Stop Waiting for It All to Make Sense

Alece Ronzino Stop Waiting For it All to Make Sense

One of the biggest myths of our generation is that we need clarity in order to commit.

Before we pull the trigger, we first want answers to all our questions. We want a complete road map. We want to read the fine print before we sign our lives away. We want confident periods not uncertain question marks. We want to fully know what we’re getting ourselves into. We want surety before we take a step. And until we get it, we wait…

And we blame our lack of commitment on a lack of clarity.

But it’s a myth that knowing more would make it easier to say yes. It’s a lie we tell ourselves so that we feel better about doing nothing.

If I knew all that awaited me when I boarded the plane for Africa at 19, I never would have gone. If I could’ve seen the roadmap of hills and deep, dark valleys, I would have stayed Stateside. If I could have imagined all the heartaches and challenges that I would have to endure in order to embrace the victories and successes, I would have cowered in the corner crying.

Details paralyze more than uncertainty does.

If we wait until we have it all spelled out, that’s no longer faith-driven commitment— that’s just executing a plan. Commitment must be laced with doubt and hesitation and mystery.

Commitment, in its truest form, demands ambiguity.

Think of Abraham. “Leave your country, your family, and your father’s home,” God said, “for a land that I will show you.”

Without even knowing where he was going or how he would get there, Abraham left.

Courageous commitment lined every footstep he left in the rugged soil, stepping away from the known into the land of the unknown.

What’s that thing scratching on the corner of your heart? What is that quiet nudge you continue to feel? What’s the passion that keeps rising to the surface? Whatever it is… Stop waiting for all the answers, for certainty, for assurances.

Commitment precedes clarity every single time.

So pull the trigger. Say yes. Jump off the cliff. Send that email. Start the conversation.

Take the step.

The courage lies in doing it afraid.

What is it for you?

What do you need to commit to?

{Photo source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lauter-als-der-rest/6898114788/}

 

Alece HeadshotAlece Ronzino –  After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

O Holy Night

beautiful-christmas-holiday

Every direction you turn, images of Christmas are evident.You need not look far to find beautiful and thoughtful displays, tastefully decorated homes with glowing trees, and rows and rows of symmetrical twinkling lights. Step into one of these homes and the warm fire will greet you as you breathe in fresh scents of pine and cinnamon. It is beautiful and clean and so.very.pristine. 

Looking upon these exquisite arrangements one senses order and peace.

O Holy Night
In contrast I’m reflecting on the untidy disorder and chaos in the lives of so many celebrating Christmas around the world this year. They experience vastly different surroundings and a much more simplified version of the annual celebration of the Christ child. It looks nothing like the photos in the magazines and has not even the tiniest hint of Martha Stewart. There are no smells of fresh-baked cookies or apple cider to entice them. They don’t string lights around a tree, pile colorfully wrapped gifts high, or build gingerbread houses; yet meek and mild – they celebrate.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,’Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth

How did our celebration of this day become so clean and crisp? Where are the smells and  sweat and tears that were most certainly a part of Mary and Joseph’s journey?

It begs the question:  Do ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ scenes with sparkling lights and gorgeous decorations reflect the Christmas story best? Are the experiences of a frightened and ashamed teenage mother-to-be anything like that?

Do the marginalized and suffering in our world experience Christmas more like Mary and Joseph did – or do we?

A thrill of hope – the weary world rejoices

I’m reflecting on these two extremes.  I love the exquisitely ordered and the beautifully arranged. I close my eyes and picture that sort of beauty in our Heavenly home.

While yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
I long for a day when disparity and injustice ends. I dream of a Christmas were no child is enslaved, abused, and sold. I pray for the glorious morn, where the oppressed are free. I long to wake up to learn that no child is suffering or slowly starving to death. I dream of a day when people from every continent and every nation celebrate Jesus and His birth surrounded by love, joy, dancing, singing and immeasurable peace and beauty and justice.
Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace
Truthfully I also find great inspiration in the simple, dingy, gritty, humble celebrations of those who struggle and toil without access to our unstained images of Christmas. I long for their stripped down total dependence on God. I pray for spiritual wealth like that of the materially poor. I want their depth. I want their undying hope. I want a Christmas less like Oprah’s and more like theirs.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother; And in His name all oppression shall cease
Our youngest daughter Lydia has been struggling with choices. When offered a choice of two things she’ll often reply, “I want two ones.”  When she says that, she means I want them both.

