Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tuesday Topic: POA

From an anonymous reader: Does someone in your home country have Power of Attorney for you? Who (i.e. relative, friend, etc)? If you're with a mission, is there someone in your home office who can sign papers and such for you? We do have a family member who takes care of most financial things for us, but that's becoming something of a conflict of interests....

(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!)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Turning over that TCK leaf

I know this will come as no surprise to you - because most of you interact with them all the time!

But TCKs... third culture kids... are nothing short of amazing. Don't you agree?

bi-, tri-, multilinguists

cultural chameleons

experienced world travelers

flexible, adaptable, go-with-the-flow -ers
(think "flow" with a long o sound!)

fascinating conversationalists

both sophisticated and naive all at once 

kids who still almost always somehow stand out in a crowd, 
even when they try their best not to

I don't think I can think about, talk about, write about or look at them in any way objectively. I don't think I can even try.

I know I'm far more than a bit partial. 

I'm a mom to 8 of these amazing kids and I also teach at an international school where most of the students come from expat families and are TCKs from all over the globe. I've usually have some collection of them hanging out at my house any given day of the week.

As we prepare to head back to the States, one key concern is helping my children prepare for this transition. So lately I've been doing a lot of reading about "re-entry" to the passport country and have been learning a lot about reverse culture shock and what it means to be a "hidden immigrant."

Reverse culture shock isn't a new idea. I've experienced myself. First stepping off the plane, of course I'm exhausted from the stress of packing up, saying goodbye and the marathon of travel, but I'm also excited to be home, delighted to see and visit with people I've missed, experiencing reunions long anticipated - whether it be a dear friend or a favorite restaurant. But then I have to drive on the freeway for the first time and each time an 18-wheeler flies by me at 70 mph (or more), literally just feet distant, my heart  in my throat and my hands gripping that steering wheel as tight as possible - holding my breath and waiting for the truck to make one of the predictably unpredictable maneuvers taxis in town make at least a dozen times every trip to the store. Running to the store to pick up a box of cereal, loaf of bread and some juice for breakfast overwhelms because there are too many choices. And then there's the awkwardness of recognizing that even the very best of the clothes that we brought home look faded, dingy and about 3 or 4 years out of style. No one of those things in and of itself is horribly huge or impossible to handle, but it does leave me daydreaming nostalgic about the comfortable cruise life in my country of service had become, especially as compared to the rushing tumult of what I know should feel normal but instead seems so strange and uncomfortable.

Thankfully, though, that season does eventually pass and I settle back into the rusty but eventually recalled, remembered  and once again mostly comfortable routine of life back in my passport country.

TCKs experience this same sort of reverse culture shock, but there is an additional complication. Whereas for me, adjusting is like getting re-used to a comfy but long unworn old pair of shoes that had been shoved to the back of the closet, the same is not true for my children. For my kids, it will be more like breaking in new pair of shoes. For this crew of mine who much prefers to run around barefoot, I'm foreseeing stubbed toes, blisters and sore feet - both metaphorically and literally.

That is because my kids will be "hidden immigrants." Once back in our home country, they look like they should fit in. They speak the language. But? They think differently about the culture, about many of the things that are normal, expected and assumed to be common and often have some different perspectives on life and the world in general. So they look like they belong. The people around them assume they feel like they belong. But they still feel more like an outsider or a person on the fringe. And it isn't just a matter of re-habituating; they actually must learn new habits and practices.

How do I help my children prepare for this transition? I'll be detailing that more specifically in a few weeks. 

One thing for sure? 

We talk - a lot. I have to be sure there is time for my kids to share what is on their heart.

And I try and listen even more, only rarely offering suggestions or giving advice unless pressed. 

I'm taking notes on those things that they want to talk about and what seems to be a priority to each one. For one, it may be the pets and what will happen. Another is already grieving those friends who aren't here and with whom, there won't be the opportunity for a face to face goodbye. A third has so many thoughts and questions about college and the next step, while our littlest one has no memory of ever having been in our passport country but asks lots of questions and wants to imagine.

How about you?

How do you help your children prepare for the transition to home assignment or a more permanent relocation back to their passport country?

What sorts of things do your children talk about when they contemplate leaving and returning to their passport country?

Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field:

Saturday, February 23, 2013

"Things As They Are" book review

Our business is to tell the truth. The work is not a pretty thing, to be looked at and admired. It is a fight. And battlefields are not beautiful. But if one is truly called of God, all the difficulties and discouragements only intensify the Call. If things were easier there would be less need. The greater the need, the clearer the Call rings through one, the deeper the conviction grows: it was God's Call. And as one obeys it, there is the joy of obedience, quite apart from the joy of success. There is joy in being with Jesus in a place where His friends are few; and sometimes, when one would least expect it, coming home tired out and disheartened after a day in an opposing or indifferent town, suddenly—how, you can hardly tell—such a wave of the joy of Jesus flows over you and through you, that you are stilled with the sense of utter joy. Then, when you see Him winning souls, or hear of your comrades' victories, oh! all that is within you sings, "I have more than an overweight of joy!"
--Amy Carmichael in Things As They Are

I finished Amy Carmichael's book, Things As They Are, a while back, but I've been keeping it on my Kindle along with some notes, in order to share it with you all.

First, I have to confess that I am a book-worm, and I guess I've found my writing niche here. I'll keep giving you all book reviews, at least for now. I think I'll try to go in the direction of what is available free online. My Kindle is my favorite earthly possession  and I read free books on it almost exclusively. Even if you don't have a Kindle, the book I'm writing about today is available for you to read on your computer screen (not fun, but possible) or other device.

Amy Carmichael has been one of my heros since I was a young teenager. Back then I borrowed her books from the retired missionaries who lived near us, scoured the libraries for them, and did all kinds of interlibrary loans. And, yet, there are still gems of hers that I hadn't read yet. This is one of them.

Things As They Are is from the early days of Amy's ministry in India, from the time when she was still traveling with an evangelism team. She doesn't mince words in telling about how harsh life in India was then. An ongoing theme--obviously, since it's the title of the book--is telling people "back home" that mission work wasn't all sweetness and light.
You may not like my writing so plainly, but sometimes it seems as if only the bright side were given, and one feels that if God's praying people at home understood things more as they really are . . . more prayer for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our agents and converts would ascend to God. . . .
And yet, it's not depressing. In her Victorian way, Amy slips around the very ugliest parts of her experiences and just leaves impressions of them with her readers. She also does a lovely job of lifting our eyes back to the Savior she loved so much and to the hope that He brings. There's a lovely balance in her writing here. It led me to think about modern blogging and a recurring discussion that I've seen in the blogging world: do we only share the good and the happy? How can we be real, but without dropping into constant negativity? Where is that balance?

Something else that I took away from reading this book is a renewed fire for missions. Funny, when I'm living this life, it's easy for it to become just that: daily life. I love my life here, but I need reminders to bring it back from just enjoying my own little home and family, and to turn that focus outward again, too. (Disclaimer: as a mother of young children, I'm not going to go running off on an ox cart to evangelize India... or Ukraine. But I'm sure you know what I mean. My heart and mind needed some refocusing.)
"Not mere pity for dead souls, but a passion for the Glory of God, is what we need to hold us on to Victory." Miss Lilias Trotter, Africa.
--quoted by Amy Carmichael
The photos in the book are a fascinating side bonus. Sometimes there are stories to go with them, explaining how they got these images with their early camera. It definitely wasn't the easy point and shoot type that we have today!

Do you love Amy Carmichael, too? (She seems to be a common role model!) What is your favorite of her books? Do you have a Kindle or other ereader? What are you reading these days?

I think I will be reading Lotus Buds next, if anyone else wants to read along.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Special Considerations for MK Teens

Being a parent of third-culture kids—missionary kids in particular—is a challenge at any stage.  Being the mom of teen MK’s comes with its own special fun.

The changes that occur during adolescence can be quite unsettling.   You remember those days, right?  Insecurity, trying to fit in, wondering who you are, dealing with peer pressure.  Hours in front of the mirror, indecision about what you'll wear, drama in all your social circles.

These problems are exponentially increased living in a culture where your teen is obviously "not from around here," and where cultural differences can make even simple stuff seem complicated.

How can we make this time of transition a bit smoother for them?

