Comparing Ourselves Accomplishes Absolutely Nothing For the Glory Of God

Yesterday I introduced you to my friend Lauren Pinkston (if you haven’t read it, pop over and then pop back). Part of her research focuses on preparing people to live and work cross-culturally. While I know not everyone is going to move overseas, we all function cross-culturally to some extent. And initially any big change can be viewed as a cross-cultural experience. As I read Lauren’s answers, I thought of how they could also apply to moms, teachers, bloggers, accountants, anyone with a pulse. Let’s talk about that at the end of the interview, okay? Now to Lauren.


Lauren, what drew you to wanting know more about how to prepare people to live and work cross-culturally?

I’m interested in the difference in family dynamics and cultural acquisition of different types of expats in Laos: religious NGO (non-government organization) workers, business expats, and diplomats/embassy employees. I want to know how a person’s job reflects how much language learning they do, how long they stay in this country, how much they interact with local culture, how they educate their children, as well as their depression and anxiety outcomes.

What are you learning?

Wow—I could write pages on this! There are many factors that contribute to expatriate success. But I’ll condense the most interesting findings for ChinaSource:

A. Research suggests that certain personality traits can predict expatriate success and effectiveness. The “Big Five” are: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness (McCrae and Costa, 1987).

B. The concept of cultural intelligence has also emerged, and theorists are claiming that certain persons have higher levels of cross-cultural sensitivity, communication, and effectiveness (Zhang, 2012).

C. Cross-cultural adjustment really involves multiple facets: (1) work adjustment, which encompasses supervision, responsibilities, and performance; (2) relational adjustment, which encompasses interaction with members of the host culture; and (3) general adjustment, which encompasses life conditions in the foreign country (Waxin & Panaccio, 2005).

D. Expatriates with high levels of self-efficacy are believed to interact with others more positively, which helps them extend their social networks. On the other hand, low self-efficacy leads to poor performance, absenteeism, and frequent job changes. It has been reported that self-efficacy enhanced job performance by up to 28%. Researchers have called for self-efficacy to be included in future measures of expatriate adjustment and job performance (Bhatti et al., 2013).

E. It is unknown whether previous international experience can predict expatriate success, although many articles identify this variable in a number of studies. Claus et al. (2011) argued that previous job experience helps an individual to develop knowledge, which is vital for job performance at the domestic level (as cited in Bhatti et al., 2013).

F. Finally, to increase the likelihood of expatriate success based on individual factors, it is necessary to involve the family of the candidate in the training process (Avril & Magnini, 2007; Haslberger & Brewster, 2008; Littrell et al., 2006; Mansor et al., 2014; McEvoy & Buller, 2013; Nam et al., 2014). When international human resource managers refer to adjustment problems, they have generally referenced the spouse, not the employee. In addition, spousal career issues and children’s education were two of the biggest challenges in recruiting qualified expatriate staff, with up to 80% of international assignment rejections being due to spouse career concerns.

Four beauties

Wow, there’s a lot more than taking a few personality tests, getting a passport, and hopping on a plane. How do you hope this information will help/make a difference?

Well, first I think we can never have enough research about cross-cultural adjustment and functioning on the field. The more we know about our interactions with culture and stress the more we can prepare for the hard days adjusting to overseas work. I’m a huge proponent of educating ourselves. We need to come at major transitions with a hand up!

But I think more importantly, we need to know that some people naturally step into cross-cultural adjustment with an advantage. Whether it’s an aptitude for language study, cultural intelligence, extroversion, or any of the other indicators mentioned above, we need to be prepared to watch some people truly thrive in overseas assignments. Others of us, by our divine design, will struggle a bit more along the way.

Here’s the home run: Comparing ourselves to one another as expatriates accomplishes absolutely nothing for the glory of God. 

When a friend or teammate is building loads of relationships with host country nationals, we don’t look at that person with ministry jealousy. We praise God for making that person so friendly and easily relatable in her host culture. If a coworker is barely keeping his head above water at the office, we don’t roll our eyes and wish he would go *home.* No, we seek ways to support and help that person become more effective in his work. 

