On Fundamental Sadness and the Deeper Magic {A Life Overseas}

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by Jonathan

Some call it pessimism. Unspiritual. A sickness best treated with peppy music and cliché-riddled Christianese. They caution and guard against sadness, considering it a rabbit hole (or a worm hole) leading nowhere good. Others call it holy. Jeremiah-ish. Defending it with the label of realism – open eyes that see things as they truly are.

It is Fundamental Sadness.

Do you know what it feels like, this fundamental sadness? The sadness that seems to be part of all things?

Sometimes the sadness is very personal; it’s the loss of a sister or a father or a good friend. Sometimes it’s the loss of a country or long-treasured plans.

Sometimes the sadness is more global. It’s the emotional darkness that comes after you hear about Las Vegas, Mogadishu, the Yazidis, Paris, the Rohingya, or Raqqa. Sometimes its triggered by hashtags like #MeToo or #BringBackOurGirls.

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It is the blazing sunset that sears, not because of who’s present, but because of who’s absent.

It is the baby’s cry in a mother’s arms that taunts your empty ones.

It is the background sadness, fundamental, and seemingly underneath all things.

It’s the threat of miscarriage behind every pregnancy.

It’s the one who sees the beauty of the dawn, but feels deep in his gut that the dawn comes before the dusk – that sunrise precedes sunset.

It is the lover who knows, at the beginning of a beautiful kiss, that it will end.

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“…of all conceivable things the most acutely dangerous thing is to be alive.”

— G.K. Chesterton

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For me, this foundational sadness is not necessarily depressing, but it is always pressing: exerting force, demanding to be heard, demanding to be observed.

Do you know this feeling?

People get scared when I talk like this. I sort of do too. What will people think? This doesn’t sound right. Or mature. Or Holy.

And yet Jesus wept.

“And yet.” A powerful reminder, hinting at the deeper magic.

Jesus knew Jerusalem would destroy the prophets, and he knew Rome would destroy Jerusalem.

And yet.

Though the sadness feels fundamental, the deeper magic is there, waiting, pulsing. It absorbs the sadness, bearing it, transforming it, then re-birthing it.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

What the darkness of a tropical jungle taught me about Advent

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We’re in Advent now – the darkest time of year. It is truly the four darkest weeks of the year. We are edging ever closer to the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year and the longest night, and the day in the northern hemisphere in which the sun travels as far south as it ever will.

The ancients – so they say – feared the sun would continue dipping farther and farther south until eternal night came and the sun returned no more — which is in a way true in the northernmost latitudes.

But on December 21st or 22nd (depending on the year), the curse reverses. Stops, and turns back. The winter solstice is a promise that night will not last forever. The days will lengthen. Light and warmth will return.

But now, as the darkness of December dives ever deeper, we remember the darkness of a world without a savior. We remember the 400-year long wait to hear the voice of God again. We remember the oppression and the lack and the longing.

And we wait. We wait for freedom and redemption and unblemished communion with God. For everything in Herod’s Temple was but a shadow of the communion we are created to live. And the communion we now enjoy through Christ crucified and risen is still but a shadow of the feasting and oneness and rejoicing in the eternal Kingdom Come.

So we wait.

I remember in the States how the darkness would get the best of me. Not before Christmas mind you – there was too much joy and excitement and twinkle lights – but after. In January (which was far colder) the short days would depress me. It wasn’t enough to immobilize me, but it was enough to feel its weight bearing down on me — and February wasn’t much better.

But I was never afraid of that darkness. In that developed place, there are enough city lights and home lights that the darkness didn’t ever feel total. Here, though, it’s different. Our low tropical latitude means sunset comes on fast and strong, all year round. The darkness doesn’t just deepen. It makes a swift descent.

And the darkness is much more complete. I never noticed it as much, before we boarded a boat too poor to own a light for a sunset “cruise” in Kampot. That darkness I tell ya, it’s quick. And thick. It’s a despairing darkness, and feels as if morning might never come.

Sunset comes at nearly the same time year round: 6 pm. We don’t have shorter days (not by much anyway), but we don’t have longer days either. I do miss the seasonal lengthening.

And though we live in the city, the darkness is still complete. Out my front door is a partially completed yet still tall and as-yet uninhabited row house. It blocks whatever city lights might get to my 3rd story living room window. So when night begins, the darkness is total.

And ever since that dark river trip in which I truly encountered the darkness of the Cambodian jungle, I cannot bear even to look out my window at night. Not after riding along a churning, muddy river without a light. This darkness is too much for me. And too soon. Each evening it comes too soon.

