A Police Story

I had an experience a few weeks ago, my police story, if you will. Among overseas workers, it’s one I could wear like a badge – because many of us have them, don’t we?

Without going into the specifics, I was stopped by a traffic officer, unfairly ticketed, and in the process, felt bullied and vulnerable. Very vulnerable.

After my husband and I climbed back into our car (with him now in the driver’s seat) and assuaged our children’s fears, tears started to roll down my cheeks. He quickly rerouted us from our way to church, correctly realizing that we were far too late anyway.

As my husband tried to comfort me, my mind raced. Why was I so upset? Was it the injustice of it all? Was it the bullying? The condescending way he spoke to me, or rather, to my husband about me? It’s okay, my husband said, this was a one in a thousand type situation, don’t worry about it. It won’t happen again!

It sure did not feel okay to me. It did not matter to me how unusual or rare this situation was, I just did not want to feel this way.

Are they going to arrest you? One of my children cried, in the car, as the officer beckoned me to step out and come over to him. No, I scoffed. At least, I don’t think so? I thought. What would I do here if he tried?

As the familiar scenes of our southern African town flashed by outside my window, I identified the root of what I was experiencing: vulnerability. This was not the vulnerability that I have practiced and prided myself on practicing: the honest sharing of my life and heart with those around me. It was not the vulnerability that meant willingness to show emotion or to allow weakness to be seen; I’m good with that kind of vulnerability.

This experience of vulnerability was the primary definition in all the major dictionaries: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, exposed to the possibility being attacked or harmed. Ah yes, I most definitely felt exposed, keenly aware of the possibility of being harmed, either at that moment or a future moment when my husband may not be with me.

This was not the first moment I have ever felt this kind of vulnerability. Having lived in various countries other than my passport country for ten years, I am ever aware of the reality of being a foreigner, and a woman, in some difficult places. Of course, many of us have experienced the possibility of being attacked even in our home countries or have been in actuality.

But it was my freshest experience of this kind of vulnerability, and with my children as collateral in the car. For the next couple of days, I wrestled with feeling weak and defenseless, tears always close to the surface. I replayed the scenario, wondering how I should have been more assertive. I imagined future scenarios, making mental plans for the safety of my children and myself. But mostly, I shook my fist directly at the man who had threatened me and indirectly at God — until he spoke gently to my heart.

Maybe you have realized the obvious beauty in this story sooner than I had, but it finally hit me: this was the type of vulnerable that Jesus was. In his incarnation, in choosing to live and willingly suffer on earth, he subjected himself not only to the possibility of being harmed, but the actuality of it.

In my willingness to stay and live and work in a place where I am more prone to experiencing the potential of being wounded, I am identifying with Christ. He knows what it is to leave his home and to place himself in harm’s way – completely, fully. He experienced bullying and condescension, and the ultimate earthly wounding, death.

What was it that motivated him to such sacrifice? Love. The very love of Christ, which transcends height and depth and all earthly constraints, is what compelled him to offer himself so wholly, to subject himself to the ultimate worst of evil on this earth. So we, moved by the love of Christ, strengthened and carried by him, can offer our meager selves as we live and love in the places we find ourselves.

As tears streamed down my cheeks, I offered myself freshly to Christ, in this place he has brought us – my husband, myself, my children. Is it easy? No. Is it worthwhile, and good? Yes. Is he with us throughout it all? Always.

I hope I will not have another police story, but who knows? We still pray for safety and protection, and we seek to live wisely as strangers in this land. But we remember that Christ is our security. And we are grateful to walk in the footsteps of our Savior, through all the hills and valleys, knowing he has gone before us in perfect love.

Empty Nesting When You Have No Nest

Help me out. We need a new term, and we missionary folks love discovering or creating words.

You knew exactly what I meant when I used the phrase “empty nest.” The chicks have launched and are on their own. “Empty nesters” are their parents.

Before I had nieces, I used to roll my eyes at aunts and uncles who went on and on about their nieces and nephews. Quietly I judged them as being pathetic and wanna-be parents. (I’m shooting straight with you, I’m not proud of the recesses of my heart and mind.)

