What’s in YOUR suitcase?

This week, over on Velvet Ashes, the theme is “suitcase”.  As global nomads, suitcases are a necessity, and it’s amazing how something so simple can get so many feelings rolling around inside of us.

Oliver, my dachshund and favorite child (he doesn’t talk back or ask for money) hates our suitcases, because he knows that it means we’re leaving.  When we pull them out, he gets nervous and goes and sits in them, hoping that we’ll take him along.  When Patrick was a baby, pulling out the suitcases made him jumpy and whiny, as though he knew that we would be going somewhere and he would be tired and confined to a carseat (we had him fly in his carseat until he was four).

Suitcases also mean new things, adventure and excitement.  Packing to go to the US for a visit, packing to go on vacation, packing to go home to Ecuador…all of these things are exciting.  When we moved here, packing our suitcases was the subject of endless debate.  What to bring, what not to bring.  Velvet Ashes asked this week for a packing list, and it got me all nostalgic, thinking about our first few times back and forth.  So, in no particular order, here are the things that I would recommend that you pack in your suitcase if you are moving to Quito, Ecuador.  This list is based on moving here from the US, since that’s where I came from.  I can’t speak for moving there from another country.

-Clothing.  Finding good quality clothing here is next to impossible, especially if you are tall or wear a larger size.  And although we do have “US” brands such as Levis, the clothing is CRAZY expensive and very limited in selection.  For children try to anticipate their growth and bring a couple of sizes up.  Again, the options are basically either very cheaply made or crazy expensive.

-Shoes.  Goes along with the clothing.  My husband wears a size 11 shoe, not terribly large by US standards.  Finding shoes for him here is ridiculously time consuming.  The last time he had to have tennis shoes, it took us three months to finally find a pair in his size, and we paid about four times the amount that we would have in the US.  And shoes for children are readily available, but either very cheaply made or very expensive.

-Electronics (computer, laptop, cell phone, e-reader):  Electronics are available in Quito, but prices are two to three times higher than they are in the US.  An unlocked cell phone can be used as you go back and forth between Ecuador and the US, and plans are ridiculously cheap.  Also included in this would be accessories such as power cords.  When the cord on my husbands’ MAC went out, we went to every MAC store in the city, only to be told that they don’t sell the power cords–just the computers.  There is currently a 35% duty on electronics (you are allowed to bring in one personal computer, phone, etc. and the duty is charged on subsequent items) but often the cost of the item plus the cost of the duty is still less than the cost of buying it in Quito.  Example:  The Apple TV unit is $99 in the US.  Add in the 35% duty at customs and you’re paying $135 to bring it in.  A new Apple TV unit in Quito?  $400.

-Toys.  We have toy stores, but they fall into one of two categories–either very expensive or very cheap.  There is no middle ground.  If you have a child who loves Legos, Transformers, Barbies, etc. you should consider bringing some with you.  Legos run an average of three times what they do in the US–that’s a lot of money for something that you’re going to step on in the middle of the night!  Selection is also pretty limited, except around Christmas.

-Car seats.  If you have a baby, you need to bring car seats with you.  They are available in Quito, but are very expensive for a reputable brand.  Other baby items such as cribs, strollers, highchairs, etc. are available and the cost is relatively reasonable.

-Medications.  Bring at least six months of any medication that you take on a regular basis.  Most medications are available in Quito, and the cost is much lower than in the US, however the brand names and dosages are not always the same.  Having a six month supply on hand will allow you time to get settled and find a doctor who can help you figure out what meds you will need, what they are called and what the dosage is. If you have small children, consider bringing Benadryl and children’s cold medicine.  Neither of these are available in Quito.

-A Magic Jack unit, or something similar.  This device hooks into your wireless and allows friends and family to call you with a US phone number.  The cost is something like $35 a year for the service, and is well worth being able to stay in contact with your loved ones, make necessary phone calls to US companies, etc.

-Craft supplies.  If you are crafty, bring your supplies with you.  There is very, very little available in Quito.  If you like to sew, bring patterns with you, as they are not used or available in Quito.  You can purchase fabric, notions and sewing supplies.  If you have a machine that is anything other than a Singer or Brother (Bernina, Pfaff, Janome, etc.) bring accessories that you think you’ll need.  None of these machines are sold in Ecuador and there is no service or support for them.

