Putting one foot in front of the other

Years ago in a training session in Beijing, my colleague Joann encouraged us with what has become for me an iconic phrase from 2 Samuel 18: “Come what may, I will run.”

I’ll tell you more about the Biblical context in a moment, but first I don’t recall the details of what was going on in Asia. No doubt there was something unusual about the season . . . because, let’s face it, life on the field is often more unusual than usual. So when Joann quoted Ahimaaz saying, “Come what may, I will run,” the phrase and the heart of completing a task resonated with me.

In 2 Samuel, Ahimaaz, son of Zadok the priest, was stationed near the battlefield, waiting to run news of the battle back to the king. The battle was between David’s rebel son Absalom and the Israelites. When news came of the victory Ahimaaz said to Joab, the field commander, “Let me run and carry news to the king” (2 Samuel 18:19 ESV).

But Joab replied, “You are not to carry news today. You may carry news another day, but today you shall carry no news, because the king’s son is dead.” (v. 20)

Ahimaaz’s request—and assumed job—was denied and Joab asked a Cushite to run instead. Have you ever been confused when what you thought was “your job” was given to someone else? 

While many would understandably give up in frustration, disappointment, and hurt, that’s not what Ahimaaz did. 

“Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said again to Joab, “Come what may, let me also run after the Cushite.” 

And Joab said, “Why will you run, my son, seeing that you will have no reward for the news?” 

 “Come what may,” he said, “I will run.” 

So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by the way of the plain, and outran the Cushite.” (verses 22-23).

His response, “Come what may, I will run,” has been running through my head and heart in this season. What does it look like to run when . . . 

—When you may not be in a location you want to be?

— When you may not have been able to leave the field for a break or to attend a conference because once you leave you might not get back in? 

—When schooling is different . . . and hard . . . and beautiful? 

—When visas are slow or nonexistent?

—When you are studying a language that is not spoken by anyone for miles and miles and maybe an ocean away?

—When your kids are unsettled by all of the unknown and loss?

I don’t have specific answers. But when I think of Ahimaaz, what did it look like to run? 

It looked like putting one foot in front of the other. He did not seem as focused on what happened after he ran, or that he didn’t have all of the information. Looking at the text, when Ahimaaz arrived, he told the king of the victory, but couldn’t answer David’s question about his son Absolom. Just think, Ahimaaz ran that hard without all of the information! He ran it knowing that he would inform a king and a father of a battle between them without a key piece of information. 

He stood there panting, waiting for the Cushite to arrive with the news that Absalom was dead. And as his breathing returned to normal and his heart rate slowed, he bore witness to the king saying, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (vs 33)

Being called or compelled to run as Ahimaaz was doesn’t guarantee that the Red Seas of life will part and everything is going to work out. Maybe you will run and bear witness to death . . . of a dream, an opportunity, an open door. But when you run, you can still experience FLOW. In Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, FLOW is described as:

Free — able to let go of the false self reactions


Open to your head, heart, and gut

With God and reality as it is

This is what I like about the idea of FLOW when it intersects with “Come what may, I will run”: that you don’t have to like reality. You can live in the messy middle of the unknowns and loss that this season may hold. Who wants to be “working remotely” in a basement in Houston instead of walking the streets of Mozambique? Absolutely no one! Or trying to do the work of three people because you are the only one in country? Again, no one!

But FLOW means that you can run without all of the information, without knowing the destination, without running where you want to be running . . . and still run. You can experience freedom, love, an open head, heart, and gut, and be with God and reality. It might not look like you want, it might not be where you want, but you can still put one foot in front of the other and say, “Come what may, I will run.”

P.S. Running requires resting. Here is a free workshop on the 7 Types of Rest Every Cross-Cultural Worker Needs. It’s free through the end of July 2023. Get the workshop here.

This article first appeared here.

Do I Deserve to Rest? (and other questions about the command we should never neglect)

by Natalie Arauco

In a world of chaos, what are we supposed to do about rest? 

We look around us at all the need and work that should be done. Rest just doesn’t seem like an option, especially for those of us in full time ministry. So, we push it off again and again until we burn out from pure exhaustion.

Of the Ten Commandments, rest is the easiest to ignore but one that should never be neglected.

Here are four questions about something that should be so simple but that we have made so complicated. These concepts and quotations are from the book, The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan.


1. Why do I rest?
“The worst hallucination busyness conjures is the conviction that I am God.”

We work day in and day out. We become tired, bitter even, and the joy we had once felt about our calling dissolves and decays before our eyes. We feel that everything is dependent on us. If we stop for just one minute, everything we’ve fought so hard for will be ruined. 

We’ve fallen into a lie. The same lie that tempted Adam and Eve in the garden: we think we can be God.

Rest is not just obedience to God’s command (Exodus 20:8). It is much more than that. When we rest, it forces us to stop. It forces us to take a step back and practice trust. And when we open our eyes and let them adjust, we realize that the whole time, God has been working in so many more ways than we could have ever imagined.


