Winter ripe for birth

What a winter we’ve had.
The pandemic, the politics, the panic.
Jobs lost, and family members too. Too many hopes (and people) dead.
And somehow, spring reminds us that winter is ripe for birth.
Winter is always ripe for birth.
As Lewis writes, the seed, myself, that which is deep-buried, may not die, if He is.
And He is.
And though I forget the sun, He remembers.
And though I forget the spring, He remembers.
There is beauty still.
There is hope still.
For He is, still.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Naked Seed
by CS Lewis
My heart is empty. All the fountains that should run
With longing, are in me
Dried up. In all my countryside there is not one
That drips to find the sea.
I have no care for anything thy love can grant
Except the moment’s vain
And hardly noticed filling of the moment’s want
And to be free of pain.
Oh, thou that art unwearying, that dost neither sleep
Nor slumber, who didst take
All care for Lazarus in the careless tomb, oh keep
Watch for me while I wake.
If thou think for me what I cannot think, if thou
Desire for me what I
Cannot desire, my soul’s interior Form, though now
Deep-buried, will not die,
—No more than the insensible dropp’d seed which grows
Through winter ripe for birth
Because, while it forgets, the heaven remembering throws
Sweet influence still on earth,
—Because the heaven, moved moth-like by thy beauty, goes
Still turning round the earth.

The Day We Didn’t Go Home

We were supposed to go home on August 6th. We had tickets and plans, we had dreams and ideas. But when we left Cambodia back in March, we did not have an awareness of how COVID-19 would turn the world upside down.

So we’re not flying home on August 6th. As a result of passport issues, visa issues, entry requirements, finances, and a whole host of reasons (everyone has them), we’re staying.

For our family, August 6th is now Stay Day.

Does your story include a Stay Day? Perhaps for you it wasn’t a Stay Day as much as a Leave Day. Do you have a day that marks when life quaked and plans tumbled? Do you memorialize a Stay Day or a Leave Day? Should you?

We hope to remember our eight years in Cambodia on this August 6th, and every August 6th afterwards. It will be a sort of anniversary; a blend of stories and laughter and tears.

Like so many memorials, it will be a funky mix of mirth and merry.

On Stay Day, we’ll remember the day we didn’t go home.

Sure, America is home too. Or at least it was. And it will be again. I’m speaking for myself here, of course, because my children will have their own stories, and they’ll need to tell them. Their relationship with America (and Cambodia) always was and always will be unique. Different than mine.

But some things we shared.

Like the eight years around a thick, Khmer-style round table. Well, more like seven. The first year we had a cheaper wooden rectangular table that got eaten up by termites so big you could hear them feasting: lightning-bug-size table chompers.

We’re shipping the Khmer-style table to America, so every Stay Day we’ll gather around it and remember.

We’ll remember the scent of frangipanis, and we’ll probably try to buy some. We’ll feel the feel of traditional kramas, the checkered scarves Cambodians (and my daughters) use for everything.

We’ll probably order Indian food and remember Mount Everest, the local restaurant in Phnom Penh that taught us to absolutely adore Nepalese and Indian food.

We’ll look at old photos of a younger family riding tuk tuks, playing on the street, trying to figure out cross-cultural living.

We might search YouTube for Khmer dance music, and we will probably laugh about the incessant, LOUD, and DRUNK karaoke that permeated our house during wedding season.

We’ll watch old videos of moto rides through our neighborhood, and we’ll remember the kind old man who laughed at the four white foreigners driving a moto through flooded streets and belly laughing. I wonder if he knew how much it reminded me of riding a jet ski.

Maybe we’ll check Google street view and meander past friends’ houses.

On Stay Day, we will remember. And we will pray.

We’ll pray for Cambodia, for our friends there, and for the Church that’s blossoming into its identity.

And Lord willing, we’ll do this every August 6th: the day we didn’t pack up, weigh all suitcases to 49.9 pounds, quadruple check passports, and jet across the Pacific.

August 7th won’t find us staggering out into the scents and smells of Phnom Penh. We won’t un-mothball our house and turn it back into a home. We won’t schedule reunions with local friends. We won’t visit favorite haunts and coffee shops.

Instead, we’ll mourn what was, and we’ll be grateful for it too.

Mourning is a wetter way of expressing gratitude, after all. 

And we’ll move on, whatever that means.

God remains the God of the past. He will always be the God of the past, and he will always care enough to ask the same question he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?”

He is the God of Stay Day, August 6th, but he is also the God of August 7th and 8th. And if he’s true, if he’s real, he’s got us, and he holds us in his strong right hand.

And he will hold us on every Stay Day, and every day after that too.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

Do you have a day like this? A Stay Day, or something like it?

Do you need one?

Here are some more thoughts about creating shared meaning and the importance of family rituals. As folks who regularly celebrate “shared meaning” through Sacraments, I hope these ideas will resonate and inspire.

May our families be places where we remember our stories, together.

 

An Empty Ocean and the 10 Things We Must Remember About Grief

Walking alone at a park, a friend of mine saw a woman busily walking towards her, dictating something into her phone. The woman looked earnest and concentrated.

She came closer and closer, and as her words became more distinct, my socially-distancing friend heard these slow, simple words:

“Sadness is an ocean with nothing in it. Period.”

Oh how I want to know that woman’s story. I recently googled those words and came up empty; apparently, she hasn’t published them yet. In any case, I’m guessing you resonate with her sentiment.

These are hard times. Whether you’re still abroad, whether you’ve had to leave the field and stay gone, whether you’re hoping to return, or returned already, or whether the future is murky, my guess is that at some point over the past several months, you could have written, “Sadness is an ocean with nothing in it. Period.”

Or perhaps you would agree with Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry’s famous barber of Port William, who said one bone-soaked evening, “It had been raining, and it was still raining. It was going to rain.”

It feels like that to me sometimes. “It had been raining, and it was still raining. It was going to rain.”

And so we come to this: Ten things to remember about grief.

I hope that you find something helpful here, whether a thought or a link or two seconds away from the folks you’re quarantined with.

