The Stay Awake Challenge: Week 9

Week 9 is about trying something new. You can read the original post here.

I’m still trying to catch up on the Stay Awake Challenge. I kept putting off writing this post, mostly because I just didn’t know which direction to take it. Because, honestly? I got this one down, baby. My life is all about trying new things. It’s about all I’ve done for the past few years. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But seriously, with each move comes a host of changes and new things to try. It gets to be a bit wearying after awhile. There are some days when “routine” and “sameness” and “normal” and — yes, even “boring” — sound so appealing. I long for the ability to put my life on auto-pilot for awhile rather than having to continually, actively think about the smallest things. Maintaining a constant state of mental alertness can drive you to utter exhaustion. I think this is one of the things that makes those first few years on the mission field so difficult.

Here are just a few of the new things I’ve done just since moving to Ecuador:

  • studied a new language
  • moved into a new house
  • learned my way around a new city
  • learned to shop and cook in a new country
  • met lots of new people
  • started attending a new church
  • found a new doctor
  • driven a car in a new country
  • tried new foods
  • started homeschooling my kids
  • had “helpers” in the house for the first time
  • gone zip-lining
  • spent a week in Brazil by myself

If you don’t know me well, you may find this difficult to believe, but I don’t have a very adventurous spirit. I only live the life I do because I happened to marry an adventurer. Rusty loves to explore, and I am thankful for this, because sometimes we discover new favorite spots. Just in the last couple of weeks, we have been to a total of 4 new restaurants. The first, a grilled chicken restaurant that advertised “original recipe Portuguese chicken” had the yummiest piri-piri chicken I’ve tasted since leaving Portugal. The second was the Middle Eastern restaurant where we ate for my birthday. The third was a café and pastry shop called the Swiss Corner with yummy apple strudel. And the fourth, a Mongolian grill where we ate for our date last night, turned out to be a dud, and I don’t think we’ll go back, but hey — 3 out of 4 ain’t bad! When I was thinking of a picture to put in this post, the first thing that came to mind was a picture at one of these new restaurants. Would you believe that I forgot to take a picture at any of them? I even forgot to have someone take a picture of Julie and me the night of our birthday! And I have a camera phone, so I am really without excuse.

So, as an alternative, I am posting a screen-shot of a comment I made on another blog. See, I’m not normally much of a commenter. I read a lot of blogs, but I don’t typically join in the discussions or voice my opinions in the comment section. However, recently, I have started to comment on other blogs every now and then when I feel like I have something to add to the conversation. The screen shot is of a comment I made on a blog called Communicating Across Boundaries, and the post was about Third Culture Kids and reentry, which you can read here. If you care to read the comment, you can click on the picture for a larger view, or just click the link to read the post and all the comments in their entirety. Leaving the comment was one thing — but then I also had to learn how to take a screen-shot and save it as a picture file, which I have never done before. So, there you go… I taught myself to do something new on the computer today! Sometimes, life is best represented by a microcosm.week9

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A Second Car

It’s official. Today, we became a two-car family again when we brought home our Nissan Patrol. It has been almost 7 years since we owned two vehicles at the same time (not counting the first few months we spent in Ecuador when we were still trying to sell our mini-van in the United States). In fact, we have been a two-car family for only a handful of our nearly 14 years of marriage. And if you read my “Wheel-Less” posts, then you know about our experiences with not owning a vehicle at all.

I confess: I sort of resisted the purchase of a second car for a long time. Not because I was afraid of driving in Ecuador (well, maybe that played a teensy part), but more because owning a second vehicle just seemed so — extravagant. I mean, we’re missionaries. We already have one car, which is more than about 95% of the rest of the people on planet Earth. Do we really need a second one? For that matter, do we really need the first one? Is it right for us to have so much when others have so little? Two cars means we will spend twice as much on transportation — two cars to maintain, two cars to fill up with gas, two cars to insure, two cars to pay the yearly tax on…

