As of today I have been married 6 months. A couple of weeks before our wedding someone said to us, “It gets hard. At some point you start treating each other like your family.” Now that could sound like a good and beautiful thing, right? But it can also mean that you let it all hang out, especially the stuff you’ve never shown before, and you take for granted that the other person is there in it with you. Seeing each other day-in and day-out, sometimes for 48 hours straight in our small apartment, changes things dramatically from the dating and engagement phase. For me, and I suspect for many others, the reality is even more challenging than I imagined.

A friend posted an article from Relevant the other day titled “How To Survive Your First Year of Marriage.” (https://relevantmagazine.com/article/how-to-survive-your-first-year-of-marriage). My friend is actually in the picture that accompanies the article, which is amazing, but the title is what caught my eye. For a brief moment I thought I might actually get some solid input! I read it and was completely disappointed. There was no practical survival advice about the first year of marriage and there was no encouragement for the hard moments. It simply said that the infatuation wears off, relationships take work, and having a vision to work toward together is a good thing. I hope that someone wouldn’t get to the point of marriage without knowing those things. I’m not sure I would have gotten through wedding planning and to the alter without knowing those things. I’m not an expert, but those points were way too basic for me at this point! Ironically, the title of the article has now been changed to “How To Make Sure Your Relationship Lasts Past The Beginning.” That sounds more accurate for the content, and I wouldn’t have read an article with that title hoping for advice for where I am.

While trying to overcome my title deception, I turned to another form of technology. I sent an iMessage to a long-time friend who’s a few years ahead of me in this journey. My message said, “I have a question for you: I remember you once told me that you fought about everything your first year of marriage except money. The context was talking about Dave Ramsey, but I wanted to ask something else. Do you have advice on learning to fight well? My family stuffed, then exploded, so I’m really poor at proper conflict resolution.”

My friend claimed she wasn’t wise in these matters, but I found her response to be just what I needed to hear. She said, “Right now I’m just a beggar telling another beggar where to find food.” Even so, she pointed me the right way and encouraged me in the process. I asked permission to present it here, in a numbered list as it was presented to me, only edited to remove text-message-speak and identifying details:

“Here are some of my thoughts about marital conflict, in no particular order:

  1. Living life in such close proximity to another human is incredibly challenging. I didn’t think marriage would be a cakewalk before I got married, but it is definitely harder than I expected.
  2. Being constantly reminded of my selfishness (not because my spouse reminds me verbally, although maybe sometimes) is a tough reality to face!
  3. I am not always right. This frustrates the daylights out of me, because I’m a super holy person. 🙂 [Yes, my friend is sarcastic!]
  4. The best advice I can give you is to point you to Jesus and God’s Word. Seems cliché, but it’s true. In your moments of frustration, conflict avoidance, deep compassion and love for your spouse, extreme negative feelings towards your spouse, and everything in between: take it to Jesus.
  5. You already know there is absolutely nothing you can say to God that will change how HE feels about you. So, tell him how you feel. Air your frustration to Him. He can handle it. And then pray for wisdom, knowledge, discernment, and revelation about how to proceed and communicate effectively with your spouse.
  6. I used to think I had to find the exact right marriage book (or now, parenting book) to help me self-help-fix my relationships and myself. That’s not to say there aren’t some great, Godly books out there; there are. But I consistently underestimate God’s Word, how living and active it is and applicable to every situation. If I read my Bible asking for insight and wisdom, especially on a specific topic or relationship situation, God highlights things as I read that make sense in a way they haven’t before.
  7. Nobody knows your spouse better than his Creator! He can and will guide you in your relationship with your spouse. He’ll give you wisdom about when to bring things up, and when to let things slide. He designed you two to be in relationship, so He knows how it’ll go!
  8. And 9 times out of 10, if I PRAY FOR MY HUSBAND, earnestly pray for him – even if it’s to say “LORD HELP ME LOVE HIM HE’S SUCH A DOOFUS” – the Lord softens my heart towards him. My frustration lessens because I remember we’re on the same team, not opposing ones, that we’re in this for the long haul, and that we have to learn how to walk together.
  9. I tend to be an over communicator, I think. Especially early on in our marriage I thought we had to talk each and every little thing to death, the moment it took place.  Sometimes that’s just not the case.  Sometimes walking away from the conversation and revisiting it later (after sleep, or food, or time has passed and perspectives are better) is the best solution.
  10. So the long and short: Jesus loves you. He created you. He knows THE STRUGGLE IS REAL in relationships between humans. There is no greater thing you can do for your marriage than to read God’s Word, which can lead to transformation you could never have constructed on your own.”

What do you think? Was this wise and practical advice? What would you add?

