Ouch! I think I strained my life!

You know what I’m talking about, right? The moment it catches up to you (mid-thirties, usually) and you realize you’re going to have to stop and get gas.

I bent over to field a grounder and couldn’t walk for 3 days.
I sneezed too enthusiastically and my neck wasn’t right for a week.

Or

I filled up my schedule and now I don’t have time for my kids (aka “Cats in the Cradle”).
I’m so busy serving everyone else that my soul shriveled up like a desiccated fish in Djibouti.

Or

Honestly, I don’t know how to stop.
I’m just waiting until ___________ (fill in the blank) and then it’ll get better.

This strained life should lead to a pause, a re-calibration, perhaps a realization that our failure to rest wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world. Often, however, a strained life leads to guilt and shame and a redoubled push to do harder. Everyone else on Instagram seems to be handling life perfectly. (It’s amazing what filters and curating can do, btw.)

And besides, our work is IMPORTANT! Important I tell you!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“The greatest act of faith a man can perform is the act that we perform every night. We abandon our identity, we turn our soul and body into chaos and old night. We uncreate ourselves as if at the end of the world: for all practical purposes we become dead men, in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection.” G. K. Chesterton, In Defense of Sanity

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Would it help you to consider sabbath as an intentional act of faith?

Would it be easier to enter into regular rest if you saw it as an act of defiance, a railing against workaholism and works-based salvation? Because it is.

If you’re feeling the strained life, please pause.

Breathe.

It might not have to be that way.

How long can your soul take it, this incessant work and pressure? How long can your relationships take it?

Seasons of higher stress are normal (um, transition?!). Seasons of less sleep are normal (infants, anyone?). But even so, the thing that folks seem to miss is the turning of a season into an age; a winter turning into an ice age.

If any of this goes twang, pay attention. And maybe read an article or something.

But first, breathe.

 

Some articles:

 

Some books:
At various times of my life, God has used these books to slow me down, to re-center my soul, and to draw me, once again, into the secure, peaceful, presence of the King.

The book descriptions are from Amazon, and the links are affiliate links. In other words, any book purchased through one of these links helps A Life Overseas stay afloat, so thanks!

 

 

Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, by Dr. Richard Swenson

Margin is the space that once existed between ourselves and our limits. Today we use margin just to get by. This book is for anyone who yearns for relief from the pressure of overload. Reevaluate your priorities, determine the value of rest and simplicity in your life, and see where your identity really comes from. The benefits can be good health, financial stability, fulfilling relationships, and availability for God’s purpose.

 

 

 

 

Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians, by Ed Cyzewski

What if prayer could be simple rather than strenuous?

Anxious, results-driven Christians can never pray enough, serve enough, or study enough. But what if God is calling us not to frenzied activity but to a simple spiritual encounter? What if we must merely receive what God has already given us?

In Flee, Be Silent, Pray, writer and contemplative retreat leader Ed Cyzewski guides readers out of the anxiety factory of contemporary Christianity and toward a God whose love astounds those quiet long enough to receive it. With helpful guidance into solitude, contemplative prayer, and practices such as lectio divina and the Examen, Cyzewski guides readers toward the Christ whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

Ready to shed the fear of the false self and the exhaustion of a duty-driven faith? Flee. Be silent. Pray.

 

 

Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest, by Bonnie Gray

Running on empty with no time for rest, yourself, or God? Soulful author Bonnie Gray shows how to create spiritual whitespace in the everyday for God, refreshment, and faith—right in the midst of our stress-frayed lives. She guides you to discover a better story for yourself, one that feeds your soul and makes room for rest.

 

 

 

 

Death is right around the corner. So live!

I’ve always thought like this.

I’ve always believed my life was going to be very short. Nearly every time I publish an article or preach a sermon, I think, “Well, I said it, I guess I can die now.”

I don’t have a desire to die, it’s just that I live with a gut-level realization that I could die. Any minute.

It’s not morbid. At least it doesn’t feel morbid. It feels realistic. And frankly, ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been amazed at how people can not live this way.

Thoughts of imminent death don’t fill me with dread or motivation. They don’t scare me into action or inaction. You know what they do fill me with? You know what they do generate in me? Gratefulness. God’s got this world, and it’s his job to run it, to save it. I show up as long as I can, obey as best I can, love every one I can, and then leave. Soon, I’ll exit stage right and the whole thing will keep going. The curtain won’t go down. Grace will keep going.

So how do we live with an awareness of our imminent mortality? How should that awareness impact our lives and ministries?

Well, what did Jesus do when he knew his time was short? He spent time with his friends, he washed feet. He said some things. He prayed.

He spent some very “unproductive” time at his favorite hillside garden retreat. He didn’t race the clock or yield to a flurry of last minute ministry activity. He walked. He prayed.

