Posted in Spirituality

The Gift of 30 Years

These past 30 years, they have been a gift. I know, life in and of itself is a gift. But these past 30 years? For all intents and purposes, I shouldn’t have been around to see them.

On 11 September 1989, I came so close to losing my life. It happened on a country road in Nigeria. We were travelling in a minibus very similar to the one in the photo. One of its tires burst, we came off the road and the car overturned.

From that point on, it was miracle after miracle. I was able to get to a hospital in the city, then back to Germany. I was able to get the treatment I needed to ensure I did not die of my injuries, and I even made a full recovery. None of that I take for granted. As the doctor said when I arrived at the hospital in my home town:”Someone must have been watching over you!”. Indeed.

What does one do with the gift of life, given a second time? Initially, everything was fresh and new and special, and oh so precious. It was a watershed moment, life was divided in before and after. That is good. It is good to be conscious that I don’t know how long I have, that none of us know how long we have. With time, normality took over again. Life flowed and built around the event. It will always be significant but is no longer defining. That is also good. Life is there to be lived. Not just in the dramatic moments but every bit as much in the humdrum of everyday life.

Yet as this anniversary comes around, it’s good to stop and reflect. It’s good to say

thank you for the gift of 30 years

(and hopefully many more).

There are many questions that remain unanswered. Why did the accident happen at all? I don’t know. Why did I live when Mark, who was also in the car, did not? I have no answer. I have no answer yet the words that were an immense source of strength and comfort for me in those first couple of days remain true:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38+39)

I finally left hospital on 9 November 1989. That very evening, the Berlin Wall fell. But that is a different story altogether.

 

Photo by Eva Blue on Unsplash

Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality

Hello! You are so very welcome!

Are you about to get on a plane and head “over there”? Have you just landed in your new place?

As someone who has been around a while, let me tell you that you are so very welcome! We are very excited to have you! We have been praying for you, rooting for you, preparing for your arrival and we are so glad you’re finally here!

Are you young, maybe fresh out of college? Do we all seem so wise and experienced to you? And old, probably, but let’s not talk about that 😉 Do you worry you might not have anything to contribute? True, we have learned a few things along the way. We have also developed blind spots. We need you and your fresh way of looking at things! We’ve seen disappointment and lost hope in places. Your enthusiasm and “naivete” help revive our souls.

Dear new graduate – you are so welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!

Are you arriving with young kids, uncertain how to support them through the transition? Wondering how you could possibly be involved in ministry, learn the language? Are you worried you might be a burden rather than an asset to the team? For sure, those are not easy challenges to navigate. There is not one right answer, not the perfect way to live this. But one thing I do know. You are so valuable! What a treasure it is to have young families on the team. The fun, the mess, the questions – the whole lot of it! And you as a person, the unique “you” the Lord created – we are so blessed to have you!

Dear young mum, young dad – you are so welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!

Are you single and worry you’ll be isolated? There are people and things back home (or in your previous location) that are on your heart, and that no one around you really understands. It’s hard being the only link between your different worlds! It’s hard not having at least some community that arrives with you. Hard – but also an opportunity! Doubly hard if you happen to an introvert (speaking from experience here!). You have to build community to survive. Don’t wait for others to include you (though if they do, that’s just the best!), take the initiative. And no, just because you’re single does not mean you have to work all hours of the day and night! Build a life! Play! Rest!

Dear single person – you are so welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!

Are you the quiet type, maybe an introvert? Do you feel you’ve landed in a world of extroverted, loud, visionary people? Are you not sure what you might have to contribute, if your quiet voice will be heard? Let me assure you, your quiet voice is so needed! You will be able to see things, hear things, connect with people in a way that others can’t. I know being an introvert in a communal culture can be so hard. There are ways of doing that well – seek the wisdom of others who have gone before! And if nothing else – thank you for keeping me company in the introvert corner 😊

Dear introvert – you are so welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!

Are you the odd one out? Maybe you’re from a different country than everyone else on your team. A different age, life-stage. Maybe everyone else has been together a while and you’re the only new one. Truth be told – most of us probably feel like the odd one out much of the time. Feeling like everyone else belongs but we don’t. And yet. And yet there truly are added challenges for those who are a minority on the team. Oh but how much we do need your voice! The perspective only you can bring. Will you both challenge us and give us grace when we go into “majority mode”? I wish that didn’t happen but most likely it will. I am so sorry.

Dear “odd one out” – you are so welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!

 

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor 12:24b-26)

 

Here we go then!

