4 Ways I Choose Happiness Over Heartache

blue broken heart

For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m a happy person. Like, really happy. Not all the time. Not every day. But overall, I just prefer to be happy over being sad. One of my top five StrengthsFinder strengths is positivity, so I love trying to find the silver lining in the clouds and seeing how good can come out of negative situations.

There are four things I do that help me stay happy, and I thought, why not share them and see if they benefit anyone else?

Like all of you who are reading this, I’ve experienced some major heartache in my life. And some of the greatest heartache happens when others hurt us. Or when misunderstandings happen in our relationships with others.

Any of these things ever happened to you?

  • You planned a coffee date with a friend…and got stood up.
  • The people most important to you were silent on the day of your birthday.
  • You did an amazing job on a big project at work…and your boss didn’t say a word.
  • You got unfollowed on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.
  • You posted on social media about a huge thing that happened to you…and hardly anyone acknowledged it.
  • You missed church for a few Sundays…or book club…or your mom’s group…and no one seemed to even notice.
  • You texted or emailed someone important to you…and never received a response.

Let’s be real. These things all sound small, but they can feel very, very big and the hurt can go very, very deep.

Sure, one of the best ways by far is just to ask that person what happened. Being honest about your feelings and giving them the opportunity to let you know what happened is really your best option. If you can muscle up and do it, go for it!

That said, here’s me being really honest with you: I’m usually too big of a wuss to do that. I get all shy, and sometimes I don’t want to know the real answer, because what if it’s actually really hurtful and they were intending to be mean? There are times where I do need to know what happened, and then I gear myself up and force myself to ask. And 9 times out of 10, it was an accident, and I’m really glad I got up the courage to kindly confront. If you can ask, by all means, DO IT!

But if you can’t, I’ve got a Plan B. I have four ways I choose to think that get me happy again almost every time.

First, I have a motto in life: Everyone likes me. I know it’s not true, but I don’t care. It’s much easier to go through life assuming people like you. You have more confidence and it’s easier to believe the best about them when they screw up.

I’ll give you an example: I walk into a birthday party at a friend’s house. I see a person I know who is usually very friendly. She seems to be avoiding me. I wait for a while then go up and say hi. She gives me a lame hug, no eye contact, then turns back to the people she was talking to.

First feeling? A sting of rejection. First thought? What happened? Why is she acting that way?

But then I remember! Everybody likes me! So, no worries.

I don’t stop there. The next thing I do is make excuses for people. Maybe she’s not feeling well. Maybe she really wants to catch up with the people she was talking to. Maybe she had a hard day and is feeling distracted. Maybe she’s just not in the mood to talk a lot tonight and just wants to stick to people she knows really well. Maybe she’s an introvert. Maybe she got dragged to this party and doesn’t really want to be here.

I don’t even bother to analyze whether my excuses are good ones or not. I just make them up. And then I feel better!

The third thing I do is imagine myself in that person’s shoes, otherwise known as empathy. What if I had a hard day? I bet I wouldn’t want to talk to a lot of people either. I bet next time I see her, we’ll have a great conversation!

Voila! Ok, but truth be told, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes I really feel tempted to get hurt. But then I think, getting hurt stinks! When I get offended or my feelings are hurt, I lose my confidence and feel all shy and want to be alone and feel sad. If I can just believe the best, I’ll have a great night! And odds are, she didn’t even mean to ignore me and would feel terrible if she knew how rudely she just came across.

The last thing I do is think of all the ways I’ve messed up in my relationships with others. I am a massive daydreamer. I have offended SO many people by walking right past them without even acknowledging them. I can look straight through someone without seeing them. It’s terrible. (Those who know me well can attest to my horrible tunnel vision.)

A few people have had the guts to admit to me that I offended them in this way. Because they were brave enough to speak up, I was able to apologize and tell them how lost in thought or super focused I sometimes get.. We smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and all is well. Yay for those people! But for all the rest, I hope they are choosing to believe the best about me!

So when others do seemingly offensive things, I think, Hey, Steph, you sure aren’t perfect! Think of all the times you’ve offended people on accident! Assume that they just made a mistake too.

Got unfollowed on Facebook or Instagram? Maybe they clicked the unfollow button on accident! (Done that.) Or maybe they are just making their list way smaller so they can focus more on their family.

No phone calls on your birthday? Maybe they just plain forgot or were relying on their calendar to remind them, but they weren’t online today. (Done that!)

Someone not respond to your text? Maybe their phone is broken! (My phone has broken for weeks at a time at least three times within the past year and I REALLY hope people are believing the best as they send me messages I’m not receiving.)

So, that’s my big secret. Decide everyone likes you, then act like everyone likes you! And when you get hurt, either speak up or decide to forgive by believing the best. How can you believe the best? Give people the benefit of the doubt. Put yourself in their shoes. Remember how imperfect you are and be grateful for the grace that others have extended to you when you needed it.

