Some Days Are Like That

One of my favourite stories of all time is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven’t read it, you really should! This post is written with thankfulness to Judith Viorst, the author of Alexander’s bad day, who taught me many years ago that, “Some days are like that.”

The Very Bad Day

We lost power last night and it was so hot without the fan that I couldn’t sleep. Then my neighbour’s rooster decided to take advantage of the quiet fan-less night and crow under my window till dawn. I definitely couldn’t sleep. This morning my clothes on the line still weren’t dry so I had to wear damp underwear and I could tell it was going to be, as Judith Viorst says, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

At breakfast my husband ate Weet-Bix and my son ate Cocoa Puffs and I picked the corn flakes, and there were ants in my corn flakes. My powdered milk was lumpy even though I used a whisk.

I think I’ll move back to Florida.

On the way to the market my son kicked off his flip flop and it fell into the ditch. I tried to be nice and get it out but the ditch is a sewer and I couldn’t reach his shoe with a stick and it made me gag. I cried and yelled at him for kicking off his shoe and he cried and yelled at me for being a mean mom.

Before heading out to teach kindergarten co-op I forgot to make coffee and so forgot to bring craft supplies. Instead of an educational activity to finish off the lesson, I sent the kids to the playground for 45 minutes because who can remember craft supplies with no coffee?

When I got home I checked e-mail and saw a message from another missionary mom. I’d told her I was tired and it’s hard to parent and home school my son overseas, and she said she was pregnant and homeschooling three children when she was overseas. Yeah well that’s nice for you, I thought. And even though Jesus says to love your enemies, I hated her for being able to do what I can’t. I’m pretty sure Jesus wasn’t talking about other missionary moms.

I think I’ll move back to Florida.

For lunch I ate tofu and rice for the 186th time in a row. My food was dry so I added hot sauce, but I added too much and it burned my mouth and made my eyes water.

It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

After lunch we called for an update on our visa renewals and after months of waiting and promises that today would be the day, we were told to try again tomorrow.

Yeah well tomorrow I’ll be in Florida.

This afternoon the neighbours threw a party and parked motorcycles in front of our house and blocked the gate. I couldn’t open the gate. I hate the neighbours.

For dinner I ate tofu and rice for the 187th time in a row because the cargo planes are down for maintenance and the shops ran out of flour and chicken.

In the evening the power went out during my shower and I had to stand in the pitch black hoping there was still fuel in the generator so I didn’t have to go to sleep with shampoo in my hair. My husband said there was no fuel so I had to rinse as best I could with the water still in the pipes. I cried in the dark. I hate the dark.

When I went to bed the rooster crowed beneath my window. I really hate that rooster.

It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

But Judith Viorst is right — “Some days are like that.”

Even in Florida.

 

Originally published October 13, 2017.

On Launching Kids From Great Distances

“You’ve given her roots, now give her wings.”

That is what they all say.

“God loves her more than you, trust Him with her.”

That is what the spiritual and wise will advise.

As mothers and fathers choosing to live and work far from our passport countries and most of their institutions of higher learning, the day of sending a child out of the nest to college can feel even more daunting for us.

I think we can all agree that it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need people to remind us that this is the nature of the beast. We don’t have these children in order to keep them under our roofs and thumbs for a lifetime. We can usually be rational enough to agree that we raise our children fully intending to launch them; we want to produce self-sustaining, responsible, grown-up-ish individuals.

When I am not so rational, I believe I have been tricked, like someone sped up time and I wasn’t given my full 18-year allotment. In those irrational moments I think about destroying the passport, bolting the doors, refusing to buy an airline ticket, sobbing until my blood vessels burst, or thrashing on the ground with my arms gripping her ankles like a vice. I’ve heard things like this happen from time to time. (Ahem.)

In my own upbringing I was given two free “backs.” That is to say, the first two launch missions were aborted and I returned, tail between my legs, begging for mercy and access to Mom and Dad’s refrigerator. It was the third try that finally stuck, when I was 25 years old.

I remember my parents not seeming too terribly annoyed at having me back. In many ways they seemed happy to have me. As we are launching our second almost fully functional adult right now, I am understanding the patience my parents exhibited upon my return(s). Our kids grow up too quickly, and it never feels very comfortable to transition to the next phase. Change is hard. Letting go is harder. Drastically changing our long-held role, a role that can be a part of our very identity, is difficult albeit necessary.

Many years ago when my daughter was little, I was explaining to her that my new job required me to travel and I’d be gone more often. She listened without comment. I finally said, “Change is really hard, honey.” She thought about that a moment and said, “I agree. I hate change. I like dollars.”  Even though our conversation never connected in any meaningful way, we found agreement.

Change stinks. 

