Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
In elementary school, they used to have a pretty simple way of letting us know how we were doing in life, at least according to their limited observations in a few key categories. They graded us fairly simply; we were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.
When I was a kid, before the part where we got into deep trouble, my Dad used to tease my sister and me. Whenever we would ignore an assigned task or disobey him, he’d say, in a long drawn out way, “fooooolllllowwws dirrrrections.”
As we get older, we all seem to learn to what level we must follow directions. We develop into rule-followers or rule-pushers, and we inch our way toward maturity falling in line or leaning hard on the limits. Either way, we are most often striving to find our way to a “satisfactory” rating.
Most of us find it far more difficult to ‘play well with others.’ I’ve been wondering lately, what would our first grade teachers say on our report cards today?
Eight years ago, as we prepared to move our family abroad, we were told “the number one reason people leave ministry abroad is that they cannot work well with others within their organization or community.” We gave that statement the side-eye. What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”? That hardly seemed possible.
Two and half years into our time in Haiti, we split up with the organization we’d come to serve. We couldn’t see eye to eye with our boss-people. They were happy to see us go. We disagreed on far too many things to continue on together. It was a painful and discouraging break-up.
If we have heard it once, we have heard it a hundred times. “We are leaving our organization to start our own thing. We just can’t work well together with our leadership.”
In all working relationships there are times of disagreement, times of disappointment or frustration. It happens between equals, between leaders and their support team, between friends.
My husband recently shared something his buddy said. This friend had spent many years watching people come and go in Haiti. He believes one of the biggest problems in smaller organizations is that most organizations lack a committed and loyal “number two.” He further stated that he had seen over and over how great working relationships break down and the person in the number two role chooses to move on to start something alone when their interpersonal relationships with leaders and/or co-laborers get challenging.
Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same, but they compliment each other.
I am not leading an organization, but I am part of the body. I am in my place, and one of my roles is to complement the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.
I’m learning as I age that not every hill is a hill to die on. When my life is over, it would devastate me to hear the people I worked with say, “She always had to win. She did not compromise.” When disagreements come and compromise seems improbable, I have an opportunity to ask myself, “Do I want to win, or do I want to be part of a body doing my part?” “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be the church?” This is not to say we should not share or shape the culture of our organizations by speaking up when we feel God’s prompting to do so, but it is to say that there are ways to differ in opinion in a gracious, humble, and respectful manner.
Perhaps there are those of us doing work abroad that are not necessarily called to “start our own thing” or to act in the head leadership role. Maybe, like my husband’s friend said, what is most needed are loyal and faithful “number twos” that can recognize how easily the devil comes to destroy relationships, plant doubt, and stir discontent among us. It could be time to try harder to play well with others.
What about you? Are relationships in your work abroad causing more stress than the work itself? Are you called to a number two position? Do you “play well with others”?
A couple of days ago Christianity Today published and article titled “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?” The subtitle was, “The age of the Internet has birthed a crisis of authority, especially for women.”
As a result of changes in traditions and culture, partially born of the Internet, the article posed several questions.
It asked, “Where do bloggers and speakers derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?”
I found it fascinating, and a bit horrifying at the same time. Because many of us that write at A Life Overseas are women, I wondered if we realize a crisis of authority has been birthed?
(Full disclosure: Attempting to limit information to certain sources and/or to claim that only a select few have the authority to speak feels cult-like to me as a result of my life experiences. I cannot be cool with this article and perhaps my bias needs to be confessed early and often.)
I encourage you to go read it in its entirety and decide for yourself.
In response to the article, a large conversation happened on Twitter, and perhaps elsewhere. There were those that said, “YES. YES! It is not okay that these women with large platforms and no theology degree are allowed to freely speak about their Jesus without fact checking with some approved leader (maybe even a dude) person!”
There were others that said, “You are totally freakin nuts. Of course women (and men by default) without degrees in theology and without experience in formal pastoral roles can and SHOULD share what is happening in their faith walk and what they are learning as they seek to grow and become more like Christ.”
The article asked:
Where do bloggers and speakers derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?
In the conversations that came out of this first in a series of posts that CT plans to publish, Rachel Held Evans tweeted, “In the information age, the trick isn’t controlling information; it’s teaching people to be discerning in how they digest that information.”
One defender of the article said, we would not go to a Physician that had not been trained, why are we reading and following, or giving a platform to, (female) Christian leaders that have not received all the credentials and stamps of approval and such?
I won’t pretend here that I am neutral in this situation. The article made me angry. If I get curious about what makes me angry I think it is the idea that some feel it is necessary to allow certain people to be the gatekeepers to faith and expressions of faith in Jesus.
If I get even more curious my anger might be intertwined with my uncomfortable position and title as “missionary” (not a title I give/gave myself, by the way), when in fact I did not get a diploma or credentialing that says I have approval or the right to serve or share love (Jesus love) in another country.
Where do I derive my authority?
If the CT article holds water, the question for us then is, Where do “missionaries” (me, maybe you, in this case) or health-care workers or any other “development” folks (me,maybe you, in this case) derive their authority to speak and teach and work and share their faith – via evangelism OR any other avenue of service? And who holds them accountable for their work? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders and workers abroad? What interpretive body and tradition do these missionaries speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we decide whom to trust as a “Christian missionary”?
The last words of the CT article state “…we have to ensure that all Christian leaders—male and female alike—have oversight and accountability that matches the weight of their authority and influence.”
What do you think? Assuming we are speaking specifically of the weight of the influence you have as a “missionary” or “aide-worker” abroad, what do you think about your own oversight and accountability? What do you think about what you see happening around you?
In the context you work it is very likely you have seen some pretty bad train-wrecks. If you are anything like my husband and I, you have stood by and witnessed much damage done by people of faith that arrived to your particular place of residence/work without any formal training or preparedness for the work. It is likely you’ve seen harm done under the umbrella of Christian mission. (On the flip side – some of the most lovely and redemptive work around is often being done by folks that lack all the fancy training and all the letters behind their names. What then?)