But several things have become apparent over the last several months which have slowly shifted my thinking in regards to this. The first is that Rusty is probably going to be away from home a lot more than either of us thought he would be when we first came to Ecuador. The second is that, although cabs are a viable option, they are not an option I am entirely comfortable with, for various reasons (see Wheel-Less: Part 2). And the third is, that while my husband never complains at being asked to chauffeur me around, I know that he would like for me to be a little more independent (to be able to drive myself to the store, for example). So while I’m not completely thrilled at the idea of being a two-car family again, I recognize that this is a blessing for our situation. And my attitude should be one of gratefulness for the blessing of having found this car, for the blessing of being able to afford it, rather than accepting it begrudgingly.

Oh, I am excited at the prospects of independence and the ability to go places on my own that this car represents. Now, to conquer my fear of driving in Ecuador, and to get my Ecuadorian driver’s license!

My new ride

My new ride

Why do I DO this to myself?

One of the problems with being a detail-oriented person is that you get stuck with all the jobs that require attention to detail. Most of the time, I don’t mind. In fact, I quite enjoy sorting, organizing, bringing order to chaos, making lists, cataloging things, editing and proofreading, etc. But I absolutely HATE any task related to keeping track of our family / ministry finances. And let’s face it — financial tasks require a lot of attention to detail, whether that be paying bills, balancing a checkbook (okay, I don’t really do this anymore, I just keep track of it all online), creating a budget, doing your taxes, or expense reporting. I hate it all!

And I hate the vicious cycle I get caught in over and over. I put off doing financial tasks, not necessarily because of my dislike for them, but because I am a perfectionist. Did you know that perfectionists tend toward procrastination? A perfectionist wants to do something perfectly, and if she can’t do it perfectly, she’ll put it off until the day she can… only that day never comes. Meanwhile, she gets further and further behind, until it (whatever IT is) becomes this huge and daunting task that she can’t possibly ever find the time to do perfectly. Kind of like leaving the dishes to pile up and pile up until it takes you a couple of hours to wash them all. I don’t do this… I wash as I go, and certainly after every meal. I don’t understand why I can’t be more this way with financial tasks.

I am attempting to be real on this blog, so I’ll just go ahead and confess: I am now almost 7 months behind on our expense reports. And the deadline for filing our taxes is looming in front of us and causing me a lot of stress because of how far behind I am. I am not organized AT ALL in this area right now. I haven’t established the systems to get and keep myself organized and on top of things.

Why do I DO this to myself?

This is not an excuse, but I don’t feel like I have the know-how or the right tools to do this well and efficiently. When we went through all our missions training (which was fairly extensive), we received almost no training related to finances. There was a little advice on fundraising and setting a budget, but nothing on accounting for your expenditures on the field, making financial reports to your sponsoring church, etc. I sometimes feel as though I’m bumbling around in the dark. I try out different programs, apps, websites. I design my own templates for things like expense reports and then I wonder if I’m trying to reinvent the wheel. Mission organizations, please, please, give your people practical training in finances, not just in how they raise their money, but in how they spend and account for it! This is probably just as important as training in cultural awareness, language learning, and spiritual preparedness.

photo

So, the other day, I just got mad. There were piles of receipts stashed in about five different places all over the house, and I was so tired of looking at them, and so angry with myself for letting it come to this. I gathered them up and sorted them by month and filed them in this little box. And then I sat down and made a “financial to-do list” — all the tasks related to finances that I need to do to be truly “caught up. Breaking the ginormous task down into smaller, more manageable ones. It’s a long list, but if I can manage to do at least one thing per day over the next two weeks, I should be caught up.

And when I’m caught up, I’m going to celebrate by drinking my last Dr. Pepper!

Wheel-Less (Part 3)

Part 1 here, Part 2 here.

