Intensity and Intentionality {a note about marriage and motherhood on the field}

A while back our organization asked me to write a little something about marriage and motherhood on the field. At the time I wasn’t sure whether I wanted the article to be anonymous or not, as I obliquely discuss both my children and my marriage in it. So I waited awhile before deciding (with both Jonathan’s and my children’s approval) that this is something that I could share publicly. ~Elizabeth

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Two words come to mind when I think about marriage and motherhood on the field: Intensity and Intention. After living internationally for over four years, my experience has been that everything about living overseas is more intense than living in your passport country.

It’s more physically intense. It’s wildly hot where I am, with no central air conditioning. Housework takes longer as there are fewer automated devices. Electricity and water are sometimes unreliable, and food and water supplies aren’t as clean. That meant that in the beginning especially, we were ill more often – and more severely – than we were back “home.” Life in another country is also more mentally and emotionally intense. Learning a strange, new culture and doing everything in a new language is hard work. You make mistakes and misunderstand things every day.

Anyone crossing cultures must deal with these changes and stressors, but as a parent, I also bear witness to the strain of crossing cultures on my children. They get annoyed by aspects of life here: it’s loud, it’s crowded, and we have no yard or playgrounds nearby. They don’t like the way local people touch them or stare at them, and they don’t particularly like the local cuisine (or at least, not all of it). Life here is transitory, and the friends they make often move in and out of their lives with little advance warning. On top of all that, they miss friends and family back home – especially grandparents.

In light of the intensity of missionary life, I have to be more intentional about marriage and motherhood. I need to care for my children’s hearts in a way I wouldn’t if we lived in America. Of course we have the same pre-school and pre-adolescent emotional turmoil that children and parents have in their home culture, but we also have more potential issues. I have to keep my own heart soft towards my kids, and I need to take the time to validate their feelings. This is difficult to do as I am already emotionally, physically, and spiritually stretched to the max myself. Practically speaking, it means I also need to carve time out of our schedule so they can communicate with friends and family back home (usually that’s through Skype).

Marriage is the same way: I have to be intentional about taking care of it. Simply surviving here takes more time and energy, so it’s tempting not to spend enough time on my marriage. But of course when I don’t spend time on it, my marriage suffers. The less time I spend on my marriage, the farther I drift away from my husband, and the harder it is to bring us back to together again. Likewise, the more time and effort I pour into my marriage, the easier and more fulfilling it is. It becomes life-giving instead of life-draining, as it does when I’m not nurturing it enough.

In order to pour so much time and energy into my husband and my children, I have to be intentional about filling myself up. I have to be vigilant about taking care of my spirit by getting up early to spend time with God. I have to be diligent about taking care of my mind and body by eating at regular intervals throughout the day, exercising four or five days a week, and going to bed on time. If I don’t do these things, I don’t have enough emotional energy to pour into my husband and children, who need me so much.

In many ways marriage and parenting on the field is the same as it is in my home culture, but its intensity level is higher. Missionary life simply requires more of me, and in order to match its intensity, I have to be intentional about taking care of both myself and my family. I have to daily turn my heart toward them and toward God. When I don’t, the consequences are great. But when I do, the reward is greater still.

This article originally appeared here.

A-41: Essays on life and ministry abroad

Purchase the Kindle version of A-41 here.

Purchase the print edition 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!”

If you want to save a couple bucks and you don’t mind clicking a ton of links, most of the content can be read by clicking the various links below. Merry Christmas!

Thanks for stopping by!

all for ONE,
Jonathan T.

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Motherhood
Missionary Mommy Wars
The Church: On Not Being the Casserole Lady
I’m a Proverbs 31 Failure

Fatherhood
Failing at Fatherhood (how moving abroad ruined my parenting)

Parenthood & Third Culture Kids
On Your High School Graduation: A Letter to My Third Culture Kid
What I Want to Give My TCKs
A Prayer for My Third Culture Kids
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Third Culture Kid
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Missionary Kid
The Little Word That Frees Us
Particle Physics Finally Explains Third Culture Kids!

Spousehood
The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to Make You Holy
Our Journey to Finding Joy in Marriage (and the things we lost along the way)
Open letter to trailing spouses (and the people they’re married to)
Trailing Spouse: He Heard, “Go!” and I Said, “No!”
3 Ways to Care for the Heart of Your Wife

Singlehood
A Letter to Singles

On Grief, Loss, and Being Really Sad
Outlawed Grief, a Curse Disguised
Grief on a Spindle (a poem)
Don’t be afraid of me, please (and other lessons from the valley)
A Lonely Birthday
For the times when you hold back the tears
Worthless
When Grief Bleeds
When Friends Do the Next Right Thing
A Sorrow Sandwich
Heaven and Human Trafficking

Deeper Musings on Missions and “The Call”
Why Are We Here?
The Idolatry of Missions
Before You Cry “Demon!”
Demon and Divine
What If I Fall Apart on the Mission Field?
How Do You Write Your Name in the Land?

