When You Realize You Are Privileged

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I think I am pretty self-aware.

This is probably an indication I am not. 😉

So, it shocked me to realize that my default status in the world is one of privilege. It is still difficult to grasp and I want to say that it is not true. I grew up on a dairy farm where we rubbed pennies together most of the time. Then, when we auctioned off the farm we didn’t even have the pennies.

There were many hard years financially. We all struggled and suffered. I had a chip on my shoulder as a poor kid in a middle class neighborhood and school.

But the truth is I was able to go to a really good school and live in a safe, middle class area. And I was and am white. It was expected and believed that I would and could succeed. So I was encouraged by parents, teachers and administrators to do so. All of these things make up the privilege from which I come.

Again, it hurts to speak it this clearly.

Yet, I have become absolutely positive that I must.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were able to go to Cru’s bi-annual staff conference in Colorado. It was an amazing, challenging time. We had a painful, yet honest, and potentially healing conversation as thousands of staff gathered together. Very brave members of different ethnicities shared their stories of wounds through hurtful words and treatment by their fellow staff.

We all felt the pain.

Outside speakers and leaders of minority descent spoke again and again of the place and perspective of those of privilege. In the end, unless a person of privilege consciously chooses to lay down that privilege and enter the world of the underprivileged, he/she will always be operating from a place of privilege.

And this is where it gets a bit dicey. For all of us.

I am asking myself, when have I really laid down this privilege? I have been blind to its underpinnings, its insidious forming of my life.

It’s not a to-do list that reads like this:

  • Become a missionary or overseas worker
  • Sell all my belongings or greatly downsize them
  • Actually move to another country
  • Learn the host language and culture
  • Become an expert using a machete to navigate the jungle 😉
  • Develop immunity to mosquito bites 😉

I think you get the point.

It’s humbling to realize we can ‘do’ all of these things and more and still be living as the privileged. It’s heart-rending, and inside-searching and grueling to really, really look at our posture towards the world and the people with whom we share it.

But that is how it’s supposed to be.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

~Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)

(emphasis mine)

We will never be able to understand what it was for Jesus to empty himself of ALL of his privilege as God himself. And we will never be able to understand what it is to not have the level of privilege most of us do. Yet, we can walk this road of active ‘laying-down’ with confidence and precious assurance that we will understand Jesus’ journey more. We will know Him more. We will become more like Him. And the world will experience more of His presence, His Glory, His Beauty, and His love.

One Down, Three to Go

I can remember when my wings sprouted and I longed to fly the coop. All I wanted was to be on my own and what I perceived to be free. I took any and every opportunity to do my own thing (for better or worse) and I’m not sure I even blinked when it was actually time to move out of the house and into the dorm.

I don’t remember my mom being sad. Maybe she was ready for me to go! Or maybe she is a more mature person than I and managed to hide herself in the bathroom and cry her eyes out when I couldn’t see. I’ll go for the latter.

Here I am sitting in Kijabe, Kenya, visiting the 3 boys and applying for school for my daughter, and I can’t get it out of my mind; the fact that this is my oldest son’s last mid-term break.

Ever.

I find myself staring at him, hanging on his words, making up stupid things to talk about just to keep the conversation going, fussing over him and desperate to hug and kiss him and say sweet things that only a mother can say to a son, all the while trying not to embarrass him too much.

Does he even know what it means for him to go? No.

But it is time and he is ready.

I’m pretty sure he will make some stupid mistakes along the way and may or may not tell me about them. He may even meet a girl and fall in love.

There goes my position as the most important woman in his life.

It’s just around the corner. The day I give him a kiss and a hug, say goodbye, tell him to be a good friend and work hard, and a zillion other bits of sage advice which I will try to cram into the last 30 seconds of seeing him. I’m pretty sure I will succeed in teaching him all of life’s lessons in the final minutes of my goodbye. It is a parent’s duty.

I watched him run off to class today and noticed that he is a breathtakingly beautiful man. I like who he has become. He is ready. It is time.

I can imagine drop-off day at the school. In my mind it’s an endless sea of moms sobbing through their goodbyes, heartbroken that their kids did the unexpected thing and grew up. It was kind of like that when we all deposited our children at boarding school. I have history with this.

During the bus ride home the sobbing moms will be acutely aware that they are in the same boat yet fully married to the attitude that no one understands. This is when I’ll stand up and say, “What are you all crying for? You’ll see your kid next weekend.”  (I’ve got a bit of pent up jealous anger for crying sad moms who will be living within driving distance of their college aged kids.)

And this is the true and honest question of mine; can I cope? Can I say goodbye to him full well knowing it could be a year… or more… until I see him again?

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When I signed up to be a missionary, I did not sign up for this. I did not count the cost of children growing up and attending university. I did not foresee my son living on a different continent. I was sure that they would remain 10 years old forever, but here we are, just weeks from the day when he first sets foot onto the soil of adulthood, and we’ll be down one with three to go. Praying this thing gets easier before we send off the last, but just as soon as I say that, I remind myself that I never want it to be easy to release our children into adulthood.

I am worried. Worried that he’ll not just do stupid stuff, but do really, really stupid stuff. I’m worried that I’m wrong; that he’s not ready and he will need to come home with a failure ripping big holes into his heart. I’m worried that he’ll forget to call home and leave us desperate to know if he is dead or alive, happy or sad, thriving or … not.

Yah… I know. My spirituality and maturity rating just fell to zero, but there’s nothing rational about a mother’s love for her children. I guess I am no exception.

If you are on the same bus as me, sending your kids off this year, let’s make a deal. I won’t tell you I’ve got it much, much worse because I live in Africa and my son is moving to the U.S., but please, please don’t tell me how rough you have it when yours doesn’t want to come home until Thanksgiving.  I am insanely jealous.  In my better moments, I know this is irrational and surely there are moms who have it unspeakably worse than me, but honestly, it is where I am.

Instead, in a move toward motherhood solidarity, I’ll bring a box of tissues and we’ll share the common thread of missing mommy-hood and all the joys that having our kids at home brought us. We might even come to our senses and remember the countless ways our kids challenged us. (Err… made us seriously consider pediatric tranquilizers as a long-term solution.) We’ll replace the tears with laughter; the kind that makes your cheeks hurt and your sides ache. We’ll have a great old time with a glass of wine and celebrate each other for a job well done… children who not only want to fly the coop, but can FLY.

One down with three to go!

 

Previously published here.

photo credit

 

IMG_5505Jennifer Taylor is a married mother of four serving her second missionary assignment in Zambia.  She and her husband work with a local pastor and his wife in a community building effort in an under-served, semi-rural area.  She loves to write, learn, and teach and is a strong advocate for sustainable living.  To learn more about the Taylors, please visit, robandjennifer.wordpress.com.

A Dirty Little Secret of Singles on the Field

I’m not a fan of dirty little secrets. Dirty little secrets are laced with shame and create hiding and distance.

I am a fan of having confidants and knowing how to hold a confidence. Oh the joy of being known and feeling safe enough to trust someone with a piece of yourself!

