Do You Need A Year Of Awesome In 2018? (A holiday-season rerun)

For this last post of 2017 here on A Life Overseas I thought I’d take a look back over my almost 40 posts here in the last five years and see if there was one that I felt nudged to re-vamp or rerun.

Why a rerun?

Well, the kids and I have been sick here in Vanuatu for almost 10 days now—some sort of vicious flu bug that just. won’t. quit. And I have had zero energy or desire to write… well, anything.

But there can be a silver lining to being this sort of sick—the kind that forces you to lay down and let go of all your plans (“Oh, you were launching a new book this week and had a to-do list with 72 things on it? Sorry about that, hey.”)

I’ll be honest. I loathe having to let go of my to-do lists and accept a season of being more than doing. However, once I do surrender to it, I often find it opens up space to think about life and work and love from a different angle, to sift and sort my priorities, and to notice things that aren’t obvious during busier seasons.

So here I am, embracing the rerun and a season of reflection and hoping it can help you take a little time, too–time to reflect on where you’ve been this year, what you’ve been learning, how you are changing, and what you think about those changes.

As I started to comb through my posts looking for one worth re-running, I remembered a piece I wrote on how being sick overseas makes me miss the promise and illusion of safety. I enjoyed the walk down memory lane (gosh, I really miss that house in Laos and Lao food) but it wasn’t really the one I felt prompted to point you towards.

Then I thought it might be this post on my search to understand what “home” means—an issue I know remains a perennial “thorn in the heart” for many third culture kids long into adulthood.

Nope.

It wasn’t this one, either—my most commented-upon-ever post, This I Used To Believe, on how living overseas has changed some of my core beliefs during this last decade.

Or this one, on when you second-guess your life.

Or even this one (which I think is probably be the best essay I’ve ever written): Good Will Come: How Living Overseas Has Changed My Views On Suffering. 

No. The post I felt drawn to point you back towards this month is this: Do You Need A Year Of Awesome?

I declared a “year of awesome” for our family a couple of years ago, after an extended season of  paddling hard just to keep our heads above water.

The concept was simple… I set us the challenge of finding something extraordinary to do each month for the entire year. Something fun. Something adventurous. Something delicious or out of the ordinary. Something magical.

Or, at least, something that had the potential to be magical. Points were awarded for trying.

Our family took this challenge on and it was good for us. It helped us play together, and relax, and enjoy each other. It helped us live into that which I long to believe–that the lovely, the fun, and the wondrous carry just as much power to shape our stories and our spirits as the hardships.

There are a lot of amazing resources on this site about the hardships that come with living overseas, managing stress, and understanding and coping with change. But, today, I want you to look towards 2018 feeling encouraged to stretch a little next year to experience some of the wonderful things where you are.

Because if you live overseas (particularly if you’re a missionary or an aid worker) you may almost feel like you shouldn’t do this sort of stuff. Or, at least, like you shouldn’t be seen to be doing too much of this sort of stuff. You know that the primary reason you’re in Vanuatu (or Egypt, or Mozambique, or wherever) is not to go camping with baby turtles and enjoy beautiful beaches. And if you do that and share the photos on facebook or your blog, you might feel a bit worried that people will get the wrong idea.

I don’t want to downplay that tension, but I do want to say this: Most people can handle nuance, particularly if you’re good at telling your stories. So practice trusting people. And practice telling your stories. All of your stories. Living overseas brings with it some unusual stressors. It also brings with it some unusual joys. So tell them about your work, and about the frustrations and other hard things that are happening. And tell them about the beautiful and the fun. Give them a chance to celebrate the good in life with you.

This will help them get to know you better. And it will help kill that destructive, still-pervasive, myth that being a missionary or an aid worker is all about sacrifice and struggle and pain, and if you’re not hurting on some level most of the time, you’re not doing it right.

So as we look towards 2018, do your part to kill that myth. And have a think about where you and your precious ones are at, and what you might need most next year.

Should you embrace a year of awesome with its mandate to find the extraordinary fun and adventure where you live? (Hello hot air balloon rides, zip-lining, and visiting a local bean to bar chocolate factory.)

Yes, this is my six year old, upside down, on a zipline. Some of our year of awesome activities have been… more terrifying than fun for my mama-heart.

Or should you aim for more Familiar-Family-Fun? If your family is already a bit overdosed on novelty and challenge, perhaps what you really need is less extraordinary fun than it is “ordinary fun”—“creative time” or “simple pleasures time” or family game and movie nights. What does your family enjoy doing together? What helps build strong bonds and positive memories?

Wherever you’re at, can I encourage you to plan to make something positive, fun, and enjoyable a part of your family life once a month next year? Because if you start thinking about it and planning for it now, it’s more likely to actually happen.

Thanks for sticking with me through this re-run. I hope wherever you’re at in the world you are feeling a deep sense of peace, joy, and gratitude. And that those feelings are spilling over in how you treat and talk to those closest to your heart and your days.

May it be a merry Christmas and a happy new year indeed,

Lisa

For Those in Authority, Let Us Pray

One summer when I was in college, I worked at a Salvation Army day camp. We kept the kids busy with lots of activities, lots of playing, lots of singing, lots of eating, and lots of Bible lessons. During one of the teaching times on the lawn, one of the campers, a boy of about 10, got up and walked away. I caught up to him down the block, and we sat down together on the curb. When I asked him what was wrong, he said he was tired of hearing the same stories over and over again. I told him I feel that way sometimes, too. But, I said, so much of following Jesus is not learning new things but being reminded of things we already know.

So here’s one of those reminders—if not for you, then certainly for me.

“I urge, then, first of all,” writes Paul of Tarsus, “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority.”

Now the readers at A Life Overseas cover a lot of territory, so “kings and all those in authority” is a wide-ranging group. But are we supposed to pray for all of them?

What about those who sell the power of their positions to the highest bidder?

What about those who deny basic freedoms within the borders of their country?

What about those who persecute, imprison, and kill those who choose to follow a religion outside the dictates of the state?

What about those who claim godship and demand worship from their people?

What about those who threaten, abuse, and murder the innocent?

What about those who lie and twist the truth for personal gain?

What about those who beat plough shares into swords and bang the drums of war?

What about those who amass wealth at the expense of their citizens?

What about those who brazenly live out and promote the immorality in their hearts?

What about those who target people groups for removal, slavery, or extinction?

What about those who abandon convictions for political convenience and self preservation?

All? Yes, for all, let us pray—for wisdom, for God’s will to be done through them, for salvation, for blessings, for mercy.

