Anger Abroad

Two friends were planning to meet for lunch one day when one called to cancel, stating that she had a terrible headache. This wasn’t a typical headache, and it hurt badly. Her friend admitted that she too had a horrendous headache, and suggested they go to the ER together. (This is just one step beyond going to the bathroom together.)

They showed up at triage and told their stories, grimacing through the pain. They were ushered to separate rooms, placed on various monitors, and examined. The first friend was treated for mild dehydration and sleep deprivation. She was told to sleep more, drink more water and less coffee. (They told her that her symptoms were consistent with a condition called “parenthood.”) She was released the same day, terribly discouraged; she really liked coffee.

The second friend was examined and immediately transferred to the operating room for emergency brain surgery. She was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and spent the next week recovering in the critical care unit.

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Anger as a Symptom

Both women had hurting heads. Both wanted to find the cause, and both were helped, although the interventions were very different.

Like the headaches in the story, anger is a symptom, and we need to pay attention to it. 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.

As a symptom, anger points to something. It doesn’t necessarily point to something massive or exceptionally unhealthy, but it might. Ignoring the symptom of anger is very risky, and the stakes are high. Unresolved, unaddressed anger will hurt you and those around you.

In our example above, one lady’s pain came from easily-addressed, easily-fixed factors (drink more water, sleep more, get a babysitter). For the second lady, however, treating her pain required expert care and plenty of time. Some of us may just need a holiday (preferably on a beach, with ice cream). Others may need to consult with someone who really knows what they’re doing — someone who’s skilled enough to ask the right questions, to probe, to help diagnose.

Some might say, “Wait, anger can be holy and righteous.” Yes, that’s true. But when I experience anger, either my own or another person’s, it is very seldom holy and righteous. And honestly, I think the anger exemption is usually applied too liberally. If you disagree, let’s meet for a courteous discussion in the comment section below. For now, suffice it to say that when Jesus faced the greatest injustice of all time — the most heinous crime ever committed against the most innocent of victims — he responded with love, not anger, saying “Father, please forgive them.”

 

Peaceful Missionaries?

What do you think of these statements?

“Missionaries are some of the most peaceful people I know; they really seem to have figured out how to seek peace and pursue it.”

“Overseas workers are good at letting the peace of God rule in their hearts.”

Has that been your experience? Yeah, me neither. I think we’d NEVER use the word “peaceful” to describe ourselves or our coworkers. And I think that’s really, really sad. But anger’s not the problem. Anger’s the symptom that points to the problem. So I’d like us to pause and ask, “Where is our anger coming from? What’s going on under the surface of our souls?”

Often, the ones who don’t show anger just bury it. And then, like other negative emotions we’re not too fond of, it bubbles up. Like the deepwater oil rig in the Gulf, something blows, and black tarry stuff explodes from the deep and ruins paradise (or Florida).

 

Why So Angry?

Sometimes, we’re angry at our spouses who dragged us here. We’re angry at God for calling us here. We’re angry at teammates who stay here. We’re angry at the churches who sent us here — “they’re just so mono-cultural and ethno-centric and don’t understand what it’s like here.”

We’re angry at nationals who live here because they just won’t respond to THE AMAZING GOOD NEWS THAT GOD IS LOVE!

We’re angry at organizations that issue directives from comfy offices in comfy cities that smell nice and have green space and are nothing like here. We’re angry at the traffic, the corruption, the instability, the injustice.

Maybe we’re angry at our children who don’t like it here. Or maybe we’re angry at ourselves for bringing them here.

The tricky thing is, we know we’re not supposed to feel anger at those things. And since being angry at those things is not always socially or religiously acceptable, we find a “safe” receptacle for our anger. We act on our anger in places no one sees. With people who can’t get away.

Please hear me on this. I’m not saying that being angry makes you a bad person. I am saying that if anger is part of your normal daily routine, you need to pause and assess your symptoms. What’s really going on? Where’s the anger coming from? From wounded pride? Traumatic past events that inflicted deep pain? Fear of failure?

Doctors love to ask about symptoms. Why? Because symptoms are crumbs on the trail to diagnosis.

Are you willing to follow the crumbs? The next time you feel anger rising up inside your chest? Are you willing to ask, “Where is this coming from?” Are you willing to sit down with a good listener and say, “Every time xyz happens, I get really angry.” Are you willing to give the listener freedom to ask questions?

Are you willing to look for slow-burn anger? Maybe you think, “I’m not an angry person, I never yell or throw stuff.” Slow-burn anger is a favorite among Christians because it allows us to have intense feelings of anger on the inside without showing the world (or our church) how angry we really are. We have the same feelings on the inside, but we don’t show them on the outside.

We hide the burning coals of repressed anger deep in our bosom. And it destroys us from the inside out. A house will burn down just as easily from fire on the inside as fire on the outside.

We must deal with anger. The Church must deal with anger. The cost of persistent, unaddressed anger is much higher than the cost of a few counseling appointments.

 

The Anger Alternative

It is my heart’s cry that we would be people of peace.

