Let’s Not Put Too Much Hope in 2021

I can picture the house I was in on New Year’s Eve 1999, but I don’t remember who it belonged to. Which is odd, actually, that I was willing to go to a stranger’s house on the night when we thought the world might end. I guess you do those kinds of wild and crazy things when you’re 23 years old.

We sat around the living room with our Doritos and sparkling cider (yep, wild and crazy) and watched the ball drop, and when 2000 officially jumped into existence, the lights didn’t go off, the aliens didn’t invade, and there was no mayhem in the streets. I think we all were a little disappointed.

In the same way that everyone waited for the birth of 2000 with fascinated dread, we’re all holding our breath that 2021 will be the opposite. When the clock strikes midnight, we wait in hopeful expectation that all of the disappointment, chaos, and isolation of 2020 will fade away, ushering in a year of prosperity, peace, and happiness. We deserve it, right? Surely the dumpster fire that was 2020 won’t continue for another year?

The chasing of new things seems to be ingrained in human nature. There’s something that dazzles about newness. The shiny new truck, the next new iPhone, even the latest vacuum cleaner. I have a young teenager who, for his birthday, predictably asks for the new version of his favorite video game every single year. We tease him relentlessly about this, since there isn’t much difference between the old and the new. But he remains resolute: He always wants the new one. 

We find hope in new things. There’s a thrill in seeing that new package, enveloped in its shrinkwrap, perfect and pristine. There’s an intoxication with the new relationship, dancing on the clouds, devoid of disappointment. Maybe this time will be different. Maybe this time the happiness will last.

We were created to love new things. Common grace gives them to us rhythmically–in the dependable sunrise, in the coming of spring, and every January 1st. Hope rises in the clear morning air, in the budding cherry trees, and in the clock that ticks past midnight.

But when the clock struck midnight, Cinderella found herself dressed in rags, holding some mice and a pumpkin. 

Let us not forget that the thrill of these new things are only meant to be symbols, shadows, road signs that point us to our true source of hope. They should not be where our hope lies. 

The problem with misplaced hope is that it is sure to disappoint us. After a few months, the new video game gets boring. The car gets scratches on the door and spilled soda on the seat. The clear spring air dissolves into the muggy heat of summer. And 2021 might not usher in the utopia we are longing for. It could, actually, be worse than 2020. 

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 

And there lies our hope, firm and steadfast. In Christ, I am a new person. In spite of my circumstances, in spite of whatever kind of year 2021 turns out to be, my inner being is being transformed into something new. The world may fall apart around me, but it will not consume me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning.

As a New Creation, I have a New Day to look forward to, which will be better than any new gift, any new morning, any new year. When the New Day dawns, it will never end. On that day, I will never be disappointed again.

But it might not happen in 2021. And until then, we wait with eyes turned upward. 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed awayHe who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  

Scripture references: II Cor. 5:17, Lamentations 3, Revelation 21 

Better Than Potions — A Look at Decision Making

by Jacqueline Scott

How do we decide? Does God just say, “You make the choice…any way you decide, it’s good, as long as you honor Me”?  Or does He sit up there waiting to see if you can figure out what His perfect will is for you or for this situation?  Both paths seem distant and precarious. But maybe we’re asking the wrong questions.  

There are no potions, magic words, or formulas; no blue or red pill. While at times these could be quite luring, what we’re invited into is so much better.  

Listen to some of the questions of Jesus:  

What do you want?  Matthew 20:32 (So, that’s important – what you want?)

What do you already have? Mark 6:38

What do you think? Matthew 17:25

What is this like? Luke 13:18 (What is the kingdom of God like?)

What will be the cost/consequence?  Matthew 16:26

Do you want to be healed? John 5:6

You do not want to go away also, do you? John 6:67

Some of those passages don’t refer to decision making, but they draw out something that’s going on in us. In God’s overarching sovereignty He somehow loves our partnership and connection with Him in the micro and the macro paths of life.  He woos us with difficulties and draws us deeply with pain.  Sometimes that’s the only way He can get our undivided attention. 

 

Presence, Promises, Partnership
Embedded in Scripture we see His powerful presence, His precious promises, and His penchant for our partnership in matters concerning us, including very intimate matters. David alludes to this in Psalm 16 (my paraphrase):

You are what I need, I’m not looking elsewhere.  You have been so good. You have counseled me and because of that, my mind instructs me in the night. I’m holding You, Your words, and my understanding of You before me in my decision.  You are here with me. Because of that I won’t be on my own. So, I can rejoice in this nearness and this promise of help as I move ahead.

Although we’d like God to just make the choice for us and set aside the agony of the yes or the no, He never promises that it will be so clear. At times it surprisingly is, but more often it is that walk of faith that keeps us so utterly dependent on Him with each step.

Here are some truths that I have held onto over the years:

  • Trust, lean not on our understanding, and He will direct our path. (This assumes His greater understanding and our movement.)
  • He will guide us with His eye upon us. (This assumes His care and our movement.)
  • He will teach us in the way we should go. (This assumes hearing and listening to Him.)  
  • Get wisdom, seek counsel, make plans. (This assumes engagement in conversation.)

How do we hear Him?  That’s one of the biggest questions I come across as I coach leaders.

In Scripture we see Him lead through circumstances, other people, signs of the times, His Word, His power, His Spirit, His Church, health, desires, children, emotions, nature, clouds, fire, and worms. Our following Him in decision making encompasses all the data within and without and discerning His guidance through all these possible means.

Discernment takes practice. Hebrews 5:14 talks of “senses trained to discern.” Are we setting God continually before us, listening to His instruction, aware of our yearnings so we can discern?

