Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spiritual Survival

I began reading a book this weekend called Spiritual Survival Handbook for Cross-Cultural Workers written by Dr. Robert S. Miller.  It's really good.  It's not a very long book, but there is a lot of wisdom in these pages.  I don't think that just cross-cultural workers would benefit from this book, however, I think that anyone who desires a closer walk with God would be blessed and encouraged by what Dr. Miller has to share.

From the table of contents, the chapter titles are as follows:
  1. Know Your God
  2. Know Yourself
  3. Know Your Enemy
  4. Know the Terrain
  5. Know Your Boundaries
  6. Know How to Lead
  7. Know Your Mission
Epilogue:  Remember the Joy of the Lord

So far, I've read into chapter two, but am finding myself reading too fast and I want to slow down to really soak in what I'm learning.  I've been thinking about some things that I read in chapter 1, Know Your God.  

"So much of what I've learned about survival in ministry is based on the following statement, "Inward before outward; secret before public."  You must win the battle within your own person if you are to survive in ministry."  

Let the river flow into your heart

"There is a river that proceeds from fellowship with the Spirit, a river that waters your thirsty life.  The flow of this river is dependent upon your heart's posture before the Lord.  A subtle shift will cause the flow to pause or even stop.  Without that life-giving river, your heart will become a desert."

"There are times when we attempt to minister apart from this flow.  Such a condition is so prevalent that we can become accustomed to it and think it is normal.  After all, no one is perfect; we're all human.  But the sobering truth is that a missionary that is evangelizing, discipling or church planting apart from abiding in the Spirit may as well be playing the role of a missionary in a Hollywood film.  We cannot give what we do not have.  Without the living water, there is no living, vital ministry."

"How long does it take for a heart to become an arid desert?  Not years and not even months.  Guard your heart daily."

I've been pondering these words all is so easy for my heart to become that desert and I've even lived there at times.  But now that I have experienced more and more what it means to have that flow of living water in my heart, I don't want to go back to the desert.  

This topic reminded me of a study I did recently in Jeremiah 17.  Most of us are familiar with verses 7 and 8...

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD,
   whose confidence is in him. 

They will be like a tree planted by the water 
   that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; 
   its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
   and never fails to bear fruit.

But I hadn't really paid much attention to the previous contrasting verses of 5 and 6 until recently...

This is what the LORD says:
   Cursed is the one who trusts in man, 
   who draws strength from mere flesh 
   and whose heart turns away from the LORD. 

That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; 

   they will not see prosperity when it comes. 
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, 
   in a salt land where no one lives.

The context of these verses is Judah's sin (Jer. 17:1).  Jeremiah 2:13 says,

My people have committed two sins: 

They have forsaken me, 
   the spring of living water, 
and have dug their own cisterns, 
   broken cisterns that cannot hold water. 

The specifics of Judah's and Israel's sin was idolatry and trusting in other nations, pagan nations, to protect them from enemies instead of trusting in God to defend them.  The Israelites even asked Egypt of all countries for help.  Egypt, the very country that had enslaved the Israelites for generations!  Seriously?!    

Hadn't God shown Himself to be trustworthy to His people in the past?  Hadn't He shown them time after time that He could deal with anything man could bring against the Israelites?  Scriptures are full of stories about God miraculously intervening on behalf of His people and  they still turned back to worshiping idols and trusting in man.  

I find it fascinating to see how God describes this sin...forsaking the spring of living water and digging cisterns that could not possibly satisfy their thirst.  

It's easy to sit back and judge the Israelites for abandoning God, but isn't that just what I do?  Trusting in my own strength to get through a tough day or maybe many tough days...thinking that I am strong enough to handle what life brings my way.  Finding other ways to solve my problems without taking them to God first. Letting days go by without really spending time seeking God...letting my heart become dry and dusty, like a bush living in a wasteland.  Trying to give to others what I do not have for myself...failing in the secret places while pretending to succeed in public.  

It's shameful how easy it is for me to forsake my God.

But there is grace...grace that will never fail to renew my heart and bring refreshing rivers of living water back to my soul.  

