Do It Afraid

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More than ten years ago I got to watch my oldest son Isaac take his first steps.  He was 11 months old at the time.

Considering we lived in two different countries at that point in time, it was great timing on his part.

I was in Port au Prince visiting him toward the end of his adoption process. I made that particular trip solo, meaning we spent a lot of time hanging out in a hotel room watching TV in French. I was introducing him to Cheez-It crackers and other fine American cuisine when he stood up and showed me that without a ton of effort, he could stand unassisted and balance himself fairly well.

He crawled over to the wall and stood up against it. He sat back down. He did this over and over again. After he stood he would look to me for applause as he wobbled and grinned, staying near the wall. No matter what I did to try to entice him to take a step, he stood in place. He was eleven months old and just as he is now, he was quite cautious. This boy is not into risk-taking.

By the second day in our hotel room, he stood with his back against the wall toying with the idea of stepping away from the wall that balanced him. He would take one step with one hand on the wall; he would laugh nervously at me while I motioned for him to keep coming.  He would put his arms up for balance and stand a couple of inches away from the wall. For hours a day we played that game. Over and over I’d tell him to try it.  Over and over he’d laugh and step back to rest his diapered butt on the wall. After a few days of coaxing and giggling and fear, he took his hand off the wall and took five unbalanced and uncoordinated steps into my arms.

When he got to me he made the most peculiar laughing and crying combination sound.  He was so afraid to let go of the solid wall behind him, that when he found out he had survived the risk, he was simultaneously more afraid and more confident.

He trusted my arms but He didn’t trust the process of getting to me very much. It took Isaac many hours to attempt the five steps from the wall into my arms a second time.

He’d overcome his fear once, but subsequent attempts weren’t any less frightening.

Fear.
The real F word.
Keeps us from trusting.
Keeps us from risking.
Keeps us from healing.
Keeps us trapped. Keeps us from doing.

It tells us lies :
You are not good enough.  It will be too hard for you.  You will fail.  It will be too painful. You cannot do it. You are alone.
Most of us find ways to manage what we’re fearful about, you do it  – and I do it.

Sometimes our heads trick us into thinking that our previous tries and our previous success doesn’t mean anything.

Sometimes we forget that our Heavenly Papa stands nearby ready to help.

We conquer our fear, and then our fear conquers us. 

I am not afraid of failing at my duties as a mom and wife  – until I am.

I am not afraid that my kids will someday have an accident in Haiti that cannot be treated, until I am.

I am not afraid of failure in my studies to become a midwife – until I am.

I am not afraid my husband, Troy, will die someday in a scary hold-up, until I am.

I am not afraid of facing incredible poverty that tears my heart out, frustrates me, and leaves me confused and screaming, “Where are you God?!?!”  – until I am.

So what do I do with all this fear?

Truthfully, it lies quiet, dormant, and well managed most of the time … except when it doesn’t. 

I can talk sense to it. I can say things to it like “Fear is not of God.” and “You’re doing fine. God is with you. You’ve done it before. You’ve got this!” The fear can be pushed back, sometimes prayed away, other times ignored…. But on occasion the human, broken mess that is Tara Livesay cannot keep it all at bay.

Not unlike my son Isaac as he took those first steps, I trust the strength of my Father’s arms but sometimes I don’t trust the process of getting to Him. 

What then?

My good friend Beth shared her favorite quote with me early in our friendship.  “Do it afraid“, she said.

Like Isaac on his second attempt to leave the solid safety of the wall, knowing too much and knowing too little, do it afraid.

I’ve heard it said, “practice makes perfect”.  I’m too much of a realist to believe that to be true in this instance. Practicing doing scary things doesn’t really make me perfect at it. I’m still afraid sometimes. I don’t know how to stop being afraid completely and consistently. I’m not finding ‘perfection’ as I continually practice facing both my rational and irrational fears.

I only know that sometimes – I have to do it afraid. 

We all do.

          ~         ~        ~        ~

Is fear something you struggle with?  What helps you face those fears, what helps you “do it afriad”?  

 

Tara Livesay  works as a midwife apprentice in Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay

Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question

Sweaty heads and dirty feet tumbled into the car after an evening last week at BHJ Girl’s Home in SE Asia.  And we waved goodbye out the window as the gate was closed behind us, and I asked my three kids in the backseat, “Well, did you have fun?”

And, immediately, my son started in– “I didn’t like the food.  And they wouldn’t play with me much.  And I didn’t get to play soccer. And those dogs were there.”  {I assumed that was a “no.”}

Deflate Mother-Dreams-of-Kids-Serving-the-World Balloon.

