Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Family, Freedom, God, Missionary, Third Culture Kid, Travel

1,246 Missionary Slides (The Best and the Worst)

“You know you’re a missionary kid when you see a picture of your family on random peoples’ refrigerators.”  (Anonymous)

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, Jared scanned all of my parents’ slides from Africa.  It’s one of those projects that keeps getting put off, but we actually tackled it and got it done.  They were coming here for the holiday and all of my siblings and my parents were going to be together.   So, on Thanksgiving Eve, we spent most of the afternoon viewing them on the large TV screen in our family room and heard stories about each one.  Needless to say, we made a pretty good dent.

That same weekend, in conjunction with the slides, I asked my parents about the “Five Best and Worst Things” about being a missionary in the latter half of the 20th Century.   I seized the opportunity to listen and learn what it was like from their perspective.   I have had my personal kid’s-eye-view and have spent years processing my own experience (good and bad), but I was in the dark about theirs.  Truth be told, I heard stories that corroborated my memories and beliefs and learned many things that were new and unexpected.

Here are their Top Five(ish):

Mom Worst

  1. Deputation. Dragging the kids around to all kinds of churches in the USA trying to raise money. (This seems nuts to me and I remember how we all didn’t like it either.)
  2. No converts.  Questioning what they were doing there.
  3. Terrible food.
  4. Leaving her kids at boarding school.  It was a heartbreak.
  5. Not getting along with other missionaries.

Mom Best (she only had Four)

  1. Freedom not to be encumbered with constant schedules.
  2. Teaching in the school.
  3. Experiences that you were exposed to that were “out of the norm.”
  4. Getting to know people from all over the world.  The friendships they developed.

Dad Worst (he only had Three)

  1. So few converts.  Asked himself, “what are we doing here?”
  2. Deputation.  (see above crazy-making)
  3. Not getting along with other missionaries (I’m seeing a pattern).

Dad Best 

  1. Learning another language.
  2. Traveling to new places.
  3. Seeing kids learn in the school where they were teaching.
  4. The experience with the death of a close friend who was gunned down in front of his wife by an extremist and how God protected him and my mom. (sounds like a best and worst to me)
  5. Meeting people from other countries (missionaries and nationals) and all the friendships they made.

I learned a lot about my parents over Thanksgiving and continue to.  This past week, we plowed ahead through more slides during a visit as my mom is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with cancer.  It makes our time even more precious and the learning and gleaning even more pressing.  So far, here are my top five takeaways which are for all of us, missionary kid or not (sorry, the new correct phrase is third culture kid).

My Takeaways

  1. There were a lot of slides of animals I only now see in zoos.  Growing up in another country meant having a different experience than your average American kid (like my husband).  Attending boarding school, living as a minority and foreigner, knowing people from all over the world, being surrounded by war and poverty, vacationing in exotic places, and eating strange food is not your average American childhood.  But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  I’m sure you wouldn’t trade yours either, no matter how or where you grew up.  It makes us into the people we are today, both broken and beautiful.
  2. Those 18 years my parents spent serving God in a far-away country was exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated all at the same time.  Like all of our lives, my parents’ lives were filled with struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows.  I draw comfort in knowing this.  My “normal” adult life has looked very different from theirs on the outside.  But my own life has been filled with the exciting, hard, beautiful and complicated as well.  It’s not what’s happening on the outside that matters most.  It’s what’s happening on the inside.
  3. They matter and all their experiences matter.  It was really good for me to take a peek from their point-of-view, to understand all of this effected them, as well as us four kids, for both good and bad.  I have been so wrapped up in my own “how this effected me” for a long time.  It was helpful to step out of that for a moment to see the view through another lens.  I want to do this more often with all those I know.  My life will be richer when I do.
  4. Our family mattered to my parents.  My mom wants to delete every slide that doesn’t have one of us in it.  She keeps saying, “What does that matter to our family?”  I love this.  For a long time, I had a warped perspective on this.  My view was that “God’s work” was more important than our family.  It’s just not true for the Marets at the very core.  It’s so good for me to know that.  It brings great healing to me.  Yes.  They made mistakes.  Yes.  It was very hard and unusual.  BUT.  Yes.  They did their best.  Yes.  They loved us.  (Doesn’t sound very different from my own family and my own children.)  This is where grace comes in and wins!
  5. Life comes down to people.  People are the hardest parts of our lives.  People are the best parts of our lives.  It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what cultural differences we have, or what we are trying to accomplish together, it all boils down to people and the relationships we build with them.   People bring the most frustration and hurt, but they also bring the most joy and healing.  We can try to avoid people and all the “bad” stuff they bring, but in doing so, we miss out on all the hope and healing and love that they bring to us.  People are worth it!