So these are great reminders about where my spiritual priority should be..."The river of fellowship with your Lord and Savior is the key to your life and your ministry; everything else takes second place....I must spend time with Him.  Not just five or ten minutes.  I must linger with Him.  I need the living water.  I need to know Him and to be known by Him.  If I forgo this priority-one appointment, my heart will become a desert and I will die."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Treats From Grammy and Other News

It is always fun to receive packages and stuff from back home when there is a chance to send things with people traveling, so this week when our missions pastor and two other ladies from our home church came for the meetings we had, it was a great opportunity for us to get some care packages.  Most of what we got was our own stuff, two suitcases and one duffelbag's worth of stuff we'd left behind for someone to bring when there was a chance.  I asked a friend to buy me a few things, a couple pairs of new jeans for me, some scrapbook paper, a microscope for Micah's birthday (shhhh!  don't tell!) and some other little things.  Miguel asked for some special theft-deterrent lug nuts for the van tires and a bicycle pump.  My mom was also able to send a few things, including a small suitcase with my sewing machine (that I really didn't expect to get until next year sometime!), a few things we'd left behind at her house and some candy corn!

So even though none of what we got was particularly a surprise, it was still pretty exciting and felt a bit like Christmas!  (Now I am thinking about the group coming from Arkansas next week and thinking I should ask them to bring some peanut butter...LOL!)  One of the things I was most excited to see was the rest of my shoes...I have been living with just four pairs of shoes since August and that was getting old.

The other thing that really made my day was finding the blade attachment and blending cup for my hand blender!  We thought we'd lost it on the road somewhere since we had the rest of it, but those two pieces were nowhere to be found.  Come to find out, Miguel had packed them in one of these suitcases to come later...and then forgot all about it.  So now all the pieces are back together and I am happy.

And God really showed up in a huge way this week during all of our was just an amazing time of fellowship and planning, I continue to be so excited and thankful to be a part of what God is doing here.  It was such a blessing to see a diverse group of people come together in humility and of one heart, seeking only God's will for the future of this ministry.  And we continue to be blessed, encouraged and empowered by a leadership whose desire is to serve us by participating together with us in all of these decisions and not just tell us what to do and how to do it.  I just can't tell you how much of a blessing that is!  Our missions pastor even commented on this, mentioning how impressed he has been this week with the quality of leadership that he sees in Tim and Andres...that is a huge confirmation that we are in the right place!

There was a bit of unwanted excitement this week, however, when Jojo got lost in the park!  Losing a child is never a fun thing, but we're so thankful for God's protection of was quite obvious that He was taking care of our son.  Selene, a friend of ours, and her two daughters were taking care of the kids for us on Thursday.  I had gone to pick them up around 1 p.m. but they weren't at home.  Since I knew that they didn't have a car, I figured that they had walked to a park or somewhere in the neighborhood.  I sat and waited for a while, but then the thought occurred to me to try to find a pay phone and give Selene a call on her cell phone.  I drove down the street and asked a shop owner where I could find a phone, and he told me that there was a pay phone that accepted coins right across from his store.  I talked to Selene and she said they were in the park and I understood that I would go down to the main entrance and pick them up.  So I drove the five blocks or so to the park and began looking for them there.  I spotted them a ways off, but it looked like they were leaving the park through another entrance and I wasn't able to catch up with them.

So I got back in the van and drove back up to wait for them at their house.  As I was parking, I noticed Jojo up on the main street waiting to cross and assumed that the whole group was right behind him.  Imagine my surprise when he told me he had come back from the park alone and that he didn't know where Selene and the rest of them were!  I immediately drove back down to the pay phone to call Selene because I figured that she was probably frantic by that time and I was right, she was.  It took them a while to get home, but when they did, Selene was so upset, she just broke down and cried for a long time at the thought of nearly having lost one of my children!  I know that it was a very serious thing to almost have lost Jojo, but I think I was more affected by her emotions...I felt so sorry that she had to go through that experience.  I know exactly what she was going through since we've been there, done that!

