2.09.2016

How Going on Vacation Might be Better than Going on a Mission.


The other day someone asked if we have any big plans for this summer, and El Chupacabra and I looked at each other and smiled because we do have big plans for this summer. We have really big plans...

WE'RE TAKING OUR FAMILY TO AFRICA! WHAT?! I KNOW!!! 
I CAN'T BELIEVE IT EITHER!!! SQUEEEEE!!!!!!!!

When we shared our big news, we probably should have expected her response, but it still caught us off guard when she said, “That's amazing! Who will you be working with?”

We glanced at each other, “...Working?”

“Yeah. Like, what organization are you partnering with? What are you going to do there?”

And then it got awkward, because we were all, “Ooooooh. Oh. Yeah. No, it's not like that. We're not going on a mission, we're going on vacation... You know, just for fun. Entertainment. Relaxation. Adventure. That sort of thing.”

She blinked and looked confused.


I guess that's understandable. I can see how it might be counterintuitive to imagine a Missions Pastor and a writer who has the word “missionary” in the title of her blog taking their kids to Africa and not going on a mission. But that's exactly what we're doing. We're going to fly all the way across the world, and then we are not going to dig a well, we're not going to hold any orphans, and we're not going to treat anyone's parasites (unless, of course, they're our own). We will not be seen in matching T-shirts or praying in a circle at the airport, and you won't catch us “loving on” complete strangers with sweaty hugs, zealous high fives, or bullhorn street-corner evangelism.

The habitual short term missionary (the one who collects passport stamps crossing the planet on the support-raised dime of the Church to participate in safely organized service opportunities) will have a stroke if they read this, so maybe don't send it to them. Or do. But, for sure, choosing fun over field will have some people questioning my love of God, my commitment to Jesus, and my very salvation.

Behold, she chose a family vacation over a Christian mission
and, lo, there was a great clutching of pearls.

Here's the thing. I've lived abroad, traveled a bunch, willfully participated in and happily hosted short term teams, crossed paths with people from all walks of life and faith and culture, broken bread with the wealthy elite and the poorest of poor, and conversed with some of the most educated and experienced leaders in the global church movement, and it's all led me to this conclusion:

Going on a kickass vacation can be healthier, more productive, and more beneficial
 to both the traveler and the world than a short term mission.

I've come to believe my money is better spent in the hotels, restaurants, shops, gas stations, parks, monuments and attractions that provide legitimate jobs and dignified work to the very same locals I would otherwise be “blessing” on a short term mission trip. Tourism is a gross domestic product, an industry that creates layers and layers of real, sustainable jobs for a countries workforce. I'd wager that it's far kinder and more generous for you to leave a tip and a favorable comment for the woman who cleans your hotel room each day, than for you to show up on her doorstep with your selfie stick and a bag of rice once a year (#blessed). When you vacation somewhere, you're contributing to a healthy demand for everything from the edible goods of the rural farmer who might otherwise sell his child, to the administrative services of the urban student who might otherwise sell herself. When you vacation in the places you'd usually mission, you're engaging people's pride and joy without exploiting their shame.

I know, I know – What about all the other stuff? Like, what about showing our kids how other people live? And what about exposing our pampered teenagers to poverty? What about getting uncomfortable? What about learning to serve others? Every single time I speak on missions at churches or universities, these questions come up. And every time this is what I say:
  • I have an intrinsic desire to see the whole entire world and to show as much of it as I can to my kids. I believe this is inherent in me as a human, because we are drawn to the work of our Creator. I believe it can be a form of worship and I believe it can have value. BUT. It is not the Church's responsibility to send me or my kids all over the world for the purpose of “exposure”. If you think it's that important, you should sign your kid up for a foreign exchange program and pay for it yourself, or with grandma's help or whatever. As much as you and I both want it to be, crossing boarders is it is not crucial to your child's development as human or as a Christian. It's cool, but not crucial.
  • Using poor kids to teach rich kids a lesson about how good they have it is just gross. It's ineffective at best, and incredibly harmful at worst. Plus, it's ICKY.
  • You will never get more uncomfortable than in the intimacy of meaningful relationships with the people to the right and left of you, so go love your actual neighbor. Short term missions are more of a relief from the depth and discomfort of real life and real love and real relationship than a true dip into discomfort. 
  • An attitude of service should be learned at home and applied in the world, not the other way around, so if learning to serve is your end goal, there's no need to hop on a plane to do menial tasks for strangers. I promise, not a day of your life has gone by that wasn't chock full of opportunities to serve others – that's true of vacation days, too – we all just need to be looking.