Whatever you’re grieving, it matters: whether it’s a job, a family member, or the future you had planned. In each case, loss singes, and grieving matters.

So, shall we?

1. Grief is a process
It is messy, unpredictable, and gnarly, but whatever else it is, grief is a process. That means it is not its own ending; it’s going somewhere, leading to something. Author and theologian Dan Allender doesn’t mince words when he writes:

“Grief is similar to vomiting. At its deepest convulsion it exhausts, nauseates, and relieves. It empties us, weakens us, and prepares us for food that in due season will strengthen us. But in its immediate aftermath, we need rest.”

This meme pictures the “process” well.

 

2. Grief might not feel like grief
It might feel like discomfort, or generalized sluggishness, or even anxiety. Grief expert David Kessler describes our current situation:

[W]e’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.”

Read the full interview from the Harvard Business Review here: That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief.

 

3. You don’t have to be sad all day to effectively grieve
Therapist Kay Bruner recommends the evidence-based time limit of twenty minutes. She writes:

“This is a research-based number:  journal 20 minutes per day when you’re working on a specific issue.  I recently had an adult TCK client tell me how much the 20-minute exercise has helped.  She’s not stuffing down her emotions any more, and the 20-minute limit helps her contain the feelings so they aren’t as overwhelming.”

Read her full article here: How do we process loss and grief?

 

4. The Dual Process Model allows for oscillations
It is pretty normal to bounce back and forth between “I’m OK” and “I’m not OK and I’ll never be OK and why would you even think I’m OK?!”

Researchers Stroebe and Schut described this as “The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement.”

It is totally normal to oscillate between the two, and actually, getting stuck on either side might be an indicator to get some outside help from a pastor or counselor.

 

5. People grieve differently, even if they’re in the same family
Some people grieve in giant waves. Some don’t. Some people show ALL.THEIR.GRIEF. Some don’t. Some people are vocal and some aren’t.

Some extroverts want the crowds to know all about it. Some introverts don’t.

The danger here is that you expect others to grieve the right way (read: your way), and instead of allowing them their own grief process, you try to stuff them into your box and they end up resentful or detached, finding solace far away from you.

 

6. Even if the loss looks the same, it isn’t
It’s just not. The loss I experienced when my dad died was terrible. It was also very different from the loss experienced by my younger siblings.

The hubris that says “my experience of loss is the gold standard by which all others shall be measured” is disgusting and antithetical to the heart of Christ.

 

7. Things will never be the same again
This is an indelible part of our story now.

And the grief of this season will bleed through the pages of our lives, marking the pages and stories that follow. Failing to acknowledge the COVID-19 chapters is to censor. To edit out. To delete plot twists and main characters. To murder history.

So we leave the pages as they are, splotched and imperfect. Because on every single ink-stained page, He remains. Comforter. Rock. Shepherd. God.

He remains the God who grieved.
He remains the God who understands.
He remains the God who comforts.
He remains. And He is enough.

So we keep feeling. We keep sketching out these life-pages, confident that He knows our stories. He loves our stories. He redeems our stories.

And we keep trusting that in the end, our stories are actually a part of His story.

And He’s really good with words.

 

8. Hope and despair can coexist in this space
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has written extensively on prophetic hope, even in the midst of legitimate despair. He writes,

“Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus…it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously.”

Despair seems to be the crusty soil from which hope itself is born.

We need this reminder.

We need to remember that true hope is not just optimism. True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin.

And it keeps on seeing…all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.

For more thoughts on this theme, including links to a 21-minute podcast/sermon, click here. Or listen to the audio of the message here.

 

Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing…

~Wendell Berry

 

9. While loss is personal, it’s not novel
Many faithful believers have walked hard roads before us, and many will after us. On its face, that’s not good news. But it is.

I wrote more about this idea in my article, What C.S. Lewis, Paul, and the Sword of Damocles can Teach us About Living in Terrible Times. In it, I quote my best friend, Elizabeth Trotter, who echoes C.S. Lewis’ call to do sensible, human things:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light.

 

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

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

Grief can be an oxygenating reminder of Eternity. Grief is often the mechanism for drawing our hearts and souls back to God and the eternal intimacy he’s promised.

Read more on the gift of grief here and here.

 

Through it all, Jesus remains
Man of sorrows, giver of the Comforter. Holy.

He is still preparing a place for us, and if he’s still preparing a place for us, then we know he’s still planning to usher us in, one day, to paradise.

The future remains brighter than the past, more glorious, and more real.

Indeed, we live in the “now and not yet Kingdom.” And in this time, and in this space, it is right to mourn, it is normal to feel the pain, it is holy to burn for justice.

It is also good that we remember: he is coming back.

Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus.

New Podcast Episodes: Marriage, Conflict, and Sex

Elizabeth and I recently carved out some time to go sit in a van in a park and talk about marriage. As a result, we’d like to share with you three new episodes of our Trotters41 Podcast!

This series on marriage is not specific to cross-cultural folks, although some of it is.

It’s also not specific to COVID-19, although some of it is.

We wrapped up the first part with A Marriage Blessing, and that is still our deepest prayer for marriages everywhere, whether you’re abroad or not, whether you’re quarantined or not. We had a lot of fun recording these for you all and we hope they’re an encouragement!

You can listen to the episodes at the links below, or find our podcast on iTunes or Stitcher. The links below will also lead you to each episode’s show notes, with tons of outgoing links to recommended books, articles, and resources.

In the first installment, we talked about marriage in general, discussing a theology of marriage and what the “5 magic hours” means. Listen to Episode 4 here.

In the second installment, we talked about how we conceptualize conflict, as well as some evidence-based tools for approaching conflict, including what to do if one or both people get “flooded.” Listen to Episode 5 here.

Lastly, we talked about sex, and well, you’ll just have to take a listen to that one here.

The End of All Things

Darkness and grief, shadow and death
The Hope that had been
Sags low without breath

Weak and alone, absorbing the pain
The one who was Love
Endures for my gain

“Forgive them,” he prays,
“Jews, Romans, all!”
Redeeming us from our sins and the fall

“It’s finished!” he yells
For his sons and his daughters
His life and his mission now lead to his slaughter

Giving it all, keeping naught in reserve
The Lamb takes my place
Taking all I deserve

The darkened sun hiding, the women are weeping
The earth loudly cracking, the curtain now ripping
Blood and water are dripping

The death of the Lamb is obscene, but predicted
The fog of great evil begins to be lifted
But first, the end of all things

The son of God dies.