I suppose you can also choose to get offended, get angry, get revenge, or get sad, but that just takes too much work! I have so many other things I’d rather do with my time. You can’t do it always, but when you can, choose happiness instead of heartache. Life is a lot more fun that way :)

[Love] bears up under everything; believes the best in all; there is no limit to her hope, and never will she fall.- I Corinthians 13:7 (ISV)

 

Standing Up to Adult Bullies

StopBullying

There’s no one right way to stand up to bullies, because all bullies are different, all those who are bullied are different, and people are bullied in many different ways. Some bullies are sly and use passive aggressiveness, some use intimidation and threats, some use snide and cutting remarks, and some withhold love and affection.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on handling bullies. I’m just a girl who’s been bullied (as have most of us at some time or another) who is finally, at age 33, finding her voice. (If you didn’t get a chance to read my last post on bullying, you can find it here.)

Where is the bullying happening? A little bit of research online and some informal surveying on my Facebook page gave me some answers. Roughly a third of employees have experienced bullying in their workplaces, and this was the number one place friends of mine mentioned they were being bullied. Other top places people told me they had been bullied (as adults) were in their relationships with family members, with “friends,” and in church.

As an adult, I have found less bullies in my grown-up world, but when I have encountered them, they’ve been just as scary. And adult bullies are incredibly powerful. They can have the potential to screw up your job, to destroy your confidence as a parent, to steal away your spouse or friends, or just flat-out squash your personality and cause you to live out only half of who you are instead of all of you.

But they can’t do it unless you let them.

Easier said than done, but true. We have to decide: are we willing to finally stand up for ourselves, or are we too terrified of the consequences, deciding instead to choose the consequences of living a less than full life?

So what can we do?

Sometimes the answer to breaking free from bullying is to leave. To walk away. To quit the job where your boss cruelly mocks your every effort. To leave the book club whose members roll their eyes behind your back when you offer your opinion. To unfriend the person on Facebook who feels the need to write a snide comment each time you post.

But other times, walking away isn’t that simple. You can’t avoid an ex when you have shared custody. You might not be able to quit a job for a while until you’re able to find a new one. And if you’re on a sports team you love, you might not want the bullying of one person to ruin the rest of the enjoyment for you. So then what?

Remember how in my last post I mentioned my top three StrengthsFinder strengths were Harmony, Empathy and Positivity? As I shared before, these aspects of my personality used to be the perfect recipe for bully fodder. But I’ve now realized how to flip them on their head and actually use them to make me stronger.

1. Harmony

I used to let my desire for harmony keep me from speaking up. Now, I realize that true harmony exists when people are honest and open with one another. A relationship built on one person bullying and the other taking it isn’t harmony. Harmony isn’t the absence of conflict. It’s being able to talk about and work through tough issues and find a true peace.

As you seek harmony and “make every effort to live in peace with everyone,” as Hebrews 12:14 says, realize that at some point the best way to seek harmony is to distance yourself from a person. Never stop loving them, never stop praying for them, but do stop letting them hurt you.

2. Empathy

I love to try and understand why people do what they do. I’m the person who always feels sad for the “bad guy” in the movie when he finally comes to his destruction. In fact, I don’t even let our kids use the terms “bad guy” and “good guy” in our house. We say “the person who made bad/good choices.”

Why? I believe that all people contain the potential for good and bad in them, and their choices and life experiences determine which side of them develops. My goal, as a parent, is to nurture the beauty in my children and through showing them how much God loves them, cultivate a desire in them to love him and love others.

We often repeat the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” when my daughter comes home from school and has been bullied. This helps us understand, forgive and pray for the person. Our empathy helps us imagine that they might have parents who are distant or an older sibling who is bullying them or they might be be struggling in school.

But we don’t let it stop there. We then practice ways she can stand up for herself. My daughter’s personality is a lot like mine, so I want to teach her both compassion and self-confidence. When she brought up the idea of participating in after school debate club, we supported her in it.

At home, we talk about not giving bullies power by showing them that they’ve hurt your feelings. We talk about standing up for others who are being bullied, even when it puts us at risk. And we practice quick retorts back to rude things bullies might say – not mean retorts, but smart ones. We talk about putting on a nonchalant, indifferent face and simply walking away, because many bullies feed off of emotional responses. And we talk about always loving and not letting our anger convert into hate.

3. Positivity

Bullies can break you down or make you feel jaded. My positivity beforehand used to be a naive “believe the best.” A believing that “next time will be better.” Or thinking that the next time they pretended to be nice to me, maybe they actually meant it this time! This kind of positivity gets you burned. After a while, you began to distrust people and think they’re all out to get you.

A healthy positivity says, “I believe there is hope for this person. I believe God has a beautiful plan for his or her life and someday I look forward to seeing this person healthy and whole. But in the meantime, while I will continue to love, I will not continue to be stepped on.” Healthy positivity chooses to not be jaded or distrustful but believes that there is love and goodness and kindness in the world. They always believe the best but also learn from their past. They fully forgive, but don’t quite forget. They forget enough to trust again but not so much that they aren’t more careful about who they trust next time.

A positive person looks life in the face honestly and says, “Man, this is tough! But it is NOT going to hold me down. I CAN do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. I CAN somehow be strong and loving at the same time. I CAN show my children what speaking the truth in love looks like. I CAN surround myself with people who love me and make me feel valued. I CAN find my worth in what God says about me instead of what others say.”

I speak from recent experience.

I’ve never been one to come up with fast retorts. I’m the girl who goes home and replays the conversation and imagines all of the things I could have said. Or have you ever had an imaginary conversation in the mirror where you rehearsed all the things you were going to say next time? Me too. However, when it came down to the next face to face interaction, I almost always chickened out.