People who adore the King of Kings and the Prince of Wholeness.

People who know what it feels like to Rest in the presence of the Almighty.

People who believe, deep in our souls, that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

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I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. ~ John 14:27 (NLT)

 

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world. ~ John 16:33 (MSG)

 

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. ~ Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG)

 

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 (NLT)

Missionary Mommy Wars

I just want to come out and say it; I’m not a mommy. Shoot, I’m not even a woman. (OK, those were some of the weirdest sentences I’ve ever written.) But despite my obvious shortcomings, I’m still writing this article. Here’s why:

I look around and see young moms and experienced moms who are serving cross-culturally, and they’re under siege. I see them, battle-weary and bleary-eyed, burdened by expectations that would crush the strongest. I see them wrangle toddlers and tonal languages. I watch them brave open-air markets with raw meat hanging on hooks and open-air homes with neighbors peering in through windows.

A814AB Section of barbed wire. Image shot 2003. Exact date unknown.

Missionary moms are exposed on all fronts, and they feel it. Everyone’s watching them. The local people watch every move, confused by the foreigner and her progeny; when she returns “home” for a visit, she feels watched just the same. (And for the record, jet lag does strange things to children, so any misbehavior can and should be blamed on jet lag, for at least the first two months.)

The mom on the foreign mission field is stretched thin. She must take care of her household, figuring out how to do all the stuff she used to know how to do. She must learn the local language and culture, educate her children, save the world, communicate with senders, support her husband, and convert everyone through her calm spirit and mild demeanor.

I’m speaking with slight hyperbole. Sort of. But if you pause and observe, you too will see that missionary moms, especially the newbies, have a whole lot on their plate. And it’s stressing them out big time.

Missionary dads are expected to do “the work.” Period. They are judged, for better or worse, on their work product: how is the ministry going? Not so with moms. The missionary mom is judged by how well her kids behave, how well her kids transition, how well her kids are educated, how healthy her marriage is, how well she knows the local language, in addition to how well the ministry is going.

It’s not fair, and I’m calling it. We need to pause and care for the women among us who are being crushed by unrealistic expectations.

So can we call a cease-fire? Can we stop taking aim at missionary moms, expecting them to be EVERYTHING and then criticizing them when they fail to accomplish the impossible?

And can you, missionary mom, stop taking aim at yourself? You can’t do it all, but that doesn’t make you weak; it makes you human.

Paul says in Ephesians 4:16, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

No part does ALL the work. Each part does its own work, and that work is special. What is the special work to which God is calling you?

Maybe, right now, your primary task on the mission field is taking care of your own little people. That is special work that helps the whole body to be healthy and growing and full of love. It’s not less-than. Maybe it’s leading an entire mission. That too is special work that helps the whole body to be healthy and growing and full of love. It’s not less-than.

When missionary moms, due to external pressure or internal insecurities, try to do EVERYTHING, the whole body ends up being hurt, not helped. The most important thing for you to do is the work God has called you to do.

I’ll say it again, a healthy mission field does not depend on you doing it all. Health and growth and love come when each person does the work that God is asking her to do. No comparisons allowed.

The mirage of the perfect missionary mom is alluring and dangerous. If you try to follow her, you will be perpetually discouraged, depressed, and exhausted. On the flip side, if you feel like you are the perfect missionary mom, you will be perpetually arrogant, haughty, and annoying.

What would change if you forgot the mirage of the perfect missionary mom and started remembering the Perfect One instead?

Remember, his burden is light.

He is the Lord of Rest, the Bridegroom, longing for his Bride.

He is not a taskmaster, demanding more widgets.

He is a loving Husband, pursuing his favorite girl.

He is a tender Father, splashing in the ocean with his children.

He is a Warrior, protecting his people.

He is a Comforter who really sees.

He knows you are human, and he’s glad about it.

He knows you can’t do it all, and he’s ok with it.

He is jealous for you, longing for your whole heart.

He wants your gaze fixed on him, not the mirage.

The next time you’re tempted to criticize another mom, lay down your weapon and state what she is doing instead of what she’s not doing?

Before you criticize yourself, identify and declare what you are doing instead of what you’re not doing.

Are you doing what you feel like God has led you to do? Wonderful! The Body of Christ needs you to do that. The mission field need you to do that. Your family needs you to do that.

So here’s to the missionary mom, the one in the trenches with the toddlers.

The one who raises kids abroad and then sends them “home.”

Here’s to the missionary mom, far away from pediatricians and emergency services, who lives with constant awareness that help might not be coming.

Here’s to the missionary mom who lives in a glass bowl, aware of the stares.

The one who liked shopping when shopping was simple.

The one who would really like a Starbucks coffee. Like, right now.

Here’s to the missionary mom whose children experience more goodbyes than most.

The one whose kitchen looks more like Bear Grylls than Martha Stewart.

Here’s to the mom on mission, the one who rocks the cradle and changes the world.

