When We Hurt Those We Love Most


I lay prostrate on the hardwood floor of our Budapest flat. I was pounding my fist and screaming unintelligible things as I lost my struggle with hyper-mania (a symptom of bipolar disorder). My children had been taken to a friend’s house. But not before they heard me shouting at their father. My husband found himself slipping deeper and deeper into a vortex of uncertainty.

I was hurting those I love most and was unable to gain enough control to stop the hurting.

A couple of days after this I entered the hospital. My husband and kids experienced more days of instability and separation. There were a few moments,`when my husband came to see me, not knowing I had been moved to the ICU. As the doctor brought him into his office, he was petrified something had happened to me.

Then, one week after I left the hospital, we returned to the States.

Every one of the people I care most for in this world was profoundly impacted by me. They experienced hurts, wounds, things that broke my heart, and I was helpless to protect them. I couldn’t even protect myself.

I know I am not alone. We all hurt those we love, so often through circumstances and trials beyond our control. It all makes us feel afraid of how the damage will ultimately affect them. It makes us grieve the innocence the hurt has taken. It makes us unsure in these relationships. It makes us feel lost.

As we reflect on these tragic times in our lives, how can we learn from them? How do we live well on the other side? I want to share with you a few things God taught me through the hardest season in my life and how it hurt those I love:

  1. Release the guilt and shame: To move forward, beyond the hurt, we must let go. When those we love are wounded by us, whether inside or outside of our control, we feel helpless to move forward. The Enemy loves the guilt and shame which go along with this. He would love for us to steep in this until we sink down, far away from those we love. However, this is not the Great Healer’s desire. He wants to make us new from the deepest place. He asks us to give to Him those ruminating thoughts of all we could have, should have done to prevent what happened. He wants us whole so He can restore what was lost and give something even greater.
  2. God is the Author: As we begin to release we learn this great truth. It is God who authors every story, not us. His script is poignant and sure. He doesn’t waste a line with bad prose. The dark pages have corresponding light ones. It is all sealed with the unmistakable stuff of redemption. And it is only he who bears this hope deep within who will have the eyes to see such a story. So He calls us to find hope in the pain and press hard into our trust in Him. Indeed, we can surrender to Him those most dearest. He has already wrapped His arms solidly about every part of them, shaping their story with His loving hands.
  3. Lean into Community: As I walked those days leading to the hospital, in the hospital and the months of recovery after, I desperately needed others. In these times we all do. It is our pride and fear which makes us unable to receive help. But we all need friends and family who will love on our kids, make meals for our families, distract them from the obvious and so much more. We have to say ‘yes’ to them. And the truth is, even though we fear judgment, people just want our families and us to know we are loved. So we have to trust here too. When we remain unable to be what our loved ones need, others can help fill in the gap until we are strong enough. Yes, it is incredibly humbling, but it is also right and true. This is something we must carry with us on this long road home.
  4. There is always a New Day: No matter how hard the circumstance, or how deep the hurt, there is always the sun rising the next morning. It shines upon us and on those we love. There is the promise renewed, faithfulness which hovers and great compassion to sustain. Psalm 103 says the Lord remembers our frame, He knows we are dust. In His tenderness, He pledges to be all we cannot be. His grace leads us Home to His heart where all is being renewed. He carries intimately, tenderly all who He loves, and even more so as the need is greater. He is hope and hope does not disappoint. Moving forward this must be the melody which greets us.

I don’t know where this post finds you, but I do know you have hurt those you love. It happens every day in big and small ways. And in this, we need to find our way back. We need to press into truth and grace, all that Jesus is. And we need to face the hurt, others and ours. Sometimes it is all so obvious and other times it is subtle. Regardless, there is no task, no service, no ministry important enough to deny the pain. And if we deal with it, we will find the healing and redemption of God greater than we could have imagined.

Eight “Ifs” I Don’t Believe So Much Anymore

After my mother’s death last year, my sister and I sorted through the items in her house, and I came home with some boxes that Mom had saved for me. Inside were things I didn’t know she’d kept, such as grade-school spelling books, birthday cards, newspaper clippings, and some college acceptance letters. There were posters, too, ones that I’d used to decorate my room when I was a university student.

Do you remember those Argus posters with inspiring words printed over inspiring photos? (If you don’t, ask your parents—it was that long ago.) I recently unrolled a few of them, and remembered them hanging on my wall. There’s the photo of a sailboat against the horizon, reading, “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are made for.” And there’s the image of a man climbing a nearly vertical cliff face. That one says, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

That’s one of the “If” phrases that used to guide me, but after living overseas, I don’t believe them as much now. I can’t say for sure that it was the location that changed my thinking. Maybe it was just a matter of time going by, and I would have come to the same conclusions without a change of address. But the experiences and the places and the time are all too intertwined for me to separate.

Regardless of how I got here, this is where I am today.