“He left us!” they cry, confused and alone
“Our friend and our brother, terminated by Rome!”
“Our hopes have been broken, our dreams have been pierced.”
Disciples sit trembling, ashamed of their fears

Three quiet days come and go without Word
The King is nowhere and faith seems absurd
But behind the scenes now, the deep magic stirs
The plan before time finds its time and occurs

The broken world groans, the stone starts to move
Rome’s power now fractures, the Light’s breaking through
The splinters that pierced, pierced more than just flesh
They tore holes in despair, pushed back the darkness

Ascended!
Enthroned!
The King wore his crown
Taking authority, striking Death down

Conquering sin, the grave, and all hist’ry
He gave up his life so all souls could see
The dawn of new life and eternity

The Kingdom has come!
The Lamb has been slain
Our sins have been wiped
Along with the stains

The Kingdom has come!
Christ is risen indeed!
Right here and right now, the
Beginning of all things

 

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

You can listen to the poem here or below:

 

Furlough is Coming

 

‘Twas the day before furlough and all through the house,
Everybody was crazy, even the mouse.

With kilograms counted and carry-ons packed,
The dad will get asked, “Can I fit this last sack?”

With Ma on her IG and Pa on his Twitter,
They’ll update their close friends through one last newsletter.

Frazzled and frayed, the start of a furlough,
The family boards early with one last cold Milo.

Onboard entertainment will probably help
Pass the time and the sadness, and the little one’s yelp.

The children will sleep, if they’re any the wiser;
Jet lag comes for all, the great equalizer.

Arrival with greetings and baggage galore!
“Now pick up the kid sleeping on the floor.”

A welcome is waiting at somebody’s house,
Along with green grass and a bed without louse.

Selah

Awakened and rested, two weeks have now passed.
It seems like a dream the term that was last.

No VPNs needed! No guards at the gate!
And Grandma and Grandpa let parents go date.

“Another world that.” They’ll say to each other,
Debriefing and telling it all to the Mother.

Then shopping will start, making up for lost time,
Enjoying the produce and actual lines.

“The stores are so huge!” They’ll gasp and they’ll stammer,
With carts made for tonnage like fridges and jammers.
“All the things in one place?” A small child’s amused;
A TCK so he’s often confused.

The church is so clean, inviting and nice!
It’s also, turns out, surprisingly white.

The parks are amazing and so well maintained;
The trash is discarded and canines restrained.

Folks think that they’re on an extended vacation,
Relaxing and soaking up big adulations.

“Please Father forgive them, they just do not see,
The pressures and burdens of this ministry.”

