Leaving (and Arriving) Well — what to do when your time comes

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

 

Preparing to Leave Well – How do I debrief all of this?
Maybe it was nine months or maybe it was 19 years. In any case, debriefing is your friend.

For starters, find someone to talk with. A safe person who will value your thoughts and feelings about the whole range of your experience. They don’t have to understand missions or life on the field; they just have to be willing to listen, empathize, and listen. (And yes, I said that on purpose.)

Try making two lists: one of what you’ve gained and one of what you’ve lost. And remember, this isn’t algebra; you’re not trying to balance an equation, and the sides don’t have to balance each other out. In fact, they won’t.

Some folks more easily list what they’ve gained. If that’s you, it’s important for you to wrestle with identifying and grappling with losses.

For some, the losses are the prime (or only) thing. If that’s you, it’s important to wrestle with the truth that there is some good in all of it, even if the only good is God.

There is tremendous power in making room for the paradoxical truths that there was good and there was bad and there IS God.

 

Preparing to Leave Well – Am I a Failure?
Maybe some things failed. Maybe things really did hit the fan. But there is a world of difference between stepping back and saying, “Wow, that thing failed,” or even, “I failed to accomplish that goal,” and “I AM A FAILURE!”  If you find yourself lurching towards the “I am a failure” side of things, heads up, ‘cause that’ll destroy you.

You’ll need to deal with that sense of being a failure; if you don’t put that to rest right here and now, it will rise from the dead like Taylor, all the time.

It will blind you to whatever God is calling you to next. Please don’t let it.

Further reading: To the ones who think they’ve failed

 

Preparing to Leave Well – What should I read?
Well, for starters, here are two articles from A Life Overseas writers…

Leaving Happy or Leaving Well? (by Jerry Jones)

“Everyone wants to leave happy but not everyone wants to leave well.  In fact, some people are so committed to leaving happy that they absolutely refuse to leave well.”

Transition – Building a RAFT (by Marilyn Gardner)

This one is my go-to when I’m meeting with a client who’s preparing to transition. Do yourself a favor and read Marilyn’s thoughts about building a RAFT.

 

If you’re willing to invest in a book or two, these are highly recommended…

Returning Well: your guide to thriving back “home” after serving cross-culturally

Perry Bradford, President of Barnabas International, says this about Returning Well: “Thousands transition back to their home cultures each year without any formal debrief to assist them. Returning Well will guide the reader into an in‐depth look at their transition and lead them to discover how to manage the re‐entry process with spiritual and emotional health.”

Looming Transitions: starting and finishing well in cross-cultural service

This one’s from A Life Overseas writer Amy Young, and it’s excellent. Also check out the companion book, Twenty-Two Activities for Families in Transition

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Embrace your inner tourist
Many of us want to hit the ground running. We’ve got a bazillion things to do and people to see and contracts and license renewals and logistics and ieoafioefoaeifnaeoifneoiafjeio…

But you know, much less has to be done immediately than you think. Really.

Instead, what I’d like for you to do, for a time, is just pretend to be a tourist. Let jet lag have its day, and then be a tourist. Maybe forgo the tourist pants and camera straps, but if you want to go all in, go for it.

A tourist is one who “is travelling or visiting a place for pleasure.”

Let yourself enjoy your new place, even if it’s your old place; it is your new place now. Go to the parks and museums and restaurants. Go where tourists go, and go with tourist eyes. The place has changed, and so has your vision.

Enjoy the place. Enjoy the people. Give your soul time to breathe.

I always ask clients to list out the stuff that absolutely HAS to be done in the first two weeks. Ask yourself, “Will I die if this doesn’t happen RIGHT AWAY?”

Remember, God’s where you’re at. You didn’t leave him on the field. The Creator’s not stranded in customs. Ask him to show himself in this new-to-you part of his creation, and then give yourself time and space to hear his reply.

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Make movie magic
Some people will care about your stories. Some won’t. Some will act like they care and then their eyes will glaze over like a warm Krispy Kreme donut.

Which is where the movie magic comes in.

I want you to create a movie poster. Come up with a few sentence snapshot of your experience (whether it was 6 months or 6 years). I want you to have something that’s quick and that you can say without having to use a lot of computing power.

This “movie poster” is for the well-meaning folks who pass you in the church lobby and say, “How was your trip?” I want you to have something to say to them besides, “YOU MEAN MY LIFE?!! YOU MEAN HOW WAS THE LAST DECADE OF MY LIFE?!!!”

For those folks, give them the movie poster. Maybe it’ll intrigue them and maybe at some point they’ll want to hear more of the story. But if they don’t, whatever.

Then, I want you to create a movie trailer. Create a two or three minute synopsis of some of the important points. Tell some of the story, but don’t reveal it all. Keep in mind that a movie trailer isn’t designed to tell the whole story, but to help people decide whether or not they want to invest in the full-length feature film.

Some will watch the trailer, they’ll hear your three-minute story, and be satisfied. They’ll say, “Wow, that looks cool. I’m never going to see that.” And of course, some will say, “Hmm, that actually looks really interesting. When is it showing?”

And then create the feature film. The movie.

This is your story, shared with the folks who really want to hear it. These are your people.

Not everyone will want to see your movie. And that’s ok.

Not everyone will like your movie. That’s ok too.

You weren’t making it for them anyways.

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Grieve again (and again and again)
Grieving big losses is measured more in years than months. So when you’ve been back for 5 weeks and hit a speed bump, please don’t be mad at yourself and don’t you dare think, “I should be over this by now!” Um, just no. Even if you move back to the same town where you grew up, you’ve changed and the town’s changed and this isn’t Kansas anymore.

Big losses take more like two years to grieve, not two months.

Further reading: How do we process loss and grief?

 

Preparing to Arrive Well – Identify your needs
This was originally written about cross-cultural living, but it applies here too:

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Can I mitigate it, or do I need to sacrifice it? These concepts continue to ring off the walls of my counseling room, and I think transitioners need them too.

Read more here: The One Question We Must Ask

 

An Arrival Benediction
Here’s my prayer for you, a prayer for the middle spaces:

May you arrive more whole than when you departed, though the intervening time may have been splintering and hard.

May you arrive with more hope than when you left, though you’ve been in hopeless situations more often than you thought possible.

Perhaps you’ll arrive empty, but may those you’ve left behind (there and here), fill you with the love of the Father, aged and distilled through time and perhaps darkness.

May you arrive with peace, knowing in your gut that he is Good, that he is Faithful, and that he isn’t finished with you (or with them).

May you find rest, safe in the arms of love, behind the Captain of the Lord of Hosts, your Healer.

And may you hear him ask you the same question he asked a confused and lonely and traveling Hagar, “Where have you come from?” and “Where are you going?” At the end of the day, may you proclaim along with Hagar, “You are the God who sees me.”