As I soak in Christmas this year I find myself wanting two ones.  I want the perfect looking, delicious smelling, pain-free and unpolluted Christmas and I want the dirty, stinky, humble, difficult, but miraculous Christmas that Mary and Joseph and the rich in faith experience.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we, Let all within us praise His holy name
While I attempt to reconcile two very different Christmases, the celebrations only make sense to me in the context of good overcoming evil. God coming to earth in the form of His son Jesus, to live a sinless life, to die for us … In His resurrection the promise that one day there will be beauty and justice for all.

The end of death. 
The end of suffering.

O Holy Night
~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~
The post above is being re-shared, and was originally written in 2010. Thanks for the opportunity  to recycle it.
***
We struggled with the loss of our known traditions when we moved to Haiti, living in tension between the two experiences took some getting used to. We started a new tradition as a family of making and sharing little Christmas plays each year. We’ve enjoyed making them for seven years now and wanted to share year three with you today. See it HERE.
***
What about you?  Which Christmas do you most identify with and why?  Did you begin any new traditions when you left your “home”  and couldn’t participate in the old ones?
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Tara Livesay works in the area of Maternal Health in Port au Prince, Haiti.
 blog:  livesayhaiti.com  |  twitter (sharing with her better half): @troylivesay
Photo credit: Christmas tree photo favim.com

Transitioning Well

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I’ve never heard of anyone who really enjoys transition. I have, however, met plenty of people who will reflect on times of transition as times of significant growth. What is it about transition that is so difficult? How can we make the most of transition? Does living overseas feel like a life of constant transition for everyone else too?

Up front, I’ll tell you I don’t have the answer to those questions. What I do have are some suggestions that might help you make the most of a transition period. I lived overseas for a few years and it seemed like the transition never stopped.

Here are some things that have helped weather the transition storm over the years.

Keep the big picture in mind

One time, I was complaining about being busy or stressed to my friend and he asked me a really good question. “How do you think the CEO of Walmart can operate 11,000 stores in 27 different countries with over 2.2 million employees?” I really didn’t care about the answer that much but it helped me realize that I alone create my threshold for stress and busyness. There are less busy people who are accomplishing more than you. For some reason, this helps me in times of stress and transition. It reminds me that I created my glass ceiling and I can destroy it. 

Need some inspiration in this area? Do some research on what a person goes through to join the special forces of the military. There’s a show on the Discovery Channel called “Surviving the Cut” that is especially eye-opening.

Don’t forget who is in control

This isn’t a super spiritual paragraph about how since God’s in control you have nothing to worry about. Read the story of Adam and Eve or the parable of the ten talents. It’s hard to miss how much God has entrusts us with. God may be in ultimate control, but that doesn’t mean that were off the hook for our decisions and the associated consequences. You own your future. If something isn’t right; you don’t have enough money, you don’t spend enough time with your kids, your relationship with your spouse isn’t fun anymore, you aren’t leading enough small groups, your church isn’t growing… You are the only one that can do anything about it. During a transition it’s especially tempting to think the trajectory you are on is out of your control; it’s not. It never is. If something isn’t right, change it. You have no other options. Read the Principle of the Path if you need some inspiration in this area.

Invest in your future

You can’t predict the future. Trying to will most likely frustrate you. Instead, invest in things that will definitely help you regardless of your future. Spend less money than you make. Ensure the relationships around you are as healthy as possible. Exercise regularly and eat real food. Sleep well. Live in community. These things are not going to solve the problem right in front of you, but they will ensure that you are incredibly well equipped to solve it.

A mechanic can’t possibly know everything that is going to go wrong with a car, but he has the right tools to fix anything that comes his way. The more tools he has, the more complex problems he can fix. What tools are you investing in that will help you get through transition?

Read The Power of Full Engagement for a kick of motivation about investing in these kinds of tools.

How about you? How do you transition well? Does it feel like living overseas is living a life of constant transition? 

– – – – – – – – – –

– Dustin Patrick |  1MISSION in Mexico, Nicaragua, & El Salvador

Find him on Twitter or Facebook.

 

A Philosophical (Running) Life Overseas

running wealthOther posts in the series:

A Practical (Running) Life Overseas (tips for starting to run as an expat)

A Communal (Running) Life Overseas (building community while doing what you love)

A Philosophical (Running) Life Overseas 

I run with my iPhone. In an armband. With earphones. In Djibouti this makes me feel excessively wealthy, especially when I consider that runners I knew, interviewed, ran with, have died in search of a better life than the Horn of Africa can offer.

The armband Velcro melted off months ago so I twist it all around itself to keep it on. The earphones are missing the cushiony part on one side and only one earplug actually works. In places were suffering means you still use the iPhone 4 or can only go out to eat twice per week, this constitutes severe deprivation.