2. How do I rest?
“We mimic God in order to remember we’re not God.”

No, rest is not just an excuse to shut yourself away and veg-out in front of the tv or your laptop. It is not a sin you are committing by allowing yourself to breathe. And true rest is not a checklist of rules about a specific regimen you keep one day of the week.  

True rest is purposeful, but be careful not to fall into the extremes of leisure or legalism.

Relaxation and leisure are beautiful gifts that God allows us to enjoy from time to time, but if those are your only forms of rest, you will come out of those experiences more drained than ever. But if you become legalistic about how you keep the Sabbath, you might just find yourself slaving harder than ever before.

No. Rest is not a science. It’s an art form. That’s what makes it so difficult and at the same time so freeing. 

Rest is a mindset that one must have. A trust and reliance on God that He will complete the work that you are too exhausted to continue. So strive to change your mindset and live in an attitude of rest.


3. When do I rest?
“Unless we trust God’s sovereignty, we won’t dare risk Sabbath.”

Schedules get disrupted and adjusted. If you limit your rest to a scheduled time, you will grow all the more angry each time you are interrupted or your plans change. You will feel cheated when every minute is not used to the fullest. 

Rest cannot be restricted to a specific time or day. You cannot force rest. It is a heart change. A release. It is a new mindset of living in complete dependence on God as the one in control. He is sovereign over your work, your loved ones and even your time. 


4. Do I deserve to rest?
“Sabbath is refusal to go back to Egypt.”

When you say no to a commitment because you’re already too overwhelmed, or when you leave your dishes in the sink to chat with a friend instead, you may experience a feeling of guilt. 

How dare you limit yourself? Don’t you realize all that needs to be done? You become a frustrated Martha rebuking Jesus for allowing Mary to sit at his feet.

You hear the same accusation again and again. “You don’t deserve rest.” 

And the truth is — you don’t. 

But that is what makes rest so beautiful. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to pay for it. Rest is a gift and it’s one that God offers to us.

No, you don’t deserve rest, but it’s been given to you anyway. So, stop trying to earn it. Stop gripping the taskmaster’s whip when freedom has already been won.

Rest is coming out of Egypt and being free for the first time in your life. Rest is leaving the taskmaster’s whip behind. Rest is recognizing that you cannot save the world, but your Father can. He already has and he calls you to himself and says, “Be still.”


Learn more about rest and the sabbath mindset by reading The Rest of God (this is an affiliate link which helps to support the A Life Overseas blog).


Natalie Arauco serves in a small, mountainous village of Guatemala. She teaches English every day at the village school all while sharing the love of Jesus with her 12-17 year old students. Natalie also works alongside the local church with their community outreach and discipleship ministries. Natalie writes about culture, missions, and her adventures in her blog: Natalie in Guatemala.


Ouch! I think I strained my life!

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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


It might not have to be that way.

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

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

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

But first, breathe.


Some articles:


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

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



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

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





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

What if prayer could be simple rather than strenuous?

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

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

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



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

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





Death is right around the corner. So live!

I’ve always thought like this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said,

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

After all, Christ is Risen!



More resources:

Can humor be a spiritual discipline?

Please Stop Running

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

Check out this collection of our most-read articles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


With much love from Phnom Penh, Cambodia,
Jonathan Trotter


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


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

Top 10 Digital Photography Tips

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

7 Signs You Need a Sabbath Break

By Karis Piawong

There’s a race that we inevitably sign up for when we answer the call to mission work. Whether we like running or not, we find ourselves a part of a marathon. The race goes on for many years, and it’s all GO, GO, GO. We are careful to live as good Christians. We are careful to follow God’s commandments, communicate clearly and be a living example of His love. However, the commandment we often forget is His commandment for us to rest. This is both a right and a MUST for us as missionaries. We have given up our lives, died to our own desires and taken up the cross to follow Him to another country or culture, but resting is one thing that God has NEVER asked us to give up. Sure, we might get a chance to lie down in all the busy-ness of ministry, only to have someone turn up at our door who needs to talk. On a daily basis, we do need to give up our right to rest when we want to rest. The Holy Spirit will often convict us to go out and love. However, when looking at the big picture, God does not ask us to give up our right to rest in Him. In fact, He commands us to rest!

I have lived in a community-based culture since 2007. I got married in 2008 and my husband and I have lived in community with others since marriage. How do we find rest when living as missionaries, while many of us are probably living in a community-based culture, and how do we feel resting while people all around us are calling out for God? It is HARD to take a break! However, it is absolutely necessary for us to break if we want to function physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Let me share with you seven ways I believe can help you see that you need a rest, or a Sabbath break. If you can relate to any of these signs, you might benefit from a longer break than one day per week.


