Just One Thing? — Expectations and Overseas Life

A few weeks ago, as I prepared my heart for my parents to return back to America after visiting for two weeks, I asked my Instagram followers to do me a solid and use the new questions feature to distract me for a few moments. I got some great questions, some silly questions, and a few unsolicited compliments (yes, I agree my kids are gorgeous!). One friend commented that we seemed to be doing amazing, and I was happy to confirm that we are happy here and love the missions life with all its adventure and challenges. I thought I’d turn a few of them into blog posts as I train myself to make writing a habit again — like online, not just three pages a day in my journal.

“What was one thing that was hard to adjust to on the mission field?”

Wow! It felt like such a loaded request to just pick one thing that was hard to adjust to after moving overseas because literally every aspect of my life has changed as a result. This inquiry came from a young woman who attends a very missions driven church where she may also train for ministry one day, so I felt added pressure to encourage her and not freak her out — the ever present search for balance of transparency and gentle truth.

I’ve learned so much, but one of the biggest things has been to let go of my expectations about what doing ministry, making a home, and raising my kids would be like here. We have a unique set of circumstances and challenges, but God has a unique plan for our life and ministry.

I guess that sums up so much about all the feelings that bombarded me upon our arrival and the months following. On paper, it seemed our dreams were coming true. We were FINALLY on the field after years of preparation. But earthquakes and loneliness and the realities of setting up a home overseas all came to take away the beauty of dreams realized. Life overseas turned out to be just that — life, with all its hardships and disappointments in tow.

I didn’t realize at the time that I had painted a picture of what I thought our life here would be like. I would have a close friend, of course. My kids would play with neighborhood kids and learn the language quickly. We would find a good school for our daughter where she would thrive and grow beyond what we could give her at home. We’d enjoy setting up a new home and decorating it to our liking, and, oh yeah, it would be in the perfect location and even have a small yard.

What God has had for our family, however, has been so much different — and so much better. His plans for me have not met my expectations but have exceeded them. I cannot say that the portrait God painted for me instead has not been heavily crafted with pain and trial. It’s been harder — and sweeter — than I ever thought possible, as are most of the best things in life. The best thing God has given me is nothing I hoped for and everything I wasn’t wise enough to want.

It turns out, God is far less interested in making my dreams a reality and far more interested in working out His way in my life. God’s best for me, in any season, is to learn hard into Him and trust Him even when chaos seems to reign. All my dreams come untrue have brought me into the place I need to be — the place where I submit to every disappointing reality and joyous victory.

He hasn’t asked me to totally surrender all of my dreams but has, rather, loved me hard through every twist and transition. When the story changes, I know the author doesn’t, and it’s a good thing I’ve already seen Him write so many great narratives. As my heart becomes one with Christ, my desires will inevitably change. All I can expect, then, are wonderfully hard, beautifully messy works wrought by the hand of God which makes no mistakes.

Truly, we have a unique set of circumstances and challenges in this overseas life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that our God has a unique plan. I just feel privileged to watch it unfold.

Courage to Live a Quiet Life

We don’t travel to the post office in the middle of the city much, but when we do, I can count on a few greeting cards for the last few holidays (significant or not) from two of our supporting churches who regularly send us notes of encouragement. More often than not, there is also a postmarked gift of love all the way from Middletown, Ohio. I smile while I read over the small, formerly blank card scripted in perfect penmanship with nothing but Scriptures to encourage my soul. There are very few words other than an “I love you” or “God bless you” — the sweet woman of God lets the Word of God speak for itself. I am always amazed at how spot on some of the chosen passages are for what I am currently dealing with in life or ministry.

I picture this precious silver-haired lady who spent what should have been her child-free moments when her own were at school caring for me as a baby and long into my childhood. She always reminded me when I complained about any particular set of circumstances that, “Some days are like that.” Her TV tray always had an open Bible, notebooks, and note cards at the ready except for when she loaned it to me to color on while putting the time in potty-training. I didn’t know then how special these things were.