Lauren -- laos kids

If we can understand that some people will adjust cross-culturally more easily, we can find ourselves on the success spectrum and stop comparing ourselves. We can own who we are, and develop both our strengths and our weaknesses. Because the deal is, God didn’t only call the strong. He is most glorified in the weak. And when we find our weaknesses, oh Lord, work some mighty powers through those weaknesses!

If you felt the call to move overseas, but your struggles with cross-cultural adjustment have made you start to question whether you misheard that call, take heart. You can rest well in the fact that you are perfectly human. We all have our days when we long to go back to ministry in our native tongue and in our own country. My dream, however, is that we would boast in our weaknesses. That we could put God on display through our shortcomings and say to the world, “Look! Look at what God can do through a normal person like me!” 

Lauren, I love your home run. God wants us to taste and enjoy life to the fullest, but that’s hard to do when I keep checking out how I’m doing compared to those around me. You know I love to tie everything back to Zumba, right? If I keep my eyes on myself or the teacher and and release myself to the experience, it is so much more life giving (and fun) than when I’m gauging myself against the better dancers.

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s talk! But until then, what would you like to ask Lauren? Or comment on from her research. Lauren, thanks for reading all of those articles and giving us the best cliff-notes ever.


A version of this first appeared on China Source Blog

Because Everyone Has A Story

People are so interesting, aren’t they? Everyone has a story to tell, but too often I forget this and miss opportunities to hear their stories. I first met Lauren about a year ago when she became the Instagram Manger for Velvet Ashes.

Lauren and her family moved to Laos a little over a year ago. And guess what, Lauren is working on a PhD. I love asking people about their dissertations because, while I’m interested in learning, I do not have the personality or focus to earn one :). Let them do the hard work for hours and hours and days and days and then let me glean. I asked Lauren if we could glean from her this week because she fingers in many pots. She said yes!


Just look at her, don’t you think you could be her friend? Me too. And from what I know about Lauren, she’d take one look at you and want to be your friend too. Some people just sparkle, don’t they?

Well, after Lauren and I had worked out what to share with you, she met with her committee and they changed the trajectory of her dissertation topic. (See above comment as to why I’m not well suited for a dissertation). So instead of shoving all Lauren has for us on her “old” topic and her “new” one into one post, we’re going to savor our time with Lauren. The messy middle of life strikes again, but so does the grace of God.

This is the first of special three day series. We’ll touch on (sadly, but fascinating) sex trafficking in Southeast Asia, adjusting to new roles in life, and what it means for us where we are.


With Lao friends

Little cutie

In her own words, Lauren tells us a bit out herself:

Eliza is almost two years old! She was a 9-month-old when moved abroad. So we’ve been here a little over a year. But we planned to move overseas for 8 years. It was a long time coming. My husband was a first-year medical student in Memphis when we started to make plans. We took a couple of survey trips to SE Asia and fell absolutely in love with Lao PDR (Lao People’s Democratic Republic).

I finished my coursework for a PhD in International Family and Community Studies from Clemson University before we made the big move. Since then, I’ve been finishing up my thesis, submitting comprehensive exams, and starting my dissertation research. Keeping my fingers crossed I can aim for graduation next May…we’ll see!

As if life isn’t crazy enough, we have one more thing that is a big piece of our hearts. We’ve been in the adoption process for almost two years, an are waiting on a referral from Uganda. Living overseas complicates this process just a bit, and we are thankful to be working with an agency that specialized in expatriate adoptions. We love our agency, but are in a holding pattern as we pray for a child to be identified in an ethical way. We are anxious to grow our family. This is just another way we are out of control in determining our future…learning lots about that these days.

His timing is perfect, and we know this. But in times of transition and unknown, we have to practice saying this on the days we struggle believing it. I think at this point, my husband and I are just thankful that we have a year of intense language and culture learning under our belts. We are looking forward to walking through some of the doors the Father has opened to us after this period of quiet and submission. He is faithful!


You can read Lauren’s blog here, follow her on Instagram here, and follow her on Facebook here.

