The Worlds of Excess and Lack

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Take about a minute to study the illustration above. Move your eyes back and forth between the child with the iPad and the child eating off the ground. What do you feel?

This hit me like a punch in the stomach.

Shocking.

True.

How can I do more?

It says what I haven’t been able to find the words to say for a while now. Here in Central America I live in the tension that you feel when you look at this image. It’s an uncomfortable place, I admit.

I’m much more comfortable in my middle class home in Alabama, watching House Hunters on TV, surrounded by all my iThings and justifying the couple hundred dollars of recent purchases I just made on frivolous stuff for myself. I mean, I’m not rich and wasteful like those people, right?

We play the comparison game. The truth is that in the U.S. I feel borderline poor and almost convinced that I deserve more: more convenience and comfort, better service, newer gadgets, faster technology, the latest styles. But who is making me feel this lack in my life? Advertising companies? The family down the street? That friend from high school who flaunts her lavish lifestyle on Instagram? Maybe it’s time to cut those things out. I’ve recently started a discipline online of unfollowing people/media/companies that feed that insecurity in me, that insatiable hunger that tells me I need and deserve more more more. They. Are. Lies. (For parents, it might be those that convince you that you should take out a 2nd mortgage just to get your kid all those gifts for Christmas.)

As an adult (more specifically, an adult living as a foreigner in a developing country) I am fully #woke to the fact that in my family we were lavishly spoiled as children during Christmas. (which I loved as a kid, don’t get me wrong) But I think it fed that little materialism monster in me and now it’s my job to try to starve him.

It’s the reason I have a hard time answering when someone cheerfully asks, “Do you love living in Honduras?” Well, part of the time, yes, but not because I’m thoroughly enjoying myself or super comfy or even “living the adventure of a lifetime.” My lifestyle here is very different and a lot of days are hard. It helps keep me grounded and more aware of the majority world’s reality and I value that far more. In the states I can easily and comfortably forget the suffering of those outside my door – the ignorance is bliss kind of thing. Even when I go back home and spend an extended length of time I start to forget. We humans have such short attention spans.

Here, the suffering is unavoidable.

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Now that I have seen I am responsible. – Brooke Fraser


If you’re still wondering if you might be considered rich or not by global standards, Screen Shot 2017-11-27 at 1.20.26 PMcheck out the Global Rich List and see how you compare. I can bet you’re at least in the top 3% richest in the world. 😉

  • sidebar: It certainly isn’t a USA vs. majority world problem either. Economic inequality is sometimes the most extreme within the borders of one single country. The gap between rich and poor in Honduras is painfully obvious.

I just finished reading the book 7 by Jen Hatmaker – I’m behind the times, I know. The tagline is “an experimental mutiny against excess.” Yes. It encouraged me (Again. I will forever and ever need these reminders) that there is value in living more simply and that most of the things we think we need aren’t really necessities but, in fact, excess. The premise of the book is to free ourselves of the bondage of materialism while at the same time opening our eyes to the needs of others around the world. liberation + solidarity.40e6ebd24f7c0e79951a2463ca2290e6--truth-quotes-a-quotes

A good friend of mine used to say, “The most important things in life aren’t things.” Amen.

A few years ago I blogged about something similar after reading Jeff Shinabarger’s book More or Less.

I wrote, “the real kicker is that the kind of life I live here (Honduras), which at first I considered sacrificial, is still seen by many around me as living in abundance. That blows my mind.” The car I felt embarrassed to drive during college now looks like a huge blessing when I consider that most families here do well to buy one used shared vehicle. And mine was one of FIVE vehicles that my immediate family owned – practically unheard of here in Honduras.

I’m caught between these two worlds – but I want so badly that they understand each other.” (Full blog post here.)

My great frustration in life is feeling misunderstood. (My Myers-Briggs [INFP] and Enneagram [4 w 5] personality type results confirm this) So, as if to complicate things even more I decided to move to and marry into a new country and culture and language. Communicating effectively and achieving “being understood” is even more challenging yet at the same time more rewarding when it happens.