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As I write to you all, I sit in a hotel in Nairobi, Kenya. We returned a couple of hours ago from an amazing launch service for City Church Nairobi, a partner of MULTIPLi Global. I feel immensely blessed because I was able to travel for this special event, I traveled with my husband (!!) of four months who is napping in the next room, we have amazing opportunities this week to minister and see ministries in Kenya, and we have food, bottled water to drink, water to bathe, and water to flush the toilets.

Why do I feel blessed to be able to flush the toilet? Because most of the people in the city that I call home haven’t bathed or flushed their toilets in 4 or more days. Even worse, there’s no more bottled water for purchase in the city, or if there is, it’s triple the normal price or more. It has been a terribly hot summer there and temperatures aren’t letting up. Then today there was a small earthquake (4.1), as if they weren’t already dealing with enough. As I try to focus on the ministry that we came to do in Kenya, I find that my loyalties are divided. It’s tough to tear myself away from the news articles and Facebook posts about the current situation in Lima and other parts of Peru.

Perhaps you aren’t up to date on what’s going on in Peru. It’s not too surprising – I had a difficult time finding an article online in English that explained the situation clearly. Somehow after the news agencies virally showed a woman miraculously emerging from one of the mudslides, the overall story slid right out of the headlines. Here’s a short version: Abnormal rains are causing mudslides and flooding in various parts of Peru, mostly in the north and along the coast. The amount of mud and debris in the rivers then causes water treatment plants downstream to close their intake valves. They simply can’t filter out that amount of junk from the water. Water distribution is then cut to cities like Lima, people go to the store to buy water, supply and demand raises the prices and panic levels, and suddenly there’s no water to be purchased in the capital city of 10 million people. Major roadways have been washed away making food and water distribution to affected areas very difficult, not to mention just transporting people out of those areas and transporting in the physical labor to help. Bridges are out across the country, agriculture is swamped, food prices are rising, and the ones suffering the most in all of this are those who were living in poverty before the first drop of rain fell. (Read more here: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-peru-floods-idUSKBN16O2V5)

As I sat on a conference call late last night that was aimed at disaster relief efforts, it was difficult not to feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the situation in Peru. My mind recalled images of disaster relief trips to Mississippi after Katrina. I flipped between the thoughts, “I’m thankful that I am not there to have to deal with the water crisis in our own home,” to “I feel helpless being so far from my home country right now,” to “What will we do when we return to Lima next week if there’s still no food and water?” and even, “Will there be enough water for the cat sitter to give to Toby?” What irony that I am currently double-fisting a lovely Kenyan tea and bottled water in a country that is suffering a terrible drought, while excess rains fall in Peru where many don’t have clean water to drink.

I was thankful for this reminder from my boss:

Psalm 29:10-11 (NIV)
10 
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.

I desire to rest in the peace of knowing that the Lord sits enthroned over the flood. It is in that peace and strength that I want to pray for Peru while also focusing on my tasks here in Kenya. My loyalties need not be divided in this time, for my loyalty is to the Lord who is enthroned as King forever.

Please pray with me for Peru and Kenya.

If you’ve read “The Relationship Story” on my blog, you know that I had been seeing Leonardo Ramirez since we reconnected on a mission trip in July 2015. Things had been going very well and we’d been meeting with his pastors on a regular basis since we became official-official in January. We’d talked about marriage, but with my 3-month departure for the US looming, I wasn’t expecting anything to be set in motion until I was back in Peru in September.

A few days before I was scheduled to leave Leo said to me, “You’re going to miss our dating anniversary on the 10th and you’re going to be gone for three months. Pick a nice place to eat and I’ll even put on my sport jacket and get dressed up.” I didn’t really think much of it because Peruvians like to celebrate. Even my small group had a special dinner to tell me goodbye and scoffed when I said I was “only” gone for three months. It’s a very considerate culture.

I considered a few differently Lima restaurants, but we finally decided that we wanted something with an ocean view. There’s a shopping center built into the cliffs overlooking the ocean on the coast of Lima. We’d been there and walked along the path that follows the cliffs on various different dates over the last year, so we settled on going there, though I settled on a restaurant in advance. There were several good options there.

Leo had Monday off from work, so we chose June 6, 2016, for the special dinner. We had the taxi take us to a lighthouse along the cliffs. One of my favorite early photos of us was taken at that lighthouse on our third date, if I remember correctly. So, we got out there, took a new photo at the lighthouse, and then walked along the cliffs toward the shopping center.

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The new lighthouse picture we took that night. June 6, 2016.

When we arrived at the shopping center, I proposed that we start at one end of the line of restaurants that have an ocean view and just ask if an inside ocean view table was available – it was chilly that night, after all. The first restaurant that we came to, Tanta, had a table with a nice view, so we took it!

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At our table in Tanta – clearly I was saying something at the time. June 6, 2016.

