Friday, March 16, 2018

Always a stranger

I moved with my family to a new country, and did everything I could to settle there.  I learned to live, shop, get around the city, make new foods, and eat new foods. I learned to get along with the neighbors and even began learning the language.  So I didn't understand why, even years later, sometimes I still felt strange, I still felt uncomfortable, I still felt out of place, I still felt insecure.
Then I came across a verse that changed everything for me. 
Exodus 23:9  Also, thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
The Israelites had been in Egypt for over 400 years. The people that Moses was talking to at this time were not the first ones to enter Egypt as strangers. They had been born in Egypt, and lived there their whole lives. Yet still, they were considered strangers.  They had the heart of a stranger, even when the land was no longer as strange, even when it was comfortable, they were still strangers. Their background, their lifestyle, their religious practices, their family structure was fundamentally different from the people of the land they were living in. They were living in a place where they would always be seen as strangers.

And as I sat there thinking about this verse and thinking about the children of Israel who were still considered strangers after 400 years, I had a breakthrough that changed me.  I was that stranger. I had that heart.  It was ok to be me. It was ok to be ME. See, I had always had a feeling deep inside that there was something wrong with me, because I always felt a little out of place, always felt a little lonely, always felt a little uncomfortable and insecure. I wondered if I really could ever belong here.  I wondered if I was doing it wrong and should just give up.  It was my heart. The heart of a stranger, and it is just as it should be. It was ok to feel uncomfortable and strange in a place that's so different from my own. It didn't mean that I wasn't doing well, wasn't doing enough, wasn't adjusting, or wasn't where I should be.  I have the heart of a stranger. The heart given to me by the One who took me from the place that was familiar, to this strange land, because there was something He wanted me to do, and ways He wanted me to change.  It's not about being comfortable and secure in the place, but I can be secure in the One who called me, because He called me here, knowing I'd always have within me, the heart of a stranger.
And I know that there are many who feel like giving up their strange land, many who feel they are ineffective or unnecessary.  There are many who have given up, because it it uncomfortable and insecure, but it's supposed to be!  God knows exactly where you've come from and how different it is from where you are.  The backwoods of Maine is nothing even remotely like the fields of Punjab, but here I am, and there you are, and if we can just embrace the heart He has given us, the heart of a stranger, we can endure, we can survive, we can thrive, right here in our strange land, and maybe, just maybe, if we endure, it can somehow become home too.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

15 lessons from a 15 year veteran

15 years!  I can't believe it.  When we left the US to stay here for the first time...I wondered if I could last 15 days!  15 months sounded like a stretch....15 years...eternity........We had no idea, when we said goodbye and boarded that plane in Philadelphia August 2001, what our life would become.  We had no idea of the trials and triumphs that awaited us.  We had no idea if we'd survive long enough to be considered veteran missionaries, but we knew one thing for certain...nothing would ever be the same.  And in that, we were totally right, and the biggest change would be within ourselves.  So many thoughts are running through my mind as I think about this milestone, so many events, so many faces, so many days, so many nights...That young couple with a toddler and baby, with tears in their eyes in Philadelphia (ok I admit I was sobbing)  have become this couple with 5 children who can't imagine what their life would have been, if they'd never boarded that plane.  I can't find an adequate way to sum it up, so I'll just attempt by giving 15 lessons that I've learned living this strangers life.

