Victorious in Defeat: when things go pear-shaped

And so here I find myself.

This week my family moved into a new temporary home.
A home I never dreamed of vacuuming, beds that I didn’t think I would ever make, dishes I would ever need to put away.
It is a postcode I never intended to memorise, a life I thought was not for me.
I am not a missionary anymore.
I am not living in South East Asia.
I am not part of that team, not part of that mission, not working towards that… not anymore.

I haven’t communicated the journey that got us from getting our immunisations up to date in February, eagerly anticipating our return to the field – to why Hoosband was looking for a day job to put food on the (Australian) table by the end of March.
I don’t think I will go into it.

I think I can say that it was not my decision, that it took my family by great surprise and that we still do not understand the whole thing.
I think I can say that, the fact that I am here,
when I (along with my entire family) was 100% willing to go back – that there was no deficiency in our character, no issue found with our conduct. When we were begging to go back – when we were prepared and supported to go all-in eyes-wide-open to have returned to a task that many do not want to be part of, to live in a place where workers are so few and the harvest is plenty…

…is everything sad and unfortunate about the politics and business of ‘mission’.

I think I will say that everyone involved in deciding that my home was no longer my home – is someone that I love and respect as a brother or sister in Christ.
I think I can say that I trust their motives, their hearts & their love for our Lord.
I think I am allowed to say that I wholeheartedly disagree with them.

And I think, in love, I will leave it at that.

But agree or not.
I am finding myself here.

photo by Tim Deutscher

   photo by Tim Deutscher

In this strange new postcode, in which the darkness seems to thrive in shades of grey
and where the lost look so much like the found that I find apathy as my greatest threat. Where I feel like I lack a sense of direction.
Where the milk comes fresh in 3 litres,  where I need to budget for firewood and there are 4 seasons in a year.
I find myself here.
With a new ‘mission’ that I have not trained or equipped myself for these past 10 years.

I am not writing to share the story,

I am choosing to write now to address something that has come up many times.

That when Hoosband and I first realised we were fighting to get back, we were told many times that – we must not give up.
That God must really want us there and that this was Satan trying to stop us – for sure.
When we were swimming in a constant tide of negative feedback and heart-hurting criticism, we were counselled that if we were to buckle under that pressure – the only one laughing would be the evil one. That we could not let him win the day.
Again and again we were told that we were needed on the field.
That we were surely called to the field and that we needed to get back there.
That that was surely what God wanted of us, intended for us and we needed to make it happen.

my boys and bubbles

photo by Tim Deutscher

But then. Here we are. With every fight fought, and every avenue explored and every conversation said – 100 times over.

Here we are.
Not back on the field.
So what does that mean?

When we were reeling, and our children were crying.
When our hearts were busted to the point of shatter and we were not permitted to ‘go home’. When we were told that, in the personal opinion of a few, we were unfit to witness truth to the many.
We were encouraged by our fellow believers, that God can turn this into good.
We were told that somehow, God would use this for some good purpose and that we should just wait for it to become apparent.
We were told that somehow, God will use us and probably find a way for us to get back another way… in time.

But what does that mean?

Does that mean that this circumstance took God by surprise?
Does that mean that He has been watching this unfold and wondering how to make glitter from the broken glass?
Is the King of the universe now looking at my family, like a spare set of something that didn’t quite fit, and wondering what the heck to use us for now?
I don’t think so.

Man, I can honestly say I am continually  bewildered to find myself in this regional town of Australia.
I am stunned to be the wife of a Carpenter, who puts on boots for 9 – 5 every day, who has a boss and a uniform and takes his lunch to work with him. I still marvel at drinking water from the tap and the hot water in my shower.
I experience confusion, and grief and discouragement.
I have been devastated and angry and completely overwhelmed.
But I have never thought myself to be forgotten.
I have never, for one minute, thought myself to be outside the reach of God.
And I do find it baffling that this would be the encouragement I receive from my brothers and sisters.

photo by Tim Deutscher

photo by Tim Deutscher

I can’t explain it.
I don’t know why we worked towards Missions for so long, wholeheartedly sure that our work was there.
I don’t know why we were so prayerfully driven to South East Asia and why our hearts were so burdened by the task there.
I don’t know why we were invested, and tested and affirmed…
for such a brief time on the field.
For no fruit, little witness and such heart-wrenching goodbyes.
I don’t understand why we paid out such costs – because to me it seems like there was little impact.
I don’t know why we were compelled to give so much of ourselves.
I don’t understand why when we are so willing – we would be unwanted.