I wear a waist belt packed full with four bottles of water I freeze overnight and Gu and Chapstick and enough change for a taxi or a phone call or another bottle of water. The zippers rusted out on the pack so none of the pockets close. The Velcro salted over and I have to continually retighten it to keep from losing the belt. This means I drink more water while running than some people drink in a day. I have more money in my running belt than some earn in a day.

I alternate between Asics and Saucony shoes. I wear running pants and shirts and sports bras and socks that, even though I bought them on clearance and keep them until they literally fall apart, mean I spend more on my running clothes than most of the people I run by in the early mornings will spend on clothing for the year.

I struggle with this. Here I come, burning calories because I have more than enough to eat. Here I come, with the leisure time to spend running. Here I come, wearing my rich clothes. Here I come, with my fancy gadgets.running and wealth

Am I not supopsed to run until everyone, everywhere, has the time, money, and energy to run? I could stay inside and use exercise DVDs to stay in shape, I could join a club (if there was an affordable one with functioning machines) where I would exercise indoors and street kids wouldn’t see me. I could quit exercising altogether.

But. I am very aware of my privilege, running is an example of that privilege. Not running, or running in secret does nothing to address this issue. It would simply mask my abundance. There is a subtle lie here, easily believed, that hiding behind walls or being ashamed of quality running shoes would somehow make the economic difference between myself and many Djiboutians less true.

So I’m not going to stop and I’m not going to hide and I’m not going to run in terrible shoes that will cause an injury.

What should I do? I can make wise choices about my clothes and shoes and gadgets. I can make them last as long as possible and can not be pressured to buy the latest model or fashion when there is nothing (drastically) wrong with the one I have. I can give my water bottle, still half-full, to the boy begging, when I realize I won’t need it all today.

I don’t plan on quitting running. I don’t plan on running barefoot (tried) or without water (tried) or naked (never tried). But I do think about the people I run by and pray for them. I smile at the kids and slap their hands, high-five style. I greet the older women, macooyo, grandmother. I cheer on the few other runners.

When I run in Djibouti, I’m entering the dust and heat and sunrises of this nation. I’m passing the donkey carts with loads of grass and sticks, jumping over cat carcasses. Smelling rotisserie chickens and fresh baguettes. I’m waving at women weaving baskets and humming along with the call to prayer. I pound my fist on taxis when they drive too close and explore side streets that lead to the ocean. I’m greeting shopkeepers and promising fruit stand guys that I’ll come by later for their delish-looking mangoes. I know when construction starts a few blocks over and when a new family set up a shack in the empty lot on the corner.

Instead of hiding my abundance from Djiboutians, when I run, I am learning to engage with them.

running and wealth

And I don’t feel the disparity in those moments. I don’t know, maybe they do, but I have had men selling bananas tell me the only reason they went out to watch the half marathon was because they thought I would be running in it, felt they knew me, and wanted to cheer.

This idea of ‘relationship’ doesn’t solve issues of economic divides. But at least running in the streets makes me aware and forces me to think, relate, respond. I’m still working on how to live with my plenty with integrity, how to be generous without feeling pressured, how to live with gratitude without guilt, how to live with my eyes wide open and my heart tenderly malleable.

This issue is a marathon issue, probably even an ultra. I have a long ways to go.

Do you run (or engage in other similar activites) in a developing country? In what ways do you feel compelled to mask your abundance?

When Cross Cultural Differences Are Shocking

I was busy working yesterday morning during my daily precious kid-free hour, when I heard my three-month-old baby give a great shriek of panicked distress from outside. It was the sort of scream that makes a mother drop everything and bolt for the source.

When I located the source he was naked, sucking frantically on his fist, and still kicking his fat legs in protest. Our housekeeper was carrying him inside. She looked at me and grinned, then pointed to the garden tap and my child’s bare, wet bottom.

“Alex poo poo,” she said.

I leaned over and patted Alex on the head.

“Welcome to the world of cross cultural differences, little one,” I said. “They’re not always going to feel comfortable.”

After spending the best part of my life so far hop-scotching around the globe (not to mention some time working in a maximum security men’s prison and some more time working with the police) I like to think that I’m fairly unshockable. But then something happens …

I meet someone at a Mardi Gras party in New Orleans, for example, who tells me they’re on a health kick that involves drinking their own urine every morning.

nydailynewscom
Source: nydailynews.com

I visit my parents in the Philippines and learn that some penitents there mark Easter by beating themselves bloody and then recreating the crucifixion.

I go to childbirth classes in an area of Australia that some might refer to as being “well populated by hippies, tree-huggers, and granola-types.” There, one of my classmates proclaims that she’ll be having a lotus birth. Later, I learn that a lotus birth means you don’t cut the umbilical cord after the baby is born, but wrap up the entire placenta and carry it around with the baby until the cord stump rots out and falls off, “naturally” detaching the placenta.