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Resources:

I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

Expectation and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission

*photo credit

Please Stop Running

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In my former life (and I mean that in a totally non-Buddhist way), I worked as a trauma nurse at an inner-city emergency department in the States. One of the first rules new hires had to learn in the ER was that No.One.Runs. Even if someone just got shot or stabbed or is actively dying, no one runs. Even if you have to go to the bathroom really bad, no one runs.

Even in the middle of taking care of a trauma victim, it was better to be calm and methodical than stressed out and in a hurry. So many times I heard a senior physician or nurse tell the newbie, “Slow down. Breath. Think.” The “slowness” of the attending physician didn’t mean she cared less about the patient. It didn’t mean she was lazy. It didn’t mean she was worn out. It meant she was experienced.

 

Oh, How We Run

And then I joined the “overseas worker club” and I realized, WE’RE ALL RUNNING. Oh, how we run. We run to get here. We run to learn language. We run to get stats and photos that we can e-mail back to our senders. And when we return to our passport countries for a furlough, we run even faster! So much of overseas work seems to involve running and running and trying and striving.

There’s so much to do! There’s so much need! We need more money! We need more people! People are dying! If we don’t help, no one will! Go! Go! NOW! Hurry up! Time’s short!

It’s exhausting. Yeah, we’re running, but we’re also tired.

So, can I invite you to slow down for a second?

Could we just push pause for a second and invite the Prince of Peace to teach us what it might look like to live in peace, even in the ER? Even on the field?

Perhaps this is simplistic, but I really believe that overseas workers would last longer and be healthier if we could learn a bit about Rest.

After all, God doesn’t give extra credit to workaholics.

In God’s economy, obedience isn’t measured by how much work gets done; it’s measured by whether the work we did was the work God asked us to do. Sometimes, it’s simply measured by a cup of cold water, lovingly given.

Jesus doesn’t call us to work in his fishers-of-men-factory until we drop dead from exhaustion. He is not like that.

 

Jesus, Our Example

Jesus, the guy who could have died from exhaustion long before he died on the cross, is our Teacher. He provides a wonderful example of Rest. After all, he had a pretty important job to do, a high calling if ever there was one, and only 24 hours in a day, just like us.

He spent lots of time with people, loving, serving, healing, confronting, and teaching. He spent lots of time coaching and traveling and discipling.

But he found Rest in solitude. Often. He found Rest in the presence of his Father, on a mountain, away from demanding crowds and disbelieving disciples. He needed those times of refreshment; he needed Rest physically, and I believe he needed this regular Rest spiritually. So do we.

Jesus perfectly balanced exterior, people-focused ministry with deep Rest. Jesus rested in the peace and security and love and acceptance of his Father, and then turned around and loved people like crazy.

May we do the same. May our time with the Father, resting in his presence, drive us to love people. And after a time of loving and serving people, may we take our bone-weary souls back up the mountain to Rest with our Father.

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

Rest reminds me to agree, once again, that He’s God and I’m not.

 

Not All the Same

I grew up thinking that the only correct way to Rest was by spending time reading the Bible and praying. Of course, those disciplines are healthy and necessary, but they’re not everything. Some of us have souls that resonate with music, and the rhythm and poetry of a song can transport us into the presence of Majesty. If that’s you, then you may need to invest in some good headphones and a robust iTunes account.

Some of us require the deep colors of open space, or ocean. If that’s you, you may need to carve out time in your schedule, as a friend of mine has, to escape the concrete jungle and visit a national park. (If you live in the jungle, you just might have to visit a city and enjoy the thing called Starbucks, or electricity.)

The way you Rest will be unique, so resist the urge to compare or judge. For example, my wife reads science magazines and the periodic table of the elements and is awed by the Creator. I just get a headache (and a B minus.) She’s also found that a long tuk-tuk ride (think moto-driven carriage) through the city does wonders for her soul, giving her space to reconnect with the Father without the clamoring of four small children.

I don’t know what Rest looks like for you, but I know it will be something that connects you to Jesus. It will be something that stirs your soul and lifts your heart. Whatever that is for you, find it, guard it, schedule it, do it.

Allow your love of people to drive you into the deep embrace of the Father, and allow his heartbeat, his thoughts, to drive you back to loving people.

We do, all of us, work in an emergency department. There is death and trauma and pain and suffering all around. And yet, in the midst of the storm, in the middle of it all, there is Peace. His name is Jesus.

So if you must run, then run hard, straight to him. He’ll catch you.

 

Have you been running recently? How do you slow down and Rest?

 

~ Sacred Pathways, by Gary Thomas was an excellent resource in my journey to discover what healthy Rest looked like for me. I highly recommend it.

~ Photo Credit: This sign hung on the wall between the ambulance bay and the trauma rooms. I chuckled every time I passed it. It still makes me smile.

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

Yesterday, we talked broadly about caring for the heart of your TCK. If you missed it, you can find it here. Today, we’re looking at the unique subset of TCKs known as Missionary Kids.

I thought I was done with youth ministry. I thought I’d move to Cambodia, be a “real missionary” (whatever that is) and never attend another youth camp or weekend retreat. I thought I’d never smell “junior high” ever again, or play those stupid messy games created by someone who’s never had clean-up duty. But I’ve never been so happy about being so wrong, because the missionary kids with whom I’ve had the privilege of interfacing over the past few years have encouraged and challenged and taught me so much.