We’d love for God to give us a sign with an arrow pointing the direction we should go, but more often it’s a stepping stone of faith with a live Guide, moving toward our next decision, alert to Him opening or closing doors or windows. 

Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The key to guidance is knowing the Guide.” Are you noticing His guidance in the inner and outer nudges throughout your day?

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Jacqueline Scott is author of Your Life is Re-markable! She was captivated by God at age 12, became an RN, got a BS in Bible, and then a Masters in Leadership Studies. While in university she met Dan, and in 1986 they both headed to Bolivia, South America to save the world. She had four kids instead. They moved to Central Asia in 1994 in leadership with a non-profit agency. Currently credentialed as a personal and leader development coach, she works with individuals and groups in person and on-line. You can find her online at SoulFit.

How to Reorient Our Lives: A Lesson From Jesus’ Earthly Father

by Krista Horn

Joseph is my favorite person in the Christmas story.  He doesn’t get as much attention as other people (and, I would argue, not as much attention as he deserves), but Joseph offers something to the narrative that can impact us deeply if we let it.  Joseph offers an example of how to respond when plans suddenly change and the future crumbles before our eyes.  He offers an example of how to faithfully follow God when the way God is inviting us to go is uncomfortable and unfamiliar and downright hard.  Joseph’s story has a lot to teach us at any time, but especially during seasons like we’ve all experienced this year in 2020.

So many expats have been forced to change course when all they wanted to do was stay on course.  So many have had to face abrupt departures and say sudden goodbyes this year.  So many have had to lament the lack of returning colleagues.  So many have had to hold down the fort single-handedly when the fort was meant to be manned by several people.  So many have been stuck in a holding pattern, not knowing when or if they will cross the ocean again.  So many have made decisions they never imagined making, complicated by this life overseas and all its hoops like visas and passport expiration dates and a host of other factors.

So many expats have been blown by the winds of 2020, blown off course one way or another.

Which is why I am drawn back to the story of Joseph at the close of this year.

Joseph was a man completely thrown off course by the news that his fiancée was pregnant (and not by him) and he was forced to consider a way forward in light of such devastating and life-altering news.  Joseph’s plans had suddenly changed and his future had crumbled.  He was blindsided by grief and chose to quietly extricate himself from the situation.  He chose to forego the wedding plans and the dreams of his life together with Mary.

Until…

An angel appeared.  And got right to the point: “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20).  Joseph had barely wrapped his head around the fact that he wouldn’t have the future with Mary he’d hoped and prayed for, and now an angel basically tells him, “You thought your future just changed?  You have no idea.” 

It remained true that Joseph’s future had taken a drastic turn.  But now he was back to courting the idea of a future with Mary, albeit a future entirely different than either of them could have imagined.  God was offering an invitation to Joseph: he could still share a life with Mary, still love her till the day he died, and still honor God in doing so.  But it would come with incredible hardships, incredible unknowns, and incredible sacrifice.  Would he take the invitation God was offering, knowing only a fraction of what it would cost him?

“When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife” (Matthew 1:24).

Joseph said yes to God.

A devotional I read recently put it this way: “He accepts God’s word and He trusts God’s word and He relies upon God’s word and he reorients his life to conform to that word.”

I take heart in Joseph’s example.  His plans had changed twice over, his future had crumbled and was put back together in a forever-altered way, and Joseph said yes to God’s vision for the future.

And the future was hard.  It meant saying yes to the shunning from society that came with a baby born out of wedlock, saying yes to helping his wife give birth while traveling, saying yes to fleeing for their lives, saying yes to living in a foreign land in order to protect his family.  Of course Joseph didn’t know all of that was coming, but his initial yes led to all the others because, I think, that initial yes was a firm decision to reorient his life to line up with whatever God had in store for him.  He could have said “no thanks” to the angel and continued with the idea of walking away from Mary forever, but Joseph instead chose to reorient his life by saying yes to marrying Mary, yes to God.

Parts of Joseph’s story were thrown at him from this broken world while other parts were sovereignly orchestrated by God.  All of it was seen and known by God, and none of it could thwart His good plan for Joseph and his family.

This broken world has thrown some nasty things at us this year too.  And God has sovereignly orchestrated some very difficult things this year.  But I take heart because all of it has been seen and known by God, and none of it has thwarted His good plan for us.  Some of the failed plans this year have forever altered the future.  Some of our foundations have crumbled around us with no promise of being rebuilt. 

And we are faced with a choice: do we willingly reorient our lives to line up with whatever God is doing, even though we don’t understand it all and certainly don’t know what’s still to come?  Do we willingly reorient our lives even when colleagues leave and don’t come back?  Even when we’re forced to leave our home overseas?  Even when our ministries stall for lack of a way forward?  Even when visas are denied?  Even when you make a hard decision based on the information you have, not knowing what the fallout will be?

My prayer as we continue celebrating this Christmas season and complete this difficult year is that we will say yes to reorienting our lives to whatever future God has in store for us, even though it may not be the future we had hoped and prayed for.  My prayer is that we will trust God’s word, remember that He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), and faithfully follow Him like Joseph did, even when the world has turned upside down.

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Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field.  When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early.  Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.

 

Making Peace With 2020

by Sara Simons

At the turn of 2020, I wrote this reflection exercise and shared it here at A Life Overseas. It included a simple, transferable process to gain altitude and perspective on the year that had passed. Little did I, or anyone at that time, know the disturbingly drastic change of events that the year ahead of us would hold. That, on top of our normal ebbs and flows of transition, grieves and losses, and major life change. Every single life would be complicated that much more by an increasing pandemic. As we’ve lived it, it has been mixed with racial injustice, poverty, and already terrible tragedies around the world. 2020 seemed like a never-ending stream of bad news.

