When I started teaching in Prague six years ago at an international school for missionary kids, other expats, and local Czechs, I went with a mission to touch their lives with the love and care of Jesus. Little did I realize that I would be the one to learn an incredibly valuable lesson from these students.
Many missionary kids (MKs) and other expats (collectively known as Third Culture Kids- TCKs) are shaped by the frequent turn-over in their social circles. They are often welcoming new people and saying goodbye to friends they have barely known for a year, or a few years if they are lucky.
At our school, we had many conversations among staff and with students about how to handle this frequent turn-over in their relationships. Any time a student or staff member moved away, we “RAFT”ed them. RAFT stands for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Future. This imagery of a “raft” to one’s new location is a healthy and helpful framework for handling goodbyes. We had special meetings that would give students and staff the opportunity to publicly affirm a person that was leaving. Everyone was encouraged to resolve any conflict or tension as much as possible (apologies and forgiveness), and to say goodbye intentionally, for the sake of closure. The person leaving was encouraged to think positively towards the future. I am very grateful for how RAFT has shaped my attitude towards relationships and transitions.
Goodbyes can be hard and painful. But the tricky dilemma is this one: how do you form new friendships when you know these relationships may only last a brief period of time? Why bother? MKs, military families, and other expats have to grapple with this question all the time.
A group of students and staff was discussing this on one occasion, and the most profound answer came from a missionary kid who was then in middle school. With honest simplicity, this student explained that we form new friendships, no matter how long a person or family might be here, because every person is created in the image of God: unique and valuable. Such an answer was a testament to the integrity of this student’s parents, who no doubt set the example– they are missionaries because they honestly love people. The courage of these students, who have to say goodbye all the time and yet still open their hearts to newcomers, is still an inspiration to me.
This past summer my husband and I were surprised when we ended up moving two years before we had planned. I was just beginning to feel at home and settled in my friendships. And here we are, uprooted again after only three years, and putting down new roots. I feel discouraged about making friends when I don’t know what the future holds.
But the wisdom of my former MK students rings in my head: every person you meet, no matter how long you are with them, is inherently valuable. Even the short-lived friendships are worth it. Don’t be afraid–make new friends.
an open soul
is not a thirst for knowledge
that puffs my ego
an open soul
is an acknowledgement
that without You
such knowledge is
to change me
in my innermost being.
I really should make a new blog for all my cooking and homemaking related posts, but who got time for that? Not me. So bear with me if you hate cooking. But I doubt you would hate this soup, so if you don’t like to cook you should get your person who likes to cook to make it for you.
This is Smoky Triple-B (Beans, Beef, and Bacon) Soup. It was inspired by Bean Soup Mix in a Jar from gettystewart.com. We made the soup mix at MOPS, but the recipe looked really boring so I did what I usually do and jazzed it up. (I am terrible at following recipes…)
And yes, I made soup on an 88 degree day. But the ingredients were in the house, and creativity was surging. Sue me.
Smoky Triple-B Soup
Total time: ~5 hours Active time: ~45 mins
1/4 cup each dry red lentils, black eyed peas, black beans, green lentils, red beans, pinto beans, and green split peas
2-3 beef soup bones with meat attached
1 quart of plain tomato sauce (or two 14 oz cans)
1 package bacon (12-16 oz)
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1 Tbsp dried onion flakes
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 bay leaf
3 sweet potatoes, baked, cooled and skinned (or fresh ones peeled and diced)
a few drops liquid smoke (Lazy Kettle brand is great and can be purchased at Amazon.com)
2 cups frozen sweet corn
Salt and pepper
Mozzarella cheese (or other cheese of your choice), shredded for garnish
1) Combine all dried beans/lentils/peas in dutch oven, rinse well and drain. Add 6 cups of water and bring to boil. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. Meanwhile, cover soup bones with water in a large soup pot and bring to a boil. Skim any foam off with a spoon.
2) Drain beans after 1 hour and rinse well. Add to simmering broth/bones along with tomato sauce, herbs and spices.
3) Dice bacon into 1/4 inch slices and fry until crisp in dutch oven. Drain on paper towels. Remove fat. Spoon some hot tomato/broth into dutch oven, scrape bacon flavor off the bottom, and return tomato/broth to soup pot. Put bacon bits in fridge.
4) Dice baked sweet potatoes and add to soup pot with a few dashes of liquid smoke and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.
5) Remove soup bones. Puree soup with immersion blender or blender if desired. Remove meat from bones, add to soup and also add frozen corn. Taste and add salt if needed. Bring soup to desired temperature, over medium heat, stirring periodically.
6) Serve garnished with mozzarella cheese and bacon bits.
The end of a long morning, and the little humans are finally down for a nap.
Creamy, sweet, enticing dark chocolate sitting in a basket on the counter.
