Here’s my heart, O take and seal it

I want to finish the Christian life well. To continue to press in to God, listen to Him, and influence others to do the same. But what if don’t? What if I fizzle out, forsake my First Love, fail to follow Him to my dying breath? I’m not talking about losing my salvation; I know my salvation is secure. What I am talking about is slacking in my obedience, and not consistently seeking Him till the end of my days. (I know I’m not very old, but I still think about these things.)

This dread of mine is echoed in the songs of old. I hear it in James Waddel Alexander’s O Sacred Head: “What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be, Lord let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

I sense it in Robert Robinson’s Come Thou Fount: “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, Bind my wandering heart to Thee. Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love; Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, Seal it for Thy courts above.” If you know this song, you know the first verse soars with a longing and love for God, but the fear of our own depravity overtakes this later verse.

So among the great hymn writers at least, the fear of not ending well is in good company. If I want more proof that this fear is indeed valid, I need look no further than the Old Testament Kings, who tended to start well and then finish poorly.

A classic example of this is Solomon, whose early wisdom led him to ask God not for riches, but for more wisdom. God granted his request for “an understanding heart to govern God’s people well and to know the difference between right and wrong.” Even so, in his later years his heart was led astray, and he embraced the idol worship of his thousand wives and concubines (I Kings 3, 4, 11).

Likewise, Uzziah initially did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight, and he depended upon God for his military success. But when he became powerful, pride overtook him. His pride led him to dishonor God by entering the Temple and burning incense on the incense altar. Only the priests were allowed to do that, so as punishment, God struck Uzziah with leprosy. He then lived in isolation until his death (II Chronicles 26).

Other kings were the same. Asa banished temple prostitution and demolished idols in Judah. It is even said his heart remained completely faithful to the Lord throughout his life (I Kings 15). His full trust in God’s power, however, wavered in his final years as king. He no longer trusted the Lord to save him from the king of Israel, and he looked to the king of Aram for protection instead. Later when he developed a serious foot disease, he did not look to the Lord for help at all, but only to doctors (II Chronicles 16).

These stories haunt me. I do not want to relive these men’s lives. I do not want to have it said of me that in the beginning chapters of my life, I “did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight,” only to falter in my later years. To stop trusting in the One True God, and to neglect my worship of Him.

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How can I end well?

Perhaps clues to this mysterious question are found in the stories themselves. At an organizational meeting I attended last year, one of the breakout sessions took us to the story of King Joash. Joash is recorded as having done “what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoidah the priest.”

As long as Joash’s godly influencer was alive, Joash listened to him and managed to obey God. This is good news — sort of. Because after Jehoidah’s death, the other leaders of Judah persuaded Joash to abandon worship at the Temple, and to worship idols instead. This is really bad news. And when Joash was confronted by Jehoidah’s son for his idolatry, Joash had him stoned to death rather than repent (II Chronicles 24).

When Jehoidah died, Joash’s obedience died with him. Joash could be influenced for good or evil, depending on who was speaking into his life. The story of King Uzziah also gives this telltale warning. Scripture says he “sought God during the days of Zechariah, who taught him to fear God.” Again, as long as Uzziah listened to a godly man, he followed God. But when Zechariah was no longer available to influence him, Uzziah drifted from faithfulness.

So what does it take to end well? Well, if these stories are any indication, ending well means surrounding myself with faithful Christians and allowing them to speak Truth into my life. Ending well means I’m not done listening to other believers and submitting myself to their collective wisdom, until I die. I must never stop inviting wise counsel or stop listening to godly leaders. And I must choose my influencers carefully.

Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and become wise. When Joash and Uzziah walked with the wise, they made wise decisions. They obeyed God more closely. I want to walk with the wise. I want to stay faithful. I want to make God-honoring decisions all the way to the end. And I don’t want to leave a trail of brokenness in my wake. So I must stay in touch with God every day, keeping in step with the Spirit, even into my 80’s and 90’s. I must listen to the wisdom of believers I trust, and I must never presume I can walk this path alone.

God, help me walk with the wise, and become wise.

What’s Your Name? On Adopting Local Names

what's your nameI moved to Somaliland and when people first heard my name they wanted to know why I had man’s name.

“Why is your name Rashid? You aren’t a man. Are you a man?”

Eventually I got tired of explaining that I was, indeed, a woman, despite all nomenclature to the contrary. Someone suggested I needed a Somali name and I took the first one they offered, Lula. It means diamond, or light.

Going by Lula was fun for a while and it worked really well in the village. But it isn’t my name. When I went to Nairobi or Dubai or Djibouti or Minneapolis and when I interacted with Somalis in those places, I went by Rachel.

In Djibouti I volunteered with a group of homeless women, mostly from Somalia, incredibly poor, illiterate, many with HIV. They could not pronounce Rachel either and were thrilled when I suggested they call me Lula. I have never used Lula in any other context in Djibouti and so when I hear it now, seven years later, I know it is one of these women coming around to visit, beg, or simply passing by and greeting me.

In all other cases in Djibouti, my name is Rachel. It isn’t always easy for people to say and they forget it easily. I don’t mind, I forget theirs, too. Sometimes it does sound like Rashid. Sometimes it sounds like the French name Rachelle. That’s fine, too. Its my name, however it sounds on someone else’s lips and I appreciate their effort in trying it, appreciate my freedom to hold on to at least my name when I seem to have let so much else go in this expatriate life.

One of the biggest things I’ve been learning is the importance of authenticity. The freedom, responsibility, and joy there is in simply being who I am. That could be a series of more essays, but for this post it simply means using my name, the same name in all contexts. Grocery store, school, neighborhood, birthday party, church, running team, friend’s house, English language curriculum recording studio. With US embassy staff and with homeless women and with the parents of my kid’s friends and with Tom’s coworkers.