They’ve also broken my heart.

As I’ve seen them say goodbye to home. Again.

As I’ve heard them describe the pain of being misunderstood.

As I’ve watched them hug good friends whom they know they will most likely never see again. Ever.

This post is dedicated to those students. To the ones who’ve let me in their lives, even just a little bit. To those who’ve laughed with me (and at me), to those who’ve answered my questions (even the stupid ones). Thank you.

And for the record, I tremble as I write these words, acutely aware of the multitudes of godly parents who are too busy caring for the hearts of their missionary kids to write an article like this. When I grow up, I want to be like them.

OK, here goes…

 

1. Don’t call them “Little Missionaries.”

They’re not. They’re kids, with unique temperaments, callings, and gifting. If they’ve decided to follow Jesus, then of course, they should be encouraged to do the things that Christians do (invite people to follow Jesus, love people, serve people, etc.), But God may not call them to the same cross-cultural work as you. Or cross-cultural work at all. And.That.Is.OK. Let them follow God where he leads them, and please don’t be offended if it’s not into full-time ministry.Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with sending our kids to local schools, or out with local friends, but if we have the idea that our kids are little “soldiers for Jesus,” we’re playing a dangerous game. Kids aren’t soldiers, and they’re not missionaries. They’re children, and we should give them the space to develop as such.

My dad was a dentist, but I didn’t’ grow up among whirring drills and nitrous oxide (bummer). But that’s the point, isn’t it? I was allowed to grow up. And although I’m sure my dad used the phrase, “You’re going to feel some pressure,” he didn’t use it on me.

 

2. Be purposeful and strategic.

In Missionary Land, there’s a book/seminar/website for everything. We study how to cross cultures and what to do once we’ve crossed. We study how to help the poor without hurting them. We talk about planting churches without building them, developing disciples without dependence. We’re purpose-driven, strategizing, apostolic, visionary, pioneering, missional, culturally-sensitive, community developing, social justice flag-waving, chain-breaking, tired people.

But are we as purposeful and strategic in our God-given, God-ordained, role as parents? Do we ponder how to disciple other people’s kids more than our own? We are the first representatives to our kids of what a Christ-follower looks like. It’s an amazing privilege, and it is deserving of attention.

You’ve sacrificed a lot to be with the people in your host country. In loving them, listening to them, serving among them, you are aiming to show Christ. Make sure you do the same with your kids.

 

3. Remember that your MK’s good behavior does not validate your life or ministry, and his or her bad behavior does not invalidate it.

This one’s insidious. And devastating. But tying your validation to your child’s behavior (good or bad) is a socially acceptable form of idolatry. It has nothing to do with walking in obedience, and everything to do with looking outside of the Father for approval and validation.

All of us are on a spiritual journey. We mess up, find grace, keep walking. But this natural process often gets bypassed for MKs. They show up in churches and are expected to have it all together. No struggles, no sin, DEFINITELY no doubts. Maybe their parents expect this, afraid that a misbehaving or doubting child will threaten their support base. Maybe it’s church people.

In many ways, MKs live publicly, whether they want to or not. I mean, how many families in your passport country send monthly or quarterly newsletters to each other? One missionary kid confessed, “I had to be perfect so I wouldn’t mess up my dad’s ministry.” Another girl said, “Everyone thinks I’m better than them.” I asked her to clarify. She said, “They think because I’m an MK I’m more spiritual than them. They also think that I’m arrogant because they think I think I’m better than them.” It’s confusing, I know.

The pressure to validate a parent’s life choices is too heavy, and the risk of invalidating a parent’s life choices or ministry is too damning. Missionary kids should not have to carry either burden.

Resources:

If this point resonates with you, I highly recommend the book, I Have to be Perfect, and other Parsonage Heresies. It was written by an MK.

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May our children know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our love for them is immense, never-ending, and flows straight from the heart of the Father. And when they feel our love, may they feel Him.

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Have you ever felt the pressure to be perfect? What did that do to your heart?

Is there any danger in expecting children to be “little missionaries” or “soldiers for Jesus”?

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid

Jesus loves Third Culture Kids. He knows their needs and he hears their hearts’ cries. He can tell the difference between normal teen angst and deep emotional pain. He feels their searching and longing for home, and he cares. Jesus knows the right thing to say at the right time, all the time. As parents, youth workers, family, and friends, we’re not always so, um, Christ-like.

Yet, in spite of our weaknesses, we have the great honor and privilege of parenting and loving TCKs. So may we, with great tenderness and sensitivity, care for the hearts of the kids we’ve taken with us.

If you’re not raising kids abroad, please know that our TCKs need you too. They need extended families, peers, friends, team members, and churches who care.

So, with great deference to the TCKs who’ve shared their hearts with me, the experienced youth workers who’ve coached me, and the older parents who are busy providing such great examples, I want to consolidate a few ideas, and ask for yours.

