When Envy Rots the Soul

Cairo, Mosque

We sat in our postage stamp size garden, tea and home made cookies in front of us. The weather was beautiful — a cloudless seventy degrees, typical of a Cairo spring. It was early afternoon and the call to prayer had just echoed through the area from a nearby mosque.

We were talking about language learning, the time it takes, the struggle, how we vacillated between feeling like idiots to feeling like small children reduced to no verbs and minimal participles.

“I wish I had language ability like Claire. Her Arabic is so good!*”

The cloudless sky darkened and green entered my soul.

“Well – if you and I had been here as long as she has and if we didn’t have as many kids our Arabic would be good too!” I said it lightly with a laugh – eager to hide the ugly of my envy.

She laughed, whether in agreement or out of politeness, and the moment quickly passed.

But it didn’t. Not really.

Because this had happened more than once; this ugly envy that entered my soul around a myriad of things. Whether it was language learning or how many Egyptian friends I had, envy had this way of creeping in and affecting my friendships, destroying unity.

I have met the most gifted people in the world who are involved in life overseas. Men and women who have left much of the familiar and entered into countries where they are guests, forging their way in territory that is unfamiliar from language to food choices. The list of characteristics of what it takes is long and impressive. Adaptability, perseverance, compassion, adventurous spirit, capable of ambiguity, linguistic ability, great sense of humor, empathy — the list goes on and on. But take a group of people, all with the same goal and similar characteristics, insert jealousy and envy and unity is no more.

Because envy is insidious in its ability to destroy relationships. It loves to disguise itself in well-meaning jargon and light humor. It snakes its way into conversation and behavior. It is called the green-eyed monster for a reason.

I’m a definer – that means I like to start with definitions. Definitions have a way of clarifying things for me. And so in the case of jealousy and envy it has helped me to note the similarities and differences; Jealousy at its simplest is fear of losing something I value; envy is wanting something that someone else has. They have no redemptive value – they are vices. I realize I am envious of those most similar to me. In the case above it was someone who was living in Cairo, same stage of life, a mom with kids, who communicated in Arabic far better than I did.

There is nothing quite like envy that renders me ineffective. I am paralyzed on the outside while my insides have a monologue with God. A monologue that boils down to two questions:

Why her?

Why not me?

There are no simple answers but I’ve found a few things help:

1. Honesty and admission of sin. This is my first step in fighting this ongoing battle of envy. Honesty. For if I cannot be honest, this vice will rot my soul and slowly but steadily infect my body.

2. Confessing the sin. It is not enough to just admit my envy. I have to take this next step – confess this to the God who knows me and sees me raw, loving me anyway.

3. Recognize the ‘why’. In the case of language learning the ‘why’ was easy. I love talking and I wanted to talk with ease and fluency. I didn’t want to stumble over my words.  The ‘why’ was reasonable and commendable. The ‘why’ is not the sin, the envy resulting from the ‘why’ is the sin. Recognizing the ‘why’ is crucial in my journey from envy to peace.

4. Thank God for the person. I hate this one, but it works. Because in the course of giving thanks I am reminded that the person is loved by God, gifted by God for His purposes. As I thank God, I am ever so slowly able to accept and even rejoice at the ability or gifts of another. Rejoice that we are part of God’s redemptive plan, a plan far greater than any of us know.

5. Pray for acceptance of who I am and how I am gifted, or not. So much of my envy comes from insecurity and inability to accept who I am, how I’m wired, my strengths and my weaknesses.  As I work through accepting how God made me, the circumstances where he has placed me, envy is squashed. I learn more about trust and faith.

Would that envy could be erased once and for all, the answer an easy formula. At times I believe I will never be free of this vice, that it is so much a part of my journey in this broken world that I will struggle until I am face to face with the God who made me.

So I raise my prayer to the Master Designer who knit me together, who knows my comings and my goings, knows where I sit and where I stand. A God who knows my thoughts before they are voiced, knows when I am prone to envy, to insecurity. I raise my prayer and ask for a heart free of envy and full of peace, giving life to the body and health to the soul.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones~ Proverbs 14:30

Have you dealt with potential competition or envy with fellow workers who are overseas?  It’s a hard but important question!

*name has been changed!

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

Enhanced by Zemanta

On Driving and Unsurpassable Worth

Jesus said things.

‘Love your neighbor’,

‘Love one another’,

‘Love your enemies’.

As we go about our day in the capital city of Port au Prince, we are frequently given a chance to demonstrate a higher level Jesus-variety-type of love.  In the reverse we are given a chance to be an overtly aggressive giant ass that makes the local population shake their head in disgust.

In full disclosure, I fear that I must admit that the latter is more my natural bent. I don’t stay a demonstrator of high-level love when sitting with a steering wheel in my hands. Jesus didn’t specifically say, “Love the guy shoving his car up into yours making it impossible to move.” But, being a quick study, something tells me that maybe that guy falls under the “love your enemies” heading. I don’t know about you, but I feel like my enemies multiply in developing world traffic gridlock.

These things happen, then more of these things happen:

  • While in sitting-still-traffic, cars and trucks will jam up against you on every side, creating “lanes” where a lane-never-once-existed or even thought about existing.
  • Three inches between cars all headed the same direction is not seen as worrisome to most drivers in Port au Prince.
  • Brushing driver-side mirrors with oncoming traffic is not uncommon or worth talking about.
  • While you wait to turn left, in what is theoretically the only left turn lane, someone will come up on the left (technically in the lane of oncoming traffic) to turn left to the left of you. (That is not to say that someone won’t also turn left from the right side of you.)
  • As you approach a line up of traffic and cars not moving, cars from behind you will come around you on either side of you and try to get into the standing still line before you.
  • Slow down to be polite to someone turning into your lane or direction of traffic, the car behind you will honk and be annoyed with you for not jamming up against the next car ASAP like the rest of the insane world.
  • When the intersection is complete grid lock and there is literally ZERO movement in any direction, save the wind, a giant blaring MAC truck horn will blow unceasingly. (Because that’s helpful.)
  • None of this is forbidden. There aren’t really “rules” per se. There are a few intersections in the city that are notoriously ridiculous. 
Between that sort of nonsensical driving, too many cars on very rough, insufficient roads, and many hours spent in those conditions on certain days, it can sometimes cause a person to feel enraged. I’m telling you, it is challenging. Perhaps this does not resonate with some expats or Haitians, but we have found one of the very hardest places to keep Jesus in our mind and actions and words – is from behind the wheel on the roads of Port au Prince. A patient person becomes impatient. A mellow and happy person becomes quite irritable.

