Sunday, November 29, 2015

Confessions of a Good Girl

Seen outside a Tanzanian church.  Source here

Growing up, I was the poster child for Good Christian Girls.

Straight-A student?  Check.
Never listen to Madonna or watch 90210?  Check, check.
Don't drink, smoke, or chew, or go with boys who do?  Check, check, check.
I tutored inner-city kids.  I helped to lead a Bible club for disabled teens.  My ambition was to become a missionary, for crying out loud.  I was oozing with goodness.

I've always liked rules.  Following them gives me a sense of control, a feeling of success, and eliminates pesky guilt.  Just tell me what to do, and I'll do it.  I follow the speed limit.  I recycle.  I stay off the grass.  And for a long time, following the rules is how I tried to live out Christianity.

Until I started to realize that it really was just a big show.  I could be very good at putting on that happy, cheerful, servant-leadership face, while all the while I had a selfish spirit, sense of superiority, and sometimes downright hate snarling around in my heart.  Mix that together with a strong fear of people's opinions and a good dose of anxiety, and you don't have a very pretty picture.  To my horror, sometimes these attitudes even slipped out for other people to see.

There's nothing worse for a Good Girl to realize than that she's really not all that good after all.  There's not a lot of options at that point.  What was I supposed to do?  Hide it?  Try harder?  Suppress the guilt?  Do penance?  None of those things are very satisfying.  And they certainly don't fix the problem.

And no, I didn't have a harsh upbringing, and I didn't attend a legalistic church.  I actually grew up as a pretty happy person.  I just knew that there was a big disconnect between the person I showed to the world, and who I actually was.

Thankfully, the truth of Grace swept into my life in college.  It was something I had known all my life; it had been staring me right in the face, but I had looked in a thousand other directions before I fell deeply into it's glory.

And oh!  What a blessed relief, what a glorious rest, to slowly come to the realization that I was not only saved by grace, but sustained by grace, and held by grace.  Following the rules may have spared me a lot of heartache, but they did not, could not, change my heart.

I'm glad I came to this understanding before getting married, because being a wife and a mom has just reinforced what a wretchedly awful person I am capable of being.  At the beginning, I desperately yearned for a checklist of rules that would make me a good wife and mom, but as time went on, I was really glad there wasn't.  I would have failed miserably.

Readers have often commented to me that they are thankful...surprised, maybe? my honesty about my weaknesses and failings.  But the truth is, I am tired of being seen as the Good Girl.  Been there, done that.  It's impossible, and it's exhausting.  I would much, much rather live in grace.

Living in grace means that when I screw up, I'm not only forgiven, but I have the power to change.   It means reveling in the joy of knowing that I never have to earn God's favor--I already have it.  It's means that when I do something right, it's all because of Him.  If there's anything good that comes out of me, it's because I have first breathed in His grace.

So why then should I be afraid of being open about who I really am?  I, in myself, am nothing.  I, on my own, am just a show.  I would not, could not, ever have been good enough.  There's something deeply vulnerable about blogging, about putting myself out there for anyone to see....and criticize.  But I remind myself that if anyone does think negatively about me, well, it's probably true anyway.  If I am living in grace, I have nothing to fear.

If I let you think I'm that Good Girl, then it is only Amy Medina who gets the attention.  I'm just another really great, religious rule-follower who makes the rest of humanity feel bad about themselves.  No wonder the world would mock me if I fell.  But if I let you see who I really am, then--and only then--can you see the gospel at work in my life.  Only then can you possibly see Jesus.

And that's pretty much what grace is all about.  What I'm all about.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Three Months: Nature or Nurture?

Sometimes I gaze at my kids and look for their birthparents.  Did her mother have those shoulder dimples?  Did his father have that build?  What parts of their personalities did they leave behind in their children?  

I often marvel at the tragedy and privilege of being mom to children I did not birth.  I know they are mine, but I forget sometimes that my imprint is just as strong as their genes.