1. Allow ALL Emotions.

One of the quickest ways to damage the heart of a TCK is to outlaw negative emotions (grief, anger, disappointment, etc.). Tell them they shouldn’t feel something, or that they just need to suck it up, or that their feelings show a lack of gratefulness. Yup, that’ll do it.

But, and this is the great part, allowing a TCK to experience the full range of emotions is one of the most caring things you can do. It’s also one of the healthiest things you can do. IMG_0250

One TCK told me, “We were never allowed to show any sadness. Even when my siblings left the Lord, we still couldn’t show any grief.” She was hurting deeply, but her family had placed all negative emotions off limits. She locked her pain away and kept it private for years.

Another TCK said, “My parents were often busy, and would give me lines like, ‘Living here is good for you! It’s something few other people ever get to experience. When you get older and look back on this time, you’ll be grateful for what you learned here.’ Their comments were well meant, but they didn’t know the depth of my pain.”

After listening to TCKs and others dealing with loss, I’ve come to believe that Romans 8:28, although true, is often used as the perfect “anti-grief” verse. Please don’t use it like that.

Often, a TCK who is not allowed the full range of emotions will cope by stuffing negative emotions (which is extremely unhealthy for their long-term emotional development). Alternatively, they may cope by removing whatever it is that outlawed their emotions; and if religion was the eraser used to remove emotion, religion may be the first thing they throw away.

Resources:

   – Not convinced this is an issue? Read the comments on Outlawed Grief. They wrecked me.

   – Learning to Grieve, by Marilyn Gardner.

   – On being with someone who is experiencing loss, Don’t be Afraid of Me, Please.

   – God Can Heal Our Broken Potatoes, by an adult TCK who served TCKs.

 

2. Ask Heart-Focused Questions.

Recognize that your TCK’s experiences will be vastly different from yours. Maybe more positive, maybe more negative. They may not identify with your host culture as much as you do. They may identify with it more than you. Are you ok with that?

When our family drives by the US Embassy and sees the flag flying, my kids feel nothing. When the President visited Phnom Penh and we saw Marine One (the President’s helicopter) flying over the Mekong, I stood there and cried like a baby. My boys looked up at me and said, “OK, can we go eat now?”

If you really want to care for the heart of your TCK, you have to ask questions. And you have to care about their answers. But not just their answers, you have to care about the heart behind the answers.

Try asking questions like:

What’s something you like about this country?

What’s something you don’t like about this country?

What did you enjoy about our last visit to (insert passport country)?

What was frustrating or annoying about our last visit to (insert passport country)?

Where do you feel like your home is?

Is there anything that scares you in this country?

Is there anything that scares you in (insert passport country)?

If you could change one thing about your life in this country, what would you change?

Here’s an example of how this might pan out. Prior to our first trip back to the States, we asked our kids, “Where is home for you?” Two kids said, “Cambodia’s home.” One said “America’s home” and one said, “I feel like I have two homes; one in America and one in Cambodia.” We took their answers at face value, without trying to convince them that they should feel differently.

We also preemptively asked our friends and families in the States NOT to say things to our kids like “Welcome Home!” and “Isn’t it great to be home?” Typically, it’s very hard for a TCK to identify one place as home, so we gently requested that folks ask instead, “What do you like about America?” or “What are you looking forward to doing in America?”

It was a pleasure to see our kids allowed to identify Cambodia, America (or both) as home. An older TCK once said, “The problem with Facebook is that you can only list one hometown.”heart1

Again, the goal is not just to complete a checklist; it’s to see into the heart of your TCK. So be sure you’re ready to really listen when they began answering. And again, if they say something you disagree with, or something that seems negative, so what?! This is about their feelings, not about how your feelings are superior or more developed or how you see reality more clearly.

You want your TCK to feel heard, and that won’t happen if you discount or disqualify their feelings. It doesn’t mean you can’t parent them or try to correct bad attitudes, it’s just that first and foremost, you’re aiming to hear their heart, not fix it.

Resources:

Some Thoughts from Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them, by Marilyn Gardner.

 

3. Study Your Family’s Culture

I’m sort of a spy. (Not really, but we’re towards the end of the post, and I wanted to make sure you were still paying attention.)

Shortly after arriving in Cambodia, with kids aged 8, 6, 3, and 1, I knew I needed help. So I called up the local expat youth pastor and started asking questions. I asked, “What are the main predictors of healthy TCKs in Cambodia? Have you seen any commonalties among the families who seem to have healthy teens? Any commonalities among the families who seem to NOT have healthy teens?”

And then I asked my real spy question, “What families seem to be doing really well?” She gave me her top three, and I’ve been collecting meta-data ever since. (Just kidding! Who do you think I am, the NSA?)

“What it all boils down to,” the she told me, “is the family’s culture.” She said, “Generally, if the family culture is emotionally healthy, the TCK will be emotionally healthy.”

So, if you want to care for the heart of your TCK, consider your family culture as much as you consider your host country’s culture. You live abroad, you study culture. So, what’s your family’s? What are your rituals and habits? How do you deal with grief and celebrations? Do you value saving face, or do you communicate very directly? Is there a lot of physical touch? Laughter? You get the idea.

