Furlough is Coming

‘Twas the day before furlough and all through the house,
Everybody was crazy, even the mouse.

With kilograms counted and carry-ons packed,
The dad will get asked, “Can I fit this last sack?”

With Ma on her IG and Pa on his Twitter,
They’ll update their close friends through one last newsletter.

Frazzled and frayed, the start of a furlough,
The family boards early with one last cold Milo.

Onboard entertainment will probably help
Pass the time and the sadness, and the little one’s yelp.

The children will sleep, if they’re any the wiser;
Jet lag comes for all, the great equalizer.

Arrival with greetings and baggage galore!
“Now pick up the kid sleeping on the floor.”

A welcome is waiting at somebody’s house,
Along with green grass and a bed without louse.


Awakened and rested, two weeks have now passed.
It seems like a dream the term that was last.

No VPNs needed! No guards at the gate!
And Grandma and Grandpa let parents go date.

“Another world that.” They’ll say to each other,
Debriefing and telling it all to the Mother.

Then shopping will start, making up for lost time,
Enjoying the produce and actual lines.

“The stores are so huge!” They’ll gasp and they’ll stammer,
With carts made for tonnage like fridges and jammers.
“All the things in one place?” A small child’s amused;
A TCK so he’s often confused.

The church is so clean, inviting and nice!
It’s also, turns out, surprisingly white.

The parks are amazing and so well maintained;
The trash is discarded and canines restrained.

Folks think that they’re on an extended vacation,
Relaxing and soaking up big adulations.

“Please Father forgive them, they just do not see,
The pressures and burdens of this ministry.”

The family will travel in borrowed van and,
They’ll tell all their stories and hope that you can,
Listen and care some, then get on your knees,
And join them in this work, their Life Overseas.

— Jonathan Trotter


From A Life Overseas

Coming Home: a story in 3 parts

by Elizabeth


1. We landed in L.A. for an 18-hour layover after what was perhaps the Most Turbulent Flight Ever. Then we headed to an airport hotel to sleep off some jet lag (courtesy of my husband, the Expert Trip Planner).

The next morning after breakfast, we walked around to get some sun so we could keep fighting off the dreaded jet lag. And lo and behold, what did I see? Only my very favorite plant: the magnificent palm tree.

(There were also succulents, which may just need to be added to my list of favorite plants.)

And I thought to myself, maybe the part of my soul that longs for palm trees really can be satisfied on this soil. I think on some level I knew America had palm trees, but I’d never been in a place to see them before. It was a welcoming sight.


2. That next day as we settled in to our last flight, we ran into an old family friend. (Actually, it was the minister who performed my husband’s grandfather’s funeral, and his wife.)

As we chatted, the husband said, “Heading home?” And I nodded and said, “yes” — because we are, and that’s the way most people talk about these trips anyway.

But then he paused, for maybe only half a second, and said: “Heading home, on your way from home.”

Yes. We’re heading home, on our way from home. And I THANKED him for that statement, because it’s the truest way of describing this strange mobile life, and not everyone takes the time to acknowledge that truth.

We are, ever and always, heading home on our way from home.


3. Friends and family greeted us at the airport and helped us load our luggage into their vehicles. In the car I talked with my parents some and listened to my parents talk to my kids some. I was tired.

We passed plenty of places that looked just the same, and we passed plenty of places where new homes and businesses had sprung up. The highway doesn’t look quite the same as it did when I was growing up.

But the moment we turned onto the street that heads to my parents’ house, I knew I was home. It may have been 2 1/2 years since I’ve seen it, but it seemed like I had driven that road only yesterday.

And so I am Home. It’s a good feeling.

‘Tis The (Leaving) Season!

by Jonathan

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It’s that time of year when a lot of folks return to their passport countries; some for a visit and some for good. Which means it’s that time of year when returners get upset that folks “at home” don’t really care all that much about life abroad, or our ministry, or our former country, etc.

