Our first book!

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We’ve compiled over 50 of our short essays into a new book. The book covers topics like transition, TCKs, grief and loss, conflict, marriage on the field, and more. The Kindle version is $1.99 and is available here.

Here’s what Elizabeth has to say about the print edition:

What I like about the paper copy is that it’s in 8 1/2 X 11 inch format, so it has lots of white space and (ahem) margin to make your own notes, to sort of journal through it, as it were. A lot of our posts really are like journal entries of what God is taking us through, so having a hard copy allows you to journal through those issues on your own, too. Hopefully that’s a blessing to someone!

We are ordering a bunch to have with us here in Phnom Penh, so if you’re local and you’d like a hard copy, check back with us in a couple of weeks. Thanks so much for all your support along the way.

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

 

Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)

I’m linking up with Velvet Ashes today on the theme of Marriage Abroad. ~Elizabeth

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We were in a diner eating pizza. The young couple sitting across the table from us had just asked us how we’ve sustained the joy of our relationship over the years. I wasn’t exactly expecting that question, so my first answer was pretty simple: we spend a lot of time together. Talking, dreaming, laughing, debriefing. Companionship and intimacy require time, and lots of it.

When we were first married, we retreated together to cheap lawn chairs overlooking bushes that barely shielded us from the highway on the other side. We walked all over that university town, in all kinds of weather, for our date nights. We might walk to the library for a free movie and share an order of breadsticks from Papa John’s, where even with the sauces, our meal totaled a mere $3.69.

Later we added children, and enough disposable income for Jonathan to buy me a porch swing. We’d sit in that thing and talk while our children played. At night, we’d tuck them into bed and sneak back out to talk some more, with hot chocolate or bug spray as our companions, depending on the weather.

Even after losing both the yard and the porch swing in our move to Cambodia, we found a way to escape together. We’d head up to our roof and sit in bamboo chairs (with bug spray as our definite companion), watch the city skyline, and share soul secrets. These days you’d be more likely to find us sipping coffee at our kitchen table, the kitchen door conveniently locked behind us.

But the more I pondered this young couple’s question about joy in marriage, and the more I traced our marital history over the years, the more I realized that finding joy was about losing things too. On the journey to find joy in marriage, we’ve shed some surprising baggage.

 

Who’s in charge here??

I went into marriage spouting ideals of male headship. My husband Jonathan would be in charge and make the final decisions, and I, as the wife, would submit. In any disagreement, his opinion would count for more. We thought we believed that premise, and because we didn’t have a lot of conflict, we thought we were pretty good at following it.

In real life, however, I don’t think we ever actually practiced male headship (or what is sometimes called complementarianism, a term I didn’t know at the time). We thought we did, because we loved God and wanted to obey His Word. And male headship is what the Bible instructs, right??

But Jonathan never pulled the “I’m in charge” card on me. Never. Not even once. Not even when he felt led overseas and I didn’t. I put pressure on myself to submit to his call, but it never came from him.

 

A little premarital advice from my mom

Growing up, I watched my mom honoring her husband, and she taught me to do the same. When it came to practical advice, though, she focused on “talking things out.” She told me that in her marriage to my dad, if one of them cared about something more — whoever it was — they went with that. The next time it might be different, and that was ok, because nobody was keeping track. She said if they didn’t agree, they just kept talking until they did agree. Practically speaking, my mom and dad were on equal terms in their marriage.

One day my mom told me about a conversation with some other Army wives. One of the women turned to my mom and told her that she must really love her husband. Mom was a bit confused; she hadn’t been raving about how wonderful Dad was or how much she loved him. But something in the way she talked about him (or not talked about him, as the case may have been) spoke her love loud and clear to those fellow Army wives.

Now I know that the type of marriage my mom was describing follows the mutual submission outlined in Ephesians 5:21: Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Now I know that people call this type of relationship “egalitarian.” But it’s almost as if back then, we had no vocabulary for the Biblical marriage conversation.

 

The priesthood of all believers

Even in the early days of our marriage, whenever we needed to make a big decision, Jonathan and I would always pray together. We assumed that God would impress the same thing on our hearts, and that we would be united in both seeking God and obeying Him.

Looking back now, I can see that the path to egalitarianism begins with the priesthood of all believers. We went into marriage saying we believed in male headship, yet in decision-making, we fully expected God to speak to both of us. We believed we could, and would, both hear from God, and that God would say the same thing to both of us. Blame it on the Experiencing God craze of the 1990’s if you want, but this is how we approached God from the very beginning of our marriage.

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Love and Respect??

Several years into our marriage I heard about the idea of “Love and Respect,” which claims that a woman’s biggest need is to be loved by her husband and that a man’s biggest need is to be respected by his wife. That seemed like good, solid, Biblical advice. In our marriage I felt loved, my husband felt respected, and we were happy. “Hmm,” I thought, “love and respect must be the key to marital happiness.”

Then I read the book (which is a long one for being built on the foundation of only one verse). About halfway through, I had to put it down. It was so tedious I couldn’t finish it. How many more stories and examples could there be?? The book seemed to be repeating itself.

