Embracing the Struggle

February 14, 2019 § Leave a comment

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I’ll take inspiration where I find it, even if it’s from a book’s back cover . . . quoted at Amazon.com.

The book is Bo M. White’s A Time to Question Everything: Embracing Good News and Bad Days. White is the director of study abroad at Baylor University and has traveled to over 40 countries in his work with NGOs, international non-profits, and international education. The bio at his website says,

Married with two children, Bo has lived near Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix, and Kansas City, but a little street in Central London remains a significant place because it’s where he explored the power of story with great intensity, studying at the University of London within walking distance of the former residences of Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot. It’s where he first explored in any serious way the idea of grace attending an RML group at St. Helen’s Church at Bishopsgate. And it’s where culture was explored through a law internship that took him inside London prisons, a University class that took him inside many of London’s incredible theatres, and a chance to see himself and his life outside America for the first time.

The book-cover blurb goes like this:

Bookstores and blogs display stories of people who go from bad days to good days, encouraging people to break out of their slump, pick themselves up, and make something awesome happen. Readers are supposed to get inspired and fix themselves. A Time to Question Everything, instead, offers space to bring personal demons, doubts, and disappointments to the table, daring people to believe that embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life. Unlike any other world religion, the Christian faith celebrates grace, not self-improvement. The heart of A Time to Question Everything is this sincere question: can grace hold the weight of this messy life?

The part here that struck me is that “embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life.” That’s the kind of thing I was trying to say nearly two years ago in my post “Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving?” at A Life Overseas. In it I express that when we’re in a situation where thriving seems out of reach, we shouldn’t give up but should see striving as a worthy alternative. Striving—or “struggling”—is a natural part, a positive part, of living, whether that’s at home or abroad.

In a comment following my post, Erika Loftis wrote,

I understand what you mean by striving. But striving also sounds like “trying” and it’s the trying that seems to be the weight dragging us all under water. Trying to keep our neighbors impressed with us, trying to learn language, trying to keep people from thinking we are too rich or too poor. Trying trying trying . . . I wonder if striving, in the holy sense, comes from some semblance of settled and embracing our life and surroundings. . . . If I’m honest, I had a strong reaction, a sense of hope seeping away, that I or anyone around me, has any chance off this well beaten path towards burn out (which is sort of the modern day martyr . . . except for anyone who knows the burnt out/burning out missionary). If striving is the best we will ever achieve, we will stay on this path of strive/trying and ultimately end up at the bottom of Burn Out Canyon. Strive/Trying to still be a Christian. Or not trying anymore. . . .

I responded,

I certainly don’t mean to add to anyone’s burden by saying “strive more” or “try harder.” Instead, my hope is to say that striving is not less acceptable than thriving—it’s just where we often find ourselves.

“I wonder if striving, in the holy sense . . .” Yes, “holy” striving is what I want to practice, and I guess I’m still figuring out what that looks like. Jesus says his yoke is easy and his burden is light, but I’m not always able to take hold of that truth. The burdens we pick up can sure feel hard and heavy. I hope that we will all keep trying (and ultimately I’m talking about our walk with Christ, not about a particular ministry or situation), while trusting that God’s grace will meet us more than halfway.

I wish that at the time I’d been able to make my point more clearly by crafting a phrase as good as “embracing the daily struggle of faith is indeed the good life.” Embracing . . . that’s even better than simply accepting. Struggle of faith . . . that’s a good way to sum up striving. The good life . . . that’s what we all want, and we need to know that that good life is defined by grace, not by more and more effort.

I haven’t read A Time to Question Everything yet, but I’m not above judging a book by its back cover, so I’ve added it to my Amazon Wishlist—which really should be renamed my Amazon wish-everything-here-was-free-and-I-had-three-extra-hours-a-day-to-read-all-these-books list.

I actually don’t think I’ll ever get to all the titles in the depths of my collection, but I am making some progress. And at least for now, this one’s at the top.

(Bo M. White, “About Me,” Bo M. White; Bo M. White, A Time to Question Everything: Embracing Good News and Bad Days, Wipf and Stock, 2018)

[photo: “Bristlecone 2,” by David Wood, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Surviving? Thriving? How about Striving? [—at a Life Overseas]

June 30, 2017 § 2 Comments

“Are you thriving?”