Make home a safe haven.  Of course, this is our goal as moms, no matter the ages of our children.  But when your teen’s self-esteem is being assaulted outside the walls of your house, it’s crucial.  Although sarcasm and complaining may seem to be your child’s new love language, take the high road.  Jokes about frizzy hair and clumsiness and cracking voices are probably best left unsaid.  Don’t put up with bickering that often gets ugly between siblings.  Yeah, I know.  Easier said than done.  But kids of all ages need to be able to let their guard down around those who love them best.

Build self-esteem.  Where we live, folks have no problem pointing, staring, or calling names if someone is different.  Having two tall daughters with pale skin and blonde hair has led to more awkward public scenes than I care to remember.  So more than ever, it’s important that they feel safe talking to us about how that makes them feel, and that they feel secure in who they are.  Hopefully this is something that’s been a part of your relationship before now, but it’s time to step it up a notch.  How?

Point out how much you admire her fashion sense, or how you like the new way he’s styling his hair.  Accentuate the positive by focusing on your child’s God-given talents.  For us, that means blocking out a chunk in our home school schedule for one child to have time for drawing and painting, as well as investing in a few supplies she needs for that.  It means driving the other to music lessons each week and figuring out how to get our hands on an instrument for practicing. Those aren’t the most convenient changes to make, but the results in self-esteem and stress relief are notable.

Be a good friend.  Peer interaction usually blossoms at this stage of development, and parents find themselves less involved in everyday life.  But what if there aren’t many friends around, or safety is a factor?  Step up and take interest in their interests.  Download good music in her style, find a shared hobby, go on mini-dates for ice cream or a walk in the park.  Despite the eye-rolling you might see when first suggesting this, teens in any culture appreciate one-on-one time with Mom or Dad.  During this time, try to put yourself more on the level of a friend, rather than discuss the chore list or bringing grades up. 

And if your teen does find a good, solid friend, facilitate time together.  As a mom here, I’m much more comfortable knowing where my girls are, so we invite their friends over, making our home youth-friendly—snacks, music, movies, space to goof off.   

Keep God’s plan front and center.  We see pornography splashed across billboards and on magazine covers at every corner.  It’s the norm for public television, which is being broadcast in practically every store we enter.  The music being played at full blast in our neighborhood and around town is full of lewd lyrics.  And men of all ages are whistling, motioning, and calling out to my girls.  This isn’t the time to go silent about sticky topics.  

Find ways to converse naturally about whatever you’re facing in your particular corner of the world.  Provide examples of a life lived well—solid movies, good books, clean music, positive role models, whatever you can to combat the frequency of exposure to “the darker side”.  And remind them every chance you get that they are unique creations with a Father who designed them just right.

What challenges do your kids face?  How have you adapted your parenting methods to cope with this? 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Passports expiring

This is my question: Does anyone have a genius idea of how to stay on top of passport renewals for a whole family? Have you had all your children renew at once, just to get them on the same schedule, even though that would be expensive? If so, did that help anything? Honestly, I don't think we've been disorganized or irresponsible; just marking their expiration dates on a calendar or memorizing them isn't enough. Someone will need a passport that lasts more than 6 months beyond the end of a visa, or we can't renew residency because one passport expires just less than a year from now, or.... Even though we know when they expire, we can't keep up!

(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, February 16, 2013

Staring Into The Flames

Stop. Be Still. Take a deep breath. Just relax.

It’s easier said than done especially when I feel the urgency of the needs around me, or can’t escape the calendar filled with church and ministry activities, work, kids’ appointments, fundraising, homework, and on and on and on…

Lately I feel crushed as each day seems to step over me in its rush to get to the next. Thankfulness is always the first thing that goes because I simply run out of time to savor the moments, drink them in, and thank the God who gave them to me.  It’s never one big thing but the addition of one little thing after another little thing that leaves me so tired. Frustration creeps in as I think of where I want to be and feel that I just can’t muster the strength to get there.

I didn’t notice how worn out I really was until a few weeks ago. My parents came to visit for a week and we enjoyed every minute with them. A highlight was an overnight trip to the coast. We built a bonfire on the beach and I realized how much my head was longing to feel empty.

