Twenty Years of Comradeship

by Elizabeth

109907078_10163654986460621_8829263014830132089_n

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.

109297979_994078907705796_6060408422135628018_n

Can I Love a God Like This?

by Elizabeth

photo-1494247872528-c25b4623cf0d

“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.

Podcast interview with the folks from Shepherd’s Staff (parts 1 and 2)

Listen to part one here.

Listen to part two here.

Get the podcast on iTunes here.

See below for a description from Shepherd’s Staff about each episode

Interview with Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter Part One

This is part one of an interview with Elizabeth and Jonathan Trotter. The Trotters are missionaries in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Their ministry is interesting, diverse and far-reaching. In part one of our podcast, we hear from the Trotter’s about their call to the mission field and the beginning and evolution of their ministry. We are introduced to their writing ministry and blogging ministry that focuses on cross-cultural Christian service.

Here are some of the resources mentioned in this podcast:

» Their book – Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-Cultural Christian Worker
» Ministry blog – A Life Overseas
» Personal blog – The Trotter Family
» Nate Saint
» Team Expansion
» 11 Missionary Blogs We Love
» Writing by Jonathan on Relevantmagazine.com
» Elizabeth’s Book: Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More

Interview with Jonathan and Elizabeth Trotter Part Two

This is part two of our interview with missionary counselor/blogger/authors Elizabeth and Jonathan Trotter. At the very beginning of part two of our interview, we talk about this article written by Jonathan Trotter. In the rest of the interview, as the Trotters give us the story behind the creation of their book, we learn that writing as a husband and wife team is fraught with peril. But the result is both healing and well received by their publisher and readers.

Please follow the resource links below to their book and other articles discussed in this interview:

» Part One of the Trotter Interview
» Jonathan’s article: One thing we get terribly wrong in our response to abuse. And one way to get it right.
» Jonathan’s article: The simple tool I use with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients: The Shapes Diagram This piece has great diagrams and video. You’ll find this is a great resource.
» We mention the ministry of Gayle Erwin. Check it out here.
» Their book on Amazon – Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-Cultural Christian Worker
» Their book on their publisher’s website

A Few of My Favorite Things {July-December 2019}

By Elizabeth

som2

Life has been busy these days. I can’t seem to publish these lists every month or even every other month, but I wanted to finish out the year with a post because next year might be even busier! That’s because, in addition to joining the planning committee for our local homeschool coop, I’ve taken on the responsibility of writing and directing a play for our students. I’ll have lots of help for the project, but in the next several months most of my creative energy will be focused on the play. So I wanted to get these links to you now, before all the crazy begins.

But first, a few real-life items and events.

Girlfriends who share their beauty secrets. Did you know you can use coconut oil for shaving your legs and underarms? I didn’t, but I’m glad my girlfriends enlightened me. (I don’t know anyone who uses shaving cream here.)

Mineral deodorant. Another life hack from my girlfriends. When I was frustrated with the lack of efficacy of conventional deodorant, they informed me about Crystal deodorant. Works much better!

Watching Jonathan at work. It had been a while since I’d watched him counsel anyone, but I recently had the chance. (This happens infrequently and only when we are asked to do premarital counseling as a couple.) He knows what to do and what to say, where to lead. Watching him at work is simply MAGICAL. Although the work is hard, I know it is a privilege for him to witness the transformation of people’s lives. Every once in a while I get to see it.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a play by a Christian international school. Their productions are always a community event. We arrive at the school campus early to be able to play on the grounds and catch up with friends we don’t often see. The play itself was a lot of fun, and the set especially was impressive!

Our homeschool coop’s Showcase. We ended our semester with a performance of sorts. The teens took a public speaking course and presented their speeches. The younger students had been working on some choir songs. It was a beautiful, cool evening, and everyone did such a wonderful job. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Cooler weather. Speaking of the weather, we enjoyed a nice cold snap the first week of December. Cool weather doesn’t last long around here, so we enjoyed it while we could.

Decorating for Christmas. Our tree and lights are up, and we’ve been singing Christmas carols during our morning devotionals. I love our tree, and I love Christmas music! We even invited some friends over for carols and had a lovely evening of singing and fellowship.

 

WORSHIP SONGS

You Are by Hillsong.

