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Life Lessons from Haircuts Around the World

October 6, 2017

In America, I once had a perm.  They left the chemicals on too long and when I left the salon my hair was dry, frizzy and looked awful. I cried. Don saw it and said, “Don’t worry. People like you for who you are, not what your hair looks like.”

Nevertheless, I called the salon and pleaded for help. The next day they put a relaxant on it and though still not ideal, at least it was better. When Don saw the improvement, he seemed relieved and teasingly said, “Whew! I thought it was going to look like that forever.” What happened to people like me for who I am?

When we lived in the Middle East, I visited a salon near my home. Someone washed my hair, then the man began to cut. I don’t remember what I told him. I do know the style I got was not what I would have asked for. After he cut it, he styled it using a curling iron that was heated over a gas flame. He must have been very pleased with the result because he used a lot of hair spray to make sure it stayed the way he fixed it.

I was distraught. It was puffed high (picture the biggest, puffiest hairstyles from the 1960s), hard and stiff from all the hairspray. I did not like it. The cut wasn’t that bad I told myself, it was just the way he styled it. So, as I paid and left I thought I could just go home, wash it and fix it myself. I looked at my watch and realized I had no time to go home because I needed to pick up my daughters from preschool.

I hailed a taxi. Back in those days the taxis had no air conditioning so all the windows were open allowing a breeze to alleviate the stifling heat. Due to all the hairspray holding my hair in place, it was as if I was wearing a helmet. The wind couldn’t blow through my hair, it could only blow around it jolting my entire head at every turn!

You know it is a bad haircut when friends see you, their eyes widen a bit and they say things like, “Oh, did you get your hair cut?” without adding, “It looks nice.” Or even, “Don’t worry. It will grow.” I picked up my daughters, who thankfully still recognized me, and went home.

Once we got home, they took a nap and I was so tired I waited to wash my hair a little later so that I could rest as well. When I woke up, I looked in the mirror and realized that my hair looked even worse! Now not only was it puffed up high, it tilted to one side. I was standing straight but the top of my head seemed to be slanting to the right.

I was going to wash it, but it was time to fix dinner. Don got home before I could adjust my leaning tower of hair. Smiling he said, “Oh, did you get a haircut?”

A few years ago when I decided to stop coloring my hair, I thought rather than go through the ‘ugly stages’ of the dye growing out that I would just get my hair colored gray. I called several salons when we were in the states and finally found one that said they could do it. I went there and we looked through a book of colors and finally found one that I liked. “First,” she said, “We need to do a test strand.” So, she clipped a strand of hair to see if the color would work. I waited. She came back and said, “We can’t do it. Your hair turns green.” Green wasn’t the color I was looking for!

Recently in Spain, I looked up the words in Spanish I needed to describe what I wanted in a haircut. I meant to ask her to cut a little off. I think she thought I said leave a little on! As I watched her cutting I was thinking this is too short. I wanted to get up and run away but that’s now how mature women my age are supposed to act. My mind was scrambling for the words to say, “Stop, it is short enough.” But at that panicked moment I could only think to yelp, “No more corto!” Not correct, but effective!

I am getting my hair cut tomorrow. It is a new salon. I am a bit nervous, but I’ve learned some valuable lessons through the years that give me courage. People like me for who I am, not for what my hair looks like. If in dire need of a helmet and one is unavailable, hair spray might make a good substitute. Even when your hair is tilting a different direction from the rest of your head, you can still cook dinner. Knowing the language doesn’t necessarily determine a good haircut. Hair grows back.

And finally, no matter how it turns out, I can always be thankful that at least it isn’t green!

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Mopping, Missioning, and Mothering

September 15, 2017

I was interacting with a woman serving across cultures who had young children. She said she didn’t have much time for ministry because she was busy with her children.

I remember thinking along similar lines when I was a young mother and trying to figure out how to balance ministry with family. However, I came to realize that ministry and family are not separate designations; they are both ministry—just ministry in different spheres. It is ministry in the home and ministry outside of it. We need discernment when deciding how much time we invest into which sphere of ministry.

