Facebook Live at A Life Overseas

Hey all, just a quick note to let you know Jonathan and I were on Facebook Live for about an hour last week, talking with friends and readers all over the world. If you want to watch a replay of our conversation, Jonathan posted it here. We talked about many topics during that hour, so Jonathan included a cheat sheet of sorts in the replay. ~Elizabeth

Laughter as an Act of Rebellion {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is at A Life Overseas today . . . 

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“There are times when the most effective way to teach a certain truth is by laughing very hard.”

G.K. Chesterton, as described in The Bookman (1912)

There are times when laughing very hard is brave defiance; a dare to the darkness impinging.

Satan, the lying burglar, loves to steal joy.

But Jesus, the rough-hewn Carpenter, loves to give it back.

There’s a difference between joy and happiness, between joy and laughter, I get that. But sometimes, we try to be so spiritual that we end up being too grown up for God.

Joy is richer and fuller than happiness. But joy does not exclude happiness. That’s like saying, “I love her, I just can’t stand her!” Really?

“I’m joyful, I just look bitter and angry and like I want to kill a bunny!” Really? Is that all we’ve got to offer a world that’s drowning in its own pessimism and rage?

Is some sort of hunkered down holiness God’s idea for the Church? Yeah, I don’t think so.

In such a world (which, it should be noted, is not too dissimilar from times past), laughter is a bright act of rebellion.

Seriousness is not holier than joviality. For many, though, it’s much easier.

Finish reading here.

Love with Faith (or Play Guitar with Both Hands)

Recorded at ICA in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2017.

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

Paul concluded his message to the Ephesians with the idea of Love mixed with Faith(6:23), and I borrowed his thoughts for a bit. Here are some excerpts…

Love comes to seek and save the lost, while Faith believes they can be.

Faith empowers Jesus to prophetically imagine a new paradigm for the co-crucified: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” While Love communicates the fantastical truth: “I want you with me in paradise.”

Faith innervates Jesus’ declaration to the Samaritan woman, “If you only knew the gift God has for you….”

But Love is what got Jesus talking with her in the first place.

“Love joined with faith.”

Faith helps me believe the Gospel. Love helps me share it.

Without Faith, Love lacks vision and imagination, leaving us without mooring and definition.

Without Love, Faith becomes cold and unapproachable, leaving us bitter and mean.

We need both.

Love mixed with Faith.

Passages Through Pakistan {book reviews from both of us}

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Last year Jonathan and I were privileged to read fellow blogger Marilyn Gardner’s new book Passages Through Pakistan. It’s a chronological journey through her childhood as a Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid in Pakistan. Somehow Marilyn manages to arrange the book around various forms of transportation while still maintaining that chronological progression. (The writer in me was impressed with that clever little device.)

On the surface my TCK experience seems quite different from Marilyn’s, so I initially wondered how much of her story I would relate to. Where hers involves missions and boarding school, mine involves military service and public schools. But my concerns were completely unfounded. There was so much to relate to, on so many levels. Truly, this is a story for everyone.

As I’ve said in other places, for me the mark of a good book is that I laugh all the way through and then cry at the end. Passages Through Pakistan certainly measured up in that regard as well.

One of the funnier parts came when reading about her family’s visits to the ruins of the ancient Indus River valley. Somehow the ancient Indus civilization managed to install covered drains in their city, while during Marilyn’s childhood, Pakistan had not yet done so. I could relate — the lack of covered sewers in Cambodia is something I continually lament.

I also laughed over her comparisons of popular (but fleeting) camp songs to the steady and stalwart hymns of our faith. But by the time I finished the book, I have to tell you I was wrecked. Wrecked.

In the end, Passages Through Pakistan is simply the story of a child’s faith in God. Marilyn holds her story loosely and tells it humbly, so it’s worth a read even if you’ve never lived overseas.

Jonathan’s and my reviews are featured below. We were thrilled to be part of her book launch team (and also to have our reviews printed in the book — wow such fun!).

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From Elizabeth:

For anyone who has wrestled with heavy bouts of homesickness or lived through long stretches of loneliness, Marilyn Gardner’s new book, Passages Through Pakistan, is a gift.

For anyone who has walked through the valley of the shadow of death or of betrayal while simultaneously trying to hold onto faith in a good and loving God, this book is a light in your darkness.

For anyone who longs for the people and places of your past or has ever had to pack up a life and say goodbye, this book is a trustworthy traveling companion.

