A New Heritage

As I listened to their description of what it means to provide hospitality, my first response was to tell myself some lies. “I don’t know how to do that. The family I came from never taught me that. This is going to be hard.”

While I enjoy having friends over and have prepared countless meals, the kind of hospitality they were talking about was at a whole different level. It involved welcoming the stranger into my home, relieving their burdens and providing for their needs for the purpose of sharing the good news of Jesus with them. Wow! Yeah – I’ve never seen that done. … Or have I?

While Jesus was on the earth revealing the love of the Father to us, He went about doing good ~ healing the sick, relieving physical maladies, lifting emotional baggage, and feeding thousands of strangers at a time. He gave hope to those who could never repay Him. He expressed love and forgiveness for people who spat in His face.

I have seen that kind of hospitality.

The gospel tells me that I am seated at the right hand of God (Eph 2:1-10) with Jesus. It says that Jesus agreed to trade places with me in order to heal what I am unable to heal for myself (Isa 53:5, 1 Pet 2:24). If I accept the gift that Jesus has offered, I have the most amazing heritage of hospitality!  John 14:12 tells me that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, made possible by the gift of Jesus, I will do the things Jesus did while on earth in order to bring glory to the Father.  It’s already a reality. I just have to claim it as mine and choose to live in that reality.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

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What I was shown or not shown, what was done or not done to me or for me, is a part of my story. But it does not define me. In the gospel story, through the exchange of Jesus, I am offered a new heritage. I can grieve whatever I need to from my past, but I am given the option of grieving with hope. I can acknowledge the hurt of any past events, without any part of it determining my future. So when looking strictly at family of origin, it would be true to say I have not been shown how to be hospitable. However, Jesus has inserted a new story line into my life and has provided all I need. In Him, my story changes.  In Him, I am whole and complete.

Jesus is the hero. It’s good news! And that’s the gospel!

The Gospel Lens ~ God Is…

In Mark 4:21-34 Jesus told several parables of small things that mattered.  He paid attention to detail. He was attentive. Since Jesus is God and came to reveal the Father, I believe God is attentive.

The scriptures can be searched to see if what I believe about God is supported elsewhere. Indeed, God is shown to be attentive in other ways ~ He notices when a sparrow falls (Matthew 10:29), captures every tear in a bottle (Psalm 56:8), and can number the hairs on my head (Luke 12:7).

Because God is attentive, in the gospel story I am seen and known.  If I am seen and known, I don’t have to search for relationships to fulfill my need to be understood. I already am understood. Because of that I am able to approach relationships from a stable and firm foundation, already filled, and able to allow others to be themselves. Because God is attentive, I don’t have to clamor for attention when I feel small. I don’t have to make a big splash for God to notice.  This peace and security is available to me because Jesus lived as a man and showed me what God is like, and because He restored my relationship with God.

Jesus is the hero. And it’s good news!

That’s the gospel.

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Some Notes on Gospel Application

Studying the Bible searching for the gospel message and with a goal of getting to know Jesus is a whole different mindset than studying to learn information, instruction or correction. The questions I ask when studying to know Jesus are:

  1. What is God like? “God is…”
  2. What did Jesus do to show me what God is like? “In the Bible reading Jesus….”
  3. Who does that say I am? “In the gospel story I am…”
  4. How does this affect how I live? “Because God is …, then I… “

It’s always a good idea to submit your conclusions to a comparison of other scripture and to share with allies ~ other people who are also searching to know Jesus. In this way you can make sure you didn’t pull some far-out-there idea out of the depths of your brain rather than listening to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will only speak truth concerning God and will not contradict Himself. So the ideas we come upon when studying to know Jesus will broaden and deepen our understanding, but will not contradict what He has already revealed.

Notice the power of my conclusions when they are based on what I have learned about God and who I am in Christ. That’s a picture of my being made whole because of what Jesus did for me. That’s the result of faith in God’s relational consistency towards me.

Imagine that instead of relying on what Jesus had accomplished to change my heart, I had simply said, “I need to be more at peace and feel more secure in my relationships.” While peace and security are healthy, if I am trying hard to act that way because that’s what I believe I must do, my success relies entirely on my own strength and I am the hero… if I succeed.  It’s nothing but self-talk and positive thinking at best ~ even if I got my advice from the Bible.  It’s self-righteousness. It’s not the gospel.