It's easier to see in Johnny, who came to us as an almost-four-year-old.  It's fascinating to watch the process of who he is becoming.  I used to think that it was we who were getting to know him.  But really, it is us watching him Become.

He is becoming a brother, more specifically, a little brother.  Josiah and Johnny are figuring each other out, and they do it by rolling around the house, pulling and shouting and roaring and chasing and tickling.  Mommy, I love having a little brother!  Mommy, can Johnny cuddle with me while we pray?  And my heart sings that they have each other, even while I holler, No wrestling in the kitchen while I'm cooking!

He is becoming a mother's son.  He's not much into cuddling anymore; he's too busy for that.  Except at bedtime, when he pulls my face down to his and holds it there with an iron grip.  The whining comes out for Mommy.  The weepiness comes out for Mommy.  Mommy is the food person and the get-your-needs-met person.

He is becoming a father's son.  Daddy is the fun one;  Daddy is the wrestler and the game-player and the one you can hit in the stomach.  But Daddy is also the boss, and much to Mommy's frustration (since I discipline the exact same way as Daddy), one word from Daddy and Johnny pays attention.  He says Boo Yah! when something exciting happens, just like Dad.  I say to him, You are My Johnny!  And he says, No, I'm Daddy's Johnny.  Until I tickle him and he says he is mine too.  But I know my place.

He is becoming part of a community.  He roams the HOPAC campus at ease; he runs to "Aunt Alyssa" and he knows the names of Grace's friends on her soccer team.  His world has opened to hundreds of friendly people, and in return he displays the often unhealthy gregariousness that accompanies children out of orphanages.  But it's okay; we will help him figure it out.

He's learned to buckle his seatbelt by himself and sit in the cart at the grocery store.  He eats hot dogs and broccoli (though we're still fighting over eggs...I no like eggs!).  He is great at saying Shikamoo to Tanzanians and giving high-fives to English-speaking people.  He sings "Watch Me Whip" and "How Great is Our God"....sometimes in a remarkable mash-up.

He is becoming someone he was not three months ago.  Sometimes I still catch him staring, wide-eyed, at something he's never seen before.  It's like I can just see the brain cells rewiring as he processes his new life.

That fascinating mixture of nature and nurture is even more beautifully mysterious in adoption.  My children are who they are because they are mine.  We are inextricably linked.  And if God is sovereign, and this was His plan from the beginning, then this Becoming is not a mistake, not second best.  It is, to be cliche, destiny.  This is who my children were meant to be.

I'll still be looking for their birthparents in my children's smiles, expressions, and abilities.  But actually, all those things are so intertwined with Gil and me that it becomes harder and harder to know the difference.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

If We Perish, We Perish. But Let's Choose Love Over Fear.

*Note added 11/20/15:  Please be assured that my intentions were not to make a political statement as to what the U.S. government should do about the refugee crisis.  I only want Christians to think about our reaction to the "dangerous" people and places in our society that we often try to avoid.  

A couple years ago, the U.S. postal service came out with a series of stamps showing children in active activities.  They never went to print.  Why, you ask?  Because many of the children on the stamps were participating in "dangerous activities."  Look carefully:  No helmets, no knee pads, and [gasp!] one child is even doing a cannonball.

We are a culture that is obsessed with safety.

Is the house I am buying in a safe neighborhood?
Is my child's school safe?
Are vaccines safe?  Pesticides?
Will less guns make us safe?  Or more guns?

Prayer meetings are often dominated by requests for safety in traveling.  We spend hours researching the safest car seat, baby monitor, and crib.  We always buckle.  These aren't necessarily bad things.

Until this obsession gets into the way of obeying God.

What happens when God breaks your heart for the low-income neighborhood in your city?
What about when your firstborn child is called to be a missionary in Iraq?  Or Afghanistan?  Or North Korea?
What about when that unseemly neighbor wants her kids to come over and play?