Should there be better oversight and accountability?
What is our responsibility?
What do you think about the article?
What do you think about it as it applies to those of us doing “missions” abroad?
Raising children outside of their passport culture, parents can tend toward feeling guilty about certain things.
It is not uncommon for parents of third culture kids to beat themselves up about the friends their kids have lost, the lack of community their kids may have, the lack of access to “normal” things (music lessons, movie theaters, social clubs, sports, church youth group, playgrounds, etc. etc. etc. forever and ever) they perceive their little people experience.
For some of us, guilt can cause us to be permissive (read:not very wise) in other areas while we attempt to make up for the ways we feel our kids are suffering.
Warning: Guilt is not a healthy guide to high-quality parenting decisions.
For the sake of context and disclosure I bravely share with you today, my age.
I am forty-four years old.
I am currently the grandmother of two and the mother of seven.
I grew up watching The Dukes of Hazzard, The Facts of Life, and Growing Pains.
It was a simpler time.
In Junior High and High School I never once researched a paper by using the Internet or a Google search. As a competitive swimmer, had I heard the word Google I would simply have thought some moron spelled the word goggles incorrectly. Had someone asked me, “Did you see that on-line?” I would have been stupefied and replied, “Do you mean did I see it while standing IN a line?”
It was a simpler time.
I did not post photos of myself or my friends anywhere but on a bulletin board in my brightly decorated bedroom. I used a thumb-tack to do it. It was a simpler time. None of my peers used smart phones. As a matter of fact, most of our phones had cords and were connected to the wall in the kitchen and we did not consider them dumb phones.
It was a simpler time.
I am raising (and have raised) children currently ranging from the age of 26 years old to 9 years old. I was parenting two children when the Internet came on the scene and began to be a more widely used tool.
My first-born taught me to use a mouse at a public library when she was five years old. I will never forget her taking it from my hand while I shook it in the air and saying, “No, Mom, you set it down like this.” My last-born thinks a mouse is a rodent that runs through the kitchen and causes me to scream. Seventeen years separate the first and last. They are experiencing technology differently – and that is just seventeen years of development. That to say, it is no wonder a forty-four year old might feel helpless trying to keep up with it all.
In 2007 my oldest daughter taught us about Facebook while we worked with folks in a rural village in Haiti. “That is the dumbest thing ever” and “What is the point of that?”, we said. That same year these experts talked about raising kids in the ‘Internet Age’. I bet those experts are not the experts today. (Zero research went into that bet. Do not quote me.)
The truth is, most of us cannot keep up with what our kids know. Unfortunately, many of us are learning the hard way.
We recently installed “the Circle” in order to limit our children’s access to sites on the web and to control the time the Internet is available to them each day. We smugly high-five and toasted ourselves as we thought, “Oh my gosh, we are brilliant and awesome and our kids are protected due to our amazing and cutting-edge cultural knowledge. Go us! Parenting is easy!!!”
Approximately seventeen minutes later we were lying face down in despair as we learned that half of the things we allowed the kids access to are neither “safe” or acceptable by our standards.
We learned that Instagram, our kids’ favorite SocialMedia site, has pornography. We learned other terrible things too.
We learned that the despicable and broken beings devote their lives to getting porn in front of our kids. We learned that we probably cannot stay ahead of it without devoting time and attention to staying ahead of it. Even then, we probably cannot stay ahead of it.
As we are learning and trying to protect the five kids left in our home we are reading statistics about the age that most children in today’s world will first be introduced explicit and sexual material and images. If you have a child born last week, it is time to begin to prepare yourself now.
I wish I was bluffing.
It may be that every.single.one.of.you reading this are far more intelligent than my husband and I. As a matter of fact, I kind of hope that is the case. If so, let me be the first to congratulate you on your sagacity, sapience, and shrewdness. I’m standing on my patio in Port au Prince applauding (saluting!) you while being amazed at all the useful words that start with the letter S.
If you are just a regular type of person, and have spent the last three minutes of your life longing for the simpler days of Uncle Jesse and the Dukes of Hazzard, perhaps you are not quite so enlightened and need some tips. Allow me, then, to share some places you can go to educate yourself further.
When I wake up in the morning I feel the consequence of my anger before I even swing my feet to the floor. My teeth ache from nighttime jaw clenching.
Anger is my go-to emotion of late.
Last week my children dressed up as four of the feelings/characters from the Disney movie Inside-Out. Their choices aligned fairly well with their personalities. Note this: Nobody chose to be anger.
“That is what Mom would be if she came to the costume party“, one of them joked.
It has been a week or two since I have owned and confessed to myself that anger is where I have set up camp — and even though the campsite is hideous and barren, it seems that it is actually where I prefer to stay. I wake up here every day.
Anger is easy for me, I am the offspring of feisty people and I channel the very feistiest ones in my gene pool.
When sorrow or brokenness creeps in, I think of one of the things I am enraged about, one of the things that I do not want to forgive, and push the underlying painful things quickly away.
It has gone on long enough now that a friend and my husband (and apparently even my children) have noticed. They separately suggest there is a better plan, a better way, for me than this.
I believe them but I’m not sure I want to do the work to move to a new campsite.
After all, moving requires I tear all the stuff down piece by piece, pack it all up, move elsewhere, only to unpack it in new light and have to remember and review it all again. I know reviewing it in under new, less angry light, will bring the pain I am working so hard to avoid.
A Persian poet by the name of Rumi wrote, “The remedy for the pain is the pain.”
I read those words of Rumi quoted in Seth Haines’ memoir, Coming Clean.
With a notebook and a fine-point sharpie I list out everything that makes me angry. The list is long. It ranges from the petty and ridiculous, to the deeply disturbing and devastating. While listing it out I notice much of the anger is aimed at God and people who have disappointed me, people I do not wish to forgive.