As cross-cultural Christian workers, we often allow the specter of death (ours or others’) to fling us into frenetic activity. But I love what C.S. Lewis wrote about living with an awareness of death. In his case, he was writing to those living under fear of death by atomic bomb, but his broader points apply here too.

He said,

“The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb, when it comes, find us doing sensible and human things — praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts — not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

Living and working cross-culturally is hard, and we often forget the joys of the little things. We need rhythms of rest and Sabbath to restore us, to remind us of how much we need the “sensible and human things.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We’re one month into a four-month trip Stateside, and before we got here, Elizabeth and I made a purposeful decision to do the “human things”: we decided to set aside the first month to reconnect with family, to play together, to travel a bit for fun, and to rest. And I’m so glad we did.

This first month back has been precisely what we needed. I’m sleeping better. I’m seeing a counselor to debrief our last term in Cambodia. It’s wonderful. One of my kids noticed the change and said, “You’re different, dad. You are laughing more.” The kid was right.

The job is hard. The ministry is hard, and we all need to remember to slow down, to live.

We all need to work hard and we need to Sabbath hard.

Remember, regular times of rest are evidence of discipline, not laziness.

Regrouping, reconnecting, restoring, recreating, are godly endeavors, after all.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Well, I would talk more, but I’m busy. I’m busy laughing with my kids, playing in the grass, reconnecting with friends and family, and remembering that there is good in the world. Do you need to do that too?

After all, Christ is Risen!

 

 

More resources:

Can humor be a spiritual discipline?

Please Stop Running

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

Check out this collection of our most-read articles

Consider this the Table of Contents for a book on missions, cross-cultural living, grief, TCKs, MKs, missiology, common pitfalls, transition, short-term missions, relating to senders, and a whole lot more.

I figured it was time to compile our most-read posts and present them to you, organized by topic. So here they are, 85 of our most-read posts ever.

My hope is that this article, this Table of Contents, if you will, would serve as one massive resource for those of you who are new to our community, those of you who’ve been hanging out here all along, and even for you, our future reader, who just found our little corner of the internet. Welcome!

Many thanks to the authors who’ve poured into our community, aiming to build and help (and sometimes challenge) the missionary world and the churches that send. If this site has been helpful to you, would you consider sharing this post with your friends and colleagues and missions leaders?

A Life Overseas is loosely led, with a tiny overhead (that covers the costs of the website), and a bunch of volunteer writers and tech folk. Why do we do it? We’re doing this for you! We’re doing this because we like you and we want to see cross-cultural workers (and their families!) thriving and succeeding and belonging. We’re doing this because we believe the Lamb is worthy. We’re doing this because we believe that God’s love reaches beyond our country’s borders, extending to all the places, embracing all the peoples.

I hope you are encouraged. I hope you are challenged. I hope you are reminded that you are not alone. This can be a hard gig, for sure, but you are not alone.

If this is your first time here or your thousandth, stick around, browse around, let us know what you think, how you’ve been helped, and what you’d love to see in the future. We’d absolutely love to hear from you!

 

With much love from Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Jonathan Trotter

 

Third Culture Kids / Missionary Kids
10 Questions Missionary Kids Would Love to be Asked
10 Questions Missionary Kids Dread
To the Parents of Third Culture Kids
Funny Things Third Culture Kids Say
8 ways to help toddlers and young children cope with change and moving overseas
6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need
An Open Letter to Parents of Missionary Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
10 Ways Teachers Can Support Third Culture Kids
Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

 

Rest / Burnout / Self-Care
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
Ask A Counselor: How in the world can we do self-care when . . . ?
Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider
8 Ways for Expats Who Stay to Stay Well

Top 10 Digital Photography Tips

Family / Marriage
Missionary Mommy Wars
A Christmas letter to parents, from a kid who doesn’t have any
Nine Ways to Save a Marriage
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy
Why “Did You Have Fun?” is the Wrong Question
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
When the Mission Field Hurts Your Marriage
Dear Single Missionary
Homescapes MOD
I’m a missionary. Can I be a mom too?

 

Cross-cultural living & ministry
3 Kinds of Selfies You Should Never Take
Missionaries are supposed to suffer . . . So am I allowed to buy an air conditioner?
Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field
To My Expat Friends
What Did I Do Today? I Made a Copy. Woohoo!
The Teary Expat Mom, Shopping
One-Uppers
A Cautionary Tale: Expats & Expets (What not to do)
The Introverted Expat
5 Tips for Newbies About Relationships with Oldies (From an Oldie)
The Aim of Language Learning

 

Missiology
Please Don’t Say, “They Are Poor But They’re Happy.”
Let Me Make Your Kid a Buddhist
How to partner with a poor church without screwing everything up
Rice Christians and Fake Conversions
Responding to Beggars
10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
There’s no such thing as the “deserving poor”

 

Theology in Missions
The Idolatry of Missions
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
Rethinking the Christmas Story
But Are You Safe?
When Missionaries Starve
Why I Will Not Say “I Never Made a Sacrifice”
The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement {part 1}
Is Jesus a Liar?

