Last night I made a kick-ass dinner, a pitcher of Mai Tai, and a carrot cake, and we had our friends Brian and Steph over. They used to live here, but they’ve since moved back to the states where Steph is finishing her medical residency and Bri is a missionary AND a stay-at-home Dad to their perfect baby doll of a daughter. They’re cool. And it was fun.
Stephanie and I were talking about parenting and doctoring and all that junk and I said something about how it must be so hard to do it all, working so much, and coming home to a five month old, and a husband and everything. And she started to agree, and then she stopped herself and said, “Well, actually, what we call “hard” is really just a whole lot of Blessing. I could totally use it as an excuse and say ‘Oh, my life’s so hard.’ But what exactly do I have to complain about - That I get to do these things? Be a Mom? Be a wife? Have a home to walk in to after a very long day of gratifying work?”. She said something like that. And I loved it.
And that made me think of the conversation going on here, and how a post about self-sabotage turned into a discussion in comments about sacrifice.
Sometimes I think about the sacrifices made so that we can be here, and it gives me a stomach ache. It’s gut wrenching. Not even kidding, it wrenches my guts.
I am not unaware of the fact that if I use a packet of Splenda in my coffee it’s because someone else, not a human resources department or a finance department, but a living breathing person, an individual with wants and needs of their own, that person has put that little yellow packet in my hand. I feel it every time I crack an egg, turn the ignition in my car, flip a light switch, or - ugh! - see my Visa statement. Sacrifice pays our bills. Sacrifice sends our kids to school. Sacrifice let’s us eat at McDonald’s, like normal people, every now and again. Sacrifice brings us back to the states, once a year, where we get to thank those who’ve sacrificed on our behalf. Sacrifice plops us down on the doorsteps of our parents, who have been called on, unwillingly, to sacrifice as well by saying goodbye to their children and grandchildren, losing them to a foreign land, a foreign life, and in some cases to a foreign God.
It all comes at a price. A great Sacrifice... or maybe it’s a Blessing.
I pray for those who make sacrifices on my behalf. I started doing this three years ago, when I was dreading asking for support. I didn’t want anyone who gave to us to feel like it was their burden, like their Christian duty or something, I wanted them to give because it was their Blessing to be able to do so.
I know it’s hard for you Dad. You too, Mom. And Pat and Steve. I know it’s hard. Even miserable sometimes. I know it just plain sucks.
I feel weighed down by it, too. The loss. The time that passes, the things missed because we are here and not there, with you. I feel the weight of your sacrifice, the burden that you carry, totally unwillingly, because we left. I am not unaware. So I pray for each of you, the same way I pray for others that sacrifice so that we can be here. I pray that it will be your Blessing.
I pray for you to see that your sacrifice has high value. I pray that when you see your grandchildren, albeit not as often as you or I would like, that you will see three young men who have grown in confidence, and maturity, who have learned to live outside of the grip of materialism, kids who have conquered language and culture, who have discovered that they have power in this world to do something. I pray that you will see boys who have learned the value of sacrifice because they themselves have been transformed by it, moved by it, Blessed by it. And that those things happened because we are here. I pray that it will be your Blessing to know that however far away we may be, your grandsons are living a life of adventure and challenge and becoming better men because of it.
I pray for you, Dad, that every time I walk away from you to board a plane, that you will see the sacrifices you made for me as a child, now all grown up. And that you get to see a woman who holds tight to what she thinks is important and has the guts to pursue it, even at a great price. And I pray that it will Bless your soul.
People always ask me if it’s hard to be a missionary - hard to leave your family, hard to leave the ease and comfort of the U.S., hard to learn a language when you’re clearly too old and too dumb, hard to raise support, hard to miss holidays, hard to live in a foreign country, hard to visit the states or hard come back to Costa Rica after visiting the states, hard to live without Poptarts...
“Is it hard?” they ask with empathetic eyes.
