12.24.2011

Merry Christmas!!! (Don't be a Party Pooper.)

Hi.

It's Christmas.

Right now, there are about 300 million people who have run out of things to talk about during awkward extended-family gatherings.  And that's why God invented YouTube.

Here are a few things to help you start a lively conversation while you sit around doing a puzzle with your 84 year old great aunt Helga and her horrible neo-nazi grandson in-law. Or whatever.

Naturally, the first thing that come to mind is Baby Monkey.


But everybody has already been there, done that. You'll have to go a different direction...

You could always chat about history:


If you're feeling brave, you could talk politics:


Of course, you could always bring up religion. That usually goes really well at family gatherings:

Um. Check out..... The Very Worst Missionary. 

But, whatever you do, don't be a party pooper. Please. 


Wishing you a Merry and Bright Christmas from Costa Rica!
With love and laughter, 
Jamie the VWM, El Chupacabra, and our 3 little pigs. 

ps. The Bad Lip Reading videos are insanely clever and funny! I cannot get enough of them.

12.21.2011

Fly on the wall.


My teenagers have invisible friends.

No, not like imaginary friends – I mean invisible friends; Friends who are totally real, completely unseen, and right here in my living room.

Thanks to Xbox 360 and the magic of the interwebz, our little home in Costa Rica occasionally becomes a public place where people from around the world gather to trash talk each other while they blow each other's heads off with an M4A1 assault rifle and impossible feats of digital acrobatics. Modern Warfare, indeed.

It's not all that unusual to hear German or Portuguese spilling out of the little black box, over the rata-tat-tat of gunfire. Or some English bloke, calling attention to his flawless “temperrr shot” or “Did you see that trips colat?!”, in a perfectly sublime Harry Potter impression. And then, of course, my kids have the added advantage of being able to chill with other players in Spanish speaking countries, too. From what I've heard, I can tell you that “noob” is a universal insult.

It may sound kinda loud and annoying, but it's actually a pretty cool little feature. It allows my kids to play their favorite games with their friends and cousins, who live in the states, and they've also been keeping up with their classmates over the break. And I've noticed that their conversations aren't always limited to gamer geek jargon, like who's done a “360 no scope” or whatever - sometimes they actually talk about the real world and real life stuff. And I like that.

But there is one small problem...

If my kids have nothing to add to the conversation (and since they don't have a headset to filter what gets broadcast) they usually keep our living room on mute. They can hear what's going on in the game, but the rest of the world can't hear us. The problem is that sometimes they unmute us without mentioning it, and then our home, our life, and our family goes on auditory display for anyone who might be listening.

Now. I don't know what kind of conversations your family has... but my family can be kinda weird.

I didn't even know how weird I was until I became aware that there were other ears in the room. By then, my terribly syndromed middle child was crying out, “MOM! You're SO embarrassing! Everyone just heard you yelling about Asexual Unicorn Reproduction!” And I was like, “WHAT?! I wasn't claiming it as fact, just offering it as a theory. Sheesh! Relax, son.”

But really, I can understand why he's upset. I mean, what teenager needs his Mom running around, ruining his wannabe hard-ass-king-of-the-nerd-herd persona by calling out, “Have you showered today? You better get off that video game machine and take a shower so you don't get all itchy, ya know... down there.

Truly, the problem is working itself out. My darling spawn are learning that if they want to keep up appearances of any sort, they need to let us know when our words are public fodder. But even more important, they learning that we're not a family that's about “keeping up appearances”. So deal with it. 

And they are now aware of the fact that (particularly in this day and age, when “butt-dialing” and “accidental DMing” are verbs) there's always the potential for somebody out there to become the proverbial fly on the wall.

If you have secrets, you ought to be very nervous.

If I didn't want anyone to know what my family is really like, I would be nervous.

But what people hear when they slip into our living room unnoticed is a family that laughs, plays, bickers, taunts, teases, and giggles. A LOT. If they stick around long enough, they'll likely hear some nasty fighting, some puffed-up arrogance, some blatant disrespect, and some unparallelled selfishness. For sure they'll hear a bit of homegrown douchebaggery. Hopefully, they'll also hear the ferocious, protective Love of a mother for her cubs, and the admiration of children for a worthy, hard-working father (who probably won't be heard, because he's hard-working, therefore, at work). They'll hear a clan that seeks Jesus together, fails together, and moves forward through the mess together. And, yes, sometimes they'll hear about Asexual Unicorn Reproduction, or other silly stuff, because sometimes we talk about really goofy, unimportant crap. Ok, fine. A lot of the time we talk about goofy, unimportant crap. And I'm cool with that. In fact, I love that about us.

