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Family Minimalist Misfit Missionary Parenting Patience Perspective Thankful The little things

The Pen

One of the hardest things to do when you’re told what to do, is to do it.

My youngest daughter, Andreya, is 12 years old. She has been doing internet school with Northstar Christian Academy for three years now; she’s an excellent student and a quick learner. There are times when I watch her work that I wonder, what was I doing at her age? I think we had the four-color Bic© pens (red, blue, green and black) that were marks of being uber-cool back in the day. When those went out of style, I remember distinctly a folder called the Trapper Keeper© that only the coolest of the cool kids had in their lockers.

Needless to say I was not one of those cool kids.

Coming from an Finnish immigrant family background, we thrived on frugal living and rarely wasted precious resources on multi-color pens and fancy folders. At the time, being a first-generation Finn, I appreciated both sides of the coin. I knew Mom and Dad hated waste and thus, I managed to hide my brown-bag lunches of Finnish Rye bread with cucumbers and ham (a delicacy for me today) from the cool kids metal lunchboxes with their thermoses filled with Spaghetti-Os©. How I envied those those Spaghetti-Os©!

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Since lunch was the shortest period of the day, I usually managed to hide my lunch and remain generally unscathed from the mocking of any of my peers. It was my simple #2 pencil, blue pen and plain paper folder that got me into trouble. Why couldn’t I fit in and carry the newest and shiniest?

One evening, after a meal of thoroughly Finnish fare, I gathered the courage to ask for the coveted Bic© pen and Trapper Keeper© folder. Prepared for the worst, I steeled my nerves for the expected lecture of why we can’t buy such things. Instead, I was met with gentle explanations of why, in the middle of the school year, we just couldn’t afford to purchase new school suplies. Everything that was listed in the supply list had already been purchased, we couldn’t do anything this year…but…maybe next year.

While I was disappointed, I left the table without as much as a word knowing any pleading would then be met with sternness as my parents were “old school.” Once they said their mind, that was it and I knew it.

On the bus as I made my way to school the next day, with my plain supplies in tow, I envied all of the other kids with their brightly-colored backpacks, lunch boxes and multi-colored pens. I felt the heat rise to my cheeks when my friend Barbara once again asked why my things were so “old fashioned.” I changed the subject.

The weeks rocked on and by the second half of the year, due to the many problems these pens and folders were causing among the students, the school came out with a new set of guidelines requiring students to return to plain pens, pencils and folders. Suddenly, I was in the “in crowd” without even trying. The day this was announced in school, a collective, and painful, sigh was heard throughout the campus.

Later on that evening, at another fully-Finnish dinner complete with short, Scandinavian glasses filled with milk, I explained what had happened to my parents. I clearly didn’t think things through for upon hearing this news, they proceeded to carry on about the importance of keeping things simple for what felt like (to my 10 year old ears) an eternity. My ears only perked up when they praised me for not resisting their decision months earlier to not purchase the envied supplies.

Looking at my daughter now studying for her Science test on Ecosystems, I value the simplicity our life here in Africa gives us. She sometimes bucks the system and wishes for McDonald’s© fries and going to Claire’s© to buy tween jewelry, but she generally goes with the flow.

Thanks, Äiti and Isä (Mom and Dad) for keeping it simple. In today’s life of quarantines and closed airports, it has meant more to me than I could have ever known.

I didn’t need the pens or folders anyway.

P.S. – Andreya got a 100% on her Science test.

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Excuses Journey Minimalist Missionary Perspective Value

Just Wear The Necklace

I’m a minimalist. I don’t care for excess “fluff” in my house. Give me the basics; I need clean lines and easy-to-maintain surroundings. Looking around my home and through my very-much-in-need-of-an-update wardrobe, the theme “less is more” definitely stands out. What I didn’t know until recently was that minimalistic living is a “thing” these days and I am, as a minimalist, fashionable.

This news took me by surprise; never has it ever occurred to me that I would be on the fashion bandwagon. For a brief moment, very brief, I wondered what levels of fame my unintended minimalism could catapault me to. I quickly realized that I’m too minimalist to bother with the hussle and bustle required to expound on the benefits of living with just what is needed, thus my dream of minimalist fame ended.

How much do I need? Not very much at all.

Our work as missionaries in Africa has moved me to several countries, and even continents, over the years and this has forced me to live only with what I need. In our early years of missions work, I would pack as many supplies as I could to make sure we didn’t run out of things like socks, dental floss, deodorant, and Ziploc® bags. As the years have passed, I’ve needed less with each move that we have made. To date, all we need to settle into a new country is: two or three changes of clothes each, two pairs of shoes, toothbrushes, deodorant, and a set of plates and cutlery for four. Finances of course have played a major role in our need to live as simply as we have, but we’ve never lacked anything that we have needed.

This is why when, around 20 years ago, my husband purchased a beautiful gold necklace and matching bracelet for me, I struggled to wear it in public. We were in the States for the holidays (we have only made it back to be with family for the holidays a handful of times in over 30 years of missions work) and while we were out shopping, trying to buy Christmas presents for our family, he noticed me admiring a necklace and bracelet. The thought of him noticing still brings a smile to my face all these years later. Christmas morning I was stunned when first of all, he gave me a gift as we usually don’t exchange gifts. Then when I opened the beautiful box I saw the very necklace and bracelet I had admired; my heart just melted and he is still garnering points for that Christmas gift all these years later.

Yet I struggled with “what will people think” if I wore the necklace and bracelet? Any time someone complimented how beautiful they were when I wore them, I found a way to explain the blessing away. Thus the necklace and bracelet were tucked away, only to be used for special occasions such as weddings and graduation services.

In our travels, the necklace and bracelet still in the original box, remained in the States while we were in Africa. I reckoned at some point I would bring it with me as my home is here; but I still found it difficult to reckon with the idea of wearing such a beautiful piece of jewelry that I obviously didn’t need – but loved.

Two weeks ago, my son Stephen messaged me and his first words were, “Don’t worry Mom, I’m alright.” That sentence flagged me immediately; there was something unusual going on. Steve went on to explain that there had been a theft at the house and among the items lost were the necklace and bracelet. I was stunned and hot tears formed at the backs of my eyes. Thankful first of all that Steve was alright, I took pains to make sure that he wouldn’t feel guilty for the loss of the items. The last thing I wanted was for him to feel guilty for the theft, the only person who ought to feel guilty was the one who did the stealing!

The police were called, we pressed charges and after a few days we found out the person who stole from us (who has been apprehended) had also stolen from others and is likely to spend quite some time in prison. Through a series of events and help from the local detectives, my bracelet and necklace were found. Steve messaged and sent a picture of the items which I immediately identfied (I recognized the clasp that I had bent). Unfortunately, there’s a chance we will have to pay about $500.00 to retrieve them – but that they were found is a miracle in and of itself. I’m praying that another miracle will be found in God’s handbag that will save us from having to pay the $500.00.

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My necklace in the background and bracelet found by my son and the police.

Living as a minimalist has its definite pros that have helped me move from place to place with less stress, but I had allowed my thinking of living with less to translate into feeling ashamed. I was ashamed, felt as if I didn’t deserve or as if people wouldn’t understand why I, a missionary, could have something as beautiful as the necklace and bracelet.

When they were stolen, I mourned their loss and thought, “Why did I have them anyway?” And just like that, I let them go internally, knowing they would never be recovered. All the while as I was talking myself out of ever seeing them again, a small voice scolded me saying, “Why didn’t you enjoy them while you had them? Why can’t God bring them back to you?”

You see God isn’t a thief (John 10:10), He didn’t give me those two pieces of jewelry for them to sit in a drawer and then be stolen. He gave them to me to enjoy them, for them to serve as a reminder of how much my husband cares for and values me. How had I come to devalue myself as I had?

I will keep living with just what I need; I don’t need very much and don’t want to be bothered with so much stuff that I spend more time caring for what I have than for the people in my life. God is interested in people, they are what He values (John 3:16) but sometimes He will bless us with something we don’t need just to remind us that He’s Dad and loves to surprise us like that.

We will travel Stateside for a time of travel, itinerating, and reporting on the work here and while we are there we will work on retrieving that beautiful necklace and bracelet. There’s one thing that is for sure, when we finally do retrieve them –

I’ll wear the necklace.

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My necklace when it was recovered. I think I’ll wear it!