My heart is for greater healing for each of us.  This project is bringing me much.  It brings me back to what matters most:  being fully-known and loved, but with a twist.  This time was not about me being known, but getting to know another.  That’s my unexpected surprise.  I hope this will prompt you to take on a project (person) of your own.  Who knows what will happen?

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Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Freedom, God, Holiday, Hope, Love, Missionary, Third Culture Kid

The “You Better Watch Out”…God

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
(Prince Caspian, Chapter 10)

I lay on my bunk bed at boarding school in Ethiopia.  My bunkmate stirs below me.  I wind my musical Raggedy Ann doll over and over, hoping to get some sleep.  Sleep does not come.  I rehash the day.  Thoughts swirl:  “I did a bunch of wrong things.  Maybe that’s why I can’t sleep.  I should confess my sins.  Hey God, I’m sorry for all the bad things I did today.  Please forgive me.”  Still no rest for my eyes and tired body.   I go into a bit of a panic.  “Maybe I didn’t mean it for real when I prayed the magic prayer asking God into my heart.  If I did mean it, I would not be so naughty.”  I whisper the same thing for the umpteenth time, “Please come into my heart.  I really mean it this time. I will be better tomorrow.”  Still nothing.  I lay there wide-awake.  My mind happily drifts to earlier in the evening, when my dorm mother read us another chapter in the story of Narnia and especially Aslan, a loving lion who makes everything good and right in a strange land, and seems to adore children and even play with them.  “I love Aslan.  I wish God was like Aslan.  Why can’t He be?”  As I finally drift off to sleep, resting in the comfort of the lion who loves children, I have a flicker of hope:  “Maybe He is.”

For decades, Santa has flooded the Christmas season.  A jolly man with a jolly heart.  A man who rewards good behavior with toys and naughty behavior with “a lump of coal.”  We all know of him.  Believe it or not, I had a friend who “prayed to Santa” all year and confessed her sins, much like I did with God as a young girl.  After all, how different are they?  “He (Santa) sees you when you’re sleeping.  He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.  YOU BETTER WATCH OUT…Santa Claus is coming to town.”  It is eerily similar to the Sunday School song from my childhood:  “Be careful little eyes what you see, for the Father up above is looking down below, so be careful little eyes what you see.”  Both of them are watching.  You better watch out.

More recently, Santa’s Elf (on the Shelf) has taken off as a new family tradition.  If you’re not familiar, this Elf (which comes in different sizes and even sexes in the form of a cheaply made elf doll that will set you back 30 bucks), is dispatched from the North Pole at the start of Advent.  He or she enters homes to keep a watchful eye on the children, ensuring good behavior during the rough parenting patch when kids are over-sugared and over-excited for Christmas.  His or her “job” is to make sure they belong on Santa’s “nice” list.   You better watch out!

I loved celebrating Santa with my children (we just dug out Rachel’s letter from the North Pole) and might currently have an Elf on the Shelf  if I still had littles.  But as you read above, and this is the point:  I believed in a “you better watch out” God very early and sadly, it continued well into adulthood.  God was no different than Santa or Elf on the Shelf.  He was up there watching my every good and bad behavior, ready to reward or “smite” me for each one, his main goal to get me to behave.  It’s not hard to figure out what my relationship with Him was like because of this.   I was filled with and acted out of fear and guilt.  I hid from Him, or at least (fruitlessly) tried to…who wouldn’t? I struggled to feel close, spending much energy and time on my external, visible behavior, hoping that it would be enough, trying to avoid that proverbial “lump of coal,” God’s disapproval of me.  My internal craving for love and belonging was completely sacrificed on the external “behavior management” altar.

Enter the stories of Narnia and a reunion with Aslan as the mom of four kids.  I found three-hour radio theater dramatic renditions absolutely a must-buy if you have kids) of these stories that I loved as a child.  I could kill two birds with one stone:  share this amazing lion with my own children and at the same time, keep them quiet on long car rides (keeping it real people).  As I came to reconnect with Aslan, I found even more so that he is wise, playful, generous, kind, mysterious, terrifying, magnificent, beautiful and unconditionally loving all at once.  He is the one who I longed for my whole life.  He is too good not to be true.