And let us pray with thanksgiving. For that we may need some creativity, yea, even inspiration. But we have on our side the one who teaches us to love even our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us, so that we may be children of our heavenly father.

When I was young, I would end my bedtime prayer by asking for blessings for my parents and sister, followed with “God bless the whole, whole world and everything on it.” That’s an easy way to cover all the bases without really covering any of them. But we as a group can pray for the whole, whole world because each of us can pray for a corner of the world. And we can pray for people by name, both the powerless and the powerful. What a footprint our prayers have because of all the names we know.

Again, nothing new here, just a reminder.

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:1-4, NIV)

For those in authority, let us pray.

[photo: “Crown,” by Sarah, used under a Creative Commons license]

Missionary Road Rage

By Anthony Sytsma

A couple months ago, to my wife’s dismay, I found myself rolling down the window of our vehicle and yelling at the driver of a taxi. It was during a traffic jam, and he had cut into my lane after passing vehicles on the shoulder and had then forced me into the opposite lane, in danger of oncoming traffic.

While driving here in East Africa, I sometimes struggle with road rage, and I’m sure I am not alone. For many of us, one of the hard things about living in another country is adapting to new driving conditions. For me that has meant learning to drive on the left side and learning how to dodge goats and crazy taxis. Such stresses can cause us much more road rage than we experience in our home countries.

For me, it is extremely rare for my road rage to turn into actually yelling at another driver. The more usual manifestations are anger, increased blood pressure, lots of honking, stress, and unfortunately sometimes being more snappy with others in my vehicle. Sometimes I feel guilty about this anger and sometimes I think it is right for me to be angry.

Today I’m going to discuss this issue of “righteous anger” and also talk about how I try to deal with my road rage problem. I warmly welcome comments and suggestions so that we can all help each other to manage our road rage in a healthy way.

First, let me explain what things actually make me angry while driving and what things don’t.

Inconvenient things that do not make me angry. They are just part of life in many foreign countries:

  • Potholes.
  • Dusty dirt roads.
  • Getting stuck in the mud during the rainy season.
  • Traffic jams in big cities.
  • Endless speed bumps.
  • Sharing one lane with other vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles, and people walking.
  • Police checkpoints. Police often like to ask, “How’s Obama?” or “How’s Trump?”  I had one policeman actually reach in the window and stroke my beard!
  • No public rest areas.
  • Construction that takes forever to be completed.
  • Strangers asking for rides.
  • Chaotic border crossings.

Things that make me angry, especially when I experience many of them at once:

  • People leaving animals untied so they run into the road.
  • No directions through a construction area, so you just have to find your own way through without getting flattened by a construction vehicle.
  • Politicians traveling in a convoy, speeding for no reason down the middle of a highway, and running people off the road on both sides.
  • Traffic lights being totally ignored. You just have to courageously find your own way through the intersection.
  • Motorcycle drivers driving wherever they can find space, even through tiny cracks between vehicles or going against traffic in the wrong lane to take shortcuts.
  • Taxis doing whatever they want. Drivers overfill their taxis with people, skip repairs, and speed, all because they pay bribes to the police. I especially get angry when I am trying to be very patient in a traffic jam, and I get continually passed by taxis on both sides because they are willing to run other vehicles (and people) off the road into shoulders and ditches. My road rage used to result in me putting my vehicle halfway into the shoulder during a traffic jam to prevent taxis from doing this. But it does not work and is only a good way for us to lose a mirror as the taxis keep passing anyway.
  • People disobeying the speeding laws. I force myself to go the required 30 kilometers per hour when driving through towns along the highway, and it is incredibly difficult when people fly by at 80 without a thought. But what makes me really depressed is when other Christians disobey the speeding laws without a care, while God’s Word tells us clearly to obey the laws of the countries we live in.

What do you notice about the two different lists? I realized that the things that make me angry concern corruption, people breaking the law, and people endangering the lives of others. In many of the countries we all live in, these things cause regular loss of life. To put it simply, I am angry at lawlessness and injustice. Am I alone in this anger? What about you?

 

Sinful Anger versus Righteous Anger

How should we think about this anger? The Bible makes clear that anger is sinful much of the time. This is for at least two reasons.

1. Sometimes our anger is sinful because of the reason we get angry.  We get angry because of our pride and our sense of entitlement. For example, I might experience road rage in a traffic jam, thinking my time is more important than everyone else’s. Being angry at the things in the first list would be a good indication that my anger is sinful anger.

2. Sometimes our anger leads us to other sins. Our anger can lead to violence, to verbal abuse, to impatience, to hate, etc.

But the Bible is also clear that not all anger is sinful. Ephesians 4:26 says – “In your anger, do not sin.” So we know that is possible to be angry, but then not sin in that anger. We see that God gets angry yet God does not sin. If God did not get angry at sin, he would be an unjust God. His anger is righteous anger. We can see God’s wrath, or Jesus’ anger in just about every book of the Bible. It is right to get angry at sin and injustice. In fact, one could argue that if we are apathetic, if we do not get angry when we see injustice, that we are sinning.

Here are some Bible passages that I resonate with concerning righteous anger:

Psalm 119:36 – Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

Psalm 119:53 – Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken your law.

See also Nehemiah 5:1-8, Mark 3:5, and 2 Peter 2:7-8.

 

Dealing with my Road Rage

Is my road rage sinful anger or is it righteous anger?  I think the answer is “yes” to both.  Sometimes it is righteous anger, and sometimes it is sinful anger, but it is usually a mixture of both. Sometimes I am truly angry at injustice, just as God is angry at injustice, and I want to use that passion, energy, and anger to try to make a change in the society.

However, most of the time my anger leads me to frustration, impatience, and bitterness. Sometimes it leads me to hate other drivers. Sometimes it leads me to say harsh words to others. I deeply regret those aspects of my road rage. I have been continually repenting of this sinful road rage and asking for God’s help. It is only God who can change my heart and help me to become more like Christ. But there are some steps I have taken which God has been using to help me with this problem.

Here is what I do:

First, when someone does something dangerous on the road, I honk my horn to alert them to it. Perhaps this does not accomplish that much, but I feel like it is one of the only small things I can do to try to make a difference in how others are driving. However, I have to be very careful not to use this as a way to shout my anger at another driver (for example honking repeatedly).

Second, I try to give my anger over to God each time road rage springs up in me. I think this is healthier than trying to bottle it up and healthier than giving free vent to my anger, which only makes it grow. I now pray each time it comes up and ask God to help me and take away my bitterness.