The family will travel in borrowed van and,
They’ll tell all their stories and hope that you can,
Listen and care some, then get on your knees,
And join them in this work, their Life Overseas.

~~~~~~~~

Sex and the Married Missionary

We don’t talk about sex very much. Sure, we might joke about it (the first working title for this article was The Missionary Position), but we don’t actually talk about it very much. Truth is, most folks are scared to death to have an honest, non-joking, realistic talk about sex. Maybe with a good friend, but with their spouse? Gasp. But the truth is, it matters. It’s not the biggest deal, but it’s a real deal.

And it comes up all the time in my role as a pastoral counselor to missionaries.

A healthy, mutually enjoyable sex life is a good thing and is worth pursuing. It won’t make everything rainbows and butterflies, but it is a great mediator for the hard times, making things a little less awful.

That being said, it’s even more important to talk about this in the context of non-satisfying love lives. Turns out, the power of a non-functioning sex life to taint everything is stronger than the power of a healthy sex life to improve everything.

Dr. Barry McCarthy, researcher and writer, says,

“A core concept is the paradoxical role of sexuality in the lives of individuals and couples. Healthy sexuality has a 15-20 percent positive, integral role. Dysfunctional, conflictual or avoidant sexuality has an inordinately powerful negative role. Clinicians underestimate the impact of sexual dysfunction and conflict. Sex needs to be dealt with directly—sexuality is more than a symptom.” [1]

In other words, a healthy, satisfying sex life contributes, at its maximum, to about 20% of a person’s happiness and well-being. But when things aren’t so great, when a couple is “demoralized and alienated,” McCarthy says that “sexuality has a 50-75 percent role of subverting intimacy and threatening marital stability.” [2]

He further clarifies that he’s not talking about a problem that is acute or new, but a problem that’s been festering and has become “chronic and severe.”

It would be great if cross-cultural couples didn’t wait until their sexual issues were chronic and severe. It doesn’t have to be so difficult so often and for so long. But we must be willing to talk about it.

Discussing sex openly and honestly is crucial to having sex openly and honestly.

Writing for The Gottman Institute, Kyle Benson writes:

“Let’s talk about sex, because it turns out the most important part of cultivating a healthy sex life is talking about a healthy sex life. Only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually.”

Elizabeth referenced this statistic in one of her articles, explaining,

“If you can’t talk about sex with each other, the likelihood that you’re having mutually satisfying sex is pretty low. But talking about sex can be risky. You might find out something about yourself that you don’t want to know. You might feel rejected.”

So let’s talk about married sexuality on the field. Let’s figure out how to have healthier conversations about sex with our partners, conversations that are filled with safety, mutual trust, and deep attunement. Men, consider starting here: 3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife.

But before we go any further, a word to our friends who are single:

Of course, single people are sexual beings too, and we need to talk about Sex and the Single Missionary, and not just in the negative “don’t do this and definitely don’t do that” manner. I hope somebody writes that article, but for now, that’s beyond the scope of this piece. Seriously though, if you write it, send it to me and we’ll see about getting it published here. It needs to be written.

Complicating Factors
Sex is really complex, and the opportunities for it to go sideways are many. Sex in marriage is often a place of deep insecurities, unmet needs, fear, shame, anger, and even grief.

And that’s in your passport country.

For the cross-cultural couple, challenges start before you even arrive. Pre-field training and fundraising might have you traipsing all over, living in spare rooms, sharing space with kids, camping out in hotels, etc. These things do not necessarily lead to a vibrant and exciting sex life. They don’t have to kill it, of course, but they don’t necessarily help.

Once you arrive on the field, you may discover local taboos that impact your marriage (no touching in public, for example) or a climate that’s way too HOT for warm bodies. Sweaty bodies under a mosquito net may look romantic in the movies, but that’s because in the movies you can’t hear the neighbors’ chickens, there aren’t giant lizards (or rats) squirming throughout the ceiling, your kids didn’t just throw up, you’re not in language school, and you don’t smell like this.

You might lack access to regular showers (or water in general) and privacy might be harder to come by; even if no one can see you making love, you might live in a place where people can hear everything. If that’s different than where you came from, chances are it’s not an aphrodisiac.

Conjugating verbs all day might not leave you with enough energy to conjugate anything else.

People often begin their cross-cultural service with a young family, or they start having kids while they’re on the field. Across the board, this is a challenging time for couples, with sexuality necessarily changing. This season always requires a couple’s sexuality to pivot. That doesn’t mean it has to be worse, but it will change. If that change is happening at the same time as all sorts of other stressors, you may not have enough bandwidth to address or deal with things.

I was discussing a draft of this article with my wife, Elizabeth, and she so eloquently put it like this, “Basically, everything in the world is conspiring against your sex life.”

But again, there is hope!

Lots of folks have written about sex, and it’s not all slutty. In fact, much of it is very helpful, and even researched. There is help available!

If this is an area of your life that is not going well, check out some of these ideas, get a book or two, and begin talking about it. If this is an area of your life that is going well, check out some of these ideas, get a book or two, and keep talking about it!

 

Ideas:
Talk about it, but not right after it. Analyzing a sexual experience right after you’ve had it risks all sorts of negative things, so DO NOT DO IT. Set aside a time that feels private and safe and talk about it. If you feel like you can’t talk about sex with your spouse, find a trusted and confidential person and begin to explore why talking about it is so hard. This does not mean you shouldn’t talk about sex during sex. In fact, learning how to state your needs and desires clearly (and kindly) during sex is one of the skills many of the books linked below deal with.

Prioritize it. Do you need to schedule it? People think that scheduling sex is not romantic, but we schedule other things that we enjoy or that we think are healthy for us. So why not this? Also, I find this reasoning compelling:

“It could be argued that the importance of spontaneous touching is one of the most overrated aspects of intimate connections, particularly in the context of a long-term relationship. As we have suggested, to have a successful party, one must plan ahead. That doesn’t mean anything about the spontaneity that may happen once the party is underway.” [3]

Plus, if you have kids and you live abroad, NOT scheduling it is nearly the same thing as PLANNING to never do it. Are hotels cheaper where you live? Get a room. Even if you only use it for an afternoon. It’s probably cheaper than dinner and a movie where you come from.

Recognize that women have desire too. If you’re a woman who has a sex drive or whose desire seems stronger and more frequent than your husband’s, you’re not a weirdo or a freak. You’re actually pretty normal. It’s time to put this damaging myth to rest. Elizabeth wrote about this:

The fact that sexlessness was primarily dependent on the man was news to me as women often get slandered in culture for being “frigid.” This mischaracterization seems key to common “Christian” teaching that women want affection and connection, while men want sex. Research shows that this traditional approach is unhelpful in the sexual arena: women want good sex too.”