If it is to be, it is up to me
You’ve got to admire that mountaineer on my college poster. He’s straining for his next handhold, his bearded face a display of determination. He knows that he must—he will—reach the summit. He knows the printed message is true. It’s made up of 10 two-letter words. How cool is that?

I understand what the poster is getting at—that we shouldn’t wait around for others to get things done. But somewhere along the way I learned that I’m not the center of the making-things-happen-universe. And it’s a good thing for the world that I’m not. Now I’m more on board with an image that says something like “If it is to be, it is up to God, using whomever he sees fit to allow to join him. Finding what I can do to help is the part that’s up to me.” Not too catchy. Too many words and letters for a good poster. And for the picture? How about a guy pausing as he climbs the stairs?

If you want something done right, do it yourself
This phrase is a second cousin to the one above. I used to think I had the corner on doing things the right way. But that’s a dangerous attitude to have, especially when serving cross culturally. It’s not easy to hand over a responsibility that you know you’re good at. We often talk about working ourselves out of a job, but it’s an even harder concept when it feels as if we’re also working ourselves out of a purpose and identity.

My “right” isn’t always best, and even if I I’m better in some areas than others, it’s not about me showing what I can do. It’s about helping others learn how to grow and develop, even when the results are less than perfect. And that leads me to another  phrase in this extended family. . . .

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well
I remember hearing this from the preacher of a large church during one of our times back in the States. He was lauding his church’s attention to quality, and rightly so. They really do do things well, from their full-service coffee shop in the lobby to their polished song leaders on the stage to their massive outreach in the community. But that doesn’t mean that worth-doing things shouldn’t be done if the highest quality can’t be guaranteed. In 1910, G. K. Chesterton said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” I like that better. It allows me to try, and allows me to let others try, too.

If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.
This comes from  the oft-quoted William Arthur Ward, and reflects the idea that we should never put limits on ourselves. But my imagination and dreaming abilities are pretty amazing, extending well beyond what I’ll ever achieve or become. Failure has taught me my limitations and has shown me that I’m not the big deal that I’d always hoped for.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
Yes, this one says “at first,” but we often use it to mean “don’t ever stop trying.” Sometimes, sometimes, you just need to move on. It’s not always failure to quit. It’s not always bad to fail. And a retreat does not always signal defeat.

If it’s important to you, then it’s important to God
This is something I used to say to people to let them know that God shares their concerns, no matter how insignificant they may seem to others. He loves us that much. My perspective has changed, though, as I better grasp the size of the world and the length of its timeline and recognize more of the struggles and needs around the globe. I now understand that many of the things we fret over and pray about aren’t so significant after all, and I’ve come to believe that God is less concerned about the weather for the picnic than with how we handle the rain.

You are important to God, no matter how insignificant you may seem to yourself or others. As for the things that trouble us, we need to work at matching God’s values, not the other way around. So, if it’s important to God, it should be important to us. But he understands our situation and shows us patience and grace. He loves us that much.

If you give an inch, they’ll take a mile
Sometimes we’re afraid that if we give an inch, they’ll take . . . that inch. And that seems like too much. People new to the gospel who read the Sermon on the Mount for the first time might come away actually believing that if someone forces a mile out of you, you should give two. They haven’t learned yet that you should never, ever, give in. I’m glad for people who’ve taught me what it looks like to see the truths of Christ’s teachings without being hindered by the blinders of cultural Christianity.

If A, then B
Oh, how I love math and computer programming. Actually, I don’t love them at all, but I do admire their consistency and firm adherence to black-and-white rules. If A, then B—always, without exception. But general principles, as true as they are, aren’t mathematical equations or computational algorithms. I wish that if I believed A, did A, prayed A, said A, then B would happen, always, without exception. But things just don’t work that way. It’s the always-and-without-exception part that’s the problem.

I guess this kind of sums up my issue with all these “Ifs”—the second parts of the phrases are less than perfect matches for the first. It’s taken a while for me to figure that out, to see that the world’s a lot bigger than I once thought and that I’m a lot smaller than I once thought, too.

I’m kind of a slow learner, and I still have a ways to go. So I’ll just keep climbing those stairs, one step at a time.

[photo: “to climb the stairs” by Thomas8047, used under a Creative Commons license]

I Am Not A Racist — and other things I wish I knew were true

This post originally appeared on The Culture Blend.com



The Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan

Donald Trump

Bill Clinton

Malcolm X 

(and practically everyone who has ever been accused of racism)

This post is hard for me. Here’s why. 

I’m not that kind of blogger. I’m not an activist. I write about culture and raising kids abroad and what happens when you accidentally tell someone that their hindquarters are fragrant and delectable. I’m THAT guy. I have purposely and skillfully avoided the hard issues NOT because I don’t think they are important.