This stuff is painful. The idea that I will be 3,000 miles away without any knowledge of her comings and goings strikes panic in my Momma heart. It seems I’ve been telling myself that knowing where she is all the time is what keeps her safe. Now, I know that is ridiculous, but it is true nonetheless. I thought it might get easier with the second child. My husband and I are finding it just as daunting the second time around.

In a letter I wrote to her earlier this year, I said,

“When they hand you a baby after you have performed miraculous feats of superhuman proportions to bring that little person into the world, they don’t tell you about what is coming: the greater pain of letting them go. They don’t tell you that those hours and hours of contractions and pushing are just the warm-up, eighteen years early, for the real pain.”

Our job as parents doesn’t end here, but it changes drastically. We hope to take the advice of our friends and give our girl wings as we look to God, who loves her even more than we do, and trust Him with her future and ours.

 

Originally published November 12, 2013

The Myth of the Ever-Happy Missionary

I don’t know if anyone has actually said it, but sometimes I feel it in the air: missionaries are supposed to be Very Happy. We are supposed to land in our host country and immediately love everything and everyone around us, floating on clouds of ministry bliss.

But sometimes we aren’t happy.

Sometimes as much as we love the people around us, they are also frustrating and hurtful, just like back in our passport country. Sometimes a cultural practice irks or disturbs us. Sometimes the relationships we left behind pain us, like a wounded foot that can’t quite heal because we keep walking on it. Sometimes we suffer from anxiety or depression or homesickness.

Maybe it’s for a season. Maybe longer. None of us wants to camp out in those places of heartache, but we do go there, sometimes for a while. Are the hurting missionaries less of a success than the happy ones? Where did these ideas come from?

With the advent of industrialization and modernity in the West, people’s lifestyles changed in ways that the world had never seen. Child and infant mortality decreased drastically; educational opportunities advanced; work was less tied to exhausting manual labor. These changes brought definite increases in quality of life and in what could be termed happiness. The right to pursue happiness is even tied into the major founding documents of the United States.

But the “right” to happiness has brought with it an expectation and a pressure: if we’re not happy, then we’re letting down ourselves and the people around us, who shouldn’t have to experience our unhappiness. The pressure can even come from a misguided attempt to be thankful for first-world advantages: if we’re not happy, then we’re not grateful enough for the benefits we have. The pressure is compounded for Christians and ministry workers: if we’re not happy, it’s because we’re not spiritual enough to “rejoice in the Lord always.”

The Lord calls us to contentment, certainly. We are commanded—and enabled—to have a deep-running river of joy in Christ, even in suffering. But we may be called to seasons of sorrow and pain, or at least discomfort and longing. Where is the mandate to be happy?

If humans hadn’t rebelled against God in the Garden, if the Fall hadn’t happened, then we would all be supremely happy, with nothing to detract from it and no knowledge that anything could. His creation plan included our ultimate happiness, satisfaction, and bliss in paradise with Him. A time is coming when God will wipe every tear from every eye, and yes, we will be nothing but joyfully happy for all eternity.

But during this in-between time, temporal happiness doesn’t come first. In this fallen world, He is bent on our ultimate joy as it coincides with his ultimate glory. And sanctification often hurts.

Being happy all the time is not the point. We aren’t Christians for that purpose, and we didn’t come to our host countries for that purpose. We came because God called us, because He has work to do here.

We can look at Jesus himself to see that the servant is not above the master when it comes to hard emotions. Jesus wept over Lazarus’ death (John 11:28-35); he was angry and even violent over the money changers’ sacrilege in the temple (Mark 11:15-19); he was grieved at the faithlessness of his disciples when they could not drive out a demon (Matthew 17:17). His negative emotions laid bare the gulf between what God designed for the world, and what it is. We are not sinless like Jesus; we cannot indulge personal anger and call it righteousness. But his example shows us the value of painful emotions.

Jesus himself—Very God of Very God—experienced and expressed anger and grief, and his Father was not disappointed in him. It did not mean he lacked self-control. It meant that he saw the broken situation rightly and longed for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Even more so, it meant that he believed in God’s coming, conquering Kingdom: he knew what should be, and he trusted that it was imminent.

Our negative feelings can point to the fact that this world is not conformed to God’s ways—that the Kingdom, while already coming, has not yet come in full. They point to the reality that there is much work to do in this world and that God has called us to be part of it.

Now, if we need counseling, medicine, or a variety of other helps, then we should embrace them. It’s a wonderful gift from God to have medication to help sort out our brain chemistry and relational help to help sort out our life experiences. Every part of us was broken by the Fall, so it’s no surprise when we experience difficult emotions; when they overwhelm us, we may need to put our trust in God by trusting his common grace of psychology and pharmacology.