Dinner was normal, from my perspective, though later I learned that he was quite nervous. Maybe I should have picked up on it, but I didn’t! Apparently when he went to the restroom at one point, one of the waiters stopped to ask him if he was okay. He was at the sink splashing water on his face and trying to compose himself, so he must have looked rough! He told me that he said something to the waiter like, “It’s a very exciting day for me.” When he came back to the table he first asked if I was ready to leave but then asked if I wanted dessert. We decided on dessert, which is always really amazing at this particular restaurant.

After dessert he was telling me how much he had appreciated getting to know me over all this time and so forth. I thought he was just being flowery – most Peruvians are able to give a small speech at the drop of a hat. I was listening but also trying to think how I would respond in kind to properly say goodbye for the three months. It’s not in my nature to be so flowery, though I have tried to learn while living in Peru. Suddenly Leo stood up and threw his chair out of the way. I thought, “Why is he standing up? Everyone is going to look at him.”

He was saying [in Spanish] in his loud, deep voice, “…and I want to tell you in front of all these people that I love you….”

I watched in shock as he pulled something out of his pocket and I was thinking, “Surely that’s not a ring box. It’s a ring box.” Later Leo told me that I looked really pale! It’s a moment that one tries to imagine in life, but when it actually happened, it was quite startling.

He continued, “…and I want to ask you, and it cost me a lot to learn this, [switching to English] ‘Will you marry me?” Later I asked him who had taught him to ask me in English and he said, “Oh, I had to use a translator app and have it repeat it to me over and over.” What a sweet gesture to hear the proposal in my heart language!

After asking in English, Leo knelt down on one knee and returned to Spanish, “Robbye Fielden, quieres casarte conmigo [will you marry me]?” I am thankful that he asked in both languages because it meant so much for me to hear it in my native tongue and I know it resonated more with him to ask it in his.

As he knelt there I could feel that not only was there a physical ring in his hands, but he had completely laid out his heart between us in the most vulnerable way and was offering it to me. Of course I happily said “Si!”

As we hugged I heard an American two tables down exclaimed, “Oh how sweet!” I also realized the entire wait staff had lined up and was applauding. I had briefly forgotten that others surrounded us in the restaurant. I was still in shock for a while – it felt surreal! I think Leo was shaking from adrenaline for the next two hours. It was definitely an exciting night for us! We’re eagerly anticipating our next big adventure which will begin on November 26, 2016!

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Engaged! June 6, 2016.

Leo and I met sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. He insists that we met earlier than I remember and that I was a bit snobbish and was only speaking English with a group of foreigners. I don’t quite remember it that way, obviously, but he could be right. I first remember him in a course that we took together at Iglesia Centro de Fuego in early 2014. We were both attending the same church at that time and that course is where I feel like I got to know him by name in a small group setting. Admittedly, I might have met him before that. I’m not always the best with names, something that I should work on!

I was on home assignment away from Peru for a few months in 2014. When I returned to Lima I decided to start attending a new church plant, La Ciudad. Because of that, I didn’t see Leo for a while. It was probably around May 2015 when I first saw him again. I was hanging out with my friend Gretchen (a Californian) and she mentioned that her husband, Jack (Peruvian), was out with his friend, “Aldo.” At least, that’s what I heard her say. Jack has a friend Aldo, and I guess my brain just misheard and replaced the name with something plausible.

While I was still with Gretchen that day, Jack and Leo walked through the door. I thought to myself, “That’s not Aldo. Who is that? He’s cute. I know him, but it’s not Aldo. Come on brain.” Then Leo spoke to me by name and I was baffled. I knew I should know who he was, and after I realized he wasn’t Aldo I still knew I should know him, I just couldn’t put it together since we were out of context and it had been a year since I’d seen him! That’s what having two whole lives full of people (in the US and in Peru) will do to you – name/face overload with slow recall. It was probably 10 minutes before my brain finally kicked in and I said to Gretchen, “Oh, Leo! From the course at church!”

Fast forward a month or so: Gretchen and Jack were planning a mission trip in July 2015 through Iglesia Centro de Fuego to Jack’s birthplace in Aucayacu, Peru. Gretchen was going to be about 7 months pregnant and couldn’t go. She asked if I’d go to help with the administrative aspects of the trip and I agreed. At one of the planning meetings Leo walked in and I realized we’d be going on the trip together. I can’t honestly say what got my attention that day, but I left feeling like I had a crush on him! Consequently I set about praying for the Lord to take away that interest – Satan loves to distract people from their true purposes on short-term missions by romantic relationships and I couldn’t have that!

In Aucayacu I was determined to put aside my feelings of interest in Leo, and I continued to pray to that end. Contrary to my efforts to ignore him, I noticed the first night at dinner that he was the first person up from the table gathering dishes and setting about helping wash up. The first thought that crossed my mind was what my former roommate and I used to say when her then-husband-to-be did something she wanted to encourage: “That’s so sexy.” I then reminded myself that I shouldn’t be noticing such things and silently prayed that the Lord would take away my interest in Leo.