I first became aware of this dirty little secret talking with married friends around a pool in Thailand. We were chatting and I mentioned a stat from some research I’d conducted for a presentation at a professional conference. During my research I’d learned that 32% of the singles in our organization had either tried or were currently trying on-line dating. We were in a fairly large organization so this was no small number.

Online dating

With shock and a tinge of panic they said, “No! We are going to lose too many singles to eHarmony!” That is a fairly common response from married folks on the field. Is it any wonder many singles are ashamed to admit they might want to try online dating? The result is that many singles have no idea how many others are trying it–and once they find one or two, it’s almost like they have fallen down the rabbit hole, left to wonder, “Why isn’t anyone talking about this?”

Shame from fellow servants isn’t the only pressure singles can face. On the other extreme, many folks back home want to know why a single is not on a dating site and pressure, pressure, pressure them to try and get married.

Of course, not all singles are the same and their experiences are going to vary as will their definitions of “success” when it comes to online dating. Since this topic is broad, my goal today is simply to say online dating is happening and to get the conversation started. Instead of talking in stats and hypothetics, I contacted three singles I know who started dating someone via online dating in the last year and asked if they would share their stories with us and they agreed saying, “Finally. Finally we as a community can talk about this!” So as to not get bogged down by whether you know them or not, I’ve changed their names. 

How long have you been on the field?

Ann: I’ve been on the field since 2003 (with a one year and a half year home assignment since then).

Beth: I was on the field for 2 years. I’m back in the States now.

Cici: I’d been serving with my organization for nine years when I signed up for eHarmony. I’d been overseas for about half of that time.

 

What factored into doing (or not trying) online dating?

Ann: I had a few friends on the field join eHarmony and they were really honest about the process, with the struggles and ups and downs of online dating including dating long distance. One of my friends on the field met her now husband on eHarmony and she really encouraged me to think about joining. I knew she didn’t suggest it lightly because she had joined eHarmony the year before with no “success.”  I felt like I had a pretty realistic and balanced view of long distance online dating and, with a lot of prayer and consideration, I decided that I would join while I was on home assignment since had time to invest in it and could theoretically meet someone in person faster while in the U.S.

Beth: The most significant thing that factored into using online dating was the fact that there were very few single men on the field. I lived in a very small expat community and all the men my age were married. I had dabbled a little in online dating during college (but it wasn’t really successful). However, after I moved to China, I decided to try my hand again after realizing that the options on the field were very limited.

Cici: Several of my friends had met their husbands through online dating, so I knew it could work. When I decided to try it, I factored in cost, safety, and timing. When I joined eH, I was planning to be on the field for another year, and I only signed up for three months because I didn’t want it to consume my time for that long. For me the timing seemed good because I wasn’t too far away from being back in the States if I met someone, but I was far enough away from being home, that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I didn’t meet anyone. I originally looked at it as “practice” for when I got back to the States because I rarely interacted with any single men where I was living.

 

Did you feel this was something you needed (or wanted) to hide from your team or organization? Did you feel comfortable sharing it?

Ann: Since online dating is pretty common I didn’t feel like it was something I needed to hide though it wasn’t something I necessarily advertised. I’m more of a private person that way and so it wasn’t unnatural to me that I wouldn’t share it with just anyone. My close friends knew about it though.

Beth: To be honest, I didn’t tell a lot of people on my team about meeting the two guys I dated these past two years online. I felt really ashamed and lot of people were really concerned about it (online dating is seen by the Christian community as not such a great thing — or at least that’s been my experience). Only a few people knew about the first guy I met when we first started dating. However, because of my first experience, I was a little more open telling people about Ben (my current boyfriend).

Cici: I chose not to share with my teammates, but that was based on team dynamics that were already in play. I did tell former teammates about my online dating, including teammates who were still with my organization. I chose not to tell my organization at the time; however, I have been honest and open about the timeline of when I met my now boyfriend and how we met when I’ve been asked questions about my future plans and when former (but who were current when we met) teammates found out via social media.

 

What was the reaction when people heard you were trying it out? Or succeeding? (All three of you have succeeded, so to speak)

Ann: Most people, what they hear that my boyfriend and I met online, say something to the effect of “lots of people meet that way now” or “so-and-so also met their boyfriend/husband online” as if to assure me and/or themselves that it’s a common and valid way of meeting people (not something I struggled with though). I expected more people to ask me what that meant for my life/calling overseas, but I’ve been surprised at how few people ask that.

Beth: I kinda answered this above, but it wasn’t always positive. I started talking to Ben in September but we never actually met in person until I visited him in February over Chinese New Year. People were really worried about me going to Australia and visiting Ben (I had friends on the ground there and I felt comfortable with the whole situation — my friends and family all knew where I was and where I was going so I felt that I was safe enough. I had met Ben’s family on Skype so I was fairly comfortable with the whole thing.) After Ben and I met in person, people were way more open to it and very excited about it.

Cici: Everyone seemed supportive, and I think this is because it’s becoming far more common for couples to meet online. For people who didn’t even know I was dating someone until a couple of months after we begin communicating, there was definitely surprise. I think a lot of this is due to the fact that people had been receiving regular updates on my life and ministry and assumed they knew everything that was going on in my life. However, aside from family and close friends, I chose to keep my relationship private in order to maintain a distance between it and my decision to move back to the States.

 

What have been the challenges and blessings of trying on-line dating while on the field?

Ann: I met my now boyfriend online while I was still on home assignment. Dating long distance definitely has many challenges and it has its blessings too. Since all we can do is talk while I’m on the field and he’s back in the states, we do a lot of talking! We have lots of good conversations though I miss the opportunities to just go out and do something with him and experience life together that way. But we’re able to build a really good foundation of communication (and the fact that we spent some time together during my home assignment before I went back on the field was really helpful!) Another big challenge has been figuring out how this new relationship and my life on the field fit together, and how and when to return to the U.S. so that we’re not always long distance and we can actually be together to figure out where this relationship is going.

Beth: I did date a guy my first year in China who lived in another city in China, but it didn’t pan out. The challenge was his approach to faith/Christianity — he was really liberal and eventually said I needed to show more of a commitment in physical ways I wasn’t willing to do. This is the downside to online dating. You don’t actually know how they will approach the physical aspect to your relationship until you’re in it.

However, this past year I have seen the absolute blessings associated with online dating. Ben is the man I have been looking for my entire life. Because our relationship started on Skype and emails, we were able to be open and honest with each other. Our relationship started as a friendship first before developing into something more deep. My relationship with Ben is not founded on the physical aspect (which is something that has really tripped me up in past relationships). It’s founded on our love for the Lord and on our friendship and care for one another.

Communication is one of our strongest aspects of our relationship because we have had to work so hard to do it well since we live so far apart. I feel that this is one of the best benefits to online dating. You really get to know someone and who they are. Ben is from Australia and I’m from the US, so it’s been challenging, but because we started this relationship at a distance, it’s made it easier dealing with it since we know it will eventually end (he’s moving to the US sometime next year).

