Jumping Off the Pedestal

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I live in fear of disappointing people. Supporters, our church, our organization, family, friends.

I know how messy my life is, I know the things I struggle with, I know where I stumble, I know how often I mess things up, and now I worry others will know too.

I have always been a pretty transparent person. I am a wholehearted believer in being who you are and being real. I have never really had an issue with pretending to be someone I am not. I usually openly admit to my mistakes and the issues I have; I am fairly aware of my poor habits and sin. I have a sweet husband who shows me areas of my life I need to work on, and he does it in a gentle way, even if I am sassy when he’s telling me.

But, I have never been put on a pedestal for being an “exceptionally good person.” Given the line of work my husband and I chose to enter about two years ago, we are now the recipients of undue praise and adoration for our “sacrifice” and “service.”

It’s a weird feeling. I don’t like it. It makes me feel like I have to pretend to be someone I am not in order to live up to their lofty idea of who I am. My default being in this position is to hide my sin, shove the issues I have aside, and not disappoint the people who now use me as a “great example” of a follower.

It started out okay. It was just at church where people would come and shake my hand and commend me for the work we are doing. Now, every single person in our lives: distant friends, former coworkers, and long-lost relatives are coming out of the woodwork to be encouraging and supportive. I love the support and encouragement, and we definitely need it. However, we now receive praise and adoration from most people in our lives. Somehow, what we chose to do makes us amazing people. They couldn’t be more wrong.

I was just willing, not exceptional. I didn’t want to go, I tried not to go, I resented going and was reluctant for a long time even after conceding.

Basically, not an awesome person at all. I would tell every single person the exact same beginning if I had the opportunity, but I don’t get the chance to tell that to everyone. So it leads to a disproportionate amount of amazement and revere for our decision. If they only knew I was on the losing end of an argument with God.  I was never going to win, because His plans will always succeed over mine, and I am grateful for that to be the case. I never want to be outside of God’s will, and that’s why we are overseas. His will was for us to be here, so here we are.

Now, back to the issue of trying not to be fake, while at the same time trying not to disappoint. I didn’t give the fear of disappointment much thought until my husband and I had a huge argument one evening. I wanted to call and chat with my close friends and family, but then I was overwhelmed with this huge sense of fear of letting them down. I want to be who they think I am, but I am not. I am stuck in this reality where everyone thinks I am someone I am not, and I am trying to play catch up to be that person. Meanwhile, I still have all the same struggles, sin issues and bad habits. God is working those things out in me, but they weren’t immediately eradicated when we boarded our plane in San Francisco.

I am not sure how common fear of disappointment is for overseas workers, but for this girl it has become quite a hurdle.

I wonder what people would think if they knew what I am really like. I wonder if they would think I am even worthy to support or send. It’s so much pressure to live up to an unrealistic ideal of who I am suppose to be. I began to wonder if that’s why people leave the field with broken marriages, torn-apart lives, and messed-up families. Is it because these people were trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of who they are? Is it because they were trying to achieve an unattainable ideal?

I totally think that the fear of disappointing supporters, sending churches, organizations, friends and family could lead to shoving issues aside and not working through things that need to be dealt with. I think the pressure of trying to live up to what others think of you and trying to be worth the investment of time and resources people have poured into you, would cause you to sweep things under the rug and hope that nobody notices.

I think that pushing problems aside, not dealing with issues as they arise, and living under unrealistic expectations could produce a catastrophic event that forces you to leave the field brokenhearted. If we don’t work through hardship and complications as they come, those issues aren’t going to go away.

Just like life back in the States, we have to deal with marital lows and hardship. We have to work through tough family obstacles at times. We have to face stress and anxiety at work and figure out healthy ways to deal with it. We have to tackle difficult relationships and resolve them. Life isn’t easy back in our home countries and it’s definitely not easy in a foreign country.

After thinking about fear of disappointment and how it’s affecting my life and decisions, I decided it was time to be real. To be honest and genuine, to be the person I am, imperfections and all. I don’t want to lead a dishonest life, I don’t want to be adored (especially for someone I am not), and I want to be free from fear.

I want to be able to say things like: I almost got hit by a taxi crossing the street two days ago and yelled a bad word at the top of my lungs while jumping out of the way. I want to be able to argue with my husband and be incredibly ticked at him and feel free to share it with people close to me who love me and can encourage us to keep working at marriage, because it’s hard. I want to be accountable for who I am and not who other people think I am.

To the best of my ability I am going to shove aside the fear of disappointment. I will address the issues, deal with the hard stuff, and be okay with the idea of being knocked of my pedestal, because I shouldn’t be up there in first place.

 

Originally published here.

