I have a work spouse

by Jonathan

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.IMG_6405 (2).JPG

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!

 

A Book is Born: Serving Well is now available!

It’s here!Screenshot (4)

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.

It’s available in print and Kindle version here. Our publisher is also selling the book with a 20% discount here.

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

 

 

A Brother’s Letter {Velvet Ashes}

by Jonathan

I’ve always appreciated women.

Growing up, I watched my mom and dad interact as equals, with each other and with their friends.

I loved watching my mom’s eyes flash with intellectual fire as she discoursed with others about theology or how to define (and practice) radical obedience. I loved her sweet smile as she pondered the red geraniums outside her window, often while nursing a baby.

I loved scratching the dirt in the fall, at her direction, planting the blobs she called bulbs. And then I loved watching her eagerness as we looked for the first hint of spring: the brave but tiny crocuses, deciding that their appearance would be more surprising if they poked through a crust of snow.

I am a man, but I learned much about manhood from a woman.

And so I want to say I’m sorry.

I’m not sorry I’m a guy, but I am sorry that a bunch of my sisters have been mistreated by guys, both in the church and out of it.

A Brother’s Apology
I’m sorry that, instead of really hearing the devastating echoes of #metoo, we sat silent, sometimes scared, shuddering for all the innocent men who’ve been falsely accused. Not only was our response statistically absurd, it was also staggeringly unempathetic. I am so sorry.

I’m sorry we’ve treated you as if you were, all of you, The Great Temptress, hatching plots to take us down. I’m sorry we’ve been afraid to speak to you, afraid to have an actual friendship with you. Unless we were dating you or married to you, we were so afraid of what things would look like that we never actually looked at you. And so we missed you. We missed seeing you as the human that you are. We missed your giftings and we robbed ourselves of the opportunity to learn from you. We were mistaken.

We were so insecure, so driven by a deep Adamic fear of being controlled. We forgot the power of the Cross to roll back the curse.

Continue reading the full article at Velvet Ashes.

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The Missionary Life Cycle (in Five Stages)

by Jonathan

Like any really good assessment, these five categories are totally made up.

There are no peer-reviewed studies parsing these five stages of cross-cultural work. There is no quantified, objective data set; still, please feel free to say you’re in “Stage 3 – Wing 4.” That would make me happy. And remember, if you say anything with exactitude, we’ll all think you know what you’re talking about.

The lines of demarcation between these stages are blurred, and in some cases overlapping. Just roll with it. And remember, this isn’t the Rubicon, so feel free to cross back over to an earlier stage if you’d like.

Are you ready?

We’ll look at the two options within each stage, we’ll list some common statements you might hear from folks taking each option, and then we’ll look at some primary goals for each stage.

This is more Wiki than Webster’s, so please add your thoughts, explanations, arguments, additions, or funny jokes in the comment section.

 

Idealist/Ignorant – Pre-field

You know the idealist, right? If you’re on the field, you probably were one. Once.

We need the idealist. Often, the idealism of youth or new belief motivates people to the field in the first place; that’s not bad. In fact, idealism is a fantastic place to start; it’s just not a fantastic place to stay.

Idealism is not what’s dangerous; ignorance is.

The main difference here is that the ignorant person doesn’t know what it is that they don’t know. And it’s a lot. The idealist knows they don’t know everything, so they’re safer. The idealist is a day-dreamer, aware of the reality around them, while the ignorant is lost in a fantasy dream world at night, unaware that their sick child is vomiting in the bathroom down the hall and their wife has been up three times already and the dog just peed on the clean laundry. Yeah, ignorance is dangerous.

Things you might hear the idealist say: “This is all so amazing! God’s going to do amazing, new, prophetic things in this glorious season of fresh wind. He is calling the nations to himself and he’s calling me to the nations. Will you donate?”

Things you might hear the ignorant say: “I don’t need a sending church or org or agency. I read a book and I feel super called! Also, I served a person once on a short-term trip and now I’m going to save the world. Will you donate?”

Goals for this stage:

  1. Don’t be ignorant.
  2. Protect your ideals, while purposefully listening to the reality of some who’ve gone before you. You’re not the first person God’s called across cultures, and you won’t be the last.

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Read about the other four stages at A Life Overseas.