Do you know other people who live in Laos? What would you like to ask Lauren about life in Laos, working on a dissertation while in a foreign country and with a toddler (?!), or how she keeps her hair looking great in humidity? (I’ll be the first to say, I have hair envy. Oh, and while filming the Velvet Ashes Retreat videos, I learned Lauren also had ear lobes of steel. She can wear amazingly large earrings. I inherited rip-able ear lobes, so dainty earrings it is for me).

As you can see, Lauren is up for anything, she can swim from the shallow end of the discussion pool to the deep. Lauren, we’re honored to have you and your strong ear lobes here this week!

Do you see yourself as a leaver or a stayer?

This week at Velvet Ashes our theme was “leaving” — life is fill with it, isn’t it? It was a powerful week (you can see Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Thursday’s posts) below is the final post of the week (and written by me).



Here we are again. Friends having a conversation.

There is a lull. At first it’s comfortable, but then it grows and we both know something of substance needs to be said. But who will be the first to say it out loud?

I look away because the moment is poignant and heavy and precious. I don’t want to miss it, but I hate the weight of it.

You’ve probably sensed it this week too. The dance between guilt and shame and hope and longing and sadness when it comes to this topic of leaving and being left.

In the posts and comments we’ve heard echoes of

  • We are long termers
  • I’m not a quitter
  • I’m committed
  • It seems easier to leave for the field than from it

I’ve known for weeks I’d be writing this post. God and I have gone around and around about what to say. It hasn’t been like having a quaint cup of tea and scones while we chat; in the best sense, I feel like I’ve been mud wrestling with God. I really have so much to say, it might take a book. Instead of having this be a confusing post because I try to shove too much in, I’m going to share one thing God said in relation to leaving.

Leaving is your birthright.


This week, I’ve been struck by how much guilt and angst and judgment we feel around leaving and being left. It took all I could when a close friend told me she was leaving the field not to grab her shoulders and scream, How can you leave me?! Who will get my jokes? Who will go to Pilates and share in my quirky stories? Who will know why asking about trains is funny? How can you do this to me?

But I didn’t. “Yes, yes, I can see God leading.” I could. And. I wanted to ask God why the high-ho he didn’t make it better for her.

Leaving is your birthright.

In an instant I had to sit back, take a breather, wipe the mud off my brow, and let that settle in.

Look at some of the leaving woven throughout the Bible. Loot at the way it informs and shapes us as a people. Look for where your story intersects theirs.

  • Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden for their protection.
  • Cain left because of his sin.
  • Noah and his family left everyone they knew through a natural disaster.
  • Abraham left to follow a call into the unknown.
  • Rebekah left for marriage.
  • Jacob left the first time because of family drama (part his own doing), returned home because of a clear call by God (Genesis 31:3), and a third time because of famine.
  • Leah and Rachel left to go with their husband and family.
  • Joseph left against his will.
  • Moses left twice, once by himself and later with a group that vacillated being for him and against him.
  • Aaron and Miriam left with their people, the people of Israel and to help their brother.
  • Naomi left because of a famine and returned because of the loss of her husband and both sons. The devastation of her family.
  • Ruth left out of love and obedience.
  • Hannah left her son with Eli and for a life of service to God.
  • Esther left her home due to political changes allowing her to serve the king and her people.
  • David spent much of early adulthood moving and not settled, never sure when it would end.
  • Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego left against their will, prisoners really.
  • Many of the prophets traveled, compelled to share a message, forced to sleep in many beds.
  • Jesus left his rightful place in heaven to come to earth for us.
  • Paul is known for his three journeys and the way he loved some he met and became so frustrated with others.
  • You left (and maybe left and left) and have your story.
  • I left (and left and left) and have my story.

Leaving is our birthright. 

One of the greatest gifts the Bible offers is the ways in which it mirrors who we are. We are people who leave. Who leave in response to calling and crisis. We leave because of family and love and politics. We leave at times against our wills and at times brimming with anticipation. We leave early in life, in the middle of our story, and when our bones are tired. We are described as wanderers and sojourners. 