I steer clear because I have never considered my contribution valuable. I have opinions like EVERYONE ELSE in the world but bringing them into this conversation would be like bringing a squirt gun to a firestorm.



My labels don’t exactly lend credibility either. “Hey everybody! Pipe down, we’ve got a white, American, straight, Christian, male who has something to say about racism!”

“Gee. Great. We haven’t heard from one of those guys yet.”


But there is something rich that happens when you step away from your “home” culture and see yourself (and the world that you grew up in) through a different set of lenses. Am I right?


It’s challenging but it is good.

It hurts but it helps.

It’s alarming . . . but sometimes . . . it’s transformational.


With all of that said I think I have something to say about racists.



I might be one — but I can’t tell. Here’s why.


The word “racist” ONLY seems to show up in two forms. As an ACCUSATION — or a DENIAL. It’s never a discovery. Never a realization. Never a confession. There is zero room for nuance. Zero range. Zero spectrum.

You either are or you’re not.

It’s used exclusively in the second and third person (positively) — “YOU ARE A RACIST AND THEY ARE TOO!!”


in the first person (negatively).

“I AM NOT!!”


(take 2 minutes and 52 seconds to watch this video)


The two-sided approach produces radically different definitions.

The ACCUSER says, “Have you EVER used a term, said a word, thought a thought or acted in a way that could be considered racist? Then you must be one.”

Justin Bieber said the n-word when he was 14.

Paula Deen said it before Justin Bieber was even born.

The DENIER says, “Is any part of my life NOT racist? Then boom! I am NOT one.”

“I have Asian friends.”

“I voted for a black man.”

“I’m not as bad as that guy.”

So by the ACCUSER’S definition —  are YOU a racist?


I am (and I cried a little bit when I wrote that).


BUT as the ACCUSED I am SO quick to DENY, DENY, DENY.

My daughter is Asian.

My son is black.

Look at this picture.



How could I possibly be racist?

See how that works?


I’d love to have a different conversation. Here’s why.


“Racism” is a powerful and important word. The conversations that surround it are also important . . . in ALL of their different forms.

The venomous political debates need to happen.

The marches have changed things.

The ACCUSATIONS and the DENIALS make total sense.

AND THERE IS MORE . . . There is another side to the conversation that typically gets reduced to ashes in the firestorm.

It’s a conversation where I look at ME and not YOU.

I ask MYSELF hard questions instead of responding poorly to yours.

I come face to face with my own mess and I own it, even if I hate it.

I move forward to something better instead of being chained to my broken past.

It doesn’t start with “I AM A RACIST.” We don’t even agree on what that means. But . . .


It might go something like this.


I grew up around people who shared my labels. In my home, I was taught to love people both by instruction and example. Growing up though (although never in my family) I heard racial slurs and hateful, horrible stereotypes that formed my own prejudice. I heard banter that celebrated the misfortune of other races.

I heard “Polack jokes” before I knew that Poland was a country. I heard the term “Jewing them down” from the same people who taught me about the Jewish people in Sunday School. I heard terms like “Spick” and “Gook” and “Raghead” and “Chink” and had to ask each time which ethnicity we were talking about because I had never met any of them in real life. I listened to joke after joke that mocked the physical features, the language, the eating habits, the poverty and the crime rate of the African descended people who lived on the other side of town.

And I laughed.

I laughed because I valued the approval of people who were like me more than I valued the actual people who weren’t.

I’m sorry.

I regret all of that and it breaks me to think about it. I wish that it were not a part of my story but there is no way to untell it. Ignoring it has never made it go away.

I have grown since then. I have changed dramatically — but even now I continue to discover pieces that are packed tightly and deeply in my core that I never knew were there. Layer after layer of entitlement continue to be peeled away.

I still struggle to recognize and acknowledge the humanity of the humans around me.

But I am ready to have that conversation.

What about you?

Embracing Life From the Second Row

by Kris Gnuse

I was not just upset;  I was upset with myself for being upset.

After years of “maybe someday,” I had finally auditioned for worship choir. Kick your thoughts of robes and high sopranos to the curb. This group was cool.

I stepped onto the risers that first Sunday, trembly with nerves. My heart was full of prayers to open the heavens. My head was running harmonies, timing changes, and bridge lyrics. My pride, the tricky beast, was bumped by my spot in the second row.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known how much I wanted to be seen. 

The leadership wisely put anchor people in the most visible places. When the spiritual climate of a thousand is at stake, holiness trumps height. My 5’2″ stature had always placed me front, if not also center. This group was different, arranged by experience and anointing.

The veterans in front of me topped my height by inches, even with the riser’s help. I could still open the heavens—through the small window between two heads and their nearly touching shoulders. My expectations had been widescreen. Bump.

How could my compass be so stuck on me when I was there specifically to point heavenward? I muscled my attitude back in line with devotion and invited the Lord’s presence into the morning.

It was glorious.