 

Cautions
10 Reasons Not To Become a Missionary
In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries
The Cult of Calling
Want to see what a porn-addicted missionary looks like?
Telling My Story: Sexual Abuse on the Mission Field
When Missionaries Think They Know Everything
Visiting Home Might Not Be Everything You Dreamed
Misogyny in Missions
The Proverbs 32 Man
Stop Waiting for It All to Make Sense

 

Grief & Loss
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
Ask a counselor: how do we process loss and grief?

 

Transition
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
Beyond Culture Shock: Culture Pain, Culture Stripping
Dear New Missionary
5 Mistakes I Made My First Year on the Mission Field
Why I Quit My Job as a Missionary to Scrub Toilets
Jet Lag and Heart Lag
When You Start to Pick Your Nose in Public…
You Remember You’re a Repat When . . .
Going Home

 

Short Term Missions
What to Do About Short Term Missions
Stop calling it “Short Term Missions.” Here’s what you should call it instead.
Your Short-Term Trips Have Not Prepared You For Long-Term Mission
The Mess of Short Term Missions

 

Relationships with those who send
A Letter to Christians Living in America from a Christian Living Abroad
Dear Supporter, There’s So Much More I Wish I Could Tell You
Staying connected with your family and friends when you live overseas
How to Encourage Your Overseas Worker
When Your Missionary Stories Aren’t Sexy
Facebook lies and other truths
Please Ask Me the Non-Spiritual Questions

 

If your favorite article didn’t make the list, put the title and link in the comments section and let us know why you love it. Thanks again for joining us here. Peace to you.

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

Last year I flirted with burnout. I was camping out along its edges, and I didn’t even know it. Only after some conversations with my husband and with a spiritual director, did I recognize what was going on and how I’d been complicit in my own spiritual sickness.

These are the things I’m doing to carve out rest and Sabbath in my life and to move farther and farther away from burnout. I’m no expert, and this is by no means a comprehensive list. They’re just things that seem to be working in my life. Some are deceptively small and simple; others are larger and more extreme and took more courage to do.

[Note: This post contains the whats, not the whys. For some of the whys, you can read my husband’s articles Please Stop Running and margin: the wasted space we desperately need.]

 

1. In the midst of the chaos, choose to breathe.

God formed us from the dust and breathed the breath of life into us. There is life and peace in our breath. Why then do we go about our days neglecting this very curative gift God gave us?

In fact I’ve described breathing as a “free drug” before:

Some drugs are free.
Like breathing.
I love breathing. It’s my favorite.
I recently announced this to my kids.
Some of them thought I was crazy, but one agreed.
It’s true though. I just love breathing.
Pause.
Inhale, exhale.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Release, receive.
When I stop to close my eyes and breathe deeply and slowly, I immediately calm down.
My body relaxes.
My thoughts stop swirling.
My emotions stop pressing.
So take a deep breath. Maybe take three.
And remember, some drugs are free.
If only we will use them.

 

2. Open my hands in surrender.

Even better than simply taking some deep breaths is to sit in a quiet place, place my hands in my lap, and open them up to God. As I do so, I release my hurts and concerns to God. I give Him my frustrations and trust Him to keep all of them, because I’m too weak and tired to hold onto them anymore. I’m not as consistent in this practice as I want to be, but when I participate in this small act of surrender, it makes a huge difference in my day.

 

3. Grab hold of awe and wonder in ordinary moments and days.

I’m inspired by the idea of Ordinary Time, which I first read about in Kimberlee Conway Ireton’s The Circle of Seasons: Finding God in the Church Year. Ordinary Time encourages me to ask, “Where is the glory of God hiding in my life right now?”

If I can cultivate a sense of wonder and joy in the everyday things of Creation, then I find miraculous little moments hidden in my ordinary days. When I purposefully take the time to notice these things,

I can explore space-time with my son and delight in a sunset with my daughter.

I can drink in the clouds and rooftops from a 4th floor downtown city window.

I can breathe in the blue sky on my way to a dinner meeting.

I can be captivated by a bright yellow full moon.

I can delight in a downpour so strong the palm trees are engulfed in white gauze.

I can inhale the heavenly fragrance of the frangipani flower.

I can marvel at our daily game with gravity, at the blue-scattered sky, at a photosynthesizing palm tree.