My better half, Troy, starts out as a more cool-headed driver than I do; no news flash there. Driving makes me agitated. I try not to go far very often. My over-developed sense of justice just cannot take it. I am very much a “lets take turns and be fair” kind of person and the lack of polite turn taking pushes every hideous button in my soul.

When I do drive I have to talk to myself about it first. I need to say things like, “It doesn’t matter that it is not fair.  It doesn’t matter if someone is rude. Your job is to be polite and calm.” Some days are really okay and I might not even get annoyed.  On a really good day it is all funny and entertaining. On a bad day it feels like everyone is trying to crash into my precious children and it is harder to keep from muttering curse words at the idiocy of it all while employing the “if I cannot beat em, I’ll join em strategy”. It’s madness I tell you.

Recently Troy and I were together at an intersection that was meeting every single qualification for high level annoyance. It was the type of annoyance that can quickly morph into anger. Troy was driving. I was the passenger. As the less refined driver, I was watching him closely. It was truly everything I described in the list above. Troy kept making sweeping arm motions toward other drivers while saying out loud, “unsurpassable worth” –  “unsurpassable worth” – “see there? unsurpassable worth!”  – as jack-asses plowed into the intersection from every which way causing the already difficult situation in that intersection to become more chaotic, more ridiculous.

I was impressed that the statement itself seemed to calm my annoyance from the passenger seat. I accused him of showing off and being uber-spiritual but he said, no, it is important for him to actually think those words. He needs to literally remind himself of that in order to keep from getting very angry at times.I think I’ll try this the next few times I come up against insanity on the roads to find out if it works. I also think I’ll try it when I read the news, or see friends fighting about politics or whatever-thing on Facebook, or when someone lies to me, or steals or cheats.

Annoyed with someone?  Repeat after me: Unsurpassable worth, unsurpassable worth… Unsurpassable worth. Fine, be annoyed … but if keeping the annoyance from turning to rage or bad behavior is a sub-goal of yours, just try it with me. Jesus told us each and every one has unsurpassable worth; that all alone they are worth the price He paid.

Yes, even drivers in Haiti. 

Tara Livesay – works with women (and drives) in Port au Prince, Haiti
Blog: Livesayhaiti.com    Twitter: @TroyLivesay

Helping your children stay in touch with family and friends when living abroad

Welcome back to Part III in our series on long distance relationships. If you missed them, here are links to Part I (Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas) and Part II (Long distance relationships: Part and parcel of international living

If you are raising children in a country other than the one you grew up in, you’ve probably wrestled with this question of how to best help your children stay in touch with your family and friends back in your home country.

I know my own parents grappled with this as they country-hopped around the world for 21 years while my siblings and I were growing up. And now that I’m the parent of (soon to be two) “third culture kids” myself, it’s something my husband and I are increasingly puzzling over. In our case the picture gets even more complicated than it was for my own parents. Mike and I currently live in Laos, but because he is American and I am Australian our children are dual citizens and we have two sets of grandparents located on opposite sides of the world. Our children are still very young, but I’m already worried that they’ll struggle even more than I did to define where home is and what it means to them.

Much more so than adults who were raised in one place and then choose to move abroad later in life, children raised outside their passport culture tend to feel split between two worlds, or more. During adolescence and early adulthood (and sometimes later) these third culture kids can struggle mightily to figure out who they really are and where they belong.

If children raised abroad are going to struggle with identity issues at some point (and in my experience, most do) you will not be able to forestall that completely no matter what actions you take to help them stay connected with family and friends “back home”. However, helping children build these important relationships and stay connected to their home culture in other ways can help make such identity struggles less acute and prolonged. If you’re parenting children raised abroad, helping them stay connected to a passport country “home base” is an important thing to spend time and money doing.

I’m going to leave aside the broader issue of connecting with a home culture for now and just focus on some tips for helping children stay connected with important people back home. I’ll be talking mostly about grandparents and immediate family here, but this also applies to key friendship figures in your life and in the life of your children.

Again, I don’t present these tips as a “how to” manual. I also recognize that some of them could prove financially prohibitive for some families. Instead, I’m sharing a list of ideas that I hope will prove to be food for thought and will spark discussion in your own family. As you read through them, be thinking about which of these you’re already doing, what else might work for you, and what you could add to this list.

2b1.     Visit when you can: This goes both ways. It’s nearly as important for grandparents etc to visit the field as it is for grandchildren to visit relatives “at home”. This helps grandkids feel that their grandparents have seen and understand “their” world. It also allows you to spend time together while the children are relaxed and at home, rather than when they are out of their element and busy meeting the myriad demands that come with holidays or home leave. Of course, it’s important for children to visit their “home” country and everyone there as well. We visited Australia either annually or every two years while I was growing up, and that did a lot to help us feel connected to places and people there.

 2.     Help contribute to the cost of travel: My parents have a policy that’s still in effect that they’ll pay half of a return air-ticket to Australia for all of us (children, spouses, grandchildren) every year.  This has helped us travel to spend time in Australia at times when we would have decided against it for financial reasons. This could go the other way, too. If you have parents or relatives that would love to visit but can’t afford to, consider whether you could contribute to the cost of their travel. Encourage other friends and family members to help subsidize travel instead of buying other birthday or Christmas presents.

