New Year Resolutions: Keep It Simple

New Year Resolutions. A new start. A fresh beginning. The new year begs for a reboot, a fresh focus. 2021 is over. Let the new year begin! If this draws you, I encourage you to keep it simple. Keep it simple in order to be successful.

Far too often in the past, I have made my list. Prayed over it. Mulled it over. Confident that I could “do” these few things (okay, maybe five or six), I set out with the best of intentions in the new year only to find that by the end of January, I had already failed.

What went wrong? Had I chosen the wrong new year’s resolutions? Where did my motivation go? It seemed so easy as I made out my list, even prayed over it. The best of intentions flew out the window, oh so quickly.

For some the key is to ask the Lord for a theme verse, phrase or even one word. Then pray over what the Lord would have as a new year’s resolution that supports that key focus. I really love this approach. For me, it works much better than making a list and hoping for full implementation of multiple things. If I am honest, my previous lists were all based in what “I” wanted.

Keeping it simple helps me be successful. One small step in the right direction keeps me going. If I take a leap, I may stumble or even fall. Often I do. But one step at a time, no matter how small, keeps me on the path.

I remember one year that the Lord gave me a phrase: “embrace the place.” He gently reminded me that He wanted me to embrace the place where He had put me. Focus on what He had for me right there. Look no further or allow temptation of the “grass is greener.” Instead, recognize that His “grace is greater” and His intentions are best for me.

Recognizing what God had for me helped me to focus. I knew that the next step, albeit a new year’s resolution, centered around this very focus. The new relationship to nurture. The next opportunity to embrace. I didn’t have a list of many goals but rather just a few. Not only was it easier for me to implement but it was easier for me to see progress. That encouraged my motivation to continue and the motivation wasn’t about just pleasing myself or the satisfaction of successful goals. Instead, it came from a heart to serve and please my Lord.

It is important to also write it down somewhere. Tell someone. When you voice your goal, it gains commitment and strength. There is power in the word, both written and spoken. Not only will your commitment increase but accountability also encourages motivation.

What is it that God is calling you to focus on for 2022? Could it be that He wants you to do something simple? Perhaps it is actually something you are already doing that He wants you to do more of or more often. Or maybe it is something completely new. Regardless, I encourage you to seek Him for clarity. Ask Him for His goals for you.

I realized that in the past, my list of goals were ones that “I” had decided and then I invited God along for the ride while “I” did what “I” wanted. When I finally recognized that any new year’s resolutions in my life should be His and come from Him, then it was not only easier to obtain, but the delight of implementing them grew exponentially.

I invite you to seek Him and expect to simplify. Focus on a few and walk in freedom with Him. As His new year resolutions become yours, you will find that you are walking in freedom with Him and not only reaching those goals but making them as part of who you were meant to be in Him.

May 2022 bring you refreshment and rejuvenation that you never thought possible in your relationship with Him. As He shares with you and speaks gently His ways and His wisdom on the way forward, may you be blessed abundantly as you not only make but keep those new year resolutions throughout all of 2022. And as the year end comes and you reflect, may you indeed see all that “He” has done in and through you!

Self-Care, not Self-Indulgence

Self-care. Over the last decade or so, self-care has become almost a buzz word for those in missionary care. But rooted earlier in the medical world in the 1950s, self-care assisted medical professionals in rehabilitating patients. Used to describe activities that preserved some physical independence, originally it involved simple tasks to nurture a sense of self-worth such as exercising and personal grooming. Today the definition of self-care expands to include anything that helps develop one’s health, happiness and resiliency in life.

But the emphasis on self-care may resemble self-indulgence to those who don’t fully understand and embrace it. For sure, self-care involves a focus on self but there’s a balance required by the very nature of self-care itself. Self-indulgence encompasses an excessive or unrestrained gratification of one’s own desires, appetites or whims. Imbalance exists in self-indulgence. It is simply that; self-indulgence without regard to its impact on self except to fulfill that impulse.

Self-care, on the other hand, involves a stability and intentionality that is not about promoting such lack of self-control. Instead, self-care seeks to live a balanced life that influences all areas of well-being: the spiritual, emotional, physical, intellectual and even social self. It’s about living life in good health in all areas which leads to resiliency.

For the missionary life, self-care becomes an essential piece of resiliency, livelihood, and contributes to longevity on the field. The intentional balance for a missionary is the direct result flowing out of a vibrant relationship with the Lord. When every decision is first filtered through Him, life balance can result. Self-care must flow out of a deliberate daily choice to put Him first in all things. Outside of this funnel and focus, self-care can easily cross over into self-indulgence. Pure, balanced self-care is an overflow that results from a life fully focused on Him.

This is true for all Christians, not just missionaries. The stress that every day life brings each one of us affects our bodies, our spirits, our souls. Without care, we can easily fall into synicism, a critical spirit and anger before we even realize that we have left living the vibrant, fresh walk with Him that God intends for each of us. We can become entrapped by apathy, anxiety, fatigue and general lack of care. It doesn’t generally happen over night, or all at once. Instead, slowly by slowly these things creep into our homes, our ministries, our lives. Before we realize it, these new attitudes have become a part of our every day habits.

Keeping our relationship fresh and new each day with the Lord is key to combatting such tendencies. It is through that lens with which we can discover the true balance of self-care. Reflecting with Him and choosing intentional activities to refill, refresh and rejuvenate our souls becomes life-giving to all of us. And I am not talking about necessarily taking a two week cruise to an exotic island every year. Intentional activities for self-care encompass a variety of interests and meet different people and personalities in their specific areas of need.