Three weeks after we moved to Laos, I accompany my husband, Mike, on my first trip to the villages. Right in front of me – just after I’ve been introduced as Mike’s wife –the village chief turns to Mike and inquires whether he will also be taking a Lao wife during his time in Laos. He even asks this in English. It was awesome.

The other night I asked Mike about these sorts of things.

“You’ve lived and worked in 15 countries now,” I said. “What cross cultural difference has shocked you lately?”

Mike paused. I wondered if he was remembering that this article was going to end up on the internet and calculating the risks of saying anything too disparaging about the Powers That Be in our current host country.

Then he smiled.

“Once in Tajikistan, a local co-worker I didn’t know well informed me just 30 minutes before his wedding that I was going to be the best man,” he said. “That came as a bit of a shock. It also came with a lot of sheep-fat-eating and vodka-drinking responsibilities that I really didn’t want. There was also the time in a village in Uganda when the women were so happy we’d installed two borehole wells that they sang and danced for two hours without stopping.

Uganda-1 (2005)

Occaisionally these cross-cultural shocks are wonderful – moments of surprising collision with a different sort of beauty or love or kindness, and you’re moved and humbled and enriched all at once.

Sometimes these sorts of moments are shocking simply because they fall outside the boundaries of anything we have considered before. Voluntarily drinking your own urine, for example, is just not something I’d ever thought of before that moment in New Orleans. It’s not something that I’d say is necessarily wrong. It’s just, well, icky. And I have trouble understanding how it could be a good idea to drink something your body has already disposed of as a waste product once already.

However, sometimes the shock we can feel in these cross-cultural moments goes beyond surprise. Sometimes I can’t just shrug my shoulders and think “not for me, but to each their own.” Sometimes there is a healthy dose of serious judgment mixed in there. These are the cross-cultural encounters that I find more enduringly troubling, because they force me to grapple with my fundamental ideas about right and wrong.

I think, for example, that certain widely-practiced initiation ceremonies (e.g., Female Genital Mutilation) are not just different. They’re wrong. I’m probably on pretty firm ground with FGM, but what about when it comes to other cultural sexual practices that differ markedly from the Westernized norms? What about mutilating yourself physically in the name of religious devotion? What about practices or customs that disregard or objectify women?

Sometimes it’s hard to know when a cross-cultural shock is simply a serendipitous invitation to broaden my worldview and when it’s OK to draw a line in the sand and dare to label a particular practice or custom as “wrong”.

Many of you, I know, have lived among worlds for some time now. You might have become quite practiced at waking up one morning in Arusha and then, just 48 hours later, greeting the sunrise in Los Angeles. You might feel equally comfortable shopping for vegetables at farmers markets in Bangkok or Sydney. You might even be able to switch languages (and adopt an attendant, different cultural persona) with a casual and admirable facility.

But I’d wager that cross-cultural differences still sometimes catch you completely unawares. Do share your own stories below …

Have you been shocked by a cross cultural difference lately?

And when do you think it’s ever OK to point to a different cultural practice that you find shocking and label it “wrong”?

A Communal (Running) Life Overseas

running djibouti*Read the first post in this series here: A Practical (Running) Life Overseas

I didn’t intend to build a running community. I didn’t even intend to start running. But loneliness will make you do incredible things and five years later, I am amazed.

I started running when we had a woman working with us for one school year. Heather had recently run a marathon.

“Is it safe to run here?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You should go with someone at least the first time.”

“You’re the boss,” she said. “I’m running. You’re supposed to keep me safe, so I guess you’re coming with.”

And voila, I started running. I liked running fine, but I adored Heather. I would go through anything, even a 110-degree run, to spend time with her, to listen to her talk while I huffed and hacked, to pray, to review scripture together.

Eventually we got more serious about training and wanted to do speed work. Through another American and her friendship with Djibouti’s only Olympic medalist (1988 Seoul Olympics, bronze in the marathon), we were given permission to run at the stadium.

running djibouti

A handful of local girls trained there. They were young, not in school, friendly, and often injured. They rarely stretched and ran in bare feet, didn’t know about hydration or post-run fueling, and were often kept out of competitions because they didn’t belong to a club. These girls were fast, they lapped us during workouts, but on warm-up and cool-down laps, we chatted and developed friendships and we started to dream about an all-girls club.

Girls Run 2 launched in 2008 and now includes two coaches and 27 girls in two towns. The club provides running equipment, water at races, transportation to races, academic assistance, and some job skills training.

Running is by nature a solitary endeavor, but all runners can testify to the strength of a running community. A running team, race camaraderie, someone to complain about knee pain to, someone who will ask if you are meeting your goals, someone who understands why you push your body to the limits.