But I do know that God understands.
He Knows. Always has done.

photo by Tim Deutscher

photo by Tim Deutscher

I know that God is not rushing now to pick up pieces of this mess and make good out of the bad.
For I know that IN all things, God is working for good.
His plans have not been thwarted…
They are a mystery
Oh for sure, they are a mystery.
I am not up to speed on where He is going with my life.

But God always knew I would sit here.
He knew this postcode.
He knew these neighbours.
He surely went ahead of my family in the regional areas of Australia as in the swamps of Asia.

And so, here I find myself.
And yes there is still grief, and confusion and bewilderment…
but if you know one thing about my circumstances;

Know that victory belongs to the Lord.

Satan may have stopped my family going back, like Paul once mentions Satan stopping him on his travels.  I don’t pretend to understand the heavenly battles.
But Satan was not the victor then
and he is not victorious here.

I may not be in Asia anymore but I am smack bang in the middle of God’s mighty right hand.
I may have thought myself broken by this process,
I may not be completely thrilled or 100% healed from this sad turn of events…
but I am tucked tightly in the will of God
and sure of His love for me.

Let me be clear, that my testimony despite the appearance of my daily circumstances – shall always stand as one of God’s over-arching victory.
Not of defeat.
Whoever tells the story, and whatever their version of it is.
I have walked this last year with my Lord,
and He has never faulted in His step.

That is the truth that I dispel the lies with.
That is the stable that I trust in the confusion.
And that is how I comfort the small hearts that broke in March… and continually as they mend a little and break little again, and mend and break and so on.
As does Hoosband’s heart, as does my own.

I tell my littles that ours is just a tiny sentence in the story of God’s love for us, of His love for the people we lived among there and the people we live among now.
That we can cry and grieve and question “where to now?”
We can ache and miss and admit confusion.
But that we are, and always have been, held, and loved and purposed.
We are cared for, and watched over and carried.
We are the children of the living God.

That our sentence is part of God’s story, written before we were born.
And that it is a story of victory.

Advertisements

a child’s eye view

Tags

, , , ,

(Hello from Australia! We were offline for the month of September, deliberately.
So thanks you for bearing with my silence last month, as we’ve travelled, adjusted & rested thus far.)a3

Sometimes in South East Asia, I give my kids a camera.
If we are going to a village or an event, or even if there is something going on just in our street. I love to see the photos that they take.
(and here I am sharing some with you)

I appreciate the perspective that they have and I smile for the things they found worth capturing. Sometimes it is an insight, for me.
Sometimes it is a security blanket, for them.
Sometimes there are just a million up-close photos of nostrils and chins and I can see that it has simply been a fun toy for the day.a

As I have sat down and looked at the photos from our first term on the field, I looked at all the photos my kids took. The up-close details of dresses and table clothes. Knee high photos of friends and low shots of roadside litter. There are lots of wild cats and blurred photos of lizards.
I see a sweet view of the world
a little intense too.

Sitting here, I look at the photos I have taken. indo (8)
Where I think I have seen the whole picture.
Where I think I am capturing the scope…
and I imagine how my photos seem from heaven.

You see, I like to think of my relationship with my heavenly Father, in terms of my still being an adult. Where I have rights to autonomy and wisdom and a healthy desire for his support of my decisions.
Like, Back me up Dad, I’ve got this.
Or, Just letting you know Dad – this is the direction I’m heading.
Got advice? Support?instagram (73)

I don’t always think my perspective is limited.
My understanding – narrow.
My photos – zoomed in.

