Season 2 Episode 9: Care During Covid; What We Learned From The Pandemic

Join Brandi and James as they discuss James’ recent research and presentation on what the global staff care and counseling community have learned from the pandemic about caring staff. Not all of the changes that have impacted our cross cultural workers have been negative and many we need to keep doing. In many ways our cross cultural workers have benefited most in some of the ways the world has responded to the mental health impacts of the pandemic. It is key for those in care positions for remote staff to capitalize on those opportunities.

4 Lessons from the Pandemic

  • Lesson 1: Virtual Engagement
  • Lesson 2: Working Remotely
  • Lesson 3: Mental Health Impacts
  • Lesson 4: Collaboration  

Click Here to View James’ Presentation

Thanks to Alex_MakeMusic from Pixabay and Dee-Yank-Kee for the free Christmas music in the podcast!

Season 2 Episode 5: Spiritual Direction with Roslyn Manson

Join Brandi and James as they meet with Roslyn Manson to discuss what is spiritual direction and how it might be helpful for cross cultural workers. She shares some resources to find out more about Spiritual Direction and why you might want to meet with one. Enjoy!

Roslyn Manson graduated as a spiritual director in 2017, having completed an accredited 3-year formation program. In 2018 she graduated with a Master of Spirituality from the University of Divinity. She is currently based in Melbourne with SIL Australia, where Roslyn’s role is focussed on spiritual formation.


Podcast Episode 2

Subscribe to “Shop Talk” a podcast with Brandi and James and listen to their second episode. Available on Apple Podcast and Android and GooglePlay

What is Burnout?

“an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors.”- David Ballard.

Certain amounts of stress can be positive resulting in peak performance. However, eventually more stress does not result in more productivity. There is a point where excess stress results in a decrease in productive resulting in fatigue, discouragement and Burnout.

Symptoms of Burnout 

  • Social 
    • Withdrawing from others
    • Cynicism about self, others, work
    • Lowered frustration tolerance
    • Interpersonal Problems 
  • Cognitive 
    • difficulty concentrating 
    • forgetfulness (long term and short term memories)
  • Physical 
    • Health; blood pressure, tight muscles, 
    • Exhaustion, Loss of energy
    • Getting sick more often and easier 
  • Work 
    • Withdrawing from responsibilities
    • Lack of Motivation
    • Feeling of failure vocationally
    • Reduced sense of satisfaction or reward for hard work
    • Sense of helplessness
    • Belief you are no longer effective
    • Generally Decreased Satisfaction
    • Falling behind with an inability to catch back up, resulting in being more behind
    • Sense of Shame (feeling of failure) 
    • Feeling helpless, trapped and defeated

What to do

  • Recognize – Watch for the warning signs of burnout
  • Reverse – Undo the damage by seeking support and managing stress
  • Resilience – Build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

Some Things to help reverse symptoms of burnout. If you can’t imagine having the energy to do any of these things seek help from a counselor, coach or friend. 

  • Take rest/relaxation seriously- do the things that rest our body, mind or soul
  • Margin/Boundaries – say no to things. The challenge with this is sometimes saying ‘no’ results in feelings of shame “I’m not good enough”. Don’t buy in, burnout happens from overextending one’s abilities 
  • Cultivate a rich non work life – church, friends, family, community 
  • Sleep– good, restful sleep. It might even be helpful to monitor your sleep for a week and see how many hours of quality sleep you are getting. 
  • Organization – it may be worth not doing other things in order to plan out a day, week or month in a way that seems more sustainable 
  • Physical health; eating right, sleeping enough and well, getting exercise 
  • Social Awareness – Know when its you, and when its them
  • Find new friends.– Perhaps your networks is small, unavailable or negative

6 Tips For Working From Home

I normally work from home so the rest of the world is joining my normal reality. The nice part is you get to dress like a mullet business half and fun half. Here are some tips for working from home, especially during the current crisis.