Moving to our mission country provided a similar bump to second row. We were shocked to hear children must be 18 years old to be left unattended. Our uber-responsible, babysitting-aged daughter could not legally watch her younger brothers here. A family four houses down was reported to child protective services for the latchkey schedule of their son. Our neighbor had to choose between employment and motherhood.

My window to serve went from panoramic to porthole.

Gently, the Lord drew me back from widescreen expectations of work projects alongside teams and cradling each child at the home. My ministry GPS reconfigured, abandoning the scenic route but not the destination. I point heavenward through food and words shared, prayers on my balcony, and databases current with ways to connect. I wrestle our daily routine in line with devotion through the frame of homeschooling and cross-cultural living.

I have learned anew the simple beauty of well-sung backup harmony.

It’s still glorious.

I will probably always want to be seen. More than I like to admit. Yet, this is holy ground here in the second row. The heavens are open.


Have you ever spent time in the second row?  What was your experience like?


Kris Gnuse is a living testament that the Lord gently leads those who have young. In 2013, she said “I will,” to the Lord’s call for their family of five: to serve at a transitional children’s home in Costa Rica. In the crossroads of hosting short term mission teams and loving little ones who weren’t safe at home, she has a stand offering cups of cold water. You can follow her journey at www.thegoodnewsfamily.com

Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

This year two of my three Third Culture Kids are graduating. Last year, we went on college tours in Minnesota and Wisconsin. We observed some, um, interesting cultural things. Our observations were specific to the Midwest and our perspective comes from 16 years in the Horn of Africa. But, they just might help you with your own college tours and if you’d like some tips on how to get through these trips with joy, check out these posts: Tips for TCKs Going on College Tours and Tips for Parents of TCKs Going on College Tours.

Girls wear sport shorts, tight and short sport shorts, or pajamas (dressed to impress?).

Minnesotans play a lot of hockey and broomball.

If you grow up in a country with no snow or ice, you don’t know what broomball is (it is okay to ask, get used to asking).

TCKs are the only seniors in a room who have to clarify the question, “Where are you from?” (do you mean where was I born? where my passport says I’m from? where I go to school? where I keep most of my belongings? where I stay every few years in the summer? where my parents pay taxes and will get in-state tuition? where I came from just this morning?).

There are a lot of white people in the Midwest, especially in rural areas (notice, my kids are also white, but they barely realize it. What this means is that the color of a person’s skin tells you very little of their actual history and story. Ask questions, listen, be slow to judge).

Parents and students respond with more excitement to the prospect of a Starbucks on campus (as opposed to all the way across the street) than they do to a $15 YEARLY membership at a club that provides bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, sports equipment, and intramural teams to join. Or than they do to pretty much every other thing mentioned on tour. Starbucks is very important.

They also care that much about Chipotle. As in, there were more comments and questions about Starbucks and Chipotle than about tuition or study abroad opportunities.

My kids are the only ones without their driver’s license.

In a room of 100 prospective students, the American coming from Kenya (or Djibouti, depending on how they answered the question “Where are you from?”) stands out.

Dorms are intriguing unless you’ve lived the last five years in a dorm.

TCKs don’t know what they don’t know about American culture and life. College will show them, real fast. Again, ask questions.

TCKs should probably start saying, “soccer” instead of “football.” Sorry.

Americans really, really, really love their pets. Like, really.

American parents tend to hold their kids back in Kindergarten, especially boys, but then they shove them out early through PSEO (post-secondary education) or AP (advanced placement) courses. Ostensibly, this is about opportunity for the kids. A large part of me wonders how much of this is also about boasting opportunities for the parents?

When you are going to college or you have kids going to college, it is like being pregnant. Meaning it is all you talk about. All the time. Every day. All the time. Like, always. All the times. TCKs might get tired of this and might enjoy talking about something else. Like the World Cup. Or international politics or the monkey that swiped their breakfast muffin. In other words, TCKs going to college, like all young adults going to college, are way more than college.

Parents are super nervous about sending their kids an hour away. Their adult kids. I recently heard a mom say that when her daughter didn’t answer the phone for one day, she drove to the campus and searched until she found her daughter and then made her promise to respond immediately to phone calls. Her adult daughter. Who went to school practically down the street. (Parents of TCKs, and myself, be slow to judge. We all need this reminder.)

College campuses are stunning. They are cleaner, more beautiful, and better equipped in terms of restaurants, entertainment, medical facilities, bathrooms, etc, than the country in which we live.

Yes, some people think Kenya is a city near Africa. Even college-bound people. And correct, no one knows what a Djibouti is. Again, sorry. And again, try not to judge. Remember how you didn’t know what broomball was?

Race and gender really are significant topics on college campuses and TCKs, who have grown up in very different racial or gender dynamics, can both offer a unique perspective and will benefit from a parent and also a peer who can help them navigate these topics. Everyone has a lot to learn and that’s a huge part of what college is for.