And the truth is, it’s not without it's difficulties, but it's really not hard. I get to do this. This is my Blessing.
This has nothing to do with anything so hopefully you won’t be disappointed because I know how you come here for a regular dose of biblical exegesis and junk. I just...I got nothin’...sorry.
Anyhoo, the other day a reader - tell me that doesn't sound weird, I have a "reader" - anyway, this reader, Emily, told me that I was “totally google-able”. She wrote “....if you type "jamie the v" it fills it in and basically ASKS you to google you.” Cool huh! So, I don’t know how all that stuff works exactly, but I think it’s like the more something is googled, the closer it gets to being the very first thing to pop up. Or something like that, I don’t really know, I probably made that up. (I do that sometimes.)
Anyway, today I was farting around online, looking for whatever, and I remembered what Emily said, so I googled me. And it a was totally true! Crazy, right? I’m like practically famous.
Jamie the V - that’s ME! So I was all happy, but then I was like, “Jamie the ‘V’! That sounds...gross!”
But, maybe it’s just me that would think it's icky. Ok, And my sisters. I KNOW they’ll think it sounds gross, too. My sister, Sarah, came up with a marketing slogan for the remake of the series “V” that just came out. She said, “It’s not your mother’s ‘V’!”, and we all thought that was hysterical, and then we said it like a million times, as often as we could fit it into conversation (which seems impossible, but my siblings are beyond clever and oh-so-capable of making things happen).
Anyway, the whole thing made me realize that there are a few brave souls willing to be associated with the VWM, or...*ahem*...Jamie the V. And some of you are actually spreading the word, like telling people (probably in horror, like “You have to read the blog of this whack-job in Costa Rica! This is the worst thing to happen to the Church since Ted Haggard! Google it, now!”). But, however it may have happened, and to whatever miniscule degree it is known, it still makes me smile to see that Jamie the Very Worst Missionary is kind of out there, in the world.
And that really makes me want to say thank you to those of you that read this silly blog, and to those of you that have passed it along, and to those of you who haven’t been too embarrassed to have “Jamie the V” in your search history. It’s very encouraging!
You know that thing that famous people do when they win awards, where they put their hands together like they’re praying and they press they’re fingers against their lips and mouth the words “Thank you.” while they bow a little bit again and again. I’m doing that...right now.
Um, yeah, I do know I haven’t won an award. But this feeling that I have, the feeling that comes along with being google-able, I’m pretty sure it’s just like winning a daytime Emmy or something. So how‘bout you just let me have my moment, Cool.
*praying hands, little bow* Thank you... Thank you... Thank you...
Before we could call ourselves missionaries, we had to jump through some hoops. Like circus dogs, leaping through rings of fire. We were reluctant, we hesitated, then jumped as far and as fast as we could, eyes squeezed shut. Terrified. Each time we got to the other side unharmed, hair smoking, we celebrated for a second and then said to each other, “Ok, Let’s NEVER do that again.” But then the prodding came back, the poking, cajoling, the constant urging from God; move forward, jump through the next hoop. So we did, again and again, until there were no more hoops to jump through. And then one day we were sitting on a plane in the sky over Guatemala with our entire lives zipped up in 10 bags and 5 backpacks. When I looked at El Chupacabra from across the aisle his tired face said the same thing as mine:
“How the hell did this happen?!”
It’s funny, because, not even kidding, the whole time we were going through the process of becoming missionaries - receiving the churches blessing, applying, raising support, training, saying goodbye, driving to the airport - we just knew that God couldn’t possibly want us on the mission field. We were fully anticipating that God would end the shenanigans. Pull the plug. Put the kibosh on it. Yank the carpet out from under us.
So we tried to help Him along at every opportunity.