The short and quick list includes (but is not limited to):
An October fourth hurricane hit the island hard, (while we all prayed it would not) people are suffering greatly. It will take years and years to recover. I am angry.
Yet another married couple we love has announced their split. This seems to happen every few months lately. I am angry.
Every appliance in my kitchen has stopped working properly. I am angry.
The mother of one of my best friends has been diagnosed with a statistically improbable type of Cancer. My friend hurts. I am angry.
Yet another person entrusted with dollars and the confidence of many to help in Haiti has turned out to be a crook and an egomaniac. I am so angry.
Teams and more teams of matching t-shirts flood this place, they come and visit the ‘orphans’ for a few days. They leave. They come. They leave. Over and over. I am angry.
A little girl, age eight, comes to see us at our clinic. She has been sexually assaulted and her Mother doesn’t know what to do because in this place there is little that can be done. I am so angry.
A politician says things that are deeply offensive and his words hurt me and people I care about. I am angry.
A close friend is attacked viciously by her own faith community on the internet. I am angry.
The man in our neighborhood that abuses children continues to walk free. I am angry.
Small things. Big things. It doesn’t really matter.
The anger keeps me from feeling the pain. I have decided I hate pain and my remedy for pain is staying angry.
Rumi can stick-it. I’ve found my own remedy.
~ ~ ~ ~
Over the past couple of months when, by some force greater than myself and my own stubborn rage, I begin to feel the sorrow creeping toward me, I very quickly do one of a few things. I bet you know and employ some of these tricks too.
Pain and sorrow can be kept away with two glasses of red wine consumed in quick succession.
Pain and sorrow can be kept away with sleep.
Pain and sorrow can be kept away with mindless scrolling of social media on the internet.
Pain and sorrow can be kept away by cleaning and organizing and obsessing about household projects or chores.
Pain and sorrow can be kept away by shopping on-line. (I have virtual carts full of beautiful things at several websites. To the relief of our pocketbook, I am able to stop short of hitting “purchase”. The looking and not buying distracts from pain as well.)
Pain and sorrow can be kept away with work work work, and if we call it “ministry”, better yet. Just stay busy busy busy.
Mostly, it can be kept away by doing anything and everything while refusing to sit alone in quietness and begin to feel.
I have refused for a couple of months.
Anger is my go-to emotion.
I am tired of me.
I am tired of the anger.
Because of this, God feels very distant to me. Unreachable even.
~ ~ ~ ~
I am reading Seth’s book again. It says, “Remember, Jesus abides with those in pain.” I stop and write that down. I wonder if I am alienated from God due in part to my anger and my refusal to feel anything more.
Seth’s words again, “I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe. In the forgiveness, I wonder, will I find myself being made more like the Jesus I claim to follow? Is such a thing possible?”
Later, further into his memoir Seth says, “To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering — this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Reading these words I lament that if I choose to believe this is true and put it into practice, I have so much work to do. I have this huge campsite set up and I have gotten quite comfortable here. I am even a little smug about how well I function in my anger. Most people around me don’t even know I am this way. Only I know how bad my teeth hurt every morning. Only I know what I do to numb myself and keep from feeling pain.
I am writing this today as I consider the first steps I will choose if I want to change campsites, stop numbing and running.
If the remedy for the pain is the pain, I need to choose wisely. If Jesus abides with those in pain, I need to choose wisely.
If forgiveness and redemption are what I seek, they will also have to be what I offer.
What about you? Are you running to other things to avoid your pain? Are you stuck at some hideous campsite, your tent affixed permanently to that ground?
I leave you with a condensed and paraphrased version of one of the last chapters in Seth’s book. I leave you with this because it spoke to my anger, my refusal to allow the pain.
“We are an odd company, I don’t suppose I’m special among you, that I’m the only one who confesses the power of a risen Christ and drinks himself into the icy numbness. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who hoards hurts until well after the accusers have disappeared or passed on. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has let the perception that God is dormant burn and burn.”
“You know this pain, yes? For some perhaps it’s the itinerant preacher, but for others, maybe it’s the runaway father, the dead mother, or the friend who’s disappeared. For some it’s a minor pain that’s allowed to fester — mine was — but for others it’s the unfathomable, unthinkable pain of abuse, rape, prejudice, or murder.”
“You feel it, don’t you? Has it upended your faith in God, in yourself? Has it driven you to self-soothing, to the icy numbness of sex or materialism or even theology? Has it created in you an agnostic heart, an agoraphobic heart, an alcoholic heart?”
“Perhaps this is all too mystical for you; perhaps you are uncomfortable with the simplicity of a Jesus who abides with the simplest faith-bearers — with the children and the forgivers. Maybe you’d rather find comfort in the cold adult numbness, the coping mechanisms: the booze, the sex, the chocolate, the systematized theologies that reduce God to a proper but cold equation. Maybe you’d rather build structures around your pain, tuck them behind protected and thorny hedgerows, hold them in a safe place of your making.”
“But I see through your drinking, your affair, your theological systems. I know all addiction is undergirded with pain, and when you strip the addiction away, all questions, doubts, and accusations are sure to come screaming to the surface.”
“Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone-cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? Do you have fond dreams of dying — not of suicide but of dying? Do you see the prospect of death as release?”
“Perhaps you love your spouse, perhaps you don’t, but do you love yourself and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether he ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it’s just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? I know you ask these questions, that you hear these accusations and feel the pain. How do I know this? You are my brothers and sisters. We’re all human, aren’t we?”
“Perhaps many of us need to move from a place of addiction (any old addiction) to freedom. The process hurts, there is no doubt, and I know I’m not yet done. There is more pain to explore and more accusers to forgive. But if we are going to practice the forgiveness taught by Jesus, if we are going to find the freedom of reconciliation with our enemies, and in that find reconciliation with God, perhaps it’s time for a serious exploration of our pains and anxieties.”
~ ~ ~ ~
I have five copies of Seth’s book to share.