When our children were younger my larger sphere of ministry was in my home. I had a view of what to do outside as well, but time was limited. When they were in preschool, I had mornings for outreach; we sometimes met with friends as a family in the evenings in our home or theirs. Other times my husband and I would take turns babysitting so one of us could meet with friends. Occasionally we would have a friend come stay with our kids so we could minister as a couple or go out on a date.

Picture1Mostly, though, I was home with the kids when they were home. I helped them with homework, took them to the park, watched movies with them, played with them, mothered them, had devotions with them, prayed with them, loved them and disciplined them. Of course, I did all this imperfectly, with much love, a lot of prayer… and some whining! I was playing hide-n-seek with my little ones—partly because it was fun, but also because I needed time to myself. I remember praying while hiding behind the file cabinet before they found me, “Lord, I just need a few minutes alone!”

My husband, too, dedicated time to his ministry in the home and fathering our children. I remember a marked difference in our family as he began to more intentionally choose to minister in our home and not just focus on the ministry outside of it. Balancing time in our spheres of ministry is not just a women’s issue—men and women both have a vital ministry in the home. Choosing how much time to invest in each sphere of ministry is something about which mothers and fathers must be purposeful and prayerful. We talked about it together, made some adjustments, but still were never sure we were balancing well! It isn’t easy to discern how to juggle all we need and want to do. We look back on the time we invested ministering in our home as an eternally valuable investment of time and energy. Our four children are now parenting their own children and seeking to do so while loving Jesus! We praise God for his amazing kindness and we thank our children for their forgiveness when we made mistakes!

With older kids, I had more time to serve outside my home.  I met with friends to talk about spiritual things; we had recipe exchanges where we also shared a devotional. Exercising at an aerobics class and having language exchanges all provided opportunities for sharing the gospel. Even when more of my ministry focus was devoted to my home; it didn’t keep my total focus. Serving Jesus did and that took place in and out of my home.

There is a third sphere of ministry that takes place in the home that can seem menial and not ministry at all. That is the mopping, the cleaning, the dishes and the laundry—all those things that threaten to overtake us if we get behind and are so necessary in caring for ourselves and our family.

We sometimes see these mundane tasks as obstacles to ministry! Living overseas, these chores take up even more time than they did in the states! There are often no dryers so ironing becomes an added chore. Soaking and washing fruits and vegetables, sifting dead bugs from frozen flour, picking through rice for stones, shopping at four markets instead of one supermarket, cooking from scratch out of necessity and not by choice! It all takes time and it’s hard to remember that this, too, is ministry. It is caring for family, serving those we love and ultimately honoring the Lord not only by what we do but how we do it!

Mark wrote about some of the women who followed Jesus, “In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs.” (Mark 15:41). I think they did some laundry, cooking and probably some cleaning. It did not go unnoticed because they did it for Jesus. They served him in practical ways!

Whether we are mopping, missioning or mothering—or doing all three at the same time—we are serving to honor the Lord. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:17 and 23-24:

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

We can serve the Lord wholeheartedly as we minister inside and outside of our homes!

 

A new decade; A continuing challenge

August 2, 2017

It is said time passes quickly; it seems true to me that decades do indeed fly by!

This is my last month to be in my 50s. One fun thing I can think of in turning 60, along with a party, cake and presents, is that I can be called a sexagenarian—just one letter away from being a sexy-genarian!

I was alarmed when I read, “Almost everyone who does not finish well fails in the second half of life,” in the book Live Like You Mean It by T.J. Addington. Knowing I am well into the second half of life, I must continue to be on guard because I desire to finish well.

As I’ve considered reasons why the second half of life might be more perilous, it makes sense!