We told ourselves that all God really wanted was for us to be obedient, for us to be “willing”. We agreed that God would have to be either crazy or stupid to send us out into the world to make a claim for Him. And since we knew he was neither of those things, we knew He would never actually send us. We’d proven our “willingness”, we’d said “Yes!”. Now it was God’s turn to say “Thanks, now go back to what you were doing.” We didn’t want to rest on our laurels while God did all the work, so we actively participated in every way we knew how to bring this missions train to a screeching halt. We were certain that we weren’t ever actually going to be missionaries. And we were 100% okay with that.
We were counting on our church to be the first to say, “No.” We thought, because they knew us so well (and we made sure to remind them of all of our dirty...you know....dirtiness) that they would graciously let us know that we just weren’t a good fit for missions, we were too fragile, too immature, too...lame for this path.
Then they said, “Go for it. We think it’s a great fit. We think you’re ready.” And when we got home I cried.
The same thing happened when we applied with our agency. We filled out the strengths and weaknesses section, paying particular attention to our weaknesses. Then we put them in the mail and prepared ourselves for rejection, patting each other on the back for being willing to follow God’s leading. Then we got the email that said “You’re in.” And we were stunned. And I cried.
It was obvious that God wanted us to try harder to not be missionaries. So we filled out our psych evaluations in painstaking detail. We practically submitted an itemized statement showing every malicious thought, every pornographic binge, every bulimic barf-fest, every parenting disaster, every drunken night out, every socially smoked cigarette, every dirty little secret we could drag out of the closet, every wound - inflicted or received - in our entire lives. We told ourselves we were doing this in the name of being “fair” and “honest”.
But, really, this was an act of sabotage.
We were desperate for someone, anyone, to tell us, “Sorry. You tried, and we really like you, but it’s just not a good idea, you and missions.” Then we could die happy, knowing that God asked and we responded, but that it just didn’t work out.
When the Psychiatrist working with the missionaries in training for our agency called and left us a message saying she needed to talk with us individually, we both breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. This whole cruel joke could come to an end. She would be the one, the voice of reason, she would say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” We scheduled our phone conferences for as soon as possible, anxious to be done with it all. She talked to us both, for a long, long time, told us how we scored, who we look like on paper, explained out personality profiles. It was all very fascinating stuff. And then she got to the part called “Red Flags”. “They’re all true!”, I blurted out before she could even say what they were. She laughed, but she didn’t add, “And these things will prevent you from being a missionary.”
Instead, she thanked us for submitting one of the most honest and forthcoming evaluations she had ever received, that it had helped her to see that we would be fine missionaries, that we were exactly the kind of people that should go. “Real people, with real problems, who have really turned to God.” That’s what she called us.
She said that what she read in our two separate profiles showed her a picture of a couple that knew how to fail in front of each other, but also who knew how to lift each other up to the only One who could heal our hurts. Then she said, we needed to quit trying to sabotage God’s work in our lives, and let Him direct our paths.
And I thought to myself, “This lady knows what she’s talking about.”
We need to quit trying to sabotage God’s work in our lives, and let Him direct our paths.
Um...Ouch. Nearly three years later, those words still resonate somewhere deep in my soul. I still find myself doing it, sabotaging God’s good work. Thankfully, I am, apparently, not very good at it. I mean, my kids are amazing, even though I’ve done my absolute best to screw them up. My marriage is still in one piece, while I have tried again and again to ruin it. God still loves me, in the face of my unfaithfulness. I’m even a missionary, by some miracle, despite the fact that I’m completely unqualified, unlikely, undeserving, and occasionally unpleasant.
Sheesh, I am, like, the worst saboteur that ever lived. So why do I still keep trying so hard?
There is this lady that lives across the street. We call her “the dog lady”, but she also has a parrot. The loud screechy kind that talks. Like, it says people words. All.day.long.
It calls her name “FARAH!...FARAH! FARAH! FARAH!” If it isn’t calling her name, it’s calling her dog’s name. If it isn’t calling her dog’s name, it’s honking like the horn on a bicycle. If it’s not honking like the horn on a bicycle, it is, I’m pretty sure, screaming in the throes of ecstasy. (Other’s have heard this as well, and that’s, like, the only thing it could be.) When it’s not faking an orgasm, it’s barking like a dog. And if it’s not barking like a dog, it’s announcing it’s presence to the world by shouting “PARROT! PARROT! PARROT!”. All. day. long.