Okay, I’m not really wheel-less right now. At least not all the time. But when Rusty goes out to the jungle, I am usually left without a vehicle, sometimes for days at a time. When Rusty does leave his truck here in Quito (because he’s traveling down by bus or plane with a short-term group), it just sits until he comes back. It’s a cool truck, but I am loathe to drive it for a couple of reasons:

Our Landrover Defender

Our Landrover Defender

  • It’s so big. I mean, really, this car is ridiculously big. It will hold up to 9 people comfortably, and with the roof-rack and the luggage rack that attaches to the back, all their stuff as well. So, it’s perfect for treks to the jungle and back, but it’s not exactly an ideal car for driving in the city.
  • It has a manual transmission. I can drive a stick, but in Quito with the stop-and-go traffic and all the crazy drivers, I would just prefer not to have to. It’s just one more thing to think about.

So, for the last year, my husband has been my chauffeur when he’s here, and when he’s not, we usually stick fairly close to home. I try to stock up on groceries before he leaves, but if I do run out of something, there is a well-stocked little store in our neighborhood. There is public transportation here in Quito (in the form of buses and trolley lines), and sometimes I think to myself, “I really should try to learn my way around on the buses and trolleys.” And then I see one, usually packed to the gills, and I remember all the stories I’ve been told about pickpockets and the like. As a gringa, I’m an obvious target in a situation like that. I can’t decide if having my kids with me would make me less of a target (because people might take pity on me) or more of one (because people would assume I was distracted).

So, if I need to go across town when Rusty’s away, the other option is to take a cab. Taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap in Latin America, but they are not without their own risks. Every time I take a cab, I’m literally trusting someone I don’t know from Adam to get me (and usually my 3 kids) safely from point A to point B. My kids ride in the taxis without their car seats or even safety belts, since most cabs don’t have them in the back seat. I don’t like that one bit, but it is what it is. In addition, there have been several stories in recent months of people being robbed in a taxi. This usually happens when the person is alone and the cab-driver (who is in league with a gang of thieves) pulls over to let them into the car. They steal your money and then push you out on the street. Rusty actually met a lady from South Africa several months ago who had just been the victim of a taxi-robbery.

For some time now, we have been looking to purchase a second car, something smaller and more conducive for city driving, something with an automatic transmission, something that I could drive when Rusty is away. We were having a hard time finding something that we both liked, that fit our budget, and that was also a good, solid car. Buying a used car in a third-world country can be a tricky business. Unless you can buy a vehicle from someone you know and trust and believe took good care of their car, you really just don’t know what you are getting. No Carfax in Ecuador!

Then, a couple days ago, we found one, thanks to my sister, who has been scoping out the For Sale boards at Alliance Academy, where she works! The owners are long-time missionaries to Ecuador who recently returned to the U.S. They accepted our offer; our mechanic confirmed that it is a good vehicle; now, all that remains is to arrange the bank transfer. So, perhaps by the end of next week, I will have a car that I can drive!

Honestly, up until recently, I was really okay with not driving. Driving is stressful to me under the best conditions — American roads, American drivers, American rules. Quito traffic and the aggressive drivers here really freak me out, and it’s not even as bad as it is in Africa! But lately, I have begun to feel slightly “handicapped” because I don’t drive and sometimes don’t even have a car. So now I (almost) have a car… I guess that means it’s time for me to conquer my fears of driving in a foreign country and get out there in the fray!

Discouraged

Ever have one of those days where everything just seems to hit you all at once? That’s what Thursday was for me.

First, I was stressed over what was happening with Alex at his new school. Apparently, he made life pretty miserable for his teacher last week, leading the school to question if the class they had put him in was the best one for him. He came home on Wednesday with two notes written in his school notebook, one from the 2nd grade teacher, explaining some of his behaviors and why he wasn’t going to be in her class anymore… and the other from his new teacher, the Kindergarten teacher. Ummm, okay, so 2nd grade wasn’t working out, so they decided to move him back two grades? As it turns out, when Rusty went in to talk to them, they told him they felt like 1st grade was too full, and there were already 4 kids in 1st grade with special needs or learning problems or something, so they didn’t want to add Alex into that mix.