That is the predominant feeling most had, and yet the truth included moments of goodness, purpose, redirection, and creativity amidst the pain and suffering. 

As I personally wrap up an incredibly challenging year of global transition, in many ways I can’t wait to tear up the calendar and throw it away as soon as possible. While there will still be no ripping of calendars like my mom’s tradition growing up (see the 2019 article), this year’s calendar may have many pages repurposed for lack of use. And still, I long to glean from 2020 what is mine to learn. And to celebrate so many gifts that came in spite of it all.

Rather than remember the long days of confinement, the multiple cancellations of flights, all that didn’t come to be, I want to capture the full picture and instead focus on the good that may otherwise get lost if I don’t pause to remember that which came from my Covid year. 

What became of your covid year? What successes did you experience? Where did you see personal growth?

Whether you’ve had an incredible amount of change or loss or a year full of amazing surprises (yes, I’ve spoken to some who have experienced 2020 that way); or whether you anticipate transition or more uncertainty on the horizon, the opportunity to take a deep reflective pause and make note of the year prior affords us space for both gratitude and perspective.   

Here is a summary of what I wrote last year, along with a special offer:  

While I love to reflect and process for hours, I’ve found the desired space is not always readily available in this season of life and during the holidays. I’ve found grace in giving myself the whole month of January, as of late. But even still, a less comprehensive and intimidating reflection exercise was needed for me to be able to enter in. Here are a few carefully chosen questions and 4 suggested approaches, depending on time.    

 

Four Processing Options:
While you may begin by just diving in, I find a few approaches aid my processing best. Begin by creating a quiet reflective space. Set aside distractions. Choose one of the following 4 visual prompts depending on how much time you can afford. 

  1. 15-30 minutes: Take a look through your calendar and make a list of the top events on your calendar. Let these events prompt your thoughts as you contemplate the answers to these questions. 
  2. 30 minutes-1 hour: If you take pictures, take a look back over the year’s pictures and allow the visual stimulus to jog your brain in reflecting.
  3. 1-2 hours: Look back over your journal from the last year and note the important events and areas that concerned you or caused you great delight. You took time to write them down, note how they impact the questions above. (If you don’t journal or didn’t this year, looking back over emails or Facebook posts may stimulate some of the same thoughts).
  4. 1-3 hours: Utilize one of the above methods together with this visual reflection exercise. Having already made a list of important events, Draw a clock with numbers corresponding to the months of the year (Jan = 1, Dec = 12). Starting with 1, meditate as you draw or write simple words that represent the highlights, breakthroughs, consuming thoughts or God’s delight of January the year prior. Where were you as the clock turned last year? Who were you with? What has changed since?

 

Top reflection questions:
1. What are the most important events that took place in the last year? Who are some of the significant people?
2. Where did I see the greatest breakthroughs (physically, emotionally, relationally, vocationally, spiritually)?
3. What area(s) consumed my thinking and attention most?
4. Where did I experience God’s delight?

Give yourself time to go through each month, draw or make note of the thoughts or feelings you want to capture within or outside of the clock. 

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If you’re like me, doing this in a group creates a unique dynamic of community and accountability. Come join The Way Between and a small group of others like yourself who want to process this hard year in one of the three, three-hour sessions available this 2020.

December 28 – 4-7pm MST,
December 30 – 10am-1pm MST,
January 5 – 10am – 1pm MST

There’s a discount code for A Life Overseas readers. Pay just $25 using the code ALIFEOVERSEAS.

Register here: https://thewaybetween.churchcenter.com/registrations

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Sara Simons & her family just relocated back to the US after 8 years living & working in Spain. Moving during a global pandemic has only increased her compassion for working with global workers in major life transition. You can learn more on thewaybetween.org.

Why Is Following God So Messy?

photo credit

I will never forget the moment I pulled away from the hotel entrance. I had just met new friends of my husband, and now they were mine. Kat* looked so frail, bone-thin, with dark circles under her eyes. Ron* had a champion smile on his face as he secured their belongings in the back of my gold van. They had been able to afford a hotel for a few days, but now it was back to the streets. So we were keeping their duffle bags of things.

My heart sank, hot and heavy, with the weight of their situation. My husband had met them outside of our local library, a couple committed fiercely to each other. Kat’s seizure disorder, hypertension, multiple sclerosis and other health concerns, made it impossible for Ron to leave her alone. Thus, he had given up working. Their veteran’s and disability benefits only took them so far.

It felt heartbreaking and wrong as I left the hotel, amid a torrential downpour. It felt heartbreaking and wrong as I left them to find shelter. I asked myself, ‘how can I go back to my large house with its guest bedroom and leave them on the streets?’

So, I decided that I wouldn’t.

I told my husband how I felt. He knew my heart, but still, it was such a big undertaking to bring in virtual strangers to our house with three young children. (Kat and Ron had raised five children, and loved kids. We never believed they would hurt one of our children.)

We didn’t know what to do.

But when Kat was on the verge of another seizure, which could be lethal as a homeless person, we did what, in that moment, we could not not do. We invited them into our home.

What followed was a major lack of boundaries and nearly a year of sheltering Kat and Ron. It was one of the hardest seasons of our lives, yet it was keeping them off the streets. That had to mean something, right?

It wasn’t only hard because of the inconvenience. It was hard because of others’ responses. They didn’t understand us and questioned what we were doing. In their protectiveness of us, they often thought the worst of Kat and Ron. It was hard, so hard to hear these concerns and still try to do the right thing.

I don’t fault our friends and family for loving us, how could I? But, the desire to care for ‘the poor’ is a good, God-given desire, isn’t it?

So how could obedience to God’s heart bring so much strain and struggle. I thought it would bring joy. And, at first, it did. It did, also, in moments along the way. But, the joy was often overshadowed by worry, doubt and a strong sense of being out of control.