But isn’t this the soul of Advent? The darkness is too much for us. We were not created to live in this darkness, nor to take part in creating the darkness.

So we wait. And we cry out. We cry for mercy. We cry for hope. We cry for return. Return of the Light. Return of the Son. Return of the King.

Until He comes, we will cry. Until He comes, we will wait. Until He comes, we will not lose hope.

And we will remember. We will remember that at just the right time, eternal, all-powerful God became flesh and dwelt among us. Pitched His bodily tent among us.

His is the unwavering Light in this present darkness.

Come, Lord Jesus.

When You Stop Loving the Church

by Elizabeth

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I’ve had a life-long love affair with the church of Jesus Christ. Many of you know that. I’ve talked about it often enough.

But. I almost lost my faith in Christ’s blessed church recently. I was disappointed with His people. Disillusioned even. I felt betrayed by the depravity of mankind.

And then.

I sang the Doxology with my teammates. The words of life set in rich, deep harmonies. Ancient truth, ever new.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above ye heavenly host
Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost

And then.

I sang Hillsong’s “Glory” with my local church. Words I’d never before heard. Words my spirit desperately needed to hear and to proclaim.

Glory to the risen king, glory to the Son, glorious Son
Lift up your heads, open the doors
Let the king of glory come in
And forever be our God

And then.

I remembered the words of Psalm 29, words that my husband had read aloud earlier that day.

The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks and strips the forests bare.
In His Temple everyone shouts “Glory!”

And then.

It all came rushing back to me. All along, it’s been CHRIST. Christ is the reason I believed in His church in the first place. Because of Him, and not because of His people.

We are His because of Him, and because of Him, He is our God. Never because of us. For as we used to sing in youth group,

My only hope is You, Jesus
My only hope is You
From early in the morning till late at night
My only hope is You

Human beings were never worthy of my hope. My only hope is in God, and when we’re in God’s Temple, we all cry Glory! Even the believers who disillusion me.

And then.

I remembered more. Standing there with my hands lifted as high to the sky as I could reach, I remembered standing in that same position last year, shouting out Hillsong’s “The Creed” with a shattered heart.

I believe in God our Father
I believe in Christ the Son
I believe in the Holy Spirit
Our God is three in one
I believe in the resurrection
That we will rise again
For I believe in the name of Jesus

And then.

I realized that my strongest experiences of worship don’t usually happen when life is going well. No, it’s when life is going poorly and I’m in the middle of a storm and I still stand and sing GLORY that I most intensely experience God’s nearness and God’s greatness.

And this praise, this powerful act of defiance against evil and against discouragement and against hatred, it’s something no one and nothing can take away from us. It’s our right and our privilege as God’s children, and it can’t be stolen from us.

God alone is worthy of our hope and worthy of our praise. We proclaim it now, and one day in the Temple, we will all join together, saints and angels alike, to shout GLORY. Forever. And ever.

Amen.

This article was reprinted at both Relevant and Faithit.

You can read all the posts in my Church series here.

Dear Homeschool Mother of Littles: Don’t Give Up

by Elizabeth

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Dear Homeschool Mother in the Little Years: please don’t give up. Don’t quit, not yet. Just keep going.

One of these days you’re going to look around and find that everything you’ve been working towards, everything you’ve been yearning for, it’s happening. Right here, right now. Today.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find your children reading on their own. For fun. And yes — even the kid who struggled to learn how to read.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find your children teaching themselves things for the pure joy and curiosity of it all. And then they’re going to turn around and tell you about all the things they’ve been learning and reading.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and hear the sound of those instruments you’ve been making them practice. And one of these days, you’re going to turn around and find that the excitement and wonder you carry for the natural and supernatural worlds, your children carry it, too.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find your children able to play board games and card games that you actually find interesting. {Yes, even your favorite word games.} And then you’re going to turn around again and watch them invent new games to play with each other.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find your children making up imaginary worlds that have imaginary languages and imaginary cultures. And then, when they invite you to visit, you’ll go to those places, too.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find that your children are actually helpful in cleaning up after dinner and taking out the trash and cleaning their rooms. And you’re going to depend on them to help run your household.

One of these days you’re going to turn around and hear them cracking jokes. Like, actual funny jokes. And you’re going to hear new one-liners dropped at the dinner table nearly every day. {And then you’re going to thank God for giving your children the sense of humor that may or may not have skipped over you.}

One of these days you’re going to turn around and find yourself having deep theological discussions with your children, discussions that hold their interest. And you’re going to be able to talk about the Sunday sermons, because they were actually listening.

