Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

by Elizabeth Trotter on November 20, 2014

I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)

This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.

So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.

A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).

Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).

Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).

These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.


How can I end well?

Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”

As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).

When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.

So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.

God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.


Ask A Counselor: Do I need counseling?

by Kay Bruner on November 19, 2014


photo credit: eflon

Welcome to the first in a new series here at A Life Overseas:  Ask A Counselor!

(It sounds kind of like a game show title.  I feel like there should be flashing lights and funky music.)

Let me tell you just a little bit about myself before we get started this first time.  I’m 48 and have been married to my husband Andy for 27 years.  We have four children, a daughter (25), and three sons (23, 20, 18).  Andy and I are both Third Culture Kids.  Andy was raised in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, and the wilds of North Carolina, while I’ve got Brasil, Nigeria, and Kentucky in my blood.  We met in college, got married, and hot-footed it back overseas as fast as we could go.

We worked on a New Testament translation in the Solomon Islands from 1993-2005.  During those years, Andy medicated his stress with a pornography habit while I suffered from severe anxiety and depression.  I’ve written about this in a memoir called As Soon As I Fell.  After recovery, we lived in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years, and now we’re in the Dallas area.

When we moved back to Dallas, I went back to school for a Masters in counseling.   These days, I’m in private practice.  I really enjoy working with adolescents as well as adults, but if you need couples counseling, I’ll refer you to someone else.  “One at a time, please” is my counseling mantra.

(Here’s a link to my website, where you can read more if you like.)

A while back, some of you wrote in with questions, and I thought I would start with a cluster of questions about counseling in general.

Missionary friends have been asking me this question for years:  “Do I need counseling?”

After hearing this question repeatedly and answering it repeatedly, I finally realized this.

If you’re asking this question, the answer is always YES.

Here’s why:  if you’re just going through life and everything’s dandy, you won’t be asking this question.  It won’t cross your mind!  It’s only when things start to get hairy that you realize (rightly so) that you might need help.

Now, maybe you can wait until your next scheduled visit to your passport country.  Or maybe you need to get help sooner, rather than later.

Here’s the next question: how do you know WHEN you need help?

That decision, I think, is based on your level of FUNCTIONING.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • How are my relationships? 
    • Causes for concern:  lots of conflict, ongoing isolation, a sense of disconnection from others
  • How am I functioning at work?
    • Causes for concern:  frustration, boredom, over-work, putting work above family needs
  • How am I sleeping?
    • Causes for concern:  sleeping too much or too little, insomnia, waking at night, nightmares
  • How am I eating?
    • Causes for concern:  eating too much or too little, being obsessed with food or exercise
  • How is my mood?
    • Causes for concern:  outbursts of emotion (anger, crying, anxiety), numb or shut down
  • How functional is my daily life?
    • Causes for concern:  unwanted habits or addictions, inability to accomplish normal tasks

If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask a friend.  (See, told you it was like a game show!)  Get feedback.  And listen to the feedback.  It’s not easy to say hard things to other people, so if somebody cares enough to tell you hard things, pay attention.

Now, everybody can have a bad day.  I myself, living in suburbia, have bad days.  The problem is, if all the bad days are getting strung together without a lot of good days in between, that might be a problem.

So if I’m having trouble sleeping, I’m drinking 5 Cokes a day to stay awake, if my marriage is unhappy, if my children are not doing well, if I’m spending 50-plus hours a week working while feeling like nothing is ever good enough for my supporters who don’t pay me enough of a salary to live off of anyway—then I’d say functioning is on the decline.

If you’re not functioning well, you’ll probably be asking this question:

How do I get counseling overseas?

I personally think that it’s hard to get good counseling overseas.  Your options are limited. Even if you have a local counselor, that person may or may not be a good fit for you.

(How do you know if the counselor is a good fit?  You’ll LIKE the person and feel SAFE with them.  It’s really just that simple.)

You can try Skype or phone counseling, but I find that dynamic to be more a consultation than therapy.  You may get good direction and find good resources via distance counseling, but there’s something healing about being in a room with the real, live person.  Just think about how different it is to talk with your mom on the phone vs. seeing her in person after years away.  Therapy is like that, too.  At its best, it should be a very personal, intimate relationship, which I think is best accomplished face-to-face.

Another complication with therapy overseas is that you’re still living in the stressful situation.  Nobody does therapy on the battlefield, because there’s a job that takes priority over the wellbeing of the soldier.  A counselor friend of mine who worked overseas for years said, “Really, the only thing I could do was triage.”

We tend to run on adrenaline, and to not feel how bad it is, while we’re in the situation. Then when we arrive in our passport countries, there are a million other things that take priority over recovery.  It seems like there’s never a time to treat the wounds until they are absolutely septic.

This is a sad, terrible, long-standing pattern in mission work that needs to CHANGE, but I believe that the only way it will change is when individual missionaries start taking responsibility for their own well-being.

It would be nice if your home church would take this on for you, but I don’t see it happening.  It would be nice if your mission board provided great services for you, but again, not a thing I see a lot of.  There are good intentions in lots of places, but extremely weak follow-through.