For anyone who has ever grappled seriously with their privilege or come face to face with their own shortcomings, this book is a safe place to land.

And for anyone who’s ever wondered if it’s even possible to raise a happy family in difficult or unusual circumstances, Passages Through Pakistan offers hope and, what’s better, guidance.

But these stories are also a sober reminder to parents that no matter how much love and security we lavish upon our children, we cannot protect them from the sorrows and difficulties of this life — nor is it our job.

Marilyn’s book is a gem for all these reasons, and it is also a joy to read. The language is beautiful, and each story is seasoned with profound truths about life and faith. Somehow as we read, we are able to swallow the bitter along with the sweet. That is what grace is all about, and that is what this book is all about.

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From Jonathan:

It’s been said that if you dig down into your story deep enough, you find the common things. I didn’t grow up in Pakistan, and I didn’t experience boarding school or life as a missionary kid. But that doesn’t matter, because in this book Marilyn digs down deep enough into her own journey that I found myself resonating throughout. And crying.

The cross-cultural connections and the cross-cultural stretching, the faith struggles, the reverence of older missionaries, the questions about God’s sovereignty in the midst of catastrophe, and the confusion surrounding the loaded word, Calling. It’s all here.

We need this story. The missions community needs this story. Yes, it’s one person’s history, but this is a book that missionaries and TCKs of all stripes need to read, because Passages through Pakistan ties us to our shared history. It links us with the bigger Story, and it reminds young cross-cultural workers that they’re not the first. Not the first to travel. Not the first to care about social justice. Not the first to raise children abroad. It shows us that we are part of a larger plot arc that both preceded us and will in fact follow us. These reminders are much needed and deeply enriching.

I am sure that Marilyn’s gentle storytelling and textured memories will encourage and inspire and heal many.

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.

The simple tool I use with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients

Sometimes you stumble across a tool that you didn’t know you needed, but as it turns out, you really do. Like pretty much everything Steve Jobs ever created.

I’ve creatively titled this tool “The Shapes Diagram.” I use it with 90% of my pastoral counseling clients because it takes complex ideas (like emotions and inner healing) and makes them a bit more concrete.

This diagram basically designed itself as I was trying to communicate some core emotional health ideas to Cambodians in Khmer. It wasn’t that my clients were dumb, it was that I lacked enough language skill to accurately describe some things.

So I did what any former youth pastor would do, I started scribbling. And this is what I came up with:

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I’ll walk you through the thing here in a minute. But if you’d rather watch an 11-minute video of me explaining The Shapes Diagram, click the video below.

OK, so here’s a rough walk-through…

Basically, we all have emotions, and most people end up seeing me because they’re having some emotions they don’t like. In other words, most people don’t come in happy (except the pre-marital clients, they do come in happy, and usually they leave happy too, but that’s not a given).

We start in the middle rectangle. For many, the rectangle (emotion) is anger or sadness or anxiety. Now, many pastors hear the story that led to the unwanted emotion and immediately start looking at what STEPS the person needs to take (or avoid) in order to get to the positive result (and avoid the negative one).

For example, someone might tell the really sad person, “Exercise, read your Bible more, pray!” They might continue, “Don’t drink when you’re sad, don’t do drugs, don’t watch Gilmore Girls. Those would be steps in the wrong direction and would lead to a negative result.”

Here’s the thing: that might all be good advice, and maybe people need to hear it, but pretty much every depressed person I’ve ever talked to already KNOWS those things. What I’ve come to believe (and experience with my clients) is that for the most part, all of that top part (the middle emotion box) and the steps and the results are all future-oriented things. That is, they force the client to ask, “What will I do now?” And that’s certainly a very valid question.

The thing is, that top half of the diagram (Emotions plus Steps plus Results), often balances precariously on the triangle that consists of emotional pain and lies from the past.

Often, past painful events in the client’s life have caused him or her to believe, deep down in their core, lies. Lies like “I’m worthless,” “I’m unlovable,” and “I’m broken beyond repair.”

It takes a lot of energy to keep everything steady on the tip of that triangle, but people try. And they try and they try. And they never deal with the emotional pain and the lies. We do them a tremendous disservice if all we do is give them Steps.

I want to ask the question, “What’s in the triangle? What’s the pain that this is all balancing on?” In practice, about half of my clients see this diagram and immediately say, “Oh, I know what’s in that triangle!” They then go on to list the traumatic event or the emotional trauma and the lies it planted. The other half typically says, “Well, I think this is probably true, but I’m not sure what’s in there.” That’s fine too, and so with their permission, we just continue the conversation.

