Here’s the link to a recent conversation we had with Chad Bruneski of Great Commission Foundation.
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes for their theme on Parents. ~Elizabeth
Seven years ago I left Kansas City for Phnom Penh. In the early hours of a frigid January morning my husband and I boarded a plane with our four small children, leaving behind two devoted grandparents and a very full life.
I threw myself into life in Asia and began to identify Cambodia as home. It was where my life was. It was where my husband and children were. I embraced my inner Third Culture Kid, threw off the shackles of American culture, and flattered myself that I was becoming a more global citizen. But roots grow down deep, don’t they?
This past summer when I visited Kansas City, I had strong feelings of “this is home.” That this was my city. Although I have always felt at home at my parents’ house, on my two previous U.S. visits I had not felt that attachment for the metropolitan area as a whole. But being in KC in the summer is different from being there in the winter. It’s friendlier. Happier. This past summer was the most magical summer of my life. It stirred up a host of good memories and reminded me of a former life — a life that I don’t want to forget.
I recently found my journal entry from that day and was surprised by the intensity of my feelings of “home” towards Kansas City and by the sheer volume of memories. I find that in the span of seven years, I have come full circle, back to the feelings of this original journal entry:
Kansas City is my home. After moving a lot as a military kid, I’ve been in KC 18 years. It is home.
Driving through the Grandview Triangle to church hundreds of times. Going to the dentist. Going to LSHS. Running, biking, swimming in Bridgehampton in the summer. Babysitting the Craddocks.
Falling in love with God at Red Bridge. Falling in love with Jonathan at Red Bridge. Youth ministry and four babies. Burying Mark and seeing a counselor at Christian Family Services. Living in the Parsonage for five and a half years. Some of my favorite memories in life.
Closing the garage door that last time to drive away was harder than I anticipated. Even when I come back, I can’t go back there. So many good memories of family life. So much life.
During the farewells at KCI I cried and shook telling Mom goodbye. We’ve had a wonderful friendship, and I love her dearly. I worry about her being alone. I wish she could keep kissing the grandkids twice a week. I want them all to know her as well as I do.
I’m thankful that after seven years, my children do know my parents well. My parents Skype or FaceTime my kids once a week. They’ve visited us here. And of course we live at their house — my home — while on furlough. The girls cook and garden with Mom, and the boys help Dad with car, fence, and yard work. We all watch movies and eat popcorn together. We sit around the back yard fire late into the night and talk and sing and stargaze.
After a childhood of military moves where we never stayed in a house more than four years, the 18 years my parents have lived in their current home seems a lifetime, and I love both the house and the stability it’s given me and my family.
My kids don’t remember as well, but when we lived in KC before, we often saw my mom more than twice a week at church (which was a given). Since I was pregnant so frequently, I often had to go to prenatal or postnatal appointments. Mom would watch the kids while I went. Then we would eat lunch together and, many times, spend the rest of the day together. Some days I would just sit in her kitchen nursing a baby and talking for hours on end.
Jonathan was on staff at church and left early on Sunday mornings. Mom showed up at the Parsonage and helped me get the kids dressed and across the parking lot in time for Bible class. She brought books and toys, and we sat together in church while Jonathan sat up front leading worship. After Wednesday night service my parents often came to our house for a few minutes to hang out.
Our relationship has been cemented by all those times together. I can’t think what I would do without parents like these. Thank you, God, for good parents — all across the globe.
I have been so out of touch with blogging the past several months. In fact it’s been three long months since I’ve even published a Favorite Things post. I could explain how homeschooling a high school student and junior high school student as well as two elementary students and keeping up with coop activities and ballet classes and youth group and finishing writing and editing a book with my husband and editing a larger missions blog, etc, has kept me from regular blog writing.
But the truth is that I have also been heavily distracted by my struggle with anxiety these last several months. I don’t have a lot of room for writing, because I am using all my head space either worrying or attempting to figure out how to stop worrying. I’ve read some books and made some life changes, but that didn’t seem to be making enough of an impact. So I’m returning to counseling as well. After the first session I do feel more hopeful.
So even while my life stage feels crazy and my brain at times feels even crazier, here are the best things from the past few months:
Prince Caspian play with our homeschool coop. I was incredibly proud of my kids for their work on this performance last December. Three of them had major parts in this production: King Peter, Trumpkin the Dwarf, and Queen Lucy. There were also several TCK moments in the play that brought me to tears. (For those of you who were there, it was the treasure chest scene, the final goodbye scene, and the song the band sang at the end.)
Medieval dance, post-play. This event matched the historical/costume themes in the play. Our coop director is also a dance teacher, and we learned two group dances: a circle dance and a double line dance. I enjoyed both so much. If this is what traditional dancing is like, I’m all in.
Carols with friends. Singing a cappella brings me joy, and I know the busy Christmas season can easily get away from us without taking the time to worship our Incarnate God in song. So our family got together with a couple other families for a hymn sing.