I’ve been thinking lately how, all my life, the women I have admired the most were those quietly serving Jesus in their corner of the world without fanfare or even recognition most of the time. I saw the depth of their character ooze out in small bits of Sunday school lessons and crockpot hospitality. I was encouraged by faithfulness exemplified in folded arms cradling feverish babies and stolen opportunities for sharing the Good News. I greatly admire the Nancy Leigh DeMosses and the Katie Majors of the world who steward large ministries in incredible ways, but there is something particularly moving about the unrecognized saints quietly doing the Lord’s work wherever their daily paths take them.

My desires to love big and serve God with my life are clearly not wrong desires, but I so often long for them on a scale that may be beyond what God has for me. Can I be content with my quiet life while also preparing my heart for whatever else He has for me?

These desires are from God, and I must allow Him to be Lord over them just like the rest of my life. Whether He ever extends the borders of my sphere of influence is completely subject to His divine discretion. He will enable me to complete each tiny task or insurmountable agenda through His power alone, and I must train myself to be thankful for each and every good work He springs up in my life.

As I advance in age, I hope I lose any ambition to be something other than smitten with the Savior. I pray I’ll have the courage to quietly tend to the work He has given me to do no matter how insignificant it may seem when stacked against what someone else may be doing. And I hope if there is some younger gal looking into my less-than-mind-blowing life, she will be inspired to glorify God in her own quietly faithful way.

We can teach and clean and care and serve until God takes us home to begin our full-time worship. Because we know and trust Him, we can be sure He will tell us, “Well done” for our faithfulness on a small scale. When He does, all we will be able to say is, “You’ve done great things.”

 

 

Cold Coffee Confessions

It’s no secret that I’ve gone silent on my blog for quite some time. I’ve been thankfully and happily busy in life with my crazy clan and our adventurous interns/downstairs neighbors. As we host these two, I think back often on the time I spent being  downstairs neighbors to a family of seven some time ago in that musty, unfinished basement (that we loved!) on Spot Road, and I am trying to be half of the considerate and sweet friend my neighbor was to me.

While I haven’t been showing up here often to share with you what in the world is going on on my side of the world, I will tell you that God has been faithful. We have experienced both great victories and defeats like I never imagined would touch us. The events of our days and subsequent emotions are often hard to put into words that I want to bring before the world — or the few people that read my little blog, but you know what I mean.

If we were friends sitting down to a cup of coffee — preferably, iced because it is a billion degrees in my home as I write this — I would tell you that often sleep eludes me, and I lie awake wondering what the Master weaver could be working in our lives and ministries because it seems like nothing more than a blundered mess of good intentions and well-laid plans. I’d tell you how exhausting it is to plan and revise, dream and doubt, serve and surrender day after day after day.

I’d reveal to you that I have baked chocolate chip cookies when I knew of no other way to encourage my husband and offered them to him with a weak smile that said, “I know it doesn’t help, but I tried.” We’ve whispered, “I love yous” and held pinkies as he shifted gears in our Maruti sazuki jam-packed with our growing children and a few too many members of our growing church body. We’ve lost each other countless times amidst all that is marriage and ministry mingled together but have — by God’s grace — made our way back to each other every time.

I would tell you that the highs and lows of ministry are sometimes more than I can bear, and that the lines between work and life often get blurred. I would tell you that the mama bear comes out fierce and strong, and sometimes I am ashamed at the ways I don’t trust God with my children. I would tell you the million-and-one ways I’ve messed everything up yet God has redeemed every bit of it. At this point, I would hope you wouldn’t walk away in shock of all that I’ve revealed to you, and I would regret that I let it all out.

But if that’s what’s left at the end of this conversation on this imaginary coffee-date, then we have really missed it. I’ve said all that to only say that God is faithful — again. To encourage you and me that this life of service to God is worth it. To remind us that our Redeemer is still at work in our lives. I know this because in all the ways I’ve failed to live up to His standard in marriage, motherhood, and missional living, He has done a work in each of those areas. When I’m sailing through life and everything makes sense, He is good and He is faithful. When I’m struggling to pull myself out from under my sheets and just feed my kids, He is good and faithful. And all these things I struggle to juggle, He has given me to hold. They are gifts that sometimes make me want to pull my hair out, but they are precious just the same!