Lists (because they’re fun)
– 10 Reasons You Should Be a Missionary
10 Things Flying Taught Me About Missions
6 Reasons Furloughs are Awesome (sort of)
10 Ways to Survive Your First Year Overseas

On making decisions with your head and your heart and Him
Navigating the Night (3 things to do when you have no idea what to do)
When the Straight & Narrow Isn’t
To the ones who think they’ve failed
Distractions and the Voice of Jesus

Conflict and Anger
– Run Away! Run Away! (And Other Conflict Styles)
Anger Abroad
Angry, Mean, and Redeemed

Things you should probably be aware of if you’re even slightly interested in missions, serving somewhere in the Church, or just living in general
Four Tools of Spiritual Manipulators
How to Communicate so People Will Care
Facebook lies and other truths
margin: the wasted space we desperately need
Please Stop Running
I’m Not Supposed to Have Needs
How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak: Six Essential Steps
Women are Scary (and other lessons modesty culture teaches men)
What To Do About Women’s Roles
Jesus Loves Me This I Sometimes Know
The Journey To Feel Starts Small

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The Purpose of Marriage is Not to Make You Holy {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Before we moved abroad, we did some marriage counseling. What I mean is, we sat in an old guy’s office for fifteen hours and cried. It was amazing.

He told us our marriage could be a safe-haven on the field. Or not.

He said we could strengthen and encourage each other on the field. Or not.

He said that our marriage could bring peace and stamina and even joy to the mission field. Or not.

He was right.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas…

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A Marriage Blessing

by Jonathan

This post was originally written for my little sister and her new husband. With all my heart, I wish these things for them and for all married couples.

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May your marriage be beautiful. May it remind you often that God gives good gifts. Very good gifts.

May you remember that God didn’t put Adam and Eve together to give them holiness, but a companion, a comrade, confidant, and friend.

May people look at your love and see that there is a God and he is awesome.

May you show the world – and the Church – that it’s not about submission or obedience or “who’s in charge.” That in your love and mutual submission, you will race each other to the bottom. And when you get to the bottom, may you find love, wholeness, joy, peace, and life. In other words, Jesus.

May you laugh often. At each other, with each other, because of each other. And if and when God fills your home with children, may you sit around the table and laugh and laugh and laugh.

May you taste heaven when you taste each other.

And when you walk through the shadowlands, and you will walk through the shadowlands, may the One who led you together continue to lead you together. He is the Creator of the soaring mountaintops and the scary valleys. May he sustain you and remind you.

May 2014 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2015. And may 2015 be the best year of your marriage. Until 2016. May you experience the intense joy of being known, deeply, and the great honor of knowing another.

May your love, promised and given on this day, echo into eternity. May people hear your stories, witness your love, and say from now until forever, “Look at what the Lord has done!”

Paul, the Mysogynist?

by Elizabeth

While this tends to be a faith-walk type of blog, and not a theology blog, I’d be a fool not to admit that some of my biggest personal crises happen at the intersection of faith and theology. As this is an enormous subject, and as I am not a Bible scholar, this post is not meant to offer an authoritative stance on my part, or even to start a debate: it is simply an important part of my faith journey that I feel the need to share. I asked God to help me write something that honors Him but that expresses my struggle to understand certain parts of the New Testament, and this is the result.

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Saint Paul, by Raphael

I always loved the apostle Peter. It seemed to me that he said whatever he was thinking before he had time to think about it. He was impulsive, given to emotional outbursts, and faltered under fear — and I could relate. Yet Peter always returned to Jesus, and he lived Forgiven.

Paul, on the other hand, was never quite so important to me. I only started getting to know him several years ago, in a counselor’s office, as I worked through the concept of grace. Week after week I sat on that couch in the counselor’s office, crying, trying desperately to understand the doctrine of Grace, trying to accept the fact that God loves me completely, apart from anything I do or don’t do.

Continue reading

Yays and Yucks (Looking Back on a Year in Asia Part 1)

— by Elizabeth

NOTE ABOUT THIS SERIES:  I spent a lot of time in December and January reflecting on my first year overseas. Then I wrote it all down. In a 6-part series. Yes, I know that a 6-part series is waaaaay too long, but what am I if not long-winded?? (It could have been worse, you know. I scrapped a few ideas along the way.) My fiancé used to suffer through my jabbering till 2 am nearly every night, despite being in his first year of law school and working 3 jobs on the side. Boy, do I have a lot to say. (Oh yeah, and my fiancé still married me. More evidence of the existence of True Love.)

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I love my life. It’s true. I loved it in Kansas City, and I love it in Phnom Penh.

We learned in missions training about the paradox of yays and yucks — the good things and bad things that happen in life – often at the same time. A friend recently described it as roses and thorns. People make decisions in life after listing out the pros and cons of a particular situation. And then “normal” people take the road that has fewer yucks, right?

Well, if I were to list out all the yays and yucks of living here, my yuck list would be longer. Muuuuch longer. You might question my normalcy. You might question my sanity. And you might question my claim.

So here’s my answer to those questions:

It’s because the weight I assign the yays is much heavier than the weight I assign the yucks. It’s like those weighted percentages in school. How we wish that our grade would depend more on the homework, which usually garners about 10% (sometimes none!). Quizzes are in there somewhere. Maybe a term paper. But the bulk of your grade is based on test scores.

God has granted me some heavy-duty yays this year. He has given us health (by missionary standards anyway). He has given us a sense of home and belonging. He has given me close friends in this country. My marriage is better than ever. (Research has found this is not the norm.) And I have peace in my relationship with God. (To any men who read this, I do apologize that my blessings are heavy on the relationships. But I am, after all, a woman, so what else would you expect??) These blessings are worth more to me than all the language mishaps, cultural isolation, sweat, dirt, bugs, and stinky smells combined. And believe me — there are more bugs and stinky smells than you can possibly imagine.

So in the weighted grade of my life, the yays count like tests, and the yucks count like homework. Go figure.

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 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8