Let me tell you about Kassiah Jones

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This month my husband and I took our kids to the local home school co-op’s spring performance. Some of our friends were in the play. It was called “The Race” and was an original play based loosely on the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Every character in this play was modeled after an animal. There was a bear and a sparrow and a fennec fox (among others), but the character that most captured my attention was the character modeled after the ant. Her name was Kassiah Jones, and she never knew when to quit.

When it was time for the village inhabitants to prepare for the annual race, Kassiah trained harder than all the rest. She worked hard and never knew when to stop.

On race day Kassiah was in the lead, far ahead of the others, for the first three laps. But on the fourth lap she didn’t come back around the curtain with the rest of the runners. At the end of the race, after somebody else had won, the villagers went in search of her. They found her, collapsed from exhaustion, and had to carry her out on a stretcher.

I so identified with Kassiah Jones. I work, work, work, and never take a break. I know I need to. But I forget.

The week I attended “The Race” was, to be honest, brutal. We’d gone three days without refrigeration and had lost the entire contents of our fridge to Cambodia’s hot season. We’d gone a couple days with a puking child and half a night’s power outage with said puking child. I got to the end of that week completely exhausted and out of sorts.

So that Friday I took the first of what I’m now calling a “Kassiah Jones Day.” I canceled home school. I played games with my kids. We watched sciences videos in the air conditioning. I read more than usual to them. I’m with them all the time, but I don’t always share enjoyable activities with them. Instead I focus on finishing our lessons, and then in my “free time,” I work.

But I now have a vocabulary for what my soul needs and for the way I’d been treating it. I have a symbol, a simple phrase that encompasses a world of meaning for me. It’s true I forget to Sabbath. It’s true I forget to breathe. It’s true that all too often, I am Kassiah Jones.

But I think that needs to start changing, and I think I know just how to try.

~~In honor of Kassiah Jones, I’m keeping this blog post short.~~

~~When was the last time you took a Kassiah Jones Day?~~

But I’ve done all these good things . . .

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The question came as Jesus was beginning His last journey to Jerusalem. It came as He was heading toward His most heart-rending task, as He was starting the long descent toward death: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

We all know the story. A young, rich, religious man calls Jesus good and then asks Him how to achieve eternal life. Jesus first scolds him for calling anyone “good” but God. Then, feeling genuine love for the man, Jesus tells him to follow the commandments and proceeds to list several of them.

The man defends himself. “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young,” he says. But Jesus informs him that there is still something he hasn’t done – namely, to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow Jesus. The man’s face falls when he hears this, and he goes away sad, for he was a very wealthy man.

I’d always glossed over this incident, thinking it might not apply to me. (I’d also neglected to notice until now that it occurred just before Jesus enters Jerusalem for the last time.) But this month as I again worked my way through the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, it suddenly struck me: the story of the rich, young ruler is my story.

“I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young” — once upon a time I said those words out loud, too. I’d just been confronted by my own sin, and I was shocked. I remember protesting, “But I’ve spent my whole life trying to follow God!” My statement was just another version of the rich, young man’s statement; it was just another version of pride.

And like the man, my face fell too. When I saw my attitude for what it was — sin — I did an abrupt U-turn. I interpreted my sin as the worst of all sins and became very depressed. My sin wasn’t a sin that could be forgiven, you see. A sin like mine didn’t deserve God’s grace and forgiveness. Where before I had thought I was better than others, I now thought I was worse.

I rolled around in my sorrow and self-pity until a friend gently pointed out that I was exhibiting reverse pride: the kind of pride that says my sins are so bad they can’t be forgiven. I had flipped from the regular old pride of thinking I was a good person to the insidious, upside-down version of pride that said I could never deserve God’s forgiveness.

But my goodness was never good enough anyway, and reverse pride is a sin to repent of, too. So Jesus basically said the same thing to me that He said to the young man: “There is something you still lack.” That something was a humble awareness of grace. Because in the end, Jesus didn’t ask me to give up all my possessions. (Moving to Asia isn’t the same thing.)

What Jesus has asked me to give up is the idea of myself as someone who has done good things. He’s asked me to give up the idea that I’ve followed the commands well. Because I haven’t. And He’s asked me to give up the idea that any sin is beyond His reach, including the prideful belief that I have no (or very small) sins.

As Jesus watched the man in this story walk away, He explained to His disciples how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of heaven. His announcement left the disciples wondering who in the world could be saved – because to a certain extent, we all trust in both riches and our own good works.

But here is where the story gets good, because Jesus told His disciples that “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” And He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the impossible, possible. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to make the man’s question irrelevant. He kept walking toward Jerusalem to demonstrate His genuine love for us and to give a very un-good humanity the goodness that belongs to God alone.

Whether we’ve done “all these things” since our youth or not.

As pertains to the state of my soul

So I went to America.

Where I felt homeless. Especially at Walmart, where there are entirely too many choices. And especially at Starbucks, where you can order coffee on your smart phone; you don’t even have to stand in line.

And I felt at home. Especially at my mom’s house and with my very closest friends.

Then I came back to Cambodia.

Where I also felt at home. Especially during descent, when I looked out the airplane window to glimpse first the rice fields, and then those striking colored roofs. And I exhaled, declaring it the most beautiful sight in the world.

Then I marveled, how is this possible? How can two such different places feel like home? How can I feel at home in a place so different from my upbringing? And how can the place I grew up sometimes not feel like home?

This is the strange inner life of the international worker, of the third culture kid, of the missionary kid, of the missionary. It’s a life in which home and belonging can be so hard to find — and at times hard even to define. It’s a life in which one can, on occasion, feel utterly countryless.

I know that sounds ridiculous to say in the midst of a worldwide refugee crisis, but you A Life Overseas readers know it’s true, because you know what it feels like, too.

We’re all made to be homesick for a better country anyway, so when we can’t quite find home here, we’re only feeling what we were meant to feel.

We at the A Life Overseas community know another feeling too: how draining it can be to spend time in our passport countries. Speaking and traveling, sharing and talking about “the work.” Meeting with and encouraging people, listening to their stories and hearing their hearts.

Don’t get me wrong. These are all good things. All necessary and important things. Enjoyable things even. But if you’re anything like me, you don’t get nearly enough time alone with God on furlough, either.

Which is why three months later, I find myself with a well that’s been drained nearly dry. I’m spiritually empty. I’m emotionally empty. I’m creatively empty.

I’ve poured myself out. I need time alone with God to replenish my stores. And that’s precisely what I’ve been doing these past two weeks in Cambodia: drawing deeply from the Word of God.

(Well that, and cleaning and reorganizing my house, reconnecting with friends and teammates, and re-starting homeschool lessons.)

I’ve purposely held back from writing during this time. I felt the need to cocoon myself away and soak in God and His Word before I attempted to minister to others through my words.