If you are like me, stuck in a angry (or insert your word) place but feeling the nagging need to move, please email me your name and mailing address at Livesayfamily@gmail.com and we will send you a copy in the month of November.
If you miss out on one of the gift copies, you can also buy it here.
MONDAY MID- MORNING UPDATE: ALL Five books have been snapped up, hoping for all of us to keep figuring out how to work through anger and pain.
One after the other after the other – after.the.other … The people, both large and small, that reside in my home, clenched their buttocks with superhuman strength and ran in desperation for the latrine.
What began as one person with some loose stool for a single unremarkable day, somehow turned into a three-week multi-generational back-door trots EVENT.
It all began with my husband.
Isn’t it just like any respectable, god-fearing man to attempt to lead in every area of life, including and not limited to leading his family into several weeks of the green apple nasties.
Thanks, honey. I see you.
Because we are unnaturally and preposterously proud of being tough and “gutting it out”, we sought no help for our malaise. I was the second to fall prey to the whistle belly thumps. Several days after I joined my husband in extraordinary-toilet-time, our children began to fall, one by one.
Two weeks passed, toilet paper consumption increased, as grocery consumption decreased in direct correlation. Troy dropped ten pounds.
We focused on the positive. Perhaps I will write the donors and let them know we have cut our food bill in half, they will be thrilled with our frugality, I thought. (joke!)
As the days ticked by I heard from the kids that underwear had been thrown away a time or two. I heard from my husband that he hadn’t made it to the toilet on one particularly difficult day. Well – that will off-set the grocery savings, you guys!
One morning more than two weeks into the event, I received a voice message from the co-chief in charge as I drove the winding roads of rural Haiti. He said, “You know what? I’m still really sick. I tried some Cipro and it did not work and I’m kind of afraid now. Why do we still have this terrible diarrhea?”
I listened as I drove and I thought, “Oh, so we are not gonna tough it out, huh? Dude is afraid. Alright then, Momma is going gang-busters. Time to act.”
I called immediately on my favorite physician in the great North. While her specialty is pediatric emergency, she has more than dabbled in tropical health and disease. Her instructions were clear. Do not mess around. Treat for Giardia, Typhoid, and a few other sporidium just for kicks. Nail it from every angle.
Because we are nothing if not capricious, earlier this week we deployed every single weapon known to mankind, the opposite of “tough it out.”
Ten years of sketchy hygiene practices finally caught up with us.
Don’t get me wrong, we wash our hands and try to tell our kids to do the same before eating and after touching a goat or a donkey or the local currency. You know how it is though, kids will be kids and I guarantee you the youngest one carries a chicken around by its keister and then eats a peanut butter sandwich on the regular.
That said, most of us probably wash our hands nearly as much as the next guy, but maybe not our lettuce, our tomatoes, or our cucumbers. I have never fully bought into careful disinfection of vegetables. And now, I must repent.
Because we had never paid the price for ignoring the bleach and vinegar when it came time to wash locally grown veggies, time was simply no longer on our side. A decade of unwashed veggies finally resulted in the gargantuan Giardia outbreak of our time.
By this point, you are probably thinking, well this is TMI. Why the oversharing?
I will tell you why.
This is an essay where I need to reject my spurious nature. I NEED to confess as I tie my refusal to be proactive in my vegetable washing, to my refusal to seek medical help in a timely manner, to my frequent refusal to seek God until I am quite literally more than desperate for His help.
There is a pattern here. A pattern that needs confession and change. Read this as my public repentance of the aforementioned everything.
As I type the final sentences of this entry, everyone in my household is taking chalky, terrible tasting medicine three times a day. Everyone ate dinner last night, a welcome change from the previous nights. We believe that big change and parasite-free days are on the horizon!
Like many of us that live far away from our mothers, I did not tell my mother how sick everyone was until we had a pretty trustworthy solution in place. There is just no point in stressing out your Mom. Am I right?Her response was predictable. “Move to Texas, please,” she texted.
Oh, Mom. Please wash your vegetables! We had all the fun destroying her erroneous belief that Texas is a parasite-free Republic. Moms. You probably know one. They just want their babies safe (or just not filled with parasites) and nearby. I cannot even blame her. (Although, I can -and just did- tease her.)
Perhaps, like me, your years of service abroad have led you to places of pride and ignorance. If so, feel free to share your favorite story of bodily fluid loss along with your favorite method of getting your veggies clean.
In total, two rats have met their maker long before they hoped or imagined inside my home at the hands of Troy Livesay, semi-pro rat slayer. Both of the aforementioned rats were the unconscionable and truly despicable variety that dare to come all the way upstairs in a people house. <Gah!>
On one occasion my husband chased a large rat around our bathroom with a shovel. He struggled valiantly. He swung and missed. He swung and missed again. He brought the Mastiff in from outside to help. The rat changed directions with agility and dexterity no human can match. Troy was determined to crush the life out of this nasty varmint that had somehow made it to our second floor bathroom.
I think we can all agree, a rat entering a home and hanging out on the ground-floor level or checking out the options for snack time in the kitchen is one thing – but a rat that will come up the stairs (two flights no less!) to the bedrooms, where the people sleep, that kind of rat is an entirely different and bold beast.
Each time I use our bathroom shower, I smirk when I see the broken piece of tile in the corner. One of Troy’s swings at the rat landed on the wall of the shower and took out a chunk of shiny peach colored ceramic tile. Our landlord will likely shrug and laugh it off. If we ever tell him, that is.
That broken tile is a reminder to me.
It reminds me that rats happen. We don’t invite rats. Rats happen on occasion, despite our best efforts to keep them out.
Several years ago, long before the bold bathroom rat, a woman wrote me to tell me that she found it disgusting that we would choose to raise our children in Haiti. She said that raising them in a place with rodents and tropical illness and so much poverty was irresponsible and even reprehensible. She said that it was our selfishness driving us to do what we wanted without thinking about what it would do to our children. She took an even more personal shot and told me that my older daughter (she was referring to my second born) would grow up to resent me for where we had chosen to raise her.
