An Open Letter to Single Ladies Serving Abroad

by Jonathan

You are loved. Cherished, even.

Not because you were brave enough to move overseas “alone.”
Not because you ignored the caring relatives who asked, “How in the world will you find a husband over there?”

You are loved. Adored, even.

Not because you’re an independent thinker, a strong person.
Not because you’ve sacrificed.

You are loved. Anticipated, even.

Because of Him.

You are loved by the eternal God, your Harbor.
You are loved by a Dad who wraps you up in his everlasting arms.

You are loved by the One who knows the true depths of loneliness and the rich intimacy of friendships.

Indeed, you are loved.

You are valuable.

And you are needed. Our churches, our teams, and our families need you.

You probably know that already. You probably feel that already. But just in case you don’t, as a brother, father, husband, team leader, pastor, and friend, let me remind you how much we value you and need you.

We don’t need you to be a wonderful Christian woman. We need you to be a wonderful Christian human, unique because of your personhood, not just because of your womanhood. We need you to love people uniquely, heartily, and with passion.

You see the woman caught in adultery differently. We need your eyes. You are more aware of the emotional needs behind the physical needs. We need your awareness. We need your heart.

We need you to lead. Your perspective is valuable, your needs valid, your abilities real. You see problems and solutions differently. We need your intellect.

We need you to support us. Not like a cook supports the troops, but like a soldier supports a comrade. We serve side by side in this thing.

My kids need you. And not as a babysitter.

My sons need you to show them what a strong woman looks like. Teach them that a woman’s value does not come from the fact that she’s got a body, or a husband, or kids.

My daughters need you. They need to see a woman who’s willing to follow God’s call regardless of who joins her. They need to see a woman who pursues God on her own, enjoying her own relationship with him.

You are not half a unit. Some stray ingredient that I guess we’ll mix in with the “real” ingredients of teams and churches and potlucks.

You are not leftovers.

Without single women serving abroad, there would be a gaping hole in the Church and in the history of modern missions. And in my own life.

Growing up, the names (and books) of Amy Carmichael, Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, and Elisabeth Elliot taught and inspired and coached me. I read their books, listened to their stories, and learned from their faith.

Single women still teach, inspire and coach me. I am grateful for ladies like Amy, Sara, Yvonne, Tanya, Christina, Rhoda, Ann, Jenny, Sue, Sarah, Mary, Sovannara, Emma, and so many more. I listen to them speak, I read what they write, I watch them love people, I observe their journey through Facebook status updates, and I am grateful.

I need them. The Church needs them.

And Jesus loves them. And he loves you too. Not because you’re awesome or beautiful or perfect. Not because you’re really good with Instagram filters. But because you are part of his Bride, his people. Immensely valuable.

Every day, Elisabeth Elliot began her radio program with this reminder, “You are loved with an everlasting love – that’s what the Bible says – and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

May you remember his everlasting love,
May you rest in his everlasting arms,
Today, tomorrow, and everyday.

With deep appreciation and gratitude, your friend,
Jonathan Trotter

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*This article originally appeared on Velvet Ashes.
Used with permission

What I Want to Teach My Daughters About Married Sex {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today talking about something we don’t talk about very much: sex.

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I’ve been married for 16 years now. While that’s not as long as some of you — and certainly not as long as my husband’s grandparents’ 70 years (!) — it’s still long enough to have seen and heard a lot of marriage advice.

And you know what? Some of that advice makes me cringe. So I can tell you up front: I’m not going to advise you to make sure to meet your husband’s needs by having lots of sex with him. And I’m not going to tell you that the purpose of marriage is to make you holy. (It isn’t.)

What I do want to talk about is walking in sexual wholeness.

How can I possibly talk about a topic as big and complex as human sexuality in a single blog post? While I can’t offer the comprehensiveness or the nuance that a book or a therapist can offer, I’ll give you my basic framework.

These are the things I want to teach my daughters someday: what the foundation for healthy married sexuality is, potential obstacles in the bedroom and what to do about them, and potential temptations outside of marriage and what to do about them.

Read Elizabeth’s 3 points here, as well as her first comment which offers some additional resources.

The Answer to All the Questions {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today. . .

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I’ve always been a question asker, a seeker of knowledge. I hunger and thirst for answers, for insight, for understanding. And this question-asking has often served me well, for questions can lead to a greater awareness of God or of His cosmos or of the human creatures He so lovingly tends. Questions can lead to worship and wonder, to praise and appreciation, to connection and intimacy.

My journals are evidence of this incessant question asking; they’re littered with questions. They’re filled with their fair amount of lament too, and plenty of Scriptures-turned-prayer, but always and ever, questions.

You can finish reading here.

Taking Out the Trash {a toolkit for fighting fear}

Here are some practical ways to fight fear that I’ve never shared publicly before. I talked about them during this year’s Velvet Ashes online retreat and wanted to post them here in the hopes that someone out there might find them helpful in their battle against fear. I’ve reprinted all the quotes and Bible verses for easy reference, or you can simply scroll to the bottom for the video testimony. ~Elizabeth

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I used to take my pulse to make sure I was still alive. Because the ability to breathe and move my fingers to my neck weren’t evidence enough of life?? Thankfully by the time I realized why I did that and could verbalize it, I could see the humor in it.