  • We can grow overconfident trusting in our own maturity that comes from life and ministry experience. We might forget how desperately we need God’s power.
  • We can grow lazy and content in our current condition. It might be tempting to rest on our laurels glorying in past victories without much thought in pressing onward and pursuing God for future endeavors.
  • We discover what we are good at and can choose to stay in our comfort zone avoiding risks that would challenge us beyond our competencies to further reliance on Him.
  • We think we are safe from giving in to sin and become negligent, especially if we have been successful over major temptations in the past.
  • Our walk with God can grow stale as our quiet times become mere ho-hum rituals.
  • Maybe bitterness from past hurts has taken up residence and is enveloping a larger portion of our heart causing our love for God to grow cold.
  • We are tired. It takes energy to live well and as we grow older we don’t have as much vigor as we used to, but we keep living and serving like we do!

There are probably many more possible reasons for not finishing well! But there is only one person who can help us stay the course–Jesus.

By his grace, may I love Jesus with all my heart. Pursue him. Abide in him. Live for him. Pray to him. Trust in him. Know him. Hope in him. Notice all the action verbs! We keep actively pursuing God by faith whatever our age! But our actions are only effective because it is the Lord on whom we rely and He empowers us to live for him. He is the giver of the gift of eternal life, whether we are tricenarians, septuagenarians or octogenarians! One might think that 90 is really old, but look at the term–nonagenarians— ‘non age’ is how it starts!

Being old in physical age pales in comparison with the eons of eternity. Whether we are in the first or the latter half of life, we know that life continues even after physical death. Jesus invites us to relentlessly pursue him in this lifetime as well as to live with him in the eternity that is to come!

For all who are aging may we be reminded:  Stay the course. Keep eternity in your eyes. Never give up. Jesus is powerful. Jesus is worthy.

May we each finish well as we prepare for a good start on our forever after with him!

 

 

 

 

 

Uni-Tasking!

July 11, 2017

Though many years have passed, I still remember the day as a mother of four little children when I multi-tasked to the best of my ability. My baby daughter was hungry, I had to go to the bathroom, and as always there was laundry to be done. So, while sitting on the toilet I was also nursing my daughter, and since the washing machine was situated next to the toilet so I began pulling out the damp clothes that eventually needed to be hung outside to dry. I felt harried. In the midst of multi-tasking there was no cuddling my daughter (it was probably not the most comfortable nursing experience for me or her as my arm swung to and from the washing machine!) nor was there a tender moment gazing into her lovely, big brown eyes. I was thinking of the tasks that needed to be done and I was getting three done at one time! I felt that it was necessary to multi-task to finish everything I needed to do.

kids when littleWhen the kids were little, life was busy; days were full; nights could be sleepless. Nothing prevented the accumulation of things that needed to be done. I’m sure this is true for moms whether you work across cultures or not; but I think all would agree that there is added stress when living outside of your home country. There was the soaking of fruits and vegetables in bleach water, boiling drinking water—and not confusing the two! We hung clothes out to dry and thus there was a need for ironing. Dust from the Sahara blew daily through open windows on hot sunny days which resulted in more housework as well as warm sweaty bodies dirtying their clothes that caused more soiled laundry and the cycle kept repeating! Add to that time with neighbors and friends, helping the kids with homework, play time, family devotions, and settling sibling squabbles as well as marital disagreements! I was tired. I needed to multi-task to survive. I think, to some degree, I felt better about myself the more responsibilities I could juggle at one time.

And yet in hustle and bustle of life, there are other precious moments that stand out to me when it didn’t look like a lot was getting done, but my soul was being restored in simply enjoying one thing at a time!

I remember sitting in the one corner of our hot apartment where I could feel a cross breeze and nurse my baby. It was quiet. I was still. It was her and me. I could rest and take that time to enjoy the closeness of just my daughter and me. No laundry. No dusting. Just me, her, and a gentle breeze.

I set my alarm a little early so that when I got up the apartment was quiet. I put on the tea kettle, sat down by the open oven door when it was winter, and read from the Bible. I prayed. Oswald Chambers became a friend as I often read through “My Utmost for His Highest”. I sought my heavenly Father in the stillness before doors slammed and feet ran. Again, to an outsider looking in—what was I accomplishing? I didn’t appear productively busy, but I met God there and he prepared me for the day.