God, in his infinite mercy, kindness, and love has woven leavers, stayers, and those who were left throughout his word. The bible doesn’t just tell us who God is, it tells us also who we are. Apparently he doesn’t see people as long- or short-termers. He doesn’t see leavers and stayersWe are described as beloved children. 

We see people having crazy (and at times sinful) responses to leaving. Just take one of the above scenarios and for a moment place yourself in it and imagine the conversations! Girl, we get it, don’t we. We are described as people of faith.

Leaving is our birthright.

Yes, it is hard and tumultuous. As Danielle said, it’s like concentrated lemonade. It cuts to the core of our identity. But what God wants us to know is he cuts deeper. He gets it. But more than understanding us, He loves us. And someday, someday, staying will be our birthright. Staying with God. Staying in our perfected personalities. Staying with those we love. Staying in safety and freedom and pure environments. But for now. For now.

Leaving is our birthright.

Wow, there’s more in the Bible about leaving than I thought. How does the word “birthright” change all of the leaving in life?

Which Path Are You On?

A version of this appeared on Velvet Ashes last week as we explored the theme of expectations. It was titled Are You On The Path to Life or Death of Your Heart? A question to ask ourselves every now and again.



Can we just dive in?

You know when you’re chatting with a friend and out of nowhere apparent a question is tossed out by one of you and w-h-o-o-s-h you’re off on a life giving talk about something significant. I think we’re there. We’re the kind of friends that talk about everything under the sun. So let’s dive in to expectations when it comes to singleness and marriage.

I have shared before I expected to get married at 27. I didn’t expect (or really want) to be a go-to person on singleness or the cautionary tale. While I said from a young age I’d be okay not being a mom, deep in the recesses of my being I assumed I would be … because that’s how many stories play out.


Not all.

Turns out, not mine.

If you signed up for the Velvet Ashes Retreat last weekend  you watched a recording made from the Velvet Ashes Live event in early February.  It was on the topic of expectations and release.  In the feedback, it was clear that, of course, what single ladies struggle with is the expectation to have a husband.

One of the tender, complicated areas for singles on the field is this tension between wanting to be faithful to the call, yet wondering if / how it conflicts with the potential to be married.


We will return to that in a moment, but as conversations go, you know how something pops into your mind? As I’ve been thinking of how our expectations around marriage are formed when it comes to

  • who gets married and
  • what it says about you if you’re not married and
  • when is a good time in life to get married and
  • how do you decide what to look for in a mate and
  • red flags to watch for

I’ve been thinking about my nieces who are in their formative years. Unbeknownst to them and very age appropriate, expectations are being laid in their tender young hearts about marriage. They are 13, 11, 9, and 7 so “boys” are not yet part of daily conversations, but “when they get married” or “when they are a mom” is.

I think back to how my own expectations in this area and what formed and informed when it came to the expectations around marriage.

I see the fingerprints that come from a relatively stable, supportive, fun family. We had chaos, but most of it was from outside factors. (For instance, my dad got a rare blood disease in the early 80s and nearly died. It was a long road to health.) I wasn’t raised in fantasyland, but I was raised in safety, security, and privilege.

So, when a young woman leans in and says, “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” I don’t mind and I know where we are going: being single on the field for the long haul.

I do not want to be caviler or all stiff-upper-lip with you, as I’ve shared before, we all have limits. Whether you are single or married or have loads of children. None of us has everything. Each path comes with freedoms and limitations. In our chat today I’m filtering “limits” and “freedoms” through the lens of “expectation.”

The deepest expectation I’ve brought with me from childhood wasn’t to be married.

I expected to lead a significant life.

The path to significance, for me, could have gone through marriage and motherhood. But it didn’t depend on it. So, as life has played out differently than I expected in my early 20’s, I have (so far) no deep regrets. I am leading a significant and meaningful life. I am in relationships. I am loved and valued by children. I am helping people. I am having fun. I am a supportive family member and friend.

