Please Stop Running

100_2585

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

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

 

Oh, How We Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Jesus, Our Example

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

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

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

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

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

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

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

 

Not All the Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

The streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia are littered with garbage. The garbage stinks, and the open sewers reek. The construction on my street can be deafening, and I sometimes tire of all these sights, sounds, and smells.

But in the middle of this assault on my (admittedly sensitive) senses, I catch a glimpse of perfection: palm trees, right in the middle of the city. Green and graceful, the most beautiful trees in the world.

Often, at the end of a long and draining day, all I can manage is to shovel a spoonful of hummus into my mouth and plop myself down on the corner of the couch that has the best view of the palm trees across the street. What happens inside my soul is beyond words.

Even better than my living room view is the view from my roof. It’s a little slice of Heaven, especially as the clouds roll in, the winds blow, and the afternoon rains start falling. The air is delicious up there, and the palm and banana trees are larger and leafier on that side of the house. And even though I’m so familiar with them by now, some days I just can’t tear my eyes away.

So why do I share my love affair with palm trees? Well, because, in a very real way, palm trees sustain me.  There is a power in their beauty that lifts my spirit, calms my anxiety, and releases me from the stress of all the rotting streets and invasive noises. What would I do without my daily dose of palm trees? They’re a green paradise in an otherwise concrete jungle, and when I look at them, I stand in awe of my Creator.

They’re how I write my name in the land. The idea of “writing your name in the land” comes from the movie Skylark, one of my favorite American pioneer movies. Skylark is the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall, another favorite of mine. (I have a lot of favorite pioneer movies.)

Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of a woman from Maine who moves to Kansas as a mail-order bride for Jacob, a widower with two children. Jacob and Sarah fall in love, and by the beginning of the movie Skylark, they’ve been married for a couple years.

The people of Kansas are now facing a drought. The prairie dries up a little more each day, and it has truly become a “dry and thirsty land.” But Sarah comes from a place by the sea — a cool, wet place, where drought is unknown — and she’s never experienced a season like this before.

When the wells run dry, the people of the community travel to the river, hoping to find water there, but the river is nearly dry. In desperation, Sarah’s closest friend Maggie, and her husband Matthew, tell Jacob and Sarah that they are considering leaving the prairie and settling somewhere else. Sarah is so frustrated by this possibility that she blurts out:

I hate this land. No, I mean it. I don’t have to love it like Jacob, like Matthew. They give it everything, everything, and it betrays them. It gives them nothing back. You know, Jacob once told me his name is written in this land. Well, mine isn’t. It isn’t.

Maggie replies in a thick Scandinavian accent:

“You don’t have to love this land. But if you don’t, you won’t survive. Jacob is right. You have to write your name in it to live here.

Maggie winces at the severity of her own words, and Sarah walks away, not yet able to accept this truth. By end of the film, though, we watch her take a stick, bend down, and literally write her name in the dust of the land. Her heart has taken up residence in a place that is both overwhelmingly good and harsh. And she has planted herself in it.

 

I still cry when I watch those scenes. Do I love the strange land I find myself in? Have I scrawled my name in it? I still get annoyed by daily life. I still struggle to understand many of the East/West cultural differences. I still get discouraged by the sin problems inherent in an exceedingly corrupt society.

But I love this land.

I love the rice fields in the rain, verdant and green. I love the banana trees, oversized and leafy. I love the palm trees too numerous to count – a sight that never grows old. I love the clouds, large and billowing, and the sunsets, pink and orange.

So what sustains you in your host country? How do you plant yourself in the place God has called you to serve? When the earth under your feet seems to crack, when your life is dry and scorched, what do you hold on to? When the soil starts to disintegrate and your well dries up, where do you go?

When no rain falls, when the crops wither away, and there’s no harvest, what do you do? What is your anchor, and where are your roots? Where have you put your signature?

How do you write your name in the land?

When Your Marriage is Wounded (and you’re far away from help)

cross silhouette

Yesterday was my 30th wedding anniversary.

My husband and I met back to back at an Indian restaurant on Devon Street in Chicago. He was a cute grad student at the University of Illinois. I was a cute nurse newly deported from Pakistan. A week later I said to someone “I think I’m going to marry this guy!”