Get a Do Not Disturb sign (or a pink thing). Many of us live in places without central air conditioning, meaning the door is closed when the air’s on, whether or not we need privacy. Years ago, we decided to tell our kids that they can knock on our door unless we have “the pink thing” on the door. For us, “the pink thing” is just an old pink hairband; it’s also a fantastic sex aid. We have four kids, and we want them to know they can knock on the door without making us mad or irritated — unless the pink thing’s on the door. When the pink thing’s present, they can only knock if someone’s bleeding or if the house is on fire. It might not seem like a big deal, but having a lock on the door AND the pink thing provides a zone of safety that is very helpful. And if my kids ever read this article, Hi. We also use the pink thing when we just want some privacy to talk or read the news or browse Facebook. It’s not always sexy time, so don’t freak out thinking “Whoa. That thing was ALWAYS on their door!” I mean, sometimes…

Recognize the impact of sexual assault or abuse. If abuse or assault is part of either spouse’s history, and if you feel like there’s any chance that it’s having a negative impact on your sex life, I highly encourage you to figure out a way to talk with a trained therapist who can walk with you through whatever needs to be walked through. I also realize that ongoing sexual harassment is common in some contexts. If that’s the case, again, make sure you are regularly processing with someone who can help bear those stories. You don’t have to hold those experiences alone, and you’re not weak or faithless if they leave a mark.

Deal with porn. Porn use by either spouse will change the sexual relationship. Andy Bruner wrote this:

Recovery is possible. It’s a ton of work, for sure. But it does happen. Kay said for years that when she wrote her memoir, it would be called Pornography Saved My Marriage, because that was our experience: after going through the pain together, after healing together, our marriage was stronger than it had ever been before.”

Read his full article here.

 

Resources to continue the conversation
Here’s a list of sex books I recommend all the time: On Making Love

Three fantastic articles from Elizabeth:

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex

What Christians can Learn from a New York Times Article About Sleeping with Married Men

Women Have Desire Too: The Thing we Overlook When We Talk About the Billy Graham Rule

 

I know that one article can’t fix anything, but maybe many can. So check these out, read some books, start talking.

A woman with decades of experience in living abroad and serving cross-cultural workers recently said, “Here’s to sexually satisfied and great missionary marriages around the globe!”

 Yup, that’s my prayer too. God bless, and have a fantastic day!

— Jonathan Trotter
Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

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

 

[1] McCarthy, Barry. Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy (p. 5).

[2] Ibid. (p. 31).

[3] Weiner, Linda, and Constance Avery-Clark. Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy (p.118).

Gandalf’s Scream, Love, and Why We Need More Anger

Anger is a wonderful, powerful, amazing, informative, life-giving, protective resource. Or at least it can be. Anger can be a redemptive sword, when it’s wielded by love.

 “Anger is a surgical weapon, designed to destroy ugliness and restore beauty. In the hands of one who is trained in love and who can envision beauty, the knife of righteous anger is a weapon for restoration.” – Allender & Longman

We’ve too often seen anger as the enemy, while all along it was begging to be our teacher. We’ve loved to pray and sing emotional ballads like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but have we dared to sing, “Enrage my heart for what enrages yours”?

That sounds crazy, right? And scary.

As Christians, as cross-cultural workers, we’re way more comfortable with holy sadness than holy anger. And that’s not without cause; sadness is safer. More tame. Anger can destroy. Anger can harm deeply. Anger is like electricity — or fire. Both have tremendous potential to destroy, and even kill. But they also reveal, energize (literally), and make magic.

Have you flown on the fire of a jet engine, propelled through the night sky like a populated comet? Have you ever activated a dozen tiny suns with the flip of a switch? These miracles are astounding, and possible due to the power of white-hot fire and lightning fast electrons flowing on demand.

To be sure, arsons exist, but so do steel magnates. They both harness fire for their own purposes; one to destroy, the other to build. I’ve seen the burns and tissue damage wreaked by a lightning strike, but I don’t scream and run away every time I see an outlet.

Again, anger is just energy. It’s an emotion, neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor dysfunctional.

“Feelings are information, not conclusions.” – Greenberg

“Feeling angry or annoyed is as human as feeling sad or afraid.” – Greenberg

We have to be careful, at the start, that we don’t moralize some emotions as good, others as bad, some as holy, others as sinful. That’s not accurate, spiritually or scientifically. [See The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions.]

It’s also important to distinguish between the feeling of anger and the actions of aggression. The two are not the same thing. Greenberg offers this helpful reminder:

“Anger should not be confused with aggression, which comprises attacking or assaultive behavior. Feeling angry does not mean behaving aggressively, and people can be aggressive without feeling any anger at all.” – Greenberg

Chances are you’ve been hurt by someone who acted aggressively. Perhaps their anger/aggression left wounds you’re still recovering from. Chances are you’ve hurt someone in similar ways. So I understand if all this talk about the goodness of anger feels like bile in the brain.

In my ministry as a pastoral counselor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I hear all the stories. I hear terrifying stories and sad stories. I hear stories that make me livid and stories that make me hug my kids a little tighter.

Early on, I assumed that my main job was to help angry people feel their sadness. After all, I feel sadness early and often; it’s my default setting, and it’s easy. But now I realize that just as often, my job is to help sad people feel their anger.

Accessing the motivating, informative energy of anger has been pivotal in my own journey of healing. It has propelled me to have HARD conversations, it has steeled me for necessary conflict, and it has helped me surface on the other side, grateful. I am grateful for the gift of anger; without it, I fear I would have gotten stuck in my own depressive hole.

I used to think that anger and love were separate things, but now I realize that anger can be separate from love, but it doesn’t have to be. Anger is sometimes the energizing force that results from violated love.

In his book on extra-marital affairs, pastor and clinical counselor David Carder goes so far as to say that the partner who was cheated on MUST get angry:

The language of anger is never pleasant; however, it is not only OK to say it with intensity and force, but it is absolutely necessary for true recovery to occur. People do not get better until they get mad.” – Carder

 

Anger as a Sword (that we desperately need)
Tolkien understood the strategic use of anger, and when the Fellowship needed salvation, he gave it to them, in the form of a furious wizard. When faced with an ancient evil from the deepest shadows, the men, hobbits, dwarf, and elf fled for their lives. There was no escape until an old man with wisdom and anger stood firm.

The scene unfolds on a bridge under the mountains, with enemy hordes on one side, the Fellowship on the other:

“The Balrog reached the bridge. Gandalf stood in the middle of the span, leaning on the staff in his left hand, but in his other hand Glamdring [his sword] gleamed, cold and white. His enemy halted again, facing him, and the shadow about it reached out like two vast wings. It raised the whip, and the thongs whined and cracked. Fire came from its nostrils. But Gandalf stood firm.