Third, when someone else on the road does something horribly obnoxious or dangerous, I consciously remind myself that God is the judge who will judge them, and I leave the judgment up to him. I try to remember my own sins and flaws in other areas of my life. I try to forgive those other drivers from my heart. And then, at the same time, I also ask God to bless that driver, to help him learn to drive more safely, and to take care of him. In a sense I feel like this is praying for my enemies. They are not my enemies in truth, but when I am full of road rage they can feel like an enemy!

Fourth, I try to periodically reflect on Bible passages about the problems of anger. For example: Proverbs 29:11 – “Fools give full vent to their rage, but the wise bring calm in the end.” And 1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

Fifth, I look for ways to use my anger for good in this world. I want my anger to drive me to positive action. So I regularly talk to people, especially Christians, about the importance of obeying the laws of the country we live in, and the importance of driving safely. I am sure I don’t always do this perfectly, and sometimes I probably come across as very critical, but I am trying to encourage my brothers and sisters to do the right thing. We should drive according to the laws and set good examples to others.

 

What other tips can you share that have helped you with your own road rage? 

Let us all continue to grow in love and patience, setting good examples both in the ways that we drive, and in how we handle our road rage.

 

Further resources:

Anger is a Calling

How can we be angry and not sin?

Anger Abroad

 

Anthony Sytsma works in Kenya and Uganda with World Renew, a Christian development organization affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRCNA).  He is passionate about equipping local churches, and his main work is to teach and encourage church leaders. He is married to Sara who works with farmers in agricultural development and other livelihood projects.

Am I supposed to love people I don’t even know?

As we prepared to go overseas as missionaries, people often asked us: “Why Taiwan?” It was a good question. Out of the whole wide world, how did we choose to serve in Taiwan?

These people may not have realized it when they asked, but as Christians—both missionaries and senders—we’ve built up a set of expectations surrounding missions. There are “correct” and “incorrect” missionary answers. I found that people often expected some variation of: “We have a great love for these people.”

After a few instances of feeling this pressure, I asked my husband with some exasperation, “How can I love people I don’t even know?” Before we arrived, the people of Taiwan were certainly real and known to God, but not to me. I found it impossible to fall in love with an abstraction.

It was after we had lived among the people, come to know their stories, and borne each other’s burdens and joys, that I began to love them. Love bloomed when they became tangible to me in the flesh.

God himself doesn’t love us abstractly. The Bible is not a record of God waxing poetic about his love for us, with lots of flowery words and plenty of distance (though his poetry is magnificent). He loves us out of personal knowledge and with sacrificial action.

His love began even before our lives did; he planned each of us and the number of our days before we existed. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He brought us forth into the outside world. He knows every hair on our heads. His creational love is personal and attentive to the smallest detail.

Nor did he love the world abstractly when he sent Jesus to us. The eternal Son of God, second person of the Trinity, was born as a baby boy into a specific culture and town in the ancient near east. He had a mother and a father, brothers, neighbors, a community. He spread his message by teaching and healing unique people. He began his Church with specific men whom he had come to know and love.

Then he died on a cross, a time- and culture-relevant form of execution. He bore the full weight of God’s wrath against sin as the cost of our salvation. God manifested his love by coming in weak and lowly flesh and dying an undignified death to rescue us.

We do not rescue like God does. We are only pointing others to the Rescuer who has saved us. But shouldn’t our love imitate our Lord’s?

I rejoice that God lays it on the hearts of missionaries to go to a certain place among a certain people, preparing us by giving us a passion for it. That’s an act of God. When we feel that pull toward our new people, we should thank God for giving it to us.

But if you’re like me, and you go expecting to love the people to whom you’re going, that’s enough. Love is more than interest or preference, and you don’t need to drum up a feeling of love that as of yet has no object. You prepare yourself to love your people overseas by loving your people around you right now; that is the real litmus test of what sort of love you will have on the mission field.

Love is costly, and we westerners sometimes throw the word around too loosely. In many cultures, love signifies something so deep, so permanent and “all-in,” that you don’t want to toy with it. To profess your love for a person or a people puts a level of commitment into your relationship that you may not understand from their point of view, or be willing or able to live up to. It’s not that we should avoid offering our love; rather, we should be ready to follow through with what we declare.

Some years have passed since we first set foot in Taiwan. What would I say now? Do I love the people of Taiwan? They bless me immensely. I treasure them. I am thrilled at what God is doing among them.

But it’s this student, this woman, this child that I love. It’s the specific people that I have sacrificed for, and who have sacrificed for me, with whom I have the privilege and honor of using that word to its fullest extent.

God has loved us with this personal, concrete love, demonstrated to the utmost in Christ’s incarnation. And I believe it’s this kind of love that has the chance to change the world.

The Challenge of Thankfulness

Blah. Blah. Blah. That was my gut reaction when I got this challenge recently.

Identify three things that you are thankful for and start every day focused on them.  See what happens.

In fairness to me — I come from a place where “thankfulness” has been sugar-coated, watered down, sucked dry and beaten to death.  A place where “count your blessings” is an overused, last-ditch, trump card response when we find ourselves paralyzed by another person’s pain.  Where once every November we go around the table and belch out slight variations on the same three platitudes.

“I’m thankful for family.”

“I’m thankful for friends.”

“I’m thankful for money.”

sidenote: we don’t come right out and say “money” but . . . 

So I’m a little jaded on the whole thankfulness exercise and quite frankly “challenges” seem to be spinning a bit out of control too . . .

Ice bucket challenges.

Extreme duct tape challenges.

Bathing in hot Cheetohs challenges.

For real.

People are bathing in hot Cheetos.

I don’t really need a challenge . . . but then two things happened.

One, I got even more jaded about the fact that I was jaded about something like thankfulness. Who gets jaded about thankfulness? What’s next?

Jaded about happiness?

Clean air?

Puppies?

Two, We had a really annoying financial month.

I’ll spare you the whiny, first world problem details but it is one of those “too much month at the end of the money” situations.  You’ve been there, right?

Irritating.

Frustrating.

Stressful.

It was a slippery slope.  One thought spawned another and it didn’t take me long to move from, “we need to be super careful this month” to “do I even make enough money?” to “is this all I’m worth?” to “I’m not getting younger” to “my kids will never go to college and they’re going to end up broke and living in cardboard boxes.”

My stress levels were through the roof and I was feeling strained thin.

