Missionary Marriage: Ideas to Keep It Together

Reading Time: 4 minutes

missionary marriage

Years ago, my husband and I talked about how to help missionary friends on the field in struggles they were working through in a marriage. The couple was fairly new on the field.

It was tough, we acknowledged: A missionary marriage was like a pressure cooker, intensifying whatever flavors were first lobbed in the pot. If basil, you tasted its nuance in the entire dish. If a sweaty gym sock? Well. read more

Going Overseas? Prepare for Scars

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Recently I sat with another missionary, stocking feet curled beneath us. We were reflecting on some of the more painful parts of missionary life.

I’m talking things that were hard to understand if you hadn’t been overseas, hadn’t had moments in a foreign land defined by sacrifice or loss. They were like scars, covered by clothing. read more

Help! I don’t feel as “called” as my spouse

Reading Time: 7 minutes

don't feel as called

Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”

Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.

I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.

Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.

You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.

(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)

Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.

But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.

I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)

I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.

(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)

I can only tell you what I know.

own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called

This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.

But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.

When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.

During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)

I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.

He said something like,
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Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.

And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.

I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.

There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 

That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.

dont feel as called

Whose Calling is More Important?

“Calling” gets tricky these days. It can be wielded as “a rubber stamp from God on doing what I really, really want.”

It can also be a mystical, vague buzzword that gets us hung up.

And the truth is, “calling” gets tricky in a marriage. Because few of us have had actual writing on the wall. For most of us calling is less “I’ve heard an audible Word from God–and more synthesizing passions with Scripture and the world’s need.

It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.

But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.

What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?

Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
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In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.

Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.

Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?

Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.

But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)

And God is the author of women’s dreams, too; check out Jesus’ words to a woman about the priority of following him over family.

What now?

Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.

This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

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Different Strokes? Marital Differences as You Look Overseas, Part I and Part II

Help Your Marriage Thrive Overseas! Part IPart II, & Part III

8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas!

 

“I’m Well-Acquainted with Death”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

death

Editor’s note: In a break from the norm, we’re featuring a piece of creative…well, mostly fiction, based on the life of people encountered by an anonymous reader as she served in a collection of Southeast Asian islands, battling a mutual enemy: Death.

Though it’s challenging to accurately imagine the perspective of anyone of another culture, there seem benefits, too, in trying.

(No known Christians currently reside in this village, but its name is concealed for security.)

I’m well-acquainted with death.

I’m a nurse in a village on an island. Medicine here is hard to come by and easy to get rid of. Especially since the earthquakes.

Ever since the last big quake destroyed the clinic here, my life has been consumed by the emergency clinic we’ve set up. The normal problems we always face, like dengue, malaria, typhoid, and infections were all multiplied when the quake took everything from this village.

Three days after the quake, we had a big open tent up and running as our emergency clinic. We had hundreds of patients, from women giving birth to old men dying, all beneath one big, open tent.

When the sun rose overhead during the day, our patients were set outside in the breeze to keep them from baking in the tent’s heat. With little clean water and no real shelter to house these people, countless died.

So yes. I’m well acquainted with death.

When Things Became Different

But the last couple of months have been different.

It all started when a big man who looks like one of us but talks like a white man came in with a few of his local friends. They came in with a big group of young people ready to help anyone in our village any way they could.

My husband ran to meet them and called them over to our house. They didn’t hesitate when they saw the rubble that used to hold my family.

They spent as long as it took to clean up everything, then they sat and talked with my family.

It wasn’t long before they began to talk about how they do the things they do because of the love they have from the prophet Isa.

“always praying for me”

After these men cleaned up the rubble from our house, one of the local women in the group kept coming back to visit me. She encourages me, always praying for me in the name of Isa.

Today, that same woman came back with two of her friends. The two young white girls sat and smiled and laughed with me and my daughter. They shooed the chickens, sat in our pagoda, and listened as I told them about our lives here.

When we talked about the clinic and everything I had to do as head nurse, one of the girls began to tell a story. She talked about how she had worked in a place that held people who were just trying to die comfortably. She said working there was very hard, but it always reminded her of someone she knew that could raise people from the dead.

I shuddered as goosebumps rose on my arms. Raise people from the dead?

She laughed at my reaction and explained that the man she spoke of could bring people back to life as if they had never died! She told me a story about Isa–this same man they all kept talking about–and how he brought a man back to life who had been dead for three days!

He called out his name, and he walked out of the tomb alive.

