10 Ways to Bless Your Overseas Friends

bless

Shameless plug from someone living overseas? Maybe. You be the judge ;)

Since we moved overseas six months ago, we have seen how difficult it can be to maintain relationships with those we love and care about the most- but also, how big of an impact a small action can have!

Many of us know people living overseas- whether serving in some kind of foreign aid position, working, or as missionaries. I have to be honest, when I lived in the states, I often felt at a loss as to how to bless them, even when I really wanted to!

That said, I want to humbly offer a list of things people have done for us that have helped bridge the gap and make us feel really loved, even at a distance. I hope it inspires you to show your overseas friends some love, too!

SEND THEM A PHOTO OF THE TWO OF YOU

This is so easy and so meaningful! I love when friends will take the time to message me an old photo or something that came up on TimeHop and just say they are missing me and encourage me a little bit. The memories are sweet and the friendship is sweeter.

SNAIL MAIL

Sure, it takes forever and is really unreliable, but getting snail mail or packages when you live overseas is the BEST. It doesn’t have to be elaborate- even a birthday card can make someone’s whole day. If you’re unsure how to go about it, talk to your overseas friend or your post office worker and they can help you figure out details. Ask your friend about turn around time, too! My Grammy is a boss at this- she can land a birthday card here in Rwanda within 2 days of a birthday. She’s amazing 🙂

REMEMBER IMPORTANT DATES

Things like birthdays, anniversaries, and even important events can go largely unnoticed by stateside community. Make a point to invest in the goings on of your overseas friends- pray for big projects they have coming up, and follow up with them! Birthdays and anniversaries, too- especially when forging a new community, it can mean a lot to have some familiar love from back home.

ASK WHAT THEY NEED (OR WANT!)

I will assume that most expats are like me and have a running list on their phones of things they need or it would be nice to have from the states. This could be anything from a favorite chocolate bar to nutritional supplements to shoes for their toddler. It’s a huge blessing to have a willing person ask what we need at any given point- even if it might take a while to get here. And yeah, sometimes we just need some chocolate!

AMAZON GIFT CARD

This might seem a little off the wall, particularly if your overseas friend lives somewhere that Amazon doesn’t ship (like Rwanda). But hear me out- this is useful in a few ways. First of all, with Kindles (and Kindle apps) and with computers and phones- this is a really easy way to give a friend access to new entertainment they may not be able to get any other way- a new movie, a new book, new music. Many places in the world are English entertainment black holes and we resort to swapping movies with friends and never having new books to read. Amazon gift cards are so great for this! A friend recently gifted me a book on Kindle. I didn’t even know you could do that, but it was SO awesome!

In addition, these can also be used to ship things quickly to visitors or contacts that are coming through the country. It’s an exciting day when a friend texts and say “Hey! I know someone coming through town if you need anything, ship it here!” Cue Amazon Prime shipping to said friend and some goodies coming our way.

And really, the bottom line: especially for those of us living on missionary support, we don’t always have the budget to buy a new movie for our family night of a new book to entertain us and encourage us. This is an easy way to circumvent that.

WRITE OUT A PRAYER OR ENCOURAGEMENT

So, so meaningful. I have a few friends that faithfully send me Scripture, check up on me, send me written prayers and encouragements and general take it upon themselves to keep a pulse on my emotional health. If you can have that relationship with your overseas friends, fill that role for them. It’s so necessary.

ACKNOWLEDGE THEIR ABSENCE

We miss a lot of fun things happening in our communities back in the states. It’s sad for us, and we would be lying if we said we didn’t care. We aren’t asking to be photoshopped into group photos, but even a sweet text saying “hey, you were really missed tonight” or “you would’ve loved this” can mean the world, especially on a hard day.

ITUNES GIFT CARD

See Amazon gift card. Same idea. Someday, I’ll own that new Beyonce album….ha!