In the end, you will be responsible for locating and accessing the resources for your own emotional and spiritual care, and you need to be prepared to do so.

Here’s what I wish every missionary would do.

Establish a relationship with the counselor of your choice before going overseas.  Get some recommendations from your church or from friends.  Talk to a few counselors on the phone.  Go visit one or two, until you find someone you like.

Go to several (6-10?) counseling sessions, so that you and your therapist know each other well, and you feel like you’ve processed through your backlog of issues.

Stay in touch with your counselor while overseas, via Skype, phone, and/or email.

Go back to see your therapist every time you’re in your passport country.

Here’s a place you can check for counselors who get it:  International Therapist Directory

What challenges do you face when it comes to good self-care?

What resources have you found helpful?

What questions would you like to see addressed in future Ask A Counselor columns?

Photo credit: Eflon/Flickr/Creative Commons


Just Be Faithful

by Marilyn on November 17, 2014


“I’m so tired” I think as I’m walking to the subway. Rain is falling and my feet hurt. I’m dragging at six thirty in the morning. I want to cry in this world of cold and rain.

Just be faithful – It’s not like I see the Heavens open and hear the voice of God reverberate across the skies and through my head. It’s just this still, quiet, persistent thought.

Just be faithful.

I’m just back from a refugee camp where 1500 people are displaced — men, women, and children. A place where you beg God to have mercy, where you weep for those who have lost everything. Where you wish you had millions of dollars and a heart that could love harder.

I want to do so much more.

I send a message to my friend miles away in Djibouti, in a place as dry and hot as my world is cold and rainy. “It feels so small” I say. She replies in words that capture a life of being faithful “Know what? It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.”

Just be faithful.

Those words again. They are so persistent. I must pay attention. Faithful – having or showing constant support or loyalty. Steadfast. Dedicated. Constant. Loyal. True. What does this mean right now? What does it mean in crowds and tiredness? I know well what it means in the quiet with my candle burning and my hot drink by my side. Oh I know faithful then and it is easy. But what is faithful in a refugee camp? What is faithful now – on a rainy morning? 

Just be faithful.

So I think about what being faithful to God means in this moment. In this moment it’s as simple as not taking the handicapped seat. But I want it, oh how I want it. And it’s there and it’s empty and what if some young 20-year-old takes that seat? It’s not for them! It’s for the handicapped and I feel handicapped at the moment. Just be faithful. Don’t take the seat. I sigh and move on down the squished train. Faithful – it means I won’t push my way through, it means I’ll give up self and make sure others are okay, it means I’ll notice the person that needs help. That is all I am called to, nothing more — but nothing less.

Just be faithful.

It means I’ll give a nod and a smile when I don’t feel like it, that I’ll stop and communicate with the marginalized when I see them on the street, that I won’t gossip about co-workers when they make me angry, that I won’t get hung up on statistics and who is reading blog posts, that I will communicate in spirit and in truth, that I will love hard and pray harder, that I will read and speak words that honor God, that echo truth. Just be faithful.

The words continue “Marilyn, I know you’re tired. Just be faithful. With my strength be faithful.” There is now a heavy rain falling and those of us on our way to work are leaving the subway. There is a puddle three inches deep on the platform right before the stairs, just deep enough to seep into shoes before going up to dark clouds and rain. I’m still tired but I walk with One who knows tired, with One who knows pain, with One who knows what it is to live out faithful in this beautiful, broken world.

Just be faithful. The words are lyrical now, they speak through the mist and rain, redemptive and life-giving. 

What does it mean to you this moment to be faithful? Not tomorrow, not yesterday, but right now? 

A Life Overseas Readers & Friends –  if you buy Between Worldsfor yourself or a friend during November all proceeds will go to refugees in Turkey. The refugee situation gets more difficult by the day and cold weather is coming. With that cold weather comes an increase in need for resources like blankets, heaters, tents and more. Along with that are the myriad of health needs so I’m thrilled to be able to send any royalties to a cause like this. It seems appropriate given the topic of the book and where my heart lies. An apology that the Kindle edition is not ready – the delays were not anticipated.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging can be purchased here: 


What’s Your Name? On Adopting Local Names

by Rachel Pieh Jones on November 14, 2014

what's your nameI moved to Somaliland and when people first heard my name they wanted to know why I had man’s name.

“Why is your name Rashid? You aren’t a man. Are you a man?”

Eventually I got tired of explaining that I was, indeed, a woman, despite all nomenclature to the contrary. Someone suggested I needed a Somali name and I took the first one they offered, Lula. It means diamond, or light.

Going by Lula was fun for a while and it worked really well in the village. But it isn’t my name. When I went to Nairobi or Dubai or Djibouti or Minneapolis and when I interacted with Somalis in those places, I went by Rachel.