I deserve it.
The breaking of dawn, with sleep broken at least once by a precious tiny bundle.
The precious tiny bundle wakes up again just as I am falling back to sleep.
I want sleep. I need sleep.
I deserve it.
Shove my husband and complain that it is HIS TURN.
My heart hurt by confusing relationships.
Thirsting for vengeance.
I deserve to feel this way.
Tense, teary, and fed up.
Another long, draining day spent caring for small humans.
Bored with my life.
I deserve more excitement than this.
Jesus, holy and sinless, before the Jewish Sanhedrin, being accused of blasphemy and conspiracy.
Condemned to die, nailed to planks of wood, struggling to breathe, flesh torn in shreds, muscles exposed by Roman metal-tipped whips.
The night before, sweating drops of blood due to severe psychological stress (hematidrosis).
I deserve better than this.
Unleashes the wrath of God on all people present, ascends to heaven, where he ceases to care about the rebellious wretches that have broken his heart.
Oh, wait, the story doesn’t go like that, does it?
“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:57, [Matt. 26:39, Luke 22:42])
And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh [to numb pain], but he did not take it. (Mark 15:23)
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” (Mark 16:11, [Matt. 27: 46])
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47)
Long days, short nights, little sleep.
Caring for tiny humans.
Tired of being an adult.
I need to get up and serve my children some breakfast.
I deserve to sleep.
The Spirit says: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34b)
Feet hit the floor.
Onward to the mundane adulting.
Same responsibilities as the day before, but without the stress.
This blog post was inspired by a conversation about honor-shame culture with my husband a few months ago. In such a culture, people are either honored or shamed, there is little or no in between. I believe the best alternative is grace-humility culture.
In honor/shame culture, the goal of an individual is to accrue honor and avoid shame for themselves. Other people are either honored high on a pedestal beyond what is appropriate, or shamed mercilessly. When individuals succeed, the honor becomes their identity, and their top priority is to preserve it. And when individuals fail and are unable to forgive themselves because honor is so important, the shame becomes their identity.
What I described above is my instinctive struggle to honor myself (“I deserve this good thing”) and how it sucks the life out of me.
What Jesus exemplified, and what the church should exemplify with the help of the Holy Spirit, is humility-grace culture. Jesus exemplified humility in giving up all the good things he truly deserves. He came to earth and allowed himself to be killed unjustly, to pay the price for our self-centeredness (See Philippians 2). And God shows us grace by accepting us as we are, rekindling a relationship with us, and gradually transforming us by the power of his Spirit to be holy like him (See Hebrews 4:16).
How do we see ourselves and others in humility-grace culture? In humbling ourselves, we allow God to transform us. We let go of the “I deserve honor” complex and adopt the servant heart of Christ. In serving God and others, we find joy and peace. We do not idolize our fellow humans, because that would be giving them honor they cannot maintain. And we also accept God’s grace for our shame. We release our shame because Jesus paid for it. And Christ’s holiness becomes our identity even though we continue to struggle with our fallen nature before heaven. Because of the grace we have experienced, we forgive, love, and befriend others unconditionally. We invite others into that same grace of Christ.
The last scene I described above was when God’s example of humility touched my heart and gave me the ability to serve in a difficult situation and experience joy. This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy chocolate anymore or ask for help with my children so that I can get some sleep. It means I seek to trust God and act in humility. I have known Mark 8:34 at least half of my life, and yet I needed the Holy Spirit to touch my heart with it in a new way. I am thankful he is not finished working on me (Philippians 1:6).
My heart beating, my soul breathing
I found my life when I laid it down
Upward falling, spirit soaring
I touch the sky- when my knees hit the ground
Picture credit: http://dragonfire1.50megs.com/Boynton/images/linens/bpl007.jpg
If there is a value that is trumpeted by my generation, it is honesty. No hiding behind masks or carefully constructed personas. Be yourself.
Indeed, honesty is an important virtue. Relationships can crumble if we pretend to be something that we aren’t. Eventually we fall apart if we try to hide our problems.
And yet we enter the adult world, the working world, which does not operate so well if anyone and everyone is bearing their souls. Our souls are chaotic. So we must be professional. And we must put a filter on it. We can still be honest sometimes, but we have to filter our words and only say that which is most helpful and won’t have serious repercussions.
The filter tends to deconstruct once we are back at home, wherever that may be- with our spouses and children, with our parents and siblings, with our roommates, even our friends. They bear the full brunt of our souls, our hearts. Honesty helps many situations, but alone it cannot save our relationships. Often it is the content of our hearts that does damage. Yes, we are hurting and/or passionate about justice, and that is legitimate, but that is not all that flows from the heart. Selfishness. Pride. Greed. Impatience. Foolishness. And more. Once we let it out, it is hard or impossible to reel it back in.
