December 12, 2013

Dual Citizenship: Where is Home?

Where is home?

Guatemala is where we have lived for about three years. It is the first place we lived as a married couple. It is where we had our first child. It is where I worked my first teaching job. It is where we have made many great friends and have experienced many new things.

Yet, at times, it feels like something is missing. 

Maybe it's because Guatemala will never be the place we grew up for twenty-plus years. Or the fact that our families will never be a drive away. Or that we will never fully understand the culture or fluently speak the language. Maybe it's because we will never miraculously grow long black hair or shrink ten inches. Or because Jocelyn's clothes size will never equal her age. Maybe it's simply because we are minorities, and we will never completely fit in.

(Jocelyn's passports. Perks of dual citizenship.)

So is the United States home?

It's the place we grew up for twenty-plus years. Our families are there. We understand the culture and speak the language. There are other tall people and big babies. When people ask where I'm from, I always say Michigan. When I picture home, I picture Byron Center.

But at times, it feels like something is missing there too.

Maybe because whenever we go to the US we are technically on vacation and live at our parents' homes. Maybe because every time we say hello, a few days or weeks later we have to say goodbye again. Maybe because the thought of owning a car, getting insurance, and buying a house seem daunting. And maybe because we realize at times how Guatemala is slowly influencing us, and that not eating rice twice a week and arriving to places on time seem a little scary too.

So where is home?

(One month old US passport pic.)

I'd like to think that we are not home yet. 

Because realizing that we are not home yet gives us hope. Yes, we are citizens of the United States, Jocelyn, a dual citizen of Guatemala. But as children of Christ we are all dual citizens of an even better "home." A home that's perfect, heavenly actually.

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

(4 month old GUA passport pic.)

And because of this, we have hope. We have hope that the places we live, that this world, is not all there is left for us. 

We have hope that the days we feel like we don't fit in, the days we don't feel complete, the days we feel empty or worthless, will someday come to an end. We have hope that this fallen world full of sin will someday be purified and made new. We have hope that our own personal brokenness will someday be fixed. 

We have hope that the poor shoeshine boys scrounging for customers and a few coins for food will someday never go hungry again. We have hope that although cancer may cause death, there is someone greater who promises eternal life without sickness.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household.

(She will always carry Guatemala with her.)
And most excitingly, we have hope that one day all eyes will be opened to the absolute Truth.

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

All of this hope, because we are not yet home.

(Our little dual citizen. And soccer jerseys from our Secret Santas!)

(Proud to be a Xelaju "Super Chiva.")
(And a Michigan Wolverine.)
(And a Minnesota Viking.)

So, how are you? Has it been a rough day? Week? Couple of years? Do you feel like something is missing? That life feels broken? Embrace what you’re struggling with and the emotions you are experiencing. There’s no need to pretend everything is okay. But also, hang on to that hope, that whatever you are going through will someday be healed, fixed, and filled...forever.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

(Hope that mommy will stop taking pictures if I smile.)

(Interesting Fact: Guatemalans have two last names, as they take on both their father and mother's last names. So no matter how hard I try, I can't quite shed the "Potgeter" name. Although Guatemala is trying to change it a little. :) 

Grace and Peace,

PS. And now, we disappear from writing for a few weeks, as we fly out on Saturday! We can hardly wait! Merry Christmas, everyone!

December 8, 2013

Martha, Martha

While Jesus was traveling with his disciples, sisters Mary and Martha opened their home to him. When he arrived, Mary stopped what she was doing, sat at Christ’s feet, and listened to what he had to say.

Martha freaked out.

She was “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.” She had a to-do list. She was a “work before play” kind of girl. If she could just get all the cooking and cleaning and preparations finished, then she might be able to sit with her guest. She even asked Jesus to scold Mary for her. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

I am a Martha. I am a “work before play…or die” kind of girl. I am a head down, charging through the day, trying to get everything done on my to-do list that never ends. I am usually charging so fast that I often don’t recognize the people or the opportunities I am charging by. I’d rather be crossing something off my list.

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Mary knew. Mary recognized the opportunity in front of her, the amazing opportunity to simply sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words He said. Nothing else mattered. All her work, duties, and surrounding circumstances were properly put on the back burner as she sat at her Savior’s feet in precious fellowship with Him.

Jesus knew too. He knew that Martha needed a break. He knew that she needed to stop what she was doing, rest with him, and listen to his words of life. He knows that we still need that today.

Do I recognize my opportunities each day? The precious opportunities to stop, sit at Christ’s feet, and simply listen to what He is trying to say to me? No, not often enough.

Kendra, Kendra. You are distracted by all the preparations you think you have to make.

Shower, work, clean, wash, dry, email, errands, sweep, cook, rinse, tidy, collapse. Repeat.

Kendra, Kendra. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.

Stop, sit at my feet, and listen to what I have to say.

December 5, 2013

Happy Holidays! (Did I just say that out loud?)

I can feel icicles being thrown telepathically in my direction.