In the days that followed on the mission trip I continued to try and ignore my feelings and focus on the work at hand, but I couldn’t stop my brain from taking note and watching as Leo jumped in where needed. He was a clown one day, dancing and entertaining a group of kids; he was up front another time as he led the community in motions to some of the songs we sang; and he was available to serve whenever and wherever needed. Even though I’d known him a while, I’d never seen him in front of a crowd of people and he was so natural and engaging. Crushes can definitely have disastrous consequences on a mission trip, but mission trips sure do reveal another side of a person that we can’t always see in everyday life. I saw Leo in a whole new light and it was super attractive to me.

For me the deal was sealed on the day of our departure from Aucayacu. Everyone was saying their goodbyes and Leo was holding a little girl who was about 1 year old. She was playing with his facial hair and he was kissing her hand as I snapped a couple of pictures. I looked at the pictures and something told me that our friendship wasn’t over.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

The more in-depth friendship started simply with texts over WhatsApp after I forwarded him the pictures I took. We talked about all sorts of things, each of us revealing bits more about ourselves along the way. There were some interesting similarities in our life stories in spite of our obvious differences. We saw each other a couple of additional times in group settings as the mission team (half of which was from the US) had a debriefing night, we ate with a group from church, and later met again with the Peruvian part of the mission team.

Our first one-on-one date was Monday, August 3, 2015. We met up at a theater that shows new release movies for about $2 on Monday-Wednesday. I honestly wasn’t sure if it was a date and I had no idea, especially factoring in the culture, whether I should offer to pay for my own ticket. Trying to navigate those tricky waters, I reached for my money and Leo simply said, “How about if I treat you today.” I agreed. We saw Minions, and then given that it was early when we got out, we turned around and saw Pixels right after that! Leo posted a picture of us at the theater together, so I knew he didn’t care if it was known that we were together, but I still didn’t know if it meant anything! The texting continued throughout the week, so I was cautiously hopeful.

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Our first one-on-one date to see Minions at CineStar. August 3, 2015.

The next Monday we met again at the same theater to see Mission Impossible. As he walked me to my door that night [he always sees me all the way home safely, even if it means a long trip home for him], we started a conversation that was surprisingly deep and interesting to me. We were talking in the street at my front door until almost 2 AM! The next day we agreed to meet up for coffee at 3 PM to continue the conversation. The conversation continued through coffee, a walk along the cliffs overlooking the coastline, through the shopping center built into the cliffs, onto the bus toward my house, and through a rotisserie chicken dinner. He left me at my door at 10 PM after another standing conversation there in the street. I think we were both shocked that we could talk that long and not tire of one another! I told him that night at dinner that I was enjoying getting to know him – that I felt like I could be completely myself around him from the beginning (even when I dropped food on myself at dinner!). He told me something that night that set him apart from every other relationship I’ve ever been in. When I said I thought we had a good connection, he responded, “I’ve learned to wait on God’s answer. I don’t put my answer out there and ask God to bless it, I wait for Him to give direction. He matures everything in His time.” I think in that moment I knew what the Shulamite in Song of Solomon felt, much to my chagrin.

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The picture that I took of Leo the day we were leaving Aucayacu which confirmed for me that I wanted to know this man more!

I remember the first day that Leo asked me if he could call instead of text. It was the day after the 7-hour marathon conversation date. I was thrilled, but silently praying that I would be able to understand the Spanish well over the phone! The phone is always more challenging because there’s no body language, facial expressions, or lip reading to help with comprehension. I understood, thankfully! I wrote in my journal that it really required a different set of language skills to talk to him like that. I wasn’t able to multitask and I left the conversation completely exhausted, but I knew it was worth it.

Seeing movies at the cheap theater became a regular date in our relationship as did the pathway along the cliffs (called the Malecón). We were able to see each other on a decently regular basis as I could juggle my work to be completed in odd hours and we enjoyed each others’ company. On January 10, 2016, he officially asked me to be his “enamorada.” Technically that translates to girlfriend, but most of you reading this in English would have already assumed that we were boyfriend and girlfriend! Chalk it up to cultural differences. For Leo, we were “just friends” until January (one doesn’t kiss their friends), and by officially asking me to be his girlfriend, we were entering a more serious and intentional phase that would involve both sets of our pastors and accountability. It wasn’t what I was used to, culturally, but I have the utmost respect for how Leo has directed our relationship from the beginning. I can’t say that I was never frustrated by the differences, but I am thankful for him!

The months after January 10th proved to be some very intense ones. We learned about one another on a whole new level, navigating conflicts, cultural differences, and the hard questions that come with looking at the possibility of a future together. We both grew and changed tremendously in this part of our relationship, thankfully drawing us closer together, though there were moments when I thought we were being driven apart. It was challenging, but rewarding in a way that I never thought possible. I learned, over time, that it is often our differences – and they are many – that make us stronger as a couple. We are different genders, nationalities, ages, personalities, family cultures, socio-economic backgrounds, denominational backgrounds, and more, but we are united in Christ and are learning to use those difference to our advantage!