1. You feel stressed daily.

Why do so many missionaries struggle with stress and stress-related problems? Many of us enter the field with high expectations. We expect to save lives, to rescue, to make a difference. In fact, this isn’t really our job. There is something more important than living as a missionary, and that’s living as a child of God. God has called us into His work because He loves us and wants us to be a part of His (our Father’s) work. He doesn’t call us to missions because He demands we give ourselves to save the world. That’s His job.


2. You are often irritated with your family.

What many of us forget all too often is that loving our family is the first ministry. If we are out “serving” God all day and come home tired and stressed, what message is our partner going to receive? What message are our kids going to receive? Being a missionary kid is HARD, and children need their parents’ love to get through. More so, children need their parents to be in love with each other in order to feel secure. God calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and wives to respect their husbands. If you are on the mission field with your family, then your family is who God is calling you to love. As you love your family, the way you live your life will touch the people around you.

At the end of the day, you can be replaced in your ministry. However, no one can replace your role at home. No one can stand in as partner or parent for you. When you move to the field as a family, God is calling your whole family into a new lifestyle – not just one member of the family. If being in missions means that we are often irritated with our family when we come back home, then it’s time to look at our priorities again. What does God want for our partner and children, and how can we have a part in that?


3. You feel better about yourself when you’re busy with ministry.

This is a red flag, and definitely something I’ve struggled with over the years. As missionaries, we often find ourselves worshiping our ministry rather than worshiping God. When we stop doing ministry, we feel like we have nowhere to go. Our value diminishes. In reality, however God would rather we stop doing ministry for a time so we can sit at His feet and listen to Him. Jesus Himself took long breaks from ministry to spend time recharging His battery. If the very Son of God couldn’t spend hours and hours on end with people without taking time out with His Father, why do we think we can do it? Why do we feel like God is calling us to do it? Our value does not lie in what we do, but it lies in who we are: Children of God. Our Father just wants to spend time with us.


4. You’ve been in the same place for many years

When we stay in the same area and focus on the same kind of work for years on end, it’s hard to see life from a different perspective. However, with our commitments and responsibilities it’s often hard to take a step back or get a change of atmosphere. But if we are willing to take a step back, in God’s timing, there are so many love-filled lessons God wants to teach us in doing so. He wants us to see that our ministry is not our own. He wants us to see that our ministry can go on without us. He wants us to see that ministry is not the most important thing. If we can’t step away for a month or even a week, we need to be asking ourselves why. Remember, God doesn’t need us to do His work. He chooses to use us because He wants us to have a part. However, He doesn’t want work to fulfill us – HE wants to fulfill us.


5. You feel like you’re not growing spiritually.

This is another red flag. If we aren’t growing spiritually when doing mission work, then something’s wrong. We spend our whole lives stepping closer to the perfection that God has for us in eternity, but why is it that the more work we do, the fewer steps we take? When we try to make things happen, we go dry. When we try to get numbers of believers and baptisms to report back to supporters, we go dry. When we stay in the same place for a long time and do the same kind of work, it’s easy to go dry. Sometimes I feel like God calls us to the mission field in order to do something in OUR lives, to bring us a step closer to humility and love. If we are on the mission field and aren’t growing spiritually, adjustments need to be made. Spiritual dryness is NOT a cost of discipleship. It’s a season we all walk through at times in our lives, but it’s NOT a cost we have to pay to be missionaries. Being spiritually dry does NOT make God happy with the sacrifices we are making.


6. You’ve lost your passion.

God does not desire for mission work to cause us to lose our passion. He calls us to do His work as His children because when we do it His way it will bring us a special kind of joy that we can’t experience when doing work in our own strength. We learn about ourselves and others through doing mission work. Most importantly, we learn more about who God is in our lives, and when we lose our passion for God or the people we are reaching it is a sign that we aren’t taking enough time to just be with God and sit at His feet. Losing our passion for Him is a symptom that there is a greater issue inside. Priorities need to be realigned. How can we run back to God if we have lost our passion? No, the question we should be asking ourselves is: How can we run to God if we are facing our ministry and our backs are turned to Him? If we find ourselves losing our passion for God, we need to turn around.


7. You are often unwell (due to minor illnesses).

I’m not a doctor. However, I’ve lived through years of transitions, living life in constant community and experienced multiple (minor) health problems. As someone with no history of mental health problems, I’ve experienced anxiety attacks which have woken me up in the middle of the night and stalled me in my tracks. I’ve experienced unexplained fatigue (starting from when I did youth ministry at 16 years of age) which comes up in times of stress. I’ve had multiple health check-ups for worrying symptoms only to find out that everything is fine. At the same time, I’ve had infections and inflammations at a younger age than I should.