 

How have you experienced the “hellos”, as a newbie or as someone who has been around a while? What has been helpful in overcoming some of the challenges?

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

 

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

Posted in Spirituality

All the Earth

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens.

In the beautiful sunsets, the starlit skies.

In the millions of galaxies beyond comprehension, beyond our wildest imagination.

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In the rolling hills of England, the wide expanse of the Russian forests.

In the abundance of colour in the tropics, the sun-scorched lands of the Mediterranean countries.

In the vast oceans, the rolling seas, water lapping on the shore.

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.

From the streets of Wilmersdorf to the slum-like Roma villages of Slovakia.

From the majesty, the awe-inspiring beauty of the great cathedrals, to the dingy streets of Sparkbrook.

From the fun of the playground to the fear of the hospital bed.

From the warmth of a home to the loneliness of the streets.

Beauty and brokenness.

Fierce love, rampant selfishness.

What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.

 

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

(a meditation on Psalm 8)

 

Photo by Louis Maniquet on Unsplash

 

 

Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality

When Those Roots Break All Over Again

It was a year on from that roller coaster season of good-byes and packing and planning and crying and dreaming… Most of you know the craziness that is a major transition. After 15 years in the same city, my roots were deep. And pulling them up was hard.

Still – I had survived and even made it through the first year back in my passport country. My team needed (and offered!) a lot of grace and patience to put up with me. We had bonded over cultural mistakes and frustrations – and lots of coffee and pastries!

 

I was doing well. Or so I thought. Then June hit and those dreaded good-byes started again. Only this time, I was not the one leaving. I was staying when most of my team, most of the people I had done life with for the past year, came to the end of their time in this city. I was so not prepared for this. I was still recovering from the previous season of good-byes. I had started putting down small, fragile roots over this past year. They had become intertwined with those of the people around me. With them leaving, I found myself almost ripped loose again. Roots were broken. I was all alone in my little patch of ground.

 

Well, not quite, I wasn’t. Some people were still there. People who had been here a little longer, who were able to give me a bit of stability. And so I continued on. At first reluctant to allow the newbies to get close but with time, having enough of a network around me that the constant goodbyes became (a bit) more bearable. Even if they do still suck.

 

Here is what I’ve learned over the years. Not all goodbyes are created equal.

 

Leaving is hard. Saying goodbye to people and places that will forever be part of your heart and life is tough. Yet somehow, you build up to it, you have people cheering for you, and so you get through. My big transitions have all been by choice. A season came to an end. I have never had to leave (be it for medical, financial, security or other reasons). Oh my heart goes out to everyone who has experienced that. So many more layers to thpse goodbyes. I am keenly aware that’s a story for someone else to tell.

 

Few of us are prepared for the ongoing goodbyes that come with living in any kind of international context. Yet for many of us, they are so much part and parcel of life. The amazing gift of new people coming into our lives, and the sadness of friends leaving. So with time, we become good at doing goodbyes well. We help with the packing, cleaning, painting. We babysit. We express gratitude and appreciation. We have some of the “hard but necessary” conversations. And we stay.

 

In case you’re wondering – no, it doesn’t work that perfectly in my world either. But we learn, we grow. And we do get better at this, those of us who are stayers.

 

Ok, let’s get back to those “first time stayers”. Hearts still a little bit fragile from the big transition they’re starting to emerge from, they’re in a unique place. So many firsts in these x number of months! This “end of school year and lots of goodbyes” season is another one of those firsts.

 

If you’re in that place, can I give you a (virtual) hug? It’s hard! Please don’t give up! Please don’t let your heart be hardened, even if it does feel safer! Look around you and see who is still there. Have the courage to keep engaging in these remaining relationships. Allow yourself to feel the pain that comes with this season but equally allow yourself to look ahead, to find things to look forward to. Learn to hold the two in tension.

 

For those of us who have done this staying thing a little bit longer, let us extend extra amounts of grace to those whose fragile roots are getting damaged and broken all over again. Let us encourage their hearts and let us be grateful for the blessing that their newness to this is to us. Let us cry with them, keeping our own hearts soft.

 

And for all of us, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Let us receive God’s compassion and comfort, with the readiness to share it with others.

 

 

How have you experienced the different kinds of good-byes? Do you have any tips on supporting “first time stayers” well?

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

 

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

Posted in cross-cultural, Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes, Uncategorized

The Annoying Question That Turns out to Be a Gift

„Why are you single?”

If I had a penny for every time I was asked that question, I’d be rich by now!