Cici: The challenge for me was how time consuming it was. It can be like having a part-time job, which was a little stressful when I was trying to prepare to move back to the States. However, it was also a welcome distraction from all of the drama that was going on in my life at the time. Waiting for communication and emails because of the time difference was difficult as well, especially the more I got to know my now boyfriend. Another blessing was feeling like I had a personal life that not everyone was privy too. Much of my life is public knowledge, and I appreciated being able to get to know someone without everyone at home or on the field watching.


Ann, Beth, and Cici thank you for sharing your experiences with us and for helping to remove some of the shame singles might experience in this area.

For the rest of us, what could online dating for singles on the field mean?

  1. Let your single friend or teammate bring up the subject. Just like a married couple may or may not want to discuss infertility, some singles will want to talk about online dating a lot (maybe too much for your taste) and others not at all.
  2. Try not to use language like “we’re losing so many singles to online dating.” This elevates location and current assignment over following God and tends to shut down conversations.
  3. Write your prayers, run your prayers, bake your prayers, however you best pray, pray for singles and the pressures they face when it comes to dating, not dating, leaving the field, and staying on the field. Pray that above all else, that they may know the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in them, the hope of glory.
  4. Might I remind us of the obvious: singles aren’t just women, they are men too. I know this post is female heavy and hope to hear from men so that we can learn from your experience as well. I can be reached at messymiddle (at) gmail (dot) com.

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

“Feeling so fearful and alone since moving as a trailing spouse”

Last month someone found my blog because they did an internet search for that phrase. It reminded me how much pain a trailing spouse endures. I remember the struggle; I remember the suffering. And while whoever typed those search terms is actually not alone, I can attest to the fact that it very much feels that way. I remember how dark it felt, how black the future seemed. I remember how much pressure I was placing on myself not to ruin my husband’s dreams. I remember being afraid that nothing would ever be OK again and that it would all be my fault.

Telling my trailing spouse story has opened up conversations with women all over the world, both before and after they reach the field. (A trailing spouse doesn’t have to be a woman, but women are the ones who have reached out to me.) So with that in mind, I’m going to share parts of emails I’ve sent to women who have asked for more of my story. I’ve deleted identifying details to protect their privacy. These are the things I would say to any marriage dealing with a trailing spouse issue.

But first I want to clarify what I mean by the “call.” It’s confusing when Christians talk about “call”; different people have different definitions of “call,” and they tell very different stories. So what I’m generally referring to when I say “call” is a strong feeling or desire to be where you are (or where you’ll soon be going). It feels like a peace and a settledness about your current (or future) location.

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It was about a year and a half from my husband’s initial “Let’s move overseas!!” to hearing a call of my own. I know that might not seem like long in retrospect, but it felt like forever at the time. These times can be so dark that they seem to stretch out forever and ever, no bend in the road, to borrow a phrase from Anne of Avonlea. I know you and your husband might be on such different pages regarding your life right now, and it’s hard to understand each other’s point of view. But it’s important to “hear” each other’s hearts in this. You are different, and both of your perspectives are valid, because they are true for each of you.

I’m going to take a deep breath here and say some hard stuff. I hope and pray it comes out right, because I only ever want to point people to God and do for others what my mentor did for me when I was still trailing — provide hope without pressure. In an ideal world, both you and your husband would feel called to your work where you are. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and you are not the only wife who at this very moment does not feel called to where she is. A call is very important, true, but it’s also true that you can’t force it.

There are so many moving parts in a marriage. It’s hard to predict what one or the other will feel or do many years from now. And so I need to say this: it is not the end of the world if this does not work out. I think it’s very important to internalize that. Your vows are to each other, not to overseas work. You are both separately committed to following God, but now that you are husband and wife, you are a team and have to make decisions as a team. I know that does not sound like a traditional explanation of marriage where the husband makes the decisions and the wife follows, but in overseas work especially, having unity is essential.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying this overseas thing will never work out. I don’t believe that! I’m also not saying you should just grin and bear it. And I’m not saying you can just pretend to hear a call from God and that acting like you have one will convince your heart you have one. I’m just saying this issue is important and worth investing in. And here’s how I would suggest you approach it, based off the advice I received several years ago when I was in your shoes. . . .

Now this is going to sound scary, but I promise, in the end, it’s not. What you and your husband have to do — both of you — is open up your future to God. Both of you have to be able to say, if I have to give up this life abroad business, it’s not the end of the world. You can’t just decide you know what God needs to change in your heart. You even have to give that expectation up. Now that won’t sound as scary to you as it will to your husband. When he has a long standing dream, it’s going to be hard to say, “God, can I give this up?”

During all this time that I didn’t have a call, it was so stressful for my husband that he got an ulcer. An ulcer. Major stomach pain. “Not going” felt like the end of his life, and “going” felt like the end of my life. But ideally, you would both be able to say those things to God. And then, you would talk to Him and ask Him where He wants you, and what He wants to do in you, and all those things. But first you both have to surrender your preferred futures.

It’s trickier to find your call if you’re already overseas, because if you don’t find it, you feel stuck and unhappy where you are. This is another reason seeking God is so scary. What if He doesn’t come through? What if He disappoints me and doesn’t talk to me? What if I’m still in the dark? Or worse, what if He actually tells me to stay here?? (I think that was part of my fear, that if I really opened up, He would tell me to go, and I did not want to go.) But I just don’t think you can actually hear from God unless you put it all on the line — living overseas or living back home — you’ve got to put them all on the table, and your husband has to, too.

Incidentally, when we did this, when both my husband and I put it all on the line and simultaneously opened up our future to God, my husband came back to me saying we didn’t have to move overseas. He was willing to stay in America. I say this to explain that it wasn’t just me and my problem; my husband was talking to God too, asking Him questions and trying to listen for answers. And that openness to change on both our parts is very significant for our story.

I remember my mentor telling me some things that really freed me up to hear from God. “If you go, and you really, really hate it, you can always come home.” That was brand spanking new to me. I thought it was a lifelong commitment. I thought you went and never came back. Just knowing there was an escape valve allowed me to be able to say yes. I don’t think I could have heard a call otherwise.

The other thing my mentor said that really helped was to say to both of us, “No matter what you decide, one person can’t ever come back and blame the other person for the decision” (or something to that effect). She meant that if we stayed in the United States, my husband couldn’t blame me for ruining his ministry, and if we left, I couldn’t ever blame him for ruining my life. Getting rid of potential blame is a huge part of being able and free to hear from God. It’s hard to hear from Him when we put all these pressures on ourselves.

So what I would recommend is seeking God all over again for living overseas, and both of you laying your plans and dreams down and being open to God either taking you back home or keeping you overseas. I really believe He is with you, no matter what you choose. I also do not believe it’s a failure either way, whether you stay overseas, or whether you leave (but especially if you leave, since human beings tend to attach more significance to that choice).

