Today I want to introduce Alison to you. We became friends during my first time in Dodoma, Tanzania (1999-2001) and we have stayed in touch ever since. Alison was a fellow teacher and we lived on the same compound. She has kindly written todays blog post.
Alison is originally from Australia and taught in Dodoma from 1998, for four years, where she met her British husband, Patrick. They have two children, Elizabeth (6) and Matthew (4) and are just coming to the end of their time serving as missionaries with MAF in Papua New Guinea. The photograph below shows me (2nd from left) and Alison (2nd from right) along with other staff from our compound during a fun Indian evening, back in 2001!
I am always making lists. Mostly so I don't forget something, but there is a great sense of accomplishment when you can tick off everything written on a list. Unfortunately that rarely happens with my "to do" list.
One of my big problems is that I expect to do too much in the time I have available - if I happen to have an hour without the kids I want to finish the laundry, do the dishes, check emails, go shopping and then if there's time maybe even do some cross-stitch or read a book. If I'm lucky I might manage to get just one of those things completed and it's usually not the last two!
While on home assignment last year I made a discovery. Having expectations that are too high or unrealistic causes STRESS! If I want to reduce my stress I simply need to reduce my expectations. But for a person with high expectations, that isn't easy!
I would love to invite each family in our organisation for a meal. One family a week doesn't seem an unreasonable expecatation. But when you realise there are about 15 families living in town, plus another 12 living on outstations who occasionally pass through, that would take about 6 months to have everybody only once! Then there are families working with other missions and other people in the community who we have met through church or school and would like to get to know better. Plus wouldn't it be great to invite some national families as well? Because we have a hospitality roster to provide meals for guests and visiting staff, we already seem to have people two or three nights in a row for various reasons, even without trying to introduce a "one family a week" system. It might be a reasonable expectation but it is certainly unrealistic (especially if there are introverts in the family!).
My biggest struggle is with expectations of time, but it also applies to the attitudes and behaviours we expect from our friends and colleagues. Next time something stresses you out - stop and think - were you expecting too much?
Yesterday I was stressed. My expectation of what I could accomplish in one day was far too high. It was to be my first "dedicated" day to start packing. We are leaving the mission field at the end of the year and I think I have about 4 weeks left to have our stuff ready for shipping. So far I have only packed one box - my son's car racing set - and sorted one shelf of books. Not quite the progress I had hoped, especially as I have just had two weeks of school holidays. Oh, the plans I had for getting started....but I decided spending time with my kids was more important (at least that's the reason I'm using to justify my procrastination!)
So yesterday, after going to the market, and then doing my school planning for next week (I teach primary school two days a week) and the rest of the term (including organising the Christmas concert) I was going to so some packing, before spending the afternoon baking a cake, a batch of cookies, two slices and doughnuts for playgroup morning tea, toasting granola and making icecream. All before dinner time - and I still hadn't decided how to use some leftover chicken for dinner! In addition, on the spur of the moment because it was the only opportunity, I invited a friend and her kids over for afternoon tea. No wonder I was stressed! Did I accomplish it all? Of course not. Guess what got chopped off the list? - the icecream, the doughnuts, most of the school preparation and all of the packing!
So my attempts to reduce my expectations and therefore my stress haven't been terribly successful. But at least it makes me realise that I can only blame myself and shouldn't take out my stress on others! Isn't it good that God doesn't expect perfection from us before He can use us? His expectations for us are high, but not unrealistic - because He promises to equip us for everything He asks us to do.