So you will find this post today rather meager. You will find no inspiring words here, nor encouragement for your daily life.

For I am still recovering from all that outflow. And my soul needs more sifting. I need more time in the throne room, in the presence of a purifying Christ and in the arms of a healing Savior.

I need more of God and less of me, more Living Water and fewer broken cisterns, more of the True Vine and less of my own dry roots. For the sake of my soul I need this, and I’ll keep taking the time to find it.

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When Singing “Joy to the World” Feels Too Hard

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Sadness has found me this Christmas season. I bear sadness over the brokenness in the world, and I bear sadness over the brokenness in my own life. So I mourn. And I grieve. Then, as I am currently in the United States for a short visit, I look around at America’s intensely commercialized version of Christmas, and I wish I could ignore it altogether.

That’s why this week, in an effort to fight my Scrooginess, I set aside time to bake Christmas cookies with my mom and my daughters. It’s why I pulled out the scissors and construction paper to make Christmas crafts. And it’s why I sat down at the piano to play Christmas carols. I knew I needed to ground myself in some ancient theology and lose myself in some minor keys.

Because I couldn’t play “Joy to the World.” Not now, not yet. It’s always been one of my favorites, but it’s too happy right now. It’s too early for glory and joy, too soon for triumph and victory. I’d love to get to these words from Isaac Watts:

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found, far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness, and wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love, and wonders, wonders, of His love.

But I’m not ready for them yet. I know the promise; I feel the promise. But right now, the promise feels more true than the fruition. The longing feels more true than the fulfillment. I am absolutely in love with Jesus, but I’m not ready for triumphant words and joyful melodies. I’ve been sticking to the sad-sounding songs instead.

I did manage “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” because I love the fullness of the Gospel story in Charles Wesley’s second and third verses. But more often, I was drawn to the minor-sounding songs, to the lamentations of the Christmas canon. I sat awhile with “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” But over and over again, the songs I returned to were “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” for the ache of its fourth verse, and “What Child is This?” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” for their collective sadness.

In some mysterious way I draw hope from their minor keys. Somehow I feel comfort in their mourning. So in between cookie dough and paper stars, I headed to the piano to sing little encapsulations of the Gospel, to pour out my sadness upon the ivory. My husband picked up on my feelings and asked me if the songs were making me sad. But I told him no, these songs aren’t making me sad; they’re speaking my sadness.

Much like my liturgical friends suppress their alleluias during Lent, I’m suppressing my joy this Advent. I’m waiting for happy-happy Christmas, waiting for “Joy to the World.” I’m waiting for the termination of thorns and the death of the curse. I’m waiting for the wonders of His love and the absolute reign of His truth and grace.

So if you, like me, feel like suppressing your joy this Christmas season, it’s ok. Truly, it is. Because we’re actually still waiting — for the return of our King and the fullness of His joy. And it’s ok if, when you join your voice with others this next week, the song “Joy to the World” makes you sad rather than glad. It’s ok if it makes you cry. It’s even ok if you refuse to sing it.

We can make space at the table for sadness this Christmas. We can settle our souls on the minor keys. We can open our hearts to the Promise and wait for the complete reign of our Savior. We can employ a song not of total sadness, but of delayed joy. And right next to the seat of grief and lament in our hearts, we can prepare Him room.

When a country is etched into your soul

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When I’m in Cambodia, I assume that I think like an American and that I act like one too — because in many ways I do. But then I return to America and discover I’ve forgotten some key facts about the way Americans live in America. Things like:

  1. Americans don’t throw their toilet paper in the trash can. (Oops.)
  2. Americans pump their own gas. (You expect me to do what?!)
  3. Americans give and receive objects with one hand, not two. (Still working on that one.)
  4. Americans inherently know how to use shower curtains. (Unlike my children.)
  5. Americans don’t point with their middle fingers. (Also unlike my children.)
  6. Americans don’t get offended if you motion them to “come here” with your palms and fingers pointed up. (I, however, now am offended by palms-up gestures. Even in movies.)
  7. On the other hand, Americans may very well be offended if you ask them their age. (Oops again.)
  8. Americans in America don’t worry over torn or ripped dollar bills and will use them even if they’re not in pristine condition. (Which is one less thing to worry about at the ATM.)
  9. Americans (in Suburbia) don’t lock doors and windows obsessively like I do.
  10. Americans don’t worry about shoes in the house. (Is it because of the vacuum cleaners??)

Much more deeply than these surface-level customs, though, there’s no getting around the fact that Cambodia has been etched into my soul. I’ve encountered God so fiercely, so intimately, and so many times in Cambodia that it’s been written into my heart.

In prayer, in Bible study, in worship, and in fellowship with other believers, Cambodia has marked me. It has been for me Bethel, the house of God, a gateway to heaven. It has been for me Beer-lahai-roi, the well of the Living One who sees me.*

It’s where I’ve found purpose and calling in writing and encouraging fellow sojourners. It’s where I’ve fallen deeper in love with God and with His church. How can I not love Cambodia??

Sometimes I love God so much in Cambodia that I forget He’s also in America. My first home assignment was really spiritually dry. Almost like a desert, in fact. It made me want to hurry back to Cambodia. It also made me nervous about returning to the States a second time.

And sure enough, one morning early in this current visit, I was out on my parents’ deck, discouraged and feeling sorry for myself. God, where are you? Why are you so hard to find in America?

In the midst of my pity party, Jonathan walked out. He listened to me complain about my circumstances. Then he told me, “Remember, if you can find God in Cambodia, then you can find Him here.”

Ouch! Exhortation received, dear husband. And thankfully, I’m here to say it’s true. This time, I’m finding Him here. I’m seeing Him and I’m hearing Him. He’s not silent. He’s not far away.  He is present. And He is good.

I miss my raggedy red couch in Cambodia; it’s true. I miss my palm trees and my early morning meetings with God, drinking my cheap coffee in a room thick with heat, street noise, and river dust.

I relish the comforts of first world living — the plush carpets and the comfy furniture. And I delight in the joy of meeting old friends. But I miss the pressure cooker of God’s love and the fellowship of like minds that I’ve found overseas.

I also know that in two months’ time, I’ll slide right back into my old, familiar routines. I’ll rise on the wings of the dawn and fly straight back to Bethel, back to Beer-lahai-roi. For the present, however, I’ll continue to meet God wherever and however He shows up.

*Genesis 16:14

How has your host country been etched into your soul?

Do have difficulty finding God when you visit your passport country? How do you deal with it?

The Far Side of Somewhere

I remember my first home service. All those awkward experiences like drinking water from the tap and flushing the toilet with potable water again. Or feeling naked and exposed with no metal security bars on the windows. Or handing payment to cashiers with two hands (like I do in Cambodia) and then being embarrassed, because normal people don’t do that here.