It was during our first term on the field, and our pastor asked me this question in a Skype chat in front of our home congregation. My answer? As I remember, it was in the neighborhood of “Well, I’m not sure we’re thriving, but, uh, hmmm, something, something, something, not always easy, but . . . uh . . . we’re doing fine.”

Thriving is a big topic when it comes to living and working overseas, as in “Don’t just survive, thrive!” It’s a great goal, and there are many who reach it, including some whom I know well. But I’m afraid that thriving was something that eluded me during my time as a missionary. And experience tells me that I’m far from alone. A missionary who came back to the States a few years ago told me that while he had hoped to thrive, “just” surviving was a more pressing need most days. Any amens?

But let’s say you’re able to put a check mark in the survival box, but thriving still seems out of reach. Where does that leave you? Is there another alternative?

Earlier this year, Anisha Hopkinson wrote here about what success looks like overseas. Struggling, she says, is not the same thing as failing. In fact, “struggling” is another way of saying “endeavoring,” “going all out,” “making every effort,” “plugging away,” “trying your hardest,” . . . and “striving.”

Maybe it’s because it rhymes, but I think striving is a great third way.

Survive. Thrive. Strive.

You can finish reading this post at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Cross Country,” by stephrox, used under a Creative Commons license]

Jeremy Lin Takes to Taipei Streets in Hello Kitty Head

September 10, 2012 § 2 Comments

Jeremy Lin recently took a trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan and has pretty much mapped out a solution to the whole “hidden immigrant” problem. Lin—for those who don’t follow the NBA and aren’t conversant about “Linsanity”— is the 24-year-old Taiwanese-American who became an overnight sensation as a point guard with the New York Knicks and who now plays for the Houston Rockets.

If you’re a cross-cultural kid who travels back to your “homeland” but finds that you don’t quite fit in, you might want to follow Lin’s lead to make things easier: First, become wildly popular in a professional sport that’s wildly popular around the globe. That way, people will know all about you before you arrive, and they won’t care about your language skills or your grasp of local culture. They’ll simply want to get your autograph and snap your photo. Next, when you realize that your celebrity makes you a prisoner in your hotel room, and you want to escape to play some streetball, borrow a giant Hello Kitty head for the perfect disguise. (At least that seemed to work with the Taipei paparazzi.)

Watch the video below to see a scripted look at Lin’s adventures in Taipei, including his airport arrival, his hotel escape, and his evening of playing basketball on public courts in the city. It was put together as a promo for an upcoming 60 Minutes segment on Lin, scheduled for this fall:

I assume 60 Minutes will delve into Lin’s cross-cultural experiences. I hope they also ask him about the role his Christian faith has played in his outlook on life. It’s a big part of his story. In fact, Lin closed out his 9-day trip to Taiwan by sharing about his beliefs at an event titled “Jeremy Lin’s Miracle Night.”

Here’s what I wrote about Lin for a newsletter back when he first came on the scene in the NBA two years ago, followed by a video from NBA.com detailing his rise to stardom:

Jeremy Shu-how Lin, a second-generation Taiwanese American has become the first person of Taiwanese descent to play in the NBA. Even though he was undrafted coming out of college, the Golden State Warriors signed him to a two-year contract before the current season began, making the 6’ 3” Lin the first Harvard graduate to join the NBA in 57 years. In 2009, Time featured Lin in an article, discussing his faith in reference to his calm demeanor in the face of racial taunts from opposing fans:

Lin’s maturity could lead him to the ministry. A devout Christian, Lin, who is an economics major, is considering becoming a pastor in a church near his Palo Alto home. “I’ve never really preached before,” Lin says. “But I’m really passionate about Christianity and helping others. There’s a beauty in seeing people change their lifestyles for the better.”

(Jeff Schapiro, “‘Jeremy Lin’s Miracle Night’ Marks End of Star’s Tour of Taiwan,” Christian Post, September 3, 2012; Sean Gregory, “Harvard’s Hoops Star Is Asian. Why’s That a Problem?” Time, Dec. 31)

[photo: “Hello Missy,” by Nawal, used under a Creative Commons license]

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