Besides, I felt like something was missing. I need my thoughts, ideas, and intellect valued: I need respect. Almost as much as love. And my husband needs love, perhaps more than respect. He can’t survive without my compassion, empathy, and listening ears.

(In all fairness to the author of these ideas, he has elsewhere stated that men and women need both love and respect, though in differing amounts. It’s just that I didn’t get that impression from reading his book or from watching his videos.)

Lest you get the wrong idea here, let me make one thing clear: I deeply respect my husband. I value his opinions and consult him on everything. I turn to him for counsel, guidance, and perspective. I trust his advice and regularly defer to him in decision-making. He most certainly has my respect.

But for him, although my respect is nice, if I did not also care about his feelings, his dreams, and his deepest longings, and if I did not tenderly take care of him, he would shrivel up and die (his words, not mine). He needs my open-hearted love. And if he loved and cared for my deepest hurts and feelings, but did not also value my gifts and abilities, I’d be crushed. In fact, if I didn’t have his respect, I wouldn’t actually feel loved by him.

Receiving only love or only respect isn’t good enough for Jonathan and me. We need both love and respect. The teaching of “Love and Respect” was a nice start, but for us, it didn’t go far enough. As a wife, yes, I respect my husband, and as a husband, yes, Jonathan loves his wife. It’s in the Bible; it’s good. But God isn’t going to be offended if wives also love their husbands, and husbands also respect their wives.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul was improving upon the pagan hierarchies of the day. Neither Paul nor Jesus – who demonstrated both love and respect for women repeatedly in the Gospels – is going to be upset if we take these instructions that much further, if we add more love and respect, and more imago dei, to our relationships. On the contrary, I think it pleases Him.

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“A marriage where either partner cannot love or respect the other can hardly be agreeable, to either party.” — Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (Sorry, just had to get my Austen on for a minute.)

 

 

 

Encountering Jesus as healer

The more I considered this young couple’s question, the more I kept coming back to the same answer: emotional healing. Emotional healing is what happens when Jesus walks into our pain and binds up the wounds of our hearts. Emotional healing is what draws us closer to each other than ever before.

It’s what enables us to answer Karen Carpenter’s velvet-voiced, pain-tinged question: “Why do we go on hurting each other, making each other cry, hurting each other, without ever knowing why?” Emotional healing shows us both why we hurt each other and also, how to stop hurting each other.

Pursuing emotional wholeness is a journey Jonathan and I have been on for four years now. And though we walk together, our paths look different. The healing Jonathan needed came in the form of expressing long-hidden grief. For me, it meant beginning to feel long-hidden feelings.

For both of us, the path to healing has trodden straight through pain, but it’s been worth it, for the healing we’ve found has deepened our intimacy and intensified our joy.  

 

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Celebrating 15 years of marriage

Perhaps the honeymoon should have worn off by now, but it hasn’t. We have more joy and intimacy after 15 years of the “daily grind” than we ever dreamed possible.

Along the way, we’ve shed strict interpretations of gender roles and lost deep emotional wounds. In their place, we’ve welcomed emotional healing and embraced mutual love and respect.

We are co-heirs with Christ and co-leaders in our home. We lead each other closer to Jesus, closer to love, closer to wholeness. We give each other space to grow, and we say the hard truth to each other, too.

This is what our Joy looks like.

 

Read more! My absolute favorite posts on marriage EVER:

Zac Allen on Being a Husband Who Unleashes His Wife

Kay Bruner with And They Lived Egalitarianly Ever After

And from my own husband, The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy

Foundational Ideas for Merging CPM Principles with Emotional Healing

This document was developed for CPM (church planting movement) practitioners in Cambodia. It is my great hope that this article, when combined with Adding What’s Missing, will encourage and enable practitioners in Cambodia and beyond to care about the hearts of people in a new and whole way. It is a work in progress, of course, and I am acutely aware of my limited cultural knowledge and expertise, along with my general inexperience in the realm of church planting. However, these articles are not written from my head, lacking outside input. They form the synthesis of countless meetings, counseling sessions, observations, discussions, and prayers, both here in Cambodia and abroad. As a work in progress, any suggested edits/additions are more than welcome.

May the Bride of Christ in Cambodia grow explosively and mature deeply, in every single village.

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You can’t be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature. — Peter Scazzero

Emotional damage from our past affects how we view ourselves, how we respond to others, how we treat others, how we respond to others who touch our pain, and how we view God. It is important that we resolve the emotional areas of pain so that our present relationships will not be negatively affected. Unresolved emotional damage causes us to build walls to protect our heart from further hurt. We do not allow others to get too close lest they hurt us like we have been damaged in the past. Neither can we give love if we have been too emotionally damaged. — John Regier

“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” — Matthew 22:36-40

 

Jesus spoke to the core of people, to their hearts. He connected with the hearts of his audience, and that was relieving for some and threatening for others. He cared about actions, of course, but primarily because actions spring from the heart.