What was up with the laundry smelling nice, all the time? (Come to think of it, what was up with everything smelling nice, all the time?) Could a load of laundry really take a mere two hours to complete, all the way from wash to wear, without having to hang on the line for two or three days in rainy season and still be damp — and smelling of fire and whatever dish the neighbors last cooked over said fire??

I wanted someone to explain to me why Americans felt the need to store hot water in a tank. Seemed like such a waste of energy when you could use a tankless water heater instead, thereby providing a never-ending source of hot water for yourself. (Running out of hot water in the winter is a big problem for me.)

Today I’m facing another home service. I’ll click publish on this blog post and leave my Cambodia home. I’ll board a plane and begin the process of temporarily re-entering my American home. I need to go. It’s time. After a second two-year stint in this country, culture fatigue has hit me hard. I’m worn out from the collective sin patterns of this culture, and I need a break. I love Cambodia, and I sometimes need a break from Cambodia.

Still, there’s nothing like preparing to go on home service for bringing on an identity crisis. Who am I, and where do I belong? I live in this city and traverse its Asian streets, all without quite belonging to them. Yet I don’t quite belong to the immaculately clean American streets I’ll soon be walking, either. Belonging is a slippery feeling for a global nomad. It can be everywhere, and it can be nowhere, all at the same time.

Nevertheless, when I walk in the door of my parents’ house tomorrow, I know I will once more experience the words of Bernard Cook, words that hung on the walls of every one of my childhood homes: “We need to have people who mean something to us; people to whom we can turn, knowing that being with them is coming home.” Growing up in a military family, I always knew Home was with my family. Home is with the people I love.

And as a Christian, I know Home is with God Himself. I love these words from Christine Hoover’s book From Good to Grace: “With Christ as my city, I can traipse all over the globe and never once not be at home. Because I dwell in His grace.” Christine knows a bit about this unmoored feeling of mine. She and her husband didn’t cross country borders when they moved to Virginia to church plant, but in leaving their home state of Texas to follow God’s leading, they certainly crossed the kind of deep cultural divide that make you wonder where in the world you belong.

I want Christ to be my city. I want to dwell in Him. The best part about finding home and belonging in Him is that He goes with me wherever I go. Psalm 139 is a gift to us global nomads in this regard. In verses 7 through 10, the Psalmist asks:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

When I moved to Cambodia nearly four years ago, I traveled west across the ocean on a morning flight, literally rising on the wings of the dawn. And when I stepped off the plane in Phnom Penh, I found that not only had God flown the skies with me, but that He was already here in this place — for I cannot flee from His presence. Even on the far side of the sea, He holds me fast. And no matter how deep the depths of my life, I know He is with me.

From now on, wherever I go and no matter which side of the sea I settle on, I will always be on the far side of somewhere I love. There is just no getting around that. But how precious of God to include David’s words in His Word. David could not have known about jet propulsion when he penned Psalm 139, but thousands of years later, his words are a balm to the global nomad’s soul. For we rise on the wings of the dawn, and we settle on the far side of the sea, and because God lives in us, we can find Home in every place He has made.

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Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!

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Some of you know I’m a science lover. Our friends back in the States know this too, and a couple times a year they send us a package with their old science magazines (along with other treats). I love Magazine Arrival Day.

Earlier this year I cracked open the September 2014 issue of Discover magazine and read about neutrinos – tiny, subatomic particles I don’t even pretend to understand. I’m a chemist, for goodness sake, not a physicist. My scientific understanding only goes down as small as protons and electrons, and not a quark smaller. Neutrinos are smaller than that, and also, extremely secretive.

As I read (largely uncomprehendingly) through the article, one particular section caught my attention, and I paused. Are we sure we’re talking about tiny subatomic particles here?? Because to me, this paragraph sounded more like the description of a fellow Third Culture Kid than anything else. Or, to enlarge the conversation a bit, it sounded like a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK) or Third Culture Adult (TCA) — terms I first read about in Lois Bushong’s insanely helpful Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere.

Check it out:

Neutrinos are notorious shape-shifters. Each one is born as one of three types, or flavors – electron, muon, and tau – but they can change flavors in a few thousandths of a second as they travel, as if they can’t make up their mind what to be. Neutrinos, like other subatomic particles, sometimes behave like waves. But as the neutrino travels, the flavor waves combine in different ways. Sometimes the combination forms what is mostly an electron neutrino and sometimes mostly a muon neutrino. Because neutrinos are quantum particles, and by definition weird, they are not one single flavor at a time, but rather always a mixture of flavors. On the very, very rare occasion that a neutrino interacts with another particle, if the reaction appears to produce an electron, then the neutrino was an electron flavor in its final moments; if it produces a muon, the neutrino was muon-flavored. It’s as if the shy neutrino’s identity crisis can only be resolved when it finally interacts with another particle.

So let’s break that down a bit and see if we can find any similarities:

  1. Neutrinos are shape-shifters. Or, as the TCK literature says, we are “cultural chameleons” who can shift between cultures and adapt to new ones more easily.
  2. Neutrinos can change flavors as they travel, as if they can’t make up their mind what to be. Again the chameleon quality is shining through. TCKs may have divided loyalties, and we might not want to choose one culture over another.
  3. Neutrinos are quantum particles and by definition, weird. TCKs often feel different from other people – “weird,” if you will. (And for me, that differentness has sometimes left me feeling lonely.)
  4. Neutrinos are not one single flavor at a time, but rather always a mixture of flavors. Likewise, TCKs aren’t one single culture or flavor; we’re a mixture.
  5. It’s as if the neutrino’s identity crisis can only be resolved when it interacts with another particle. Not only do we often struggle with identity crises – who am I?? – but TCKs can also be so good at adapting that we take on the culture of whatever people we most recently interacted with.

 

If you’re a TCK (or you love someone who is), did you find yourself or your loved one in any of these descriptions of the neutrino? Or am I just plain crazy to see this metaphor??

Do you have any other TCK metaphors? I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

       _

for a more contemplative TCK metaphor, click here

article and photo credit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angry, Mean, and Redeemed

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I lost my mind this hot season. Became unglued. Went a little nuts. Whatever you want to call it. Yes, everyone’s crabbier and more uncomfortable this time of year, and it would be mighty convenient to blame my meltdown on the heat. It would also be unfair, for I can’t in good conscience blame the external temperatures for my roiling internal mess.

I’d been angry at some disappointments in my life for a while, and it was spilling out into irritability and rudeness with my husband and children, who did not deserve my unkindness and snappiness. I refused to talk to God about these things because I was convinced He couldn’t change any of the circumstances anyway, and I didn’t want to be even more disappointed by His lack of intervention. So I just kept getting angrier and angrier, more and more irritable, and more and more distant from God.

