Mach Eight (And How Launching a Nonprofit Nearly Killed Us)

by Laura on December 9, 2014

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 

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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.

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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.

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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.

False.

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. 

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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.

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“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

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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? 

  • Kay Bruner

    Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I’m definitely a refugee from the too-much-sacrifice wars. Somehow I thought that I’d be able to keep going and going like the energizer bunny, but it turned out I was human after all. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep living in the 24 hours of each day and the particular measure of capacity that belongs to me, and to keep knowing like Ann Lamott says that the difference between God and me is that God never, ever thinks he’s me. (Her grandparents were missionaries to Japan, btw, which makes her whole family story of addiction and recovery really, really fascinating to me. I can really relate to ministry addiction and recovery.)

  • http://www.cindyfinley.com Cindy Finley

    Wow, Laura! Thank you for your vulnerability. I understand the drive, the passion, the insistence to move forward with this cause that is so very important. I’m glad for your wisdom to take the “backwards step.” I’ll be praying for your self-care, your connection with Matt and the kids, and for sweet, sweet time with Jesus. I’m in the early stages of working with RiverCross. Your words are an encouragement for me to get structures in place at this point of development to help with the soul/self care. I know I have tendencies to drive forward and push through when I really need to rest. I’ll look forward to hearing more and learning from you!

  • http://www.wideopenground.com Lana

    Laura, is it okay that I cried reading this? I feel like that is what happened to me in SE Asia. I was on a train going 999 thousand miles a second, without the support I needed, without time to care for my soul, and without the tools I needed. Add that I was so different than the other expats, and I’m still struggling with why God leads us mere limited people to pick up all the storms that blow in faster than we can pick them up the pieces from the last storm. And your story about the little girl’s death really touched me. I didn’t see an TCK die, but I did see death, literally on the streets from motorcycle deaths, and in a refugee camp when one of the girl’s stepped on a landmind. And evil after evil, and my heart is so tired. I’m crying over your story. I hope your storm calms down. I’ll be praying for you.

  • Jeni Mason

    Love you, Laura! Thank you for writing and sharing the good, hard and even harder…I am praying for you!

  • http://google Jenn Branham

    Dear Laura- praying for you & your family as you continue your uphill climb. I think often of things you spoke about during our ladies retreat last spring! thank you for your sacrifice to push on for freedom from slavery!
    Exodus 14:14- The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.
    Psalm 3:3- You, O Lord, are a shield around me, you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
    Praying & love you sweet sister!

  • charity

    I just want to say THANK YOU so so very much for not giving up in the face of such extreme opposition. I can see it has cost you so much, but this fight needs to be fought. I think throughout history we see that those who fought for justice paid dearly for it. And I’m sorry you and your family have had to go through so much. I pray that you will get the soul – refreshing you so desperately need. I so believe in what you’re doing.
    I am a monthly financial supporter of Exodus Road but I would love to give more prayer support as well. What is the best way to keep updated on ways you as an organization and as a family need prayer?

  • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Laura Parker

    Sorry, friends. . . looks like the dusty blog has had some glitches. . . . my commenting system is fixed, but several comments went into wordpress and not Disqus . . . all that to say, I’ve copied and pasted the comments below: (and thanks for your grace!)

    Charity: Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I’m definitely a refugee from the too-much-sacrifice wars. Somehow I thought that I’d be able to keep going and going like the energizer bunny, but it turned out I was human after all. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep living in the 24 hours of each day and the particular measure of capacity that belongs to me, and to keep knowing like Ann Lamott says that the difference between God and me is that God never, ever thinks he’s me. (Her grandparents were missionaries to Japan, btw, which makes her whole family story of addiction and recovery really, really fascinating to me. I can really relate to ministry addiction and recovery.)

    Jen B: Dear Laura- praying for you & your family as you continue your uphill climb. I think often of things you spoke about during our ladies retreat last spring! thank you for your sacrifice to push on for freedom from slavery!Exodus 14:14- The Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.
    Psalm 3:3- You, O Lord, are a shield around me, you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
    Praying & love you sweet sister!

    Jeni M: Love you, Laura! Thank you for writing and sharing the good, hard and even harder…I am praying for you!

    Lana: Laura, is it okay that I cried reading this? I feel like that is what happened to me in SE Asia. I was on a train going 999 thousand miles a second, without the support I needed, without time to care for my soul, and without the tools I needed. Add that I was so different than the other expats, and I’m still struggling with why God leads us mere limited people to pick up all the storms that blow in faster than we can pick them up the pieces from the last storm. And your story about the little girl’s death really touched me. I didn’t see an TCK die, but I did see death, literally on the streets from motorcycle deaths, and in a refugee camp when one of the girl’s stepped on a landmind. And evil after evil, and my heart is so tired. I’m crying over your story. I hope your storm calms down. I’ll be praying for you.

    Cindy: Wow, Laura! Thank you for your vulnerability. I understand the drive, the passion, the insistence to move forward with this cause that is so very important. I’m glad for your wisdom to take the “backwards step.” I’ll be praying for your self-care, your connection with Matt and the kids, and for sweet, sweet time with Jesus. I’m in the early stages of working with RiverCross. Your words are an encouragement for me to get structures in place at this point of development to help with the soul/self care. I know I have tendencies to drive forward and push through when I really need to rest. I’ll look forward to hearing more and learning from you!