I think she was afraid that I would be upset with her, but I reassured her that I was not...I told her of the many other times we've 'lost' Jojo.  The reality is that if any one of our kids is to get lost, it would be Jojo; it has always been that way.  And I recounted to her the ways that God had worked...I had come to pick them up at just the right time, God showed me the pay phone (I don't usually use pay phones!) and if I had not come back from the park when I did, Jojo would not have known how to find their he made his way back from the park, he didn't know where to go, but when he saw me drive by on the way back from the park, he followed me.  And God protected Jojo from getting snatched by someone along the way.

So on top of fervently praising God for watching out for Jojo, we're now teaching all the kids our address and phone number in case that ever happens again!  I also realized we need to reteach Survival Skills 101 (as in when you realize you have gotten separated from your group stay where you are until someone comes back for you or go find a policeman).  Jojo told me that he thought that they had forgotten about if that could ever happen, so he just took matters into his own hands!  I have told him many times since, that we will never forget about him, ever...we might accidentally leave him somewhere, but we will always go back for him...

In other news, on Thursday night Miguel and Micah went up to the mountains in the northern part of the state to go to a camp for Totonac young people.  What a great opportunity for Miguel to serve, to make contacts with others working with this people group, and to have some fun time with Micah!  In the meantime, the rest of us have crashed here at's been a long week with a lot of action, it's just nice to sit around and not have too much to do.  They will be back on Monday, if all goes as planned.

I am quite proud of myself since I've done a lot of driving while Miguel has been gone...I took Tim and Andres out to a mall for supper on Thursday night and then yesterday I was able to take them to the bus station.  I am able to find my way around now in various parts of the city with the help of our handy Guia Roji (literally, the Red Guide, a brand of road and city maps) and that feels good.  Driving here is always an adventure, but so far so good...

So that's the news from this week...I am off to go indulge in some more coffee and a good book...

Monday, October 24, 2011

This Week

We have a pretty full week coming up and we're excited!  For one thing, our Area Leader from PI and another PI leader from Mexico are arriving tonight and will be meeting with us tomorrow and Wednesday just to chat and see how we are doing.  We'll also be talking about our ministry vision and defining some things before we go into our 'big' meetings on Wednesday afternoon.

By that time, the missions pastor from our home church in Arkansas will be here (along with a bunch more of our stuff, we hope!) and will join us, the pastors from El Camino (our Puebla church) and Franco and Barby for strategy/planning meetings that we hope will further define our role in the ministry here.

There is a lot to cover in that short time, but we are praying that it will be a profitable time of talking things out, evaluating the current ministry and sharpening the vision for this work.  We're excited to be a part of this ministry and we hope that God will continue to lead and guide us as we move forward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Women's Retreat, October 2011

I've been pondering on what to write for a few days now...not that I haven't wanted to, but honestly I've been so busy since I got back from the retreat that I have had very little time for anything else much but the basics!  What happened is that Miguel hurt his back over the weekend and has spent about three days in bed, barely able to sit up in a chair for more than a few minutes at a time.  PTL, he seems to be slowly recovering, but in the meantime, I have been running double duty!  I've even ventured out to the pharmacy and to Walmart on my own in the van...somewhat nerve-wracking, but everything went okay...I'm glad I have a large vehicle that most other vehicles respect!

So anyway, the, what can I say?  I believe that I witnessed God showing up in a pretty incredible way and I am so very humbled and grateful to have been a small part of that.  For one thing, the other Becky (Becky B. we called her) and I got along famously, and like I said in my previous post, we have a lot in common...but then we found out that we have even more in common than we had thought!  Which is really cool.  Here we are at church on Sunday morning...Becky B. is a singer and graced us with some awesome worship times, both at the retreat and at church here in Puebla.  

And what the two of shared and how it really complemented each other is a testimony to the work of the Holy Spirit, seeing as we did not communicate about our sessions beforehand!  But I have to admit that as I listened to Becky B. during her two sessions, I was very thankful that I went first...she would have been a hard act to follow!  She is an accomplished singer and speaker, very used to being in front of the microphone and her Spanish is simply amazing...she really is quite dynamic and had us laughing in many places, while at the same time thinking deeply about our relationship with God.  