One Sunday morning I hit a breaking point. I sat down with the question, “How did I become such a whiny witch?” (You can substitute more colorful language if you want; it would still be true.) I actually locked my door so my kids couldn’t walk in on me. I got down on my knees — something I rarely do while praying — and confessed and repented to God.

Then I did something I hadn’t been able to do for weeks, because I’d been staying too angry: I cried. I cried and cried. I lamented the terrible person I still am, how ugly my heart still is, how much sin I still have, how badly I was reacting to seemingly everything. I implored God, “What are you going to do with me??” His immediate reply: “Forgive you.”

Forgive me?? That’s what He was going to do with me?? He wasn’t going to give up on me? He wasn’t going to punish me? No, He said He was going to forgive me. But I suppose there’s nothing else to do with a sinner like me, but to forgive. I almost couldn’t believe how badly I needed absolution. When I received forgiveness, I suddenly found I could forgive those who had sinned against me. And my evil attitude toward my family dissipated.

In the end, I found it was unforgiveness that was keeping me from God. I had been avoiding the pain of repentance. Feeling the weight of my own sin hurts. I’d rather stay angry at someone else’s sin. But I was continually frustrated by my angry outbursts towards the people I wasn’t actually angry with. I kept asking myself, “Why can’t I get it together?” The answer was simple: because I hadn’t gone to God.

Going to God was such a relief. It’s the only thing I can describe it as. It was a relief to know that after all these years when I act like a witch for weeks on end, God still forgives. A relief to know my sin was not the end of me. A relief to know that no matter what, I can go back to the Cross, back to my Savior, back to my Lord. I got off my knees a forgiven person, lighter and freer, and ready to live again.

And so it was that this spring I experienced the truth of an old Keith Green song:

 

My eyes are dry, my faith is old, my heart is hard, my prayers are cold

And I know how I ought to be, alive to You and dead to me

 What can be done to an old heart like mine? Soften it up with oil and wine

The oil is You, Your Spirit of love, please wash me anew in the wine of Your blood

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A Conversation With Timothy Sanford, Author of “I Have to be Perfect”

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The last four months we’ve been exploring the ideas in Timothy Sanford’s book I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). Here are the first four posts if you need a refresher:

The Little Word that Frees Us

I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

I Can’t Trust Anyone

God is Disappointed in Me

Today we’ll conclude our series with an interview with Timothy himself. My questions and comments are in bold. Also stay tuned for his book to become more accessible for overseas workers this summer, when it will be published electronically.

 

Timothy, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us here at A Life Overseas. I know this conversation will bless our online community. You grew up as an MK. Can you give us a little background about where you lived as a child?

“Where I grew up” is a hard question for many MKs—and even PKs these days—to answer. My birth certificate and passport indicate I was born in Chicago, Illinois (many think Chicago is a foreign country).  The back of a 1957 Chevy got very comfortable while my parents did deputation.  They were in Costa Rica for language school and finally landed in Ecuador.

Back State side, my parents did their “re-entry transitioning” (which did not even exist back in those days) in Ohio.  We then moved to Texas (which self-claims to be a “whole different world”) where they did missionary work in Mexico and taught at Rio Grande Bible Institute.

We moved back to Ohio so my dad could take a preacher job (which didn’t work out) and finally landed in Arizona where I became a SEK (Secular Employee’s Kid, which some people pronounce “sick”).

 

You’ve been a licensed professional counselor for how many years now?

I’ve been in practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor for 26 years with experience in private practice, a Residential Treatment Center for youth, and an In-patient psychiatric hospital.

 

Is there anything specific that prompted you to enter counseling as a profession?

It was my wife’s idea really. We were leaving Eagle Lake Camp (part of The Navigators organization), so I went back to school (to buy some time to figure out what I was going to do next in life).  At that time the field of psychology was lab rats, long white coats and weird men with ponytails. My goal was to receive the counseling skills and use them in ministry somewhere overseas. I did my required internship in a private practice setting and have been in practice ever since.  Yes, the “God does work in mysterious ways” cliché fits.

 

From your vantage point, what things have changed, and what things have remained constant, in missionary and ministry culture these past 3 or 4 decades? How are the experiences of today’s PKs and MKs different from a few decades ago, and how are they the same?

Today there is more information and attention that on the subject of MK/TCKs.  Out of that came MK Member Caregiver staff people and Re-entry seminars/retreats for transitioning MKs.

The internet, Skype, and better international calling services help MKs keep connected with the MKs they know from the field, as well as being a forum to connect with other like-minded  MK/TCKs. That’s all good.

When my parents were sent off to the field they were told “You’re a missionary and God will take care of your kids.  Ministry first.”  That mantra is no longer outwardly stated; however, the tone in missions these days is “You’re a missionary (parents) and the MK Member Caregiver staff will tend to your kids’ needs.  Ministry is still (unofficially, of course) first.”  Even with all the increased attention and information on cross-cultural issues, many MKs still get pushed into second or third place.

 

I’ve interpreted this book through my own personal experiences: a TCK but not a PK, a missionary but not an MK, an adult who entered ministry young but did not grow up in it, and a parent raising 4 children who are all PKs, MKs, and TCKs. But you wrote this book to PKs, not to their parents. I’m wondering what kind of advice you’d give to parents of MKs and PKs? So much of the time as a parent, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’d love your input on that. What kind of conversations would you recommend having with our children?

Since you’re the missionary parent asking this question that’s a great start.

The way I try to describe the difference between the missionary and the MK is this way:  Let’s say America is the color RED and Ecuador is the color YELLOW.  You are a RED brain (it’s your paradigm, it’s your passport country) adjusting to a YELLOW culture.  You make paradigm adjustments to your RED brain.  But, when you mix RED with YELLOW (the culture the MK/TCK grows up in) you get ORANGE.  That’s not RED adapting to YELLOW, it’s ORANGE.  It’s an entirely different color.  It’s an entirely different paradigm all together.  Poof! You have the TCK world.

Your world as the missionary is not the same as the MK’s world for several reasons:

  1. Your MK didn’t get to choose to do missionary work to foreign peoples.
  2. It isn’t your MK’s “calling” either.
  3. You have adult skills (I hope) with which to manage the stresses, struggles and complications of an inter-cultural environment. Your MK only has child-level coping skills. Many adults (not just missionaries) don’t stop to think about the limited coping skills their children have. This is especially true if you are stationed in a potentially hostile region. You have the adult understandings of the “chances” and “odds” of things happening – or not happening.  The MK mostly hears the “what can go wrong.” It can be especially terrifying for younger children.
  4. Be attuned to the world from the MK’s perspective and realize the “Holy Heresies” are very likely to grow inside their brains even if you’re not the one putting those lies there. MKs—and especially PKs—have 100 dads and 150 moms. Remember: the mission agency, the denomination, the church people and the secular environment you live in impacts your MK a whole lot more than you may think.  Sometimes these external “voices” are as influential as your own voice; frustrating, yet true.