Enjoy your tours, make the most of them! Take notes on some of the cultural things you notice.

What are some things that helped you and your TCKs explore universities?

Here are a few more resources on college and TCKs:

Janneke Jellema’s essay in Finding Home for advice on transitioning to university as a TCK.

Marilyn Gardner’s book Passages Through Pakistan, especially the last chapter, for help in handling the emotional side of this major transition.

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University, by Tina L. Quick

Should TCKs Take their Parents to College, by Lauren Wells, in A Life Overseas

On Your High School Graduation, by Elizabeth Trotter

Confusing Method with Message

My first summer in China was before the internet was invented. Okay, it had to have existed somewhere in the world, but it was not part of daily life and I did not know words like email, internet, Facebook, IM, DM, IG, WWW. LOL, or hashtag.

I spent six weeks with other North Americans teaching oral English in the morning (my own class) and listening to lectures on methodology in the afternoon (all participants combined). A highlight was the cultural exchanges in the evenings. We North American’s talked about holidays, budgets, and sports, among other topics. Our Chinese students sang songs and performed local dances. Six evenings we showed movies we brought on VHS tapes. We were so cutting edge.

The Christmas presentation stands out because behind the scenes my team had heated interactions over how much to share about Santa Claus. No surprise, some wanted only the birth of Christ mentioned while others felt because it was a culture lecture Santa should be mentioned.

In the end, we came together as a team, invested tons of effort into the presentation, and reaped the rewards of knowing that regardless of what happened we had rightly handled what had been entrusted to us.

I only have vivid memories of one movie: Hoosiers.  According to one review on IMDb, it is “about an intense coach (Gene Hackman) with a questionable reputation who finds himself in a small Indiana town faced with the unenviable task of turning around tiny Hickory High’s 8-man basketball team. Basketball fans will appreciate the movie for its authentic portrayal of small-town high school basketball in the 1950’s. ALL viewers will enjoy this fun film for its triumphs and its classic, feel-good story of David and Goliath.”

I would add to that review, “And if you happen to be an American who loves sports and is watching this movie in China, it will move you to tears as you well up with emotions about your passport country you are unable to articulate.”

Flash forward to today. We missionaries and cross-cultural workers still have discussions about what to share, how to share, and if we should share in a certain setting. Opinions can be strong and varying convictions may lead to team splits.

China, like many parts around the globe, is a very different world today than it was in the early 90s.

The seismic shift in technology leaves me laughing at a young woman who watched a VHS tape projected onto a big screen while sitting on a folding chair she carried from the classroom, carefully choosing a location near a ceiling fan. Lots of summer programs will be happening around China this summer. I can almost guarantee not one tear will be shed over Hoosiers.

And this is as it should be. But some changes are easier to flow with than others. For the first summer in forever, the Chinese government is very serious about cultural lectures not involving the Christmas Story because the goal of these programs is no longer about “cultural exchange.” Currently, Christmas is classified as a “Western Holiday” and as such has no place in China.

Sidestepping the whole “Western” versus “Religious” discussion, this week I have been thinking about how sneaky it can be for us to combine methods with message. Once combined, a change or “attack” or new policy to a method can be confused with the message.

Now, while it is true that some governments, schools, businesses, or leaders are anti-Christian and do not want the hope of Christ shared, they can not stop the power of love through friendship. Yes, they can make it more challenging, I am not trying to minimize the inconvenience or outright discrimination. I am also not talking about persecution.

But the recent changes in China have been a mirror to my own heart, my own thought processes, my own melding of method and message. Having seen the blurring of lines, this week God has asked me to sort through in my own work and ministries, asking myself what is

Method—and needs to be held more loosely.


Message—which also may ebb and flow with knowledge and maturity, but is foundational and not to be changed lightly.

Summers (or winters, depending on the hemisphere) can be times of change in the intensity of ministry activity. If you are in a season of increased activity, you may not have much space for the work sorting can take. For you, spend time noticing and jotting down comments you hear, activities you are involved in, and ways you go about sharing the Good News. Later, spend time reflecting privately and with ours about your work and what methods you use to share a message. Are there methods you are so wed to, they have blurred into the message?

If you have time this week, spend some time with God and those close to doing your own sorting.

Since you came to the field, how have your methods evolved and changed with the times, technology, and political sensitivities? 

Accompanying Spouse Job Description

I used to have a job description. I had hours, and a lunch break, and yearly goals. I knew what was expected of me and someone paid me to do it. Then I moved overseas as an accompanying spouse.

“What will you do when you move overseas?” people would ask. As an accompanying spouse without a specific job I would answer, “Oh, I’ll be a full time mom and who knows what else.”

Who knows what else turned out to be a legit part of my new unwritten job description.