As we sheltered Kat and Ron, I often felt the words of Isaiah 58:7 course through my mind. ‘Bring the homeless, poor into your house…’ as part of acceptable guidelines for a holy ‘fast’ and the kind of worship God wants. And again, I absolutely believe that to be true.

However, after almost a year, we finally had to give a very clear date when they needed to leave our home. It was hard, so hard, because they hadn’t found anywhere else to live. But, we knew we had done what we could.

So again, the questions. ‘How could a year of having them in our home, make seemingly so little difference in their situation?’ And yes, in guilt, I would ask too. ‘How could we let them back onto the streets?’

Yet, there was a measure of peace, because it was okay, and important, to let them go, surrendering them fully to God. My husband and I would often remind ourselves that what we did in caring for them, we ultimately did for the Lord. And we had to trust Him for the results of that caring.

At times I wondered if I operated out of guilt of not doing more when we lived in Hungary. Homeless people lined the parks and downtown streets and it all became so overwhelming. And I felt it. That callousness, of needing to not do anything because each of their stories, their needs, could easily pull me in, in tangled-up, caring-too-much ways.

In the end, I was so humbled in the journey with Kat and Ron. And I have so little to say, but that it is so very messy. Not only caring for the poor or homeless, but knowing how to truly be obedient and follow Jesus in hard places. The only true sin in the journey is to let ourselves become callous and closed to the needs of others. (And, I want to be clear that much spiritual wisdom and discernment is needed in any steps we take.)

My sweet husband helps me so much in this. He is often reaching out, not to every person in need, but to the ones put especially on his heart. Since Kat and Ron, we learned it is too much for our family to house those in need long-term. But, he is often approaching someone in need to ask if he can get them a meal. Just recently, he took a homeless friend to get warmer clothes for the cooler nights coming.

In the end, though the journey with Kat and Ron was really hard, God brought so much life from it. He grew our family, making Kat and Ron a part of it. I will never forget their all-day cooking, on the Thanksgiving Day they were with us. They made a feast for us.

Eventually, they found an apartment, and we were all thrilled. We helped them with the move, gave them some furniture and did what family would do.

But more, we have come to feel for them what family should feel–a deep, abiding, indestructible love.

I don’t know what needs are around you, but I want to encourage you beyond the callousness which can so subtly creep in. If you desire to do something close to God’s heart, no matter the journey, you will find just that, His heart.

*Names changed to protect identity.

Back Away from That Keyboard: These Books for Cross-Cultural Workers Should Remain Unwritten

Seen any good best-of-the-year book lists lately?

I have, but this isn’t one of them.

Instead, I’ve created a much different kind of list. First, it is a collection of book titles—for cross-cultural workers—but there aren’t real books to go with the names. Second, these titles aren’t any kind of best, and probably shouldn’t even make it to the printing stage.

While compiling a list of made-up titles may not seem like much of an accomplishment, I do want to point out that, slowly but surely, I am moving up in the publishing world . . . sort of. Three years ago I created some clickbait headlines for expats that only lacked people to fill in their stories. Now I’ve come up with titles for whole books (see the progress?). This time, though, the stories don’t need to be filled in.

Solomon writes that “of making many books there is no end.” Let’s leave these books unmade:

Ethnocentrism, Ethnoshmentrism: Incontrovertible Proof that Your Customs Really Are the Best

How I Arrived in Country, Lost My Passport, Got Arrested, Wrestled a Crocodile, Built a Clinic, Organized a VBS . . . and Then Got Ready for My Second Day Abroad

This Airport’s Not My Home, I’m Just A-Passin’ Through: Wild and Wacky Tales from Gate C38

No Matter Where They Go, There They Are: An Anthropologist Circumnavigates the Globe to Chronicle the Unorthodox Migration Patterns of the Third Culture Kid

Can You Take a Look at This Rash? An Expat’s Illustrated Guide to Diseases That You’ve Never Heard of Before but Think You Might Have Caught but Probably Didn’t but Maybe You Did

The ABCs of XYZs: Overcoming Ministry Paralysis by Creating the Perfect Acronym

And They Said I Shouldn’t Go: How Cross-Cultural Work Saved My Marriage, Paid Off My Debts, and Otherwise Solved All My Problems

Oui, I Do Want Fries with That! Become Fluent in Any Language Just by Ordering at McDonald’s

Have Paintbrush Will Travel: 1001 Projects for Visiting Teams That Will Transform the World, Guaranteed!

Does This Spark Joy? Apply a Simple Formula to De-clutter Your To-Do List and Find Complete Serenity in Your Life Abroad

Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Form 2555 Right Over: Make Filing Taxes Overseas the Highlight of Your Year by Turning It into a Super-Fun Game

They Called Me “Little Jesus”: A Memoir

That Wasn’t So Hard: Lessons on Cross-Cultural Life from My Spring Break Overseas

From Expat to Flexpat: How to Up Your Game and Hopscotch Cultures like a Boss

Don’t Make Me Turn This Luggage Cart Around: More Traveling Advice for Parents, from the Author of the Bestselling It’s My Way or the Skyway and I Brought You into This Boarding Area and I can Take You Out

[photo: “Piles of old books,” by veronica_k, used under a Creative Commons license]

Merry Gentle Christmas

This is the time of year when everyone who has an Instagram account or a website (like me) pulls out their “what you must buy” lists. From books to fair trade products, things you never knew you wanted but now you must buy because if you do you will feel good about yourself and be saving the world and what could be better than that. We hope the affiliate links work because for every dollar Amazon earns, we poor writers and bloggers make…I don’t even know but the answer is not much.

This is the time of year we (me) write sappy, funny, melodramatic Christmas letters and mail them or put them online in the hopes they will bring you Christmas cheer, earn us a lot of “likes” or “hugs”, or even find their way onto someone with a larger platform’s must-read list so that we can get more likes and hugs and clicks on those affiliate links.

This is the time of year we (me) recap everything wonderful and terrible that happened in 2020 and try to spin it in a positive light or a sorrowful light, depending on what kind of response we hope to evoke in you.

This is the time of year we (me) rethink the Nativity, disparage shoe boxes, and talk about Christmas in the desert.

This is the time we (me) write clever jingles about our own stories to the tune of Christmas songs.

I’m tired this year.

I sat down to write this essay and tried to find an old essay I could copy and paste and post instead. None of them seemed appropriate. I’ve linked to them above because I totally do all those things. I’m saying them with all the cynicism but I also mean them sincerely. I love sharing words and books and resources and I really do hope it blesses you and makes you feel less alone and opens up new vistas of understanding or generosity. Both/and. This is one of the hard things about being a human.

I don’t know what to say about Christmas or New Year’s this year. I just feel tired. I think other people will say it all and say it better and I’ll link to the articles and wish I had written them myself.

This essay is like a not-essay. Are those real things? Can they please be real things?

A not-essay about how I don’t know how to capture the grief, rage, loss, confusion, tension, anxiety of this past year. I don’t know how to write about the global things like pandemics, wars, racism, fires, and elections alongside the personal things like graduate school, publishing, cancer, family, and precious friends.

All I want to say is be gentle to yourself. I say that because I want to hear that, too. Be gentle. Be kind. Be patient. Be tender. Take a nap. Go for a long, slow walk. Cry. Laugh so hard it hurts. Don’t worry about your to-do list. Eat cookies, lots of cookies. Sing lovely and terrible Christmas songs. Know that every breath is sacred, every moment holy.

May you have a gentle Christmas and a sacred New Year.

Merry gentle Christmas.

Happy sacred New Year.

Christ came for you too

Friend,

I love Christmas cards and letters because they remind me. They remind me of different stages of my life and people I have known. They bring people to mind I may not have thought of in months (maybe not since the last Christmas card!). They help me feel connected to a larger story than my own.

So, I’m writing this post more as a letter from me to you. It’s been, as we all know, quite the year. As I’ve prayed over this post and what it is that God would have me write, a list of ideas came to mind, but none of them seemed quite right.

I know that this year COVID has invited us to identify with those we have come to serve in unique—at at times annoying—ways. And these are important lessons for us. We cannot deny this. But if I’m honest, these lessons don’t get down to the core of what I need from God.

Advent is traditionally a season of lament and Christmas (December 25-January 6th) is a time of celebration. This week, as we round the bend of Advent and move towards Christmas, what is it you are longing for?

God sees individuals and groups. God sees you. In Advent he asks, “What are you longing for? What do you want me to do?”

Maybe you’re not sure.

Read over this list of desires or longings and see which catch your eye, or stir a longing in you:

Peace

Relief

Comfort

Revenge

Rest

Protection

Presence

Healing

///

As I said, I love Christmas cards and letters because they remind me and help me feel connected to a larger story than my own. My hope and prayer is that this letter reminds you that Christ came for you too.

Christ came to meet your deep longings. He sees your local friends and neighbors and he wants to meet their needs. He does. But you are not a mere conduit of his love to them. You are a vessel of longings and needs he wants to fill.

Christ came for you too. What you you longing for these days?

Grace and peace my brothers and sisters,
Amy

P.S. If you’re wanting something old and new, did you know that each verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” focuses on a name or attribute of Jesus? Global Trellis has partnered with The Invitation Project to create a bit sized way for you to daily encounter Christ through this song. This advent tradition begins on the 17th and ends on the 23rd – each day focusing on a verse of the song and the scripture that correlates “O Antiphons,” refers to the chorus that is repeated after each verse.


 Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel
Shall come to thee O Israel

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An Invitation to Wonder

won·der

/ˈwəndər/noun

a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.

We put up our Christmas tree on Saturday. As empty nesters, it’s our tradition to either have any adult kids who happen to be in the area over to help us or, in their absence, invite a friend or several. This year we invited one of our dearest friends to help. Ava had never picked out or decorated a Christmas tree. As a Muslim growing up in Iran, this was something new. It was a delight to have her join in with this magical tradition.

Within an hour and a half the room was transformed from chaotic and crowded to sparkling brilliance. Shiny ornaments collected through the years reflected the white lights, while Christmas music played softly in the background. We sat back and sighed in wonder as we looked at the tree. The transformation of what had been a plain, partly frozen tree in a lot with hundreds of others was complete and it was a wonder to look at.

Every morning this week I have crept down sleepy-eyed and still in my pajamas and turned on the lights to the tree. The room fills with soft twinkle lights inviting me to stop, inviting me to wonder.

This year has been a year. Soon after the new year ushering in hope and promise we faced the tragic death of my brother in February, closed borders in March, death of an uncle in April, rising Covid cases in May, my brother’s long delayed funeral in July, two unexpected deaths of a cousin and a cousin’s husband in October, death of an aunt in November, and now…. the season of jolly good will? I think not! Like you all, I am exhausted with the year, exhausted with the telling people why I’m exhausted, and I’m sad. Just plain sad.

It’s more than this year though. When I look back at past Decembers, they have included death, hospitalizations, life-changing tragedies, and oh so many tears. The other day I said to my sister-in-law “I have begun to dread December!” Within the bright lights of Christmas is the realization that hard things still happen and the world is still broken.

But then I stop and I take a breath. I look at my tree in the early morning as the light is just appearing over the Atlantic Ocean a couple of miles away. I feel an invitation to step away from the broken and enter the timeless wonder of God become man.

