Despair is where hope lives (Psalm 130)

Listen to this message on hope here, or via the trotters41 podcast. (21 minutes)

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Some excerpts and quotes:

“The prophetic poet asserts hope precisely in exile.” — Walter Brueggemann

If you’re not really feeling it. If you’re not feeling happy-clappy-Jesus-is-alive-and-all-my-problems-are-fixed, then take heart, because that’s precisely where hope lives.

“Hope expressed without knowledge of and participation in grief is likely to be false hope that does not reach despair. Thus…it is precisely those who know death most painfully who can speak hope most vigorously.” — Brueggemann

We need this reminder.

We need to remember that true hope is not just optimism. True hope is not a flimsy, fluffy thing. No, true hope, Biblical hope, sees it all. It sees the bad, the hard, the pain. It sees the depths and the darkness. It sees the world’s sin and my own sin.

And it keeps on seeing… all the way to Christ. In the end, deep hope must be securely grounded in the character and love of God.

“Speech about hope cannot be explanatory and scientifically argumentative; rather, it must be lyrical in the sense that it touches the hopeless person at many different points. More than that, however, speech about hope must be primarily theological.” — Brueggemann

“Hoping is not dreaming.” “[Hope is] a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith.” – Eugene Peterson

“Hope is a projection of the imagination; so is despair.” –Thornton Wilder

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Psalm 130 A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

1From the depths of despair, O LORD,

I call for your help.

2Hear my cry, O Lord.

Pay attention to my prayer.

3LORD, if you kept a record of our sins,

who, O Lord, could ever survive?

4But you offer forgiveness,

that we might learn to fear you.

5I am counting on the LORD;

yes, I am counting on him.

I have put my hope in his word.

6I long for the Lord

more than sentries long for the dawn,

yes, more than sentries long for the dawn.

7O Israel, hope in the LORD;

for with the LORD there is unfailing love.

His redemption overflows.

8He himself will redeem Israel

from every kind of sin.

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On Peace, Busyness, and Remembering that I’m not God (Psalm 131)

On March 18th, I was privileged to preach at ICA here in Phnom Penh. You can listen to the message here, or via our podcast on iTunes.

We talked about three things that block peace and a few things that help bring peace.

I also introduced a short song called Be Still, Be Quiet, based on Psalm 131. It’s at the end of the message around the 25 minute mark.

all for ONE,

Jonathan T.

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                      “Psalm 131 is one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of                                         the longest to learn.” — Charles Spurgeon

 

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.

 

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What an Open Sewer Taught Me About Resurrection {Velvet Ashes}

Elizabeth is at Velvet Ashes today . . .

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A river runs through my city. And on the main riverfront there’s a tree. Actually, there are many trees along the riverfront, and they’re mostly palm trees. Palm trees grow everywhere in the tropics. And while they are stunningly beautiful, palm trees don’t grow very large.

But there’s a tree on the riverfront that dwarfs all the palm trees. It’s the biggest and greenest tree around, and it’s planted on the banks of the river right where raw sewage is discharged. My city’s waste rushes thick, black, and odorous right into the river where the tourists walk by.

The first time I noticed this, I was struck by the sight. How could two such unlikely things come together like this? An enormous, thriving tree and an ugly, smelly, polluting flow of refuse? I couldn’t stop looking at it. I couldn’t stop gazing and pondering: a tree full of life next to a stream of death.

This riverside tree became, to me, a symbol for Resurrection. For the ability and tendency of God to take garbage, to take death, and to make new life out of it, to make beauty out of it.

Finish reading here.

Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey {book review}

I am so excited to review and promote Marilyn Gardner’s new book Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey. This book is a chronological journey through Marilyn’s childhood as a Missionary Kid and Third Culture Kid in Pakistan and includes a brand new foreword from author and fellow A Life Overseas blogger Rachel Pieh Jones.

On the surface my TCK experience seems quite different from Marilyn’s, so I had 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. Worlds Apart 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, Worlds Apart 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.

Here are Jonathan’s and my “official” reviews.

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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, Worlds Apart, 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, Worlds Apart 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 Worlds Apart 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.

