Wednesday, June 7, 2017
It's been a while since I've written. Looking back through the entries from our time in Brazil brought some sadness about what is missing since we left that life behind. At the same time there are feelings of joy over where we have been brought to through the past five years. We're in the midst of more transitions, which never seem to end for us, but we're handling these well together as a family, pursuing Jesus and opening ourselves up to opportunities for growth and continued renewal. With these transitions come new experiences, relationships, friendships, and encounters that can stretch, challenge, refresh, and energize us. I (Steve), hate change, I typically run from it, and I typically struggle. This is perhaps the first period of transition that I can honestly say I'm thriving in, through the midst of some major transitions. It hasn't been easy, it's been quite painful and uncomfortable. However, I've been surrounded and supported by an amazing community and feel empowered to embrace these transitions fearlessly.
I'm writing this today, because I need to reflect, but also as an offering to this very same community. In 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 Paul describes those of us who are but clay jars full of treasure as being "hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down but not destroyed." I'm surrounded by amazing people attempting to serve Jesus and their fellow women and men and it feels like we're getting consistently lambasted.
Like so many of the deep truths inherent in the universe, paradox seems to be central to what we need to be overcomers. One thing that has stuck with our family since our trainings and life in Brazil is a nightly discussion of "yay" ducks and "yuck" ducks or the "pair-of-ducks (paradox)" of life. Each day we honor the best parts of our day and the saddest parts of our day and share them with each other. Both victories and disappointments; mountains and mole hills; bring rich context and experience to our lives that can be treasured, valued, and redeemed. We don't attempt to only talk about "yay" ducks, or try to bring solutions to the "yuck" ducks, but we simply embrace the good and the bad and know that we are heard and validated in the sharing with each other.
In paradox, we find the place of divine tension, where seeming contradictions and opposites can be recognized as whole and unbroken truth that can confound even the wisest of humans. Was Jesus true God or true man? Yes. Is the Bible a living God-breathed source of inspiration or a collection of writings at the hands of frail and broken humans? Yes. Is the church a gathering of sinners or a congregation of saints? Yes. Are humans made in the image of God, holy, sacred, and worthy of dignity by that fact or fallen trainwrecks capable of great and horrible acts of destruction? Yes. Is God sovereign, in control, and all-powerful or is he present with those who suffer through the tragedies and horrors that often seem both preventable and unspeakable? Yes. Do we want justice or mercy?
The Paradox of the Gates
I remember as a young child, doubting the existence of God, but taking very seriously the reality of evil and suffering. It was a theme in my life, no paradox, but certainty of doom and despair. One of the greatest aspects of Good News when I began chasing after Jesus came from encountering Matthew 16:18 where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon whom the church will be built and . . . "all the powers of hell will not conquer it."
I felt so safe, for the first time in my life. I was aligned with Someone who could protect me from the powers of hell. I rested in that. It wasn't long after that I came across another version of that verse that repeated . . . "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." I again took this to heart with great relief. That I found a place, the church, where I could sit protected and at peace. But that phrase "gates of hell" left me uneasy. The attitude in the church that I attended was a common one with a strong theme of pilgrimage and alien residency, of not belonging or being welcome in the world. The world was a place that could stain us, corrupt us, be hostile towards us, a place from which we needed protection. Yet, the more deeply I pursued relationships and engaged in the community of the church, the more aware I became that it was not a perfect sanctuary, but had the capacity to stain, corrupt, wound, and be hostile in and of itself.
This was a devastating fact that I faced and seemed to shatter my hopes. I'd go back to Matthew 16:18 and try to hold onto that verse but it seemed to slip from me. I began to look at different versions and noticed there seemed to be two ways of reading it. Perhaps there is a biblical languages scholar that could set me straight, as to whether one strain is more correct than the other, but for now I hold out hope that this is simply another paradox to hold to.
Gates don't move. They don't advance. They aren't weapons. They aren't used to assault or attack. They are defensive pieces, and in the context in which it was originally written, the entire source of a city's power. The weakest point of attack, and a direct expression of how strong or weak a location was. If the gates held, the city was strong, if they could be breached, it was vulnerable.
Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, God's lamb, the prince of peace, a man who wept. Surely he would need a strong city to defend him, a city that could withstand the powers of hell or Hades. However, He is also Redeemer, Mighty Conqueror, the One who came to set captives free. The one who would kick down the very gates of hell; who would call others in His name to do likewise.
For many years, especially as I embraced this perspective into a growing conception of our mission in and to this world, to confront injustice and brokenness, to set captives free; I rejected my former understanding. However, I've come to realize over the past few years that there is a strong theme of sanctuary, of rest, of restoration, of peace that is central to our hopes. This has given me a renewed vision for the struggle of life, the struggle of authentically following Jesus, to embrace seasons, or even moments of sanctuary, but also to paradoxically be ready to thrust my foot outward to beat against the gates of hell when it comes time for captives to be set free. To embrace participation and community and offer intimacy, connection, and healing, while preparing to move outward to shake the foundations of hell's defenses.
Where Paradox Ends
As I'm learning to rest in this place of paradox, as a citizen of a Kingdom where protection and peace are offered in abundance and without fail, who also has nothing to fear as he steps outside of the sanctuary to join in an assault on the gates of hell itself; what gives me the most comfort is knowing that in some ways the paradox is nearing its end. Perhaps there is no real paradox in the first place, but simply a lack of sight and understanding that will dissipate on that day that we know and are fully known.
What gives me strength is the knowledge that this is not a true contest. The outcome is assured. It doesn't make the blood-letting, wounds, or cries of pain in this present day any less raw or challenging to face. But every tear will be wiped away. Captives will be set free. We will know and be known. Internally, interpersonally, communally . . . God's shalom, His peace and wholeness will reign! So be it.
Sunday, March 25, 2012
I've taught English there for three weeks now. It would've been four if Montezuma hadn't found us down here in Morretes and launched a full scale war on our bodies for the past 8 days. I've enjoyed it, it's not what I ever expected to be doing, but it's started opening doors for us in the community. It's fun to ride my bike to the store and have a trail of followers shouting "Hey, what's up!" Then when I shout, "nothing, what's up with you", they shout "nothing" and ride away laughing talking about how awesome it is that they know some English. We've been approached by many parents thanking us and telling us what an encouragement it is that their kids are learning english from a real live gringo. haha! Shannon has also been able to get a group of a couple ladies meeting in our home who also want to learn and building a relationship with them.
However, I've also been deeply challenged and frustrated. I would estimate that 30-40% of the 5th graders can't even read. Naomi's class is one of the worst because they put two pre-schools into one first year class and the teacher is overwhelmed. We're going to have to do a lot of supplementing at home, basically having our kids in school to gain social skills (and because homeschooling is illegal here) and educating them at home.
My first week, I broke up five fights. Most of them were boy on girl, but in most cases the girl won. The most brutal was a larger girl named Beatrice stabbing a boy named Aslan with her pencil. Third-graders, I tell ya!
So here are two things we've had to face. The first, what potential lies within this challenging environment?
In Brazil, prayer and religion still exist within the schools. It's pluralistic so that's not always an encouraging thing. However, it leaves Christian teachers working within the system huge opportunities. When kids fight and stab each other, we can send them to the principal (which is sometimes necessary) but we can also step in and talk about reconciliation and forgiveness and share our faith. I'm learning how to take advantage of these opportunities to fight my discouragement.
I had a couple of kids express frustration to me this past week. They cried injustice, because, unlike the other teachers, they said they noticed when two people come to me frustrated that I don't decide who did the worse thing and punish that one, but I always assume they both did something wrong and ask them to work it out together or with me. I asked them if it is usually just one persons fault with the other person having no fault? They said no, but usually one is worse. I explained to them my faith and how I view the world and began to explain that to me it wasn't important to find the most guilty person and punish that one, but to see them both own their part and work together to reconcile and be friends and love each other. They don't quite seem to get it, but they notice a difference.