For some, it might mean a two week cruise to an exotic island. But more often, it is regular (and vital) time off each week starting with a Sabbath rest. And then perhaps it is a day once a month where time is set aside for a hobby. For those with social needs, it might mean a day out with the guys for fellowship fishing on the lake. If you work in a high stress environment, it is likely important that you get away for a weekend once a month to decompress. For some it may mean a day at the spa getting a massage. Perhaps it is a morning routine at the gym or an afternoon nap. For some it may mean doing a puzzle or playing a family game. But the primary focus is a relationship with the Lord and not self-indulgence that satisfies our temporary appetites. Self-care is secondary, flowing out of our walk with Him, care that honors Him as we care well for ourselves in all aspects of how He has made us.

One exercises quality self-care so that he or she can serve out of the abundance that results. One is filled up to once again be poured out on behalf of the Lord. It is no small task. It may mean trial and error until one figures out what rhythms truly rejuvenate and which ones just don’t work towards the goals. But setting up these rhythms of life may mean the difference between thriving and just surviving.

I encourage you to seek the Lord and ask Him to help you see where to either carve out some time or add in some new activities that will free you up to be with Him regularly and refresh your very being. Make these new habits until they are literally rhythms of life for you. Start small and build on what He leads you to, so that it is possible. Experts say it takes 21 days in a row to form a new habit. Some say it takes up to two months. Clearly, it varies depending on the person, behavior and circumstances. So don’t give up easily on self-care building. It may take some time, but it is so worth it. It may make the difference between walking in the freedom and vitality that God intends for us.

After all, the Christian life is about walking with Him day in and day out for the purpose of advancing His Kingdom and bringing Him glory. Instituting self-care routines and rhythms can unleash new energy in not only your relationship with Him but others, thereby resulting in a new and fresh outlook as you face each day with Him. Be diligent to seek it and reap the rewards.

A Christmas in Uganda

Twas the night before Christmas in our Uganda house,

And everyone is sweating including the mouse.

The heat’s quite oppressive in this holiday drought.

The fans would be turning but the electricity is out.

The children are sleeping, or pretending to be,

Dreaming of morning and the presents they’ll see.

I work on a bike, carefully tightening a spoke,

Even knowing as I do, in a week it’ll be broke.

Then I hear a great racket and jump up to see,

What wonder or miracle it might happen to be.

Could it be Santa with gifts in his sack?

No, it’s just our guard snoring, sleeping out back.

Then a bang and a rattle, something flies through the air.

I rub both my eyes not believing what’s there.

It’s a flying taxi van all decked out in lights,

Pulled by seven Marabou storks in red and green tights.

The sight is so appalling that I let out a scream,

And awaken myself from this yuletidish, nightmarish dream.

I drag out of bed and to the living room go,

Thinking, Christmas in Uganda is not what I used to know.

Our tree’s artificial, a white Christmas, only dreams.

And Santa’s sleigh’s been delayed at the post office it seems.

No fireplace for stockings so by the window they sway.

We play Christmas music and think of loved ones far away.

So many differences, Christmas doesn’t feel quite right,

And yet the core essentials are the same this holy night.

God’s love still abounds, and the victory’s still won.                                   

Our hope is still found in the giving of His Son.

So let our hearts rejoice and our voices ring.

May we sing with the angels, for the coming of our King.

Wherever we may be over all this wide earth,

Let us cling to Christ our King and celebrate His birth.

(by Bob Peterson)

Are You Ready for Christmas? – By Bob Peterson

I was taking my time at the old five and dime,

As I glanced at the newspaper rack.

There was a Santa’s sleigh sighting, a holiday fighting

And a recipe for a “Christmas Eve Snack.”

I looked in dismay at the worldly display,

And thought, “Oh, what a commercialized mess,”

When a voice from behind inquired quite kind,

“So, tell me, are you ready for Christmas?”

I turned right around and what there I found

Was a man of elderly years.

His hair was now thinning but his smile was winning,

Reaching up to touch both his ears.

I said not a word, not sure what I’d heard,

And so left a silence between us.

With his smile in place on his good-natured face,

He asked again, “Are you ready for Christmas?”

I spoke of my shopping and last-minute hopping,

Of my tree with its lights all aglow,

Of Christmas card greetings and holiday meetings,

And crowds wherever you go.

There was my family for dinner and wood for the winter,

And my brother coming in on the bus.

He listened quite well, as my tale I did tell,

Then asked, “But are you ready for Christmas?”

“You see now,” he said with a tilt of his head,

“Christmas is much more, you know.

It’s God up above, who because of His love,

Came to earth His mercy to show.

It’s on Him, don’t you see, that our thoughts should all be,

And not on this holiday fuss.

It’s not the gift in our cart, but our mind and our heart,

That are needed to get ready for Christmas.”

I nodded my head and to him then I said,

“It’s true, the things that you say.

And too often I find that the things on my mind

Don’t point to God or His way.

Despite all the show, in truth I don’t know

The peace the angels foretold.

I wish I could feel and know it was real

That hope of which I could hold.

Now with that in mind, I think I’ll go find

A place to ask God’s forgiveness.

For it’s come clear to me if I want Him with me,

It’s about time I get ready for Christmas.”