But what if the returners cared as much about the home team as we want the home team to care about us?

What if the returners asked their senders questions of the same quantity and intensity that we desire the senders to ask us?

Maybe you’ve been abroad for two years or four years or six months. That’s awesome! And maybe you’ve got stories and you’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory.

So have they.

Those who “stayed behind” lived life too. And while you were living two years, they were living two years too. And most likely, they’ve got stories and they’ve experienced love and loss and grit and glory too.

And while we’re so desperately wanting people to listen to and care about our stories, perhaps we should spend some time listening to and caring about theirs.

Turns out, pretty much everyone likes being heard.

And I think that’s a gift we should give. These people send us, pray for us, sacrifice for us. The least we can do is actually care about their stories of love and loss.

Remember, they lived life too.

A Few of My Favorite Things {September 2015}

Here are some of my Favorites from this last month. ~Elizabeth


Pen-and-Paper journaling and analog Bible reading. As much as I loved reading the Kindle versions of Grace for the Good Girl and From Good to Grace for my devotional times over the summer, my soul felt so happy to return to good old pen-and-paper journaling and analog Bible reading this month. Apparently I need the turning of pages and the moving of my hands on paper. My soul is different on the inside, more still and at peace.

Prayer time with the prayer team.  Being in ministry and continuously pouring myself out for others, I often forget to let others pour into me. I (usually) remember to let God fill me up, and I most certainly draw strength from my marriage, but I generally forget to let other people pour into me. Which is why meeting with the prayer team at our international church felt so good. I didn’t owe anyone anything; my only job was to receive prayer. I didn’t even have to come up with words and verses for them to pray over me; that was their job. I cannot tell you how good that felt and how many burdens were lifted from my heart after that prayer session.

A farewell night with my team. I’m so thankful for the families on our Team Expansion team. They are dear, safe confidants, and their children are like my children’s cousins on the field. In an ex-pat world of moving people, there is something so comforting about having people who get you (because you live the same lifestyle), and who are also committed to you on a longer-term basis (because of the organizational link). The difference in relational security is staggering. And also, my people are funny. They make me laugh. I can be so focused and serious sometimes (most times?) that I need real, live people to pull me out of my Seriousness and have fun with me.

Worship music from Hillsong, International House of Prayer (IHOP), Bethel, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, etc. While I dozed over the Pacific, I listened to my (10-year old) iPod shuffle, which has all my favorite worship music on it. I love IHOP music. Can’t get enough of it. In the time of flux we like to call “furlough,” this music served to re-center me and focus my affections on God. Bonus: it lulled me to sleep during a bad hour of turbulence. I get airsick pretty easily, and Jonathan told me later that he kept looking over at me during this hour, fearing I would be sick. Instead I was fast asleep. Thankful for that!

My parents’ house. As expected, I did feel right at home walking into their house. My parents have lived here 15 years, the longest they’ve ever lived anywhere (with the next longest time being 4 ½ years), and it truly feels like home to me. For years Jonathan and I lived only 20 minutes away, and I brought my kids here at least once a week. I have all these memories of my mom babysitting so I could go to pre-natal appointments and then staying for the rest of the day, of using her laundry when we didn’t have a washing machine of our own, and of just plain sitting nursing my babies while I sat and talked with her.

And my kids remember this place too, both before we moved to Cambodia and on our last stateside service, when we stayed here a couple months. This house is for them, I hope, what my grandparents’ house was for me: a rock, and a stable place to return to. Plus, Mom makes yummy food, and her house has soft sheets, a dryer, and comfortable carpet. What other creature comforts could I ask for?? It truly is a safe place in a time of transition and culture shock.

