I have a work spouse

by Jonathan

I have a work spouse.

It’s working out OK, because she’s also my actual spouse. Folks often wonder how that works. How do we write together and work together and still like each other?

How do you edit a spouse’s work without dying?

We know it sounds cheesy, but in our internal memos we call it “Team Trotter,” and we really do have a lot of fun. But it wasn’t always this easy. In fact, there were times we almost dumped our whole site into the black hole of DELETE. For real, there was a day when I left to lead worship at an all night prayer gathering, pretty sure that trotters41.com wouldn’t exist when I got home.

So, how did we recover from that? How do we enjoy our work spouses? Well, in short, we just really like each other. In addition to simply being good friends, we also enjoy each other’s differences. Oh, and we got some counseling. (For more on that part of the story, you can read Elizabeth’s article, Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know.)

 

Same Same. But Different.
We both write and we both edit the other’s work, so it makes sense that people think we’re doing the same job, the same ministry, the same thing. We even write at the same spaces (this site, alifeoverseas.com and even occasionally at velvetashes.com).

But really, what we do is very, very different. We recognize the differences, we value the differences, we even enjoy the differences. I think that’s what really helps this to not crash.

 

Writer and Pastor
I describe it like this: Elizabeth is a writer who pastors and I’m a pastor who writes. It might not seem like those starting blocks are all that different, but they are.IMG_6405 (2).JPG

Elizabeth is an artist with a keyboard. She treats words like colors, sentences like brushes, the internet like a canvas. I’m just not that cool.

I value her love of words and the way she uses them. As teenagers in the same youth group, I remember her answering a friend who asked the obvious question, “What does loquacious mean?” Elizabeth answered without thinking: “Verbose.” I remember smiling at this teenage girl who didn’t know how much she knew.

The way she and I tell stories is so.very.different. In fact, we used to offer style advice to each other, but we’ve pretty much stopped that now because we both know we like our own styles and we’re not interested in changing them. We’re both pretty secure in who we are and who we aren’t.

Elizabeth writes her muse. She writes about her journey and what’s inspiring her. She writes about the wind beneath her wings. I write about other people’s wind.

I look around and ask “What are people dealing with? What’s the Church or the missions community struggling with?” And then I write about that. Sometimes I share my story, but not nearly as often as Elizabeth.

And while we both cross-over occasionally, my writings tend to be more didactic. Her style is a bit more narrative.

 

Big Picture vs. Details
I never add commas. I mean, when I look at Elizabeth’s stuff, I never give editorial advice of the fine kind. I take a step back, away from the bark and look at the forest. Sometimes Elizabeth needs me to say, “OK, that doesn’t make any sense outside of your amazing head.”

Elizabeth always adds commas. Always. (I think she even knows what “oxford comma” means. I don’t have a clue.) When she reviews my stuff, she fixes it and makes it technically correct, but she never gives me big picture feedback.

Her ability to hyper-focus is awesome, and it’s what gives her articles such depth and clarity. She spends deep time really seeing herself, her words, and her readers. My ability is more like SQUIRREL!

 

We Just Showed Up
If you do the thing that you can do and leave the results to God, you’ll have way more fun. And I think it’s why we’re both still having fun. We’re not counting or comparing or striving. We’re just trying to do the next thing faithfully.

Neither of us set out to be writers. Neither of us cared about getting known (whatever that means) or anything of the sort. There was no agenda. We wrote for our friends; we wrote for us.

Our first exposure to a larger audience happened after I pitched a guest post idea to A Life Overseas. On a whim. It was literally one of the only things I’d ever written. I was browsing around the site for the first time ever (I had heard Elizabeth talking about it), saw the “Submit Guest Post” link and thought, “Well, what the heck, I’ll give it a whirl.” From idea to submission took about three minutes.

I wrote Outlawed Grief as a way of processing my own feelings during a week of pastoral counseling training. I didn’t write it to publish it.

When we heard back from the editors and they told us they liked the article and wanted to run it, along with a couple of Elizabeth’s articles, she wasn’t happy. She was scared and I was in the dog house.

She started writing for our family and friends. She wasn’t trying to “make it” or achieve anything. She was terrified of exposure. There was no striving or networking or ginormous ambition.

And that’s been a huge key for us. We’re not competing or striving. We’re just playing.

Of course, it’s still work and it’s often tedious and hard. It’s serious business writing about some of the things we write about it. But we do it for a purpose. And that purpose brings with it a whole lot of freedom. Freedom to be individuals. Freedom to rejoice in each other’s successes. Freedom to enjoy working and serving together.

And we do enjoy it, because work spouses rock.

Read Serving Well, our biggest project yet!

 

A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

It’s here!Screenshot (4)

Elizabeth and I are thrilled to introduce you to our new book, Serving Well. It is our deepest hope that this 400+ page book will encourage and equip cross-cultural folks through the various seasons of life and ministry.

It’s available in print and Kindle version here. Our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

You can read the Serving Well press release (with book excerpt) here.

 

From the Back Cover
Are you dreaming of working abroad? Imagining serving God in another land? Or are you already on the field, unsure about what to do next or how to manage the stresses of cross-cultural life? Or perhaps you’ve been on the field a while now, and you’re weary, maybe so weary that you wonder how much longer you can keep going.

If any of these situations describes you, there is hope inside this book. You’ll find steps you can take to prepare for the field, as well as ways to find strength and renewal if you’re already there. From the beginning to the end of the cross-cultural journey, Serving Well has something for you.

 

Early Reviews for Serving Well
Serving Well is an important voice in the search for honest, experienced conversation on living and working cross-culturally in a healthy and sustainable way. Dig in!”
– Michael Pollock, Executive Director, Interaction International and co-author of Third Culture Kids

Serving Well is more than a book to sit down and read once. It is a tool box to return to over and over, a companion for dark and confusing days, and a guide for effective and long-lasting service. Elizabeth and Jonathan are the real deal and Serving Well, like the Trotters, is wise, compassionate, vulnerable, and honest. This needs to be on the shelves of everyone involved in international, faith-based ministry.”
– Rachel Pieh Jones, author of Finding Home: Third Culture Kids in the World, and Stronger Than Death: How Annalena Tonelli Defied Terror and Tuberculosis in the Horn of Africa

Serving Well is a must-read book for missionaries and for those who love them. This is a book you really need if you are ‘called to go, or called to let go.’ In Serving Well we read both the spiritual and practical, simple and profound, funny and compelling in chapters written by Elizabeth and then Jonathan Trotter; hearing from each their voices and their hearts, the struggles and the victories, ‘the bad days and the good days’ of preparing to go and serving well overseas. Their down-to-earth yet godly insights were born from living overseas and from authentically wrestling with the ‘yays and yucks’ of missionary life. They draw wisdom from both Scripture and sci-fi authors, Psalms and funny YouTube videos, encounters with Jesus and encounters with cops looking for a bribe. Take two books with you to the mission field: the Bible, and Serving Well.”
– Mark R. Avers, Barnabas International

Serving Well is deep and rich, covering all aspects of an international life of service from multiple angles. It is full of comfort, challenge, and good advice for anyone who serves abroad, or has ever thought about it, no matter where they find themselves in their journeys. It is also really helpful reading for anyone who has loved ones, friends or family, serving abroad–or returning, to visit or repatriate. Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter are both insightful and empathetic writers, full of humility and quick to extend grace–both to themselves and to others. Their writing covers sorrow and joy, hope and crisis, weariness and determination. Best of all, from my perspective as someone who has worked with TCKs for over 13 years, it contains an excellent collection of important advice on the topic of raising missionary kids. Choose particular topics, or slowly meander through the entire volume piece by piece, but whatever you do–read this book!”
– Tanya Crossman, cross cultural consultant and author of Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century

“Overseas workers face a barrage of junk when they arrive on their field location: identity issues, fear/anxiety issues, and faith issues. I have worked with missionaries for well over a decade now and see how these common themes cry out for a grace-filled approach to truth and authenticity. The Trotters live this out loud, intentionally seeking a way to minister out of their own pain, striving, humor, and failure. Keep this reference close at hand!”
– Jeannie Hartsfield, Clinical Counselor, Global Member Care Coordinator, World Team

“This book is the definitive guide to thriving in cross-cultural ministry. The Trotters have distilled years of experience into pithy chapters filled with helpful tips and wise insights. Put it on your must-read list.”
– Craig Greenfield, Founder, Alongsiders International, author of Subversive Jesus

“In this must-read missions book, Jonathan and Elizabeth unearth the underlying motivations of the cross-cultural call. Penned with copious compassion and startling transparency, Serving Well is sure to make you laugh, cry, and, in the end, rejoice as you partner with God in His global missions mandate.”
– David Joannes, author of The Mind of a Missionary

 

 

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby (Greater is He)

I’m so excited to share this song with you all!

This Spiritual Warfare Lullaby was written here in Phnom Penh, after talking with some friends who were experiencing some intense and scary nights. Many thanks to Nashville musician, Hetty, for her voice and guitar talents!

My hope is that these lyrics, excerpted from Psalm 23, Psalm 91, 1 John 4, and Romans 8, would bring deep peace and rest to the people of God, scattered around the world.

You can download a free MP3 through this link.

— Jonathan T.

All the hosts of heaven are shouting
At the victory he’s won.
All of hell continues to tremble
At the love of God above.

 

Ash Wednesday & Resurrection

by Elizabeth

ash3

I went to Ash Wednesday service this week expecting to meet God. I always do — in unexpected ways. I can never predict the moment God will show up and the tears will fall. The part of the liturgy that touched me the year before inevitably feels dry to me a year later.

But I’ve done this enough that I know God will show up. Even if we are more than halfway through the service and I haven’t encountered Him yet, I know He will draw near to me.

That night I experienced several of these moments. The imposition of ashes, of course, when we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. When we sang “Lord Have Mercy.” When we begged God repeatedly, “Holy Lord, hear our prayer.”

And when we sang the first verse of “Jesus Paid It All”: I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small. Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in me thine all in all.” Because I know my strength is small, and I am weak without Him.

But most of all for me that night, was the moment in the middle of a worship song whose name I can’t remember, that God reminded me of Galatians 5:7-8. On Tuesday and Wednesday I had a deep, dark flare of anxiety and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I had been doing so well, and the intensity of this relapse surprised and frightened me.

So I turned to the text. Here it is in the New Living Translation:

“You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.”

And here are verses 1-3 in The Message:

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.”

[I love Paul. The way I love Paul borders on the ridiculous.]

I was discouraged because I had been running the race so well. The days had been good, and I was full of joy. And then what happened? It was like all of that goodness and grace just disappeared, poured right down the drain.

In case you don’t know what anxiety or OCD feels like, it certainly feels like a harness of slavery. And OCD is a definite rule-keeping system. I don’t want to trade my free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

So what is holding me back when I relapse? Maybe it’s the brokenness of my own brain, or the forces of evil in the spiritual realms. Maybe it’s living in a fallen and unpredictable world. Maybe it’s some aspect of soul care or body care that I’ve neglected. Maybe it’s all of it together. Maybe I’ll never know.

But this one thing I know: it’s not God. God is the One calling me to freedom. He’s not the One holding me back or “hindering” me, as the ESV puts it. The Message tells us: “This detour doesn’t come from the One who called you into the race in the first place.”  No, the God who called me didn’t design that detour. What He wants to give is life full and free, satisfying and abundant.

And that freedom was what I had on Thursday — because I went to Church the night before. That’s not all I did, of course. Before that I had gone back to bed to cry extra hard. That wore me out so much I needed a nap. Then in an effort to manage the anxiety, I exercised as hard as I could. After that I went to church, where I smiled and made sweet small talk with people, because I knew the good stuff was coming when I entered that sanctuary.

I wasn’t ok, and I knew it, and I needed God to sit with me in the mess. And meet me He did, through the words of Paul and the words of the hymns and the words of the liturgy.

Because a relapse is not the end of the story. That’s what I tell girls struggling through eating disorders, and it’s what I needed to be reminded of last night. A relapse doesn’t mean that no healing has happened. It doesn’t mean that recovery is over. It actually means lots of progress has been made; a relapse wouldn’t feel so awful if you hadn’t been making forward movement.

So I relapsed. But I didn’t have to stay in that relapse, spiraling downward and feeling sorry for myself. I could start making good choices again, and I could listen to God when He spoke, and I could let Him encourage my heart.

I am a person in need of deep mercy from God, and so are you. So are we all, for we are all formed from dust. Our Maker knows we are dust, for He is the one who made us and breathed His life into us.

But dust, like relapse, is not the end of the story: for we are a Resurrection people, both now and forevermore. Amen.

 

photo credit

When the Thief Steals {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ Jesus

Thieves steal. Sometimes the impact is NOW; you know it immediately and you feel it deeply. Other times, it takes some time; the bomb’s on a delay. And then it blows and you begin to realize all that was taken. All the time lost, the lives shattered, the relationships fractured. It feels like the wind gets knocked right out of you and you can’t even tell if the crater in your soul feels like anger or sadness or some other concoction of pain. But it’s definitely pain.

Sometimes the thief steals stuff, but often it’s more. Much more.

Maybe the thief looked like a robber on the back of a moto, or a home invader. Maybe the thief was a corrupt government, stealing freedom, opportunities, and futures. Maybe the thief was a cruel family member, or someone from your church or mission, a “friend.”

Whoever they were, they stole, they destroyed, and they killed. Or at least they tried.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas

page01