Overwhelmed

Undervalued.

Discontent.

So I took the challenge but I was resolved not to make it fluffy. It took multiple days of hard digging to even get close. I waded through the masses of “things to be thankful for” and honestly, I felt stuck in a cliche . . . “I have SO much to be thankful for.”

Blah Blah Blah.

But really . . .  I do have SO much to be thankful for.

Picking three, however, is hard. Here’s where I landed:

 

ONE: I am thankful for the flavor of my family

I LOVE what makes my family absolutely unique. I love the adoption bit. The globe-trekking bit. The China bit. The curly hair. The introversion. The extroversion. The airports. The summers home. The family traditions. The quirks. The journey. The pitstops along the way . . .

This list doesn’t stop . . . ever . . . and it all blends to make something so rich and so good that I can’t hardly stand it.

I love the flavor of my family.

 

TWO: I love the width and depth of my friends.

Easy there . . . I’m not fat shaming.

I have good friends. All over the world. It’s ridiculous.

Friends that I can not see for years and instantly jump in where we left off. Friends that make me laugh until my ears hurt. Friends that I can philosophize and theologize with in such a way that we’ll both feel like we’ve figured out the worlds problems (if only we could get anyone else to listen). Friends that would walk with me through anything but would be the very first to smack me in the back of the head if I stepped out of line.

I love the width and depth of my friends.

And then I got stuck.

Couldn’t find my third one.

Maybe there are just two.

Until one day (in the middle of the hard money month) I was walking to work. My work walk is not typical.

9 kilometers.

Along the ocean.

Stunning.

Seriously. Who gets to do this?

Turns out that question was another slippery slope but it was a much, much better ride. My thoughts jumped from “I’m walking by the ocean” to “I’m going to a job that I love” to “I have EVERYTHING I could ever need” to “I have so much more than I could ever even want.”

I was embarassed of my whininess.

I was waylayed by flavor and width and depth.

And I found my third thankful.

 

THREE: I am thankful for the value of my finances.

It hit me (like a ton of bricks) that I am not in poverty. In my absolute worst financial month I can’t even see the poverty line.  My kids are going to eat and go to school and play with their friends and fight over what to watch on Netflix. Another payday was coming and we were going to make it but even if we couldn’t, we have layer after layer after layer of people who would instantly help us waiting just on the other side of my pride.

This is a hard month.

This is not poverty.

And then it hit me even harder. I am not a billionaire. In my best financial month, I can’t even imagine the billionaire line.

But show me a billionaire as rich as me.

My financial stress doesn’t even compare.  My family gets my attention. I GET to do my job and I love every minute of it. I GET to live cross-culturally and travel and meet people who look at the same thing I am looking at and see something completely different.

“Not fair” took on a whole new meaning and suddenly I felt empathy for everyone who wasn’t me. I’m not saying my money is worth more than a billionaire’s . . . but it kinda’ is.

Nothing had changed.

Different perspective.

So content.

I see the irony and the hypocrisy here.

Family

Friends

Money

Blah Blah Blah.

But it was worth it — to pause — and wrestle with a challenge without involving ice buckets . . . or duct tape . . . or Cheetohs.

Just the challenge of genuine, unfluffy thankfulness.

Tag. You’re it.

Third Culture Kids and Social Media

This summer, The Atlantic published a fascinating article called Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation? I encourage every parent, especially of tweens and teens, to read it and discuss it with your children.

I read the article with a particular mindset, that of a parent raising teenagers who also are Third Culture Kids. I wondered, how do these ideas apply to my own children? Keeping in touch is powerfully different for a suburban teen chatting with her friends from school than for a teen in Beirut chatting with her friends in Turkey or in Minnesota.

So how do TCKs, specifically, use social media? Both positively and negatively? How can we help our TCKs navigate this fraught world with wisdom and grace? I did a little unscientific survey and asked some TCKs for their perspectives.


Me Too. “Through our discovered solidarity, I’ve been able to let out a huge sigh of relief and say “…me too.” There is something profoundly powerful about knowing that you’re not alone in your existence. Thanks, Instagram.” Danai Mush (from an article for Hello Giggles called Third Culture Kids in an Age of Instagram)

Helps us educate people about the world. “Friends in our host country and our passport country can see life in the other place. We use social media to broaden people’s minds. To show a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Nairobi, Kenya. Or a plate of Ethiopian injera in Minneapolis, Minnesota.”

“Social media helps us broaden our (own) minds about the world.” (I love this comment because it comes from a teenager who has lived in five states and two countries and who has traveled to several other countries. She still wants to broaden her mind.)

Connection. This is the big one, isn’t it? One example is how two sisters use Google Hangout to have a Bible study with friends in Lebanon and in Colorado (while they lived in Minnesota). “Even though it takes a while to plan each time we meet to time differences and scheduling issues, we still have a blast when we meet.”

Prevents, or slows, engagement in the new location. Katha von Dessien wrote a 2-post series about nostalgia and the computer and TCKs, for Communicating Across Boundaries.

Skype calls, Instagram reminiscing, etc, can sometimes increase loneliness and longing, rather than soothe it, once the connection is cut.


TCKs struggle with the same temptations of gossip, bullying, addiction, and isolation from real life interactions that everyone faces with social media. But at the same time, they have unique needs that can be creatively met through these same networks. So how do we help our kids maintain a healthy balance?

It starts with having a healthy balance ourselves. We hand-wringing adults also walk around with our noses in our phones. We pull out our phones immediately after a movie, we wonder who is messaging us while we fly. We have to model putting the phone away and focusing on the person in front of us. No phones at meal times, no phones in bedrooms, time limits…

Cultivate an appreciation for the arts and nature. Sure, an Instagram photo can be lovely, but when you look at a photo of Victoria Falls, you don’t feel water splash your face. When you share a photo of a concert, you aren’t sharing the crush of people, the way your skin vibrated in beat, the way your shoes stuck to the goopy floor. So parents, take your kids out to the beach and the library and the museum. Not to post about it but to experience it.

Get physical. Move. Wrestle. Play football or cricket. Bake cookies. Have a dance party. Use your hands to do something other than text. University campuses are experiencing extremely low attendance at sports events or theater performances. Where are the students? In bed, on social media. So model activity and engagement while your TCKs are young.

Use social media not just to connect with friends from the previous country but to find new friends, in your new location. Use it to build a real, in-life community.

Cheer for power cuts. I’m thankful for how my kids barely blink when the power cuts. There is no freaking out that they can’t finish binge-watching a show or that they can’t immediately post a photo or snapchat message. It is good for kids to be happy with internet and without it.