Free parks in cool September weather. It’s not cold yet! The weather is pleasant and beautiful. Friends lent us bicycles, and my kids are enjoying those, along with all the free, non-rusting, non-blisteringly-hot playgrounds. Windows are wide open all the time, and I’m enjoying the very fresh, non-garbage-y air. I can walk the neighborhoods — whose sidewalks are both clean and flat — without a bunch of mangy dogs barking and nipping at me. Also I’m loving the back porch as a place to read and write.

A total lunar eclipse. I hadn’t seen one since I was a girl, and it was neat to both see it and revisit some of the science behind eclipses. I was still jet-lagged but nothing can erase the splendor of a blood-red moon.

Free books from the library. Need I say more? My mom lets me max out her library card while I’m here. If I come across any treasures, I’ll be sure to review them here next month.

And now for some Link Love . . .



When God Became King by N.T. Wright. This is my first N.T. Wright (I know, I’m late to the game), and like all Wright, it’s dense and will take me a while to get through. So far I’m intrigued. I love the Creeds (Apostles’ and Nicene) and the way they encapsulate the gospel story. But Wright says they’re incomplete. They’re missing Jesus’ LIFE. So I’m on a journey to find out more. . .



An Open Letter from My 42 Year Old self to My 28 Year Old Self Who is About to Begin Homeschooling by Laura Hamm Coppinger. New homeschool moms take note of this advice! I had the privilege of being counseled by Laura at Bible camp for several years in a row back in the 1990’s, and I relate to her on so many levels, not least of which is being guilty of taking homeschooling waaaaay too seriously in the early days. As she says, “Hello, he’s five.” Also she cracks me up with: “Someone always has to poop.” Yep. Ask any mom of boys and they’ll tell you the same. For another hilarious parenting one from her, check out The Story of My Sleeves.

My Daughter was Born on the Anniversary of 9/11 by Rachel Pieh Jones. If there’s one thing Rachel knows how to do, it’s write tear-jerkers! It’s been a few weeks since we commemorated the anniversary of 9/11, but this post is worth going back to. May you be encouraged by both the hope and the shalom present in this story.

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis by Marilyn Gardner. Need I say more? The title tells all. Marilyn is always wise — and in this case, she’s funny too.

How to Respond (without violence) When Someone Says “Everything-Happens-For-A-Reason” by Christine Suhan. More on the subject of responding to people in crisis. This post reminded me of the scene in Call the Midwife when Jenny is in despair after her boyfriend unexpectedly dies. Sister Julienne tells her, “God isn’t in the event, Jenny. He’s in the response to the event.” I’ve always had trouble accepting theology that says God is sovereign; therefore He intended for [rape/violence/trafficking/cancer] to happen. Sentiments like Sister Julienne’s comfort me in my faith in a loving God, and I often find myself remembering her statement in the midst of tragedy.

Grace and Anger by Chris Lautsbaugh. Sometimes I’ve found, as Chris explains in this post, that what’s underneath my anger is a deep sadness and grief that I’d rather not address. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too.

Christ, Our Righteous Garment by Missy Filler. Another post on grace and works. I think so many of us have felt this way before and struggled to untangle our thinking.

An Unexpected Friend by Melanie Singleton. So many reasons to love this post about insecurity, gratitude, and finding deep, healing friendships with other women.

Faith in the Valley: Hagar in the Desert by Katrina Ryder. I’ve gotten to know Katrina through fellow A Life Overseas writers Andy and Kay Bruner. When I shared with her my recent post about Hagar, she in turn shared her thoughts on Hagar. I was blown away. Blown away. I love the stories in Genesis. I think and read about them a lot (I take after my mummy in that regard). But here Katrina offers thoughts that you’ve never thunk before. Read it and engage with her in her own comment section, and then let me know so I can read your thoughts, too.



Kari Jobe teaching on worship.  You all know I love to worship. And I love this teaching on worship from Kari Jobe.