But in the last year and a half, I’ve found the courage to stand up for myself twice. (That may not sound like a lot, but it was for me!) The first time I was terrified and shaking like a leaf, but I was so glad I honestly shared my feelings because I discovered the bullying had been unintentional and the person was shocked to realize what their actions and words had really been.

The second time I chose to speak the truth in love, the person mocked my feelings and shut me down. I told the person I loved them but refused to be treated this way any longer. Sadly, things don’t always end in reconciliation. I haven’t lost hope for our relationship to one day be restored, but I refuse to let it continue on the way it was.

Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote me and shared your stories of bullying. Some of you have made it through to the other side and finally found the courage to stand up for yourselves. Some of you are still struggling and wondering how you’ll be able to break free from the oppression. But it helps to know we’re not in this alone.

If you’ve found your voice, help others to find theirs. If you’re still searching for courage, find strength in the stories of others. And let’s determine to not let our experiences be in vain, but together, to teach our kids and our friends the right way to treat others. Let the end of bullying begin with you.

I know this post is focused on adult bullying, but I just found out about this incredibly impacting silent short film on YouTube that addresses bullying in schools. My cousin, Michelle Page, is an actress and stars as the girl who is bullied. It’s worth the watch.

Bullies Aren’t Just Kids – Sometimes They’re Grownups

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Were you one of those kids in middle school or high school who got picked on by bullies? I was. And it sucked.

I was a sweet, little introverted kid who was every bully’s dream target. I cried easily and wasn’t quick on my feet, so I didn’t know how to stick up for myself. And if I dared to try and respond, it was always such a weak answer that I was instantly humiliated as the bully shot back his or her sharp, cutting retort.

I learned quickly that it wasn’t worth it to try and stand up to bullies. The more you tried to defend yourself, the worse it got.

There are moments I’ll never forget, such as wearing a new dress my mom had bought me to school in seventh grade and having a bully whisper behind my back to the whole class that I looked like a slut. Or sitting at the lunch table eating an apple, and a bully loudly mocking the way I ate my food. Or when a bully masqueraded as my friend on and off for a few years, getting close enough to me to find out my deepest secrets and then promptly passing them along the middle school gossip train. The list goes on.

But as a good Christian girl who also happened to be an introvert, I continued to believe the best. I forgave and forgot. I didn’t learn from my lessons and continued to trust those who hurt me the instant they pretended to be my friend again. I always wanted so desperately to believe the best and see the good in everyone. Rather than stop the bullying and recognize it for what it was, I wondered if something was wrong with me and let it squash huge portions of who I was, hiding some of my true self for fear of being mocked.

I found out a few year ago that three of my top strengths in the StrengthsFinder test are Harmony, Empathy and Positivity. Growing up, I desperately didn’t want conflict, I always tried to see things from the perspective of the bully (rather than my own), and I tried to just suck it up and stay positive. But the bullying took its toll.

When I graduated from high school, honestly I was relieved. I thought that chapter of my life was closed. That bullies were born and died in school. In the real world, certainly people just grew up and understood that life was more than who was cool and who was not, right?

Oh, if only it was that way. For the most part, I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by beautiful individuals who have left the pettiness found in school behind. I was relieved to find that bullying does exist less after school than in it. But it doesn’t completely go away.

Because it’s not just kids who gets bullied – it happens to grownups too. In so many ways, we’re really just kids on the inside who now live in bigger bodies. And the cool kids in school are suddenly the cool kids at work, or in your parent play group, or at church, or in your book club, or at your gym, or in your neighborhood, or in your family.

And it’s not ok. It never was ok. But as an adult, the stakes are higher. You need to be able to succeed at work. You need to be able to parent your children from a place of strength and model for them what a strong, healthy, loving adult looks like. You need to finally be confident in who you are and not let anyone take that away from you.

It’s time to say enough is enough.

If someone is bullying you, of course pray for them, but DON’T LET IT CONTINUE. You may not have been strong enough in school to stand up to the cool kid, but you need to find that strength now.

I’m not talking about rocking the boat just to rock it, or snipping at someone every time they tease you, or freaking out because you found out someone talked behind your back. Life happens, we all make mistakes, and we should extend people grace, just as we’d hope they would extend it to us.

I’m talking about when someone’s passive aggressive cruelty is hindering you in your job. I’m talking about when you’re nervous to go to family reunions  because you don’t know if you’ll be made to feel like a fool once again. I’m talking about when another parent makes you feel so insecure that you find yourself feeling incapacitated and questioning everything you’re doing.

That is not safe. And it’s time to do something about it. (For more information on how to protect yourself from damaging relationships, check out the book Safe People.)

Some relationships we can remove ourselves from, and some we can’t. Sometimes bullies are people we truly love and might need to keep a relationship with, so what do we do in those cases?

To avoid making this post too long, I wrote a part two to this that I’ll post later this week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to handle bullies. Have you been affected by bullying as an adult?

On Discovering I Have ADHD as an Adult

yourlifecanbebetter

“Be still and know I am God.” Definitely my least favorite verse in Scripture.