Living overseas isn’t always, but can sometimes feel like a solitary endeavor. My husband has a job and through his work, has a natural community. Over the years I have been much more fluid in how I engage and it has often been a lonely struggle. Running has helped meet a relational need through the development of this community.

How can those of us without a clear-cut niche develop a community overseas? How can we be intentional and creative and get involved?

You don’t need to start a club. It could be one other woman, like Heather and I. What about finding out if any of your local friends run or walk or want to start? Gather one or two and hit the road, the time together might become addicting and attractive to others. You don’t have to be fast. I began participating in races, sometimes one of three women out of a field of over 100. I have been the last person, the.last.person to cross the finish line. The first time that I finished in last place I got on television, shook the hand of the minister for sports, and posed for photos with the national running team, a gigantic trophy in my hands for finishing as the third-place woman. Third out of three. Last place. Champion. There is probably a lesson there, I was just glad to stop running.

You don’t need a lot of experience. Neighbors began talking to me about running, some asked if they could run with me. When university students found out I ran, some came to the train to join, even though they had never run before. Since I was still a beginner, we had a lot in common.

It doesn’t have to be running. Figure out what you love to do and then do it with the people around you. Notice, I didn’t say: figure out what you do well and then do it with the people around you. I do not run well. I have terrible form and turn red as beet juice. I terrify children and make them scream when I try to smile at the end of long runs (true story).

Want to build community? What do you love to do? How can you do it together?

(here is a link to the preview for the movie I mentioned in my last post about running: Finding Strong. If you get Runner’s World magazine, the December issue has a fully page ad for this film and the photo is of three of our Djibouti girls at Lac Assal, the lowest point in Africa, Djibouti’s salt lake).

 -Rachel Pieh Jones, (slow) marathoner and development worker, Djibouti

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

 

Airplanes are Time Machines

We joke that airplanes are time machines. When we come back to South America from North America it feels as though we step back in time. The clinics feel outdated. The cows on cobblestone streets look like the pioneer days in the movies. The open fires in homes and restaurants tended by women in skirts with babies slung on their backs set a scene of a bygone era.

I suppose we could also launch a mind bending conversation about the relativity of time. Like how you “skip” a day when flying from L.A. to Sydney. Or how you can “go back” to yesterday by flying from Tokyo to Honolulu. Such a thrilling life for international travelers! We’ll save all that for the science forums.

I’d rather touch on something even non-nerds can converse about: the cultural concept of time.

Yang Liu created a collection of captivating infogrpahics and put them in a book. After spending significant time in Germany and China she compares: standing in line, dealing with problems, social dynamics at parties, etc. You can see a larger sampling on Brain Pickings.  For the purpose of this post I want us to consider just this one:

Yang Liu's infographic on punctualityOn the left, in the blue box, we see the Germanic concept of punctuality. On the right, in the red box, we see the Chinese concept of punctuality. What would the image portray as an infographic on punctuality for the region where you reside?

The Bolivian rhythm is quite different than the Nebraska rhythm I was raised on. Adjusting my definition of “late” has relieved some tension. Others have tried to sanctify punctuality, as if it was included in the beatitudes. That is a mite too exhausting for me. I choose rather to ascribe to a different addendum to the Sermon on the Mount:  Blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape.

Culture shock still creeps up on me every once in a while, though. It usually hits me when I think I have something all figured out. I thought for sure I had the slower place down pat. Then some challenges arose in a particular relationship with a Bolivian.

Consistently, my expectations were not met. I hoped for growth. I taught for growth. We went round and round the issues, and still I didn’t see what I wanted to see in the life of this other person.

When I was venting my frustrations to a very wise lady she helped me see this situation in a new light. She asked if I loved the other person. What good Christian would say no? Of course I love this person. She then said that it was time to lift the timeline. Oftentimes when dealing with relational issues we cannot put a timeline of expectation on the other person. When we are committed to the relationship we will trust that God is helping the other person to grow and change in His timing.

Since that moment, when I see myself become impatient with another person, especially this person, I remember that I let the timeline go. What a great freedom!

The Message bible says in Matthew 11:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The unforced rhythms of grace for others.

The unforced rhythms of grace for myself.

The unforced rhythms of grace to live in company with God.

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace

What is time like in your region of the world?

Are there some areas in your life where lifting the timeline expectation might relieve some pressure?

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

Succession

Missionaries are good at many things. We are adaptable, we are frugal, and we often carry a global perspective.

In my experience, one area we are weak in is in planning for the future. Our strength lies in our ability to respond and change, but at times this keeps our focus on the here and now, rather than outward to what is to come.