She ended the story by saying this same Isa had not brought her back to life like this, but he had given her a new spiritual life. I listened and smiled and was happy to change the subject back to my family and work.

The Man Who Raises the Dead

As we walked through the clinic later and talked about all of the people who had suffered so much and died after the earthquakes, I kept thinking about what the girl had said.

Could Isa really bring dead people back to life? How did he have that power?

I waved goodbye to them and steered my motorbike home. and I thought of more questions. What did she mean when she said that Isa had given her new life?

She said herself that she had not actually died. But she talked about having this peace, about knowing for sure that she would be with Allah when she died.

How did she know that? How could she say she knew? And what does it mean to have a new spiritual life?

I’m well acquainted with death. Even now, the men in my village are gathered in a house praying for a person who died last week. They hope that by their prayers Allah will forgive this dead person and let him into heaven.

Is that what the girl meant by a new spiritual life?

But she’s not dead. I’m so confused.

I park my motorbike and walk back into my house–just hoping tonight I might figure out some answers to all of these strange questions.

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Dry Days, Old Books, & Jesus Trails–Or, Finding My Own Revival

Reading Time: 3 minutes

dry days

I picked it up because I was feeling dry.

The well-thumbed copy of Bruchko seemed to call my name from my bookshelves. I slid it from the shelf, must creeping to my nose with the satisfying feeling of an old, delicious story. (Wow, I realized–they left out a lot in the newer version of the book.)

I’ve found that a good missionary biography refreshes me, puts life back into my dry bones.

Life is like that, sucking you dry at times. Same thing each day. Good stuff, sure. But tiring.

(What breathes life into your dry days? Find out. Dry days do come.)

In my hands, the real-life tale of Bruchko came to life. It’s the story of a young Minnesotan, Bruce Olson, from a dry difficult home. Convinced God said “go”, Olson up and went”–not sure where or why.

And nothing went right.

Slowly, persistently, day after day he walked the trails Jesus drug him along in Caracas, Venezuela. Hungry, without friends, no money, living wherever he could, he kept going.

Olson was–is still, at 79–one of those tenaciously independent missionaries who didn’t plan ahead.

Interesting how God showed up.

DRY DAYS–and God’s Missions BootCamp

Eventually, Olson started on the real jungle trails of the Yuko Indians. Men shooting arrows at him. Olson was ignored, struggling to find anything to do in a village he doesn’t understand, where he can’t communicate with anyone. He began learning their language.

Remember the “leadership training program” God put David through in the Old Testament? It started off great – a nobody watching sheep, who became the national hero.

But yikes–the boss lobbing spears at you is rarely a good thing. Then, of course, there’s running for his life! Not dry days, per se, but perhaps “terror-filled.” (Sign me up!)

dry days

Olson seemed to be traversing a similar path of his own dry days. All of that was just practice–training–for the real thing.

Now to the Motilone Indians, the ones he really came to work with, the ones who really kill you, the ones not even the Yukos went near. (Spoiler: “Bruchko” is the Motilone version of Olson’s name.)

Sweet Days

After all the pain, nasty diseases, and repeated feelings of failure–finally sweet days began to appear.

Slowly he was accepted, allowed to join the hunts. He learned their language and stumbled upon odd pieces of their culture that opened doors to understanding and even connecting.

God had hidden in the tribe’s collective memory stories that pointed to himself! Those stories left a haunting question, a missing piece that God would one day provide.

There in my comfortable chair, my thoughts lingered over Olson’s descriptions of the hammocks swung high in the large communal home, and his amazing friendship with Bobby (the first young Motilone to start walking the “Jesus trail”). Bobby introduced Jesus to the Motilone people in their weird-to-us way.

It all took so long. But the fruit of the Spirit was real as the tribe learned to walk the “Jesus trail”.

I read all over again things that stretch my understanding of the world and how life really works. Things that mess with my predictable, boring, Western-world, meaningless fluff life.

God-sort of things that make you pause. That strip the dull and lifeless from dry days, exposing what’s real.

Mmmm ….. I read halfway through the book this morning. And I already feel some living water seeping in.

Sun’s up, time to start the day. It was worth waking up early.

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Global veteran David Armstrong has set foot in 15 countries, and confesses that Crepes and Waffles in Bogota, Colombia is one of his favorite restaurants. Catch his classic post here on 8 Ways to Help your Family Flourish Overseas.

 

Best Posts of 2020!