Growing up, I used to hate it when pastors would quote that verse to us followed by the phrase “Focus and quiet your mind,” and then ask us to sit silently for ten minutes or more and listen for God’s voice. First of all, my body ached to sit still for that long without moving. Inevitably, I began to rotate my ankle in circles or wiggle my toes or play with my fingers.

Second, “Quiet your mind”?! Seriously? What does that even mean? I’ve never understood that phrase. My mind doesn’t know quiet. It knows two speeds: racing or sleeping. On or off. Flying or dreaming. But awake and quiet? Forget about it.

And focus? Yeah, right. I heard someone describe it perfectly once. My mind is like a computer screen with twelve windows open in the browser and six programs running at once. I skip from thought to thought and topic to topic like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. Unless something is intensely engaging, forget focus.

But I had always just figured my struggles were a quirk of my personality.

Thankfully I had parents who taught me life skills that helped me overcome my difficulties with focusing. When my mind began drifting and Mom saw me taking an hour to get ready in the morning, she’d chirp, “Pretend you’re in a hurry!” We created games and races and competitions in the house to motivate us to stay focused and complete tasks quickly. We would reward ourselves for jobs well done. We made lists. We had rules.  All of this order mixed with fun was an ideal environment for me to grow up and thrive in.

As a result, I made excellent grades, learned how to manage my time well, and generally succeeded in my school age years.

But then I got married. And the rules were gone. I was in charge. There was no one to prod me along and remind me of the strategies I needed to follow, and I began to struggle. Not terribly, but enough to frustrate me and confuse my new husband. Neither of us understood why it took me so long to get things done, why information so often flew in one ear and out the other, or how we could drive the same routes a thousand times past the same landmarks and I somehow never saw them.

(Side note. ((My brain thinks in side notes and parentheses.)) Ironically, do you know what inspired me to sit down and write this blog post right now? I read this phrase in a devotional: “Sit in a comfortable place. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. LISTEN. What is God saying to you? Be still. Just listen.” That worked well. I sat still for all of three seconds and then decided to blog instead about how I couldn’t sit still.)

Back to the story. To keep it short, the strategies instilled in me by my parents in combination with a husband who brings out the best in me helped me to live a “successful life.” I put that in quotes because although technically my children were well taken care of, the house was clean, I finished my college degree and got a great job, and I even learned how to cook, I was constantly frustrated with myself. I could always see my shortcomings and felt like I wasn’t good enough. I knew I could do better but didn’t know how.

This past year, I began to notice patterns in my daughter and in myself that mirrored each other. One day, her teacher brought some of her behaviors to our attention (playing with her fingers, needing constant reminders to refocus, needing things to be repeated multiple times, etc.), and while I agreed that they needed to be addressed, they didn’t concern me. I sat down with some of our friends, one of whom is a psychologist, and began telling them what the teacher had said. Laughingly, I began to list off a number of my quirks that were similar to my daughter’s.

After listing off about eight of them, I suddenly stopped. It hit me as I watched their faces and listened to myself that perhaps these funny little behaviors had something to them.

I’d always known I had some quirks, but hey, we all do, so I brushed mine off for years, laughing at my odd idiosyncrasies. They had never interfered dramatically with my life, so why would I pay much attention?

Until suddenly they did. They began to interfere a lot. But still I managed and chocked it up to a difficult season in life. I just needed to step it up and push harder. I got angry with myself and did some self-talk: “Stephanie, get yourself together and make it happen!” And I did. Sort of.

About a year ago, I went to a retreat for missionary women here in Peru, and at the retreat we were given the opportunity to reflect, to think introspectively…and to see a counselor.

In my session with JoAnn (an incredible counselor and life coach based in Minnesota), I shared with her my frustrations. I told her how something felt wrong with my mind—how it flew at a million miles a minute, how I struggled so, so hard with focusing, how my brain flitted from task to thought to memory and back again 20 times in under 10 seconds. I thought perhaps it was a result of working in social media or just a natural by-product of today’s technology.

JoAnn had gently asked me if I had ever considered that I might have ADHD. I immediately said no, because the picture I had in my mind of ADHD was hyper kids running around, bouncing off the walls, who did poorly in school. Certainly that wasn’t me. Plus I’ll admit I’m a skeptic by nature and having been raised with three brothers, am quick to brush things off and try to muscle through things on my own.

But after that night with our friends, my conversation with JoAnn came back to me. I went home and my mind began filling with memories. Memories of getting up from the kitchen table five times during dinner. Or beginning ten tasks in the same day only to leave them all unfinished. Or misplacing things because I had set them down in odd places while wandering around the house, lost in thought. Or how I had always struggled with retaining information. (I can often read a book and the day after finishing it, forget the names of every character and most of the story’s details. A year later, I might not even remember reading it.) Or how in any type of lecture or sermon or talk, I had to have something in my hand or I’d panic. And without taking notes, there was no chance I’d remember what was said.

When I woke up the next morning, I cracked open my computer and began to do some research on ADHD. I was shocked to read the stories of others and find my own story written within theirs. It was so refreshing to read about other people’s struggles that so closely paralleled my own. Through some assessment and conversation with counselors, my diagnosis was confirmed.