You cannot pass,‘ he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. ‘I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.

The Balrog made no answer. The fire in it seemed to die, but the darkness grew. It stepped forward slowly onto the bridge, and suddenly it drew itself up to a great height, and its wings were spread from wall to wall; but still Gandalf could be seen, glimmering in the gloom; he seemed small, and altogether alone: grey and bent, like a wizened tree before the onset of a storm.

From out of the shadow a red sword leaped flaming.

Glamdring glittered white in answer.

There was a ringing clash and a stab of white fire. The Balrog fell back and its sword flew up in molten fragments. The wizard swayed on the bridge, stepped back a pace, and then again stood still.

You cannot pass!‘ he said.

With a bound the Balrog leaped full upon the bridge. Its whip whirled and hissed.”

In the film, the emotion of the scene overwhelms. Gandalf stands between the darkness and his charges. He is fighting with all his might, not for his own honor or power or kingdom; he is fighting for his friends.

He looks back at his friends, slowly and compassionately, fully aware of what he must do. He raises his staff and sword, slams them into stone, and screams at the fiery evil, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!

At that point,

“A blinding sheet of white flame sprang up. The bridge cracked. Right at the Balrog’s feet it broke, and the stone upon which it stood crashed into the gulf, while the rest remained, poised, quivering like a tongue of rock thrust out into emptiness.”

Oh that more leaders would have the courage to stand firm, full of love and anger, willing to protect the helpless, and to speak to the Shadow!

These are the times when we need the sword of anger. What a dangerous shame to reach that point, to need the power of a bright sword, and to leave it in its scabbard. Anger is the sword that we keep sheathed because we have no idea how to wield it. We’ve only seen people hurt by it. But if we could figure out how to use it, to wield it sparingly, but well, we might realize how much good it could do.

When we lose access to flaming, holy anger, we lose access to so much. We need a revolution in how we as the Church think about, talk about, and experience anger.

“Righteous anger warns, invites change, and wounds. True anger is paradoxical in that it has the strength to inflict pain, but it burns with the desire for reconciliation. It is bold, but it is also broken.” – Allender & Longman

What if we used anger to protect, not to control? With the aim of blessing and restoring relationships, not for revenge? What if anger were an expression of solid love, not malice or contempt?

“[Righteous anger] wounds for the greater work of redemption. It is full of a strength that is neither defensive nor vindictive, and it is permeated by a sadness that is rich in desire and hope.” – Allender & Longman

 

Our Incompetence Damages People (and the Church)
We don’t know how to wield anger, and we can’t fathom that someone else might. So we run away from it, we bury it, we criticize it. But just like outlawed grief, outlawed anger is dangerous.

“Anger that is driven underground eventually bursts out in uncontrollable and destructive ways.” – Greenberg

When you cancel out anger (your own or others’), you rob yourself of vital information. Information that could help you to see a situation or respond to a situation. Instead of denying or blocking anger, we need to get curious about it. What is hurting? When did it start hurting? As Greenberg says, we “should not be too afraid of receiving its message.”

“Each time people control or cut off a significant experience of anger, they not only cut themselves off from important information from within, but they also cut themselves off from others.” – Greenberg

Failing to give space for anger is terribly invalidating, and unloving.

“Invalidation of a person’s most basic feelings is one of the most psychologically damaging things one person can do to another.” – Greenberg

What would have happened if someone in those Catholic dioceses had felt a burning against the injustice of child abuse? Imagine if some leader somewhere would have pulled a sword on those pedophiles and screamed, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

It should not have taken an investigative journalist. It should not have taken decades.

What if someone at USA Gymnastics had heard about Larry Nassar’s perverse, ongoing sexual assaults of its gymnasts and, with fire in their bones, done whatever was necessary to communicate: “NOT ON MY WATCH!”

I’m so grateful for Rachael Denhollander and her tremendous courage as a survivor, to protest and advocate. But it shouldn’t have had to be her. It should have been some adult years earlier who got angry, and in their anger, determined to protect young women instead of an organization.

Gary Thomas, theologian and author, recently penned a powerful article about the church’s complicity in domestic violence in Christian marriages. The title of his article? “Enough is Enough.” He might as well have called it, “You Shall Not Pass!”

Calling on church leaders to stand with wounded women, to stand against abusive men, Thomas writes:

“Christian leaders and friends, we have to see that some evil men are using their wives’ Christian guilt and our teaching about the sanctity of marriage as a weapon to keep harming them. I can’t help feeling that if more women started saying, ‘This is over’ and were backed up by a church that enabled them to escape instead of enabling the abuse to continue, other men in the church, tempted toward the same behavior, might finally wake up and change their ways.”

Anger is present in our churches. Anger exists in our missions. But our anger is usually aimed at the people who are upsetting the status quo, threatening the “way things are,” and calling evil things by their true name.

But what if, instead, we were energized by a blazing love to protect the vulnerable, to defend the weak and the powerless?

What would that look like?

It would look like Gandalf, fire in his eyes, standing alone and sacrificing himself to save his friends.

It would look other worldly, because it is. It would look like the Kingdom of God among us, flipping the world upside down, giving honor to the weak, protecting the throw-aways.

It would look like the Church caring about the children on the outside.

It might look like offended religious men, sitting around a table trying to figure out how to solve this “problem.”

It would look like Bonhoeffer, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Martin Luther.

It would look like Paul, defending the magisterial beauty of grace.

It would look like a pastor calling the police as soon as he hears about abuse, refusing to keep things “in house.”

It would look bright, shimmering. It would look like hope to those bound in the darkness; a glimpse of the rising sun.

But to those who thrive in the shadows (religious or otherwise), it would terrify, reminding them that their reign will end. Justice shall be King.

It would look like all these things and more, for

It would look like Jesus.

 

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

Torn Asunder, David Carder

Enough is Enough, Gary Thomas

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God, Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

Emotion-Focused Therapy: Coaching Clients to Work Through Their Feelings, Leslie Greenberg

The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions

For the Times When You’re Exhausted, Discouraged, and Tempted

Some truth is just worth remembering. These musings about discouragement and temptation spilled out six years ago; perhaps they can encourage people even still…

We moved to Cambodia about two years ago, and it’s been good. But it’s also been very hard. I’ve had my days of doubt, fear, and deep discouragement. I’ve looked around at the poverty, abuse, corruption, and I’ve despaired. I’ve heard that raspy, wicked voice taunt, “What can you do? Why are you even here? What about your kids, think of what you’re doing to them? You are completely ill-equipped for this. Did God really call you here?”

