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IDEAS Prayers Published Articles

How to Pray for Your Nation

Many Americans are troubled by the state of the nation. It is an unusual feeling.

Our national psyche is accustomed to being on top. To progress. To winning. Our challenges, for the most part, were external. And while we have always had political divisions, there was rarely any doubt we shared a broad consensus.

What do we do now?

The first and most important step is prayer. But it is a different type of prayer to which I would like to call our country. It is a form of prayer I have learned from being a foreigner, living abroad. Before that, however, there is hard work to do first.

Fall on your knees, and pour out your heart to God.

It is far easier to complain to like-minded people—often on social media. Instead, take your frustrations to the one who will not offer you an echo chamber, but a refiner’s fire. To him, curse the darkness. Plead your case. And as you cry out before him, allow the slow but steady transformation as he nudges you closer to the image of Christ.

And then consider next this form of prayer—additionally.

For me, it started in Egypt. Having grown to appreciate the country of my residence for two non-eventful years, the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 filled me with hope for positive change. Before too long, it filled me with dread. Riots in the street. Police violence. Demonization of opponents.

It took about four months of anguish, but I began writing a prayer for the country. It started as above, as I wept for a nation I had grown to love. But I wanted to push through, and offer my plea publicly, so that others might pray also. This, however, confronted me with a dilemma. Every segment of society interpreted events according to their own viewpoint. How could I get them to pray, together?

I had my own personal interpretation, of course. But if I wrote my concerns, surely some would applaud, while others would cringe. Some actors, certainly, only pursued their own interests, manipulating and cheating to gain the upper hand. But who was who, and were any pure?

Even so, I believed most people wanted to see the victory of peace, justice, and reconciliation. They valued transparency, consensus, and the common good. They calculated them differently—often vastly so. But if I could model a prayer that all could pray together, then God could sort out the details.

Remember, this is the second prayer. The first is to do your own hard work. God has given you unique discernment in the affairs of the nation. Beg God to accomplish the good that you see—and then work in the world to convince others.

But do not neglect the work of unity.

I have since moved to Lebanon, another nation that now breaks my heart. Please join me in prayer for the Land of the Cedars, every Sunday.

But more to the point, would you consider a broader prayer for America, or whatever nation in which you dwell, and call others to join you?

If so, here are five principles to keep in mind:

1) The sincerest prayers are for God alone. Do the hard work with him before sharing your prayer with others.

2) If it is a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If it is a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If it is a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, religions, or nations. Such a prayer may be appropriate—but save it for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

As Americans, we are not used to our nation being in such need. In your personal prayer, long for your vision. But in your public prayer, call our nation together. Then each of us can place our vision before God in pursuit of his kingdom principles, from which all our approximations derive.

Please click here to read this article at the blog page for IDEAS.

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IDEAS Middle East Published Articles

When You Can’t Return Home

Can't Go Home

We had just prepared our letter to loved ones in America.

Corona is spreading everywhere, I wrote, but we are on lockdown, and perhaps safer here than we would be in the States. We have money, food, and good relations with neighbors. We plan to stick it out here.

And then the announcement was issued by the government: The airport and all borders are closing in 48 hours.

Suddenly, my stomach dropped. All my earlier confidence felt like bravado. Unspoken, there was always the assumption that if things get bad here, we can leave. Now, it would be impossible. And given the unprecedented nature of this virus in our modern world, who knows when the opportunity to travel would come again.

The nation we live in is not known for its stability. What if it gets really bad?

After dropping, my stomach turned. Should we quickly uproot and return to America? I hadn’t yet sent that letter.

The complications to normal life would be terrible. The airports would be crowded Corona-factories. And who would receive us back home save for parents who must be extra careful against the virus?

I didn’t want to leave. But what does wisdom suggest when faced with a last chance? The reasons against leaving are clear, but they were not what I needed.

My earlier bravado disappeared.

I longed for a deeper confidence.

Stepping away from our own story, here are four reminders that helped buttress my spirit. Perhaps they will also be an encouragement to others.

  1. You have a job. Some foreigners are tourists, and others were sent overseas by their employer. But for many, the choice to live in a foreign nation was deliberate. We earn our salary, we enjoy cross-cultural experiences, but we also believe that our work is helpful.

Remember that. Corona will change the nature of your job, but not its essence. Keep at it, for the good of your adopted country.

  1. You have allies. If the section above applies, we are likely not squirreled away in an expat compound in isolation from national neighbors. We have probably learned at least a little bit of language. In all likelihood, we have friends.

Remember that. Corona is devastating them also, but they know how to live here. Rely on them, encourage them, and fit into their cooperative networks.

  1. You have providence. With proper humility, you can likely look back upon your journey to your country as a series of circumstances that somehow all fell into place. We studied, we planned, we decided, but we may have also prayed.

Remember that. Corona is upsetting many circumstances, but nothing eternally known. God “determined the times set for humankind and the exact places where they should live.” Rest in this truth.

  1. You have a mission. Our jobs are not our life. What we do is helpful, but who we are is unique and transformative. As we learn from others, they do from us. If offered humbly, we have much to contribute.

Remember that. Corona changes nothing of your essence. “As the Father sent me [Jesus], so send I you.” Find the good you can do, and do it.

Finally, my stomach settled. But to keep our confidence from becoming a spiritual bravado, two final reminders are necessary.

One, we remain foreigners. We retain privileges. We are guests.

Two, we are all foreigners. We receive grace. We are ambassadors.

Corona reminds us all of the transience of life and the fragility of the world. Our norms have been shaken, our illusions shattered.