The craft session went well, but it was hard to teach 51 ladies how to make boxes all at the same time, so we allowed for another box-making session on Saturday and I think most of the ladies who wanted to learn was able to go home with at least one pretty box plus their model box.  Here are some of the crafts I made from the boxes to show the ladies...including picture frames, Christmas tree ornaments and decorated gift boxes.  The one little box I decorated with some tiny silk flowers and some scraps of ribbon.  They all turned out pretty cute!

As far as my speaking session went, I decided to be very open and transparent in an effort to encourage others to also be more open and transparent.  Speaking about roots, I took the ladies back to how our 'roots' are formed...exploring what the external influences are that are that form the 'soil' in which we grow in this life.  Our family, our culture, our spiritual experiences, our life experiences, etc. are all external influences that form thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God.  These thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God are hidden in the deepest places of our hearts and out of them come our emotions, our motives, our tendencies, our desires...and out of those emotions, motives, tendencies, desires, etc. come our fruit, the external evidence of what is in our hearts at both levels.  

Oftentimes, however, those thoughts and beliefs have been formed subconsciously and we do not recognize what might be driving our hearts and therefore our fruit.  The beauty of salvation is that God transplants us to a new soil, one that is firm and fertile for our new little spiritual life of a tree to grow.  God wants to give us this new environment so that we'll have new thoughts about ourselves, others and God, and new fruit-the fruit of the Spirit...but what can happen sometimes?  We continue to revert to and act on the old thoughts and beliefs about ourselves, others and God...thoughts and beliefs that don't line up with what God's Word says about us and as a result, our new little tree does not thrive and grow...we do not develop a strong spiritual root system.    

In a nutshell, that's what happened to me...for most of my life, I have operated on thoughts and beliefs about myself, others and God that were damaging and hurtful to me.  I did not see myself as having worth, as deserving of God's goodness...I did not ever feel as if I was enough or as if God were pleased with me on any given day.  I had carried those beliefs deep down inside me, never realizing that those beliefs were blocking my spiritual spiritual roots could not thrive and grow deep and strong because I was operating based on the wrong 'soil', not the truth of God's Word...I was not deeply rooted in Christ's love and the knowledge of His Word.  It was as if my heart was like the seed that was thrown among the thorns...the seeds sprouted and grew, but the thorns (the worries of this life) grew up faster and higher and choked out the truth of God's Word.  

I worked very hard at the upper heart level and the fruit level to see change in my life, but it left me empty and dry and weak because I was trusting in man, trusting in myself to somehow make myself better (Jeremiah 17:5-6).  God brought me to the end of myself...a place where I had nowhere else to turn (why do some of us seem to need a harder knock on the head to see God?  Take Paul, for example...not that I equate myself with Paul, but just that some of us seem to just have a harder time finding God), a place where I was led to look deeper down inside me to peer into the depths of my innermost thoughts and beliefs...what I found didn't really surprise me because I knew those hurts were there.  What did surprise me is to find out just how much they had affected me without me realizing it.  What I had done was to deny their effects on me...everybody say it with me, de-NI-al!...and we all know that denying that something doesn't exist doesn't make it go away (try denying gravity by jumping off the roof of your house won't be pleasant...).  

For me healing was about surrender and faith...recognizing the reality of those beliefs, surrendering them to God and believing by faith the truths from God's Word about who I am in Christ.  Change didn't happen immediately, from one moment to the next, but as I clung to God's promises and made daily choices to believe, things started to happen and my roots began sinking deeply into the soil that God had prepared for me from the beginning of time as His blessed child.  And just like Abraham, God counted my faith as righteousness (Check out Romans 4).  Those negative, damaging thoughts and beliefs were changed to ones of love and peace and joy.  And I didn't even have to work to produce it...they flowed out of a heart that was grateful for God's gift of new life in Christ.