A Family Advent Countdown: 25 Days of Christmas

Advent: “the arrival of a notable person, thing or event” according to the Google Dictionary. It’s the anticipation of the birthday celebration of Jesus that we specifically look forward to in December. I have always enjoyed counting down the days to Christmas! No matter how old I get, I believe I will always look forward to this part of the celebration.

But when you aren’t in your home country, Christmas may look very different than what you are used to. The normal decorations may not be available. New traditions may emerge depending upon what you have available in your new country and culture. For us, in Uganda, often times families would decorate with balloons and maybe a large branch. But mostly each family did not possess a full range of ornaments and a fake tree to pull out of storage each year.

For our family, advent meant two things. First, out came the advent candle wreath with three purple candles, one pink candle and a large while pillar candle in the center; and second, out came the wall calendar with a pouch for each day to count down holding a piece of the nativity scene. The nativity scene would be built one by one each day until finally on the last day, baby Jesus would be revealed and placed in the manger by use of velcro. Over the years, it became a bit worn and so last year I refurbished it a bit. These two things went with us when we moved to Uganda back in 2010. It was one of the few “normal” things we possessed for our Christmas celebration.

A friend and missionary colleague who currently serves in Uganda, Kari Segner, shared her creative ways that their family counted down by using activities and fun things to do. That set me to thinking of various things to do each day as part of the advent countdown. Depending upon your country of service, you may or may not have the same things available for crafts and activities. But being creative with what you have is part of the fun! Using some of my friend’s ideas as well as my own, I have created a Family Advent Countdown that I will share with you here. Each day is based in a scripture chosen by Kari and then an activity for the entire family.

  1. Read Luke 1:26-28. Put up the Christmas tree. If you don’t have one, improvise with what you have. Create a tree on the wall with colored paper or find some branches. Diffuse Evergreen essential oil to fill your house with the smells of Christmas. (24 days left until Christmas)
  2. Read Luke 1:29-33. Make a Christmas card to send in the mail to a loved one. Use whatever materials might be available to you. Get creative with cutting out magazine lettering or drawing your own designs. If you mail them now, there is still time for them to arrive in time for Christmas. (23 days left until Christmas)
  3. Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Way! Create a maze by hand on paper to trace the way or make a life-size maze for the family to find their way using boxes or furniture and draping blankets. Make it fun! Perhaps you each take turns making one for others to try. (22 days left until Christmas)
  4. Read Luke 1:34-38. Just as the angel visited Mary to announce that the Holy Spirit would come, add some decorations to the tree that might remind you of the angel or the Holy Spirit. If you don’t have any, you could look for the shape of a dove or an angel to decorate and hang. Perhaps you have glitter that could be added to the angel or dove as well. Again, be creative! (21 days left until Christmas)
  5. Read Matthew 1:18-19. To celebrate that baby Jesus is coming, have a dance party to Christmas music! Find a fun stream on your device to share and enjoy! (20 days left until Christmas)
  6. Read John 14:6. Jesus is the Truth. Play a game as a family where you have to give three statements about yourself but one of them is false. Have fun guessing one another’s truths and falsehoods. You might be surprised what you learn about each other! (19 days left until Christmas)
  7. Read Matthew 1:20-21. Watch a Christmas movie such as “The Polar Express” and eat popcorn together. (18 days left until Christmas)
  8. Read Matthew 1:22-23. Make snowflakes out of white paper and hang them in the windows. If you have silver glitter, it might be fun to add that as well. Again, be creative. Crumple up the left over paper and have a pretend snow ball fight! (17 days left until Christmas)
  9. Read John 8:12. Jesus is the Light of the World. Darken a room and play a version of hide-and-seek where the one seeking has a flashlight. Make your own version of the game rules! (16 days left until Christmas)
  10. Read Luke 2:1-5. Create a scavenger hunt, sending everyone on a journey. Use items that are common and easy to find in your cultural context. It might be in the yard or around the house. End the scavenger hunt with some special family treat that you enjoy together like hot cocoa or surprise candy canes that you brought from home. (15 days left until Christmas)
  11. Read Luke 2:6-7. Watch “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” or another short movie that portrays the Christmas story. End with a family discussion where each one shares several things they are thankful for. (14 days left until Christmas)
  12. Read John 10:1-18. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Spend some time talking about Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Then call a family member such as the grandparents together and wish them a Merry Christmas early. (13 days left until Christmas)
  13. Read Luke 2:8-12. If you have a nativity scene, bring it out now and place it in a prominent place in your home. If you didn’t bring one with you, be sure to prepare for this by finding a locally made one or make your own. You can find ideas online to make a paper one or one from wood yourself. (12 days left until Christmas)
  14. Read Revelation 5:5. Jesus is the Lion of Judah. Make a large paper lion – remember this is just for fun, so it doesn’t have to be perfect – and play “Pin the tail on the lion” using a blindfold. (11 days left until Christmas)
  15. Read Luke 2:13-15. Play a game of “Gossip” where you whisper something in one person’s ear, then they pass it on by whispering in the next person’s ear, and so on until the final person must say out loud what they think they heard. (10 days left until Christmas)
  16. Read Job 19:25. Jesus is our Redeemer. Play a game of “Jailbreak.” Ask the children to each find a personal object that they cherish and bring it to put in a box. The box is the “jail.” In advance (or while they are searching for their personal object) be sure to hide coins of varying values around the room. Then give them time to find all of the coins. Once they have their money, ask them to either buy back their treasured item or choose to keep the money instead. Explain that they can ‘redeem’ their treasured object by buying it back with their coins. In similar fashion, Jesus redeemed us, His treasured possession. (9 days left until Christmas)
  17. Read Luke 2:16-20. Have a Christmas carol sing-a-long or even go sing a few Christmas carols to a neighbor. (8 days left until Christmas)
  18. Read John 1:29. Jesus is the Lamb of God. Depending on availability in your country, have a lamb dinner prepared. Or – choose to make sheep by tracing the shape from the internet or a coloring book. Then add cotton balls or glue on crumpled paper towels to give the effect of wool. (7 days left until Christmas)
  19. Read Matthew 2:1-2. If you don’t already have a Christmas star on top of your tree, make one to place there. Or make a garland of stars to string above a window or on the tree. Again, glitter could brighten this craft up a great deal. (6 days left until Christmas)
  20. Read Matthew 2:3-6. Make some Christmas cookies, choosing your favorite recipe if possible. (5 days left until Christmas)
  21. Read Isaiah 9:6. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor. Make an obstacle course and then blindfold someone. Tell them that they must listen to your voice which will guide them through the obstacle course. Show them that listening to wise counsel helps them find their way. Take turns and change up the obstacle course each time to keep them guessing and help them rely on listening to your voice. (4 days left until Christmas)
  22. Read Matthew 2:7-8. Play a game of “Hide Baby Jesus” where someone hides a baby doll or something that represents baby Jesus and the others try to find it, taking turns. Or simply choose to play your own version of hide-and-seek. (3 days left until Christmas)
  23. Read John 15:1. Jesus is the True Vine. Make a popcorn garland or use fresh plants to create a garland for the Christmas tree representing a vine, talking about how Jesus is the True Vine. (2 days left until Christmas)
  24. Read Matthew 2:9-12. Make this last day special with something that is traditional for your family. It might be a classic Christmas book that you read together. Or it might be that you have a specific meal where you invite friends and neighbors to join. Perhaps you watch “Elf” or another Christmas movie together. You might even decide to create a new tradition based on something in your new culture. (1 day left until Christmas)
  25. Read Luke 2:1-20 and pray together, thanking the Father for Jesus’s birth. Make a favorite breakfast and declare Christmas morning as PJ zone. Don’t forget the birthday cake! (Merry Christmas)