But we remain human, and beloved of God. Abroad or at home, we will all return to him. Our deeper confidence can only be this: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

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IDEAS Published Articles

How to Grow in the Grief of Childhood Transition

Childhood Grief Transition

There is loss in leaving, and adults come to know it quickly. Experienced overseas workers learn how to make immediate friendships, grieve good-byes, and move on to the next wave of arrivals. There is a cycle, and most of us are transient. You get used to it.

But children get their hearts broken.

As they get older they learn the system also. Third-culture kids grow resilient overseas. But that first wave is painful, especially when life abroad is all they ever knew.

We stayed in the Arab world longer than many. Our oldest daughter arrived at age three and was twelve when it came time to leave. Her last year was difficult. Friends returned to their home country. Her grandmother in America passed away. And when we departed, she said goodbye to two local friends she met in kindergarten.

Anticipating a year in the United States before relocating elsewhere in the Middle East, we feared the pangs of middle school. But all was well. Teachers were welcoming; students were kind. There was only one problem: Our daughter didn’t make any friends.

Classmates invited her to sit at their lunch table. She preferred to read. Grades were fine, and she joined activities. Her smile never faded, and her spirit never wavered. At home all was normal, and at school all was fine. But nothing of friendship, and little effort to find it.

She knew she was leaving again, come end of school year.

At first we encouraged her to engage. “If you sit by yourself and read, people will think you’re a snob. Just join in, and learn how Americans talk, laugh, and play.” But she did, and she didn’t like it. “They were inappropriate,” she said, “and crazy.” This was without malice or judgment, but the conservative Arab culture left its mark. She was uncomfortable.

But it would be wrong to blame things wholly on society. It was her.

And it was ok. Natural. We comforted her and spoke of adjustments. Having lost friends once while abroad, why lose them again back home? And which place was home to begin with? But she was faithful in her responsibilities, accepting of her circumstances. As a family we grieved, mourning the past and anticipating the future. But this could not be the end of the conversation.

“Your choices are understandable,” we told her. “They are ok. We won’t push you.”

“But they are not best.”

Life involves pain, and there’s no way around it. If we seal ourselves off for a time to recover, we can then reengage. But if we steel ourselves to the world as a posture, we stop living. And worse, we stop giving.

“Others need us,” we counseled. “And we need them. If you make new friends, yes, you will leave them, and it will hurt afresh. But they will fail to experience God’s goodness through you if you keep yourself from their friendship.”

“Take your time; there is no guilt,” we comforted. “Just do not let yourself forget there is a better ideal God calls us to. He is patient, but also maturing you. Use this time to grow deeper into his image, love, and mission.”

We are still in process, and she has friends now. Probably just in time to leave—and grieve—once more. But next time it will be easier, and soon she too will know the cycles of overseas friendship.

Our daughter’s life lesson is also one for adults. These life cycles can mask God’s ideal just as easily as our daughter’s reticence. Happiness comes in communion; life flourishes when we give of ourselves.

Empty yourself, as God did for you. Then enter into the joy of his fellowship—overseas, anywhere, and forever.

 

(This reflection was written with the approval of our daughter and after her review. It was first published at IDEAS.)

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IDEAS Published Articles

Dealing with Death at a Distance – 5 Tips for Saying Goodbye

Death at a Distance

The expat life has many benefits, but one of the hardest challenges is being far from family.  This can be felt the most when you hear of someone who is sick, receives a bad medical prognosis, or is in an accident.  Living in a foreign country is hard when a loved one is dying.

What can you do if you can’t travel home as they near the end of their life? Sometimes job, school commitments, or extenuating circumstances prevents travel.  This was our situation last Spring when my mother-in-law succumbed to cancer.  Fortunately, my husband made it home the day before she died, but her health declined too quickly for all of us to travel in time.  My four children and I had to say our good-byes from afar.

1)      Be creative in saying “I love you” and other significant emotional statements.  When I heard my mother-in-law entered hospice care, I knew her time was short. I videoed each of my children telling their grandmother the things they appreciated about her and doing with her. Then I did the same, and was in tears the whole time. Over Skype, we played them for her.  Whatever she heard in her deteriorating shape, it was healthy and healing for us.

2)      Communicate honestly and openly with your children about what is happening.  Sometimes we have the idea that we must “be strong” for our children, our spouse, or others around us.  Actually, this is unhelpful in grief as emotions are better verbalized.  I sat down with my children and we talked candidly that their grandmother would die very soon and we would not see her alive again.  I cried as I said this, and all four kids followed suit.  We talked about what was happening.  We said what made us sad.  We said what we wished could be different.  And we hugged and we cried.  Together.

3)      Make special time to grieve.  That night I received the message that my mother-in-law passed away.  In the morning, I held the kids home from school so we could remember her, cry when we wanted to, and laugh when we could.  We did some favorite activities from times together, like play-doh and blowing bubbles.  We knew that we would be grieving for a while, but though the day was hard, it was memorable and set us on the path toward healing.

4)      Travel to attend the funeral or memorial service.  Though we made a good beginning in Egypt, I still felt like her death would not sink in until we traveled to New Jersey.  We figured out missing school work and made preparations, but time and money are resources well spent on grieving together with family.  The memorial service or funeral brings even more friends together, allowing memories to be shared and sorrow expressed.

5)      Give your kids a picture or special memento of the one who died as a physical reminder.  Even though it hurts to see it at times, triggering emotions for all the things we will miss about her, it is still better to remember.  That which is tangible connects best with our senses and emotions.

To be honest, I don’t want to go through this again.  I don’t want to have to say good-bye from afar.  But I have many more loved ones that may die or go through serious illnesses when I am living overseas.  Following these steps has helped our whole family grieve well, even at great distance. I hope they will also be helpful for you.

Click here to read the original post, as Julie tells the full story of how she processed grief from afar. This summary reflection was requested by our organization, IDEAS, to help expats around the world dealing with similar situations.