If we let ourselves ride out the hard emotions, without catastrophizing them to signal the end of the world or heaping on guilt and shame, these emotions can clue us in to important things. Like how God is working in us, and how we are either cooperating or resisting. How he wants to challenge us, and heal us. They can help us work through loss and pain and be soothed by the peace of Christ. They can help us to know ourselves and others, growing our ability to offer empathy.

Our sadness and other non-happy emotions don’t have to destroy us or our ministry. They can be part of cultivating a life and ministry resilient enough to withstand brokenness and yet thrive. When we feel these negative emotions, we can go to the God who felt them too.

 

Originally published May 26, 2017.

Searching for Home After a Global Upbringing

Editor’s Note: The following piece is an excerpt from Lisa McKay’s memoir, Love at the Speed of Email. She first shared it on A Life Overseas many years ago, back in March of 2013. But many of our readers weren’t around then, and I love this story so much that I asked her if we could bring it out of the archives and share it with everyone again. ~Elizabeth Trotter

Love At The Speed Of Email is a memoir – the story of how I met my husband while he was in Papua New Guinea working for a humanitarian organization and I was in Los Angeles working as a stress management trainer. It’s more than a love story, though. It’s a recounting of my struggle to find an answer to the question, “Where’s home?” after being raised in five different countries and then embracing a career that kept me perpetually on the move. I suspect that this struggle to define home is one that those of you who were raised as third culture kids (or who are raising global nomads yourselves) will be all too familiar with.

The section I’m sharing comes from a chapter called Airports and Bookstores. I was twenty-six years old, in Hawaii, and having the time of my life at the first creative writing workshop I’d ever attended when I realized for the first time that I might have a real problem when it came to this concept of home . . .

Borrowing inspiration from the tale of the prodigal son in the Bible, our instructors had told us to write a “coming home” story. We should, we were told, write the prodigal who was us as an adult, coming home to ourselves as a child.

“Pick the clearest recollection you have of home and use that,” they said.

Everyone else reached for a pen or a laptop. I just sat there.

I was still sitting there ten minutes later.

Eventually I went up to the front of the room, to the giant leather-bound book of synonyms that was sitting on a podium, looked up home and wrote down these words: Birthplace. Stability. Dwelling. Hearth. Hearthstone. Refuge. Shelter. Haven. Sanctum.

I went back to my seat and stared past the book of synonyms, past the palm trees standing still under a blanket of midday heat, and out into the hazy blue of an ocean that promised a horizon it never quite delivered.

The list didn’t seem to help much.

Birthplace conjured Vancouver, a city I’d visited only twice, briefly, since we’d left when I was one.

Stability then. Unlike my parents’, this was not a word that could be applied to my childhood. In stark contrast with their agrarian upbringing, I’d spent an awful lot of my time in airports.

Maybe that was it, I thought, wondering whether the sudden spark I felt at the word airport was a glimmer of inspiration or merely desperation.

There was no denying that as a child I’d thought there was a lot of fun to be had in and around airports. More than one home movie shows me and my sister, Michelle, arranging our stuffed animals and secondhand Barbies in symmetrical rows and lecturing them severely about seat belts and tray tables before offering to serve them drinks. When we were actually in airports, we spent many happy hours collecting luggage carts and returning them to the distribution stands in order to pocket the deposit. We were always very disappointed to find ourselves in those boring socialist airports with free trolleys.

In Hawaii, I was tempted to start writing my story about home but didn’t.

“Your clearest memories of home as a child cannot possibly be in an airport,” I scolded myself, still staring past my laptop and out to the white-laced toss and chop of cerulean. “Home is not a topic that deserves flippancy. Work harder. . . . What about dwellings and hearths?”

That year my parents were living in the Philippines. My brother was in Sydney. My sister was in Washington, D.C. The bed I could legitimately call mine resided in Indiana. I had lived none of these places except D.C. as a child, and they were such awkward, lonely years that the thought of going back, even in a story, made me squirm. We lived in Washington, D.C., for three and a half years before moving to Zimbabwe, and what I remember most clearly about that time is that I spent much of it reading.

I’ve been in love with reading since before I can remember. Our family photo albums are peppered with photos of me curled up with books – in huts in Bangladesh, on trains in Europe, in the backseat of our car in Zimbabwe.

I can’t remember my parents reading to us before bed, although they swear they often did – sweet tales about poky puppies and confused baby birds looking for their mothers.

“You were insatiable,” Mum said when I asked her about this once. “No matter how many times I read you a book, you always wanted more.”

“Awwww,” I said, envisioning long rainy afternoons curled up with my mother while she read to me. “You must have spent hours reading to me.”

“I did,” my mother said in a tone that let me know she fully expects me to return the favor one day. “But it was never enough. So I taped myself.”

“What?” I asked.