And it was mostly health reasons that made me not want to come to the field in the first place. I’m a recovering hypochondriac [read: I’m still a hypochondriac, but it’s not out of control anymore].

Living here still plays tricks on my mind sometimes, and I have to consciously choose not to follow the rabbit trail my fears are digging. But I’ve got more practice at it now, and someone to keep me accountable (my husband), so it doesn’t take over my daily life the way it used to.

My go-to passage on fighting fear was always Matthew 6:25-34. I even committed it to memory 13 years ago when I was pregnant with my firstborn and finances were uber-tight, and I’ve returned to these words of Jesus again and again throughout the years:

That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

But what really helped me several years ago was reading a book designed to help kids with OCD. It’s called What To Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck, and it teaches kids (or in this case, me) to identify “brain junk,” which is basically the thought patterns we have that are false and hurtful and don’t belong in our mind. After we identify the brain junk (the lies, the fears, the negative self-talk), we can throw it away, literally discarding it from our lives.

For me, following the advice in the OCD book has been a working out of the truths of Hebrews 5:14, which says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil, and Titus 2:11-12, which talks about the grace of God that teaches us to say “no.”

I had to practice distinguishing the good from the evil (or unhelpful) thought patterns. But I recognize that it is the grace of God that helps me to say no to those irrational thought patterns. And it all came about from a children’s book on OCD.

Another thing that helped tremendously was a section in a book that Cindy Morgan wrote, Barefoot on Barbed Wire, which was all about fighting fear. I “randomly” picked it up at the library when I was pregnant with my 3rd child (when the fears were the most out of control they’d ever been).

“Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

Her book and this quote in particular really convicted me that fighting fear wasn’t about addressing my specific fears and trying to talk myself down from them and over-researching on the internet and reminding myself of the science.

No, my fear was actually something broken inside me. It didn’t come from risk factors on the outside. It came from within. The OCD strategies helped enormously in fighting my fear on a practical level, but I also needed this heart-level truth as well.

I talk about these things (and more) in my 10-minute testimony for Commune, Velvet Ashes’ 2016 online retreat, which is re-published here with permission. If you missed the retreat earlier this spring, Velvet Ashes plans to make the entire thing available again sometime in the future. And if you’ve been blessed through the ministry of Velvet Ashes, consider donating to them here

The Screeching Voice of Lack and the Bounty of Jesus

by Elizabeth

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I’ve been stumbling around for weeks now, gathering my identity from the things other people might say about me. I’ve been scooping it up from my deepest fears of failure, harvesting it from my ripening field of inadequacies. But you know the thing is, I know better than this. I know better than to do this; yet I did it anyway. I listened to the voice of darkness, that screeching voice of lack inside my own head, and I flagrantly disregarded the bounty of Jesus and the abundance of His love.

I didn’t know where to begin again. I knew I’d misplaced my identity, but I was scared to approach God with my missteps of belief and doubt. How could I lose that precious gift of identity in Christ, after searching so long and so hard to find it before?? But one day last week I finally worked up the courage to ask God what He thinks of me. Sincerely expecting a reply, I ventured a quiet and tentative, “God, who do you say I am?” And Jesus, mysterious Son of Man that He is, simply and immediately asked back, “Who do you say I AM?”

“Who do YOU say I AM???”

Not an answer did the Promised One provide; merely, like so many instances in the Gospels, another question. Who do I say Jesus is?? Because maybe that’s where I went wrong, forgetting who Jesus is. Because maybe I don’t have to ask so many questions about myself, if I know the answer to the question about Jesus. And maybe I don’t have to get lost in my own dark, dangerous head, if I can get lost in the majesty and glory of the Creator, of the Redeemer, of the Comforter, of the Trinity.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s a legitimate question to ask “Who does God say I am?” But now I know it’s just as legitimate to be asked by Him — as Jesus asked Peter and the other disciples — “Who do you say I AM?” Because maybe, just maybe, that’s the question that can transfer my focus from Self onto Savior. And maybe, just maybe, the moment I answer that question is the moment the clouds will start to lift.

Turns out, the way up out of the pit isn’t to believe in myself better, it’s to believe in Someone Better. For as Peter answered, I believe Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, and HIS identity alone is what holds sway over the clinging darkness.

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

A Letter for the One Who’s Waiting {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is over at Velvet Ashes today, with a poem of hope and comfort for anyone who’s waiting on something.

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You in the waiting,
Yes, you
And yes, me too —
For we are all waiting for something —
Dear sister,
Beloved one,
You in the waiting,
This much I know:
There are no shortcuts to healing.
There are no shortcuts to wholeness.
For we can’t know God as Healer without first being wounded.
And we can’t know God as guide without first being lost.
We can’t know Him as counselor without first being confused.
And we can’t know Him as comforter without first sustaining pain.
We can’t know Him as intimate companion without first feeling abandoned.
And we can’t find our identity in Christ alone without first losing it elsewhere.