Once I found out, I cried for about four minutes. No one likes hearing they have a “diagnosis.” But immediately after, to my surprise, I began to feel a sense of excitement. All of the sudden, I realized two things. First, without knowing about my diagnosis, I had been living a happy and successful life for the last 32 years. Second, now that I knew the name of what I was struggling with, I had new tools and strategies to live even better!

In fact, I met a friend who also has ADHD, and he describes it as his superpower. His sharp and fast-moving mind allows him to quickly move from subject to subject and carry tons of details in his mind at once. Another friend who also has ADHD is one of the funniest, smartest, most capable people I know. Both are my inspiration.

My Myers-Briggs type is an ISFJ, and I just think of ADHD as adding another letter to that. So, I’m an ISFJA. ADHD doesn’t need to limit me in what I can do. It simply describes another aspect of me that I wasn’t aware of. In fact, ADHD brings out the funny side of me, and that’s a side of me I love and that I wouldn’t trade away for anything. It helps me be spontaneous and fun and live in the moment.

And best of all, it helps me understand my daughter. I’ve noticed that many of the behaviors she has that frustrate me are ones that I have too. I am so much more patient with her now, because I get her on a much deeper level. Now I’m able to teach her the same strategies I was taught to help her succeed too, instead of just feeling impatient.

I now know to always carry something in my hand. (It keeps me calm and helps me focus.) I use lists with regularity. (They keep me on track.) I go to bed at a decent time. (When I’m well rested I’m able to focus better.)

Now I’m not perfect. I’ve been known to bust out of a routine or strategy. (That’s exactly what I’m doing right now as I’m blogging.) But for the most part, I’m choosing to stick to the strategies that help me be the best me.

At first, I hesitated to share the discovery of my diagnosis. But then I noticed as I occasionally mentioned it in conversations where it felt appropriate, that it brought relief to parents who had children with ADHD. It has brought understanding to those who may have shrugged it off as a fake diagnosis. And it has given encouragement and a sense of camaraderie to other adults who have also recently discovered they have ADHD.

ADHD doesn’t define me. It simply describes a side of me. I’m not your “ADHD friend,” I’m still just “your friend.” A friend who has a pretty hilarious side to her that yes, brings challenges with it, but also brings fun and adventure and randomness and joy.

When you think about it, no one is really “normal” or “regular.” We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We all have different personalities and different interests. We all have different upbringings and life experiences. And all these things combined make us the unique and special individuals that we are.

Be yourself. You’re the only you there is. And you’re pretty awesome.

What are some of your strengths and weaknesses? How can some of your weaknesses actually be a strength? As you’ve gotten older, what are some things you’ve discovered about yourself?

A Day in the Life of an Urban Missionary (a.k.a What It’s REALLY Like to Be a Missionary, Part 2)

Chillin' with Dad.

Chillin’ with Dad. Gotta love Madeline’s outfit choices :)

You know, when we were pastors in the States, we’d get together with other pastor friends sometimes and laugh about how people thought the life of a pastor consisted of sitting around praying and reading Scripture all day, floating around on a cloud of holiness and kissing our perfect children on the head.

It’s kind of the same with missionaries. People can sometimes lump us all together and imagine we’re out sharing our faith 24/7. Like with pastors, there are elements of truth to it. Pastors do pray and read Scripture, and missionaries are very passionate about helping others know Jesus. But in both situations, there’s so, so much more to it.

Before I dig in to our lives, let me just say that just like your days are, in some ways, just like your friends’ days, and in some ways, nothing like theirs, so the daily lives of missionaries have similarities and vary from one another. But I’m speaking for us personally. I can’t tell you exactly what the missionary down the street does, but I can give you a glimpse into our daily lives. And in some ways, our lives are probably just like yours, and in some ways, they’re definitely not. :)

Now, just like you have “normal days,” like your typical routine work and school days, so do we. And just like you have your super-not-normal days with events and visiting guests and kid craziness, so do we. In fact, we just finished a twenty day stretch where we hosted two amazing mission teams from Victory Christian Center and Substance Church (see photos and videos from the trips at the links). So the “typical day” I’m about to describe to you is one we haven’t had for about a month.

Because the crazy days are so varied and different, and those are the ones that often make it into my Facebook posts, I’m going to describe one of our super typical days for you–one of those days where things go as planned and according to schedule with no emergency calls or water being shut off to the house. (Granted most of our days have at least one or a couple unexpected things, but this is what it would look like if it didn’t.)

So here we go:

6:00 Danny and Steph wake up (if we can resist the snooze button) and quickly get ourselves ready for the day.

6:30 Wake the girls up to get ready for school.

6:45 Turn on an Adventures in Odyssey radio program and give the kids breakfast while packing their school lunches.

7:15 One of us takes Macy to school.

Macy's school is 2/3 in English and 1/3 in Spanish. They follow the IB curriculum, and although Macy really struggled the first year because of all of the changes and not being able to speak Spanish, now she's rocking it and is fully fluent in Spanish. We're so proud of her!

Macy’s school is 2/3 in English and 1/3 in Spanish. Although Macy really struggled the first year because of all of the changes and not being able to speak Spanish, now she’s rocking it and is fully fluent. We’re so proud of her!