    omg. I KNOW. I just like the way it sounds. Jeez.
So we are going to South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique, and we're going there on vacation. And that's it. Who we're going with is each other. Why we're going is for fun. What we're doing is cool shit. Oh, and? Who's footing the bill is our own damn selves. We are going to stay in mediocre hotels, visit beautiful national parks, and eat cheap local food. We're going to do touristy things and less touristy things. We're going to see cities and countrysides and all the sights in between. We're going to try all the beers and taste all the fruits and make all the weird noises at all the animals. We're going to get lost once or twice along the way, because that's what we always do on vacation, and we're probably gonna be ok. 

This two week vacation will most likely be the last major trip we get to take with our three grown/growing sons. They'll be marrying and blasting out babies in no time, so this is our nuclear family's last hurrah. It won't be extravagant - we are literally saving pennies to make it happen – but I have no doubt it will be amazing. We're going to immerse ourselves as best we can in the culture and history and people around us. And, yes, we will be on vacation, but we won't turn a blind eye to the poor. And yes, we will be relaxing, but we'll also be doing some hard work in our relationships with our boys and with each other – some investing, and some reassuring, and some healing. We're going on Safari, because HOLY SHIT IT'S AFRICA!!! And we're going with humility, because it's our privilege just to be there.

I fully expect to see this EXACT scene.
I hope that we come home changed somehow, better, wiser, closer. And I hope that you'll ask me how our trip to Africa was, just so I can say something like, "OMG. It was AMAZING! I learned way more from Africa than Africa learned from me." And we can LOL. 

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Also? No lie, I'm kinda pissed that Dax and Kristen beat us to this, but we're still totally gonna do it...



2.01.2016

You Can Never Have Too Much Sofa


We bought our little house in California one million years ago, in 1997. And it's a good thing, too, because that was the last year our oldest child was our only child, and it was also the last year we could ever have afforded to buy a little house in California.

It's a typical, boring, no frills, suburban tract home, but nearly 20 years later, we still love it. The property is just over zero acres, the living space is compact, and the laundry is in the garage, but my kids still like to argue over who will live here when Mom and Dad are dead and gone. I mean, obviously, if we're dead, they should probably sell the house and split the equity three ways (Turns out, it was really smart to buy a house in California in 1997. You're welcome, kids!), but they say they want to “keep it in the family”. Ha! Either way, this house has become part of the legacy we will leave for our sons.

The only real challenge we have in this house is size. Not the house's size, the house's size is fine – we have no desire for a bigger house - it's more the size of the kids that's a problem. My boys keep doing this thing where they turn into men? And then they take up a lot more space with their bodies. It's so annoying. They've become very long people. They are so very lengthy, and they have these expansive limbs that stick our very, very far from their actual bodies. This house has high ceilings, so vertically we do alright, but try sharing a standard three cushion sofa with several people over 6 feet tall. Trust me, it's no bueno. So the primary problem with filling a small house with tall people is that there's no room for big furniture.

You can never have too much sofa. That's a thing I decided.

I don't care what designers and decorators and, y'know, all the rest of the professionals have to say about it. People need a place to lounge. We need space to spread out, get comfortable, and stay awhile. We need to be able to fall asleep on the couch while we're watching Hannibal until 2am, together, but not touching. Lounging is important. Laying around in your pajamas with your kids on a Saturday morning – no matter how long they are – is kinda crucial to the health and well being of your family.

Recently, I noticed that whenever we decided to watch a movie or something, one kid or another would disappear. It took me awhile to figure out that it's because there was no room at the inn. If the sofa was already full of other people's arms and legs and stuff, the last man standing would rather do something else. There just wasn't enough space for my whole clan to lounge at the same time, and that was unacceptable, so a couple weeks ago I filled our itty bitty house with a big fat sectional, yes, including a chaise. Now it looks like my living room is pregnant with Don Draper's sunken sofa, and I don't even care. Do. Not. Care.