At the time I received that message, it hurt – it hurt a lot, actually. We had just gone through a round of illnesses and the attack felt way too specific and personal, although it was written by a complete stranger. I carried her words around with me for a while. I gave them a lot of thought. I worried maybe it was true in some way. After some time had passed, I allowed those words to slip from the front of my memory.
Recently an acquaintance shared the horror of walking into her home, in the well manicured upper-class suburban area she lives, to find that while she was gone on vacation a disrespectful gang of rats had some sort of inappropriate birthing party in her kitchen. The irrefutable evidence was there before her on her kitchen floor and countertops.
…In Haiti and Suburbia it turns out.
That story made me think about the cruel message from way back when.
The things (both large and consequential and small and insignificant) that happen in our lives that are not comfortable and fun or cushy, crisp, and clean are not some sort of sign that we are doing something wrong. The crap that goes totally haywire and way outside of the plans we carefully laid do not indicate failure or lack of personal character.
Those things are a sign of something else. They are a sign that we are living — like, really living.
Money and prestige, power and location, lifestyle and approach … Even they cannot guarantee a single one of us a rat-free life.
The longer I live in Haiti and work with the materially poor, the more I learn about dealing faithfully, courageously, and graciously with the rats of life. My friends and neighbors teach that over and over again without knowing they are teachers.
And while our chosen location may very well mean more struggle (rats) and less insulation from it, there is nowhere I’d rather be.
News Flash: There aren’t any news flashes in this post, but there are some things we all tend to do over and over again that get us in trouble. I decided maybe that means we (I) need to keep talking about it.
* * *
There is just something about the life overseas that creates a lot of pressure to do all the things.
Perhaps it is not true across the board, but in general it seems that the life of an expatriate, whether a missionary or a humanitarian or a business owner, can be one of balancing several (sometimes opposing) demands.
In our line of work we might have the best interest of a patient or client or employee at heart while also needing to consider the needs of the donor or visitor who helps us care for our patient or client and helps us to pay our employees. Sometimes protecting both interests feels impossible.
In a short time period we might deal with several very intense or stressful situations that require many extra hours of our time, while also fielding dozens of requests to visit, to tour, to ask questions about the work, to observe the work, or to have the work explained in order to be funded further or in order for the model to be copied.
For many of us, saying yes to all the things is just what we do. We do it because we want to keep the donor happy, we do it because we want to keep the work funded, we do it because we love the people we have come to work with and serve, we do it because we are people pleasers and we want to make everyone happy. We do it because we want to be viewed as kind and giving.
This works for us – until it does not work for us. If you are anything like me, and perhaps you have said yes more times than you should have, there comes a time when you realize that you resent even being asked to do something.
The other day I got an email. It said, “Hi my name is so and so and I live in such a place and I am so touched by the work you do. We are going to start a similar work in our place and I am wondering if you can tell me how you started, what you did, what it costs, how you go about funding it, what the hardest part is, when you knew you wanted to do it, and can I come see it next month?”
Now. Hear me. That person is likely very kind and passionate and is simply asking great questions that will prepare them for the future.
I, however, just finished of hard couple of days and want to sit and stare at a wall (instead of pay attention to my children). When the messaged popped into my box I immediately felt mad. “What in the world?” “How do they think I have time to do that after my 18 hour day? I just got home. I have not seen my kids.” “Ugh. I just did this for someone last week – do I have to do it again?”
This is what we call “THE RESENTMENT”.
Nobody wants to live in The Resentment.
A healthy person knows that it is my choice to answer or not answer depending on what is best for my own mental health.
I would venture to guess that many of us struggle with saying no. I am thinking living in resentment might be an expatriate problem. (When we get “home”for a break, everyone wants us to be at all the things and we start showing up to make them happy, even when what we might really need is a quiet place to take an actual rest from life.) I am wondering if for some of us, it isn’t some twisted view of service and faith that says, “Loving and serving Jesus joyfully includes always saying yes to all the things!”
Saying yes to everything sets us up to fail, to become angry, to become bitter and to live in resentment.
In Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, she says when we feel angry and notice that we are easily annoyed, we need to WANT to learn more about what is causing those feelings. She suggests asking the questions:
-Why am I being so hard on everyone around me today?
-What’s setting me off?
-How did I get to the point that I want to punch this wall?
-I want to dig into why I am so overwhelmed.
-I cannot stop thinking about what that person said or did, why not?
In chapter six Brene asks, “How can we expect people to put value on our work when we don’t value ourselves enough to set and hold uncomfortable boundaries?”
There is a lot to be said for setting and holding boundaries. It can be terribly uncomfortable. It might mean you make fewer people happy, but it will also probably mean you are happier yourself and more able to live a life free of resentment.
On page 119 of Rising Strong
The trick to staying out of resentment is maintaining better boundaries–blaming others less and holding myself more accountable for asking for what I need and want.
There is no integrity in blaming and turning to “it’s not fair” and “I deserve.” I need to take responsibility for my own well-being. If I believed I was not being treated fairly or not getting something I deserved, was I actually asking for it, or was I just looking for an excuse to assign blame and feel self-righteous.
Brene calls the solution to this issue- Living BIG: Boundaries, Integrity, and Generosity.
She asks, “What boundaries do I need to put in place so I can work from a place of integrity and extend the most generous interpretations of the intentions, words, and actions of others?”
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”
For all of us, there is a balance to be found. Living in integrity means doing what we can to say yes when we can say yes – and realizing that sometimes we really need to say no.
Saying “no” and having boundaries improves our family life. It allows for rest, for reflection, for fun. Saying ‘no’ when we need to – keeps us from The Resentment.
Is this something you struggle with?
Do you find yourself blaming others for asking too much instead of taking responsibility for saying “yes” too often?
Several years back Bart and Ursula Love sold their vehicles, packed up their middle-America household, and put things into a storage unit in order to move their family several thousand miles away to AlternateCultureVille.