Accept the possibility you may need to choose your MK over your “ministry,” at least for a number of years. I don’t wish this on any family, yet as the missionary parent, it’s a harsh “reality of the job” you need to accept.

 

The “harsh reality of the job” — that’s an intriguing statement. Could you elaborate on it?

What I’m trying to say is there may come a time when the parent is faced with the tough decision between staying on the field to do “ministry” or returning/staying home because it is in the best interest of a child. There have been several families that I recommended for the sake of the child(ren) they not continue on the field.

That is a VERY difficult and painful decision to make, and that position of facing that decision is what I hope no family has to face.  It’s just hard for everyone in the family.  Yes, it is a matter of prioritizing and making sure the MK comes out on top of the “ministry.” Part of what makes this so hard is most missionaries I know are passionate about their calling (and rightfully so), so to CHOOSE to put it aside for a while is very painful for them (again, and rightfully so).

On the flip side, I think some missionary families don’t reach out for family help because they are afraid they will be told they can’t continue their ministry/return to the field. The missionary parents often come in with an all-or-nothing thinking: ministry or suffer State-side.  I have successfully worked with a number of families where other options actually worked out very well.  Again, it’s a case by case situation, but for the missionary, it’s important to realize there may be more options available other than go or stay.

Accepting the reality that your family may NOT thrive, or even belong, overseas is something very few missionaries consider.  Yet it’s true.  My recommendation to potential missionaries is: are they truly willing (not just in theory willing) to NOT go or NOT return to the field if that is what is best for their family.  If NOT … my recommendation is to not send that family to the field in the first place.  That’s what I mean by: “…it’s a harsh “reality of the job” you need to accept.”

Again, if the missionary parents are not aware of this reality, they can become very broken and maybe even bitter if one of their children “kept” them “from doing God’s work” … which is really THEIR own work as well as their identity.  Too many missionary personnel I’ve met have made “ministry” and “missionary” their IDENTITY over what they are doing.  If this type of missionary can’t return to “their work” it can actually create an identity crisis that can bring all sorts of complications such as depression, etc.  It’s a HUGE topic that I have not heard mentioned at all in the few missionary circles I’m clued into.  It may actually be worth another post or series for you to think about doing.

 

High school graduation time is upon us. How would you describe your re-entry into American life as a young adult, and what advice would you give for MKs/TCKs preparing to re-enter their passport country, especially from a counselor’s perspective? What advice would you give their parents for helping guide them in the transition?

I know about transitions. All in all, I attended six different schools before completing the 8th grade and lived in 26 different places before graduating from high school.  You know, the normal stuff for MKs. So here are my suggestions:

  1. Make good use of your R.A.F.T.
  2. Attend a transition weekend. Many mission agencies provide these nowadays as well as organizations such as Interact, etc.  They really can help.
  3. Keep connected with other TCK friends via internet, etc.
  4. If possible, attend a university that has a high population of international students. There is a good chance you will meet other TCKs there.
  5. Remember what these four phrases really mean:

“Let’s get together …” really means “good bye.”

“I’ll call you …” really means “good bye.”

“Give me a call …” really means “good bye.”

“We’ll be in touch …” really means “good bye.”

  1. If your agency had an MK Caregiver staff or person, get to know them and keep in contact. I’ve met a number of MK Caregivers and they all want to help (they’re good at it too).  And if you don’t know what R.A.F.T. stands for, ask your MK Caregiver; he or she will know.

 

Is there anything you’d like to add to what you’ve said in the book? Perhaps something new you’ve learned since you originally wrote it, that’s burning on your heart?

Since writing “I Have to be Perfect,” I have done a lot of research on the subject of attachment child to parent.  In doing so, I realize there can very easily be attachment issues within a missionary family.  In 2003 I presented a workshop at the World Reunion 2003 (for TCKs not just MKs) on the topic of attachment.  They had me do the workshop two additional times because nearly all the attendees wanted to attend that workshop. As I did so, I did an unofficial, unscientific experiment. At the end of all three workshops I asked for written “yes” or “no” response on a small piece of paper stating whether the attachment issues presented fit them.  To my surprise, nearly 80% of the attendees at the World Reunion 2003 indicated they had significant attachment issues in their life.  It was this gathering that got me started on studying the attachment dynamic and how growing up as an MK/TCK can impact attachment.

For about nine years now I’ve been working on a manuscript on this subject and I’m glad to share INSIDE: Understanding How Reactive Attachment Disorder Thinks and Feels will be released in eBook form early summer 2015 through LifEdvice.com. Had I known then what I know now, I would have added at least some of this to “I Have to be Perfect.”  Oh well, I guess people will just have to order the eBook (which will sell for $4.99 I believe).

Oh and since I’m talking about eBooks being released, “I Have to be Perfect” is also coming out in eBook format through the same publisher (LifEdvice.com) early this summer as well—and it will be cheaper too! Again, I think it will be $4.99.

 

Thank you so much, Tim, for taking the time to answer all these questions and share your hard-won wisdom with us. I know people will really appreciate how practical this advice is.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Life Overseas community, do you have any questions for Tim? He’ll be available to answer your questions in the comment section until Sunday, May 31.

 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Tim Sanford holds an M.A. in Psychology, a B.A. in Bible and a B.S. in Outdoor Recreation.  He is licensed by the State of Colorado as a Licensed Professional Counselor and is an ordained minister.  He has received further training in areas of communication, trauma response and debriefing and experiential education.

Tim’s background includes being raised in South America; many years of involvement in his home church (including interim College Pastor); and being the Director of the wilderness camping ministry for The Navigators, an international, interdenominational Christian organization. He currently runs a private counseling practice in Colorado Springs that focuses on adolescents, adults and marriage.  In addition to his practice, Tim is a full-time member of the counseling staff at Focus on the Family.

He has published many articles in the United States, Germany and South Africa.  He is the author of “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies), a book intended for preachers’ kids, co-authored Growing Pains: Advice for Parents of Teenagers and Losing Control and Liking It, a book for parenting teenagers published by Focus on the Family/Tyndall Publishing. Tim’s most recent work INSIDE: Understanding How Reactive Attachment Disorder Thinks and Feels is scheduled to be released early summer, 2015, In total, his works have been translated into seven different languages.

He has been married to Becky since 1981 and they have two married daughters.  They currently call Colorado Springs, Colorado their home. Tim has spoken at numerous conferences over the years, for many kinds of gatherings, workshops and seminars; national and local.

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“God is Disappointed With Me” | Lies We Believe

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For the past three months we’ve been working through Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (And Other Parsonage Heresies). If you’re new to this series, you can read the previous posts here:

Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us

Part 2: “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

Part 3: “I Can’t Trust Anyone

Today we’ll be exploring the last three lies from the book, and next month we’ll officially close out the series with an author interview. (I’m super excited about the interview!!! I bet you couldn’t tell that, could you??)