I feel like telling someone your name is giving them a gift. I’m saying I don’t care how you pronounce it but this is me. My name along with all the other foreign and strange things about me are what you get when we develop a relationship. I’m saying, let’s explore those differences and learn from each other, even as we learn how to say each other’s names.

However…

what's in a nameI heard another perspective from an American woman and though I didn’t change my practice, I can see her point of view.

She used to engage with Chinese students in the United States and struggled to pronounce their names, to remember their names, to remember who went with which name. They would go back and forth, battling through tones and consonant combinations, and she would still slaughter their name.

She said that when one of them would say, “Please call me David,” she felt an immense relief, sorry that she couldn’t master their original name, but thankful that they could now move beyond her embarrassing attempts and into a relationship. She knew full well what they were giving up and wished they didn’t have to. But, honestly, felt thankful.

So she has adopted a local name and when she offers her local name to people, it is a gift, as much as my real name is a gift. She is giving them an opportunity to look past awkward sounds and see her, she is putting herself to the side with humility, not insisting that her name become a divider. She is saying, I’m entering your world, help me communicate well.

How about you? Do you use your ‘real’ name overseas or adopt a local one? Why or why not?

*image via Flickr and Flickr

The Idolatry of Missions

Missionaries are like the church’s Special Forces, right? They go into enemy territory, sometimes covertly, tearing down walls for Jesus. They have special training, preparing them to serve in the darkest places around the globe. Missionaries are on the front lines of the Kingdom of Heaven, right? I’m sorry, but no.

Wherever the Gospel is advancing, there is the front line. Wherever lives are being transformed by the love of Jesus, there is the leading edge of the Kingdom.

But aren’t missionaries the crème of the crop? Um, yeah, no. Turns out, we’re just people. We may travel more than most, and maybe we speak more languages than some, but the idea that missionaries are somehow “set apart” is dangerous. I’d like to begin a discussion about this. Care to join?

Whether these false ideas come from the missionaries themselves or those who send them, the consequence is the same: damage. Damage to the missionaries and damage to the churches who send them.

 

How These Lies Damage Missionaries

If a missionary believes these lies (crème of the crop, special forces, etc.), and if churches reinforce them, one of two things will happen.

Option 1. When the missionary realizes he isn’t superman (or supermissionary), confusion, discouragement, and maybe even depression will set in. He may be forced into secrecy, covering up and hiding the fact that he is, in fact, human. He may feel like a failure because he now realizes he’s not the best of the best, like all the “real” missionaries. He may create a thin veneer of perfection and hide behind it for a Very.Long.Time. Obviously, this is not healthy, but it does make sense to the missionary who’s comparing himself to the false perfect. And when a whole community of missionaries builds walls and covers up, the fallacy is reinforced; everyone looks super on the outside, and no one can see the inside. And the damage continues.

Option 2. If a missionary believes these lies, and continues to believe them, she may become extremely arrogant, judgmental, and condemning. The judgment and condemnation will be aimed at other missionaries who “just can’t hack it,” as well as all the lesser people back home who never even tried. After all, she’s the top of the class, the one called and equipped for greater works. Again, these attitudes make sense if she starts with the basic assumption that missionaries are better. Now, it’s true, most people will never talk like this. But I bet you’ve met people who act like it.

 

How These Lies Damage Sending Churches

We’ll address this more in a bit, but for now, let me just say that when a church believes these lies, it effectively keeps missions OUT THERE. Missions becomes something missionaries do somewhere over there. The great call of God becomes disconnected from the church of God. And that’s really, really sad.

Furthermore, it minimizes and marginalizes the godly saints in the local body. The old lady who just put her last few dollars in the plate may have sacrificed more than the family who moved abroad. The arithmetic of the Almighty includes variables we can’t see.

One of the kindest, godliest men I’ve ever known worked on an assembly line for most of his life. You know what he did during his shifts? He talked with God and he memorized the Word. And so, when this blue-collar, shift-worker of an old man looked you in the eye and shook your hand, you felt like you knew Jesus a little better. He was faithful to his Lord for decades longer than I’ve been alive. And whatever reward I get in heaven, I’m pretty sure it won’t be any grander than this faithful, Spirit-filled saint’s.

When the church idolizes young missionaries, it runs the great risk of forgetting the faith-filled old people. The plodders who’ve loved well and remained faithful for a lifetime. And when the church neglects those people, the church misses out big time.

It’s not just the faithful old that tend to get marginalized. What about the faithful young? Is the work I do abroad more important than the local pastor in my home country who loves God with all his heart, and loves his people with sacrificial and compassionate love?

Is my job more important or more holy than my friend who’s a doctor in an inner-city emergency room? He loves and treats folks most people wouldn’t even touch. And he does it with kindness, giving strong witness to the Spirit of Christ who lives in him.

My job, loving and serving people across cultures, is what I’m called to do. I really believe that. But as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I sure hope some people are called and equipped to do work other than this. And I sure hope they realize their work isn’t second-class.

idolatry of missions

The Risk of Idolatry

Why do churches put missionaries on a pedestal? Why do missionaries put themselves there? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that they, and we, do. And it’s dangerous.

I grew up in a culture that idolized missionaries. By the time I was a teenager, I had read the biographies of Adoniram Judson, Gladys Aylward, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Elisabeth Elliot, Hudson Taylor, Amy Carmichael, Brother Andrew, David Livingston, and others. We revered these people. My parents even made sure I got to meet Elisabeth Elliot when she came to town, and we had a hand written note from her on our fridge!