And it’s not just on the Honduras end. Sometimes it’s hard for family and friends back home to relate to my daily life (no fault of their own) or to understand that the values, norms, and status quo in Honduran society are different. It gets tricky trying to balance two different value systems. Small talk becomes even more painful when you have so much heaviness weighing on you. Very few in the states truly understand the plight of an average individual trying to make ends meet in a developing country like Honduras and even fewer truly grasp the reality that: The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for 5 percent of global income and the richest 20 percent accounts for three-quarters of world income. The inequality is staggering and it’s an inequality that has actual faces and names here.

Did you know? The money spent on diet plans in the U.S. alone could feed all starving children around the globe? The 60 billion dollars spent on Black Friday in the U.S. could solve the food crisis TWICE and the water crisis 6 TIMES?

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The wonderful thing is that statistically, Americans are more likely than any other country to voluntarily give to help the poor in other countries. Ironically, those with lower incomes actually give a higher percentage. We could improve on the fact that there is still 33% in our country who do not donate to charity at all.

On my previous short-term trips I would come home to the U.S. to my big comfortable bed and just cry because I didn’t know what to do with what I had just experienced. I knew something was terribly wrong with how I saw the majority of Americans living – their skewed priorities, their indifference to “outsiders.” Unfortunately after a few weeks, those strong feelings of unrest and conviction would start to wane. The awareness that 62% of the population of Honduras live below the poverty line would fade to the background of my consciousness because it was no longer right in front of my face. I would continue with my life and get caught up in the same trivial first world problems. I now consciously choose to keep it in the forefront of my mind no matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

I also choose to keep speaking up about it. I’ll be like that annoying dripping in the kitchen sink that just won’t. shut. up.

You’re welcome.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” Matt. 6:19

What are some practical ways you liberate yourself and your family from the bondage of materialism and/or stand in solidarity with those suffering in and outside our borders?

*Two other life changing books on my shelf regarding this topic are Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ron Sider and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.*

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To Give or Not To Give Positive Affirmation

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I don’t remember if I ever actually took that Love Language quiz but I am 99% sure that my love language is words of affirmation. (love receiving it but still not the best at giving it) I think the need is in my nature mostly but probably also has to do with growing up in an encouraging and affirming environment. (not always unconditional mind you) For good or for bad it kind of created a dependency I suppose. When someone withholds verbal affirmation I feel it deeply. It still makes me feel like a child. My husband is a bit more resilient and I envy him for it. But every now and then I see that inner child looking for approval come out. It’s a part of us all.

All of us were created with some degree of innate need for encouragement and that you-can-do-it voice backing us up. If our childhood is devoid of that kind of moral support it can lead to grave emotional and relational consequences. (The results of which we see a lot here in our work in Honduras.)

I’m an INFP and I’ve mentioned before that I’m a self-diagnosed highly sensitive person so this combination makes me very attuned to which individuals are affirmation-hoarders and which are generous with their praise. Yeah, I see you.

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Emotional withholding is in fact a psychological manipulation tactic. It is one thing to be careless and just not thoughtful in general but it is another thing to intentionally withhold positive speech (an emotional need) in order to a.) punish the receiver or b.) maintain a sense of imagined superiority over them. I would even say, speaking from personal experience, that some of us feel this weird need to determine who actually deserves positive words and who’s “had their fill.” Have you ever felt that sense of, “Well, they sure get enough likes on instagram. I’m not adding to it.”? Kind of silly but I think we’ve all been there.

Sadly, what I’ve noticed is that almost every affirmation-withholder I’ve met did not receive adequate positive affirmation somewhere in their past: from a parent, authority figure, former employer, etc. It’s a cycle. I know that when I feel particularly insecure and in need of verbal affirmation is when I am least likely to give it out to someone else. Those really are my most selfish times, not when I’m at the peak of my confidence. Someone has the break the cycle. And it requires some strength.

I have a couple friends who are literally the best compliment givers. They can cheer a person up in under a minute. Sometimes I’m feeling down and they catch me off guard with their positive outlook. All of a sudden I feel invincible, with my head held high, ready to lavish praise (merited or unmerited) on literally any random person who crosses my path.

Encouragement begets encouragement, and positive affirmation begets positive affirmation. What power we have in our words to create such a ripple effect. It changes the environment around us and truly has a broad outcome even beyond our sphere of influence. As children of God why would we not want to give affirmation freely?