I remember a few late-night talks at the foot of our kids’ beds. I knew there were other things that needed to be done, I was tired, but on those occasions when I took the time to sit I heard deeper questions and enjoyed unrushed conversations with four of the most important people in the world to me. Those other things to do would be there later and would be there again next week and next month and next year. There would always be tasks. There will always be laundry.  Not so, these opportunities when my kids were living at home.

Most of my memories involving multi-tasking tend to run together—except for my proud multi-tasking moment in the bathroom which one must wonder if it was really that good of a moment! I can’t remember much about multi-tasking except that there was always more to do!

But those quiet moments, those uni-task more intense relational opportunities between me and others or me and God, stand out from all the rest and still manage to bring a smile to my face and joy to my soul.

In today’s world, I think it is way more difficult to concentrate on one task at a time. We have many time-saving devices, but we have filled our time with more devices! Our phones are dinging, face book is calling, computers are waiting—all urgently trying to divert our attention away from the important people directly in front of us. We now mentally and physically multi-task more than ever. Texting and driving, texting while talking, never quite giving anyone in front of us our undivided attention. It can seem more of a priority to connect with people around the world than the ones in our living room!

I’ve been with my grandchildren, ten of the most significant people in my world that I don’t get to see very often, and I am sad to say there is often a smart phone in my hand and multi-tasking on my mind. Before I know it, I have missed an opportunity to interact face to face one-on-one with my full attention on this little person who might not recognize by my actions that they are more important to me than anything on my phone.

Spending time with God away from my smart phone, sitting to read a book that encourages my soul, resting on a Sunday afternoon, chatting with a friend over a cup of coffee ignoring even the slighted buzz of my nearby phone, actively listening to my grandson’s imaginative story without interruptions—these uni-task opportunities are intentionally delightful and ultimately more purposeful than doing even a thousand things at once!

Maybe life shouldn’t be so focused on being productive that I lose sight of living purposefully.

Multi-tasking can possibly make us more productive; I know it makes us busier. Multi-tasking can also be a relationship buster and soul burdener.

We have one life—each day is an opportunity in which to intentionally and meaningfully choose to live with purpose. There is a time for productive multi-tasking. We must also make time for purposeful uni-tasking!

 

 

My Wheaton Moment

June 14, 2017

Years ago, our older daughter was looking at colleges. She applied to several and was accepted by all of them except one. Wheaton. She had already decided she didn’t want to go there and had chosen a different college that she was excited about. But it irked her that Wheaton didn’t choose her.

Why not? Why didn’t they want her? What was wrong with her?

I told her that it didn’t matter since she didn’t want to go there anyway. She didn’t choose them so why did it matter that they didn’t choose her?

She still wondered why.

Why not her?

I teased her about it every so often.

But no more!

I had my own ‘Wheaton moment’ last month. The church planting council I am a part of was going to nominate two people to serve on the international council of our organization. Serving on the international council was an opportunity to serve and help our mission achieve its goal of church planting among least-reached peoples. My name was mentioned along with two other names to make up the slate from which we would vote.

As I thought about this opportunity, I realized that I was already juggling several projects and had some training opportunities coming up with which I would be busy. I also thought about my strengths and wondered if they would be needed as much as what the other two people would bring. As I looked at timing, gifting and personnel, I decided to vote for the other two people.

And so did the majority of others. I was not elected onto the council.

It’s strange knowing I did not vote for me and had already decided that not being on the international council would be best for me and the council—yet after hearing that I wasn’t chosen by others, I started wondering why.

Why didn’t others vote for me to be on the council? What was wrong with me? What was I lacking? Was this a vote against my leadership capabilities? What weaknesses were people seeing? Maybe I didn’t contribute to meetings as much as I was hoping I did.

I was reeling and this shocked me. I learned a long time ago that my value as a person is not related at all to my accomplishments or to other people’s opinions of me. I know these concepts well and have applied them to my life; I’ve even taught them to others! And yet in this one instance it took only a few seconds for old doubts and long-buried feelings of insecurity based on Satan-driven lies to rise to the surface. I was left doubting my significance and value.

Why not me?

I was embarrassed that it affected me. After all, I’m 59 ¾ years old! I thought for sure I had outgrown feelings like this!

A bonus of being older is that through the years I have learned what to do when confronted with feelings that erupt from lies (you aren’t worthy, you aren’t important, your gifts aren’t needed). I forcefully waded my way through those untruths and got back to truth found in the Word of God,

In truth and by God’s power, I can be set free from feelings based on lies.

I can focus on truth. I am loved by God. I am gifted by God with gifts of his choosing. I matter to God so much that his Son died for my sins so that I could be reconciled to the Father. I am a member of the body of Christ and as such have a role to play with his power— not left to my own limited resources. The Lord has a purpose for my life and sovereignly places me where he can use me for his glory.

I thank God that has put me in this place for this time. I am confident that this decision was God’s will and praise him for his plan.

I sincerely believe that those we voted on to the council are needed and well-equipped. They will provide valuable insights and clear thinking. I am happy for God leading in this way and I pray often for this council that God will guide their steps and establish the work of their hands.

Believers in Jesus are not held captive to lies; we are not hopelessly doomed to repeatedly give in to temptation. We can choose truth and be set free.

And there is always hope that when I turn 60 I will have finally outgrown those pesky adolescent-like feelings of insecurity that occasionally flared up in those first five decades!

I gave God my life but not my toothbrush!

May 11, 2017

Lessons I’ve learned in the past continue to be an encouragement to me in the present as I seek to serve God in my small ways. Let me share one of my favorite life-impacting lessons involving a toothbrush:

During our early years in the Middle East, one morning during my quiet time I had such a burning desire in my heart for God to use me. My heart was reaching out to God. I poured out my soul before his throne. “Oh, God.” I cried. “Use me to honor your name. Whatever the cost—prison, beatings, martyrdom—I want to serve you. Take my life today to use as you see fit. You are my King and I give myself to you.” I shared this desire with others in our team. I felt so ready to lose anything for the kingdom.

Then we had a houseguest . . . again. Elliot used to come to our house a lot. He had no money, no job, and no place to stay. I would get so tired of serving tea, reheating dinner when he came late, washing the extra pajamas and sheets, and rearranging our kids so he could have a place to sleep. I grew to have a very poor attitude in my service toward this brother. Soon he stopped coming.

Later I heard he was sleeping at the bus station and not eating regularly. Stricken with remorse, the next time he called, I asked him where he had been and invited him to come see us again. You see I had had my quiet time and I was ready to give up my life for the kingdom.

Then he used my toothbrush and he left it bloody. I was angry. It was my favorite toothbrush—though I hadn’t realized it till then! He was my husband’s friend—why didn’t he choose to use my husband’s toothbrush? I would have to go buy a new toothbrush. I knew I could never find another like it. The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. “God—look what happens. I did this for you. I wanted to help this guy out and what does he do? He picks my toothbrush to use and get bloody. I can’t believe it! I have to buy a new toothbrush. I liked my toothbrush. God, it isn’t fair!”

Then I heard a still, small voice. “You offered me your life. You mentioned beatings, prison, and a willingness to be martyred. All I asked from you today is your toothbrush.” 

It is easy to get grandiose in my thinking about sacrifice: anything for you, Lord; anywhere for you, Lord; anytime for you, Lord. When what God is looking for is my service to him in the here and now details of my life, the small things I have to give today. It isn’t likely that I will ever be beaten, stay in prison or be a martyr. Maybe that is why I am so ready to give myself to God for these spectacular opportunities to serve (at least it sounds spectacular in a book written by someone who survives it all).

What God wants from me is to be open day by day, minute by minute to serve him by giving him not only my life, but my toothbrush as well.

(One of my Screams in the Desert, published by William Carey Library)

My oldest son shared a new thought with me a few years ago, “Maybe he used your toothbrush before as well, but this one time he forgot to rinse it off and put it back.” I thanked him for making me aware of that possibility! Sigh.

Ripples

April 14, 2017

ripples

Don and I visited the Billy Graham Library (billygrahamlibrary.org) a few years ago and came across this plaque. It traces ripples. Edward Kimball led Moody to Jesus. God used Moody in the life of F.B. Meyer who in turn led Wilber Chapman to the Lord. Wilbur worked with Billy Sunday who invited Mordecai Ham to speak where Billy Graham came to know Jesus. Then, of course God used Mr. Graham to share the Gospel with many people around the world. It is fascinating to see what happened because of one Sunday School teacher talking to a shoe clerk about Jesus! Investing in people who invest in other people who invest in other people …. God ordains the most amazing ripple effects from the smallest acts of obedience. I am fairly certain that Edward Kimball did not know the impact this one act of obedience of sharing the gospel would have. He was simply being faithful to what God called him to do one day at a time.

I was at a retreat recently and a woman shared a picture of a fountain with me. There were individual drips of water dropping into the pooled water below, but each small drop affected the water as the ripples expanded further and further. The symbolism is beautiful!

Sometimes we may be aware when God uses us to cause ripples! We might be talking with a friend, instructing a child, performing an act of kindness and a person says thank you or somehow lets you know that God used you to change them. They then take what they learned from you and God uses them to touch other lives. Those lives touch other lives. Ripple effect in action. Even when seeing it happen, we probably can’t know in this lifetime how far the ripples go!

Most times, however we don’t know when God is using us to make ripples! Merriam Webster’s definition of ripple effect is: spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ripple%20effect). Many ripple effects are unintentional. Maybe because of small beginnings or the time it takes to trace the outcomes—whatever the reason people often live and die without knowing the full extent of the influence their lives had on others.

Part of the fascination of ripple effects is that we are unaware of what word or action may start one! It would most likely be something little that one wouldn’t think would spark a wildfire. When William Carey went to India, he wasn’t thinking about becoming the “father of modern missions”! He was simply being obedient to God’s call on his life one day at a time. When Hudson Taylor went to China, his goal wasn’t to start the China Inland Mission, but to share the Gospel with Chinese people. There are other famous names to whom ripple effects can be traced.

There are many, many more people who are not known to us but who God used to create ripple effects to accomplish his purposes around the world. Pastors, missionaries, teachers, doctors, construction workers, carpenters, nurses, homemakers, college students, teen agers, musicians, electricians and plumbers—it isn’t a person’s profession that causes ripple effects. It is trusting in Jesus and obeying God in what he has called us to do.

I think of my mother-in-law. She moved about five times as an adult and all the moves were within a one mile radius. Even so, she influenced people around the world!

She inspired several generations through her teaching and praying at church whose members lived that out in their community. Ripples.

She volunteered at a thrift store that sent Bibles to South America. Ripples

She loved people. She loved Jesus. Because of that love, she witnessed to and prayed for neighbors, co-workers, sales people, and ex-cons—just about everyone she met. Ripples.

She also raised and discipled five children. One child grew to pastor and serve the Lord in America, Italy and Africa as well as other countries along the way. Another son pastored a church for twenty-two years before God called him home. We still hear stories of Larry’s legacy that live beyond him and are influencing a new generation. The third son pastored churches in Illinois and Texas and faithfully works with young people who need Jesus. Her last son has served God in his home country as well as the Middle East, India, and Spain. Her only daughter counsels those who are hurting and need healing in their hearts and minds. Ripples.

One life given to Jesus … lived in one town for his glory … led to ripple effects felt around the world. And though she is in heaven now, her life is still rippling!

Often we look at our actions and determine if what we did was valuable based on immediate reactions and results. We have our idea of what success looks like. If it doesn’t appear that our ministry is prospering right away, then we might think we’ve failed or made a mistake. We may be tempted to give up or stop trying. We may grow discouraged and wane in our obedience to the Lord.

We forget about ripples. We overlook the Almighty One who can take one act of obedience or one step of faith and create a ripple effect for generations to come!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up,” Galatians 6:9

Ripples.