HELP ORCHESTRATE DETAILS DURING TIME IN THE STATES

This is a little more abstract, but just as meaningful and helpful. As we are preparing for our first quick furlough back to have our son, I am realizing what a crapshoot it can be to balance a schedule and jetlag and kids and seeing people and….it can be really overwhelming. Reach out to your overseas friends if they are planning a trip back, and see how you can help. Airport rides, offer to host, cook a meal, whatever- everyone’s needs will be different but your willingness will speak volumes.

REPOST, COMMENT, LIKE THINGS THEY POST ABOUT THEIR WORK

It can get lonely over here and the gratification of overseas work is far from instant. When your friends share about the work they are doing on social media, vocalize your support and let them know what they are doing is important and valued! Share a photo or a story. Comment. Give it a little heart like! We see these things and it fuels us. Promise 🙂

I hope this list was helpful and inspiring to you to love your overseas friends well! Wherever they are and whatever they are doing, your friendship is important and your love and support are crucial to their success.

*One final note. If you know your friend’s love language, hone in on things that might speak that to them. It can be hard to spend quality time with someone thousands of miles away, but a Skype call could do the trick! You might just have to think outside the box*

Living overseas? Have an idea to add? Leave it in a comment below!

How the Spiritual Disciplines Saved My Faith

I decided, last week: this has been the hardest 6 months of my life.

But then I remembered where I was 6 years ago, finding out that my mom had breast cancer, while simultaneously balancing visits to my grandfather after a fall and my sister after several brain surgeries,in different hospitals in downtown Baltimore. Maybe that was the hardest season?

Or maybe it was the season that where we were newlyweds and naively started a not-for-loss company working in post-earthquake Haiti and also took in some heroin addicts in an effort to save them by our example of Christ’s love- only to be left basically broke and definitely broken. Was that the hardest season?

The season that broke me was losing our son. Looking back, I can see that clearly- the touches of PTSD, the panic attacks in public places, not being able to sleep, always being tired, depressed, anxious, unable to really parent or be social or have much to do with my family at all. My faith fell apart as I quickly realized that the church- or at least a church service- didn’t have much to say to me as I angrily crossed my arms during songs about God being a healer and how good He was and how much He loved me. I didn’t believe those things. Just because some worship leader with a trendy hairdo sang them or wrote them or whatever didn’t make them true. My baby son was dead and he wasn’t healed and God wasn’t good. Not then. And I definitely wasn’t going to sing about it.

So many parts of that season feel like a blur- like time. I have no recollection of several months of my life. But then, there are certain things that are so vivid- the smell of the “console” essential oil blend I would use each night before bed, the color of the himalayan salt lamp I prayed would help me sleep, the feel of putting on a new pair of leggings for the first time that I would inevitably wear for weeks as I skirted the line between “getting dressed” and “I slept in these”. The gin and tonics- too frequent, the saltwater I would drink in the morning to try to reset my shot adrenals, the smell of the ocean as I would sit on the sea ledge and cry. The two little crabs I would watch digging holes every morning- and I would say to myself, “if God cares about even these little crabs, why does my life feel like such a disaster? Why doesn’t He care about me, my family?”

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking lately about what got me out of that season- what saved me. Because, if I’m being honest, the last 6 months of my life truly have been the hardest- harder than all the rest. Moving to East Africa at 8 weeks pregnant is no joke- moving to Africa at all is no cakewalk anyway. Cultural stress, jet lag, the difficulty of finding a home and setting it up and learning where to buy things and forging a new community and a million other tiny decisions and interactions that just wear on your day after day- it’s mentally exhausting. Add in altitude and hyperemesis (thankfully mostly controlled) and a case of prenatal anxiety and depression because my last pregnancy ended so tragically- yeah, the last 6 months were a recipe for disaster. So why weren’t they?