7:30 Finish getting ready and then Danny and I each have time alone with God, reading the Word or a great book, listening to a podcast (my three current favorites are Peter Haas, Mars Hill Bible Church and Girls of Grace), and then we pray together. I also like to read a nugget from a brain-food book. My philosophy is wake up both my spirit and my mind for the day. I also often sneak in a short morning phone call to my mom and a friend with whom I share my scripture verse for the day.

8:45 One of us takes Madeline to school.

9:15 Work day starts for us both. For me, I work for Victory Auto most days and the other days, my freelance contracts. Danny’s work day is way more varied. His consists of everything from writing a message for the weekend, to counseling appointments with people from church, to mentoring younger pastors, to communicating with churches and pastors in the States, to building relationships with other pastors and nonprofits in the city, to working on the mission house upstairs, to coordinating mission trips coming down here to…well, you get the idea. My man is a mover and a driver. Love that guy.

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My rockstar husband. Although this picture is of him at his computer, he actually spends the majority of his days out interacting with people and getting things done for the church except for the one day he sets aside to prep for his Sunday message. He is the hardest worker I know, and yet he still manages to be an amazing husband and dad.

1:00 Pick up Madeline from school. (Her school is a small one for kids with special needs, so her day is much shorter.)

Madeline is in a program along with nine other kids with special needs. They each have individual learning plans and the most amazing teachers. We are so thankful for them!

Madeline is in a program along with nine other kids with special needs. They each have individual learning plans and the most amazing teachers. We are so thankful for them!

1:30 Lunch. I used to eat lunch at 11:30 am in the States, so this was a big adjustment for me.

2:15 (Steph) work with Madeline on her reading.

2:45 (Steph) Go back to work for an hour. Danny works until 5:30 most days and then several nights a week.

3:00-4:30 Somewhere in there we pick up Macy from school depending on whether she has school gymnastics that afternoon or not.

4:30 Girls get to watch a half an hour to an hour of TV or a movie if all their homework is done.

5:30 Make dinner. We take turns. When Danny cooks, it’s the best. That man is my favorite cook on earth.

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I LOVE Danny’s food. I’m so spoiled…and he’s passing on his cooking skills to the girls!

6:15 Eat dinner. We always pull out a Table Topic question at dinner and go around the table. I love this tradition and wrote about it more in a previous post.

6:45 Chill with the kids and play or wrestle or dance or play games.

Playing our version of Pictionary with the girls - our family's favorite game!

Playing our version of Pictionary with the girls – our family’s favorite game!

7:30 Start getting the kids ready for bed. At this point, Danny and I either are home for the night, or one or both of us is off to a meeting or coffee with someone or date night, which we have once a week. I feel good about  the balance we’ve struck in nights home versus nights out.

8:00 If we’re home, I always put the kids to bed. My mom always put us to bed, and it’s something I really love to do. Except I don’t love helping Madeline brush her teeth. Danny does that because he’s awesome.

8:30 Either we’re out or if we’re home, Danny and I get some chill time. We might watch a TV show or catch up a bit on social media and personal emails or read books together or catch up on our day or just…hang out and stuff. We also pretty much always eat a snack.

10:30 Danny passes out ten seconds after his head hits the pillow. I read for a half an hour or play Scramble with Friends with my Mom and my sister-in-law’s mom until my brain starting slowing down. If I close my eyes and try to sleep right away, I just lay there awake for a half an hour anyway, so I figure I’ll have some fun winding down instead of laying there mad at myself that I can’t fall asleep.

And of course we do things like grocery shop and pick up piles around the house and help the girls with homework and hang with my in-laws and get together with friends and do lots of the other things that most of you do too.

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Grocery shopping at the organic market by our house that’s open on Saturday mornings. I love this place!

And not so of course, we speak in Spanish all the time and personally call all Peruvians we know on their birthdays (this is mandatory,) and spend hours at government and public institutions like banks and notaries standing in line after line after line to get little things done, and convert dollars to Peruvian soles back and forth in our minds a hundred times and spend time with our sweet kids at the orphanage.

Life is so different. Life is so the same. What’s great about the human experience is that no matter where we live, no matter who we are, we all have things in common we share, things that bind us all together.

People are so encouraging and applaud us all the time for going on the mission field, and we appreciate those words tremendously, because some days are incredibly hard. But then other days, it just feels like life. Because we know we’re where God has called us to be.

And you’re where God has called you to be, so I applaud you too. He gives us grace to do what he’s called each of us to do. Including you.

While at times our lives might be pretty darn different from each other’s, there is so much we all have in common. I might encourage you, but guess what? You encourage me to.

A life lived transparently and honestly and authentically with the desire to soak in God’s love and then exhale it out on others is a life lived well, no matter what continent you live on.

Thanks for helping us to live the life God has called us to live. And I hope that as we do, we can help inspire you to live the life he’s given you to live.

Does our daily routine surprise you? If you’ve read about many of our wild adventures on Facebook, were you caught off guard to see the normal side of our lives? How can you feel inspired to live the life God has called you to live…right where you’re at?

Our Schedule While in Minnesota (in just 16 days!)

Our 40 day paper chain countdown.

Our 40 day paper chain countdown.

Are we excited about our upcoming visit to Minnesota? Maybe just a little…not that anyone’s counting…

These four Peruvesotans are seriously pumped to see friends and family in the north who we’ve missed like crazy bananas (that’s how we say it at our house) for the last eleven months. And we’d love to see YOU!