 2h3.     Blog: If you live far away from friends and family, think about keeping a family blog on which you post pictures of yourself and the children and share little stories about your lives. If you’re worried about privacy you can easily set it up so that only approved people can log in and view it. This allows grandparents and extended family to easily keep up with photos and the like.

 4.     Send paper copies of photographs in both directions: If you have grandchildren overseas, send their parents photographs of yourself (especially photos of you with your grandchild). Ask the parents to show these photos to the children, or even display them where children can see them. When your grandchildren visit (or you visit them) think about making a scrapbook or photo-book full of pictures of things you’ve done together during the visit. This will help the children remember all the fun you’ve had. If you’re the one raising children overseas send photos and videos home as you can, especially if you don’t blog. There are few things that mean more to grandparents and siblings than photos of their grandchildren or nieces/nephews.

 5.     Send letter, postcards, cards, or packages: Children love to get mail of their own – send your grandkids letters, cards, photos, or packages addressed to them by post occasionally. Packages are especially exciting, and several small items usually go over better than packages containing one big item. Also consider sending some of your favorite children’s books. If you have a copy of the same book on your end, you might even be able to read it to them via Skype at some point. You can also take a photo (of yourself or something they love) and have it made into a puzzle. Send them the puzzle to put together. Finally, if they’re old enough to have their own email account, you can email them as well. From the other side, if you’re the parent of children living overseas, help your kids draw pictures or write short letters or post-cards to send to their grandparents.

 6.     Involve children in some Skype calls: Make sure you involve your children in some (but not all) of your Skype or phone calls home. Schedule these “all family” calls for times when your kids are not likely to be too tired or hungry. Resist any temptation to make the calls extra long to make up for preceding weeks of no contact (you don’t want to turn these calls into infrequent extended chores that children learn to dread). Use a webcam whenever internet bandwidth allows. Even if your computer doesn’t have one build in, external webcams are cheap, easy to set up, and add enormously to the quality of the contact (if grandparents don’t have webcams on their end, buy them one for Christmas and install it during a home visit). Consider making these calls a regular part of your routine (e.g., every second Saturday morning).

2jFor those on the home front, recognize that children often freeze up or struggle to talk via telephone or computer. Help them by asking a couple (not dozens) of open-ended questions that require the children to give more than a simple yes or no answer. Give children time to come up with those answers after you ask a question – don’t rush in too fast to fill pauses or silence, children may just be struggling to find some words. And try not to take it personally if your grandchild doesn’t seem interested in talking to you on a particular call. Kids are going to be kids at times, whether they’re on a special bi-monthly call with you or not.

Again, I know we’re just scratching the surface of this topic. But, again, this post is already plenty long enough.

Help us out by leaving a comment and adding to this list.
We’d love to hear more ideas about what works for you and your family!

That’s the end of our series on long distance relationships (for now, anyway). Thanks for reading along! If you’re in a dating or marriage long distance relationship, don’t forget to hop on over to Modern Love Long Distance and check us out.

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Long distance relationships: Part and parcel of an international life

At some point in their careers, most development workers and missionaries find themselves living far away from friends and family. Some even find themselves enduring long stints apart from those they’re dating or married to. Learning how to live with some of your loved ones half a country (or a world) away is an essential skill for coping well with international living.

This is something I’ve learned a lot about the good old-fashioned way – through personal experience. I was seven when my parents moved our family from Australia to Bangladesh. I spent my childhood largely separated from my grandparents and extended family in Australia, and didn’t return to Australia to live until university years (at which point I left my immediate family half a world away in Washington DC). With the exception of two five-month stints surrounding the birth of each of my children, I haven’t actually lived on the same continent as my parents since I was eighteen.

In the years since I completed a masters degree in forensic psychology and left Australia for the second time, I’ve traveled the world as a psychologist who specializes in working with humanitarian workers around issues related to stress, trauma, and resilience.

Mike and LisaI was thirty-one years old and living in Los Angeles when I met the man who would become my husband. Did he happen to live nearby? Well, not exactly. At the time he lived in a remote town in Papua New Guinea. We got engaged after seven months of getting to know each other across distance, and before we’d ever lived in the same city. (That is an interesting but rather long story that you can read more about here if you wish).

Mike and I have been married for four and a half years now, and we’ve spent about a quarter of that time in different countries. As I write this, I’m 36 weeks pregnant and I haven’t seen Mike in three months. I’m in Australia, safely within reach of a good hospital. He’s still working where we live in Laos. He’ll arrive here in two weeks, hopefully before his second son does.

This week, I’m putting all these hard-learned long distance lessons to good use in two ways.

MLLD_logo_Final

First, I’m very excited to announce the launch today of a new website focusing on long distance relationships. Modern Love Long Distance will share stories and provide quality long distance resources and tools to help people thrive in long distance relationships.

Come on over and check us out! The blog is already up and running. One post most of you might be interested in reading is How do you and your partner deal with stress? 10 important questions to answer. And if you’re dating someone long distance, don’t miss Five lessons I learned the hard way about long distance relationships.

Aheader2

201_comps_72dpi

The website launch also coincides with the launch this week of my latest book, 201 Great Discussion Questions For Couples In Long Distance Relationships. This fun resource will help you learn about your partner’s childhood, family, work, passions, life now, the future, what if, and much more. Whether you’re dating or already married, this book will spark hours of fresh conversation and help you get to know each other better.

 I’m super excited about the launch of Modern Love Long Distance. The number of people dating long distance or spending significant chunks of their married lives apart is increasing exponentially (and if you have friends or family in this situation please send them our way). There is a huge need for good resources to help these people understand the dynamics of long distance relationships and learn new ways to communicate and bond across the miles. That’s the role I’m hoping Modern Love Long Distance will fulfill.