These people were great and faithful and followed God in amazing ways, and I’m so grateful I was exposed to their stories; I in no way want to dishonor them. The error was mine, not theirs, because somewhere in all those stories I got the idea that really good Christians became overseas missionaries. If I wanted to sort-of serve God, I could become a pastor, but if I really wanted to serve God, I’d become a missionary. And if I didn’t care about serving God at all, I could become a lawyer (which I did, by the way, but that’s a story for another time).

The truly faithful, the truly holy, the ones most loved by God and most in love with God, would obviously serve him overseas. No one said it out loud, but I internalized the message nonetheless. I doubt you’ve heard these things spoken out loud, but have you ever felt them?

For too long, we have idolized overseas missions. We need to stop now.

I’m afraid that in our desire to be good followers of God, we’ve lost intimacy with him. Intimacy is personalized and requires time and a willingness to pay attention to subtle cues; we’ve preferred the one-size-fits-all, task-driven, widget-producing faith that measures success not by love, but by product.

Have we cared more about the work our hands do than the love our heart does?

Have we challenged people to obey “the call” instead of the Christ?

Have we sent and honored missionaries who are filled more with ambition than adoration?

Again, these things make sense if overseas missions is the end-all. But it’s not. Serving cross-culturally is definitely a valid response to the Gospel, but it is not the only valid response to the Gospel.

In fact, if traveling a long ways is how we serve God, then Jonah was doing a great job even BEFORE the whole fish incident. Remember, serving Jesus isn’t about traveling the right distance as much as it’s about traveling the right direction.

We’ve called “moving to a foreign land” the pinnacle of obedience, but in some cases, moving to a foreign land might be more like running away — disobedience, in its most spiritual form.

 

A Caveat

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying cross-cultural missions is bad. I am a missionary serving outside of my passport country, and I love it. I really do. I hope to stay here for a long time. I’ve recruited people to serve overseas, I’ve preached to teenagers about serving overseas, I’ve passionately extolled service abroad. And I plan to continue! In fact, our personal website even has an extensive resource page for folks interested in serving overseas.

But here’s the problem. Early on, I internalized the idea that this job, this ministry, was in fact the best. It’s what the best Christians do. It’s what the holiest Christians do. It’s what people who don’t have problems do. But you know what, that’s crazy talk. I’m not setting out to discourage folks from cross-cultural missions. I am trying to say, if you’re going to follow God across cultures, do it because he called you. Do it because you love people. Don’t do it because you think it’s what good Christians do.

 

Conclusion

Before we moved overseas, I wrote a song that had these lyrics, “To the ends of the earth, or down the street, where you send I will go, I will go.” I sang it with gusto and enthusiasm. I now realize it’s ridiculous; it’s based on the false dichotomy that some are called to go to cool places (the “ends of the earth”), and others are just called down the street.

We are ALL called down the street, it’s just that some of us have to travel a bit to find our street.

God didn’t want to send me to the ends of the earth OR down the street. He wanted to send me to Cambodia AND down the street. Why? Because the call of God is local. It’s right here, with the people in front of me.

He may call you to change streets (and that’s totally his prerogative), but once you get to your new street, you still have to love and serve the person in front of you. He may send you to a street that looks (and smells) nothing like the streets you’re used to. Great! But you know what, once you get there and learn their language, you still have to love and serve the person in front of you. It’s not rocket science.

So, whether your street is paved and filled with luxury cars, or it’s a collection of muddy ruts and filled with wildebeests, the call of God is the same. Love well. Serve well. Live your life in such a way, that…

   When people look at your eyes, they see our Father’s compassion.

       When they see you create, they marvel at our King’s genius.

             When they watch you sacrifice, they know our Savior’s kindness.

No matter what street you live on, may you truly experience life on the front lines of the Kingdom; not because you live on a special or super-holy street, but because on your street, “the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”

 

*photo credit

Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

distractions1

Follow Me. Jesus whispered these words to me a few months ago. I was in church. It felt like He was right there in front of me, pointing His finger at me and saying, “Elizabeth Trotter? Yes, you. I want you to follow Me. You — just you — follow Me.”

Rarely does Scripture come to me fast, strong, and seemingly out of nowhere like this. I knew this phrase came from John 21, so I opened up my Bible and read it. I hadn’t been reading this story lately, and it wasn’t a story that had ever meant much to me before. So I knew I had to pay attention to this message from God.

Over the next few weeks, I read the story, and re-read it, and then read it some more. Because the truth was, I was distracted, and I desperately needed to hear its message.

One morning after the Resurrection, Jesus and His disciples are by the sea, eating bread and fish. Jesus starts talking to Peter and asks, “Do you love me?” Peter answers, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus tells him, “Then feed my sheep.”

A second time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” A second time Peter answers, “Yes Lord, you know I love you.” And a second time Jesus tells him, “Then feed my sheep.”

Yet again Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter’s feelings were hurt, and he answered again, “Yes Lord, you know I love you. And again Jesus tells him, “Then feed my sheep.”

Jesus then tells Peter what kind of death he is doing to die. Peter turns to look behind him and sees John. Peter then asks Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” Jesus replies, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what’s that to you?? As for you – follow me.”

I get distracted by so many things. I get distracted by feeling sorry for myself. I tell myself I’m such a terrible missionary because I don’t speak the language very well. I tell myself I don’t measure up, and I’ll never measure up. That I will never be good enough or worthy enough, and that everybody is rejecting me.

I get distracted by jealousy. I’ll see someone else who’s been given amazing ministry opportunities, and I’ll wish I had those opportunities. Why can’t that be me, God? Why can’t you let me do that? Why does she get to do that when You know I want to do it? Whether it’s teaching math and chemistry, or attending births as a doula, I can get distracted by what I don’t get to do instead of finding joy in what God has assigned me to do.