And after your arrival,
May you keep your eyes fixed on the horizon,
Awaiting the day of all days,
When the sky will split,
The darkness flee, and
He will, finally and irrevocably,
Arrive.

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

A Note from the Leadership Team

May of 2013, A Life Overseas co-founder Laura Parker wrote an article celebrating the site’s six-month anniversary and its first 100 posts. At that time, our Facebook community numbered about 800 folks.

As of this writing, regular and guest writers have published 742 articles, with a community on Facebook exceeding 11,000 people! Thank you for reading and commenting and sharing!

A Life Overseas has always been about hosting “the missions conversation,” and thanks to our writers and readers, that has happened. And we want to keep that conversation happening!

With that in mind, we’d like to ask you for money. Not a lot, just a little.

None of the writers at A Life Overseas makes any money. We all have “day jobs,” including our editor-in-chief, Elizabeth Trotter. But hosting a site that reaches over 60,000 people per month isn’t free. It’s not real expensive either. It’s about $80 per month.

So, if you feel like you’ve benefited from A Life Overseas, or if you feel like someone you love has benefited from A Life Overseas, or if you’ve ever sent an article to someone because you wanted them to understand something about your life overseas, you want to help us stay online? If so, that’d be totally sweet.

Click Here to donate via PayPal. Todays business world All funds are managed by Andy Bruner, our IT guy and treasurer.

If you have any questions, you can comment here or e-mail us at alifeoverseasblog@gmail.com. Thanks so much for joining with us!

 

all for ONE,

Jonathan Trotter, for the Leadership Team

Small Thoughts: giving some stray ideas a place to land

Sometimes I cough up small thoughts. You know, the one-liners or one-paragraphers that end up floating, never finding a place to lay their pretty little heads?

Well, here are a few small thoughts. Some are text, some are short videos, all are simple. They range from post-fall marriage to emotional nomenclature, from guilting people into evangelism to a lullaby for spiritual warfare. Hopefully, there will be a little something for everyone.

Happy Monday!

Feelings Wheel
Sometimes, like Groot, our vocabulistics are limited. Especially when it comes to emotions. (If that makes no sense, don’t worry about it. But watch out for raccoons.)

In any case, a lot of my clients find this tool extremely helpful in identifying specific emotions and feelings. Start in the center and see if there’s a more accurate word for whatever it is you’re feeling. Note: THIS IS ALSO HELPFUL WITH TEENAGERS. : )

It’s easier to deal with my feelings (or someone else’s feelings) when I identify what it actually is that I’m (they’re) feeling.

With special thanks to Geoffrey Roberts. Visit his site for a printable version.

 

Circles of Intimacy
Regarding boundaries, Jesus, and the dangerous idea that we should all be BFFs. It’s a six-minute video.

These ideas are especially important for missions teams.

 

“New Guilt”
Why do we invite people to Jesus, telling them their guilt and shame will be taken away, and then, when they come to Jesus, immediately burden them with NEW GUILT by telling them that their failure to evangelize will cause the blood of the lost to pour all over their heads? That’s crazy!

There’s got to be a better way to mobilize cross-cultural missions (which is a great idea!) than saying, “Look, your guilt is gone. You’re free! Now here, hold this NEW GUILT while you ponder the eternal destiny of everyone in the world and how it’ll all be your fault if they don’t get to heaven.”

I think Paul’s on to something when he simply answers, “For Christ’s love compels us…”

 

Marriage Post-Fall and Pre-Christ
“You will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.” (Gen 3:16)

Many marriages continue to operate under the curse paradigm, with an ongoing fight for control. The woman yearns for control and maybe freedom, while the man, simply put, rules over her. Societal norms, physical power, and even religious pressure, may be used by the man who seeks to dominate.

But this type of marriage is post-fall and pre-Christ.

When Christ rolls back the curse, this is part of it. And any echoes of control or dominance (by the man or the woman) are echoes of the fall. The curse continues.

But it doesn’t have to.

 

17 years of marriage, and this is all we’ve got
From our house to yours, here are eleven articles about love, marriage, and sex.

 

The two questions that will help people feel loved, heard, and truly seen.
If we can learn to ask these two questions (and deeply care about the answers), we’ll be a step closer to loving people like Jesus loves people. This is a three-minute video.

 

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby
Sometimes I get tired of the fight. I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I do, so I wrote this lullaby. Perhaps it’ll remind you of the Truth. And for the record, if someone with more skill would like to appropriate this and improve it, go for it. God bless!

Greater is he who is in me,
Than the one who’s in the world

There is no power in Heav’n or hell or earth
That can ever separate me
From the love of God our Father
From the love of God above

Like a Good Shepherd he leads me
Besides waters still and calm
In the presence of all of my enemies
Still the presence of God above

I will not fear the terror
Of the day or the night
For I know my Father is with me
In the dark he is my Light.

All the hosts of Heaven are shouting
At the victory he’s won
All of Hell continues to tremble
At the love of God above

 

Airplane photo by Tom Rogerson on Unsplash

When Missionaries Starve

It’s something that’s caused the rise and fall of kingdoms. It’s confused the most erudite of the educated and been understood by the most childlike of children.

It’s been cherished and treasured by some, burned and ridiculed by others, and it’s absolutely necessary to your emotional health while living and serving abroad.

It is the Word of God.

The more pastoral counseling I do with cross-cultural workers and missionaries – and the more I get to know myself – the more I believe in the Power, Beauty, and absolute Necessity of the Word of God.

 

Many of us study the Bible as part of our jobs. We read it, parse it, argue about it, and teach it. But sometimes, in the middle of all of that, we forget to eat it.

We end up trying to feed ourselves with yesterday’s manna, and we starve.

We need to return to the slow chewing of the Word. For our own sustenance.

We need so much more than yesterday’s manna, so much more than the gorging of conferences or the regurgitations of famous teachers.

We need time with God and his Word. Today.

Each bite will not be Instagrammable. Each bite will not be magnificent and earth-shattering and memorable, and that’s as it should be, because sometimes you just need the calories.

Regular, non-crisis reading of the Word may seem to make zero difference in your life today or even tomorrow. But I promise you, in a year or ten or fifty, the consistent ingesting of the Word will make all the difference.

 

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
Psalm 119:130

 

So let’s remember what we already know: the Word of God is Powerful, and Beautiful, and Necessary. And after that, let’s consider a couple of cautions.

 

The Word of God is Powerful
An American friend of mine recently visited North Korea as a tourist. I don’t know if you read the news much, but North Korea and the United States aren’t exactly buddy-buddy.

He told me he brought his Bible with him, and you know what? They let him in. They let him in with his English Bible, but they inventoried it at the border, and they made sure that he knew that when he left North Korea, that Bible better leave with him.

