Children’s caskets are the worst

by Jonathan

A tiny casket.

White lace.

Autumn sun.

Tearful community.

Perhaps more than any of my other siblings, Laura Beth’s short life and early death changed mine.

The death of a little one changes things. It always changes things.

It’s a giant slap in the face, wakening those near that things are not as they should be.

 

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When I slow down long enough, I begin to feel the undercurrent of real sadness. It’s there. It’s always there.

Sweet Laura Beth. I love you.

I miss you.

Yes, there is joy, there is laughter, and there is hope. There is also a deep — almost foundational — sadness.

Unanswered questions. Gaps. Unfulfilled longings. Dissipated relationships.

And sometimes the Psalm just ends.

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Leaving and Arriving Well — what to do when your time comes {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

You’re probably going to leave the field.

Someday, somehow, the vast majority of us will say goodbye, pack up, cry tears of joy or sorrow or both, and depart.

How will that work out for you?

Well, frankly, I have no idea. But I do know that there are some things you can do to prepare to leave and some things you can do to prepare to arrive. And while a cross-cultural move is stressful no matter which direction you’re going, knowing some of what to expect and how to prepare really can help.

The first part of this article deals with Leaving Well, while the second part deals with the oft-overlooked importance of Arriving Well.

In Arriving Well, we’ll look at

– Embracing your inner tourist,

– Making movie magic,

– Identifying your needs, and of course,

– Grieving

We’ll wrap up with an Arrival Benediction, which is a prayer for you, the transitioner, from the bottom of my heart.

Click here to read the full post.

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Where does the love of God go?

by Elizabeth

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Sometimes I need to remind myself that I believe in the love of God. And sometimes when I need to do that, I listen to Gordon Lightfoot. I first heard Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” in Mrs. Chaney’s junior high music class. Mrs. Chaney was an ex-hippie who brought her love of 1970’s music into the classroom and subsequently taught me to love it as well (thus preparing me for life with a man whose mother loved that music too, but died young).

It is quite literally impossible to overstate how much Mrs. Chaney’s 7th and 8th grade music classes formed me both musically and personally (and she probably never knew this; but neither did my 10th grade British Literature teacher – so music, art and literature teachers, take heart).

It was Mrs. Chaney who taught us that “religious music is always the best music” and who had us singing religious music at our public school concerts. It was Mrs. Chaney who, after we’d spent hours and hours practicing and performing choral music with her, played us her favorite 70’s songs, handed us the lyrics, and had us sing along.

It was from Mrs. Chaney that I first heard Don McLean’s “Vincent,” along with the radical idea that suicide only happens to people who suffer from mental illness. (That’s radical for a girl whose religious culture considered suicide to be an unforgiveable sin.) And it was in her classes that I began a lifelong love affair with the song and with Van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting, a painting scientists later determined was a true artistic rendering of the scientific principles of fluid mechanics.

It was with Mrs. Chaney that I sang the Holocaust remembrance song “I Believe in the Sun.” It was she who arranged for girl who knew sign language to sign during performance, moving the audience to tears (a phenomenon I didn’t understand at the time). And it was with her that I first heard “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I was immediately captured by its sound: the beautiful, haunting sound that’s woven into so many of our family’s favorite songs. The story stayed with me too, the tragic true story of a ship and crew lost to storm in the American Great Lakes.

Over the years I nearly forgot the song and the story, but one day I discovered how to google song lyrics and found it again. During one particularly sad season in my life, I purchased it. I still listen to it when I’m sad. I listen to it when I want to transport myself back to the simplicity of warm spring days in Mrs. Chaney’s music classes. And I listen to it when I want to remind myself why I believe in the love of God.

This is the way I do it. I listen to the entire tragedy, waiting for the 5th verse that asks, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” And I place myself in the shoes of the 29 men on board who knew they were going to die together, and then I place myself in the shoes of their families back on shore, who didn’t. And then I wonder “what if” along with the musician: what if this terrible thing hadn’t happened? And I swallow a lump in my throat and stay quiet for a bit.