-Homeschool curriculum.  If you are a homeschooler, bring all of your curriculum with you, as there is absolutely nothing available in Quito.  There are a couple of homeschool co-ops where materials are exchanged, however you’ll need to plan on bringing the bulk of what you need.

-Your Kitchen Aid mixer.  This is the one household appliance that you need to bring with you if you own one.  They are available in Quito, but are VERY expensive.

-Sheets and towels.  There are sheets and towels available in Quito, but they are quite expensive, and not very good quality.  At present, the highest thread count sheet that you can buy is 300, and a King size set will cost you about $250.  The same goes for towels–a medium quality bath towel will cost you between $25 and $30.

-A grill.  If you can swing it, and you like to grill out, bring one with you.  The majority of grills available in Quito are poorly made and very expensive.  There are some very high quality grills available at some of the high-end decorating stores, but you’ll need to be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for them.  And if you want specialty grilling tools or spices, bring those as well as you will not be able to find them.

-Seasonal decor, other than Christmas.  Quito does not have a seasonal shift, so there are no fall decorations, etc.  You’ll find that you want to change your house, even if the weather isn’t changing with you.  Bring Halloween (if you celebrate it), Thanksgiving and Easter decorations.

What you DON’T need to bring…

Sometimes it’s helpful to know what you don’t need to bring.  Here is a list of items that are readily available in Quito:

-Kitchen supplies.  This includes dishes, baking supplies (The one exception to this is a donut pan.), cookware, kitchen utensils…all of these things are available in Quito, and there is a pretty wide selection.

-Decorative items.  If you have a favorite item, by all means pack it, but there are home dec stores with a good selection of decorative and functional items.  We have a store that is very similar to a Pier One that has a delightful selection of household decorative items.

-Small appliances.  Again, a large selection is available (see note about Kitchen Aid mixer above).

-Bedding (other than sheets).  Comforter sets, pillows and blankets are available in Quito and for the most part are very reasonable.

-Cosmetics.  Most major makeup brands are available in Quito.  They are somewhat more expensive, but not enough to justify taking up precious luggage space with products from the US.

-Christmas trees.  These are available in Quito, and the prices are usually pretty reasonable.  We also have an abundance of ornaments and other decorative items available, so just plan to bring the things that are special to you.

The grocery store is always a challenge.  While we can get some US products, such as Aunt Jemima syrup and Hershey’s products, it’s not very reliable and things have been known to disappear and reappear with no rhyme or reason.  You will most likely be able to find just about anything you want in the store, but it may be an Ecuadorian brand.  Most of us have things that we bring back because we prefer the US brands.  Ours personally are Peanut Butter M&M’s, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Hunts Ketchup, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce, Jif peanut butter and random grilling seasonings.  For almost everything else, we have found that the Ecuadorian brands are not only acceptable, but in some cases better than what we get in the US.  So my advice would be to bring one or two of the things that you really, really like, and then take the time to get to know what’s available here.  We also have Asian grocery stores and a couple of high-end specialty stores that carry hard-to-find items.

This list is by no means complete, and I’ll call on my fellow Quitenians to add to it all of the things that they have found helpful in the comments.  And if you’re heading to Quito in the near future, let me know and I’ll try to answer your questions about our beautiful city!

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The Comfort Zone…

“You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Comfort Zone!”  (cue creepy music)

Yesterday the first team that Dan and I were involved with this summer left to head back home.  They were a smallish team–just 11 people–and a shortish team–just 8 days.  They worked hard and connected hard, and I honestly think that when they got back on that plane, they knew that it had been good.

It’s been awhile since I interacted with a team at this level.  True, I wasn’t at the project with them each day–my knee has become a bit of a professional liability–but I had dinner with them every night and got to really chat with them.  It was neat to see their hearts expand as the week went on, and to be excited about the ministry that is happening here and around the world.  Some had been other places, and for some this was their first time off of North American soil.

A couple of nights I was able to listen in as they did their daily debrief, and then Tuesday as they did a final debrief with Dan and Paul before they left for home.  One recurring theme that caught my attention was “comfort zone”.  Being outside of it, what it looks like for different people, how to be a part of ministry and not get so caught up in details that you miss the big picture…I started thinking about “comfort zones”.  And as you all know, when I think about serious stuff I think someone should read it, so here we go.

