I Had an Arranged Marriage

by Elizabeth

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One time Jonathan and I were at a wedding here in Cambodia, celebrating the marriage of a Brit and a Filipino. Sitting at the table with us was a young lady from India. When the table conversation strayed into the topic of marriage, this young lady asked us if we had a “love marriage” (as opposed to the Indian custom of arranged marriage).

Our first answer was yes – yes, we had a love marriage. A second later we added, “Our parents were really involved in our relationship.” And they were. They were intimately involved.

Another time we were sharing a meal with our Pakistani friends, when the conversation turned to marriage. They told us their story, and we told them ours. When we explained the way our parents had helped to guide us, we laughed and told them that at the time some people thought we were crazy.

There was another time when I was chatting with a lady from India about the cultural differences between India, Cambodia, and America. I asked if her daughter, who is studying in America, will have an arranged marriage, or not. She said she probably won’t have an arranged marriage, and that she herself did not have an arranged marriage, so how could she expect her daughter to?

I told her I got married at 18, and to her that seemed very young. (She was right. It was.) She said that in India, parents prefer their children’s marriages to take place a little later, so husband and wife and older, wiser, and more stable when they’re just starting out.

Then I explained how our relationship had unfolded – how Jonathan had talked to his dad, how his dad had talked to my parents, how Jonathan had then talked to my parents, how my parents had eventually talked to me — and she said that is exactly how marriages happen in India.

That was the moment I realized I had an arranged marriage. That was the moment I realized that “courtship” as I knew it was really “arranged marriage, American style.”

It makes sense: an arranged marriage is not a forced marriage. My friend went on to explain that even when it is a so-called “love marriage,” Indian families prefer marriage to be  formalized in this way — that children will talk to their parents, who will talk to the other parents, and so on.

In fact that is how she expects it to happen with her daughter, that she will tell her parents the man in whom she’s interested, and they will get to know the other family, etc. Parents know their kids, she explained, and they know how their kids react to certain situations and people, and they want their children’s marriages to be successful.

I like this idea of families knowing each other. It’s all too easy at university to find someone and fall in love them without any family context, and not to know what you’re getting into. But a marriage is not just a union between two people. A marriage always involves the families of origin, for we are formed by our families and bring our original family culture into our marriages, whether healthy or not.

Now that I’ve been married for nearly 17 years, I can honestly say I’ve loved nearly every moment of marriage. Yes, we’ve had conflict. Yes, we’ve had disagreements. Yes, we’ve sometimes been so busy we barely spoke to each other.

But most of the time we’ve enjoyed being married to each other.

And while I can’t attribute the success of my marriage solely to its arrangement, that arrangement does deserve some credit. Looking back, I can clearly see the way God moved to bring us together under the blessing and authority of our parents. That knowledge and belief is a sure foundation to lean upon when committing to a lifetime of love and togetherness.

Marriage doesn’t have to be as formally arranged as it was for Jonathan and myself or for my Indian or Pakistani friends. Still, it can be good for family to be involved. Or if, for whatever reason, it’s not possible for family to be involved, it can be good for someone to be involved, intentionally guiding a young couple toward marriage.

In the end, marriage is a community matter. The strength and stability of our marriages affect our churches and our culture at large. Proverbs 15:22 tells us that “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” We can all use a little outside input to make wise decisions — decisions that will hopefully last a lifetime.

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Other articles I’ve written about marriage:

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex

Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

When Marriage and Ministry Collide

Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)

Articles Jonathan has written about marriage:

The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

A Marriage Blessing

Love Interruptus?

Living Well Abroad: 4 Areas to Consider {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan’s at A Life Overseas today. . . .

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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!

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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

Click here to read about the 4 areas.

“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.

What the darkness of a tropical jungle taught me about Advent

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We’re in Advent now – the darkest time of year. It is truly the four darkest weeks of the year. We are edging ever closer to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and the day in the northern hemisphere in which the sun travels as far south as it ever will.

The ancients – so they say – feared the sun would continue dipping farther and farther south until eternal night came and the sun returned no more — which is in a way true in the northernmost latitudes.

But on December 21st or 22nd (depending on the year), the curse reverses. Stops, and turns back. The winter solstice is a promise that night will not last forever. The days will lengthen. Light and warmth will return.

But now, as the darkness of December dives ever deeper, we remember the darkness of a world without a savior. We remember the 400-year long wait to hear the voice of God again. We remember the oppression and the lack and the longing.

And we wait. We wait for freedom and redemption and unblemished communion with God. For everything in Herod’s Temple was but a shadow of the communion we are created to live. And the communion we now enjoy through Christ crucified and risen is still but a shadow of the feasting and oneness and rejoicing in the eternal Kingdom Come.

So we wait.

I remember in the States how the darkness would get the best of me. Not before Christmas mind you – there was too much joy and excitement and twinkle lights – but after. In January (which was far colder) the short days would depress me. It wasn’t enough to immobilize me, but it was enough to feel its weight bearing down on me — and February wasn’t much better.

But I was never afraid of that darkness. In that developed place, there are enough city lights and home lights that the darkness didn’t ever feel total. Here, though, it’s different. Our low tropical latitude means sunset comes on fast and strong, all year round. The darkness doesn’t just deepen. It makes a swift descent.

