Living Well Abroad – Four Areas to Consider

by Jonathan

I recently shared a message at an international church here in Phnom Penh on the topic of “Living Well – where the rubber meets the road.” We looked at four areas of living well abroad, with some [hopefully] practical ideas for each one. We looked at Living Well Abroad…Theologically, Spiritually, Relationally, and Psychologically.

For the handout (pdf): living-well-abroad-handout

For the audio: Click Here or download via “trotters41” on iTunes Podcasts.

Small words. Big ideas.

Sometimes, I write things on Facebook. And then sometimes I compile those things into a blog post. This is one of those times.

So here are some thoughts on Grace, Sin, and Unforgiveness

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Grace vs. Sin

It’s a hard balance, right? Do we preach against sin or extol grace? Can we do both?

I was recently reminded of Jesus’ master move when he was standing between a vulnerable woman who had been “caught in the act” and some very powerful men who wanted her dead.

After he challenged the guys and the older ones got it first, he found himself alone with the accused. He asked her, “Hey, where are those guys who wanted to condemn you and then kill you?” She looks around and says, “All of them are gone! No one’s left!”

Jesus whispers, “I don’t condemn you either.”

Powerful.

Tremendous grace is given freely to the scared and hurting and absolutely guilty.

Then Jesus says secondly the thing we typically say firstly, “Now go and stop sinning.”

We need to say both of these things and we need to say them in the right order. If we only say “STOP SINNING,” we miss the love and passion in our Savior’s eyes and the demanded obedience quickly becomes unbearable. Obedience gets disconnected from the heart of the Father. But if we only say, “Jesus doesn’t condemn you,” we’re selling people a cheap half-truth that won’t lead them anywhere close to sanctification.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to tell people to stop sinning because they won’t like it. Then maybe they won’t like me.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to talk about the LACK of condemnation. Maybe they’ll like it. Then maybe they’ll just keep on sinning because, whatever.

But I’m realizing that combining these two truths, and combining them in the order of Jesus, is powerful.

And I want to echo these sister truths more often, and with boldness.

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“I forgive, but help my unforgiveness.”

This has become a powerful prayer for many of my clients. (And me too, actually!)

It’s modeled off of the father’s prayer in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t chide this guy for his lack of total and complete faith. He didn’t sniff out a smidgen of doubt and refuse to help. He healed his boy.

Sometimes I need to choose to forgive, as an act of obedience. At the same time, I need to recognize the reality that heart-level forgiveness is not a one-time-say-the-magic-words-and-it’s-all-better sort of thing. This prayer honors that reality.

If forgiveness is hard for you, if you’re wrestling with the ongoing impact of another person’s sin, consider praying this prayer, “Father, I forgive ______, but help my unforgiveness.”

And see what happens…

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The Gift of Grief and the Thing I Heard in Portland {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is over at A Life Overseas . . . 

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“If we honestly face the sadness of life in a fallen world, then only our hope in Christ can preserve us from insanity or suicide.” – Larry Crabb

That’s an intense statement, and I sort of choked when I read it for the first time. But the more I chew on it, and the more I ponder my own life with its episodes of emotional and intellectual crisis, the more I think it’s correct.

I spent three years working as an ER/Trauma nurse in an urban hospital in the States, and that bloody, chaotic trauma room forced me to “honestly face the sadness.” Those were dark days indeed; I was ill-prepared, psychologically and theologically, to deal with the darkness and the depth of the pain I witnessed. I was far outside of the Christian bubble, and reality bit hard.

For many people, moving across cultures, often to developing places, serves as their wake-up call. Missions becomes their trauma room, where they see suffering and poverty and grief up close and personal. People often move to Cambodia bright-eyed and in love, and then after a few months, or perhaps a year, the accumulation of the poverty and the corruption and the darkness forces them to “honestly face the sadness.”

Have you seen that happen?

Of course, the sadness was present in their affluent passport countries too, but money and familiarity have a way of disguising and hiding pain, like gold lacquer on cardboard.

But when the suffering is really seen, honestly, it does what Martin Luther wrote about nearly 500 years ago; it “threatens to undo us.” Of course, it doesn’t have to undo us, but it certainly threatens.

Finish reading the article here.

10 Ways to Nurture Healthy Friendships

by Elizabeth

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About a year ago I led a discussion on female friendships with a group of teen girls. In preparation for that class, I asked some ladies whose friendship I highly value for their wisdom on cultivating and nurturing healthy, God-honoring friendships.