I used to think I needed long periods of time away in order to truly rest. In truth, little mini-Sabbaths are often available to me. But they only happen if I’m willing to stop rushing around and pay attention.

 

4. Fast regularly from technology.

I fought this practice for a long time. I believe I have what is called a “soft addiction” when it comes to the internet. I go to it for comfort — though comfort can’t be found there — and I have a hard time turning it off when I’m tired or overwhelmed.

Last year I began by fasting from the internet during family vacations and team retreats. I was sensing God’s invitation to fast from technology on Sundays, but I ignored it for several months. When I finally started obeying a couple of months ago, Sundays suddenly became much more restorative. Now I read, sleep, or spend time with my husband on Sunday afternoons. My relationships are better, I’m more rested, and I avoid the “computer haze” that starts to set in after too much time zoning out in front of a screen. This practice makes me much better prepared for Monday.

Additionally I try to keep technology out of the bedroom on weeknights, turn off the screens by 9 pm, and keep the computer closed until after I’ve talked to God in the morning. I often pray for strength to resist the pull of work before I even get out of bed.

 

5. Get creative with Sabbath.

When you’re in ministry, Sundays are often too intense to be considered restful. But Sabbath doesn’t have to happen on Sundays, and it doesn’t have to be a full 24 hours, either. Creativity in carving out Sabbath is especially important if you have young children, and you may have to alternate childcare between parents and only take half days at a time.

My husband, for example, takes Wednesday mornings off. First he takes a child out to breakfast, and then he takes a few hours for his own Sabbath. After lunch he comes home to do office work so that I can get out to a coffee shop to work on my own creative projects. My Wednesday afternoons are not, strictly speaking, Sabbath, but they provide the space to write and think and be separated from the never-ending needs of our home. Too often last year, I let these precious pockets of time slip through my fingers, and I felt the strain. Now I try to guard them much more carefully.

 

6. Get brave and quit something.

This took me a long time to do. I could not bring myself to quit any of the ministry activities I had committed myself to. I thought each and every one of them was essential and all-important, and I was afraid I would let people down if I quit. But in the end I realized I was so overloaded I had to do it — and it really was hard to do. I had to accept both that the ministry would go on without me and that my identity wasn’t tied up in those particular ministries.

But getting brave and quitting things isn’t just about ministry. It’s about social gatherings too. Where I live, there are so many invitations. So many good things to do. And so much fear of missing out — on community, on friendship, on educational and recreational opportunities. It’s still hard to say no and miss out on wonderful opportunities, whether they’re for myself or my children. But I simply can’t do everything, and I’m getting more comfortable with the fact.

 

7. Participate in regular confession, repentance, and worship.

Tears cleanse the soul and make space for God. I don’t know why this is true — and I almost wish it weren’t — but it is, and it’s the way God has designed us. We are created to humble ourselves before Him and others and admit we are wrong.

When I’m running too fast and seeking solace in false comforts, my heart hardens, my tears dry up, and I become deaf to the voice of God. But I find rest for my soul in confession, repentance, and tears. My most recent experience of this was at an Ash Wednesday service, but I’ve told similar stories in Angry, Mean, and Redeemed and When Your Husband Calls You a Shell of a Woman.

 

8. Be faithful in caring for body and soul.

Last year I knew I was distant from God and that I wasn’t taking care of my body. Why is it that when I’m too busy, the first things to go are exercise and time with God? Those are the things I need the most. But in times of stress, it’s all too easy to sleep in and skip talking to God altogether, or to get up and start working during that sacred morning hour instead. And when I’m tired, it’s all too easy to eat junk food, watch Netflix, and skip exercising. But after I started cutting stuff out of my life, it became easier to stress-eat less, to exercise more, and to approach God more honestly and more consistently.

I like to call these things “soul care” and “body care,” because even after all the “self-care” propaganda we have, that term still sounds selfish to me (and a lot of other women I talk to). But soul care and body care? That’s worship. That’s stewardship. It’s taking the soul God gave me, and reconnecting it to its Creator. It’s taking the body God gave me, and moving it and nourishing it so it can feel better and give more. So don’t forget to take care of your soul and your body.

 

9. Seek counseling or other outside help.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned my meetings with a spiritual director. I knew 2016 had been brutal; I just didn’t know why. My counseling sessions helped to pinpoint the motivations behind some of my poor choices and prompted me to begin to making better choices. We missionaries can be really “driven,” unhealthy people sometimes, and counseling can help us figure out both why we are so driven and how to move forward in health.

 

10. And finally, take a longer break.

Sometimes you need a longer time away from regular life. After taking pretty much no breaks during our first term, our family now takes a two-week Sabbatical in the middle of each two-year term. This extended time is for getting into nature, getting away from work and technology, nurturing our family relationships, and getting debriefing or counseling.