“I got a tape recorder,” she said. “I recorded myself reading a story – I even put these cute little chimes in there so you’d know when to turn the page. Then, sometimes, I sat you down with the tapes.”

“Nice,” I said in a way that let her know that I didn’t think this practice would get her nominated for the motherly hall of fame.

“You loved it,” she said, completely uncowed. “Plus, I needed a break every now and then. You were exhausting. You never stopped asking questions. You asked thirty-seven questions once during a half-hour episode of Lassie. I counted.”

I can’t remember any of this. My earliest memories of reading are solitary, sweaty ones. They are of lying on the cool marble floor of our house in Bangladesh, book in hand, an overhead fan gently stirring the dense heat while I chipped away at frozen applesauce in a small plastic container. But it’s when we moved from Bangladesh to the States when I was nine that my memories of books, just like childhood itself, become clearer.

Of all the moves I’ve made in my life, this was one of the most traumatic. Abruptly encountering the world of the very wealthy after two years of living cheek by jowl with the world of the very poor, I discovered that I didn’t fit readily into either world. My fourth grade classmates in Washington, D.C., had no framework for understanding where I had been for the last two years – what it was like to ride to church in a rickshaw pulled by a skinny man on a bicycle, to make a game out of pulling three-inch-long cockroaches out of the sink drain while brushing your teeth at night, or to gaze from the windows of your school bus at other children picking through the corner garbage dumps.

I, in turn, lacked the inclination to rapidly absorb and adopt the rules of this new world, a world where your grasp on preteen fashion, pop culture, and boys all mattered terribly. Possibly I could have compensated for my almost total lack of knowledge in these key areas with lashings of gregarious charm, but at nine I lacked that, too. I was not what you would call a sunny child.

So I read instead. I read desperately.

I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. One of the few good things I could see about living in the States was the ready availability of books. Some weekends Mum and Dad would take us to the local library’s used book sale. Books were a quarter each. I had a cardboard box and carte blanche. On those Saturday mornings I was in heaven.

Like many kids, I suspect, I was drawn to stories of outsiders or children persevering against all odds in the face of hardship. I devoured all of C.S. Lewis’ stories of Narnia and adored the novels of Frances Hodgson Burnett, especially the ones featuring little girls who were raised in India before being exiled to face great hardship in Britain. But I also strayed into more adult territory. I trolled our bookshelves and the bookshelves of family friends, and those bookshelves were gold mines for stories about everything from religious persecution to murder, rape, civil war, child brides, and honor killing.

In retrospect, even at eleven I wasn’t reading largely for pleasant diversion, for fun, for the literary equivalent of eating ice cream in the middle of the day. I was extreme-reading – pushing boundaries – looking to be shocked, scared, thrilled, and taught. I was reading to try to figure out how to make sense of pain.

It is entirely possible that had we remained in Australia throughout my childhood, I would still have spent the majority of these preteen years feeling isolated and misunderstood. After all, in the midst of our mobility I never doubted my parents’ love for me or for each other, but this did not forestall an essential loneliness that was very deeply felt. I suspect that I would still have grown into someone who feels compelled to explore the juxtaposition of shadow and light, someone who is drawn to discover what lies in the dark of life and of ourselves. But I also suspect that the shocking extremes presented by life in Bangladesh and America propelled me down this path earlier, and farther, than I may naturally have ventured.

It was largely books that were my early companions on this journey. They were stories of poverty and struggle, injustice and abuse, violence and debauchery, yes. But they were also threaded through with honor and courage, sacrifice and discipline, character and hope.

Many people seem to view “real life” as the gold standard by which to interpret stories, but I don’t think that does novels justice. For me, at least, the relationship between the real and fictional worlds was reciprocal. These books named emotions, pointed to virtue and vice, and led me into a deeper understanding of things I had already witnessed and experienced myself. They also let me try on, like a child playing dress-up, experiences and notions new to me. They acted as maps, mirrors, and magnifying glasses.

In those lonely childhood years, books also provided refuge. They were havens and sanctums.

Did that make them home?

When the writing exercise ended after half an hour and we were invited to share, I’d come up with only two ideas.

Set the scene in a bookstore. Or set it in an airport.

I hadn’t written a single word.

 

Plays Well With Others

Plays well with others

Follows directions

Shows respect

In elementary school, they used to have a pretty simple way of letting us know how we were doing in life, at least according to their limited observations in a few key categories. They graded us fairly simply; we were either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

When I was a kid, before the part where we got into deep trouble, my Dad used to tease my sister and me. Whenever we would ignore an assigned task or disobey him, he’d say, in a long drawn out way, “fooooolllllowwws dirrrrections.”

As we get older, we all seem to learn to what level we must follow directions. We develop into rule-followers or rule-pushers, and we inch our way toward maturity falling in line or leaning hard on the limits. Either way, we are most often striving to find our way to a “satisfactory” rating.