This is evident in our finances (but this is for another discussion), our relationships, and often in our ministries.

We are the ones who boldly proclaim retirement is not in the Bible.
We wrestle with whether it is appropriate for us to store up future funds when immediate needs are so great.
We often struggle to travel home to maintain valuable relationships due to the immensity of work which needs to be done on the field.

These are generalizations I realize. But, let’s pause for a moment to consider succession in our ministries.

Some rights reserved by Trinidad-News.com
Some rights reserved by Trinidad-News.com

I seem to meet many in ministry who have no plan for the work to go on when they are unable to continue.

Why is this?

When our family moved to South Africa eight years ago, we desired to build something which would outlast us. I think this is a common goal and dream among ministries and missionaries.

Why is it so difficult to accomplish?

Sometimes we wonder what we will do if we pass things on.
Fear sets in as we question whether our supporters might assume we no longer have a ministry.
Often we won’t hand our “baby” off to someone who is different than us.
We can’t imagine giving things to a younger leader (wanting to protect them from the same lessons we learned in becoming a “seasoned” leader.
It is even possible to assume the right person will only come at the end of our journey.

What if that “right” person shows up earlier than we expect?
Would we be able to accomplish more things if we actively thought of succession?

The objections to this issue are fair and need to be considered;
It’s too soon.
They are not ready.
The timing must be right.

Let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Passing things off earlier rather than later enables us to:
Release local leaders who likely will be more culturally relevant than ourselves, perhaps taking the ministry even further.
Be present for the growing pains of transition in a coaching and mentoring way.
Allow younger leaders some of the same opportunities we were afforded at their stage.
Ensure that ministries or teams are not based on us.
Set a godly example of leadership which is not power based or title hungry.

And all of this does not reduce our personal fruitfulness, but increases it. We have the freedom to pursue new opportunities and see even greater impact in the nations we serve. We can join the “cloud of witnesses” cheering our successors on through support and encouragement.

Even if our work does not include a team or organization, we should be asking if we are reproducing ourselves and our hearts?

This discussion of handing over our teams or ministries does not have a one size fits all answer.

But, I cannot see any damage in thinking of succession more frequently than we do.

We’ve seen transition done poorly. Longevity of a team or a project is so key, it is worth our consideration.

What are your thoughts or experiences in the area of succession?

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

Today! It’s my favorite day!

I’ve spent a lot of years, now, reading and rereading The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, featuring Pooh, his pal Piglet and the rest of their cohorts from the Hundred Acre Woods.

It’s a good thing I’ve never tired of either him or his pals.

Actually, the longer I read, the more I notice the mighty amounts of wisdom coming from that bear of very little brain…

I’ve read them to kids from other cultures, impromptu-like and on-the-fly-translated to French (in a less than stellar fashion, too, I’m quite sure)!  Even rural Gourmantche kids from the backside of the desert got a kick out of the pictures and my awkward, unprepared translations.

Surprisingly, Pooh Bear is quite culturally adaptable. He just rolls with whatever adventure comes his way in a surprisingly positive and yet matter-of-fact way.

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I’m trying to take lessons from him.

The last six months have been a roller coaster ride of experiences and emotions.

  • Tense times due to both security and infrastructure issues right before we left our West African home for home assignment in the States.
  • Celebrating a graduating senior.
  • Seeing long missed friends and family while leaving behind or saying goodbye to dear friends and friends who’ve become family.
  • The most amazing vacation ever.
  • My grandfather’s health taking a significant turn for the worse, leading to…
  • Our unexpected change in plans.
  • A beautiful and precious wedding.
  • Time to unwind, just our family.
  • Crazy, almost impossible to do road trips.
  • Getting “home” to re-realize that every time it is different… people change, lives move on, people leave…
  • Learning to buy groceries in America, and despising it… all over again.
  • As my children would say, “That awkward moment when you re-remember that traffic laws aren’t optional in the States…” and the resulting feeling really stupid right now minutes.
  • Tears and lost-ness for those best friend pets little girl had to leave behind.
  • Tears and longing for a play date with her first grade best friend who lives about as far away on this globe as she could be and still be on the globe – yet so excited to be making new friends in another new class.
  • Hearing friends talk about how much they are missing my children.
  • All the craziness to find all the “stuff” packed and stored and then to get it unpacked and accessibly stored.
  • Realizing what we’ve lost or ruined or forgotten in the process… and wishing we hadn’t.
  • Dropping our first off at college (a roller coaster in and of itself).
  • Discovering that even Christian schools in the States aren’t as family-focused-friendly as we’d grown accustomed to the past three years.fall leaves1
  • Just the other day hearing that my grandfather is with Jesus, wishing I would have seen him just one more time and knowing I missed that opportunity by only several hours, and my heart overflowing knowing how blessed I’ve been that he’s been a part of my life for so long.