But on this mountain climb called Mission, there is a phrase that has been to me a strong foothold. When I’ve despaired, it’s grounded me, and when I’ve been near to giving up, it has given me rest and peace.

It’s what Jesus said when he came face to face with the Father of Lies, Enemy Number One, Satan:

I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

In Matthew 4, Satan attacks Jesus, desperate to win. At this point, Jesus has not eaten for forty days. He hasn’t talked with friends for forty days. He’s lonely, tired, exhausted. Hungry. And Satan himself shows up, on the prowl, to attack.

Satan won’t shut up. He keeps talking and stalking, “You want food, right? Nice, fresh-baked bread? How long has it been, Jesus? Eat.” “How about you prove God cares for you? I don’t think he does. Jump.” “OK, everyone wants stuff, power, and control. You want some? I’ll give it all to you. Bow.”

Jesus answers Satan and gives us a key.

When I’ve despaired, this key has given me hope.

When I’ve been tempted, this key has given me a way out.

When I’ve needed more strength for the climb, this key has provided it.

Over the last two years, when I could pray little else, I’ve stuttered, “I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.” I’ve prayed it silently and I’ve prayed it out loud. When I’ve been discouraged, I’ve begged, “God, help me worship you. Help me serve only you.” When I’ve been tempted, I’ve declared it, as a reminder to Evil and myself; I’m with Jesus.

We sometimes imagine the Tempting of Jesus as if it were a nice chat between buddies. Satan tempts Jesus and Jesus coolly brushes it off with a simple, “Oh, Satan, you silly, the Scriptures say…” But these two were mortal enemies, the Prince of Evil vs. the Prince of Peace. These temptations were real and Jesus felt them.

So, when Jesus answers this last temptation, he was saying so much more than “No.” He was emphatically saying, “I will not listen to you, Satan. I will worship only One, and you’re not Him. I will not follow you, or obey you, or bow down to you.”

He was making a dramatic gesture towards the Father and shouting, “I’M WITH HIM!”

Anytime you wrestle with evil or temptation, you have to know Satan’s smarter than you. You do not “have this under control.” He’s stronger, has more charm, more experience. He has more time, more resources.

You can’t outlast him, outsmart him, or outcast him. But you can resist him. And you must.

How?  With this resolution: There is only One God, and I’m serving Him. Let this be your stake in the ground, your line in the sand. In stating and restating this truth, you disarm and deflate Satan, reminding him that he loses because Jesus wins.

What was Satan’s response to this declaration? He left. What was God’s response? He ministered to Jesus through his servants, angels.

Put another way, Satan responds by leaving and God responds by coming. And that’s a pretty good trade, I think.

Yes, there is temptation and despair and discouragement. And evil. But there is still Hope, and his name is Jesus. And I’ve decided that with everything in me, until my last breath, I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

Jesus says in Matthew 4:10, “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God; serve only him.’” When Jesus said this, he was in effect saying, “That’s what I’m doing right now, I’m honoring the Word and obeying my Father. I will worship the Lord my God. I will serve only him.” When we respond to the ancient command (originally from Deut. 6:13) in this way, we make a serious statement of intent, impacting both Heaven and Hell.

 

Ouch! I think I strained my life!

You know what I’m talking about, right? The moment it catches up to you (mid-thirties, usually) and you realize you’re going to have to stop and get gas.

I bent over to field a grounder and couldn’t walk for 3 days.
I sneezed too enthusiastically and my neck wasn’t right for a week.

Or

I filled up my schedule and now I don’t have time for my kids (aka “Cats in the Cradle”).
I’m so busy serving everyone else that my soul shriveled up like a desiccated fish in Djibouti.

Or

Honestly, I don’t know how to stop.
I’m just waiting until ___________ (fill in the blank) and then it’ll get better.

This strained life should lead to a pause, a re-calibration, perhaps a realization that our failure to rest wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world. Often, however, a strained life leads to guilt and shame and a redoubled push to do harder. Everyone else on Instagram seems to be handling life perfectly. (It’s amazing what filters and curating can do, btw.)

And besides, our work is IMPORTANT! Important I tell you!

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

“The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” G. K. Chesterton, In Defense of Sanity

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

Would it help you to consider sabbath as an intentional act of faith?

Would it be easier to enter into regular rest if you saw it as an act of defiance, a railing against workaholism and works-based salvation? Because it is.

If you’re feeling the strained life, please pause.

Breathe.

It might not have to be that way.

How long can your soul take it, this incessant work and pressure? How long can your relationships take it?

Seasons of higher stress are normal (um, transition?!). Seasons of less sleep are normal (infants, anyone?). But even so, the thing that folks seem to miss is the turning of a season into an age; a winter turning into an ice age.

If any of this goes twang, pay attention. And maybe read an article or something.

But first, breathe.

 

Some articles:

 

Some books:
At various times of my life, God has used these books to slow me down, to re-center my soul, and to draw me, once again, into the secure, peaceful, presence of the King.

The book descriptions are from Amazon, and the links are affiliate links. In other words, any book purchased through one of these links helps A Life Overseas stay afloat, so thanks!

 

 

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Dr. Richard Swenson

Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Today we use margin just to get by. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload. Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God’s purpose.

 

 

 

 

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians, by Ed Cyzewski

What if prayer could be simple rather than strenuous?

Anxious, results-driven Christians can never pray enough, serve enough, or study enough. But what if God is calling us not to frenzied activity but to a simple spiritual encounter? What if we must merely receive what God has already given us?

In Flee, Be Silent, Pray, writer and contemplative retreat leader Ed Cyzewski guides readers out of the anxiety factory of contemporary Christianity and toward a God whose love astounds those quiet long enough to receive it. With helpful guidance into solitude, contemplative prayer, and practices such as lectio divina and the Examen, Cyzewski guides readers toward the Christ whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Ready to shed the fear of the false self and the exhaustion of a duty-driven faith? Flee. Be silent. Pray.

 

 

Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, by Bonnie Gray

Running on empty with no time for rest, yourself, or God? Soulful author Bonnie Gray shows how to create spiritual whitespace in the everyday for God, refreshment, and faith—right in the midst of our stress-frayed lives. She guides you to discover a better story for yourself, one that feeds your soul and makes room for rest.

 

 

 

 

So Much N O I S E! (and a Book Giveaway)

I grew up in rural America. We had neighbors, but you couldn’t see them. In fact, get this, you couldn’t even hear them. And I know this stretches the bounds of believability, but you couldn’t even smell the neighbors’ food. They were acres away.

We were closer to cows than people.

Now I live in a place where you can most definitely see your neighbors (because the kitchen and bedroom windows are less than 10 feet from their kitchen and bedroom windows.) Now I can hear the neighbors coughing (or fighting or playing marbles with bowling balls).

I can feel the neighbor’s music, and I can certainly smell the neighbors’ food.

Is this stressful for anyone else?