So as I am sitting here in Australia (with a cappuccino – oh yeah!) I am considering the story of my city, of my region, in South East Asia.
I am considering the palm trees and rice fields that proclaim God’s glory.
I am aching for the people, who do not.
I am thinking of the overwhelming amount of darkness, the depressingly small handful of Christian workers, the outcast disabled, the malnourished children, the struggling widowers and the millions of lost souls.
I am thinking, contextual ministry and cultural boundaries.
I am weighing up different Church Planting strategies and debating theories of mission practise.
It seems big.
I feel like an adult, with my eyes open, with most of the information and the weight of responsibility (somewhat) on my shoulders.

I am also sitting here in Australia and thinking of my family. I’m balancing Visa options (or lack thereof) and mulling over home school issues or timetables.
I am managing the decisions about the ongoing rental of our home and the future plans for clothing and supplies.
I feel like an adult, with all the balls in my court, the whole picture in view and the direction for the days ahead, mine to plan for.a4

As a missionary there is so much to plan. There are so many contingencies and facts to consider for our family logistics. That we know we have no control over.
Visas are often, simply denied. Funds don’t come in. Relationship made suddenly long-distance.
There are so many strategies and tools to implement in reaching the people for Christ. That we know mean nothing if hearts are hard and eyes are un-seeing.
The soil seems so often just rocky or thorny or full of weeds.
The opportunities limited and the fruit – it seems years away.
It seems to stretch out in front of me.
Big and Wide.

There is a famous country song called, Jesus Take the Wheel,
to which I think I have said Amen.
I believe I have given God the wheel in my life.a2

But I think I also tend to think of myself as sitting up front with him.
Like I am an adult with equal right to call for drive-through snacks or to give advice on direction and destination. I keep an eye on the speedometer and make mention if it feels we are going too slow… or too fast.
I’m up front. I am an adult in this relationship.
When really I should acknowledge that He is at the wheel and I am all the way back, in the backseat. With only the side window to see the world as it is already upon me.
Mine is a limited perspective P1110222
not silly or wrong or naïve
just limited.
Like the zoomed in photos of my kids.

I am a child…
… of God

The good thing is, from the back seat, the view forward is taken up by the driver.
It is God who sees the way forward. Who knows the names of His sheep.
He knows who will be singing in the choir on that day.
He has the whole picture.

And amusingly, behind Him, my view is only…
…are we there yet?a1

**********
“Oh Heavenly Father, are we there yet?
Is this the season where fruit will be found among the lost of South East Asia?
I ask you Lord, make it so.

Father, are we there yet?
Will there now, be Bee (the unreached people group we live among) voices raised in praise of your name?

Are we there yet? Oh Lord, bring on that day.

Father, I don’t understand the direction you take me in, not all the time.

I find this journey to be confusing and backwards and sometimes completely in the dark. I can’t understand Visas and logistics and political tensions.
I don’t like the backseat, Lord.
Help me to accept it.
Help me to love it.

Lord, help me to see the world from my window and just love it,
to shout your praise in this immediacy.

To love the sick on my street, the widower at my door and the lost at my table.
Help me leave the forward momentum to you.
Lord, take my zoomed-in perspective.
Of my husband, my children, my neighbours and my friends.
The villagers and language teachers and school kids down the block.
My teammates and prayer warriors.
Make my photos like zoomed in snap shots of You in my heart.
You in the world.
You, Father – the author of salvation.
You, Jesus – who purchased my soul,
You, Spirit – at constant work in me

Amen”

Purple People (I’m suddenly the mum of a TCK)

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I apologise. I can’t describe the setting very accurately for you.
It was in the morning, like still morning-morning, when I still shuffle to the fridge for the UHT milk, return to the table and plonk myself down, head-resting-in-hand. All I remember is a fuzzy scene of breakfast and children.
Chatter. Chatter. Mum? Chatter. Spilled milk. Chatter. Argument. Chatter. Mum? , mmmm…. I need more coffee.

Somehow, for some reason, the conversation went in a direction where I needed to state for the record – that the most commonly used cutlery in Australia is actually the knife and fork. My fun-fact was met with 3 little voices muttering in disbelief and Roo’s not-really-sure-what’s-going-on-but-happy-to-be-included chuckle. (here it is commonly a spoon, for all meals.)