And then my oldest niece was born. It took less than one day to turn me into the largest hypocrite on the planet. If Paul was the greatest sinner? I was the greatest eater-of-my-words. AND I DID NOT CARE. (Have I told you her latest antic? Would you like to see a photo? Can you even . . . can you?! She’s amazing.)

The time zones between us didn’t matter. The long plane rides when I could leave the field didn’t matter. Here’s what I learned—when love enters the picture, you don’t care what others think.

TCKs are the same. When you love them, really love them, they enter a category all their own in your heart.

This post and question isn’t just for singles. It’s for any adult. What I’m trying to put words to is about loving a kiddo who is not your child and who will one day grow up and move on to the next chapter in their lives.

The term “empty nester” rightly refers to the parents.

What word or phrase could we use for those of us who have a young person who’s been a part of our daily life and now they will not be? We will love them fiercely, cheer them on loudly, pray for them faithfully, and miss them dearly.

Whatever it is, that’s what I am. And I know I’m not alone.

God of Loss and Love

Yesterday I unexpectedly found myself by a lone bench on an empty ocean front. A boat was just off the shore, solitary but securely anchored in the sea. I ached with the unexpected beauty, the symbolic solitude of the boat. I felt like this boat. Alone, aching, but securely anchored. As I stood there, I thought about the last two months and how a crisis can set off a whole new cycle of grief and loss.

Though seemingly unrelated, grief is grief, and loss is loss, and every time we experience another loss, buried past losses and griefs can end up resurrected. Like a dot to dot child’s book, grief and loss connect together creating a picture that represents something much bigger than just one dot.

In my first year of nursing school we played a game one day. It was a dramatic game of life. Tables were spread around the classroom with cards at each table. We all began at the same station with very little. We had a birth card and that was it. As we went through the game, we gained more, but it was far from fair. Some people gained a family card while others remained without. Some people got career cards, others got cards that said they were jobless and had to apply for benefits from the government. Still others kept on getting more and more money. About half way through the game, the rules and cards began to shift. We all began to lose things – both physical and material things. We began to lose friends and cars; jobs and eyesight. We protested loudly, as only eighteen year olds who understand all the things can. It was unfair. It was unjust. We hated it. Ultimately, all of us ended much where we had begun – with a single card. Then one by one, we lost even that card and they went into the graveyard of a garbage can.

I hated the game. It was rude and unfair, but I understand why our professors had us play it. How else can you help 18 year old students learn empathy for the patients they were caring for, for the losses they were undergoing as they faced illness? How can you give them a concrete way to experience loss? If the game was unfair, how much more so is life itself?

This I know – though I did not know it at 18: Whether we stay rooted to one place throughout our lives or we traverse the globe, the two things we can count on are loss and change. We might think we can control these only to have them surprise us with their insistent persistence.

While many write poetically about God being a God of grace and generosity, indulge me as I think about the God of loss, for loss and change are the two constants that humanity shares across the globe.

Is God the author of loss? The creator? The healer? If he is a God of grace and generosity, can he still be a God of loss? Some days I am not sure. If he is a God of grace and generosity, can he still be a God of loss?

In the paradox and mystery of faith a resounding yes to all these questions arises in my soul. A God of grace, generosity, loss, and ultimate love is woven into the whole, a mystical tapestry. Tapestries are made more beautiful by the stories that are woven into them and what would a story of gain be without loss beside it? What would a story of love be if we didn’t know what it was to not be loved? What would a story of grief be if we never knew joy? They are empty without their opposites. Without the resurrection, the cross is but a horrific, miserable death. With the resurrection, all of life changes, including loss and grief. My questions don’t have answers. Instead they are met with a person. Like Orual in Till We Have Faces, I cry out: “I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”*

Though I seemingly quote this bravely, my honest desire would be to learn more of God without having to go through loss. I wish life didn’t have and hold so many unchosen crosses. But as I wish, I know that even as a little girl I began to know this God of loss and love. I first felt loss and his corresponding love in the cold steel of a bunkbed, a thin mattress separating me from the hard wires of the base. I felt deeply the loss of a mom and dad, the loss of a home, the loss of security. Even then, I knew this God of loss; a God who cares about loss and grief, who wraps us up in his love even as we shout out the grief of broken dreams and broken hearts. A God of loss who stretches out a strong arm to the lost. In my story, his strong arm led me from childhood to adulthood, a long journey of grace.