Living Hope by Phil Wickham. I love songs that tell the entire Gospel story.

Through It All by Hillsong. “I’ll sing to you, Lord, a hymn of love for your faithfulness to me. I’m carried in everlasting arms, You’ll never let me go, through it all.”

Goodness of God by Jenn Johnson and Bethel Music. “All my life You have been faithful. All my life You have been so, so good. With every breath that I am able, I will sing of the goodness of God.” In many ways this song, much like the goodness of God, has been running after me. For months.

King of Kings by Hillsong. My most favorite song from the last 4 months. Every single word is my favorite.

 

RECIPES

I’m still on a journey to eat and cook in a more healthful way and am always on a search for new recipes. Here are a few that either I love or that my family also loves.

Vegan Pesto. I love this stuff — my family, not so much. Oh well, more for me!

Carrot Tacos. I know, a weird sounding name, but my family raves about this meal. I add pre-cooked lentils and frozen corn to the mix, and it helps bulk up the meal. Without those additions, I don’t think it would be enough. Kind of spicy as written – consider reducing the chili powder and paprika if spice bothers you. We also cut the spice with plain yogurt.

Vegan Sloppy Joes. Also a hit with my family (they like it more than I do).

Lentil Quinoa Loaf. Absolutely delicious and actually tastes like meatloaf. My family loves this. I double the recipe to make enough for everyone, and they would still like more.

Chickpea-Broccoli Wrap. I eat this plain, without the wrap. I’m not a huge fan of broccoli on its own, but it’s good mixed with other things (I’m trying to eat more cruciferous veggies). This recipe also inspired me to combine parmesan and nutritional yeast for several dishes; they complement each other.

Green Pea Pesto. I love this stuff, but my kids can’t stand it. I use it as a dip with carrots (peas and carrots!) I make these modifications to bring out the natural sweetness of the green peas: omit the olive oil, lemon, parmesan cheese, and pepper; substitute cashews for pine nuts and increase amount to ¼ cup; use 2 tsp dried mint (mint is essential here). That’s how I like it anyway.

Pizza Hummus. This is a kid-crowd favorite around here. I omit the crushed red pepper.

Cauliflower Mash. This is a basic recipe. I add some butter but not sour cream or yogurt, and not too much garlic, or it overwhelms. We all love cauliflower mash. Bummer that you have to chop so much to get such a small amount of mash.

Cauliflower-Chickpea Taco “Meat.” I can’t find my original recipe link, but this one comes closest to what I do. The only difference is, I replace all those spices with 2 tsp taco seasoning to make it easier, and I cook it on a skillet since I don’t have an oven. It’s not substantial enough to be a meal on its own, but it’s a nice side dish for us.

Gluten Free Vegan Snickers Bars. So delish. Aren’t dates amazing? I don’t use refined sugar anymore. They’re time-intensive, but my entire family loves these.

Vegan Pecan Pie Tartlets. More dates. More yum. Everyone likes these.

Vegan Girl Scout Cookies (Caramel Delites). Dates again. I don’t even use chocolate on these. About half of us like these, including me.

 

BOOKS

Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo. Who doesn’t love Kate DiCamillo? I love everything I’ve ever read of hers, and this was a delight to read aloud and experience together.

Attached by Amir Levine, M.D., and Rachel Heller, M.A. Written about romantic relationships and mostly for people still in the dating world, this book helps you understand why you react the way you do in both romantic relationships and platonic friendships. Helped me understand why certain friendships haven’t worked out over the years (it’s a combination of certain attachment styles).

At home in Mitford by Jan Karon. I’d heard such good things about this series and have wanted to read this book for awhile, but it has a slow start up, and I never got into it until this fall. I bought the first two cheap at a garage sale.  I’ve cried, I’ve laughed. I’ve underlined. (I never do that in a fiction book.) I love the town of Mitford, and I love Father Timothy. I am now in the second book, A Light in the Window. I may need to purchase the third when I’m done with this one.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy. A classic I picked up super cheap in a bookstore. An easy and fun read, although because of its publication date, there are a few politically incorrect attitudes.

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. We LOVE this story. We started reading it at Christmas time a few years ago when a different Christian international school was performing it. It’s easy and hilarious to read aloud, doesn’t take much time to read, and always makes me cry happy tears at the end. Makes for such good family discussions too. Read it every year!