But the biggest distraction for me, by far, is controversies within the American church. Since I’ve moved overseas, I’ve kept up on hot-button issues in the United States. I tell myself I do this so that “I’m not out of the loop when I return.” But I’m not just informing myself when I read controversial blogs; I become emotionally embroiled in them.

I read what all the online voices are saying, and I become very worried over the direction of the Church. I have intense intellectual and emotional reactions to inflammatory blog posts. I formulate arguments in my head to combat them. ABC is right, and here’s why; XYZ is wrong, and here’s why. Surely that’s helpful, right?

Wrong. It doesn’t help. All it does is agitate and depress me. It distracts me from doing what God has already clearly told me I need to be doing with my time. Which means I’m wasting a lot of the time He has given me. It means I’m squandering His gifts.

Distractions, distractions, distractions. Not a single distraction is helpful for ministry, or my own personal spiritual life. Each distraction keeps me from doing what God has called me to do in this season of my life. When I get distracted by feelings of jealousy or inadequacy, or by worry over the future of the Church, I don’t have the time or energy to do any of the things He has called me to do. I cannot fulfill His purposes in my life if I spend all my time reading other people’s angry words.

The truth is, it’s not my job to guide the global Church. That’s the job of Jesus, and He can handle it. Hearing from God and writing out of my own relationship with Him does not in any way require that I be up-to-date on church controversies. It just doesn’t. I can follow Him without regard to what He is doing in anyone else’s life but my own. The truth is, I don’t have to know about religious debates in order to love my husband and children well, and to love women and teen girls well.

The truth is, I can do what God is calling me to do, right now, and I can be joyful in it, instead of being jealous. The truth is, I will never measure up as a “perfect” missionary or a ministry wife, because no one measures up — and that is actually the good news about Jesus’s sacrifice.

But when I’m distracted by any of these things, I’m not paying attention to God. When I’m distracted by these things, I don’t notice the person right in front of me. And I won’t be able to love them if I can’t see them. If I allow myself to be distracted, I won’t be able to follow the Greatest Commands to love God and people.

The day Jesus reminded me to follow Him only, I had been sitting in church, emotionally twisted over yet another American church issue. And I suddenly felt He was saying to me, “You – Follow Me. Stop turning your head to look at other people. Look at Me. Regardless of what anyone else around you is doing, I want you to follow Me.” In that moment, I realized I had been wasting my life on distractions. I wasn’t following; I was worrying.

Hearing the word of God on this issue made me re-evaluate my life. I can’t waste my time reading controversial blogs; instead, I must protect my time by staying away from online debates. I must say “no” to them — and I’m learning to. Refusing to read certain kinds of blogs releases me from the internal pressure to “save the American church.”

I must simply focus on what I can do, today, to serve God and others. I remind myself of Jesus’s words quite often. If I want to follow Jesus, then I, along with Peter, can’t look around at other people. I have to look at Jesus. I have to follow Him alone.

What about you? What has God already called you to do in this season of your life?

What distracts you and keeps you from fulfilling His purposes?

Is Jesus saying to you, today, “Follow Me”?

Where is the God of Deborah?

Village in Pakistan

“Where was the God of Deborah? Deborah, whose words ‘March on, my soul; Be strong!’ echoed God’s affirmation of the strength and leadership of women. Where was the God of Hagar? Hagar, who was cast out in a desert as hot as the one where I stood, certain she would die only to be met by the living God and living water. Where was the God of Mary? Mary, who was greeted with the words, ‘The Lord is with you,’ words unmistakable in their promise. My soul ached with the absence of God; the woman’s eyes mirrored the vacancy I felt.” fromWhat a Woman is Worth Civitas Press 2014 “Relentless Pursuit” by Marilyn Gardner page 87.*

The story was in a well-known newspaper in Pakistan, published back in May. The title hid nothing and I didn’t want to read the article. “Woman Stoned to Death Outside Lahore High Court”.

I clutched my stomach, nauseated and feeling weak. An honor killing outside the High Court in Lahore, a city in Pakistan; a 25 year-old woman stoned to death, large bricks picked up and thrown at her until she was pronounced dead at the hospital. Her family? They were included in the group of attackers stating they had a right to do this, she had shamed the family name.

And I weep at this injustice, this gross misunderstanding of honor and shame, this tragic and polluted view of women. A distorted theology, an incorrect belief. Cultural views are not all benign. Some are plain wrong. There is no excuse for this atrocity. Neither is there an excuse for the atrocities of rape on college campuses in Ivy league schools with people who have no cultural view of honor and shame. Or the gang rapes resulting in death in India. All are wrong. All are sinful. All should be condemned. There are too many events like this in our world and the heart of evil and sin is like a killer weed that takes over and covers everything in its path, crowding out the beauty with ugly.

And I wonder – Where is the God of Deborah? Where is the God who fights, who goes before us? And I wonder – Where is the God of Hagar? Where was he with this woman? And I wonder – Where is the God of Mary, the God-bearer? The blessed Theotokos?

But he is here. He is with the women around the world who fight against this every, single day at great cost. Those who stand up for justice and fight for human rights and dignity; those who are in the business of rescue and advocacy. They are the Deborahs of our world. They are the ones who march on. They are the ones who give of their time, their talent, their love to make a difference.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is with Myra Lal Din – a Pakistani woman with a dream to change the status of education for girls in Pakistan. Myra attended the same school that I did in Pakistan. When she was 13 the school was attacked by fundamentalist terrorists and she relocated to Thailand to finish her education. She recognizes that most girls in Pakistan are not so lucky. And so she longs to make a difference. She says this: “Through my work with young children, I discovered that I felt called to use education to try to bring real, lasting change to the kinds of opportunities that are available for young women in my own country. I want to make sure that every woman in Pakistan has an opportunity to experience the kind of life-changing education I did without having to escape to another country to do it.” 