Don’t get me wrong- I have had numerous breakdowns and “i’m packing up and leaving” moments. Numerous. I won’t lie to you, there have been multiple times where I was ready to throw in the towel. Multiple times where I basically didn’t leave my room- really, my bed- for an entire day. There have been
Netflix marathons and days of eating entire chocolate bars and parenting with TV. My family has not come through this unscathed and I have not always been okay. But then- how am I still here? After that hard season that broke me, with losing Hudson? How am I handling this?

I’ve come to realize that the answer lies in habit- routine- spiritual discipline. I got to the point with my faith where I was so burnt out from what I was supposed to believe about God and his character and what I was supposed to cling to as comfort that I just stopped, and was honest with myself. I was mad. I was frustrated with people throwing cliches my way that didn’t make me feel any better. So I stopped trying to pretend- at least to myself- and I surrendered.

While I don’t feel that I ever really got to a place where I abandoned my faith completely, I think that I wanted to. But something in me remembered those other hard seasons, and how I had found peace in them before, and that there must be something to that. So, I started looking for the things that had stood the test of time. Things that weren’t some kind of postmodern, comfortable pastoral revelation, but things that the church had clung to in times of real trial and pain. Here’s what I found:

Traditional prayers and creeds.

It was so refreshing for me to pray something that had been prayed by so many people for so many years. One of the first things I did was pray the Novena of St. Andrew for all of December. It’s a prayer commonly used in Catholic churches and particularly asking the Lord to bless the wombs of women. It felt easier and safer to me than just telling God how pissed I was about my empty uterus. The prayers of both St. Francis and St. Patrick have all brought direction and comfort in the past year as well. Even the Lord’s Prayer gave me words when, often, I didn’t have them. And the creeds- especially the Nicene Creed- helped me figure out what I believed again on a really basic level- like “okay, if I can agree to this as my foundation, maybe I can move forward”. I am still wrestling, but I am being honest about it. I’ll say them until they sink in. Until I really, really believe them again.

Meditation and silence.

This maybe started out as a more practical way to deal with my anxiety and panic attacks- to help myself start my day calm and centered and focused. But my mediation practice grew into something that I craved and needed in order to really get through my day with any semblance of mental sanity and peace. I looked at different kinds of meditation and “centering prayers” and tried many- and still practice them to this day, though perhaps with less frequency. But those times of remembering how small I was and how big God is and how out of control of everything I truly was helped reground me in the midst of a chaotic and emotionally messy season. The Liturgists have a really great Centering Prayer recording, as well as an excellent episode on meditation. I have also really enjoyed getting Richard Rohr’s daily meditation emails.

Reading the Bible.

This was the hardest for me- and probably still is, if I’m honest. Sadly, I am one of those people that comes through a Bible college with a lower esteem for Scripture than I would like- after studying how the canon was formed and the politics of it all, I just wonder, what else is out there that we are missing? And moreso, I haven’t shaken the feeling that the Bible is just another textbook for me to pull apart and study. After 7 years, it’s really difficult for me to read the Bible as a mystical, transcendent message of God’s love for us that speaks personally to me. I’m still worried about finding background knowledge and looking up greek words and ALL the CONTEXT and really, it’s just hard for me to sit down and bask and be comforted.

However- I found a little tool that has really helped. I am a big fan of Lara Casey’s productivity tools- not only are they beautiful and help women really get to the heart of what they love, but they are so centered on living a life for Christ, whether overtly or not. Last year, Lara released her series of Write the Word Journals, a simple idea in which we write out a Bible passage on one page, and then just whatever is on our hearts on the other. I’ll be honest, deciding to do this got me to open my Bible and let out some feelings, little by little, for the first time in months. Since then, it has become a staple in my routine of daily quiet and has allowed me to venture back into scripture gently, yet with some direction. I am really grateful.