On any given day my head is filled with questions, self-evaluations, and suggestions for improvement...not to mention dozens of tiny details. Maybe it’s the curse of the analytical, but regardless, I was long overdue for a good head-emptying. I needed to just sit and stare at the flames, and listen to the ocean, and watch the stars reach down.

Rest is a discipline…I am learning this. There is a discipline in sitting still and just letting things be for an hour or two. God Himself calls us to rest, to reflect, and lay it all down. We need the perspective, and we need to remember it’s not about us after all. We are just small players in a big story…one that spans ages, and nations, and all people.

When I focus on my own little storyline, my own little part, it’s hard to just stop and relax. When I refuse to be still, I am the one who loses. But, when I reflect on God’s greater story I have the opportunity to give thanks, to feel small, and to simply stare into the flames.

How do you find moments of rest and reflection? Are you the kind of person who needs to make this a discipline in your life or does it just come naturally for you?

Friday, February 15, 2013

Provision Through Trial

During the past couple of months, our family has experienced a long list of trials.  During this time of hardship and prayer I have been pondering the nature of the Lord’s provision.  I praise God that one of His names is Jehova -Jireh, or The Lord Who Provides.  We know just by that name but also from countless places in scripture as well that it is in His very nature to provide lovingly for His children.

I have realized, though, that so often my definition of “provision” cannot possibly be the definition that the Lord had in mind when He proclaims Himself to be the Lord of provision.  My mind wants to believe that provision means me or those that I love receiving all that we need to not be in pain, to not be uncomfortable, to not be hurt, to not be lonely or sick or unhappy or in need… When trials come, so often I pray that the Lord will provide a way for the hardships to disappear. My heart and mind can tend to equate provision with resolution and relief.

This finds its way into my life as a missionary too. When my circumstances aren't what I feel that I need in order to thrive on the field, I pray for the Lord’s provision. I think I should pray these prayers, because very often God does delight in meeting these felt needs, but do I look upon silence or “no” to these prayers as a lack of provision? How long do I wait for provision in the nature of what I was envisioning, and when do I accept that His perfect provision might look different than what I had hoped or reasoned to be necessary? 

We all know very well that trials and suffering are a part of the Lord’s will for the life of the believer, but what has hit me in a new way recently is how trials and suffering are not only part of His will, eventually crafted into good, but they are also part of His perfect and timely provision that we each pray and trust Him for. They are provision for our growth and good, and provide opportunities for His glory.

I went through a time of heavy loneliness last Fall, and on the day of my daughter’s birthday it seemed that 3 mom friends were going to accompany their children to the party. I was starved for fellowship and so greatly looking forward to spending time with them. I had praised God for His loving provision for my loneliness in the promise of their company. Then, on the day of the party, it turned out that none of them came. One didn’t even let me know in advance. I was heartbroken in that moment because I truly felt that I was in desperate need of fellowship. My heart was full of sadness and I “needed” a girlfriend to talk to.  I cried and prayed to the Lord and He answered me so lovingly during that time. He showed me that not allowing my friends to come that night was His perfect provision for me and the perfect answer to my prayers. I thought I needed Him to provide for my loneliness, and I did, but looking back, I see that He needed to provide opportunity for me to cling to Him and nothing else. I grew closer to the Lord during that time. He provided fellowship and intimacy with Him. He knew my true need and He provided abundantly for it. 

How about you? Have you experienced or are you experiencing anything recently where you’ve sought the Lord’s provision but found His response or seeming lack thereof confusing? Do you have any encouraging stories to share with us about seeing how a perceived lack of provision actually was the Lord’s perfect provision for you?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Overseas Friendly DIY Valentine's Ideas

All last year in language school, holidays would sneak up on me.  As in, I would wake up one morning and be like, "awwww man!  How did it get to be insert specific holiday already?"  And the kicker was, we didn't own a car and getting to the store to find insert specific holiday food/decor item we equated with specific holiday  was challenging to say the leastEven if we did manage to get to a store, usually that specific thing, you know, jelly beans, or whatever didn't exist here.  I would wind up feeling homesick and sad and maybe just a bit grouchy too.

Well.  This year I have set out to remedy this.  I am working to plan ahead and realize long ahead of time that a holiday is coming and then to make provision for it, which is working some of the time.  But I do feel like I am at least a bit further ahead then I was last year.