I am invited into the wonder of the Advent Season, the wonder of the Incarnation, the wonder of the mysteries of my Christian faith.

Long ago on a rooftop in Pakistan, my mom had an invitation to wonder. She felt alone and forgotten, lost in a world miles from family and friends. That night she experienced wonder through unexpected visitors. In the midst of the Sindh desert in Pakistan our friends arrived from hours away and sang carols at our door, their presence an offering of love. It was the wonder of friendship that went the extra mile, offering hope and joy.  Every year I stop and remember this story, for it too is an invitation to wonder.

If we stop for a moment, we realize that all around us are invitations to wonder. A sunrise, a sunset, a babies first cry in the world, a son’s engagement, a memory of love, a beautiful meal, laughter, an ever beckoning invitation into words and the Word.

Advent is not an invitation into a western Christmas magic that quickly disappears. It’s our invitation to listen, to watch, to wait, and to wonder.

We have an invitation to wonder at the mystery of the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us, an invitation to see his glory. Will you stop with me for a moment in the midst of what has been a deeply discouraging year of untold sadness and loss, of transition and disappointment, of people and dreams dying? Will you accept our invitation to wonder from a God who loves us infinitely more than we can grasp?


Accept this invitation to stop and listen to this beautiful rendition of a timeless hymn:

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

What Does It Really Mean to ‘Take a Sabbatical’?

by Jillian Sirianni

When we hear the word sabbatical, what comes to mind? Is this just a long sought after vacation that never happens, or is this something we can truly integrate into our life in ministry? For many, the thought of sabbatical stirs up deep longings for personal and spiritual refreshment, while simultaneously bringing a barrage of reasons ‘this could never happen.’ 

While the typical 6-12 month time frame is a significant amount of time to take away, I have come to learn that Sabbatical isn’t just a nice thought, but rather a biblically supported, kingdom oriented practice aimed at loving God, others, and self (Matt 22:37-39) .

As believers, we have an invitation from our Heavenly Father to ‘come away’ (Song of Songs 2:10-13) and enter rest (Heb. 4), to be led by still waters and restored (Ps. 23). 

As we explore this concept of entering into deeper levels of rest and refreshment, I want to consider the background of this concept and address some common barriers to engaging in sabbatical.

The idea of sabbatical originates in the Old Testament. We see in Leviticus 25 the Lord giving instruction to Moses regarding how to care for the fields, describing sowing, pruning, and reaping for a period of 6 years followed by a time of rest in the 7th year. To be clear, this rest was for the land, but it was also for the worker; no sowing, pruning, reaping, or harvesting was to be done but rather living off the fruit of the previous 6 years. 

I am no expert in agriculture but from my conversations with farmers I understand that resting fields in this manner is necessary for future crops. There is a real and tangible benefit to allowing a field a season of rest; it gives space for nutrients in the soil to be replenished and prepares the ground for better crops in the years to come or even new crops to be grown in that field.

As we see throughout scripture; agricultural, husbandry, and construction illustrations are used to illuminate spiritual concepts. From the spiritual implications of the tabernacle to the images of the sheep and good shepherd described by David, we come to understand our creator’s character and how we walk in right understanding of Him and ourselves in relationship to him. The same is true when we speak of sabbatical; there is a strong parallel between the ‘resting of the fields’ and the benefit of this practice, to our own opportunities for extended rest and the spiritual, emotional, and relational benefits of this.

All too often in the work of missions and ministry we see sabbaticals be overlooked, de-valued, or taken too late. If sabbaticals are taken, they are many times reactive rather than proactive as individuals step away from ministry for rescue and recovery rather than rest. Sabbatical should not ultimately be a response to weariness, but rather a proactively and intentionally planned time, aimed at rest and refreshment. 

Of course, this concept brings a plethora of questions and barriers; including the whats and hows of moving forward.

 

6 months to 1 year is a long time; what will I even do?
It is important to consider ahead of time what this season will hold. We recommend approaching sabbatical with a 3-phase model of rest, renewal, and re-entry. Each phase should have an allotted amount of time, along with plans for what will happen at each stage. The rest phase should include just this: opportunities for a slower pace of life and adjusting to decreased responsibility.

When working and serving in arenas of human need, it takes a while for our body, soul, and spirit to come down from the intensity required to operate in those areas. When stress and responsibility levels are consistently high, it can take 30-60 days for our physical selves to decompress and allow space for adrenaline levels and stress hormones to regulate. The next phase of renewal often includes greater engagement in spiritual, emotional, and relational growth while also including specific readings, counseling, and debriefing. The final phase of re-entry methodically considers how to step back into a work environment while maintaining some of the principles gleaned from the rest and renewal phases. 

 

How will I afford this, and who will do the work while I am away?
Ideally, sabbaticals are planned for and anticipated years in advance. When following ‘best practice’ one can be methodically setting aside funds, training others, determining a plan, and if relevant, preparing supporters. Of course, this amount of time for planning is not always reality. In these circumstances it is advised to seek out individual and organizational support for this time away so that complete disconnection from this specific field is possible.

For longer sabbaticals some individuals have engaged in simple jobs completely separate from their typical work (i.e. labor, low-stress customer service, etc), others have rented out their home, while still others receive a stipend from their work or supporters and are able to be sustained financially through this season. This is certainly not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario and does require careful planning, forethought, and creativity; but it can be done!

It should also be noted that sabbatical is not intended to be a support and fundraising tour but rather a true opportunity for mind, body, and soul to receive rest

As Hebrews 4 describes “Today, if you hear His voice make every effort to enter His rest,” some translations even say ‘labor to enter rest.’ We see a direct correlation between hearing our Heavenly Father’s voice, work or laboring, and rest. It does take effort to engage in sabbatical and there are barriers to overcome and roadblocks to consider, however there is rest for our souls.