The Loves had the heart and desire to serve abroad. They prepared, they prayed, they went forward with a realistic outlook and a tinge of healthy fear into an unknown land where nothing would be promised to them, except maybe challenges.
During their time abroad Bart and Ursula were graciously provided for by friends, family, their home-church, and several private family foundations. The Love Family lived modestly, but all of their needs were continually provided for, again and again, by the generous donors and loved ones that believe in them and the work they are doing in AlternateCultureVille.
Several times when tragedy arrived and the school of hard-knocks dealt out butt-kicking lesson after lesson, the Love family had their physical needs met. They could afford counseling and trips to rest at the local beach and even trips to the USA on a few difficult occasions.
For more than a decade Bart and Ursula sat watching the provision of God. They found themselves in the front row as their needs were met by a generous support base and an even more generous God. They worked hard in AlternateCultureVille. Like anyone that works cross-culturally in difficult and complicated places, they experienced both failure and success in varying degrees throughout the years they worked abroad.
About twelve years into their time abroad, things started to feel different. Bart and Ursula worried that the stress was beginning to show in their parenting and in their marriage relationship. They struggled over the period of several months to decide if it was time to go back to middle-America.
Additionally, things with their umbrella organization changed a bit and the overall vision and philosophy changed in ways that the Loves felt did not align well with their own personal philosophy.
All signs pointed them back toward the U.S.of.A for a time of evaluation.
With heavy hearts they began to prepare to move “home”.
As with many that serve abroad for several years, for the Loves there was a real feeling of fear going back to the USA. Could they fit in there? Would God provide financially for them? It became a real battle as they considered the lavish grace of God vs. their own human fears that they would have to scrounge and make sure to sell everything for as much as they could.
Poor old Bart. The same guy that had flown first class (because generous God) when he needed to get surgery felt afraid that he wouldn’t have enough money to start life over in the USA.
You know what happened? Bart got a little weird. Actually, Bart got real, real weird. Ursula tried to talk some sense into him, but he just could not hear from the Mrs.
“You just don’t know what it will cost to start over”, he said.
Bart listed his items one by one for sale in his community in AlternateCultureVille. He posted items online and he made a long list to hand out at church.
You are likely neighbors with Bart Love or the likes of him. You know these “leaving season” sales all too well. They come around fairly often, especially in May and June.
These are bittersweet times. On the one hand, you are thrilled to have a chance at a new blender that has a working motor and an unbent blade. On the other hand, you will miss old Bart and his special way of being himself.
Of course it makes perfect sense that the Loves needed to sell most of their big-ticket items. As a matter of fact, before Bart had even finished telling his two best friends in AlternateCultureVille that he was leaving, three other people somehow heard about it and offered to buy his vehicle from him.
The SUV and the appliances and large furniture sold quickly to the newest and ‘stealthiest’ (a word that you should probably not use when playing Scrabble) missionaries in the community. As the day to fly back to the states drew nearer, Bart grew more and more worried.
(Homemade raft, built by Bart’s teenage son in 2008; yours for the low low price of $600 USD.)
He listed item after item, all the way down to half empty bottle of powder and an old home-made raft. Worse yet, the same Bart that had been generously provided for over twelve years even tried to sell his used undies.
( Friend hangs head in shame while nodding very slowly and disapprovingly.)
What happened to Bart? How did he miss out on giving generously to others when it was time to go back to the USA? Why couldn’t Bart see that he had never gone hungry and had always been cared for during his time learning and working in AlternateCultureVille?
Bart and Ursula were able to unload every last roll of tape, every bottle of conditioner, even their fried out batteries were sold. As their friends watched them go, several wondered what had happened to trap the Loves into thinking they had to ‘nickel and dime it’ to the extreme.
Yes, of course Bart and Ursula are fictitious people, but even fictitious people give me pause.
When our time is done how will we know what to sell and what to give away? Technically, everything we own was purchased due to the generosity of those that support our family and our work – they bought our stuff.
What about you? Sell it all? Give it all? Some of both? Where is the balance in all of that?
Last, but not least, if this story taught you nothing else, let me be clear…
The world has grown more and more connected due to technology and open communication across the world-wide web.
Thirty years ago you didn’t know what was happening with a particular friend or acquaintance serving across the world unless you got a newsletter that arrived to your mail box four to six weeks after it had been written.
Thanks to the magic of social media we now know when there has been a tragedy at any school across the globe, or a baby is being born in Haiti, or when a child is admitted to a hospital in Madagascar, or when Ebola is ravaging Liberia.
Thanks to the Internet, our Moms know when we have a terrible tropical illness and can worry (er, I mean pray) right away rather than hear about it once the illness is all cleared up and better.
Within minutes of putting our feet on the floor each morning, if we choose to, we can know more news than folks could gather over several weeks time 50 years ago.
Maybe that is good. Maybe it is not.
Certainly this vastly increased connectedness has changed and influenced how we “do missions” and how we communicate with donors and family and friends “back home”. The days of snail mailed newsletters with six-week old news are long gone. Most ministries and non-profits have a Facebook page, a Twitter account and an Instagram account. If you want the news from your favorite non-profit, you should be able to find it in a nano-second.
The ways in which social media has changed things are probably too numerous to count. Today, I’m examining just one of those ways.
Social media, frequent updates, and the connectedness results in an increased desire and demand for visits and requests for volunteer opportunities. People see (in real-time) the exciting updates and they want to be a part of what they see.
Most of us realize that we cannot discourage or disallow potential donors from seeing the work first hand, after all most people would find it pretty sketchy if we said visitors are not allowed. When legitimate work is happening, we want to prove that to donors as best we can. It makes sense for them to SEE it.
The question becomes, how can we communicate the nuances of our individual organization’s needs without offending or upsetting those that want to help? Sometimes not needing help can feel hurtful to an interested friend. How can we communicate those things really well? How can we say “We have a full-time, year-round staff. We don’t really have any work for volunteers”, without sounding ungrateful, dismissive or unwelcoming?