Driving home early one morning from delightfully encouraging weekend meetings with ministry partners followed by catch-up time with the gal who’d ministered as our nanny during language school( and her lovely family), we were trying to get our gang back to school before they missed too much class. Changing curricula once again, we are seeing how different educational scopes and sequences really don’t line up – and our kids risk becoming casualties of that out-of-sync-ness. Autumn had gloriously robed the trees in red, yellow and orange neon hues like can only seen in a north woods fall while sunlight reflected from misty ponds and the bright blue sky stretched for forever. The next weekend, we would catch up with Niger friends and colleagues; just a few weeks previous, we had visited with others from our desert home. And I’d hopefully get to see the young woman for whom I’d been a nanny so many years ago while her parents studied the Bengali language. We’d also heard that the California branch of our family would be back to Michigan for Thanksgiving. So as the kids slept and I drove, all I could do was praise God from the deepest part of my cracked and piecemealed heart while trying not to sob (really bad idea when driving), all at the same time.

Isn’t that the thing about this expat life?

So full and yet at once always empty?

So much for which to be thankful, even while heart cracks and breaks and pieces scatter to the four corners of the globe?

Yes…

Each day – for every man, woman and child – has its ups and downs, its trials and its celebrations. I’d be lying to myself if I tried to say it was any different for me simply because of this life I live… or that I have it any worse or have it any better.

The ups and downs are simply different.

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So in our family, we’re really trying to keep the Pooh Bear perspective:

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

…where we look for things every day to make it our favorite day.

After all, it is the one we presently have, right?

Studying through Hebrews… these words, my paraphrase of Hebrews 11:26, humble me:

Moses led his people by esteeming the reproach of Christ as mega riches and worth so much more than all of the treasures in the storehouses of Egypt. He chose each day, repeatedly, to focus his eyes and his heart-gaze forward.

How could he do that?

I know I’m always looking back, often comparing. That was what the Israelites did. But not so Moses.  Heart-gazing forward? Did you know that this is the only place in the Bible this word or expression is used? In common Greek usage, this expression often referred to an astronomer observing and detailing movements of planets, stars and other heavenly bodies. It also could describe an artist who would fix his gaze and his entire attention on his model, continually checking and rechecking details so that he captured every single one. At the very same time, the astronomer or painter would be overwhelmed with amazed wonder, thankfulness and anticipation at the sight before their eyes.

Isn’t that a totally awesome word picture?

At least that gives me some ideas of how to keep at that making today my favorite, only-looking-forward process.

How about you?

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Do you find that you struggle with these same sorts of extreme and conflicting feelings about your expat life?

How do you make today your favorite day, choosing to focus your eyes and heart gaze forward to what God has for your future?

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

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

Happy Birthday, A Life Overseas!

When Angie Washington and I dreamed of a safe place online for people in the trenches of working and ministering overseas, written by people living and ministering overseas. We wanted a community where honest conversations and gritty realities were honored, a space where challenge and encouragement could be shared with respect and intention.

And now, one year and nearly 280,000 visits later, amid 3,500 comments, this space is thriving. 

And we, as a community of writers, just wanted to say thank you. Thank you for making this place a corner of the web where we all want to be at least a little bit each week. The following is a little video message from us, from several different continents. . . .

Happy Birthday, friends. Here’s to another year of honest conversations from around the globe. 

Laura Parker

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We’d love to hear from you. As we plan for next year, what would you like to see more of? What topics would you like covered?

Or, would you share the ways in which this community has challenged or encouraged you? Any specific post that touched you? 

 

Want to give us a birthday present? Consider sharing this post online, subscribe via the sidebar, liking us on Facebook, or (the ultimate gift) ask your friends to connect with us on facebook, as well.

 

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

 

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

If you are raising your children in a country other than their passport country, you are raising third culture kids. The definition used most often is this one from the late Dave Pollock: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

I was raised as a third culture kid and went on to raise third culture kids for 10 years. There is much I don’t know, much I can’t articulate. But some things I do know and in these next few minutes I offer them. They are not comprehensive and they are not formulaic; there are far better and wiser voices that have documented research on the topic. But these words are offered with humility and a prayer that they will resonate with grace and hope.