And I did.

We have what we affectionately term a “brave marriage.” By God’s grace it has weathered crises that most marriages never dream they will have to withstand. And some of those crises occurred in our life overseas.  Because of this our anniversary is the more precious.  Today I take you into one of those crises – and I ask for grace as you read it.

As I reflect back it feels like a lifetime ago – and in some ways, it was. 

I sat outside in the Marriott courtyard, sipping a hot coffee. It was a warm winter day in Cairo, and the strong desert sun cast light and shadows across abundant plants. This was one of my favorite spots to sit, read, and reflect in a city of 18 million people and limited green space, but my mind was far from enjoying this time. Despite the warmth I was shaking with cold.

In this city of millions there seemed nowhere to turn. No place to go. No one to talk to.

My husband was director for a demanding study abroad program. 24 students were in our care and we had to answer for all of them academically, physically, and emotionally. Their home colleges and their parents had entrusted them to us for this semester in Cairo, an arguably safe city in the Middle East at the time. But with the media holding an upper hand on disseminating information about the Middle East in the United States, it was still considered a risk.

Along with the work responsibilities, we had four children aged three to ten and we were raising them in a context completely different from those of our peers in the United States. Daily they took a taxi across the busy city to a small school located in an apartment off a side street in Cairo. They studied and played with a handful of other kids. We lived in a neighborhood with no other expatriates. Cairo was their home and had been for the past six years.

But I sat there that day thinking about none of this. I was in a sea of pain, our marriage had been wounded and we were desperately in need of life support. And I didn’t know how to get it.

Living overseas brings tremendous joys and adventure; it also brings some extraordinarily difficult times and crises. And sometimes the extraordinary difficulty has to do with our marriages.

So what do you do when your marriage is wounded and you are far from professional counseling? What do you do when you need an intensive care unit and all that is available is a small clinic with unskilled staff?

You cast yourself on the author of marriage and pray for mercy.

And mercy came but with it tremendous loss. Because over the next few months, we realized we could not stay in Cairo. We realized that we would have to leave. We contacted trusted people in the United States and they were unanimous – leave, get help, don’t cling to a life overseas when there is no help available.

And during that time we were like burn victims, if anyone tried to get close we screamed in pain and pushed them away.

And my heart knew a depth of pain I’d not experienced before. Not in boarding school at 6 years old, not in college when home was eight thousand miles away; not at family funerals. It was the pain of a wounded marriage coupled with the realization I had to leave. How could I leave? How could I leave this place I loved with every fiber of my being? How could we give up this successful study abroad program that had been my husband’s baby – transformed from 7 pages of paper into a functioning, thriving 3 year old program?  How could I, a third culture kid who had an angsty relationship with her passport country, go back to that country?

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”* The words from Jonah could not have been clearer – I was trying to cling to an idol – the idol of ministry overseas. I was willing to forfeit the grace that our marriage so desperately needed for a life overseas. How was it that I had placed living overseas in a higher position than marriage? Marriage – God’s design to show his Glory; marriage – God’s design to somehow in a mysterious way reflect God’s love and desire for his church; marriage – that hardest, bravest relationship we ever embark on.

Now….

Our crisis feels like a lifetime ago – and in some ways it was. As much as it hurt to leave Cairo, we would never have received the help we needed had we stayed. And the fall out would have affected everyone in our path, wounding in a way we could not imagine.

At the end of April we had the opportunity, through the Orthodox church, to receive a marriage blessing. At the time I wrote this on my personal blog and I close with it today: “….above all in this journey of marriage we have experienced the deepest mercy possible to humans. We have experienced the mercy of God that we can still stand, heads held high, certain of nothing but his love and grace to us. We have experienced the mercy of each other, so clear are we in knowing how much we have erred, how often we have sinned against each other. We have experienced the mercy of our children, gracious in their love and forgiveness of us. We have experienced the mercy of our families, standing by our sides through the awful and the wonderful. We have experienced the mercy of our friends who have walked this road with us. We are twice blessed.”