Here on A Life Overseas, however, I wanted to go beyond just focusing on romantic and partnership long distance relationships. As such, this post is part of a three-part series on long distance relationships that is running here on A Life Overseas. Friday’s post focused on staying connected with your friends and family while living overseas. On Wednesday we’ll discuss helping children stay connected with family and friends back home while living abroad. See you back here then, to continue the conversation.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you…

What long distance relationships have you been in?
What are one or two things you’ve learned along the way?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas

I’d be willing to bet that most of you reading this post are in a long distance relationship of some sort or another. At some point in their careers, most development workers and missionaries find themselves living far away from friends and family. Some even find themselves enduring long stints apart from those they’re dating or married to. Learning how to live with some of your loved ones half a country (or a world) away is an essential skill for coping well with international living.

This post kicks off a three-part series on long distance relationships that will run in the next week on A Life Overseas.

Today we’ll look at staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas. In my experience, this is usually foundational to thriving while living abroad. Especially early in their careers, missionaries and humanitarian workers can be much more intentional and energetic about forging new relationships with people in their host countries than they are about maintaining good relationships with those back home. I know some may disagree with me on this point, but I believe that doing this is a mistake. For many, allowing important relational networks back home to significantly degrade will, over time, compromise their health, happiness, and effectiveness in their work.

Monday’s post will focus on long distance romantic relationships, and I’ll tell you about a new website I’m launching that day called Modern Love Long Distance. This site will provide quality resources and tools for those in long distance relationships. I’ve been working on this behind the scenes for a year and I’m really excited to see this project go live!

Next Wednesday we’ll discuss helping children stay connected with family and friends back home while living abroad.

So without further ado, let’s get to it …

2i

Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas

When you live in a country other than the one you would have considered home throughout your childhood, chances are that part of you will always feel divided. No matter how eagerly you embrace learning about your new culture and forging new relationships, those new friends will probably never completely replace the friends and family you’ve left behind.

Nor should they. I don’t use the word should very often, but I’m about to now. As uncomfortable as it can be to straddle two worlds, missionaries and development workers should work to maintain important relationships “back home” even as they’re working to integrate into a “new home”.

This is perhaps easier said than done. It can be tough to stay meaningfully connected to family and friends back home when you’re living half a world away. There’s no doubt that Skype and other technological wonders have made things easier in recent years, but myriad tricky questions remain surrounding the issue of how to stay in touch with parents and siblings, and how to help children (if you have any) grow up feeling meaningfully connected to their relatives.

Questions like: What are my parents/relatives expectations and hopes about the frequency, type, and duration of contact we’ll have? What are mine? How can I help my children feel connected to my home culture and their overseas relatives? What friends am I hoping to stay in contact with? How? How can we share parts of our life on the field with those back home in ways that they’ll understand and appreciate? How can we demonstrate sincere interest in their lives when our daily realities often differ dramatically?

As I’ll share in more detail on Monday, I have a lot of experience trying to answer these questions. However, if you were hoping for a definitive how-to manual on this topic, I’m sorry. One thing that all that experience has taught me is that there is no one-size fits all on this topic. There is no one “right” set of answers. And what might work well for you in one phase of life may not work at all well five years later.

Figuring out how you want to (and can) stay connected with your family and friends long distance is a continual process of reflection, dialogue, and adjustment. It’s also, often, learning to live with the feeling that nothing you’re doing on this front is working perfectly.

With that disclaimer, here are some thoughts on ways to stay connected with family and friends.

1.     Realize and accept that many of your friends (and even your family) back home will not be proactive about staying in touch with you when you move overseas. Many people, especially those who haven’t lived overseas themselves, are not good at reaching out to distant friends. Some of your closest friends won’t email or call you regularly, read your blog, or keep up with all of your newsletters. Try not to take this too personally or get too hurt. Just accept that if you want to stay in contact with key family and friends you will have to initiate most of the contact and make the lion’s share of the effort to keep these relationships going.

2.     Help those back home “see” your life: When your friends and family back home talk about their lives, you’ll largely be able to imagine what they’re discussing. When you move overseas, your friends and family won’t have that luxury. Try to help them “see” your life by through photos, stories, and short videos. Consider starting a blog. This will allow people to dip into your story when they have time and energy and will save you from sending lots of individual “update” emails. If you’re worried about privacy you can always program your blog so that only approved viewers can log in. If you’re not a blogger, think about sending out a monthly newsletter to a mailing list of friends and family. (Hint, keep these newsletters to 1000 words or less and include one or two stories and some photos.)

3.     Talk: Emails, blogs, newsletters and the like are great, but actually talking to someone is important too. When it comes to family or others you want to stay closely connected to, you might find that it works to catch up via Skype or phone “when you have time”. If, however, you find that you never “have time” and months are slipping past between calls, think about how often you would ideally like to talk to various family members or important friends. Then try to work out a rough schedule. For example, you may want to plan to talk to your parents weekly or twice a month. As a side benefit, setting up a routine like this can also help manage your family’s expectations about how often and when you’ll get to talk. Finally, don’t forget to give close friends the occasional call. You might only talk once every four to six months, but those infrequent chats can go a long way towards maintaining your relationship in between visits.

4.     Visit: Nothing beats face-to-face time for building relationships. Travelling back and forth from many places in this world is still a time-consuming and expensive prospect. However, if you live overseas and relationships back home are important to you, budgeting time and money to go home regularly is a must (and frankly, I don’t think that “once every four years”, although regular, is often enough). Also, encourage family and friends to visit you if they can. You’ll be able to spend more relaxed quality time with them when you’re “at home” and in your own routine without all the distractions that come with vacations or home leave. They’ll also leave feeling much more connected to your life overseas.