Why? Because they recognized what we often forget: the Word of God is powerful, transforming nations and families and hearts. The Word of God empowers the weak and gives hope to the hopeless. And hopeful people are dangerous people.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.
Hebrews 4:12

 

The Word of God is Beautiful
It is beautiful because it shows us Christ. The Scriptures reveal the heart and mind of our glorious Creator. In the Scriptures, we see his character and his wisdom. And through the Scriptures, our Father reveals his plans from ages past and into eternity.

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.
Isaiah 40:8

 

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
Matthew 24:35

The Word of God is more desirable than USD and sweeter than high-fructose corn syrup. It magnifies his magnificence, redirecting and refocusing us on the Almighty.

Imagine what would happen if we consistently opened the Word and invited the Spirit of God to show us the mind of Christ and the heart of the Father. It would be amazing. It would be absolutely beautiful.

 

The Word of God is Necessary

The instructions of the Lord are perfect, reviving the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The commandments of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart.

The commands of the Lord are clear, giving insight for living.
Psalm 19:7-8

Too often, when we want revival or wisdom or joy or insight, we don’t look to the Scriptures. In fact, the Word is typically the last place we look. If we’re looking for wisdom or insight, we’re likely to Google something. If we’re looking for refreshment or joy, we’re likely to ogle something. (And I’m not just talking about porn; there are many, many other things we stare long at, believing that “that thing would solve my problems or at least make me feel a bit better.”)

But there is a better way, and Jesus knew it.

Jesus spent a lot of time in the Hebrew Scriptures, directly quoting from every book in the Pentateuch, and many others besides.

In what seems to me to be a fascinating move for the Son of God, Jesus refused to solely rely on a direct connection with the Father for “fresh revelation.”

Particularly during the hard times, Jesus relied on the Scriptures. This is sobering.

You know the story, Jesus is tempted three times, and three times he responds, “It is written.”

 “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:4

 

The Word is Necessary because God loves to echo himself
Have you ever heard people use the God Card? I think it happens a lot in our line of work. Folks say, “Oh, God told me to do this,” or “God wants me to do that.”

Sometimes, God really does lead people (amen!) and speak to people (praise God!), and sometimes, people hear him wrong. In my pastoral counseling practice, I often lead people in listening or healing prayer, where we bring issues before God and invite him to speak truth and healing to their specific situation. But how can we be sure it’s God?

It’s a valid question and it’s one we must ask. I answer my clients by telling them that we’re listening for the echo. We’re asking, “Where has God said this before?”

Here’s my simple two-part test in determining whether or not God has spoken:

  1. Is it Biblical?
  2. Is the fruit good?

If there is Biblical support for what the person thinks God just said, and if the fruit in their life (more peace, a desire to forgive, increased love, repentance, etc.) is good, then I’m ok with saying they heard from God.

But before we can answer the question, “Is it Biblical?”, we’ve got to spend some time in the Scriptures. Before we can say, “Yeah, this sounds like God,” we need to hear regularly what God sounds like.

 

CAUTION: Two things to watch out for
Some folks read the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit. Others want a relationship with the Holy Spirit but without the Scriptures.

Both are dangerous.

I grew up in a tradition that was all about the Word. We taught it and knew it and loved it, but I don’t think I ever heard anyone mention the Holy Spirit. That’s an absolute travesty!

On the flip side, I come across folks who are desperate for a prophetic word from God, passed down through a prophet or gifted teacher. They’re hungry to hear from God, but they’re not opening their Bibles. That too is terribly sad.

So can I just say this, if you’re hungry for a special word from the Lord, but you’re not spending much time in the Word, you’re not as hungry as you think you are.

 

Like newborn babies [you should] long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may be nurtured and grow in respect to salvation.
1 Peter 2:2 (Amp)

 

CONCLUSION
The Scriptures teach us what God sounds like. They help us to hear his voice, see his hands, taste his wine. The Scriptures show us his character as Warrior and Lamb.

The Scriptures, while certainly not a fourth member of the Trinity, help us to know and love and serve the God who Is.

May we be a people who praise God for the gift of the Scriptures. May we be a people who view the words of the King with deep reverence and overwhelming joy.

May we be a people, a diaspora even, who love to come home and sit together in the Father’s house, under the Word of God, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, through the blood of the Son.

God Bless America! (and other dangerous prayers)

I love America.

I love her mountains and her National Parks. I love her North Atlantic coastline and her national anthem. I love her freedom of speech and her universities.

As an attorney, I especially love her Constitution and her history of Law.

God bless America!

But that’s a dangerous prayer, because often, with the same tongue that we mouth “God bless America!” we spit “God destroy Iran!” Or North Korea. Or China. Or whatever.

We want to bless America and curse our enemies. And while that kind of talk is certainly in the Bible, it’s not very Biblical. It is not the way of Jesus.

As believers in America, we’re taught, often accidentally, that to be a Christian is to be American, or at least to look Western. But Jesus, the guy from the Middle East, would disagree.

We’re taught that the prototypical American is a salt-of-the-earth, hard-working, white Christian. Thomas Jefferson would disagree. Benjamin Franklin probably would too.

 

Patriotism vs. Nationalism
When nationalism starts parading as patriotism, you end up with a riot.

The patriot says, “I love my country, my homeland, my people!” And that’s great and not necessarily inconsistent with the way of Jesus.

The nationalist on the other hand says, “I love my country, my homeland, my people! And I think our culture and our values are better than everyone else’s!”

The patriot says “God bless America!” but would be thrilled if God blessed Algeria and Russia too.

The nationalist says “God bless America!” but would be thrilled if God absolutely destroyed all the “bad people,” convincing the world that we really are superior. Obviously.

Now, there is nothing particularly surprising (or wrong) about a country wanting to make itself great again. Several countries are predictably trying to do that very thing right now. But while the desire for national greatness is not necessarily evil, it is necessarily secular.

And when the line between patriotism and nationalism gets blurred, we must speak up. As followers of a Refugee who grew up in occupied territory where public executions and infanticide happened, we must speak up and call patriotism good and nationalism evil.

 

Under His Banner
As followers of Christ, our great desire is that he would be made great. We desire that his greatness would be known everywhere, not our country’s. We want the banner of our God to be raised up, that his Love would be seen, and that all those who see it will run to Him and be saved.

As citizens of America, we should celebrate and honor and cherish the United States. She remains a fantastical experiment in human government, bought with blood and sacrifice. (She is far from perfect, of course, and some of her story is violent and abusive and should be labeled as such. But that is an article for another time.)

As citizens of the Kingdom, we should celebrate and cherish and love the global Church, the Bride, wherever she may be found. Her flag is our flag.