I learnt that God didn’t desire for me to sacrifice my own health to “serve” Him. Don’t get me wrong, His call sometimes takes us to dangerous places where we are exposed to diseases and death. This IS a cost of discipleship. However, He doesn’t desire for us to fall into all kinds of illnesses because we’re too busy serving Him that we don’t eat properly, or because we need to be affirmed as a “good missionary” to the point where we volunteer to eat or drink exactly how the locals do. It’s about where our heart is. I learnt this the hard way. Sometimes, we have no choice, and in those times we take what we have and pray for protection. But other times, we have choices and the freedom to choose to take care of our bodies.


Whether we can relate to these signs or not, we need to come to a point while doing missions where we ask ourselves, “What drives us to do God’s work?” Do we do it because we feel that He will love us more if we do? Our answer to that question will tell us whether it’s time to take a step back. His love for us is unchanging and not dependent on what we do. God desires intimacy much more than He desires sacrifice. In our hearts, He belongs above the ministry. Are we willing to lay down the ministry, for a time, for the sake of our personal relationship with Him? Ministry is work, and it will one day fade away. An intimate relationship with God is life, and it has the power to touch the people around us in more ways than we know. We need to remember how precious we are to Him. When we allow that realization to sink deep into our hearts, that in itself will become a ministry orchestrated by the hand of God.



Karis Piawong is an Aussie who moved to Thailand in 2007 to find her future husband waiting for her there. They were married two years later, and as a family they currently work to raise up future Thai leaders through worship, family, training, and sports ministries. When Karis isn’t rounding up their two wild sons, she can be found writing, playing keyboard, eating chocolate, or dreaming of Australian desserts. Karis has previously written three devotionals in the Darling, Be Daring! Devotional book. She is currently publishing their family’s first book about her husband’s transformation from a gang leader to a devoted Christian, titled Because You Chose Me. You can find out more about their story and work on their website.

Regarding Burnout (and some ideas for avoiding it)

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


2. Open my hands in surrender.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I can be captivated by a bright yellow full moon.

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

I can inhale the heavenly fragrance of the frangipani flower.

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

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


4. Fast regularly from technology.

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

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

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


5. Get creative with Sabbath.

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

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


6. Get brave and quit something.

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

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


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

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

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


8. Be faithful in caring for body and soul.

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

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


9. Seek counseling or other outside help.

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


10. And finally, take a longer break.

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

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


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

Further reading:

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

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

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider

My day job here in Cambodia is serving as a pastoral counselor. In a typical week, I meet with clients from Asia, the Americas, Australia, Europe, and occasionally Africa. And whether these clients are missionaries, NGO workers, or international business people, they’re all trying to figure out how to live well here. In Cambodia.

I was recently asked to share at an international church on the topic of Living Well abroad. I gave it all I had and presented my compiled thoughts and hopes. This article is an extension of that presentation.

It’s not short and it’s not fancy. But it is pretty much all I’ve got. 

My hope is that this article might serve as a resource, a touch point, for you and your team/org/ministry/family/whatever. If you’d rather listen to the podcast of this material, you’ll find some links at the very end. All right, here goes!


How long were you in your host country before you cried really hard? You know, one of those famous UGLY cries that no one sees but certainly exists? Was it sometime in your first year? Month? Week?

For me, it took about 27 hours.

Our theme verse for those early days was 2 Corinthians 1:8, “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.”

But we did.

For as Paul Hiebert writes in his seminal work, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, “Culture shock is rarely terminal.”

Theory can only get you so far. At some point, you have to get your feet wet and Nike the thing. That’s what this article’s about. It’s an attempt to give some practical, hands-on, nitty-gritty, [insert random epic language here], rubber-meets-the-road, advice.

Much of this comes from my own experience of transitioning a family of six from the suburbs of mid-west America to the concrete vistas of Phnom Penh. The rest comes from observing lives and stories in that enigmatic place we call “the counseling room.”

The four specific areas we’ll consider include Living Well Abroad…

  1. Theologically
  2. Spiritually
  3. Relationally
  4. Psychologically


1. Living Well Abroad: Theologically
How we think about God matters. Of course it does. You already know that. But we sometimes forget that our theology also plays a vital role in how well we fare on the field.

First, we must remember that productivity does NOT equal fruitfulness. Indeed, our aim is not even to be fruitful, but to stay attached to the Vine from which all fruit comes. Our aim is to know him and his heart, to “remain in him.” Staying attached to the Source, hearing his heartbeat, is the only way we will be able to do “the will of him who sent us.”

There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all. Let me repeat: There is sooooo much to do and God does not want you to do it all.

He does not expect you to kill yourself in his service. Now, you might die in his service, of course, but it should not be because you’re a workaholic.

If you want to thrive abroad, you can’t try to meet your deep insecurities through making someone (a missions boss, a sending church, God) happy. No amount of productivity will heal the wounds in your soul.

In fact, trying to meet your own deep emotional or psychological needs through missions will tear you up. And it won’t be good for those close to you either.

Margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please stop running
The Idolatry of Missions


1.a. Simple prayers are your friend. 
For me, after we’d gone through a really rough patch (misdiagnosed typhoid fever, culture stripping, bad news from home, etc.), I clung to one simple cry-prayer: “I will worship the Lord my God; I will serve only him.” It’s a declaration from Jesus at the peak of his temptation. It’s what Jesus fell back on at the very end. So I did too. And honestly, for a while, it was the only prayer I prayed.

That being said, in Matthew 4, when Jesus made that declaration, Satan left him and angels came and ministered to him. I’m not a businessman, but that seems like a pretty good trade.

Speaking of Satan…


1.b. Your theology of Satan matters. A lot. 
Don’t give Satan more credit than he’s due. Don’t blame him for everything.

Why not? Well, it’ll keep you from taking responsibility for your own stuff, and it’ll keep you from doing the hard interpersonal and INNER personal work that you need to do.

Here’s my general rule: don’t blame Satan for things that are reasonably foreseeable.

If it was reasonably foreseeable that eating that street food would give you giardia, don’t blame the devil when you get sick and can’t leave the bathroom! I’ll be really sorry you’re sick, but you don’t need to bring the devil into it to garner my compassion and prayers.

If you ignore Sabbath and run yourself ragged, don’t blame Satan when you feel depressed and burned out. Don’t blame the natural result of your workaholism on “the darkness.” [Note: I am NOT saying that depression and burnout always result from a missionary’s failure to Rest. But if a person has been burning the candle at both ends and then starts to feel the flame, it’s not fair to blame the devil.]

Proverbs 7:6-9 provides a noteworthy example of reasonable foreseeability:

“While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain, I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense. He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell.”

The wisdom literature doesn’t blame some massive evil scheme for this guy’s sin. Its lesson for us? Do the hard work of not being naive. Do the hard work of getting some common sense. And don’t open your computer at night or visit the red light district when you’re lonely and it’s dark.

Before You Cry “Demon!”


1.c. You need a robust theology of Heaven. 
You want to live and thrive abroad long-term? You’re going to have to have a pretty good grasp of Heaven. I’m not talking about end-times theology, I’m talking about the reality of eternity, for the saved and the lost.

Heaven, by Randy Alcorn
When you just want to go home
The Gift of Grief



2. Living Well Abroad: Spiritually
There are two powerful words we need to understand deeply. Those words are “Yes” and “No,” and they are sacred words indeed.

Initially, when you move abroad, you don’t know anyone and you’re probably in language school, so you can say yes to everyone and pretty much everything. But watch out, because your ratio of yeses to nos will have to change. If you want to stay healthy, you will have to start saying no to more and more things. And if you don’t make that transition well, if you don’t learn to say no, you will end up saying yes to all the wrong things.

Recently, I heard a preacher boldly state: “Satan is always trying to get your yes.” Indeed, from the beginning, the Liar has been getting people to say yes to stuff that will make them say No to the Father. And it continues.

Balancing our yeses and nos can get tricky, triggering our Fear of Missing Out or our fear of being completely overwhelmed, which is why I love that Justin Rizzo, a musician at the International House of Prayer, sings about “the beautiful line to walk between faith and wisdom.”

Learning when to say yes and when to say no requires both faith and wisdom. After all, it is possible to say yes to too much because of our “faith,” and it is possible to say no to too much because of our “wisdom.”

Again, this is precisely why we need to spend time connected to the Vine. We must remind ourselves often of this truth: The most fruitful thing I can do today is connect with the heart of Jesus.

May God give us the grace to serve with both faith and wisdom. Not as opposite ideas, fighting for domination, but as buffers and guardrails, keeping us from veering too far to one side. Or the other.


3. Living Well Abroad: Relationally
Life abroad can be bone-jarringly lonely, so connecting with friends is vitally important. Those friendships might surprise you; they might be with expats and nationals and folks you first found strange. But whatever the case, deep connection with other human beings IRL (in real life) is crucial to whether or not you “live well” abroad.

Velvet Ashes (this links to their articles tagged “friendship”)
10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships


3.a Marriage
I’ve been living with my best friend for nearly 17 years. And frankly, we’d like to stay friends. If you’re married, I’d like for you to stay friends with your spouse too. Here are some ideas that have helped us…

– Google “First date questions” and screen capture the results. Next time you’re out on a date or alone together, whip out your phone and get to know each other again.

– Be a tourist for a night. Pretend you don’t speak the language and go where the tourists go. (I realize this might not apply to everyone, but I know it’ll apply to some.)

– If you have kids, try to get away for 24 hours. Because even 24 hours away can feel like forever. And when you’re away, don’t talk about work or the kids. (And if you don’t have anything to talk about besides work and the kids, take that as a sign that you need to get away more often!)