“Did she just say ‘Happy Holidays?’ Why doesn't she say ‘Merry Christmas?! She’s trying to take ‘CHRIST’ out of ‘CHRISTmas!’ She might as well have said ‘Merry Xmas!’ Doesn't she know that Jesus is the reason for the season?! She probably believes in Santa or something. Santa is just another way to spell ‘Satan,’ you know.”

Now, before you get your Christmas stockings in a bunch, and before you buy me a “Happy Holidays is what Liberals say” coffee mug, hear me out. (And as you can see, those coffee mugs really do exist.)

Photo from Buzz Feed.

Apparently, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who say “Merry Christmas,” and those who don’t. And over the past couple of years, this has become not only an issue, but an all out war. Just ask Fox News.

Photo from Fox News.

Now, I am a “Merry Christmas” kind of gal. I will nine times out of ten say “Merry Christmas” to those I am greeting during this festive time of year. However, there are a few reasons why I believe “Happy Holidays” is still a perfectly acceptable phrase, and why it’s not going to disable you from celebrating the true meaning of Christmas or pee in your punch bowl.

#1. Saying “Happy Holidays” is efficient. It’s an easy way to group the multiple holidays we celebrate during these couple of months. I mean, we could always write “Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Years, and Blessed Epiphany” on the cards we send out, or we could sum it up with a simple “Happy Holidays.” I love efficiency. I thank my dad for that trait.

#2. Not everyone celebrates Christmas. Maybe there are a few Christians not celebrating Christmas because they are wrapping up Hanukkah right about now, or because of the pagan roots of Christmas, or because it’s possible Jesus wasn't even born during this time of year. In these cases it’s not a matter of being politically correct or making sure people know that Jesus is the reason for the season. It’s a matter of not wasting our breath on a greeting that technically only refers to December 25 and doesn't apply to everyone.

#3. Saying “Happy Holidays” does not take “CHRIST” out of “CHRISTMAS.” Commercialism and materialism and probably a few other “isms” do. Now, I thoroughly enjoy a lot of nonsense that has nothing to do with Christmas, like getting good deals, opening presents, and eating way too many peanut butter balls. But let’s be honest, those things have nothing to do with our Savior humbling himself and coming to this earth as a baby born of a virgin. So when we get upset when the nice cashier lady at JC Penney doesn't say “Merry Christmas” as we’re buying way too many knit sweaters, new gadgets, and ugly patterned socks with individual toes for our kids, maybe we need to take the ginormous piece of tinsel out of our own eye first. And besides, not every store can be our beloved Hobby Lobby. And I can guess most of us aren't doing all of our gift shopping there.

#4. Bing Crosby. “Happy Holidays.” Enough said.

#5. We shouldn't be surprised when certain people don’t want to say “Merry Christmas.” Yes, there are people who say “Happy Holidays” to accommodate to all religions, cultures, political fancies, etc. My question is, why does this bother us as Christians? Why are we so surprised that other people who don’t celebrate Christmas or who don’t believe in Jesus, are not using a phrase that proclaims His name? There is quite a disconnect here. Yes, it does make sense that in the overlap of those who celebrate the true meaning of Christmas and those who believe in Christ use the phrase “Merry Christmas.” But for the people who don’t fall into those circles on the Holiday Greetings Venn Diagram, we shouldn't be so surprised.

This trickles into other areas as well: public schools not allowing religious songs to be sung in their “Winter Festival” programs, public figures trying to accommodate to all religions and cultures, etc. Why are we so surprised? We aren't worshiping the same God. We aren't guided by the same Spirit. This is a big political issue, but even before it is a political issue, it’s an issue of the heart. And hearts without Christ in it are not going to give two candy canes about whether or not they are glorifying Him in their greetings and holiday celebrating.

So to make my Christmas wishes come true this year, I beg the “Happy Holiday” Haters to consider the following:

1. Stop being shocked and offended when other people who don’t believe in Christ, who don’t celebrate the true meaning of Christmas, or who simply don’t celebrate Christmas at all, aren't saying “Merry Christmas” to you.

2. Do continue to spread holiday cheer and joy that will last more than the months of November, December, and January. But instead of focusing on sharing a specific greeting, focus on sharing the story and the Christ inside of that greeting.

3. And for heaven’s sake, be kind to the nice cashier lady at JC Penney. She has been working horrible hours since we all began stampeding their stores on Black Friday.

Grace and Peace,

PS. We’re coming home! December 14-25 we will be traveling through Wisconsin, Iowa, and South Dakota. December 26-January 4 we will be in Michigan. We can’t wait to see you!

December 2, 2013

Helping or Hurting?

The doorbell buzzes loudly.

And to my shame, I cringe. Excuses start filling my mind. It’s too late, I’m tired, I’m taking care of Jocelyn, it’s family time.

Collin is home, and we exchange glances. He doesn’t hesitate. He never hesitates. He pushes his chair back, heads down the stairs, and crosses the patio to answer the door.

I have two guesses to who is standing at the door. Two guesses to who might be standing, waiting, and hoping.