And she is not just in America. She’s in Algeria and Russia and Brazil. There are millions in the Kingdom who speak Arabic and Urdu and Mandarin. Our fellow citizens live in the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon.

And everyone who’s not already a part of the Kingdom of God? Well, we want them to know they’re invited!

So may God bless Algeria and Afghanistan and Argentina.

And may God bless America!

We should pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We should pray for justice to run down like a mighty river. And we should pray for a heart like His that wants no one to perish, not even ISIS soldiers.

Is it unAmerican to talk like this? I hope not, but maybe.

Our first allegiance is not to Rome, or Washington. It certainly must not be to elephants, donkeys, or three-lettered news agencies. This was settled long ago; our first allegiance, our deepest love, is towards the King.

~~~~~~~~~~~

I do hope God blesses America. I pray that He blesses America with peace. I pray that we would learn to love one another, and perhaps even our enemies.

I pray that more and more people would meet Christ, and be changed.

I pray for the religionists like Paul, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the government contractors like Zacchaeus, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the militant nationalists like Simon, that they would meet Christ and be forever changed.

I pray for the white collars like Nicodemus and the blue collars like Peter.

I pray for the rich women like Joanna, and the used women who show up at the well at noon.

I pray that they would all meet Christ and be forever changed.

Will you join me?

~~~~~~~~~~~

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, 

“Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”

(Revelation 7:9-10)

The One Question We Must Ask

It’s a simple question, carrying with it the power to clarify purpose and extend longevity. It’s a question that buttresses against the nasty cousins of burnout and bitterness. It’s a question we need to ask more often.

It’s simply this: “What is it that I really need?”

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Before you crucify me for turning the Gospel inside out and hamstringing it with a message about me and my needs, hear me out.

I’m not at all advocating a life without obedient sacrifice; I am expressly advocating a life of eyes-open sacrifice. You might not get what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t. There are a lot of things you need that a life of cross-cultural service just won’t be able to provide. I’m talking about the full spectrum here, from a Starbucks latte all the way to the absence of gunfire.

And that’s where this gets real.

When you realize that some legitimate needs won’t get met, when you realize that safety and functioning utilities and access to public libraries and date night just aren’t as much a thing where you live, you can do two things. You can seek to mitigate, or you can choose to sacrifice. In reality, I actually recommend both.

Mitigate it: Consider whether there are any creative workarounds that might meet the need, in whole or in part.

Sacrifice it: Obediently, with a full heart and open eyes, sacrifice the thing as a holy act of worship.

When we moved overseas, I thought I’d lost my ability to be a good father. All the things I used to do with my kiddos I couldn’t do anymore. My article, Failing at Fatherhood is basically my journey of learning what (and how) to mitigate, and what needed to be sacrificed. As it turns out, less needed to be sacrificed than I had originally supposed.

 

The Importance of Knowing Your Sacrifice
It can appear holy to deny that there even is a sacrifice. Rachel Pieh Jones wrote of this when she responded to some missionary heroes who claimed they “never made a sacrifice.” She writes: “While I understand the sentiment and the faith-filled valor behind it, I respectfully disagree.”

So do I.

Denial and Acceptance are identical twins; that is, they look pretty similar, but they’re not at all the same. In fact, Denial and Acceptance have extremely different personalities and life goals.

Denial claims to honor God by minimizing the sacrifice; Acceptance actually honors God by embracing the sacrifice and still considering Him worth it.

Denial shrinks the story, collapsing grief and trauma and fear and loss into a singularity; Acceptances explodes the story, showcasing the magnificent power of God through the grief and trauma and fear and loss.

Acceptance leads to deep emotional health, grace, contentment, processed grief, and a willingness to see the long view, both forwards and backwards. Denial leads to, well, nothing.

Denial is a full stop, halting maturation and ongoing discipleship.

Acceptance is a grand “to be continued,” allowing for what was while simultaneously looking forward to what will be.

 

What is it that I really need?
Before deciding whether to mitigate or sacrifice, we must seek to know our sacrifice. How do we do that? Ask the question, “What is it that I really need?”

Many of us never do this. We have a strong aversion to saying “I need,” which is ironic, because the Jesus we serve often responded really well to folks who led with their needs.

Our needs must be named, if only to be offered up willingly. Abraham’s boy who carried wood and fire had a name.

Paul sought to mitigate his Thorn, and then ended up gloriously sacrificing his need to have it extracted.

Jesus saw and comprehended skull-hill, attempted to mitigate it, and then climbed it.

Sometimes the cup doesn’t pass.

 

Mitigate and Sacrifice
To mitigate is to make something less severe, less painful, less onerous. So, can I please encourage you? If there’s something severe, painful, and onerous about life and ministry abroad, and if that hard thing can be lessened, for goodness sake, lessen it.

But if it cannot be lessened (and this will often be the case), then it must be sacrificed with eyes and hearts open. At those times, we must remember, over and over and over again, why we’re here.

free web hostingAnd when a sacrifice is required, we rest in God’s ultimate goodness. We obediently make the sacrifice, casting ourselves on the grace and mercy of our King.

We believe that there are indeed sacrifices to be made.

We believe that those sacrifices do in fact cost something.

AND

We believe that eternity will bear witness:

The cost was not too high,

The cross remains enough,

The Christ, once seen face to face, will make it all imminently worth it,

Forever.

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What is it that you really need right now?

Is there anything you can do to mitigate it?

Is it time to obediently place the cherished, needed thing on the altar, and worship the King?

It was an accident!

I never wanted to be a writer. Ever.

My first article for A Life Overseas was only the second article I’d ever written. Seriously.

But God retains his sense of humor, and I retain my sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the leaders of the site who gave me the bandwidth, and I’m grateful for you, the readers, who continue to give me the brainwidth. Thank you.

There are about 9,000 more readers now than there were three years ago. So I thought I’d go retrospective with this post, collating former articles and re-presenting them to you. I’ve divided them into some rough categories:

  1. Rest & Laughter
  2. Family
  3. Missiology
  4. Grief & Loss
  5. Theology
  6. People

Feel free to browse around and see if there’s anything you missed that you want to unmiss. And if you feel like these articles could serve as a resource for someone else, we provide handy sharing links at the bottom. Merry Christmas.

 

REGARDING REST & LAUGHTER
Please Stop Running
God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics. Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion
To remember the sun’s existence on a rainy day is to remember Reality. Dancing in the downpour is a prophetic thing: It will not always storm.

No, Seriously, Laugh
“If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.”

 

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REGARDING FAMILY
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

Missionary Mommy Wars
They are battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest.

The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Marriage is for intimacy. The sharing of souls and dreams and flesh. The first taste of summer.

Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
For me, the shift from wide open spaces to urban jungle was rough. I had to adjust, but first I got depressed.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Most people never feel listened to. Our wives shouldn’t be most people.