What about you? How do you respond to the words “the idol of ministry overseas?” Have you been through a crisis, whether marital or otherwise, where your desire to stay where you are has affected your willingness to get help? 

*Jonah 3:8

Between Worlds on AmazonAnnouncement: I have a book! The name of it is Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging and in it I explore the themes of home, place, belonging, and grief and loss. My prayer is that this can be a real resource for TCKs and their parents! It is available at Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. B&N has quicker delivery but is slightly higher cost. There is an accompanying discussion guide that I would love to send you if you purchase the book. Contact me through the comments below and we will go from there.

Is Jesus a Liar?

(The following post is a reprint, originally published at Relevant Magazine and reprinted with permission. Thanks for understanding the limited writing opportunities while I am homeless for a month, wandering the Horn of Africa.)

In 2003 I moved to the Horn of Africa. My husband had a teaching contract at the only functional University and I was going to concentrate on raising our twin toddlers. I brought with me peanut butter, English novels, Legos, and certain expectations. I expected my husband to make a significant contribution to the development of the nation, I expected to be a good mother and a loving neighbor. But the most foundational expectation I carried was that Jesus was not a liar.

Jesus promised some things and I came to Africa expecting, needing him to fulfill those promises. I thought the promises were that life would be fascinating, challenging (but not quite death-defyingly difficult) and meaningful. I thought I would feel reasonably comfortable and useful, that I would be able to mask my weaknesses. But then things got hard. There was an emergency evacuation, a deadly flood, a car accident, a move to my third country in less than a year. Sick children, loneliness, futility, oppressive heat. And I started to wonder. Had I misunderstood? Or was Jesus a liar?

roots

I like to be comfortable. I don’t like sweat dripping from my eyelids, dirt caked between my toes, or my hair falling out in clumps. I don’t like speaking in accented, broken Somali, like a child. I don’t always like wearing baggy local clothes that look like pajamas or throwing a black cloak over an already-sweat-soaked outfit. I don’t like living far away from my family or being stared at, pointed at, talked about. I really don’t like cold showers.

If Jesus promised a comfortable life, he’s a liar.

But he didn’t. He promised his presence. (Matthew 28:20)

Mercy doesn’t come easy to a sinful heart. Sometimes I cringe when my children step in human feces left in the yard after a meal for homeless women. I close my eyes when I pull sweaty unwashed HIV-positive hands, sores oozing, to my lips for the traditional kiss of greeting. I grow impatient when beggars stop me and ask for medicine when I am late for a meeting or a play date.

If Jesus promised a natural affection, he’s a liar.

But he didn’t. He promised to show mercy to the merciful. (Matthew 5:7)

I don’t understand why I have so much. Why my children attend school and eat dessert, why we own a car. Why my neighbor can’t afford school supplies and skips dinner so her children can eat. Why I am not the one selling my body every night for a bottle of water. Why I have all my limbs and all my senses and all my education.

If Jesus promised this life would all make sense, he’s a liar.

But he didn’t. He promised that caring for the needy is also caring for him. (Matthew 25:40)

I am angry about poverty and disease and injustice and oppression. I’m angry about insulting movies and murdered ambassadors. I’m angry about being called a whore and watching people make throat-slitting motions at me because of the color of my skin. I’m angry about Christians who say, “how can you stand, hand-in-hand with Muslims?” and about Christians who pass cruel, judgmental emails around the internet.

If Jesus promised world peace, he’s a liar.

But he didn’t. He promised to be our peace. (John 14:27, Ephesians 2:14)

All I have is this one life, all I have are insufficient words, all I have is this temporary, weak, selfish body. After ten years in Somalia and Djibouti, I’ve started to wonder if I have made any impact, made any difference at all.

If Jesus promised superhero strength and powers and effectiveness, he’s a liar.

But he didn’t. He promised the power of an empty grave. (Philippians 3:10)

So here I am in Djibouti, east Africa, living in a place that thrusts me into uncomfortability. Here I am, trying to show mercy. Here I am, caring for Jesus in the poor of my community and learning active compassion. Here I am, pursuing peace and trusting him to be my peace. Here I am, weak and totally dependent on the power that conquered death.