 

I have to be perfect

I grew up hearing sermons about the “goodness and severity of God” and about God not hearing the prayer of the sinner. Girls Bible study times were filled with questions like, “If women are to remain silent in church, is it a sin to whisper in church to ask someone the song number if I didn’t hear it announced?” and “How long should my shorts be?” So by the time I entered ministry at the age of 19, no one had to tell me I needed to be perfect; I already knew I needed to be perfect. And not only did I know I needed to be perfect, I knew everyone else needed to be perfect as well.

At the same time, I knew everyone wasn’t perfect. As a teenager, I knew my church friends were being physically and sexually abused at home, but no one would ever dare talk about that at church, where their dads were leaders. This taught me that the families around me weren’t perfect; it also taught me that they needed to appear that way. Furthermore, it taught me that the rest of us needed to treat them as though they were perfect. The appearance of perfection mattered more than actual righteousness.

Those are my stories; your stories will be different. Yet our collective stories may have taught us something dark and devious: that ministry and missionary families are (or should be) holier than everyone else. Our stories may have taught us that in order to serve God, we need to be super human. At the very least, our stories may have taught us that we need to project an image of perfection. Sometimes we extend this expectation to others and become judgmental of their non-perfection; other times we require it only of ourselves.

Of course, none of us is perfect. We all know this very well, because we all wrestle with our own sin natures. So we can become discouraged when we fail to meet our self-imposed (or church-imposed) “shoulds” over, and over, and over again. The pressures placed on missionaries, ministers, and their wives and children are often unattainable and put them at risk for depression. The painful irony here is that since they’re “supposed” to be perfect and not have any “major” problems, there’s shame both in the depression (or other mental health issues) and its appropriate treatment.

To illustrate this, Sanford once took an informal survey at a PK conference, asking for a show of hands of people who had been diagnosed with depression, placed on anti-depressant medicine, or hospitalized for depression. 80% of attendants raised their hands, at which point a woman in the back piped up with “But we’re not allowed to be!”

James says in his letter that “We all stumble in many ways,” and John’s first letter tells us, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” So the truth is, we can’t be perfect, and we don’t have to be. Yes, some of us are better than others at appearing perfect, but nobody actually is perfect. We sin, we mess up, we fail. Regularly. I repeat: we don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to give the impression.

Now this is much easier to say than it is to live. All those things I’d learned in church? Well, they had impacted my conception of God and who I was in relation to Him. I hadn’t realized it before, but I had zero theology of Grace. I thought I needed to prove my worth and earn my salvation. It was only about eight years ago that I began deconstructing these harmful beliefs. For about four months that year, I met with a counselor once a week. I spent lots of time in prayer with my Bible study group, and I read lots of Paul: Ephesians, Galatians, Romans. (I’m unabashed about my love for Paul.) Over and over and over again I listened and cried and danced to Chris Tomlin’s cover of Matt Maher’s song “Your Grace Is Enough.” These things transformed my thinking about sin and grace.

That year was a turning point in my walk with God and my understanding of Grace. I relinquished the old ways of thinking — though I confess they still creep back to haunt me from time to time. In those times, I have to return to God and ask Him to renew my mind yet again. (And yes, when I forget Grace, I still sometimes beat myself up by thinking, “I should understand this better by now!”)

Our attempts to be perfect cripple our experience of Christ. His perfection, and His perfection alone, undergirds the entire Gospel. And the Gospel is completely counter-cultural, in every culture. This is why we sometimes struggle to accept it: it seems quite literally too good to be true. Except that it is true! Grace, full and free, releases us from the requirements we feel from church members and supporters (and ourselves) to meet some impossible standard of perfection that Jesus already met. In Christ Alone, our hope is found.

Grace isn’t necessarily easy medicine to swallow for us perfectionists. I would often cry my eyes out in a counseling session and then be so exhausted I could sleep for the rest of the day. A single blog post cannot easily dismantle our beliefs surrounding God’s approval and our efforts. Unraveling our thinking is, frustratingly, not an overnight process.  I do believe, however, that it’s a process He is faithful to fulfill.

 

I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t

This phrase reflects the Either/Or mindset that has plagued me for so much of my life. It’s this kind of black-and-white thinking that has gotten me into so much inner turmoil: If I make one mistake, then I must be a total failure. And depression ensues. The “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” attitude also gives way to futility: If I can’t do something perfectly, then I won’t do it at all. This goes for “spiritual” things like Bible reading and also seemingly less spiritual things like interpersonal conflict and offering apologies.

The tragedy of Either/Or thinking is that it doesn’t acknowledge paradox or complexity. It doesn’t acknowledge that sanctification is a process. It doesn’t acknowledge that we are not fully regenerate yet and that no, we are not there yet. These are truths my beloved Apostle Paul acknowledged. (Romans 7 and Philippians 3, anyone?)

Brennan Manning said, “When I get honest, I admit that I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and I get discouraged, I love and I hate, I feel bad about feeling good, I feel guilty about not feeling guilty. I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. To live by grace means to acknowledge my whole life’s story, the light side and the dark.” According to Manning, living by grace means embracing all the ANDS of our lives. (Don’t you just love Brennan Manning??)

When AND isn’t a part of our collective vocabulary, we tend to believe we are judged as either 100% good or 100% bad, with no middle ground. We feel stuck. We know everything is not all right, both in our own personal lives and in our families’ lives, but since image is more important than reality (as we discussed earlier), we don’t feel the freedom to tell the whole truth. In a way, this is a consequence of believing we have to be perfect — and if we’re not, we just better keep our mouths shut about it.

I still don’t know why I didn’t feel free to tell anybody about my friends being abused. I wasn’t being abused at home; so why should I have been scared to tell anyone about my friends, whom I loved? Perhaps I had picked up on the idea that the Church is “supposed” to keep silent about these things. Just let the leaders lead; the abuse they perpetrate against their children at home has nothing to do with their reasonable service at church. Just let the teachers teach; the pain they inflict on their children at home has nothing to do with their reasonable service at church. The unspoken rule becomes: Keep these things secret. Don’t ever tell the truth. Speak up, and you’ll be punished. Speak out, and you’ll be judged as rebellious.

It’s hard to keep the ugly truth bottled up all the time, and it tends to leak out in one way or another. One way it leaks out is by escaping into another world. In particular, Sanford says people use food (either binging, binging and purging, or restricting) and sex (mostly porn) as escapes, as some of these can be hidden, at least for a time. He says the truth also tends to slip out in sarcasm, which sometimes seems bitter and angry. However, sarcasm and escapes may not be our main problem: they may only be the mechanism we’re using to tell our stories.