But, then, I asked {well, fired-back} a different question, “Well, did you love well?”

Pause.

“Wellllll, not really,” admitted one.

“I think I did. I helped with the dishes and played with Yada a lot,” said another.

“I totally did,” claimed the 4-year-old who just figured that “yes” was a better answer.

Drop Parenting-Revelation-Bomb.

Because every time my kids have gotten in the car after soccer practice or a school day, a playdate with friends or even a night spent with impoverished girls in SE Asia, my default question has always been about their own personal fun.  I’m typically asking, first, about their good time, the friends they hung out with, the general awesomeness of the event itself.

And, ultimately, though subtly, I fear I’m communicating that their pleasure should be the focus of hours spent with others.  And is that, really, what I want to be teaching my kids–

That if their _____{insert activity here}_____  wasn’t “fun,” then it was a waste, a thing to complain about on the car ride home?

Cue Mom’s New Brilliant-Master-Plan.

My kids will be getting a different question from now on when they plop their taekwondo belts or their book bags or their soccer cleats into the backseat.  I’ll be asking first, “How’d you love?” {or some non-cheezy-version of the same type of ask}.

Because shouldn’t our default be more about what we gave, than what we got?

And if we really believe that, shouldn’t the questions we ask our kids reflect it?

*originally posted September 8, 2011, Laura Parker Blog

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What’s the default question you ask after an event?  How do you shift your kids from being self-focused to others-focused?  Uh, how do you shift yourself?

And do your kids jump into ministry as easily as you thought? 

– Laura Parker, Co-Editor/Founder, Former aid worker in SE Asia

 

Developers and Planters UNITE!

Many Christians living and working overseas can be put into two categories: church planters and community developers.  During my time overseas, I have primarily worked in the community development side but was introduced to serving abroad by church planters.

Perhaps some of you have noticed that at times it almost feels like there is a competition between the two sides.

“So many at my church have become followers of Christ.”

“Oh yeah.  Well, we’ve worked with a ton of communities who are now released from the grasp of circular poverty.”

As a believer in a gospel that is both physical and spiritual, I recognise how important both of these goals are.  But sometimes frustrations emerge.

I was sitting down with a couple who has spent their professional lives studying best practices and focusing on asset-based community development in Cambodia.  They explained how inept they felt when it came to church and doctrinal issues in their communities, so they often contacted friends in the church-expanding business.  However, they never understood why these same friends would start questionable development projects without engaging them or others in the community-service field.

Have you experienced the tension between church planting and community development?

Sometimes churches are planted and then service projects develop from a perceived need in the community.  One example can be found in Jinja, Uganda, where a church was planted.  In time, some of the members began discussing a micro-business concept, which turned into The Source Cafe, a western-style coffeehouse and internet cafe that specialized in providing job training and funding for the church and community needs.

Other times community projects begin with the main goal of alleviating the cycle of poverty.  During the process and through the testimony of the workers, a desire to plant a church grows and is born.  Some of my friends in Chiang Rai, Thailand are in that process right now.

What church planting/community development collaborations have you seen done well?  What have you seen done poorly?  Can we sacrifice best practice in the name of kingdom expansion?  Is there a right or wrong here?

And now for the unexpected turn of events:

After discussing this topic with a TCK friend of mine, she brought up a very interesting point: Why can’t we all just listen?

In her experience, the worst thing a missionary or aid worker can do is arrive in a place with the sole goal of announcing their arrival and espousing their ideas. The best thing they can do is arrive, willing to sit and listen and learn. Historically, and for obvious reasons, missionaries often take the former path, blazing trails in the short term but burning bridges in the long. It takes more time, and surrender of control, to take the latter path, but I think this path can lead to relationships that are authentic and that transform both communities and lives.

On which side of this fence do you sit?  Or is it perhaps better to straddle this issue?

Justin Schneider —  blog. twitter.

Fair Expectations

We sat in the booth at a sandwich shop. By divine serendipity our paths crossed on “home” soil. She was back from Africa and I was up from South America. As we picked at our oversize, overpriced deliciousness stories poured out.

“Things are so rough in the village. The ladies tell me I need to hit my children. At any time of the day on the street someone was physically beating the kids. When they hit my own kids I didn’t know what to do,” my friend shared as she lifted her hands in exasperation.

We talked of culture, poverty, sickness, and all the other hot topics missionaries share. We cried. We nodded our heads. We even laughed together. Oh, what a hot mess it is when expectations meet reality.

Expectations are unavoidable. Our brains are hard wired to create shortcuts. We read cues and make judgements based on past experiences and learned responses. It’s natural. So we head into new cultural situations and our pea brains can’t compute how to process things that do not meet our expectations.