So if, Dear Gamer, (while you're busily “n00b tubing” or “lag switching” or “drop shotting”) your ears grace my living room, have mercy. Real, funny, broken people live within these rooms. We're kinda weird and kinda cool and kinda silly. Sometimes we're kinda lame. And we're not gonna put on a show for a fly on the wall. Nevertheless, you're welcome to stick around.

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Ever been "caught" saying something stupid/weird/awful when you didn't know anyone was listening?

What kind of ear candy would a fly on the wall in your house be treated to?


12.16.2011

The whole can of worms, at a glance.

In case you just got the internet...

I wrote a series on short-term missions - no, wait - poverty tourism? volunteer voyeurism?...Gah! What are we calling it?!...Okay, call it whatever you want. But it was a series, totaling five whole posts, and it took me SIX MONTHS to complete. Yeah, you read that right. This is how grown-ups with aggressive, terminal, metastatic A.D.D. get things done. It's practically a miracle that I ever even wrote a second post, but to finish all six? Somebody give me a medal.

For convenience sake (and for the 11 people who are still interested), here's the whole shebang from start to finish:

~ "Are we calling this a win-win?"  - The one that started it all. A satirical look at the interaction between do-gooders and do-goodees. Fun stuff, right there. (Pissed a lot of people off.)

And that led to these: 

 ~ "Sorry, poor people, it's not about you" - Where I respond to the commonly shared sentiment that the purpose of a short-term mission is to change the 'heart/life/perspective/values' of the people going and isn’t really about the ones being served. 

~ "Mmm... No, it's not "all good."  - Where some gentle people suggest that if any good comes from sending short-term teams into the world, then it's all worth it, and I get a liiiittle ballsy and maybe compare short-term missions to the crusades. Sorry. 

~ "Using your poor kid to teach my rich kid a lesson" - In which I respond to the idea that the church is sending folks into poor communities as a good way to teach people to be grateful for all their crap. 

~ "No more of this." - A response to everyone who suggested that even if we were doing really awful things through short-term missions, God's grace would cover over it all, so no worries. 

If you're interested in reading more on this subject, check out these articles:

Quality resources:

And even a funny video:

And with that, it's time to turn this bus around and start talking about the role of healthy, productive short-term teams in the world, because a lot of people have seen (or even been part of the problems) and are ready to look for solutions. I'll start a new series on GOOD STMs soon... like, hopefully sometime in 2012 (thanks, A.D.D.!) . And I'm looking to arm myself with as much info as possible as we carry this conversation into new territory.

So leave me your links. If you've written or read an interesting article on the subject, if you've seen a great book, video clip, or online article referring to this messy, but important topic, let's have it -  leave us
a link in comments. Then let's take this conversation offline, and into our missions pastor's office and our
small group leader's sofa - let's initiate positive change where it's needed. 

I know, I know. Nobody wants to talk about poor people at Christmastime. I'd probably be smarter to post this in the new year... but, well, here it is

12.14.2011

No more of this.


Hey. Remember that one time when Simon Peter was hanging out with Jesus and some other guys, and then Judas (the douche) showed up with a group of Jewish officials and some Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus? So, in his great zeal to serve his Lord and Master, Simon Peter drew his sword and lopped off somebody's ear. Remember that? Then, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus fixed it. He picked it up, probably blew off the dust, and 'ZOT!' - reattached that little sucker.

Good as new. Presumably.

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Ok. Now, remember way back when, when I wrote a silly post about how short-term teams could be perceived by the people receiving them, and then we had a great discussion about the potential problems associated with the way the Church, as a whole, engages the poor? So we made a list of the 4 most common and compelling reasons people gave for why short-term teams are awesome and good and should never, ever be questioned. And then I ranted and raved and complained about each of those reasons in subsequent posts – here, here, and here. Well, today I wanna hit the last reason on the list; Reason # 4 why some say short-term teams are super-dee-duper amazing:

#4. Grace. Duh! God is big and awesome and we suck. He can redeem our valiant but misguided efforts.”

Many people have told me, in regard to short-term missions, if we're well-intentioned then no matter what the actual results say, it's ok – because God will back us up. And some have said that what matters most is our motives; If our motives are pure, then we're cool – God will have our backs. And others have gone on to say “Hey, we're human, of course we're gonna screw up. But we've got God on our side, so it's all good.”

As someone who lives everyday in the radical abundance of God's Grace, I can hardly argue that God is incapable or unwilling to take our garbage and turn it around.