– Read a book about marriage. I’m continually amazed at how little effort we put into the one relationship that we want to be the deepest and longest and best.

– If a book is too much, check out The Gottman Institute on Facebook. Follow them and read an occasional article. 

Dudes, remember this: your wife lives here too. If you’re doing great but she’s really struggling, you gotta push pause and figure it out. Are you both thriving?

And when it comes to arguing, remember the age-old adage our marriage therapist said over and over and over: “If one person wins, the couple loses.”  : ) 

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife
Marriage is the Beautiful Hard
The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy


3.b. Parenthood
We moved to Asia when our boys were six and seven and our girls were one and three. And the loss of how I used to parent nearly killed me. Really. Most Saturdays, I’d get depressed and overwhelmed by all the good we had left behind. Here’s a snapshot of what helped me…

Be Creative. Early on in transition, creativity is very hard to come by. You’re exhausted and on the edge already, so ask around. Ask other parents, “What do you do for family time here? Where?” Just remember, what works for one family might not work for your family. That’s OK. Find the things that work for your family, and then do those things. Boldly.

Remember, use other parents and their ideas, but don’t judge yourself by other parents and their ideas. Some ideas will work for others that will not work for you. Figure out what’ll work for your family. Then do those things.

Be Crazy.The Cambodians think we’re crazy, and maybe they’re right. We have a badminton court on our roof and a ping pong table in our garage. And we use our moto as a jet ski during rainy season. Maybe I am crazy, but I’m also not depressed.

Spend Cash. If you need to spend some money to share a fun experience with your family, spend it. And don’t feel guilty about it. Now, if you feel like God doesn’t want you to spend it, then don’t. But if you’re afraid of spending money because of what your donors might think, that’s a pretty good reason to go ahead and spend it.

Don’t let your kids grow up thinking that the most important question when discussing a family activity is, “What will our supporters think?” That question destroys kids.


Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid


4. Living Well Abroad: Psychologically
At various points in our overseas journey, Elizabeth and I have needed debriefing, coaching, and counseling. In fact, so many of the good things in our life and ministry have been directly influenced by specific psychological help.

One area that’s so simple (and important) to talk about is meta-emotions. Simply put, meta-emotions are what you feel about feelings.

Don’t freak out on me just yet. I know this sounds like a Pixar movie.

But honestly, a healthy question that we need to ask much more often is this: How do I feel about what I’m feeling?

For example, if you feel angry at your host country and then feel GUILTY for feeling angry, your feelings of guilt will actually block you from dealing with the root of your anger. Does your anger make you feel like a bad person? A bad Christian? Like you’re a failure because you don’t even like the people you came to serve?

You see, how you feel about your feelings will make a huge difference with how you handle them. Do you keep talking to God about your feelings? If you’re ashamed of your feelings or believe that you shouldn’t have them, chances are your praying will cease forthwith. And that’s not cool.

An illuminating question in all of this is, “How were emotions handled in my family of origin? Did I grow up in an emotion coaching home, where emotions were safe and expression was easy? Was I taught how to feel and name and share my feelings?”

If so, that’s awesome. It’s also pretty rare.

Did you grow up in an emotion dismissing home? Were emotions anything but safe? Did you hear, “Don’t be sad/angry/whatever”?

In your family, did emotions hurt people? If so, I’m sorry. The first step is to acknowledge that this is the case, and maybe see a counselor.

Why does this matter? Because meta-emotions will massively impact what you do with your feelings, and what you do with your feelings will massively impact how you do with life abroad. 


Meta-Emotion: How you feel about feelings
A Life Overseas Resource Page
Here’s an 11 minute video outlining a tool I use with about 90% of my pastoral counseling clients:



This material was originally presented at an international church here in Phnom Penh. If you’d like to see the handouts and/or listen to the audio of that presentation, click here. The message is also available as a podcast. Just search iTunes for “trotters41” or click here.

Let me tell you about Kassiah Jones


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rest. To Love.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.


all for ONE,
Jonathan M. Trotter


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

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

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



From the article, Please Stop Running:

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

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

Rest is not a bad word.

Rest is not a waste of time.

Rest is holy, and commanded.

Rest forces me to admit my humanity.

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



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

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

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

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

God doesn’t always lead in straight lines.

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



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

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

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

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



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

margin: the wasted space we desperately need


“Staying alive is not about how fast or how slow you go; it’s about how much margin you have.”

That’s what a friend of mine here in Cambodia says when asked about how to not die while riding motorcycles in our little corner of Asia. And since he’s been riding and racing motorcycles since before I was born, I listen.

Going slow with no margin can be more dangerous than going fast with tons of margin. It’s true with motorcycles and it’s true with missions.

Your speed is not necessarily what determines your safety; your margin does. Margin takes into account all sorts of variables: How far can you see? How much space is between you and the next vehicle (or cow)? What are the road conditions? Is this even a road? How likely is it that the large pig strapped to the back of that bus in front of you will stay strapped to the back of that bus in front of you?