Horses? In the middle of the city? Yep.

Then comes the real labor of reworking our hard wired synapses and electronic circuiting. We try to readjust expectations. We try to adapt to a new normal.

As a black and white thinker the grays and I have had a hard time getting to know each other. The miscues and confusion started to cause the concept of truth to blur in my heart and mind.

I began to ask: Where is the truth in all this?

As I began to manage the tension of truth vs. perception I began to ask a new set of  questions: Might truth be more fluid like a river and not so rigid like an ice cube? Am I forsaking truth if I adapt to cultural understandings of concepts I once thought were rock solid? Can I put on a new set of lenses without losing my core identity?

My son with a great find from the market. “This is a grapefruit!?” Yep.

I know I am not the only one who has wrestled with the expectations factor as a foreigner.

Let’s talk about this.

Which of your expectations have been challenged? What ways have you found to cope when you realized your expectations were unrealistic? How do we keep from falling over into hopelessness, cynicism, or hardness of heart when we adjust our expectations?

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– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage

Tombstones

She sits in my office, crying.  “Why am I so depressed?  Nothing terrible happened to me.  I love my parents.  I loved living overseas.  I can’t wait to go back.  But why do I get so depressed?”

I get out a stack of paper, and draw a tombstone on each sheet.  On each tombstone, I write one of the losses she’s mentioned in passing.  As I write, she remembers others.

And on the floor of my office, we memorialize a life of subterranean loss.  We realize that every time there’s a major life transition—graduation, marriage, moves, births—there’s been an episode of major depression, as this mass of grief wells toward the surface.

So we sit with it.  We weep, we mourn.  We write, we talk, we pray.  And God heals.  He really does.

Some thoughts about TCK wounds:

  1.  To be human is to be wounded.  It’s part of the deal.  We didn’t choose this gig, but here we are.  And we’re not getting out of here without getting hurt–TCK, civilian, whatever.
  2.  TCK wounds of loss and grief are a particular subset of the human condition of woundedness.  There’s good research on this.  (See Third Culture Kids, by David C. Pollock and Ruth Van Reken.)  We might not like it, but there it is:  our deal to deal with.
  3.  Our TCK’s are losing their whole lives, every time we put our families on a plane.  And sometimes none of us recognize it until years later, right about the time parents are thinking, “My work here is done.”

Some things that can help:

  1. Fix our own junk.  Our kids have enough stuff.  They don’t need to be worrying about mom and dad’s issues, too. Go first.  Make it OK to be sad.  To be mad.  To be scared. To trust that God meets us in all those places, too.
  2. Let them have their own voice about their own story.  It is way too easy for the Adult Standard Version to be the only version.  Let the kids tell their side, even if it’s not how you remember it.
  3. Do it right.  Take all the vacations.  Have the family fun nights.  Break “the rules” if it means your kids will be happier and healthier.
  4. If you think something is wrong, you’re right.  Get help.

 

On our first furlough, we asked our kids to write something for our newsletter, and this is what we got.  Our 5-year-old drew a picture of a boat.  (Read, constant transition?)  And our extroverted 7-year-old couldn’t figure out why people in America were inside their houses all the time.

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What emotions are you feeling right now, as you read this blog?

Sad, glad, mad or scared?

What emotions or behaviors are you seeing in your children that might indicate pain and grief?

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This guest post offered by Kay Bruner– MA, LPC-intern, former missionary to the South Pacific.

Please check out her insightful blog, where she talks often about Third Culture Kids and their unique struggles: Kay Bruner

When You Start to Pick Your Nose in Public…

When you start to pick your nose in public, you might be too cheap for Kleenex. Or you might live in a really dry, dusty place and need to dig that one out before it makes you bleed. Or you might be overdue for a break.

When you (if a native English speaker) start to say things like, “There is no being upsetness in playing video games,” and think that is perfectly good English, you might be a really bad English teacher. Or you might be dizzy and dehydrated from the rising summer temperatures. Or you might be overdue for a break.

when this starts to look like a darn good beach shade…

How do you know when your time to step out of the host culture has come? I knew it when I would catch a side glimpse of myself in a mirror and only then, notice that my shoulders hunched forward, only then, realize I was too exhausted to even walk upright.

Living overseas is expanding and exhilarating and inspiring. And draining. At least for some. Our daughter asked why we were going to Minnesota for a year in 2011 and I said, “Daddy is working on his PhD and mommy needs a break from Djibouti.” She said, “Why? What do you need a break from?” To her this sounded like, “Mommy needs a break from life.”