Most of us find it far more difficult to ‘play well with others.’ I’ve been wondering lately, what would our first grade teachers say on our report cards today?

Eight years ago, as we prepared to move our family abroad, we were told “the number one reason people leave ministry abroad is that they cannot work well with others within their organization or community.” We gave that statement the side-eye. What? Grown up Jesus-loving people cannot get along, cannot “play well with others”? That hardly seemed possible.

Two and half years into our time in Haiti, we split up with the organization we’d come to serve. We couldn’t see eye to eye with our boss-people. They were happy to see us go. We disagreed on far too many things to continue on together. It was a painful and discouraging break-up.

If we have heard it once, we have heard it a hundred times. “We are leaving our organization to start our own thing. We just can’t work well together with our leadership.”

In all working relationships there are times of disagreement, times of disappointment or frustration. It happens between equals, between leaders and their support team, between friends.

My husband recently shared something his buddy said. This friend had spent many years watching people come and go in Haiti. He believes one of the biggest problems in smaller organizations is that most organizations lack a committed and loyal “number two.” He further stated that he had seen over and over how great working relationships break down and the person in the number two role chooses to move on to start something alone when their interpersonal relationships with leaders and/or co-laborers get challenging.

Paul says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts,” and none of the parts are the same, but they compliment each other.

I am not leading an organization, but I am part of the body. I am in my place, and one of my roles is to complement the people I work with each day. It’s not all that glamorous, and it is not always fun, but it is a role that needs playing.

I’m learning as I age that not every hill is a hill to die on. When my life is over, it would devastate me to hear the people I worked with say, “She always had to win. She did not compromise.” When disagreements come and compromise seems improbable, I have an opportunity to ask myself, “Do I want to win, or do I want to be part of a body doing my part?” “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be the church?” This is not to say we should not share or shape the culture of our organizations by speaking up when we feel God’s prompting to do so, but it is to say that there are ways to differ in opinion in a gracious, humble, and respectful manner.

Perhaps there are those of us doing work abroad that are not necessarily called to “start our own thing” or to act in the head leadership role. Maybe, like my husband’s friend said, what is most needed are loyal and faithful “number twos” that can recognize how easily the devil comes to destroy relationships, plant doubt, and stir discontent among us. It could be time to try harder to play well with others.

What about you? Are relationships in your work abroad causing more stress than the work itself? Are you called to a number two position? Do you “play well with others”?

Originally posted on August 21, 2013

Searching for Home

It’s hard to describe the turbulence of soul that comes from being on the move, always unsettled. You cannot be still and breathe deeply. You cannot love the wild-growing front-lawn tulips too much, or the way the sunlight turns the living room into a golden elven forest in the afternoon. They will soon be gone. And with every big move, you are the new person all over again, trying to make friends at double-speed, weary of explaining where you came from and why you’re here.

We have lived in our current home in Taipei for thirteen months, the longest in any one place for nearly four years. This dubious “longevity” doesn’t prevent my gut fear of another uprooting. Experience leaves an imprint of expectation in our hearts. The nomadic lifestyle began in earnest when we finished seminary, after which a pastoral job and preparation to be missionaries led us to several different cities and even more homes. We moved twelve times in a span of two and a half years, and it hurt my heart terribly.

At nearly every house or apartment I resolutely unpacked everything, decorated the walls with my grandmother’s paintings and the children’s art, and brought cookies when meeting our new neighbors. I tried to make each place a home, even if it would not last long. And I grieved the loss of our previous home and the life we had built there.

I grew up in one place, but without knowing it, even then I longed to be home. I kept subtly searching for something that tingled like a phantom limb; it had to be there—my entire being reached out for it! Or was it only an untouchable dream?

I can relate to Peter when he tells Jesus, “See, we have left everything and followed you” (Mark 10:28). I reflect with some self-pity, perhaps like Peter, that we have left our family and our friends and our homeland to follow Christ. I know that dying to myself is the only path to life and abiding happiness, but even so, my heart is burdened in the midst of loss.

Jesus responds to Peter’s outburst with a longer-term view:

“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

His words, though demanding, are a balm to my soul. God has fulfilled the temporal part of the promise many times over. We have been welcomed into the physical homes of fellow believers when we were in need, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are our family in every way. But even more so, the fleeting losses of following Christ are nothing compared to the eternal gain.

The ESV Study Bible notes that “Jesus assures the disciples that they have answered the call and are blessed.” This pain of being between worlds is not a logistical problem, but a sign of following His call. It’s not a sign that we are failures as missionaries, but that the redemption of the world is costly. Christ bore the greatest cost of all.