You have promised each other your lives, and I believe that promise is more important than any one decision about where to live. That is what our church leadership told us, and I believe they were speaking truth; I believe your marriage covenant is that important. I remember being disappointed not to hear a “go or no go for launch” from our church leaders, but only counsel to honor the marriage covenant. Focusing on our marital unity, however, ended up being one of the best helps in overcoming our difficulties.

I hope I made sense with as little pressure as possible. I never mean to push! And truly, I have no vested interest in your staying or going. I simply want you and your husband to be united in whatever and however you serve. I did want to give you some practical steps to take though, and I hope those made sense. Sending you love and praying you will find God when you seek Him, and that even in the confusion and chaos and grief, you will experience the peace that passes all understanding.

When a margin-less season really is just another grace

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The last several weeks have been nothing short of overwhelming:

  • kindergarten graduation
  • high school graduation
  • soccer championship
  • realizing I probably need shoulder surgery… again
  • fun with overseas visitors – friends we know from Africa who are either studying in the States or were visiting their former colonies
  • camping
  • two brand spanking new licensed drivers
  • unexpected car repairs (and just to clarify – not due to those new drivers)
  • decluttering – otherwise known as deciding what we keep and take versus what we trash or give away
  • packing
  • some more packing
  • some of that packing needing to be unpacked and then repacked differently
  • last minute sleepovers and get-togethers with friends
  • last minute get-together requests that had to be denied or declined because there just wasn’t time
  • dealing with tears and disappointment as a result of the previous statement
  • cleaninguhaul and elephants
  • loading a U-Haul
  • tears – saying goodbye to our college guy studying biology
  • worrying about that college guy – his internship this summer means he’s driving an hour plus (one way), his shift doesn’t end until midnight and now I’m no longer able to listen for the door and know he’s home safe
  • tears – saying goodbye to our freshly graduated gal while hoping that the next morning she’d actually be able to successfully drive herself to work since she’d never done that before and we’d be out of the country if she needed help
  • miles of driving
  • receiving four year work permits after a few hours waiting at the border
  • getting lost trying to find the next necessary office
  • receiving tax numbers after another chunk of time waiting in an office
  • driving some more
  • driving in really heavy traffic with a kayak and lots of bikes strapped to the back of the car while following a U-Haul trailer hitched to a U-Haul truck
  • driving a final day
  • unloading that U-Haul
  • unpacking
  • some more unpacking
  • arranging
  • rearranging
  • introducing our expanded-from-when-we-were-in-this-place-before-family to friends
  • introducing our family who can’t remember being here before because they were too little to this place
  • meeting new friends
  • trying to think in and understand French again after not having used it much the past two years
  • trying to understand a particular accent of French we’ve not really heard for nearly 15 years
  • learning where to shop
  • searching for a bakery that includes nut-free products
  • finding where to get the car fixed since the inspection people were particularly picky
  • applying for renter’s insurance and car insurance and health insurance…
  • waiting in offices
  • waiting in traffic
  • learning to use the local bus system
  • walking and biking lots more since for the summer, we are a one car family and the car goes to the studio where hubby/daddy is ministering

Yeah.

That’s been our lives the past six or seven weeks. It doesn’t look so long on the calendar. But that list? And that first event? The kindergarten graduation? It feels like a lifetime ago. Really!

So little space.  It has been, in almost every way, a season of margin-less living. I don’t recommend it as a permanent lifestyle.

So much is new or strange or unfamiliar. At the very least, it’s outside any routine we’ve ever known before. These veteran missionaries don’t like wearing the “new” hat once again.

Leaving (especially to start over in a new place) will always challenge, and contrary to what I used to think way back when as we started this missionary journey, it hasn’t gotten any easier just because we’ve had some practice. The idea that practice makes perfect when it comes to leaving and transitioning is a myth… or a bold-faced lie. It certainly wasn’t any easier this time, even knowing we are just a very long day’s drive distant… instead of several plane rides remote. No matter how many times I say it, no matter how much I tried to convince myself (and others) it just might be different this time, parting remained a sweet, but deeply profound and intense, sorrow.

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And that’s on top of the reality that we’ve just come through a season of little… if any… margin.

I found it funny that Jonathan just wrote about this subject a few days ago. And let me say straight up that I agree with everything he so beautifully said.

I’d just like to add a little addendum, though, because I’m one of those who isn’t very good at margin. I imagine I’m not the only one. Dr. Swenson’s book was reading required by our mission, before we were ever formally accepted as candidates. I’ve often felt like a failure because I can’t seem to master the principles on which Swenson expounded.

I think I’ve finally figured something out. For some, margin must be a carefully crafted space that they guard if they are to function well in a God-honoring way. I hope I’ve finally learned to not only permit, but to respect and honor someone who understands that truth about themselves.

For me – when I try to get intentional and guard some wasted space? Snap! Just like that, margin becomes an idol and my way of ministering independent of God. The lie that I can do this missionary thing in my own strength subtly takes over when I start planning for margin.

I find I often function better when my margin comes in seasons or, perhaps, layers? I don’t know quite what might be the right word to call it.

What I do know is that my recent margin-less “event” calendar was a disguised grace, for it actually gifted me the emotional margin to get through goodbyes and leaving two of my children behind as we returned to “les champs missionaires.” In other words, no margin in one domain actually provided the margin I more desperately required in another.

I’ve also discovered that for me, margin only really happens if I’m living out daily the truth that God is sovereign. I need Him; He doesn’t need me – thus it is okay to leave a task unfinished and decide to “waste” time. Sometimes I have to put one foot in front of the other, plodding along even when I’m too tired to lift my head and look around, trusting God to provide strength and rest and nourishment. I do try and spontaneously choose margin at some point every day. I have seasons with space for deep and intensive study of God’s Word; other times, quiet meditating on the fruit from those seasons in the midst of busyness nourishes, and in a totally different way as those things I’ve learned in my head have time to sink deep into my heart thanks to the realities of life. One thing I’ve recognized during those seasons of a margin-less layer is just how utterly, totally dependent I am upon God for and in every single aspect of life.

What’s the point? Having space in your life that is not planned and programmed and jam-packed is important. Finding, or making, margin is a must priority. But for me, at least a significant chunk of the time, it doesn’t come scheduled because then it ceases to be margin and is just one more event on the calendar that I need to check off and proof that I can do this on my own. Rather, I find margin as it emanates from the quietness and peace that comes when I rest in God’s sovereignty and remember (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) that relationships – with Him and with others – are His priority.

His sovereignty is what frees me to go against my natural inclinations and set down that list of all that still needs to be done, fold over the honey-do list and slide it back under the computer without griping, and say “Yes!” when hubby wants to pile the kids in the car and take time to uncover the beautiful places surrounding us. To say “Yes!” when my little guy asks me to wander to the park and watch the kids play lava tag, again. To shop every other day as my girl and I walk to the grocery store – buying just enough for today and tomorrow because that’s all we really want to carry back up the hill to the house. To join new friends for a birthday party celebration. To gather raspberries growing on the bushes at the park, in the rain.