Margin & Missionaries
Some of us overseas folk like to move quickly, flying through life and ministry at the speed of FAST. Others prefer to plod, smelling the frangipani and lingering long.

And it’s easy to judge.

The plodders judge the quicksters; “Oh, they’re definitely going to crash. They need to slow down or they’re going to burn out.” And maybe that’s true. But maybe they’ve built in Rest and Sabbath and Margin and maybe they’ll be just fine.

The quickies judge the plodders; “Good grief! They don’t do anything! When are they going to actually get off their bahookies and get to work?!” And maybe that’s true. Maybe they are lazy. Or, maybe they’ve built in Rest and Sabbath and Margin and maybe they’ll still be around decades after the FAST people fizzle out.

I’ve often thought the plodders were inherently healthier, but I realize now that if they lack margin, their speed is irrelevant and their risk of crashing (burning out) remains high. Remember, it’s not about speed as much as it’s about margin.

So, whether your preferred speed is Warp or Waddle, we need to talk about margin. How much do you have?

How much relational margin?

Emotional margin?

Financial margin?

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

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


Airlines and the Bourgeois
Many of us absolutely hate the idea of waste. In fact, the title of this article might have been an extreme turn-off for you. I’m sorry about that. I feel ya, really. Here me out just a little bit longer, because with our strong aversion to wasted space, I believe we’re kind of like airlines.Reclining-Seats-1

Airlines can’t stand wasted space, and we all know what that feels like. Remember the last time you crossed an ocean in sardine class? It’s like living without margin: you can do it for a bit, but after a while, things start to hurt that aren’t supposed to hurt, and your mind begins to drift to thoughts of revolution and a bourgeois uprising against the folks sprawled out behind the curtain.

Margin, like leg room, seems unnecessary at first; but then you live without it for a while, things stiffen up, and you realize just how necessary that wasted space really is.


Wasting Trees and Asphalt
Do you have any idea how much paper we waste with margins? Neither do I, but I think it’s a lot. Think of all the trees we could save if our magazines and books and newsletters were printed from the very top of the page to the very bottom and the words bled out onto the edges.

People might lose their minds, but hey, at least we wouldn’t be wasting space!

Even my Kindle has a margin. Why is that? Would you read a book or a website that had words all the way to the edges of the screen? Probably not. You’d probably have some sort of visceral turn-that-thing-off reaction. I know I would. Would you live a life all the way to the edges, without margin? Many try.


In the United States, the average interstate highway has 14ft (4.3m) of wasted pavement. You can’t drive on the shoulder. It’s just there, wasting space and asphalt. It’s road margin.

US interstates have enough wasted space to pave a road 14ft wide around the entire planet. Twice. That’s a lot of wasted pavement.

Many of us live in countries where the main roads aren’t even 14ft wide! So why do they do that? Why do they waste so much money on so much asphalt that’s not even part of the road? To save lives, I guess. Because road margin is a great idea.


Why We Need Wasted Space
I need wasted space. My family needs wasted space. My relationship with God needs wasted space. And I need to realize that, in reality, some of the best moments of my life happen in the wasted spaces.

The stuff I remember on my deathbed will probably be the stuff that happened in the margins: The dance I shared with my little girls in a hillside bungalow while the ocean extinguished the sun. The man-talk with my brother about deep stuff that happened in a tree house in a field, doing “nothing.” The unrushed joy of losing a game of Stratego to a small child. Sipping coffee with my soul-mate, pretending to be tourists in our own town, listening to each other’s hearts.

The moment shared with God, unhurried, among trees and grass and falling water. The silent listening.

The moment of sitting still, letting one Word or phrase from Him sink deep, and heal. And comfort. For me, those moments are Life, and they almost always happen in the margin.


When Margin Isn’t
Now, if you’re straight up lazy, this post is not for you. Don’t use this as an excuse to continue being lazy. A blank page doesn’t have a margin; it’s just a blank page.

Margin indicates activity, not the absence of it. And it’s not called rest if it’s all you do.The dowager countess, Lady Grantham, perfectly illustrates this with her pointed question:


Sabbath only occurs after work. Sabbath is God’s margin. It’s God’s wasted space, if you will, that of course isn’t wasteful at all. It’s restorative. And protective. Are you keeping Sabbath? Why not? 


The Great Destroyer of Margin
What destroys your margin?

Distractions, that crowd out the voice of Jesus?

Smartphones, with all the apps you never knew you needed to stay tethered to the world you never knew existed?

News, that’ll keep you discouraged or angry or depressed every hour of the 24 hour news cycle?

Blogs, with never-ending comparisons and measurements and opinions?

Personal insecurity that won’t allow you to rest, for fear that you won’t accomplish something, and you not accomplishing something will cause others to judge you, and others judging you will actually make you less valuable? Or more vulnerable?