Parts of all cultures are holy and reflect the wonder and beauty of God. Parts of all cultures should change when they come into contact with the Gospel. What aspects of your family culture are awesome and wonderful? What parts need to be redeemed?

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May our TCKs be the most loved, most cared for people on the planet. May they never doubt our love or the love of the Father. And in their search for Home, may they find Him.

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Since MKs are a unique subset of TCKs, we thought we’d give them their own post:

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

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Help us make this a longer list. What are ways we can care for our TCKs?

If you’re a TCK or an Adult TCK, we’d love to hear your perspective. What did folks do that really helped you

feel loved and valued and cared for?

photo credit

10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

Sometimes, we’re a pretty serious bunch, and sometimes, that’s ok. But when I was a teenager and our house had five kids in diapers (long story), my dad used to say, “If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.” He was right, and we chose to laugh. A lot. (The five in diapers hadn’t learned this maxim yet, though, so there was still plenty of crying.)

If you’ve read my post, Outlawed Grief, you know I’m not opposed to crying. I’m also not opposed to laughing. So, if you will, journey with me through a Top Ten list of why the job of a missionary is just plain awesome.

10. You’ll get to try new things, like typhoid fever and amoebas.
On the bright side, most of the time your illnesses will sound cool. And cool illnesses make people pray more. Note: ulcers aren’t cool. If you get an ulcer, don’t tell anyone.

Oh, and make sure your kids know how great all these new things are too. I was hanging out at an international high school once and overheard a kid say something about a student who was absent. He nonchalantly said, “Oh, he’s not here; he has an amoeba.” I wanted to grab the kid by the collar and say, “You know that’s not a normal sentence, right?”

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9. You will have friends from countries you didn’t know existed.
Faroe Islands? East Timor? Canada? Living abroad tends to add countries to the map. But consider yourself warned, living abroad also confuses things. For example, I’m no longer sure if a boot is a type of shoe or a part of a car. Is paste something with which you build a house or a sandwich? Is a biscuit breakfast food or dessert? And what about this thing called “a barbie”?

Your kids might be confused too. Our little girl loves the story of the “Ten Leopards.” You know, the one where Jesus healed ten leopards, but only one came back to say “thank you”? Thank you, you wonderful world of missions, for giving our whole family such a linguistic advantage and wide worldview. A worldview in which Jesus cares so much about jungle animals, he sometimes heals ten at a time.

 

8. Your driving skills will “improve.”

Who knew you could survive so well without rearview mirrors, turn signals or lanes? Who knew driving 20mph (or 32kph for those of you who don’t know how to measure stuff correctly) could be so exhilarating. And sometimes, cars on the mission field actually get younger, with fewer miles on them than when they were imported. How cool is that?

7. You’ll learn to be grateful for the little things, like cheese.
Older missionaries in my part of the world remember when cheese came to town. Cheese and stop lights apparently arrived at the same time. So if you’re in a part of the world without cheese, extra points for you. And may I recommend you start praying for a stop light?

(I was going to include bacon in this section, but then I remembered we were talking about “the little things.”)

6. Your bargaining skills will improve…with the police.
The police don’t want to write you a ticket, and you don’t really want to pay a ticket. And everyone knows you didn’t really violate a law anyway. One time, a pot-bellied officer demanded Happy New Year 2018 in advance beer money, so naturally I offered Twizzlers. He pondered for a second, then held up four fingers. I complied and drove off, chuckling as I watched him and three buddies chow down. Apparently, Twizzlers make mouths (and cops) happy.

5. You will learn how to complain in multiple languages.
The ability to complain, out loud, in front of other people, without them knowing, is the gift of a lifetime. Just be sure to do a quick perimeter check for possible same-language listeners within earshot.

A hotel worker didn’t do a proper perimeter check once, and I clearly heard him complaining about some rude tourists, “Sure, why don’t they just go sunbathe by the pool. I hope a massive rock falls off the building and smashes their heads.” I made a mental note to self: speak extra nice to that employee. And get a cabana with a roof.

4. You’ll always be able to use the excuse, “I’m not from around here.”
When you need to explain why you wear clothes, or why you don’t really care much for fried spiders or bony duck embryos, simply state “I’m not from around here.”

Really though, and I think we all know it already, this one’s most useful during furlough. Can’t figure out the ATM? or the drive through? or Wal-Mart? Just smile, mumble something in another language about massive rocks smashing things, and say “I’m not from around here.” But don’t forget your perimeter check.

3. Fashion rules will no longer apply.
You ever seen a missionary? Yeah.

2. You’ll get to report to hundreds of people, every month, details about your work, your family, and how you spend your money.
Who needs Dave Ramsey when you have the entire deacon board of multiple churches analyzing your finances? It’s accountability on huge quantities of steroids.

