He still blesses me. He doesn’t condemn me.

And as goofy as it sounds, I have a playlist for days when I just can’t mother anyone without some stiff encouragement. (Coffee doesn’t do it for me.) So I’m sharing it with you. They’re not particularly special, but they help me get my warm fuzzy feelings back about my family. Except the first one. The first one is just for dancing. (Also, I didn’t watch the videos, I just know the songs. But how weird could they be, right? ….right? You were warned.)

Bulletproof by Citizen Way

John Harrison by The Brilliance

I get to be the one by JJ Heller

The Wine We Drink by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

Boat Song by JJ Heller

You’ll Always be my Girl by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors

It’s Not Over Yet by For King and Country

One of my coworkers poured out her heart on her blog this week about this same topic, and I love the conclusion she’s coming to: “After two years of striving and pushing, I’ve come to a place of growth in my journey where I no longer want to strive to prove something; I simply want to be at rest as the woman God made me. I’m choosing to be Mary at rest at our Lord’s feet instead of Martha striving her hardest to win approval unsuccessfully. Later, if God makes it possible to start this ministry outside of me striving to get it done, then to Him be the glory; for now, I am going to rest at His feet and do the most important ministry He has already given me – our home and family.”

Bravo, mama. I’m right behind you.

Live in tents, build altars 

When we were packing for the field the first time, I took a picture of my keys, because they were so pathetic: one key to my parents’ house. We’d sold our car, moved out of our apartment, and we were so ready to go…but it still felt uprooted, exposed. It made me feel small to be without the traditional trappings of adulthood.

 

The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward, for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring forever. I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” So Abram moved his tent and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron, and there he built an altar to the LORD. – Genesis 13:14-18

At a chapel for our organization, someone shared a message based on the passage above. You’re going to feel homeless as a missionary…maybe a lot more often than you thought. And God hasn’t promised you a land like he did Abram, but he’s promised eternal life, complete with a room with your name on it. It’s easier to live in tents when you have this in mind, I find. And when you need permanence, as we all do, built an altar.

It sounds easy, right? It probably wasn’t fancy. I don’t know if it took him long. But he did this several times in the preceding chapters. When God spoke, Abram stopped to memorialize it. Later on, he even laid his precious son on one of them.

Anything you do that inspires worship, that lets your light shine before all those other guys, that’s altar-building. It’s more permanent than you could imagine. I think that’s what Christ meant when he said that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet wouldn’t be taken away from her. The object of your life is that what is mortal might be swallowed up by life, and that’s something no one can steal, no circumstance can remove, no moving company can misplace.

So when you feel like you’re folding, like the seams are coming apart on your tent…that’s exactly how it’s supposed to feel. Just remember to stop, take a deep breath, and lean on an altar for a minute…even if you have kids around both ankles.

You’ve got this, mama.

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