And that’s what furlough, R ‘n R, can feel like, which is probably why a lot of expats shun the notion until they are walking like one hundred-year old women, shuffling around like the hunchback Jesus healed, eyes on the dirt and the dirty feet and not looking up into the face of our Healer. But that’s not true. Time away from the host country is not a break from life. It’s a break from specific things about expat life that strain.

Everyone encounters stress, another excuse for expats to forgo the rest time. Why should we remove ourselves from our work and friends and expat home life when others aren’t allowed that option? Because expat stress isn’t just the stress of a job or of a difficult relationship. Expat stress affects every single aspect of our lives from seemingly minor things like clothes and food to deep things like how we practice our faith and how often we relocate. The stresses strike at our sense of identity and are often far beyond our ability to control, let alone comprehend.

*holidays away from family

*speaking multiple foreign languages all day, every day

*excessive heat or cold or dust

*loneliness

*the stress of never fully comprehending the surroundings

*inability to make quick, confident choices

*lack of spiritual fellowship, input, and accountability

*lack of vocational training or development

The list could go on as long as there are expats

Furloughs are not a break from life because life continues, we take living with us. On either side of the ocean there will still be meetings and proposal-writing, diapers and school lunches, laundry and car repairs, relationships and labor. But for a brief time, there will also be green grass to roll in and Grandma’s caramel rolls for Christmas breakfast. There will be the intrinsic knowledge of how to dress, how much things should cost, how to respond when your kid is bullied at school. You will know exactly, without a second thought, how to stand in a line at the store, how to speak English, and how you like your coffee.

sometimes you need to step away

I’m not saying that assimilation is wrong, it’s good. It’s important to learn how to elbow your way to the counter at the corner store, if that’s how your host country does it. Important to learn how to farmer blow inside restaurants, if that’s how your host country does it. It is important to appreciate and use idioms and grammar in the local language.

But there are times when the stresses of the stripping, of behaving chameleon-like, become too heavy and we start to lose ourselves, lose focus, lose energy, lose any joy in the work or the friendships, even lose faith. And then it is time for that break, probably past time for that break. Then, it is time to remember how, in your passport culture, to appropriately deal with those pesky nose boogers.

 

Do you pick your nose in public? Just kidding.

Real questions: How do you know it is time for a break? Have you ever over-stayed?

-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti

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

The Upside of Missions and How We Just Need to Have More Fun

Missionaries can be a negative, cynical bunch sometimes. And I’m not pointing fingers because I get it. I’ve drunk the kool-aid and have come up woefully short of expectations (of myself, the work and others), and I’ve done this same fall-on-my-face-move on four different continents. Hacking out a life overseas can make a pessimist out of the best of us.

But it doesn’t have to. And maybe it shouldn’t.

Because yes, international living can be brutal. Yes, kids get hurt and marriages suffer. Yes, culture shock can lay us low and goodlord sometimes other missionaries can do that, too.

And this space at A Life Overseas is most definitely a safe place to air those realities. And it’s a place to be reminded that you are not alone in them.

Yet, yet.

I do fear that missionaries can become all work and no play. All sacrifice and no joy. All sprint and no marathon.

I mean, there are some pretty amazing things that take place overseas that would never happen were we to all have stayed home . . .

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Okay, so bring it. What do you LOVE about living overseas? Let’s fire up this comment section with the post ivies . . . it’ll make us all feel a little better.

Laura Parker, Co-editor/founder, former humanitarian aid worker in SE Asia

Coping With Loneliness

Have you ever found yourself asking,

“What am I doing?”
“Is this worth it?”
“Is this what we signed up for?”

If so you are not alone in your emotions, although these feelings can make you feel very isolated.

Missions and any form of leadership carries with it an aspect of loneliness. Ordinary friendships become even more difficult when we take on these positions and roles.

Dan Allendar in his excellent book, Leading With A Limp, says “Loneliness also assaults a leader when he must absorb the inevitable expressions of disappointment from others. A leader bears loneliness, but also the guilt that comes with others disappointment.”

Have you experienced this?

As a missionary, we will have great successes, but also disappoint people and fail to live up to their expectations.

Sometimes the greatest loneliness in leadership comes on the heels of our greatest success.

Elijah experienced this immediately following his miraculous defeat of the prophets of Baal recounted in 1 Kings 18. Elijah just had the ultimate missionary newsletter headline.

One chapter later he finds himself on the run from Jezebel. Look at the conversation he has with God. (1 Kings 19)

Vs. 4 “But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

Vs 10 “He said, “I have been jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

I’m the only one left!
Where are you God?
What am I doing?