I had finally found the answer to that hopeful thought I had as a child.  God is not like Santa.  God is not like the Elf on the Shelf.  God is not ultimately concerned with “behavior management.”  God is like Aslan.  God is wise.  God is playful.  God is generous.  God is kind.  God is mysterious.  God is terrifying.  God is magnificent.  God is beautiful.  God unconditionally loves and He unconditionally loves me.  Period.  His agenda is a loving, intimate, close relationship with me.  He loves me because of who He is, not how I behave.  He actually can’t help Himself.  True, lasting change will come, but it will be born FROM of a place of love and acceptance, the inside out, not FOR love and acceptance, the outside in.

What relief!  What freedom!  Even as I write this, “you better watch out” is quieted again and my heart settles down with a big inner sigh.  A long deep breath of safety and belonging.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  This is what I long for.  This is a line I can get in, a lap I can climb up onto and take pictures of every day for a lifetime!  My flicker of hope so long ago, “Maybe He is,” is a burning light of hope that shouts, “YES.  YES HE IS.”

****************************************

P.S.  I have told people that, as a child, I loved Aslan more than I loved Jesus (see Ethiopia Tikdem post).  I found out that a concerned mother once wrote C. S. Lewis on behalf of her son, Laurence, who, having read The Chronicles of Narnia, became concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. In his response, Lewis offered this relief:

“Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before.”

Posted in Charity, Ethiopia, Missionary

charity:water

We believe in a world where every single person has clean and safe water.  (Scott Harrison)

Clean water is one of our family’s passions.  Loving others with no strings attached is another.  I’m shouting out today to an organization that combines both and changes the world one “cup of cold water” at a time!

Rachel’s college essay captures the heart and passion of Scott Harrison, the founder of charity:water!  This organization changed our lives and hearts.  I pray their story will change yours.

One individual who has influenced me profoundly since I was a young girl is Scott Harrison. He first came to speak at my church when I was eight years old. He told the congregation his story, shared his passion in its entirety, and truly won my heart.

Harrison’s story is not what one would expect of someone who is now devoted to serving those less fortunate. Harrison grew up in a Christian home and went to a Christian school until he convinced his parents to let him go to public school. While attending public school, Harrison joined a band and began straying from the Christian faith. At the age of eighteen, he moved to New York City with his band and played gigs at various clubs until his band broke up. Harrison then began working to promote the same nightclubs where he played. He spent the next 10 years flourishing in this business and used his money to excessively “party.”  He used alcohol and drugs to numb the boredom of his life, while constantly searching for the next big thing, eventually becoming morally and spiritually bankrupt.

At that time, his father gave him a book called, “The Pursuit of God,” by A.W Tozer.  He had a crisis in his conscience that sent him on a path to rediscover his faith and reflect on his lifestyle.  He posed the question to himself, “What would the exact opposite of my life be?” (charitywater.org)  Shortly thereafter, Harrison went from making lots of money promoting clubs and alcohol, to serving with Mercy Ships as their volunteer photojournalist.  This organization is a fleet of floating hospitals that provide medical care to those who don’t have this crucial need. During this time, he met another volunteer on the ship who also had a passion to dig wells in his spare time for communities who had the worst water resources. Harrison began to ask questions about the link between dirty water and the very diseases the ship was providing treatment for.  He discovered that 80% of these diseases were caused by dirty water. He decided to devote his life to removing what he deemed the biggest obstacle facing the poor: access to clean drinking water.  

Harrison’s vision became one of bringing clean drinking water to the 663 million people who walked miles every day to fetch dirty water for themselves and their families. However, he realized there would be obstacles, one being that people have hesitations when donating to charity, primarily because they don’t know how much of it is going directly to the work and and how much is funding the overhead of the organization. To ensure people their money was being used for their designated purpose, Harrison decided that 100% of the money that was donated to the charity would be given to funding clean water service projects. He personally would have the challenge of raising the money for the administrative side of the organization. He even took it one step further and told the donors that he would track each dollar using GPS so they could see exactly where and how their money was being used. On his 31st birthday, in September of 2006, Harrison decided to use his skills and connections to throw a huge birthday party for himself in New York City and charged $20.00 to all 700 of the people he invited.  He shared his passion that evening, built three wells with the money and sent the pictures of those wells to each person who came. Less than two years later, Harrison came to my church and shared his vision, inviting those who had September birthdays to follow his lead and use their own birthdays as a way to raise money for charity:water.

As a soon-to-be nine year-old girl with an upcoming September birthday, I caught Harrison’s vision for a world where everyone has clean drinking water.  I was so excited and decided that I would have a birthday party and instead of asking for gifts, I would ask for a donation for charity:water.  I am sure that the money I received was not nearly enough for a well, but my heart was changed.