I am also trying to think outside the "normal" for each holiday.  You know, embrace this living in another country and coming up with our new normal.

So in honor of Valentine's Day (do they celebrate that in your host country?)  here are a few last minute ideas that you should be able to pull off even if you can't find heart shaped boxes of chocolate for your valentines.  I am going to try to give you variations in case you can't find specialties things like heart shaped sprinkles or fancy North American ingredients like chocolate chips. 

First up, an interpretation of said heart shaped boxes of chocolate.  I made these up yesterday and I am so pleased with how they turned out.  Basically, it's a big heart shaped pocket.  I had some felt in my fabric stash that I cut into hearts, like this.  The big thing you want to do is make sure that the side with the opening has an overlap on between the top and bottom.

Then with some red yarn I did a blanket stitch around the outside.  No fabric or pretty red yarn?  A couple of pieces of paper and some glue, or tape, or staples or ribbon or whatever you have on hand, and you could accomplish the same thing.

I filled ours with some gummie worms (what boy doesn't like gummie worms?) I found here and some leftover Hersey's kisses someone sent us at Christmas time.

Now here's something you could do even today.  Heart Shaped sugar cookies.  No cookie cutter?  Use a knife and cut out a heart shape (you could even make a pattern out of paper or cardboard).  Don't have a pastry bag to write cute sayings, making them cute conversation hearts?  Use a plastic bag of some sort, fill it with frosting and cut just the tiniest part of the tip off.  Presto chango, a pastry bag you don't have to clean!  Want some cute colored sugar to sprinkle on?  I found you can dye sugar with food coloring.  Just a few drops in your sugar and now you have pink, or red or whatever color you choose!

And one last idea.  A paper heart garland. 

Cut out hearts of different sizes, and sew them together either with your machine or by hand.

 No needle and thread?  Tape them to a branch, string, whatever you have.  And remember, go for the little wonky, bohemian look and then you don't have to worry about things being perfect.

So how about you?  What helps you make holidays special?  Did you do anything for Valentine's Day?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

(in)courage communities

We NEED each other! We NEED to live in community. We NEED prayer, encouragement, and understanding. So where do we find this? Well, one of the places we can meet this need is (in)courage communities. They are opening up their second session starting February 12th. You can click here and find links to the following communities:

Bible Study Gals
Chronic Illness/Homebound
Empty Nesters
Homeschool Moms
Hurting Families
Marriage Mentors
Military Wives
Ministry Wives
Missionary Care
Moms of Teens
New Moms
Single Gals
Social Justice
Special Needs Stories
Working Moms
Women in Ministry
Women over 50

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Short-term volunteers

Danielle asks: Living in El Salvador, we are close to the U.S. and our organization facilitates many short-term mission teams, as well as longer term (2 or more month) volunteers. When we are hosting teams, my husband is in high demand, and sometimes I am too. Our kids often spend a lot of time with the teams, and our oldest has even starting translating from time to time when the teams do children's ministry. When the time comes for our new friends to head back to North America it is very difficult for our children to say good-bye. I often question what kind of toll the constant coming and going is taking on them. If you are working with an organization that hosts short-term volunteers how much do you get involved with the mission teams? How much are your children involved, and how do you help them cope with the new people, and all the good-byes?

(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!)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Jumping the Gun? Or Procrastination?

It seems like whenever there's a big change coming up, actually known about well in advance, people respond somewhere along a continuum moving from one to the other of two extremes:
  • Ignore what is imminent and procrastinate, avoiding any type of preparation; or
  • Dive so completely into preparing for an upcoming future that the present is missed or neglected.
I tend to be one who loves to prepare and I dive right in, ready for the next thing and dreaming of the future without wrapping up well current projects or adequately delegating responsibilities. I can so easily check out of the present by over-anticipating the future.

My husband can, on the other hand, be the proverbial ostrich burying his head in the sand, ignoring upcoming change and focusing on the present task at hand... until or unless provoked into doing something... anything... focused on the future.

Preparing well for a furlough, home assignment and especially a more permanent change of assignment requires a moderation of those individual, natural tendencies. Preparation necessitates some amount of looking forward. Finishing well requires focusing on the present and not checking out of current ministries and responsibilities because of preparations to leave and entering into that transitional phase. 

