Digging in the Dirt, a new book from Jonathan Trotter, is now available!

Hello, all!

I am so excited to announce the release of my new book! It’s called Digging in the Dirt: Musings on Missions, Emotions, and Life in the Mud, and you can find print and Kindle versions here.

Digging in the Dirt contains some of my most heartfelt writings, and addresses things ranging from depression and anxiety, to TCKs and what flying taught me about missions.

It addresses married sexuality on the field, as well as what to do when the thief steals and the power goes out. It’s got some poetry, some top ten lists, and some laments. It’s also got some seeds of hope, and it is my deepest desire that it would encourage and bless folks all over the globe.

I’ll post the text from the back cover and the preface below.

I’m so grateful for the community here, and I’m grateful for my editor, our very own Elizabeth Trotter! Have a wonderful weekend, and may the love and peace of God be very near to you and yours!

all for ONE,

Jonathan Trotter

 

From the back cover:

Welcome to ground level, to the dirt and the mess.

We like the mountain tops and the sunshine. We like green grass under a clear blue sky. We like victory and breakthrough and answered prayers. But sometimes it rains, the shadows deepen, and life turns muddy. Sometimes God seems quiet. What then? What happens when depression descends, or anxiety hangs like a sword overhead? What happens when loneliness suffocates, the thief steals more than stuff, and you get blood on your shoes?

In Digging in the Dirt, Jonathan Trotter delves into the disasters, the darkness, and the deluge, and he offers comfort, presence, and a gentle invitation to hope.

With humor and prose, with poetry and Top Ten lists, Jonathan welcomes us to the dirt, to the places where we actually live. He invites us to boldly see life as it is, with eyes wide open, and reminds us that even when the digging is scary, we are never alone.

To the ones who are dealing with devastation and distress, welcome. To the ones who need to uproot, to pull out, to clear ground, welcome. To the ones who seek desperately to plant seeds of grace and hope in once barren soil, welcome. To the missionary abroad and the believer at home, welcome. Receive the invitation, and join with Jonathan here at ground level, together.

Come, dig in the dirt.

From the preface:

Hello and Welcome!

I’m Jonathan, and it’s such a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to journeying with you through these pages. Together, we’ll delve into the dirt of life and relationships, of sorrows, pain, and loss. And maybe we’ll plant some things too.

Perhaps, along the way, we’ll see small, green stalks of life and hope begin to poke through, watered with the tears of the journey. Digging like this can be messy, but it can be good too.

These musings will meander from the hot dirt of Cambodia to the sticky mud of American politics. Some of these musings are inspired by international missionary life; some of them are firmly rooted in an American context. But whether you’re American or not, whether you’re a missionary or not, I hope that you find them all a blessing, an encouragement, and perhaps sometimes a challenge. I wrote them for you, and I share them with you with my whole heart.

Start reading Digging in the Dirt wherever you’d like, and feel free to skip ahead or go backwards. Are you a cross-cultural missionary? Start there if you want. Are you interested in developing emotional intelligence, or are you exploring whether or not Christians are allowed to have feelings? Consider starting in the Emotions section. Are you reeling from recent life events that have left you feeling like you’re choking on the mud and muck? First of all, I’m so sorry. Second, breathe a slow, deep breath, look over the Table of Contents, and start wherever you need to start.

Wherever you are, and whatever your story, welcome to ground level, to the dirt. It is here that the real work happens; the good, hard, sweet, healing work. It is my deepest hope that here, among these musings, you may find grace, peace, and a hope that just might be strong enough to crack through the crust.

All for ONE,
Jonathan Trotter

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Check it out on Amazon here!

*Amazon affiliate links help support the work of A Life Overseas

Will Moving Overseas Make Or Break Your Relationship?

Relationship cliches about living abroad

There’s a well-worn line in expatriate circles that goes something like this: “Moving overseas will either strengthen your relationship, or break it.”

And here’s another one that gets rolled out regularly: “If your relationship was strong before you moved, it will become stronger. If there were already problems, moving overseas will exacerbate those.”

There is some truth in both of these sayings. Moving overseas is a hugely stressful undertaking. It puts enormous pressure on us—the sort of pressure that forces us out of our comfort zones and makes us change and adapt to meet the new challenges coming from every side.

No relationship can stay static when both parties in it are changing, and so our relationship with our spouse or partner will inevitably change, too.

How does moving overseas change relationships?

In a binary world, moving overseas will either strengthen or weaken our relationship. We will grow closer or more distant. We will make it or break it.

But guess what? Life and love and how we change as people and as a couple is rarely binary.