One day I realized that my depression and insecurity were gone...I looked back and realized how far I had come...I realized that I was becoming more and more resilient as I tapped into a new source of strength and power, becoming more and more secure in my identity in Christ.  There was no more working to please God, just resting in Christ knowing that I already please Him just by existing...He delights in me just because I am...because He made me...that I am enough in Him because He is enough in me...glory be to God!  I had found my joy...the joy of the Lord is my strength...I found my life transformed into a tree planted by the water, sending out my roots to the stream...bearing fruit and having no fear of the drought or the heat (Jeremiah 17:7-8).

So that's pretty much a summary of what I shared, although with more details about some of my life experiences, some of which I've share on this I shared, I was pleased to notice that I wasn't that nervous (this from someone who used to have trouble even looking people in the eyes out of a sense of insecurity and shame!) and in fact, I rather enjoyed myself.  It felt like I was stepping into a place where I was using my gifts and abilities and while I'm sure there were things I could have done better (this was pretty much my first time sharing at a retreat/conference, so I'm sure I have much to learn), I sense this is perhaps something that God will be calling me to do more of in the future.

I will cautiously say that I believe God used what I shared in the lives of many of the ladies...several ladies shared with me the impact that my openness and transparency had on them, tears streaming down their faces as they recalled hurts from their childhood that they recognized needed healing.  I say 'cautiously', however, because sometimes it's hard to gauge the feedback here in Mexico, they could just be demonstrating politeness and appreciation at my efforts...while in reality my efforts may have been feeble!  And perhaps some of them were merely expressing that politeness, but others did seem to be quite sincere and deeply moved by what I shared.  At any rate, my speaking session was a gift to God for Him to use however He sees fit...I have chosen to focus on that truth and not obsess about whether I did a 'good job' or not.

I will leave you with some more photos of the vacation center where we spent the was such a beautiful place and I already want to go back as a family to spend more time there.  It used to be a textile factory, which makes the architecture of the place very interesting.  My favorite picture is the one I took of the volcano Popocatepetl between the two chimneys...I wish I had taken my big camera to have gotten a better shot!  Oh well, next time...


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Me? A Conference Speaker?!

Yep, that's what is going to happen this week...Friday, in fact!  Not only am I going to attend a ladies' retreat, I am also presenting the craft (remember these cute little boxes?) AND I am one of the two 'conferencistas', or speakers.  Oh, and I will be giving the final reflection at the end of the retreat.  It has been a really, really neat experience to work together with the ladies on the leadership team in the planning of this has been a great cultural experience.  

Have I mentioned that I have never been a speaker at a conference or women's retreat?  This is a first for me, but I'm not really surprised because a few months ago, I sensed God calling me to be ready for this...just didn't think it would happen so soon!  I've only been in Puebla for a month!  

Did I mention that this retreat is for Spanish speaking women?  Yeah, so not only is this my first time speaking at an event like this, I will be doing it in my second language.  Granted, there will be some ladies there who speak English and who can help me if I get stuck, but I a perfectionist and I tend to have the attitude of doing it right or not at all.  That's probably pride, though, so if I mess up, I will be humble enough to ask for help.  And if I mess up royally, well, I will just chalk it up to experience and learn from it!  I'm really hoping that won't happen, though...

The other reason I am feeling a bit nervous is that I am planning to be open and transparent...and that makes me feel vulnerable.  And a bit insecure, I think...what will they think about what I have to share?  Will I be accepted or rejected?  My hope is that my example of taking off a mask and opening up will encourage others to do so as well, but that doesn't always happen.  But then I think of how long it took me to be able to take off the masks and I know that God will use what I have to share for something, in some way, whether I see evidence of that in my lifetime or not.  

Homeschooling has taken up a lot of my time lately, so I am very thankful to Miguel today for taking over the teacher role in order to allow me some (almost) quiet time upstairs to finish writing my notes...apparently Mom is still the 'go-to' person for questions when Dad is subbing!  I finally just locked the door and that worked a bit the house is quiet since he took the kids out to run some errands.  

Anyway, so that's what I'm up to this week...I'll be giving the first speaking session of three on Friday afternoon, followed by the craft.  Ironically, I found out I have a few things in common with the other speaker who will be giving the other two sessions...we're both named Becky, we're both MKs, we're both married to Latin men and we're both missionaries in Mexico.  Can't wait to meet her!