The Day We Didn’t Go Home {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

We were supposed to go home on August 6th. We had tickets and plans, we had dreams and ideas. But when we left Cambodia back in March, we did not have an awareness of how COVID-19 would turn the world upside down.

So we’re not flying home on August 6th. As a result of passport issues, visa issues, entry requirements, finances, and a whole host of reasons (everyone has them), we’re staying.

For our family, August 6th is now Stay Day.

Does your story include a Stay Day? Perhaps for you it wasn’t a Stay Day as much as a Leave Day. Do you have a day that marks when life quaked and plans tumbled? Do you memorialize a Stay Day or a Leave Day? Should you?

We hope to remember our eight years in Cambodia on this August 6th, and every August 6th afterwards. It will be a sort of anniversary; a blend of stories and laughter and tears.

Like so many memorials, it will be a funky mix of mirth and merry.

On Stay Day, we’ll remember the day we didn’t go home.

Sure, America is home too. Or at least it was. And it will be again. I’m speaking for myself here, of course, because my children will have their own stories, and they’ll need to tell them. Their relationship with America (and Cambodia) always was and always will be unique. Different than mine.

But some things we shared.

Like the eight years around a thick, Khmer-style round table. Well, more like seven. The first year we had a cheaper wooden rectangular table that got eaten up by termites so big you could hear them feasting: lightning-bug-size table chompers.

We’re shipping the Khmer-style table to America, so every Stay Day we’ll gather around it and remember.

We’ll remember the scent of frangipanis, and we’ll probably try to buy some. We’ll feel the feel of traditional kramas, the checkered scarves Cambodians (and my daughters) use for everything.

We’ll probably order Indian food and remember Mount Everest, the local restaurant in Phnom Penh that taught us to absolutely adore Nepalese and Indian food.

We’ll look at old photos of a younger family riding tuk tuks, playing on the street, trying to figure out cross-cultural living.

We might search YouTube for Khmer dance music, and we will probably laugh about the incessant, LOUD, and DRUNK karaoke that permeated our house during wedding season.

We’ll watch old videos of moto rides through our neighborhood, and we’ll remember the kind old man who laughed at the four white foreigners driving a moto through flooded streets and belly laughing. I wonder if he knew how much it reminded me of riding a jet ski.

Maybe we’ll check Google street view and meander past friends’ houses.

On Stay Day, we will remember. And we will pray.

We’ll pray for Cambodia, for our friends there, and for the Church that’s blossoming into its identity.

And Lord willing, we’ll do this every August 6th: the day we didn’t pack up, weigh all suitcases to 49.9 pounds, quadruple check passports, and jet across the Pacific.

August 7th won’t find us staggering out into the scents and smells of Phnom Penh. We won’t un-mothball our house and turn it back into a home. We won’t schedule reunions with local friends. We won’t visit favorite haunts and coffee shops.

Instead, we’ll mourn what was, and we’ll be grateful for it too.

Mourning is a wetter way of expressing gratitude, after all. 

And we’ll move on, whatever that means.

God remains the God of the past. He will always be the God of the past, and he will always care enough to ask the same question he asked Hagar, “Where have you come from?”

He is the God of Stay Day, August 6th, but he is also the God of August 7th and 8th. And if he’s true, if he’s real, he’s got us, and he holds us in his strong right hand.

And he will hold us on every Stay Day, and every day after that too.

 

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Do you have a day like this? A Stay Day, or something like it?

Do you need one?

Here are some more thoughts about creating shared meaning and the importance of family rituals. As folks who regularly celebrate “shared meaning” through Sacraments, I hope these ideas will resonate and inspire.

May our families be places where we remember our stories, together.

Twenty Years of Comradeship

by Elizabeth

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A friend asked last week, “If you had to get married where you met your spouse, where would your wedding have been?”

I smiled, because I would marry him at the church where I met him — which is exactly what I did do.

20 years ago today, we said our vows at the front of a church that turned out to play a pivotal role in our lives both separately and together.

At that place and with those people, I learned to listen to God and experience Him. In the late 1990’s, that was a revolutionary idea to me.

These were the people who helped Jonathan bury his mom a couple years after we met. They were the people who had helped raise him up to that time. In the wake of her death, they watched as our love story unfolded and then gathered together to witness my dad walking me down the aisle to him on a scorching hot July day.

These were the people who, a few years later, gave us our first paid ministry job, provided a spacious Parsonage to live in, and helped us bury his dad, a mere 8 years after he had buried his mom.

They were the people who watched us renew our vows 10 years in. That was 10 years ago now. Standing at the front of the church in maternity clothes, pregnant with our 4th child, we pledged our love yet again in the same place and with the same people.

They were the people who, 18 months later, sent us off to Cambodia, where we stayed for 8 years — and had intended to stay for 2 more.

20 years ago we didn’t say the traditional vows. We wanted our vows to be creative, personalized. These homemade vows of ours were full of love and good intentions, but they didn’t account for the better or the worse, the richer or the poorer, the sickness or the health that we would experience in our first 20 years of marriage.

And yet I have never once thought I would be better off without him.

I look back on these years with this man who is more like Jesus than any man I have ever known, and I see great hardship — and great joy. Joy and sorrow cannot be separated; they are conjoined.

So we laugh together, and we cry together. (And yes, we sometimes even fight together.)

At 38 years of age, I have lived with him longer than I have lived with my parents. I cannot imagine my life without him. I cannot imagine the person I would be without his influence in my life.

I cannot imagine what it would be like not to live with someone who daily lays down his life for me.

I once heard Nik Ripken (author of The Insanity of God) say, “This is what it means to be the head of your household: it means YOU DIE FIRST.”

I have seen Jonathan die first a thousand times.

Nik was speaking in the context of danger on the mission field, but the phrase stuck with me, because I think it applies to everyday life too.

Sometimes I sacrifice, sometimes he sacrifices, sometimes we both sacrifice. This is how you make it to 20 years: one death at a time.

The news is not all bad, though. After death, comes new life. And with new life, comes joy. You don’t get to 20 years of holy matrimony through sorrow and suffering only. You also get there through joy. (The help of a good church doesn’t hurt either.)

The last 20 years have been pure privilege to me. I hope and pray for 20 more, and 20 more after that. But I know that every day I have already been given has been a gift.

There is no one who makes me laugh more heartily, think more deeply, or feel more understood than Jonathan. You are the best friend a girl could have. I have always said “comrade” is the closest English word to what you are to me. I thank you for giving me the rarest of gifts — that of comradeship.

I love you: for always, forever, for life.

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Can I Love a God Like This?

by Elizabeth

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“Does God love me?”

This is one of the biggest questions any of us will ever have to answer. It can haunt us for years. I know it haunted me. “Jesus loves me, this I sometimes know” is what I used to say to describe that struggle.

After years of seeking and searching, I know God loves me, and I don’t struggle with that question the way I used to. Over the last few years of my life, however, I’ve had to answer what, for me, has been a more difficult question: the question of “can I love God?”

When my prayers go unanswered for decades, when horrifying atrocities happen throughout the world, when a pandemic hits — these are the times I have to ask myself if I can keep loving a God who at times seems distant and uncaring.

I settled the existence of God long ago; I can’t disbelieve. I don’t have the luxury of atheism. Even in the midst of grief, if I get really quiet, my soul knows I still believe. So in the face of disappointment, I can’t just chuck all this religious stuff. I have to deal with the questions. I have to deal with my anger at this seemingly incompassionate creator.

Asking, “Can I love God?” is not the same as asking if you can obey or honor God. You can obey without love. But a life without loving God is a pretty despondent life. We were made to love.

I had been asking myself this question ever since we arrived in the States earlier than we had planned. I landed in America and couldn’t understand why all my hopes and dreams for the spring semester came crashing down.

I couldn’t understand why God didn’t stop this pandemic, because people were dying and starving all over the world. This is always happening, true, but the suffering, starvation, and death are much worse in the current global crisis. And there’s so much uncertainty about when it will end.

If God cared about any of these things, why didn’t He stop coronavirus? He could have. A God who forged galaxies with His voice and breathed life into dust could certainly stop a simple string of RNA from causing mass suffering. Add to that the thousands of years of suffering that God has also chosen not to stop, and I wasn’t sure I cold love a God who lets so many bad things happen.

God and I weren’t on speaking terms, to say the least.

This wasn’t the first time I had questioned my love for God. A few years ago I was struggling with some unanswered prayers. Decades-long prayers. The question I felt God asking me in that season was: “Even if I don’t answer these prayers, can you still love me?”

This question is different from the question of the fiery furnace, when we are asked if we will continue to worship and serve the one true God even when he does not rescue or heal. It is different from the question posed to Simon Peter on the beach, when Jesus asks, “What is that to you? As for you, follow me.”

God has asked these questions in the past. But they were not what God was asking me now. What He was asking me now was, can I love a God who is like this? A God who sometimes seems distant and uncaring? Even if this thing that I desperately want or need never comes to pass, He asks me if I will still love him.

I had to walk deep into the prayer closet to find out if I still would. It took hours. I wrestled through tears. Through tissues. Through cramped hands furiously scribbling in my journal.

In the end, after conversing with Job and Jacob and Lewis and Jesus himself, I knew I still loved God. But I wasn’t sure whether that made me happy or sad. Happy to know I still love Him; sad to know this is the God I love. I am yoked to a God who seemingly allows senseless destruction. And in spite of the suffering, I somehow still want this God. This is a great mystery, and I do not pretend to understand it.

I only know I don’t have to give God the cold shoulder anymore. I only know that on Sunday mornings when all seems bleak, I can sing again. I can pray again. For “though He slay me, yet I will trust him.” And “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

And “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Amen.

Episode 5: Marriage — Conflict and Tools

Listen in via iTunesStitcher, or below.

Listen here or here:

 

Resources (or ideas) mentioned in this episode:

The Four Horsemen (article), by The Gottman Institute

The Vortex of Terror (video), by Jonathan

Flooding (article), by The Gottman Institute

Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know, by Elizabeth

When Ministry and Marriage Collide, by Elizabeth

 

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