 

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REGARDING MISSIOLOGY
10 Reasons You Should be a Missionary
Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.

The Idolatry of Missions
For too long, we have idolized overseas missions. We need to stop now.

10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
The toilets are different.

Why Are We Here?
Through our actions, our preachings, our service, we announce the news that God is not absent. We show and tell the redemption of all things.

The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement
We need the Psalms; not because the Psalms will teach us how to be super Christians, but because the Psalms will teach us how to be human Christians.

Misogyny in Missions
Don’t punish women in public for your sin in private.

Go to the small places
When we overdose on our own importance or the magnitude of evil in the world, the small places are the antidote. Narcan for the soul. Or at least, they can be.

It’s Not all About War: Balancing our Kingdom Rhetoric
One is all about sacrifice. The other is all about Shalom. One says, “Go and die for the King!” The other says, “Come and find rest for your soul.”

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
“Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

 

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REGARDING GRIEF & LOSS
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
How could we question the plan of God by crying?

When Grief Bleeds
Grief is a powerful thing, echoing on and on through the chambers of a heart.

Worthless
The feeling rises and crests like an impending wave barreling towards the surface of my heart. And with each wave of worthlessness comes an intense weariness of soul, a near drowning.

To the ones who think they’ve failed
So, you failed to save the world. You failed to complete the task of global evangelism. You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region. You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

When you just want to go home
He’s longing for home too. So, in my drownings and darkness, perhaps I am brushing up against the heart of God. Perhaps I am tasting his tears too.

A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Remember, the one with the most toys does not win.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland
Grief is a gift that the Church needs to learn to deal with.

 

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REGARDING THEOLOGY
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
If you find yourself in the dark today, not sure of what to do or where to go, I’d like to give you three pinpoints of light. Three true stars by which to navigate the night.

My House Shall be Called
If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

A Christmas Prayer
The star challenged prejudice, inviting outsiders in. So may the Church.

Before You Cry “Demon!”
Blaming the devil shouldn’t be our default.

When God Won’t Give Me What I Want
Maybe Jesus says it’s bread, maybe he says it’s nourishing and important, but maybe it looks an awful lot like a rock. Do we throw it back in his face, screaming?

 

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REGARDING PEOPLE
Anger Abroad
I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

How to Communicate so People Will Care
Speak from the heart. Or be funny. Or both. But never neither.

6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
A furlough is one of the best “weight-gain” plans out there. It’s sort of like pregnancy, but with furlough, the cravings occur every-mester.

Facebook lies and other truths
Our supporters and friends probably won’t lose money by showing a picture of a vacation. We might. On the other hand, our friends won’t make money by showing a picture of a destitute child or a baptism. We might.

In 2017, Get to Know Some Dead People
Wisdom was building her house long before people started tweeting in the eaves.

Dealing with Conflict on the Field. Or not.
Conflict does not necessarily lead to intimacy, but you cannot have intimacy without honesty. And you cannot have honesty for very long without conflict.

 

REGARDING THE ENDING
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

And so it happened that I stepped out the door, aware that God might start sweeping me to places unknown. And he certainly did. But it was there that I met all of you, and you’ve turned out, after all, to be not so dangerous. Thank you for journeying with me. Let’s keep going…

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

Facebook Live with Jonathan & Elizabeth Trotter

Hey there!

Elizabeth and I “went live” yesterday on the A Life Overseas Facebook page, and it was so great to connect with so many of you! We wanted to share the video with you here, along with some topical time-markers so you don’t have to listen to the whole thing…  : )

  • For the first couple of minutes, we discussed what A Live Overseas is. And what it isn’t.

  • Around the 4 minute mark, we answered the question, “How do you decide what to write?”

  • Around the 10 minute mark, we discussed how we got started writing.

  • Around 19 minutes, we tried to answer the questions, “Do you have a favorite piece of writing?” and “Have you ever been surprised by an article’s popularity?”

  • About 48 minutes in, the conversation shifted to ideas for staying spiritually filled up, as well as how to approach “family worship” and devotionals with small kids (around 55 minutes).

  • We wrapped up around the 1:05 mark with a discussion about our hope and vision for A Life Overseas.

 

Thanks for joining us and thanks for being a part of this community!

 

all for ONE,

Jonathan T.

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion

“There are times when the most effective way to teach a certain truth is by laughing very hard.”

G.K. Chesterton, as described in The Bookman (1912)

 

There are times when laughing very hard is brave defiance; a dare to the darkness impinging.

Satan, the lying burglar, loves to steal joy.

But Jesus, the rough-hewn Carpenter, loves to give it back.

 

 

There’s a difference between joy and happiness, between joy and laughter, I get that. But sometimes, we try to be so spiritual that we end up being too grown up for God.

Joy is richer and fuller than happiness. But joy does not exclude happiness. That’s like saying, “I love her, I just can’t stand her!” Really?

“I’m joyful, I just look bitter and angry and like I want to kill a bunny!” Really? Is that all we’ve got to offer a world that’s drowning in its own pessimism and rage?

Is some sort of hunkered down holiness God’s idea for the Church? Yeah, I don’t think so.

In such a world (which, it should be noted, is not too dissimilar from times past), laughter is a bright act of rebellion.

Seriousness is not holier than joviality. For many, though, it’s much easier.

 

Laughter as Prophetic Rebellion
I’m no stranger to sad things. Or places.

I worked in an urban hospital, in the emergency department. I watched people yell and scream until their bodies ran out of blood, their brains starved, and They.Just.Stopped.

Every week I sit in a counseling room and watch brave peoples’ tears smack the floor.

My parents and my sister are still dead. And I still miss them.

So no, I’m not talking about a laughter that requires denial. I’m not talking about a laughter that’s fueled by alcohol or idiocy.

I’m talking about a laughter that is fueled by Christ.

To remember the sun’s existence on a rainy day is to remember Reality. Dancing in the downpour is a prophetic thing: It will not always storm.

 

“Optimism breaks through agnosticism like fiery gold round the edges of a black cloud.” 

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 “Joy, which was the small publicity of the Pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.” 

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“ I have come into my second childhood.”

G.K. Chesterton

 

We need a second childhood; to be born again into childlikeness.

A joyful heart really is wonderful medicine, healing the imbiber and others besides.

We must boldly remember that after mourning comes dancing, and gazelles still dance on mountains of spices.

 

Humanism: enemy of happiness
Happiness without Christ relies on humanism. And humanism, as a source of joy, is simply not strong enough or deep enough for the long haul. It can produce flashes of joy and pleasure, for sure, but it is not durable. It is a plastic bag.