Do you think TCKs have a unique need for, or way to engage with, social media? What has been your personal experience, for better and worse? Either as a parent or as a TCK?

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For Those Who Wait {Which is all of us!}

Today I’m excited to talk with Tanya Marlow author of Those Who Wait: Finding God In Disappointment, Doubt, And Delay. Years ago Tanya asked me to guest post for her God and Suffering series. (That series, by the way, is a gold mine.) Over the years, Tanya and I have become friends, real friends. We’ve never met in person, but you can see why I’m drawn to Tanya, she doesn’t dodge the questions many wonder about. Read to the end for a surprise. Without further ado, my conversation with Tanya.

Tell us a bit about your background. What did you dream your life would be like?

I was a typical good-Christian-girl, wanting to live my life for God and serve God in full-time Christian ministry. As a kid, I thought my calling was in cross-cultural work overseas. (This may have been because it was viewed as the ‘highest calling’ in Christian circles, with maximum holiness points. Although my motives were relatively pure in wanting to serve God, they may have been tinged with little compassion-competitiveness….!)

I didn’t end up overseas, but by my twenties, I was happy. I was living my dream of working fulltime as a Christian minister, lecturing in Biblical Theology, happily married to someone also in Christian ministry.

Then chronic illness struck me, and my life was turned upside down.

How has the whole issue of waiting featured in your life?

In 2010, I gained a baby and a disability. I have Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), an autoimmune condition which affects every cell in my body, like a giant faulty battery. Before, I was active and fit – now I can barely walk around the house, and need to lie in bed 21 hours a day. Before, I was seeing people all the time, speaking and pastoring: now my ministry has morphed into the few words I can tap out from my bed in a week.

There’s no real treatment for ME, and the illness is underfunded and under-researched. There’s a very slim possibility of full recovery, and I could deteriorate further, like so many other bedbound ME patients.

A new Oscar-tipped documentary, Unrest, tells the story of what it’s like to live with ME. Your life becomes an eternal semi-colon, stuck on pause while the world continues around you.

I wait for improvement, I wait for deterioration. I’m stuck in the middle, living in uncertainty.

For seven years, I have grieved my old life. Often I have felt laid aside and rejected, and I’ve railed at God for my new prison.

It’s been hard – excruciatingly hard at times – but I’ve discovered something of God’s hidden kindness in barren places.

Why do you think the issue of waiting is particularly pertinent for people living overseas?

Although I never quite made it to overseas work (and ended up marrying a Church of England vicar in my native Britain), I still have the most respect for those in that sector, and have long been an enthusiastic supporter of those called to serve abroad.

To be in cross-cultural work is to be in-between, always. A life overseas is a continuous state of waiting:

  • to feel settled,
  • to return home,
  • to be able to understand the language instead of feeling stupid,
  • to stop crying at night from homesickness,
  • to feel like an intelligent person again who has something to offer society,
  • for the kids to be happy,
  • for fruit to show
  • for letters and emails to arrive
  • for the money to come through
  • for a home and place to belong.

Waiting is hard. To be in a liminal, in-between state for a short time is discomfiting and exhausting. To be in a season of waiting for decades can be soul-crushing.

Because Those Who Wait is honest about the reality and discomfort of waiting, I hope it can be a source of encouragement for those who feel exhausted with living in an in-between state.

Why choose the four heroes that you did? Why not others? What drew you to these four?

I was drawn to the liturgical season of Advent, particularly the lightning of the Advent candles.

The first candle stands for the Patriachs. I chose a ‘matriarch’, Sarah. Through her story, we deal with disappointment and bitterness, waiting for joy and fulfilled promises.

The second candle represents the Prophets, so I chose Isaiah. We rarely think of him as a person, rather than just a prophetic mouthpiece. I wanted to explore the personal cost of his truth-telling, and through that how we with delay and frustration as we wait for justice and peace in our land.

John the Baptist is the next candle. Through his story, we explore our struggle with doubt as we wait to live out our life’s calling.

And Mary, mother of Jesus’ story is the story of all humanity – dealing with disgrace and isolation as we wait for Jesus’ coming.

Advent is a season that celebrates and marks the discomfort of waiting, as we consider how the saints waited for Jesus’ appearance, and how we long for this world to be restored at Jesus’ second coming.

Advent gives us permission to name our deepest longings, and lament that this world is not as it should be. Those Who Wait can be read at any point, but the Advent season really speaks to our waiting journey, and the book is structured in 24 short chapters. Many readers of Those Who Wait are saving their books to savour through Advent.

I wanted to explore these issues through story, like an engaging novel, because it’s through re-entering the story God can speak to our souls in new ways. It’s always good to remember that our revered Christian heroes are actually human – and the Bible is more honest than we are about the struggle of waiting.

Which section did you enjoy writing most?

Like your own children, you’re not supposed to have favourite characters. (But mine’s John the Baptist.)

In any other period of history he would have been revered as THE prophet of God – but he was overshadowed by his cousin, then waited for years in prison before his traumatic death at the hands of Herod.

Where was God in his waiting and suffering? This is the question that drove me. What really surprised me was the kindness of God to John – and to us. Through writing Those Who Wait, I discovered that God is in the waiting with us, groaning with us, being merciful in unexpected ways, if we can only pause to spot it.

What is your hope for this book?

My hope is that churches, organisations and small groups can meet around this book (there are reflective exercises, group questions and even six Bible studies), and that through the journey they will be able to work through their own discomfort, disappointment or doubt that accompany seasons of waiting.

For people long-jaded by the same old sermons and Bible stories, I hope it will reignite a passion for the honesty and dynamism of the Bible..

Most of all, I pray that readers will encounter God in these pages and find it transformational. May it bring perspective, purpose and empathy for weary hearts, and may God always meet us in the waiting place. This is my prayer.

Tanya, thanks for sharing a bit of your journey as an author and Christian with us.

What are you waiting for? Which of the four Biblical heroes can you relate to now? Leave a comment and you might win a copy of Tanya’s book. Winners will be notified by Sunday.

Managing Stress Overseas

Moving overseas, I thought trusting Jesus and obeying what he asked me to do would get me through thick and thin. I’d been through some major tough stressy stuff in my pre-overseas life, and leaning hard into my bible study and prayer led me through. So I should be good, right?

I’d like to give an uber spiritual Yes! Just trust Jesus!, but I can’t. Sorry about that.