Another big tool for me, has been the Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals book– and, now, the app as well. While it is meant to be read in community, I go through each day’s liturgy in my own quiet time, meditating on the centering words, reading the Scriptures, and praying the prayers. It has allowed me to have some structure to my thoughts and reading and prayers that I have craved- some direction- while still keeping time with things that I care about. I like the space given to pray for others. I like the way the selected readings and quotes are from heroes of the faith, both old and more contemporary. It’s exposed me to thinkers and martyrs that I didn’t know before- people that have paved the way. I really value that. The app includes these readings, as well as a midday and evening liturgy, which I try to pray as often as I can remember. I feel like I need to recenter myself as often as possible. Which brings me to my next tool…

The Chimes app. I don’t actually remember where I first heard of this, but it’s a simple enough idea- your phone will make a little chime noise every hour, on the hour, for whatever hours of the day you want it to. So every day, from 7am to 9pm, I will get a tiny chime on the hour. At that point, I choose what to do with that tiny wake up call- right now, I am working on memorizing the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. For a while, it was the Beatitudes, and before that it was Psalm 23. Sometimes I will recite all 3! But this little chime helps me take a second and recenter myself before I get on with my day. It’s just a minute or so out of each hour, but if I am diligent to really do it, it makes a huge difference. Sometimes that chime goes off in the middle of a tough parenting moment, or while I’m exhaustedly doing dishes, or maybe having a difficult conversation with my spouse. It’s a great reminder.

So, I’m not there yet. I’m not healed, or whole- I still feel very broken, though maybe I always should? But these things, these daily practices- they keep me grounded. They keep me stable and able to have grace with myself and handle my circumstances and relinquish control, even if just for a brief second of my day, of each hour.

If you’re here today, too- I pray that these things will inspire you or maybe give you hope, too. Maybe you can’t recite Scripture on the hour yet, but maybe you can just ask God for mercy. Maybe you don’t want to open your Bible, but you can practice some meditation. Wherever you are- have grace with yourself, keep being honest, and know that you aren’t alone, and that you are very loved- whether you feel it or not.

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Reflections on Our Miscarriage: 2 Year Anniversary

Reflections on our Miscarriage: 2 Year Anniversary“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” Revelation 12:11

I’ve been thinking a lot about this verse lately, meditating on it’s truth and how this “overcoming” is accomplished by action: telling our testimonies. It seems that the Lord has built in a natural healing process for us, as believers, when we choose to tell our hard stories and rejoice in the work that the Lord has done through painful times, and the ways that he has redeemed them.

This week marks 2 years since Matthew and I lost our first baby. I wish there was a specific date that I could set aside specifically to mourn this little one each year, but the way that it happened, it’s kind of hard to pinpoint. Was it the fateful doctor’s appointment that showed us a life not fully formed? Or sometime before that? Or perhaps the date of the surgery, which gave the miscarriage finality? No, I believe the Lord left some ambiguity in this season for me for a reason- to give me time to reflect, to meditate, to ponder what might have been and yet rejoice in the truth of what is- the work that the Lord has done.

Losing our baby was the darkest, most painful time in my entire life. We had been trying to get pregnant for what seemed like ages, and when it finally happened, we were filled with so much joy- only to have it shattered all too soon. We were very blessed to have faithful friends walk through this time in our lives, though I can’t say that I had anyone particularly close to me (that I could lean on on a daily basis whenever needed) that really, truly understood- which was very difficult. It was through that pain, that loneliness, that the Lord spoke and gave me hope- that He would use this loss of life to let me be a voice of truth in the life of other women experiencing loss. I won’t say that it made our loss easier- not at all- but knowing that the Lord was going to redeem this time of sorrow allowed me to more easily process the loss as something that would build the Kingdom at some point. I rejoice in His faithfulness to fulfill that promise.

I first spoke out publicly about our loss the following Mother’s Day- partly to voice my own struggles with the day as a whole, but mostly to let other women know that they weren’t alone. Since that time, I have spoken and written for several different venues about our miscarriage, as well as simply being a listening ear for many women enduring loss.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because I want you to know:

The Lord is faithful to redeem the deep and enveloping pain of the loss of a child.