As you can see, creativity is key as well as availability in your country. But the main thing is to enjoy the journey together as you anticipate our dear Savior’s birthday, the birthday of the King! Whether you are in Uganda, another cross-cultural setting, or in your home country you can anticipate December 25th with the excitement of a child together!

An American Thanksgiving Tradition in Uganda

Thanksgiving in Uganda, you say? Cultures collide once more. Living in a country not your own means the opportunity to adopt new traditions, but having a taste of your past traditions can also bring some comfort in the absence of normal, or at least what was once normal.

Recreating your home country traditions in a place where you may not be able to access the normal products can be challenging. Perhaps you are accustomed to a particular brand of candied yams or always bought a Butterball turkey. Relying on the readily accessible now becomes a challenge. Those products are simply not available. Culture shock may settle once more as you seek to recreate the same tasty experience for you and your family. Missing loved ones that you normally share this time with only compounds the experience for some. One’s values are certainly challenged as you consider what is truly important.

But opportunity abounds. Creativity calls. Or perhaps advance planning prevails. Bringing some of those products with you in your suitcase could certainly help in recreating that perfect dining experience. More than likely, some of those have already been consumed on previous occasions. Maybe you received a CARE package with some of those items you are missing. For us, the packages were few and far between. Postage is just so expensive to send something to Uganda from the states.

For me, the search was on. Could one even find a real turkey in Uganda? Yes! They are there for the committed researcher, always with a promise of a nice fat, big turkey underneath all of those feathers and worth every penny. Not only that but they were range free, grass fed turkeys left to forage to its heart’s content. Hmmm. Looks can be deceiving and the purchase of the perfect turkey might just be more challenging than the seller is advertising. But! I found one! The purchase is made. The seller will even kill it and remove the feathers! We are in business!

Next? More research. How to prepare a turkey, essentially a wild turkey, in Uganda so that it is perfectly baked with its juicy interior preserved? For someone who doesn’t exactly enjoy cooking, this is an extra challenge. I had never heard of using a brine in advance to help tenderize a wild bird. Another education to experience. My best advice came from fellow missionaries who had already experimented and perfected the technique. Of course, the turkey arrives with most of the feathers removed and far smaller than I was lead to believe. But! It’s still a turkey. I must admit that my turkey never looked like the perfection in the photo above or even close to my seasoned missionary colleagues. But we enjoyed it nonetheless. (Perhaps I should have just gone with chicken.)

Of course, this is just the turkey! Still so many other items on the menu to figure out how to replicate. Pumpkins are readily available, so pumpkin pie will be easy, I “think.” You can buy canned green beans or buy fresh ones. Of course, I prefer French cut, so that will become labor intensive compared to the canned ones I bought back home. Potatoes. Check! No worries over that one. Plenty of “Irish” potatoes in the market. Now the traditional family fruit salad may not happen, but we have tropical fruits galore. A new fruit salad will simply have to be born in its place! So many items to consider.

I don’t know about you, but recreating something in a foreign culture with different ingredients can be challenging. It can also be fun! Inviting in some of our national friends to help us with the challenge and then sharing in its abundance together is rewarding. Uganda with its own cultures and traditions met these Americans with new culture and traditions. What are your non-negotiables for your Thanksgiving holiday regardless of the culture you are in? Is it people and sharing together? After all, preparing all of that food wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding if there were no one to share it with!