Or how about something as simple as finding out that 10,000 Syrian refugees are being sent to your city?

It's ironic that two months ago, when a drowned toddler was the Face of the Refugee, there was only criticism for those countries who didn't open their arms wide.  Now, when the Face of the Refugee is a terrorist, those same doors are slamming shut.

I don't want to make a political statement here.  I realize that the refugee situation is complicated and not easy to solve.  However, I do want to make a Christian statement.

When our love of safety gets in the way of obeying God, we are wrong.
When our love of safety gets in the way of loving people, we are wrong.

When we see the dysfunctional neighbor, the unruly child, the refugee, the Muslim, we should see the face of Jesus.  When we see the low-income neighborhood, the Arab country, the dilapidated house down the street, we should see places to which Jesus would have run.

Yes, we should be safe when we can be.  But as Christians, for the sake of love, we should err on the side of risk.   

Who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?  

To cross the railroad tracks.
To open our homes to the international college student.
To welcome the foster child.
To befriend the woman behind the veil.
To give generously.
To love lavishly.

And be willing to say with Queen Esther,

If I perish, I perish.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Who Do I Make the Effort to Notice? What Paris Should Teach Us

At least 1000 civilians were killed, 1,300 women and girls raped, and 1,600 women and girls abducted between April and September.

A pregnant wife is murdered in her home during a home invasion.

A 62-year-old woman is murdered in her home by her boyfriend.

147 college students are murdered by terrorists.

41 people are murdered by terrorists.

129 people are murdered by terrorists.

Why are some more identifiable than others?  Why do you immediately know what person or place I am referring to with some, and not the others?

Is it because of media bias?
The area of the world where it took place?
Because some places are just dangerous and so we expect bad things to happen, but others are more newsworthy because they are considered "safe?"

Is it because we can all identify Paris on a map, but not Lebanon, South Sudan, or Kenya?  Is it because we can imagine ourselves hiding from terrorists in a concert hall, but not in a South Sudanese swamp?  Is it because we see ourselves as the murdered pastor's wife, but not the black girlfriend in Lancaster, California?

Probably.  And that's not necessarily bad.  We mourn more deeply when the tragedy happens closer to us.  We become more frightened when we can picture it also happening to us.  The attack on Garissa, Kenya affected me more than the attack on Paris, France, because Kenya is right next door to me. The attack on Westgate Mall in Nairobi terrified me more than the attack on Beirut, Lebanon because I have been to that mall myself.  So it wouldn't be fair for me to be angry with you for caring more about Paris than Garissa just because it touches you more closely.  

But....  In spite of all the (probably) unfair accusations of racism or prejudice that are being thrown around, times like these are great for soul-searching.  Let us not lose the opportunity to grow.

Do we allow only the media to tell us what to pray for?  Do we take the time to look for the people and places who might not be getting the same attention?  I have been convicted to look harder for the ignored stories. Jesus sought out the prostitute, the tax collector, the child.  Even a sparrow does not fall to the ground without his notice. Who do I make the effort to notice?

Support and prayers pour in for wife of Indiana pastor whose pregnant wife was murdered.  No problem with that.  Pray for this family.  But let that grief remind you that many others are murdered, even in America, with no one noticing.  Has anyone looked up the family of the man in Lancaster who just yesterday shot his girlfriend and then himself?  Think they could use some support and prayers?  

Pray for Paris.  But let Paris remind you to pray for Kenya, and Lebanon, and Syria, and South Sudan.  The grief and the terror we feel when we watch the reports of Paris should give us a lot more empathy with the millions of people who live with the threat of terrorism every day.

Perhaps this article says it best:  "Westerners are finally being given just a small taste of the constant fear that people from other nations have endured for generations.  So solidarity with, and compassion for, the French is a good thing."

And in the meantime, let us not despair, for we serve the God who sees all, and loved us enough to not just watch from a distance.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Know Someone Looking for the Best Job Ever?