It may be Victor. Victor sells orange juice for 50 cents and newspapers for 25 cents at the park nearby our house. Lately, his life has taken several hard blows. He has had continual health issues and can’t afford to buy the medicine that helps him function enough to work. He was only a few hundred dollars short of buying a piece of land, when the woman selling it to him threatened to terminate the sale. His mother has been sick and requires him to care for her. His nephew was hit by a car and couldn't afford necessary medications following surgery. His son got sick, and again, he couldn't afford any medicine.

When he has come to the door over the past few months, he explains “business is so slow right now;” “I don’t have many newspapers to sell;” “I will pay you back as soon as I can.” Victor never comes right out and asks us for money. Rather, he shares what has happened, and then waits. He waits for us to talk, to ask questions, and to eventually say how we can help.

A few times we invite Victor in. He sits, drinks some water, and talks with us. We tell him about the fleas we are struggling to exterminate in our apartment. He offers to pick us up a special flea powder from the vet for us, and we give him money to buy it. We have yet to receive the flea powder.

But it’s not just Victor who comes to our door. It may be Alejandra. She usually has a baby tied to her back and another child holding her hand. We hear bits about Alejandra from neighbors we talk to. She has an alcoholic husband. Her husband beats her. Her daughter is always sick and needs medicine. She doesn’t have a job. She got an apartment but can’t afford rent every month. The money she asks for goes straight to her alcoholic, wife-beating husband.

And one time we invite Alejandra in. She stands, and stares at our living room filled with couches, and our kitchen filled with the smell of a hearty meal cooking. We talk, try to entertain her daughter with drawing and games and TV. We try to offer food, a shower, fresh clothes. She doesn’t want any of it. She only wants milk for her baby. Awhile after she leaves, we realize Collin’s cell phone is missing.

And I’m not sure why I am sharing all of this.

Maybe because since high school I dreamed about living in a place like this, a place where it would be easy to get involved with helping the poor. Now I wouldn’t have to drive all the way from my house in the suburbs downtown to volunteer. Now I would be more willing to help and to give. Now I wouldn’t be so selfish with my time and money.

But now I realize how much I romanticized what it means to “get involved.” Moving to a third world country doesn’t fix my personality, doesn’t rid me of my desire for first world comforts, doesn’t help me get to know people out of my comfort zone, doesn't make me the Mother Theresa I wish I was.

In the US, I was “too busy” to drive twenty minutes and volunteer at a shelter or soup kitchen. In the US, I was shy, uncomfortable, and a little awkward in new settings with new people. In the US, I had a hard time naming any friends who aren’t Christians.

And guess what? In Guatemala, I am no different.

In Guatemala, sometimes I am “too busy” to walk down one flight of steps and answer the door.  In Guatemala, I am shy, uncomfortable, and a little awkward trying to speak Spanish and build relationships with new people. In Guatemala, I have a hard time naming friends who aren’t Christians.

Now I realize how much I romanticized what it means to “help,” what it means to “give.” Helping and giving can be complicated.

What if, when Victor and Alejandra come to our door, we are not actually helping them? What if we are enabling a husband to drink and beat his wife? Enabling a man to beg rather than “earn his own way,” which our Republican-raised minds are trained to think? What if they are abusing our desire to love? What if he is lying to us? What if we invite her in again and she steals something? What if we are only giving away fish instead of teaching people how to fish? What if we are alleviating symptoms but not addressing the sickness? What if poverty now has a face, the face of a child staring at us, and it’s not a simple yes or no anymore? What if we have read books like When Helping Hurts, and have talked to our missionary friends, and still struggle to find solid answers to these questions?

Getting involved. Helping. Giving. They’re  complicated.*** They take desire, commitment, sacrifice. They require wisdom and direction. They come with questions, troubles, and heartache. They’re inconvenient, messy, exhausting.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. Jesus never said to take the easy way through life. Rather, he said stuff like “narrow is the road that leads to life,” and “consider it pure joy when you face trials,” and “love with actions and in truth,” and “consider everything a loss compared to knowing Him.”

And I’m not saying to be stupid or to enable a brother to continue sinning. Jesus also said “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

But Jesus did not sacrifice His own life worrying about whether the people he was saving would take advantage of him, be thankful, or pay him back. Actually, Jesus sacrificed His own life knowing the people he saved would take advantage of Him, be ungrateful, and never be able to pay Him back.

So again, our faith and calling brings up a few more questions than answers, which is great. Through our questions we learn to trust. But what we do know for sure is this: Jesus calls us to get involved, to help, and to give. So we try to imitate his example of love and sacrifice. We pray for guidance and wisdom in our involvement, our giving, and helping. And we hope Christ receives the glory.

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.  If you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

***(And when I say “getting involved,” “helping,” and “giving,” I want to be careful. It’s tempting to think that when we help, we are above those whom we are helping. Or worse, it’s tempting to have a “Jesus Complex,” thinking we are saving others or fixing them. We are not in Guatemala, thinking that as foreigners we can fix an entire country and save a nation of people. We are simply talking about building relationships and getting involved with those around us. Helping and giving are Christian duty, not means to lift ourselves up higher than we ought. But that’s an entirely different book that could be written.

Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”)

Grace and Peace,