Sure, some couples will talk about how they moved abroad and it did nothing but good things for them. They are closer and stronger and more in sync than they’ve ever been before. They have a new lease on life and love. Yada, yada, yada.

[Forgive what may be cynicism here, but I would hazard a guess that many of the couples saying this don’t have children, haven’t weathered multiple medical emergencies or major natural disasters along the way, and/or have been together less than ten years.]

Other couples will move abroad and have the relationship fall apart. The move exacerbates tensions that were already there and creates new ones. Embers of frustration, resentment, anger, or pain that were already smoldering underneath the surface get stirred up and blaze to life. Couples increasingly struggle to connect and communicate well. The relationship disintegrates.

But there are many other, more complex, scenarios that can unfold when you move overseas. Here is just one…

Not either/or: One way moving overseas can change a relationship

The decision to move overseas was made together, and you’re both fully on board with this decision. You’re in a strong, stable relationship when you move. The intense experiences that come with moving initially draw you closer.

You grapple together with getting oriented in your new city and learning a new language and culture. Your strengths and differences complement each other in obvious ways. You have a real sense of being better equipped to “do this thing” together than either one of you would be alone. You (mostly) support each other well. You learn a lot about meeting challenges as a team. Trust, respect, gratitude and affection for each other grow stronger.

And then life settles into something akin to routine. The initial excitement wanes, and the extraordinary becomes more normal. More normal and mundane sorts of daily stressors (such as concerns about work, children, finances, life logistics) start to “layer over” these bigger stressors (which haven’t fully subsided) and become more dominant.

One or both of you starts to feel tired, worn out, and increasingly frustrated with certain aspects of your new life. You find yourself pulling inwards, or actively taking things out on your partner. You increasingly lack time and energy to talk about the little details of your day and what’s on your mind and heart. Sudden upswells of anger and resentment surprise you with their intensity. A growing sense of distance from your partner scares you, but you figure it’s just a phase and it will pass.

You’re both still committed to the relationship, but slowly moving into more separate inner orbits. There iss often a fine and fuzzy line between healthy distance in a marriage and unhealthy/scary disconnect, and you’re not exactly sure where that line is anymore—or whether it still lies in front of you, or behind you.

It brings both good and bad…

Whether our closest relationships grow stronger or weaker when we move overseas is not binary and it’s not static. For most of us, the pressure of moving and living overseas will make us closer and stronger as couple in some ways and at some times, and weaken us in other ways and at different times.

All this is a long (very long, sorry) preamble to why I wrote this post.

I’ve been thinking about the impact of moving overseas on relationships for many years now. My background as a psychologist and my own life experience (my husband and I met long distance and have moved internationally three times in the nine years we have been married) has made it highly relevant.

Some time ago, I realized that many of us could use a process designed to help us connect with our partner in new and deeper ways. A process designed to help us make each other a priority, talk about important topics, and learning more about each other. A process designed to strengthen and deepen our relationship.

So I’ve designed one.

And if you want it, I’m going to give it to you for free for the next month.

It’s brand new. I haven’t published it yet (I will do that before Christmas). But I want to give it away to you guys here on A Life Overseas before it even goes to press because you’re my tribe. You’re my people, scattered far and wide. You are people who are passionate about your work, your faith, and your relationship with your partner. You are people who are trying to do some amazing and wonderful things in this world—endeavors that can come at great personal and relational cost.

And if this series can help even a handful of you in some small way, that will make me happy.

So, here’s a bit more about the series and how you can get ahold of it.

Deeper Dates For Couples

Deeper Dates For Couples is a 12-week series of activities and questions that will guide you into important, interesting, and intimate conversations. Along the way, it gives you tools and uncovers insights that will strengthen and deepen your relationship.

Each week for 12 weeks we will focus on a different topic. I will give you some background information (strictly interesting stuff). Then I’ll tell you about your task for the week and share some questions you can use to kick off discussion during your weekly date.

You will:

  • Learn about each other’s strengths, sense of humor, communication style, and personality.
  • Discover brand-new insights about yourself and your partner (yes, no matter how long you’ve been together).
  • Do fun and fascinating positive psychology activities together that have been proven to make people happier and healthier.

How much time will this take? It will usually take you a total of about 45 – 60 minutes to read the chapter and do your task for the week. As for how long you want to spend talking during your weekly date…? Well, that one’s up to you.

And to help you get the most out of this series, I’ve designed a special companion journal to go with it. Your 32-page personal workbook for the Deeper Dates series will guide you through the reflection questions, discussion questions, and tasks for each week, and contains space for you to make notes and keep track of your answers and insights along the way.