Most of the literature that I've seen or heard of designed to help missionaries or other international workers prepare for home assignment includes lots of checklists: questions to ask yourself, steps to take, how to close up house in one place while setting up house from a distance elsewhere, things to do 1 year out... 6 months out... 3 months out... last month... and finally, the actual day of... departure. Some are formatted with bullet points to check off; others are more like a flow chart. Others might look more like an idea map with general domains and areas to think about.

In general, there are many tools out there to use. You need to use one that fits you and your personality. You can search on line, talk to your organization (Some organizations have a required procedure to follow. Ours doesn't.), or make up something that best fits your personality. I'm home schooling our 7th grader this year and organization is one of those areas that does not come naturally for her, so she is helping me design and plan as we prepare for our upcoming home assignment.

My husband likes lists. I like idea maps. He tends to think chronologically. I tend to think spatially - starting in one room of the house and working my way through the house as I prepare. He prefers focused, scheduled times when he knows his job is to work on getting things in order. I like to try and do a little bit each day as I multitask. Neither one of us likes to be rushing about at the last minute. We'd rather live a bit sparsely, having only the bare necessities the last few weeks rather than trying to close up house the day of our flight. 

We also tend to divide and conquer - we delegate tasks, divvying them up so that we can each do the ones that we are better at. Because Tim likes lists, paperwork - visas, passports, plane tickets, hotel reservations, vehicle rentals, budgeting and expenses, etc. all tend to fall under his domain. Sorting, decluttering, selling, giving away, arranging times with people, packing, storing? Those tend to be the things I enjoy and so I naturally will start working on them.

The key things? 

Come up with a plan, in advance, that fits you and your family, that includes a balance between preparing for the future while maintaining momentum in the present as well.

Initiate that plan.

Then follow it or modify it as necessary.

Do you find that you tend to lean towards one extreme or the other as you prepare for either large or small changes? Why do you think you act as you do?

How do you and your spouse respond and plan differently 
to upcoming change or big events in your lives? 

Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field:

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Calm My Anxious Heart, chapter 12

This is the last chapter! If you want to review what has come before, here it is: chapter 1chapter 2chapter 3chapter 4chapter 5chapter 6chapter 7chapter 8chapter 9chapter 10, and chapter 11.
Though the fig tree may not blossom,
Nor fruit be on the vines;
Though the labor of the olive may fail,
And the fields yield no food;
Though the flock may be cut off from the fold,
And there be no herd in the stalls—
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will joy in the God of my salvation.
The Lord God is my strength;
He will make my feet like deer’s feet,
And He will make me walk on my high hills.

Habakkuk 3:17-19
Is anyone else out there humming Если не станет овец в загоне with me now? (If you haven't been in a Russian church, and have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sorry. It's a hymn based on the verses above, and they're inextricably mixed in my mind. And I have no idea who are the people in the video I linked to; that's just what came up when I searched.)

Linda Dillow's favorite book of the Bible is Habakkuk, and this last chapter of Calm My Anxious Heart is inspiring me to reread that obscure prophet. Somehow this chapter seemed heavier and deeper and even more comforting than the others. I didn't underline short sections to quote. I just soaked it all in myself.

Today marks five years since the biggest "Why?" of my life so far. Five years since the very day we were forced to leave Russia. Officially we might be able to go back now, but that's not very realistic, and we're not really planning on it. Many well-meaning people have given us their explanations of the the reasons behind it: "It's for the best." "God is protecting you from something." "He has a better place for you." "It's only for five years, and then you can come back." And so on. Honestly, I still don't get it. None of those reasons seem right to me. I know that all things work together for good, but I can't see the why and how of it nearly as well as the people I just quoted. And yet... I will rejoice in the Lord.

One of the little exercises that is recommended in the Bible study at the back of Calm My Anxious Heart to go with this chapter is to write out our own "though's":
Though I might never be able to go back to the country I love most,
And though we haven't found another place where we fit in;
Though I have no friends to share life with,
And though we don't know what is coming next--
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord,I will joy in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength;He will make my feet like deer’s feet,And He will make me walk on my high hills.
I can't even express how much it means to me that this chapter "just happened" to be scheduled for today, of all days. I'm not doing well at passing it on to you all. Personally, I feel like God just reached down and hugged me, though. I pray that some of that can continue on to you, too, if you need it as much as I did.