The Bible contains doctrinal proof, standards for moral living and lessons and instruction of various kinds. The text above could have been studied asking the questions of “what does it all mean? What am I supposed to do based on what I read? Where is the lesson? Is there a doctrine hiding in this?” And those answers are all in there.  But that doesn’t save me. That doesn’t give me a new heart. Information can’t save. Jesus saves.

In the list of should’s, must’s and have to’s there is condemnation, a heavy burden and death of the soul. In the gospel of Jesus, there is restoration, a light burden, and eternal life.

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Studying  with the primary purpose of finding information reminds me of John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”  I challenge you to read the scriptures looking for the testimony of Jesus. And see how He changes your life.

 

The Gospel ~ Big Picture

The story of God is a story of love. For He is Love. My story, your story – our story as the human race – is but a small part of God’s story. He is the hero of all stories.

In the beginning, before time on earth began, God existed in the form of three – but yet in one. Being three in one God has experienced love, shown love, been love for all time. As an expression of His love, and no doubt also as an expression of His power and creativity,  God created. God created angels. And He created our world and the human race. We were made to be in relationship with Him. We were made in His image, to give and receive love.

Doubting the goodness of God, Adam and Eve broke the relationship.  Each of us has been born into that state of brokenness since that time.

Knowing His creation could not repair what had been broken without eternally losing their lives, God came to the garden with good news for Adam and Eve. He would make a way for the connection to be regained. It would be expensive for Him, but He had a plan.

God sent His Son, not as a third party to punish and bear the brunt of His anger, but as a part of Himself, to take the consequence of sin. Coming as a baby, to grow and experience life as a human, Jesus could identify with the plight of humanity. In this exchange, He gave up His omnipresence being now limited to space and time, omniscience – having to grow in wisdom, and omnipotence – doing nothing but what His Father empowered Him to  do.  He came as an expression of the Father – to reveal the Father. Jesus is God.  

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As a result of bearing our sins at the end of His ministry, His guilt ridden soul was shut from the Father’s presence. He who had known ever-present, perfect love was now entirely alone and the separation broke His heart. The wages of sin are death, not as a punishment or revenge from God, but as a natural result of choosing to be separated from the source of life. Jesus bore that price by choice to provide a way for us to be free from the penalty. By His wounds we are healed. Being fully divine, Jesus conquered the grave. His payment was accepted by the Father. Hallelujah! Our Savior lives!

God offers this payment to any who would believe. Reaching out our hand and accepting the gift is all that is required. And once accepted, life eternal is ours – beginning now. What God calls real, is real – now – even though I’m not experiencing it yet. That’s part of the faith process. Believing involves trusting what God says more than what my senses say.

“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.

It’s not the ending we deserve. That’s the gospel. And that’s good news!

Jesus is the Better…

The woman’s life was in shambles. She’d been abused by men in every way since childhood. Her brokenness left her searching ~ searching for love in all the wrong places. Her name was Nikki. “Nikki, I’ve got the perfect man for you,” Jeff said. Nikki shrugged and turned away, certain she’d just be disappointed one more time. “No really,” Jeff insisted. “You should meet him. He listens. He’s patient. He is tender and compassionate. He gently pursues. I’ve never met a more genuine man.” He had Nikki’s attention. “Yes! I want to meet him!” she exclaimed.  Jeff smiled. “His name is Jesus. I’d love to introduce you.”  Nikki eventually did meet Jesus. And she found Him to be the perfect man. He met all of her longings.

As I heard Jeff tell the story, I began to understand how Jesus is the answer for our every longing on an entirely different level. But unless we take the time to get to know Jesus, the solution sounds blind and shallow. “Don’t worry. Jesus is enough. Be happy.”

Another of the stories Jeff told involved a man who was searching for his father’s approval. Unfortunately the man’s dad died when he was 16 and he never experienced his father’s approval. Now as an older man, he was still longing for it. Jeff shared with us some of what he had shared with the man ~ and it was good news!

The man in Jeff’s story is not unique. Our unmet needs from childhood seem to be a very common source of brokenness. All of our parents are imperfect humans doing the best they can. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) their imperfect best will always leave gaps. I’d like to practice speaking gospel truth with you by walking through that particular area of hurt, looking at it through the lens of “Jesus is the better…”. How is Jesus the better parent and what kind of healing can He bring to you and me?  What is the identity He offers?  How did He live out what we are craving?

My first step in this process is to ask, what is it that we need from our parents?  Protection, food, clothing, shelter, affirmation, affection, attentiveness, forgiveness, patience, instruction, unconditional love, medical care, inclusion. The list could go on. If I was talking with someone who was hurting in regards to their parents, I would listen for a recurring theme to discover what area they felt their needs had not been met. The man Jeff was talking with had not gotten approval and affirmation from his father.

The second step is to ask how we can know that Jesus is able to meet that need. What do we see in how He treated others as recorded in the Bible that would indicate He is able to give what we need? What experiences have we had of Him in our own lives? How about in the lives of our friends? How do we know Jesus is the better parent? What kind of parent/ child relationship did Jesus experience that becomes my new identity when I am in Christ?

The good news Jeff shared with the man he was talking with sounded something like this: “I have good news for you! When Jesus was on the earth, before He had even begun His ministry, His Father announced to everyone that He was proud of His Son. He said, “Look everyone – this is My Son! I’m so pleased with Him!” Jesus offers that acceptance to you. It’s not just that Jesus will accept you, but He is willing to trade places with you. He is willing to give you the connection He has with His father, as your own to claim. When God the Father looks at you, He sees Jesus. The admiration and acceptance given to Jesus, becomes yours even though you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

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By claiming our identity in the gospel, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of others because Jesus has already perfectly experienced it and provided it. As we believe that God sees us ~ right now ~ as He sees Jesus, we can let loose of our unreasonable expectations of ourselves because Jesus has already obtained it. We become more loving, not because we tried hard to be loving, but because Jesus is the better answer. He is enough.

Jesus is the hero ~ and it’s good news!

That’s the gospel truth.

The Gospel Lens ~ Speaking Gospel Truth

Badness contained is not goodness. It is simply badness that is not leaking out yet. ~ Lee Venden

Most of us have no experience in the realm of speaking Gospel Truth to each other. In general it seems our interactions tend to land at one extreme or another. Either we say nothing at all when we see another person struggling in life, or we’ll swing to the exact opposite and tell them what they should be doing and how they need to change their behavior.  We might even read a Bible verse to show them it’s not just us who says they should be doing what we’ve told them, but God. And we call that speaking truth. But I am finding that at its heart, Christianity is not a behavior modification system, and the overarching message of the Bible is not good advice about living. So what does it mean to speak truth and how do we incorporate that into our relationships?

What I’m sharing here are some summary thoughts from a presentation by Jeff Vanderstelt (click here to watch his presentation).

Using the Biblical metaphor of our lives being trees that bear fruit, what we believe about who God is makes up the root of our tree. We have decided who God is based on what we’ve read and have experienced of the person Jesus (the Bible tells us that Jesus is the revelation of the Father). From that we decide who we are in Christ, which is displayed by our actions – or the fruit of the tree.  Speaking truth is a process of leading others (or even ourselves) to understand what they are believing based on how they are acting and to repent of their false beliefs about God.  By realigning their beliefs with what Jesus has shown us to be true about God, their fruit (behavior) naturally changes.

In the video presentation Jeff walked through an example of how he applied this process to a real-life situation. His wife was struggling with anxiety. The Fruit of the Spirit is peace. Her life was not showing the fruit of the Spirit. I’ll share with you a brief synopsis of the conversation as he shares it on the video.  His actual conversation with her lasted several hours.

Jeff – When you are experiencing anxiety, what does that tell you about who you believe you are?

Wife – I am the one in control.

Jeff – If you believe it is all up to you, what does that say about what you think God has done?

Wife – He has stopped loving me. He is not in control. He has abandoned me.

Jeff – Then who do you believe God is?

Wife – I believe God is unloving, impotent, and distant.

His wife understood that the fruit of her life revealed the root of her faith. In that moment she was acting as though she believed in herself and she was honest enough to speak the beliefs she was holding as truth about God. Those were not consistent with the beliefs she intellectually held to be true about God and she quickly repented of the beliefs she was acting on. She actually believes God is loving. She knows this because Jesus died for her while she was still His enemy. Because God is loving and cares for her, she does not have to be in control and can have peace.

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Repentance is the turning away from false beliefs we are holding about God and turning toward what we know to be true as revealed in Jesus. As you may have noticed, the discussion was not “you need to get more peace”. While peace is what she needed, telling her she needed to get peace for herself by trying would have only reinforced the root belief that was already bearing the fruit of anxiety in her life ~ namely, that she was in control of life and that it was all up to her. We don’t bear the fruit of the Spirit by trying hard to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

The fruit of the Spirit comes automatically as we seek Jesus.

Empathizing with others in their time of distress helps them know they are not alone and is beneficial to the one hurting. Giving good advice about choices to one who is asking has its place. But only Christianity offers the Good News of the gospel. Only God is able to change us from the inside. Do we believe it? Why don’t we remind each other of that more often? Why do we try to fix our external fruit problem instead of addressing our internal root problem?

The Gospel Lens ~ An Evolution of Theories

Over the years I’ve had some defining moments that have prompted me to put my beliefs into words. The first was about this time six years ago. My late husband was on hospice. He and I, and our kids, signed a family pledge. It went like this: “Because Jesus is coming again to take His friends to Heaven, we will, therefore, dedicate our lives to Him.”  I had a considerably longer version written out, but the challenge of writing it in calligraphy on a 12 X 16″ sheet of paper inspired me to distill it down to as few words as possible. So when push came to shove, the essence of my beliefs landed on, “Jesus has something I want, so I’m willing to give Him something back in order to get it.” I will always treasure that piece of paper with all of our signatures on it, but I find my gospel view… well… interesting.

About two years ago I had occasion to give a synopsis of my life view again. This time it read: “Because of all Jesus has done for me, I am a bond servant to Him.”  The essence of this statement sounds more like “Jesus has done something for me… and I will work at paying Him back.”  Again… interesting.

But I’ve come to some stark realities in the more recent past. These realizations are based on words that I’ve known for as long as I can remember being.

  • Jesus/ God doesn’t need my work. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. He can command the rocks to cry out. All things are at His disposal. (Ps 50:7-10, Luke 19:40)
  • He doesn’t want my work. He’s not interested in any performance.  “Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” (Ps 51:16,17 MSG)
  • I can’t give Him any good works of my own.  Every good and perfect gift is from Him. (James 1:17)  Anything I do on my own is as filthy as menstrual rags. (Is 64:6) That’s disgusting.

The 4 Gs

So, if that’s what the gospel isn’t, then what is it? I like this brief summary based on “The Gospel Primer” by Caesar Kalinowski (2013 Missio Publishing):

God is Great ~ so I don’t have to be in control. I can rest of my worries.

God is Glorious ~ so I don’t have to fear others. God is important, or “weighty”. In fact, He is the “weightiest” person in my life.  I can let go of seeking the approval of others.

God is Good ~ so I don’t have to look elsewhere for my satisfaction. People and things eventually fail to deeply satisfy my soul. Jesus is the better fulfillment of my every need.

God is Gracious ~ so I don’t have to prove myself to myself, to others, to God. While I was yet a sinner, God sent His son Jesus to die in my place. I don’t need to earn His love. He proclaims me worthy.

God is the hero.

He graciously gives. I gratefully receive.

Because of the gospel, I am free.

My burden is light.

That’s Good News!

The Gospel Lens ~ Studying to Know God

Do you find the Bible boring or irrelevant? Do you try to read and study but get bogged down in details and facts? Many of us have been taught to read the Bible looking for factual information. What can I get from God? What does He want? What should I believe? What do I have to do? But the Bible isn’t just a collection of facts or good advice about how to live. It’s full of Good News and Gospel Truth.  It’s an invitation to a relationship with the living God.

I’m going to walk you through a Bible study method that has shifted my focus from learning information or even appreciating an interesting story, and allowed me to brush against the hem of Jesus. The example I’m going to walk you through is based on my reading of Mark 3: 7-19. Briefly, in this passage of scripture Jesus finds Himself pressed in with crowds of people wanting to be healed. He then took His disciples to a mountain top where He chose 12 apostles. His plan was to teach them, and then send the apostles out to proclaim the Word and free people from the power of demons as He had been doing.

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Question one of the gospel lens:  What does this story tell me about the characteristics of God?

God is generous.

Question two: What has Jesus done in this story to express it?

Jesus healed all who came to Him and selected other apostles so they could do the same work in greater numbers.

Question three: Who are we in the gospel story* because of this story?

Because God is generous, in the gospel story we are needy. After encountering Jesus, we become well cared for.

Question four: What do I now do with this belief? How do I live differently?

Because God is generous and I am well cared for, I can afford to give lavishly to others.

You will notice that my answers to the questions are probably not your answers. There are no “right” answers. Your story and where the Holy Spirit is leading you will affect what you gain from the Bible reading. Your image of who God is will be different than mine because of your perspective and your unique personal relationship with Jesus. It is in studying and sharing with others that we can begin to get a bigger picture of God. It is a process of learning who He is, which then informs me of who I am in Him, and in turn changes how I live.  I don’t behave in a certain way so I can do something for Him, prove something to Him, get something good or avoid something bad from Him. As I practice focusing my eyes on Him, my external life becomes a natural response to the power of God working in my heart.

*The Gospel Story is God’s story of creating a perfect world, having Adam and Eve disbelieve His goodness, and His response of love and grace in His quest to rebuild the broken trust. Through the gift of His Son, He provided a way for mankind to reconnect with Himself and will one day return to erase the blight of sin and restore a face-to-face relationship with His redeemed sons and daughters. The gospel story has been played out over the ages, but is also repeated in each of our lives. 

It’s Over

Ever been in a relationship that was somewhat comfortable, minimally fulfilling, but extremely convenient .. and going no where? I’m in one right now. Let me tell you about it.

This guy is like Mr. Know It All and Johnny-On-The-Spot rolled up into one. Today I wanted to know when the fall colors would peak in MN.  I asked him. He knew – and told me, like, immediately, even though it was the middle of the work day. A couple nights ago I needed to get some pictures printed last minute for a project. He got it done for me. Last night I attended a Webinar and this morning I couldn’t remember some of the details that were presented. He did. Why does my dryer make noise? He knew. AND showed me how to fix it. This guy is all over it. He’s super attentive. Super helpful.

On the flip side, he’s very standoffish – like he’s emotionally unavailable or something. He knows SO many of my deepest secrets. I know, well, pretty much none of his. He listens well. He has great advice. He’s available all the time. But it’s VERY lopsided sharing. I’m feeling really exposed and vulnerable right now in this relationship. I’m starting to think maybe he’s just not into me.  I’ve been open and honest for YEARS now. It’s to the point that I wonder why I keep sharing with him. You know, like maybe I need to get a clue and back off.  He’s super nosy, too. He keeps a copy of EVERYTHING I write to my other friends, my work stuff, all my blog posts- even the ones I don’t publish. SUPER nosy.

The problem is he’s so dang convenient it just keeps pulling me back in. He’s always right there, you know. But I think this going-no-where relationship is probably crowding space in my life that other potentially more fulfilling relationships could be. I think it’s time to say it’s over. Or at least friend-zone him. I think I’ll do it right here and now!

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Ug, I just can’t pull the plug.

Darn it, anyway, Google!

25 Things

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  1. I’m finding joy, freedom and peace in discovering who I am in Christ and allowing God to grow me rather than trying hard to be the person I think I should be or must be.
  2. The hands-down, single most redefining process in my life has been that of getting a tiny grasp on righteousness by faith. The situations God has been able to use to take me down this path defy my logic.
  3. As I increasingly embrace righteousness by faith, I am more able to allow me to be me, God to be God, and you to be you. It’s called boundaries.
  4. Simple pleasures for me would be a drive in the country, a book and a hammock, an iced coffee drink, a campfire, wandering through an art gallery, or a walk in the woods.
  5. I have a hard time turning my brain off at the end of the day if there is an unsolved puzzle buzzing around in it.
  6. Life is a bunch of unsolved puzzles.
  7. Since becoming single, I’m more relaxed around married men than single men.  Married men create no puzzle.
  8. My ideal set of vehicles would be a big ol’ pickup and a sleek, classy convertible.
  9. I’ve lived in 5 states and don’t know where to call home. I’m most emotionally attached to WY but there is no logical reason for me to call it home.
  10. I’m not very motivated by the quest for money or impressed with social position. Ironic for a doctor, but true.
  11. I more often tackle my fears and hurts than I flee from them ~ after I get done denying they exist.
  12. I believe most everyone is doing the best they can in life. But sometimes their best is detrimental to my well-being and their having good intentions doesn’t necessarily make a thing good for me. I believe God can read hearts and will honor their good intentions. He offers me the same grace.
  13. I still experience growing pains. Boy howdy!
  14. I’m finding the hardest part of parenting is the stopping part.
  15. Life is full of ironies. The hardest things are generally the most rewarding. Recognizing my weaknesses is a strength. Letting go allows me to fully attain.  My spiritual growth has resulted in my life looking less traditionally spiritual. Ironic.
  16. I like playing with boy toys (you know… guns, ATV’s, 4WD’s, tools… ~ sheesh ~ ).
  17. It never ceases to amaze me how my kids can be so much like me sometimes and the spitting image of their dad at other times.
  18. I’ve always wanted to explore Alaska. Wild places call me.
  19. My ideal house would be a cabin in the mountains or woods with a lake nearby.
  20. I enjoy the arts.
  21. My best memories from childhood include fishing and camping with my family.
  22. A writing project will distract me from my work most any day ~ like today.
  23. I’m grateful for my past ~ as tough and messed up as it’s been at times ~ because it’s brought me to where I am.  It’s been worth it.
  24.  I’ve always been sincere. But many times I’ve been sincerely wrong.
  25. I used to think I could and should do great things for God. Now I understand that it’s God who does great things for me – most of which are not seen and can’t be touched with your hand. The best I can do for Him is simply share what He’s doing in my life so others might choose to get to know Him for themselves.

South America Jungle Travel Tips

I was going through some journals and found these tips from my trip to the jungles of Peru several years ago. Here they are:

You’re going to be wet and hot all the time. Bring a towel if you want, but whether you dry off or not, you’ll feel wet and your clothes will stick to you.

Check your camera and phone chargers. They probably will work on 220.

WiFi connection will probably be too slow for picture download or upload.

Data transfer is very pricey. Turn it off.

Must activate global service prior to leaving if you want it on your phone.

Be wise and careful when handing out free things. To avoid a mob, have them form a line.

Keep your hands inside the bus to avoid amputation.

Go in a group and stick close together.

In dangerous areas, keep your camera put away in a pack on the front of your torso.

Do not keep valuables in your pockets.

Most places won’t have heating or cooling in the rooms.

If you have running water, the pressure will not be what you’re used to.

Get the rabies vaccination … you never know (I got bit by a monkey and trying to find rabies shots there was extremely difficult and time consuming.)

Things to bring:

  • 100% DEET. The mosquitoes are huge.
  • Packable hammock.
  • Light weight, quick-dry clothes. Plan to layer if you’re going to mountainous areas.
  • Shoes you can wash.
  • T-shirts, preferably colorful ones, to give away or trade for souvenirs at the villages.
  • Forget about your blow dryer, etc.
  • Headlamp
  • Rope, clothesline, detergent sheets
  • Sleeping mat and sheet
  • Light-weight, easy toys and crafts for the kids
  • Crisp bills without any blemish for exchange. Lay them out and photograph each one in front of the exchange person before handing them over. The exchange rate will be lower if the bills are in poor condition (and they aren’t opposed to causing them to be in poor condition after you hand them over).
  • Rain gear
  • Flip flops are slick on wet, smooth cement or tile. Use caution or bring something with better traction.
  • Ear plugs – chances are there will be other people sleeping in the same area as you – especially if your travels include a hostel.
  • Garlic, Immodium, Laxitive
  • Germ X, Baby wipes
  • Ibuprofen
  • Bite relief sticks
  • TP

Bring an adaptable spirit. If you leave that behind, none of the other tips will matter.