It’s funny. And kind of annoying. But what are you gonna do, right?
So, we, the parrot and I, live in a little neighborhood that’s carved into the coffee fields at the base of the volcano, Barva. This little enclave is surrounded on three sides by coffee, so when it’s time to harvest (which happens to be right now) the workers walk through our neighborhood with their baskets to pick the coffee in these fields. They start around 5 when the sun comes up, and end whenever they end.
They walk back and forth past our houses to get from one field to another. If it’s not the coffee-pickers, it’s the construction workers who are building toward the end of the block, and if it’s not the construction workers, it’s the security guards. If not the security guards, then a group of soccer players, or two ladies pushing babies in strollers. There is always someone right outside, someone walking down the street between the parrot’s house and mine.
The only reason I know this is because the parrot talks to every single person that passes. And you know what? They talk back. It’s crazy. Grown men go nuts for this bird. It’s like this (except in spanish and in whacky parrot voices):
Person: Oh, a parrot!
Parrot: FARAH! FARAH!
Parrot: Hello! Hello! Parrot! PARROT! PARROT! HELLO PARROT!
Person: HELLO PARROT!
(then they both say “parrot” back and forth like 20 times)
Parrot: Honk. Honk.
Parrot: HONK HONK HONK!
Person: HONK HONK HONK!
Parrot: FARAH! PARROT!
Person: FARAH! PARROT!
(then the parrot offers it’s entire vocabulary plus a couple of yappy dog barks and the person repeats every bit of it back until the parrot fakes an orgasm and the person says to his friend “That’s what she said” and then they walk away.)
This is how it goes every time. I hear this interaction 10 times a day. Different people, same parrot. And every time, I want to shout out my window, “You’re parroting a parrot, Dumbass!” But, A), I don’t think that it would be very well received, B) that kind of behavior sort of flies in the face of the relational ministry we’ve got going on down here, and C) I do that very same thing all the time.
Ok, maybe I don’t stand there repeating that stupid, loud, obnoxious bird’s every word. But, I definitely take in certain things from certain people and immediately start repeating them. Which, in itself, is neither good nor bad. But the whole thing with the parrot choosing the words, or the sounds, or whatever, and the people standing there, repeating it - It got me to thinking about who I parrot and why.... and who parrots me and why. Tell me that’s not a scary thought!
By the way, while I was writing this, we had a small earthquake, which happens all the time here but this time I kept thinking “Haiti. Haiti. Haiti. Haiti. Haiti.” And now I just feel kind of... sad.... for Haiti....
I'm reserving my rights. Why? Um, have you MET my blog?! Yeah, that's why. And now feels like a good time, so, you know, I'm just gonna go ahead and do it. That way we're all on the same page. I think it's better for everybody this way:
I, Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary (also know as the VWM, not to be confused with the Venereal Warts Missionary), reserve the right to use really bad grammar really badly. This includes, but is not limited to, the use of slang, roughneck, ghetto, spanglish, creole (in case the mood hits), and shit that I just make up.
I - reserve, the right. to punctuate,,”.. or not punctu:ate as I see? fit’/
I reserve the right to say mean/arrogant/dull/embarrassing/ridiculous/dirty things which I will later regret. I reserve the right to regret said things from the second I hit “publish” until the second that I die, and for one lifetime thereafter (just in case the Buddhist’s are right).
I reserve the right to kid, as in I'm kidding, as in I was kidding about that thing about the Buddhists. I grant you the right to relax.
I reserve the right to be a dumbass. I may, heretofore, write mind-blowingly stupid crap which I will later look back on and say, “How could I have been so mind-blowingly stupid?”.