Our comfort zone may be the most intensely personal thing that we own.  And we do own it.  It’s ours.  Yes, our personality, background, surroundings, genetic makeup and other environmental factors can play a huge role in shaping it, but in the end, it is ours, intensely personal and not necessarily open or willing to change.

I picture it like a bubble.  Some people appear to have a bubble that encompasses the whole planet.  It’s a big bubble.  They will go anywhere, talk to anyone, try anything…for these people, especially in the context of a team, they appear to have never met a stranger.  Little kids hang off of them like they are a jungle gym.  When they sit down, children fight to sit on their lap.  Those who don’t get the coveted lap spot sit as close as possible, touching a sleeve or an arm, jostling for position…and the “Big Bubble” person loves it.  The more the merrier, right?  People with “global bubbles” don’t ever appear to be bothered (or even realize) when things are out of control, but rather see it as an adventure.

The next “level” in the “bubble hierarchy” is the people who have a pretty good sized bubble, but it isn’t a global bubble.  It’s more of a “world as I know it” bubble.  Their community, the world that they know…things that are “controllable”.  They are willing to step out of their comfort zone and go, but the details and experiences need to be pretty manageable.  These people are the ones on teams that make sure that everyone gets on the bus on time.  They are more detail focused.  When it comes to interacting with people, they prefer a more controlled environment.  Rather than having 37 children crawling all over them, they prefer a few children, and preferably the ones who are a little quieter, who want a lap to snuggle on or a hand to hold.  They are the rational ones on the team that make sure things get done and done well.

Then…there are the “bubble-wrapped” people.  This is where I fit in.  My bubble fits me like a second skin.  For the bubble-wrapped person, a missions trip is something akin to a trip to the moon.  The details (and this is just to actually GET there) are overwhelming.  Many won’t even consider it.  Those that do need every detail, every list, every assurance.  Once they get there, assuming that they manage to do so, they are so consumed with the details and the worries about what could go wrong that they often miss the big picture.  They are not going to have mountains of children crawling all over them, or even a few.  You might find them with one child, one very quiet child, sitting next to them.  This whole experience is so far outside their comfort zone that it’s hard to tell if they have even had an experience.  They did, though.  These are the people watchers.  They can read a room, and a situation, like an open book.  The insight that they bring to the table during things like debrief never fails to astound me.

I guess my point is that our “comfort zone” is not an excuse to avoid missions.  Just because we don’t all see, or experience things the same way, doesn’t mean that we didn’t step outside.  For the “Big Bubble” person, stepping outside their comfort zone might mean that instead of being the human jungle gym for 50 children, they spend some time one-on-one with that elderly gentleman that no one noticed over there in the corner.  The “Community Bubble” person might need to let go of the details for a bit and go play soccer with those children.  You’re going to lose–badly–but it will be so good for both of you!  And the “Bubble Wrapped” person needs to stop watching people and actually talk to them.  I know–because I am this person.  And for most of us–I don’t care what kind of bubble you are wrapped in–stepping out of our Comfort Zone begins with stepping out of our front door.  The difference is in how far we step.

How big is your bubble?

“By stepping outside your comfort zone to do something peculiar, you confirm that you can do more than you’ve done. Move out!”
Israelmore Ayivor

Breathe…

This life.  This thing we do.  It demands.  Like a two-year-old clamoring for attention day and night, it demands every part of me.

It clutches at my mind…the daycare, the After-school program, the ladies learning to sew and learning to live and be women for the first time in their lives and the children in the street and the little old people who sit and beg…it goes on and on and on.  My mind is never silent.  Breathe.

My heart is a thousand places and nowhere.  My children, thousands of miles away.  Who came up with the idea of allowing our children to grow up?  How do I protect them from so far away?  What do I do when it hurts?  When they just need their momma?  How do I trust this world with my babies?  Breathe.

It is the “other woman” in my marriage.  Another email that demands his attention.  Another trip that takes him away from me.  Another crisis that needs handling, and this man…my husband…he can handle it.  He can fix things and talk to people and soothe tempers and roll with life.  I look into his eyes, and there, behind them, he is thinking about how to help.  How to do what he does so well…and do it better.  And he comes to our marriage and he is mine and I know that I have his whole heart for his whole life and the thought that he holds me up so high takes my breath away.  Breathe. 

I wouldn’t change it for the world.  I would walk away tomorrow.  My thoughts shadow-box in my head.  I love my life.  I need a new life.  It’s not His fault.  It’s all His fault.  Why am I here?  Why am I here?  Surely there is someone else who could do this better.  Faster.  More effectively.  Quieter.  Louder.  Breathe.