The second thing is that we've had to wrestle with where education lies in our value system as it relates to God's Kingdom. We often take our education for granted in the States, for all of its issues, the system overall does a very good job. At the same time, if we're honest, a lot of the value of our education does not lie in the actual content of what we learn, but in the piece of paper we get if we make it to the end. The job market doesn't ask about our knowledge or skills, and too often just expects to have to train us practically after hiring us (if we have the said paper). In some situations this is necessary, the theory is important. However, too often, it's because the content of our education is just as lacking. This is my opinion, and I don't want to offend teacher friends, I actually want to enlist your help so that I can do this the best that I can. But I feel strongly about this, especially as it relates to high school and college.
As a Kingdom value, we've come face to face with the question of how important is this for us as a family? Some people have packed up and left the mission field because the value of their kids' education was more important than the sacrifice required. I don't judge them, it was their conviction. Others have sent their kids to boarding school. The reality is that most missionary kids end up back in their home country at some point, and should be prepared to reenter the school system upon returning.
We've already started and will continue working to make sure that our kids have a solid educational foundation. However, we've tempered our discouragement and fears with the realities that many of the apostles were likely illiterate. That our most important value for our kids is that they became faithful and true followers of Jesus Christ. A reminder that they are going to be bilingual, have a deeper understanding of the world because of their travels and learnings of other cultures, and have rich wisdom of nature because of their hippy mom :).
In addition, our value in ministry of being incarnational and identifying with the people we live among has opened huge doors for us in the community here. I think many parents viewed us with suspicion at first and we fielded many questions about when we were going to get our kids into private school. When they came to understand that we truly don't have the means and have entered here to live life among them, relationships have started to become genuine and deepen. When they express frustration with the education their kids are receiving, and their fears and concerns for the future of their kids. We can enter the conversation and share with them, not from a philosophical point of view, but from the genuine emotions of our heart. We're not simply trying to understand and identify, we are identified and connected within their struggle. Their struggle and concern is shared by us.
Due to the nature of our work, and the availability of teaching resources in English on the internet, our kids still have more opportunities and more of our time available to them (because we're not both working 60-70 hours a week like some of our friends here), and we've been honest about that. But we've still been able to identify and connect in deep ways, and share out of our wrestling the ways we're learning to overcome our concerns and prioritize our values as followers of Jesus.
Monday, January 30, 2012
So, I just realized how long it's been since I updated our blog. Being that the last update was about Jordan's birth and he just celebrated his 5 month birthday, I guess I've fallen behind a bit. So, I'm getting back on the horse and plan to update the blog at least every month again... I might need some community around me to keep me accountable to this, because communication has not always been my strong suit. OK, so here we go, quick life update:
Saturday, September 10, 2011
So, while I was in the hospital, sitting around having some good alone time with Jordan, I decided that it would probably be helpful for me to process some of the things that happened the day before and so I jotted some things down in a journal and wanted to use this blog to continue processing through some of the cultural things I encountered during this experience. After my previous 2 births, I thought this one would probably end up being boring, even though I was having him in another country and I was still very much learning the language… but I was wrong. So I made a list of some of the things that were different for this birth than for the others:
1 – My first 2 births were done in the comfort of my own home (or van) with people I knew and trusted, who really cared for me. Jordan's was in the DIScomfort of a hospital, surrounded by people who I had never met, who were just doing their job, and didn't even seem to enjoy it.
2 – I was warm (even in Dec in KY). Steve and I were joking on the way up about the hospital having heat (because it was about 30 degrees outside) because, of course they have heat in a well known, popular birthing hospital in Curitiba – it’s not like we’re in the jungle… NOPE. And not only did they NOT have heat, but when I got up into my room, my windows were open. Then they give me a “gown”(if you can even call it that) to put on and told me to take everything else off. All that to say, I spent the majority of my labor shivering like crazy and very uncomfortable.
3 – No IV & no meds. Since my doctor ended up inducing my labor because I was over 41 weeks, I had an IV for the first time. Overall I could care less about IVs… I used to give them to myself when I was practicing as a new nurse, but the nurses insisted that I needed it in my AC (for all you nurses out there) which is just the area right where your elbow bends, which meant I couldn’t move my arm & had to keep it straight the entire time I was in labor. The first IV I was given came out of the vein, which meant that the medicine I should’ve been getting for the first 1&1/2 hours was just going into my arm and not into where it was supposed to be going. None of this is a huge deal, it just made things less natural and more annoying for me than anything. And as far as meds go, there was just an expectation that I would take whatever the doc ordered because he is like a god here. So, after the birth, the doc ordered a med to stop my bleeding, and so instead of letting me breastfeed (which does the same thing as the med), they took my baby away from me and gave me a shot in my butt – in the middle of a hallway right at the entrance of the surgery center… good times!