The grief and loss dots are connecting again during this period of my life and I feel his arm stretch out to me now, even as I run away, wanting to ignore it.  Like the runaway bunny, whose mother will never give up, no matter where I run to, the God of loss always finds me. Though I may want to ignore him or accuse him of apathy and mistreatment, his light and his love push the shadows of loss away every, single time.

In the book Prayer in the Night, author Tish Harrison Warren writes this: “Here is what I am slowly stretching to believe: there is no shadow side of God; no hidden deception or darkness behind the God revealed in Jesus. The God we pray to is the God who loves us — endlessly, relentlessly, patiently, and powerfully.”

By his grace I continue to press into this, believing that:

“What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the [loss] that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.”

Frederick Buechner – Paraphrased

Would You Even Like Jesus?

Would you even like Jesus?

Would you like him, if he came into your church and started yelling about houses of prayer? Or would you call him just another angry man?

Would you like him if he told you to sell even some of your stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or would you call him a socialist?

Would you like him if he told you to stop sleeping with people you weren’t married to? Or would you call him a legalist?

What if you realized he wasn’t a Conservative?

Or a Liberal?

Or white?

Would you like him if you found him crying by himself on a hillside, talking about a rebellious city? Or would you call him an emotional wreck?

I don’t know, would I even like him?

What about the time he let those guys chop up an innocent man’s roof?

Would you like it if he hadn’t planned ahead and all of a sudden asked you to feed a few thousand people?

What would you think when he dozed off during a life-threatening storm?

He is not as tame as we make him, after all.

Would you like him when he let the prostitute get a little too close? Or would you start to wonder about his dedication to purity?

Would you like him when he befriended your political enemy, visiting his house and sharing a meal? Or would that be a red line crossed?

You see, we sanitize and sanctify Jesus, stripping him of context and personality, until he looks (we think) like us.

But he’s not like us. Thank God.

So, would you like him?

What if he showed up in your deepest pain and you saw his eyes, red with mercy and compassion? Would you like him then?

What if you heard him cry, “Forgive them!” And you knew he was talking about you? Would you like him then?

Would you run to him, grasping his sleeve for acceptance and love?

He’d let you.

He’d love you.

He’d heal you.

After all, he liked you first.

 

~~~~~~~~~~

“We have unconsciously distorted the gospel and transformed it into something it never claimed to be — ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.” S. Hauerwas and W. Willimon

~~~~~~~~~~

 

Today, wherever you find yourself on this fine globe, may you have the courage to put aside the abstractions, lay down the hypotheticals, and show your neighborhood the healing reality that is “Jesus with his people.”

May the passion of the Christ, the power of the Father, and the presence of the Spirit, help us in this task, for his glory and the salvation of many.

all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter

Am I supposed to love people I don’t even know?

As we prepared to go overseas as missionaries, people often asked us: “Why Taiwan?” It was a good question. Out of the whole wide world, how did we choose to serve in Taiwan?

These people may not have realized it when they asked, but as Christians—both missionaries and senders—we’ve built up a set of expectations surrounding missions. There are “correct” and “incorrect” missionary answers. I found that people often expected some variation of: “We have a great love for these people.”

After a few instances of feeling this pressure, I asked my husband with some exasperation, “How can I love people I don’t even know?” Before we arrived, the people of Taiwan were certainly real and known to God, but not to me. I found it impossible to fall in love with an abstraction.

It was after we had lived among the people, come to know their stories, and borne each other’s burdens and joys, that I began to love them. Love bloomed when they became tangible to me in the flesh.

God himself doesn’t love us abstractly. The Bible is not a record of God waxing poetic about his love for us, with lots of flowery words and plenty of distance (though his poetry is magnificent). He loves us out of personal knowledge and with sacrificial action.

His love began even before our lives did; he planned each of us and the number of our days before we existed. He knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. He brought us forth into the outside world. He knows every hair on our heads. His creational love is personal and attentive to the smallest detail.