The problem was I hadn’t expected smaller pockets of stress and grief building on one another. I’d never been home sick, and unable to communicate well with people around me, and friendless, and struggling in my marriage, and battling armies of ants in my kitchen, and home schooling an unwilling child, and unable to find basic groceries, and dealing with unwanted visitors, and intestinal acrobatics, and…and… and… all on a daily basis.

After years of stress upon stress with no real understanding of how to handle any of it, I knew either something must change or I would burn out. I could not sustain the life I lived.

Recognizing and addressing the compounding nature of stress takes a lot of practice. And unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a magic formula either. However, we have found helpful ways to address stress when it rises and also some routines to help protect ourselves from overdoing it in the first place.

The list shared below is what works for my family right now. It doesn’t mean we’re immune to the effects of stress, just that we have a plan to deal with it. Also, each person in my family experiences and deals with stress differently, no doubt you will too. So we do some things together as a family, but we also pick and choose what works for us as individuals. Ok, ready for the list? Here it goes…

Get more sleep.
Pre-overseas, 6-7hours was a great night sleep. It took a long time for us to realize we could no longer function on that amount of sleep. If I’m to function well I need 8-9hours of sleep each night. To get those extra hours, I actually have to be in bed by 9pm. At first it was really hard to lose my alone time evening hours, but the payoff for sleeping longer is well worth it.

Practice thankfulness.
Every evening we each write down at least one thing that happened during the day that we are thankful for and collect these notes in a jar. On the really crummy days, thankfulness is so hard. We have written things like, “I’m thankful I didn’t yell at anyone today.” and “I’m thankful I cried instead of eating all the chocolate.”

Every Sunday evening we dump out all the notes and read them together as a family. These notes are precious reminders that even when things are looking bleak, God is steadily and tenderly caring for us.

Name it.
Saying, “I’m very tired.” or “I feel sad right now.” or “I feel very angry.” may seem basic, but it gives a lot of freedom to actually deal with emotions instead of snapping at each other.

Have a physical outlet.
We have a punching bag, balance ball, pull up bar, jump rope, and resistance bands all out and available in our living room. Sometimes all you need is to give a sturdy bag few good hard punches and you’re on the road to feeling better. We also do gardening, jog, ride bikes, walk – anything to give our bodies a physical outlet for stress.

Protect your hobbies.
I love painting, drawing, and playing piano. My husband plays guitar and drums, and enjoys video editing. But when we moved overseas, creativity ceased. For 3 years I didn’t draw or paint, he rarely had time to create videos, and only very occasionally would we play music together. These extra activities were simply lost in the chaos of our new lives. We considered them hobbies and although enjoyable, thought hobbies are expendable.

This time around, we’ve smartened up. Although engaging in creative hobbies does take time, they are also life giving. So we commit to play music together every Sunday and to make space in our week for creativity. Hobbies are not expendable.

Get regular pastoral care.
One of the big things we miss living overseas is having access to pastoral care. In difficult times we ached for someone to sit with us, pray with us, and point our eyes to Jesus. Setting up skype calls isn’t the same thing as sitting together, but does bridge the gap. Having someone from the outside who you give freedom to speak into your life is a tremendous help.

***

There you have it, my family’s self-care list.  These are the routines that work now for us. We may need to reassess in the future and that’s ok. How about you? What routines have you found helpful in managing stress?


Why do missionaries leave the field? Help us find out!

by Andrea Sears

Craig Thompson published a very informative article here at A Life Overseas in July about studies that have attempted to discover the primary reasons that missionaries return to their home countries.

What really struck me in that article was that:

  1. The research is dated, as much has changed on the mission field in 20 years;
  2. The definitions of missionary turnover have been convoluted, leading to cases being included that shouldn’t have been and vice versa; and
  3. Working through mission agencies to get data, rather than asking the missionaries directly, leaves room for a host of problems that affect the data.

While mission agency data is a convenient source of already-compiled information, it’s also subject to error and/or misinterpretation at several points. First, thoughts and feelings must be transferred from the returning missionary to a file at the agency. Then it must be collected and passed on to a researcher, who must “translate” this data to a standard set of factors to be used for the study. Things can be left out that might be relevant, simply because different agencies have different debriefing procedures and questions, and some do a better job than others with this process.

And finally, agency data can lack important pieces of the story because the missionaries may not have given full disclosure to their agency about all the reasons for their return, for many possible reasons. We’ve all probably known returning missionaries that have a “politically correct” reason that is given to the mission agency and donors, and another set of “behind-the-scenes” reasons that not everyone hears about.

 

Why this project?

Given the above background, it seems that we need (1) some new research, (2) based on the right population, (3) with a consistent set of questions and categories, and (4) addressed directly to a broad base of returned missionaries without having to filter responses through their agency.

Well, I just happen to be in an academic setting this year with people who need research ideas, while my husband and I serve as the Missionaries-in-Residence at John Brown University for our furlough. And this topic has been an interest of mine for some time.

Like any missionary on the field for any length of time (my family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years), I’ve seen my share of fellow missionaries come and go, and for a plethora of reasons. This has prompted some reflection about the keys to longevity on the mission field. As the U.S. church seems to move toward a short-term team model and away from long-term missions, this question is more relevant than ever. If fewer young people are willing to consider long-term missions, it becomes extremely important to figure out how to keep those long-term missionaries healthy and productive on the field as long as we can.

Missions is an amazing and complex endeavor. It’s both incredibly hard and incredibly rewarding, both gut-wrenching and fulfilling at varying times, or even at the same time. The factors that bring us to a sense of “calling” and the factors that end that season are complex, personal, and not easy to unravel. I want to try anyway. If it helps us to figure some things out, it’ll be so worth it.

 

What can you do?

We’ve developed an online survey with the supervision of JBU faculty and a student research assistant. This is where you come in. If you are a missionary who has returned home, please take 15 minutes to complete the survey (linked here and below).

A missionary who has returned home is defined as a person who has done missions work for longer than a short-term team engagement, and has returned “permanently” to their passport country (i.e., not on furlough or medical leave, for example).

Important things to remember about this survey:

  • While we never know if something is permanent and we could conceivably be called back to the field, go ahead and fill out the survey if you do not currently have plans in motion to go back overseas.
  • DO NOT fill out the survey if you changed mission agencies or host countries, but remained on the mission field.
  • DO fill out the survey if you still work with your mission agency, but are now placed in a role in your passport country.