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Paul’s letter in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “…encourage one another and build one another up.” It’s a Christian responsibility! It’s important that we periodically check our hearts and pray like David, “Search me, God, and know my heart. Test my thoughts.” Even when it’s difficult or awkward or “not my style” we can step out of our comfort zone and give positive words of affirmation that someone else might be needing so badly. On the other side of the coin I also think it’s important that we examine ourselves and take responsibility for our own emotions that deep down our identity and security is founded in Christ and not in any human’s words. Working on it. 🙂

What about you? Are you on the needy end of the spectrum? Do you consider yourself generous with encouragement?

Blending: Newlywed Daily Life

Today marks four months of marriage. I’m totally counting (and celebrating!) each month but Natán told me just to let him know once we’ve reached a year. *eye roll*

These four months have involved a lot of blending. Blending of two distinct cultures, upbringings, families, personalities, responsibilities, communication styles, general preferences, and expectations. In a lot of ways we had already started some of the blending almost five years ago when we started dating. The fact that I had moved to a new country meant that I was already doing quite a lot of adapting previous to meeting Natán. If I hadn’t been open to a complete cultural change from the beginning there would have been (and would still be) a lot more friction.

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That doesn’t mean I don’t lay down some gringa rules in this Honduran household. 1. Bath and Body Works Wallflowers and candles – this house will smell like a magical garden of magnolia blossom white tea ginger honeysuckle sweet pea, dang it. 2. Decorative pillows are meant to be seen, not touched and certainly not slept on. 3. You can eat your stinky dry cheese all you want but I will keep the fridge stocked with my heavenly cheddar cheese, even if it means splurging a bit at the grocery store. 4. Let me introduce you to a little invention called a coaster. 5. I’m sorry, we’re doing what today? Is it on the family calendar??

He likes to joke that I’m “American-izing” him and my whiteness is rubbing off on him. 😉 (you. are. welcome.) Occasionally when he doesn’t want to yield to my really great American idea he claims imperialism. (deep down I know he likes all my ideas)

[One of my ideas is that he will continue to eat fried okra with as many meals as possible until he is as obsessed with it as I am.] 2017-05-02 18.56.45

Contrary to common belief about Latin men being machista he is a wonderful partner who treats me as his equal and willingly shares in domestic responsibilities. I’m so thankful for that. Really, it’s something that attracted me to him from the beginning. I recognized that he knew how to run a household and wasn’t afraid of a broom and dustpan. I’ve learned valuable home skills from him too like how to wash clothes by hand in the pila (outdoor wash basin) and make flour tortillas.

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I can honestly say that nothing has felt more natural than becoming his wife and blending our separate lives together. I halfway expected a big moment of either euphoria or difficulty. Maybe that moment is on its way but so far I can attest that it has just felt right. As a person who thoroughly enjoyed and made the most of singlehood, I now know that I really really enjoy marriage in general and I really really enjoy sharing life with the person I wholeheartedly decided to marry. ❤

 

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Nueva Alianza village update [PHOTOS] and Mission teams recap

It’s been a busy summer in Honduras! And that is just the couple of groups with which I was able to be present. Praise God for all the volunteer work that goes on in all parts of the country due to foreign teams. The San Pedro Sula (and I would imagine Tegucigalpa as well) airport is always buzzing with English speaking groups coming and going during the summer months.

I was able to spend 6 weeks total in the country. Needless to say, my summer flew by! (And I like it that way. 😉 Now fall can hurry up an get here please.)

But I wanted to follow up on the project in the currently sponsored village in Copan and share a bit from our 2 weeks of medical clinics.

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Natán and Walter in Nueva Alianza

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Laundry mat! Where some of the families wash their clothes. Most don’t have the typical pila. (large concrete wash basin)

I posted a picture and caption on Facebook from our preliminary trip up to the village about a little girl named Mariela:

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|| The best view. ||  My new friend, Mariela, showed me her house and her family’s garden yesterday. They were proud of their new water filter they received about a week ago. Two families live together in the tiny home so she calls the little room that she shares with other family members her “house.” Their outhouse style toilet has stopped working so they have to use the bathroom in the woods. They wash clothes in the nearby creek.