I know it’s not always feasible to get away for longer periods of time, but if you can, it’s great preventive medicine. And if you find yourself drained so low that you can’t continue living life the way it is, taking a longer break may be more of an emergency measure. Just don’t be afraid to take that step.

 

What about you? How do you find rest for your soul?

Further reading:

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem by Kevin DeYoung

Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion by Wayne Cordeiro

Let me tell you about Kassiah Jones

ants-1169349_960_720a

This month my husband and I took our kids to the local home school co-op’s spring performance. Some of our friends were in the play. It was called “The Race” and was an original play based loosely on the story of “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

Every character in this play was modeled after an animal. There was a bear and a sparrow and a fennec fox (among others), but the character that most captured my attention was the character modeled after the ant. Her name was Kassiah Jones, and she never knew when to quit.

When it was time for the village inhabitants to prepare for the annual race, Kassiah trained harder than all the rest. She worked hard and never knew when to stop.

On race day Kassiah was in the lead, far ahead of the others, for the first three laps. But on the fourth lap she didn’t come back around the curtain with the rest of the runners. At the end of the race, after somebody else had won, the villagers went in search of her. They found her, collapsed from exhaustion, and had to carry her out on a stretcher.

I so identified with Kassiah Jones. I work, work, work, and never take a break. I know I need to. But I forget.

The week I attended “The Race” was, to be honest, brutal. We’d gone three days without refrigeration and had lost the entire contents of our fridge to Cambodia’s hot season. We’d gone a couple days with a puking child and half a night’s power outage with said puking child. I got to the end of that week completely exhausted and out of sorts.

So that Friday I took the first of what I’m now calling a “Kassiah Jones Day.” I canceled home school. I played games with my kids. We watched sciences videos in the air conditioning. I read more than usual to them. I’m with them all the time, but I don’t always share enjoyable activities with them. Instead I focus on finishing our lessons, and then in my “free time,” I work.

But I now have a vocabulary for what my soul needs and for the way I’d been treating it. I have a symbol, a simple phrase that encompasses a world of meaning for me. It’s true I forget to Sabbath. It’s true I forget to breathe. It’s true that all too often, I am Kassiah Jones.

But I think that needs to start changing, and I think I know just how to try.

~~In honor of Kassiah Jones, I’m keeping this blog post short.~~

~~When was the last time you took a Kassiah Jones Day?~~

To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

To the Displaced and the Exiled

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

You had barely arrived when you realized that life had gone on in this, your passport country. You call your best friend. She squeals with delight and then says “I’m so sorry. Can’t talk now! Heading to a work party. Gotta get the kids ready for the baby sitter. And next week we’re swamped! Kids are getting ready for camp, we’ve got church stuff. Can’t wait to catch up”.

Oh.

And your siblings. Oh. Your. Siblings. You so want to be able to sit down with them, to share life. But two of your brother’s have wives that are not speaking to each other and the idea of a fun family dinner is just that – an idea.

So there you sit. All of this going through your mind. And you feel one hot tear trickle down your face. You brush it away impatiently. But there’s another. How can you escape and just let all the preceding weeks and the now fill up your tear ducts and fall freely, a red sniffley nose and all?

You are displaced. You feel you are in exile.

You’ve no home to go to. You’re not fully at home there, but neither are you here.

You make it to the car and sit. It’s begun to rain and the rain blocks the windows, sending streams of water down and hiding you from the world. It has been a long time since you’ve seen rain. Your tears fall like the heavy raindrops. You sob like you will never stop.

There is no one to hold you. There is no one to offer tangible, concrete comfort.

Slowly the sobs swallow you up. You begin to feel such relief, the relief that comes only from a cry so deep you can’t explain it.

And somehow you know that God is there. The God you cried to for weeks before making the move, late at night when all were sleeping so you would upset no one. The God who was with you when you held your 2-year-old in a steamy bathroom, far from good medical care, praying that the croup would go. The God who was with you when you first arrived on the soil of another country, looking out-of-place and oh so tired. The God who you prayed to when you went off the road in a car accident in the middle of nowhere and suddenly help was available.

The God of the Displaced and the Exiled is with you. Here and Now.

You recall the verse given to you by an older woman, one who knew what this nomadic life would hold – knew the good and knew the hard. You breathe. Slowly.

You say the verse aloud, your voice raspy, knowing you are at the end of your human strength. “Blessed are those whose strength is in you; whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, until each appears before God in Zion.*”

Softly you repeat the words “Strength to strength” and you start the car.

//////

In January I had the extraordinary privilege of going to the countries of Lebanon and Jordan to work with refugees. One of the days that I was there, we went to the Bekaa Valley, now home to thousands of Syrian refugees. Historically, the Bekaa Valley is known as a valley of weeping, a valley of lamenting. As I sat with refugees in their tents, I thought about this,  about how the valley has witnessed extraordinary pain and grief in the lives of these refugees, staying true to its history.