Kristin and her husband are experiencing life on the other side of the world, where traffic lights are suggestions and people are the friendliest. You can usually catch her with her mouth full of food or talking away with her newest friend. She is a California girl in the heart of South Asia and people often dub her as the tallest girl they have ever seen (she’s 5’10). She never wants people to feel alone and loves sharing and hearing about the adventures of following God wholeheartedly. You can read more about her at www.soulfulshenanigans.com.

My Kids Are Not Little Missionaries

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We don’t go into cross cultural missions without a fair degree of idealism. We would never leave our home, family, friends and culture if we didn’t think it was our calling and that we would make a difference. As parents, our children become part of that idealism. We can’t help having expectations and dreams of how our kids will be shaped by an amazing cross cultural experience.  As I look back over the years, I can see how my ideals didn’t line up so well with our family reality. For me, growth has included embracing a continual lowering of expectations and perhaps a little more acceptance of being who we are.

My sons are now 19 and 17. As a family we are about to leave SE Asia for a season to help them settle, or become unsettled (depending on how it goes), back into our passport country. They were born in our passport country and moved with my husband and me to SE Asia at the ages of 4 and 6.

We had already spent 3 years in that country before they were born and had a reasonable grasp of the language. We wanted to go deeper this time. I imagined us becoming a culturally-integrated and truly incarnational family, making a profound impact by our deep identification with the people. We somehow thought that immersing our kids into the culture would be easy even though our own previous experience of living in that culture had been extremely challenging. So many people had told us that kids are incredibly adaptable and resilient. They teased that our boys would soon be much more fluent in the language than we were and love all the new experiences.  It didn’t work out like that for us.

It’s easy to see things clearer in hindsight. At the time it seemed like a good idea to please our local friends by placing our boys in a national school of 6,000 students, where our children were the only little blond foreigners that the school had ever had. That was the beginning of an exhausting and painful inner struggle that felt like a tug-of-war in my guts. I was torn between what was best for my kids (helping them grow, learn, and be stretched, but still protected) and doing whatever it took to build relationships with local people and feel accepted by them.

We did come up with a strategy, after a few disastrous experiences, for how our kids could avoid being touched, kissed and pinched by strangers, or teachers who should know better, and still maintain some level of respectfulness. We made it clear to them that snarling like a rabid dog as adults approach is not OK. But giving the formal greeting of hands in front of the face and then running off before they can touch you is usually acceptable.

There were many days out visiting in a village where after several hours of intense connecting with local kids I could see my boys were just about to reach that point of things getting ugly. They were exhausted from the cross cultural relating, and it was in all our interests to leave NOW.  Again I felt the inner wrenching of being torn by the desire to stay and go deeper with our local relationships and ministry and giving our kids what they needed.

I now see how children have culture shock and culture stress like we all do, and they don’t just adapt because they are kids. They react according to their personality and a myriad of other factors that can be hard to identify or predict. They need support and acknowledgement of their struggles. We came to realize that although we really valued local relationships and knew they were key to our ministry, our relationship with our kids was the one that would last a life time. That was our top priority. That didn’t mean life was all about them, or we never expected them to learn patience and self-control. It did mean that we wanted them to know we were always there for them and were trying to make the best decisions we could for us as a family, trusting that God was in it all with us. One time this meant relocating to a city where they could attend international school, quite a change and unsettling for our ministry, but definitely the best decision for us as a family.

When the boys were 12 and 14, we moved to another country in SE Asia with a different language and culture. This time I accepted from the beginning that it was the international community that would be their life. My husband and I went to language school again, and they went to an international school. After five years they have friends from all over the world but only speak enough local language to tell directions to a Tuk Tuk (local taxi) driver.  They have not gone to a local church or become friends with the local neighbors. But they do have a supportive school community. They can get around the city independently and are fully engaged in the international church and youth group. I’m more than content with that.

My kids are definitely TCKs, although they don’t like to be labeled as such because, like most of us, they just don’t like being labeled. They are TCKs who connect deepest with other TCKs but they are also their own persons. They have their own experiences of being a TCK and don’t necessarily tick every box on the ‘you know you are a TCK whenlist. They may not have connected very deeply with this culture we live in but that is OK and I really like them.

Sometimes parents of younger children who know my boys and see how they are usually pretty comfortable relating to other kids and adults ask me something like “What are your parenting tips for TCKs?” I don’t think I have anything to offer that is different from what you would read in any quality parenting book. I naturally think my sons are great, but I believe that has more to do with who they are than anything my husband or I did or didn’t do. We made plenty of mistakes. There have been many influences in their lives. If I believe that they are great young people because of my incredible parenting, then I am setting myself up for some difficult days ahead. If they start making decisions I am unhappy about does that mean I really messed up as a parent? We really don’t have that much control. I’m grateful that God leads us all on a journey of grace and healing, our kids included.