Where is the God of Deborah? He is at a women and children’s hospital in Shikarpur, Sindh where primarily Pakistani staff work daily to meet the health care needs of the community, offering living hope, living water in the desert.

Where is the God of Deborah? He’s in Haiti where midwives work to provide safe care and deliveries to those most in need.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is in Djibouti, where girls learn to love running, to find safety in community.

Where is the God of Deborah? He’s with the rescuers in Thailand, who brave a corrupt system and dangerous pimps to rescue, to love, to speak truth into the lives of women.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is in the hard places, with us as we take a stand against injustice even as we reel with nausea from the horror of these acts of violence.

Where is the God of Deborah? He is still here. He is still present. He is still at work. He is still saying ‘Who touched me’ like he did so long ago on dusty streets in Palestine. He is still restoring, relentlessly pursuing, loving, healing, freeing women from their suffering. This I must believe. This I do believe. 

“I would never stop believing that worth could be restored by a relentless pursuit, an unstoppable love, and the words “Go in peace and be free from your suffering.” from What a Woman is Worth Civitas Press 2014 “Relentless Pursuit” page 88.*

Where have you seen the God of Deborah work in your community? 

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging is available for purchase here: 

It’s also coming to a Kindle near you in a few weeks. Proceeds for books purchased in the month of November will go toward the Syrian Refugee Crisis to be used in a refugee clinic in Istanbul. Stay tuned for more details.

Note: This article has been adapted from one previously published on Communicating Across Boundaries. 

No, Seriously, Laugh.

My dad was a dentist. dad2_0018-1_edited-1 And I’m not sure if it was all that time around nitrous oxide or what, but he loved to laugh. In fact, I remember many times, with babies screaming (there were five in diapers at one time in my house — long story, tell you later), he’d smile and say, “Well, if we don’t laugh we’ll cry.”

And I think that’s true for us. We live serious lives, surrounded by serious issues. And although there is a time to be serious, there’s also a time to be, um, jovial. So, yeah, could I invite you to laugh for second. Or at least smile a wee bit. OK, thanks.

I realize this doesn’t sound very spiritual, but humor REALLY helped us get through our first term in Cambodia. Yeah, we read our Bibles and prayed and stuff like that, but we also watched YouTube. Oh, and I taped this photo collage to our kitchen wall as a reminder to, er, lighten up. The “culture shock” quote is from the very serious book, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries by Paul Hiebert.

culture shock

How cool would it be if our homes were places of laughter. Not the idiotic laughter of a fool who just doesn’t understand reality, but the confident laughter of a child who knows his Father has it under control. Because He does.

Now, humor is somewhat relative (especially if you’re British), so I won’t be offended if you don’t find anything I have to say or post even remotely amusing. Just go to the comment section below and give us a link to something you do think is funny.

Let’s get started with an old video of my kid laughing, because, well, a baby laughing is almost always funny.

 

And then there’s the whoopee cushion one, because, well, a baby laughing while sitting on a whoopee cushion is always funny.

 

Here’s Brian Regan talking about airports. I thought perhaps this crowd would appreciate it.

 

We say “apparently” a lot more than we used to. Here’s why.

What do you find funny? Care to share? Post a link in the comment section below and share the wealth; after all, the missions community could use a little giggle.

Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say

Kids say the darndest things. Parents make the darndest lists out of them. Writers published the darndest lists of the darndest things those kids say. Sorry.

Some of these are from my own Third Culture Kids, some are from others I know. I want to say before quoting them that I love these kids. I love hearing their stories (like about when the crocodile ate the pet dog) and asking them questions (like what they think of their parent’s career choice) and hearing their unique perspectives on global issues (like that slums aren’t scary places to be defined only by poverty, they are specific places with names where their friends live). I’m not poking fun, just having fun.

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Here goes…

After we announced we were moving to east Africa people started telling my toddlers about the animals they would see. Everyone talked ad nauseum about elephants and giraffes and zebras and lions. By the time we landed in Kenya, the kids had heard this so many times that our son looked at the airport baggage claim and said, “This is the wrong Africa. There aren’t any elephants.”

“When two moms who speak the same language get together, they never stop talking.”

From the pediatrician to my eight-year old: “What is different between Minnesota and Djibouti?” Lucy: “Well, they’re pretty much the same.”

Lucy, who was born in Djibouti, to a group of African American women at a cooking bazaar, when she saw their sign for African American Food, “African American, like me!”

One TCK to another TCK at a bus stop in America, the first time they meet, the first question they ask each other: “How do you fly?”

While in the US: “Target is the best store in the world!”

When talking about American food problems, expatriate mom says to her third culture kids, “You know, like Twinkies.” The TCKs respond in unison, “What’s a Twinkie?”

When a neighbor in the United States starts mowing his lawn and the sound floats over the wooden fence a TCK said, “Oh, the power is off. The generator just turned on.” Upon seeing the man mowing his lawn, the TCK said, “Why is he vacuuming his grass?”

Deep realization after a few months in the US by a life-long TCK: “I just realized some of my friends here have never moved in their whole life!”

When President Obama is elected and people react emotionally because he is the first black American president, TCK raised in Africa to parents, “Aren’t all presidents black? And isn’t he kind of skinny to be a good president?”

When the teacher asks on the first day of school, where are you from, TCK responds with, “I was born in Djibouti, my family is American, but I just flew here from Kenya where my brother and sister live.” The teacher asked parent (me, if you couldn’t tell) the next day, “Um, where are you guys from? I couldn’t figure it out.”

TCK, thinking about grandparents far away, “Sometimes I feel like my heart lives in two pieces.”

TCK when asked where is home, “Home is the place you miss the most when you aren’t there.”