If this sounds like something you’d like to have, jump on over to this page where you can enter your email and I’ll send you the book (I don’t want to put a direct link to the book file out in public space before it is officially published, so this is the safest way for me to give it away.)

If you grab a copy, I hope you find it helpful. And I’d love to hear from you about anything to do with the series, anytime.

Wherever you are in this world and in your own relationship journey, I’m cheering you on and wishing you all the best.

Lisa

Debriefing Resources

Debriefing

Thanks to the facebook followers of our A Life Overseas page we have a list of debriefing resource links. Please share any resources you have found helpful. We would love to bulk up the list with resources around the globe.

Other names for debriefing include: home assignment, re-entry counseling, member care, and processing for repatriation.

Christian Training Center International at The Inn (Franklin, North Carolina, USA)

Life Impact (various locations around the world)

Link Care Center (various locations around the world)

Mission Training International (Palmer Lake, Colorado, USA)

Missionary Health Institute (Toronto, Ontario, Canada)

The Rest Initiative (Maitland, Florida, USA)

TEAM (various locations around the world)

Thrive, empowering global women (various locations around the world)

TRAIN International (Joplin, Missouri, USA)

The Well Member Care Center (Chiang Mai, Thailand)

ONLINE:

Member Care Radio

Expatriate Connection

BOOKS:

Re-entry: Making the Transition from Missions to Life at Home” by: Peter Jordan

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by: William Bridges

Trauma and Resilience” by: Schaefer and Schaefer

As Soon As I Fell: A Memoir” by: Kay Bruner

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As stated up top, if you have links to resources that could help in the area of debriefing, counseling for repatriation or re-entry, member care, processing for home assignment, or other related needs those living overseas might have, please share.  Thanks! Be well and take care, my friends.

When You Need Help Abroad: Finding A Good Counselor When You Live Overseas

One of the first questions people often ask me when they learn that I’m a psychologist is, “are you practicing?” They are invariably disappointed when I tell them “no, I’m still busy with our young children, and I’m trying to start a business on the side.” Here, like many other places I’ve lived abroad, there is a shortage of trained mental health professionals who are well equipped to help the expatriate population.

And, boy, a significant chunk of the expatriate population needs some helping.

That’s not surprising, really.

Moving abroad pushes you out of all sorts of comfort zones. Pretty much everything in life – from grocery shopping to figuring out the point of life – gets more complicated. The level of challenge in your life goes way up, right when you lose a lot of your normal support and coping mechanisms.

Yes, this can be a recipe for great personal growth. It is also, often, a recipe for great personal struggle and pain.

Coping with sudden and extreme change gets exhausting. Living far from family and friends gets lonely. Witnessing the impact of your choices on your family members – particularly your children – can breed guilt and insecurity right alongside gratitude. Having the familiar social and cultural scaffolding of your life ripped away can force you to confront core identity questions around yourself, privilege, meaning, purpose, and the existence and nature of God. The pathways to answering these questions often lead through dark valleys.

I would guess that those who live overseas entertain a higher chance of experiencing significant mental health problems, marital challenges, or substance abuse issues than those who remain on home soil. I’ve seen numerous marriages hit the rocks and other important personal and team relationships become hopelessly mired in miscommunications and conflict. I’ve seen people skid into alcohol and porn addictions. I’ve seen parents feel guilty and helpless as they watch their children implode (or explode). I’ve frequently seen more people who cannot shake anxiety, grief, bone-deep exhaustion, or the grey, soul-sucking fog of depression.

When these things happen (and they happen more often than you might think) expatriates can find it very difficult to get help.

There are all sorts of reasons why this is so, but one of those reasons is a shortage of qualified mental health professionals who themselves live abroad. So today, we’re going to talk about how to find some help when you find yourself struggling with a dark, difficult chapter in your story.

Keyboard_Help

When you’re trying to find a counselor locally, ask around

If you’re looking for a psychologist or counselor, start by asking others in town about the options. You don’t have to go into details, just ask if anyone knows of any psychologist, counselors, or social workers living in town.

You might want to start with your embassy. Talk to the doctor on staff at the embassy clinic, if there is one. Ask them whether they know of any psychologists or counselors practicing locally and, if not, what they recommend when people contact them asking for mental health or family counseling referrals.

If you live near an international school, you can approach them for information, too. The international schools may know of skilled expats in town, especially those who work with children.

You can also ask other expatriates, particularly doctors, nurses, midwives, doulas, and pastors.