The last time I did this, one of my children asked me where I first heard that song, and I told them the whole story the way I just told you. I told them: I listen to this song to remind myself why I believe in God’s love. I listen to it to remember that when bad things happen — and they do happen, all the time — when bad things happen, where is the love God? Is it still there? Or has it gone away?

It might be a personal loss or a tragedy back home or a tragedy here in my host country or somewhere else in the world. Truly, there’s so much tragedy to choose from. Regardless of the loss, I know I can listen to this song and somehow remember and believe that God’s love is still here and is still real. That God is still good and God is still love. I always cry at that point in the song, and I always remember that the love of God is really all I have to hold on to. I know that if I don’t keep my belief in the love of God, I would be lost. I would have nothing left.

So even when I don’t understand – and I mostly don’t understand – the love of God has not vanished. It is not buried at the bottom of the sea like so many ships. It is still present, in the midst of us. It still survives, though millennium of loss piles on millennium of loss. For me “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” gives voice to sadness but mysteriously brings me to a place of remembering God’s goodness. It helps me stand in the cruel face of tragedy, whether mine or someone else’s, and reminds me that no, God’s love has not gone away. Even though I can’t always see it or feel it, the love of God is still here among us.

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What George Orwell and C.S. Lewis can teach us about chaos, creation, and a world living in fear

by Elizabeth

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“The atomic bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but the earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.”

I burst into tears over this George Orwell quote in the bookstore the other day. Let me explain why.

If you know me at all, you know I was crushed over the lack of eclipse viewing on this side of the planet. Crushed. I first started reading about the eclipse in science magazines about a year and a half ago, when I realized with sadness that I would not be able to see it, even though totality was passing very close by my hometown.

As we edged ever closer to the eclipse date, and people became more and more excited, I became sadder and sadder. I would wake up every morning thinking about what I was missing and imagining in my mind’s eye what it would be like to experience that kind of natural reversal. I hear you receive spiritual and philosophical insights during a total eclipse that you rarely get in life apart from extreme grief and loss. I hear that you feel at one with humanity and at one with the solar system. Whether you believe in God or not.

But here’s the thing: I already feel at one with the solar system on a regular basis. Every time I look up at the moon, no matter where it is in its waxing or waning, I imagine where I am in relation to it and to the sun and to the rest of the planets, and I get this enormous sense of awe and wonder. I experience more awe and wonder when I catch a glimpse of a planet with the naked eye. I even get a thrill from ordinary everyday sunsets and ordinary everyday cloud-dotted skies. Understanding the science behind each of these sights does not in the least diminish their wonder for me.

So to miss out on an event that causes people who don’t normally care all that much about the sky to shudder with shock and awe, felt like a devastating loss. I collect those moments of wonder and awe in my life and, like Mary, ponder them in my heart. I store them in the long-term memory of my soul. I am a glory-chaser, and this month I felt I was missing out on something glorious that all my countrymen were going to witness (though I know the descriptor “all” is not entirely accurate here). I have really had to grieve this loss as one of many losses on both sides of the Pacific over the last 6 years.

Then today I found myself at the local bookstore with my kids, perusing the magazine rack. It’s a sort of Saturday morning tradition for us. Magazines are too expensive to buy here, so we just stand around reading articles about space and geography. I was reading an article about that infamous eclipse when I came across these words by George Orwell. They brought to mind parallel (and prescient) thoughts from C.S. Lewis, in his 1948 essay entitled “On Living in an Atomic Age”:

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anaesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

I had read Lewis’s words earlier this month and been sobered, my mind plumbed back into alignment. Orwell’s words were likewise so true that they brought tears to my eyes. Our world is in chaos. We all know this. Globally and locally, everyone you and I meet can see the chaos in both their own country and the countries of others. There’s so much fear, fear from all sides and of far too many things.

But. There is awe and wonder that can outweigh the fear. There is truth that can outweigh the lies. And there are things we can be sure of, the chief of which is that we do not control the heavens. We do not direct their footsteps. We can predict them, and we can describe them — though they lose none of their awe-inspiring power when we do — but we cannot direct them. That is a task only God can manage. We can merely watch — or not.