Embracing the Body by Tara Owens. Still working my way through this. It’s good, but these are dense concepts, and I read it for a while and then stop, then pick it up again later.

The thing that opened my mind up to this type of theology is the phrase “Matter matters” and my introduction to the term sacrament from my Anglican friends. Over the years, that one conversation sank deeper and deeper in my heart and changed my attitudes toward my body and the physical world. Because sometimes an entire book is too much to digest at once. I can’t imagine reading Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, for example. But a single idea that one can ruminate on, that’s within reach.

I’ve recently come across another phrase that’s been helping me. It wraps up a whole lot of philosophy in one sentence. But to fully unpack it,  I need more time, so you’ll have to wait on that one.

 

BLOG POSTS

I’ve separated the following blog posts into several categories:

 

Sexuality

A few awkward thoughts on the love language of physical touch by Rebecca Reynolds.

Calling Our Bodies Our Own (Coming Out of Hiding) by Nicole T. Walters.

What I Wish You Knew About Childhood Sexual Abuse (a husband’s perspective). A very hard read, but important.

 

Education and Public Health

Measles makes body ‘forget’ how to fight infection by James Gallagher. Concerning news in this day and age.

Therapists use cooking to stir up better mental health by Lauren Lee. I stumbled upon this mental health tactic independently, but let me tell you, it works.

The Shocking Phenomenon That Shows Just How Movement-Starved Modern Kids Really Are by Brandon Hall.

Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong by Natalie Wexler for The Atlantic. As with most social issues, this one affects the poor disproportionately.

 

Race Relations

I Was Wrong About Race by JR Forasteros. Foundational. I attended high school with the author.

Botham Jean’s Brother’s Offer of Forgiveness Went Viral. His Mother’s Calls for Justice Should Too. By Dorena Williamson for Christianity Today. There is so much to say, but for now all I will say is that I’m relieved that someone expressed this aspect of the issue.

I didn’t get a chance to read this Velvet Ashes book club book, but I was struck by this quote from Born a Crime by Trevor Noah: “In any society built on institutionalized racism, race-mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race-mixing proves that races can mix — and in a lot of cases, want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race-mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”

 

Family Life

Recovering a Good Father by Helena Sorensen.

Always Serving Leftovers: Why I’m Not Traveling to Speak Next Year by Brandi Vencel.

Children Need Magic by Joshua Gibbs. “My children will know that the world is charmed by Jesus Christ himself.” Love that.

Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore by Judith Shulevitz.

I Refuse to Let My Teen Burn Out From Academic Pressure by Christine Carter. This is a concern for public, private, and homeschool students alike. There is too much pressure these days — and I say that as someone who lived under an awful lot of academic pressure herself!

 

Global Living

Newsletter Code Words by Anisha Hopkinson.

Should We Have Waited Until We Were Older? by Amy Medina.

If I Could Tell You Three Things by Anisha Hopkinson.

I am a False Prophet by Amy Medina.

If You Send an MK Some Cookies by Craig Thompson.

Are You Meant to be a Missionary? (a half serious but of course completely reliable 10 question quiz!) by Anisha Hopkinson.

I Belong to You by Laura Hope. One of the most important messages of all.

 

Dancing in the Darkness

by Elizabeth

photo-1500206329404-5057e0aefa48

A year ago I found myself in a deep well. This well was so deep I couldn’t see the sky. Even if I could have seen it, I wouldn’t have tried to look up. That’s how dark it seemed down there.

In the midst of this darkness, a friend invited me to attend a dance class with her. I hesitated. I didn’t have the right clothes. I didn’t have enough time. I wouldn’t know what I was doing; I might embarrass myself.

My friend told me I could easily find the appropriate clothes, and that it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing. Her whole life, she said, she’d never been an exerciser, and she could follow along in class. She assured me I could too. She gave me the courage to try.

That first class found me in tears. I don’t remember what happened. I only know that whatever the teacher (who is a believer) was saying, it matched what God had been teaching me in my prayer times. The second class was the same as the first: more echoes of the whisper of God. And more tears.

The third class, same story. Clearly dance was touching deep, tender places inside me, but at least by that third week, the tears didn’t take me by surprise as much.