Where I work, we often get requests from visitors to come see a birth. Social media and sharing the news of babies born at our Maternity Center equals a sweet level of support and much curiosity. The easiest way for me to answer those inquiries is to ask how well it would work for strangers to walk into a birth and observe it in the developed world. (However, I recognize that sounds rude, so I don’t ask that.) Do any of us want to invite strangers into intimate and private moments such as the birth of a child? Can you imagine if your OB or Midwife said, “Oh, this is So-and-so and her team. She is visiting your town this week and she/they wanted to see a baby be born in this town, so I invited her to your birth. Hope that’s okay. Ready to push?”
(Maybe materially poor people are not automatically seen as needing equal privacy or respect by those of us that are materially wealthy. I hope that can change somehow.)
It is not uncommon for many of us working in poor countries to receive a note saying something similar to this, “What can we do, we will paint walls, build things, or do anything you want.” How can we kindly explain that all around us there are men and women in need of work, and if at all possible we prefer to offer a chance at employment for folks hoping to feed their children in our area. It is not that we don’t want these interested friends to see the countries we are working in; it is that we want to be cognizant of what each country needs.
Another thing I have noticed over the years, whenever we have several visitors on a clinic/program day, we communicate less with the Haitian women we serve. Try as we might to stay on task and allow our visitors to just hang out and observe the days activities, we always end up spending much of the day speaking English and sharing information with the guests. Suddenly, several hours in, I will realize that I have not engaged with the new mother and baby in front of me in her own language because I’m being polite and chatting with the American in the room. That is my fault, not the fault of the visitor. Finding the balance is tricky.
Social Media tends to show the exciting part of our lives abroad. The snapshots we share produce an interest without giving the full picture of what is needed. This leaves us to figure out how to communicate in a way that does not turn donors away.
The easiest way for any of us to successfully consider things from another perspective or point of view is when it is very gently and carefully explained. Sometimes writing doesn’t allow for the very best communication to happen, a lack of tone can cause defensiveness or offense. (We learned this the hard way. We frequently hear, “Oh, they are anti teams” based on this post I wrote several years ago – but I am not anti short-term-missions, I just think it can be done differently, more respectfully, and better.)
Over the years, as I have learned the culture of my host country and grown to love my new home, it has become increasingly more important to me to protect, love, and respect the people we work with just as we desire to be loved and protected. I’ve realized that there is an imbalance of power that allows us to do things that take advantage of our inherent power. At times it seems more loving (to Haitians) to say “no thank you” to some offers for help. Without a doubt, that has meant a loss of potential ministry partners and donors.
What about you?
As you work in your respective fields, how have you allowed visitors and short-term teams to come see your work without compromising the privacy,dignity, or needs of those you live and work with abroad?
Do you find it difficult to communicate well without causing offense?
Is it possible to put the people you are serving first, or does a need for funding require a compromise in that area?
Do you feel like social media positively impacts your work? Are there any drawbacks?
If you are anything like us, this has been a really tough week or two. Open up your computer and you are likely to read of loss, suffering, and persecution. Turn on television news and find more of the same. Facing devastating world news on top of the daily challenges of whichever place you have chosen to love, serve, live, and work feels quite heavy and terribly overwhelming.
When wave after wave of bad news comes, it is easy to forget the ways in which we have seen God work. It is easy to lose hope. I pulled an old post from my archives in hopes of encouraging one (maybe two?) of you today. -tara
~ ~ ~ ~
It was given to me when she passed away, carried all the way from Omaha, Nebraska to Port au Prince, Haiti.
The pieces of my grandmothers blue candy dish lay shattered on my bedroom floor. An important family heirloom ruined. Disappointed and upset about breaking this piece of family history that I had been lucky enough to inherit, I cried over the broken glass. How could I be so careless with something important to so many?
Cracked into so many jagged pieces, repair and restoration seemed unlikely if not impossible.
~ ~ ~
A few days later it is Christmas morning and the door to my teenage daughter’s room is locked. “What are you doing? Please open up!” I say with my face smashed into the door. Shortly thereafter she appears, pride and triumph evident on her face. She walks toward me to gingerly place the dish, precariously pieced back together, into my hands. I gasp with surprise. It looks so much like it looked before it crashed to the floor.
She beams with joy.
Just as she sets the mainly restored lid of the dish back in its place on top, the entire thing crashes into pieces again in my hands, slicing my thumb open as it shatters. Pieces fall to the floor around our feet.
Knowing the time and painstaking effort she invested into the repair I look at her face, assuming it is now her turn to weep. She pauses, looks at the pieces both in my hands and on the floor below us. She takes a deep breath and in a matter of fact tone she says, “I’ll fix it again. This is repairable. You just watch.” She bends down to pick up what has fallen a second time and turns to walk away with it.
Cracked again into so many jagged pieces, repair and restoration seemed unlikely if not impossible.
Several days later, glue dried a second time, a few extra scars and missing pieces evident, she presents me with the dish once more.
I remember vividly the pain of crashing a second time. I was a divorced, single mom.
At twenty-two years old I was trying desperately to piece my life back together after the second shattering.
I said and thought things to myself.
“I cannot be fixed.”
“Once was enough.”
“Who will love you now?”
“This is too much. Give up.”
“You cannot be made whole.”
Cracked into so many jagged pieces, repair and restoration seemed unlikely if not impossible.
At the time I was carrying in my womb the unplanned little baby girl who would grow up to look me in the eye and say to me with confidence, “This is repairable, you just watch.”
~ ~ ~
I am heavy with the awareness of the shattered, desperate, and broken world we all woke up to this morning … Each of us cracked and in need of repair; each of us loving someone in need of the same, all deeply longing for restoration, peace, and hope.
My prayer this morning is that we find the courage to overcome the pain and shame of whatever piece of us has been shattered. As we face the days ahead may we each hear directly from Him what I know to be true: ‘This is repairable.You just watch.’
