Standing Up Crooked Together

March 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The Crooked Forest outside Gryfino, Poland

Here’s an intro to my post this week at A Life Overseas.

Standing Up Crooked

There’s a tree near Colorado Springs that I admire. It’s a pine tree sitting on the property of The Hideaway Inn and Conference Center, where I and my family attended MTI’s Debriefing and Renewal several years ago.

This tree is surrounded by other pines, but this one’s different. While its trunk starts out on a vertical path, after a several feet, it breaks to the side at a ninety-degree angle. Then, over a few more feet, it makes a slow curve, working again on an upward climb.

Near the end of the retreat, we were told to find a place to be by ourselves, and I knew where I wanted to be, sitting in front of that tree. I must not be the only one who appreciates it, since there’s a bench facing it close by.

I don’t know what trauma caused the tree’s shape. Maybe it was a storm, maybe a disease, maybe the blade of an axe. Or maybe it was more of a heart thing—a promise unkept, a hope deferred, a joy shattered.

Regardless of the cause, the reason I admire this tree is that though having faced trouble, it still reaches upward. It’s “persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed;” wrecked, but not ruined. No, not ruined at all.

Can you identify with this tree?

Have you ever had your feet knocked out from under you because of some tragedy?
Have you ever tried to take hold of something beyond your reach and fallen in the trying?
Have you ever been bent to the point of brokenness?
Have you ever been laid low by the realization that you are the cause of someone else’s pain?
Have you ever wrestled with God, refusing to let go until you get a blessing, and walked away limping?

[photo: “Krzywy Las w Nowym Czarnowie,” by Artur Strzelczyk, used under a Creative Commons license]

Finish reading at A Life Overseas.

It’s What’s Inside That Counts, Right? Here’s a Resource to Help Us Live That Way

February 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Inside-JobCome join me at A Life Overseas for my full post on a helpful book written by a friend and former missionary.

Stephen W. Smith wrote Inside Job for leaders, leaders who find themselves trying to “climb the slippery, treacherous slope of success” and too often falling with a crash, landing in a heap below.

Stephen was once among them. When he began life after graduate school, he says, “I developed an addiction to work that was applauded by every organization I worked for in my career. I was hooked—as every addiction hooks a person.” For Stephen, that work included his service on the mission field.

The solution, he writes, is to redefine success and to prioritize the care of one’s soul, what he calls “the work within the work.” Using the “Great Eight Virtues” listed in 2 Peter 1 as his foundation, in Inside Job Stephen presents the need for emotional and spiritual transformation and fleshes out what must be done to bring it about—”a process of learning, adjusting, repenting and starting anew with courageous convictions.”

The work within the work includes finding rhythm (not balance) in life, saying “no” in light of our limitations, recognizing the need for Sabbath rest, and understanding and managing transitions.

For many of us, this will require a nearly 180-degree turnaround. . . .

Finish reading at ALifeOverseas.com.

Gifts without Bows: Telling and Receiving Stories as They Are

December 24, 2015 § 3 Comments

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This is a time of gift giving. It’s a time of buying and making and choosing and wrapping.

In our family, we tend toward minimalism when it comes to wrapping gifts. From my father I inherited the practice of using newspaper. When your package carries the latest headlines, there’s no need for bows or ribbons. And if you’re feeling extra festive, you always have the Sunday comics.

We all know it isn’t the paper on the outside that matters, but we sure do act like it sometimes.

I think that one of the best gifts to give and receive—any time of the year—is the gift of our stories, our feelings, our truths. Sometimes they come in worn-out shoeboxes, in paper bags with the tops folded down, or in cardboard boxes marked “Kitchen” from the last move. They’re offered with trepidation and best received with reverence. They’re precious, authentic gifts, rugged and unedited.

And without a bow.

Are we willing to receive such gifts, or do we prefer presents wrapped neatly in shiny paper, with colorful ribbons curled just so? Do we want only the stories that have tidy, happy endings, tied up with a platitude or moral or lesson? Do we carry our own supply of bows in case the gift givers are lacking?

Are we willing to give those gifts as well? Do we hold back the deep realities of our lives, the honest hurts, waiting until we can decorate them with a “that’s when I knew it all happened for a reason,” an “I learned so much,” or a “now I can see it was all part of God’s plan”? In the waiting there is sorrow and pain.

I can’t help but think of my missionary friends, and other cross-cultural workers, too often feeling the need to adorn their stories so that no one will “misunderstand,” too often saying what is expected or what is easier to hear. I can’t help but think of myself when I’ve done the same thing.

Not all gifts are meant to be shared in the open. Some are too personal. Some can only be given in a private, safe, accepting space. Can you create a space like that for your friends, for their parents, for their children? Without such a place, their precious gifts stay hidden away. And hidden gifts are often forgotten and remain ungiven . . . simply for lack of a bow.

The decorations aren’t necessary. Give your gifts without bows, we’re listening. Receive our gifts without bows, we’re talking.

Merry Christmas.

[photo: “Project365-Day21,” by Farouq Taj, used under a Creative Commons license]

That One Safe Friend

September 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Here’s the intro to my post today at A Life Overseas

Do you have that one safe friend?