BUT. (big but)

We should not be using “God's Grace” as an insurance policy while we run around the planet potentially doing harm to those we seek to serve. “Grace” does not relieve us of liability for the people we run down in our efforts to evangelize. And “Grace” cannot be used to exonerate the Church of its responsibility to engage the world intelligently.

Without fail, when I write about harmful short-term missions, someone takes the time to write me a lengthy email, touting the awesomeness of their own habitual short-term experiences and how much the people love them for showing up - but that even if they did step on some toes, or mishandle funds, or steal paid work from skilled locals, it would be okay, because Jesus is on their side. And then, to drive their point home, they include the story of Simon Peter cutting off a guy's ear and Jesus fixing it.

Sweet, zealous, passionate Simon Peter, who did something really stupid while he was whole-heartedly trying to serve his King. And yes, Jesus did, indeed, redeem his valiant but misguided effort...

But do you know what Jesus said before he put that ear back on?

He said, “No more of this!”

And do you know who He was talking to?

Yup. His faithful, well-intentioned servant, Simon Peter.

No. More. Of. This.

You screwed up. You blew it. You mishandled this situation. You hurt someone.

No more of this!

And then? Then He redeemed it.

Here's the thing. Nobody is declaring “Short term teams are EVIL!” and no one is saying if you're gonna do short-term missions, you better do them perfectly. But if we are gonna do this thing, we better be willing to evaluate the process, to look at our mistakes with open eyes, and listen, really listen when God is saying “No more of this!”

Let God redeem what He sees fit to Redeem. Let Him grace what He sees fit to Grace.

And let us stop pretending that what we intend to do is as important to the people around us as what we do do.

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Have you ever done something stupid, in the name of Jesus, culminating in a “No more of this!” moment?

(This blog is packed with confessions of such moments in my life!...What?! I'm a slow learner.)

PS. Heheheh...I said “do do”.

12.12.2011

I hear you.

This is a repost from this time last year. I hope you like it, but I'm cool with it if you don't. ;)

Now, I'm off to make gingerbread men with my boys in celebration of their first Monday of summer vacation. It doesn't feel at all like Christmas, but we're gonna fake it 'til we make it.

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Every once in a while, I get an email or a comment from someone who knows me, like, someone who for real knows me, in real life, and they’ll say, “I love it when I read your blog because it’s like I can hear your voice.”

There’s something within that small statement that stirs my needy, little soul.

When I became a Christian, I thought the name of the game was conformity. I thought I was joining a club and the rules of the club were simple:

- Dress this way.
- Use these words.
- Do this on Sunday Mornings and that on Wednesday nights.
- Be appalled by this, this, this, aaaand that.
- Get indignant about such and such.
- Above all, pretend that everything is ok, even when it most definitely is not, because you have Jesus and Jesus takes away your problems.

So I went and got a bob, which seemed like the right haircut for the part. And I started wearing a cross all the time for no other reason than so people would know I was in the club. And then, in an effort to use all the words at once, I took my little sister to Carls Jr. and tried to evangelize her over Western Bacon Cheeseburgers and chocolate shakes. She got up to use the bathroom (or possibly to call for help) and the old ladies in the booth next to me leaned over to tell me what I good job I was doing. They were obviously in the club and had recognized me by my words… or maybe by my hair.

It was ugly. But it was me. That was who I was – the result of a lifetime of pretending to be someone I wasn’t so that I would be liked, or accepted, popular, worthy, wanted….loved. I had gotten pretty adept at speaking in someone else’s voice, using their words, playing by their rules. And walking into the church was no different. Except it was worse. Because when you go against social norms in the church, the people in the club will call you things like "dangerous".

I don’t know when, but at some point I stopped watching what the people in the club were doing and I started to look at Jesus. That dude broke all the rules.

I watched him sit in a market place braiding for himself a whip. And when he was done… He went ape-shit on a bunch of scumbags, overturning tables and going all Indiana Jones with that whip until the House of God had been restored to just that.

I watched him sit on the edge of a well in the countryside, where he had a quiet conversation with a sordid woman that would change her life and the lives of many around her. In that little chat, he challenged her honesty and invited her to become one who worships God in spirit and in truth.

I watched Jesus tell stories. I saw him talking to normal people about normal crap and pointing out God along the way.

And I started to realize that I had been created with a distinct voice and that God was calling me to use it, whispering, “Be who you are, Baby Girl. I made you. You were meant to tell an honest story.”

What a HUGE freaking relief. Permission to leave behind the empty shell of false pretense you’ve built up to be part of the church, and BE YOURSELF. Live out loud. Share your struggles, your doubts, your furcked up-ness. And to do so in a legitimate non-douchey way that says nothing less than “There by the Grace of God go I.” Sweet, sweet mercy! There is no better feeling in this world than when someone who knows you - like, really knows you, because you haven’t been faking it - says, “I can hear your voice… and I love you anyway.”