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Are you one who must plan for, making margin in your life and ministry a priority?

Or are you more like me – one for whom that sort of planning easily becomes a legalistic nightmare, and you find margin by trusting God?

What is your strategy for maintaining a good balance if you do both?

Credit for U-Haul/elephant photo collage -
Tina Heydenberg

Hidden

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In this age of social media it is so easy and tempting to be seen. I can post an Instagram of my daughter and I reading a book, or what I am chopping for dinner. I can share a funny quote from my kids. And I have total control over how I curate these moments. I can also rationalize that our family back in the states and our supporters want to be a part of our lives, albeit, virtually.

Up until this generation most of these moments were shared only by a mama and her kids — perhaps a friend who was over for a real-life play-date. And now these precious moments are broadcast all over the internet. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, or that I don’t do my share of over-sharing. But recently, Jesus started opening my eyes to the beauty and purpose of hiddenness.

I’ll be the first to admit that these tiny years, and life on the mission field, can be lonely {which makes the temptation to broadcast that much stronger}. My days revolve around nap-times and bed-times, and my energy for socializing is practically non-existent. My other missionary mom friends have the same problems. And I sometimes wonder “What’s the point?” What is God doing in these hidden years?

I think I found my answer in the story of David summarized in Psalm 78:70-72 (NKJV):

“He also chose David His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes that had young He brought him, to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to  the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.”

God took David from the sheepfolds — from a hidden place of faithfulness, years of doing small things — in preparation for leading His people. Because of his hidden years and all God worked into him in those days, David had the integrity, faithfulness, and skills required in his next assignment.

You don’t learn integrity in the spotlight. The spotlight only reveals integrity. Integrity is birthed in hidden faithfulness when no one is watching. Integrity is when your words and actions line up, when people can count on you to do what you say you will do, and when you keep at it even when no one notices. Skillfulness is gained by habitual practice, repetition, dailiness, hard work and discipline.

David knew that being a shepherd was lonely business; there was no one around but sheep and God. And that was enough.

And so God is teaching me that the beauty of hiddenness is the intimacy I can cultivate with Him and my flock in this season. And the purpose of hiddenness is to produce in my character the things that are lacking. I’m sure there will still be pictures on Instagram {don’t worry, mom!}, but behind the scenes I’ll be pursuing my Audience of One.

 

Originally published here on February 9, 2015

 

11722415_10153464572898698_5459283695112102341_oKelly Hallahan is a wife and a mom of four cool kids doing life on the mission field. She loves having a full house, and would be happy to feed you if you are ever in Kampala, Uganda. She writes about daily life, ministry, and her journey with Jesus at www.thehallahans.blogspot.com

margin: the wasted space we desperately need

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“Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.”

That’s what a friend of mine here in Cambodia says when asked about how to not die while riding motorcycles in our little corner of Asia. And since he’s been riding and racing motorcycles since before I was born, I listen.

Going slow with no margin can be more dangerous than going fast with tons of margin. It’s true with motorcycles and it’s true with missions.

Your speed is not necessarily what determines your safety; your margin does. Margin takes into account all sorts of variables: How far can you see? How much space is between you and the next vehicle (or cow)? What are the road conditions? Is this even a road? How likely is it that the large pig strapped to the back of that bus in front of you will stay strapped to the back of that bus in front of you?

 

Margin & Missionaries
Some of us overseas folk like to move quickly, flying through life and ministry at the speed of FAST. Others prefer to plod, smelling the frangipani and lingering long.

And it’s easy to judge.

The plodders judge the quicksters; “Oh, they’re definitely going to crash. They need to slow down or they’re going to burn out.” And maybe that’s true. But maybe they’ve built in Rest and Sabbath and Margin and maybe they’ll be just fine.

The quickies judge the plodders; “Good grief! They don’t do anything! When are they going to actually get off their bahookies and get to work?!” And maybe that’s true. Maybe they are lazy. Or, maybe they’ve built in Rest and Sabbath and Margin and maybe they’ll still be around decades after the FAST people fizzle out.

I’ve often thought the plodders were inherently healthier, but I realize now that if they lack margin, their speed is irrelevant and their risk of crashing (burning out) remains high. Remember, it’s not about speed as much as it’s about margin.

So, whether your preferred speed is Warp or Waddle, we need to talk about margin. How much do you have?

How much relational margin?

Emotional margin?

Financial margin?

Margin is wasted space that we desperately need. It’s space that’s not accounted for and produces no obvious, easily quantifiable profit. However, margin is extremely important, creating a zone of safety, giving you time and space and emotional capital to react safely when something unexpected (on the road or in ministry) happens.

Often, we make margin a liability: “You’re not busy?! What in the world are you doing?! Think of all the needs!” I used to believe this was primarily an issue for those of us from the West; however, I’m realizing that this is very much an issue for many of our brothers and sisters from the East too. The truth is, we all need to devote some serious attention to how we deal with margin, because the costs of living margin-less are extremely high.

 

Airlines and the Bourgeois
Many of us absolutely hate the idea of waste. In fact, the title of this article might have been an extreme turn-off for you. I’m sorry about that. I feel ya, really. Here me out just a little bit longer, because with our strong aversion to wasted space, I believe we’re kind of like airlines.Reclining-Seats-1

Airlines can’t stand wasted space, and we all know what that feels like. Remember the last time you crossed an ocean in sardine class? It’s like living without margin: you can do it for a bit, but after a while, things start to hurt that aren’t supposed to hurt, and your mind begins to drift to thoughts of revolution and a bourgeois uprising against the folks sprawled out behind the curtain.

Margin, like leg room, seems unnecessary at first; but then you live without it for a while, things stiffen up, and you realize just how necessary that wasted space really is.

 

Wasting Trees and Asphalt
Do you have any idea how much paper we waste with margins? Neither do I, but I think it’s a lot. Think of all the trees we could save if our magazines and books and newsletters were printed from the very top of the page to the very bottom and the words bled out onto the edges.

People might lose their minds, but hey, at least we wouldn’t be wasting space!

Even my Kindle has a margin. Why is that? Would you read a book or a website that had words all the way to the edges of the screen? Probably not. You’d probably have some sort of visceral turn-that-thing-off reaction. I know I would. Would you live a life all the way to the edges, without margin? Many try.

Interstate_94_&_U.S._23_interchange

In the United States, the average interstate highway has 14ft (4.3m) of wasted pavement. You can’t drive on the shoulder. It’s just there, wasting space and asphalt. It’s road margin.

US interstates have enough wasted space to pave a road 14ft wide around the entire planet. Twice. That’s a lot of wasted pavement.

Many of us live in countries where the main roads aren’t even 14ft wide! So why do they do that? Why do they waste so much money on so much asphalt that’s not even part of the road? To save lives, I guess. Because road margin is a great idea.

 

Why We Need Wasted Space
I need wasted space. My family needs wasted space. My relationship with God needs wasted space. And I need to realize that, in reality, some of the best moments of my life happen in the wasted spaces.