Take note of the destroyers.

For a season, I deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone. It was a great decision that allowed me to reset and rediscover some margin that I had pretty much lost.

What could you do today to reclaim some margin?

Rein in Netflix?

Learn to say “No.”

Banish the TV or internet from the bedroom?

See a counselor?


Margin is the wasted space we desperately need. So, spend some time in the margins.

Waste time with your friends, your spouse, your kids.
Waste time with your God, just being with Him.
No agenda. No checkbox.
Just love and relationship and coffee.

If you have a strong reaction to the idea of “wasting time,” ask yourself “Why?”
Remember, being busy all the time could be avoidance. Avoiding Sabbath could be idolatry.

Close the computer, delete the apps.
Dance with your daughter and remember:

Life is a breath,
Breathe deep and slow, and
Savor the moments in the margins.

The glorious unpressured time of not-work.
Remember, Jesus slept.

God remains on His throne, after all.
He was capable before you showed up, and
He’ll remain imminently capable after you’re gone.

So work hard and rest well.
And remember, wasting time just might be the most productive thing you ever do.


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

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spaghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God wants me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush

Shortly after Elijah won his showdown with the prophets of Baal, he ran in fear from Queen Jezebel, who had vowed to kill him within a day. Leaving his servant behind, he continued into the wilderness and sat under a broom bush, despondent.

I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (I Kings 19:4)

A broom bush (retama) in Spain

What is a broom bush?

Sometimes called a retem or rothem tree, juniper tree, or broom tree, the broom bush is actually more of a shrub than a tree and is not related to the juniper evergreen. Though it can grow up to 10 feet tall, it does not have a trunk with branches but rather thin green stems, with small leaves that are quickly shed. The name of the bush gives us the name for brooms today, as its stems were often tied together for sweeping.

When it blooms, sweet-smelling pea-like flowers cover the broom bush. Retama raetam, common in the Middle East, is called the white broom because of the color of its flowers.

Job refers to the broom bush when he complains about the young men who mock him in his suffering. He considers their fathers lower than his sheepdogs. He says they are weak, hungry men who roam the parched countryside, forced to eat plants from the salt marshes and the roots of the broom bush, which are normally considered inedible. In fact, broom-bush roots are so unlikely as food that some think that Job is actually talking about broomrape, a parasitic herb that attaches itself to the roots of the broom bush and other plants. Others believe that the second half of Job 30:4, “and their food was the root of the broom bush,” should be translated “and their fuel was the root of the broom bush,” as in fuel for a fire.

Broom-bush wood is good for fuel. It burns very hot and is excellent for making charcoal, which in times past, Bedouins would use for trading in Egyptian markets. For the Psalmist, its red-hot coals make a fitting punishment for “deceitful lips”:

He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom bush. (Psalm 120:4)

Great for making charcoal and brooms. Bad for eating. So-so for shelter.

When Elijah collapsed in the shade of the broom bush, he wasn’t under a majestic tree, known for its tall stature or wide canopy of branches. And when he prayed, his words weren’t majestic either. He wanted to die and asked God to make it happen.

Instead, after he fell asleep, God sent a messenger, an angel who woke him with a touch and told him to eat and drink. Near his head was bread baking over hot coals (made from the bush he was under?) and a jar of water. After Elijah lay down again, the angel returned. “Get up and eat,” he said, “for the journey is too much for you” (I Kings 19:7). The journey turned out to take forty days and nights and ended at Mt. Horeb—also called Mt. Sinai and the mountain of God.

On Mt. Horeb, Elijah heard God’s voice, but under the broom bush, God communicated in a different way. God’s messenger gave him sacred gifts of food, water, and rest. Like the bush, the gifts were commonplace but sacred nonetheless.

Of course, it’s not an ordinary occurrence to be ministered to in person by an angel. But what the angel did for Elijah, we can do for each other. It doesn’t take a celestial being to prepare food and drink, to acknowledge life’s difficulties, to be present with few words—all to ready a servant of God for taking the path ahead and, ultimately, for hearing his gentle whisper.

As you serve God cross-culturally, have you ever been in the wilderness? Have you ever been lonely, depressed, afraid, exhausted from work and worry? Have you ever wished that you were dead? Have you ever believed that going forward was too much for you? Have you ever needed a broom bush? Do you need one now?

I’m still going to keep my eyes open for burning bushes. I certainly wouldn’t want to miss any. But I don’t want to miss the God-given favor of a broom bush either.

And as I continue on my journey, I’ll also watch for other travelers who are wearied by the past and concerned for the future. Because there will be those who need me to pass on holy commonplace blessings—the kind of blessings that happen under a simple bush in the desert.

(scripture from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)

[photos: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license; “046. Retama,” by Por los caminos de Málaga, used under a Creative Commons license]