What they said was so rich — and is still so rich — that I wanted to share it with you (with their permission of course). I hope you will read through their words and then at the end share your own wisdom and experiences.

 

“Tenderness is the first thing I think of. It stuns me every time. I think time is a huge piece of the friendship process. It takes time and shared experiences — some of which you can create and some that just happen to you mutually as you go through things together. Good communication is super important, just like in marriage. Good listening skills.

There are rhythms to friendship too, and knowing that and not freaking out about it is important if you are in a long-term friendship. Sometimes the friendship is wide, sometimes it is deep, depending on what’s happening to the people involved.”

–from Teresa, my dear friend of 12 years (8 together and 5 apart). She’s the one who wrote this popular article about our friendship after I moved across the ocean.

 

“The main thing I can think of with girls is that it’s just as important to be equally yoked in your closest friendships as it is in a marriage relationship, and that we get in trouble when we start comparing ourselves to someone else (in a discontented way).”

–from Sarah, my dear friend since university days (15 years and counting).

 

“Female friendships are vital in my life because we are designed to be a part of community. Some characteristics that I think are important with girlfriends are honesty — if something is bothering you or you feel like God is calling you to talk about something with your girlfriend it’s crucial to listen and be honest with friends instead of letting a conflict or problem come between you. Also vulnerability, so your friends can see ‘the real you.’

With vulnerability comes accountability, and this is my absolute favorite part of friendships because it’s truly a beautiful depiction of the church when friends see our weaknesses and can still love us but encourage and help us change! Pitfalls in friendships from my life are when I compare myself to friends or begin to judge other girlfriends when this happens I am not able to have a true godly friendship that is honoring to the Lord.”

–from Chelsea, a former youth group member who’s been a dear friend for 10 years now

 

So to recap, some of the most important qualities in our friendships are:

  1. Tenderness
  2. Spending time together
  3. Maintaining honesty in our communication
  4. Listening well
  5. Vulnerability – letting people see the “real you”
  6. Accepting accountability for our shortcomings
  7. Accepting the various rhythms in our lives
  8. Being “equally yoked” – cultivating close friendships with other believers
  9. Avoiding comparison and jealousy
  10. Staying humble and avoiding judgment

 

What about you? How have you experienced female friendships, either in positive or negative ways? What are the things you’ve learned along the way? Anything to add to our list?

 

Bonus: Books

Melanie Shankle wrote my absolute favorite book on friendship: Nobody’s Cuter Than You. I laughed so hard, and then I cried so hard. I loved it so much I bought a copy for all the ladies on my team. You can watch the book trailer here.

Christine Hoover wrote my absolute favorite modern book on grace from a female author: From Good to Grace (Did you catch how I left space for my favorite modern book on grace from a male author — Tim Keller’s The Prodigal God?). Anyway, Christine is coming out with a new book called Messy Beautiful Friendship. I haven’t read it yet, but I know it’ll be good, and she’s been publishing a series of blog posts highlighting some of the book’s content that you might want to check out.

After 8 years of homeschooling, I’m giving up

by Elizabeth

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I give up. After eight years of homeschooling, I just can’t take it anymore.

Wait a minute, WHAT?!

No, I’m not giving up homeschooling.

But I AM switching to a different kind of schedule.

For years I avoided the way “expert” homeschoolers scheduled their school year, with six weeks on and one week off.

I was afraid that kind of rhythm would make the school year last forever and that I wouldn’t have a significant enough summer break to recharge.

Who wants to do school all the time?? And school all the time is exactly what that approach sounded like. I opted for the “traditional” school schedule instead.

Practically speaking, what that meant was that we plowed through our weeks and plowed through our months and plowed through our years, desperately trying to get to that elusive “perfect” summer.

(And also, it meant desperately trying to squeeze in as much school as possible before that very interrupting excursion known as the missionary furlough.)

But what I’ve discovered (took me long enough, huh?) was that going without adequate breaks is just not good for us, even if those breaks, when they come, are adequately long.

One simply cannot push hard for 12 weeks straight (or more) without a break and not lose some small part of their mind.

I had avoided the six-weeks-on-one-week-off approach out of fear that I would feel like we were “doing school” all the time, yet ironically, what I felt in going the traditional route was that we were doing school all the time.

So even though I’d heard about the 6-on-1-off approach before my oldest was even in preschool, I rejected it out of hand.