They may ask why you need so much, or why you have to pay for your kids’ education, or why you save for retirement, but at the end of the day, they are paying you to do this thing we call missions. It’s an honor to serve, even when the reports are due, the power’s out, it’s hot season, the spreadsheet’s rebelling, and you can’t figure out how to get that docx into a pdf into an html into a mobile-friendly, print-friendly, e-mail-friendly format. But hey, at least you don’t have to use envelopes.

1. You’ll get to experience the raw joy of crossing language barriers, cultural barriers, time zones and comfort zones, simply to invite someone to follow Jesus.
Maybe you preach the gospel straight up, street-corner style. Maybe you serve the sickest and the poorest, touching the folks no one else wants to touch. Maybe you teach English or a vocation, aiming to empower. Maybe you do a thousand things for economies or community health or justice. Whatever you do, there is one Love that draws us all together and pushes us out the door. Every day.

His name is Jesus, and at the end of the day, He is worth.it.all.

So, why do you think this job is awesome?

If a “Top 10 List” could have 15, what would you add?

Adapted from trotters41.com. Photo credit.

 

 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

My House Shall Be Called

Photographing weddings got me through college. It also taught me about the Church. Sometimes, your day is spent with really happy people. Sometimes, it’s spent with really stressed out people. Sometimes, the really stressed out people turn into the really happy people.

You get to be around radiant brides, people who dance but really shouldn’t, and people who sing but really can’t. And you get to photograph all.of.it.

You and your camera are invited behind the scenes. You’re paid to capture the excitement, the preparation, the emotion, in pixels and jpegs.

Oh, and there’s usually good food.

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I really like weddings, and I think God does too. In fact, I think God’s planning one.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says, “The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast.” He’s talking, of course, about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, vividly described in Revelation 19:6-8. The Church is the Beloved, the Bride.

During the Last Supper, Jesus pointed to the Great Supper and said, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Mere hours before his crucifixion, Jesus points us towards that day, the day of his Wedding.

How we think about that day greatly impacts how we live this one. And what we talk about when we talk about the Church (the Bride) has tremendous bearing on missions. If we’re embarrassed by the Church, it’s sure going to be hard to plant it. If we see the Church as optional and only vaguely connected with the Gospel, we’re neglecting something that is very close to the heart of the Father. We’re also ignoring something that enthralls the heart of the Son.

What do we think of when we think of Church? Are we a group of people longing for a party? Are we longing to see our Beloved, face to face?

When we speak of the Church, do we speak of beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Do we speak about God’s Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or do we speak of something else entirely?

The truth is that the Church is a gloriously magnificent idea straight from the heart of the Father.

The Church is a strong entity that will not lose, even against the full forces of hell itself.

The Church is the Bride of Jesus, stunningly radiant.

The Church carries the priceless message of salvation in Jesus alone, proclaiming that everyone’s invited to the imminent feast.

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But if you’ve been hurt by the Church, by people in the Church, those last few sentences were hard to stomach.

I’m convinced that one of our main obstacles to loving the Church like Jesus loves the Church is that we’ve been hurt within the Church. (And for the record, we’ve probably hurt people too.) Pain from within the Church sours the whole idea and tempts us to run away. It makes us angry at the Church. It makes us ashamed of the Church.

Sometimes the pain comes from rude comments and mean spirits. Sometimes it comes from rejection. Sometimes the pain comes from outright abuse.

This should NOT BE.

If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

Please, hear the voice of Jesus, clearly, and with great compassion, as he says, “My House shall be called a house of PRAYER, not a house of PAIN. Those people did NOT represent me. They were thieves and robbers.”

Look at this picture of a loving Bridegroom defending his Bride, and may it be to you a source of solace and comfort and healing. After showing up in Jerusalem to die, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves. He said, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

People are still thieving and robbing in the House of God. They turn a place of prayer into a place of pain. They’re messing with the Bride and ticking off the Groom.

But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t just kick out the bad guys and tell everyone to stay away from the Temple. He shows up in the place of pain and turns it into a place of peace and healing.  Right after he expels the “thieves,” we’re told that “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them there in the Temple. (Matthew 21:14)

Right there in the Temple! Why would he do that? Because he is passionate about His people, His Bride.

If you’ve been hurt in the Church, may you also find healing in the Church.

May our churches and teams, mission orgs and NGOs, be full of healed people who heal people. May they be full of loved people who love people. May we be so satisfied in Him, so amazed by Him, so filled with joy because of Him, that we are longing for that day as much as He is.

The day of our Wedding is coming, made possible by the passionate pursuit of a dying Savior who didn’t stay dead. Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus. Come for your Bride. 

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What does the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ mean for you? What do you do with negative experiences within the Church?

College was a long time ago, so these photos are by my friend  Cherish Andrea and used with permission.

Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised

Living abroad is an amazing adventure, but it comes with some baggage. And sometimes, the baggage fees are hidden, catching you by surprise, costing more than you planned.  You thought you had it all weighed out, you could handle this, squeeze right under the limit.

But then it got heavy.  Your new friends moved away, or your child’s new friend moved away.  Far away.  Like other continents away.   And your kid’s broken heart breaks yours.