    Kay B: Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I’m definitely a refugee from the too-much-sacrifice wars. Somehow I thought that I’d be able to keep going and going like the energizer bunny, but it turned out I was human after all. It’s an ongoing challenge to keep living in the 24 hours of each day and the particular measure of capacity that belongs to me, and to keep knowing like Ann Lamott says that the difference between God and me is that God never, ever thinks he’s me. (Her grandparents were missionaries to Japan, btw, which makes her whole family story of addiction and recovery really, really fascinating to me. I can really relate to ministry addiction and recovery.)

    • Amanda

      goodness, goodness…thank you for your honesty, for writing the story. i look forward to hearing the ways the Spirit leads you to slow, to heal, to find a new ‘normal’ whatever that is?!. your awake and alive unto God & your life & that is encouraging. May we all keep waking up more & living with our eyes wide open. Love you!

  • http://www.abigailalleman.com/ Abigail Alleman

    Laura, do you remember me? I resonated with a lot of this…if you read the post at ‘A Life Overseas’, I feel like this is the best response I have. The one I wrote about ‘Why Knowing Our Stories Is So Important.’ I just can’t believe what you guys have lived…yet, here, too, the strength of story, of redemption spanning millennia, of the stilling grace of brilliant hope in which you now stand, I have to believe this for you too. Prayers & love, Abby

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Laura Parker

      Abby – absolutely I remember you. I love connecting in this blog world with the likes of honest, genuine souls like you. :) Thanks for your encouragement. Look forward to connecting more in coming months!

  • Dalaina May

    Welcome back, Laura. I am pocketing this as a warning as I realize that my own throttle keeps getting pushed harder to the ground. Thank you for letting us be on your journey with you. Much love to you and Matt and the kids.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Laura Parker

      Dalaina —

      Yes, we “throttle pushers” need to tread carefully . . . and I haven’t forgotten your email — just remembered it last night. Will try to respond soon! Love to you guys — have been following your new life via Facebook!

  • Maryah

    Laura, I don’t even remember how I came upon your blog two or so years ago, but I’ve loosely been following your stories and have been amazed at your family and most of, amazed at God’s work through your family. Reading this is eye-opening and makes you breathe a heavy breath after you finish it. And I thank God that it looks like you’ll be doing more breathing as you guys work through these things. I just wanted to let you know that you have my prayers and I look forward to hearing what wisdom you’ve gained through this experience. Peace to your family.

    • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Laura Parker

      Thanks so much, Maryah.

  • pastordt

    Oh, Laura! I had no idea. And I am so very sorry for ALL of it. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Slowly, deeply, quietly. And open your hands, releasing the stress and receiving grace upon grace. Praying for peace, for balance, for small gifts of glory that will help you all stay safe. . . in every way I can think of.

  • http://alisonlam.com Alison

    One of the commenters wrote that she was “a refugee from the too-much-sacrifice wars” #wow #ow #sotrue …. that hits close to home. It’s a different way to describe what I did myself a few years ago in ministry. I was so in love with Jesus and wanted to give Him the best of me, that I mistakenly (though, sincerely) crucified my foundation right out from under me and I ended up drowning spiritually, in a sea of excessive sacrifice of desire, passion, personality, hope and dreams. It has been a long process (that still continues) of rebuilding a secure foundation under me, where my heart is beginning to live again. Ah the heart lessons we learn in the messiness of real life… in the midst of all our good intentions…

    God, show us how to guard (and value) our hearts, the wellspring of all life!

  • Jeff J. Johnston

    Praying for you and your family. Just back from a discovery trip to northern Thailand where my family will relocate in a year and a half. I have been following your blog for a little over a year and you DO have a gift. I have been trying to glean wisdom on how to do a life overseas from your posts and some books you suggested. I want to do this right. I want God to use my life to the full. I want to hear “well done.” One thing I continue to learn the hard way is that if my relationship with Him is not first, everything else will suffer. I seem to drift into my power and my might doing great things while losing my anchor.
    I, and obviously many others are blessed by your ministry. Looking forward to future posts. Thank you for sharing the good and the not so good. Too many Christian leaders don’t talk about the struggle and only focus on the “glory.” In this life we will have trouble but thanks be to God for Christ has overcome. Peace to you and yours.

  • http://www.nickischroeder.com/ Nicki Schroeder

    I was just catching up on some blog reading this am, wondering why there has been so much silence here. And now I know. Holy cow. My hubby is teaching on spiritual warfare right now at our church and if this doesn’t smack of it loud and clear I don’t what does! Praying for your family. I hope since you posted this that things are much safer. sane and even keel!

  • Kathy Walden

    Laura, you don’t know me but my name is Kathy Walden and by “God-incidence” I’ve been introduced to you today via your blog. My husband and I are just returning from 25 years of ministry in CM. Two of my kids graduated from GIS and I served as school nurse there my last 3 years in T’land… so I feel a significant connection with you. I appreciated your blog and again, connected deeply with your thoughts and experiences. I encourage you in the Lord to keep fighting the good fight of faith. I have found that “staying” on the field is much harder than going. May God bless you and your family with His overwhelming love as you continue to serve Him.

  • Eden Julia Jones

    I was encouraged by reading your blog post today. I work as a teacher and missionary in South Korea. The problems I’m currently stressing about are so tiny compared to what you’ve been through!

  • http://www.lauraleighparker.com/ Laura Parker

    Thanks, Gary, for your kind words and encouragement . . . glad you are finding balance, too. Thanks for continually following this journey with us. :)

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