I reserve the right to remove, re-write, renege, or plain old change my mind regarding any and/or all stupid crap written in this blog, at any time.
I reserve the right to be kind of an a-hole sometimes. Let this serve as a reminder to all parties that this is my blog (see brain) (see journal) (see first amendment), not your living room. I hereby grant all parties the opportunity to vacate the premises of the VWM at any time so as not to cause undue harm by offense to any party’s good senses.
I reserve the right to italicize, to make bold, or underline anything, whenever and wherever I feel like it, whether or not it makes sense to you.
I reserve the right to make up words, ask dumb questions, ignore comments, respond to comments, make dumb comments, and disagree.
I reserve the right to use onomatopoeia to describe farts, should the need arise.
I reserve the right to fail at blogging, at writing, and at following Christ, at any given time, and to call on this blog community to castigate, encourage, and/or pray for this blogger accordingly.
I reserve the right to grow, both spiritually and physically (but hopefully only spiritually), for as long as I am the sole proprietor of the VWM. Should this become a market venture, I hereby, reserve the right to stagnate, shrivel, and die. Or not.
Cool. I'm so glad we got that out of the way.
You know what drives me nuts? (Granted, there are so many things on this list that, whatever you said, you’re probably right.) Today, it’s people that work in full-time ministry.
Yes. I know. I’m one of them. Just hear me out.
This hasn’t always been my life. Before we became missionaries, El Chupacabra and I, we were normal people. We had jobs and stuff. Ok, he had a job (he was a cop), and I occasionally took on something part-time for extra cash. And we had kid stuff, too. Homework, and soccer, and cub scouts, and karate, and science projects, and book reports, and dentist appointments, and play dates. And we served in ministry. Youth group, small groups, one on one discipleship, retreats, and all the relentless and mostly pointless meeting associated with all of those things. And we had house junk; repairs, remodels, re-mess-it-all-up-and-start-overs. Oh, and there was family stuff. Grandpa so-and-so’s birthday, Cousin so-and-so’s such-and-such, Aunt so-and-so’s graduation. And then throw in the occasional wedding, baby-shower, neighborhood barbeque, poker night, random get-together, PTA fundraiser, or whatever. That was life back then.
It looks like chaos when you write it down, but it’s, pretty much, doable. Ok, maybe there’s so much to do that you double book yourself, by accident, once in a while. And maybe you have to worm your way out of something wretched, like a baby-shower, because you got a better offer, like the PTA fundraiser. (Which sounds like a needle in your eye, but is in fact awesome - IF - said fundraiser features a fully catered dinner and an open bar - AND- you and your “Mom friends” allow all of your husbands to graciously bow out of the occasion so you can have a “ladies night” which means arriving early to get a table near the dance floor so that you’re close enough to see the drunken swingers heaven that is about to play itself out right in front of your face. What happens at the PTA fundraiser, stays at the PTA fundraiser! Except for the herpes. That happens for a looooong time after. I’ll say nothing more. Except that women in their 30’s should not be doing shots in the bathroom...Or dancing on tables...Or under them.)
Anyhooo, we had a LOT to do. And we did it. We figured it out. We arranged and rearranged our schedules to make it all fit. And it did. And then we left all that and became missionaries. And everything changed.
I”m gonna be totally honest here and just say this: It’s RIDICULOUS how flexible our lives are now. RIDICULOUS.
People that work in full-time ministry have it so so so easy. I’m not even kidding.
Here’s why. All of those things that we had to fit into our lives before, all that stuff we had to jam in, all that crap we did around work? Yeah, now it is our work. For real.
When we were normal people, our work schedules did not include “Spending time with our sons”. El Chupacabra’s boss didn’t give two shits if he spent enough time with his kids. It was not his employer’s problem. It would have been absurd for him to go to his Sergeant and say “Hey, Sarge, I’m gonna be taking off every Friday afternoon to hang out with my kids”. And if he just didn’t show up, he would have been fired. Fired. Because he had a JOB to do.