This life.  This thing we do.  It lets me grow.  It takes my soul and sets it free.  It is the song with no words that I see reflected back in their eyes.  It is the bird that takes the hope…my hope and their hope…and sets it dancing to the heavens.  It is the love that reminds me that I am not here because of me…I am here because of Him.

Breathe.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:4-6

 

Rainy days and Mondays…

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothing ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around
Nothing to do but frown
Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down. 

(“Rainy Days and Mondays” ~The Carpenters)

 

Sometimes, even in the middle of the best of everything, my soul gets soggy.  I need for Someone to wring me out and hang me over a clothesline somewhere to dry.

These last several weeks have made me weary.  We lost our “fifth child” as our Nick left Ecuador to move to South Africa and begin the task of opening up the Extreme Response presence there.  It’s wonderful.  It’s exciting.  And it hurt my heart, just like it did when my three children left and went to college.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery on my hand.  In my mind, I would be up and around within a day or so, back to my normal routine and everything fixed.  Reality has been much different.  Two weeks later, my hand is still bandaged.  I have very little use of it.  I still have the majority of my stitches.  Two of my five fingers are numb.  I have no energy, and since I have very little energy on a good day, anything that drains me even further is most unwelcome.  My appetite is still not good (OK, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing) and I am frustrated by my inability to just be me.  Guilt washes over me in waves because my poor hubby has had to do pretty much everything around here.  And he DOES.  No complaining, no making me feel guilty…he just keeps doing things and being that sweet, amazing man that he is.  I feel guilty anyway, because feeling guilty for things that I can’t control is one of my spiritual gifts.

This Wednesday, which is in LESS THAN 72 HOURS, Patrick and I head to the US again, while Dan flies off to Peru for a couple of weeks.  We were already planning to be in the US for April and May because our Daniel is graduating (hold me) and when Dan found out that he had to go to Peru, Patrick and I thought that it would be more fun (read “Mommy won’t lose her schnitzel while Daddy is out of the country”) to go spend the time with our family and friends.  And it will be.  And once we are there, it will be good.  But we have to GET there.  I once again have to prepare my house for someone else to live in it for three months.  I have to try to explain to Oliver that I’m leaving (don’t laugh–we have a connection) and I have to think through all of the details that go with us leaving.  Furlough is one of the great stress-inducing gifts of this life that we live.  We get to spend time in the US with our family and friends, telling them all about the life that we live.  We get to eat too much and shop too much and drive too much…and laugh too much and hug too much and love too much…sometimes “too much” is good.  It’s hard though.  Most people, when they go on a vacation, are gone for a week or two.  Nothing really changes during their absence.  They come home and the grass might be a little too long and the mail might have piled up, but nothing really CHANGES.  People don’t change.  When we are gone, either from our home here or from our home there, people change.  And it’s hard, because in our “perfect world”, they wouldn’t.  Everything would be just as we left it.  It’s a brutal reality check when we get off that plane.

When we return from our time in the US, we will have to move.  We have lived here for 10 years.  This is “home” to our children.  We know every leaky faucet and shorted-out wire in the place.  We’ve made memories here.  Last week, in the midst of my already soggy-soul sob-fest, our landlord came by the let us know that he is selling this house.  We understand.  He is elderly, and he only has one child who is tearing her hair out trying to care for her elderly parents and all of their rental properties.  It’s too much and we get that.  But it’s still hard.  And because I am me, and I have this annoying inability to deal with life, I shut down.  I literally laid awake all night on Wednesday trying to mentally sort through closets and get rid of stuff…I should have just gotten out of bed and done it!  But I didn’t really talk to Dan about it, which would have helped, because as usual he isn’t worried, and he knows that the details will be taken care of…This, by the way, is one of the things that made my heart fall hard for him all of those years ago.  His ability to handle things.  And his ability to make me feel safe.

I know that the Lord has all of this taken care of.  He knows where we are going to live next.  He knows the timeline for getting my hand back.  He knows that I feel guilty.  He knows my fears and my worries…I know this.  But sometimes, in the midst of it all, it is really hard for me to be still.  To turn my brain off.  To stop panicking.  To let go.  But He is conspicuously silent right now.  I could use an email, or some smoke signals…just something tangible to let me know He’s got this, and it’s going to be alright.