Accepting who we are and who my kids are means being willing to not hold too tightly to certain definitions or ideals. It means being open to things being a little fuzzy for a while and different from what we expected, and that can be hard. It means letting our kids be the people they are becoming and letting go of a desire to make them into any kind of extension of ourselves. Yes, we have been in this cross cultural life together as a family and we are all shaped by that, but they are not little missionaries. They are themselves. And I really like them.

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My name is Rachael from Australia. Before having children, my husband and I served in Thailand for three years, working with people living with leprosy and other disabilities. After a significant time back in our home country we returned with our two sons for another five years of working with the Thai national church. We later moved to Cambodia and served in team leadership with our mission for five and a half years. Our boys have done Thai national schooling, home schooling, Australian government schooling, and both Christian and secular international schooling. They will soon be university students in Australia and more importantly, they are still talking to us.

“I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs” | Lies We Believe

Last month I began a series on life in ministry families and the thinking patterns we absorb along the way. As I mentioned then, this conversation is for everyone — whether you grew up as a Pastor’s Kid (PK) or Missionary Kid (MK), whether you entered ministry as an adult, or whether you love people who are.

This month we’ll continue by discussing three of the lies Timothy Sanford writes about in his book “I Have to be Perfect” (and other Parsonage Heresies). As we process these statements, keep in mind that everybody experiences life differently. You might react to some of these ideas and not to others, and that’s ok.

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I’m here for others” & “Other people’s needs are more important than my own

Ouch. These two lies hit close to home for me. They’re so intertwined that they’re hard to separate, and I’ve believed them both as a ministry wife. I’ve assumed people can walk all over me. All over my time, and all over my feelings. I’ve allowed people to trash my home, believing I must silently endure it as service to Christ. I’ve bought into the lie that I exist only to serve others, and that I can’t have needs of my own. Furthermore, I thought if I didn’t let other people do those things to me — and even more specifically, if I weren’t joyful about it — then I wasn’t a good Christian or a good ministry wife.

I required these things of myself. Did God require them of me? Must I only ever serve others? Philippians 2:4 tells us to “look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That’s an intriguing grammatical construction, the “not only, but also.” The Apostle Paul, arguably the greatest missionary of all time, seems to be assuming that we have needs of our own and simply encourages us to care for others in addition to ourselves.

Galatians 6:2 instructs us to “Bear one another’s burdens.” Other versions say to “share” or “carry” one another’s burdens. I have a hard time deciding which verb I like best, so let’s use all of them: we are to bear, share, and carry one another’s burdens. The words “one another” imply a reciprocal relationship: I help to carry your burdens, and you help to carry mine. 

We’re accustomed to carrying other people through their difficult times. We’re not “supposed” to have troubles of our own. We’re not supposed to need someone to carry us; instead we need to keep carrying other people. But what about those times when we can no longer carry someone else? What about the times we can’t even carry ourselves? Can we let someone carry us for a change?

Being in ministry or missions doesn’t mean we’ll never need to be carried. It doesn’t mean we’ll never have needs. Sometimes we get comfortable stuffing our needs down and ignoring what our souls are saying to us. Sometimes we get accustomed to giving when we have nothing left to give. And sometimes we model those behaviors in our families.

Maybe we can start to acknowledge that we have needs of our own. Maybe we can allow others to pour into us for a time. Maybe we can give ourselves a little bit of the grace we offer so freely to others. (The flip side of this, of course, is that other people have to be willing to care for us, too.)

What does it take to create a community characterized by Galatians 6:2, a community of mutual burden-bearers who help each other through the troubles of life? It takes an acceptance, by all of us, that we don’t always have to be strong. It’s ok to be weak. It’s ok to depend on others, even if we’re in ministry — perhaps especially if we’re in ministry.

The idea that “other people’s needs are more important than my own” sounds very spiritual. It sounds very sacrificial and giving. But we are all of us humans, created and finite beings with limited resources. Our lives are powered by the Holy Spirit, true, but none of us can survive if we think we are only here for others, or if other’s needs are always more important than our own.

There’s a deeper, more insidious lie at work here, too. When we believe the lie that the only purpose of our life is to serve other people, we buy into the falsehood that we earn our worth. That our performance justifies our existence. That what we do, the service we yield for others, is what makes us valuable in both God’s eyes and other people’s eyes.

We need to remember the Truth. We need to know, in the core of our being, down in the cellar of our souls, that God’s love and approval do not depend on anything we do. The same God who made us from dust knows we are dust, and He redeemed us Himself. We are caught in His arms, caught in His gaze, and there is nothing left for us to prove. There is only God’s love, and the Cross has already proved it.

 

I should already know

This lie claims that I should already be farther along in my spiritual journey that I am right now. That whatever I know, I should know more. That wherever I am, I should be farther along. That whatever my faith is, it should be stronger. That however my relationship with God is faring, it should be better.

And of course my own personal favorite, oft-uttered in frustration: “Arg!! I should be a better person by now!!”