The alternative, according to Chesterton, enables joy. Speaking of Robert Louis Stevenson, Chesterton said,

“Stevenson’s enormous capacity for joy flowed directly out of his profoundly religious temperament. He conceived himself as an unimportant guest at one eternal and uproarious banquet.”

The Christianized humanist stands on the edge of the sea and says, “How great I am that the God of all this would love me!” The Christian stands at the same sea and exclaims, “How great God is that he would create all of this and love me!” Though those two statements sound similar, they diverge sharply, and having diverged, end poles apart.

 

So Rebel Already
Look for the wonder. Look for the humor. Laugh at the darkness as a child of the Light.

Don’t be afraid of the Godly Guffaw.

Read Chesterton.

Now, I’m not interested in ignorant bliss. I’m not promoting a happiness that exists only in the absence of pain. I’m advocating a worldview that views the world, as it is. And then keeps looking. To see the world as it is, isolated and suspended in nothing, results in terror and too great a cognitive dissonance.

No, we must see the world as it is, without blinders, and then we must keep looking and see the great Actor who exists outside of (and inside of) the world.

His presence changes things. It must change things.

So look up.

Lift up your head and see the King.

Who is the King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty;
the LORD, invincible in battle.

Open up, ancient gates!
Open up, ancient doors,
and let the King of glory enter.

Who is the King of glory?
The LORD of Heaven’s Armies—
he is the King of glory.

Psalm 24:8-10

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You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.

1 Peter 1:8

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Come, everyone!

Clap your hands!

Shout to God with joyful praise! 

For the LORD Most High is awesome.

He is the great King of all the earth.

Psalm 47:1-2

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider

My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!

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How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically

 

1. Living Well Abroad: Theologically
How we think about God matters. Of course it does. You already know that. But we sometimes forget that our theology also plays a vital role in how well we fare on the field.

First, we must remember that productivity does NOT equal fruitfulness. Indeed, our aim is not even to be fruitful, but to stay attached to the Vine from which all fruit comes. Our aim is to know him and his heart, to “remain in him.” Staying attached to the Source, hearing his heartbeat, is the only way we will be able to do “the will of him who sent us.”

There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all. Let me repeat: There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all.

He does not expect you to kill yourself in his service. Now, you might die in his service, of course, but it should not be because you’re a workaholic.

If you want to thrive abroad, you can’t try to meet your deep insecurities through making someone (a missions boss, a sending church, God) happy. No amount of productivity will heal the wounds in your soul.

In fact, trying to meet your own deep emotional or psychological needs through missions will tear you up. And it won’t be good for those close to you either.

Resources:
Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please stop running
The Idolatry of Missions

 

1.a. Simple prayers are your friend. 
For me, after we’d gone through a really rough patch (misdiagnosed typhoid fever, culture stripping, bad news from home, etc.), I clung to one simple cry-prayer: “I will worship the Lord my God; I will serve only him.” It’s a declaration from Jesus at the peak of his temptation. It’s what Jesus fell back on at the very end. So I did too. And honestly, for a while, it was the only prayer I prayed.

That being said, in Matthew 4, when Jesus made that declaration, Satan left him and angels came and ministered to him. I’m not a businessman, but that seems like a pretty good trade.

Speaking of Satan…

 

1.b. Your theology of Satan matters. A lot. 
Don’t give Satan more credit than he’s due. Don’t blame him for everything.

Why not? Well, it’ll keep you from taking responsibility for your own stuff, and it’ll keep you from doing the hard interpersonal and INNER personal work that you need to do.

Here’s my general rule: don’t blame Satan for things that are reasonably foreseeable.

If it was reasonably foreseeable that eating that street food would give you giardia, don’t blame the devil when you get sick and can’t leave the bathroom! I’ll be really sorry you’re sick, but you don’t need to bring the devil into it to garner my compassion and prayers.

If you ignore Sabbath and run yourself ragged, don’t blame Satan when you feel depressed and burned out. Don’t blame the natural result of your workaholism on “the darkness.” [Note: I am NOT saying that depression and burnout always result from a missionary’s failure to Rest. But if a person has been burning the candle at both ends and then starts to feel the flame, it’s not fair to blame the devil.]

Proverbs 7:6-9 provides a noteworthy example of reasonable foreseeability:

“While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain, I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell.”

The wisdom literature doesn’t blame some massive evil scheme for this guy’s sin. Its lesson for us? Do the hard work of not being naive. Do the hard work of getting some common sense. And don’t open your computer at night or visit the red light district when you’re lonely and it’s dark.

Resources:
Before You Cry “Demon!”

 

1.c. You need a robust theology of Heaven. 
You want to live and thrive abroad long-term? You’re going to have to have a pretty good grasp of Heaven. I’m not talking about end-times theology, I’m talking about the reality of eternity, for the saved and the lost.

Resources:
Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
When you just want to go home
The Gift of Grief

 

 

2. Living Well Abroad: Spiritually
There are two powerful words we need to understand deeply. Those words are “Yes” and “No,” and they are sacred words indeed.

Initially, when you move abroad, you don’t know anyone and you’re probably in language school, so you can say yes to everyone and pretty much everything. But watch out, because your ratio of yeses to nos will have to change. If you want to stay healthy, you will have to start saying no to more and more things. And if you don’t make that transition well, if you don’t learn to say no, you will end up saying yes to all the wrong things.

Recently, I heard a preacher boldly state: “Satan is always trying to get your yes.” Indeed, from the beginning, the Liar has been getting people to say yes to stuff that will make them say No to the Father. And it continues.

Balancing our yeses and nos can get tricky, triggering our Fear of Missing Out or our fear of being completely overwhelmed, which is why I love that Justin Rizzo, a musician at the International House of Prayer, sings about “the beautiful line to walk between faith and wisdom.”

Learning when to say yes and when to say no requires both faith and wisdom. After all, it is possible to say yes to too much because of our “faith,” and it is possible to say no to too much because of our “wisdom.”

Again, this is precisely why we need to spend time connected to the Vine. We must remind ourselves often of this truth: The most fruitful thing I can do today is connect with the heart of Jesus.

May God give us the grace to serve with both faith and wisdom. Not as opposite ideas, fighting for domination, but as buffers and guardrails, keeping us from veering too far to one side. Or the other.

 

3. Living Well Abroad: Relationally
Life abroad can be bone-jarringly lonely, so connecting with friends is vitally important. Those friendships might surprise you; they might be with expats and nationals and folks you first found strange. But whatever the case, deep connection with other human beings IRL (in real life) is crucial to whether or not you “live well” abroad.

Resources:
Velvet Ashes (this links to their articles tagged “friendship”)
10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships

 

3.a Marriage
I’ve been living with my best friend for nearly 17 years. And frankly, we’d like to stay friends. If you’re married, I’d like for you to stay friends with your spouse too. Here are some ideas that have helped us…

– Google “First date questions” and screen capture the results. Next time you’re out on a date or alone together, whip out your phone and get to know each other again.