4 – Much less explaining, coaching. My doc was pretty quiet – not sure whether it was because I didn’t speak Portuguese fluently or just because he’s a quiet guy – but there were several things during the labor that I would’ve been much happier if he had explained before doing them (you don’t want me to go into detail about this one ;).
5 – Number of advocates. Well, this is probably one of the biggest ones that I was feeling as we were on our way to the hospital. I was talking to Steve in the taxi and lamenting that I felt like it was me and him against the world. I felt like no one else was on our side in regards to having this baby naturally. I have never had this feeling before, because with my other 2 births I had an amazing support system… midwives who cared for me and my baby, other moms who had given birth naturally, my friends and family. This time I felt like I was going to have to fight about everything (which was kinda the case, but there were things I couldn’t fight and just gave in on – more on that later). Also, I was missin’ my momma. My mom was able to be at both of my kid’s births… Naomi by accident, because she was a week late. And she actually caught Caleb in the back of our van, so she has been an integral part of my birthing experiences, and a part that was missed greatly this time around. Steve was AMAZING & I couldn’t have done it without him – he was a great encourager, advocate, and back pusher J. He knows me so well that he kept all of his jokes in when my legs were being strapped into the stirrups with ace bandages and tape and stayed calm when I was yelling at the doctor in English, and he kept himself from flipping out on the doc when he gave me medicine through my IV without asking or even telling me.
6 – I had to die to some of my desires. With the other births, I had options to find doctors/midwives who have similar opinions as me, so when I made my desires known to them, they understood and respected them. Jordan, at one day old, has already had more vaccinations than his almost 4 year old brother. I was given a shot to slow bleeding after the doc sowed me up, but breastfeeding my baby would’ve done the same thing – instead, I had to be away from him for 2 hours while they had him downstairs in the nursery. Not that I could ever come close to understanding what it feels like to lose a baby at full term, but this time away from him became a time for me to grieve for those who don’t get to look forward to holding their babies when the pain remains after the birth.
I know I’ve been focusing on a lot of the negatives of Jordan’s birth, but there were very good things that came out of this experience. Because I was induced, this was my shortest labor, at just over 3 hours of hard labor - Caleb's was 8 hours & Naomi's 24. Also, even though I was missing my family like crazy, I was able to spend really good one-on-one time with Jordan for the first couple of days because I had to stay in the hospital for the first 48hours. But most importantly, after all is said and done, here is the best thing that came from the whole experience:
A healthy, beautiful baby boy!
Monday, July 11, 2011
Monday, July 4, 2011
First of all, I just wanted to apologize for our distance for the last couple months… we have had a lot going on, with visitors and traveling, and have found that we are very reluctant to be on the computer when there is opportunity for community in front of us. So, a little (well, maybe big) update on lots of stuff that’s been happening to/with us these last couple months... first, to start the month of May out, our Pastoral Care staff from The Mission Society, Lauren & JoAnn Helveston came and stayed with us for a week. It was a great opportunity to share life with them and get to have some good, deep discussions about our life and ministry here. During that time, we took a trip over to Morretes (the city we’ll be moving to in September) and had a good opportunity to talk about expectations for us at the children’s home and get to know the staff and kids a little bit more
The same day Lauren & JoAnn left, our good friends, Mason & Melody Reedy came to stay with us for the last 3 weeks that we were in Brazil. During the time they were here, we had the opportunity to experience our first American short-term missions team, got to hang in the favela and at friend's houses with them... it was so great to see how quickly our Brazilian friends fell in love with them. It was also really cool for Steve to get to show them where we're going to move and get to introduce them to some of the kids we'll be working with at the children's home in Morretes. We were blessed that they were with us on the day that we left to return to the States. Naomi woke in an episode, and they prayed for us and were a source of support during that rough time. Overall, they were a huge blessing and we are thankful that they chose to take 3 weeks out of their time to come spend with our family!