Reading Time: 4 minutes

best posts of 2020

We get a distinct thrill over here in partnering with you in a small way as you look in an overseas direction. Here are the posts that seemed to resonate with you–and represent some of the best posts of 2020.

May God empower your every next move for his honor and renown.

The Go. Serve. Love Team

Our Best Posts of 2020

10 REALITIES A MISSIONARY PROBABLY WON’T TELL YOU

missionary realities overseas global work hard truth

(This one’s a bit of a cheater–not published in 2020, but since it went viral this year, definitely makes the “best posts of 2020” list!)

Wondering about the hard realities of missionary life? A long-term global worker weighs in with unflinching truths about what to expect.

YOUR MISSIONARY BIOGRAPHIES WEEKEND WATCHLIST: AMAZON PRIME

Your Missionary Biographies Weekend Watchlist: Amazon Prime

Ready for a watchlist of Amazon Prime missionary biographies? Pressing into God’s future for your life could be as easy as pressing “play”.

WHEN COVID CHANGES YOUR OVERSEAS PLANS

COVID

You planned for a lot of things going overseas. But who expected COVID? What truth can you keep in mind?

CORONAVIRUS: IDEAS TO PRAY FOR THE WORLD (PRINTABLE INFOGRAPHIC)

best posts of 2020

We trust that coronavirus is on his leash, and will be corralled for his purposes. As the world is turned upside down–how do we pray amidst a pandemic?

 

 

 

Best missions podcasts of 2020!

Missions podcasts educate and equip me for my unique role in the Great Commission–and help me keep pace with God’s work around the globe.

CHOOSING AN EMOTIONALLY HEALTHY MISSIONS ORGANIZATION

Don’t underestimate how your organization’s health could have on your work overseas. These questions help find an emotionally-healthy agency.

GOD’S “NO”: WHEN HE CLOSES A DOOR OVERSEAS

https://www.goservelove.net/door-no/

Especially in light of COVID-19, maybe you’re dealing with your own closed door, a painful “no”, not here, not now. You’re asking, “did I hear God right? Weren’t my sacrifices meaningful?”

WE WERE MISSIONARY KIDS. HERE’S WHAT MY PARENTS DID RIGHT

Wonder if your children are getting shortchanged by your choices? Rebecca Skinner explores ways her parents nurtured their missionary kids in one of our classic best posts of 2020.

FREE UPG PRINTABLE INFOGRAPHIC: PRAY FOR MUSLIMS!

Middle East

1.8 billion Muslims haven’t heard of Jesus’ love and freedom. Yet more have turned to Christ in 15 years than the last 1400 combined. Pray with us!

BECOMING A MISSIONARY: ULTIMATE PREPARATION CHECKLIST!

becoming a missionaryWe’re welcoming the Missions App’s ultimate preparation checklist for becoming a missionary & a multi-agency application. Drumroll, please.

 

WHAT RACIAL DISCRIMINATION REMINDS US ABOUT OVERSEAS MISSIONS

racism

As people looking toward overseas missions, how do we respond to racism, injustice, and a nation exploding in anger and riots?

Missions Trends to Help You Work Smarter: The Series

trends in missions

We’re scouring for trends in missions to help you work smarter & love better. Pay attention to these key trends God’s using to draw people to himself.

That wraps up our best posts of 2020!

The great news? Our God is still actively on the move

in every corner of this planet.

Pray with us for his name to be made known

more than ever before in 2021.

A Yellow Christmas: Dotsie’s Story

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Yellow Christmas

Even though it was years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today: the year our Christmas was a sickly yellow.

It had taken me a good while to adapt to life in Ghana. After many mornings of tears–morning is when the reality of life there would hit me–I adjusted well. Life was good: The evening Bible school was off to a good start, we were getting to know our neighbors, Gary was mentoring a couple of men and I was helping Nicole, French and married to a Ghanaian, grow in her new faith.

Our world came crashing down around us when Gary got very sick. Just a couple months before he’d had typhoid fever and malaria. What was happening?

When Gary turned yellow, I guessed his diagnosis.

But borders were closed. Supplies in the country were so low that he could not even get a blood test to tell what kind of hepatitis he had.

At the time none of our colleagues were in the city. We did live near the university and knew the dean of the medical school. He started making house calls “with empty hands,” for there was nothing he could do.

yellow christmas

An actual photo of Dotsie writing by oil lamp in Ghana.

The Darkest Christmas

Those were dark days for us as Christmas approached.