He couldn’t get paid to spend all afternoon on Facebook and call it “communicating”. Or, balance his checking account and call it “finance”. Or hang out with his church-going friends, youth group guys, Bible study partners and call it “discipleship”, or non-churchies and call it “outreach”. He couldn’t write a blog about being a cop and call it “public relations”, and get paid for it. That’s just not how it works. The sheriff’s department would have said with a smile, “That’s all well and good, you go for it, you do those things, but you do them on your own time. Son. And if you do them on work time, you’ll be fired.”
In our house we call it “the real world”. Churches aren’t part of it. You know this because on Mondays, churches are ghost-towns. Sure, you’ll find the secretary there, answering phones, and maybe a few others who prefer working on Mondays because “the office is so quiet”. But a lot of people who get their checks from the church don’t work on Mondays. You know why? Of course you do. Because for them, Sundays are a work day. They arrive early, and leave late. They’re tired from all the serving, and shaking of hands, and praying. They need a break. And this may be true.
BUT, it makes me so mad that in the church we constantly say “You need to Serve! You need to be serving!”, and the ones we hear it from the most are the ONLY ONES getting paid to be there. That guy? The one who runs the sound equipment for every service on Sundays, he has to be at work bright and early on Monday morning. And, depending on the size of your church, there are hundreds more like him, serving many hours a week outside of the hours they put in at their actual jobs. Pastors and missionaries should be the last people to be out of touch with “the real world”. The very last people to be unaware or indifferent to what “serving” looks like to people who aren’t getting paid to be there.
It’s just so weird. It's like the moment we became missionaries we became entitled to this kind of attitude, like, “Ministry is my Job. I’ll do what I want!” (that's my Cartman voice)
So here’s what I’m NOT saying:
I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry takes advantage of their position to escape the busyness that many others live with. But some do.
I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry is so far-removed from “the real world” that they don’t recognize or appreciate what it means to have those volunteers serving by their side; vacation hours spent on youth-retreats, evening meetings at church after 9 hours at work, squeezing their Bible time, prayer time, discipleship time, and Facebook time in around, or over, their family time. (Dear Volunteer, Some of us full-time ministry workers see what you do, see how much you give, and it astounds us, and we want to be more like you!! With Love and Admiration, the VWM)
I am NOT saying that full-time ministry isn’t a legitimate line of work. I understand that it can be cyclical, extremely busy at one time, very quiet at another. I get that. And I get that the flexibility that we are afforded by our work allows us to prioritize our families and others that we’d like to invest in. Call it a perk. But, please, don’t call that “work”. Don’t give yourself a pat on the back (or an hour to sleep in) because you mentioned Jesus at your kids t-ball practice last night. There are millions of guys just like you doing the same thing...for free. That’s not “work”, that’s just living like you're a follower of Christ.
I am NOT saying that everyone in full-time ministry is a lazy bastard. But, like, 80%?..um, yes. Of the 20% left, 10% are crazed work-a-holics, and the last 10% are healthy 40 hour a week-ers, that set a schedule filled with activities related to the ministry for which they are being paid and honoring their families and their God by sticking to it, and fitting all the other junk in around it, just like in “the real world” (not to brag, but El Chupacabra is in this category. And I’m... okay...I'm in with the lazy bastards...hence I have time to write this blog).
This is not about bashing pastors, or missionaries. This is about applying an ethical principal to what they (we) do. My question is; Is it ethical for a pastor to include time to write a novel in his work day? Or, is it an ethical use of my time, as a missionary, to, say, “invest” in my relationship with my husband by taking him to the movies at 3 o’clock on a weekday when we both have other things we could/should be doing. Is this ethical?
And my other question is this; Do we expect more from lay-servants than we do of paid servants? If yes, does that really make sense?
Sorry... just a little rant.... but I feel much better now. Thank you.
Oh and you still have 42 minutes to leave a comment and win the coffee here.