This assurance of the presence of Jesus, no matter where I live, is the source for fullness of joy, the sustaining fountain to which I return daily. Overflowing, over-spilling fullness. Not because his being with me makes things comfortable, but because he reminds me to fix my eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. To look deeper than a dirty hand or the stifling heat or my own sin. To see his handiwork in a newborn baby and a dusty-rose sunset and a merciful response in place of an impatient one.

His way of living, of loving, of dying, and of reigning reminds me that I am not supposed to be completely comfortable. I am an alien and a stranger, longing for the heavenly country Jesus secured for me.

So here I am, relying on and loving and (dimly) reflecting Jesus, the One who is no liar.

*image via Wikipedia

What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?

They say that living overseas will bring out all our bad stuff. They say it like it’s a warning, like it’s supposed to scare us out of going. Like only a superhuman could go and survive.

And what if they’re right? What if moving overseas does bring out all our dark stuff, putting it on display for all to see? What if all the inner turmoil we kept so neatly concealed in our passport countries – or didn’t even know existed – starts falling out of our hearts, falling out of our mouths? What if it spills out into daily life, interfering with all the good works we’re supposed to be doing?

But — what if that’s not such a bad thing? I mean, what if it doesn’t end there, with you at the end of yourself? What if all the stuff that surfaces is supposed to surface? What if the only way to know what’s inside your heart is for it to come out? And what if the junk that needs to come out wouldn’t actually come out in your home country?

So maybe those multiple breakdowns have a purpose. Maybe knowing your weaknesses means you know God more intimately. Maybe you are exactly where He wants you to be, right at this moment. Maybe living overseas means becoming the person that God created you to be.

You followed Him across oceans and continents, across countries and cultures. You prepared for this for years, dreamed of it for longer. And all for what? Just to fall apart on arrival?

No, I don’t believe that. You followed Him this far for a purpose, because you love Him, and because He loves you. And now that you are where He wants you to be, He’s not going to leave you alone and without help. If God brought you to this place, don’t you think He will use cross-cultural living to shape you into the person He wants you to be?

When all our darkness reveals itself, God is right there beside us, waiting, ready to bring ever greater healing to our hearts. Through all this nasty falling-apartness, I believe God wants to heal the broken pieces of our lives. And living overseas might mean that we’re in just the right place to accept those healing changes.

So maybe they’re right. Maybe living overseas will draw out all our bad stuff. Maybe we won’t be able to hide it any more. But I no longer think that’s something to be afraid of — life with God is not something to fear.

So today, if you find yourself in that broken place, at the bottom of a mountain of messes in your life, have faith in the One who called you. Trust Him to put you back together again. Because falling apart is not the end of the story, but it just might be the beginning of a new one.

 

c6

photo credit

An Encounter with the Great Interrupter

train tracks

Two years ago my brother and his wife had an encounter with the Great Interrupter. In their case the encounter put them in a place of selling a home of over 15 years, leaving a church of the same, leaving a community where they have loved hard and been loved back, and leaving the only home their children remember. They embarked on a mid-life journey to begin a life in the Middle East. Like a train heading one direction only to switch mid-journey to another set of tracks, so was their interruption. Who needs a mid-life crisis when the Great Interrupter is in your life?

As a community at A Life Overseas we know intimately about these encounters with the Great Interrupter. When your life seems to be heading one way, the trajectory clear, and then in a slow but steady encounter with the Great Interrupter you realize that your life is being disturbed. No longer can you settle comfortably in the familiar because the voice of the Great Interrupter is strong and powerful, compelling if not always clear.

These interruptions are not easy. There are the myriad of details that boggle the mind and include everything from the first announcement made to friends and colleagues to changing lights so that the bathroom will be more acceptable for the realtor. Details that include sorting through children’s elementary school papers and art projects, dusty from storage, to giving away furniture. There are garage sales and goodbyes, more sorting and midnight tears; there are the tense arguments that burst forth unexpectedly when everything seemed to be going so well. There are the endless “What do we keep?” “What do we take?”  “How can we possibly do this?”