Expat mom to TCK daughter at a Starbucks inside an airport, when asked to pay for coffee and isn’t sure which currency to use, “What country are we in again?” TCK shrugs. “The airport.”

There are endless delightful insights and funny-isms our kids say, their way of looking at the world and their experiences never ceases to amaze me.

Your turn, any funnies or insights you’d like to share?

*image by Caroline Gutman via Unsplash

Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)

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I don’t like conflict. I’m scared of it. I don’t want people to be upset with me; I don’t want people to think I’m upset with them. Conflict is stressful and instills in me a strong desire to RUN AWAY. I shut down both physically and emotionally, and I fail to deal with the issue at hand.

I want everyone to be happy. I want this to happen without actually having to talk about the things that make me, and other people, unhappy. But I can’t avoid unhappy situations indefinitely. With 7 billion people on this planet, and no two of us alike, conflict is unavoidable.  I can’t hide away forever from my emotions and the emotions of others.

In mission training I learned that my approach to conflict has a name: I am an Avoider, or Turtle. Turtles believe that any conflict, regardless of what it is or how it is handled, will inevitably harm relationships. We thus avoid conflict at all costs. We hide in our turtle shells and refuse to come out to talk. However, when cornered or forced into conflict we aren’t ready to deal with, some Turtles (like me) might lash out in anger. The typically conflict-avoidant Turtle has now morphed into a Snapping Turtle. Ouch!

Perhaps you also dislike conflict, but instead of running away from it, you simply give in to everyone else’s wishes, never voicing your own. If you want everyone to be happy and are willing to give up your own wants and desires in order to maintain harmonious relationships, then you might be an Accommodator, or Teddy Bear. Teddy Bears, like Turtles, wish to preserve relationships. Instead of outright escapism, though, Teddy Bears ensure that in any given situation, everybody except themselves is satisfied. They try to make everyone happy, but they are in danger of never feeling “heard” by others.

Or maybe you’re not afraid of conflict at all. Maybe you’re so confident that your solution is correct that you won’t even consider other people’s ideas. If so, you might be a Shark, or Competitor. (And you might be interested to know that Turtles and Teddy Bears are petrified of you.) When a decision must be made quickly, you have the ability to lead a group and make that decision both quickly and confidently. However, in slower situations, people may feel you do not value them or their contributions. People want you to listen to them and take their perspective into account when making a decision, something that is not easy for you to do.

There are a couple other conflict styles. A Compromiser, or Fox, wants everyone in a given situation to give up something they want, with the assurance that they will receive something else they want. Everyone wins a little, and everyone loses a little. Ideally, everyone receives something they want, but each person is also missing something they want.  That’s because Compromisers are looking for a “good enough” solution in the quickest time possible — and this is especially helpful in a time crunch.  However, Compromisers can sometimes be seen as acting too quickly to reach a solution, making people feel “unheard.”

The last style is the Collaborator, or Owl. A Collaborator is similar to a Compromiser, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. But where a Compromiser wants everyone to win a little and lose a little, a Collaborator wants everyone to feel 100% satisfied with the outcome, and they are willing to work as long as it takes to find that perfect solution. Although they care about everyone’s happiness level, coworkers can be frustrated by the slowness of the Collaboration process. The Collaborator, likewise, can become frustrated when people aren’t willing to work on a problem as long as he or she is willing. Incidentally, in mission training, we learned that Collaborators are often the most frustrated people on the mission field. They want a perfect solution every time, and that’s just not possible.

So what happens when all these conflict styles try to interact?

  • Turtles run away from important discussions. The Turtle is scared, and hiding meets the Turtle’s need to avoid conflict. Other styles want to discuss the problem at hand, but they become frustrated by the Turtle’s refusal.
  • Teddy Bears make everyone happy, right? But nobody can help them, because nobody knows what they want. Compromisers and Collaborators often want to know how Teddy Bears (and Turtles) feel. They value every person’s input and want to make a decision that incorporates everyone’s needs. When they can’t coax the Turtles and Teddy Bears to share their needs, Collaborators and Compromisers become frustrated.
  • Competitive Sharks may get things done quickly, but they risk alienating people while doing it. And they don’t just alienate Turtles and Teddy Bears – they can also alienate Compromisers and Collaborators, who want everyone’s input to be valued, including theirs.
  • What about when a Shark meets another Shark? Sounds scary to my Turtle self. Let’s not even go there.
  • A Compromiser may try to get to a solution too fast and fail to listen closely enough to people. Compromisers might convince people to give up too much too soon when making a decision, and they might not realize that’s hurting people.
  • Collaborators want to find a perfect solution, and they don’t care how long it takes to get there. If you’re a Collaborator and people don’t want to talk to you, it might be because they know the discussion will be L-O-N-G. A solution that makes 100% of the people 100% happy may not be feasible. So you might need to settle for less-than-perfect and learn a few things from the Compromiser.

Knowing I’m a Turtle has helped me understand why I react to certain people’s conflict styles. It explains past relationship patterns, and it illuminates current relational issues.

As a Turtle, I’ve often felt a sense of pride in the fact that I preserve relationships by avoiding conflict. But pride is bad news, and the supposed relationship preservation is only partly true, anyway. Sometimes relationships are preserved by actually talking about sensitive subjects, instead of avoiding them.

I’m learning that if I avoid all difficult conversations, I risk growing bitter about an issue. I’m learning that I can’t just think about myself and my own personal need to avoid conflict. I’m learning that sometimes I need to love someone enough to broach difficult subjects.

I’m learning that I can have calm, rational conversations about sticky subjects. I’m learning that these conversations can be gracious and kind instead of the violent explosions I expect them to be. And I’m finding that these kinds of conversations can lead to solutions I had never even thought of.

In short, I’m learning that I can and must grow in conflict resolution — and that it’s not as scary as I had always thought.