Realistically, we’ve got a super tight schedule when we’re up, but we’d love to see as many of you as possible, so if you can, come on out to one of the events we’ve got planned and let us give you a big Peruvian hug.

We’ll be having an open house like last year, and this year it will be on Wednesday, July 17, at Living Word Christian Center before and after the Wednesday night service. We’d love to see you there or at any of the other services Danny will be speaking at.

Here’s where you can find us during our four weeks in the States:

Each year, people ask how they can support the work we’re doing here in Lima, and so here’s the breakdown if you’d love to be a part of what God’s doing in Peru through our family.

Prayer: Never underestimate what God can do through you in prayer! We’ll bring up some fresh postcards so we can be “those missionaries on your fridge” (I know, I used to have missionaries on my fridge and it’s so crazy that now that’s us…), and when you see our picture, lift us up in prayer. This means the world to us.

Giving: You can support us financially on a regular basis or whenever God puts in your heart to through Modern Day, our sending agency, where you can easily give online. We’ll also be bringing up some crazy cute Peruvian jewelry like last year that we’ll have out when we speak at Living Word.

And we always hear, “What are some fun things you need?” so we put together an Amazon wish list with ideas of items that would be both a blessing and just flat-out fun to bring back–things like gift cards, books and games for the girls, vitamins, seasons of the Cosby show (our family favorite) and peanut butter.

Again, we can’t wait to see you, our Minnesota family and friends, in just a few weeks. Put a date or two on your calendar and come on out to see us! We love and and every one of you so much and can’t wait to give you the hug we’ve been saving up for you this past year.

See you soon!

Danny, Stephanie, Madeline & Macy

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What Being a Missionary is REALLY Like, Part 1

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So, when I was a kid, I had all these ideas about what being a missionary meant. You live out in the jungle, eat bugs, sweat constantly and are always sun-burned. Now don’t get me wrong – I actually have friends whose life does consist of those things! And they are my heroes. But after getting to know hundreds of missionaries through Peru and others from different parts of the world, I’ve realized that we’ve definitely stereotyped the “typical missionary.” Just like people come in all shapes and sizes, so do missionaries!

To get to know your missionary, first of all, drop all the assumptions and begin to ask questions. You’ll be shocked at what you didn’t know! I knew so little of what our life would be like when we moved down two years ago.

Being that we can’t have in depth, face to face conversations with you all for you to get to ask us these questions, I thought I’d do a little series helping you get to know what life is like for us as urban missionaries in Lima. And feel free to comment below with questions you’d like answered!

Here is the one of the FIRST great questions to ask your missionary and the theme of today’s post:

What’s it Like Where You Live?

Danny and I live in the VERY urban city of Lima. It’s the capital city of Peru. And because we wanted to save on rent and be close to my in-laws, we opted to live with them in a suburb of Lima. Thankfully we can make our money go farther by having to spend way less on housing and the girls get to see their grandparents every day. Win-win.

It's the truth!

It’s the truth!

It’s a city the size of Hennepin County (in MN)…with more than seven million people jammed in. To put it in perspective, take the ENTIRE population of Minnesota, stick them all in Hennepin County…then add two million more people. It’s crowded! And you’ll find a wide range of living conditions, everything from extreme poverty all the way up to Beverly Hills rich. There is a huge dichotomy between the rich and the poor. With Peru’s economy on the rise, the upper middle and super upper class is really growing. What does that mean for Peru?

Housing prices in many areas have tripled in the last five years. Private schools are maxed out, many with two year waiting lists, entrance fees of $4,000-$10,000 and monthly fees rivaling great private schools in the U.S. Unfortunately the public school system is one of the worst in all South America, so a priority of parents is trying to get their kids quality education.

This is how millions live, in shanties built on the sides of mountains...

This is how millions live, in shanties built on the sides of mountains…

...and this is how thousands of others live, amidst the hustle and bustle of a huge, thriving city...

…and this is how thousands of others live, amidst the hustle and bustle of a huge, thriving city…

...and here's where we live! We built an apartment on the third floor of my in-law's home.

…and here’s where we live! We built an apartment on the third floor of my in-law’s home.

How About the Religion?

The majority of the country is Catholic mixed with some indigenous superstitions that have traveled in with those who have moved from the more rural areas into Lima. Government and religion are mixed a LOT, which seems like it should be a good thing, but it’s really not. Leaders in the Catholic church have tremendous amounts of power and hold tons of free land, special privileges and huge influence given to them by the government.

All other religions, including Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Evangelical Christianity (yes, it’s pretty much considered a different religion), are marginalized and treated poorly. My father-in-law is the president of the National Evangelical Association here in Peru (UNICEP), and he and his colleagues have been working hard alongside other religious leaders for religious freedom in Peru for the last two decades. I am so proud of the work he is doing here!

Manuel and Sonia, my sweet in-laws. Manuel is extremely well respected in both political and religious circles here, in Lima. We're so proud of him!

Manuel and Sonia, my sweet in-laws. Manuel is extremely well respected in both political and religious circles here, in Lima. We’re so proud of them!

What Do You Eat?

I’ve got to address this one quickly, because most American assume that all of South America eats burritos and tacos. In Peru, if you ask for a taco, they’ll point to to a high-heeled shoe. Ask for a burrito? Yeah, here that’s a donkey.