The mission of charity:water is something that effected my whole family. We have gone into the charity:water headquarters, been to their fund-raising Christmas galas, run in 5Ks to raise money and awareness, and currently, we have three pictures sitting on our counter of completed wells in my mom’s birth country of Ethiopia.  Last Christmas, my siblings and I pooled our resources and donated our own well. I will be excited when it’s the picture of our well on the counter along with the others.  I am so glad that Scott Harrison came and shared this need with our church, and that I have had a part in meeting it.  He not only won over my head, but my heart.

Scott Harrison is changing the world one well at a time, and in turn, one heart at a time.

Update (back to Esther):  our family has another well in the works for 2017 in Tigray, Ethiopia.  25 years ago, more than 3.2 billion people had no access to clean water.  That number is now 663 million.  One well may not seem like very much, but if each of us does our part, the number could one day be zero.

Second Update (World Water Day 2018):  Allen and I will be traveling with Living Water (another clean water organization) in September of 2018 to the country of Rwanda to build a well and meet the amazing people of Rwanda, whose country’s president wants to be the first African country where 100% of the people have access to clean water.  If you would like to donate to our trip, which would mean the world to us, click HERE.

 

Posted in Childhood, Ethiopia, Family, Missionary, Third Culture Kid

Ethiopia Tikdem!

“Narnia taught me we must all grow up and leave our childhood behind, but must never forget it.”  (Some place on Pinterest)

In my young years, I heard this shouted and chanted: “Ethiopia Tikdem!  Ethiopia Tikdem!  “Ethiopia First!  Ethiopia First!”  Sitting at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants earlier this week, it came to mind as I ate injera ba wat and savored every bite.

The year is 1966, the month is February and a little girl is born. Not in a hospital, but in a back-woods clinic in a tiny town called Deder, Ethiopia. I, Esther Joy Maret, was born the fourth child of missionary parents who wanted to serve God.  Having three older brothers, I was the answer to my mother’s prayer for a girl.  Much to say, I did not have your typical American childhood (I guess that has to be left to author Annie Dillard and many of you to describe).  Here is a peak at my Ethiopian childhood…

  • I had a Somali nanny who didn’t speak much English during my preschool years (see picture above).
  • I went to a local French kindergarten because I was wide-eyed, early reader at four years old.
  • I was in boarding school at just five.
  • We memorized Bible verses each morning at 6:45 am. Our end-of-the-year prize was going to the airport for a luncheon if we memorized all of the verses.
  • I knew “O Canada,” “God Save the Queen” and the “Pledge of Allegiance” because our school was filled with people from all different countries.
  • We learned the local language of Amharic.
  • I saw my brothers in passing as they were much older.  I never saw my oldest brother because he was away in Kenya for his boarding school.  We spent vacations and holidays together.
  • I played outside unsupervised after school with my dorm mates (it was like being a college student when you were seven).
  • We had field day, sporting events, Halloween parades, chapel, piano lessons, school plays and homework. Sometimes, parents showed up to these.
  • I stood in endless lines waiting for vaccinations. Gamma Globulin was the worst. It was hard to sit for a week.
  • We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother each night after we were fed and washed up.  (And here’s a little secret: I loved Aslan, the kind, loving and gracious lion in the stories more than I loved Jesus. He seemed like the kind of Savior and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the one I had learned about or conjured up in my head, the angry one who might just send me to hell if I didn’t behave or believe the right thing.  I still love Aslan.)
  • I saw my parents on random weekends and vacations or if I was sick (which was super fun because I got to listen to The Wizard of Oz on reel-to-reel and drink tea).
  • I lived in guarded and walled compounds when with my parents, being frequently robbed for our clothes and plastic, even our Kerplunk game.  (We got a kick out of that because when the thief got home, he or she would find that the plastic was filled with holes and useless for whatever his purposes were.)  So much for the guard and the wall.

A communist coup came in 1974 that brought the death of King Haile Selassie, many of his children and grandchildren.  War ensued.  There were communist marches and guns fired in the streets.  Famine came.  After two long years of brewing hatred for foreigners, my parents decided that they would leave all their belongings behind and take their four children back to the United States.  Not your typical childhood.

But like each and every one of our childhoods, it was filled with good and bad, happy and sad, ups and downs, boring and interesting.  These are the things that make our childhoods sacred and unique and form us into who we are today, the beautiful and broken and complicated and messy and wonderful us.  And probably like you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Would love to hear what things made your childhood typical or completely unique?  Is any childhood typical?  Who are you because of yours?

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