 

Right now, I live in a place that’s full of single people (almost 50% of Berlin households). Around here, I am not odd. Well, I probably am in lots of ways but not for being single. It used to be a very different story. For a number of years, I lived in a South Asian community in England. In that context, there were no single women around. Girls got married at a young age and generally started having children pretty soon after that. I was the odd one out. In many ways – but the thing that my friends had the hardest time getting their heads around was my singleness. There was no category for me. And so the questions came. Sometimes that was annoying, often hard. I’d always wanted to be married, have a family. A real, honest answer to their questions would have been painful and very vulnerable. I wasn’t always ready to go there. Not with everyone, not in every context. At the same time, I didn’t want to give a glib answer. One that was maybe correct but not always real in my life. And so I fumbled through.

It was only years later that a friend encouraged a group of us to enter into that question more deeply. We were all serving (or preparing to serve) cross-culturally. Our backgrounds were diverse – we were from Eastern and Western Europe, and the Middle East. Mostly women but also some men. My friend, who was leading us through this, was from Eastern Europe herself and for many years had served as a single lady in a neighbouring country. And it was hard. There weren’t many single women around. Certainly not in ministry. And so the questions came, as they had for me and for so many of us. Eventually she realised it wasn’t enough to find peace in her own heart with being single (important though that was). She also longed to respond to the ever-present questions in a way that satisfied her own heart and faith, that reflected God’s love and care for every person, married or single, and that caused her audience “to bless God for her” (as my friend put it).

What an amazing way to think about this! Those awkward questions are actually a gift and an opportunity! An opportunity (and an invitation) for me to wrestle more deeply with God about my own doubts, fears and insecurities. And an opportunity to speak words of hope and healing into hearts that are equally as broken and vulnerable as my own. Because isn’t that what’s really behind many of those question. Am I enough? Whether single or married, we all ask that question.

That question, that oh so annoying question, can help open the vista beyond the immediate, the culturally strange. It can be an opportunity to share about identity, about worth, about God’s care. Beyond marital status, gender, success – the value of a person created in the image of God!

I still don’t have the perfect answer, and maybe I never will. That’s ok. It’s a journey. But I do look at those questions quite differently now.

 

If you are single, how do you answer this question in your context? If you’re married, how do you respond to comments or questions about your team mate’s singleness?

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.

 

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Posted in Spirituality

Wonder

Seeing through the eyes of a child, I notice again the beauty of the world You created, Lord.

They touch a bush – and the leaves start to dance! What fun!

Everything is new and fresh – a whole world out there waiting to be discovered.

So much wonder!
So much excitement!

My eyes, Lord, are so used to it all. They see but don’t notice.

Oblivious to the beauty, the wonder of the small and ordinary.

Oh the joy and pride you must feel at a small child discovering this world you created. Your world, made for us, given to us.

Even now, even after the Fall, there is so much beauty! You were so extravagantly generous in creating. What an amazing reflection of your character!

I praise you for the gift of little kids in my life. For their joy at living and exploring, their wonder at the miracle of it all.

Help my eyes and heart to see the way they do!

 

Posted in Spirituality, The Grove Velvet Ashes

Let Us Go

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  (Luke 2:15 + 16)

Sometimes I wonder what became of the shepherds after this event. What were they thinking during those 30ish years that Jesus was not in the public eye? Did they talk to each other about the experience, wondering if it was even real?

And later, did they go to hear him teach? Did they come to him with their needs, with sick family members?

Were they there at his crucifixion? Did they see him after his resurrection?

Did any of them join his first band of followers?

We don’t know. Maybe some of them did. I hope so!

“Let us go!” would have looked so different in those seasons. No angels telling them where to go. Maybe no community to share the experience with, giving each other courage.

Instead the distractions of everyday life. The worries, the fears, the busyness. But also the memory of what happened. The longing to see him again. Wondering what it meant that he was the Saviour, the Messiah, as the angel had said.

What about you? What about me? What season are we in? What does “Let us go!” look like right now?

Sometimes it’s so full of excitement, of wonder. Other times it’s sheer discipline. Sometimes it feels like I’m clinging on for dear life (only to discover it’s Him holding me, not the other way around).

In some seasons, it takes a lot of courage. Going into a new place, a new culture, a new language. Being away from those I’m used to journeying with. Or realising He is calling me to new ways of coming to Him.

I wonder what happened to those shepherds. I wonder if any of them followed him. I hope so!

In the midst of challenges, of busyness, of questions, of great joy – let us go! Alone and in community – let us go! Today. This Christmas. Whatever that might look like for each of us right now.

 

This post has been linked to Velvet Ashes, an encouraging site for women serving cross-culturally.