What are the "though's" in your life, if you can share them? What comforts you most when you can't understand why God is allowing something to happen in your life? And, now that I've come to the end of this series, do you have any suggestions of what I should read deeply and really chew on next? I mean something to share in this space....

Friday, February 8, 2013

10 Tips for a Great Newsletter

Since our time as short-term missionaries, a regular newsletter has always been a vital part of our ministry.  A newsletter can be a great way to keep friends, family, and supporters informed about what’s going on in your world, as well as to generate excitement and a feeling of partnership in the work God’s doing around the globe.

Opinions on newsletters are as varied as the missionaries who’d write them.  I know folks who never write one, some who leave that responsibility to their mission agency, and then those who faithfully send a report out on a regular basis.  Of those who do write one, it seems this responsibility often falls to the wife.  

Obviously, we gals would like this to be streamlined into the easiest process possible, so here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way. 

1.   Use the right software.  Sure, you could just send an email to everyone you know, but if you want something that prints well and catches the eye, use a program that has a newsletter option, and get familiar with how to adjust templates to suit your needs.  Any desktop publishing programs like Word, Works, or Publisher should have a few preloaded templates, and the big guys like Microsoft Word generally have many more you can download and use.  I save my document as a pdf file when I’m done, to ensure it’s readable by all and arrives just like I formatted it.

2.  Try not to go over 2 pages.  One page is fine, but if thinking of those who’ll print your updates, you might as well take advantage of that piece of paper and fill up the back as well.  

3.  Keep the design simple and clean, conscious of those who will print or copy it.  Don’t get bogged down in background graphics or too many swirly designs or scribbly florals.  You want the content to be the main focus.  A header with the date and a catchy title or your family’s name can suffice, and then you can get creative with what you add from there.

4.    Don’t get too wordy.  A paragraph about each topic you’ll cover is fine, and if you’d like, you can include a link to your blog, where perhaps you’ve covered it in more detail. 

5.  Mix it up a bit.  Ministry stories are very important, but try to also include short personal stories, small details that give an idea of the culture you’re in, and quick updates about your family.  Photos with a caption of a sentence or two are great ways to include this information without having to write much.  And EVERYONE loves pictures.  Make a nice blend between words and photos, taking care not to arrange things on the page with some white space still visible.

6.  Include a preview of things to come so that your readers can take an active role in what’s happening, through prayer or financial support. Consider a box off to the side with a simple list of upcoming events or prayer requests.  If a previous newsletter mentioned an event, a prayer request that was answered, or a project, give a brief update.   

7.  Contact information fits nicely either in the header of the first page (if you don’t include much), or, assuming you have a front-and-back style newsletter, at the bottom of the back side.  Depending on your situation, things you might include are your email address, blog link, Skype number, mailing address, your mission organization, and information about how and where you receive financial donations.  I like to box all that up and put it at the very end.

8.  Don’t get discouraged if you don’t get to this as often as you’d like, but do try to be consistent.  Some have enough information (and time) to send out something every month, but every other month or even every quarter may work better for you.  If you get behind, just pick up where you left off and keep rolling. J

9.  Keep it positive.  This isn’t the time to lament the woes of mission life, but time to thank your supporters for their involvement in your ministry, time to make your world come alive to them, time to put God in the spotlight.  Sure, be truthful, but remain inspiring rather than depressing.  If you need to share the down side and seek specific prayer for serious matters, you might consider making a separate, much smaller mailing list and use it on an as-needed basis.

10.  I send our newsletter out from our basic email box, although you could use one of the mass mailing companies set up for just this sort of thing.  MailChimp seems to be a popular one with both paid and free options.  Include a simple note of greeting and attach the newsletter file to that.  Your note should thank the folks back home for sharing the newsletter with those they think might be interested.   I like to include a request to pastors to print and post the newsletter on their bulletin boards or share with members who aren’t likely to follow our blog online.  You might also include something like “In this issue, …”  with a few highlights of what’s inside, as incentive to actually open the file and read it.  If it's appropriate, publish it online at a site like Scribd, and include a link to that on your blog.