As the day of my departure from Peru for a 3-month visit to the US approached, I was dreading having to leave Leo. Little did I know that I would be leaving my fiancé for three months! But that’s another story…

 

With Mother’s Day coming up, I’m wondering how many of my single and/or childless friends will find themselves hurting as they leave the church. I have plenty of friends who completely avoid church on Mother’s Day because it simply rubs salt in an already open wound. It’s not that we don’t want to celebrate mothers, rather it’s that we’d like to be mothers and, for one reason or another, that hasn’t been an option in our lives. All the celebrating reminds us that we aren’t mothers and we may never get that incredible opportunity. And, as I’ve discussed on my blog before, people say dumb things! I’m sure they mean well, but they just don’t think about the effect that it has on the recipient.

I saw a post on Facebook today entitled, “People With No Kids Don’t Know.” It featured a comedian, Michael McIntyre, who was contrasting life without kids to life with kids. We all know that comedy uses exaggeration to make a humorous point, but he said some things in his “comedy” that are very hurtful to those who desire kids, but do not have them. His comedy put people in only two boxes (Kids & No Kids) and made the assumption that those without kids were choosing to be that way and had absolutely no knowledge of life with children. It made me cringe instead of laugh. There is most definitely at least a third box (and probably more), of people who do not have kids and are wrestling with their desire to do so and the life they’ve been handed. While I understand why he setup his comedy act as he did, I suspect that few in that third box will find his act funny.

Here are some thoughts about Mother’s Day and life with kids from someone who does not have kids, but would like to:

Yes, I know I have more free time than people with kids, but I would give anything, including every free minute of the day, to fill that time with a child or children. If I happen to mention my free time, please do not respond with, “Free time? What’s that?” I am well aware that you have much less free time than I do, but I’d trade you in a second. Would you give up your children forever to have my free time?

Yes, I know that it can be frustrating to have children. I understand that children misplace their shoes every single day. I know that it takes longer to get out of the house and that everything you do takes longer than when one has no children. But again, I’d much rather be in your shoes. When you tell someone without children that, “the grass is always greener on the other side,” all we hear is you taking your children and family for granted.

Yes, I know that I’m not dead yet. I know that there is still a chance that I will have kids one day. Believe me, I think on it a great deal, so you don’t need to remind me. If you tell me, “Don’t worry, your time will come,” or “But you’re still so young,” it doesn’t encourage me, even if that was your intent. You cannot possibly know what the future holds for me, so please, don’t pretend too. If you’d like to encourage someone without kids, perhaps try something like, “Is Mother’s Day hard for you? How can I pray for you?” Or perhaps, “Is having kids a desire that you have? Does that make Mother’s Day tough on you?”

And yes, I can even understand how mothers might not actually enjoy Mother’s Day. I get that it can be a disappointment each year because you are still doing all your usual motherly duties and not getting the break and special treatment you were hoping for. You might even have a bigger than normal mess to clean up in the kitchen because your children tried to cook your breakfast. But please, if your find Mother’s Day disappointing this year, remember to appreciate that you are a mother and that you get to do those motherly things. Please do not tell me, “Don’t worry, you aren’t really missing much with Mother’s Day.” There are many who would rather be disappointed as a mother on Mother’s Day than spend another Mother’s Day with empty arms. Hug your children, fill your arms, and remember how blessed you are on Mother’s Day.

Before you suggest that I’m talking out of both sides of my mouth and taking the life I have for granted, please know that I appreciate what a life without children has to offer. There are things that I have seen and done that would not have been possible if I had children. I freely admit that. I see the advantages of it, but I still long to have kids. I suspect the number of mothers who actually long to completely give up their children and return to their former, childless state is very few. It is the natural order of things to marry, to have children, and to eventually enjoy an empty nest. My life hasn’t followed the natural order, and I’ll enjoy that which He has for me, but I would appreciate it if those with children would think before they quip and try to make light of my childless state. Make sure your encouragement is really encouragement. If you don’t know what to say to someone without children (or in any other situation where someone is grieving, for that matter), ask how you can pray or simply state, “That sounds tough.” Your sympathy is much more encouraging than misguided humor or a thoughtless statement.

For those without children, did I miss anything?
For those with children, do people without children say hurtful things that we aren’t aware of?

Disclaimer: This blog entry is not about pointing blame at anyone mentioned here, directly or indirectly. It also is not claiming that being overweight is a direct result or the only possible result of a poor self-image. It is not a how-to for fixing one’s self-image. This is simply a retelling of some positive progress I made yesterday with regard to my own personal understanding of who I am. Please read it from that perspective. I could write many more blogs detailing other aspects of this issue, but that’s not my intent here.