This rhythm of rest is made for us, and recommended to us by our creator; “the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27) – this is not a hard command but an invitation to us and an opportunity for us to pause, reflect, gain perspective, and take on the image of our Lord in deeper ways.

If sabbatical is something you desire to plan for and engage in but are having difficulty knowing where to start, or are desiring support, we at Safe Place Ministry would be honored to assist in this process. 

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Jillian Sirianni is a licensed, master level social worker and serves as Vice President at Safe Place Ministry where she seeks to carry out the simple mission of Philemon 1:7 ’to refresh the hearts of the saints.’ In her role as Vice President Jillian provides sabbatical planning/coaching, trainings, debriefings, consultation, field visits, and retreat facilitation to those serving in any missions/ministry context both internationally and domestically. In addition to her role with Safe Place, Jillian also serves as a mental health counselor providing Telehealth to adolescent and adult individuals through a private practice in Pennsylvania.  

This Pandemic Can Help Us to Identify With the World’s Poor

I was always blown away by the number of funerals. During the years our househelper in Tanzania worked for us, I lost count of how many times she asked for time off to attend a funeral for a family member. She was my age, but during those years she lost her mother. Her mother-in-law. A sister. More than one uncle. Several cousins. What was the cause? I would always ask. Malaria, typhoid, or many times, no one knew why. Disease and death were far too common. 

Experts will probably be asking it for years: Why are some developing countries seemingly less impacted from COVID-19 than more developed countries? Is it because they just are testing less? Have a younger population, get more sunlight, have more built up immunity? I’m certain some of those factors are true, but I also wonder if a central reason is because the effects of this pandemic haven’t changed much about regular life for the poor in developing countries. What feels shocking and abnormal to us is simply the way they have always lived. 

I’m listing some of these ways below, and I want to be clear that this is not about inducing guilt in those of us from affluent nations. I’m not trying to minimize the grief and loss so many of us have experienced this year. Instead, my purpose is to help us have greater compassion and empathy with the world’s poor. This pandemic can help us to identify with them in ways we had never been able to before. 

What’s new for us is normal for them. Here’s how:

Normalcy of deadly diseases

Yes, COVID-19 is a new virus, but for many in the world, they are already dealing with much worse. Statistics tell us that one and a half million people worldwide have died from COVID. Yet that same number of people die every year from tuberculosis, most of them from India, other parts of Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. Like COVID, tuberculosis is also an airborne virus. It may not be a pandemic, but it is most certainly an epidemic.  

In addition, malaria kills over 400,000 people each year, the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa (and some in South East Asia). Most of them are young children. There’s also HIV, dengue, typhoid, and rotavirus. For many people in the world, having deadly viruses lurk around every corner, in every cough, in households and churches, is normal life. 

Familiarity with death

Statistics tell us that in Central African Republic, the life expectancy is 53 years. In Nigeria, it’s 54 years. In Afghanistan, it’s 64 years. In contrast, the life expectancy of someone in the United States is 78, the United Kingdom is 81, and Australia is 83. 

Of course, every death is tragic, even in affluent countries. But perhaps my generation has never before been surrounded by such a high death rate right in our own communities. Let us remember that this is real life for many of the world’s poor. 

Stretched healthcare systems

For every 1000 people, there are 2.3 doctors in Canada, 2.6 doctors in the United States, and 4.2 in Germany. In contrast, there are .05 doctors for every 1000 people in Chad, .62 in Myanmar, and .16 in Zambia. Crowded hospitals? Doctors who can’t give their full attention to patients? Many in the world were already used to this. 

Unpredictable government restrictions

Shuttered churches with unrealistic rules, mask mandates, forced closure of small businesses–all these are things that many of us would never have thought possible in our countries. On top of that, the regulations keep changing on a daily basis, feeling like whiplash as we struggle to keep up. As those of us from liberty-loving countries are dealing with a clamp down on our cherished freedoms, let us remember those from countries where this has always been their reality. Many of them are our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Substandard education options 

Many Americans are faced with a difficult choice: Allow their children to receive a substandard education online, or pay for private school. For many in the world, this has always been their dilemma. Government run schools are often overcrowded and very poorly resourced, and anyone who wants their child to get a decent education must make huge financial sacrifices. Homeschooling isn’t an option for working parents in poverty, and in some places, it’s even illegal. They either pay dearly or their kids don’t get educated. 

For them, this is not temporary.

We are all tired of the upheaval, aren’t we? We are weary of the chaos, the disappointments that keep piling up, the changing regulations. Everything feels uncertain, unpredictable, and that’s scary. We want life to return to normal. Yet for those living in war zones, in refugee camps, under unstable governments, that kind of turmoil is their normal. 

Hopefully, one day, the worst of this pandemic will be over. This virus will no longer be a huge threat, the death rate will even out, the healthcare system will recover, public schools will open, and restrictions will ease. But for the world’s poor, they will continue to live life in pandemic-type conditions, as they always have. Will we think of them? Will we remember what it felt like, and use that empathy to pray and give and go? 

Continue to remember….those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

Let us resolve to never forget. 

To the Fathers of Third Culture Kids

by Chris Moyer

Woosh…….Pop! For as long as I can remember I have found immense satisfaction in the sound and feeling of a baseball hitting a mitt just right. Of all places, this love of mine started as a 7- or 8-year-old in suburban Paris while playing countless hours of catch with my dad in the parking lot across the street from our house.