And then there are the pets. In my brother’s case there was the giving up of a cat to their newly married daughter, knowing that Shasta would no longer watch them from her perch on the chair or window. And the “lasts” — the last Thanksgiving in this particular house, the last Christmas, the last __________.(Just fill in the blank.) How I hate “lasts”. The finality puts a nervous pit in the stomach.  But through all this, the interruptions continue and the Great Interrupter continues to guide, and push, and remind us in whispers and in shouts that none of this is possible without His direction and great love.

Throughout history God has interrupted people’s lives, moving them from comfort to the unknown and asking them to trust along the way. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and more are in the ranks of those whose lives were interrupted and who walked in faith. They lived in a world without cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They didn’t even have the pony express. Leaving and saying good-bye was final.

As I watched my brother and sister-in-law I saw a quiet trust that sustained them. It reminded me and other observers that when God as the Great Interrupter is involved, although it may not make sense to some,  you are in a safety zone  and your soul can rest in this knowledge. For with great interruption comes great expectation.

Have you encountered God as the Great Interrupter? What is the story of your interruption? Join us by telling your story in the comments. 

This post is specifically dedicated to Laura Parker and Angie Washington, the two women who came together to start this online community, both of whom have had major encounters with the Great Interrupter these past few months. Thank you for your heart for all of us, more so for your heart for God.

Picture credit: http://pixabay.com/en/seemed-track-threshold-train-soft-102073/

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

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

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

They’ve also broken my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

OK, here goes…

 

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

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

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

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

 

2. Be purposeful and strategic.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

———————-

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

———————-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Allow ALL Emotions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

   – Learning to Grieve, by Marilyn Gardner.

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

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

 

2. Ask Heart-Focused Questions.

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

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

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

Try asking questions like:

What’s something you like about this country?

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

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

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

Where do you feel like your home is?

Is there anything that scares you in this country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources:

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

 

3. Study Your Family’s Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

——————————–

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

——————————–

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

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid

——————————–

 

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

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

feel loved and valued and cared for?

photo credit

What’s For Dinner?

what's for dinner1

My husband once ate camel hump with the former president of Somaliland. He said it was gelatinous and flavorful. A big, jiggling pile of fat. Yummy.

Our first night in Somaliland we ate fried flying ants. Our boss plucked them out of the air and dropped them into a pan of melted butter. “Tastes like bacon,” he said. Welcome to the country.

In an effort to meet people and learn language, I drank unpasteurized camel’s milk in Somaliland. The ladies selling it said, “you can’t learn Somali if you don’t drink camel’s milk.” I don’t know if the milk helped me learn but I do know it helped clean out my intestines. I had to run home and barely made it to the bathroom before multiple explosions rocked my body.

At a wedding in Djibouti I received a delicacy of small bits of meat dried until beef-jerky-like and soaked in rancid butter, kept in a tightly sealed wooden jar buried in the ground for months and then smoked to add a burnt charcoal flavor. I’m sorry Somalis, I struggle to appreciate muuqmaaq.

My language helper invited me to a diiqo – the gift-giving party after a wedding, like a wedding shower. I watched her two mothers (her father has two wives and they all live together) prepare the gifts. Muuqmaaq placed in aluminum bowls and set inside xeedhos, woven baskets shaped like inverted hourglasses. The xeedhos were sealed with a mixture of dates and black pepper. The dates and pepper were mashed with the women’s bare hands until it was a sticky mush and then smeared all around the outside of the baskets, to be eaten later, when the gifts were opened.

All of this could hardly be as bad as what I prepared for my family our first years in Africa. I had no idea how to cook and lived in a country with few packaged or convenience foods and limited variety. This is a great way to lose weight. But losing so much weight is also a great way to lose wedding rings (true story).