The stuff I remember on my deathbed will probably be the stuff that happened in the margins: The dance I shared with my little girls in a hillside bungalow while the ocean extinguished the sun. The man-talk with my brother about deep stuff that happened in a tree house in a field, doing “nothing.” The unrushed joy of losing a game of Stratego to a small child. Sipping coffee with my soul-mate, pretending to be tourists in our own town, listening to each other’s hearts.

The moment shared with God, unhurried, among trees and grass and falling water. The silent listening.

The moment of sitting still, letting one Word or phrase from Him sink deep, and heal. And comfort. For me, those moments are Life, and they almost always happen in the margin.

 

When Margin Isn’t
Now, if you’re straight up lazy, this post is not for you. Don’t use this as an excuse to continue being lazy. A blank page doesn’t have a margin; it’s just a blank page.

Margin indicates activity, not the absence of it. And it’s not called rest if it’s all you do.The dowager countess, Lady Grantham, perfectly illustrates this with her pointed question:

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Sabbath only occurs after work. Sabbath is God’s margin. It’s God’s wasted space, if you will, that of course isn’t wasteful at all. It’s restorative. And protective. Are you keeping Sabbath? Why not? 

 

The Great Destroyer of Margin
What destroys your margin?

Distractions, that crowd out the voice of Jesus?

Smartphones, with all the apps you never knew you needed to stay tethered to the world you never knew existed?

News, that’ll keep you discouraged or angry or depressed every hour of the 24 hour news cycle?

Blogs, with never-ending comparisons and measurements and opinions?

Personal insecurity that won’t allow you to rest, for fear that you won’t accomplish something, and you not accomplishing something will cause others to judge you, and others judging you will actually make you less valuable? Or more vulnerable?

Take note of the destroyers.

For a season, I deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It was a great decision that allowed me to reset and rediscover some margin that I had pretty much lost.

What could you do today to reclaim some margin?

Rein in Netflix?

Learn to say “No.”

Banish the TV or internet from the bedroom?

See a counselor?

 

Conclusion
Margin is the wasted space we desperately need. So, spend some time in the margins.

Waste time with your friends, your spouse, your kids.
Waste time with your God, just being with Him.
No agenda. No checkbox.
Just love and relationship and coffee.

If you have a strong reaction to the idea of “wasting time,” ask yourself “Why?”
Remember, being busy all the time could be avoidance. Avoiding Sabbath could be idolatry.

Close the computer, delete the apps.
Dance with your daughter and remember:

Life is a breath,
Breathe deep and slow, and
Savor the moments in the margins.

The glorious unpressured time of not-work.
Remember, Jesus slept.

God remains on His throne, after all.
He was capable before you showed up, and
He’ll remain imminently capable after you’re gone.

So work hard and rest well.
And remember, wasting time just might be the most productive thing you ever do.

 ———————————————-

More Resources:
Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Dr. Richard Swenson

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spaghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God wants me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush

Shortly after Elijah won his showdown with the prophets of Baal, he ran in fear from Queen Jezebel, who had vowed to kill him within a day. Leaving his servant behind, he continued into the wilderness and sat under a broom bush, despondent.

I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (I Kings 19:4)

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A broom bush (retama) in Spain

What is a broom bush?

Sometimes called a retem or rothem tree, juniper tree, or broom tree, the broom bush is actually more of a shrub than a tree and is not related to the juniper evergreen. Though it can grow up to 10 feet tall, it does not have a trunk with branches but rather thin green stems, with small leaves that are quickly shed. The name of the bush gives us the name for brooms today, as its stems were often tied together for sweeping.

When it blooms, sweet-smelling pea-like flowers cover the broom bush. Retama raetam, common in the Middle East, is called the white broom because of the color of its flowers.

Job refers to the broom bush when he complains about the young men who mock him in his suffering. He considers their fathers lower than his sheepdogs. He says they are weak, hungry men who roam the parched countryside, forced to eat plants from the salt marshes and the roots of the broom bush, which are normally considered inedible. In fact, broom-bush roots are so unlikely as food that some think that Job is actually talking about broomrape, a parasitic herb that attaches itself to the roots of the broom bush and other plants. Others believe that the second half of Job 30:4, “and their food was the root of the broom bush,” should be translated “and their fuel was the root of the broom bush,” as in fuel for a fire.

Broom-bush wood is good for fuel. It burns very hot and is excellent for making charcoal, which in times past, Bedouins would use for trading in Egyptian markets. For the Psalmist, its red-hot coals make a fitting punishment for “deceitful lips”:

He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom bush. (Psalm 120:4)

Great for making charcoal and brooms. Bad for eating. So-so for shelter.

When Elijah collapsed in the shade of the broom bush, he wasn’t under a majestic tree, known for its tall stature or wide canopy of branches. And when he prayed, his words weren’t majestic either. He wanted to die and asked God to make it happen.

Instead, after he fell asleep, God sent a messenger, an angel who woke him with a touch and told him to eat and drink. Near his head was bread baking over hot coals (made from the bush he was under?) and a jar of water. After Elijah lay down again, the angel returned. “Get up and eat,” he said, “for the journey is too much for you” (I Kings 19:7). The journey turned out to take forty days and nights and ended at Mt. Horeb—also called Mt. Sinai and the mountain of God.

On Mt. Horeb, Elijah heard God’s voice, but under the broom bush, God communicated in a different way. God’s messenger gave him sacred gifts of food, water, and rest. Like the bush, the gifts were commonplace but sacred nonetheless.

Of course, it’s not an ordinary occurrence to be ministered to in person by an angel. But what the angel did for Elijah, we can do for each other. It doesn’t take a celestial being to prepare food and drink, to acknowledge life’s difficulties, to be present with few words—all to ready a servant of God for taking the path ahead and, ultimately, for hearing his gentle whisper.

As you serve God cross-culturally, have you ever been in the wilderness? Have you ever been lonely, depressed, afraid, exhausted from work and worry? Have you ever wished that you were dead? Have you ever believed that going forward was too much for you? Have you ever needed a broom bush? Do you need one now?

I’m still going to keep my eyes open for burning bushes. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss any. But I don’t want to miss the God-given favor of a broom bush either.

And as I continue on my journey, I’ll also watch for other travelers who are wearied by the past and concerned for the future. Because there will be those who need me to pass on holy commonplace blessings—the kind of blessings that happen under a simple bush in the desert.

(scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

[photos: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license; “046. Retama,” by Por los caminos de Málaga, used under a Creative Commons license]

Lost in Translation: 10 Foreign Language Fails

This lady. Yeah. I think we've all been there.
This lady. Yeah. I think we’ve all been there.

I’m Anisha, an American new (again) to living overseas. A year into life in Indonesia and the opportunities for making a fool of myself are endless. They are also endlessly hilarious if I let them be.

One of my favourite things to do is swap stories of culture and language blunders with fellow cross-cultural workers. Laughter is such good medicine and sometimes all it takes to lighten the load is a good laugh at ourselves. So I asked friends to share their funniest, most embarrassing moments with us and also included one of my own. Go ahead, laugh! I sure did.