Addicted to Anxiety 2 seminar. Over the years I’ve dealt with some pretty significant anxiety, both in social situations and over health and safety fears. I don’t generally live with overpowering anxiety anymore, but in times of stress, I can really start to feel anxious again. What I love about this seminar is finding out that teachers and writers whom I love and respect have dealt with heavy anxiety too; I’m not alone. Maybe you also need to know you’re not alone in your anxiety. In particular I loved hearing from Angie Smith (whom I know from IF:Gathering) at 19:00, Beth Moore at 34:40, and Holley Gerth (founder of incourage.me) at 2:01:55.

Emily P. Freeman on the Feathers podcast. I’ve talked about Emily, author of Grace for the Good Girl, before. I loved this interview with her.

Flourishing in Grace by Katrina Ryder. As I mentioned before, I met Katrina through some mutual friends. She’s the editor at the website To Save a Life, where some of Jonathan’s and my work has been reprinted. I love her video sessions! This one is based out of her personal interaction with the ideas in Emily P. Freeman’s Grace for the Good Girl. Scroll to the bottom to watch the video.

Finding the Rest of My Faith by Katrina Ryder. Another one from Katrina, on spiritual rest, and I like it even better than her first one. She made me laugh a bunch in this one.

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Church — an interview with Kay Warren. Wow. You will cry during this interview. Kay and her husband Rick lost their son to suicide several years ago. Kay is wise and compassionate and offers advice for churches wanting to help those suffering with mental illness, including some beginning book recommendations. What I love about Kay is that she thinks the Church has something to offer those suffering from mental illness that no one else can offer. It’s a really hopeful view of both the Church and mental illness.

To Scale: The Solar System. You might have seen this already. I love it. When I was a child, I dreamed I walked the solar system. I passed by the gas planets, walked all the way to Pluto (which was still considered a planet), and ended in a beautiful valley. It was paradise, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. I often think of that dream and the way God placed a love for the heavens in me from a very early age. Of course the science and scale of my dream was waaaaay off, for me to be walking past the gas planets. But the awe and wonder present in that dream are still present in my waking hours today.

Biblical Imagination and the Gospels — interview with Michael Card. Jonathan and I have a long-standing love for Michael Card’s theologically-rich lyrics, including songs like El Shaddai, Things We Leave Behind, Why, and God’s Own Fool (which I’ve actually blogged about before). I loved listening to Michael’s explanation of the Biblical imagination and how to connect the head and the heart, and his four new Gospel commentaries are now on my To Read (Eventually) list. Here’s a quicker explanation for the Biblical imagination from Michael. He’s also done some teaching on lamenting as worship, which I really appreciated.

Never Once by Matt Redman. I listened to this song on the plane. It was the theme song during our last trip to the U.S. and truly represented how we felt about our first term in Cambodia. Now that I’ve finished a second term, I can again say with gratitude that never once did I ever walk alone. He has been with me, beside me, and in me this entire time, and I see how His love has burned ever deeper into my heart the past two years.

The Far Side of Somewhere {A Life Overseas}


by Elizabeth

I remember my first home service. All those awkward experiences like drinking water from the tap and flushing the toilet with potable water again. Or feeling naked and exposed with no metal security bars on the windows. Or handing payment to cashiers with two hands (like I do in Cambodia) and then being embarrassed, because normal people don’t do that here.

What was up with the laundry smelling nice, all the time? (Come to think of it, what was up with everything smelling nice, all the time?) Could a load of laundry really take a mere two hours to complete, all the way from wash to wear, without having to hang on the line for two or three days in rainy season andstill be damp — and smelling of fire and whatever dish the neighbors last cooked over said fire??

I wanted someone to explain to me why Americans felt the need to store hot water in a tank. Seemed like such a waste of energy when you could use a tankless water heater instead, thereby providing a never-ending source of hot water for yourself. (Running out of hot water in the winter is a big problem for me.)

Today I’m facing another home service. I’ll click publish on this blog post and leave my Cambodia home. I’ll board a plane and begin the process of temporarily re-entering my American home.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas