Dear Friends, It’s been a long while since I’ve written, and I hope that this post will explain the reasons for my quiet. I actually wrote this back in October, only to have my blog crash for two months and then more life get in the way of posting it until now. (Funny how the deeply good things are the ones that come under the most attack, yes?) I’ll be honest, the following is a vulnerable (and long) post, but I deeply appreciate you continuing on this journey with me and our family.
Merry Christmas to each of you, Laura
My husband Matt sat across from a corporate consultant a two years ago. The suit talked about measurables and statistics and growth curves, based on research and a resume chock-full of big names. We’d been knee deep in launching The Exodus Road for the past year and were after some advice about best next steps. We understood that any sustainable ministry had a business side, too. Kids can’t get rescued on good intentions alone.
“Mach eight,” he said with conviction. “You gotta pull up hard and go mach eight. Mach 10 will (literally) kill you, but anything less than aggressive, aggressive growth, and you’ll stall, get stagnant and eventually die out. The majority of nonprofits fail in the first three years, anyway, and organizations that linger under a million in revenue typically won’t go the distance. You have to break that ceiling. And you have to do it soon, like yesterday.”
And, in wisdom or stupidity, we took the suit’s advice that day. We blasted mach eight for the next year and a half. God had written this powerful story in our lives about Light and darkness, and we wanted to do justice by it. We knew that victims of trafficking didn’t need another flash-in-the-pan; they needed a bridge towards freedom that could bear significant weight over the long haul. And, so, we pulled the throttle back hard, the force of the climb quickly gluing us to the back of our lives.
Wrapping up an intense several years overseas, we began logging time in airplanes and on stages, from our new-again home base in Colorado. The house stayed messy and fast-food showed up on the table on a regular basis. Our capacity for anything beyond two full-time jobs in this upstart nonprofit and three kids in school suddenly shrunk to survival-only mode. Community, exercise, and soul care, were quickly laid on the altar of fighting slavery. Carpal Tunnel crept into my wrists from time spent frantically writing at a computer, and date nights quickly got booted out of the schedule. Ideals of boundaries crumbled in the face of 5 am texts about 12 year old’s in private brothels. (How could they not?)
We didn’t just do The Exodus Road; we became it. And our mach eight climb subtlety morphed into a black hole that consumed most of the things that kept us personally soul-alive.
Mid-climb and after two years spent stateside developing and fundraising, an opportunity arose that would require another international move from Colorado back to SE Asia. Oddly enough, we were open to it. We thought it would be hugely beneficial for me to connect with the work again, we wanted to minimize Matt’s travel time away from the family, and honestly, we felt like the program side of the organization needed to be invested in. We kicked it up to mach nine and, though several clicks past burnout already, operated under the assumption that when we got to Asia, things would calm down. We’d be able to breathe deep, re-gather ourselves, connect with the ethos of where everything started in the first place.
We gutted out the round-the-world-move in eight. weeks and landed on foreign soil mid-May.
And then it really hit the fan.
We walked into political and partnership scenarios we weren’t prepared to navigate on day three. The country was in a military coup. Our foundation required legal acrobats we hadn’t planned. It felt like one crisis, one fire, after another. If we were breaking before, it was shreds of grace scotch-taping us together now.
We hosted people on vision trips in the midst of setting up home utilities in a foreign country and trying to give our new rental house, with very-white tile floors and even-whiter concrete walls, a semblance of home for our hearts. Matt traveled weekly to the capital city fulfilling a role there with a partner organization (which was helping pay for international schooling for our kids), navigating cases and government relationships, wearing his own suit and carrying mountains of stress like The World’s Strongest Man. We juggled maintaining our roles back in the States online and via skype, while trying to pass the baton effectively to our new VP of Operations in Colorado, who started work 20 days after we moved to Asia. We tried to care for new volunteers on the ground while also investing in our own children’s hearts in the midst of another foundation-shaking transition for them.
And then the real blow. Our friends, who had moved out to Asia within a week of us from the same town in Colorado, lost their six-year-old daughter, a sweet friend of my Ava’s, to a virus within three months of landing overseas. And suddenly, I found myself sitting beside a mother, a woman I’d grown to admire, as she literally ushered her sweet girl into the arms of Jesus. It was absolutely wrecking on every level imaginable.
We stumbled up from that hellish summer, desperately hopeful for the start of school, despite the understandable emotional kid-hand-wringing that accompanied it. And we prayed and watched them walk onto the campus– hopeful for consistent schedules, fresh community, and a bit of a breather.
Two days later, Matt was full-on interrogated at immigration (which was just as scary and discouraging as it sounds), and our organization here was called into a financial audit with the government. Then we had a motorbike accident where we thought I’d lost the top section of my toe and landed in a hospital. After that, we had to evict our renters from one of our rental houses back in Colorado, which gave our finances and faith-in-human-decency another blow. All the while, Matt was continuing to fly down to the capital city to on a near-weekly basis, and I was trying to navigate communications and fundraising projects, kids that were transitioning to a new school, and figuring out where to buy cheese and how to pay our cell phone bills (which, surprisingly, you do at the local 7-11 or ATM).
But we kept plowing through, throttle back. “Victims of trafficking can’t afford for us to quit,” we told ourselves (and do still believe); the buck-stops-here is a motivator unlike any other. So we hired and trained national staff. We got our legal issues in Asia ironed out through a thousand signatures and mounds of paperwork. We passed the financial audit, while we broke that million-dollar-in-assets-glass-ceiling (oh, wouldn’t the suit be proud).
At this point, it was the Fall now, and we’d survived more turmoil and climbed more false summits than we had time to process. “If we can make it to October school break,” we thought, “If we can just hold it together till then, we’ll go to some resort somewhere. We’ll refresh, we’ll fight for our hearts, we’ll try to reconnect as a couple and family.” We knew we were horribly out of balance and dangerously now beyond burnout, but that fall break was a finish line. We talked about it for weeks. Just. Hold. On.
Then three days before our scheduled vacation, we were blindsided with a situation that was fairly brutal for us — both personally and professionally. We ended up spending that desperately-sought-down-time confused and wounded, processing-the-hell-out-of-things, and questioning just about everything from the why to the who to the how.
It’s November now, and Matt left last week for a two-week trip back to the States. It’s my first solo-parenting gig on this side of the world, and he encouraged me to take a week off— those vacation days I seldom take keep accruing.
Sometimes the hardest step is a backwards one. But, I’ve forced myself to take a few, anyway. I’ve bought flowers and gone shopping with friends. I’ve exercised and read a book, listened to podcasts and worship music. And I’ve started to write again.
And I feel like I’m finding myself, waking up, remembering. I promise I’ll share more in weeks to come– our mistakes (of which there were many), what I’ve learned along the way, the ways Kingdom is still showing up. My blog will wake up, too. We’ve both been dormant for far too long. I’ve been tenderly reminded that this gift God’s given me of writing, it’s something I get to do with Him. And I’ve missed Him something fierce lately.
I guess what the suit failed to mention over lunch that day in the cafe was the price to be paid for a mach eight climb– a “damaging insistence on forward thrust.” And I guess what I failed to recognize is how quickly, in the pursuit of justice and God-following, I paid it.
“Help. We can be freed from a damaging insistence on forward thrust, from a commitment to running wildly down a convenient path that might actually be taking us deeper into the dark forest. Praying “Help” means that we ask that Something give us the courage to stop in our tracks, right were we are and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems . . . . You think it means you have lost. But in surrender you have won.” – Anne Lamott, Help, Thanks, Wow
I’ll be writing more in the coming weeks about the pieces we’re picking up and the ways we’re walking forward; the lessons of Christ I’m learning and the dangers of, can I say, too much “sacrifice.” In the meantime, are you struggling with burnout? How do you keep your ministry/work and soul-life in balance?