Here goes…

In a small village in the mountains of Guatemala my American friend finally got up the courage to try to evangelise in Spanish. She was so pleased with herself when she said, “Sabes que Jesus murio en la Cruz para llevar tus pescado?” The group burst out laughing and when she asked her translator why, she was told, “You asked them if they knew Jesus died on the cross to take away their fish!” Turns out the word for fish ‘pescado’ is awfully close to the word for sin ‘pecado.’ A little boy in the group wanted to know why Jesus wanted to take away his fish.

When a Dutch friend served in Malawi, she tripped and fell into a ditch. Still getting to grips with English, when her male American colleague later asked if she was ok she responded, “Oh yes, really I’m fine. I just got a run in my pantie.” Only when she started to lift her long skirt to show him and saw his eyes wide with shock that she realised her mistake. She’d used the Dutch word ‘pantie’ instead of the full English word, “Oh! My pantie HOSE! My tights! So sorry! A run in my pantie HOSE!”

While learning the language in Tanzania my British friend kept confusing the local greeting word with the word for banana. Since Tanzanian greetings are long and require many repetitions of the greeting she soon became known as the Banana Lady.

My American friend serving in Cambodia wanted to compliment her house helper for a delicious lunch. Instead, all she managed to say was, “It was made of meat.”

Early in their time in Cambodia, the husband of said American friend went to the post office to pick up a package. The post office ladies, who are very chatty, asked what he does for a living. Trying to say that right now he was a student, he used the wrong vowel and instead it came out as, “Right now, I’m a horse.”

I live on the island of New Guinea where a 5th of the world’s languages are found. On our side of the island the trade language is Indonesian, but always wanting to try out new words in the tribal languages I was thrilled to learn the local greeting for women in my area. Seeing my friend, I smiled big and said, “Lauk!” She looked confused and the rest of our friends burst out laughing. I’d not given a breath between the ‘la’ and the ‘uk,’ and placed the emphasis on the wrong part of the word. I’d called my friend a vegetable.

My American team leader told me a hair salon story about an expat lady here in Indonesia who confused the word ‘rumput’ meaning grass with ‘rambut’ for hair and asked the stylist to just trim a little off her grass.

Along the same lines, a Dutch friend once told her Indonesian friend she’d eaten a delicious head ‘kepala’ at the beach instead of a delicious coconut ‘kalapa.’

Another Dutch friend told me a rather infamous language school story that frequently makes the rounds in our expat community. It goes like this… Smooshed in a taxi with the oppressive Indonesian heat beating down, an American man tells the passenger next to him that he’s hot and asks to open the window, at least that’s what he meant to say. Only our unfortunate language school student used the word ‘celana’ meaning pants instead of ‘gendela’ for window, resulting in him asking his fellow passenger, “I’m hot. Please open trousers.”

Our agency’s Swiss Director spent seven years in Albania. His wife, who is Albanian, says he learned the language pretty well. Albanian is a difficult language with 36 letter sounds. For example, the two different L’s. LL has a stronger sound than just L and changes word meanings. So the word ‘Djal’ means boy/son, but ‘Djall’ means devil. His wife laughs as she recalls how often he would remark to parents, “What a nice little devil you’ve got there!”

***

Oh the stories we could tell! Certainly living and working cross-culturally has it’s challenges, but there is also a good dose of hilarity, don’t you think? Now it’s your turn. What are your funniest, most embarrassing cross-cultural moments?

Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field

A life overseas - abuse

Today’s post has been submitted anonymously as a follow up to a piece published here, at A Life Overseas, in 2013.

Today we hear from the daughter of ‘Jessica’ that wrote that article in 2013.

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“Koman ou di?” – translation – “How do you say?” That is how it all started.

As an eleven-year-old little girl, new to the foreign country that was my new full-time home, I was desperate to learn the language.

I wanted to be able to understand and communicate. I wanted to make friends. Studies show children learn languages very quickly – and I did.

I learned how to speak from local friends in our village. We would sit outside my home day and night and go back and forth teaching each other our first languages.

I quickly adapted and learned the language. The running joke was, if you needed to know how to say slang or swear word, ask me. I learned from kids and other young adults so I had a lot of insider lingo and could understand things well, even if they were spoken in less formal ways.

I learned the culture and language, made friends, and generally loved my time spent down by the front gate, just a few hundred yards away from my parents.

My parents thought it was great! Their young daughter was adapting to the culture so quickly and picking up the language while making friends. This is good, is it not?

It started off great. Truly, it did. It began as a few girls who were the same age as me. They quickly become my first friends. Over a few months time more and more “friends” started showing up and hanging out with us at the gate.

It was still innocent at that point. A few boys who were also my age joined the group. My girlfriends knew them and had no issue with them. I saw no red flags. My friends trusted them, and I was an innocent, naïve 11- year – old girl.

As the weeks and months passed, my time hanging out down by the front gate went from during daylight hours, to mostly after sunset. When it was dark, no one could see me from my house, a short distance up the hill. While our house was close, it was also so very far away.

Not only did the time of day that we hung out change, but so did the friends. My girlfriends were back in school, or had to be home for one reason or another by dark. Before I had much time to realize it, a “boy” who was supposedly my age was the only person down there. I did not instantly realize this was an issue. I trusted him and had been with him in the group of friends. My parents knew who he was. When he said he was my age, I believed him. I thought I was safe from harm.

In reality, I was far from safe. Very, very far. Over the next 1.5 years, he sexually abused me.

Let me repeat myself: I thought he was safe. I believed I was with a friend, someone who was my age. I was wrong. My parents were wrong. We didn’t know. I later found out he was at least 19 years, possibly older. He was only in the 6th grade – which played into us believing he was my age.

Again, I was only 11. I was abused, and part of the reason I was is because we were too trusting and unaware of what was safe and what was not. Abuse happens, we all know that. Sometimes, it is out of our control. Sometimes a little awareness and preparation can reduce the risk greatly.

I am now an adult woman, I have done years of work and counseling to arrive at a healthy place in my life. I am unable to allow other girls to suffer from sexual abuse due to a lack of knowledge. Even more importantly, I want to write to parents today.

There are a few things that I think all parents need to know before moving their children overseas.

It doesn’t always look like what you think it looks like. In fact, it rarely does. As you read in my story, it was not a random person, who violently took me when I was out walking, or whatever the case may be. Many people have a very wrong idea of what abuse looks like. Very often it is someone you know and trust. It’s the driver, the gate guy, the person working in your yard, someone who is in your life often, if not daily.

Please be aware of who you let into your daily life. Your expectations of what is appropriate and theirs are most likely much different. (Refer to point three.) Sometimes when people go to the mission field, it feels bad or unloving to assume that the driver or gate guy is going to hurt your child. Here’s the thing, that guy may be a great person, he may never hurt your son or daughter.  Please here me say this: he very easily could. It could happen right under your nose. Your child doesn’t even have to leave the compound or house for abuse to occur. Please, please be on your guard, and while not assuming that the person is bad, assume that they could potentially hurt your child.