What a gift.

Long before I ever posted a single word to this stupid blog, and way before I became a missionary, I stopped trying to be what the church wants and started trying to be who God wants – one who worships in spirit and in truth. 

Sometimes the club doesn’t like it. 

Sometimes a few members protest because they think I’m dangerous.

And I don’t care. It doesn't bother me because, when I look at my life, it’s like I can hear His voice through it....and I hope you can, too, because a long time ago when I cast off my "good Christian" shell, God nudged me and said…

Speak up, so they can hear you. Use your voice.

12.06.2011

Mele Kalikimaka and all that crap.


As I write this, at 8 am, the sun is slipping across my desk through the slats in my bamboo shades. Barefoot and barely dressed, I'm sipping lukewarm coffee and wishing for a breeze to come and stir the air a bit. It's muggy.

My kids are off at noon every day this week, anxiously counting down until Friday, when summer vacation begins. Of course, the end of this count-down signals the beginning of the next; “How many days 'til Christmas, Mom?” And I have to remind myself that, Oh yeah, it's Christmastime – which explains the six foot juniper, all bedazzled in the living room.

I don't wanna sound like a total b...erm, I mean...a total grinch, but I'm having a tough time getting in the mood for Holiday festivities. Christmas in the tropics is just too weird. The other day it was super sunny and windy, and I ran into a Costa Rican friend, who said, with a grin, “Doesn't it feel just like Christmas?!”

Squinting into the hot sun, I bitterly quipped, “Oh, yeah, just like Christmas. Mele Kalikimaka and all that crap.”

It's just that, until we moved to Costa Rica, I spent my whole life welcoming December with the cold, crisp air of Northern California filling my lungs, and with morning fog, and steaming breath, and a frozen, maraschino cherry of a nose. Where picking out a Christmas tree meant driving up to the snowy foothills and tromping through the forrest with pine needles stuck in your hair. It meant finding the perfect blue spruce and cutting it down with a hacksaw and coming home with your hands all sticky from sap. – Not pulling up to a dirt lot behind an old abandoned banana factory and sweating through your bra while a kid with a shovel digs up a juniper bush trimmed in the familiar cone shape of a Christmas tree.

Of course, I'm trying to remain impartial. 

I'm trying to remember that there are a gajillion different ways to enjoy the holidays. And I'm trying to remember that experiencing the traditions of another culture is a gift, a rich blessing – one that shouldn't be blown off with a flippant (and, oh-so-North-American), “That's not how we do it.” But this morning one of the sparkly baubles adorning our Christmas shrub popped off and went skittering across the ceramic floor to hide under the couch. It was so obvious that the holiday was taunting me - “Your tree sucks so bad, even the ornaments want nothing to do with it.”

Instead of taking my tree out back and setting it on fire, I poured some eggnog in my coffee and went to my room to find a book. It was a gift from my friend, John Blase. He sent it to me last year, and I knew this morning that it was time to read it again...

Last year, we had gone to the states in December, and I was super stoked because I wanted my kind of Christmas. Ya know? With that chill in the air and the yummy piney Christmas tree scent. But when we got there, instead of feeling all happy and nostalgic, I felt depressed and displaced. I can't exactly say why, and I'll spare you the boring details, but let's just say it was baaaad. Christmas came and went, and all I could think of was getting back on a plane, back to Costa Rica, back to normal life. Then, one day toward the end of the trip, when I was feeling particularly sad and self-absorbed, I picked up John's little book and locked myself in the bathroom where I read it from cover to cover.

John is a story teller of a different sort. The only way to describe him is simply to say that he picks perfect words. He chooses the kind of words that breath new life into old stories, and his tender retelling of the Christmas story is no different. 

Not gonna lie, the title, Touching Wonder, makes me chuckle as it conjures some truly sophomoric jokes - but I'm just stupid like that. It's the subtitle, Recapturing the Awe of Christmas, that really sings to me. And, last year, when I read this book on the toilet (lid closed, thankyouverymuch!), that's exactly what it helped me do. 

I just needed a little reminder that the story of Jesus wasn't built around tradition, it was built around people. Real people. Living, breathing, messy people. People who may have occasionally lost sight of the importance of what was happening in their lives, but still had a role in the story.

Don't get me wrong, I will always believe that tradition is lovely and valuable. And I think there's space for Christmas trees and Santa Claus and gift giving and eggnog and eating candycanes for dinner on Christmas Eve and again for breakfast on Christmas morning (What? You don't do that?!). And I cherish the way my kids say, “Remember that time...” and then we laugh about that one time when we crammed a 20 foot tree in our teeny-tiny house, or that other time when we spent hours making a popcorn garland and then we ate it.

But I'm learning that the oldest and richest traditions of Christmas are found, not in how we hang the stockings, bit in what we bring to the table as we seek Him, year after year. It's how we chase down the star that beckons us in the night, how we bring our gifts to the alter of a baby King, how we look for the path that God would have us traverse and then choose that path above all others. It's found in how we share the story of Jesus' arrival with our children and our grandchildren... Even if it is under the twinkling lights of a juniper bush on an 80° day in December. ;)

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This post is brought to you by the Emmaus School of Biblical Study. Their program looks crazy cool. Check them out! 

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What's your favorite Christmas tradition? Ever spent Christmas away from "home"? 

12.04.2011

Missionary Positions: How a guy in a pregnancy center does it.


This is a continuation of our weekend guest post series called Missionary Positions. Today's post comes to us from Adrian Waller, who shares a bit from his experience as a dude working in a pregnancy center. Enjoy! 

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“Maybe I Did, Maybe I Didn’t”

Alright, tell me I’m not alone in this:

You’re sitting in church, in those god-awful pews – who decided chairs weren’t good enough, anyway? – and you’re getting a little hazy. The eyes start drooping a little, the drool starts running from your mouth, and then suddenly…

SMACK!

The significant other next to you lays out a new bruise on your finely gelled hair.

Not cool, significant other.

After you get over the fact that you’ve just had a mini-stroke, heart attack, and peed your pants all at once, you’re suddenly more aware than you’ve ever been before. Even though the scenery is still the same, something is different. Your eyes have been opened, even if unwillingly.

That’s where I was at this past summer.

I’m a 21 year old male. I go to a Christian college. So, naturally, I would do my internship at a pregnancy center, right? Riiiiight.

Let’s just say pregnancy centers aren’t exactly overflowing with young adult males who like Jesus.

Thankfully, there were a few guys that graced our presence this summer. Except they didn’t like Jesus, which was fine by me. So we talked about other important stuff – like… sports cars fishing trying to stay sane while the girlfriend is pregnant. So basically, yeah, we talked about sports.

Once a week, though, I would sit in on a class with a few dads that came around this place. We would talk about the importance of dads  – and by we, I mean, one guy would talk, and the rest of us would listen. We’d all be watching the clock, hoping God would have mercy on us, and eventually, we would get through the class.

This lasted for 7 weeks.

Seven weeks of sitting in a room, bored out of your mind with two other guys who were at least as bored as I was. And you could tell that the guy teaching didn’t want to be there either. You see, the guys in the class were what we call “court ordered.” So they had to be there. And so we had to be there to teach them.

Cue the head-bobbing, the glazed-over eyes, and the drooling.

Sounds a lot like church, right?

And then the significant other goes and ruins your good hair day.

It was our last class. In fact, it was after our last class was done, and I was so ready to be done with this stuff. I can only handle so much “dad-talk,” since I’d like to think I’m about 20 years removed from having kids (the wife would beg to differ).

And then it happened.

My significant other, aka, the God man himself, smacked me upside the head. And he made it about as obvious as it can get.

The teacher leaves to go print something off for the guys, and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of the guys says, “Mannnn, do you believe in destiny?”

After I picked my jaw off of the floor and responded, he went on to tell me about some struggles he was having with his girlfriend and how he’s not sure how hard he should fight for her. I told him that I personally don’t think God had one special person for him and that if he doesn’t get it right, then it’s game over.

Naturally, like in all the good evangelism videos, he wanted to know more. And, frankly, I told him that I didn’t know much more. I told him straight-up that he needed to try praying. To which he replies, “I don’t know how to do that, man.”

WHAT?!

So I taught him to pray that day.

Anyway, I’ll save you the rest of the story by telling you that this kid wasn’t “saved” that day. He didn’t pray “the prayer,” and we didn’t baptize him. But I’d like to think that God got through to him that day.

God reached out to him.

And still hoping, three months later, that this kid reached back.

So maybe I “evangelized” and maybe I didn’t. But I do know that I got to share the love of Jesus with that kid.

And that is all that matters.

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For more from Adrian, check out his blog, Life before the Bucket, and follow his musings on the Twitter.

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Have you ever had an unexpected moment of Grace, like that? Where maybe the conversation made an impact, and maybe it didn't - but either way, you're glad it happened...