1.  A strange place can become home.  When I first arrived here, I didn't believe I could ever feel "at home".  When I heard people say that about their field, I thought they were a lot better than me..or they were lying.  And, admittedly, it took years (yes,years!) and I didn't think it would happen to me.  But somehow I can now say, I feel at home in this place.
2.  Things that once made you stare, seem normal.  A family of 5 riding a motorcycle, oh well...10 or 12 policemen blocking the road..what now? It wasn't us, let us pass so we're not late to our meeting...and we'd rather not pay for the privilege either!
3.  You will be misunderstood.  By those in your new country, by those in your home country, by old friends, by those you thought would always "get you". Because you've lived and experienced things that have changed your mindset, your manners, and your the whole structure of your life.
4.  You'll make mistakes and still survive to make more.  Mistakes in language, culture, saying too much, or not enough, giving up when you should have pressed on,  judging harshly, getting a chip on your shoulder, attitude, anger........should I go on? You're human, never forget that. And also don't forget that we serve the God of all grace.
5.  God's will is always right, but it's not always easy.  You'll want to quit, don't. You'll want to cry, go ahead. Just keep moving forward in the path God has laid out for you.  Not all of us get to cruise down the interstate at 75 mph..some of us hit the potholes and frost heaves (Maine girl speaking).
6.  You can't live up to anyone's expectations.  Not your husbands, not your church's, not your family's, not supporting pastors, not coworkers, not your own. Stop trying, it'll make you crazy.  But thankfully, God has not set out a list of expectations, He has called us to be faithful.  Let's be that.
7.  It won't be what you imagined it to be.  If you imagine it to be a paradise where you fall in love with every aspect of the country and culture and sinners are begging you to share the Gospel, it won't be that..if you imagine it to be a life sentence of extreme living conditions and daily heart break, it won't be that either.  It'll be both and sometimes in the middle.  It'll be life.
8.  Homesickness hurts. A lot. Still now sometimes.  But it gets easier, bearable, and home is always there as a beacon, the promise that there's still normal life in this crazy world somewhere.
9.  You can still be you.  Your sarcasm may not be as much appreciated goes on.  You will change, but the shy, kinda quiet, quirky, fun loving, sarcastic person you once were, can still live on.
10.  You don't have to forget your country.  We were once told, unwisely in my opinion, by a missionary no less, that we should forget America when we moved abroad.  That bothered me, it bothered me for a long time.  Because I couldn't forget, and I didn't want to.  And I learned that it wasn't necessary.  We met Indians in the US who were still very attached to their country and culture, and no one here expected us to become un-American.  It's possible to love you country and culture, without hating another.  Just be careful of the comparison America we...because it can fuel discontent.
11.  There will be highs and lows.  Don't let the highs spoil you, and don't let the lows discourage you.  There have been times when we've seen so much fruit, and God working in a unique way, and other times that we've wondered why we were here at all.    Hold on, just hold on.
12.  There's a job to be done, and no matter how inadequate we may feel, this is what we've been chosen for.  Don't trust in your feelings, trust in the God who has chosen you.
13.  There will be those that help you in ways you could never imagine, and those who will hurt you far deeper than you could ever imagine.  When you minister you give your heart and labor to people, people who may fail you, and for reasons unknown, people who may someday turn on you.  You'll learn the meaning of forgiveness, even forgiving those who are not sorry, and will blame you for their betrayal.  " Christ forgave you." And it's not easy.
14.  There's no life like it.  You are privileged to have this opportunity that is not given to everyone.
15.  You are blessed always, by the God who stands with you, and carries you on the good days, and on the hardest days of your life, because you will face both.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Last first day

During the month of July I was working feverishly confirming enrollments, checking graduation requirements, and ordering curriculum.  Our school year usually runs from July or August till March or April.  Sometimes we get a late start because of a delay getting our materials from the US.  This year we got started on August 1st.  A few days before the first day, Alyssa made one of those simple statements that ends up hitting you like a ton of bricks.  "This will be my last "first day".  I hadn't been thinking of it in those terms, maybe I was in one of those denial modes, but I realized she was right.  This is 12th grade, a Senior, the last "first day".  Of course there will be other first days, but this one is significant.  This will be the last "first day" studying at home.  The last "first day" that they all are in school together.  I have taught her at home since the first day when I, in my eagerness, started Alyssa in kindergarten at 4.  It's not always been easy.  There have been days when I wanted to quit, and days when they wanted to quit!  But I wouldn't trade it.  Anytime when we threw around the idea of enrolling the kids in a school for a year or two, I was the one who dug in my heels.  I didn't want to give up this unique opportunity. Not everyone is blessed with the chance to be able to do what I do.  Recently, Alyssa wrote her name on my hand, and said "There, now when I become famous, you can tell everyone you were the first to get my autograph".  I told her, "Nope, when you become famous, I'm going to tell everyone that I taught you to write"!
I know this year will be bittersweet in many ways.  There are big changes coming for our family.  Lord willing, after this school year, we will take Alyssa to the US and she will enroll in college there. That's a scary sentence to write, for a mother.  For all those of you sending your kids to college this year, imagine if you had to leave them there, knowing you'd fly back overseas soon.  Pray for our family as there are a lot of decisions and arrangements that have to be made in the near future.  For now, we enjoyed our last "first day" together, eating waffles with cherries and whipped cream for breakfast, and working through all the bugs of the first day.
Alyssa - 12th grade
Naomi - 11th grade
Alyssa always tells me, "I know you'll cry Mom..but don't start yet!" So, I'll try not to (much), and I'll try to enjoy every day, the way it should be enjoyed, the last few months of this season, before a new season starts for us.
And here are my students for the 2016-2017 school year
Kara - 2nd grade
Melody - 9th grade
Ethan - 7th grade

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Encouragement on one of those days

Have you ever had one of those days?  When you just didn't feel like it?  You look back over the days of visits, classes, meetings, Bible studies and wonder if you've had any impact at all?  Is it worth it if you don't see many results? 