Search online

world magnifyingWhen you live anywhere outside the major city centers, word of mouth is your best bet when it comes to finding mental health professionals who live nearby. However, you might get lucky with an internet search. Here are three things to try…

Check out International Therapists Directory. It provides an online global listing of professional mental health therapists who are familiar with the TCK and international expatriate experiences.

Use Google. I’m in Laos, so I would try searches like “mental health Laos” “mental health Vientiane” “psychologist Laos” “counselor Laos” “family therapy Laos” etc and see what comes up. I’d also search LinkedIn with those same search phrases.

When it comes to choosing a counselor, be picky

Don’t work with someone just because they live nearby. Yes, there are some benefits to sitting down with someone face to face, but a significant proportion of the mental health professionals I’ve met abroad are… well… to be honest… strange.

Be picky. You will be far better off talking to someone you trust and like via Skype than sitting with someone locally who isn’t qualified or able to help you.

Selecting a counselor is an important and individual process. Remember that a counselor who works well with one person may not be the best choice for another person. Also, when you live overseas, it can be helpful if your counselor has lived abroad themselves or has previous experience working with expatriates.

When you’re considering working with someone, you might want to let the counselor know you’re thinking of making an appointment and ask if they have a couple of minutes to talk with you before you make a decision.

Don’t use this time to explain at length why you want to make an appointment. Instead, ask some questions that can help you get a better feel for this counselor and whether you feel comfortable talking to him/her.

Here are some questions you could ask:

  • Can you tell me a bit more about your training and experience? Are you a licensed mental health professional?
  • Can you tell me a bit more about your general approach to counseling?
  • What do you enjoy about counseling?
  • If you feel comfortable naming the issue that you want to work on in general terms (e.g., “issues related to humanitarian field work,” “child-rearing problems,” “marital issues”), you might ask, “How much experience do you have working with people with this concern?”
  • How long (over time) do you generally like to see clients?
  • Can you tell me more about your fee structure/how you handle billing? (Either on the phone or in your first meeting, the counselor should provide information about procedural matters – fees, meeting times, availability, confidentiality, etc.).

When you meet with a counselor, ask yourself whether this is a person with whom you feel comfortable talking. You may need to talk with the counselor more than once to know the answer to that question. Do you feel the counselor is listening to you? Does the counselor treat you with respect? Does the counselor respond to your questions constructively?

If you can’t find someone local who you like and trust, find someone back home and work with them using Skype, Facetime, or other video-chat options. Nowadays, many counselors are happy to take on long-distance clients.

Find and read resources online

Articles, online training modules, and podcasts are not an adequate substitute for talking to someone, but they can help along the way. Here are a couple of websites that you might find useful.

The Headington Institute: Provides psychological and spiritual support services for aid and development personnel worldwide. Check out their free online training center covering topics related to resilience, stress, trauma, relationships, spirituality and more.

Member Care Associates: Provides and develops supportive resources for workers and sending groups within the mission/humanitarian sectors. Click on their Articles/Books tab to find a long list of resources for those on the mission field. Click here to read about their latest book in the Member Care series.

The American Psychological Associations Online Help Center: This is a good source for general articles and tips sheets about health, emotional wellness, families, relationships, and children.

Please chime in and add to this list!
Feel free to ask questions, share your experiences, or add useful links.

Four Things You Could Do

There is no shortage of  instructions on the interweb.

In any given month it is quite likely you will be instructed on multiple topics.  The list could include:

 Ten things not to say to your single friends

Five things Christians should stop saying

Ten things for a healthy marriage.

Five reasons your teen is rebelling.

Those never ending lists just serve to overwhelm me.  Say this. Don’t say this. Do that. NEVER do this.

I can barely follow directions. Kraft Mac and Cheese has one step too many for me.

There are SO many instructions and they all run together and before I know it I have applied one of the items to the wrong problem.  After reading all those articles I learned that my teen was rebelling because I was too controlling. Somehow I got mixed up and became certain one of the keys to a happier marriage was to be more controlling.

As you can see, there is a HUGE margin of error here.

 *             *             *

Today, I shall add fuel to the fire…

My list of things you “should” do to care for yourself.

One caveat, I don’t actually care if you reject my entire list. These are just some things that have been helpful to us in eight years overseas.

Guess what?  Just because they helped us, doesn’t mean they will necessarily work for all of you.

Therefore, today I present to you:

Four things you could do.  (Four possible not mandatory ways to care for yourselves and your families while working/living/serving and growing “overseas” .)