God shows up in a still, small voice; reassuring him of His Presence, urging Elijah to get back to work. (1 Kings 19:11-16)

The reality of leadership and missions comes with a realization no one can fully understand all that we go through. Except God.

But even with this amazing gift of the presence of God, it feels lonely.

Dan Allender list the following loneliness inducing traits of a leader or missionary (also from Leading With A Limp.)

– The moment we take this role, others assign to us the power to do good or harm.
– Leaders often have information they are unable to share, constantly creating a situation where they could be misunderstood by people not seeing the whole picture of our decisions.
– Honoring confidentiality puts a leader in the direct path of gossip. The tough decisions which cannot be defended or explained leave leaders vulnerable and alone.

No one can fully understand a leader, what may hurt more…is often no one wants to.

This is inevitable at some point in life and ministry. When it happens, what are some things you can do minimize the loneliness?

1. Have good Relationships – with God first and foremost, but also extremely important is our time with our family and spouse. I would also advise we seek at least one other person who can be a confidant and friend.

2. Rest – Lack of rest makes loneliness even worse.

3. Take Inventory – Are you over committed? Are you priorities in line? Remind yourself of why you do what you do….daily!

What other tips can you offer missionaries and leaders who struggle with this. Or, if you are so bold, let our Life Overseas family know you struggle with loneliness so we can be a support to you.

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

What if my kids start resenting “the work?”

 

This question must cross the mind of every missionary parent, at least at some point.

I know it has crossed mine… and more than just once.

First, I wonder- What would it look like, their resentment, I mean? Would my child become angry and act out? Would I see sullen and negative with constant complaining discouraging everyone around him? What if my child grew sad, depressed and began to withdraw from life in general? Could her resentment of my calling impact current or future desires to have a relationship with Jesus? Might one of them dislike missions and end up with a deep standing, negative attitude towards missionaries or others working internationally? What if they begrudge the opportunity to have normal childhood experiences? Will my kids feel I’ve somehow deprived them by my choices? Will the hours my husband and I have spent ministering to others spur jealousy and envy of missed afternoons by the pool or mornings spent playing alone in the sand because Mama was busy translating at the computer? What if they are convinced I’ve chosen God and my career over them?

I don’t like to think about those questions very much.

I have often heard it said: God first, spouse second, children next and then ministry and career after that. I’m also not so sure what I believe about that way of thinking and ordering priorities these days.

We like to put things in a hierarchical, linear fashion, don’t we? It makes sense and who does not want to have their priorities organized, and lined up correctly, right? Maybe my discomfort with this idea originates within – I know my own heart when I apply a ranking like this to my decision making process. If it is something I want to do, I pull the God-first trump card and I can hear myself saying –

  • “God has asked me to walk this path for this season…”
  • “God has deeply impressed in my heart that…”
  • “Look how God has opened up all these doors for me to…”
  • “I would have never sought this opportunity myself. God truly dropped it right into my lap and I know He wants…” or even
  • “I’m not so sure what He wants me to do, but I’m going to move forward and trust Him to shut the door if…”

What makes this doubly hard and so tempting is that I tend to be a “Yes-person.” Aren’t many of us involved in ministry or service to others, internationally or otherwise? I easily act as though I believe that if I don’t do a needed job, no one will and it won’t get done… which is no better than behaving as though I’m critical to eternal success.

On the other side, suppose I’m looking at the exact same situation, but instead of excitement or anticipation, ambivalence and reticence regarding some upcoming task, new responsibility or unexpected ministry opportunity overwhelm both my feelings and thinking process. I can just as easily approach any discussion with the “truth” that any ministry must always, under every circumstance, come after family responsibilities, claiming –

  • “My children really need me around more on Saturday afternoons. I don’t think I should give up any more family time already…”
  • “I’m so tired lately. I don’t know how I can be a godly wife, mama, chauffer, house help AND missionary all at the same time…”
  • God would never ask me to sacrifice my children and their needs for the sake of…”
  • “God expects me to take care of my husband, children and home before I get involved in other ministries…” or
  • “My bigger ones are starting to feel I care more about… than I do about them.”

This perspective is a huge temptation because I do love my family and I’m a perfectionist, another trait shared by many who have followed this calling and career path. After hearing about  a very simple, logical priority ladder to consult when making decisions explained, I know I can follow that flow chart, organize all my decisions so that they fit and thus “be” perfect.