But the verses I quote above from the Psalms change the picture.

The person of faith walks through this valley on their way to worship. And as they do so, the valley of weeping became a place of springs, a place of blessing.  

I don’t know what is going on in your life today, but my prayer is that if you find yourself in the valley of the weeping, that God will make it a place of springs. That you will go from strength to strength, knowing your God is big enough.

This article appears in the Goodbye section of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

[photo credit: Stefanie Sevim Gardner taken in Jerusalem looking out over the Old City.]

*Psalm 84:5-7

 

Rest. To Love.

photo-1441943250180-ea34e997ffad2

I’m trying to practice what I preach. I’m trying to remember my own advice. Oh, and I’m trying to transition back to life in Cambodia after a few months in the States.

So yeah, let me remind myself (and you too, if you’re still reading): Rest. To Love.

You want to love people well? You want to love your God well? Then rest. Sabbath.

You want to disciple people well? You want to model what it means to follow Jesus in a foreign land? Then stop for a bit. Breathe. Quit planning and straining for a second and enjoy Him. Enjoy His word. Enjoy His Church. Slowly.

I’m not writing a new article this month. I’m remembering old ones. I hope you’ll remember too.

I hope the first two articles quoted and linked below will help you remember two things: margin’s important, and running can be dangerous.

I hope the second two articles will remind you that God doesn’t always lead in a straight line, and that even at night, there are stars.

May your 2016 be full of the Father, with deep awareness of His presence and His plans. May Jesus stir deep inside of you a longing for the restoration of all things and the coming of the Kingdom, and may you remember, day by day, the last promise of Jesus: “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

 

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

 

From the article, margin: the wasted space we desperately need:

Margin is wasted space that we desperately need. It’s space that’s not accounted for and produces no obvious, easily quantifiable profit. However, margin is extremely important, creating a zone of safety, giving you time and space and emotional capital to react safely when something unexpected happens.

Often, we make margin a liability: “You’re not busy?! What in the world are you doing?! Think of all the needs!” I used to believe this was primarily an issue for those of us from the West; however, I’m realizing that this is very much an issue for many of our brothers and sisters from the East too. The truth is, we all need to devote some serious attention to how we deal with margin, because the costs of living margin-less are extremely high.

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From the article, Please Stop Running:

Jesus perfectly balanced exterior, people-focused ministry with deep Rest. Jesus rested in the peace and security and love and acceptance of his Father, and then turned around and loved people like crazy.

May we do the same. May our time with the Father, resting in his presence, drive us to love people. And after a time of loving and serving people, may we take our bone-weary souls back up the mountain to Rest with our Father.

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

Rest reminds me to agree, once again, that He’s God and I’m not.

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From the article, When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t:

My parents had their life all mapped out, and then their baby was born with chromosomal abnormalities and died at home, surrounded by tubes and oxygen tanks, only a month old.

As a teenager, I had my life pretty well planned out (get my pilot’s license, be Nate Saint). But then my mom got cancer and died. And the path of God darkened.

The “plan of God for my life,” the path I was following with full confidence and youthful arrogance, disappeared. Because sometimes the straight and narrow isn’t.

God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

He is the God of fractals, making beauty and order out of lines that look like a drunk man was drawing during an earthquake.

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From the article, Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do):

I don’t like the dark. I never have. I like to know exactly where I’m going, when I’m going to get there, and how many McDonald’s there are along the way. But life doesn’t seem to work like that. So, when I find myself unsure and blind, I remember these three flashes of truth.

I might not know where I’ll be a year or ten from now, but I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough light for now. I can navigate the night when I remember these three burning callings: Adore Him, Love People, and Walk Boldly.

There’s not much to this, really, but when you’re walking in the dark, a little light goes a long ways.

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What articles meant a lot to you in 2015 (from A Life Overseas or otherwise)?
Feel free to share the links in the comment section below.

To the ones who think they’ve failed

photo-1448067686092-1f4f2070baae1So, you failed to save the world.
You failed to complete the task of global evangelism.
You failed to see massive geopolitical change in your region.
You failed. Or at least you feel like it.

Good-hearted people in your organization (maybe) and your churches (hopefully) tell you you’re not a failure. But you still feel like one. You came home before you planned. Maybe for health reasons. Maybe for burnout reasons. Maybe you don’t need reasons. You were done, so you finished. You came “home.”

But now you’re finding home’s not home anymore. You knew for sure you didn’t fit in there, but now you’re very much afraid you don’t fit in here anymore. You failed there, and now you feel like you’re failing here. You want to believe that some good came of it. Or will come of it. Or something.

For now, though, you mourn. And you should, because you lost something. You lost dreams, maybe, and years. You lost relationships. Some of those relationships you wanted to lose. Others, you didn’t. And still other relationships you thought you’d regain, you haven’t.

So mourn. Mourn well. Jesus is near to those who mourn. Feel the loss. Welcome it, even. It is a bitter pill that you should swallow as often as needed.

You’re still part of the team. You’re not a washed up, has been, burnt out, broken down, used up, person. You are a child of God, dearly loved. Cherished. And you are still needed. The Church still needs you. The Father still wants you. Jesus still loves you. And the Holy Spirit is still near to you.

The Church still needs your voice. You’ve seen things that many folks “back home” haven’t. Your voice is different. Weird, maybe. But it’s so needed in the Church that sent you. Don’t let them forget the global nature of the Kingdom of God. The Church still needs you.

The foreign mission field needs you. You can counsel, caution, and console in a way few people can. Those still serving abroad need you. Be a voice for them. Be a voice to them.

May you find God to be the great Restorer. The One who heals.
The Great I AM at both departure and destination.
The King who knows you’re always en route.

May you find Peace. May you realize that God’s love for you was never conditioned on your performance. Ever.
He loved you then. He loves you now.
He asks you to love him.
He asks you to obey him.
Today.

So whether you’re here or there,
Whether you feel like a wonderful success or an abject failure,
May you remember His love.

May you believe His love, shining most eloquently through his Son, and may that belief lead to obedience. Here, there, everywhere.

And in the middle of it all, may you hear the Father calling you.
Home.

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When There’s Nowhere to Go But Home

n1When my husband and I decided to leave Cambodia, we had a hard time articulating why. Life was fine – very good actually. We had a decent groove with work, amazing childcare for our two children, and the most incredible faith community.

And yet. We knew.

It would have been easier in some ways if there was some sort of “reason,” like a family or health-related issue, or something to do with the kids’ schooling. But for us it wasn’t any of those. There was no crystal clear moment, no flashing light, no obvious sign, and no audible voice from God. There was just a visceral knowledge that it was time.

When we moved to Cambodia in the first place, we were young and typically idealistic. We wanted to “make a difference” with the gifts and talents God gave us and invest meaningfully in work and relationships. We loved Cambodia deeply (and still do), but after nearly six years of committing ourselves to the country, its people and to our work, we felt like we received an inaudible release. The call to Cambodia had come and gone. And that was okay. It wasn’t failure or lack of commitment, or even cutting things short. We had permission to go.

Even more, there was an instinctual, gut-knowledge that if we stayed, we were actually taking the easy route. To leave? Well…that was terrifying. It meant trusting that God would provide a new way, a new vision for the future and a new path to see it through.

That’s where we sit right now. Nine months ago we left Cambodia. We took the long way home to Canada, stopping in 14 countries to visit friends and family along the way. Each step in our journey, including the five months we’ve been back, have been important in piecing together the next phase of our lives.

It is a phase that is decidedly Canadian. It’s relearning how to live and work and operate in our country of origin. It’s about finding deep and abundant rest – in the form of closeness to family, play parks for our kids, a safe car to drive, lots of walking and biking in Canada’s beautiful outdoors, and public services like health care and libraries at our disposal. It’s celebrating our first cold, white Christmas in six years. And, it’s wrestling with all sorts of new challenges, like living simply when surrounded by overabundance and learning to make new friends and find our place in a new church community. Sometimes I feel like I’m the new girl back in high school.

It hasn’t been easy, and there are days when I desperately miss Cambodia and question our sanity in leaving.

But I still know deep in my gut that leaving was the right decision.

I am reminded of the countless times throughout Scripture where God calls people outside themselves and outside of the familiar. Whether it’s Abram and Sarai heading towards Canaan, the Israelites leaving Egypt, or Paul’s missionary journeys, God calls us out of our comfort zone and out of the familiar.

Strangely enough, for us right now, that’s Canada.

In his work, ‘The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church’, Alan Hirsch says:

“When we survey scripture with liminality and communitas [[1]] in mind, we must conclude that the theologically most fertile sections were in those times of extremity, when people were well out of their comfort zones.”[2]

And so we find that the driving motivation to go to Cambodia in the first place – one of adventure and challenge and wanting to be changed – has now driven us back to Canada.

All of this doesn’t mean that a life overseas is over for us. Not at all. It means that before we can go and minister again, we need to refresh and re-energize after coming dangerously close to burning out. And, perhaps we need enough time in Canada to remember why we left in the first place.

For now, we plod through day to day life praying for peace, the capacity to live well in our new context, and for a renewed vision for the future.

 

[1] In ‘The Forgotten Ways’, Hirsch defines liminality as “the transition process accompanying a fundamental change of state or social position.” Communitas is “what happens when “individuals are driven to find each other through a common experience of ordeal, humbling, transition, and marginalization.” Page 221

[2] Hirsch, Alan. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church. Brazos Press. Grand Rapids, MI. 2006. Page 221.

 

Profile EditAfter spending her entire childhood (except the odd missions trip here and there) on Canadian soil, Amie Gosselin graduated from university with a BA in Journalism and a passion to travel and engage in social justice issues. Since then, she has lived in Thailand, Suriname and Cambodia working for non-profit organizations and loves that writing and stewarding people’s stories is part of her vocation. Amie is married to Steve and mom to two spunky little girls. After six years of living Cambodia, she and her family moved back to Canada where they are trying to relearn how to live in North America. Amie continues to work part time for an international NGO and is expecting her third daughter in May.  

How to Find Refreshment on the Field

Today we are excited to have Danielle Wheeler from Velvet Ashes share an opportunity for women in the ALOS community. Danielle has written for ALOS before and knows well the joys and challenges of a life overseas.

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I was beginning to believe it was impossible.  Finding refreshment and renewal where I lived felt almost laughable.

Alone time?  In a city of 22 million?  With my own little kids bursting at the seams of our small home?  Ha!

Enjoying nature in one of the world’s most congested and polluted areas?  Sigh…

Connecting with other women like me whom I could share and process with?  Hello long bus rides and busy schedules.

I subconsciously decided the only solution was to wait it out.  Wait until we could leave for our annual time away from our country of service, then I’ll get a break.  Hang in there.  Grin and bear it.  Keep serving.  There’s important work to be done.

Healthy, right?

Finally, my husband and I sat down and determined we had to find a way to get refreshed right where we were.  No more writing it off as impossible.   No more putting it at the bottom of the priority list because it seemed self-indulgent.

Our souls were withering, our relationships with God suffering.

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We knew it would take intentionality. We knew we would have to clear space in our lives, guard that space with strong boundaries, and get really creative.

We knew that we would have to be committed to giving one another the freedom to get away, even if that sometimes meant just locking the bedroom door.

So we made the decision, and then we actually did it, and continue to do it on a regular basis.

No, it’s not my ideal refreshment of a walk along a warm beach or a hike in the sunny mountains, because that’s not where I live.  But the thing is, refreshment is happening, and it’s happening right where I am.

I’ve tapped into different parts of my soul than I might have in ideal settings.  I’ve picked up a paintbrush.  I’ve learned different ways to exercise.  I’ve even discovered a few hidden happy places in my city.  And I’ve also found my rhythm as a writer.

The root of it all has been giving myself the time and space to retreat.  To connect with God, to dig into his Word, to process what he’s doing in me.

And I’ve been able to walk through all of this, day by day, with the sisterhood at Velvet Ashes, our online community for women serving overseas.

Together we are rising up to say, “We’re done being the worn out, burned out generation.”  We’re casting a vision of life and renewal for our weary bones.

Together a group of us have crafted an opportunity for women around the world.  It’s an invitation to connect with God, to find refreshment and renewal right where you are.

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It’s a call to process the weight of expectations that we are living under, so we can find release.  Because we want to learn to live light and free.

Our kindred spirit, and A Life Overseas founder, Laura Parker is joining us to share her story too.

And you’re invited.  All you have to do is clear (and dare I say, guard) some space in your calendar, a half-day to a full day, anytime from Thursday April 16, 6pm EST – Sunday April 19, 11:30pm EST.  (Convert to your own time zone).

Velvet Ashes Retreat (Promo) from Amy Young on Vimeo.

Velvet Ashes is hosting it’s first ever online retreat, for you, right where you are. All you need to do is clear a half day for yourself any time within the dates shared in the video. Plan to find a quiet place where you can slip away just you and Jesus. Have your computer with you so you can access the rich resources Velvet Ashes has designed for you.

You can register here: http://retreat.velvetashes.com/

Ladies, will you join us?  Married men, will you give your wives the gift of time for a personal retreat?  I’m guessing she’ll want to do the same for you.

So what do you do to find refreshment and renewal where you live?  I’d love to hear.

Velvet ashes - Danielle WheelerDanielle Wheeler is the girl who sat on her porch one day and had a dream breathed into her heart –a dream of global women linking virtual arms to find connection and courage for their cross-cultural lives. As the founder of Velvet Ashes, she loves watching this dream sprout and grow. She can be found buzzing around the streets of a big city in Asia on an electric, canvas-covered tricycle, wrangling her three kids, and eating late night chocolate waffles with her husband. You can follow her tweets and pins and visit her blog Not Yet There.