Of course over the last five years there have been a lot of predictable tasks. Language learning, culture learning, home schooling, cooking, cleaning… But this post isn’t about those predictable tasks. This post is all about the Who knows what else that we find ourselves doing without any explanation other than, someone has to do it so it might as well be me.

Animal nurse: After the local vet killed 4 of our kittens with a vaccine overdose, I sucked up my ick factor and got to it. I can dusk chickens for mites, clean and tend wounds, and keep a dog’s persistent case of mange in check.

Gardener: I’m not naturally a green thumb. In fact, I have yet to successfully grow cilantro or jalapenos. This is one of the great sadnesses of living where I do. However, I have successfully grown tomatoes, cabbage, green onions, pear squash, basil, and lettuces. There are no less than 19 lettuces in my garden at present because while flavorful Mexican food may be out of reach, salad is not.

Medical advice enthusiast: “Please let me take you to the doctor.” is a request I’ve made numerous times. I’ve portioned out pills, given endless reminders of doctor’s orders, tended wounds, and felt the helplessness of watching a hurting person seek help from a traditional method that harms more than it heals.

Club Starter: I led a chess club today. Never saw that one coming. But here, you quickly realize if you want your children to have an opportunity to participate in activities they are interested in, you will probably have to start it yourself.

Local fool: Wish my neighbors a Happy Birthday instead of a Merry Christmas? That was me. Insult someone’s cooking when I meant to compliment it? Yep. Smile and nod when I have no idea what’s going on? Absolutely.

Butcher: The first time my meat arrived in a black plastic bag still attached to the fur was a bit of a shock. I lifted the hunk of flesh and was grateful ears were still attached so at least I had an idea what part of the pig we received.

Pro Tip: Soak the chunks of cleaned up meat in bleach water to kill off maggots and eggs, and don’t forget to semi freeze meat before grinding to minimize blood splatter.

Librarian: Children’s literature is one of my loves and I’ve managed to collect hundreds of books, even here overseas. Anisha, I’m looking for a book. Do you have a book about… is a request I can usually help with.

Baggage mule: My hand luggage has included spices, shoes, mobile phones, seeds, frozen ground beef, sausages, exercise equipment, medicines, letters, broccoli, strawberries, papaya… When you live in a town only accessible by air, “Can you take with you…” and “Can you bring back…” are common and reasonable requests.

I think I’ll write myself a new job description. It’ll be short and to the point. Narrow enough so I know what’s expected of me, but broad enough to cover other eventualities. Maybe something like:

Position: Accompanying Spouse.
Duties to include:

Nope. Can’t be done. At least I tried.

We Need Each Other

by Renette

The African saying ‘Ubuntu’ never resonated with me. I knew the definition for years: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” But it wasn’t until recently that I came to realise how much truth the saying holds.

We commonly ask one another to ‘tell me more about yourself’ or even ponder it ourselves: ‘who am I?’ If we are all born with certain traits, quirks, mannerisms, weaknesses and strengths, are we aware of them from the beginning or do we only realise these things when provoked by other people?

The Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test gives an explanation of who you are by defining how you are energized, take in information, make decisions, and organize your world. These short codes (INFJ or ESTP) give an outline of how our brains processes the world around us.

If we can so easily be defined by a 10-minute test, why is it that we keep on learning about ourselves as we grow older? Aren’t we who we are and that’s it?

Going back to ubuntu (I am what I am because of who we all are), this can sound a bit ‘new age,’ but take a minute to think about it. I am angry, because you did something that activates an emotion within me or I am patient because I‘ve learnt that people do things differently or I need time alone to process things because I’ve learnt that spending too much time with people drains me.

Do you see the connection? I learn who I am by spending time with people. I need people to know who I am; I need people around me so that I can grow; I need people so that I can identify my strengths and weaknesses.

To be able to answer, ‘who am I?’ I need to rub shoulders with people from different cultures, backgrounds and with different interests. Here is one guarantee in life: No matter how weird people are, you will always grow in who you are, and who you are supposed to be, when you spend time with new people.

Yes, there are people I do not enjoy the company of, but yet I need to meet them so that I can know I don’t like people who are A, B, or C. We need opposites in life to know what we are opposite of.

One way to learn about our strengths is through words of affirmation from others. I think complimenting one another is healthy, but often a compliment focuses on what someone does and not on who they are. In the Bible, we learn that we should encourage one another as encouragement boosts and reassures who someone is – it lifts them up. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV) says “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

When I encourage someone, I am highlighting something beautiful, something different and positive about them. Bringing to light a strength that might have been hidden, I am saying “I can see this talent, skill, or characteristic that God has given you, and I want you to know that it shows.” Through encouragement we help each other to grow in our Christian character and to find out who we are.

This is how I build my definition of ‘me.’ But how many times have you just shrugged off a compliment or an encouragement, denying the validity of it? I have witnessed so many people not claiming or owning up to words of affirmation, dismissing the encouragement because they fear they will become proud. Or maybe it’s that they do not believe what was said, so they shrug it off as untrue.