There was a day like that here recently.  It had rained...poured all morning.  The place we should go for visiting would be muddy, smelly, the drains and gutters would be overflowing.  The week before, we had gone and didn't find many people home, the kids we did find just kept running around and had no interest to sing any songs or listen to any Bible.  The other people who should have gone visiting with us were nowhere to be found, so we'd have to do all the houses, just me and the kids.

We got there and slogged through a little mud, across a couple gutters, and there was a group of 7 or 8 ladies and girls standing in front of one doorway.  They saw us coming and greeted us like long lost friends.  We stood there in the mud for 20 minutes or more, while they reminisced.  Some of these ladies we've known for years, some still come occasionally to church or send their kids, some not at all now. But they were remembering the days, when I only had 4 kids (over 7 years ago).  When we used to come every week to tell stories and sing songs with the kids that lived there at the time.  Sometimes there would be 30 or 40 or more.  They remembered us showing a Gospel film there in the night, one that showed the simple plan of salvation for those who cannot read or write, and have no knowledge of the Gospel.  They remembered me teaching them from the Bible in Sunday School.  They remembered it fondly, laughing and smiling.  One mother said to me, I'd never keep my kids from going to church.  That may not sound like a powerful statement, but in this place, it is.  We've seen many kids who have trusted Christ, but have to leave our church, with tears, because their parents won't allow them to attend.  This mother, still practicing the Hindu religion, has a positive view of the church, of Christians. That's not to be taken lightly in a place like this, where religious tensions often flare.

  We walked a little farther through the mud, past the goats, to a small room, where a lady had just delivered a new baby a few days before.  As we stood there admiring the tiny boy, she asked my daughter, what they should name him.  My daughter said, you should name him what you like.  Their answer was, you are his older sister, so you have the right to give a name too.  This statement showed the great level of respect and love that they had for her.   Many of these people have not trusted Christ, but I realized that day, somehow there's been an impact.  I don't mean to exalt ourselves or what we have done, but it's easy to forget the promises of God, in the struggle of daily ministry.  The promise that His Word will not return void.  The promise that He abideth faithful.  The command to be a light and show the love of Christ.  Maybe you won't see the results that you hoped for, maybe days and years will go by without visible change, but maybe...just maybe one evening standing in the muddy, trash filled street, with coal smoke swirling around you..God will send some encouragement..a glimpse of that you can take courage...continue to endure...continue to be faithful..and let the results stay in His hand..where they've been all along. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Family pictures 2016

Pratt family 2016

We've had a lot of requests recently for an updated family picture, so I thought it must be a good time to send a few recent photos.
                        Yes...they are growing up!
Naomi -15    Alyssa - 16

Ethan - 11          Melody - 12

Kara - 6

Visited a centuries old castle recently...our India in an ancient land...
Everywhere we go...people have to do a head count...1...2...3..4...yes there really are 5....

And....they all 5 can be a little crazy...:-)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Health

I know a lot of people have read some updates on my health from my husband's Facebook posts, but due to the number of comments and private messages that we have both received and been unable to keep up with answering (sorry!)...I decided to write a post to explain what has been going on so far.

It all basically started a couple weeks ago, when I was on the way to the park with the kids.  We were cycling and Kara was riding behind me.  Part of the way she got down so we could walk up an incline into a parking lot.  When we reached the parking lot, I suddenly got lightheaded and basically passed out.  This had never happened to me before.  (I was thankful that it happened in that empty parking lot, 2 minutes later we would have been crossing a busy intersection)
I went to the doctor the next day, and found out that my blood count was 5.5.  That is considered critically low.  The doctor asked me if I wanted to be admitted to the hospital for a blood transfusion. are asking the answer is obviously...NO!  She said, if you feel OK, you can monitor it at home.  That sounded good to the time.....
So, I was home for a few days, but was at the point that I barely had energy to get out of bed at all. (My husband meanwhile was increasingly worried at this development!) On Friday I forced myself to do a little grading, and was helping the kids with some schoolwork, when I felt my heart racing.  Brian was here then, so he took me straight to the doctor.  Since I was getting worse instead of better she admitted me to the hospital for a blood transfusion. (She didn't ask me for my opinion this time! HA!)   Over the next 24 hours I received 2 units of blood...I will spare the gory details, but it was a difficult time.
I can't say that I felt any better at all after receiving the transfusion, but my blood count was over 8, so I was discharged on Saturday night.  We thought I was out of the woods, but unfortunately....during the night I started running a fever.  When I was discharged, they told us very clearly to come to the Emergency if I got chills or a early Sunday was back to the hospital again!  I was given an IV and was under observation for an hour or so, and had some blood drawn, then sent home.  I continued running a fever for the next 2 days, and we (the doctor too) were not sure if I had received contaminated blood, if I was having a reaction to the blood, or if I just caught something while in the hospital due to my weakened immune system.  My blood was tested for a long list of infections and scary diseases...and thankfully they all came back negative.  The fever subsided after 2 days, and yesterday, for the first time, I actually felt a little better!
I saw the doctor again today to show her a new blood report.  She says everything looks like it's coming back to the normal range, but it will take time.  She told me that I need to rest and recover from this, and she wants to see me after a month, unless there seems to be any other problems.
This has been a scary and harrowing experience for our family to say the least.  We received countless messages, calls and emails to say that people were praying all over the world!  It is hard to express what a blessing and encouragement that has been.  Please continue to pray that I'll get stronger and be able to get the needed rest.  After I am stable again, I may have some more tests to see why my blood got that low in the first place....but that is a story for another day!:-)
I saw the doctor again today