Do you send out regular newsletters?  Why or why not?  Who writes them?  Do you have some tips for their creation or distribution?  

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tuesday Topic: Couple time

Danielle asks: One of the challenges that I face so often is finding time for just my husband and I to spend time together doing something fun. It seems like a challenge to come up with the time, finances, and babysitting to make a "date night" happen. So often we fall into the trap of talking about things that need to get done around the house, funds that need to be raised, or things that have to happen concerning our ministry. It's so easy to just find ourselves on the hamster wheel of life and realize that many weeks have passed without any quality time as a couple. This is something that we really want to improve this year. So does anyone have any creative ideas for finding time to date your husband in the middle of things like language learning, housework, raising kids, and serving on the mission field?

(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!)

Monday, February 4, 2013

Obtaining Passports

We're preparing to go on home assignment this spring. In the midst of setting up meetings already and contacting people (to let them know we'll be in the US), we have other things that need to be attended to before we leave.

Image Credit

One of those things is making certain all our passports are up to date. We just recently sent off for my husband's and son's British passports. I've learned that it is incredibly difficult challenging to get a passport photo of a very active 10 month-old boy. After several days, we finally got one. If he wasn't wiggling or looking away, there were shadows. Or he had a look on his face like he was filling in his nappy. At last we finally got a good photo because I got the brilliant idea to use the flash on my camera!

This of course got me thinking on all the passport and visa stories that I'm certain many of you have. It's good to remember them and give God the glory for providing in each of those situations. Here are some of our passport stories.
  • My husband obtained his visa for India the day before he was supposed to leave.
  • Just 2 or 3 months after I moved to England with my husband, I was granted permanent residence, something that takes most people 5-6 years to get. My husband now has British citizenship!
  • Because of our visa status when our son was born, he has dual citizenship. We don't have to worry about a visa for him!
  • I was issued the wrong visa and got it corrected hours before leaving for the UK.

What are some of your passport stories? We're missionaries... I know we have them! Please share in the comments!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dinner by Candlelight

[Note from Phyllis: In case you hadn't noticed, Sarah is also a new contributor. We're so glad to have her! I'll be adding her bio to the site soon....]

On Tuesday this week, as I was preparing a dinner for some guests visiting from the States, I started to notice that the water was coming out of the faucet in a weaker and weaker stream until it was finally just a trickle.  Just before our guests arrived, I tried to turn the water on and only heard the all too familiar hiss that indicates all the water is gone from our storage tanks.  I ran to put a bottle of hand sanitizer in the bathroom as our guests arrived, calming myself with a memory from our first year living here in the mountains of Costa Rica...
It had been frustrating day, and, really, there had been too many days like it lately.  There had been no running water all morning and then the electricity had been off and on all afternoon, so very little cleaning had gotten done, no clothes had been washed, and the meal I had planned was not going to happen.  When the electricity did come back on, I decided to just make cornbread and heat up some soup.  About 20 minutes later, while the bread was in the oven, the electricity went off again.
I got upset, "Now the cornbread will be ruined! I didn't even get to heat up the soup! We can't even see anything it's so dark! We won't be able to heat up water for our kid's bath! Dan (my husband) won't get to eat anything before his meeting! Why can't basic things like running water and electricity just work in this country!?"
It hit me... I needed a big attitude check.
Be thankful. Rejoice in the LORD. Be content in all circumstances.
As I shifted my attitude, the situation changed. It was still dark, and I still couldn't heat up any soup or water. But, suddenly the situation was... fun. It was... dinner by candlelight! By the light of flickering candles, Dan reviewed his Bible study.  Our son was entranced by the candles on the table. I let the cornbread sit in the oven that was rapidly cooling, and when I did get it out, it was done perfectly, so we had a great candlelit dinner of warm cornbread and cut up fruit. We talked about how we should have candlelit dinners more often.
I still fail so many times to be thankful and find my joy in the Lord right away, but the memory of that simple little dinner by candlelight has stayed with me over the years and has encouraged me to keep the right perspective as little inconveniences and less-than-comfortable circumstances arise frequently here.   
Have you had any "dinner by candlelight" experiences lately?  What past experiences or Scripture encourage you as you face some of the little inconveniences that can build up frustration?