So let us rest in God, in His creative power and in His unfathomable goodness. Let us take comfort in His nearness and in His grandeur, in His wisdom and in His foolishness. Let us walk with Him, through our tears and through our joys, through our fears and through our distracted and distractible daily lives. And let us remember that, regardless of how we live and regardless of how we die, God is God and we are not, and neither is any world leader who appears to be wresting power from Him — for no one can rob Him of His glory.

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I originally published this on Facebook. On one of the FB shares a friend of a friend (someone I don’t know) commented: “When asked what he would like to be found doing by Jesus on Jesus’s return, Luther said, ‘Planting a tree.’ I think the reason is the same as your quote.” That story was just too good not to pass on to you here.

What Jesus Knew About Death and how that Helped Him Live

Recorded at ICF in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 2017.

To listen to the message, Click Here or visit the trotters41 podcast on iTunes.

Some excerpts:

  • How we think about death massively impacts how we live our life.
  • Part of learning how to live like Christ is thinking about death like Christ.
  • A funeral doesn’t stay a funeral for very long when Jesus shows up.
  • From the beginning, Satan has always lied about death. He still does.

When the Resurrection and the Life shows up at a funeral, death dies and corpses rise.

The One Question We Must Ask {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

It’s a simple question, carrying with it the power to clarify purpose and extend longevity. It’s a question that buttresses against the nasty cousins of burnout and bitterness. It’s a question we need to ask more often.

It’s simply this: “What is it that I really need?”

We’ve got to start asking our cross-culturally-working-selves, “In an ideal world, what is it that I really need to make it? To thrive? To be ok? To survive where God’s called me? What is it that I really need?”

Before you crucify me for turning the Gospel inside out and hamstringing it with a message about me and my needs, hear me out.

I’m not at all advocating a life without obedient sacrifice; I am expressly advocating a life of eyes-open sacrifice. You might not get what you need. In fact, I’m pretty sure you won’t. There are a lot of things you need that a life of cross-cultural service just won’t be able to provide. I’m talking about the full spectrum here, from a Starbucks latte all the way to the absence of gunfire.

And that’s where this gets real.

When you realize that some legitimate needs won’t get met, when you realize that safety and functioning utilities and access to public libraries and date night just aren’t as much a thing where you live, you can do two things. You can seek to mitigate, or you can choose to sacrifice. In reality, I actually recommend both.

Mitigate it: Consider whether there are any creative workarounds that might meet the need, in whole or in part.

Sacrifice it: Obediently, with a full heart and open eyes, sacrifice the thing as a holy act of worship.

Continue reading over at A Life Overseas

The Temporary Intimacy of Expat Life (and my search for rootedness) {A Life Overseas}

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

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It’s not hard for me to put down roots in a new place. Roots are all I want. That may sound unconventional coming from a Third Culture Kid, but Army life was unsettling, and even small tastes of stability were tantalizing to me. I’m always searching for roots.

Specific places can be very healing to me, but I almost wonder if the place itself doesn’t matter as long as the place seems permanent. I could settle anywhere as long as it’s forever. I know this need for stability points somewhere. It points to a longing for a forever home. A hunger for the new city. A desire that can’t be completely fulfilled in this sin-tarnished world.

So whenever I move to a new place, I pretend it’s a permanent home. I decide I never want to move away. I give myself, heart and soul, to this new place and to this new people. I make plans for future years, future decades even. I tell myself that I will settle here and live here forever. I imagine everything in the future taking place in this place.

While some TCKs want to move places frequently, that hasn’t been my experience. I don’t want to leave a new place after a few years of living there. I don’t become unsettled at the thought of settling somewhere. Sometimes I tell myself that this desire I have for roots is good. I tell myself that it means I’m stable and secure. But then I have to ask, if I’m so stable and secure, why would I become so unmoored by goodbyes?

A desire to move frequently can be unhealthy, it’s true. But it is equally true that this insatiable desire I have never to move homes or see life change can be unhealthy too. For see, God is the God who is doing a new thing. And growth in Christ never happens without change — sometimes painful change. So I sometimes live in denial, for this overseas life is not, and can never be, permanent. I will have to move eventually. My friends, the dear people with whom I live my life and to whom I’ve pledged my undying love, must also move at some point.

You can finish reading here.