Don’t abandon your coffee, friend. I imagine you have your stories, too. I hope you’ll see in them that while things haven’t been perfect, they have had purpose. And, if you’re willing to admit you’ve failed, that He has been faithful.

Life is good, friend, and I am happy to share it with you.

My Obedience, God’s Provision

Five Minute Friday: PROVIDE

Yesterday, I attended a parent-teacher conference at my daughter’s school. While we waited for it to begin, I walked around hand-in-hand with my little girl as she proudly showed me where she eats her lunch, plays with her friends, and sits in her class. We observed art and poems created by students, and I marveled at how many of them proclaimed the glory of God — mind you, we live in a Hindu country. In another place, I saw encouragement for teachers to love their students patiently and unconditionally while being lead in teaching by the Holy Spirit.

I stood there in awe of God’s provision. I wasn’t looking for this school when we moved to this area. Nor had I any knowledge of who God had waiting for us in the homes surrounding our church plant or the Gospel-needy neighbors who would soon become my friends. He has provided far for our family in far greater ways than I ever anticipated.

Photo by Aditya Saxena on Unsplash

What really amazes me about this — and it shouldn’t because it is a Biblical concept — is that when I wasn’t trying to put all my ducks in a row, God ordered my steps. My husband followed the Lord’s direction coupled with His provision to decide where to plant our church, and I just went along with it. Based on that, we picked a home knowing not much else than its general location and basic amenities. In what may be perceived at an almost naive level, we trusted God to take care of everything else. We could only do that — it was all too much for us to think about on our own.

Yet, how wonderful it has all turned out. Often, I wonder what may have happened if I tried to find the home or the school first and structure everything around my own misplaced priorities. How there would be a family without a church, a young man wanting to serve God with no training of godly influences, a young lady with no believing friends or family. I’m thankful for a real-life assurance that what the Bible teaches is true. When we structure our lives around building our God’s kingdom and live in reckless obedience, He is faithful to provide each and every one of our needs. Trust and obey. There’s no other way.

Following Jesus is the best life, friends. Don’t miss it while you’re chasing your dreams and building your kingdom. How many times I’ve made this mistake, and God has certainly been gracious — but I’ve seen the benefits first-hand now, and there is no going back.

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.    Matthew 6:31-33

 

 

The Truth I need Reminded of when I’m just too Tired

Five Minute Friday: TIRED

I’m tired of inviting people to church who never come and sharing the Gospel with those who seem like they will never accept it.

I’m tired of giving my time and energy to preparing meals for children who say “eww” when I set it on the table — I know, we are working on that.

I’m tired of not feeling seen by my husband when I’m in over my head in a million different ways.

I’m just tired. Aren’t you?

Photo by Krista McPhee on Unsplash

Recently, I have been reading None Like Him by Jen Wilkin which outlines all the ways God is different than us and why that’s actually a really good thing. It has been so humbling for me to see in Him the abundant fulfillment of all my shortcomings. It is empowering to know that I am lifted above all my failures by the One who has not failed once. When I’m stressed by deadlines or timelines, He holds it all together unbound by time.

One way God is most definitely NOT like me is he doesn’t grow tired — EVER. He doesn’t get tired of my constant striving for perfection, endless complaints, and utter inability to remember anything for more than two seconds (I’m not kidding, my friend wished for me to receive brain power from the Lord for my birthday!). He rested when He was finished with Creation but not because He needed to; he rested to show us a pattern of how we ought to live. How humbling it is to need rest and time away form the affairs of life and the anxieties they bring! What a great gift it is that the Lord grants me that rest in the form of sleep, communion with Him, and moments of peace and prayer scattered throughout my day.

This need for rest shows me how much I’m not like God and how much I need Him. I’m literally going to sleep for a third of my life and rest another sizable fraction of it. And all that time, I have to trust that God is in control because He is. Because He is not bound by time, His power is unlimited, and He is not even capable of turning His back on me for even a moment.

He doesn’t need me because He doesn’t need anything. Yet, He loves me. He provides for me, and He walks with me as I stumble through this life of mine. And when my strength doesn’t feel like enough to meet the needs of the day ahead, I can smile because I know it’s not supposed to. I am made to tire out. I am made to need God and to rest in His provision.

Linking up with: Five Minute Friday