You can finish reading here.

7 Tips for Stayers and Goers

by Elizabeth

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As a military kid I grew up hearing about these things called “Hail and Farewells.” I didn’t really know what they were; I didn’t even know it was two separate words. I thought of it more as “hailenfarewell” and was at a complete loss as to what it was.

But as I began to contemplate this upcoming season of expatriate goodbyes, I couldn’t get the phrase out of my mind. So naturally I went to my mom and asked her to tell me everything she remembered about Hail and Farewells. Her answers blew me away with their spiritual applications.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

1. “Hail and Farewells were an integral part of military life. Whether we were stationed at a military installation or a university in the States, or were stationed abroad, we all took part in these monthly events.” Hellos and goodbyes happen at regular intervals, and they touch the entire community. Nobody gets to skip out on the goodbyes (or hellos), and nobody is immune to the transience – either the Leaver or the Stayer.

2. “It always involved food, whether it was at someone’s home and everyone brought food, or at a restaurant and we purchased our meal.” Ok, so we need food. It’s perhaps kind of obvious, but this answer stood out to me. As humans we celebrate—and mourn—with food.

3. “They were usually more dressy events, except those that were barbeques, etc. There was always a gift, usually a memento that represented your unit and also some kind of plaque that commemorated your time there.  Oftentimes others would gift you with items that spoke personally to the officer leaving.” Whether we’re leaving or whether we’re staying, we honor our friends with something special. Whether it’s a physical gift representing our relationship or our country of service (for the gift-givers among us), a special event (for the quality-timers among us), or something else, we don’t let them fade away without that special honor.

4. “The commanding officer would do the introductions of new people, and we would find out where they came from and a little about them and their family. Then the farewells were saved for last with the usual good things said about people. Those that worked closest with the departing officer would also have an opportunity to share about them.” We honor the newcomers by trying to find out a little about them. And we honor the Leavers by sharing our cherished memories about them.

5. “Something I always saw in the groups we were in was the total willingness to accept and ‘get behind’ a new commanding officer. Oftentimes the departing commander was beloved and the idea of someone else coming in and taking over could be hard in a way, but your dad and I and others were intentional about welcoming and following new commanders just as we followed the departing one.” This gets to the heart of welcoming new people, whether they’re in leadership over us or not. Being new is hard, and the least we can do is welcome new people even as we say a painful goodbye to beloved friends. Whether we’re the Leaver or the Stayer, no one can replace our friends, but our hearts can expand to love more people.

6. “We were usually notified about 6 months in advance of our new duty station, and something strange and wonderful always happened after we found out where and when. Usually it was met with, ‘Uh, okay,’ but that time in between notification and actually leaving, our minds turned it into something good that we were actually looking forward to, and we were very ready to leave.” If circumstances allow (and I know they don’t always allow), we plan time between the decision to leave and the actual leaving. That time gives us the space to say goodbye well to people and places, to mentally and physically prepare ourselves for the next step, and to physically and mentally prepare our friends and co-workers for our departure. We realize that nothing can completely prepare us for our next stage, but a little time to reflect and say goodbye is helpful.

7. “It was sad to say goodbye, but many times we figured we’d meet up again.” To a certain extent, expatriate life also allows us to meet up again. (And I’m always thankful when that happens!) But even if we never see each other again on earth, as Christians we know we will meet again in Heaven, and (at least for me) that reminder does cheer the aching heart.

 So to recap my mom’s advice:
  1.  We accept that hellos and goodbyes will happen regularly.
  2.  Sharing food is a good way to commemorate these hellos and goodbyes.
  3.  Whether we’re departing or staying, we need to honor our friendships at each goodbye.
  4.  We need to welcome new people into our lives too.
  5.  We accept that goodbyes are hard.
  6.  When possible, we need to make space and time for these goodbyes.
  7.  We remember we will meet again, whether on earth or in heaven.

This time of year is painful. I will not deny that. April and May are months of many tears for me. I’ve written about these heart-rending goodbyes before. Each year I feel the feelings afresh, and sometimes I fear they will break me. But I do want us, as the Body of Christ, to carry on in a way that honors both our earthly fellowship and our faith in a mysterious God. With that in mind I offer you my Expat Manifesto:

We acknowledge that we will always have Hail and Farewells. We will bid farewell to our people. We will honor them with our tears, with our laughter, with our food, with our stories, with our hugs, and with our time. And we will bid farewell to seasons, whether satisfying or sad. We will welcome new people. We will honor them with our open (though sometimes wounded) hearts and remember that they may one day be our old people. We will remember that in Christ goodbye is never forever, but only for a time. And with Christ as our Anchor, we will embrace each new season, whether dreaded or longed for. We will Hail, and we will Farewell: This is how we carry on.

What traditions do you have for Hailing and Farewelling?

How do you carry on?

 

(Originally published at Velvet Ashes and reprinted here with permission.)