Please be totally honest. It’s an anonymous survey and results will not be published by agency. There is a blank for entering your mission agency, but only to make sure that the responses are not heavily weighted for one agency only (and therefore potentially biased based on one organization’s policies or practices). Our hope is to include participants from a broad range of mission agencies and faith backgrounds, and seeing varied responses in that field will help us to make sure we are doing that.

If you are still on the field, please forward the survey to those returned missionaries that you know. I know it takes a few minutes to think about who you should send it on to, but getting a good sample is critical to being able to interpret and apply the results to a broad population. It doesn’t matter where they served, how much time has passed since they returned to their home country, what led them to return or what type of missions work they did. The more people participate, the more valid the results, and the more useful (and credible) the findings.

The survey will only be open until December 6th, so please participate and encourage others to do so promptly.

Again, here is the link to the survey.

 

How will the results be used?

Access to better information about what missionaries experience on the field will help to improve their preparation, their experiences on the mission field, and the care they receive through the hard stuff. Your participation (or forwarding to others who can participate) will provide valuable insight that can be shared with mission agencies and the general missions community about where we can direct our efforts to better support missionaries.

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Andrea Sears is co-founder of the ministry giveDIGNITY, which works in the marginalized community of La Carpio in San Jose, Costa Rica. The ministry focuses on Christ-centered community development initiatives in education, vocation, and violence prevention. Her family has been in Costa Rica for 8 years, and is serving as the Missionaries in Residence at John Brown University during the 2017-2018 year while on furlough.

A Salute to Faithfulness


My father died two weeks ago. It was not a tragic death, except as all death in our broken world can feel tragic; his life was rich and full, lived across oceans and continents. He was a veteran missionary and pastor who loved God, his family, the Church, and people in general.

As I think about our community at A Life Overseas, the often mundane tasks that we are called to, the never-ending support raising, the time it takes to do simple things, the lows and discouragement that can pierce the heart and make us feel like Elijah, I think about my dad’s life. Because for 35 years, he did all those things and more. His was the life of a faithful servant.

If he were sitting with any one of you today, he would encourage you – because that was who he was. He would listen to your tears, he would tell you to keep on fighting for what is good and true and real; he would tell you stories of times in his life where he was deeply discouraged and where friends walked by his side through the discouragement. The he would smile his famous smile and ask you if you had any ice cream.

I said this at my dad’s funeral and I share it today as an offering and salute to faithfulness and showing up.


When I was 9 years old Lizzie Hover’s dad, Peter, died. He died in a head-on collision on a dusty desert road in the Sindh area of Pakistan. The night before he died, he had been at my parents home with his lovely wife Carol. They had talked, laughed, and discussed furlough plans as both were heading to a home leave in their passport countries in the summer. Just after midnight the following day they received the tragic news of Peter’s death.

I heard the news along with twenty other little girls in a boarding school dormitory. The collective trauma was immense. If Lizzie Hover’s daddy could die, that meant our daddies could die. Suddenly we were no longer safe from death, we were vulnerable, our jugular veins exposed.

Ever since I can remember my father has been there for me. As the only girl in a house full of boys, I enjoyed a special place in his heart. Somehow I knew this without even being told. Knowing myself and my “Princess” tendencies, it would have been a travesty to have to share that princess status with anyone else. My father was this strong force against a world that could change in an instant, in an instant like the one that took Lizzy Hover’s father.

They say that your earliest connections with your father affect your view of God. As a little girl I guess I thought God had a huge smile, knew everyone’s name, talked to everybody after church, loved a good curry, and told jokes, laughing so hard that you sometimes missed the punch line. More than that, I viewed God as completely trustworthy, he too was a strong force against a fickle world that could change in an instant.

Early memories make me smile. Dad holding me by the ocean, letting the waves come onto my good leg while I perched my broken leg on his lap; driving along treacherous roads in the Kaghan Valley and other long trips in our trusty brown Landrover across Pakistan; camping in the apple orchard at Bach Hospital; my mom and dad meeting us at the train station after boarding school – us a bit shy from being so long away from them, my dad with his bear hug so excited to see us; Dad taking me to a famous restaurant in Massachusetts, eating a delicious dinner as he tried so hard to find ways to communicate with me, a stone-faced teenager. And then later when my dad walked me down the aisle to say vows that he had already learned are impossible to keep without God.

My dad is one of those people who will never have a building named after him, nor a book written about him. But he has done something so much greater. My dad changed the world by showing up.

Early in life he showed up to villages and towns in Pakistan; to the grueling work of Bible translation; to the important job of consistent parenting. Later in life he showed up to graduations and weddings; to preaching at small New England churches; to visiting his children and grand children all over the world. His love for the world and his smile from the heart was like the warmth of the sun, radiating to all he met.

And every single day of his life he showed up as a husband, a father, and a Christ-follower. The prayers he sent up daily on our behalf are uncountable.

The last conversation I had with my dad he said this to me “It’s a strange thing, this going from death to life, you don’t know when the Lord will take you.” I said to him “Dad you taught us how to live well. Now you’re teaching us how to die well.”

I learned from my dad that the world is not just turned upside down by huge victorious acts. We change the world by showing up. My dad always showed up.

O blessed are the patient meek

Who quietly suffer wrong;

How glorious are the foolish weak

By God made greatly strong;

So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,

And turn the whole world upside down.

by Hannah Hurnardt

My dad turned the world upside down. 

Ask a Counselor: no child soldiers, no child sacrifice

Jesus talked quite a bit about the Kingdom of Heaven and its King.

Jesus told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like:

  • Seeds, broadcast into a field
  • Yeast in a loaf of bread
  • A treasure, hidden in a field
  • A pearl of great price
  • A net full of fish.  (Matthew 13)

Jesus told us that the King of this Kingdom is like:

  • A shepherd, leaving the 99 sheep to search for the one sheep that’s lost
  • A woman, sweeping the corners of her house in search of a lost coin
  • A father, watching and waiting for his lost son to return home.  (Luke 15)

Here’s what Jesus NEVER said:  the Kingdom of Heaven is a military industrial complex, an imperialist power waging war on its enemies, churning out child soldiers to sacrifice in the name of God.

I don’t often talk theology in this space, as most of the time I think your theology is your business.  But recently, a prominent Christian leader pushed me into the theology-meddling I’m about to do, when he published a blog that began this way:

Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world? Short answer: Yes.

Why? Because the cause is worth the risk, and the children are more likely to become Christ-exalting, comfort-renouncing, misery-lessening exiles and sojourners in this way than by being protected from risk in the safety of this world.