What if you are eating pasta?! – hmmm. Fork. I say.
Cue peals of laughter
What if you are eating rice!? – hmmhuh, still a fork.
No Way!

I mentioned other incredible facts that made jaws drop and heads shake.
Things like;
– You HAVE to wear a seatbelt. Your own one, you’re not even allowed to share. And you can never ride in the car boot… No Buddy, not even if you promise to sit down the whole time.
– You will most likely travel over 40kms an hour in a vehicle & there are more cars than motorbikes… and there definitely aren’t whole families riding together.
– You could go a whole day without seeing a cat. Or A bat or a rat or a gecko.
– You can wear shoes inside… like people wear them inside their houses.

My 8 year old, Miss E, looks at me with wide eyes & a big grin,
“Aw man! I thought it would be easy in Australia but that (meaning the fork usage) doesn’t sound easy!”
I smile back at her, “you have gotten used to it here and you didn’t even realise”
Her grin fades slightly and she adds, “I was looking forward to being normal. But it won’t be ALL normal after all.”
My foggy brain suddenly registered that this is a moment. This is one of those moments that I have read about, that I have waited for. The kind of conversation I had imagined having deliberately over hot chocolate and prepping for beforehand.
This is the moment for the modern missionary Mum.
But here it was, with my bed-hair, drool still on the side of my face, greedily cupping my mug of coffee & completely taken by surprise. Suddenly wide awake, I realised this is the moment I begin parenting a Third Culture Kid.

dancing miss e******

Third Culture Kids (TCK) is a descriptive phrase and is a big topic. Books have been written to explain it (I’m going to do my best at simple summary here for you). TCKs are children who grow up in a third and unique culture. They are influenced first by the culture of their parents and passport countries, but do not wholly fit into them. You see, they spend a significant portion of time living outside the first culture and so are influenced significantly by a second culture, (or perhaps more than just one other) and they mix these cultural norms together into a unique and personal blend to create their own third, distinctly individual Culture.
I am not in a Third Culture. I am an Australian; I find the Australian culture to be completely relatable and understandable. Even elements that I disagree on are within my ability to understand. I am an Australian, living in a different culture. I can learn to love the culture I am living in, and understand it. But as immersed as I become, I am living across cultures. I grew into who I am, established and nearly completely soaked in a singular culture. My kids will not be that way.

I sometimes think of it, as if the Australian culture is blue.
So, Hoosband and I are both blue. We have been raised blue, we were married blue & chose to move here as blue people. So, in my house I go about things in a blue way. I speak blue, say blue idioms and lean toward a blue diet (as much as I can find it). I parent in a blue way, explain things to my kids in a blue way. I arrange furniture in a blue way (or buy it for blue reasons to begin with). I am across countries but still distinctly, blue.

The local culture here is red. They have red houses that are set up in a red style. They have red tastes and red language and red phrases. They interact in a red way and tend towards red cultural norms. They parent in a red way, understand relationships and genders reddishly. They interact with my kids as red people. Everything here, from the way they drive and the clothes they wear, right down to the way they show emotions. It is distinctly done in red.

And so, my children live in these two worlds. The red and the blue.
They understand who they are and how they behave with both colours in mind. As they form ideas of who they are and what is normal, they are seeing both red and blue. It becomes part of their perspective, their culture. Their culture is a blended one. They mix the two colours and so find themselves to have their own colour.
They are purple.
I am blue, parenting purple, in a country of red.
Imagine what that is like for them!

Being purple, raised by blue, and surrounded by red. What it feels to go back to their completely blue ‘home land’ but feel just as displaced. This is why there are so many books on this topic! Because I see Australia and see blue, I feel blue and expect blue. I talk about it as a blue and get excited as a blue.
I’m parenting cross cultures here. My kids are anticipating as purples. They talk as purples and they aren’t exclusively excited about even this temporary return to Australia.