And lived to suffer the consequences.

This year I hit a point when I realized enough was enough. I couldn’t take any more hustle. I couldn’t take any more hurry. I was done with the way we were doing things.

That’s part of the reason we’re extending our third term by half a year: to be able to get into a better rhythm and routine with school and ministry.

(And also, because I was tired of feeling like my toes and fingers were freezing off in that blasted Missouri winter.)

Next school year, we’re doing things differently. We’ll take a pretty short summer break and start our next school year soon after finishing this school year.

But then we’ll take much more regular breaks throughout the school year, before heading back to the States for a few months – this time without school work.

(Why did it take me two entire home assignments to figure out that meaningful school work is just NOT going to get done while dragging a family of six across the United States?? What can I say, I’m a slow learner.)

The upside of all this? Many Cambodian and international holidays fall easily into a 6-week rotation (we have a lot of holidays here), meshing our schedule better with both father and friends.

Another upside? Getting to skip half of hot season next year.

I only wish I had listened to the experts earlier.

Some people call this approach Sabbath schooling, as it mimics the Biblical pattern of six days of work followed by one day of rest.

Others call it year-round schooling, since it stretches the school year out longer (though it doesn’t quite reach the level of studying the entire year).

Whatever you call it, I’m claiming it as my own.  I’m giving up my entrenched public school ways and adopting newer, more sustainable ways.

And if you, like me, are worn out and exhausted, maybe you need to, too.

“Fernweh” and “Heimweh” — words for the one who’s far from home {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today . . .

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I found a new word on the Facebook profile of a missionary writer, and it’s the best new word I’ve heard in a long time. It’s called fernweh, and it’s a German word that means “a longing for faraway places.”

The feeler of fernweh carries a desire — whether met or unmet — to travel to distant countries, to visit new places, and to have new experiences. Its nearest English equivalent might be the idea of “wanderlust.” When transliterated, fernweh means “farsickness,” in much the same way that heimweh means “homesickness.”

Fernweh and heimweh: these sister words draw me in. Ever since I found them, I cannot get them out of my head, for I live in a faraway place.

At least, it’s far away from the Europe and North America in which I grew up. It was far away, but now it’s near. I find now that the faraway place has become home, and home has become the faraway place.

Finish reading this post at A Life Overseas.

A Few of My Favorite Things {January 2017}

My favorite things come a bit early this month, as I’m preparing to take two weeks off from the internet. ~Elizabeth

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Taking a Kassiah Jones Day. I took one of these right after New Year’s. We worked really hard in December on our co-op play, and we didn’t take much time off for Christmas, and then my husband got sick, so by the time I got to New Year’s, I was desperate for a break. I was so glad I took one.

A couple weeks at home. January gave us some downtime in between the chaos of Christmas and the start of this semester’s home school co-op. I took the opportunity to take better care of my body (through exercise, which I neglected last semester) and better care of my marriage (through time with my husband, which I also sometimes neglected).

Hearing the birds. Our neighborhood is loud, but we had one week this month when I actually heard the tweeting of birds in the mornings. It was glorious. I wrote about it here on Facebook.

Attending a ladies’ retreat. This event was a couple of hours outside the city, so there were long walks to be had and more nature to be enjoyed. But the part I liked best was getting to know more deeply some ladies whom I’d only seen in passing.

 

BOOKS

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. We’ve had this book forever, and I read it to the boys when they were little, but somehow it fell to the bottom of the toy bin, and I just rediscovered it while organizing my girls’ room. I thought they would enjoy it, so I tried it out with them, and my youngest especially fell in love. I did too. Ferdinand is for the introverts, the contemplatives, and anyone who lives with or supports one. This slim little children’s story is incredibly compassionate and wise.

Telling God’s Story by Peter Enns. The first half, in which the author lays out a logical and friendly way in which to share the story of Scripture with our children, was perfectly fine, but the second half, in which Enns offers a survey of the Story, was superb. It told the heart behind the stories in the Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, in such a way that it made me grasp the heart of God better.

Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It by Jennifer Fulwiler. I’m so glad I stuck with this book, which was a real tear-jerker at the end. I often thought there were too many unnecessary sensory details in this book – but perhaps that’s the INFP coming out in me. I don’t need sensory details; I need the inner workings of the mind and heart. I related to a lot of Jen’s journey though: the desire to find the right LOGICAL answer and to go about finding it logically but then to get stuck, because the way to approach God is with a humble heart, not a mind that’s sure of itself. And I, too, have had trouble feeling the presence of God until I come to Him as a broken, repentant sinner. I did not read this story solely as a conversion to Catholicism but as a conversion to Christianity out of atheism, as a journey from disbelief to belief. The beautiful the way God started meeting their dire financial needs right when belief was beginning to blossom touched me deeply.

Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan. This is the story of an Indian girl’s arranged marriage and all the ways life falls apart for her. But don’t worry, this story is not like Humpty Dumpty. It gets put back together again in just the right way. I read this children’s novel one morning during the “lull” of a play date.

 

 

BLOG POSTS

Onward Christian Hobo by M’Lynn Taylor. I love everything M’Lynn writes on Velvet Ashes. Often she makes me laugh; this one spoke of our deep need for Home and also touched on the way our “words of the year” often surprise us.

The Gospel in a Psych Ward by Marilyn Gardner. Everything Marilyn Gardner writes is worth reading, and this post is no exception. If the Gospel cannot touch the psych ward, it is not the gospel at all.

Real Friendship by Kathleen Shumate. Kathleen has guest posted for A Life Overseas before, and everything she writes is both deeply true and densely written. In this post she once again cuts straight to our core needs and longings.

Death, Rebirth, and New Beginnings by Angelina Stanford on CiRCE Institute. Do not get me started on how much I love Angelina’s work! (I link to an excellent lecture from her in the next section.) You know that anything on death and rebirth, especially in tandem with the seasons, catches my attention.

Dear Women’s Ministry, Stop Telling Me I’m Beautiful by Phylicia Masonheimer. Agreed. My most deeply felt need is not to know I’m beautiful; it is to know I am both loved and valued. Teaching us that we are children of God, deeply loved and cared for and redeemed, should therefore take higher priority than affirmations of our beauty.

Let Music do the Praying For You by Karen Huber. Lovely and true, Karen paints our longings with both words and music.

I’m a Short Cup by Megan Gahan. Much to my chagrin, I am also a “short cup” (where others might be a venti). And like Megan, I need my “sanity sandwiches.” I’m currently in the process of learning how better to practice boundaries and pad my schedule with enough margin.

And lastly, some cool stuff about lichens from the ministry of Does God Exist? If you follow them on Facebook, you can read regular posts about God’s exquisite design and creativity in nature.

 

MUSIC, POETRY AND A PODCAST

Unsaid by Dana Gioia. For anyone who’s grieving and can’t put words to the pain, this short poem is a balm.

Trust in You by Lauren Daigle. Especially the chorus:

When you don’t move the mountains
I’m needing you to move
When you don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When you don’t give the answers
As I cry out to you
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in you

We sang this in church, and my kids and I loved it. It sounded strangely familiar, though, so I looked it up. I had heard it before – and hadn’t liked it. For when I heard Lauren performing the song, it had seemed to be more about showcasing her magnificent talent than about voicing any prayers to God. In my opinion, fancy vocals draw attention away from God; congregational singing points only ever to God. So I think this song is much better sung congregationally than individually. Putting our trust in God is a collective activity. We are the people of God, and we must declare it and live it together.

(This happens to me regularly. The contemporary song I chaffed at, whose sound grated on me, turns into a moving prayer when sung corporately.)

(I know I am particular about these things, about song versions and such, but these are some of the reasons.)

Christ is Enough by Hillsong. This song was playing in my head the week I wrote If your year has been a flop, and then on New Year’s Day, what do we sing at church, but this song? And I needed to sing it that day because I wasn’t exactly believing it at the moment. (But I have to say, I prefer the way we sing it at church to this recording. It’s just a bit slower and more contemplative.)

The Distorted Image: Greek Mythology and the Gospel by Angelina Stanford. Illuminating. I’ve listened to Angelina before (on the redemptive power of fantasy at the bottom of this page), and she packs a lot of thought and information into each sentence, so an entire hour of listening to her will stretch your mind. (In fact I need a re-listen of this lecture.) Here’s the main idea: in much the same way that the tagline of the Jesus Storybook Bible is “Every story whispers His name,” this talk from Stanford offers basically the same thesis — though on a much more complex plane. I particularly appreciated her in-depth explanation of Acts 17, which I’ve always loved but will love even more now. (I grabbed this lecture when it was on sale for free, but it’s still worth the $3 that it’s currently priced at.)