I know I’ve just scratched the surface with this topic, but I don’t want to drown you with a 50-page post. Instead, I’d love to hear from you about this.

What do you do to stay connected with family and friends?
Get specific – we’d all love to learn from your tips, tricks, and stories.

Join us back here on Monday to learn more about Modern Love Long Distance and how it’ll serve the ever-growing number of us who spend significant time apart from their significant “other”.

header5plain

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red

When hello just might also be goodbye

IMG_0424

As I type, I sit in the front passenger seat of a 12 passenger van crammed just about as full as is physically possible. We’re cruising along an amazingly wide, smooth highway – I70 west, just a bit east of Effingham, Illinois. It is a trek I’ve made frequently over the past 45 years, not as frequently as I might have wished ~ but often enough that no matter how much time transpires between this time and the next, it always feels a well-known, well-worn, comfortable path… a home-coming of sorts. In a few minutes, we’ll exit I70 for I57 south and that coming home feeling will escalate until the tummy butterflies almost overwhelm… just like when I was 8 years old and on my way to Nana and Pop-pop’s.

Two days ago, we sat in the waiting room of Glasgow International Airport, very ready to board our plane and head home to the land of cousins, grandparents and McDonalds. Yesterday, we finalized the beginning stages of our cross country trip from Michigan to California for my niece’s wedding, looking forward to stopping by and visiting old friends as well as meeting some new friends along the way.

But then the phone rang.

“But then…” ~ nothing more than two rather mundane words – a subordinating conjunction and an adverbial. Yet saying them often means that something of great import or impact has occurred.

My grandfather’s health has declined this year; that phone call informed us that he wasn’t doing well. We’d originally planned to head south to visit Pop-pop and Nana after the wedding, when we’d have more time to spend with them. But more than anything, we wanted to be sure we spent a few  hours with them… So we rerouted, re-planned and re-organized our trip, and now we are on our way to see my grandparents ~ both of them, I’m hoping and praying.

nana and poppop

That’s why I type these words through tears and also with a thankful heart.

My grandparents are amazing people. They are hard-working, big-hearted folks and ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved listening to their stories of growing up – one room cabins, no electricity, fishing, hunting quail, WWII as a paratrooper…

They’ve always been among our most faithful supporters, prayer warriors, encouragers, spoilers of our children, bed and breakfast runners ~ Yes! hosting our larger-than-average family implies you must be capable of running a B&B. God has blessed them with long lives and they’ve served and loved and sacrificed consistently and well in their many years. When the Lord does call them home, they will leave behind a legacy and many who will miss them so very much. They are two among a very small group of people whose contribution to me, to my family… well, without them, their influence and gentle reminders of Who was to be my Lord while attending university… I’m not sure I would have kept my little girl promise to Jesus to serve Him someday on the mission field.

Yet I know it breaks their heart every time we say goodbye and we prepare to board the plane back to Africa: they fear for us, anxiety about all those great-grandchildren plagues, and then there’s always concern about the political strife rampant in our region to poke and prod their hearts and minds.

Additionally, there is the nagging wondering: Will this hello also be a final goodbye… in this world?

Reality? That could be the case for any one of us at any time. It is just so much more in your face when you are saying goodbye to aging, fragile loved ones to travel great distances away for extended periods of time.

008_7

As we make this trip, I’m not sure how sick my grandfather is…I don’t know if his situation has deteriorated to a point that my last hello was also my goodbye… or if this hello will become a final goodbye and he’ll be with the Lord before I make it down to see him again…

Every missionary, every international worker, every person? They probably have similar types of stories and live these emotions every time they travel.

It is hard, isn’t it? But hard isn’t bad… or wrong… or something to hide from and avoid.

Thankfully, my grandfather was doing better than I expected… and now I’m hoping and still praying we’ll be able to “re-make” this trip as originally planned in another few weeks… to spend a little more time without the pressure of knowing we had to keep right on moving along.

My grandfather held me close when we said goodbye this most recent time – not with the teasing, strength or playfulness of years gone by – but perhaps with more emotion than ever before… and he whispered something about how leaning on Jesus was his most important job… and reminded me that it was mine, too.

That’s one more lesson to learn from Pop-pop.

**********************************

How do handle that hard reality – that some hellos are also goodbyes?

Who in your life continually inspires, encourages or sacrifices for you?

Who gives you those hugs from heaven or always pushes you towards the Lord, allowing you to keep on serving, strengthening by reminding you on whom you must continually depend? Will you share a bit about him or her in the comments?

**********************************

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

Brave or Dependent?

depend2Some people tell me it is brave to raise my kids in Africa. They could get malaria or be bitten by a poisonous snake. They don’t have a Sunday School class. They can’t eat gluten-free foods. Their friends are Muslims. They live far away from cousins, aunts and uncles, and grandparents.

My initial reaction is to to say, “Well, I think it is brave to raise kids in America.” I know my heart, my soul-shriveling tendency to love the world. I know my kids, how quickly they could be sucked into the idolatry of a nation whose church is the shopping mall and whose God is the latest iPhone.

But this kneejerk reaction is wrong because it assumes brave is the right word to use to describe parenting, on any continent.

Brave is the wrong word.

Life As Fasting

Living overseas is a form of fasting. Fasting from the comforts of a would-be heaven on earth where there are hot showers, dishwashers and clothes dryers, fully-stocked grocery stores and someone else to teach piano lessons. Living overseas is fasting that says, “this much, O God, this much, I want to know you.” And, “this much, O God, this much, I want you to be known” (Michael Oh).

I want to know God deeply and I want him to be known so much that I will risk scary diseases, fast from my beloved family and worldly comforts, and teach my children to engage with neighbors of differing faiths. But to live and fast like that, to raise my children like that, isn’t brave. And I know people who don’t live overseas who want to know God deeply and want him to be known so much that they live in inner city neighborhoods and they live in the suburbs and they choose to love like Jesus. They don’t feel brave.