  1. Create an office space. If you work from home or even a shared space, developing some physical boundaries for work will help you maintain life boundaries from work. That way when it’s time to ‘work’ you do it from the ‘work’ space and when work is over you leave it in the physical office space. It will help prioritize work staying at ‘work’ and home life not being interrupted. It will require practice in not allowing work things to infiltrate other parts of your house and life. An example will be if it’s an work email, only answer it from the ‘office’ location.
  2. Find opportunities for “virtual” connecting. Working so far apart means its worthwhile to try and find unique opportunities to connect in-person with teammates or like-minded workers whenever possible. Because of social distancing it means using things like: facetime, whastapp, zoom, skype, Marco polo. Use these virtual means to connect with work and non-work people. You may have to initiate but its worth it.
  3. Maintaining Margin or Work/Life Balance. Even the most structured among us may have difficulty keeping all of our daily tasks in the right category. Margin means having extra time in the week that isn’t planned but open. That way when things do come up they can take ‘work’ time in the ‘office’ and not disrupt the rest of one’s life. It may be worth recording how many actual hours are worked in a week (remember anytime answering emails is work time). Schedule in breaks from work – espcially if your families are all at home too. Play a game, do family exercise time, read a book or follow #2 and call someone.
  4. Time on Computers. This is more of a warning. Since computers are intrinsically linked to working remotely it important to be careful about the overall time spent on one. It would be a worthwhile activity to measure the time on a computer/tablet/phone over the course of a week. This would include any non-work activities on these devices. Then figure out a healthy amount of time in a day or week and limit your usage to those times.
  5. Fast/Retreat. Take time away technology and work. This means a break from all technology for certain amounts of time. This could be connected to quiet time, personal retreat or silent retreat. Regardless, replace that time with something that is good for you mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally. As a community, lets hold each other accountable to being healthy individuals.
  6. Take Care of your health. One of the best ways to avoid illness or be prepared if you get sick is to be as healthy as possible. Increase immune boosting nutrient dense foods. Use time at home to try new recipes or swap ideas. Exercise either going outside or in your home. Get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water. Other things like vitamins or supplements can be helpful.


We are not descended from fearful men…

Ellie posing for an article I wrote on depression

I am riveted to the news much like most people all over the globe. So much of my life in the last decade has been connected to life as a global citizen as I have lived and traveled across 5 continents. I can empathize with friends and colleagues in many parts of the world trapped by decisions made by themselves and others. I happen to be in the USA right now am torn by a sense of belonging in other places with being with my friends and family here. Today Ellie and I picked up our passports with Spanish residency stamped, preparing a way for another move. Yet, life is stopped for so many people in so many places and our plans are on hold as our contingencies have contingencies. At the core of it all is a pervasive, overwhelming, controlling and rational sense of fear.
“remember that we are not descended from fearful men” Edward Murrow. Although it was a speech targeted at one individuals misuse of power it reminds me that in a time of crisis and panic that we ought not be defined as a fearful generation. This isn’t a political statement but a challenge to the fabric of what is causing panic. At the core of it all is each individual dealing with their own sense of fear (or stability) in the light of a constant changing landscape of a pandemic (panicdemic?).
This week I spoke on teens and trauma looking at unique characteristics of recent Generations, what defines them and what traumatizes them. I hope that when we look back at the current health crisis we are not ashamed at being driven by fear, letting our fear cause more damage than sickness. Children and teens will absorb the fear of adults in this time of global panic (which may be more damaging to them than the current sickness). I am suggesting that this isn’t a health crisis and I am not suggesting that we do not do the things we should to care for ourselves and our communities. Only that we take actions based out of the rational thinking part of our brains.
Panic, anxiety and fear are originated in our lower, (fight, flight or freeze) part of our brain. But we must not allow fear to continuously override the upper, thinking part of our brain when it comes to how we interact with the Covid-19 crisis. This system of our brain can become maladaptive when it has free reign to flood our body with stress hormones. What is our fear based in… Sickness? Absence of toilet paper? Lack of antibacterial wipes? Loss of Control? Death? So what should we do to manage the fear?
Take a deep breath, don’t panic buy more than you need, or make hasty financial decisions. Instead, Whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil 4:8)