So what is the cure for “Damned if I do, damned if I don’t”? I believe it’s to allow ourselves to say AND. It’s to allow ourselves, as Brennan Manning said, to be honest and admit we are a bundle of paradoxes, and to allow each other to say it as well. It’s when we acknowledge our whole life’s story, the light side and the dark side, that we can begin to live by Grace alone.

 

God is disappointed with me

The lies in this series are all somewhat related, and this last one closely follows “I have to be perfect.” It represents the fear that if I’m not perfect, then God will be mad at me. That if I make a mistake (or several), He’ll disapprove of me. We can spend our whole lives trying to make God happy with our behavior. Working, working, working, trying so very hard to please Him.

This one is listed last in the book because it’s what Sanford calls a “holy heresy about God.” The others lies are about myself and others, but this one goes straight to the heart of God. Sometimes when we grow up in church, we get the idea that God is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can bring down His wrath, and punish us once and for all. We get the idea that we don’t deserve His love and aren’t good enough to earn His forgiveness. Not that He delights in us and sings over us, not that He loves us with an everlasting love and has saved us by His own Hand.

If that’s the kind of angry, vengeful God we know, we might end up walking away from Him.

I won’t even pretend to have all the answers here for how to deal with this lie. It goes really deep and takes a lot of time to shed. What I hope to do is to give you some resources that have helped me deal with this lie. I pray they can deepen your intimacy with God and strengthen your trust in His love.

Beginning to walk in the assurance of God’s unconditional love for us is an intensely personal journey. We walk part of it together, in safe community. We must also walk some of it alone, in the secret places of our hearts. It’s when I close the metaphorical door of my prayer closet and meet with God one on one that He touches me most personally and most deeply. I pray God will grant more and more of those sweet times of fellowship to all of us.

 

RESOURCES FOR ENCOUNTERING GOD

Brennan Manning

  • I mentioned Brennan Manning earlier in the post. The summer after I finished that four-month stint of counseling was my first introduction to Brennan Manning. My husband led our youth group through the Ragamuffin Gospel, Visual Edition. It’s an abridged version of his original work, with art. It was a balm to my soul and cemented in my mind the things I’d been learning that year.
  • This year I’ve been going through the daily devotions in Manning’s Reflections for Ragamuffins. Each day has a Scripture and a selection from his other writings. This year I’ve been on a journey to know God’s love more, and this book has been a big part of that.
  • A Life Overseas writer Kay Bruner recommends Abba’s Child. Although I haven’t read it, I love Manning enough and trust Kay enough to recommend it here.

Henri Nouwen

  • I’d never read anything from Henri Nouwen before this Lenten season, when a friend of mine in Phnom Penh gave me a copy of Show Me the Way. It’s a collection of excerpts from his many books, and it’s profoundly affected my relationship with God. I loved Nouwen’s Lent book so much that I asked my friend for more recommendations (though I haven’t been able to get my hands on them yet). Again, I love Nouwen enough and trust my friend enough to include them below.
  • Return of the Prodigal Son
  • Life of the Beloved, which was her husband’s favorite

Jeanne Guyon

  • Jeanne Guyon wrote a book called Experiencing the Depths of Jesus that affected author Timothy Sanford so deeply that he recommends it in his Parsonage Heresies book. I plan to read it this coming furlough.

The Bible

  • I know I’ve recommended Paul’s letters already, but I love Paul so much, I’ll say it again. Especially Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans. Hebrews is also helpful, but then, we don’t know who wrote that.
  • The book of First John. Also helpful is Beth Moore’s explanation of the life of John and his relationship with Jesus. Moore’s Beloved Disciple Bible study rewrote my understanding of the Apostle John.
  • The Psalms. I’ve often felt God’s love through the Psalms. (And I’m betting you probably have too.)
  • I Corinthians 13, viewed as a letter to you, from God. We know that God is love, and I Corinthians 13 is one of our best descriptions of what love looks like practically. I Corinthians 13 therefore gives us a glimpse into how God sees and treats us. This is an exercise Sanford recommends that made a big impact on me when I first read it a year and a half ago. Write it out in your own handwriting, use your own name, and ask God to show you His great big heart for you.

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Music

  • Music is a huge part of my connection with God. In particular, worship music from the International House of Prayer (IHOP) has opened up a whole new aspect of God for me: His passionate love for me and my reciprocal love for Him. IHOP music leans toward the charismatic end of the spectrum; two really gentle introductions to their music are listed below.
  • Unceasing, especially “Alabaster Box” on Track 5 and “I am Yours” on Track 12
  • JOY, especially “Every Captive Free” on Track 5 and “Marriage Wine” on Track 3. “My dad, He’s not angry. He’s not disappointed with me. My dad, He’s not angry. He’s smiling over me”
  • And a bonus: a new Chris Tomlin song I just heard at church this spring. Let the words sink deeply into your soul, healing all the cracks in it, the cracks that tell you God doesn’t love you or is angry or disappointed with you. It’s true: Jesus really does love you.

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Now it’s your turn to share. What things have helped you accept Grace and receive Love from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? This is where we practice Safe Community and help each other along on the road to healing and wholeness, truth and light, peace and hope.

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“I Can’t Trust Anyone” | Lies We Believe

The last two months we’ve been exploring the ideas in Timothy Sanford’s book “I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). I hope this series is as healing for you as it has been for me.

So far, we’ve given ourselves permission to say “and” in The Little Word That Frees Us. Then we began to exchange our “shoulds” for “coulds” in “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs” | Lies We Believe. If you’re new to the conversation, you might want to go back and read those first two sections.

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I’m different

Before we dive into this lie, I need to clarify something. Sanford, himself an MK, says this belief has nothing to do with the legitimate “differentness” of being an MK and having a blended-culture worldview. That’s the TCK part of being an MK, and is a different discussion.

Rather, the belief that “I’m different” comes from being treated differently. It comes from living under different expectations and being required to abide by different rules. Sanford says this is not imaginary: though church members try to deny it, they often do judge PKs and MKs differently. People apply standards to them that they don’t apply to “regular” people. Likewise, we ministers and missionaries often apply standards to ourselves that we wouldn’t think of applying to non-ministry people.

We need to pause here and acknowledge the truth inside the lie: adults and children in ministry contexts do have different experiences, and those experiences can be quite exotic. More travel, more exposure to other cultures, more opportunities to attend events and meet well-known Christian leaders.

Other times our experiences are darker. We (along with our children) see the underbelly of church and missionary culture. We know all about problem people and problem finances. We know who is “against us,” and at times we even know who is responsible for eliminating our positions and reducing our influence, all in the name of Christ. These are the secrets we must keep and the burdens we must bear — and that too, makes us feel different.