So.many.shoulds.

Saying and believing should entraps us. I should be nicer to that person. I should forgive those people. What happened back then shouldn’t still hurt. I shouldn’t be so angry at God. I should be less selfish and more generous. I should be more mature. I shouldn’t struggle with this sin anymore. I shouldn’t struggle with the “little” hardships in my life. I should be happier.

There’s nowhere to go but down to the depths of despair if I don’t do what I should do. If I’m not living life the way I should, then I’m a bad person. If I’m not as good as I should be, I’ve failed in my faith. If I’m not as dedicated as I should be, I’ve failed in my Bible study, failed in my prayer life, failed in my service to others.

Should looks to a past full of failures.

Should judges us as Insufficient! Inadequate! Unworthy!

Should. This one single word oppresses us.

What can we do about the crushing shoulds in our life?? Timothy Sanford suggests replacing them with coulds. Where should condemns, could gives hope. Where should breeds anxiety and fear, could sees opportunity for growth. Where should paralyzes, could expands. I could talk to God more. I could read His Word more. I could forgive that person. I could love that person more fully. A life of coulds is full of possibilities.

I want to give you permission to dump the shoulds in your life. I’d love to simply say the words and be confident that you’re no longer captive to your own shoulds. But I know better — I know it takes more than just saying the words. I’m going to say them anyway: You don’t need to do more or be better than you are right now. You are already Enough.

Wherever you are in your walk is acceptable for today. You’re right where you’re supposed to be. Every day you’ll grow. Every day you’ll be farther along than you were the day before, even if you don’t feel the change. Every day you’ll receive another dose of Grace, the medicine settling deeper into your soul.

The beauty, the mystery of it all, is that Grace happens without any shoulds at all. So let us release ourselves from the tyranny of the shoulds. Let us release our pastors from the shoulds. Let us release our missionaries. And for goodness sake, let us release their children. As people loved by a holy God and saved by Grace alone, let us rid ourselves of these lies before they imprint themselves onto the DNA of our souls.

 

Have you ever felt your needs didn’t matter, or that you should already know or be a certain something?

In your life, do you think those beliefs came from within yourself, or externally from family culture or church culture, or some combination of the three?

Do you need to take some time to detox from these unspoken beliefs, to give yourself a time of solitude and silence in order to relinquish these pressures into the Father’s hands?

            _____Part

Part 1: The Little Word That Frees Us

Part 3: “I Can’t Trust Anyone

Part 4: “God is Disappointed With Me

Part 5: A Conversation with Timothy Sanford

If you want to dig deeper into these issues, I suggest purchasing Timothy Sanford’s book.

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Airplanes are Time Machines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Message bible says in Matthew 11:

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

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

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

The unforced rhythms of grace for others.

The unforced rhythms of grace for myself.

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

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace

What is time like in your region of the world?

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

 – Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

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

Fair Expectations

We sat in the booth at a sandwich shop. By divine serendipity our paths crossed on “home” soil. She was back from Africa and I was up from South America. As we picked at our oversize, overpriced deliciousness stories poured out.

“Things are so rough in the village. The ladies tell me I need to hit my children. At any time of the day on the street someone was physically beating the kids. When they hit my own kids I didn’t know what to do,” my friend shared as she lifted her hands in exasperation.

We talked of culture, poverty, sickness, and all the other hot topics missionaries share. We cried. We nodded our heads. We even laughed together. Oh, what a hot mess it is when expectations meet reality.

Expectations are unavoidable. Our brains are hard wired to create shortcuts. We read cues and make judgements based on past experiences and learned responses. It’s natural. So we head into new cultural situations and our pea brains can’t compute how to process things that do not meet our expectations.

Horses? In the middle of the city? Yep.

Then comes the real labor of reworking our hard wired synapses and electronic circuiting. We try to readjust expectations. We try to adapt to a new normal.

As a black and white thinker the grays and I have had a hard time getting to know each other. The miscues and confusion started to cause the concept of truth to blur in my heart and mind.

I began to ask: Where is the truth in all this?

As I began to manage the tension of truth vs. perception I began to ask a new set of  questions: Might truth be more fluid like a river and not so rigid like an ice cube? Am I forsaking truth if I adapt to cultural understandings of concepts I once thought were rock solid? Can I put on a new set of lenses without losing my core identity?

My son with a great find from the market. “This is a grapefruit!?” Yep.

I know I am not the only one who has wrestled with the expectations factor as a foreigner.

Let’s talk about this.

Which of your expectations have been challenged? What ways have you found to cope when you realized your expectations were unrealistic? How do we keep from falling over into hopelessness, cynicism, or hardness of heart when we adjust our expectations?

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– Angie Washington, missionary living in Bolivia, South America

blog: angiewashington.com twitter: @atangie work blog: House of Dreams Orphanage