The day after we brought home the monstrosity of comfort, El Chupacabra and I went out to search garage sales for a sofa table to go with it, but it was rainy so we had to look at estate sales. Estate sales are always kind of weird for me, because....well....someone died. I know I'm there picking through the remnant belongings of the recently deceased, usually while their loved ones watch, and I feel this massive tension between wanting to be mindful of their loss and hoping for a kickass deal. It's always super awkward. But, at the very first estate sale we found, we came across the most perfect old stereo console.

This thing was hand made almost 50 years ago by the...uh...dearly departed. Like, he MADE it. With his HANDS. His daughter proudly told us he'd made other beautiful furniture throughout the years, but sadly none of his kids had room for this particular piece. As it was carried out to the car, and I heard one of the siblings take in a breath and say, “Oh, there goes Dad's stereo...” And in the chaos of closing out their father's estate, there was a brief pause for grief.

Thus, a tiny part of their legacy became a part of ours.

Of course, the first thing Dylan said when he saw the cabinet was, “Can I have this when you die?”, and Jamison cut in to say, “I'll fight you for it.” They're charming like that. Then they helped get it all set up in its new home behind our massive sofa expansion. It took a couple of hours, but El Chupahandyman got the turn table working and the bass kickin', and our home hasn't been the same.

The kids lounge and the music plays and we've been seeing a lot more of each other's faces.

To be honest, I don't really care what my kids do with this house after I'm dead and I don't care who wins the funeral fist fight over the stereo cabinet. But I do hope my boys will carry on this legacy of lounging around together. I hope they will actively make space in their lives for the people they love. As the world changes faster and faster, and people see less and less of each other, I hope they will remember the importance of being in the same room as another human being.

Side note: I am not obsessed with Navy Blue. OBSESSED.


I hope their couches will be huge and I hope they have too many chairs around their tables. And when people give them the side eye for having ridiculous furniture, I hope they invite them to sit down for awhile and tell them, “My Mom always said you can never have too much sofa.”

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Are you sure you have enough sofa in your life? Like, really sure?


1.07.2016

You can't give what you don't have.


The first time I flew on an airplane, I watched the safety demonstration like my life depended on it. As instructed, I checked that my seatbelt was properly secured, identified the nearest emergency exits, learned how to inflate the life-vest, and noted that my seat cushion doubled as a flotation device. I was keenly interested in everything I needed to know to survive an air travel disaster, and if necessary, I would happily put my head between my knees to prepare for a crash landing and calmly exit the burning plane without my personal belongings, because that is how you live.

But the first time I flew with kids, something changed. I followed along as the flight attendant skillfully mimed the Survivor's Guide to Falling Out of the Sky; Seatbelt? Check. Life-vest? Check. Butt-floaty? Check. Toward the end of the announcement she held up a severed oxygen mask, showed us how to wear it, and reminded us not to freak the eff out if it doesn't inflate. Then she stood there smiling like a creep while a disembodied voice from the back of the plane chirped, “If you are traveling with a child, secure your own oxygen mask first, then assist others.” And I was like, “Yeah. I'm not doing that.”

If we're all gasping for air like fish out of water, you can bet your ass I'm putting my kids' needs first.

Don't get me wrong, I completely understand why we're supposed to arrange our own masks before theirs. I know it's safer and smarter and more sensible, but, in that moment, I knew I wouldn't do it. I knew that given the choice and despite the consequences I would never put my need for oxygen before my sons' – even if it meant I passed out and we all died because I was too stubborn and scared and dumb to take care of myself properly before attending to them.

I was thinking about this on Friday as I boarded a plane to meet a handful of girlfriends for a weekend away. Feeling excited for the days ahead, I was also pestered by guilt over what felt like a great big self-indulgence. I'm definitely not a martyr to marriage and motherhood, but I have always had major hangups about doing things that are just for me, and this was no exception. This is an annual meet-up of dear friends that in three years I had yet to attend, and I waffled back and forth for 9 entire months before deciding I would go, I was so hesitant to take a short trip that wasn't for work, or for family, or for hotel sex marital bliss. It felt incredibly selfish. 

But I needed a breather.

Big time. 

Honestly? It's been a really tough year around here, and it took awhile for me to see how much I needed a break from this season of intense writing, and hardcore wifing, and momming actual real live grownass men. I needed a little stretch of time away from the very things I felt like I was neglecting if I left, and I sobbed when I bought my airline tickets, because it finally sunk in how badly and how sincerely I needed to breathe.