Christmas Eve supper. My mom’s Czech family has a Christmas Eve tradition of soup and apple, and even though we’re gone from family, we now celebrate it here in Cambodia. We have other family traditions too, which absolutely must happen in the days leading up to Christmas. Thankfully we had a whole weekend prior to fit it all in!
Boxing day party. Another set of friends always hosts a Boxing Day party (the day after Christmas), and I’ve been able to attend the last several years. It’s a lot of fun, and we get to sing carols there too.
Red tea. I had been wanting some of this caffeine-free tea and received some for Christmas. I could drink this all day (but I don’t). It’s a good substitute for black tea. I drink mine with milk. I’ve also successfully quit regular coffee. It took me two months to cut from 3-4 cups per day down to 2 cups, to 1 cup, and then to a cup of half-caf, and finally down to decaf only. Finding decaf grounds at the local Starbucks was a fun surprise that helped in this effort (although they don’t always sell decaf grounds).
Mary Poppins. We watched this as a family at the theatre. The music was a lot of fun, and Mary Poppins’s character is a lot closer to her character in the book than in the original movie. There were a lot of references to and reflections of the original movie, however I thought they really increased the narrative tension over the original film. Thankfully it’s a family movie with a happy ending!
GLOBAL WORKER BLOG POSTS
Home for Christmas by Anisha Hopkinson. Not just for Christmas! “We are not just British, or American, or Chinese, or Indonesian – we are Hopkinsons. No matter where we are, we are home when we are together.”
Looking for a Place to Land by Kate Motaung. Beautiful and hopeful in its yearning.
When Life Gives You a Chicken by Emily Raan. Funny and relatable.
Saying “God Called Me” Can Be Dangerous by Amy Medina. On point as always.
Welcoming Broken Missionaries Back at A Life Overseas. Food for thought.
Go Ahead and Criticize Missions (Constructively) by Amy Medina. Important.
In the wake of John Chau’s death, here are some questions to consider by Arthur Davis. The Davises (his wife Tamie writes too) are always thoughtful, in a way that continually surprises me yet has me shaking my head in agreement.
Witnesses of the Kingdom by Rachel Pieh Jones. Important thoughts on global ministry.
Marrying Across Cultures by Hannah Edington. Such great advice even for mono-cultural couples, this is even more important for cross-cultural couples. I hope this advice can point the way for workers who want to help local marriages, cross-cultural or not.
OTHER BLOG POSTS
A Liturgy for the Fog by Rachel Zimmerman for Velvet Ashes.
This is Not a Dead End by Karen Huber. Hopeful and just the encouragement I needed that day.
Learn the Difference Between Right and Almost Right by Jen Pollock Michel. I love both Jen (you probably already know this) and Hannah Anderson, whose book Jen is reviewing here.
Coming Home to Our Bodies by Simona Chitescu Weik. I’m on a journey to learn to live more in my body.
The 4 Biggest Myths About Emotions You Probably Learned in Church by Marc Alan Schelske. Shared by my husband, and very good.
Bad enough yet? by Kay Bruner. Yes, for me it got bad enough to seek help. But only after a friend told me how worried she was about me, and after all the things she walked with me through, she had never seen me like this. I woke up enough to seek help. Because the “self-help” of reading books, trying to implement them, and praying on my own wasn’t enough.
There’s Nothing Sketchy About Cross-Gender Friendships in the Church by Aimee Byrd. I have so much I could say about this. Something that concerns me is the way the Billy Graham Rule has tended to reduce women to sexual objects. When I’m with men who believe strongly in separating the sexes even at church, I can’t get away from feeling like a piece of meat. Contrarywise, when I’m with men who don’t consider separation of the utmost importance, I feel like a human being, valued and listened to for my thoughts, not avoided because of my body. For me, the “piece of meat” experience is quite pronounced among both Americans and Cambodians. It is refreshingly absent from interactions with Europeans and Australians and New Zealanders. This may not be everyone’s experience, but it is mine, and it seems to tell me something about American Christian culture. According to this article, the Gospel should be powerful enough to transform cross-gender relationships into something good and holy.
The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend by Celeste Headlee. Hit me between the eyes.
Nutritional advice from Aviva Romm and Karen Hurd. Visit their websites and poke around. My diet needed a complete overhaul, and these two ladies were my main guides. Learning about nutrition has been fun, so if nutrition is your thing, feel free to talk to me in the comments.
VIDEOS AND PODCASTS
Quiet, a project from two girls we know through our ballet studio. Inspirational.
Another good interview with Angelina Stanford, by Pam Barnhill.
Gillette video on toxic masculinity.
Upworthy video about gender assumptions.
No Longer Slaves, an international version.
Raise a Hallelujah by Jonathan and Melissa Helser. Our coop’s choir class (the fact that my kids are getting to be part of a music class is another yay!) is practicing this song. Just happens to be the perfect song for me in this time.
Cover Me by Laura Hackett Park. Recommended by my husband during a major spike in anxiety a couple months ago. I listened to it for days.
Douwe Eisenga, For Mattia. From my dance class.
Peder B. Helland — Always. From the driad dance scene from Prince Caspian.