Time in the US:
Left with the girl in an episode, which was an experience all in and of itself… not sure how smart it was getting on an airplane and increasing the pressure in her brain while she was in the episode, but we did it anyways… it added some crazy amount of work to travel, but I’m glad we did it. She came out of the episode right before we got on our long flight to Panama, which was an answer to prayer for me, and the pressure didn’t seem to affect her in any way. We arrived in Florida at 1am and were picked up by my mom, sister Jackie, and brother Kedrick. Thankfully, both kids are amazing at being able to sleep anywhere, so after the letdown of finding out they had to sit in carseats (it had been a whole year since they’d even seen one), and the excitement wore off of getting to hang with family, they were fast asleep.
The rest of that next week was spent catching up with loved ones and getting ready for Steve’s brother’s wedding because Saturday was the big day! The kids were so excited to get to be the flower girl and “sword bearer” at the wedding. Uncle Scott had carved a piece of driftwood into a sword for Caleb to carry the rings with, which turned out really cool; and the fact that Caleb didn’t injure anyone as he walked down the aisle made it even better J. The kids did an amazing job at the wedding and even into the late hours of the night as we got to celebrate with Scott & Liz at the reception.
The next week was filled with continuing to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in a year and then we began our travels to Orlando & Jacksonville. We stayed with our dear friends, Joe & Mindy Eichorn, and their little ones – Natalie & Nicholas, and had a great time. They were gracious enough to open their house for us to have people come and hang with us there, which allowed us to see a bunch more people than we would've in the short time we were there. We are so blessed to have such dear friends that we can connect with, even when we haven't seen them in a long time.
From there we headed to Jacksonville to stay with some dear friends there and visit their church where the atmosphere is an open and loving place. The couple of days before we got there had been a hard and exhausting time for us, as our precious daughter had 3 episodes in 3 days. We were pretty much at a loss for what to do from there because we had been as strict on the diet as we could possibly be, and she was having more problems as a result of it, so we decided that if the diet wasn't helping then we would take her off of it and let the poor girl eat. So we did. Her first meal on a "normal" diet was at Firehouse Subs and I actually cried watching her eat... she was SO excited just to get to eat a sub again! I think she ate the thing down in 3 bites, all the while giggling and announcing to everyone that she was eating a sub. It's now been 3 weeks since we started her back on this regular diet and she has been doing great! We were able to have several restful days in Jacksonville, while we hung out with friends and vegged, and then headed back toward Venice. We decided to stop back in Orlando to shorten the trip for the kids and also allow us to see a couple more friends that we weren't able to see on the way up. We had plans, before Naomi's episodes, to travel up to GA and see some friends and visit The Mission Society, but decided it would be wiser for us to have some down time and not return back to Brazil more tired than when we left.
The last week seemed to fly by, as we were making last-minute purchases and making sure we had everything we would need for when the baby comes. We were thankful to be able to spend some good quality time with our friends, Sarah & Anthony and the kids were ecstatic to be able to wake up and play with their son, Abraham while we were staying there, who is one of their best friends. Also, Naomi got to have a princess sleepover with another good friend of hers, which pretty much made the trip for Naomi. We were also able to have a quick lunch with our soon-to-be intern, Brittany, and it was great getting to know her a little bit - we really look forward to working/living life with her when she gets down to Curitiba. We're so blessed by the friends we have and were grateful for the time we had to see some of you... and bummed at the same time that we didn't get to see everyone that we wanted, but thankfully we'll be back in December and will get to spend time with others that we didn't get to see on this trip.
Our trip back was a little less eventful than the one coming to the States, but was much longer as our first flight was cancelled and we were sent up to Atlanta for a 9+ hour layover. This actually turned out to be a blessing, as we were able to hop over to The Mission Society office and hang with some wonderful people there for a couple hours. It was a good time and the kids did a great job traveling. After that, we were homebound and other than being absolutely exhausted when we got home, everything went great. We're so blessed to have such great travelers, and we're praying that this next little guy is as good as the other 2 - guess we'll find out in December :)
Will try to be better about keeping up on here as much will be happening in our life in the coming months. Thank you all for walking this journey with us and for your prayers... we are more and more aware of our need for them every day that passes.