One of the things I realized in my quest to recreate the perfect Thanksgiving meal for my friends is the reminder that it really isn’t about the food. Thanksgiving is about being grateful and remembering. This is something God asked the Israelites to do over and over again throughout history. Hold festivals to remember and to celebrate with your friends and family. We would do well to follow this tradition wherever we go and whatever culture we live in.

So on this Thanksgiving day as I remember the years we spent trying to recreate our Thanksgiving traditions in a different culture, yes, Uganda, I am grateful for those who experienced them with us and shared in the abundance together. And I am grateful for all of my friends and family wherever God has brought them. Happy Thanksgiving!

Reverse Culture Shock … It’s A Real Thing

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Reverse culture shock is no laughing matter. Well, perhaps, but it is also serious.  It can occur without notice and blindside the most seasoned missionary. Perhaps it is trying to get in the wrong side of the car, driving on the wrong side of the road, or maybe it’s using an expression that no one understands here in the United States.  Maybe it’s being overwhelmed at a grocery store because there are just.too.many.choices!  Supposed you were living in a war-torn nation, the sound of target practice by nearby hunters can suddenly be alarming. For me, sometimes it’s realizing that I am talking with my eyebrows and all of a sudden I become self-conscious.  (Normally no one notices, or perhaps they are extending me grace by not saying anything, but I notice.)

Some say that the longer you are on the field, the longer it takes for reverse culture shock to disappear. Some say it takes one to three years. Still others say it depends upon how enculturated you were in the foreign culture you were serving in. Some folks even claim it takes just as many years as you were on the field to fully transition and reverse culture shock to completely leave. But truly, it is completely unique to the individual. While people make predictions of how it will go, the life of the missionary themselves must face each challenge as it surfaces.

At the heart of reverse culture shock is the reminder that you are no longer in the place that you call home, your new home which is not in the United States or wherever you were “from.”  You are suddenly very aware that you are no longer “there.”  It is as if your physical self has arrived but somehow your soul has not quite caught up with your body yet.  So strange to feel like a stranger in your own home country.

I remember as if it were yesterday when we arrived in the Atlanta airport. I rushed to the rest room as quickly as I could because I did not want to hold up the family who was ready to go through immigration and get our bags as quickly as possible. I take care of business and try to wash my hands and think, ”Where is the soap? Oh, in this pretty dispenser right next to the faucet embedded in the countertop. How nice. Okay. Got the soap. But, how do you turn on the faucet?  There is no handle! Hmmm … this must be automatic. Surely, I can figure this out. I wave my hand here and there. No water. I wave it again in another location. Next to me someone quickly goes to the sink, gets their soap and I observe as they just stick their hands under the faucet and the water rushes over their hands. Oh! That looks easy, as I pretend that I have not been trying to make the faucet go all this time. I put my hands underneath. Nothing. Phooey! I move them around and still nothing. Man, am I feeling dumbfounded.  My family must be getting impatient out there waiting on me. If I did not have my hands full of the soap, I would just leave … well, so I give in. The next person who comes to use the sink, I simply ask for help and she is kind.  She just moves my hands to where the water begins. I guess I just needed to hold my hands still longer for the water to begin.  I am feeling silly now. That was so easy. Well, yeah, easy once you know what to do! Reverse culture shock. I was in my own country but things were not as I was used to anymore.  In fact, things had changed over the last decade quite a bit.

To define reverse culture shock, or re-entry as some people coin it, is simply this: it is the process of returning home and feeling disoriented, out of place. It no longer feels fully home. Isolation, depression and hopelessness are common. The book Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back Home After Serving Cross-culturally by Melissa Chaplin is a guided conversation and workbook to help missionaries work individually at their own pace on tackling reverse culture shock and all that re-entry brings. I highly recommend that you gift your returning missionary with a copy. If they take the time to work through it, they will definitely thank you since it will help guide them through their reverse culture shock immensely.

You see, reverse culture shock goes deeper than just certain physical actions and reactions that manifest themselves. It affects the emotional and psychological well-being as well as even cultural implications. You see, adjusting back to American life can be difficult. You no longer value things the same way you once did. You may even have negative feelings toward your own country for a time. You find yourself longing to be back where you were, homesick even for what was – for what you have become accustomed to.

Sometimes it is the expectation, or lack thereof, that catches one off guard when reverse culture shock hits. Keeping in mind and just having the knowledge of its existence can help stave off some of its ill effects. Having good closure at the place you are leaving is extremely important. This involves saying goodbye to friends and favorite places. If this was not possible, it is a good idea to find someone to talk through this with.  Personal debriefing may be helpful and/or seeing a counselor.

Another way to elude deep impact from reverse culture shock is to avoid the comparison game. It can be easy to be critical of your home country. If you are constantly comparing your home culture to the old culture, you are only adding insult to injury. The truth is that each culture has its own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing them is like apples and oranges. There is no real comparison, so it is best to just enjoy each culture all on its own. Over time, your critical spirit will dissipate as you reintegrate and reverse culture shock fades. But it does take time, so give yourself grace.