I’m a “words” person. Words are how I communicate with the world. They’re how I communicate with God. They’re how I communicate with myself. But after this last year, more and more I find myself agreeing with Jacob and Sarah Witting in Skylark that “sometimes words aren’t good enough.”

Dance speaks a different, wordless, type of language that wordy people like me need. We need to come back to ourselves, to live in our bodies again. Too often I live solely in my head. Thoughts, especially of the dark dreary kind, circle round and round and never find a resting place.

I’d been disconnected from my own body for so long. I didn’t know any other way to live. By the 5th grade I was already stuck in my head; I had already intellectualized everything. At church, women’s bodies were something to be wary of, an ever-present temptation for men. In my own life, a small set of breasts had still attracted the attention of a predator at church and church camp.

These early experiences taught me that the body was sinful, and we must transcend it by the Spirit. The body did no good, only bad. By the 9th grade I had developed an eating disorder. Is it any wonder?

But reconnecting with my body was what dance class was about. Because in that deep, dark well, something was missing, and that something was me. I had gone missing. And in some mysterious way, I met God on the dance floor and came back to myself.

I still remember the first time I could actually execute the turn I’d been practicing unsuccessfully for weeks. I felt a thrill that my body, not just my mind, could learn something new.

I still remember the first time I could actually look at my face in the mirror. All the other experienced dancers were looking in the mirror, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It seemed vain somehow.

I still remember the first time I implemented a correction on the first try and started to think, maybe I can trust this body of mine. My body had seemed so untrustworthy for so long.

A funny thing happened when I started trusting my body: I became frightened. I had never trusted it before. Trust was what I’d been working towards, but the first time I felt it, it was so unfamiliar that it scared me.

I still remember the class when the teacher kept insisting that we “take up the space.” That we enlarge our movements and really take charge of the dance floor. It made me think about all the ways in which I live my life small, not daring to take up any space, physically or metaphorically.

This was an entry point into the rest of my life. I’m a writer, but even words were lost to me in that dark time. I had shrunk into myself, and I barely wrote anything that year. I wasn’t taking up space anywhere. But dance class challenged me to change that.

Attending class each week got me out of my head and into my body and – importantly – into the company of other people. Because sometimes healing isn’t a solitary venture. Healing is something that happens to us when we’re with people.

Sometime in the course of the year I stopped feeling ashamed of where I was (it’s easy to feel discouraged when you look at others much more skilled than yourself), and I began to better accept myself where I was.

My favorite part of last year’s dance classes, by far, was dancing to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t contort my body into many of the movements, and I could barely remember the order of the choreography. But this one thing I remember: “I once was lost but now am found.”

During this phrase we would fall to the floor flat on our backs, and then reach up for God. We repeated that movement over and over again throughout the spring months. There was something about confessing my lostness and declaring my foundness again and again that undid me every single week.

I knew I’d been lost that year – lost in anxiety and depression and health struggles and poor emotional choices. I lay on the dance floor the same way I lay at the bottom of the well – alone and in need of help. But each time I danced this song, I was also reminded that I had been found by a loving Father. There were times during that year when I refused to talk to God because He wasn’t healing me fast enough. Yet through all my confusion and stubbornness, He still found me.

Somehow week after week I met God on that dance floor. I never expected to meet God on a dance floor. I expected to meet him in an early morning quiet time. Or maybe a mountain top, or an ocean front. Certainly not a sprung laminate floor.

We broke for the summer and returned to class a few weeks ago. Those first few classes were enough to remind me that I am still a beginner. But you know what? That’s ok. When I first started dancing, the instructor told me that “dance is a journey.”  It’s not about arriving or finishing. He repeated himself to me just last week: this is a journey.

I’ve been on a healing journey this last year. Maybe you’re on a healing journey too. Maybe you need physical healing. Maybe you need emotional healing. Maybe the healing is slow in coming. Maybe you feel God is too slow in healing you. Sometimes God heals us in big, sudden ways in an experience or an event, but sometimes He heals in slow, nearly inconspicuous ways.

And sometimes He reaches down into a deep, dark well and week by week gently pulls us up.

And then we see the sky.

And then we dance.

 

Originally appeared at Velvet Ashes; reprinted with permission.