Guilt will get you nowhere. If you feel guilty for raising your children overseas, I encourage you to seek counsel. Guilt is an unproductive emotional pitfall that will warp your parenting. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Living overseas is not an offense, nor is it a crime. For many it is a high calling, for others it is a career move. No matter, guilt cuts deeply and helps no one, instead causing stress, undue anxiety, and ultimately destroyed relationships. The guilt felt over raising children overseas is false guilt. No child has a say in what their parents become. My husband’s father is a mechanic. He did not consult my husband and ask him if that would be okay, and rightly so. This overseas life is not about kids agreeing or disagreeing with your life calling. It is about living well and faithfully within that calling. Lose the guilt – take a helium balloon, write the word GUILT in big letters, then release it and watch it go until you see it no more. That’s where guilt belongs – out of sight, leaving your body and your heart free to live faithfully right where you are.  Okay – so you live in Somalia or Mumbai and helium balloons are nowhere to be found. A piece of paper will do just as well. Write the words, then light a match and burn them. Watch them burn away through the light of the holy fire of faith.

Your ‘back home’ is not your children’s ‘back home’. You may have grown up in a small town, surrounded by generations of family and friends who are still in the town. That is home and that is what you miss when overseas. You miss the smell of newly mowed grass, the sounds of downtown, the feel of putting on a heavy sweater in the fall as you walk through vibrant colors of red, gold, and orange. Your children don’t miss those things. They never knew them. Their reality is not your reality. Their ‘back home’ is not your ‘back home’. When they go to their passport countries for periodic visits, that’s exactly what those trips are: they are visits. They are not going ‘home’.

Faith can get complicated. Missions work comes with a high calling and a whole lot of baggage. It is hard to discern what’s real and what’s false. Your home churches may be both safe and disturbing for you. In the west we have created an idolatry of ministry and those who live overseas are high on the pedestal. Being able to speak honestly with church leadership about your struggles, your fears, your worries that you will fall from the false pedestal helps everybody. Your kids? They don’t want the pedestal. When they find marijuana behind the churchyard, they don’t want to be the ‘missionary kids that are struggling’. They want to be able to work out their faith in safe spaces, spaces where questions are welcome and struggles are honored. Try and communicate this to those you trust, work toward creating a safe spot for faith questions.

You have the power to create a ‘place’. While holding the mantra ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through’ may be helpful for you, it probably won’t be for your children. Paul Tournier, a well-known Swiss Psychologist, has some profound insights on place in his book A Place for You. He says that to be human is to need a place, to be rooted and attached to that place. We are “incarnate beings” and so when those places are taken away, we suffer from a “disruption” of place. If the disruption goes beyond our ability to adapt it becomes a pathology – Tournier calls this a “deprivation of place”. As parents, you can create ‘place’, you can create ‘home’. Through traditions that are not confined to geographic location, through family memories and jokes, through special items that will always be there, whether they be framed pictures, candle holders, or books, you can create ‘place’. My parents have lived in more homes than I can count, but when I walk into their space, whether it be a 4-bedroom home in the woods of New England, or a house with stained glass windows and a 30 foot high ceiling in Pakistan, there are certain things that speak to me of ‘home’, of ‘place’. A small painting of a New England winter, Daily Bread on the side of their table with all their mail, my dad’s desk, filled with books and papers with his characteristic hand-writing — all of this embodies ‘place’, creates a feeling of ‘home’.

Learn how to grieve well, help your children know how to grieve well. Dave Pollock, a pioneer in bringing attention to the third culture kid journey, said this: “Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.” You’ve already experienced the frequent goodbyes, the unknowns, the sometimes inconsistent journey. Know that grief is good, grief is individual, grief is rarely nicely organized, grief is physical and emotional. Because grief is a part of the journey, learning how to grieve well is critical.

Put fun into the journey. The memories of sitting in airports or at sidewalk cafes, riding in rickshaws or horse-drawn carriages, laughing at family jokes, yearly trips to the ocean where everyone was on vacation and phones and computers were left far behind – you will regret none of those. This world is a mansion and you have had the privilege of exploring many rooms with your children, and many airports connecting those rooms — so never doubt the fun of the journey, the privilege of the call.

In closing, this journey is a journey laced with grace. To communicate that grace to your kids is the biggest gift you will ever give them. Much of our past has been put into photo albums, blog posts, and memories of the heart. There is no doubt this life of pilgrimage comes with unique challenges, peculiar pains, unspoken losses –  but for all those there is always and ever Grace.

Readers — what would you add to this post? What else would help on this journey of raising third culture kids? 

Marilyn Gardner loves God, her family, and her passport and can be found blogging at Communicating Across Boundaries.

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on launching kids from great distances

photo“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 the 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, it starts out quite daunting enough.

While those words of advice can sound cliché, we need the people who 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, grownup-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 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 to 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.

~           ~           ~

For those of you that have launched your children from the mission field, what things have you found to be helpful, especially in the first year or two?  

Do you think being in a different country than your child makes the transition more difficult?

 

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

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