When family and friends do not understand what reverse culture shock is or much of your cross-cultural experience, it can be isolating even further. That is why it is important to process your thoughts and feelings with someone who does have some knowledge and cross-cultural experience themselves. It is key to share with someone who has been there, who understands and can normalize your symptoms. Because it “is” normal. You “will” come out on the other end. There “is” a light at the end of the reverse culture shock tunnel. You can and will reintegrate back into your home country when it is time. I encourage you, brother and sister, reverse culture shock is a temporary condition.  It will pass and know you are not alone.

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Trauma: Take Two

Trauma. It hits when you least expect it. Triggers surface without warning. Sometimes it’s even a repeat of similar circumstances. It’s been almost eight years ago now since my husband and I went through the trauma of medical care in Africa which ripped open my soul. If you haven’t read my story, you can read it HERE. Sometimes it is hard to believe the reality of the past.

Now I find myself sitting here in South Africa once more as I type, my husband life-flighted from Uganda because of heart problems once more. His heart back in rhythm now, we are waiting for another surgery. But this experience has been so different than the one just eight years ago now. Instead of increased and ever present trauma, we have only relived it with past fears and been given great care each step of the way. We are grateful.

When his heart went out of rhythm over a week ago now, extreme nerves instantly flew within. It took everything in me to hold back the fears of the previous experience. Focus. Think. What is the next step? What is the right step? Travel to Kampala to the place approved by the medical insurance to see a doctor and get that ECG done. Check. Let him try the medication by IV which wouldn’t work. Check. Contact the insurance for a request to fly to South Africa. Check.

Wait! What? The doctor refuses to sign a “Fit to Fly” letter unless medical personnel is present? Our plans are interrupted. The insurance refers us to another agency to prepare for an air ambulance to come get Bob and fly him to South Africa. Oh, my … the fears resurface as a flood in my soul. Questions fly around in my head at what feels like a hundred miles an hour. What if they say he must try the cardio version in Uganda before they will approve the flight? What if they say he must be readmitted to the hospital and try the IV medication longer before considering medical care in South Africa? What if … wait! I must focus. Focus!


God gently reminds me that He was with us before, has been with us all along, and is with me now. He is working ahead of us, behind us, with and in us. People are also praying. Peace returns. I can focus again. I know the drill this time. Wait for approval. Pack a carry-on sized bag for each of us. Get back to the medical facility. Get checked out by the same doctor. Ride an ambulance to the airport and meet up with the medical personnel and pilots to ride a small jet to South Africa. It’s all too familiar. And yet. This time it is also so very different.

This time we know what to anticipate and are aware of the improvements along the way. The medical clinic we went to eight years ago has now moved to another place. Their facilities and equipment are newer. They actually send a nurse with us in the ambulance. Bob is not strapped to a hard board this time but there is actually some padding to lie on. The ambulance driver is smart. He uses his siren but only as necessary. Weaving in and out of traffic, he actually stays on the road the entire way. Even the road system has improved and part of the journey is on an expressway. It’s almost as if the journey ahead has been cleared for us as people give way.

Once we arrive at the airport and enter the jet, it is clear that Bob is being given the highest of medical care once again. We are safe in their hands, delivered into their care for the next five hours of flight. Reaching South Africa, he is admitted to the Intensive Care Unit as expected and we wait until morning for the requested doctor to examine him. After that, it is only a matter of a few hours and his heart is back into regular sinus rhythm once again. Relief. Unbelievable relief floods my soul.

The journey is not over. We are still here in South Africa, now waiting for another ablation surgery. Trauma triggers may still resurface. Nightmares may still ensue. But at the same time, I can relax somehow. We have a level of confidence in the medical care here and are so grateful for it. God’s peace has been so evident throughout the journey this time. He continues to remind us that He is faithful. He is here. He cares for us and He will continue to. Yes, He will.

And I can focus again without so much effort. Focus. Focus on Him. When those fears threaten to return, I will do just that focus. Focus, remember and rely on Him. If you find yourself reliving your trauma on any level, I encourage you to focus on Him and remember His faithfulness to you in the past. And oh, how much He cares for you, too.

Trauma Comes in Many Forms

If there’s one thing our years in Uganda have shown us is that trauma comes in many forms. The Trauma Healing Institute defines trauma as “heart wounds.” Heart wounds take many different shapes. Sometimes it is as simple as a transition, change. Someone dies suddenly, sometimes violently and too soon. Parents divorce. A thief attempts to rob you. Even the move from one culture to another can cause trauma, sometimes silently and surfaces in later years.

Reliving trauma also surfaces when triggers occur such as a similar sound or smell. Sometimes it is a person that looks like the one who harmed you. Other times it is just a circumstance that unexpectedly mimics part of the previous trauma. Trauma can even be cloaked for years and surface in unsuspecting ways.

As I reflect on the various events of the last decade, I realize that our family has carried more trauma than we ever expected. Leaving home, family, friends and all that was comfortable and known to us was just the beginning of the journey we have faced. We are not extraordinary people. Each carries his/her own experiences of trauma. Each time we share that experience with someone safe, we find healing a little at a time. This has just been our road to walk. Grateful we do not walk it alone, but with a loving Father who cares deeply for us.

My husband, Bob, has had a heart condition ever since the birth of our second child. The doctors actually think he was born with it, but it had gone undetected all of those years. Because of that heart condition, he is at risk for atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia) which has recurred numerous times over the years. It can be mild to very acute, debilitating enough that he couldn’t function to do everyday activities let alone ministry and work. But until he had surgery twice, it was never possible to regulate it with medication. He always had to have a cardioversion performed which is where they shock your heart with electrical current in hopes that it will return to normal heart rhythm. I have lost count of the numbers of times he has had to have this procedure performed over the years.