Taste of Home

In case there was any doubt in your minds, Ellie is the cook of the house. She has worked in restaurants and most recently at Hurly House, a bakery. It is her outlet for creativity and a stress reliever. Probably a contributing factor to my post marriage weight gain. Over the past week I decided to test the outer limits of my kitchen prowess by making a pumpkin spice latte. Before the mocking begins I should clarify that I needed to buy a whole pumpkin, roast it, blend it, create a spice mix, before even making the coffee. Secondly, I love the pumpkin spice flavor any time of year – even if that puts me in a camp with all of the American suburbian mothers  (My only living experience in the suburbs was less than a year with one of my best friends Andrew and his cousin. They can attest to my lack of domestic qualities and love for holiday food i.e. Little Debbie Christmas trees. Fortunately, they were both neat freaks and often cleaned up my messes. One time Terrence (the cousin) started washing my dishes before I was done cooking). Also, my dad used to make pumpkin pancakes during the holidays (to be fair he still does, I’m just never around) which also contributed to my nostalgia for the flavor. SO, I loosely followed the recipe on attempt one and wound up with a decent starbucks knockoff in taste but with the consistency my dad would call ‘too thick to drink, too thin to plow”. Ellie suggested as strainer for round 2. A few mornings later I went through the process and mashed the pumpkin up more with an immersion blender, strained the mix (loosing most of the seasoning) and put the milky pumpkin combo in my mug. I looked at it with the hunger of Esau but wanted it to be fluffy (frothy) and knew that the fancy blender on a stick could totally do that. 2 seconds later there is pumpkin milk all over the kitchen (and my clothes). Ellie was upstairs in our roof room with her language tutor and my former roommates are nearly a decade in to keeping their own houses clean. The kitchen got a good cleaning and I waited a few more days before making a successful 3rd try Pumpkin Spice Latte. Moral of the story: Worth it. 

The Holiday season (for American’s it includes Thanksgiving the end of November up to New years) is certainly a time of year I love. Especially Christmas. When living in Kenya I spent 5 straight Christmases creating many traditions. The first one was fairly lonely but with my friends Chris and Abigail (and eventually their cat, then dog, then son, then daughter) we created some amazing Christmastime traditions. The highlights were leading our church through a Arnold/Covey spectacular spontaneous drama, huge breakfast and dinner, and of course a slip and slide. Last year Ellie and I were in our home culture for our first holiday in the states, together. We got to navigate family and friends and felt loved, supported and included (and surrounded by pumpkin spice flavors).


the stocking were hung…

This year is certainly different than all those. Living in a country that the 25th of December is simply ‘Wednedsay’
and not having people around with whom we have shared Christmas connections is different. As I enter my 7th holiday season being away from home I’m finding the value in doing the little things that give me a sense of joy. On some of my international trips in the last few months I’ve been collecting ornaments, lights and some Christmas decorations (star and lights from Germany, ornaments and stockings from Malta). We have learned through our three years of marriage, living in three different countries, that a feeling of ‘home’ is worth creating. Sometimes its buying butter in Malta because of a potential shortage so you can make the Christmas cookies your family makes every year (Ellie). Or its gathering all the trimmings of a tree around the world so that your house feels right (James). It certainly draws us closer together and we have been able to create a space that feels warm, inviting, safe and yes- Christmasy. So much of this time of year in the states tends to be organized chaos as people run from one party to another (re-gifting the gift exchange item at each one). We have an abundance of calm since Christmas is not celebrated here and some new perspective. For us its prioritizing the things that bring joy. In the absence of the cultural pressures of Christmas traditions we can focus more on the whole point of Christmas and are doing this advent reading together. Don’t forget to reach out to people who matter but aren’t with you – it really makes a difference. We are hosting Christmas movies, possibly a carol sing, skyping friends and family and hopefully will find some people to celebrate with on the day….


…And making Pumpkin Spice Latte’s


Counseling +10

James circa 2011

I graduated with my Masters in Counseling in 2009 and recently have been considering all that has happened professionally over the last 10 years. I remember one of my first clients during my practicum (about a year into my graduate program) and as he poured out his life story, thinking that I was in WAY over my head. There was a moment in one of our first sessions together, when he shared his childhood abuse for the first time in his life. I was wondering what class I was supposed to have, but hadn’t had yet, so I could know what to do. In a loss of words I just nodded and listened, which in hindsight, was the most powerful thing I could have done – and a significant lesson. In someways that is the most important aspect of counseling, listening well and being patient.