Yesterday I read a raw, honest blog called, “The ‘After’ Myth.” It was a blogger’s account of how reaching a weight-loss goal didn’t actually fix her self-image problem; about how learning to love oneself is actually a significantly separate task and loosing weight can’t make that happen [my summary, not hers]. I know that feeling all too well. I once lost 100 lbs in my adult life, and I liked myself for a little while, but it didn’t last. Even though I was a size 6 (granted, with a BMI that was still technically not in the normal range), ran a half marathon, and could wear almost anything I put on in the store, my life didn’t magically change like I thought it would. The first time the guy I liked picked my friend over me, all my underlying feelings of being unloveable returned, and the weight followed. It didn’t come back all at once, but when the feelings returned, it became clear to me that the weight-loss adventure hadn’t accomplished what I was hoping, deep-down, that it would accomplish. I still didn’t love myself.

The thoughts on this amazing young lady’s blog and my subsequent thoughts started bouncing around in my head and colliding with thoughts that were already there from the Priscilla Shirer Simulcast I’d attended earlier in the day. Priscilla Shirer spoke on the topic of the Armor of God in Ephesians 6. She talked about the “helmet of salvation” as more than just receiving the forgiveness of sins by accepting and believing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. She reminded me that it’s about a complete change in identity. I am a daughter of God. I know that God raised me up and seated me with Christ in the Heavenly realms (Ephesians 2:6). I know that I am God’s handiwork (verse 10). And there’s so much more in the Bible about a believer’s new identity in Christ. And I know all that, and have known it for many years, but I don’t live like I know that. Maybe I live outwardly like I know that, but not inwardly. I know that I am rooted in Christ. Verses about being rooted in love and rooted in Christ are painted in murals on my wall, among other places. How can I know that my identity is rooted in Christ and still not love myself, all myselves (past, present, future Robbye), like I should?

Instead of slowing down at the end of my day, my brain started moving faster and trying to process what the Lord was putting right in front of me. I needed to look more carefully at a particular question: “When did I stop loving myself?”

In late March and early April I had a Facebook profile picture of my dad holding me when I was just a few weeks shy of 1 year old, at Christmas 1978. I love that picture for my look of pure joy, my dad’s red hair (I only remember gray), and the way that my dad was looking at me adoringly when the picture was snapped. I can remember other baby pictures and pictures of little Robbye that I think are super cute. I love her. When did I stop loving myself?

RAFconPapi

I remember the disapproval of other people as early as 5 years old. Around that age there was a neighbor of the lady who kept me after school who told me I was such a “cute, little, fat kid.” I distinctly remember recoiling in my head at her words. I’m not sure what I said or did outwardly. I also remember being in a “fashion show” at a local department store where my mom worked and we got to pick out a new outfit in the store to model. I think I was 6 years old or less, but I honestly can’t place it in my history. I loved my new outfit and I wasn’t embarrassed to be on the stage, but I vaguely remember noting that I wasn’t the same size as all the other kids that participated. I was super young and I didn’t feel that different than others on the inside, but it seemed that I wasn’t measuring up for some reason. I played outside, rode my bike, walked to the country store down my road, and went to dance class like any other kid. I just wasn’t ever particularly tiny.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal last night:

I remember the first picture of myself that I recall hating. Perhaps there were earlier ones, but this one doesn’t require a photo album for me to remember it. It’s etched in my brain. It was my 4th grade school picture. I had forgotten that it was school picture day and was wearing a light pink t-shirt from my dance studio. I pulled my hair down from a ponytail, so it had the tell-tell wave of recent captivity in it. The worst part, and the part that I recall hating most, was that my body had begun to mature and I hadn’t yet been taught to wear a bra. I remember thinking that I looked unkept and misshapen, though maybe not in those words exactly. I remember instead the intense emotions that I felt when I saw myself; embarrassment, shame, and hate, to name a few. I hated that picture and I hated myself.

It only got worse from there. There was the kid in 5th grade who told me, with disgust in her voice, that I needed to shave my legs. I didn’t know that I needed to shave my legs. No one told me. I hated myself for not knowing and for having to be told that my legs looked disgusting.

I don’t believe I liked a school picture again until perhaps my senior year. I felt awkward and when I saw my pictures, I hated myself for looking so awkward. Even now, I cringe when I see those pictures because the emotions that I felt then flood into my mind all over again. To be honest, I still cringe at some pictures of me now too.

I think what resonated with me in the blog was that the writer mentions to her readers that she is still the same person in the “Before” pictures as the “After” pictures. My brain yells, “How can that be??” I look back in my mind at myself in all those unloveable years and I don’t love me. I think I look awkward, ridiculous, and utterly unloveable. Where is my sympathy for that young girl? With all the compassion God has gifted me with for others, why can I not see young Robbye (and even current Robbye) for her true identity? Why do I feel that the person in the pictures of my few years as skinny adult Robbye is more valuable than pictures of me now?