We tried to make the best of it with our two small boys, while we watched “Papa” get thinner and thinner. The bile under his skin caused severe itching and relief only came with a scalding bath followed by a cold shower.

Then Gary would sit under the ceiling fan clad only in boxer shorts––any other clothes irritated his skin. But this routine wasn’t always possible with frequent power outages and lack of water.

And we were almost out of food. He needed some good nutrition.

I was not a coffee drinker, but needed to stay awake for some “alone time” in the evenings, so learned to drink it. I was exhausted but wanted to write letters back home to people who were praying for us.

Often sitting with only the light of an oil lamp, I’d hear God speak words of comfort and peace. He showed me Isaiah 40 and reminded me of it again and again.

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…They will soar on wings like eagles…

When god gives Christmas Gifts

God’s grace amazed us with gifts!

A knock sounded at the door one evening. Linda, a Peace Corps friend, greeted us with a special piece of meat wrapped in shiny tinfoil and a festive Christmas bow. It was delicious.

Later our adventuresome friend Keith showed up with a cooler full of meat and a sack of potatoes bought in a neighboring country; he’d slipped across the border in a desolate area. What a treat! (We’d never eaten potatoes in Ghana­­. They don’t grow there.)

Not long after that, a missionary friend traveling through our city walked into our house with a gunnysack over his shoulder. He dumped the contents out on our kitchen table. My eyes opened wide when I realized Howie had shared from their “special times” stockpile.

What stood out the most was a can of powdered lime drink. Now Gary could have at least a sort of fruit juice. The tiny ants marching around the glass at his bedside didn’t irritate me as they usually did; I was overjoyed to offer him such a treat.

Most exciting was the day a truck, oddly, pulled up to our door. I was certain it was a mistake, especially since on it were two small barrels for us. It didn’t make sense until we learned they had been flown in from London by friends who used to live near us in Ghana.

Having heard of Gary’s illness and knowing what the closed borders would mean for our food supply, Graham and Sue knew exactly what to send us.

The thrill of unwrapping foods fresh off English grocery shelves is embedded in my memory: beautiful, clean packages of flour, sugar, and powdered milk with special Christmas treats tucked in.

We were overwhelmed by God’s tender care for us.

When God’s Kindness Means Saying Goodbye

Before long the medical school dean told us Gary was not getting better and we needed to go home to get medical care. Gary had lost a garish 65 pounds.

It was unsettling to abruptly leave a home and ministry we loved. But we knew God doesn’t make mistakes. That he cares deeply for us.

So we trusted.

It took a couple of days to prepare to leave, and we certainly wanted to celebrate our Savior’s birth before we left. We made clothespin ornaments representing our family to put on our little tree.

The ending of the Not-so-fairytale Christmas

Back in the U.S., Gary initially was isolated in a hospital room until they determined for sure he had Hepatitis A. He ended up being yellow with the severe itching…for four more months.

God provided a house for us near my family and a main supporting church of ours. And a friend, starting up a pizza business, gave us a case of frozen pizzas and a pizza oven so Gary could gain back some weight.

Six months later we returned to Ghana, eager to get back to our work.

Our clothespin ornaments are falling apart now, but we still hang them on our tree each year. And as we do, we remember what God taught us during our yellow Christmas.

 

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Memos from a Christmas Robbery

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Memos from a Christmas Robbery

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christmas robbery

My husband and I, kids in tow, were maneuvering at a snail’s pace through a traffic jam in our trusty high-clearance minivan. Our speakers happily trumpeted the Christmas CD my mom had sent, and we chatted, our energy high for our Christmas shopping in the city and the Christmas party of our non-profit (which, with the barbecue and kids running around in shorts, tends to look a little more like the Fourth of July).

It was sometime after “Let it Snow” that our heads all swiveled to the driver’s side, where a man was banging—hard—on the outside of our van. Never a good sign in Kampala.

And that’s when his partner whipped open my car door and swiftly grabbed my bag slouched at my feet. My casserole dish skidded across the pavement as I unbuckled without thinking, standing between the unmoving lanes and yelling something very helpful, like, “HEY!” as he and his cronies ran away with my reading device, my phone, the drivers’ licenses from both countries, and our house keys.

I make it sound lighthearted. But really, I just started sobbing, my hands shaking. It probably frightened my children just as much as the stranger flinging open the car door. Robbery, even a purse-snatching, is a level of trauma.