Most often abuse happens by people we know and trust. Do not leave your children alone with people you aren’t 110% certain won’t hurt them. Allowing your children to leave your physical presence (especially if they are alone) with a driver, or with a gate guy, a nanny, a housekeeper, or whomever it may be needs to be something that you have thought out very well. Know exactly whom your children are with at all times and be very cautious. It’s okay to not trust some people with your children. On the mission field, your kids always need to come before the ministry and worrying about friendliness toward staff or new friends.

All cultures vary in several ways from one another. What is normal and acceptable to you may very well be unheard of in the culture hosting you. Simple things like how we greet each other – some cultures shake hands, others kiss on the cheek. But those differences expand well past the small customs. It is generally unacceptable to sexually engage a young child in my passport country. In the country I moved to, it seems  that while no one necessarily thinks it is right, it happens very often and the perpetrator is protected with silence of many others that see what is happening. Where I grew up children are over sexualized from a very young age. While women may know it is wrong, they often times feel there is nothing that can be done about it. For example, an older man can openly pursue a sexual relationship with a young teenage girl. There is no consequence for these actions or behaviors. Please be aware as parents that things of that nature will not be reported to you or seen as unacceptable.

Sadly, both my parents and I have warned several newcomers about cultural differences and while they seem grateful for the warning, they don’t seem to follow through with a high level of vigilance once they move.

Please know that while this blog is written from the point of view of a girl who was abused by a man, it can just as easily happen to young boys. Boys and Girls alike can easily become victims of abuse due simply to a lack of cultural understanding.

Being aware and prepared is one of the greatest assets we have. As a victim of abuse, please receive my story from a place of love. I am hoping that it protects even one TCK from being abused.

Other helpful posts that touch on sexual abuse:

Child Abuse Prevention Week: Awareness to Action

4 Ways to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

Christians and the struggle to report child abuse

Thoughts and Advice for a First-time Expat

A few weeks ago, someone who is moving overseas contacted me. This is her first time living overseas, she is going into the unknown, and wants to be as prepared as possible.

Here is what I said to her:

Dear Lucy (name has been changed)

Wow – I’m excited for you and not a little envious! This is an amazing opportunity, and though I know based on your email that you are scared, I think you may find this is one of those gifts that is given to you and your family for this time of your life.

That being said, you asked for practical, not philosophical advice – so here goes:

  1. Learn the numbers as quickly as possible. You will find them everywhere and it will help you to tell time, understand the prices of items, and tell people how many children you have!
  2. Learn the currency and don’t translate it into US dollars. If you do, you will either spend too much money thinking “everything is so cheap,” or too little money and thus, not get the things you need.
  3. Take things that will immediately make your new space feel like home – a few pictures, candles, a couple of books. That way, even as you’re waiting for the rest of your household goods, you can begin to create a home.
  4. Recognize that your children’s grief is real, real, real. Allow them to be sad without putting caveats on the sadness (eg “I know you’re sad, but think how much fun travel will be…”) Travel may be fun, but it will not give them back their friends and schools. Allow them to grieve, and grieve with them.
  5. You are arriving in the summer, a time when expat communities dwindle, so it will probably take some time to connect with others. Still – limit the amount of time that your kids spend on social media, just as you would limit social media in your home country. You cannot, I repeat, you cannot live in two places at once. Believe me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. So limit the time they spend, and try to get out and explore.
  6. By the same token, don’t allow yourself to spend too much time on Skype, Facebook, or any other social media sites. It will be all you can do sometimes, to tear yourself away. But tear yourself away you must. This is not the end of your world, this is the beginning of a new world. Allow it to be just that.
  7. Don’t be afraid to initially be a tourist. If you don’t explore the area, you may come to the end of your time and find you’ve not seen the world-famous sites there are to see. Use those first weeks to create adventure and have your kids journal about it.
  8. Remember that your culture is just that – your culture. Others have different ways of doing things. They aren’t bad – they are just different. Learn cultural humility, a life skill you will never regret.
  9. News flash: Life wasn’t perfect in your home country. It will be easy to think it was when you are faced with the newness of life and culture shock in its monstrous intensity. But it wasn’t. There are relationship problems, infrastructure issues, and just plain life wherever we live.
  10. You take yourself and your family with you. You aren’t all going to change on the plane. Sure, this is a new start, but you are who you are. At the same time, you are also capable of change and being shaped by the country where you will make your home. Allow that shape to happen.
  11. Have a high tolerance of ambiguity and be capable of complexity. The country where you’re going is dismissed in the western world with a few stereotypical statements. Those are not the complete story. If you allow yourself, you will be able to understand a more complete, and thus richer version of the story.
  12. Give yourself grace. This move is huge! You won’t understand the impact until sometime later, so give yourself, your husband, and your kids grace.
  13. Laugh.Laugh.Laugh. Laughter is a holy gift that will take you through culture shock and culture conflict. It will take you through the hard days and you will be able to look back on them with much joy. So allow yourself the holy gift of laughter.
  14. Most of all, know that “He who began a good work in you, will be faithful to complete it!” God lives in other places. He is alive and well across the world, continuing his good work in the redemption story. You are a part of that Story and He is faithful.

I’ve included a picture here that I think you will enjoy! Print it out, and put it on your refrigerator so you remember these ten commandments.

Much love to you,

Marilyn

What would you add for Lucy? Please share in the comments and we will compile the comments for a new post!

Ten commandments for Expats

Women at the Well: A Poem

photo-1435783459217-ee7fe5414abe

When our past has cast a shadow

Even sunshine can’t dispel,

There is One who knows and loves us

Who will meet us at the well.

_

When our first love’s far behind us

And we’re shocked how far we fell,

Look how far He’s come to save us.

Look! He’s waiting at the well.

_

When we’re shackled with a secret,

Like a captive in a cell,

There is One who knows completely

And will free us at the well.

_

When we’re hurt by long rejection

Bitter looks and angry yells

We find pardon and acceptance

Offered freely at the well.

_

When we’ve drunk the living water

But we feel like empty shells,

We are overdue a visit

To the Healer at the well.

_

When we can’t afford perfection

But find grace a harder sell,

If we’re ready to accept it,

There is freedom at the well.

_

When we’re busy and exhausted,

Sit beside Him for a spell.

There’s an open invitation

Come and join Him at the well.

_

When we find such love and mercy,

It’s our joy to run and tell.

Come, and bring the others with you,

Come, be women at the well.

 

??????????After six years overseas, Krista Besselman has traded the perspective brought by a childhood of Pennsylvania winters for the belief that the highlands of Papua New Guinea get “cold.” She drinks hot tea and helps track the resources used for Bible translation. She writes Excel formulas by day and poetry by night, which are really just two different ways of trying to make sense of the world. Life in Papua New Guinea has taught her a deeper appreciation for grace, relationships, and high-speed internet.