My 8year old may be a very blue shade of purple – she lived years in Australia.
Roo, at 2 years old, may be more reddish, having lived here most of his life. He may end up very, very red. He may feel closer to the red, than to the blue of Australia.
He and Miss E may end up very different hues. They may be very similar tones of purple. I don’t know. My two middle not-twins-but-may-as-well-be kids may share some kind of mid-way point, they may surprise me.

Each of my kids may shift in their colours over time, deepening the red tones the longer we stay, or becoming bluer if we go back to Australia.
It is an ebb and flow of colour and I need to have eyes to see it.
I need to let them talk purple. Whatever shade it is.
Or however foreign it sounds to me.
They will have a beautiful purple view of the world, that I don’t want to neglect – or miss out on.

Their Third Culture – their colour – can also be influenced by more than one other culture too. With all the teammates and friends here being American, with our American home school curriculum and so many American resources – my Aussie kids blend American culture into who they are as well.
Say America is white (get it… Red, white and blue?) They mix it in and if effects their sense of culture. It changes the colour of their unique culture colour.
It becomes part of their own Third Culture.
Not the 1st blue colour, or the 2nd red one.
But part of their 3rd and unique colour, purple.
My kids often say American words like, Trash, Candy and Vacation.
They understand to read Mom and Crib and Flip flops….
As they sit in a car boot without seatbelts and eat their chicken with a spoon.
Ah my little purple people.

So. .. on parenting a TCK, I have read books.
I have attended seminars and I have talked and talked and talked about the theory of raising Third Culture Kids. I have educated myself and I know lots of parents serving on the field who are committed to loving and listening to their TCK. We’ve chatted about it, I’ve gotten advice, I’ve gleaned wisdom, I’ve stood with other mums and both just prayed that we do well for the TCK hearts we are holding.
But it never sounded as real as the 8yr old that looked at me in sad shock that morning. My wonderful, beautiful girl who said so casually, that she is not normal. Who, when we talked said that she remembered Australia as everything good. Everything easy and fun.
She has idealized it and longed for it, in the times where being foreign here had felt hard. She never stopped to think that she could also feel foreign there.
She has assumed it will feel exactly like it felt before we left.
Normal.
And I admit, I thought that too. Despite all the training, I had felt like we were all Aussies heading back for a season in Australia.
I’d not actually noticed how purple they were turning.

My drowsy comments had suddenly shaken her world.
Sure, In Australia she will not be the tallest kid in the room by half, or need to shop for clothes in the adult sizes.
… but she also hasn’t heard of that TV show and she has never made a loom band bracelet.
She wasn’t expecting that.
Sure, you won’t look surprised by her skin colour when she walks into the room, you wont try to touch her hair or flock her for photos.
…but you’ve never seen your sister grabbed by angry monkeys or had your rubbish sifted through by your neighbours right in front of you. You don’t get pineapple cut up for you at the market and you’ve never gone to school in an airport.
She hadn’t counted on that.

Over breakfast, and in one sentence, Miss E realised she will look normal but may not feel normal when we get to Australia. She is not blue.
In just the same way as she feels normal in her life here but doesn’t look normal, because she is not red.

My daughter just realised she is Purple.
that she is a Third Culture Kid
And so did I.

*****
Was there a moment that you realised you were parenting a TCK?
TCKs, was there a moment you realised you were one?

groceries at the market

I love talking with my kids about their experiences and their thoughts on life here. That is why I love to think of it as a colour. Being purple doesn’t feel like a diagnosis or a problem to overcome. It feels rich and good. A different perspective. Unique.
I love knowing that God planned this for them.
That they are not merely impacted by my life overseas. They are living overseas. They were chosen for this mission and this land. I love celebrating their journey, their colour and learning to understand their challenges.
I love talking to my kids and saying that just as God planned for them freckles and blonde and a love for books…
When he wrote their name on the palm of his hands, he wrote it in purple.

*****

The term Third Culture Kid or TCK was originally coined by Dr Ruth Hill Useem.
For a fuller (and much better) explanation of the term and the research that has gone into it, please visit her website. Missionary parents and children the world over thank Dr Ruth Hill Useem for her contribution to our families. For helping us recognise, nurture and celebrate our children of a Third culture.