A Few of My Favorite Things {February 2018}

A little late, but here I am. This month’s reviews are separated by section in case you’re interested in particulars: TCKs & Global Nomads, Home School Guidance, along with Everything Else. ~Elizabeth

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We attended the Family Education Conference as guest speakers. I tell the story of some things I learned here. After working hard at the FEC, we spent 3 days at the Juniper Tree, a retreat center for cross-cultural workers. We really needed that rest.

Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Caffeine Free Tea, a gift from my mom. So delicious. We drank a lot of it at Juniper Tree, and Mom promises to have plenty on hand when we visit this summer.

Ash Wednesday. My family isn’t as “into” liturgy as I am, so the yearly Ash Wednesday service at the local Anglican church becomes a sort of personal spiritual retreat for me.  Do you know what can happen when you give a mom an hour and a half of uninterrupted time with God? So much. I had some much-needed conversations with God. Conversations about trust, belief, and idolatry.

Teaching non-traditional math classes at our home school co-op. It’s so much fun to share my love of mathematics with teenagers and watch their curiosity for an oft-dreaded subject come alive.

School break week. This week is our last break week before the last 6 weeks of school, and then we head to the States for a 4-month furlough. We are all enjoying our break week and are looking forward to spending time in America, especially the month of May. We intend to spend the first two weeks of May at my mom’s house, cut off from work emails and just being a family. Looking forward to the cool-in-comparison weather too.

We’re going through a lot of transitions in our family right now, including the search for a new sending church. Our current sending church is merging with another local church. Our church is graciously providing continued funds, for which we are incredibly thankful, but they cannot provide continued leadership — thus the search for new spiritual authority and accountability. We loved our sending church, and they loved us. It was a relationship like no other. I wrote this memorial in honor of our sending church.

This transition is truly good for Christ’s church, but it is a hard change. We are grieving many other personal losses and goodbyes right now too. God has been meeting me in my pain, and I see how He can turn my mourning into dancing, but I still ache for my kids, who have goodbyes and grief of their own. I’m not sure that as parents we can avoid this. We know in this world we will have trouble, and our children will have trouble, and our children’s children will have trouble. We take heart, because we know who has overcome the world, but in the present moment, our troubles often remain.

Lastly, a little bit of girlish shallowness: Essie Nail Polish in Hi Maintenance (a light pink) and Guilty Pleasures (bright pink). I picked them up when I was in the States for my sister’s wedding. It’s pricier than most brands, but actually holds up over the course of a week. Wedding trip bonus: I got a bunch of hand-me-downs from my much-more-stylish-than-me sister and have been enjoying wearing them ever since.

 

POETRY AND MUSIC

“The Call of the Disciples” by Malcolm Guite. You know how a poem can just latch onto you and refuse to let go? Malcolm Guite’s poems do that to me a lot, and in this season of needing to trust God more, this has been the one with staying power.

Spiritual Warfare Lullaby by Jonathan Trotter. Nighttime is not good to me. I’m a good sleeper as long as I don’t wake up (in fact my husband is often amazed at how quickly I can fall asleep). But if I wake, the Anxiety Monster threatens to overwhelm me. All the heath worries that seem ridiculous and easier to dismiss during the day become realistic and looming fears at night. One morning this month we read the classic Psalm 91 and my  eyes alighted on verse 6: “Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness.” That was it, that’s my problem — I dread the disease that stalks in darkness. Verse 5 right above it, “Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,” is the basis for a verse in my husband’s spiritual warfare song. All the verses are lifted straight out of scripture (which is the best source of spiritual armor, anyway, right?). So the song has been in my head by day and by night.

 

BOOKS

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons by Barbara Cohen and Bajita Lovejoy. A read aloud. I cannot tell you just how deliciously good this story is. Read it!

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park. A sobering and hopeful read aloud. I have more thoughts on water here.