It may not be true for everyone reading, but many of us grew up celebrating Christmas in a certain way. Part of the anticipation of the holiday season was wrapped up in the excitement of the traditions of the season.
Growing up, my little nuclear family of four used to get the fondue pot out every Christmas Eve. We would make an event of it and after dinner we cleaned up and headed to a candlelight service. After church we were allowed to open one gift, saving the rest for the big-show Christmas morning. Each year we went around the circle opening one gift at a time starting with the oldest family member and going around to the youngest.
Now a mom to seven children, I have not done as well as my parents did at creating traditions for my kids. The main obstacle to creating tradition? Living far from family and the places we learned and practiced our traditions. Our family has been in Haiti for five of the eight celebrations that have happened since we moved, making it difficult to get any sort of traction on tradition making.
Each year we celebrate Christmas with different visitors to Haiti, we find ourselves facing unpredictable work schedules at the Maternity Center. Traffic and uncertain political situations in the country change what we choose to do for Christmas Eve. All that to say, it can be fairly challenging to make a tradition in this environment.
We have succeeded at one singular new tradition, no matter where we find ourselves in the month of December.
The one thing we have done every year for eight years is create a little video production with our kids to give as a gift to our family and friends far away. It started as a last minute idea in 2007, the year we were back in the USA having our last child. It has now become an annual tradition and we have the joy of seeing the kids change year to year in the “Annual Christams Extravaganza”. Our kids love watching the old ones and seeing how their voices and faces have changed.
Today I am curious what things you and yours have done to try to create traditions abroad in your new homes.
Have you come up with things that make it feel like Christmas even though you are far from those you typically celebrated with in the past?
What new traditions have you created?
(The three photos in this post are from the 2009 Christmas production. Live animals for a nativity scene. Chocolate for bribing children.)
Those never ending lists just serve to overwhelm me. Say this. Don’t say this. Do that. NEVER do this.
I can barely follow directions. Kraft Mac and Cheese has one step too many for me.
There are SO many instructions and they all run together and before I know it I have applied one of the items to the wrong problem. After reading all those articles I learned that my teen was rebelling because I was too controlling. Somehow I got mixed up and became certain one of the keys to a happier marriage was to be more controlling.
As you can see, there is a HUGE margin of error here.
* * *
Today, I shall add fuel to the fire…
My list of things you “should” do to care for yourself.
One caveat, I don’t actually care if you reject my entire list. These are just some things that have been helpful to us in eight years overseas.
Guess what? Just because they helped us, doesn’t mean they will necessarily work for all of you.
Therefore, today I present to you:
Four things you could do. (Four possible not mandatory ways to care for yourselves and your families while working/living/serving and growing “overseas” .)
EMDR and Counseling
Time Away/Rest – I don’t have to tell you this, you have heard it a kajillion times. “Even Jesus took time away”. So do that. Be like Jesus.
We all do what we do because we believe it to be important, even necessary, work. There is a tendency in all of us to cast ourselves in a role that is irreplaceable, as in “without me this cannot happen” – so I cannot rest. Well, here is the thing: If that is true, you have got larger problems than just needing a rest.
Take time off. Leave work and “mission” for a time and regroup. I am not suggesting you be a lazy lard. I am suggesting that within a system of accountability you take time away every so often because that is good for you and your family.
Community – This is easier for some than it is for others. There is a great benefit to living in community with other believers. In this day and age there is a way to have an on-line community and an in-real-life community. If you can have both, you have the best of both worlds. There should be a few people in your life that you can share your deepest fears and joys with on a semi-regular basis. There should be people that you allow to speak into those things.
EMDR and Counseling – Right now you are wondering where the heck the train left the track, you did not see it coming. Stick with me, please. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and it is a type of trauma treatment. Any of us that spend significant amount of time living cross culturally are almost guaranteed some trauma. I could give you sixteen examples but I will simply share this testimonial: After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti we discovered that PTSD was not just something soldiers in combat have. EMDR seemed like hocus pocus to us at first, but we can tell you it absolutely helped us with the trauma of the earthquake and other previous trauma we had not dealt with at that time. It was an effective way of dealing with small and very large traumatic happenings.
If trauma is not your issue, perhaps basic therapy/counseling would be a way to process some of the stressors of living cross-culturally. Going to talk to a professional to get some advice, feedback, or help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of being a real, living, feeling, human being. Marriages fall apart under stress and living abroad is stressful. I am no math expert, but after some rudimentary calculations I can see that perhaps counseling would be helpful for those doing marriage outside of their home culture.
Prayer- This is a big one…Maybe even the biggest one. There are two parts to this suggestion.
First, have a team of people in place that you know you can count on when you call or write them with a prayer request or urgent need. Whether they are your parents and siblings, your home church, or a circle of friends, you will find that you need a group that will carry you when things are very difficult.
During one of our years in Haiti we had a personally devastating set-back that made it hard for us to get out of bed for a couple of weeks let alone accomplish our daily tasks. There were those “back home” that carried us in prayer until we were back on our feet and able to face life again. On another occasion we were in a parking lot in Port au Prince when I sensed danger. I could not identify what it was, but I knew I needed to go back to the car with our kids. That afternoon when I returned home I had an email from my Dad that said, “Where were you at noon? I had a strong sense you were in danger and I prayed for you guys until it passed.” You will likely have times when these intercessory prayers will absolutely matter.
Second, make prayer a part of your breathing. As you go about your day, be seeking God in each interaction and task. Try to make family and spouse prayer times a high priority. Try to pray with your community and carry one another’s burdens. None of us were meant to do this work alone, call on your Heavenly Papa and ask for His help.
As soon as I finished this list I remembered that there is a fifth thing. I guess I failed at internet bossing, cannot even count it out correctly.
5. Excercise Regular exercise will help you feel better about everything that is hard about your life. You could give that a try too.
That is my list of four five.
What else would you add?
What ways have you found helpful when taking care of yourself?