I pity young Robbye, and I pity current Robbye. I don’t see her as courageous, loving, kind, gifted, or talented. When I hear compliments along those lines, they bounce off of my view of her. I see her as someone to be pitied. WHY? LORD, HELP ME!

I ended my journal entry with a written prayer and closed the book because my body couldn’t bear to lay propped up on my elbows to write any longer. I lay in bed continuing to think about my former self. I pictured young 4th grade Robbye in her dance studio t-shirt with the wave of a ponytail in her hair. What would I say to her? “Keep dancing, Robbye, because it is through dance that you can express your true self and enjoy your body. You dance well and I know you love it!” How do I know? Because she is me, and I am still her. What would I say to 5th grade Robbye about her unshaven legs? To 6th grade Robbye? I continued to picture myself each year (I’m very visual), allowing images from each year to flood my mind. Images of my friends, my successes and giftings, and the joys. I refused to let in those awkward or embarrassing memories that usually surface when I consider those years. I continued to speak to my past self, congratulating her on being who God created her to be at each age, pointing out her courage or compassion as she walked through tough times personally or with her friends. I reminded her that it wasn’t anyone else’s thoughts or opinions that mattered. [She always knew that, in her head, but I told her anyway.] It helped her to hear those things, and it helped current Robbye to see younger Robbye in light of those words. I knew and know, in my head, what the Lord thought and thinks of me, but I was the one who needed to apply those things and say them to myselves so that I might believe my own words.

Lest you think I’ve had a psychotic break, I’ll return to speaking of myself in the first person and as one person. This morning I can look back at my younger years and swell with pride. I don’t think it’s the harmful or self-elevating kind of pride, but rather just a level of pride that indicates that I am happy with who I am, who I have always been. I suspect I will need to remind myself of all of this in the near future. Thought patterns don’t change quite that easily overnight, but it is a relief to wake this morning with a fresh view of myself (all of myselves). I know I will need to rehearse my identity often, to remind myself who I truly am in Christ. Hopefully I can believe it more easily now, with the Lord’s help, of course!

For the Christians out there: What are your favorite verses from the Bible about our identity in Christ? For those who aren’t familiar with what the Bible teaches about our identity: What do you love about yourself, in the healthy sense of self-love?

The world is not as it should be. That’s the phrase that keeps running through my mind as I consider the awful things that are going on in the world today, near and far. When I see pictures of churches burned in Niger and think of my friends serving there and the Christians living there… the world is not as it should be. When I consider the 32-year old man from my church here in Lima who was apparently murdered by one of his close friends… the world is not as it should be. A young mother of 3 littles, wife of a teacher at the International Christian School of Lima, taken by cancer in a matter of days… the world is not as it should be. The Craigslist murders of the couple in Georgia, the captivity and beheading of people, the terrible things done to innocent people through sex trafficking, and the list could go on… The world is not as it should be, and I long for Heaven, for Jesus to return and set it right again.

It further saddens me that the response of many to the evil and hate is more evil and hate. Even well known, public Christian figures have released statements encouraging fear and hate of the perpetrators of the crimes. Fear should not be our response when evil arises. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18, NIV). And furthermore, as we hear the Word of the Lord earlier in the chapter,

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does no love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 1 John 4:7-17, NIV

We rely on the love God has for us. Our hope is in the Lord. If we know God’s love, then we testify to that which He did for us by sending his Son into the world that we might live through Him. We testify that Christ is an atoning sacrifice. We place our hope in the Savior of the world and continue to love in a world that does not know God.

My prayer for Lima recently, and for all of us, really, is that we may learn to love those around us. If we really understand the immensity of the love that God has for us, we will love those around us because there will be no room for anything else in our hearts! I am not perfect in this area, but I pray that God grows me in my ability to show love too.

If you are reading this, then I pray for you as Paul prayed for the Ephesians,

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. [Ephesians 3:14-21, NIV]

Five years ago today, January 12, 2010, probably began like any other day for me. It was a workday and I was still working for an insurance company in Corporate America. I’d been with the company for about 6 years and was making plans to study to become an insurance underwriter. I’d been working in that department and really enjoyed the work and the people I worked with even more. It was a great company, a great work environment, and it was a very comfortable lifestyle for me. I don’t believe I was looking for any grand change in that area of my life, other than the plans for continuing education that I had been making.

A few days prior to that special day I’d been wrestling with the idea of a new year’s resolution or a goal for the new year. I generally don’t make resolutions, because I break them, but I thought I especially needed a new focus in my spiritual life. I remember exactly where I was driving while having this internal conversation (ok, it might have been out loud). I thought, “I should make myself more of a priority this year.” But that just didn’t sit right with me – it didn’t click internally. Then I thought, “No, I need to be about that which He [God] has for me this year.” That felt right – I felt a peace about making God’s path for me a priority, though I didn’t really see yet that it might affect everything about my life. I just thought I might have to volunteer at church or something!