The Living Cross by Amy Boucher Pye. Instead of giving something up for Lent, I generally try to add something — a specifically designed Lent Bible study. Last year I wanted to read Amy’s Living Cross book, but by the time I received it in the mail, Lent had not only come and gone, but Pentecost as well. So I saved the book for this year. The focus of the book is forgiveness, but what I am finding are deep lessons on followership and what it really means to turn to God. Scripture that I know and love is hitting me in new ways, and I’m thankful.

Letters Never Sent: A Global Nomad’s Journey From Hurt to Healing by Ruth van Reken (coauthor of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds). I have had this book for several years but had avoided reading it because I sensed I would cry through most of it. And I was right: I cried through most of it. But I had found myself in a season of grief already, so I thought I might be ready to enter in to the sacred space of Ruth’s story. The book is about a Missionary Kid/Third Culture Kid who grew up in boarding school, but that is not all it is about.

Letters Never Sent is also for anyone who has grown up in Christian circles and, as a result, thought they had to be perfect or could never admit weakness. It’s for anyone trying to measure up and continuing to fail in their attempts. This book is even for anyone who grew up poor and wondered at the unfairness of the world (honestly it was refreshing for her to tackle such a seemingly “earthly” issue as that of money). And of course it is especially for those who grew up in boarding schools and didn’t feel permission to speak all of their feelings about it over the years. Ruth is a generation (or more) ahead of me in life, yet every issue she tackled felt modern and relevant. Don’t skip it just because her TCK experience differs from yours, or because you are afraid of facing the grief. This is an important book.

It’s also in this season of grief that I decided I was finally ready to read Madeleine L’Engle’s The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, which I had been avoiding for the same reasons. I should be able to review it next month.

The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories by Dorothy Sayers. I confess I stopped reading Peter Wimsey after my last Sayers novel, because the novel was so stinkin’ long. But I’ve returned to this collection of short stories, which is very satisfying. I can read a finish a mystery in a short amount of time. When I finish it, I intend to start Chesterton’s Father Brown Mysteries, which I’ve been meaning to read for some time now, but somehow fiction always gets pushed aside during the school year. I manage to take it up again during school breaks.

The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. I finally finished this short little book. I had put it aside while preparing for the Family Education Conference — and also because I was struggling to accept some of Kathleen’s claims. But I have had more time to consider the ideas, and although I dislike the dailiness of many of my household tasks (how they have to be done again and again and again), I think she’s on to something here. Much of our work on earth is never done, because it was never meant to be done. It was meant by God to be repeated day in and day out, to teach us to depend on Him and to rest in Him. These are things I am learning to accept.

Close Calls by Dave Carder. This is a book my husband recommends through his pastoral counseling ministry, and since our Amazon accounts are linked, I thought I would read it too. The book describes how anyone can become embroiled in an emotional or physical affair if the wrong person comes along at the wrong time. It helps you identify where you might be weak (because we are all weak somewhere) and how to protect your marriage. If you don’t want to read a whole book on protecting yourself and your marriage from adultery, I recommend reading Jacque Watkins’s blog series What You Should Know Before an Affair.

I picked up Napoleon’s Buttons again because I have time on our break week. And I’ve started the spring Velvet Ashes book club books, Humble Roots by Hannah Anderson and Scouting the Divine by Margaret Feinberg. Humble Roots, especially, resonates. Anderson discusses the issues I talked about at the Family Education Conference, but couches them in the language of humility rather than grace.

 

BLOG POSTS FOR TCKS, MKS, AND GLOBAL NOMADS

How We Get Rootedness Wrong by Beth Watkins. “Maybe rootedness turns into an idol.” Convicted — and realigned — with that one phrase.

One Simple Way to Bless TCKs by Jonathan Trotter. Based on some of his teaching at the FEC.

Naming Your Grief — and Finding an Answer by Craig Thompson. Explains disenfranchised grief and gives you language for what is happening inside you.

6 Permissions Most Missionaries’ Kids Need by Michèle Phoenix. I only ever hear wisdom from Michèle who, as an adult MK, is uniquely situated to talk about these issues.

The Truth About Missions Is That It’s a Long, Hard Slog by Jen Oshman. Just plain truth that we often need reminding of.

I Have Nothing to Prove by Kathleen Shumate.

