Power’s Out Protocol (or What to do When Things Get Real)

It’s hot season here in Southeast Asia. It’s also there’s-not-enough-power-and-water-to-go-around season. It’s odd to have a full day with water and power and sanity.

Now, I know the audience here understands what I’m talking about. Some of you are roughing it WAY more than we are, and some of you aren’t. But you know, I’m so over one-uppers.

Whether you never have power or you live in paradise, the unexpected happens. Stuff hits the fan when it’s spinning and when it’s not. It’s inevitable.

When the government announced daily power cuts “for the next 72 days,” I knew our family needed a protocol: a power’s out protocol. So the six of us sat down and crowd-sourced this thing. We bounced around some ideas and landed with these seven. They’re not foolproof, and perhaps you’ll want to change it up. Fine.

But as for the Trotter Six in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, well, we taped this thing to our wall and it’s become part of our family vernacular.

1. @#(Q^&#!!!! (bleep)
This is also a part of our family vernacular. Now, to the pure all things are pure, so I’ll let your brain fill this in however you will. It could be Ramona Quimby’s GUTS GUTS GUTS or it could be a simple, “Well gosh darn it.” It could be more.

Whatever it is, this first point allows us and our children to acknowledge that this sucks. It’s hot, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, and we’d rather have electricity and all the modern marvels that it brings.

We don’t STAY here, in the first step, but we do allow it. The alternative is to try to rush past reality, forcing ourselves and our children into a hazy universe where Christians are never uncomfortable, where Christians aren’t allowed to feel (or voice) difficult emotions, and frankly, that’s not very Biblical.

So we allow step one. And then we keep stepping.


2. Breathe
The power of a simple breath is astounding. It can reset the soul and pause a freak-out episode (the technical term). Taking a few slow deep breaths changes you physiologically, too. I do an exercise with clients where I use an app to measure my own heart rate; I get a baseline and then I take a few slow   deep   breaths  —  in through the nose, hold for a few seconds, and slowly exhale through the mouth. My heart rate visibly drops about 5 beats per second.

I also do this regularly when driving in Phnom Penh, or when getting ready to step up to the stage to preach. It’s not magic, but sort of.

When the power goes off, heart rates go up. Breathing helps.


3. Remember, “This will NOT last forever”
It is lasting right now. We established that in the first step. But where we live, we can be pretty sure that it won’t last forever.

Purposefully remembering this obvious truth broadens our sense of time, putting the current darkness (or heat) in perspective. It doesn’t fix it, it doesn’t turn the lights back on, but it does inject a dose of the fuller reality. Darkness may last for the night, but joy comes in the amperage. I mean morning.


4. Do your regular life
This one’s courtesy of my ten-year-old. She said, “Well, I just think I should do my regular life. It’s not a big deal.” She’s wise.

Sometimes, we just have to breathe, buckle up, and do what’s next. Elisabeth Elliot would agree, I think, as she was famous (or infamous) for telling people to “do the next thing.” In fact, she often quoted an old Saxon poem:

From an old English parsonage down by the sea There came in the twilight a message to me; Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven, Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven. And on through the doors the quiet words ring Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”

Many a questioning, many a fear, Many a doubt, hath its quieting here. Moment by moment, let down from Heaven, Time, opportunity, and guidance are given. Fear not tomorrows, child of the King, Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing

Do it immediately, do it with prayer; Do it reliantly, casting all care; Do it with reverence, tracing His hand Who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, Leave all results, do the next thing.

Looking for Jesus, ever serener, Working or suffering, be thy demeanor; In His dear presence, the rest of His calm, The light of His countenance be thy psalm, Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing. Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.


5. Say something you’re grateful for
This isn’t just some kitschy saying, belonging on hand towels at your grandmom’s house. This is actually evidence-based. And Biblically-based, turns out.

This is step five, NOT step one. That’s important. We do want to shepherd our kids and ourselves into an overarching attitude of gratefulness. But forcing gratefulness too soon just leads to hypocrisy and resentment.


6. Remember, “We’re not alone in this”
It’s not just that misery loves company, it’s that company can help misery. I’m not the first person to feel miserable, not the first to be adversely affected by the weather, not the first to feel anger when the rich neighborhoods get treated preferentially, and I’m not the first to despair when the lights go out. Others have done this. Others are doing this. LOTS of others, in fact.

This can build empathy, if we’ll let it. We know what it feels like to taste rain after a drought. We know how refreshing a cool breeze can actually be. And we know the near-psychosis that can develop when sleep deprivation and unrelenting heat bear down on a soul.

Perhaps we’ll remember this when we’re tempted to judge the refugee who’s been sleeping outside for who knows how long, exposed on so many fronts. Maybe we can recall these days when we’re tempted to condemn the “foolish” choices of the poor. Take away consistent, reliable utilities, the support systems of a functioning society, the protections of a healthy legal system, and watch.

I’ve only experienced a tiny fraction of these things, and even then, I only experience those things for small amounts of time. But I know, more than ever, that I am human. I am weak, and I desperately need the power of God, the fellowship of the Church, and a resurrected earth.


7. Use your resources
I don’t know why, but we need reminders.

Like I said, we need reminders.

Use your resources. It’s a motto in our house, so we put this one last, and then we made another list outlining our resources. What are yours?

What do you have at your disposal, or what could you reasonably attain, that would make the situation a bit better? It’ll be different for everyone, but I’m amazed at how many people never pause long enough to take inventory.

So pause, think for a second, “What resources do I have to help me through this?”

For us, in this hot season with power cuts, it’s meant investing in a deep cycle battery and inverter. It’s meant eating out a bit more. It’s meant taking a little vacation we hadn’t planned on. We’ve changed our family schedule to take advantage of the times we’ve got power. It’s meant finding the coffee shops with generators to write stuff like this.

So hey, you, what are your resources? Are you using them? Do you need help brainstorming? Ask around, crowdsource, and then USE YOUR RESOURCES.


This protocol won’t fix everything. It might not even fix anything. But we’ve found it a little helpful. It at least gets our brains out of the block when the power clicks off.

Does it apply to more than a power cut? Yeah, I think so, but you tell me. Maybe you’ve got something else going on in your life, like a diagnosis, or a death. Maybe you’re dealing with something so very hard but also unshareable. A power cut’s easy to talk about on social media; not all hard things are.

Yup, this stuff’s hard. And yeah, I wish it’d stop or go away. And yet, we have breath in our lungs, a Father who loves us, and hope.

And we have a future.

And oh what a future that will be…


From our toasty home to yours, peace to you,



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Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is the co-author of "Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker." After serving in Cambodia for eight years, he relocated back to the States and now provides online pastoral care and empathetic coaching to global workers through Seeing the Hearts of the Hurting. Before moving to the field with Elizabeth and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and as an inner-city ER/trauma nurse for three years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | instagram: @trotters41

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