The home we long for is not a phantom or a dream: we were created to yearn for our Lord’s lovely dwelling place. “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Psalm 84:2). In his earthly life, Jesus shared in our homelessness. He left his perfect heavenly home to rescue us from our sin; he had no place to lay his head. And he will return to remedy our aching hunger with the ultimate Home he prepares for us even now, where there will be no more crying or pain because the former things have passed away.

 

Originally published at A Life Overseas on December 22, 2015.

Finishing Thoughts

The time has come to write my last post here at A Life Overseas. I have very much enjoyed sharing with you over the last few years, always impressed by the quality of conversation we find. Thank you for that.

As I’ve mulled over these finishing thoughts, I found myself wishing we could talk face to face, to share these last moments in a more intimate way. Although I’ve not known you personally, the effects of your conversations here have been personal and both challenged and encouraged me greatly. I owe you a debt of gratitude for that.  

In saying farewell, I’ll leave you with the three thoughts clambering around my head these days…

Our work is not our identity. Our work overseas certainly forms a part of who we are, but thank God it is not entirely who we are. We are valued in God’s kingdom whether at home or abroad simply because we are His dearly loved children. That identity, not our job title or the place we live, is where we must ground ourselves. You are deeply loved and known by God, whether you work overseas or not.

How we share our stories matters greatly. On the quality communication spectrum, the pull towards an advertising/hype type model in ministry pegs on the low end. I know it’s hard to find a balance. Churches and individuals financially support us, are interested in our work, and expect updates. This is right and good. I know at times we also face the perceived, or maybe very real, pressure to demonstrate ourselves as a worthy investment of prayer and money. But there is a difference between sharing stories and selling ourselves as world changers. We do not need to have the best, most exciting, most results driven ministry news. Faithfulness and vulnerability go farther. In our actions and in our communication we have a choice to be glossy and sensational, or humble and open.

Serving overseas is not a great sacrifice. Yes, serving overseas does involve sacrifice. I will not downplaying the hardships. But when we think about it, what transforming aspect of life doesn’t involve sacrifice? Consider marriage and children. We don’t frame conversations about our spouses and children as purely sacrificial (at least I hope not or we have other issues to deal with!). We give the pregnant woman our earnest congratulations not because parenting is easy, but because in the scheme of life we understand the preciousness and value of children. In serving overseas there are costs felt, some quite painfully so, but the experience ultimately gives far more than it takes away.    

***

Thank you again, friends, for the space you’ve allowed for me to process and grow. I am still overseas, still learning along with you, and forever appreciating our many conversations.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”
Numbers 6:24-26

Life on Loan

This morning the bible app on my phone sent me Matthew 6:34:

“So don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries.
Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Staring at the screen I thought, “Huh. Well, I don’t have the capacity to worry any more this year anyway.”

Not exactly a great spiritual insight, but it’s where I’m at. Any space previously available for future worrying is simply filled up by today.   

This is not for lack of worrying opportunity. 2020 has done it’s best to throw all of us in a tizzy. I’m not challenging the validity of fears we’ve experienced living through a worldwide pandemic, they just don’t belong to us heaped up together all at one time. Today has enough trouble of it’s own.

If there’s anything 2020 has been teaching us, it’s that we can throw predictability out the window. What will the world look like in six months? I don’t know. Six months ago I certainly didn’t see worldwide shut downs coming. Neither could I have guessed a surprise pregnancy during this pandemic would leave us displaced, unable to return to our overseas home.  

Living overseas does tend to throw enough unpredictability at you on a regular basis that you gain a sense of the future not really belonging to you. Every year we face the possibility of losing our visas. Every summer friends and colleagues leave the field (including those I counted on staying forever). Every school year we face new challenges in meeting the academic needs of our children. Every month brings the possibility of changes in financial support. The list could go on and with time you learn to loosen your grip on the future and what you feel ‘should’ happen.

Still, despite all our familiarity with unknown futures, it’s easy to feel like 2020 is a push too far. We shouldn’t be experiencing loss of work, home, and connections. My children shouldn’t be suffering through mandatory isolation and social distancing. I shouldn’t be at risk for a potentially life threatening illness. My husband shouldn’t be experiencing loss of meaningful daily work.

Grief is an appropriate response, but as the months tick by I can’t help but wonder – Isn’t life just on loan to us anyway?

This brief existence, these few fleeting years, are all we have. This notion of life being temporary is exactly what lead us to live our lives the way we do in the first place. Life is precious, but it doesn’t occur decades at a time. Life only lends moments at a time, I only have today.

We may wrestle with the disappointment and sadness of our lost hopes for the future, but may that sadness not consume us into worry. May we not miss the time we have been given or lose sight of the treasures in front of us in this very moment.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but the future never really belonged to me anyway. I do have today, though. And today will bring enough worries of its own.

God is great and ever so good

My friend Barbara wrote to me recently, “God is great and ever so good.”