I’m really fine with Alex being in the Kindergarten class. As I said before, I’m more in favor of holding kids back than pushing them ahead, especially in the beginning. I just wish the school had explained to us the situation from the beginning (the correct class for his age was full) and let us decide whether we wanted him to be a grade ahead or behind so we could have avoided this mess. To me, it’s not really important what grade he is in — he is there to learn Spanish and for the social interaction. Academically, he is way ahead of the other students in Kindergarten, so I will probably have to send stuff from home for him to do so he doesn’t finish early, get bored, and cause problems for the teacher and the other students.

I’m mostly frustrated because I feel like Alex has already earned himself the reputation there as being a problem child. The school has asked us to have a neurological and psychological evaluation done on him. They suggested he might have ADD or ADHD. I’m not denying that might be a possibility (although I do think that high-energy boys are often falsely labeled such), but I do feel like they are being awfully quick to start requesting testing when he hasn’t even had a chance to adjust to this new environment. After all, he hasn’t been in a formal school environment for a year and a half, he’s immersed in a new language that he can’t yet communicate well in, and he was put in the grade ahead of where he should be. And they’re surprised when he has trouble adapting?! I’m not excusing some of his behavior (much of it was totally unacceptable, whether or not he can communicate well, and we had some pretty serious talks about it on Wednesday night), but I do think that once he adjusts and knows the routine, the expectations, the rules, and above all how to communicate his needs and problems, the acting out will diminish.

So, I was feeling anxious about all that, and then Rusty started telling me about the meeting he had with Kent and Josh the day before where apparently it came out that there had been some criticism as to his performance leveled at him by some folks on the medical campaign. I think it is interesting how people can come on these week-long campaigns, people who don’t even know you or have a vested interest in you or your ministry (i.e. they are not personal supporters or from a supporting church), see one aspect of what you do, and then feel like that somehow gives them the knowledge and the authority to critique you personally or how you are doing your job! Are missionaries the only ones who deal with this, or does this happen in other professions? I am sincerely asking — this is not a rhetorical question! I have been thinking about it all day, wondering if this happens to other people in other jobs. We don’t claim to be perfect, we still have much to learn (we haven’t even been here a year for goodness’ sake!), we make mistakes and bungle things up daily and probably will continue to do so for years to come! I guess it would just be nice if people would take the time to know us and understand our unique situation and the team dynamics we are working with here in Ecuador before being so free to offer up their criticisms.

I probably just need to grow a thicker skin. There will always be critics. I know this.

Also, Rusty left on Thursday for a weekend trip to Kumanii. We went to the bank to take out some money before we left — he needed cash for the trip, and I needed to pay the ladies who help me around the house. And none of our cards would work in the ATM — we tried his bank card and mine, as well as a credit card from a different bank and could not get money out with any of them. Which probably signifies a problem on the Ecuadorian bank’s end, or a problem with all international cards. Still, it was frustrating. And on the way out of town, Rusty called to inform me that he’d been pulled over for “speeding” (going 2 km. per hour above the speed limit) and given a $90 ticket. Really, Ecuador? Really?!

Sometimes, it’s the compilation of little daily annoyances on top of all the major stresses of living in a foreign country (learning to speak a new language and adapting to a new culture for instance) that just make that first year or two abroad so difficult. And sometimes, it just seems to come at you all at once, like waves relentlessly crashing over you, making it hard to catch your breath. After Thursday, I was grateful for a peaceful weekend at home, for crackling fires in the fireplace each night, for “Downton Abbey” with my sister last night, for a long nap this afternoon.

And I’m looking forward to our family vacation at the beach next week!

Walking with Giants

Having been in Ecuador almost a year now, one thing I am starting to notice is the longevity of so many missionary families. 10 years or less in the country and you are pretty much still a “newby” by comparison. 15 years, and you’ve been here “awhile,” but not in a jaw-dropping way. 20 plus years, and you’re considered a veteran — but you’re not exactly an anomaly since there are quite a few veteran missionaries around!