– Be a tourist for a night. Pretend you don’t speak the language and go where the tourists go. (I realize this might not apply to everyone, but I know it’ll apply to some.)

– If you have kids, try to get away for 24 hours. Because even 24 hours away can feel like forever. And when you’re away, don’t talk about work or the kids. (And if you don’t have anything to talk about besides work and the kids, take that as a sign that you need to get away more often!)

– Read a book about marriage. I’m continually amazed at how little effort we put into the one relationship that we want to be the deepest and longest and best.

– If a book is too much, check out The Gottman Institute on Facebook. Follow them and read an occasional article. 

Dudes, remember this: your wife lives here too. If you’re doing great but she’s really struggling, you gotta push pause and figure it out. Are you both thriving?

And when it comes to arguing, remember the age-old adage our marriage therapist said over and over and over: “If one person wins, the couple loses.”  : ) 

Resources:
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Marriage is the Beautiful Hard
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

 

3.b. Parenthood
We moved to Asia when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three. And the loss of how I used to parent nearly killed me. Really. Most Saturdays, I’d get depressed and overwhelmed by all the good we had left behind. Here’s a snapshot of what helped me…

Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already, so ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

Remember, use other parents and their ideas, but don’t judge yourself by other parents and their ideas. Some ideas will work for others that will not work for you. Figure out what’ll work for your family. Then do those things.

Be Crazy.The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. We have a badminton court on our roof and a ping pong table in our garage. And we use our moto as a jet ski during rainy season. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed.

Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it.

Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question destroys kids.

 

Resources:
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

 

4. Living Well Abroad: Psychologically
At various points in our overseas journey, Elizabeth and I have needed debriefing, coaching, and counseling. In fact, so many of the good things in our life and ministry have been directly influenced by specific psychological help.

One area that’s so simple (and important) to talk about is meta-emotions. Simply put, meta-emotions are what you feel about feelings.

Don’t freak out on me just yet. I know this sounds like a Pixar movie.

But honestly, a healthy question that we need to ask much more often is this: How do I feel about what I’m feeling?

For example, if you feel angry at your host country and then feel GUILTY for feeling angry, your feelings of guilt will actually block you from dealing with the root of your anger. Does your anger make you feel like a bad person? A bad Christian? Like you’re a failure because you don’t even like the people you came to serve?

You see, how you feel about your feelings will make a huge difference with how you handle them. Do you keep talking to God about your feelings? If you’re ashamed of your feelings or believe that you shouldn’t have them, chances are your praying will cease forthwith. And that’s not cool.

An illuminating question in all of this is, “How were emotions handled in my family of origin? Did I grow up in an emotion coaching home, where emotions were safe and expression was easy? Was I taught how to feel and name and share my feelings?”

If so, that’s awesome. It’s also pretty rare.

Did you grow up in an emotion dismissing home? Were emotions anything but safe? Did you hear, “Don’t be sad/angry/whatever”?

In your family, did emotions hurt people? If so, I’m sorry. The first step is to acknowledge that this is the case, and maybe see a counselor.

Why does this matter? Because meta-emotions will massively impact what you do with your feelings, and what you do with your feelings will massively impact how you do with life abroad. 

 

Resources:
Meta-Emotion: How you feel about feelings
A Life Overseas Resource Page
Here’s an 11 minute video outlining a tool I use with about 90% of my pastoral counseling clients:

 

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This material was originally presented at an international church here in Phnom Penh. If you’d like to see the handouts and/or listen to the audio of that presentation, click here. The message is also available as a podcast. Just search iTunes for “trotters41” or click here.

The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland

“If we honestly face the sadness of life in a fallen world, then only our hope in Christ can preserve us from insanity or suicide.” – Larry Crabb

That’s an intense statement, and I sort of choked when I read it for the first time. But the more I chew on it, and the more I ponder my own life with its episodes of emotional and intellectual crisis, the more I think it’s correct.

Honestly
I spent three years working as an ER/Trauma nurse in an urban hospital in the States, and that bloody, chaotic trauma room forced me to “honestly face the sadness.” Those were dark days indeed; I was ill-prepared, psychologically and theologically, to deal with the darkness and the depth of the pain I witnessed. I was far outside of the Christian bubble, and reality bit hard.

For many people, moving across cultures, often to developing places, serves as their wake-up call. Missions becomes their trauma room, where they see suffering and poverty and grief up close and personal. People often move to Cambodia bright-eyed and in love, and then after a few months, or perhaps a year, the accumulation of the poverty and the corruption and the darkness forces them to “honestly face the sadness.”

Have you seen that happen?

Of course, the sadness was present in their affluent passport countries too, but money and familiarity have a way of disguising and hiding pain, like gold lacquer on cardboard.

But when the suffering is really seen, honestly, it does what Martin Luther wrote about nearly 500 years ago; it “threatens to undo us.” Of course, it doesn’t have to undo us, but it certainly threatens.

 

The Gift of Grief
“[W]hen we are able to maintain the fiction that life is tolerable at worst, and quite satisfying at best, we sacrifice an appreciation for the two center points of our faith: the Cross of Christ and His coming. The Cross becomes the means by which God delivers us from something not really too terrible, and the Coming is reduced to an opportunity for a merely improved quality of life.” – Crabb

In other words, when we blind ourselves to grief and the real sadness of the world, we risk turning the glorious reality of Eternity into a nice upgrade instead of the radical salvation of the universe and the epic righting of all wrongs that it certainly is.

Now, I hate grief. I really do. I don’t like being sad and I don’t particularly like listening to peoples’ sad stories. But for whatever reason, God has brought me to a place where I now regularly get e-mails from people that say, “Hey, I was told that you were the guy to talk to about my recent traumatic loss.” Awesome.

I think it’s because I don’t flee the feelings. And I don’t flee the feelings because I know that God can do amazing, restorative, centering, maturing, focusing, healing work through them. Not after the feelings, not around the feelings, but through them.

I am absolutely convinced that grief is a gift that the Church needs to learn to deal with. Grief has the potential to refocus us on the Eternal, if we’ll let it. Grief and loss guard us against the temptation to degrade Heaven into a distant and entirely non-applicable theory, instead of the life-altering reality that it is.

“When hints of sadness creep into our soul, we must not flee into happy or distracting thoughts. Pondering sadness until it becomes overwhelming can lead us to a deep change in the direction of our being from self-preservation to grateful worship.” – Crabb

Worshipful grief is potent and eyes-open.

It’s also evangelistic.

Worshipful grief communicates to those outside the Church that we’re not morons whose faith completely disconnects from reality. We are, in fact, in tune with the way things are precisely because of our faith. And because of our faith, we can grieve with hope, something that secular philosophy and humanism simply cannot provide.