 

What about you? Which conflict style do you favor most? Do you tend to Avoid, Accommodate, Compromise, Collaborate, or Compete?

Is there a conflict style that’s particularly difficult for you to interact with?

How has God used your conflict style to benefit relationships?

How do you think God wants to stretch you in your approach to conflict?

 photo credit

Anger Abroad

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

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

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

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Anger as a Symptom

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

Like the headaches in the story, anger is a symptom, and we need to pay attention to it. I see a lot of missionaries wrestling with anger, but I don’t hear a lot of missionaries talking about it. I’d like to change that.

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

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

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

 

Peaceful Missionaries?

What do you think of these statements?

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

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

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

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

 

Why So Angry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Anger Alternative

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Living Between Worlds – A Post on TCKs

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For as long as I can remember I have lived between worlds.

My first memories of life are from a rooftop in the southern area of Pakistan. The high, flat roof surrounded by walls was a perfect place to keep cool when the hot months came in early May. We slept on rope beds covered in mosquito netting able to feel an almost cool breeze after sundown.

Mosques surrounded our house on all four sides, their minarets stately and tall against the desert sky. While on the inside prayer times and Bibles sustained us, on the outside we were minorities in a Muslim world where the call to prayer echoed out over the city five times a day and ordered the lives of all those around us.

When you grow up between worlds the research on identity formation does not apply in quite the same way. Instead, you move back and forth as one whose identity is being forged and shaped between two, often conflicting, cultures. “A British child taking toddling steps on foreign soil or speaking his or her first words in Chinese with an amah (nanny) has no idea of what it means to be human yet, let alone “British.” He or she simply responds to what is happening in the moment” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001).

 There is now documented research that identifies some of the strengths and weaknesses that are part of growing up between worlds.

Here are some of the strengths that the third culture kid develops through living between worlds:

Cross-cultural skills

From their early years, third culture kids interact and enjoy ‘difference.’  They often take on various characteristics from the cultures where they have lived. They don’t see difference as good or bad – just different. This gives them a huge advantage in our global world. To be able to interact across cultural values and differences is a gift that is inherent to who they are.

Adaptability

Third culture kids show amazing ability to adapt across cultures. They are as comfortable in a crowded bazaar in a large city in Asia as they are in a pub in England. They blend with seeming ease into whatever setting they are thrown into – as long as it is outside their passport country!

Maturity

Often third culture kids are seen as more mature than their counterparts in their passport countries. They easily interact with adults two and three times their age and can see things from a more mature perspective.

Global view of the world

The worldview of the third culture kid is broad and wide. They often look around a room and think – “am I the only one who sees things this way?” People, governments, cultures, and countries all over the world have shaped them and it is impossible for them to have a one-dimensional worldview.

 Flexibility

The third culture kid has learned how to be flexible and adjust their behavior to fit the situation. This flexibility can be a tremendous gift, particularly in rapidly changing situations.

Bridge-builders

Third culture kids are natural bridge builders. They are often able to see both sides of a situation and help to negotiate a successful outcome or interaction. This is an invaluable skill set and they often look for jobs that will allow them to function in this role.

With every strength comes a weakness and the successful third culture kid learns to recognize their weaknesses.

Some of those include: 

Insecurity

There can be profound feelings of insecurity related to one’s passport culture. The sense of not belonging can come in unexpected places and spaces and result in precarious footing – like you’re on a cliff and one step in the wrong direction could send you hurtling into a place where you will get badly injured. Food, dress, cultural do’s and don’ts can all feel foreign, and with that cause a distrust of one’s ability to navigate

Unresolved grief and loss           

Dave Pollock articulated the profound grief and loss piece of a third culture upbringing in this statement: “Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”There is so much more to say about this, but just know that this grief is real, the losses are real, and with real grief and loss comes the need for real healing.

Arrogance

Arrogance is often insecurity by another name. When the third culture kid feels ‘other’ they resort to coping mechanisms. This can come off as profound arrogance and result in exactly the opposite of what they really want – cause further alienation and feelings of being ‘other’ when what is longed for is connection and understanding.This can turn into a vicious cycle for the TCK and needs to be addressed for what it is – a deep insecurity with who they are within the context of their passport culture.

Difficulty planting roots

When your roots are everywhere, they can feel like they are nowhere. When the third culture kid tries to transition from a global background to a life of less movement it can be unsettling. As much as they may say they want roots, the tug of the airport, the feel of the airplane, the sense of hopeful expectation that comes from travel has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. Releasing this and exchanging it for roots is a huge step, and not one that is made easily.

While this is in no way an exhaustive list, it is a good start to recognizing strengths and weaknesses. When we name something, we have more power over it. When I name insecurity, I can address it for what it is. When I admit to grief and loss, I can begin to heal.

So how can you help your third culture kid as they live between worlds? The one you love more than life itself, the one who you’ve heard crying into the night, even as you face your own losses? Much has been written on this and there are some excellent resources available. But here are a couple of thoughts that have recently come up in conversation with other third culture kids. 

Here is what helped us – perhaps it will help the kids you know who are living between worlds. 

Name the losses

Naming the losses, identifying those things they long and grieve for legitimizes their grief. They no longer have to keep these feelings bottled up, dismissing them as unimportant. Naming their losses helps them face and deal with those losses. Naming them begins the important process of healing. Naming the losses can feel disloyal for a third culture kid, particularly if they have a good relationship with their parents. They don’t want to appear ungrateful or hurt their mom and dad. Because of this, it is often best done with a neutral person, one who will not feel hurt by this process.