Someone died and you didn’t get to say that last, fully present, goodbye.  Family members celebrate a birthday, or the whole family celebrates a holiday, and you’re not there because the Pacific’s really big, and you’re on the wrong side of it.

Or your child can’t remember her cousin’s name, and she doesn’t even know that’s sad. 

And you realize there are just some things Skype cannot fix.http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515

And you grieve, and your kids grieve.  Maybe.  But what if all these things happen again? And again.  You have another round of airport goodbyes, another holiday season with sand. Another Christmas with crying.

What if grieving gets old and annoying and time-consuming and exhausting?  What if it becomes easier to just not grieve?  To not let others grieve?

I’ll tell you what happens: Grief itself gets outlawed and a curse descends.  And everyone learns that some emotions are spiritual and some are forbidden.

Has your grief ever been outlawed?  Have you ever felt that your sadness or grief was “wrong and not very spiritual” and you should “be over this by now”?  If so, I am very sorry.  The prohibition of grief is a terrible, terrible curse.

Sometimes it’s outright, “Don’t cry, it’ll all be ok.”  But oftentimes, it’s more subtle (and spiritual) than that.  It’s the good-hearted person who says, “It’s not really goodbye, it’s see you later” or  “You know, all things work together for good.”

What if your kids miss grandma and McDonald’s and green grass, and someone tells them, “It’s for God,” or “It’ll be ok someday; you’ll look back on this as one of the best things that ever happened to you.” What if you tell them that?

Grief gets banned, and what was meant as a balm becomes a bomb, ticking.  The intended salve starts searing.

When loss happens, why must we minimize it?  Why are we so uncomfortable with letting the sadness sit?  Are we afraid of grief?

We sometimes act as if you can’t have grief and faith at the same time.  Sometimes, shutting down grief seems spiritual.  We tell ourselves and others, “Forget the past and press on.  God’s got a plan.  God is sovereign.”  We use Bible verses.

But banning grief is not biblical, and it’s not spiritual. 

Maybe we feel that grieving a loss of something or someone shows that we don’t have all our treasures in heaven.  Perhaps we delude ourselves with the twisted notion that if we had all of our treasures in heaven, our treasures would be safe, and we’d never experience loss.  And although this is crazy talk, we speak it to ourselves and others.

Does grieving really signal a lack of faith?  Would the truly faithful person simply know the goodness of God and cast themselves on that goodness?  No one would say it, but we sometimes treat the sovereignty of God as an excuse to outlaw grief.  I mean, how could we question the plan of God by crying? 

We may feel that grieving a loss that was caused by someone else (through neglect or abuse) shows a lack of forgiveness.  And although we know it’s not true, we act as if once a person’s truly forgiven an offender, the painful effects and memories disappear forever.

What if the loss was caused by parents or a spouse who decided to become an overseas missionary?  Does the goodness and holiness of their decision negate the grief?  Of course not, but sometimes we feel that the truly spiritual would recognize the godly sacrifice and be grateful.  As if gratefulness and grief are mutually exclusive.  As if a decision has to have 100% positive or 100% negative results.  Gray exists, after all.

Maybe you made the decision to move overseas, and it was a God-thing and your call was sure, but now it’s just really, really hard.  How will you deal with your own grief?  Will it threaten you, or will you courageously allow yourself to feel it?

Remember, grieving isn’t equal to sinning.

Sometimes, outlawed grief goes underground.  It becomes a tectonic plate, storing energy, swaying, resisting movement, and then exploding in unanticipated and unpredictable ways.  A tectonic plate can store a heck of a lot of energy.  Sort of like grief, once outlawed.  It descends below the surface. And sometimes heaving tectonic plates cause destruction far, far away.  Really smart people with even smarter machines have to do smart things to pinpoint the actual location of the destructive shift.

Have you ever experienced an earthquake like this, caused by buried grief?  It might not be obvious at first, but after a little bit of digging, you realize that the pressure and tension had been building for a long, long time.

So please, allow grief in your own heart and in the hearts of your family members.  If you’re uncomfortable with other peoples’ grief (or your own), you might want to look deep, deep down in your own soul and see if there’s some long-outlawed, long-buried grief.  If you find some, begin gently to see it, vent it, feel it.  Begin talking about it, slowly, with a good listener.

And if you come across someone who’s grieving a loss, please remember that they probably don’t need a lecture, or a Bible verse, or a pithy saying.  But they could maybe use a hug.

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Jonathan Trotter is a missionary in Southeast Asia, serving with the church planting mission Team Expansion.  Before moving to the field with his wife of thirteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years.  In preparing for the field, Jonathan worked as an ER nurse in an urban hospital, where he regularly witnessed trauma, suffering, and death.  His little sister died when he was six, his mother died of breast cancer when he was seventeen, and his father died of brain cancer when he was twenty-five.

For more thoughts on grief (although not specific to missions or third culture kids), check out Don’t Be Afraid of Me, Please (and other lessons from the Valley)

Edited and adapted from Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised, August 2013.

Black and white photo by Saca, at http://saca.deviantart.com/art/Despair-37824515