As women, we are not promised biological children. When we were struggling through that first year or so, wondering if I would ever get pregnant, there was no promise that we would. After our miscarriage, there was no promise that I would conceive again. Even still, after having Hallelujah, there is no promise of another biological child.

But our Father, who is the author and the giver of life, who gives and takes away as He sees fit to build his Kingdom, promises us that if we abide in Him, He will fill us with peace that surpasses understanding, joy in the midst of sorrow, and that He will take our painful moments and redeem them back into times of praise.

Do I praise the Lord for the loss of that sweet life? Of course not. I grieve that sweet baby daily. But I praise the Lord for the many lives that have been ministered to through that loss. I praise the Lord for the women who know that they aren’t alone anymore, because of the testimony that has come through our loss. For the families who no longer feel isolated. For the mothers who know that it’s okay to be angry, hurt, confused, or frustrated on Mother’s Day. I praise the Lord for the privilege of this ministry, for the privilege of being a mother to that sweet baby: if only for a few short weeks physically, but forever in my heart.

If you are enduring the pain of a loss, please know that you are not alone. I am praying strength and peace over you, and that someday, you too may enter into the ministry of “overcoming”, by the words of your testimony. For all of my sisters in the battle of infertility, waiting for your first Mother’s Day, I am praying trust in the Lord over you. Our Father is good, my friends, and He loves you! You’re in my thoughts and prayers today.

I’ve put together a list of resources for families who have experienced loss, and for their family and friends. Please be encouraged and know that there is healing. You can view that list here.

How Do You Love Your Neighbor? Global vs. Local Trade

I have an inner dilemma that I have been battling for a while now: the question of whether to support global economies or focus on local economies. Brands like American Apparel have brought “made in the USA” to the forefront of our shopping brains, particularly in a season when sweatshops and child labor run rampant in most parts of the world. But shouldn’t we try to provide for our brothers and sisters overseas if we can, too?

This debate reached a head for me when I discovered that a shirt that my organization sells is manufactured in Haiti. My initial reaction was negative- we have been active in Haiti and have seen the conditions of work there, and the thought of promoting those environments sickened me. When I raised my concern, however, I was gently reminded that the company that we work with was committed to high ethical standards and that, because the shirts were made in Haiti, we were providing jobs and income to those people that we love, and helping their economy in perhaps the only way we could from a distance. My mind was eased.

My thoughts are further compounded when it comes to food- while I love eating with the seasons, purchasing local foods, and building relationships with farmers and craftsmen, I also really appreciate many foods that don’t grow locally and items that are manufactured in other parts of the company, or even the world. Things like coffee, chocolate, spices, and tea are cultivated well in certain parts of the world that I just don’t live in. As a responsible consumer, do I forgo these things, therefore saving carbon emissions due to shipping and dedicate myself to eating what my local community has to offer, or do I support these global markets, while perhaps putting the global economy on the back burner?

How do you love your neighbor? Thoughts on global vs local trade

I don’t know what the answer is, but here are a few things that I am confident in:

-If you can buy something local, do it. Especially when it comes to food. Local farmers and culinary artisans depend on their local economy because, for the most part, they can’t export. Plus, you are getting a better quality food that you can be confident in- less preservatives, easier to check on gardening and farming operations, and good relationships with the people you are buying from.

-Fair trade is a beautiful thing. If you can’t get something locally, fair trade is a great way to ensure that your purchase from the global economy is something that you can be confident is building up global individuals and not causing any injustice along the way. There are many fair trade stores popping up now, such as the 10,000 Villages network, that make fair trade shopping feel like a breeze.

-Sweat shops are terrible. If you can’t guarantee that an item you are buying was made without blood on someone’s hands, you just shouldn’t buy it- at least not with a clear conscience. At times, this requires research not only into a store, but also a specific brand- but it is well worth it to know that you are using your money responsibly, and not to cause injustice.