 

SERIOUS HOME SCHOOL GUIDANCE

The Top Seven Reasons Homeschoolers Fail by Marlin Detweiler of Veritas Press. Based on 20 years of experience working with thousands of homeschooling families.

Dear Self: Why you stink at homeschool consistency by Pam Barnhill. I thought it was helpful and practical, but if you think it’s too harsh, scroll to the link at the bottom where she addresses concerns of harshness.

Who Actually Teaches Your Kids? by Joshua Gibbs at CiRCE Institute. Interesting food for thought. Can be applied to ourselves as adults too. Whoever is influencing me, the people I am imitating, that’s who my teachers are.

55 Things I Did NOT Do as a Homeschooler by Julie Bogart of Brave Writer (a podcast).

61 Things I Did RIGHT in My Homeschool, also a podcast by Julie Bogart.

 

MISCELLANEOUS ARTICLES

5 Ways to Doubt Your Doubts by Timothy Keller. A helpful perspective.

Breastfeeding in Church, and Other Petty Crimes by Rachel Marie Stone for Christianity Today. With a tag line of, “The act of breastfeeding is a picture of the care God gives us.” Stone sees both the up-close and the big picture.

Blessed Are the Unsatisfied by Amy Simpson. Maybe we’re not supposed to be fully satisfied on this earth. Maybe we’re still supposed to want. Simpson pushes back against some ideas of God that can become burdensome.

Is Filling That ‘God-Shaped Hole’ God’s Plan for Our Lives? also by Amy Simpson, and along the same vein. Both are worth a read.

Understanding God’s Control When You’re a Climate Scientist, Rebecca Randall’s interview with Thomas P. Ackerman. Interesting to me as both a scientist and a Christian.

The One-Way Intimacy of Podcast Listening by Glen Weldon. I’ve found this to be true.

This is What ‘Self-Care’ REALLY Means, Because It’s Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake by Brianna Wiest. Obviously contextualized for an American (or at least Western) audience, but interesting food for thought. We need to differentiate between self-care and self-comfort, we need to keep a private life (not everything has to show up on social media), and sometimes we need to flat-out reject society’s unrealistic expectations of us.

 

MOVIES AND TV

There’s No Place Like Home by Jen Pollock Michel on Right Now Media (you need a subscription to listen). I love Jen Pollock Michel. Her voice and her teaching are comforting and always resonate with truth.

How Movies Are Prayers, an interview with Josh Larsen for Forma Podcast. I always enjoy the cultural and Christian commentary on the Forma Podcast. This idea is the flip side to experiencing a movie as a message from God to us (i.e. when it “speaks” to us). A movie can also portray our communications to God. In my opinion this often happens better in non-Christian movies than in Christian movies. I’ve been known to say to my husband, “Hollywood gets it so right.” But of course when I say that, I’m talking about how Hollywood portrays the problem, not how they portray the solution (if they offer one at all). Hollywood can get brutally honest about the human condition. The answer they offer may not be biblical, but their painting of the picture can be much more accurate.

Black Panther. Ahem, speaking of Hollywood. We watched this movie for a family birthday party. The story is compelling, and the underlying themes are incredibly important for us to discuss as a society. Interestingly we watched it in the middle of a unit study on Africa, which gave us ample opportunity to discuss the harm Americans and Europeans have done to the continent. In the middle of the action, I was nervous about the outcome and whether the message would end up being that violence is helpful and even necessary to right wrongs done, but I think they handled the conflict well. (Although I will tell you my youngest daughter and I looked away during a couple intensely violent scenes.) The villain was portrayed sympathetically, which I thought was important. I cried at several points — there was a lot of wisdom thrown in here. And if you know me, you could probably already guess this, but Shuri is my favorite character — a brilliant, spirited female scientist on the silver screen. Can’t get much better than that.

Embracing a Healthy Body Image Overseas {Taking Route podcast}

Elizabeth recently chatted with Denise James, host of the new Taking Route Podcast. They discussed some of the issues surrounding eating and body image that many women deal with, regardless of where they live.  You can listen to that conversation here. And when you’re done, be sure to check out the other conversations on the podcast!

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