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

7 Confessions of this Stranger

This post has been bouncing around in my head for a while now.  Before I begin, a disclaimer, I'm not writing this so that you'll feel sorry for me or for you to see what a terribly hard life I live.  I am blessed to live where I do, among the people that I do, and to have the ministry that I do.  But, I know that here, and at home, I am often misunderstood.  I also know, and have seen multiple times over the years other women, like me in foreign lands...return back...because of these same reasons..and maybe..if they or someone else had been willing to be open about their struggles...they would have realized they are not alone...and just because something is doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing it!

Confession #1   I am not perfect.   No surprise to those of you that know me!  So, why am I saying this?  There are some who expect perfection, or close to it, from someone in my position.  (Yes, they do!)  There is a great pressure to be all or do it all.  Perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect homemaker, perfect pastor's wife, perfect counselor, perfect white person who lives on my street.....  The type of person who would never be discontent when the electricity and water are off for hours, the kind of person who can homeschool, entertain visitors, prepare a Bible Study,  keep a perfect house, cook from scratch in 100 degree temps, while singing "I've been blessed."  I've heard the comments and listened to the questions.  "Of course, it is easy for YOU to trust God" "What is your wife's role in the ministry?" "You would never get angry"  "You always have everything together"  "Your marriage must be"  "Your children are just"   I know those that make these statements aren't (usually) expecting perfection (maybe).  But, there's a tremendous pressure.  I feel it, constantly, from close by, from afar, from others, and from myself.  But, I know,  I know, the One who made me, knows me, loves me, in the midst of my feeble attempts at perfection.

Confession #2  I get weary.  Yup...even in well doing..maybe even especially in my well doing. There are days when someone looks at me for answers, and I wonder....what answer can I give.  There are days when I wake up in the morning and think.."Wouldn't it be a nice day to break out the Pop tarts and Cheerios for breakfast"..but there are no Pop Tarts...or Cheerios  There are days when I get tired of being stared at and commented on every time I go out the door...every. single. time.!

Confession #3  I want to quit.  Yes, you read that right.  That doesn't mean I want to  But there are times, and there have been many times, through the years, that I've wanted to quit.  A few months ago I faced a low valley, very low.  Words were spoken that cut so deep, I literally felt like all I had ever done here was in vain.  I was ready to throw in every towel that I could find!  But, we didn't come this far to turn back now.

Confession #4  I wonder why God sent me. One statement I've heard so many times over the statement that I dread hearing, because I have no good response to it.  I've heard it in many churches in various states. "I'm so glad the Lord knew what He was doing when He sent you to the mission field, because I could never do it".  I usually just smile and nod.  Of course, God knew what He was doing, but after we were called to India, I struggled...for months.  I used to sit in church and look at the other women and think.."Why me, God, that person would do so much better, don't you think?"  I guess He didn't think so, because He still sent me!

Confession #5  I'm not very good at this.  I think this goes along with #4.   Sometimes I open my mouth when I should stay silent, or more often I'm silent when I should open my mouth. My to-do list gets left undone. I roll my eyes and sigh, when I should smile and be sweet.  I've made late payements, forgotten to make visits and failed to make phone calls.  I speak the language, but still use bad grammar. 

Confession #6  I feel like a failure.  Especially when I see people that we've worked with, prayed for, poured ourselves into...walk away...especially then...

Confession #7  Even though I'm not perfect, I get weary and want to quit, I wonder why He sent me because I know I'm not good at this and I feel like a failure...I will keep going forward, because its the work I've been given, and I have seen miracles, and I have seen change...especially in myself..and I know that is one of the reasons God has for it change me.....

 "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it." I Thess. 5:24  "...and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"Esther 4:14 "...but our sufficiency is of God." 2Cor. 3:5