The article tells us that our children are to be “trained as soldiers” by providing them “training in self-denial and risk” as they watch mommy and daddy sweating under mosquito nets, and winds it all up by assuring us that when it comes to our kids, “there are things vastly worse than death.”

Now.  The person who wrote this article is the pastor of a megachurch in America.  So while he’s willing to literally sacrifice YOUR child’s life, he didn’t do it himself.  This, for me, is reason enough to blow the blog off as a piece of epic hypocrisy and move on with life.

However, the nationalistic, militaristic, child-soldier-sacrifice metaphors he employs are a long-standing, shameful part of the dark side of missionary life, and must be confronted whenever they rise, shambling like zombies, from their unhallowed ground once again.

We all know what the world of missions has done to children in the past, using the exact logic of this pernicious post.

Once you decide that children are disposable assets for the Kingdom, you’re on the way to all the child abuse done in the name of God at schools of horror like Mamou in West Africa—to name just one extreme example.

Many who weren’t abused in boarding school still know what it feels like to matter less than “the ministry,” to have their needs subjugated to “the work of the Lord,” to know that everybody else is welcomed eagerly in the Kingdom, invited and celebrated and appreciated, while they have to just keep banging on the door until somebody listens and lets them in.  I actually found this article shared in an online group of individuals who were processing the pain of being raised exactly as described.  It didn’t turn them into good little Christian soldiers.  In fact, it’s made them question the whole racket.

Here’s a newsflash for you, Mr. Prominent Church Leader:

Children are not objects to be used to advance some religious project somewhere.

Children are not less-important life forms, to be prioritized somewhere below The Saving of The Whole World.

Children, including the children of missionaries, are of equal value and worth to anyone else in the world, and must be treated with the absolute respect accorded every person who bears the Imago Dei.

Anything less is a slap in the face of God.  Here’s what Jesus had to say about children in the Kingdom:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.  And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!

Matthew 18:1-7

A person who does not care for their own child is “worse than an infidel,” the Scripture says. (I Timothy 5:8)  “Caring for our own children” should not look like we’re traumatizing, ignoring, neglecting, or abusing them, with attempts to rationalize these behaviors as “the discipline of the Lord.” 

Anyone who says such things has fallen into millstone territory, I’m afraid.

While working on this article, I listened to The Liturgists podcast on Spiritual Trauma. I was not expecting to connect that podcast episode to this article at all.

But starting around 27:50, they begin exploring this question:

“What’s the difference [between a highly controlling religious environment] and a cult?”

One of the presenters makes this statement:  “In my past research, one of the big indicators of a cult versus just a fundamentalist religious sect will be the demotion of the family unit in a sort of Orwellian way to attempt to weaken or loosen the bonds of family to strengthen adherence to the faith community.”

They go on to discuss how an unhealthy, abusive “God” would make demands that would override a child’s pain.  “The strictures of the community get prioritized over the voice, the needs, the reality of that person, even in your own family system.”

And wow.  That’s exactly what this prominent leader is telling parents to do: ignore your child’s pain, because he says that there are more important things than your child’s voice, needs, and reality.

We have to acknowledge those cultic elements of missionary culture of the past, in which children were sacrificed to the “strictures of the community”—and then to recognize the times that these ungodly ideas continue to be espoused today, even by very influential faith leaders.

We have to see the lies, know the reality, and do better for our families today.

We are not called to deliberately–or carelessly–traumatize our children for God’s sake.  

When traumatic events occur, we should be the first ones at our child’s side bringing care, concern, and healing.

So.  If someone were to ask me the question, here’s how I would answer.

Should a Christian couple take their children into danger as part of their mission to take the gospel to the unreached peoples of the world?

Please don’t take your children into active danger, thinking that this will somehow make you a better kind of Christian than those softies back in your passport country and guarantee that your children will become perfect little soldiers for The Cause.

However, if the situation is reasonable, and if it’s a good fit for everyone in the family, go ahead, if that’s what you want to do.

Why?

Because the world needs Love.  Go and share it.

But: we don’t throw anyone under the bus. 

God’s work will be done in God’s time, and that work will be done in God’s way: 

with care and respect for everyone involved.

We have nothing to prove, no one to defeat or destroy in battle. 

We are not a military-industrial complex. 

We are Branches of the Vine.

A Body, fit together in Love.

When one part suffers, every part suffers.

We love and care for every part.

We honestly assess how things are going for our family—all the members of our family. 

We prioritize the needs of our family above the needs of any organization, church, ministry, religious system, or prominent leader.

And we care for our children as though they are the most precious gifts ever given to us. 

Because they are.

Resources

Jesus, The Gentle Parent, LR Knost

Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, Levine and Kline

The Liturgists podcast, episode on Spiritual Trauma

photo credit

To the Returning Missionary

You have walked with God in this place a long time, and He has walked with you. He has been beside you and inside you this whole time. The same Spirit remains in you and with you in your new place.

This place has changed you, and you have changed this place. Do not be distressed if you don’t understand everything that has happened and that is happening. Remember that the stories God writes are always long. They unfold over generations, not days or weeks or even months.

You have been here long enough to understand some of what God is writing, for both yourself and the people you’ve served, but some things may not make sense yet. Do not fret, and do not fear. The Father will show it all to you One Day. Until That Day, remember that you leave with our love, even as you live within God’s love.

Many years ago you came to this place as a foreigner, and the place you’re going now may also seem foreign to you. Everyone and everything has changed, including you.

So in the days and months and years to come, when you feel misunderstood, remember that no one understands your foreignness like Jesus, the One who came to the most foreign land to show his beloved creatures Truth and Light. He will understand your sorrows like no other.

You have seen so much change in your years here. Change in the people around you, change in yourself, change in the people you’re returning to. And you are tired. So tired. No one can work and live as long as you have and not be tired. Remember that Christ is your rest. (And on your journey, also remember to sleep.)

Circumstances change, and communities change, and in the end, He is all we have to hold onto. So don’t lose hope: He IS our hope. Hold onto Him, and remember that His love never fails. It will never fail you.

Though organizations may fail you, though supporters may fail you, though cultural acquisition may fail you, though years of experience may fail you, though people you love and invested in may fail you, though you may even feel you’ve failed yourself, still one thing will not fail you: the love of the Great Three in One will never fail.

And One Day, this squeezing in your heart and this aching in your bones from all these years and all these travels and all the years and travels to come, it will all be undone. Everything will be made new. Remember this.