Peru has become known not only as the gastronomic capital of the americas, but also the restaurant capital of the world. The most famous chef in all South America, Gaston Acurio, hails from Peru, and he never fails to have at least one restaurant on the top 100 list of the best restaurants in the world each year.

The variety of fruits and vegetables and grains here is phenomenal! Because Peru has three climate regions (desert, mountains, jungle), it is a food-lover’s paradise. Now most Limeños (people from Lima) don’t eat that kind of variety. From what I’ve experienced, the main staples in meals are potatoes (did you know the potato is originally from Peru?), onions, limes, bread, chicken (SO much chicken), all kinds of seafood, avocados, tomatoes, bread, rice, legumes and soups and salads. It’s actually shocking how little variety the average Limeño eats, but because of tradition based in saving money, the food is extraordinarily starchy. This is changing a little bit as trailblazers like Gaston Acurio and others are making Peruvians and the rest of the world aware of the richness of Peru’s biodiversity.

This is the bodega (little corner store) where we can walk to for quick groceries we forgot for dinner. We do the rest of our shopping at the local grocery store (it's like a smaller Super Target) and at the open organic market on Saturdays.

This is the bodega (little corner store) where we can walk to for quick groceries we forgot for dinner. We do the rest of our shopping at the local grocery store (it’s like a smaller Super Target) and at the open organic market on Saturdays.

We just found this new fruit the other day and haven't even tried it yet. Isn't it pretty?

We just found this new fruit the other day and haven’t even tried it yet. Isn’t it pretty?

So, How Do These Things Affect You, as Missionaries?

I could say SO much more, but the real question is, how do these facts about Lima affect us, as missionaries?

One is the cost of living. To be able to send your kids to a school that will help them succeed in life, to find safe housing, to be able to drive a car (with gas at $5 a gallon), you have to find ways to stretch your budget as much as possible. Thankfully I was raised by an awesomely frugal momma who taught me the value of a dollar early on in life, so we have learned how to say no to things we don’t really need and say yes to things that really do make a difference and enrich our lives.

I also work part-time for Victory Auto Service & Glass back in Minnesota (how cool is my boss that he lets me work from Peru?! On a side note, it is hands-down the BEST place to get your car serviced in Minnesota, and a great local business to support as they support us and missions, in general! Just my shameless, little plug for them :) ). I also do freelance copyediting and writing for people throughout the U.S. (I just finished up copyediting a book for 20 time Emmy© award-winner Matt Knisely whose book, Framing Faith, comes out next spring.)

Second, doing missions in Lima is WAY different than doing it in a rural part of the world. Most people here have cable, are massively exposed to American media, and interestingly the majority of Limeños have been exposed to Evangelical Christianity…and for many it’s left a bad taste in their mouth. That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of evangelical churches here in Lima, and they’re on the rise! But I have been floored by how many people we have encountered who have had awful experiences of being forcefully witnessed to. In many ways, it’s not all that different than the U.S.

So, our goal (and the goal of many awesome other churches and missionaries we know here, like one of our favorites, Camino de Vida) is to show them the love and grace of Jesus. That Jesus is not the make-you-feel-guilty religion their aunties raised them with, nor the legalistic, do-everything-perfect-in-order-to-make-God-love-you religion their neighbor told them about.

It is a serious challenge, and simple street-witnessing is (in my opinion) usually not anywhere close enough to unpacking the years’ worth and culture’s worth of deep, deep religion they’ve been raised with and exposed to. It requires long conversations on sofas over tea and banana bread, it requires hugs and the holding of hands, and it requires deep looks into eyes to reassure them that yes, Jesus did forgive them of that…and that too.

It requires a respect not only for their culture and way of life, but of their intelligence. They are beautiful people, as worthy of honor and respect as any American. And talking down to them or trying to force them into believing something that they don’t first understand and can feel deep in their heart, would be wrong.

It requires patience. And more patience. And more patience. Like when someone calls you in desperation telling you it’s an emergency and they need to meet with you tomorrow…so you say ok and drive in brutal Peruvian traffic to a coffee shop, buy yourself a cup…and wait an hour only to call them and have them tell you they forgot…or they are “just twenty minutes away,” which means an hour and a half. This happens not only often, but the vast majority of the time.

And it requires your support, both financially and prayerfully. Under our religious visa, Danny is not allowed to earn an income on Peruvian soil, so each time one of you sows into the work we are doing here in Peru through our sending agency, Modern Day, it allows us to stay here and continue in the work God has sent us to do. And your prayers and little notes of encouragement mean more to us that we could ever say.

Our sending agency. You can click here to give!

Our sending agency. You can click here to give!

I almost forget…how does the food affect us? Well, that part is just flat out awesome. We eat and eat and try new things and expose our kids to foods they would have never otherwise experienced. You all know what foodies Danny and I are, so we experiment with fusing Peruvian ingredients with all of the other international dishes we love to make, and it’s food heaven! I thank God for that wonderful perk of living here daily.

I hope that gave you a bit more insight into what life is like for us here as missionaries in Lima! Part two is soon to come and will tackle another interesting angle of our lives here.

I’d love to hear any other questions you have, so leave them for me in the comments below! Were you surprised by anything you learned?