  1. Time Away/Rest
  2. Community
  3. EMDR and Counseling
  4. Prayer

Time Away/Rest – I don’t have to tell you this, you have heard it a kajillion times. “Even Jesus took time away”.   So do that.  Be like Jesus.

We all do what we do because we believe it to be important, even necessary, work.  There is a tendency in all of us to cast ourselves in a role that is irreplaceable, as in “without me this cannot happen” – so I cannot rest. Well,  here is the thing: If that is true, you have got larger problems than just needing a rest.

Take time off. Leave work and “mission” for a time and regroup. I am not suggesting you be  a lazy lard. I am suggesting that within a system of accountability you take time away every so often because that is good for you and your family.

Community – This is easier for some than it is for others.  There is a great benefit to living in community with other believers.  In this day and age there is a way to have an on-line community and an in-real-life community. If you can have both, you have the best of both worlds.  There should be a few people in your life that you can share your deepest fears and joys with on a semi-regular basis. There should be people that you allow to speak into those things.

EMDR and Counseling – Right now you are wondering where the heck the train left the track, you did not see it coming.  Stick with me, please. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and it is a type of trauma treatment.  Any of us that spend significant amount of time living cross culturally are almost guaranteed some trauma.  I could give you sixteen examples but I will simply share this testimonial:  After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti we discovered that PTSD was not just something soldiers in combat have.  EMDR seemed like hocus pocus to us at first, but we can tell you it absolutely helped us with the trauma of the earthquake and other previous trauma we had not dealt with at that time. It was an effective way of dealing with small and very large traumatic happenings.

If trauma is not your issue, perhaps basic therapy/counseling would be a way to process some of the stressors of living cross-culturally.  Going to talk to a professional to get some advice, feedback, or help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of being a real, living, feeling, human being.  Marriages fall apart under stress and living abroad is stressful.  I am no math expert, but after some rudimentary calculations I can see that perhaps counseling would be helpful for those doing marriage outside of their home culture.

Prayer- This is a big one…Maybe even the biggest one. There are two parts to this suggestion.

First, have a team of people in place that you know you can count on when you call or write them with a prayer request or urgent need.  Whether they are your parents and siblings, your home church, or a circle of friends, you will find that you need a group that will carry you when things are very difficult.

During one of our years in Haiti we had a personally devastating set-back that made it hard for us to get out of bed for a couple of weeks let alone accomplish our daily tasks.  There were those “back home” that carried us in prayer until we were back on our feet and able to face life again.  On another occasion we were in a parking lot in Port au Prince when I sensed danger. I could not identify what it was, but I knew I needed to go back to the car with our kids.  That afternoon when I returned home I had an email from my Dad that said, “Where were you at noon? I had a strong sense you were in danger and I prayed for you guys until it passed.”  You will likely have times when these intercessory prayers will absolutely matter.

Second, make prayer a part of your breathing. As you go about your day, be seeking God in each interaction and task. Try to make family and spouse prayer times a high priority.  Try to pray with your community and carry one another’s burdens. None of us were meant to do this work alone, call on your Heavenly Papa and ask for His help.

As soon as I finished this list I remembered that there is a fifth thing.  I guess I failed at internet bossing, cannot even count it out correctly.

5. Excercise Regular exercise will help you feel better about everything that is hard about your life. You could give that a try too.

 

photo copy 8
This ^ combines prayer, community, and excercise – three of the five happening on one run.

 

That is my list of four five. 

What else would you add? 

What ways have you found helpful when taking care of yourself?

How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak (Part 1)

I believe if a missionary family is happy and healthy, they will be more sustainable in the long-term. I also believe that the key to happy and healthy missionaries is preparation. One of the things I’ve learned while living overseas is that there is a lot of heartache among cross-cultural workers. I’ve also noticed that often, people’s heartache had common characteristics, and could have been addressed before arriving on the field.

I’m sharing practical steps you can take before you leave your home country. These steps will make your on-field life more smooth, more stable, and more productive. I’m incredibly grateful to our sending church and sending agency, who helped us take these steps prior to arriving in Cambodia. We simply followed their instructions. At the time, we didn’t realize the immense wisdom of their requirements, or how much our years of preparation would help us in settling happily in Cambodia. We could not have transitioned well without their guidance.

You should be aware that none of this preparation will prevent difficult things from happening to you on the field. Dealing with the following issues simply eases the strain of regular life, as the pain they cause is largely preventable. In no particular order, those issues are:

1)      Not having enough financial support

2)      One spouse doesn’t feel called into missions

3)      Not having marital intimacy

4)      Pornography/sexual sin

5)      Team stress

6)      Not getting enough pre-field training

Part 1 in this series will look at the first three issues, with Part 2 covering the remainder.