Her words struck me at a particularly vulnerable moment. I found myself repeating her words over and over when fear crept in. I couldn’t predict what I felt was a very fragile future, but I could speak truth over it – God is great and ever so good.

I have known loss, but in that loss God showed Himself great and ever so good.

I have known loneliness, but in that loneliness God showed Himself great and ever so good.

I have known despair, but in that despair God showed Himself great and ever so good.

God’s greatness and goodness are not dependent on my situation or my feelings. I know this, but believing and living it is entirely different. Barbara’s summation of truth sent me back into the scriptures, pulling verses that have for years comforted my heart and pointed me away from fear. With the world so upside down at the moment, I wondered if you too are facing unknown and could use reminding of just how great and good God is…

“You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.” Rev 4:11

 “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:28

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with loving kindness and tender mercies.” Psalm 103:2-4

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” Psalm 107:8-9

 “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
John 14:27

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!” Lamentations 3:22-24

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26

The world is unpredictable. Heartache and difficulties are a part of life. Take comfort for the truth remains- God is great and ever so good.

Love Thy Neighbour (unless they’re obnoxious)

You know the good neighbour story Jesus tells about the guy robbed, beaten and left half dead on the side of the road? All these religious types walk on by and he’s eventually helped by an unlikely traveler.

Me? Oh you bet I’d stop. It’s like those YouTube videos that pop up in my newsfeed every so often. Some vagrant looking woman sitting alone and crying on a park bench. All these people just pass by and I’m watching like, What’s the matter with you people? She needs help! And finally some guy comes along and asks what’s wrong. I’d be that guy. I’d help.

But I’ve never passed a woman crying on a park bench, or an injured man on the side of the road.

Reality goes like this…

A few years back we had upstairs neighbours who used to throw things at each other. We’d hear them stomping around and pushing over furniture all in a rage. They did everything exceptionally loud – watched tv, got drunk, had sex. I was all Halleluiah!s the day they had a fight on the lawn and she was hauled off to jail.

Another neighbour with a brain injury told me her husband only kept her around for the disability payments. She’d do her best to stop me and deliver the same 20 minute monologue every single day: You know I’ve only got two thirds of my brain, stop me if I’ve told this story before, but I never much liked religious people. Bunch of hypocritical… I’d peek out the front door to make sure the coast was clear before darting to the community mailboxes.

A notoriously tetchy neighbour gave me the finger and yelled, “Get the %&$# out the way!” when she had to slow her car to pass me around a tight corner. I shot back in the exaggerated bible belt voice I save for occasions like these, “Always nice to see you! God bless!” Surely I could kill her with passive aggressive kindness.

Here recently, I watched as my hot tempered neighbours silently wheeled stolen motorcycles through their gate and hid them in the back. With the system here, there was nothing I could do about it. I somehow managed to change my squinty eyes death stare to a tight lipped smile the next time I saw them.

Then there’s the older kids at the end of our street. They made my son cry. I roared like mad woman and sent them scattering. Mess with my child and things will get fierce.

Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

Oh, I do love my neighbours. Lots of neighbours. Just not these. But since these are only a few compared to the lots of neighbours I love, I figure it balances out.  

Heck, I’m good at loving neighbours. I taught years of Sunday school, was a middle school youth group leader, and co-led a bible studies for teen girls. None of that is for the faint of heart.

Before I moved overseas, I spent time with teenagers every week at a therapeutic group home. Most of them are not that lovable. Three summers in a row I spent a week at a camp for refugee kids. A bunch of them aren’t that lovable either.

Love my neighbours? I moved to the literal other side of the world to support my husband as he flies out to remote villages. He picks up sick people that would otherwise die and transports missionaries who would have to hike for days through dangerous jungle terrain.

I’d say I’m actually pretty darn good at loving my neighbours, thank you very much.

Jesus: “This is what God does. He gives his best –the sun to warm and the rain to nourish– to everyone, regardless: good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.”

Yeah but that’s God, so of course he has enough love for everyone. It comes with the territory. I’ve got love for most everyone, a few obnoxious cases aside.

Jesus: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

///Awkward silence///

The way God lives towards me? So it’s not just about an old bible story, set up YouTube videos, and the do good projects I pick?

Oh man. That changes things.

***

The good neighbour (good Samaritan) story is found in Luke 10:30-37. The Jesus quotes are taken from Matthew 5 & 22, The Message and the New American Standard

This post originally published on www.namasayamommy.com

The upside down-ness of socially distant life

As these last days and weeks have dragged on into months of isolation and distancing, I can’t shake the upside down feeling. Not much is as it should be. My family is out of place and out of sorts. Just this week with slight loosening lock down measures I took my children with me to the store, their first outing in two months. My five year old daughter talked to every person she met and rushed through the telling of all the names of friends she misses any time she had a captive audience. She is starved for connection. We all are.