From the post a sweet friend messaged me wanting to send money for this family to have a new bathroom! So on the following trip we were able to sit down with the pastor of the village and write out the materials needed to construct a new outhouse for this family with a toilet that could be “flushed” with (a bucket of) water instead of what they had before – a hole in the ground that would fill up. Then we went to the hardware store…

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…and just a few weeks later we went back for a visit and got to see the completed and functioning outhouse!

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The donation we received was enough for two entire outhouses so on this follow-up trip we bought another load of materials to construct a second outhouse for another family who mentioned this need and whom the pastor knows personally. Also, we DO NOT build or hire anyone to build these for them. Part of maintaining dignity and pride in work and your possessions is taking ownership of them from the beginning. We do not endorse handouts but we work with them and listen to what the needs are. We do the basic things that they are not able to do on their own and come alongside them as they work to make it happen. Our goal is to develop communities and individuals, not be their vending machine, which is why the church’s consistent presence with them in their village is so important. I wish I was there to be able to visit monthly or even more often.

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me, Natán, Pastor Joaquin, Jonathan, Yanela – overlooking Nueva Alianza in the background

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* JOY *

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Mission Teams!

So, this year was pretty exciting as far as teams go. We had a lot of people and each year a lot of my family go, which I love, but this year it was even more exciting because my little (giant) sister came for the first time! And I was about her age the first time I traveled to Honduras and fell in love with the country.

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Family! me, little bro Carson, little sis Tori

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Lovely cousin Kate! What would I do without her?

Our first week of medical clinics was in the area of La Esperanza, Intibucá. Such wonderful weather and beautiful people! Our second week was in Copán as usual, which will forever have my heart. ❤ I actually didn’t take any pictures these two weeks because my main role was interpreter and I can get easily burned out wearing too many hats. Let’s face it, missions is not always smiles and giggles and I can get cranky by the end of these trips! But to be honest, even though it is a lot of work, this time was refreshing and reenergizing for me. Exhausting and sometimes emotionally taxing, but the Lord taught me new things and I treasure the moments shared with family and friends, new and old, on the 2015 Honduras medical mission trips.

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November update

It has been a while, dear old blog! I thought I would give a personal update on my life…

First of all, this is the first U.S. Fall that I have been able to experience in two years! I have literally been left breathless by the sight of some of these gorgeous trees with their colorful leaves and have thought several times that I was going to cause a wreck while driving and trying to look out the window. I wouldn’t trade anything for a late October / early November in the good ol’ USA. 🙂

I have been officially moved back to the states for almost 4 months now. I love the comforts of my U.S. lifestyle and I hate that I love it all at once. Sometimes I get so comfortable I feel miserable. I think only those who have traveled out of the country are really able to understand that kind of misery caused by too much comfortThings are so easy here. And becoming accustomed to the convenience and comfort again causes me to take for granted what I just spent a year learning to appreciate so deeply.

I had a tough couple of weeks adjusting back to the U.S. after I returned this past July. I can’t really pinpoint why but a comment that a friend recently made in reference to coming back after a trip abroad hit home with me. He mentioned that after a trip to Mexico when he came back to the states, it felt like everyone around him was just talking and worrying about the most stupid and trivial things. Whether that is just psychological or not, I understand the feeling! (not to say that Central Americans can’t be shallow too… whew.)

I am so thankful that God has proven Himself my Provider over and over. I am thankful for some incredible opportunities doing things that I love and earning enough money from that to pay off my school loans. <– my main goal! I am thankful for my sacrificial family, especially my grandparents for offering me a place to stay and allowing me to dedicate all of my income to paying off my debt so I can get back to the mission field ASAP. I am thankful for my understanding and faithful and patient boyfriend so many miles away. (and I’m SUPER thankful for Skype!) I am so at peace with the way things are and I trust God’s plan for the future. Distance, nor time, nor money could intimidate me. God’s got this under control.

Currently I am working part time at an elementary school teaching adult English classes to parents as part of the school’s Family Literacy Program. I love it! I am also doing on-call independent Spanish interpreting work and am waiting to begin another more consistent interpreting job. These past few months I have been able to spend more time with my family than I have in the last few years and I know that is so important especially since I am planning to move out of the country more permanently. I am doing photography and video projects on the side and am taking every opportunity to visit churches and events to speak about missions in Honduras and our organization’s current projects that are in need of funding.