Yesterday, I went to the homeschool mothers’ monthly planning meeting. I am one of the youngest moms in the group, with younger kids, just starting out in Ecuador, just starting out on our homeschool journey. Most of the other moms have large families, and years of parenting and missionary experience. As we were sitting around the table drinking tea and chatting, I stopped to silently marvel at the collective wisdom gathered there. How thankful I am to be able to learn from those who have walked this path before me!

Then, tonight, we had Neil and Ruth Wiebe over for dinner. The Wiebes worked as Wycliffe Bible Translators in Ecuador many years ago, translating the Bible into Chapalachi, the language of the Chachi Indians who live on the Cayapas River. They are back in Ecuador for a brief visit, and graciously agreed to have dinner with us so we could pepper them with all manner of questions. They are even going out to Kumanii with Rusty next weekend.

The Wiebes were in Ecuador for 38 years — 12 of them spent living in the jungle on the Cayapas River, and the remainder of the time in Quito. It is hard for me to even conceive of doing the same thing for 38 years. Let’s see, 38 years — it’s longer than I’ve been alive. In 38 years, I’ll be almost 75 years old. Anyway you slice it, it’s a long time. And it’s most definitely a long time to spend on the mission field!

I have the utmost respect for those who do the hard and often thankless work of translating the Scriptures into other languages. They come and they live among a people, often in a remote area. They struggle to learn a language that may not have a textbook, or someone who knows how to teach it, or even a written form. Then, they painstakingly translate the Scriptures, verse for verse, idea for idea, word for word, trying to stay faithful to the original text, trying to make it readable, trying to make the story of God accessible to those who have never had it before in their heart language. Neil was telling the story tonight of struggling with how to translate the word “priest,” because the Chapalachi word has so much religious and cultural baggage due to the heavy Catholic influence. Eventually, they decided to use a phrase describing what a priest does: “one who approaches God on behalf of the people” because they felt like that was a better representation of the idea of a priest, and one that would not immediately connote a Catholic priest.

It is so easy for us to take for granted the fact that we have ready access to God’s Word in multiple forms, in multiple versions. But there are still many people groups around the world who can’t read the life-giving words of the Bible for themselves because it has not yet been translated into their language. I’m thankful for people like the Wiebes, who have spent their lives working to change that — the New Testament, as well as Genesis and Exodus are now available in the Chapalachi language!

But there is still much work to be done. I don’t typically observe Lent in the traditional sense, but this year, I have been working my way through this 40-day e-book devotional called “Jesus Brings Freedom,” with a prayer focus on the Bibleless peoples of the world. Download your free copy here and partner in prayer with those who are working to make “God’s Word accessible to all people in the language of their heart” (Wycliffe’s vision statement).

Awesome AIMers!

Right after the medical campaign, for a couple of nights, we kept five students from the Adventures in Missions (AIM) program who are currently doing their field assignment in Sucre, Bolivia. They came to help with the medical campaign and stayed afterwards for about a week to do some sight-seeing before going back to Sucre.

I have written before about the blessing of having visitors in our home here and here, and this time was certainly no exception. These kids (can I call them kids since I am twice their age?) impressed me so much with their servant hearts, their attitudes of gratefulness, and how they played with and loved on my children. The girls were constantly in the kitchen asking if they could help with food prep; they washed dishes without being asked; the guys did puzzles with the boys and played Mario Kart with them; and they even made their beds every day! One night, the girls all sat and watched with keen interest a film called “Real Love Stories,” in which Rusty and I were featured. (A friend of ours made this film years ago to show the youth group at the Metro Church of Christ in Portland, where we were attending at the time.)

(If any of you AIMers read this post, feel free to pass it on to your parents and let them know what awesome kids I think they raised! I hope my boys turn out just like all of you!)

Rusty and I so enjoy being around young people with a heart for missions. In fact, working with teens and college students was one of the aspects about this opportunity with Operation Ecuador that Rusty found most appealing. He has always enjoyed working with this age-group, from back when we lived in Japan and he got to take the Pac Rim students from Oklahoma Christian University around Tokyo and Nikko for three days. In fact, if we hadn’t gone into missions, I probably would have strongly encouraged Rusty to pursue campus ministry — he has both the heart and the giftedness for it.