When I reached that moment when God redirected me to Peru, I had little idea of what that would really mean for my future. You can’t really know that until you walk through it. I suspect redirection doesn’t happen in an instant like that for most people, but maybe it’s because I’m so stubborn that I needed a Gibbs slap to get my attention. [According to NCIS character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs, a slap to the back of the head is a wakeup call.] Certainly the Lord was working for a long time to get me to the place where I could be open to such redirection, but the clarity of His path for my future hit me in a single moment that’s etched into my brain. It’s been amazing to walk this path with the Lord. It’s had hills and valleys, but I wouldn’t trade it or the peace that comes with this journey into that which He has for me.

Where will the path lead? Or perhaps the more common question that I get from taxi drivers on a regular basis: How long will I live in Peru? I am here until the Lord directs me otherwise. This is where He’s placed me right now, so I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. The same goes for my future – I want to always be pursuing that which He has for me.

I am just over a week from boarding my first international flight in 2.5 years. I arrived in Peru on October 11, 2011, and I haven’t left here yet! Just after arriving I wrote a blog about Celebrating the Small Things. In that blog I talked about the “firsts” I was experiencing: my first solo bus ride, my first solo grocery trip, etc. I’ve come a long way from those firsts, but as I prepare for home assignment (furlough), I’ve noted that I’m still experiencing firsts! Just a couple of weeks ago the movie “Rio 2” opened here in Lima. Because it’s an animated flick, it doesn’t come to Peru in English – only dubbed into Spanish. I had not yet tried to see a dubbed movie in the theater because I didn’t want to miss any of the dialogue, but I wanted to see Rio. So, I gave it a try and I’m happy to report that I understood it all! Also, just this weekend, I had what I would describe as my first vulnerable conversation in Spanish. I’ve had lots of personal conversations, sure, but Peruvians (for many cultural reasons that I can cover in another blog someday) aren’t super inclined to really be vulnerable. As my sister pointed out to me, if someone is speaking your language as a foreign language, you’re only inclined to share deeply when you are sure that the person can understand the depth and meaning of what you’re sharing. So, when this friend began to open up about some things that I am certain aren’t broadcast for all to know, I was humbled and thankful… and I was praying for clear understanding and communication on my part too!

These “firsts” are significantly different than what I experienced in October 2011. They remind me both of how far I’ve come, and of the fact that I am a life-long learner as I continue to live in a culture that is not my passport culture. What a journey this has been, and I trust it will continue to be, as I seek that which He has for me!

When I preparing to move to Peru, I wrote a blog on grief. As I now prepare to leave Peru for 6 months this year, I am revisiting my understanding of the grieving process.

When I moved to Peru, I made a conscious decision not to leave for at least 2 years, and preferably a little more, so that I could acclimate here. I knew that I needed to leave behind my life in the US for a long period of time to really adjust to the idea of being a long-term missionary. It was the right decision for me. I really struggled around the 7-month mark and I wanted to leave Peru, but I knew if I left that I would never come back. So, I stayed. My second full year here was rough for a variety of reasons and I didn’t love life here. Through all of this, the only thing that kept me here was that I knew that I knew that God had directed me to this time and place! So I stayed.

It’s only been in the last few months that I have turned a corner where I can say that I feel at home in Peru. That’s not to say that I don’t have my moments of culture-frustration still, but there are things about the US that bug me too! It would happen wherever I live. As I contemplated going to the US for 6 months for home assignment (furlough), I also started to contemplate all the things I was going to miss here. And I don’t just mean physical things; I mean all the moments, conversations, church meetings, and sunsets that I will miss too.

Living and ministering overseas means constantly feeling pulled between two cultures and yet, after a while, not really fitting into either culture. I’m not Peruvian and I will never be Peruvian, but I have changed. When I go back to the US, I won’t be able to fit back in the way I did before. Some of you are going to wonder what they did to me here! And I probably won’t be able to explain it to you very well. It’s just what happens. So, I’m also grieving the loss of the familiarity of life in the US and fitting in back there. Please be patient with me when I don’t know what to do in some really common situation.

I still get to tell the story often of how God used my friend Cindy’s status on Facebook to call me to Peru. I have never doubted the call – it was a terrifying clarity that I don’t get very often! I’m thankful that the call was clear and that it was confirmed by many people and circumstances in my life, because that assurance has helped me walk through many tough days in the last few years. And that assurance will help me through the grief that I feel now too.

As I look forward to my time in the US, my home, I am ecstatic about seeing everyone! I will be thrilled to be able to eat Cheez-its and drink Diet Dr. Pepper. I’ll probably have to limit my trips to Chick-Fil-A and Cracker Barrel so that I don’t over-do it! It will be a lovely time there, and I will thoroughly enjoy it, but I am going to really miss my life, my friends, my church, and my home in Peru.

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