What Happened in Portland
Portland is a beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It’s also where my sister lives, so last year I left a very hot and dirty and brown Phnom Penh and landed in a cool and beautiful and green Portland.

I bought blueberries by the gallon and ate them by the handful.

And I was angry.

Why do these people get to live here? In this place that’s so safe and gorgeous? Why do they get berries and public services and English? And why are they all in shape and appear to have just disembarked from a travel magazine?! (To be clear, I realize that not all of Portland fits this, but my sister lives in a suburb, and yeah, it pretty much all fits.)

There’s a public park close to her house, and they’ve got a fully shaded state-of-the-art playground with grass and towering pine trees. The whole place smells like a pine forest because the whole place is a pine forest. And did I mention it was also just a small city park?

Anyways, there was a trail around the lake and I of course took it. I passed picnics and happy people on stand up paddle boards. I passed ducks and geese, and I swear they’d all read the book “How to Pose for a Postcard.” I heard laughing kids.

And I was angry.

And then I got to a waterfall, clear and sharp, loudly mocking me with its falling waters. It was astoundingly beautiful and embarrassingly infuriating. And so I cried.

I cried to myself and I cried to God.

I mourned the loss. I grieved the fact that I lived in a concrete box with bars on the windows and karaoke and neighborhood cats that liked to work out their differences very loudly and very after-hours.

I did what I counsel people to do.

I named the losses, I felt the losses, and I talked with God.

And in one of those rare occurrences when I sense God speaking back to me, I felt God say, “Yes, you have lost something. Yes, you have given up some stuff. But what I have asked you to sacrifice I have not asked you to sacrifice forever. I have asked you to postpone.”

Now I was listening.

“I will bring you back here, on the New Earth, in Eternity, and all that is good and lovely and beautiful about this you will experience again.”

And then I cried some more, but different tears.

Sweeter tears.

His words, had they been preached to me by a hard-nosed theologian, would have grated and rubbed raw. But on that day, in a city park somewhere north of Portland, his words were like falling water, cooling and calming and stirring in me deep peace.

And his words still resonate.

His words reminded me of Truth my heart desperately needed – all is not lost. There will be a resurrection and the restoration of all things.

 

Why it’s a Gift
This oxygenating reminder, this reminder of Eternity, did not happen in spite of my grief. It happened because of it. It didn’t come through an attempt to erase grief or diminish loss. It came through mourning and boldly naming the loss.

And although I do not like it and I wish it weren’t so, grief is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.

 

An Unforced Gift
Don’t miss out on the focusing ability of grief. It is a gift. But remember, like most gifts, this gift is best received without force. These are not truths to preach at someone in pain.

There are times for non-preaching, when grief bleeds and souls mourn. For these times, I still just recommend a gentle hug, quiet presence, and the often ungiven gift of silence.

Preach heaven to the Church. Preach Hope to the Church. But watch your timing. Preaching to someone in pain is an awfully cheap and cowardly substitute for simple incarnation.

 

The Gift of Music
Music can give voice to the soul, especially in the areas of grief and Eternity. In fact, mourners and poets often instinctively connect feelings of grief with longings for Heaven. One researcher, in his essay entitled “Recovering the Theology of the Negro Spirituals” showed the connection: “The eschatology of the spirituals emphasized heaven. Roughly forty percent of the compiled spirituals dealt with heaven as a primary theme.”

Likewise, for me, music is often a balm and lifeline. Here are a few songs about heaven that have ministered to me in my grief.

 

“We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives.  And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.”  Philippians 3:20

“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.'”  Revelation 21:3-5

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  John 14:2-3

In 2017, Get to Know Some Dead People

It’s a noisy, noisy, noisy world out there. If you’ve got an internet connection, you have access to a screaming torrent of opinions and crises and politics and yummy recipes for some no-bake-easy-prep-3-step-totally-awesome-cheesy-enchiladas.

And that, my friends, is why we need dead people.

Some time ago, I decided that I needed to balance my reading list with some not current authors. I needed to spend some time with folks a few generations removed. I needed some mentoring from history.

I’d like to encourage you to try it too.

Because if we only read Chan and Platt and Claiborne and Mayfield and Brown and so on, we’re missing something huge. We’re missing an old reservoir of tremendous depth.

I’m not saying you should stop reading modern books (or blogs like A Life Overseas!), I’m just saying, we’ve got to balance the new and modern and URGENT stuff with some long-standing, foundational writings.

After all, wisdom was building her house long before people started tweeting in the eaves.

 

The Danger of Thinking We’re the First
Have you ever seen someone who thinks they’re the first one? And they’re so not?

For example, some folks act like “social justice” wasn’t even a thing before they were born. By all means, these folks should read Claiborne and Caine, but they can’t forget to read Bonhoeffer, Augustine, Carmichael, and Aylward. These old folks were hardcore long before most of us were even born.

When we think like this, when we think we’re first, we blind ourselves to the wisdom of others; we deafen ourselves to the lessons they learned while living and fighting. And dying.

And that’s exceptionally stupid.

Being first has a sort of romantic ring to it for sure, and it makes us feel important. But it also unmoors us, and it’s usually just not true.

It disconnects us from our history and the bigger story. And the longer I live abroad, the more convinced I am that one thing we MUST do is remember that we are part of a much bigger story.

Remembering that our part is only one part of a grander story insulates from despondency when things go poorly and prevents arrogance when things go splendidly.

It is a Small Place we must visit regularly.

 

A New Thing?
Creativity is awesome, and we should come up with new approaches that adapt to changing demographics and emerging technology. God is certainly the King of the Dawn.

Isaiah gets quoted a lot this time of year: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

But we can’t forget Isaiah’s neighbor, Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’” (Jeremiah 6:16)

Want to keep your faith alive and growing in 2017? Remember that God is the God of the living and the dead. Anticipate the new things and walk faithfully in the old things.

 

Try It
For every living author, read a dead author.
For every new book on missions or missiology, read an old book on missions or missiology.

Here’s a check: Think about the last five books or articles you’ve read. If all the authors are still alive, you’re missing out on a very special treasury I call “wise dead people.”

If there are local stories of older (even ancient) believers in your region, find them and read them. Connect your story to theirs. Help new believers learn about and connect with these stories too, as a vital part of their spiritual heritage.

In this age when so much data is accessible so easily, it would be a shame if we never accessed the long view of those who’ve gone before us. We need them, the writers, thinkers, Showbox App Download and believers from ages past.

So, may God indeed do a new thing in you and your family and your ministry in 2017.
And may you not be surprised if some of the new things look like ancient paths.

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Who are your favorite non-living authors?

How do you deal with the overabundance of screaming current information?