What God Can Do with a Robbery

Truthfully, the highlight of my day took place about thirty seconds after that lowlight. My eleven-year-old: “Guys, it looks like mom is really upset right now. Let’s all pray.”

You know, when he was born, all of the parenting magazines kept telling me how to keep him safe from everything: from choking, from bullies, from cyberspace. And keeping our children safe is a godly desire.

But I’m also reminded God’s “faith school” for my kids is so good to teach them, even while they are quite young, who he is in suffering.

As a friend wrote me the week of the robbery, The very thing we would protect our children from experiencing may be the very thing that God wants to use in their lives now so that when they are adults, they’ll know how to respond to crisis.

That he gives, and he takes away, and we can sing Christmas carols with full hearts afterward. That this isn’t a “when bad things happen to good people” kind of thing. From dust I came—and hell I deserve.

Weary: You Have Arrived

After the police report, after the two hours spent at the phone company, after breaking in to our own house in absence of my keys, my emotions were as tangled and frazzled as my hair.

For one, all of my muscle to make it to the end of the year in a foreign country felt suddenly spent—a year complete with harrowing accident and move to a new neighborhood and all the little pecked-to-death-by-a-duck cultural frustrations.

The sledgehammer in my heart had fallen, and the bell at “WEARY” dinged.

After the robbery, I felt vulnerable. Violated. Stupid. Shaken.

And still—I kept thinking, This is why He came. This is why we need Christmas. Not for some vague, nebulous, Dr.-Suess-movie “Christmas is about giving! The Christmas spirit is in our hearts!”

How Robbery Schooled Me about Christmas

Because Christmas is—but it isn’t.

We needed Him because Christmas—an unselfish, give-till-it-doesn’t-make-sense, fatal rescue mission—was not in us as we mourned in lonely exile here, basting in our own junk and selfishness, as both victim and criminal.

He, too, was here to help, and people wanted to take what they could get for themselves.

Jesus was subject to far more injustice, theft, and hate than a robbery.

He bore so much more grief than I have, so that my treasure could be not in a purse or an iPhone, but in a place untouched by thieves and tears.

This is only a pinprick of suffering. But his hand seemed to rest on my slumped shoulder when I happened on C.S. Lewis’ words from The Magician’s Nephew. 

I saw that “faith school” though it may be, God’s pain in the midst of my pain is real. I am not merely a project to be sanctified, but a child who is loved after a crime:

“But please, please–won’t you–can’t you give me something that will cure Mother?’

Up till then he had been looking at the Lion’s great feet and the huge claws on them; now, in his despair, he looked up at its face. What he saw surprised him as much as anything in his whole life. For the tawny face was bent down near his own and (wonder of wonders) great shining tears stood in the Lion’s eyes. They were such big, bright tears compared with Digory’s own that for a moment he felt as if the Lion must really be sorrier about his Mother than he was himself.

‘My son, my son,’ said Aslan. ‘I know. Grief is great.”

And so I found Christmas–with a side of robbery–yet again painting in vivid strokes that God is with us. wrapping our injured flesh around him, breathing our air and walking our sod.

Thank God for Christmas.

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Christmas, Rewrapped: Navigating Overseas Holidays, Part I and Part II

Creative Celebration: Why It Matters Overseas

Advent: When You’re Not Where You Hoped (FREE PRINTABLE)

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit. 

Advent: When You’re Not Where You Hoped (FREE PRINTABLE)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

advent waiting

The dust, fine and red, coated the plants lining our roads. Sweat beaded on my upper lip. As my children lay awake in bed, I stuck my head in and reminded them to keep guzzling plenty of water, after a friend of theirs landed in the clinic due to dehydration.

Unfortunately it paralleled my parched insides. So many tasks to which I put my hand seemed to droop, languishing and limp. The cost-benefit ratio of my parenting, my ministry there in Uganda, and a handful of relationships seemed tilting precariously in the wrong direction.

It’s funny how perceived failure–and waiting–stirs up silty questions that had lain quiet in the soul.

What am I doing here? Why am I doing this? Does any of what I do matter?

A friend had mentioned that week how, when we trust God in the dark, it’s amazing how so many things begin to happen.

Honestly?

I was thinking, What about the times when you trust big, and nothing big happens? What about when everything feels sluggish, fruitless, and cracked?

miracle

Advent Pain

Am I the only one who feels like waiting has been a recurring lesson of adulthood? Indeed, to prep for this post, I searched “waiting” on my personal blog–and found 8 pages of posts.