Nor did he love the world abstractly when he sent Jesus to us. The eternal Son of God, second person of the Trinity, was born as a baby boy into a specific culture and town in the ancient near east. He had a mother and a father, brothers, neighbors, a community. He spread his message by teaching and healing unique people. He began his Church with specific men whom he had come to know and love.

Then he died on a cross, a time- and culture-relevant form of execution. He bore the full weight of God’s wrath against sin as the cost of our salvation. God manifested his love by coming in weak and lowly flesh and dying an undignified death to rescue us.

We do not rescue like God does. We are only pointing others to the Rescuer who has saved us. But shouldn’t our love imitate our Lord’s?

I rejoice that God lays it on the hearts of missionaries to go to a certain place among a certain people, preparing us by giving us a passion for it. That’s an act of God. When we feel that pull toward our new people, we should thank God for giving it to us.

But if you’re like me, and you go expecting to love the people to whom you’re going, that’s enough. Love is more than interest or preference, and you don’t need to drum up a feeling of love that as of yet has no object. You prepare yourself to love your people overseas by loving your people around you right now; that is the real litmus test of what sort of love you will have on the mission field.

Love is costly, and we westerners sometimes throw the word around too loosely. In many cultures, love signifies something so deep, so permanent and “all-in,” that you don’t want to toy with it. To profess your love for a person or a people puts a level of commitment into your relationship that you may not understand from their point of view, or be willing or able to live up to. It’s not that we should avoid offering our love; rather, we should be ready to follow through with what we declare.

Some years have passed since we first set foot in Taiwan. What would I say now? Do I love the people of Taiwan? They bless me immensely. I treasure them. I am thrilled at what God is doing among them.

But it’s this student, this woman, this child that I love. It’s the specific people that I have sacrificed for, and who have sacrificed for me, with whom I have the privilege and honor of using that word to its fullest extent.

God has loved us with this personal, concrete love, demonstrated to the utmost in Christ’s incarnation. And I believe it’s this kind of love that has the chance to change the world.

When You’re Sure God Loves Ann Voskamp More Than He Loves You…


”I’m pretty sure God loves Ann Voskamp more than he loves me.” 

I wrote this to a friend recently. I don’t even know Ann Voskamp, but I was still convinced that when it came to actual love, I was in the dog house and Ann was in the castle on the hill.

I mean, what’s not to love? She clearly loves Jesus. She gives money to the poor. She eats off the land (she’s a farmer’s wife for god’s sake). She adopts kids from places Far Away. She writes books that are poetic and lyrical and get onto the New York Times Bestseller’s list. Her inanimate books even love Jesus. She travels the world and writes about it. Plus, she’s thin. Everyone knows that God  likes thin people best. She even has a quote on the walls of the American University in Suleimaniya, Iraq. I saw it with my own eyes. Actually, through my husband’s eyes because they wouldn’t let me past security, but whatever.

So, yeah – I’m pretty sure God and Jesus and the whole Trinity love her more, because when I compare my little life to that of Ann Voskamp? I can’t even.

I have weighed myself on the scale of God’s love, and I have been found wanting. 

It’s kind of depressing. No – it’s not kind of depressing; it is deeply depressing. Not that they love her more, but that in my heart I really believe this. And if you’re honest, you probably believe that God loves some people more than he loves you.

Because let’s just get it out there in black ink: It’s so hard to believe that we are loved uniquely, deeply, completely, and unconditionally by a God who delights in us. It is so easy to see why he loves other people, but it is so difficult to get that he loves us. He saw what he made, and he called it “Good!”.  Our thinking is distorted and we are tricked into believing lies abot God, lies about ourselves.

Here’s the rub: If I really believe that God loves Ann Voskamp more than me because of all the things that she does better than I do, then I probably believe that God loves me better than some other people. As much as I deny that, the reasoning is logical based on my distorted theology.

Comparison kills and we will always be found wanting. Whether we convince ourselves that we are better or worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, we will always lose. Always.

Comparison and envy rot the soul. 

A few years ago I wrote a piece about envy. I’ve included it today because this is what I need to come back to when I have thoughts like the one I confessed, thoughts that undoubtedly, God loves Ann Voskamp more than he loves me.