This life we live–this missionary life–is something different for everyone.  We all have things that we have to let go of in order to do this.  For some it is a surrender of physical things.  Nice house, nice things, good schools, the right friends.  For others it’s letting go of their ego.  The “I’ve got all the answers” mindset.  For some–and this is where I fall–it is letting go of fear, and the illusion of control that we have over our lives.

He keeps jerking the rug out from under me.  And then He catches me when I fall.  As long as He keeps catching me, I will keep going, soggy soul and all.

“I must have been born on a rainy day for sure.
My soul is made of rain.”

Ten years on…

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of our arrival here in Quito.  I would like to say that we met it with great joy and celebration, but in truth we didn’t even realize it until about 11 in the morning, and then we just mentioned it to each other and went on about our business.  It did get me thinking, though, about the differences between 10 years ago and today.

-10 years ago we were cocky, overly confident new missionaries.  We were going to change the world.  We had been to Ecuador twice before, for a week each time…and we HAD this.  Ecuador was going to love us–we just knew it.  Fast forward 10 years…we still get it, but in a whole new way.  We have a different perspective on missions.  On Ecuador.  On life.  We aren’t going to change the world.  We’re just a little piece of a BIG puzzle.  People all over the world are doing exactly what we do, for the exact same reasons.  We serve a big God, who is doing things all over the world with missionaries who are imperfect, unqualified and truth be told, scared out of their britches most of the time.  And yet, He keeps on working and things keep on happening and we keep on scratching our heads, wondering how in the world He could have made something good out of the mess that is us.

-I am a hoarder.  There.  I’ve admitted it.  This life breeds that mentality, simply because there are so many things we can’t get on a regular basis.  We all have our specialties.  My girlfriend is a “general” hoarder.  Cake mixes, spices, frostings…you name it, she’s got 12 of them in her pantry.  I am a more “specialized” hoarder.  Chocolate chips.  Starbucks coffee.  Canned pumpkin.  We may be good friends, but if you ask me for a can of my pumpkin, I will probably have to seriously reevaluate our friendship.  Boundaries, people.

-The mission field has created an amazing marriage.  For US.  I’ve seen marriages destroyed by the field as well.  There is nothing quite so terrifying as waking up on your first morning and realizing that your support system–mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, friends…is 3,000 miles away.  You roll over and look into your spouse’s eyes…and realize that you’re all you’ve got.  For most of us, this is a sobering reality.  You have just taken your parents grandchildren and put them on a plane and moved them to God-knows-where.  The practical side of it is that you now have no babysitters.  Hmph.  The other side of it is that the next time your mother sees your son, he will be almost six feet tall and have facial hair.  It will freak them both out.  We had been married for 13 years when we came to the field.  For all of that time we had lived within 30 minutes of every member of our family.  We had never had to depend on “us” because there were others around who kept things going.  In the last 10 years, we have found “us”.  And we love it.  We have a great marriage.  Not a perfect marriage.  But a great marriage.  I don’t think things would look like they do now if we hadn’t made this move.

-We have learned to work together.  For the first 13 years of our marriage, Dan worked 50-60 hours a week, and I stayed home with the kiddos.  We had things divided up and it worked out alright.  When we moved here, suddenly we were together 24/7.  Talk about an eye-opener.  I remember rolling over one morning and thinking “Oh.  You’re still here?  Can’t you GO somewhere?”  And lest you think I’m horrible, he was thinking the same thing.  We now work together (in the very same OFFICE, no less) and it’s good.  We enjoy being together.  A lot.

-We have GREAT kids.  Kids who look at the world around them and wonder how they can make a difference.   Our kids live life with their eyes wide open.  Do I think we would have had great kids if we hadn’t come here?  Yes.  But I know that we made the right decision for them, and for us.

-We speak Spanish.  Ten years ago, language school was hands-down the most terrifying thing we could think of.  I’m pretty sure language school is a level of hell.  And when you are 34 and trying to wrap your brain around another language when some days you don’t even have a grip on your FIRST language, it’s just miserable.  The good news is that, as far as we know, language school has never actually killed anyone.  We did discover early on that the reason that they don’t teach missionaries cuss words in language school is because even the most devout of people will USE them.  If you want those words, you need to ask your kids.  Who, because they attend an international school, know them in about 13 languages.