I have a lot on my plate but I deeply believe in a divine plan and I just put my faith in the fact that the Lord has mapped this all out. Even about me and all the silly details about my life – He cares.

I recently mailed out my first missions newsletter with a more detailed update. I will occasionally do that. If you didn’t get on the mailing list and are interested please send me your mailing address! It includes more details that I don’t publish online.

God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.

This past week I attended a Mother’s Day service at a local Hispanic church (I was invited by some of my neighbors) and a few days later, an elementary school graduation of a Mexican boy who is in our mentoring ministry. It is not unusual for my friends, roommates, fellow mentors and I to find ourselves at events like these… I really enjoy being involved in the lives of the neighborhood kids and their families.

At church on Sunday, the pastor preached to the immigrant congregation about not neglecting the families they left back in their home countries. We had a moving time of prayer for family members “back home” who may feel abandoned or betrayed by their loved ones’ choice of moving to the U.S. He spoke of how the Lord knows the heart of the immigrant and knows the tears, pain and the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to leave one’s home country and all things familiar for an indefinite amount of time. He reminded us of the Bible characters (including Jesus) who moved to distant lands either for reasons of famine, searching for work, fleeing oppression or by a command from God Himself.

There I sat on Mother’s Day – amongst families from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, etc who had left their home and other family members behind in search of opportunity – knowing that I had the luxury of driving only a couple hours into the next state to see my mother and they didn’t share that luxury with me. I could sense the ache and maybe even a little remorse in the sniffles that filled the sanctuary as we pleaded with God to protect those still remaining in poverty, war-torn countries and without access to education.

Don’t fear, God knows your heart.

A couple days later I attended a 5th grade graduation. The boy I was there to see is from Mexico. His legal status is pending. He was brought to this country as a baby by well-meaning parents only wanting the best for their son. I watched him receive award after award for scholastic achievement and heard teachers, principals and board members charge the group of students to “make wise decisions” and remind them and their parents that there should be no excuse not to complete high school and continue on to college. Before he and a handful of his classmates went up to receive the Presidential Academic Excellence Award, a letter from President Barack Obama was read. The President congratulated the students on their hard work and encouraged them to continue pursuing outstanding performance in their education. Everyone seemed to be on board with this sentiment. But how many parents and educators in that room really realized the opportunity disparity that will become evident among this class of 2019 in the next few years? While citizen children will be able to easily earn a driver’s license, their classmates lacking documentation will have no chance at receiving a legal state-issued ID. While citizen high school graduates will be receiving scholarships and paying in-state tuition, some of their peers will have little chance at higher education, much less financial aid, and will have to pay out-of-state tuition for colleges that are right down the road from their high school.

To many latino immigrant families, moving from 5th grade to middle school is huge. This step is something that many parents that I personally know were not able to take while back in their home countries due to economic hardship. Seeing their children continue with their education is an emotional moment in which they realize that every sacrifice they had to make was worth it.

I had a recent conversation with my neighbors who are from Mexico and Guatemala about the political climate in my home state, Alabama, and updates on the anti-immigrant legislation that was passed last year. They told me about a Mexican man living in Alabama who came home one winter evening after work to find his water and electricity cut off. (as suggested by the new law – “no one is to enter a contract with an undocumented immigrant” including landlords and utilities companies) He, his wife and small daughters went to bed that night without showers or heat. When he called to inquire about it he was told he had two days before he would be evicted. Two days later they headed to Tennessee where they now live.

My neighbors have voiced their concerns with me before about waking up each morning not knowing if that day could be the day they get detained or deported. These people have lived here for years. They have established families. This is the only culture and country their children know. I asked if they had some kind of plan in place for their children in the instance that they were arrested. (I heard of many families in Alabama having to do this with other family members or neighbors after HB56 was passed) They told me not really but that they make sure that all their children (who are natural born citizens) have their passports as soon as possible. If anything were to happen to one parent, the whole family would follow back to the home country – being separated is not even an option.

I consider these families very dear to me. So when I hear ignorant anti-immigrant political rhetoric… it hits me in a personal way. Whether this affects you or anyone close to you, I challenge you to have the courage to think critically beyond the stereotypes and xenophobia. Put a human face to the issue. And if you are a follower of Christ I sure hope you are able to see that God knows the heart of the immigrant, even when we don’t.