I tell you these things because this past month as we closed out the school year and started our summer vacation, I’ve been reflecting on the state of my home school. Sometimes reflection can be a dangerous pursuit: it can lead to despair over an apparent lack of progress.

But this month something very different materialized for me: satisfaction and delight. Because all those things I mentioned? They’re happening for us. All of a sudden. Even after I’d given up on some of them EVER happening.

So dear Homeschool Mother in the Little Years, don’t give up. Don’t quit. Not yet. Nurture your little family. Plant those seeds and water them, then place them in the sun to warm. One of these days you’re going to look around and find that those seeds have sprouted and are bearing fruit — maybe even all at once.

Experienced home school mothers used to tell me this too, and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t think that promise was for me. And you might not think it’s for you, either. But take it from someone who can despair with the best of them: this promise IS for you, and your efforts are NOT in vain. So don’t give up.

One of these days it’s going to be worth it. You’re going to turn around and find that everything you’ve been working towards and everything you’ve been longing for is finally coming to fruition. It’ll all be right here, right now, today.

Just keep going.

Journal Excerpts from Our First Month in Cambodia

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:4

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I almost didn’t publish the following journal entries, which I recorded during our first weeks in Cambodia. When I read them for the first time after a year, I was surprised by the intensity of my original feelings (although I’m nothing if not intense). I remembered that time as being bad, but not this bad. I’m sharing some of my journal here because I want 1) to give people hope, 2) to proclaim, along with Samuel, “thus far has the Lord helped us,” and 3) never to lose my compassion for those currently in the “depths of despair.” (Anne Shirley addicts unite! She still relates to all of life.)

I’m happy here now, and I’m no longer plagued by any of these yucks. We worked to correct some of them, while I simply became accustomed to others. The yays, however, persist – my dependence on worship, laughter, and a wonderful husband, haven’t changed at all.

Arrival Date: January 16th, 2012.

Friday January 20th. And there is absolutely nothing about this place that I don’t hate. Can’t think of any earthly reason why we shouldn’t just pack up and go back. So I pretty much don’t know how I’m ever going to survive here, let alone be happy again.

Theme #1: My Overreactor is dialed ALL the way up. You’ll see this repeated quite often.

Sunday January 22st. ICA was so good for my soul. “My life is in you, Lord, My strength is in You, Lord, My hope is in You, Lord, in You, It’s in You.” In worship today I just declared this to God, that He is my strength, my life, that I’m depending on Him to sustain me and only He can do it. We sang about going whatever the cost and up the highest mountain and through the darkest valley. God reminded me that I’m here to stay. Not just in Cambodia, but in relationship with Him. I’m not leaving Him. I’m stubborn on this point.

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Struggling to find God on our first Sunday

So tired. Can barely stay awake after 5 pm every day. Up 6 times last night with Hannah. There is so much dust here that has to be swept and mopped every day, and that gets old. It feels so futile. Just get up the next day to clean it all again. Everything here is so stinkin’ dangerous. Sharp corners on walls, slippery floors. So much more danger in general.

Theme #2: My Hope is dialed all the way down. (Again, oft-repeated.)

Theme #3: Worship music was my lifeline. You’ll see this one again too.

Monday January 23nd. Bought the wrong size diapers. Again. I can’t get this kilogram thing figured out! But I am doing better in general. So is Jonathan. Can’t wait to go back to ICA.

And good grief the mosquito bites. New ones each morning. So itchy. Jonathan had to fix some electrical wiring today. Plugs are never enough or in a convenient place. Can’t flush in the morning. Showers don’t drain well. The heat saps your energy. Driving saps energy — there seem to be no rules. The nationals and their police know the rules but we don’t. Street signs don’t exist and the roads aren’t N-S-E-W. Dirt is everywhere and has to be cleaned. Laundry must be hung and dishes washed by hand. (Did I mention I can’t wait to get a house helper??) The language barrier is huge and everything is in kg.

Tuesday January 24th. I’m not particularly happy. I’m not particularly unhappy. I am particularly exhausted. Everything is so hard here but I keep plugging away. “Whatever.” That’s how I feel much of the time. I can laugh, however. We laugh all the time. Mostly at the stupidity of living here.

Everything is so stinkin dusty. Floors, furniture, stair railings. Even clean clothes smell like wood fire and spices. Annoying. Hannah slept all night with the aid of Benadryl. Benadryl to Isaac for his hundred mosquito bites. They were super bad in the house yesterday. Feet hurt excruciatingly badly. I need house shoes with arch support because I can barely walk. It’s so humid here, even in air con, that my hair doesn’t dry at night.