-If there isn’t a good alternative, try making your own. This is especially helpful when it come to things that are really hard to research, such as cleaning products or cosmetics. There are so many ingredients in these items that its hard to say with confidence if a product is manufactured and sourced responsibly. However, there are countless way to replicate these items at home, where you can source the items yourself and be confident n the products you are using.

-Support your friends. Why buy a grocery store card made in who-knows-where when you have a friend that makes them for a living? Why buy a headband at Target when your friend is upcycling pieces and selling them on Etsy? Maybe you have friends that are photographers, or event planners, coffee roasters, or makers of unique clothing. Show them love, and be loved in return.

-It is better to bow out of an economy than to stimulate a unjust one for lack of a better option. Thrift stores provide a way to purchase (many times with proceeds to a good cause) without giving any money back to the manufacturers. This can be a great place to find things that are difficult to source well, such as shoes, dressy clothes, or furniture.

While I wish that the answers were more cut and dry, I recognize that these thoughts are just part of the journey in being a Christlike consumer, and I certainly have not arrived at full understanding yet. We have to educate ourselves in order to use our money well- each dollar is a tool we are given to build the Kingdom, and we must take that seriously.

The Beauty of a Quiet Life

The Beauty of a Quiet Life- Feed Me, Mama

The Lord has been stirring something interesting in my heart lately. The past few weeks have been somewhat of a spiritual struggle for me as I’ve become increasingly tired and uncomfortable in the late stages of pregnancy and I’ve found that my capacity of what I can actually accomplish in a day is dwindling. It’s all very normal for where I am, I’m just not used to being completely wiped out by a trip to the grocery store!

With that being said, reflecting on ministry opportunities and how I am being intentional with my time can be somewhat frustrating as well. Because I have been accustomed to living a very public ministry life for the past few years, these quieter, more under-the-radar roles the Lord has led me into for this season often leave me questioning if I am actually making the difference in the Kingdom that I should be. I mean, nobody wants to hear about social media statistics or see photos of me doing blog research. I’m not going to broadcast my discipleship and accountability commitments. Much of the ministry I have been led into at this point is private, intercessional, and everyday. Not exciting. Quiet.

The struggle comes when the enemy tries to tell me that these things aren’t enough- that it isn’t worth being faithful in them- that I should have something to show, to flaunt, to prove that I am doing His work. Numbers or photos or page views or likes! When I see the public efforts of others, I am often discouraged and come down hard on myself, especially in regards to the physical demands of pregnancy and how it has effected the ministry I can be involved in at this point. However, I believe that these thoughts grieve the heart of the Father, who has placed these ministry positions before me, knowing that they are where I can best serve the Kingdom during this time.

As I have been meditating on this, the Lord has brought me back to the attitudes of the Pharisees. While the Pharisees performed many righteous acts of charity and tried to live their lives by the letter of the law, it was their insatiable need for public recognition for their deeds that so disgusted Jesus in His days of ministry. What a contrast to the ministry of Christ, who heals a man and tells him to tell no one! There is no flaunting, no public declaration- the ministry of love simply flowed out of Jesus daily, and He lived in obedience and grace. How I long for my heart to be like His- built out of love for His people, and a desire for the Kingdom- nothing more.

So today, I want to repent of my Pharasaical attitude that desires recognition- or at least, to do something that I tell myself is worth recognizing. I want to repent of my desire for excitement, for public display, for notoriety. Instead, I want to surrender, and embrace the beauty of the quiet and intimate life of ministry that the Lord has called me into for this season. I want to fashion a heart that longs to see the Kingdom be built and the Father be worshipped, by no publicized effort of my own. I don’t want to associate public opinion or recognition with how the Father has called me to work.

The Lord has placed me in positions of ministry that I can serve in faithfully during this (physically) challenging time in my life, and I am so thankful for His grace towards me in this way! I pray that my heart may be pure and confident in His will for me and for my family. Please, I covet your prayers during this time as well!