Hmmmmmm…

Please don’t think that I think that any of the above statements are categorically wrong, or that any who might have said them or something similar are using high and haughty words to justify the desires of their own heart. In fact, for others, that may never be the case. I just know my own heart, its stealthy deceitfulness – and I know that it is a huge temptation… because when I say something along those lines, really… how CAN anyone else hold me accountable for my decisions and my corresponding courses of action? Either way, I’m obeying God, right? I’m either putting Him above all… or I’m keeping my priorities in line, all based on man’s wisdom… and what I want to do. Very few will dare to tread on a friend’s or a colleague’s or even a spouse’s (sometimes) toes asking hard questions and really seeking to help him/her evaluate those priorities and the decision making progress, spending time in passionate prayer for and with the other person regarding each step, each opportunity. I know I rarely willingly agree to be either one of those two people.

Maybe I’m also convinced of this ~

There may be times when it looks like I’m sacrificing my family or my children because of something I know I’m supposed to do. There may be moments when my children do resent the work or the fact that they don’t have some opportunity that they want to pursue. My husband may question my commitment to ministry when I tell him that our children really do need a break from Sunday school in a second language. There will probably also be seasons where our partners back home wonder what’s the point in sending all that support money just so I can be wife and Mama on the back side of the desert.

I guess I don’t think there exists a cut and dried answer to the question… I can’t reduce it to a simple, logical priority placement plan. I WISH it was that easy. I do know I need to find a place of sincerity, moderation and balance.

Yet there’s no guarantee. Even if I, by God’s grace, do land on a right priority balance between following God, caring for my family and devotion to ministry and others ~ my children might still resent “the work” or at least some aspect of this life. Maybe part of my job includes discipling them while modeling and living authentically before them this struggle to find balance and perspective?

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I’m curious. What do you, in general, think about all of this?

Do you find it difficult? Why or why not?

What do you think about the prioritization hierarchy I mentioned above? Is it helpful to you?

How do you keep right priorities and balance in your life?

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– Richelle Wright, missionary in Niger, W. Africa

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

Saying Goodbye: Does Practice Really Make Perfect?

Change is in the air. After three years here in Luang Prabang, we’re leaving. My husband, Mike, is taking up a new job in Vientiane (the capital of Laos), so we’re packing up our life here and moving. We’re also having another baby in just over four months.

Because of the lack of quality medical care in Laos, it would be less than wise for me to give birth in this country. Because I have a chronic health condition called lymphedema that makes enduring hot weather heat difficult and damaging, it would also be less than wise to stay here, heavily pregnant, through the worst of the hot season and then make a late-date dash to Thailand to deliver. So the plan for months had been for me to leave Laos with our toddler in mid-May when I hit the third trimester, and go home to live with my parents for five months around the delivery of baby number two.

Given that I am now 37, I am sure that my poor parents thought they were at least a dozen years past any chance that I would turn up pregnant and alone on their doorstep needing sanctuary, much less do this twice within three years. Just goes to show you never know in life. It also goes to show that when you raise third culture kids who choose to continue on as global nomads, you run a serious risk of being permanently pegged as their home base. Parents, take heed.

So Mike and I had it all planned, you see. But in the past two weeks all our carefully stitched-together plans have come unraveled. Mike has re-herniated a disc in his back that was operated on only six months ago. An MRI indicates that the injury requires another surgery, after which he won’t be able to lift anything heavier than ten pounds (including our toddler) for at least ten weeks.

I won’t bore you by relaying all the reasons we settled on our new plan of action, I’ll just jump straight to the details. We’ve scheduled Mike’s surgery for April 12th, and Dominic and I will leave for Australia on about the 18th, right after Mike comes out of hospital.

This new plan moves my planned departure from Luang Prabang up by a month, to just one week from today. It also means that Mike and I will be apart for a full 14 weeks before he arrives in Australia just before (hopefully) the birth of our second child. Mike will have to oversee the pack up of our house, move to a new city, and start a new job by himself while he’s still recovering from surgery. In short, it all sort of sucks.

In the wake of this latest medical drama, I haven’t thought a great deal about leaving here as a move. The fact that I won’t be coming back to this beautiful little town that’s been home for three years hasn’t really sunk in.

They say that practice makes perfect, but when it comes to leaving places and people I think it might be the opposite – on one level, anyway.

You do get better at coping with the logistical demands with practice. I can now tackle a multi-stage pack up of our lives, logically parse a dozen complicated flight itineraries, and shift from place to place without breaking too much of a sweat. Over time, however, the emotional demands of serial itinerancy are becoming more difficult for me to acknowledge and address, not less.