Sometimes army-crawling through my own seasons of advent (Christmastime or not) feel like one of God’s favorite scalpels. It lies ominously–no, lovingly! I tell myself– next to the one labeled “suffering.”

I was embarrassingly late into adulthood by the time the word “advent” revealed itself for what it was, i.e. not the name of the month before Christmas, where we have to wait a whole 25 days.

It’s this word that remembers the waiting, the inevitable coming true–to the tune of millennia, generations upon generations “that mourn[ed] in lonely exile here.”

advent waiting

When Your Season Feels Off

Maybe, looking at where you hoped to be, everything seems…off. That promises or hope, if advent were real at all, would be fulfilled by now.

To get married. Or be able to start filling applications rather than taking care of aging parents or changing diapers. To be done raising financial support. Or go overseas when the borders open. To have ministry that feels like it’s worth the career and family and comfort and validation you’ve given up.

Maybe it feels like you’re on the wrong side of a three-legged race. Something’s dragging. You’re lurching. Everyone else seems to fluidly gallop ahead, while you’re stuck with a mouthful of turf.

This is not the life I pictured.

advent waiting

How Waiting Changes Us

I have become a different woman as God changes me in the muscular, faith-filled waiting: for the months-long process of appealing our denied work visa. To go overseas, when the man I married wasn’t feeling led that direction. For a child making decisions that seized my heart with fear. For God to restore a sense of purpose after we returned from Africa.

In those times, it has felt easier to do anything, really, rather than be still, my soul; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. 

I think of Abraham, waiting twenty years after God’s promise for a son. He even tried to rush it a bit. So I must include one of my favorite truisms a la Peter Scazzero:

I, like Abraham, had birthed many ‘Ishmaels’ in my attempt to help God’s plan move forward more efficiently.

Who will I become in the waiting?

French activist and philosopher Simone Weil’s wrote on some of the ways affliction–and, I would offer, waiting–changes us. It’s our decision how we respond to these wearying side effects of waiting.

  • Isolation. “No one understands this. I can’t turn to anyone.”
  • “Implosion”. This looks like self-absorption as we seek to stop the pain.
  • Hopelessness/condemnation. Weil writes, “Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron it stamps the soul to its very depth with the scorn, disgust, even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not.”
  • Anger, directed at various targets.
  • Temptation. Pastor and author Timothy Keller notes, “We become complicit with the affliction, comfortable with ours discomfort, content with our discontent…It can make you feel noble, and the self-pity can be sweet and addicting.”*

Redefining Faithfulness and Success

And two friends reminded me gently during those hot, heavy months on my soul and body–my own mini-advent–What if we redefine success to mean “faithfulness”? Sure, God wants us to get excited about results, too. Purpose is part of his perfect design.

But don’t forget the “fruit”, in His eyes, starts long before what we see.

You will arrive at precisely the time God has ordained–for the good works he’s created for you to do: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

God has “determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [every person’s] dwelling place”. If your Plan A has gone unfulfilled, that fulfillment would actually go against God’s design. Over 100 verses speak of his precise timing.

Could this waiting be a form of God’s mercy? Is someone being primed for the perfect opportunity to receive the Gospel? Are you being protected or perfectly prepared?

Verses to Hold On To in your personal advent

With this in mind, we’ve got a download of the four verse graphics in this post–printable here–for memorization and meditation in this season of Advent, of waiting.

PRINT THEM ALL HERE.

One morning, I stirred in the early hours to a rushing sound outside of my flung-open windows; a deep rumbling had brought at least one child toting pillows and blankets to the floor around our bed.

And yes! Pouring rain grayed the sunrise sluicing down the sidewalk. I pulled the sheets taut around my shoulders.

The next day, I addressed my new class of refugees. Somewhere, amidst the raised hands and laughter, I thought, I can’t believe I get to do this job. I felt the term’s potential ripening in my hands, sweet and red.

I don’t know what you’re waiting for this Christmas. I’ve got a feeling it’s for something more weighty than hooves on a rooftop. But let me assure you: Those who wait on him aren’t ever–ever–put to shame.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Like this post? Don’t miss

Purpose While You’re Waiting to Go Overseas

Out of Place: When You’re Not Where You Thought You’d Be

“Have I Ever Failed You?”

 

 

Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.

Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.

As cited in Keller, Timothy. Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York: Penguin Books (2013). Kindle edition.