When I was counseling the homeless in Fort Worth I didn’t always have time to patient because so many of my clients I might only see once or twice. Sometimes things went well enough that they would greet me across the shelter and introduce me as ‘their counselor’ to all their buddies. Other times they would find out I didn’t have food, clothes or shelter and leave in a storm of curse words. I learned that each opportunity to interact, even if it was the only time, could be positive and impactful.

In 2011, I began looking into counseling cross cultural workers joining an organization that provided an avenue to do that. I spent a year working in the states and then five years in Kenya. Now I am based and working out of the MENA region (Middle East / North Africa). Since 2011, I have counseled people from at least 28 different countries. For many people it was the first time they experienced counseling and sometimes my first time counseling someone from their home country. Often our differences far outweighed our similarities. I learned that listening is ‘spoken’ the same across cultures.  Healing comes in many different ways, times and places. I have the privilege of being a part of my healing stories.

I write this from Jordan, one of my many stops with Healing the Wounds of Trauma. This week is about training adults in how to work with children who have experienced trauma. It is sometimes seeing the suffering at its worst but getting the joy of helping others be a part of the healing process. The children learn what to do with their pain and the adults guiding them often learn more about healing than the children. I continue to learn that anyone, regardless of background, can both be a part of a therapeutic process and find healing through one.


Jordan, 2019


There is always an internal hummmm for the first day of school. As I woke on my first day of language school, February 4th 2019, I hoped we would arrive early! After all, we were leaving our house with an hour and a half to travel to class. We hustled 15 minutes to the nearest metro stop, more because of the crisp air than worry about time. The sky was growing from grey, to pink, to golden, as we turned the corner within view of where we’d wait for the train.

Kajjunk Kajjunk Kajunk, passed us. We woefully hurried behind a metro we knew we wouldn’t catch. It stopped momentarily, just out of reach, and continued downtown. There are no train times or schedules. Friends advised us before our first metro ride, “you never know when the next train will come, so hop on the first one you see…no matter how full.” I shifted my weight in the chill, wondering if we’d missed our best chance.

Some 20 minutes passed…under an hour til class begins. Kajjunk Kajjunkjunk. The metro stops before us. Its doors creek open and reveal people packed like new toothpaste in its tube…no room for any more. James and I nod at each other with understanding, go to separate doors, and wiggle our way in to the mess of body odor. A woman deep inside the tangle of limbs squeezes my elbow, sucking me in, so that I am not closed in the door.

I can not see anything but bodies. The lights flicker. The wheels groan. The train struggles to move again. The air is still; unmoving scents hang around my head, barely a whisper cuts the quiet of the crowd. James has been swallowed by the mass.

20 minutes later our train arrives at a central station. Our second train, which will take us to our final destination, is no where to be found. Without discussion, James and I fight the current of people to set off along the metro tracks, hoping to meet up with our train along the way. I nibble my egg sandwich with pesto and spicy sauce as we wonder what our first day of language will be like…only 30 minutes before class begins and 2 miles to go.



Where do I pick up from my last post…..

SO much has happened since our first night in that hotel! We haven’t lived here for 2 months, yet I feel more established here than I did during our recent 10 month stay in the USA.

What makes this so?

Possibly our purpose in this place? I am invested in language study. 4 hours a day I study with a tutor. I practice around town. James and I try to replace our English words with the new vocabulary in our own conversations. I study for hours at home. James, now finished with language study, has clients queuing up to utilize his services. Different groups are booking him for conferences months in advance!

Quite possibly, our waiting in the States? The anticipation of what was waiting for us in this new city made it easy to grow restless in the USA. Now we are finally building a life in this place, realizing the thing we were waiting for.

Ultimately, I know we were meant to be here. That is the deepest reason we are so settled, established, and at Peace. There has been, and continues to be, such an affirmation in our start here. From the convenience of finding a mattress on our first day in country, to the friendship we’ve found with a local massage therapist, I am amazed at how all things have come together.

I feel like something in me has been waiting to start this chapter all of my life. I feel like this is a place/lifestyle I’ve not only been growing toward, but been desiring for longer than I can pinpoint.

As I reflect on this feeling of being home here, James is at a conference in America. It is a marvelous thing to me, that these feelings of being established, safe and at Peace are with me even while James is far. That is a True testimony (to me) that we were brought to thrive here in this season….