I’ve learned a thing or two since then and I’ve moved countries and now live in a former French colony where there is Cheese! Chicken! Eggs! Refrigeration! There is even bacon and wine. Still, we are short on peanut butter, non-chocolate cereal, and brown sugar but honestly, I have nothing to complain about.

djiboutiliciousI, oh master of the disgusting food so bad we still gag when we talk about it, actually self-published a cookbook, Djiboutilicious: celebrating culture and cooking in a country as hot as your oven. It is a compilation of recipes from men and women (and even a few kids) who have lived in the Horn of Africa for years and includes loads of photos, a few local recipes, and mainly Western food recipes using locally (in Djibouti) available ingredients. And I’m serious about that hot as your oven line, a few weeks ago my daughter and I baked cookies in our car. Just saying.

I’d like to give two copies of the book away (assuming my end-of-the-road Djibouti post office can find your end-of-the-road post office) and I’d also like to try some of your recipes. Leave a comment about the grossest thing you have ever eaten OR share a favorite recipe and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Djiboutilicious. I’ll randomly choose the winners June 20 and will inform them via email. I’m asking for your one-uppers here, so while you should probably bite your tongue at the next dinner party in your passport country, but no holds barred for this post!

What is the grossest thing you have eaten in your life overseas?

What is one of your favorite recipes?

When Friends Do the Next Right Thing

What do we do when the people we love do the next right thing? What if that next right thing leads them away from us?

When we say yes to God, we must often say no to the places we already know. And when God leads us overseas, we enter a communal life that is punctuated by goodbyes. Just like an airport, the missionary community endures constant arrivals and departures. But God is the travel agent here, and He hardly ever places anyone on the same itinerary. Perhaps we knew this uncomfortable truth before we said yes; perhaps we didn’t. Either way, though, we must now live with the consequences of our obedience.

And I, for one, sometimes grow weary of it.

These expatriate friendships of ours tend to grow swift and deep, and ripping ourselves away from those friendships is painful. This summer, I have to say goodbye to two friends, whom I love and respect, and will miss terribly. And I am still somewhat in denial.

I have never had any doubts that they are following God where He leads them next. They are doing the next right thing. Even in the leaving, they are doing the next right thing. They are honoring their friendships and saying their goodbyes thoughtfully and tenderly. They are setting up ministry for the workers who will follow them. They have listened to God, and they are doing what He says. But they will leave a gaping hole in my heart and in this city, and they can never be replaced.

runways

What am I supposed to do when my friends do the next right thing?

I actually don’t know what I’m supposed to do. But I know what I do do: I grieve. Because when a member of the international community leaves, all hearts bleed. The hearts of the leaving, and hearts of the staying. There is just no stopping that.

So I grieve for myself: it’s hard to say goodbye to people I love. I grieve for others in the community who must also say goodbye: these goodbyes are their losses too. I grieve for the ones leaving: they must say goodbye to a life they know in order to build a brand new life somewhere else.

And I also grieve for people who have not yet come to this area of the world — people who are making plans to live and work here, and even people who haven’t considered it yet, but will someday. I grieve that they will never know the wonderful people who have been such an integral part of the international community here.

So what can we do, as the body of Christ?? We are ALL involved in sending, receiving, and being His workers. How can we provide smooth takeoffs and soft landings for our brothers and sisters??

When our friends leave, can we say goodbye with love? Can we send them on their way with our blessing? Can we give ourselves the space to mourn these losses? Can we keep our friends in our hearts and in our minds and in our email inboxes, no matter where they live in the wide world?

When we leave, can we accept loving goodbyes and understand how utterly we will be missed? Can we depend upon God — and His people — to help us settle in our new home? Can we open our hearts to new people and new places, while still remembering those who love us from afar?

When new missionaries arrive, can we welcome them wholeheartedly, even though we know we will most likely have to say goodbye to them some day? Can we tell them where to set up their utility bills and show them where to buy furniture and help them fill their refrigerators?

When churches send out new missionaries, can we send them with our love and with our support? Can we resist the temptation to pull our hearts away too soon, in an attempt to ease the coming pain? Can we never cease to pray for them?

When missionaries return to their passport country, can we welcome them? Can we open wide our arms and our hearts and our homes to returning workers? Can we listen to their stories without judgment, and extend much grace in a time of great unsteadiness?

We were never meant to walk alone. So can we, as the global Church, be Christ to each other? Can we need each other, and can we be needed? Can we cushion each other’s pain during goodbyes and hellos? Can we do these dreaded transitions with bodies spread across the world, but with hearts beating as one?