Express feelings of restlessness

The third culture kid needs to be able to express their restlessness without parents or other loved ones becoming defensive and telling them how lucky they are to be where they are, to have the background they have had. The TCK experience is best captured by the word “Saudade”, a Portuguese word that has no English equivalent. It is an indolent wistfulness for what no longer exists.  “Killing the Saudade” (Another Portuguese phrase) happens when they can get together with like-minded friends and express their restlessness, talk about home or the last place they lived, eat familiar foods, and reconnect with those from their past. Killing the saudade really works. It is an effective tool to address the restlessness and move forward in the places where we are planted.

Journal life events

Some of the fears of the third culture kid is that they will forget; that these places that hold such a big part of their heart and soul will be relegated to distant memories, and soon be gone. Journaling these events, even if they happened long ago, helps to remind the TCK of the gift of a global upbringing. Journaling can help the TCK process thoughts and memories.

Tell their story

As parents, it is easy for us to want to tell the story – but our kids have a story as well, and it is vital that they learn to tell it, that they own their story. If we are the ones hijacking the story, they never learn to take hold of it as their own. Part of their story is connecting their multicultural past to a meaningful present. We can’t do it for them, but we can encourage them along the way, encourage them to develop their own voices, separate from those of parents and siblings, remind them of who they are through their story. When they learn to tell their stories, they are better able to hear the stories of others, to recognize that everyone has a story. 

It is these things that have led me to tell my own story, to write, to reflect, to describe – “my memory may be biased, or relayed in a way that my mom would say ‘that’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably mine.”*

This past year I took one more step forward in my journey toward living whole and healthy, one more step in remembering my story. I released a book called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The book is a set of essays on living between and is divided into 7 sections: Home, Identity, Belonging, Airports, Grief & Loss, Culture Clash, and Goodbyes set the stage for individual essays within each section.

My deepest prayer is that somehow, by the grace of God, the book will resonate with others who are living a life between worlds,  so that others can remember their story and know it was worth it.

*From Kebabs in Jalalabad in Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

How do you help your children live between worlds? What have you found to help them in this process? How do you help them learn to tell their story? Join us through the comments and the suggestions will be compiled into a future post! 

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Between Worlds on Amazon“In Exodus God repeatedly tells the people of Israel to remember their story, to remember their beginning, to remember who they are. Later, exiled in Babylon, unable to return home, they were to remember their stories – stories of wonder and deliverance, of the power of God and His provision. They were to remember their beginnings.” from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging, July 1st, 2014 Doorlight Publications.

 

 

Seventy Times Seven, Conflict and Forgiveness

 

The conflict in mind as I wrote this piece was not related to a team conflict issue.

team conflcit

I used to think that when Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven times, he meant that people would be so mean, so sinful, that they would keep sinning against me (and I against them) and I should forgive each new transgression as readily as the first. And forgiving them looked something like accepting their apology, shaking their hand, or kissing their cheek and hugging, and saying, “I forgive you.”

That seemed challenging but easy enough. I could offer a limp hand or a sideways hug, mumble the words in a quiet voice, and move on. One sin against me, one forgiveness offered, voila, the scales were balanced. And vice versa.

Until this method stopped working. Until a friend hurt me so deeply I couldn’t breathe. Until mumbling, “I forgive you” didn’t erase the anger, bitterness, and sick feeling. Until she bolted so quickly there was no time for shaking hands and I couldn’t accept an apology that has never been offered.

What does forgiveness look like then? Was it a one for one deal? Was I supposed to recall each lie, deception, angry word, hurtful action, and pronounce over them, one by one, Forgiven?

When I tried to do that, I simply ended up in the bathroom crying. Remembering didn’t help, it only increased the clenching in my gut and the raging desire to scream. This didn’t feel like forgiveness.

Probably because it wasn’t.

I had twisted the call to forgive into an opportunity to keep a record of wrongs. In the name of forgiveness, I let my heart grow bitter as I felt, fresh, each wrong against me.

I had to learn that seventy times seven doesn’t mean one for one, every time someone sins against you. It means every time you feel angry about that one single sin, forgive it again. It means forgiveness is on-going, a lifestyle, something that must be revisited and redone. Forgiveness is not a one-time event, shake hands and it is over. It is a state of being.

I drove by my friend’s house and felt angry again. So I stopped the car and addressed my heart and forgave her. I heard her name and felt angry again, about the same thing, so I addressed my heart and forgave her. I stumbled across a photo of her and felt angry again, about the same thing, so again I forgave her.

At first, these moments of anger and forgiving came at me fast and constant. As time passed, they sprang up with less frequency and after a few years, I rarely felt angry anymore. But still, once in a while and at unexpected times, a surge of memory and bitterness tries to stake claim and I have to forgive again.

This is seventy times seven. Over and over and over, the same sin, the same hurt. There is no mumbling here, there is no limp handshake. There is a wrestling and a battle and an acknowledgement of the pain. And then there is a canceling of the debt that is owed, a canceling of the right to run down a list of wrongs.

I’m thankful that God does not have these same issues. For God, once a sin is forgiven, it is forgiven. He harbors no bitterness, no anger, no need to revisit the pain and forgive again. I continue to sin against him and seventy times seven becomes a pouring out of grace. For each sin, forgiveness is available, and I drink it in, soak it up, feel the cleansing.

Then I turn it around and offer it, again, to my friend.

Expatriates can’t avoid this issue but I don’t want the comment section  to turn into a nasty place to rat out the dirty deeds of others. So, with wisdom and tempered spirits, what has been your experience with team conflict?

*image via pixabay

Missionary Mommy Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember, his burden is light.

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

He is not a taskmaster, demanding more widgets.

He is a loving Husband, pursuing his favorite girl.

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

He is a Warrior, protecting his people.

He is a Comforter who really sees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The one who liked shopping when shopping was simple.

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

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

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

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

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Resources:

I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

Expectation and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission

*photo credit