When his heart went out of rhythm in Uganda a number of years ago now, at that time, there was no diagnostic equipment to determine if there were any blood clots in the heart. This is one of the biggest risks of the heart being out of rhythm. You see, one cannot have a cardioversion if there is a chance of blood clots. It would surely cause a stroke. One is put on blood thinners for 30 days before one can even consider having the cardioversion performed if you cannot rule out blood clots. That was one of the longest months in my husband’s life as his atrial fibrillation was severe. He could barely walk down the hallway from his bed to the couch. Even sitting up for long periods of time was exhausting.

But finally, the 30 days had ended. He was scheduled for the cardioversion at the place that was considered the best and most suitable place in all of Uganda. The doctor came in and explained how the nurse would give the fast acting medication to put him to sleep for a short while, long enough for him to come in and do the procedure before he wakes back up. He left. The nurse came and put the medication in his IV. He was not only drowsy but went to sleep rather quickly. The doctor didn’t return. The nurse didn’t return. I was still in the room. Finally, the doctor comes in with the nurse and fires up the machine that looked like it was at least twenty years old. He puts the paddles on my husband at the lowest charge. He screams so loud that I cannot imagine what is happening. I am frozen, astonished, and cannot speak or move. The doctor says it didn’t work and increases the charge. Bam! My husband screams even louder than the first time. The doctor says it still didn’t work, but he can increase it one more level. Surely this time it would work. Now my husband is groggy and you guessed it. Not only did it NOT work, but his scream is louder than I even thought possible. The whole time I am frozen and cannot peel myself from the wall I am leaning against. The whole situation is truly unbelievable for me as a bystander.

For whatever reason, the doctor didn’t come into the room timely and my husband was coming out of his slumber before the procedure even started. Now what I can’t even imagine further is that the doctor wants to do the whole process over one more time because the first three-some didn’t work. I protest and am able to somewhat coherently tell the doctor that there is no way he is going to do this while my husband is awake. The doctor assures me he will be asleep this time, that it is normal for them to react, AND THEN HE DOES IT!!! I am still in the room. He still yells, but it isn’t nearly as intense in its volume as the first round. And still. No success …

Now because we were in a crisis, I knew I had to hold it all together. I had to be available to help my husband however he might need me to. The next step was for the medical insurance company to arrange to send him by life flight to South Africa where he could get the help he truly needed. This sounds like a rescue (and it was), but not before an ambulance ride that was like a “nightmare from hell” on steroids. He arrived at the airport with intense chest pains just from the ride. No doctor or nurse accompanied us. He was strapped to a hard board in the back and I was given a seat nearby. Off we went with the ambulance siren blaring the entire way. I suppose the driver was being so unreasonable and erratic in his driving because he was in a rush to get us to the airport as quickly as possible. And in Uganda, cars don’t necessarily make way for a coming ambulance and the city is full of jams. That meant we were driving on sidewalks and medians along the way. But we made it, by the grace of God, and surely by the many prayers of His saints!

We were so grateful to get him into the small jet with both the doctor and nurse attending him. The pilot was upset that I showed up with a suitcase as he said I wasn’t supposed to have brought so much with me (it was the size of carry-on) and he wasn’t sure he could take the extra weight. He threatened to not take me with him, but then finally relented. It might have been the look of horror at the thought that I would be left behind. But I had to sit in the very back with the cargo and not move. So that is exactly what I did for the duration of the five hour flight as I watched the medical personnel attend to my husband well. Maybe you can imagine. Each step of the way, I didn’t complain. I was grateful to even be there. I had to be. This was my husband, after all!

Once we landed in South Africa, the care was extraordinary. The ambulance ride was smooth with both the nurse and doctor accompanying us to the hospital. In less than two hours, the procedure was done with newer and more advanced equipment. It worked the first time and his heart was back in regular rhythm (and I was not allowed in the room). He was more than worn out, but his heart was functioning normal again. Praise God! I cannot tell you the relief. But I didn’t really talk to anyone about it. I couldn’t dare let him know how worried I was or how much it was affecting me. I pushed it all down inside and pushed through to maintain stability at all costs. Now to help him recuperate and encourage him all the more.

But nowadays I realize this was traumatic, traumatic for all of our family. It was trauma for me to have gone through and witnessed. Trauma for him FOR SURE as it was his experience directly full of it. It was traumatic for our children as well who watched from a distance and likely didn’t understand completely what was happening. Traumatic for them as they were left behind when we flew to South Africa without them, and they waited and waited to hear if their dad was going to be okay.

This was just one experience over the years that our family has gone through. I don’t tell you this experience to alarm you. Medical equipment has improved in Uganda and it is even possible now to have the test that my husband needed back then. We have each utilized our own defense mechanisms to cope with the trauma. Like I mentioned earlier, each time we share about our trauma a little more healing takes place. I am not bitter about going through this experience, even the different traumatic events that we have faced through the years. I believe God means it to be used for good. His grace is truly sufficient for each of us.