When I think about mothering my three children who love this steamy, desert nation, I don’t feel brave. I feel dependent. Helplessly, desperately, breathlessly, clingingly dependent.

Last week the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan began. Fasting from food and water is hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth is dang hard. Fasting from food and water in the hottest country on earth in the hottest month of the year is dang stinking hard.

djibouti market

And the strain will begin to show because fasting (Muslim, Christian, or otherwise) emphasizes our weaknesses, reveals the longings of our taste buds and stomachs and exposes the very real, carnal needs of our bodies. Fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on food and water, and when undertaken as a spiritual discipline, fasting reminds us that we are helpless and desperate, utterly dependent on God.

He is the sustainer and the giver of comfort. He forgives and provides. He has prepared a place for us. He sends hope and perfects joy. He encourages the weary and heals the broken.

Some people tell me I’m brave for raising my kids here. Some people tell Muslims they are brave for committing to a challenging fast. Sometimes I think my friends in the US are brave. But I also think the point of any fast is to reveal how truly unbrave we are. And one of the things I’ve learned through raising kids (both in Minnesota and in Djibouti) is how truly unbrave I am.

Because brave is not the right word for people seeking God.

Dependent is.

How has living overseas revealed your dependency? I have learned many things while surrounded by the Ramadan fast, has God used the spiritual discipline of another religious system to encourage you?

*Part of this post is taken from Desperate, Breathless, Dependent Parenting by Rachel Pieh Jones on the Desiring God blog. Click the link to read the original and complete post.

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

                         Blog: Djibouti Jones, Twitter: @RachelPiehJones, Facebook: Rachel Pieh Jones

From Africa to Asia, a Transitional Interview

Sarah Witt FamilyAfter eight years of service in Botswana, Sarah and Kevin Witt felt a stirring in their hearts. They began to pray about the next step. With two small children and one on the way they chose to leave comfort and a semblance of normalcy in Africa for the unknown awaiting them in Asia.

If you are just starting out, or you have lost count of how many times you have uprooted, hopefully this interview with Sarah will help you feel not so alone during your own times of transition.

After 8 years in Africa you recently decided to move to Asia. What spurred that decision?

I am not sure we ever really had a time table in our heads, to begin with. As the years passed the thought of leaving became more and more distant as Botswana became our home and our lives.

Quite honestly, some of the decision to make a change came from a conflict with leadership.  The conflict was quickly resolved and the relationship still was strong, but it caused us to look a little deeper.  When we did, we realized we were too comfortable and just moving to the rhythm of life.  We were accomplishing things, but not growing like we wanted.  We both knew we needed to be open to the changes that the Lord was making.  It would have been easy to continue to stay in Botswana and ignore what He was trying to say to us, but we both knew in our hearts that wasn’t what we needed to do.  We decided to put in our resignation before we even knew where the Lord was going to send us next.

Our hearts have always been in Africa, so naturally we figured our next assignment would be within in Africa.  When our friend suggested we come and check out the Philippines, we almost laughed.  “No way, we’re Africa missionaries!”  Kevin went and visited. Shortly thereafter we determined that was indeed where the Lord was calling us.

Elephants are a big thing in Botswana!!!As a missionary in a time of a major transition what is your greatest challenge?

I was very comfortable, after eight years in Botswana, getting around the town and knowing where things were at and how to access materials and supplies.

Arriving in the Philippines meant starting over in every aspect.  Not only in establishing our home, but also starting the process of learning to just “live” in a new country and place.  It’s almost like I felt like I was a new missionary all over again and that my previous 8 years of service never happened! Learning a new culture and a new place and how to get resources has really been my entire life since arriving.

Also, just the sheer fact that it’s a totally different continent with different faces and places creates some culture shock. We are learning a different culture, and how to live in a big, crowded city, versus the African bush!

What advice would you give to someone considering a huge change in their life?

Lots and lots of prayer and most of all grace!  It’s hard to take a step of faith and change directions after being in one place for so long.  I don’t know that I have it figured out, but I do know that I tend to be hard on myself.  I think I expected to just jump in and know what to do.  I am learning to take it slow, build a supportive home for my family and children, and learn this new place as I go.

Pray through it and give yourself the grace to make mistakes along the way, it’s part of the journey.

Be open to other areas of ministry, not just the ones that you originally thought you would be a part of.

Sarah Witt PhilippinesIn what ways is your life in Asia similar to your life in Africa?

I’ve discovered wherever you go in the world people still need Jesus.  I know, that sounds cliché right?  Really though, the needs don’t change, there are just different looking faces behind those needs.  Kids here are still begging in the streets and needing stable homes.  There are a lot of cultural roots that run deep into the hearts of religion here just as there is in Africa.  Their traditions are very much a part of who they are and both are very rich and colorful.

What adjustments have you had to make since you arrived in the Philippines? 

I had no idea really what to expect. I moved here sight unseen as Kevin was the one who “scouted”.  In some ways, I think it was a blessing as I am not sure I would have ever agreed to move here!  With Africa, it was about the rawness and beauty of the place.  With the Philippines, it really has been the people who have drawn us in.  They practice hospitality as though it’s second nature.   I think it’s hard for us to not compare the two places and there are for sure pro’s and con’s to each country of service, but we are learning to be present in where the Lord has us for the “now”.  It’s easy to keep one foot back in a place that you love and considered “home” when you’re not really sure if this place will ever really feel like the home you once had before.  I am trying not to do that, as I want both my feet solid in this place, so that I can learn as much from them as I did the Africans.

Since we are serving independently, we have to be pretty focused and purposeful about our ministry and how we go about it.  Our first year is really committed to learning as much of the language and culture as possible.  We have a few things planned, but aside from that, we’re just learning what the country needs and how we can help.  It’s hard because we’re so used to “doing” and not sitting still. But there is something quite wonderful about taking the time to really get to know people and settle in.