For my part, I find the enthusiasm and zeal of young missionary apprentices both heart-warming and contagious. I wouldn’t really call myself an “old” or “seasoned” missionary — we haven’t even been in Ecuador for a year — but we’ve been around the world enough and lived overseas enough to experience the occasional slumps, to have to fight the tendency to become jaded. And sometimes it’s good to remember why missions is so exciting, that it truly is a blessing to join God in the work of reconciling souls to himself. Young people just starting out, just getting their feet wet in the mission field, can help remind us of that.

I have had many positive experiences with AIMers through the years… from a college roommate who went through the program, to my brother-in-law, to several fantastic AIM teams that we had the privilege to know in Mito, Japan. And I now have another positive experience to add to my list with this team from Sucre. Thank you, AIM, for your high caliber program, and thank you, Sucre Team (Andrea, Kacie, Kaylin, Brett, and Cameron) for staying with us and letting us get to know you!

We’re Debt Free!

Yesterday, I finally paid off our credit card, so we are entering the new year both debt free AND with our monthly budget fully funded! Well, I guess I should qualify that statement by saying we are debt free except for Rusty’s student loans. We’ll be paying on those for a few years yet — ha! But FREE of consumer debt — what a great feeling!

Our attempt to rid ourselves of credit card debt has taken many years and been interrupted many times — by international moves, by a dying parent who needed us, by unemployment, by grad school, by preparations for mission work, and most recently by nearly two years spent in Portugal, where not only were we operating under-budget the entire time, but where our buying power was severely decreased by a weak dollar. Through the years, there were times when, not only were we not making any forward progress on paying down our debt, but we were actually going backwards!

Now that we are free of credit card debt and fully funded, we can start putting money aside each month for retirement and college savings. It seems like these are the last two items to get funded in a missionary budget because they are not immediate or daily needs. I’m so thankful that attitudes as to the necessity of these two things for missionaries and their families are changing these days, especially for long-term or career missionaries.

I told Rusty recently that it’s so nice to not have to constantly worry about money, to not have to do the “juggling act” with the finances each month because there’s never enough to go around. It’s also nice to know that there is money being laid aside for the future, for both us and our kids. Although I truly believe that Christians should find their security in Christ and not in their bank accounts, I also believe there is biblical wisdom in saving for a rainy day.

The Importance of Visitors

My parents have been here visiting us for the past three weeks. This morning, they boarded a plane to head home to Detroit. It’s been a wonderful visit, and we certainly packed a lot into the time they were here — from celebrating the holidays, to taking them to see some of the sights around Quito, to a five-day trip around Ecuador, which included a visit to Kumanii, Operation Ecuador’s jungle lodge and outpost on the Cayapas River.

Last night, we all gathered at my sister’s house to say our goodbyes. We drank chai and ate Christmas cookies, sang a few songs, and had a time of prayer. Josh asked us to pray short prayers of thanksgiving or blessing. The kids all participated and said some very sweet prayers. Then my dad went around the room and blessed each one of his grandchildren. It was a precious time.

It struck me this morning that my parents have somehow managed to visit us in every single home we’ve ever lived in since we got married. That’s pretty significant when you consider how much Rusty and I have moved around in the past 13 years! From our first home, a cramped Japanese apartment, to our current abode, this spacious house in Quito, and everything in between, they have seen it all. It really speaks, I think, not just to how much they enjoy traveling and seeing new places, but to their desire to be active participants in our lives and to create lasting memories with our children.

When people visit (and this is true of anyone, really, not just parents), they are giving us the gift of their presence, the gift of being better able to visualize and understand our life, and thus the gift of knowing better how to pray for and encourage us. I think this is why missionaries love to have visitors from “home”. Yes, it’s a sacrifice — a sacrifice of time and money. But it is also one of the best ways folks back home can demonstrate their care and support.

And if they manage to squeeze a few U.S. goodies into their luggage on the way over, so much the better! 🙂