Yes, there is Zoom and Skype and FaceTime. Yes, we WhatsApp with friends and family attempting to connect in meaningful ways. Yes, we remind ourselves that flattening the curve is important and the upside down-ness is not forever. The parts of our beings made for connection, real life physical connection, still starve.

Moving overseas, the connections with those we left behind took on a different form. We grieved the losses, but understood new connections would be made in our new home. My own parents, siblings, nieces and nephew, and friends were missing from my day to day life, but these in person holes were soon filled. A new, real life community formed around me. I am Aunt Anisha to countless mission nieces and nephews. While thousands of miles separate me from my mother, older women step in to provide comfort and guidance. New friendships forged in the shared experience of living overseas lend peace and hold us up when the homesickness strikes.

But now? Now when all the daily connections are missing and new relationships cannot be formed to fill the gap?

Recently our mission community experienced a exodus of expats. Our hearts hurt to say goodbye to many friends who had become family. Sharing my sadness with a teammate, she responded, “Yes. Sometimes I can feel so alone here. But God always reminds me that when I am lonely and my friends have left, He is the friend who never leaves me.”

We were created for connection- real life, physical connection with other people. People made in God’s image, fleshy carriers of His love and goodness.

God, how I miss your people! I pray. I thought I knew how to do this, how to cope when saying goodbye and forging new relationships is such an innate part of mission life. Surely I should be able to cope with these temporary distances, but they are so hard!

The distance is hard. We all feel it. We’ll keep those Zoom sessions and WhatsApp messages. Instead of stopping to talk with neighbors, we’ll cross to the other side of the street and shout across our greetings as we pass. We’ll remain socially distant and wait.

In the waiting, may my upside down heart remember that there is a Friend who is never distant, who is always with me, who created me for connection, and will provide for that ache just as He always has.

Disappointed

We had a rough year. From running our base on our own to riots in town, we were happy to close the door on 2019. 2020 would be a good year. We had a furlough coming! I couldn’t wait to relax, let down my cultural guard, connect with friends and family, and forgo cooking from scratch.

 We had pinned so many hopes on a good furlough, then COVID-19 happened.

We watched the spread and wondered if we would be able to make it out of our country of service. Thankfully we left just before countries around us started closing to transit flights. We landed in the US on March 6 and enjoyed one week of freedom before social distancing orders took over. Our furlough plans crashed down around us as spending time with much of our extended family, friends, and our sending church became impossible.

We still have a lot to be grateful for. We are safe. We are provided for. We do not lack. But man oh man we are disappointed.

Disappointment is where I sit today and type out this message to you. A part of me feels like this disappointment is a sign of just how self centered I really am. The world is sick and I feel sad because I can’t take my children to the movies?

That’s the thing about disappointment, no amount of attempting to reframe my mind to be grateful for what I have really helps. I am thankful for where we are and how we are able to wait out this virus in safety, but I am also really, truly, sad about my dashed expectations.

One of my favorite passages of scripture is Luke 24:13-35. It’s the day of Jesus’ resurrection, but as far as the two disciples in the story are concerned, Jesus is dead. They walk along the road to Emmaus rehashing the events of the last years and days. They are heartbroken and confused. Jesus appears, unrecognized, and walks alongside them asking what they are talking about. The disciples recount the story of Jesus and the crucifixion, then say my favorite line of the entire passage, “but we had hoped that he was the one…”  

But we had hoped. Can you hear the disappointment? Can you hear the sadness?

This is where I find myself, walking loops around the neighborhood, talking to Jesus, recounting events and spilling out my spoiled hopes.

I had hoped to use this time to let my children experience American culture.

I had hoped to make memories with family we haven’t seen in years.

I had hoped to spend hours catching up with friends over coffees or pizzas.

I had hoped to share face to face stories of all the things we’ve experienced over this last term.

I had hoped…

In the Emmaus story, Jesus listens. He lets the disciples share everything on their mind, all their disappointments, before saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all the prophets have spoken!”  

I don’t believe Jesus was angry with them. The passage is full of tenderness, of walking alongside, of listening, and of explaining. Jesus took them back through the story from the beginning and expanded on all the scriptures, he replaced disappointment with understanding and peace. At their invitation he even went on to stay and eat with them before being recognized.

As I pour out my disappointments, I ask for understanding and peace. I know the One walking alongside me. I’m not looking for some bigger reason of why this virus had to happen, but I am asking for understanding that even in the midst of everything, God is still good. I long to hear that gentle chastisement, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe!” and for his outlining of truth-

Truth that God is at work in a broken world. That he cares for us all. And that no disappointment, no matter how small, is too small for his attention and teaching.