 

Can you share a time when people have been there for you in your goodbyes and hellos? Or share what you have done for someone else in their time of transition?

Perhaps you haven’t seen goodbyes and hellos done well. If so, what do you think the Church needs to learn about sending and receiving workers? How can missionaries and mission organizations do better welcomes and farewells? How can we do this transition thing better, as senders, receivers, and goers? 

Photo Credit

Learning to Live Flexibly and Intentionally

intentional and flexible

Several years ago I read a newsletter from a couple who have spent many years living and working in Amman, Jordan. The letter was an honest look at how they decide to spend their time. In it they described their particular styles and personalities — she was relaxed and spontaneous, always ready for an interruption and an adventure. He was methodical and loved to stick to a schedule, order was important and intentionality paramount. He was a planner.

They recalled the many negotiations they had to make in their marriage through the years and how this related to their living cross-culturally, blending American and Jordanian cultural norms and attitudes.   The parallel between their marriage and  cross-cultural negotiations and the words they used “learning to live flexibly but intentionally” resonated with me.  

With purpose and goals, but always willing to bend those for the sake of people coming into their lives and unexpected circumstances demanding adjustment, flexibility and of course, time.  This sounds like a balanced way to live, a critical mix of East, where people and relationships are paramount and West, where goals and ideas yield some amazing results.

A life overseas carries with it incredible joys and tough challenges. It is easy to become results-oriented to please both funders and fulfill our own sense of purpose, sense of worth. This too often brings with it a rigid way of life that demands control and order. And burnout is inevitable. But — a life overseas can also hold endless distractions and at times, utter chaos. It can be easy within that chaos to give up on any goals, to throw up our hands and succumb to endless interruptions.  Auto-correcting in both modes can swing us one direction or another when what is best is a balance.

The “how-to’s” of achieving this is the challenge.  From a practical point of view, I have found that life overseas takes more planning. At one point in Pakistan if I wanted to serve egg salad sandwiches for a late lunch I had to get up at the earliest call to prayer and begin making bread. I then went on to make the mayonnaise so it could sit in the refrigerator and get cold, boil the eggs and cool them off and finally end the process by making the sandwiches. A mundane example to be sure, but any of us who have been in that place know that without the many conveniences available in the western world intentional planning is a necessity just to get food on the table. When we’re interrupted in the middle of the process by someone spontaneously dropping by for tea, there are moments of throwing up our hands in despair. How do we do this life? Practical tips like having a high tolerance for ambiguity can sound good on paper but sometimes doesn’t provide the comfort or encouragement we crave.

Life overseas provides endless opportunities for projects and people. How can we be purposeful about these, always leaving room for God-given interruptions? Can we learn to live intentionally and flexibly in the world where God has placed us?  Can we be spontaneous planners – creating the perfect oxymoron?

It’s when I stop and listen for the voice of God, a voice of wisdom and truth, that I learn more of living intentionally and flexibly. Because one look at the life of Jesus shows the perfect balance. He was intent on purpose and spoke truth in Galilee, but he recognized human need and stopped to make sure all were fed. He was on a journey with a destination in mind, but he stopped and took a drink from a woman by a well in Samaria. He was beaten and bruised, hanging on a cross but he paused and made sure to secure a promise that his mother would have a son, would be taken care of by someone who would love her.

In the book Hearing God, Dallas Willard says this: “His [Jesus] union with the Father was so great that he was at all times obedient. This obedience was something that rested in his mature will and understanding of his life before God, not on always being told “Now do this” and “Now do that” with regard to every detail of his life or work.” 

The life of Jesus, lived in obedience to the Father and reflecting perfect balance, offers hope on this journey.

Do you struggle to live intentionally but flexibly? With purpose but room for the Spirit to intervene? What have you found to be key to living this way? 

Enhanced by Zemanta

10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary

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

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

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

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

leop1

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

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

 

8. Your driving skills will “improve.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, why do you think this job is awesome?

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

Adapted from trotters41.com. Photo credit.

 

 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary