Self-care: Stress Breathing

So I’m stuck in Miami. I was flying back to the field, when craziness broke out and now I’m…stuck. It’s a good stuck, overall, except I have been with my kids almost every minute of every day for about three hundred days. Or maybe it’s only three, I can’t remember. The point is we’re super stressed around here, and I majorly lost my cool with my kids tonight when they wouldn’t go to sleep in our shared hotel room.


Thankfully, I was watching a video unrelated to my parenting failures, and it reminded me about 4-7-8 breathing.

Mamas, this is my secret weapon, except I totally forgot about it until now. This helps me keep my cool 100% of the time, and I will totally be using it in the days ahead. So if summer’s got your hair falling out (or perhaps being actively ripped out of your head), let’s give this a try, shall we?

Breathe in for a count of four.

Hold your breath for a count of seven.

Breathe out for a count of eight.

Start over and do it again a few times until you feel calm.

That’s it.

Need a video? Probably not, but just in case, here you go:

The science behind it is simple. When we’re stressed, we breathe IN a lot, but not OUT a lot. Breathing more out than in triggers your brain to feel calm. So if you can’t do a count of eight, just try for more than five.

4-7-8 breathing iphone

4-7-8. Repeat. You can save the above picture as a backdrop for your phone.

And the real beauty is that you’ll confuse the heck out of your kids, who will expect you to yell or storm off or do something. Standing there just breathing, they’ll probably make sure you’re not having a stroke. Have some fun with it.

Love you, mamas. You are doing a good job. Keep it up.

Noise: A re-entry story

Hi ladies! I want to introduce you to Liz, who’s bravely decided to share her re-entry story with you as a series. Repatriating or re-entry can be a tough thing; it seems like lots of conflicting feelings are common. So it’s great to have some insight into her experience! Thanks, friend. Enjoy!

It’s mid-morning and I’m sitting in my living room, listening to the comforting drone of my neighbor-farmer’s four-wheeler; he is doing his daily movement of irrigation equipment to water the alfalfa field. I’m happy, with my coffee and my laptop and the chirp of robins out of my large living room window.

But there’s the ghost of fear, tension, and my chest feels a little tight. I gently probe the emotion. It’s raw, it’s hard, and I feel the first tell-tale signs that tears may threaten.

What IS this? What is going on?

It’s been 7 months since I returned from my African-culture overseas post and I’m just now feeling like I can allow myself to feel and explore this tension. Until now it’s been too fresh, too frightening. What if I dig into it and it’s too much for me? What if I start crying and I can’t stop – the homeschool day needs to start in a few minutes. What if it sparks a new wave of depression, and I learn that depression is something I will carry with me longer than my years on the mission field?

But with the comforting lilt of the birds and the fresh spring morning air wafting through the window to strengthen and comfort my soul, I allow the feelings to come. Welcome, troubling thoughts. You may come out into the open, fears and insecurities. I’m creating space for you now.

Flashback to sitting in my concrete block house. Also morning, also coffee. Also noises coming through the windows. But here the light is brighter, harsher, the sounds louder. Motorcycles, yelling. The crackling of fire, roosters crowing. My guard shifting his weight, the plastic chair grating against the concrete. He shifts his shotgun and it’s like an electric shock to the brain: adrenaline hits; danger is out there, possibly near, possibly imminent. Remember the bodies in the street last fall? Thieves are shot dead here. Remember the intruder on your property the first year here?

The Lord is my strength and my shield and I lean into him. My Bible is precious as it sits in my lap, its weight and threadbare cover are comforting to me. I thumb its well-worn pages and cling to the words of my days’ reading. Pink highlights the encouraging, comforting verses. They nourish me and sustain me.

But the fears still lurk, some days. What is that yelling? I can understand the local language when it’s spoken to me clearly at a normal pace, but when slang is tossed around amidst a cacophony of other sound, from the street, at full voice, it’s a discordant, clanging symphony. It’s a club of which I am not a part.

Motorcycles kick up dust and the burning trash sends smoke waves through my house; I tell the kids to go upstairs to play since it’s isn’t so bad up there in the center of the house if you close the guest room door.

I love my ministry, I don’t regret living here. Our family has made a choice and I stick by it; I would choose it again. But when they said missions could be hard, I didn’t understand it would make me feel like this. I’m under assault all day from the dust, the smoke, the repetitive adrenaline activations. It’s a chronic stress and I wonder sometimes how long it will take before my regularly high cortisol levels will start taking a physical toll on my body. I’m already on anti-depressants, thanks to an episode of trauma-induced depression and PTSD during my second year.

I don’t know what the voices are saying and I know sometimes people in the street might wish me harm if they could. Just remember what happened to the neighbors across the lane; they were watched by people sitting in the street and when the right moment arose, those same people brought guns and fists and made their desires known through force, violence. My kids are upstairs and Mama Bear is constantly on the alert. It’s better now that the guard is here, but his presence (or rather their presence, as multiple men rotate through my front yard in the course of a week) just veils the threat.

Jumping back out to the present, as the tears threaten harder now, and school really does have to start soon.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll be brave enough to try again.

Freebie Friday: Wake Up Your Soul

Here’s a nice ten-day plan to take life a little slower…I know that’s sometimes easier in the summer, so feel free to tuck this away for December.

This resource is from 10 / 10 Ministries, who also does counseling and retreats for ministry leaders.

To the Mama who’s just arrived…


Dear Brand-New Missionary Mama,

You did it.

You dreamed all those dreams, you prayed all those prayers. You raised all that money. You shook all those hands. You spoke in all those churches. You attended all that training, you passed all those tests. You packed all that stuff. You said those hard, hard goodbyes. You flew all those miles, over all those oceans, in all those cramped seats. You did it. You made it. You’re here.

That was the easy part.

Your family’s feeling pretty insecure right now…and who wouldn’t be? You’ve only changed the climate, the language, and the customs on them, it’s not like that’s everything–oh wait. You’re so excited to be here, it’s what you’ve wanted and prayed for…and yet, you keep finding tears in your eyes at the most inconvenient times.

People are staring at you; it makes you uncomfortable. Your kids are covered in bug bites, so they’re not sleeping well, and you’re thinking of changing all their middle names to “Crankypants.” They’ve rejected the reconstituted milk again today, and you’d really just like one meal that was easy, but that would require going out, and that’s too exhausting.

This is why the mission field breaks people. This first part is off-the-charts stressful. It hurts. And when we’re under this kind of stress, we have to protect ourselves and be gentle with ourselves. Let the beds go unmade, mama. Let them watch one more episode if it means you can finish your lunch without anyone touching you. Dirty socks never killed anybody. Stressful times call for temporary measures.

So how do we keep a mama from breaking in these hard days?

  1. Naps. I laughed when my coworker said this when I first arrived. She was serious, and so am I. The heat, the unfamiliarity, trying to imitate new sounds, it’s all exhausting. You’re making even more decisions than usual, and your brain is on overload. Give it some extra rest. It doesn’t make you a child. Don’t unpack. Don’t do dishes. It’s like they told me when I had a baby: don’t stand if you can sit, don’t sit if you can lie down, don’t lie down if you can sleep. Let yourself recover.
  2. “People-free space.” Oh, you live at the ministry center? Great. What time does everyone go home? Oh, it varies? Not anymore. Send them home at 5:00. Or lock your front door and ignore whoever’s knocking. Or turn off your phone. Have some reasonable boundaries so you can let your hair down, put on your PJ’s and feel free to cry, complain, laugh, process out loud, etc.
  3. Adjust your expectations. And by “adjust,” I mean “lower.” It’s all going to take longer than it feels like it should–let it. You’re on island time now (even if you don’t live on an island). Hakuna matata, as they say. 🙂 You’ll get back to your five-day-a-week workouts…next month. Pick a date, if that helps. Re-introduce order into your life slowly.
  4. Carry a notebook and a pen. Write down cultural questions, words you keep hearing and want to learn, things to ask your boss later, phone numbers for your new veggie lady, etc. It’ll reduce the pressure on your brain to remember things (when it’s already in overload) and you won’t be losing tiny scraps of random paper.
  5. Minimize decision-making. Plan your meals out: for breakfast, it’s cereal or eggs. For lunch, it’s sandwiches. For dinner, it’s spaghetti. Don’t make any more decisions than you have to. If the kids complain, tell them they can each pick a meal and help you with it…next month. For this month, this is the plan. If you need a template, I’ve got one right here for you. Pick out clothes the night before. Just watch one show on Netflix. You get the idea.
  6. Stay off social media. I say this as a kindness and can’t stress it enough: you don’t need to be reminded that it’s snowing at home and you’re missing it. You don’t need to be reminded that you didn’t get to be at the baby shower. You don’t need to be reminded that somewhere, people are taking hot showers in a house free of termites. I know, Facebook feels familiar. It feels like a connection to home, but often, it’s salt in an open wound. If you want connection, turn to your husband. Write a long email to a friend. Call Mom on Facetime. Better yet, crack open your Bible and sit in God’s presence and be reminded that you are enough because He paid it all. If you have to do social media for work, set a timer, post your ministry updates and respond to messages and get off. Let the homesickness heal a little before you dive back into your feed. It’ll still be there.
    Deep breaths. You’ll get through this. Be gentle with yourself. This is hard–this is really hard. But the good news? It’s downhill from here–it’s only going to get easier. Please don’t give up now, before you see how great this is going to be. Every day, you’re learning new things. Every day, God’s going to be faithful to give you what you need for that day. A graceful transition just means keeping everybody alive. Period. Anything more than that is a bonus, in my book.

I made you a little present…it’s goofy, but maybe that’s what you need. It’s called New Missionary Bingo, and the goal is just to remember that all this stuff is normal. It’s not meant to be played in a group, but as life happens, go ahead and check off the boxes. And if you get five in a row or a blackout, pat yourself on the back, and come comment on this post and let us know how you’re doing. Is it getting easier? What are you learning?

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go kill something with a forked tail that just flew by my head. (Man, I couldn’t make this stuff up even if I tried.)

You’ve got this, mama.