 

1) NOT HAVING ENOUGH FINANCIAL SUPPORT

Financial troubles are stressful in America, but they become even more stressful in a cross-cultural setting. When all of life is consumed in getting the best price at the market or saving just a little more money, you have no time margin. Your mind never rests.

Please don’t try to move overseas without sufficient funding, assuming you will be able to pinch pennies once you get there. Missionaries are known to lose financial support over the years — which means it’s difficult to prevent underfunding completely. However, it also means that starting underfunded will only lead to more underfunding. Many missions organizations won’t even clear you to move overseas until you’ve raised 100% of your proposed budget.

We modeled our budget off the budget of a missionary who was already in this field, but we also added some financial margin (about 10%). Although our overall projected budget was accurate, we had to seriously shift items once we got here. Some bills were much lower than expected, while others were much higher. And we are so thankful we planned some financial margin so that when we got ripped off in the beginning (which will inevitably happen before you know the language well and intuitively know what a fair price is), we weren’t worried.

 

2) ONE SPOUSE DOESN’T FEEL CALLED INTO MISSIONS (A “TRAILING SPOUSE”)

I was a trailing spouse. Being a missionary has been my husband’s dream since he was 10 years old. I think I knew this on a sub-conscious level when we got married, but I was so blissfully in love that any missionary living seemed very far away. When he “suddenly” wanted to apply with Team Expansion about five years ago, I was shocked. Most of my concerns were about safety and health, as I’m a recovering germaphobe/hypochondriac.

We pursued the application process in spite of my reservations. At times I was less supportive, and at times I was more supportive. I thought I could survive missionary life by imitating the way Sarah followed God’s leading through her husband Abraham. In the end, though, when it came to setting a departure date, I just couldn’t leave home. I needed to hear directly from God myself.

I was able to hear my own “call” only after we set aside special time to hear from God individually. During this time we didn’t talk about the subject as a couple, but I did listen to a veteran missionary’s story about fear and faith on the mission field. Then my husband and I went to our church leaders for advice. It was after this time of individual thinking and praying that I was able to drop the “trailing spouse” label.

I have my own call now, so I don’t have doubts about why I’m here, nor do I want to move back to America. I’ve made Cambodia my home, and I’ve made peace with missionary life. But I’ve seen other women who are still trailing spouses. Their husbands’ desires to be here and do mission work are stronger than theirs, and they are unhappy. They constantly want to go home. Please, trailing spouses, take time to verify your call to missions BEFORE leaving home. Taking the time to do that now will be worth it later on.

To read a more complete version of this story, click here.

 

3) NOT HAVING MARITAL INTIMACY

My husband has always been my best friend, and he remained my best friend even as I started forming close girl friendships in my new country.  Because of my relationship with my husband, I am not emotionally dependent on anyone back home (although I still keep in very close contact with my best girl friend in America). My husband and I communicate easily and well, but if you have difficulty communicating, be aware that your difficulties will be magnified on the field.

Our church leadership required that we attend a week-long intensive counseling session.  I initially resisted this, as I did not think we had any glaring problems. We’d been happy for 10 years! Why did we need counseling?? Once we were in the counselor’s office, though, we quickly realized we needed to deal with some areas in our life that we had not yet dealt with. (These issues were separate from the trailing spouse issue, which had been resolved by that time.) The experience was a major breakthrough for us and has helped us to be more understanding and supportive of each other.

If you are planning on long-term overseas missions, make your relationship with your spouse your strongest earthly relationship. A happy marriage makes those unavoidable annoyances of daily life much less noticeable. To that end, I highly recommend counseling.

As a side note, you really do need a good friend on the field, whether you are married or not. Pray for one before you get there, and trust God to provide one. He will!

We’ll look at the next three points in Part 2.  In the meantime, here’s a review of the issues, with some practical steps to take:

1)      Not having enough financial support            

                   — Build margin into your budget, and raise it fully.  

2)      One spouse doesn’t feel called into missions            

                   — Ensure both partners have a strong missionary call.

3)      Not having marital intimacy            

                   — Make your marriage your strongest relationship; possibly seek counseling.

Read Part 2 here.

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After a military childhood, a teenaged Elizabeth Trotter crash landed into American civilian life. When she married her high school sweetheart, her life plan was to be a chemical engineer while he practiced law. Instead, they both fell headlong into youth ministry and spent the next ten years serving the local church. When her husband later decided he wanted to move overseas, Elizabeth didn’t want to join him. But now, after two years of life in Cambodia with him and their four children, she can’t imagine doing anything else. She blogs at trotters41.com. 