May all of us give our distorted theology to God and thank him that in his master design he made each of us and loves each of us – deeply, uniquely, and completely.


We sat in our postage stamp size garden, tea and home made cookies in front of us. The weather was beautiful — a cloudless seventy degrees, typical of a Cairo spring. It was early afternoon and the call to prayer had just echoed through the area from a nearby mosque.

We were talking about language learning, the time it takes, the struggle, how we vacillated between feeling like idiots to feeling like small children reduced to no verbs and minimal participles.

“I wish I had language ability like Claire. Her Arabic is so good!*”

The cloudless sky darkened and green entered my soul.

“Well – if you and I had been here as long as she has and if we didn’t have as many kids our Arabic would be good too!” I said it lightly with a laugh – eager to hide the ugly of my envy.

She laughed, whether in agreement or out of politeness, and the moment quickly passed.

But it didn’t. Not really.

Because this had happened more than once; this ugly envy that entered my soul around a myriad of things. Whether it was language learning or how many Egyptian friends I had, envy had this way of creeping in and affecting my friendships, destroying unity.

I have met the most gifted people in the world who are involved in life overseas. Men and women who have left much of the familiar and entered into countries where they are guests, forging their way in territory that is unfamiliar from language to food choices. The list of characteristics of what it takes is long and impressive. Adaptability, perseverance, compassion, adventurous spirit, capable of ambiguity, linguistic ability, great sense of humor, empathy — the list goes on and on. But take a group of people, all with the same goal and similar characteristics, insert jealousy, envy, and comparison and unity is no more.

Because these three are the opposite of faith, hope, and love. They are insidious in their ability to destroy relationships. They loves to disguise themselves in well-meaning jargon and light humor. They sneak into conversation and behavior. They are green-eyed monsters. 

I’m a definer – that means I like to start with definitions. Definitions have a way of clarifying things for me. And so in the case of jealousy and envy it has helped me to note the similarities and differences; Jealousy at its simplest is fear of losing something I value; envy is wanting something that someone else has. They have no redemptive value – they are vices. I realize I am envious of those most similar to me. In the case above it was someone who was living in Cairo, same stage of life, a mom with kids, who communicated in Arabic far better than I did.

There is nothing quite like envy that renders me ineffective. I am paralyzed on the outside while my insides have a monologue with God. A monologue that boils down to two questions:

Why her?

Why not me?

There are no simple answers but I’ve found a few things help:

1. Honesty and admission of sin. This is my first step in fighting this ongoing battle of envy. Honesty. For if I cannot be honest, this vice will rot my soul and slowly but steadily infect my body.

2. Confessing the sin. It is not enough to just admit my envy and jealousy. I have to take this next step – confess this to the God who knows me and sees me raw, loving me anyway.

3. Recognize the ‘why’. In the case of language learning the ‘why’ was easy. I love talking and I wanted to talk with ease and fluency. I didn’t want to stumble over my words.  The ‘why’ was reasonable and commendable. The ‘why’ is not the sin, the envy resulting from the ‘why’ is the sin. Recognizing the ‘why’ is crucial in my journey from envy to peace.

4. Thank God for the person. I hate this one, but it works. Because in the course of giving thanks I am reminded that the person is loved by God, gifted by God for His purposes. As I thank God, I am ever so slowly able to accept and even rejoice at the ability or gifts of another. Rejoice that we are part of God’s redemptive plan, a plan far greater than any of us know.

5. Pray for acceptance of who I am and how I am gifted, or not. So much of my envy comes from insecurity and inability to accept who I am, how I’m wired, my strengths and my weaknesses.  As I work through accepting how God made me, the circumstances where he has placed me, envy is squashed. I learn more about trust and faith.

Would that envy, jealousy, and comparison be erased once and for all with a little bit of soap and an easy formula. At times I believe I will never be free, that these things are so much a part of my journey in this broken world that I will struggle until I am face to face with the God who made me.