-We appreciate technology.  We LOVE social media.  When we came 10 years ago, calling home to our friends and family involved emailing (using a dial-up connection), setting up a specific time to call, then going down to the HCJB compound and using the phone in Dan’s office, with a special code, to make a satellite call.  It was one step up from smoke signals, I swear.  Now, we have a phone line in our home with an Akron, OH phone number.  We can call anytime, and people can call us anytime.  We don’t call anytime, because I am still an introvert and talking on the phone makes me crazy, but the point is that we CAN, if we WANT to.  We also have Facebook and Twitter and Instagram…we’re so connected it’s scary.  In a good way though.

-We came to the field with three children, ages 11, 10 and 9.  Six months after we arrived, the Lord gave us an 8-month-old baby boy.  He still takes my breath away sometimes.  He has grown up with three mothers and two fathers.  Because he was 9 years younger than Kristina and our kids were into sports and drama and whatever else they could drum up, he’s been dragged here, there and everywhere.  And he is the most pleasant, easygoing child alive.  He is, without a doubt, our greatest blessing from this life that we’ve chosen.

-Being on the mission field has strengthened our faith in ways we never could have imagined.  Because we live on faith-based support, we are wholly dependent on the Lord for his provision.  And how He has provided!  We have never gone without our monthly pay.  We’ve never gone hungry.  Never had our utilities turned off.  Never not been able to get back to the US when we needed to.  And considering that 99% of the people that we work with cannot say those things, it’s very humbling.  Looking at our monthly support income is a tangible reminder that we are loved by so many people.

-We have friends all over this planet.  10 years ago we could never have dreamed that the Lord would put so many amazing people into our lives.  We are so truly blessed.

I could go on and on about what we’ve seen, how we’ve felt, what we’ve learned.  We serve a big God.  He loves us with a big love.  We couldn’t do what we do without Him right there, picking up the pieces and putting them back together.  It’s been an amazing 10 years.  We can’t wait to see what the next 10 hold.

“Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.”  Habakkuk 1:5

It’s your story…own it.

My word for 2014 is “Courage”.  Courage to make a difference, in the world and in myself.  We both know which one of those concepts is harder, don’t we.

I love stories.  I love people’s stories.  I love hearing where you came from, how you got here, where you’re going.  I love the tapestry that a story weaves, where you can’t see the big picture unless you step away and look from a distance.  I’m learning to love my own story–both the messy and the good.

What I don’t love is when someone takes my story away.

Tuesday night, I reconnected with a good friend who had been on an extended furlough.  In this crazy, transient life that we lead, making and keeping a good friend is sometimes a struggle.  We put up walls to guard our hearts from the inevitable goodbyes, and so for most of us “good friend” is a relative term.

She is a good friend.  I know her story.  Not all of it, but more than just superficial details.  For the last 8 years or so, we’ve been a part of the same story.  Left our homes in the US.  Moved to a foreign country.  Learned the language.  Raised our children with fists tightly clenched, praying that nothing happened.  Trying to allow them to grow wings in a very dangerous city without being irresponsible and letting them get hurt.  Losing our independence.  Questioning our purpose, our abilities and our sanity on a regular basis.  Caught between two worlds, never fully in either one.   Finding joy in little things, like small sticky children and tiny little grandmothers with wrinkled little faces.

It’s a “brutiful” story.  Brutal and beautiful.  And it’s OURS.

It hurts my heart when someone tears my story down.  It happened this week.  Someone that I don’t know started asking questions.  When someone asks me details about my life, my first instinct is to give a “pat” answer.  “Oh, things are great.  They’re wonderful.  Really.  Delightful.”  Because this person came into a conversation that was already taking place, and had heard some of the not-so-wonderful details, I felt like it would be foolish to continue along like that, so I answered her a little more honestly than I normally would.  For me, this is one of those miracles akin to walking on water.  I don’t like to talk to strangers, and I don’t give out details.  I don’t tell my STORY.

She brought down my story with one sentence.  “Oh.  When I was on the mission field, I NEVER felt like that.”  Condescending look and all.

Don’t DO that.  Don’t take someone’s story and make it about you.  It’s stealing.  And it hurts.

There are very few things in this world that we TRULY own.  You can’t take away our stories.  You can’t take away who we are and how we got here.  You may not like hearing it.  Sometimes our stories aren’t pretty.  If you can’t handle the bad stuff, walk away.