So we try to use the filter at home, just enough to survive. But the filter is fragile. It is very fragile under the force of the heart.
The biblical writer James had something to say about this. I have always felt convicted by the first part of chapter three, which speaks of the dangers of the tongue. The tongue is kind of like a filter. We may think or feel something, but the tongue may or may not articulate it.
The problem with modern chapters and headings in the Bible is that we often miss the connection between parts. In verse 8, James says that the tongue cannot be tamed, and that it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. He then goes on to condemn the tongue that both praises God and curses people, and uses a few analogies to strengthen his point. Then, in the English Standard Version, that section is over. But there is no hope in this section. If we cannot tame the tongue, what hope is there for our relationships? But James is not done with this topic, even though he doesn’t use the word “tongue” again.
The hope starts to come in the next section. The key is the content of our hearts. Verses 13-18 say:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”
Chapter Four continues to give hope. Verses 6-10 encourage us:
“But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
God’s Word indicates that honesty and filtering are not enough for relational and inner peace. They help, but we need to dig deeper. We must deal with our hearts. We must humble ourselves, trusting God. Jesus himself said, “…out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)
For me, this means forgiving my kids and not allowing frustrations to build up in my heart. It means respecting authority and my elders inwardly. It means taking hateful thoughts “captive to Christ” instead of “venting” them with my husband.
In my (relatively young) life I can look back on countless situations where I have said things I regret. Some of these situations are recent, other are old. Some statements are calculated, others come out of my mouth before I can think. I always promise myself, when I realize my wrong, that I won’t do that again. You can only guess how many times I’ve broken that promise. Some statements have been rooted in innocent stupidity, but many more have been rooted in a desire to promote myself or control circumstances. They have not been rooted in trusting God.
But, praise the Lord, “he gives more grace.” And he gives us new, humble, pliable souls. This was not merely the idea of New Testament writers. The Old Testament prophets spoke of it. (i.e. Jeremiah 24:7 and Ezekiel 36:26)
I have been practicing this song on the piano lately, and it has been good for my soul. Lord, purify my heart.
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold
My heart’s one desire
Is to be holy
Set apart for You, Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You, my Master
Ready to do Your will
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within
And make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin
Christians Share a Bond Above Politics -What Living Abroad Taught Me About Christianity and Politics: Part 4
In Part One of this article series, I explained the first way my Christian political opinion “shifted” while living abroad in the Czech Republic for three years: Living abroad opened my eyes to the moral problem of political corruption. In Part Two, I shared that living abroad brought a teacher into my life who explained the deep impact of post-modernism on government. In Part Three, I related stories from my time abroad that taught me the spiritual and political dangers of extreme nationalism. In Part Four, I will share the last shift, and the lesson I learned which ties these points together.
Shift #4: Living abroad showed me that Christians share a bond, independent of political views, in the Lord Jesus Christ.
My first Sunday attending an international church in Prague, an elder preached. It was an excellent sermon, although regretfully I don’t remember the passage or topic. Yet I do remember that it was biblical and gospel-centered, which are two hallmarks of evangelicalism. When I befriended this European on Facebook, I was confused by his profile which stated his political views were liberal. This forced me into open-mindedness. I volunteered under him in youth ministry the following year and continued to find his theology to be robust. He was clearly a solid evangelical who was also politically liberal.
Throughout my three years in Prague, I continued to meet European Christians who were committed to the Bible and its Gospel, and yet had diverse political opinions. I realized political conservatism and Christianity overlap, but are not interchangeable. Scottish writer David Robertson thinks similarly. On his blog The Wee Flea, he shared the following story:
It was to say the least, an interesting prayer meeting. The former missionary from Northern Ireland stood up and prayed fervently that the Lord would deliver us from the evils of homosexuality, abortion, nationalism and socialism. Afterwards when I was speaking to him, I called over three of my elders. “Donald, what’s your politics?” “Oh, I’m a true blue Tory.” My missionary friend nodded approvingly. “What about you Angus?” “I can’t stand the Tories, I’m a nationalist through and through.” “And you Ross?” “I’m a socialist.” The look on my friend’s face was priceless…. “But, but…these are good and godly men.” “Indeed they are,” I told him, “And you will never pray in this prayer meeting again using political criteria rather than biblical.”
Need another opinion from someone a little more “close to home?” Timothy Keller, a minister in the Presbyterian Church of America and writer of The Reason for God, has said, “I really don’t think a party can capture Christianity…If the Christian faith gets too identified with a party, it reduces Christianity to a political position…When I read my Bible I see a breadth, a spectrum of concerns, and I don’t see one party cornering the market on them.”