So I raise my prayer to the Master Designer who knit me together, who knows my comings and my goings, knows where I sit and where I stand. A God who knows my thoughts before they are voiced, knows when I am prone to envy, to insecurity, to the lethal damage of comparison.  I raise my prayer and ask for a heart free and full of peace, giving life to the body and health to the soul.

A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones~ Proverbs 14:30

Have you dealt with potential competition or envy with fellow workers who are overseas?  It’s a hard but important question!

*name has been changed!

 

Let’s Talk About Love

Happy Valentine’s Day!! Before I jump into all things love (because, really, what else could I write about today), I just want to say thank you for the lovely comments and notes I received after my last post about my husband’s cancer diagnosis and our sudden (hopefully temporary) departure from Laos. We’re still in Australia. Mike’s at the oncology unit today, almost half way through his second cycle of chemotherapy. We celebrated our 5th anniversary in style, in our wedding clothes, at the hospital :). We hope to be all done with chemo and able to return to Laos by May 1. We will see.

Now, love.

If you had told me a decade ago while I was working full time as a stress and trauma specialist for humanitarian workers that I’d now be fashioning a new “career” as an authority on long distance relationships, I would have been both bemused and amused. But there you have it. In the last year I’ve published two books for people in romantic relationships with plans for more to come.

So, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, I’ve pulled something out of each of my recent books that I thought might help you “grow love” in your life.

Whether you’re dating, married, or single, I hope these discussion questions and activities provide you with fodder for thought and conversation with others in your “inner circle”. I hope that in some small way they help you deepen and broaden important relationships in your life. And, wherever you are today and whomever you are with, I hope you feel that you are well loved and that you are loving well.

201_comps_72dpiSome things to talk about from 201 Questions

  1. Think of someone you greatly respect. What are three things you admire about that person?
  2. What are some of the best gifts you’ve received? Why were they so special?
  3. When you feel stressed, how does that show up in how you interact with other people?
  4. What would you like to do more of in life, but don’t? Why not?
  5. How does your job allow you to express or “live out” what you value?
  6. What is something you’ve achieved that you’re really proud of?
  7. Tell me about a time you overcame a fear.
  8. What are two issues or themes around which you most frequently feel as if you struggle to find balance in your life?
  9. How have your beliefs been challenged and/or changed recently?
  10. What are things that refresh you, inspire you, and remind you of what’s most important to you?

kindle_cover_borderSomething to do from Dating Smart

The VIA Survey of Character Strengths is a psychological assessment measure designed to identify an individual’s profile of character strengths.

The version on the Authentic Happiness website is free. It has 240 multiple-choice questions and takes about 20-30 minutes to complete. After you answer all the questions, you’re presented with a personal profile rank-ordering the 24 character strengths. Your top 5 strengths are considered your “signature strengths”.

This is such an interesting test that I often recommend it to friends as a personal growth exercise. However, it becomes even more fascinating if your partner or a close friend also takes the inventory. Then you can compare your results and discuss the implications.

Want to play? Here’s what I suggest …

1.  Go to http://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu.
2.  Register so that you can access the Authentic Happiness Testing Center.
3.  Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths.
4.  Then, think about the following questions and discuss them with your partner, family member, or friend.

Your strengths:

1.  Do you agree with the results, or not?
2.  What does the test suggest are your top five “signature” strengths?
3.  List at least one way each of your top five strengths is evident in your life.
4.  Which two of your top eight strengths do you feel you use most frequently?
5.  Which two of your top eight strengths do you feel you use the least frequently?

 Your partner, family member, or friend’s strengths:

1.  What are your partner’s signature strengths?
2.  Do you agree that those five strengths are “signature” strengths for your partner or would you have guessed that other strengths would show up more strongly in their profile?
3.  What are ways that you see these signature strengths show up in your partner’s life?
4.  What are ways that you and your partner have different strengths?
5.  How can these differences be complementary?
6.  How might these differences cause friction?

Leave a comment and add to the Valentine’s Day “fun and games” ideas!

Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? How?

What’s a question you’ve recently discussed (or something that you’ve done) that led to growth in a relationship?

Lisa McKayauthor, psychologist, sojourner in Laos
Blog: www.lisamckaywriting.com      Books: Love At The Speed Of Email and My Hands Came Away Red