For like 5 minutes I believed I was a worthy cause. But as the girls weekend drew near, guilt crept back in to tell me I didn't deserve a break, my marriage would suffer in my absence, my children would resent me for leaving, and I was selfish and spoiled and stupid for deciding to go, and I actually thought about backing out at the last minute. It was like an oxygen mask had dropped right in front of my face and I refused to put it on. I was simply too busy looking with wide eyes at all the other needs in my personal life to secure my own oxygen, but I was too oxygen deprived to breathe life back into those same areas of need.

I aaaaaallllmost backed out.

And then El Chupacabra said something in his last sermon that hit me really hard. He was talking about how when we really love people, like, when we really get into the nitty gritty of life and faith with other broken people, it will deplete us, it will stir up our own pain, it will tap our spiritual resources. He said you need to care for yourself in order to care for others, because “you can't give what you don't have.”

        "You can't give what you don't have."                      
                                                                        ~ Pastor El Chupacabra, aka Steve





I mean, it's kinda like duh. But also? OMG, THAT IS SO ME! So, so, so me. Trying to pull from empty reserves of physical energy and mental health, desperately drawing from a dry well of faith, hope, and love, to bear the weight of looming financial commitments, to fight for a hobbled, hurt relationship, and to launch young adults into a scary world. That is so me. But I can't give what I don't have.

I haven't been caring for myself in a number of ways and it has absolutely hurt my capacity to care for others.

The reason we're supposed to secure our own oxygen mask first in the event of an emergency is that you can't give what you don't have. You can't expect to breathe life into those around you if YOU can't breathe. Your kids, your spouse, your coworkers, your friends, your neighbors, your parents – they really, truly, honestly NEED you to put on your own mask first.

I fly often enough now that I don't even bother playing the preflight charades game; I usually read, or sleep, or pick at my fingernails while the flight attendant does the old “in-case-of-death-spiral” song and dance. On my way home after three amazing days with friends, I watched a cranky, overwhelmed Mama trying to settle her young ones around her while she checked seat belts and felt for life-vests and peered over her shoulder for the nearest exit. I saw the familiar flash of resistance on her face when she was told to put her own oxygen mask on first, and I remembered when I was like her, seeing how she was too tired and too empty and too wrapped up in the thick of it - because she been poured out for her family – to choose to care for herself first. And I thought, “I got you, sister. You focus on taking care of those babies, and, if necessary, I'll take care of you.”

Because that's how it works.

I felt like I had nothing left to give, and then I spent a weekend having my heart and soul tended by women who generously dipped into their own reserves to breathe life back into these hollow spaces. With an infusion of joy and light and everything else I lacked, I came home prepared to be a better wife, mother, and writer than when I left.

So, on that day, that little Mama may have been empty, but I was full enough for us both.

That's how it works. 

I take care of me, 
so that I can take care of you, 
until you can take care of yourself,
and then you care for someone else.

But someone has to be smart enough to put their oxygen mask on first. 


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Have you ever lost sight of your own needs to the detriment of everyone around you?



12.22.2015

Jesus, save Christmas.


I promised myself I wasn't going to be a total grinchhole about Christmas this year.

I also promised I'd have the tree up before December 10th, get all the shopping done and gifts wrapped early, give beautiful plates of homemade goodies to all of my friends and neighbors, and not eat my weight in fudge.

The tree went up on December 15th . This, after a last minute trip to the forest to cut down a tree where we arrived 20 minutes before closing, scrambled around in the mud and fog and freezing cold to no avail, only to drive an hour back down the hill and buy a patchy, pathetic tree from the Home Depot parking lot. I'm still not done shopping. Nothing is wrapped. I tried to cheat on the Christmas baking by grabbing some easy recipes off Pinterest, and I ended up buying $62 in cookies and candy to grind up or melt down to make into other cookies and candy. I don't know why I thought I could just mix Oreo mush with marshmallow fluff and call it a day, but the results were unworthy of gifting and mostly inedible. Except that I did eat it, all of it. Plus, double my weight in fudge.

And now I hate everyone.

Christmas just seems to be getting more and more ridiculous, and with a knife-twist of irony, I find myself drifting further and further from Jesus around this time of year. I want to revel in the beauty of God with Us, I want to celebrate the birth of Christ in earnest, I want to delight in the story of Faith, Hope, and Love slipping into the world in a dirty stable on a starry night. I want to rejoice. But it's kind of hard to rejoice in the goodness of baby Jesus when He's buried under a dwindling bank balance, an intentionally ugly sweater, and a small mountain of fudge.