Given the sudden rush and how the pressure has accelerated all the deadlines on an already daunting to-do list, it’s perhaps understandable that this departure still feels unreal to me. I’m not exactly flush with time to sit around and think about things I’ve loved here, things I’ll miss, and all the joys and grief that this town has born witness to. There won’t be a farewell party, or many leisurely dinners with friends that would provide opportunities to tell them how we love and appreciate them, and thank them for how they’ve enriched our lives. I’m thinking more about how to survive this change than how it feels or what it means.

To be honest, though, I don’t know how much deep processing of this departure I’d be doing even if our plans hadn’t been up-ended. So far I’ve moved countries about a dozen times and houses at least twenty. I’m continually getting better at the logistics of relocation, but I’m starting to worry that I’m getting worse at saying and feeling meaningful goodbyes. The last time I deeply grieved a move I was sixteen. Now I tend to disconnect easily, perhaps too easily. And I wonder if this is linked in important ways to another trend I’ve noticed – my growing tendency to settle somewhere new lightly, perhaps too lightly.

Right now, I don’t know. All I know right now is that a week from now we’ll be on a plane, heading for a hospital in Bangkok that I’m way too familiar with. A week after that I’ll be preparing to board another plane. Then the kaleidoscope of life will be given another sudden twist and I’ll be “home” in Australia with winter coming on, minus one husband and plus two parents. I’ll be looking for a new normal for our toddler and for me for the following six months.

And then, we’ll be leaving.

And arriving.

Again.

What have your experiences been with moving?
How do you mark departures and say goodbye?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos

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

The Help

We stood in the driveway staring at the house we had rented in Port au Prince, “This looks like New York,” she declared. “My family will call me bourgeois living in a huge house like this.” She was correct in her observation, it was a very nice house; similar in size to every house we’ve ever owned or rented.

The disparities between our socio-economic realities are pointed out in similar ways on a weekly basis.

For five years Geronne has lived and worked with our family.

The tired statement “Most Haitians live on $1 a day” only serves to annoy me. I once worked for a mission that loved to remind its donors of that. I always wanted to scream, “BUT ONLY BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT YOU PAY!

Our family has taken that impossible-to-live-on amount and multiplied it by approximately ten. Even the math morons in the crowd know that only amounts to $300 per month. A low wage in our economy is a high wage in hers.

Our friend Geronne, a person we love, a person we do daily life with, is working a job with our family for a salary that is significantly more than all of her eight siblings are making out in the village. That should feel good, right?

She enjoys running water and electricity and meals and shelter in addition to her small salary. She jokes that she hates visiting her village home because she likes sleeping with the comfort of a fan. That should feel good, right?

Troubled by the fact that Geronne’s sister was raising Geronne’s daughter for her, we asked Geronne if her daughter Jenny might want to move into Port au Prince, too. Our culture imposed on hers, we wanted to see mother and daughter under the same roof. I want the same opportunities available for her daughter as I want for my own. Geronne’s salary increased when we agreed to pay for most of Jenny’s schooling. That should feel good, right?

With the money she is earning Geronne is building a house out in the village. Slowly but surely she adds the next piece and continues to plan for her future; for her daughter’s future.

Without Geronne’s help in our home we could not both work our “jobs”. The amount of laundry and cleaning necessary to run a household of our size is close to a 40 hour a week job. She helps with cleaning. She helps with kids. Occasionally she cooks the evening meal. She is the reason everything runs as well as it does. When something comes up that keeps us from coming home on time, Geronne steps in and handles caring for the kids. It is not an exaggeration to say that without her we would be rendered ineffective. We trust her. We love her.

She tells us she loves her job and is so glad to have met us in the village seven years ago. She tells us we are family. She is happy. We are happy. It all sounds so warm and fuzzy and fair and equitable. Right? Everybody wins, right?

For some reason, that is not exactly how it feels. Something about having ‘help’ in our house leaves me feeling off balance.

When Geronne started asking Jenny to help with things we put our foot down. “Geronne, we don’t want a fourteen year old working in our house” we said. Her reply disquieted our perceptions, “You want your children to know how to work. That is why you don’t want me to pick up their toys. I want my daughter to know too. She needs to learn how to run a household just like your children. I need her to learn by doing.”

When Geronne decided after three years of living together to start making coffee in the morning, we bristled a bit and said, “Please. Stop. We can make our own coffee!” Her reply, “I am awake earlier than you and I like to it. Please don’t tell me not to do something kind.”

My husband Troy is no Lord Grantham, and I’m certainly nothing like the Countess. So, why do we feel uneasy? Have we watched enough Downton Abbey to be troubled by the disparity between “upstairs” and “downstairs”? Is it because we are white and Geronne is brown and something in the history of our lineage bothers us? Is it because I can leave this island any day I choose – and she cannot? Is it because I cannot fully imagine being willing to do the work she does for room and board and $300 a month? What is it that makes it so uncomfortable?