It is easier to take a compliment when you believe it’s true, than to accept a compliment you don’t believe in. Why do we brush off compliments that make us feel uncomfortable? If I receive a compliment that makes me uneasy, it’s a great opportunity to examine why I don’t believe in what was said – why do I think I’m not beautiful or why am I uncomfortable when someone compliments my relationship with God?

God created people so that we can be in relationship with each other; so that we can see Him in others, tell them about what we see, affirm them, edify them, and thus build and strengthen the body of Christ, the church.

I am still finding myself. I find myself in others when they see something that awakens a part of me. I find myself when someone provokes an uncomfortable feeling within me. It is all in me – some parts are just sleeping and will only be awakened when I care deeply or am disappointed or see injustice.

The wrongs and rights of others help us find our full selves. We find out more about ourselves when people challenge us, question our methods and reasoning, or provoke our emotions.

We need to learn that others can help us dig deeper and explore the hidden parts of ourselves.

We need people. God created relationships. He created people for us, to complete us, to make us fully realise who we are. I am who I am because of who we all are: it is through others that we learn who we are.

reprinted with permission


After completing her degree in mathematics education, Renette decided to go on an adventure and worked as an au pair in São Paulo, Brazil. After 2 years of learning Portuguese, visiting various places in South America, and accidentally encountering an anaconda, she felt the call to return to Africa and join OM (Operation Mobilization). Renette is an associate financial developer with OM Africa Area, making regular field visits to facilitate the relationship between donors and ministries. During her free time, she enjoys discussing odd scenarios with friends and mastering the art of a good cup of coffee.

“So – Is that out of state?” And Other Questions We Navigate


I felt my face grow hot. I was in a small town shopping at a smaller store when a well-meaning woman stopped and asked me about the purse I had with me.

“That’s a beautiful purse” she said brightly. “May I ask you where you got it?

Oh” I said, a smile lighting up my face “I got it in Pakistan.”

Long pause.

“So – is that out of state?”

Red-faced and flustered I managed to breathe out the words, sort of the way a mythical dragon breathes out fire “Yes”.

I thought of all the things I wanted to say:

“Yes – it borders Connecticut”

“You’ve not heard of it? It’s just a town away.” 

“Yes – it’s in Canada.” 

Instead I took a deep breath, smiled and said again “Yes, indeed it is.”

Growing up as a third culture kid in the seventies was an interesting time. The world was not as global as it is now, and communities in the United States were as isolated as the oceans and cultures that divide the country from the rest of the world. I never thought I was that different then my counterparts growing up in the West, but then I met them. The differences were profound. Cultural and linguistic to be sure, but for a teenager the huge chasm was fashion. Inevitably we would arrive in the United States after being away for four years with no television, no magazines, no beacons of Western fashion like, oh you know, Sears and J.C. Penneys. And there was something else – we also always seemed to arrive in the United States on Saturday night.

Do you know what that meant? That meant that the next day was Sunday. Guess what missionary parents like to do on Sunday? You got it! Go to church!

So off we would go in our outdated clothes, and I would flush a deep scarlet and try to pretend that my mini dress was a maxi or vice versa. Fashion was a nightmare. One time the nightmare took on greater terror as a photographer was shooting pictures at a large church outside of Chicago. I vaguely remember him capturing me on film on the front steps of that church. Ayaiyaiyaiyai!

Pop culture was another chasm. Grease was lighting up the screen with “Look at me! I’m Sandra D”. The only movies I had ever seen were The Sound of Music and To Sir with Love.

And then there were more questions….!

“Do they wear clothes there?”

“Tell me about the huts!”

“Pakistan…. does that border Brazil?”

“Oh – I think I’ve heard of that country before! It’s in Europe, right?

The funny thing is, that was the seventies, Has it changed? Despite the fact that many of our passport countries have excellent education systems and a plethora of media outlets as well as ways to communicate electronically, it doesn’t mean knowledge of the world has improved.

Consider this video where Jay Leno interviewed American teenagers.

It’s easy to slip into arrogance when it comes to some of these conversations, to shake our heads in exasperation. The reality is that there is a lot of privilege in this life, and there is also a lot of insecurity when we are faced with a culture that we are not as familiar with (our passport culture), The result is that we might wear our geographical and linguistic knowledge with a bit of pride. Sometimes it’s all we feel we have.

But that is for a more serious conversation. Today I want to go Jay Leno on you and invite you to tell your stories – what are some of the questions you’ve been asked, and how have you responded?

Expats, global nomads, TCKs, Adult TCKs – I know you know these conversations. From “So where are you from?” to “Do they wear clothes there?” to “Tell me about the natives!” we have all experienced ‘those’ questions and statements; the ones that simultaneously make us shake our heads in despair even as we grin thinking of how we’ll frame the story later on to those of our tribe.