The thing is, I'm conflicted. I really want to participate in our modern Christmas traditions – the tree, the lights, the food, the gifts, the honey baked hams (yes, multiple hams). It's busy and expensive, but it's also fun and yummy, and I am all about the fun and yummy. But at this point there is a glaring lack of Jesus in it all, and combined with the utter ridiculousness of the season, it's starting to make my skin crawl.

The other day, I drove down a street that looked like the Macy's parade took a dump on it; one lawn after another covered in massive inflatable characters donning Santa hats, fat limbs bouncing on the breeze, tethers whipping the ground. There was probably $20,000 in huge balloon creatures on that street alone, and, if you ask me, that's a lot of money to throw away on whimsical Christmas fuckery. Don't get me wrong, I'm not immune to the insanity of Christmas spending. We spent $35 on a Christmas tree and hours to decorate it, and no one in my family can even be bothered to plug in the lights. Like, we don't even care, but it felt wrong to not have a tree. So we buy a tree. And it feels wrong not to give gifts, so we give gifts. And it feels wrong not to eat all the fudge, so I eat all the fudge.

Honestly? I barely love fudge. I only eat it because it's there, and it's only there because it's Christmas, and it's only Christmas because of Jesus. So here I am, twisted up in this tension, baffled by the enigma of celebrating Christ's birth by going into debt and gaining 6lbs. It doesn't feel right... but it feels wrong any other way.

It's like the thing with the manger. You know what I'm talking about?

I love the Christmas story. I really do. I come back to it often during the holidays, especially when I'm stressed about money, feeling the burden of busyness, frustrated by the exploitation of something so pure and good, and sad when the fudge is all gone. When I need to be reminded that we have a genuine reason to have a huge celebration, Luke chapter 2 is my jam.

But I hate the part about the manger. I don't get it. What's the deal with putting your infant in an animal trough?! What was Mary thinking? Like, why not just hold your baby? Lay him next to you. Give him to Joseph. Ask one of those shepherds to lend a hand. I can think of 20 things that would be better than wrapping your newborn up like a burrito and putting him in a manger. I guess she could have set her first child in a nastyass manger because she knowingly anticipated the theological significance of God becoming flesh in the humble form of an infant, and maybe she liked the symbolism of placing the most important baby in the history of the world in the most humble of cradles, but I don't think so.

I think she was probably just tired and drained and over it.

Come on, neither of you can just HOLD the baby?!

Whatever. At this point, it doesn't matter, because, while it doesn't always feel right to me, it would feel wrong any other way. The manger feels more familiar and old and real than all the rest of the Christmas bullshit we indulge in combined. A nativity without a manger would feel like some kind of sacrilege. So I can choose to let my irritation at the thought of a newborn baby swimming in a bed of E-coli and donkey slobber ruin the whole story, or I can look at the bigger picture and see that, ultimately, the story of Christmas isn't the story of a manger, it's the story of a Savior.

I don't like the idea of God using a 9 foot blow up snow globe lawn nativity to draw near to the us. I can't even imagine it's possible. But we've seen what He can do with a teen Mom, a poor step-dad, a handful of shepherds, so it's not really out of the question. Even so, I don't want my own attempts at celebrating Christmas to fall into the glittery traps of nothing more than a hollow cultural holiday. I want Jesus to somehow be evident in all of the fun and yummy. I want the whole of Christmas to be a demonstration of how my life is different because of Jesusy things. I want to give gifts out of Jesus generosity. I want to decorate with Jesus creativity. I want to eat Jesus fudge...um...ok. That?....Sounded weird

Anyway.

We've royally mucked up Christmas, I'm quite certain of this. But if there's anything worthy to be found in the gross, materialistic, commercialized mess we've created around the birth of Jesus, it might be the most Christmassy thing of all; that God shows up in the most unlikely places and the most unexpected packages, and then He sets up camp in the most undesirable spaces.

He is with Us.

Even when we're getting it all wrong.

So Merry Ridiculous Christmas, my fellow Holiday haters. Take heart. 

Jesus can save this, too. 


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Are you a Chirstmas Grinchole? Or a Happy Clappy Holiday Apologist? Explain...