I don’t regret ONE SECOND of my life here.  I love what we do and who we do it with.  I love all of the parts of my story.  We weren’t complaining Tuesday night.  We were just talking.  Processing.  Catching up on the last few months–both good and bad.  Telling our stories.

It’s YOUR STORY.  OWN it.  The next time you have the chance to tell your story, tell it from your heart.  And the next time you have the chance to hear someone else’s story, listen from your heart.

Be courageous.

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.”
Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

In the quiet places.

Quito is not really known for being “quiet”.  We sit in church on Sunday morning and our pastor asks us to be silent for a few moments…and the guy with the megaphone on top of his truck rolls by, selling heaven-knows-what.  And heaven has to know what, because he’s got the microphone shoved so far up his nose that the rest of us have no idea what he’s got in that truck.  We happen to live just a block off of a very busy street, so we get the traffic noises 24/7.  As I sit here, I’m listening to the buses, the horns honking, the screeching of brakes, the sirens and the lone policeman using his very ineffective whistle.  There is usually a house alarm or a car alarm going off somewhere, and the neighborhood dogs bark incessantly.  I really can’t say too much about the dogs, because until we lost our two big dogs over the summer, they barked right along with the rest.

When we go back to Ohio for furlough, we either stay with my sister or our friend who lives on the lake.  Both of these places are lovely…and QUIET.  Quiet to the point that we can’t sleep.  It’s crazy, I know, but we’ve grown so accustomed to the chaos that is our fair city that when the chaos is removed, we don’t know what to do with the silence.  I especially find this difficult to understand, because I am a person who CRAVES silence.  I can be alone inside my own head for hours and not get lonely or bored.  Part of my problem is that I can’t process everything at once.  I’ve likened it to me standing in the middle of a room and people all around the edges of the room are throwing tennis balls at me.  I try to catch them as they come at me, but I can’t catch them all, so I just end up getting pummeled.  That’s what noise does–it pummels my senses.  I think people who grow up in an environment where noise is constant just become immune to it.  Dan and I are pretty quiet people, and we have pretty quiet children, so all of this noise leaves me feeling battered and bruised.

I wonder if heaven will be quiet.  I’ve read the descriptions–choirs singing and praising the Lord all day long…and while I love singing and praising, I wonder if the constant noise will drive me batty, or if my glorified body will come with the ability to process everything going on around me and not have a meltdown.  I don’t need my new body to be a size six with long legs and curly hair, but I would love it if it came equipped with the ability to handle things a little better.  Not quite so nervous, stand down the anxiety…and OK, I would really like curly hair.

In the Bible, Jesus took his disciples to a quiet place when He could see that they had had enough.  He gave them a place to rest inside their own thoughts, and regroup.  That’s what I need.  A place to regroup.  To rest.  Not from the physical, but from the emotional turmoil that living in a loud, crazy place creates.  Susannah Wesley, the mother of John Wesley, used to take a blanket and throw it over her head in order to create a place to pray.  I wonder if she also sent the children outside, or sat them down with a book and told them very sternly not to say a word until she came out from under the blanket?

We live in a very loud world.  Not just Quito, although it’s got crazy all sewed up down here, but our world in general.  I’ve noticed that when we are watching TV, we can keep the volume at a pleasant level…until the commercials.  Somehow, the people in charge of the TV have managed to figure out how to make the commercials louder, even if we don’t turn up the volume.  Everything in our world is loud.  Music has to be played at ear-splitting volume.  Down here it’s not unusual to go into a restaurant and have the music so loud that you have to shout to be heard.  Ask them to turn it down and they refuse–they say that’s how people like it.  In the US, cars drive by with the music so loud that the whole car is vibrating down the road.  Our children are loud.  They are constantly stimulated by something–video games, TV, whatever…and they have lost the ability to play quietly with things that don’t make noise.  We have successfully bred quiet out of our children.

I wonder if we have become afraid of silence.  Are we afraid to turn down the volume because if we do, we might have to actually be alone with ourselves?  Are we afraid of what we might find if we stop and listen to our thoughts for a few minutes?  Does all of the frenzied activity keep us from looking ourselves in the mirror and taking stock of what we see?

I don’t know all of the answers, and I’m really just “thinking on paper” here.  I do know that my heart longs for the day when I am somewhere–in this world or the next–where I can savor the silence.

“Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  Mark 6:31