I don’t have any desire to be filthy rich. I don’t yearn for flashy cars or fancy vacations. I don’t want or need everyone to have the same income level. That is not it at all. It has occurred to me that even if I could pay Geronne a U.S. salary, I’d still find the whole arrangement a bit unsettling.

As I’ve come to love Geronne I’ve realized that she doesn’t necessarily want what I have either. She is not silently seething about anything I have while she switches the fourth laundry load of the day. She would like her daughter to be educated, her simple country home to be built. When she gets ill she would like to have the cash flow to go visit a competent doctor. In her culture, gainful employment means a lot of pressure to share the money she makes with many others. Given the choice, she would probably prefer a lot less of that pressure.

I’ve recently decided that this dilemma, this uneasy feeling, is not one that can be solved. It will always feel odd to me to have someone doing my housework. It will always feel uneasy knowing how vastly different our economies are. I was born in Omaha, NE. She was born in La Digue, Haiti. I went to school and learned to read. She went to school then dropped out in fourth grade and did not learn to read until she was in her mid-thirties. I went to college. She doesn’t have anyone in her family that went to college. I don’t think $300 is very much money. She does.

I have decided that maybe it should make me uncomfortable. Maybe my discomfort keeps me in check. Maybe I am better suited to face each day here because I want to find ways to close the gaping distance between us.

What about you? Do you have household help? Is it easy or uncomfortable for you, and why?

~          ~          ~          ~

Tara Livesay  works in Port au Prince, Haiti with Heartline Ministries.

blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with with her better half): @troylivesay

Triggered by the Tragedy at Sandy Hook

One Saturday morning I woke up to humid Asian heat rising over my bed and the sound of cranky motorbikes on the way to the market. Oblivious that a tragedy had happened while I slept, I got up and went about my morning routine. When I finally logged onto my facebook, I became numb at status after status. Then I closed the computer.

And I went about my day as if nothing happened.

 On December 14, 2012, on the other side of the world, tragedy struck an elementary school in my home country, leaving 20 children and 6 adults dead. Like many missionaries, I processed this tragedy far away from any English news channels.

In preparation to move overseas I learned about culture shock. I anticipated language and culture barriers and times of intense loneliness. I did not expect anger and confusion.

I did not expect to feel anger over injustice and violence. I did not expect to be confused about evil.

I had lived in Asia two years before I first identified the inward pain I was feeling. A friend and I were driving around a temple in Cambodia. My friend says, “A little boy asked if I wanted sex.” An exploited child had approached a white man.

Anger swelled when I visited the genocide museum in Cambodia where 17,000 people were tortured during the Khmer Rouge. I ran out of the museum, about to vomit. I stood under the tree where heads were slammed against, and I hovered over the pit where their remains were dumped.

In the last three years I have felt confused so many times.

  • I visit my friends in the dump and carry them a water filter. I want to do so much more.
  • I see the blond streaks of malnutrition in the dark hair of Asian children.
  • An 18-year-old man says to me in a tongue had worked so hard to learn, “Please, Lana, pray for me. My mother is dead from AIDS. I never met my father. I wake up at 5 a.m. to clean the orphanage, then take my bicycle to work 12 hours a day to support the orphanage that raised me, and we still barely have enough to eat. I want to get my education and attend Bible college, but I can’t get out.”

I did my best I could to stuff the pain, to be tough for the orphans, and be grateful for what I have.

The children who died in Sandy Hook gave me permission to acknowledge the pain and confusion.

After the tragedy, my friends posted on their facebook. “I hugged my kids a little tighter before school this morning.” One of my friends shut down her facebook for a week because she could not handle the negative updates. Another friend cussed at the killer on her page. Every parent said they were confused, “Why, why, why?”

It hit me. The kind of news my Americans friends had received is regular dinner table news where I live in Asia. “The army burned down a village today. Mrs. Jones just sent pictures of a boy they rescued who has burns from head to toe,” someone will say over a typical meal.

I remember thinking, “If my friends are angry that 20 kids died, no wonder I’m such a wreck after three years of this kind of evil.”

So, I googled the news. I read the articles on Sandy Hook. I pulled up pictures of the innocent children who died. I cried over them, one by one.

Then I wept for the evil I see in Asia and remembered:

Jesus wept.”

Evil happens overseas. It happens alongside so much joy and love. The collision creates anger and confusion. How do you deal with the painful mix of emotions on the mission field?

—-

Lana Hope lived in a sticky-humid Asian world where she spent two years caring for teens and meeting Jesus in unexpected places.