If we can help a client to see what’s in the triangle and label it and maybe find the lies, then we can encourage them to invite Jesus into that specific place for healing. We can invite the Truth in and he can counter the lies and heal the emotional pain. The triangle can be erased, and it’s not nearly as mystical as it sounds. : )

Then, with the triangle gone, the client’s emotions are simply resting on the Truth (Jesus). The emotions are still there, because the client is still a human, but the whole thing is much more stable.

Now some people try to bypass the triangle and jump straight to the Truth. But that’s not as effective. In fact, it’s just terrible. You can’t skip the triangle and jump straight to Jesus. You want to meet Jesus in the triangle. And he wants to meet you (and your clients) there too.

If you jump over the triangle (the pain/lies) you also jump over the healing.

I ask people to imagine that someone’s drowning in the middle of the Mekong. What if I see them drowning and I ride my boat over to them and I give them five gallons of good, clean water. Do they need that water?

Well, sort of. I mean, people need clean water to drink. And the Mekong is filthy. But is it helpful to them? No. It’s also not very kind. When someone’s drowning, I don’t want to just throw clean water at them, I want to actually help them.

We do that to folks who are depressed or anxious or experiencing a lot of difficult emotions. We give them good clean “water” of Truth and throw a Bible verse at them and stuff. The verses are true and good, but the timing is way off. Help the person NOT drown. That’s what the Church has to get better at doing, not just throwing water bottles to drowning/depressed people and telling ourselves we were helpful.

One article that might prove an additional resource is something I wrote about the Psalms. You can find that article here: The Gaping Hole in the Modern Missions Movement.

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Caveat: I’m all for medication if it’s necessary, and I would NEVER tell someone who’s depressed to stop their meds or go off their meds. I’m talking about a holistic approach here. So maybe someone’s on meds, fine, they should still be looking at what might be in the triangle.  Maybe there’s nothing, but maybe there’s something. Maybe it really is just a chemical imbalance that needs intervention. I believe that happens. But I also think exploring past painful events and asking around for deep-seated lies can expose someone to healing and greater self-awareness.

Small words. Big ideas.

Sometimes, I write things on Facebook. And then sometimes I compile those things into a blog post. This is one of those times.

So here are some thoughts on Grace, Sin, and Unforgiveness

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Grace vs. Sin

It’s a hard balance, right? Do we preach against sin or extol grace? Can we do both?

I was recently reminded of Jesus’ master move when he was standing between a vulnerable woman who had been “caught in the act” and some very powerful men who wanted her dead.

After he challenged the guys and the older ones got it first, he found himself alone with the accused. He asked her, “Hey, where are those guys who wanted to condemn you and then kill you?” She looks around and says, “All of them are gone! No one’s left!”

Jesus whispers, “I don’t condemn you either.”

Powerful.

Tremendous grace is given freely to the scared and hurting and absolutely guilty.

Then Jesus says secondly the thing we typically say firstly, “Now go and stop sinning.”

We need to say both of these things and we need to say them in the right order. If we only say “STOP SINNING,” we miss the love and passion in our Savior’s eyes and the demanded obedience quickly becomes unbearable. Obedience gets disconnected from the heart of the Father. But if we only say, “Jesus doesn’t condemn you,” we’re selling people a cheap half-truth that won’t lead them anywhere close to sanctification.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to tell people to stop sinning because they won’t like it. Then maybe they won’t like me.

Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m scared to talk about the LACK of condemnation. Maybe they’ll like it. Then maybe they’ll just keep on sinning because, whatever.

But I’m realizing that combining these two truths, and combining them in the order of Jesus, is powerful.

And I want to echo these sister truths more often, and with boldness.

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“I forgive, but help my unforgiveness.”

This has become a powerful prayer for many of my clients. (And me too, actually!)

It’s modeled off of the father’s prayer in Mark 9:24, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” I find it fascinating that Jesus didn’t chide this guy for his lack of total and complete faith. He didn’t sniff out a smidgen of doubt and refuse to help. He healed his boy.

Sometimes I need to choose to forgive, as an act of obedience. At the same time, I need to recognize the reality that heart-level forgiveness is not a one-time-say-the-magic-words-and-it’s-all-better sort of thing. This prayer honors that reality.

If forgiveness is hard for you, if you’re wrestling with the ongoing impact of another person’s sin, consider praying this prayer, “Father, I forgive ______, but help my unforgiveness.”

And see what happens…

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