As the mom, my ministry focus is our children and home schooling… something I never thought I would do.  At times I miss those days of functioning 100% as a missionary, but I love that my children are my ministry right now. As our children get a bit older, we’ll incorporate them into our ministry so we can give them a good world view and missions experience.

Sarah Witt HeadshotAdditional thoughts regarding transition?

Give yourself lots of grace.  I am learning that now.  Don’t expect to come in and fall right into place and for everything to work out exactly like you think it will.  Remain open to God’s plans and timetable.  I am learning to enjoy the adventure in the small things that are normal.  Taking time to really look around and see people and things instead of trying to always figure out what I should be doing. I think as missionaries sometimes we’re really hard on ourselves and as one who raises support as well, we feel we have to be “doing” to show our supporters.  It’s true, we do, but sometimes just the daily normal things produce the most ministry.

– You can find Sarah on facebook and on her blog

——————-

In what ways can you relate to Sarah? Has comfort led to complacency in your life? How do you decide if / when it is time to change things up?

Benefits of Raising Kids on the Mission Field

Plenty of emphasis is placed on the dangers of raising children on the mission field. The thought of crime and disease sends shivers down the spine of a parent contemplating “the life overseas.”

Choosing missions for your kids causes them miss out on grandparents and culture in our home countries.

It becomes so easy to contemplate or fear whether our children will one day resent the choice we’ve made for them.

But, let’s be honest.

There are so many benefits to living on the field and having our children grow up in this atmosphere.

Let me share a story with you we recently experienced.

7782131434_35a117ed01
Some rights reserved by Lyn Lomasi

Our oldest son has reached the age where the initial conversations about the birds and bees need to happen. As parents, my wife and I want to tell him these things before he hears it at school.

So I planned a special night away for “the talk.” As I began to share the big picture, something became quickly apparent.

He was totally clueless! At one point, he even asked if sex was a musical instrument (sax).

My wife and I are thrilled to have had our son make it to 8 1/2 years old and be completely clueless about these things. Growing up in our home country would have rendered this impossible.

Every situation, every culture, and every nation has negatives for children. I could give you a list of the things I do not like about raising my kids on the missions field.

But, I would rather give you a list of some of the benefits.

Other perks include:
International perspective.
Interracial perspective.
Less materialistic emphasis.
Less television.
Less cynical, critical, and sarcastic.

For all these I am grateful, and I believe my children have benefitted from “A Life Overseas.”

So now, it is your turn.

We all can name a negative or two(perhaps many), or list the sacrifices we have made on behalf of our kids.

But, what if we do the opposite?

Share a few of your benefits to raising children on the mission field. 

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

Who’s Side is God On?

emanuel

In Iquique, Chile, at the fishing port you can feed the sea lions seafood scraps as you would feed bread crumbs to pigeons. They swim around the crowded fishing boats bobbing by the docks. Per sea faring legend each boat has a name painted to its side. One of the names caught my eye: EMANUEL. The English translation is Immanuel. We know this to mean “God With Us”.

In today’s polarized generation, rhetoric of tolerance force us to define our differences, identify with our ‘kind’, and put up with all ‘others’. When we hear that one of the names of God is “God With Us” in an unthinking moment we might assume a suffix to that name and read, “God With Us … Not With Them.”  We paint God’s name on our particular boat of beliefs, thereby excluding all the clearly defined ‘them’ who are not ‘us’. We do this subconsciously, of course.

But what if “God With Us” actually means “God With ALL of Us”?

As missionaries and international aid workers we enter a new land with purpose. Usually that purpose includes change. Usually the conclusion has been reached that a change is necessary because some aspect of the culture has been found to be, at best, lacking, or, at worst, lumped in the classification of: bad. We then make the jump and connect this ‘bad’ aspect to how we define certain sectors of the population. The natural assumption then becomes that our efforts, our ‘good’ efforts, are so that all of ‘them bad people’ can become like ‘us good people’.

But what if the God who carries the name Immanuel is so great, and so very good, that He is already present with ALL people? Maybe He stepped out of our boat of conditions? Maybe Love Unconditional walks on the waters of ALL cultures and is actively involved in the lives of ALL people everywhere.

If you were not forced to identify the “us” and “them” how would your treatment, or mindset, about the people who live around you change?

What traces of Immanuel have you seen in the people of your host culture?

13 When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”

14 Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”

At this, Joshua fell with his face to the ground in reverence. “I am at your command,” Joshua said. “What do you want your servant to do?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did as he was told.” (Joshua chapter 5, emphasis added)

Maybe it’s time to lay down our weapons, take off our shoes, and let Immanuel show us who He truly is.

Fishing port in Iquique, Chile

Who’s side is God on?

– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie  facebook: atangie

Boxing Match. with God.

I feel like we’re in an epic boxing match with God right now.

And he’s the one most definitely winning.

It’s as if we’re stuck living a bad version of Groundhog Day, the cycle of hope and disappointment playing out in a thousand different scenarios.

It goes a bit like this:

  1. We think God is moving in an area or situation. Circumstances shift to underscore this possibility. And, so . . .

  2. We pray. We get excited. We begin to think, “This is it–the realization of the Dream, the purpose for our lives, the plan God’s been orchestrating all along.”

  3. We taste hope and get drunk with it–  in finances or career, ministry, business, or relationship.

  4. The anticipation rises and gloriously carries us for a few days, until

  5. WHAM! Knock-down, drag-out, smack-down. The opportunity wasn’t at all what we thought. The position got given to someone else. Another donor had to drop us, oh, and the air conditioner just broke. The magazine didn’t like my writing. The ministry already has enough help. The business idea didn’t make any money, after all.  A well-meaning soul hands out gut-punching criticism.