Friday was Haven of Peace Academy's annual International Day.  I was standing in line at the Lebanese booth, waiting not-so-patiently for my hummus and pita bread and spinach-stuffed pastry, and chatting with the people next to me.  They were a new teacher at HOPAC and his wife, who have only been here a few months, and I asked him how it's going.

"I love my job here," he told me.  "I worked at a public school in the States before this, and I used to dread going to work every day.  Now I get up in the morning and can't wait to get to school."

No one paid him to make that statement.  In fact, HOPAC gives him nothing but a housing allowance, and I'm certain he is living off of less than he did in the States.  It's hard to raise support and it's hard to live in a developing country and sometimes tropical heat is just plain....hard.  But nothing beats the feeling of getting up in the morning and loving your job.

There's also nothing that beats the feeling of knowing your kids love going to school.  That even if ministry is overwhelming and you miss your mom and the car has a flat tire for the third time in a month--at least your kids love school.  And you know that they are being loved and challenged and stretched intellectually and spiritually.  That's the amazing gift that HOPAC teachers give us.

Haven of Peace Academy is always looking for teachers who love Jesus and love the nations.  Know anyone I could talk to?  Please put them in touch with me.

International Day 2015
all pictures by Abi Snyder

My kiddos performed this year!  This past summer, a few other moms and I hired three talented senior boys to teach our kids African dance.  Our kids absolutely loved it and they all did a great job!  

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Should We Celebrate Orphan Sunday?

Tomorrow is Orphan Sunday, the day when thousands of churches across America focus on the plight of orphans worldwide.

I always have been a big fan.

Now, I'm just uncertain.

Discovering the illegal inter-country adoptions happening in Tanzania shook me to my core.  Oh, I had always read the articles from the doubters and the nay-sayers and all those negative people who either had a beef against Christians or taking kids out of their culture or whatever.  Phooey on them.  Adoption was beautiful, and that's final.

Then I saw the full effects of the damage that American adoption agencies are capable of doing in an African country.

And I have found myself with this tension I can't resolve.  First, I see my own experience and my own children, and I am absolutely confident we did the right thing.  We did our adoptions legally and without a hint of corruption, and there were no other options available to my children other than a life sentence in an orphanage.  My children made me a mom and have blessed my life beyond description, and I want that for other children and for other families.

But now my eyes are open to the abuses, especially in countries with poor infrastructure and bottom-level poverty.  Where is the line between adoption and child-trafficking?  How can something so beautiful turn into something so ugly?  How can we best love the child, but also love her family and his country?

I am on a quest for these answers.  In the next couple of months, I plan to read the following books:

The Child Catchers:  Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption by Kathryn Joyce
In Pursuit of Orphan Excellence by Philip Darke and Keith McFarland
Orphan Justice:  How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting by Johnny Carr and Laura Captari

In the meantime, Yes, we should celebrate Orphan Sunday.  Let's not turn our backs on those most vulnerable because some people make it ugly.  But by all means, let's work to get it right.

I will be thinking hard and writing about what I learn.  Anything else I should read as I continue this journey?  I welcome your thoughts and questions.

photo credit:  Hannah Towlson

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Josiah is Eight

It's been 8 years since this quirky little guy was born.  In 8 more years he will be sixteen.  Whaaaat????

He could kick since he could walk.  Recently, a mom of four boys said to me, "My boys say that Josiah by himself could beat all of them in football combined."

That's my boy.  He is the smallest in his class, but he is the fastest.  Last week, when school was cancelled because of the election, he said, "I'm sad there's no school....because I wanted to play football."  He plays three times a day--at least.  

So, of course, he had a football birthday party (of course).  Gil, who is the party-planner extraordinaire, planned a multitude of football activities for the boys.  Cost nothing and was the best party ever (as confirmed by various 8-year-olds).

Aw, my sweet boy.  You are all energy and bravado, but you still love to climb in my lap.  This Mommy is still so smitten by you.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

I Really Did Grow Up to Be a Princess

When I was a little girl, I often imagined I was a princess.  I loved the idea of being able to have anything I wanted.  I had only one Cabbage Patch doll, while a girl in my class had sixteen.  In my imaginary palace, I had a whole room full of them.

What I didn't realize is that I already was nobility, and I still am.

After all, I am one of the top 1% richest people in the world, even on a missionary's salary.  If you make over $30,000 a year, you are too.  If that's not a princess, I don't know what is.

Growing up, I never felt wealthy in America.  My parents lived on the "undesirable" side of town.  My family never had a new car.  My parents wouldn't buy me a senior class ring.  A girl in my class received $150 a month for her allowance.  I had to work for the $20 a month that I received.

It didn't change as an adult.  When I was teaching kindergarten and Gil was in seminary, it seemed everyone had more than me.  I drove a dumpy little Hyundai.  Gil and I have never owned a house, and our apartment was full of used furniture.  Everyone else had nicer clothes, fancy kitchens with marble counter tops, weekly pedicures, and gym memberships.  I felt...poor.  And I felt kind of sorry for myself.

Then I moved to Tanzania.  We moved into a modest-sized house, average for California...but most Tanzanians live in one room.  We have electricity and indoor plumbing, which puts us in the top 10% of residents.  We own one 1999 Toyota mini-van, but the vast majority of Tanzanians are lucky to have even a bike.  I have a college education, when only 5% of Tanzanians finish high school.

Suddenly, I was a princess.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a Tanzanian friend about her financial struggles.  She has a sixth grade education.  She receives $100 a month from her job, plus whatever else she can make selling charcoal.  She supports three young children and a good-for-nothing husband who continually cheats on her. Twenty percent of her income goes to childcare, so that she can work.  Ten percent goes to her daughter's (supposedly free) public school education.  At least sixty percent of her salary goes towards food.  She lives in two rooms, cooks outside, and walks a few blocks to bring home water.  Her life, in Tanzania, is average.  She's not even considered the poorest of the poor.

Living here has done wonders for my level of contentment.  Sure, there are still people around me who are much richer than I am.  Not everyone in Tanzania is poor!  But when the vast majority is scratching by on so much less, suddenly my 1999 mini-van looks like a queen's carriage.  The air conditioner in my bedroom puts me in a palace.  The never-ending supply of food in my refrigerator, the trips to the beach, the occasional dinner at a restaurant--all put me in the category of The Privileged.

In America, it was much harder to see myself this way.  I was constantly bombarded by advertisements, shopping malls, and friends' houses, all telling me that I wanted more, deserved more, needed more.  In a country where even food stamp recipients get $400 a month, it's easy to feel poor.

I've noticed that whenever I feel discontent with what I have, it's because I am comparing up.  He has a nicer house than me.  She had a better vacation than I will ever have.  Why does she have that, and I don't?  American commercialism, in general, encourages this.

But if the statistics are true, and Americans hold half of the world's wealth, and anyone who makes $30,000 a year is in the top 1%.....well, then shouldn't we be comparing down?  It may seem that everyone around us has more than us, when in reality, in the grand scope of the world, we are the ones who have more....than pretty much everyone else.

I'm not about feeling guilty for being rich.  And I've written many times before on what I think us rich people should do with all our wealth.  Today, I'm just thinking about contentment.  About entering this holiday season with the perspective of someone who is one of the richest people in the world.  Instead of comparing up, comparing down.  Americans spend more on Halloween than the entire world spends on malaria in a year.  Americans spend $465 billion on Christmas every year, and only $6.3 billion to fight AIDS overseas.

Someday, just like the servant who received 10 talents, I'll have to stand before God and give account of how I spent my money.  I think He'll expect me to own up to being rich.  At the very least, I can start with being content with what He has given me.  After all, there's not much more that's disturbing than an ungrateful, dissatisfied princess.