The heart is where we store our pain. We’re also told to love God with our whole hearts, and people too. The trouble is, in order to love God (or people) from our hearts, we have to spend some time down in our own hearts, and that can be scary, especially if we’ve buried and stored a lot of pain down in there.

Our hearts are where we store our pain AND it’s where we experience joy and the deepest form of healing. Jesus doesn’t want us to paint a thin veneer over our hearts, saying “It’s all in the past and I’m pressing on now!” In reality, that’s often just fake, and it’s a way to NOT deal with our deep pain. Like a wound, if you just cover it up with a bandage and say it’s all better, you might feel better for a bit, and others might think you’re fine, but the wound is still there. And it will probably get worse. It needs to be gently exposed and treated.

The great news is that Jesus is the great Healer. He can take care of our pain, our past hurts. He can handle it all, and in fact he wants to. He doesn’t want us living with bitterness and fear and anger and pain.

 

Practically Speaking

Keep in mind, always, that the most important thing required to help someone connect with their own heart is that YOU are connected to YOURS.

Even if people don’t have the words to describe it, they know if you’re just talking from your head. They know if it’s just your mind conveying information. And they can tell when it shifts and you’re speaking from your heart.

Before teaching these ideas, it would probably be a good idea for you to pause and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this? Is it important? What if this impacted this disciple? And then their children? Their community and nation? How would Jesus feel about the disciple sitting in front of me? What would his vision be for their life? Would Jesus want to see them connecting to the heart of the Father, experiencing the comfort of the Spirit, and feeling the presence of the Son?”

These questions should help you connect with your own heart. This is not just about teaching content – this is about watching Jesus heal people through the love of the Father, the power of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus.

These ideas are all somewhat esoteric. Here are some visual aids to help convey these truths. These are designed to set the stage for Adding What’s Missing, and I believe they could be taught to Cambodians who could then teach them to others, and so on.

 

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The bubbles represent our feelings/emotions. When they reach the surface and pop, we see them as actions. Sometimes, what we see is an angry outburst or a lustful act, or simple crying. We often try to stop the bubbles from surfacing, either because we don’t want others to know, or maybe because our actions when the bubbles pop are wrong. However, just trying to catch them before they get to the surface doesn’t work very well. We need to ask, Where are they coming from?

What causes me to get angry like this?

What causes me to want to sin like this?

What makes me sad and cry like this?

A big goal here is to be brave enough to trace the actions we see (bursting bubbles on the surface) to the feelings/emotions that cause them (the bubbles) to the box (historical event or pain) that produces them.

Of course, it might be as simple as the person’s sin nature. However, I believe that the general brokenness of our world, plus the specific pain (abuse, neglect, etc.) experienced, exacerbates the effects of our sin nature. For example, looking at porn is wrong and stems from a basic lust of the flesh. However, there are emotional and historical components that can’t be ignored. Jesus didn’t just tell people to “stop sinning.” He cared about their stories too. He cared about their hearts.

 

LANDMINESmine_sign

Even if you can’t see a mine, it can still hurt you. Even if it’s been buried and out of sight a long time, it can still injure you and others. God wants to “de-mine” our hearts, healing us, and making that land usable again.

What happens to land that has mines? It’s dangerous. You’re afraid to go there. Other people are afraid to go there. What can the land be used for? What happens when the mines have been removed? It’s good for farming or planting or building a house. It’s good for so much! What would a landowner feel like after being told that his land has been completely cleared of mines? Would his behavior change?

So, what can be done? First, you have to recognize that there is danger there. Are there things you don’t want to talk about because it hurts too much? Are there emotions or feelings that you often begin to feel and then force yourself to stop feeling? Why? Is it because of fear? If so, that’s very normal and understandable. Jesus wants to give you a safe place to go when you are afraid. And he wants to heal the hurting places.

Have you ever heard someone say, “We don’t talk about what’s in the past”? Why do you think they said that? Maybe they were afraid of the pain. Maybe they didn’t want you to talk about it because that would be like stepping on a mine. So, we don’t ever want to force anyone to talk about something they don’t want to talk about. If a person is not ready, if they do not feel safe even with Jesus, that is their decision. It is wrong to try to force a person to remember something that is painful. If they don’t want to talk about it, that is their decision.

Even so, we can teach that when we bury our pain, it’s like we’re burying landmines. We might not be able to see it anymore, but years from now, it could still hurt us or someone we love.

Jesus wants to bring safety. He wants to locate the mines and remove them so we can live free from fear, with hope and a future. If a person does not feel safe enough to “go there,” it might be good to step back and do some teaching on the heart and character and presence of Jesus. His presence is healing, and understanding how he cares about our fear and pain can be transformational.

 

More Resources:

Read part two: Adding What’s Missing: Merging CPM Principles with Emotional Healing.

For a pdf of this document: Foundational Ideas for Merging CPM Principles with Emotional Healing.

For general resources on emotional health.

For a wonderful description of the importance and necessity of the Psalms in the life of the Church.