So have at it! What are the best and worst questions you’ve been asked or things people have said to you about your life overseas? Invite your kids into this conversation – it’s something you can share together.

Share either on the Facebook page of A Life Overseas or in the comments below.

And, as always, thank you for being a part of this community!

Ask a Counselor: is it a failure, or is it a growth opportunity?

Things I used to believe:

You’re supposed to “deal with all your stuff” before you go overseas.

If your stuff starts to resurface while you’re overseas, that’s because you didn’t deal with it enough beforehand.

Stuff resurfacing is bad and an indication of failure.

You better be perfect, or close to it–or else.

If you can’t be perfect, or close to it: pretend.

What I now believe:

You can only deal with your stuff as much as you can at any time.

If your stuff starts to resurface while you’re overseas, that’s because you’re ready to deal with more of it now.

Stuff resurfacing is completely normal and an indicator that you’re growing.

Stuff resurfacing is simply an opportunity to do the work that’s now needed.

The truth is, we’re never done growing and changing.

If we aren’t growing and changing, we’re dying, so growth and change mean we are alive! Yay!

The need for growth and change is not an occasion for shame; it’s just part of the design.

Our past is also not an occasion for shame; it’s simply our past.

We did the best we could at the time.

Now we know better, so now we do better.

Perfect is not possible; just be present.

Perfect is not possible; be open to change.

Perfect is not possible; embrace growth.

For anyone needing to grow and change today (which is all of us, unless we are dead):

You are normal and healthy.

Growth is natural, not shameful.

It’s okay to be in your process, right where you are.

Growth takes time.

Take all the time you need.

When it’s hard, remember: this is not forever; it’s just for right now.

You are perfectly loved, safe, and chosen, exactly as you are.

Yes, exactly as you are. NOW.




(I really mean it. Big deep belly breaths, long and slow. For 3 to 5 minutes. Try it and see.)

Love wins.


Abba’s Child, Brennan Manning

The Inner Voice of Love, Henri Nouwen

Tired of Trying to Measure Up, Jeff Van Vonderen

Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli

photo credit

Forbidden Roots

Moving overseas starts as an experience.

When you move to a new country, the remnants of your old life stay with you for a long time. At first, keeping in touch with your friends back at home is a big priority. You get lots of packages in the mail. You grieve the loss of all that you left behind. But you are excited to be in this new place you dreamed about for so long, and that excitement keeps you going for a while. After the honeymoon wears off–which could happen in a week or a year–then it just takes grit. A lot of grit. As in, I’m going to grit my teeth and stay here even though I hate it.

That stage also can vary in length. But it usually morphs into the next stage, which is a settled acceptance. You re-learn how to do everything you used to be good at–how to shop, how to clean, how to drive, how to relax, how to keep the electricity on, where the best place is to buy mangos. You find a new normal and you forget that it’s weird that there’s a gecko on your wall watching you brush your teeth.

But quite often, you still need that grit to get you through another water shortage or your third flat tire in one week or another Christmas without grandma. The lure of your old life is still there, and your heart will regularly long for what you left behind.

Your new life is still an experience. It’s something temporary—even if it lasts years—because in the back of your mind is the assumption that someday you will return to your real life.

And then, somewhere along the road, so slowly that you don’t even realize it, you adapt. You fully transition. I don’t know when it happened for me. But I’ve lived in Tanzania for fourteen years now, and I don’t think it starting happening until somewhere around year eight. It’s different for everyone, I’m sure. It happens a lot faster to children.

It’s a strange, strange feeling. It’s not that I’ve stopped missing those I love who I have left behind. It’s that I have stopped missing that life. I used to long to return to that life, and now I can’t fathom leaving this life. The good things are so numerous that I hardly notice the hard things anymore.

My roots have crept down into this rich foreign earth, grasping firmly to the people and amongst the culture and way of life, intertwining my life with places and events and relationships. And the tree above is vibrant and thriving.

This normal has become so normal that I can’t imagine leaving it.

Except, I know that someday I will. We don’t have plans to leave Tanzania, but I’m certain that we eventually will. I am not a citizen, or even an immigrant. My passport is still American blue; Tanzania is not my country. Our residence here is dependent on a fragile balance of health, financial support, ministry opportunity, and government favor. Yet the thought of leaving someday fills me with an intense grief, knowing that it will tear away part of my being. Not just a loss of place, but a loss of who I am.

The experience has become real life.

Which is a good thing, of course. It’s what every expat should want to attain. But it’s also a tragic thing. It’s like coming to the realization that I’ve fallen in love with something that I can’t keep. I know that my deeply planted roots will one day be unceremoniously yanked up again. It will hurt, and pieces will surely be ripped off.

And I’m not sure I want to think about that.