In the whole scheme of cross-cultural work, in the whole Story we’re excited to live out, noise and hyper-proximity is not a very big deal. You could even spiritualize it and call it incarnational. But you know, I’m a human, and the constant LOUDNESS is actually a thing. It’s actually a pretty stressful thing. So I thought I’d use the first part of this article to see if it’s stressful for anyone else?

You too? Really?

How do you deal with it?

I believe in a multi-disciplinary approach, ergo, I’ve tried pharmaceuticals (Benadryl), technology (apps), multiple physical barriers (mattresses and headphones), and of course, prayer (“please make hearing ears deaf”).

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with our living arrangements in Cambodia (or our neighbors, for that matter), and I’m in no way claiming any sort of moral superiority because I like quiet. It’s just that this is part of the cross-cultural thing that’s hard: it’s a lot louder here than where I came from, and eight years hasn’t changed that.

So here’s how I manage…

Diphenhydramine sort of helps with getting to sleep and staying that way. Consult with your doctor first, and word to the wise: don’t try parenting while on this stuff, ’cause that’s not good for no one.

Noise cancelling headphones = magic. My over usage, combined with the tropical climate, destroyed multiple sets of the earpieces on these things. But still, one of the best purchases of my cross-cultural life.

Nope. It’s not gum. You’re looking at my earplugs container. I’ve got one of these in my office, one in my backpack, and one on the nightstand. You NEVER want to be without earplugs. Just remember it’s not gum.

The Sleep Pillow app. (see below)

I heart white noise. So if you take the white noise that’s possible from Sleep Pillow, add in earplugs, then cover the whole thing with noise cancelling headphones, _______________________ is all you can hear.

Extreme circumstances call for extreme measures. When our neighbors decided that karaoke was the best way to spend evenings, we called in the Queens — two queen-size foam mattresses propped up outside of our bedroom windows. This might be confusing if you’re not sure how Cambodian row houses work, but if you get it, you totally get it. Basically, our bedroom windows open up into this room, which is the first level. I was standing in our front door when I took this photo.

 

If none of these measures are effective, then you should probably just go ahead and buy our book.

A Book Giveaway!
Elizabeth and I would love to gift a couple of folks with a free Kindle version of our new book, Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker.* If you live in the US, the UK, or Australia, we could send you a hard copy instead, if you’d like.

Ruth Van Reken (co-author of Third Culture Kids) had this to say about Serving Well:

“Recently I read a lovely book called Serving Well by Jonathan Trotter and Elizabeth Trotter. While it contains many great practical tips and strategies for success in cross-cultural living and working, it is not simply one more ‘how-to’ manual. Particularly for those in the faith-based communities, the authors continually emphasize the why of service, not simply the how. This is a soul-encouraging book. I highly recommend it.

Serving Well has over 100 chapters that cover everything from how to prepare for the field all the way to how to return well. It includes reflections and discussions on transitioning overseas, taking care of your heart, marriage, and children once you’re there, communicating with senders, common pitfalls, grief and loss, and what to do when things don’t go as planned.

To be entered into the drawing, think of someone who might like a copy of Serving Well and then tag them in the comments section of A Life Overseas’ Facebook share of this post. If you tag someone, we’ll enter your name and their name into a drawing that will happen on September 10th. You can tag up to three people and they will all be entered into the drawing.

If you are reading this via e-mail and you have limited access to Facebook, just reply to the message and put “book giveaway” in the subject line. That’ll get you entered.

Thanks so much for understanding that this cross-cultural gig is amazing, and LOUD, and rewarding, and hard, and wonderful, and so much more.

And may the Father’s grace and peace be with you and yours today.

 

All for ONE,
Jonathan

 

*affiliate link

What C.S. Lewis, Paul, and the Sword of Damocles can Teach us About Living in Terrible Times

The sword hangs by a thread, suspended above the throne, pointing down. Threatening.

One strand of horsehair, fastened to the pommel, is strong enough. Barely. One breeze, one bit of weakening fiber, and death is certain.

And so, no matter how powerful the king becomes, no matter how many successes he has, the sword remains above him, ominous, looming, damning.

What’s the sword hanging over your head, threatening to snap loose and cleave? What’s the thing that’s unresolved and maybe even unresolvable? What’s the impending doom that’s imploding joy?

Is it the politics of your passport country or your host country? Visa issues or money problems? Social unrest and violence where you live or where you’re from?

Is it the well-being of your church or your children? Your health or your marriage? Is it an imminent deconstruction?

Do you drown in a deep awareness that one tiny thing could shift and it would all come crashing down?

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

We live in an ever-more connected age, which seems to be resulting in an ever-more frightened age. Things seem to get scarier and scarier, more and more unstable. Darker. A U.S. news site just ran this headline: It’s Hard To Not Be Anxious When Nowhere Feels Safe Anymore.

Governments fall, global alliances splinter, trusted institutions falter and misstep. Racism blooms like a mushroom cloud and injustice rains down unchecked.

It’s exhausting and terrifying and oftentimes paralyzing.

 

How should we then live? How should we then minister and love across cultures?
C.S. Lewis speaks to us, cautioning against a common (and paralyzing) error. Lewis writes, “[D]o not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

He continues, speaking of his very atomic circumstances, the sword his generation lived under:

“Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

OK. Depressing.

But somehow, it’s not depressing for Lewis; it doesn’t lead to numbness or retreat or despair. Instead, for Lewis, this awareness leads to LIVING. He goes on to encourage the fearful of his time, and us too:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

So may I encourage you, my dear reader: don’t forget to live. Plant yourself where you’re at, scratch your name into the land, and connect heart and sinew with the people of God and the people God loves. Live!

 

Chase the Light & Notice the Life
We need to know and remember, deep in our gut, that we can face this darkness and not die. It’s a hard sell, I know, but notice how Paul juxtapositions death AND life in the same verses. They’re both there, and they’re both weighty:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the DEATH of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we LIVE under constant danger of DEATH because we serve Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus will be evident in our DYING bodies. So we LIVE in the face of DEATH, but this has resulted in eternal LIFE for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NLT)

My best friend recently pondered this collision of life and death, musing about our desperate need to chase the light, especially when it’s dark. She wrote:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light. 

~ Elizabeth Trotter

 

Conclusion
Living under the sword of Damocles is draining and terrifying. But even there, Christ is.

And because Christ is, we can dance in the light as much as we fight in the dark; we can laugh as much as we mourn. Our lips can crack into smiles as often as our hearts crack into pieces.

As long as this age endures, the sword will remain. And yet.

The lone strand of a horse’s hair, weakly holding back death, has been replaced by the strong mane of a Lion’s love. And we are saved.

So live, dear one.

Chase the light and remember the King.

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*More on the Sword of Damocles