Over time, and as we moved from place to place, the “woosh” and the “pop” got louder as I grew in strength and ability. But while these things changed, my company remained the same. As a pre-teen, and then as a teenager, I would frequently knock on my dad’s home office door, peeking my head in while asking, “Want to play catch?” While I imagine there were times he was not able to acquiesce, all I can remember when thinking back on my childhood was that dad was always available and willing to spend that time with me. Looking back, I know that my requests interrupted his work, but he never once made me feel bad about it. 

I have grown to realize that it is not really the sound of a ball hitting a mitt that is so satisfying. No, it is everything that is associated with the pop of leather hitting leather: the quality time spent playing and being coached by my dad; his propensity to say “yes” to me rather than “no;” his patience with me when I would get frustrated and pout because I would mess up a throw. If I were to sum up why I have such a fondness for hearing a baseball hit the sweet spot of a glove, it is because in many ways it reminds me of my dad’s presence in my life. He was safe. He was available. He valued me and spent time with me.

Last week I read the first issue of Interact Magazine that has been released since 2005. One article spoke of a study that had been conducted among adult children of missionaries (AMKs) on the key factors relating to their well-being and life-satisfaction. Researchers were surprised at the top answer participants gave related to what relationship was most important during their childhood and why:

Most of the CORE researchers, basing their experience on studies regarding the influence of mothers on their children, thought AMKs would say “Mother.” Instead, 55% of the respondents identified “Father” as the most important person in their life. Why? “He spent time with me”; “He knew I liked basketball, so he would play basketball with me in 120 degree heat”; “He included me in his work”; “He lived out what he preached”; “When I came out of my bedroom in the morning, Dad would be kneeling by the couch praying for me and the family”; “When I was falsely accused of doing something wrong at school, Dad drove 200 miles to come and defend me”. Again, the quality of a close, caring, loving, and committed relationship with Father formed the foundation for these AMKs further well-being in life1.

These survey results certainly do not minimize the important role of a mother in her child(ren)’s life. Rather, they highlight the vitality of a father’s relationship with his child(ren). When a family’s support system is upended through cross-cultural living, a father’s care becomes all the more important. An intentionally present, safe and caring father can help immensely as Third Culture Kids experience and process the destabilizing effects of countless transitions and as they seek to figure out who they are. While fathers cannot fix the challenges that their TCK(s) are facing, their relationship with their child(ren) is a key factor to their current and future well-being and life-satisfaction.

 

Say “Yes” as Much as Possible
I have now been a father to three TCKs for a little over two years and I am working on being more and more purposeful in the way I relate to my kids. I vividly remember a conversation my wife, Laura, had with her mom about parenting. I do not remember how the subject came up, but my mother-in-law told Laura this: “Whenever possible, I said ‘yes’ to your requests when you were growing up.” Of course, there are times when it was/is necessary to say “no.” But her statement struck me for a couple of reasons: (1) this was what I had experienced as a child when I would ask my dad to play catch; and (2) this is what I want my kids to remember about me when they grow up.

And so, as much as I enjoy running on my own, I try to say “yes” to my son when he asks if he can ride his bike alongside of me. The same goes for when he asks with a glimmer in his eyes, “Daddy, want to wrestle?” or when my girls ask to play games or cuddle with me. Since I most frequently work from home, my children’s requests often interrupt what I am doing so sometimes my “yes” has to be a “we will do that as soon as daddy is done.” Whether my “yes” is immediate or slightly delayed, I want my kids to know that I love them and highly value being with them.

 

Take Special Interest
In a world with countless connected devices at their fingertips, TCKs need their fathers more than ever to connect with them on a personal level. Similar to saying “yes” as often as possible, taking special interest in what our children enjoy is a key to building a safe relationship with them. So, whether our kids play sports, are aspiring musicians or artists, or have a special love for nature, valuing their interests by being physically and emotionally present when they are doing their activities will go a long way to show them that while circumstances might change, daddy’s care remains.

 

Be Quick to Listen
Let’s be honest, men, we have a propensity to want to fix things. And that’s a good thing! But unlike a kitchen sink that is clogged, the challenges our children face should not be viewed as problems to fix. Yes, sometimes there will be situations in which we will need to stand up for our children or take other protective measures. But most often, our children simply need to be known, understood, and feel safe. Going into “fix it” mode may come off as dismissive of what they are experiencing, which in turn will lead them to come less and less to us with their concerns. Lauren Wells, of TCK Training, has been posting short examples of this on TCK Training’s Facebook page. One such example that dads often struggle with is as follows:

“Being a safe space for someone processing their grief means…not responding with a phrase beginning with the words ‘at least.’”2

I have a theory as to why we are so prone to respond with words like “at least.” Many of us are uncomfortable with our own suffering and have been taught to always look for the positive. I have frequently heard people say of their own suffering that someone else has it worse in life. While it can be healthy to put our experiences in perspective, immediately dismissing our own difficulties may lead us to dismiss our children’s too. Instead of offering a quick reply, simply listen, try your best to understand what they are going through, ask questions, and be present.

So, to my fellow fathers of TCKs, let me encourage us all to say “yes” as much as possible, to take special interest in and connect with our kids, and to be listeners before being fixers.

 

Sources:
Wilkerson, D. 2020, September. MK Research Foundations. Interact Magazine, 61. Retrieved from: https://interactionintl.org/publications/interact-magazine/
Wells, L. 2020, October. https://www.facebook.com/tcktraining/posts/980148309154258

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Chris Moyer grew up in France and Germany as the child of missionaries. After spending nineteen years in the States and serving as a counselor and then as a pastor, he returned to France in 2018 with his wife, Laura, and their three children to serve in church planting and global member care with World Team. Chris loves running, biking, following his favorite sports teams as a faithful “phan” (all teams from Philadelphia and France soccer), and travelling the world. You can read more of his reflections on his personal TCK experience and on parenting TCKs on his blog TCKonnective.