If we think we’re different, however, we may keep ourselves from pursuing deep relationships. We may push people away and close our hearts to them. We may become lonely and even depressed. Alternatively, we may slide from believing we’re “different” into believing we’re “better.” We may like our positions of influence and authority: they boost our ego and pad our sense of pride. Although it’s uncomfortable to admit sometimes, we are a tribe who likes to set ourselves not merely apart, but also above.

Neither of these reactions is right or healthy. We may lead very different-looking lives, but we bear the same image of God. We may shoulder different responsibilities, but we share the same human need for unconditional love and acceptance. I don’t believe God’s desire for those in ministry is any different than for anyone else. I believe He wants all of us to experience authentic, life-giving community. But if we believe we’re different, we may cut ourselves off from the fellowship we so desperately need. If we believe we’re different, we may deprive ourselves of the deep relationships our souls crave.

We need to delete the “missionaries are better” mindset from our vocabularies. We need to stop isolating and elevating people in ministry and start embracing each other as equals, no matter which labels we personally claim. We need to take responsibility for the pedestals we’ve placed certain people on – even if we placed ourselves on those pedestals.

We need to level our hierarchies. Missionaries sin, ministers sin, and our children sin — just the same as everyone else. We all need a Savior. Honesty, openness, and acceptance are for all members of the Body. They’re for the ones preaching from the pulpits, and for the ones sitting on the back row. They’re for the ones sending monthly newsletters across the ocean, and for the ones sending monthly checks in the mail. They’re for everyone.

 

I can’t trust anyone

“I can’t trust anyone” closely follows “I’m different.” Many of the same experiences that lead us to believe we’re different also lead us to believe we can’t trust anyone, and it can be hard to tease out the differences.

At first glance, “I can’t trust anyone” might not seem like a lie. If church people have let us down, if they’ve mercilessly judged our struggles, if they’ve betrayed our confidences and broadcast our private stories to the world, this statement might seem true. And we might have decided we’re better off on our own. We might have decided we don’t need anyone after all.

Truth be told, I had trouble writing this section. Unlike some of the other lies in this series, I don’t have significant personal experience with this one. I’ve certainly considered myself “different,” and at times “better,” but I haven’t personally struggled with trusting people. I’ve always had a small circle of people I could trust, and I have a feeling this is because I didn’t grow up in a ministry home.

My story is not everyone’s story, however, and I’ve spoken with enough pastor’s kids and pastor’s kids’ spouses to know this trust issue is a big deal. It plays out in loneliness, arrogance, and a lack of close relationships.

While I’ve generally had safe people in my life, I know this much is true: some people cannot be trusted. Some people are not safe. There is truth inside this lie. Sometimes unsafe people in the Church hurt us deeply. Sometimes religious people wound us so severely that it almost seems irreparable, and we decide never to trust church people again.

While it is most definitely true that some people can’t be trusted, it is also true that some people can be trusted. Trustworthy people may be hard to find, but they do exist. And without that elusive trust, we can’t have meaningful relationships. When we choose not to trust people, we cut ourselves off from the relationships that can buoy us in times of trouble. When we tuck our weaknesses away where no one can find them or use them against us, we may think we are safe, but in reality we are alone.

If there truly is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then perhaps there should be no pastor or member either, no missionary or sender. Not that there aren’t differing roles and responsibilities in the Church – because there are — but that we are all one in Christ, and all equal in His Church. So let’s accept each other’s weaknesses and respect each other’s stories. Let’s push back against the prevailing church culture that ranks us over and under each other, and love each other as equals.

I’m not saying we can’t be friends with people who’ve had similar life experiences. Those people instinctively understand us, and they can be a refuge for us. What I am saying is that we can be friends with people outside our circles, too. Others in the body of Christ can love us well, too. There are people “outside the tribe” who can accept our entire story, with all its complications and paradoxes. And we can love them in all their glorious complexity, too. Reaching out to people who aren’t exactly like us is what the Church was designed for.

 

I can ruin my parents’ ministry

Of all the lies listed in the Parsonage Heresies book, this one strikes me as the most tragic. It tells children they make their parents credible – or not. It tells children they prove their parents’ worth – or not. It tells children their behavior makes an adult’s ministry successful — or destroys it.

This lie places the burden of an adult’s employment squarely on the shoulders of a child. This is unfair in any profession, and completely out of place among God’s people. Children — loved by God, sought by God, cared for by God — should never feel the pressure to ensure their parents’ wage-earning ability.

Although this statement upset me more than any other lie in this book, I don’t have actual experience with it — probably because I didn’t grow up in a ministry home. But I can imagine it doesn’t feel like a lie. I can imagine having social, emotional, or educational difficulties and being afraid to express them, because taking care of those issues might take my family off the field.

While I’ve never met any parents who held their children responsible for their ministry career, adult PKs and MKs probably have painful stories to back up this belief, and for those stories, I am truly sorry. Whether this pressure came from within your family or externally from church members, or some deadly combination of the two, I am so, so sorry. That’s a heavy burden to carry.

I’d also like to consider the corollary of “I can ruin my parents’ ministry”: “I can ruin my husband’s ministry.” I am much more familiar with this fear. I didn’t originally want to move overseas, but I thought if I refused to go, I’d ruin my husband’s missionary dreams. I am not the only wife who’s ever felt this. Kay Bruner writes in As Soon as I Fell, “All through our training, I had heard how important it was for the wife to ‘be involved in the project.’ People said that if the wife wasn’t involved in the project, the whole thing would go down in flames. I didn’t want to be the reason our project failed.”

That’s a lot of pressure, and I’ve spoken with other wives who feel the same way. We’re afraid we can ruin everything for our husbands. Sometimes that idea is even planted by well-meaning organizations and leaders. Sometimes it comes from inside us. And honestly, I don’t know what to do about this issue.

I don’t even think this pressure is relegated to children and spouses. I think as adults in missions, we fear that our own sin or poor choices might cause us to fail, so we silence our own struggles. Other times we have medical issues that need tending, and we’re faced with the choice to hide or deny them, or to seek help off the field if needed.

To be honest, I’m not sure how to separate the truth from the untruth in these beliefs. I’m not sure how we as the Body of Christ can deconstruct these harmful lies. I hope and pray this pressure to perform for the sake of your parents or spouse is becoming a relic of the past, but I have a feeling this is something we need to talk about more. I don’t have many answers here. I would love it if you shared your hard-won wisdom and experiences in the comments.

 

Have you ever felt different, alone, or unable to trust anyone?

Where have you found safe community? What does safe community look like for you?

What can we do to facilitate safer environments in the Church, and specifically for people in missions and ministry?

Have you ever felt you could destroy your parents’ or spouse’s or even your own ministry career? How can we address this pressure in a healthy, God-honoring way?

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Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us

Part 2: “I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs

Part 4: “God is Disappointed With Me

Part 5: A Conversation with Timothy Sanford

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