And the darkness is much more complete. I never noticed it as much, before we boarded a boat too poor to own a light for a sunset “cruise” in Kampot. That darkness I tell ya, it’s quick. And thick. It’s a despairing darkness, and feels as if morning might never come.

Sunset comes at nearly the same time year round: 6 pm. We don’t have shorter days (not by much anyway), but we don’t have longer days either. I do miss the seasonal lengthening.

And though we live in the city, the darkness is still complete. Out my front door is a partially completed yet still tall and as-yet uninhabited row house. It blocks whatever city lights might get to my 3rd story living room window. So when night begins, the darkness is total.

And ever since that dark river trip in which I truly encountered the darkness of the Cambodian jungle, I cannot bear even to look out my window at night. Not after riding along a churning, muddy river without a light. This darkness is too much for me. And too soon. Each evening it comes too soon.

But isn’t this the soul of Advent? The darkness is too much for us. We were not created to live in this darkness, nor to take part in creating the darkness.

So we wait. And we cry out. We cry for mercy. We cry for hope. We cry for return. Return of the Light. Return of the Son. Return of the King.

Until He comes, we will cry. Until He comes, we will wait. Until He comes, we will not lose hope.

And we will remember. We will remember that at just the right time, eternal, all-powerful God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pitched His bodily tent among us.

His is the unwavering Light in this present darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

How Buddhism Taught Me to Love My Neighbors Better {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today. . . .

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This month I didn’t like my neighbors very much. We have new neighbors, and they play their music loud, blasting it out of their apartment with the door open. Sometimes for hours at a time.

This causes problems for me. I teach my children at home, and we need an environment conducive to learning. But sometimes this month the music was so loud it prevented their little brains (and mine!) from functioning.

Now, we are no strangers to noise during the school day. There’s loud traffic. Always. And we’ve endured months on end of the pounding of homemade pile drivers while new buildings are being constructed. Once it was next door, and the other time it was across the street.

The metal shop two houses down from us sometimes starts screeching by 6 am. And then there’s the demolition of old tile and brick in the walls, floors, and bathrooms that accompanies new neighbors. They want to (understandably) clear out the old (possibly moldy) tile and personalize their new homes.

Once the drilling got loud enough that we had to leave the house and go to a coffee shop to study – a decision which was rather cumbersome with four children and their books. But my kids were sitting right next to me, and I was shouting at them, and they still could not hear what I was trying to teach them.

Music or karaoke, however, is different from these things. It’s not about people settling in to a new house or building a new house or even, as in the case of the metal shop, providing employment and incomes for people. It’s just some guy listening to his music way too loud.

You can finish reading the post here.

What toilet paper art is teaching me about life and creativity

by Jonathan

Every evening, my little girls create.

Every evening, my little girls take the cardboard innards of toilet paper rolls and they create beauty. In the bathroom.

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Every evening they create, and every morning I find the dried up pieces piled up on the floor.

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They don’t seem to notice the great impracticalities of their efforts. They don’t seem to care that no one will see their work or admire their skills. They just do it for the joy. They do it because they like it.

And they remind me that it’s possible to make even a bathroom in Cambodia a place of art. It’s possible to see beyond the leaky sink, the bare light bulb, the plastic door, the smelly drains, the cracked tile, the rusty doorknobs, and see beauty.

I want to be like that. I want to create for the joy of it. I want to write and speak from the fire and joy inside, not for the acclimation or accolades from the outside, and regardless of whether or not the space is perfectly designed for creating.

I want to speak laughter and joy into the mundane.

And when the internet gets a bit tense and people get a bit fired up, I want to remind people that “toilet paper art on plastic door” is a thing.

And whether anyone notices, and whether my work ends up in a pile on the bathroom floor tomorrow morning, I will still create.

Will you?

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*In our house in Cambodia, the bathrooms consist of one small room made entirely of tile. The toilet, sink, and shower occupy pretty much the same space, and the door’s made of plastic.

Conflict and Our Dustlikeness {A Life Overseas}

Elizabeth is over at A Life Overseas today. . .

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Conflict. If you’ve been in church work for long, you know what it’s like. People abound, and conflict happens. Then there’s the big blow up or the cold exit or, even scarier, the explosive exit. I’ve been in church work for a decade and a half now, and big blowups and bad exits seem to be the default setting for church conflict. I don’t like this kind of conflict. I run away from it – and from the scary people who cause it.

Kay Bruner likes to say that there are difficult people on the field. I say yes. Yes, there are difficult people on the field, and sometimes, they are ME. Sometimes I’m difficult, and sometimes conflict comes because I am difficult. Not because I mean to be, of course – but my good intentions don’t remove my propensity to offend.

I have a hard time fessing up when I offend, and my reason for this is two-fold. First, I don’t really like the fact that I’m still not perfect and that I still sin against others. The acknowledgement is still so cumbersome to me. But secondly (and perhaps more importantly), I fear I won’t be forgiven. Oh, I know God forgives me; I have full assurance of that. But I still don’t trust God’s people to forgive me. I’ve been in too many relationships where people said they would forgive, but they never really did.

Lately, however, I’ve had ample opportunity to seek forgiveness, and God’s people are proving me wrong. They are forgiving me and showing me the love of Christ in tangible ways. Receiving their forgiveness and their assurance of committed love is an almost sacramental experience. It’s a direct connection with my Savior: someone is sticking with me. Someone is forgiving me, giving me a second chance. That is Jesus in bodily form.

Finish reading the article here.