You might say, “That’s all rosy for you. But I want to be married. I expect to be married.” I affirm those are good desires! Cry out to God about them. Share with him. Let him know! Marriage is good and honorable and fun and meaningful. Go for it.


But I also might gently ask you if marriage is an idol. What if you don’t get married? Can you find an expectation behind your expectation that leads to life for you? Can you live with a limp? Can you take that ache with you as you still engage life?

We’re the kind of friends who talk. We’re also the kind of friends who sit together. This week, let’s sit together before God and ask which of our expectations lead to life and which lead to death through the slow burn of resentment.

As you look back, what helped form and inform your expectations about marriage and singleness in adulthood?

Image Designed by Karen Huber

Know Any Women Who Could Use This?

I know you already know this.

You know that women on the field often suffer from loneliness and isolation. You know they’re hungry to connect and share with other women who understand their cross-cultural lives. You know how important this kind of connection is for women.

And you know the problem. Life on the field often makes this kind of connection difficult or impossible for women to have.

Until now. Velvet Ashes has created a way.


This spring, we’re offering a 9-week session of Connection Groups. These groups consist of a cross-cultural mentor and five other ladies who meet weekly via a video chat program and/or a private Facebook group.

Last spring we tested out a small pilot session of groups. We had two big questions. Is this something ladies want? And, would it actually work?

Learning from our pilot session, we launched our first full session last fall. Groups filled up in 27 hours, and we were flooded with requests to open more groups. Clearly the answer was “yes, women really want this.”

So did it work? Well, here’s just a snippet of what women have shared:

“My connection group has been fabulous for me. I felt like I was actually getting a real visit with friends every Wednesday.”

“Meeting with my Connection Group this fall has been the best part of my week.”

Our second question was answered. It actually works.

Our Connection Groups are for women in all stages of life, single, married, new to the field, and veterans. We also offer groups specifically for those on home assignment and those transitioning off the field.

Velvet Ashes offers a variety of times and time zones for ladies to choose from. Our mentors are carefully selected ladies with overseas experience who have a heart to encourage other women. And this spring they serve and live on four continents!

I want you to know about our Connection Groups, so you can let people know. I’ve spent a significant amount of time getting the leaders together, working on a Mentor guide for the leaders, and working with others behind the scene on the tech side.

To say I am excited and tired is to speak truth :).

Registration for our Spring Session opens Feb 24, 6pm EST and fills up quickly. If you know of women who could benefit from this, please share! And if you want to hear from Kristi who was in my fall group, you can read about her experience here.

Here’s to hoping all the spots get filled!


Happy Chinese New Year Everyone!

When I was a kid and we’d go for Chinese food, one of my favorite parts was pouring over the paper placements and figuring what animal everyone according to the year they were born.

I was a sheep (also translated ‘goat’). I loved it. To my American ears it sounded better than rat or dragon or snake.

Year of the Sheep

And then I grew up and moved to China and loved it even more.

1. This is my year! As people get older, they are less inclined to claim their year because people can figure out how old they will turn that year. There are 12 animals and it doesn’t take a math genius to crack the code that on your year you are 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 or 96 — with 60 being the best since it’s a multiple of 10. Since it’s also my year of practicing celebration, I don’t really care that you know my age. I am what I am. And guess what … it’s my year!

2. The word for sheep/goat in Chinese is pronounced “Yang” and my Chinese family name is Yang. Yang shi yang! Young is a sheep. It sounds better in Chinese, trust me. And I know that’s not how you say in Chinese which of the zodiac animals you are, but my Chinese friends always got a smile out of my mixing of the cultures and languages. Not only is it my year, it’s my name.

3. And best of all, Jesus says he’s the good shepherd. Sheep hold a special place in explaining how much God loves us and will protect us. Psalm 23 was one of the first scriptures I memorized in 1st grade. So, in a sense, it’s all of our year. 

Happy New Year Friends!

Chun Jie Kuai Le!

From one of your favorite sheep, Amy

P.S. thanks to my sister Elizabeth for working with two challenging sheep to get just the right photo. I’ll spare you the ones with one of our rears in the air, a bit unlady-like!