When I went overseas, I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t even know I needed one.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a lot of friends, good friends, but I didn’t have one particular person who was committed to the role of being that one safe friend. Since then I’ve come to the conclusion that all missionaries—and other cross-cultural workers—need someone whom they trust to be devoted to them because of who they are, not because of what they do, someone who will reach out to them consistently, someone who will encourage them, comfort them, laugh with them, and weep with them.

It’s not that there won’t be several people who could do this for you, but without someone specific to take on that responsibility, you may find yourself with no one. When you have your home church, your sending agency, your family, your coworkers, and your supporters behind you, it’s easy for each individual to think that you’re more than taken care of. At a Parents of Missionaries gathering I recently attended, Dr. Dorris Schulz, director for missionary care for Missions Resource Network, said that if she’s ever drowning, she hopes there’s only one person around. That’s because people in a crowd too often do nothing, assuming that someone else will step in.

Being that one safe friend, doesn’t take an exotic skill set. It’s not someone who has all the answers. And it doesn’t need to be someone with experience living abroad. But it does need to be someone who is a good listener, someone who is caring and empathetic, someone who understands you and understands the core challenges of life, regardless of the setting. It’s not an exotic skill set, but neither is it common to everyone.

You’ll need to be proactive in asking someone to be that friend. Don’t assume that people will come knocking, maybe because they doubt your need or their ability. So if you’re looking, what should you look for? What should you expect from that friend? Here are some suggestions:

Continue reading at A Life Overseas.

[Photo by Magnus Wrenninge, used under a Creative Commons license]

Harmonizing Sadness and Joy

August 19, 2015 § 2 Comments

5389355486_8ae3459399_oIn 2012 I wrote “Can Grief and Joy Coexist?” In light of our own recent sadness, I’ve adapted it and posted it at A Life Overseas. Go there to read it all (and to hear the song at the end.)

Let me add my voice to those who are praising Pixar’s Inside Out as a great movie for the cross-cultural community. I think we’ll be showing clips of it to expats, repats, and TCKs for a long time to come. (If you’ve not seen it and don’t know what it’s about, I suggest you read Kay Bruner’s discussion of the movie, from a counselor’s point of view.)

I hope that someday Inside Out is made into a Broadway musical. I’d like to hear Sadness and Joy sing a duet at the end.

Dealing with Loss

My wife and son and I saw the film in the theater a few weeks ago. It was rather cathartic, as the past several months have been a time for us, like Riley in the movie, to deal with our emotions—while our emotions learn how to deal with each other. It’s been an especially difficult time for my wife. Her father died in March, and then a brother died last month.

Those events have brought back memories of difficulties we faced while we lived overseas. During our time outside our passport country, we experienced the deaths of my wife’s mother and another brother and of my father.

When you lose loved ones, it can trigger so much emotional confusion. When you live far away from them, a whole other set of complications come into play.

It’s not just losing someone we love, it’s often losing the opportunity to say Goodbye or the ability to grieve together when traveling with the whole family isn’t possible.

When should we go back? Who should make the trip? How long should we stay? What if we don’t meet others’ expectations? What are the rules?

And when sadness comes into the life of the missionary, it is so easy to ask, “Where is my joy?”

Read the rest at A Life Overseas.

[photo: “Golden Hearts on Blue,” by Lea Wiertel, used under a Creative Commons license]


Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a post for today at A Life Overseas. The introduction is below. Come join me there, finish the post, and stay awhile.]

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spagghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God want’s me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush . . .

Go to A Life Overseas to continue reading.

[photo: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

Steve Saint: Serving with Scars

June 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

8628515338_c776ab1942_mAfter hearing the news of Elisabeth Elliot’s death, I went back to the post I had written in 2013 about her and Steve Saint.

That led me to look for an update on Saint, as it’s been three years since he suffered a severe spinal-cord injury, leaving him an “incomplete quadriplegic.” What I found was another “next chapter” video produced last year by his Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center (I-TEC).

In it he talks about the value of using our suffering, our scars, to help others who are suffering in the same way. He refers specifically to Christians ministering to those who don’t know about Christ’s love, but his advice can also be applied to Christians sharing honestly with each other, not hiding the hurts they have faced, not “with makeup over all their wounds.”

People want to see Christ followers who have scars where they have wounds, so that they know that, hey, this person has been where I am, and then they trust us. So it’s time to take the makeup off, time to quit buttoning our collars up to our throats and wearing masks. People want to see that we have hurt.

I appreciate Saint’s willingness to show us how he is doing, even when he’s not doing as well as he, or the rest of us, would like. The whole of “God Doesn’t Waste Hurts” is well worth watching.

A few months before this video was posted, Saint spoke at the 2013 Global Missions Health Conference. During his presentation he fell, and used that moment as an opportunity to talk about North American missionaries. As people from the audience rushed to his aid, he said, “Wait a minute. I can do this.” And as he worked to get himself into a chair, he added,

You know, this is like missions. Whenever something happens that we don’t expect, we North Americans  always want to run in and fix it. And sometimes what we need to do is we need to just wait and give the people there a chance. . . . I can do this, I just need a chance.

You can watch his complete presentation on YouTube. It’s titled “Let God Write Your Story (But What If We Don’t Like the Next Chapter).”

[photo: “Cracks,” by Jamie Johnson, used under a Creative Commons license]

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