But if you have faced some kind of trauma in your life, maybe realized or not, I encourage you that when it comes to your mind, share it. Find that safe person for you and share it freely. If it brings emotions, release them. Acknowledging it for what it is, now that’s the first step. But then find someone to share it with. Processing it through can bring you freedom from that which you may not have even known you carried. No matter where you live or your walk with Him, I am guessing everyone has experienced some sort of trauma. It’s very real. No one person’s trauma can be compared to another’s trauma as neither is the same. Acknowledge yours, find a safe person to share with, tell God about it, and encounter some freedom. Take that step towards healing from trauma in your life, whatever form it has taken on your journey. You will be better for it! And God will be with you each step of the way.

But Officer, I Did Nothing Wrong …

It’s 3 a.m. and I am just heading to bed. It’s been a long night. The boys have been preparing for their return to boarding school, packing and repacking, weighing and shifting their things, trying to make everything fit. Our trusted taxi driver would be here to pick them up just before 3 a.m. and we all needed to be ready.

But let me back up a bit … you see, this was the end of the holiday break and family time was over. Time to surrender the boys back to boarding school. It happens all too quickly. It’s just part of our life now, a cycle of seeing them and not seeing them. We try to make one trip every term to go see them, but it doesn’t always happen. They are just so far away and yet not so far. It’s an overnight bus ride or about eleven hours by car. Even if you fly, it ends up being a whole day’s worth of travel.

But boarding school has been good for them and we are convinced it is what God has for them for this season of our lives. It, too, will end … in time. We just try to treasure the time that we have whenever we have it. Our time together is often filled with movies, TV shows and games. Many times it is just being in the same room together doing our own thing. But we are together. We are family, after all.

But sending them off to boarding school at the end of this break is different somehow. It is our last one together here in this house in this country of Uganda. You see, the next vacation they have we will be packing up our treasures and selling off those things that we can’t fit into a suitcase or a footlocker to take on a plane. We have spent nearly a decade here of our lives. These boys have lived longer in Uganda than they lived in the states. It has been our home and so it was especially hard to have it come to an end, this last holiday vacation.

But the taxi driver arrived about 2:50 am, loaded them up and was off. So at 3 am, I headed to bed. I wasn’t sure if I could sleep but I would certainly try. The boys had instructions to call if there was any problem at the airport with baggage or whatever. My phone was on and the sound was on high, placed near my head next to the bed. Slumber didn’t come easy, but somehow I seemed to drift off …

But then suddenly, the phone rang. It was 5:55 am and it was my youngest on the phone. No problem with the flight check in or the baggage, but the immigration officer was refusing to let them leave the country! Instantly, adrenalin flowed what seemed like directly to my brain and I was more wide awake than ever. What could be done, I wondered … the immigration officer declared that there was no “entry” stamp in his passport from about five weeks prior when they entered the country which meant that he had entered the country illegally.

Now of course, our sons had not entered the country illegally. They went to the immigration window and handed over their passports when they had arrived at the border just like they were supposed to. Paperwork was passed between them and the passport handed back. If there was any mistake, it was on the immigration officer’s side, but there was no way we could voice that error in fear of upsetting the officer worse. I coached my son as best I could over the phone and just told him we would pray.

I called our trusted taxi driver to ask him to wait at the airport in case he needed to get the boys back. He was still there and no problem. In between thoughts and words, I continually cried out, “Please, Jesus, advocate for my sons!” I reached out to the rest of our immediate family (even though they were all on another continent in different time zones) and also asked them to pray! Then the phone rang again … it was my youngest son once more.

“Mom, he finally found an entry stamp in (my brother’s) passport and so he decided that he would let us through.” I uttered over and over again, “Thank You, Jesus … oh, thank You, Jesus!” As a mother there was little else I could do but pray (being 3 hours away) and the Lord answered by advocating for my sons!!! Hallelujah! What a relief …

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Now you might be wondering why I would send my sons alone without accompanying them. You see, we do this every six weeks. Our boys are well versed in how to pass through the border and making sure they have all the correct documents. They are also 17 and 18 years old. They are young men. I also would not have been allowed inside the airport with them anyways and especially not as far as the immigration counter. But I would never have wished such pressure for them from the immigration officer! Someone else’s mistake caused a lot of unnecessary stress and an immigration officer accusing them of doing something wrong.

Now you need to understand that the immigration officer had every right to hold my sons and charge them money without allowing them exit from the country if he had so chosen. He could have continued to accuse them of negligence at the border upon entry and held them accountable. It could have cost us literally thousands of dollars. If he had done that, my boys would have missed their plane. They would have missed their bus on the other end. They wouldn’t have made it back to school on Arrival Day. It was no small thing!

After I hung up the phone, I cannot tell you how many times I thanked the Lord over and over again. I was so, so grateful! As you can imagine, it took some time for my body to calm down and the adrenalin to subside. I tried to go back to sleep and dozed in and out of slumber. Finally, about 7:45 am, I gave up and just got up. By 9:00 am, the boys reached the next airport and by 11:00 am, the bus had picked them up. They were bound for their boarding school and safe in the hands of a dedicated staff member.

I miss them terribly. The house is so very quiet without them … once again. I get to see them next month when I travel to their school for a special event. I cannot wait. It will be my turn next to cross the border and face the immigration officers. I will look at my passport closely to make sure no mistake was made. But I might miss it, too. I sincerely hope not.

Living in a foreign country that is not your own brings some challenges at times. But the call that God has placed on our lives in bringing us here is stronger than the fear of what might happen here. He continually demonstrates His presence with us here whenever things like this take place. We know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is where He wants, at least for now. So we know that He will provide and care for us through whatever comes our way. And today, yes, today … I am grateful for that, perhaps more than you might imagine.

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