Theme #4: I can’t survive without laughter. (Experts claim that the beginning of laughter signals the slow ascent out of the Abyss of Culture Shock.)

Thursday January 26th. Another day. Ugg. Why do I have to live here? I don’t want to live here. I don’t want to want to live here. And I don’t want to keep living. Life is easier back home and I want it. Everything bothers me. Why does it have to be so hard? Nothing comes ready-made. You have to do it yourself, and even then the electrical wiring comes apart. I hate mornings. Reminds me how unhappy I am. At least at night I can look forward to sleep.

I suppose one of these days these pages will be happier. But I have never been unhappier. It seems so hopeless. I want to go home. I want to go home so bad that I don’t even care that it would look bad, that my life story wouldn’t mean anything, that it would go against everything we’ve ever said, that it would disappoint people, that we would have wasted people’s money, that it might be hard to find a ministry job. But this life is so terrible. I can’t stand it. I can’t find meaning. I can’t find pleasure. I can’t find comfort. I can’t find ease. I can’t find understanding. I can’t even find food I actually want to eat. And every morning I awaken to more needs from the girls. That is so endlessly draining. Can’t clean or cook or do anything b/c Faith needs me to hold her. I’m off to more house work now. Dirty, stinky, unending housework. Bartering is so hard, and you do it in 2 different currencies, 2 different languages, and never know if it’s a good price.

So much to fix. I can’t see the end, it goes on forever. This morning I wanted to die. I told Jonathan I wouldn’t kill myself b/c I don’t like pain, but all I wanted to do was to get on a plane alone and run away. Coming here really did seem like a good idea at the time. Not anymore. Plus Faith is sick with a fever, poor cranky baby.

Repeat of Themes 1 and 2 (High on Overreactivity and Low on Hope)

Sunday afternoon January 29th. Been sick for 2 days. Pain, chills, fever (flu-like) along with abdominal pain and diarrhea. Could barely move last 2 days. I missed church and hated to miss it. When will my heart take up residence in this place? I worry about never accomplishing anything. Never making a difference. To make a difference I’ll have to learn this language (too hard).

Themes 1 and 2 strike again (Overreactivity and Hopelessness).

Somehow I want to make peace with living here as Jonathan has. Being here makes me love my husband more than ever. He is so sweet to me, taking care of me when I’m sick, being patient with my depressed moods and angry outbursts. Seeing him in this setting reminds me how special he is, much more loving than most men.

Theme #5 surfaces: I need my husband.

Wednesday February 1st. I was so sick. 3 days of diarrhea and pain, then went to Dr Modich at Mercy Clinic. (I thought I was going to die I was in so much pain.) I needed Cipro. Still not back to normal plus I have a terrible head cold on top of that.

Finding Him is no longer fun and exciting. It’s drudgery, fearfulness, pain, sadness. But I am determined to find Him in this dark place. He is the light of the world and those who seek Him will find Him when they seek Him with their whole hearts. I will find Him. Yes.

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Out to dinner with Jonathan’s sister before she left the country,

but still recovering from illness.

Thursday February 2nd. One thing that’s hard about living here (only one!) is that people like to touch my kids, and they don’t like it. How to stop it politely? I don’t know. In a moment of frustration today I started singing Magnificat. I knew I had to praise, and sure enough, I felt better.

Theme 3 (Worship) to the rescue again
Saturday February 4th. “This world may pass, and with it common trifles, but God and I will go unendingly.” These are the common trifles . . . mosquito bites that itch, heat and humidity, laundry that smells like fire (if window open) or mildew rotting (if closed).

Sunday February 26th. Church – great worship. Your Grace is Enough. How Deep the Father’s Love. A Zoe Group song I listened to while pregnant with Faith and during her labor. I cried during You are My Strength. Great a cappella song. Felt so good to sing. Made me homesick for heaven when we’ll all be together again singing praises to our King.

There I am, relying on Theme 3 again (worship).

March 27th. A few weeks into Cambodia I realized it would be more difficult to pack up and leave for home than to stay.

And then, inexplicably, I stopped journaling. Apparently I didn’t feel the need to journal my unhappiness anymore. So to anyone considering following God in a “big” way, no matter what that is, please do not give up Hope that life will improve, that Transition will pass. Do not believe that the rest of your life will be as dreadful as it feels right now. Hold on to Hope.

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We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  Romans 5:3-5