On Twitter (@trotters41) and Facebook (trotters41)

Sink and a Dolphin Will Catch You

ocean

Though pixilated, I can see she is attentive. Her words come through clearly, even if the imaged is delayed. Our weekly Skype sessions have been a lifesaver during a very desperate time in my life. If you would have told me a year ago I would be seeing a counselor I would have rebuked you with all the masked insecurity and spiritualized pride I could muster. Oh, things have changed.

A few months ago I wrote a graphic letter to some friends, pleading for prayer. I told them, “I feel like I am trapped in a drowning car and I can’t get out.” They prayed. The events that led me to agree to weekly counseling happened so quick that I didn’t have a chance to protest. I am now very much pro-counseling.

During our most recent session I shared with my counselor about that plea. That as I have been meeting with her I feel like I am out of the car, but I am still weary, exhausted even, as I am treading water. I explained that some recent occurrences have felt like someone deliberately pushing my head under water for too long. I am gasping, sputtering, and disoriented. But now I have my head above water again, barely, as I have been facing the emotional, practical, and relational realities associated with each difficulty.

I thought she would be in awe of my superb analogy.  

Not fazed she said, “You know, sometimes I tell people they need to stop treading water.”

I balked, “Just quit? And drown?”

She said, “Not necessarily quit. But surrender… to God.”

There was silence as she let that sink in. Sink in – get it? Ha. Seriously though…

She then continued, “There is a difference between quitting and surrendering. Quitting is saying you are through and it is not worth the effort. Surrender is a willful placement of your whole trust in God.”

That felt like the sweetest rebuff I had ever received. If the Christian faith is anything it is trust in God. That is so basic! But it is a truth I need to come back to right now in my life: surrender.

I bit my tongue and didn’t blurt out my cheeky retort, “Why can’t I just walk on the water?”

Our session ended and I was encouraged to do some journaling as a follow up. As I wrote, my thoughts went back to the sarcastic remark I withheld.

Who knows? Maybe that is the solution God has for me. But I can’t know that until I stop treading water and surrender to Him.

Then an image popped into my mind of friends who told me about swimming with the dolphins on their honeymoon. I pictured myself surrendering and my body starting to sink when along came a dolphin to catch me and take me along to safety.

I smiled. Then the floodgates opened! Floodgates – get it? Ha. Seriously though…

At first the ideas trickled in, I was amused.

  • Walk on water
  • Dolphin
  • Helicopter

Then the flow of possibilities rushed over me and I couldn’t write fast enough to keep up!

  • Deep sea driver
  • Submarine
  • Swallowed by a big fish
  • Big wave pushes me to shore
  • Life preserver ring
  • Scuba gear appears
  • People in a boat rescue me
  • The sea splits in two and I walk out on dry land
  • The water is turned to wine and a an army of giants drinks the sea dry
  • He is floating beside me and waiting for me to stop flailing my arms so He can grab me
  • He is the water, like the Dead Sea, and I would float in Him if I would stop trying so hard

My listy brain would like to present these allegorical options to God as ways He can rescue me when I surrender. That is a superficial relationship of dictatorship, which I want no part of. So the final item on the list expresses my heart to God in this process of surrender.

  • NONE OF THE ABOVE … and that’s okay.

God is so much more creative and resourceful than my measly list of ideas. The main idea is: hope. This is a list of hope. As I surrender I have hope in the grace and goodness of God.

———————————————-

Are you trapped in a drowning car? Are you tired of treading water? Might you need to surrender to God, once again? What would that look like in your life?

Final thought: If you feel you need counseling, even if you think you “should” have it all together, I highly recommend you prayerfully engage in seeking help. Peace.

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

Carrying Water

Today’s guest post comes from Tamara White, former domestic missionary, current international consultant and therapist.

Tamara White Carrying WaterWhen I was in Haiti, high up in a mountain village, I was greeted every morning by a little girl who carried water for her family. The container was as big as her torso, perched perfectly on her sweet head. It seemed too heavy for such a tiny girl and I mentioned this to the pastor’s wife. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we’d like for everyone to have accessible water but really, it’s good for the children to carry water. It is the least of their battles.’ She, of course, was right. I was there to teach about PTSD but during my stay I was informed about their battles for education, gender equality, food insecurity, and opportunity.

‘Be kind, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.’ Plato

That was my mantra as I dove into inner-city ministry twenty years earlier. There were fun battles. Walking through a foot of snow to the latest ‘hole in a wall’ food haunt with friends. Teaching the Sunday School lesson from on top of the classroom table with some nice hip hop moves for ‘Moses’ and, my favorite – being ornery late at night and blaring Luciano Pavarotti into my Tupac driven neighborhood. And, there were dark battles. Perplexing injustice and violence, exhausting vigilance for safety, and the loneliness of pouring myself into others when I was still becoming whoever ‘I’ was. But there was something even more destructive that was leaving my soul ragged and orphaned. Depression and anxiety.

I attended small groups with other twenty somethings living in the city. I probably looked like I connected but internally, I felt void and unmoved always feeling like I was looking in. In staff and community meetings I was robust in debate but would give a big sigh as I crawled into bed feeling a mere shadow of my former self. The only time I truly felt myself was when I sang. I’ve always sang and performed but during those years, I loved worship because I felt alive, like my inner and outer being had finally merged for those few moments.

I remember helping some friends from the Jesus People apartment out of their car. We were talking about simple things. Familiar things. I was ‘spirited’ in my share of the conversation. As the wife gathered her belongings from the back seat her husband looked at me over the top of the car and said, ‘you know, Tam, it is okay to be angry.’ Me, a sweet Kansas girl happy to serve and eager to go that extra mile, angry? Shortly after that conversation one of the young women in our ministry told me, matter of factly, that I was just ‘not real.’ No one had ever said something like that to me. I was the one people sought out not dismissed.

Those two interchanges were simple, almost benign, but enough observation to slice into my façade. I was angry. And, I was submerged, not real and not accessible. I didn’t have a clue what that meant or how to deal with it so I did what any reasonable person would do and had a breakdown and left. It would not be the last time I would slowly, imperceptibly, fade away, and fall apart.

That was before I made frenemies with my nemesis. Before the devastating symptoms there are alarming whispers and I’ve learned to lean in and listen but, mostly, I’ve learned to care for myself. To those who are also the prey of depression and anxiety, this may mirror your own effort to be present instead of being submerged and fighting to breathe. Often and sadly, as a leader, or missionary, or, ‘person of repute’ as my mother would say – you do not get to be depressed or anxious. Which means you are a fool or crazy or, the very worst – needy.

After numerous battles fought, with some won but many lost, I decided that my truest offering might be to merge my 20 years of experience in ministry with the artful ministry of the soul – counseling. I know from experience that the demands of ministry, particularly in impoverished and vulnerable communities, can ‘out-crisis’ my crisis any day leaving me to silently fade and flat line. In combination, I know how vapid and confusing it can be, when faced with the challenge of serving in communities with a prevalence of trauma and consequential mental health decay, all while trying to honor culture and expressed felt needs. But my offer to you would be through my new mantra:

“Living well and beautifully and justly is ALL one thing.” Socrates

When I am not congruent in mind, body and soul, when I do not indulge in beauty and creating beauty, then justice seeking is really a mirage of intention. The Gospel tells me that I am free to float to the top, to engage, to wonder aloud about all these pains and to live in kindness because my battle matters too.

After becoming acquainted with the battles of the people in that mountain village in Haiti, what was it then that unnerved me about that tiny, little girl carrying water on her head every day? Quite simply, it was because it said, ‘I am in need.’ It was Christ, at high noon, asking for a cup from the shamed woman at the well. I get to share a cup of water with Christ when I admit, ‘I am in need.’ And when we all gather at the well, the water just might turn to wine. It’s most often not our choice what we get to carry in life, whether it is water or depression or injustice. The real battle is to be present, flatfooted and standing in our space in this world. I don’t allow my battles to remove me from my life anymore. I carry them, on my head if I have to, so I can live well and beautifully and justly. And that is kindness.

What hidden battles do you carry? What would it cost you to carry them on your head for all to see?

Tamara White, MA, NCC – Ministry: www.zoeroots.com  Practice: www.zoecounsel.com

Tamara WhiteTamara has over 20 years experience in urban, international, and diverse populations serving complex situations of individuals, teens and families in crisis. She founded and directed two nonprofit organizations in Chicago and Denver serving homeless families, teens, gang members and single mothers, with a focus on addictions, attachment, trauma and life skills.   An undergrad student of theology, organizational development, and communications she holds a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Her areas of expertise are trauma and PTSD, addictions, pre/post adoption, therapeutic parenting and attachment, grief and loss and, of course, depression and anxiety. Tamara is a single, adoptive mother who resides in Colorado with her children who amuse her, pets who shed, and friends who make her laugh.