And just like that, we deflate. Hope gets the wind knocked out of her, and we find ourselves on the mat, head spinning and nose bloody, wondering what in the world just happened to our dreams.

But, there’s still some fight left in us, we tell ourselves– at the beginning, at least.  There’s still some fight left.

And, so, we regather. We shake our heads and stand back to our feet, positive that that last experience wasn’t really “it,” anyway, and that God needed to make us stronger with that one, in order to give us this next one. 

But, in the sport of boxing, a fighter only has to taste three knockdowns before the match is called a TKO.  A body and a brain can only be pummeled so much, I guess.

Trouble is, it feels like suffering only three would be a vacation– an experience similar to lounging on the beach sipping little drinks with umbrellas.

Because what we are learning about this cycle we find ourselves spinning in

of hope, expectation, disappointment, and discouragement,

is that it can eventually begin to affect an outlook, a personality, a trust, a person’s ability to hope in the first place.

Because, really, how many times can a fighter get back up?

How. many. times?

Apparently, at least one more.

*******************

Fighting anything lately yourself?

Related Posts: on Feeling Hammered {video of my kid battling waves}, on Depression, on Culture Shock/Culture Pain

 

*from the archives of Laura L. Parker, former aid worker in SE Asia

Holiday Grace

Tomorrow is the 4th of July – Independence Day in the United States and a national holiday. It’s a day that causes laughter and cross national joking in expatriate communities where those from Britain and the United States work and play side by side; where nation building dissolves and friendships build strong.

I grew up knowing Holiday Grace. Grace that seemed shaken together, running over, doled out in extra measure during holidays celebrated far away from family and passport country.

Because holidays were times when my parents, native to Massachusetts where picture-book houses and white picket fences abound, would feel the tug of  home and family. Home and family would grab the heart and squeeze with a vice-like grip of unbelonging and a loud ‘What am I doing here, six thousand miles from all that is familiar?”

Holidays were the times when it was too easy to use the words “God forsaken” knowing that God does not forsake. Holidays were the times when it was easy to feel ‘foreign’. 

There was the time when my mom felt desperately lonely in a small city with no other English speakers, no other expatriates. The large house we lived in was surrounded on four sides by mosques, the Call to Prayer loud in the morning hours and lonely in the evening. It was Christmas time and her heart throbbed with a longing for Christmas at home in New England. Her mind was far away with real Christmas trees, snowy evenings, and family – but her body was in a small town in Pakistan. Holiday Grace came when missionaries from a town two hours away made the long trek on a dusty, partially unpaved road to surprise our family on Christmas eve.  She had gone up to the flat roof and was looking over the city, tears of longing and pity welling in her eyes, when she heard the ever familiar sounds of “Joy to the World.” She thought it was angels heard from the rooftops. And in many ways she was correct. These friends brought Holiday Grace to a young woman’s aching heart as they sat and drank hot cocoa and laughed together until late in the evening.

There was the time when we had no sugar, no flour, and little butter at Christmas. But somehow Holiday Grace abounded and our kitchen was full of spicy goodness. There were Thanksgiving meals at an international boarding school, where those who were not from the United States celebrated hard and graciously. And there were the Eid celebrations when we were invited to join the feasts of our Muslim friends, experiencing the Holiday Grace of acceptance from our adopted country.

Each holiday seemed to be met with this extra grace, Holiday Grace.

I went on to raise a family overseas and began experiencing Holiday Grace as an adult. But it was in our fourth year living in Cairo, Egypt that Holiday Grace came in a way I could never have imagined, much less orchestrated.

It was text-book unmerited favor surrounding me.

It was the 4th of July, Independence Day for the United States, and six months prior I had given birth to our fourth child. The summer was well upon us, the heat broken by trips to the swimming pool at the International School. My husband was in full-time Arabic language study and many of our friends had left for either their passport countries or holiday spots in Egypt. With four kids I was quickly running out of ideas for fun. I was in survival mode.

Added to this, my maternal grandmother had died a couple of weeks before. I felt the absence of family acutely. I  heard about the funeral through letters, but missed family so much that it throbbed.

Then came the holiday – the 4th of July.

4th of july 2Many of us who have lived overseas know that embassies celebrate their holidays well, no matter what country. The parties put on by U.S. Embassies were legendary. Free food, entertainment, swimming, games, face-painting, and raffles from large companies that donated prizes like nights in hotels, and free airline tickets to the lucky ticket holders were all there in abundance.

For a time my sadness was in a welcome reprieve.

Accompanying our family were some students  my husband had befriended from the U.S. They were facing inevitable culture shock and when he told them about the “Free party on the 4th!” several of them jumped at the chance to come. They were ready to head back to “real Cairo” where fuul beans, busy streets and the charm of the Middle East flourished,  when they asked my husband if he wanted their raffle tickets. Realizing that he would lose nothing, he said yes and so we had in our possession six tickets to holiday prizes instead of two.

And the raffle started. In what could only be Holiday Grace – I won. Not one prize, but two. The first was a breakfast for two at a large 5-star hotel in the city.

The second? A round trip ticket to anywhere in the United States that I cared to go. Anywhere. That meant a trip to see Family!

I can still remember walking up to the staged area to get my ticket, the feeling of  God’s arms enveloping me like the warmth of the Cairo summer. The missed funeral, the absence of close relatives to celebrate our growing family unit, the lonely ache for people who shared our family history – all that had crushed me during the weeks before faded into Grace.

This was my Holiday Grace. And I would never forget it.

What is your experience with holidays? What extra measure of Grace have you felt during holidays overseas?

Marilyn Gardner – grew up in Pakistan and as an adult lived in Pakistan and Egypt for 10 years. She currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  She loves God, her family, and her passport in that order. Find her blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries and on Twitter@marilyngard

Enhanced by Zemanta