In Djibouti I volunteered with a group of homeless women, mostly from Somalia, incredibly poor, illiterate, many with HIV. They could not pronounce Rachel either and were thrilled when I suggested they call me Lula. I have never used Lula in any other context in Djibouti and so when I hear it now, seven years later, I know it is one of these women coming around to visit, beg, or simply passing by and greeting me.

In all other cases in Djibouti, my name is Rachel. It isn’t always easy for people to say and they forget it easily. I don’t mind, I forget theirs, too. Sometimes it does sound like Rashid. Sometimes it sounds like the French name Rachelle. That’s fine, too. Its my name, however it sounds on someone else’s lips and I appreciate their effort in trying it, appreciate my freedom to hold on to at least my name when I seem to have let so much else go in this expatriate life.

One of the biggest things I’ve been learning is the importance of authenticity. The freedom, responsibility, and joy there is in simply being who I am. That could be a series of more essays, but for this post it simply means using my name, the same name in all contexts. Grocery store, school, neighborhood, birthday party, church, running team, friend’s house, English language curriculum recording studio. With US embassy staff and with homeless women and with the parents of my kid’s friends and with Tom’s coworkers.

I feel like telling someone your name is giving them a gift. I’m saying I don’t care how you pronounce it but this is me. My name along with all the other foreign and strange things about me are what you get when we develop a relationship. I’m saying, let’s explore those differences and learn from each other, even as we learn how to say each other’s names.


what's in a nameI heard another perspective from an American woman and though I didn’t change my practice, I can see her point of view.

She used to engage with Chinese students in the United States and struggled to pronounce their names, to remember their names, to remember who went with which name. They would go back and forth, battling through tones and consonant combinations, and she would still slaughter their name.

She said that when one of them would say, “Please call me David,” she felt an immense relief, sorry that she couldn’t master their original name, but thankful that they could now move beyond her embarrassing attempts and into a relationship. She knew full well what they were giving up and wished they didn’t have to. But, honestly, felt thankful.

So she has adopted a local name and when she offers her local name to people, it is a gift, as much as my real name is a gift. She is giving them an opportunity to look past awkward sounds and see her, she is putting herself to the side with humility, not insisting that her name become a divider. She is saying, I’m entering your world, help me communicate well.

How about you? Do you use your ‘real’ name overseas or adopt a local one? Why or why not?

*image via Flickr and Flickr


When on those highways and byways…

by Richelle Wright November 12, 2014

I used to find it some combination between mildly amusing and slightly annoying when I’d hear people pray for “traveling mercies,” even though at the time we were crisscrossing the state of Michigan (as well as a few adjacent states) almost every weekend seeking the financial support to head to West Africa as missionaries. Then one […]

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The Idolatry of Missions

by Jonathan Trotter November 9, 2014

Missionaries are like the church’s Special Forces, right? They go into enemy territory, sometimes covertly, tearing down walls for Jesus. They have special training, preparing them to serve in the darkest places around the globe. Missionaries are on the front lines of the Kingdom of Heaven, right? I’m sorry, but no. Wherever the Gospel is […]

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Living Overseas Can Be Hard On Love: Making Your Relationships Work When You’re On The Move

by Lisa McKay November 5, 2014

Before we moved to Laos, I worked full time as a stress-management and resilience trainer for humanitarian workers. During those years I saw first-hand the pressure that living overseas places on people and relationships. After my husband and I moved overseas ourselves, I decided to focus my energies on supporting relationships—particularly long distance relationships—and last […]

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Devil Dance

by Angie Washington October 31, 2014

Halloween. Day of the Dead. All Saints Day. This week we observe the earthly and underworld of the spiritual realm. As I regale you with tales of Bolivia, rife with ancient connections to the other-world, consider the spirituality embedded in your dwelling place. Let us begin. The Devil’s Uncle I’ve visited Potosí in the mountains […]

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Avoiding Mission Drift

by Chris Lautsbaugh October 29, 2014

We’ve seen Christian organizations publicly wrestle with change in recent times. InterVarsity is facing this pressure to allow non-Christians to be a part of their leadership. This is resulting in them being banned from certain campuses. Will they change some of their core values? World Vision battled with adopting new policies, leading to a back […]

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Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

by Elizabeth Trotter October 23, 2014

Follow Me. Jesus whispered these words to me a few months ago. I was in church. It felt like He was right there in front of me, pointing His finger at me and saying, “Elizabeth Trotter? Yes, you. I want you to follow Me. You — just you — follow Me.” Rarely does Scripture come […]

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Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?

by Kay Bruner October 21, 2014

By Andy Bruner Look pretty normal don’t I? Ok, I admit I was a bit scrawny but I come from a long line of skinny people and it was 95 degrees with 90% humidity in the Solomon Islands, so it tends to curb the appetite!  My point is that you’d never know by looking at me […]

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the gift of a voice

by Kay Bruner October 20, 2014

“I feel awful.  Something inside me is squeezing me so bad I can hardly breathe.” With those first words of Letters Never Sent, Ruth Van Reken spoke straight to my TCK heart.  It was 1988, I was a senior in college, the book was brand-new, and for the first time in my life, somebody besides […]

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