It is not that political opinion should not matter to Christians, or that we can’t make inferences from Scripture leading us to certain political views. It is that there are certain essential truths in the Gospel – clearly emphasized as God’s central mission in the Bible– which bind us together above politics. I experienced this unity with my Christian brothers and sisters in Prague. I should have known this already- I grew up in a diverse church. But it wasn’t until Prague that God really hammered it home for me. Despite differing political views, denominational backgrounds, and nationalities, together in the Lord Jesus Christ we learned from God’s Word, we prayed, we repented of sin, we fed the homeless, we bore witness of His great love to Czechs and expatriates, and we worshiped Him.
Overall, living abroad taught me that my allegiance is not to any party, nation or movement in particular, but to Jesus Christ. I may be part of a political party for the sake of voting strategy, but the terms Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Liberal don’t mean much to me. I will always be American and proud to be one, but the United States is not my ultimate home. I am seeking Truth, and Truth does not fit neatly inside any man-made label. Truth sets you free.
Picture credit: Laurie Barnes. Our Prague church🙂
America Must Get Off the Road to Germany’s Fate – What Living Abroad Taught Me About Christianity and Politics: Part 3
In Part One of this article series, I explained the first way my Christian political opinion “shifted” while living abroad in the Czech Republic for three years: Living abroad opened my eyes to the moral problem of political corruption. In Part Two, I shared that living abroad brought a teacher into my life who explained the deep impact of post-modernism on government. In Part Three, I share the third of four shifts.
Shift #3: Living abroad introduced me to the political and spiritual dangers of extreme nationalism.
During my second year in Prague, I had a conversation with a German, Christian expat. As a history nerd, I was brazen enough to ask Anke her perspective on World War II and Hitler. I learned that German nationalism has been at an all-time low since the war. Why? Because extreme nationalism gave Hitler his power. He promised to make Germany great again. This was amazing to me since I had recently graduated college where I had studied amazing German concertos, cantatas, opera, quartets and lieder. I was in love with German culture (and still am) – how could they not be proud of it? Yet their nationalism went so overboard in the 1930s that their national pride disappeared in the aftermath of Hitler’s Third Reich.
Anke was not the only German who revealed this to me. My husband, Matt, had the privilege to go on an informal fellowship retreat of Christian brothers in the German region of Bavaria, invited by a new friend. In the foothills of the Alps, they stayed in a small castle inherited by one of the participants. Matt asked one of the German men, Dietrich, what annoyed him most about America. First, Dietrich jokingly said hamburgers, since they are symbolic of American over-consumption of food. Then he followed that answer with a serious one, and that was over-nationalism. At the time, Obama and Romney were campaigning for the presidency and both were using rhetoric that America is and should continue to be the greatest nation in the world. This greatest-nation rhetoric was very offensive to him and reminded him of the movement which gave rise to the Nazis. He confirmed what Anke had told me about the lack of German nationalism after the war. Only recently had Germans had the courage and reasonable pride to fly their national flag at a sporting event, and it was a very, very big deal. Something like that had not been done since the war. Lack of pride in their national identity was the sad repercussion of over-nationalism in Germany.
These contemporary German perspectives on nationalism brought depth to what Dr. Gillis Harp, a professor at the conservative Christian school Grove City College, had taught me in American History. America is not the embodiment of Jesus’ kingdom, contrary to what many Christian school curricula would teach us to believe. His Church is. I have realized that Christians can pray and vote for moral values in our government, but our pride and mission should rest in the spiritual kingdom of God. If the church is on the fringe of culture in America and has little earthly power, that’s okay. God doesn’t need earthly power to spread his kingdom. Christians have no business equating their national pride with their Christian identity.
We must be careful not to idolize our country. God delights to give people good gifts- like a great Constitution and a beautiful heritage. It is good to preserve these things as well as we can – besides, the Olympics wouldn’t be as fun without some nationalism! However, extreme nationalism is dangerous because it twists the redemptive mission of God’s kingdom into evil and injustice. Adolf Hitler claimed to be a Christian, and so does Donald Trump. Like Hitler’s bewildering success, Trump’s popularity rests largely on extreme nationalism that sadly draws misguided Christians. His campaign is fraught with political and spiritual peril, and uses bullying and intimidation as primary tactics.
Neither should we reject any candidate merely because their ideas are “un-American.” If other countries are doing well, it is reasonable to consider their systems with an open mind. I think we may find that other countries have examples of more democratic, more free, and more just policies that we haven’t noticed because our heads are in the sand.
Christians, we are called to a higher allegiance than America: the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. As I said in part 2, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. But we are called to further his Truth and Justice however we can, regardless of national pride. Trump is not Hitler, and we are not in post-WWI Germany. Yet we may find a Hitler in the White House someday if we continue to make nationalism our guide. Vote strategically, my friends!
Continue to Part 4!