Private thoughts of a short-term missionary

Monday morning greets me with mixed emotions. I woke up today feeling very frustrated. I have been consistently diligent in putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6) and working with all the logic that’s in my crazy brain to get things ready for an upcoming mission trip. On paper everything looks good. But, read in between the lines and there are struggles and doubts and frustrations that eat away at my thoughts.

I am grateful for the Proverbs 31 Ministry’s devotions that appear in my inbox every day. Today, it’s like Lysa Terkeurst read my heart. Her words speak more clearly than mine as I sit here tired and sick. Here is an excerpt from her devotion, “When God’s Assignments Feel Almost Impossible”

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I pulled into my driveway and stared at this gathering place my people call “home.” And my heart whispered …

Lord, am I doing all of this right?

This life You’ve entrusted to me, these people You’ve entrusted to me, this calling You’ve entrusted to me … I desperately want to get it right. To live without painful regret gnawing deep within. To know that I gave it my very best. To please You. Love them. Smile more than frowning. Laugh more than I complain. See the beauty tucked within all these sacred moments of just being together and remember to whisper, Thank You.

Thank You for all of it. The whole package deal of good and bad and highs and lows. For all that mixed together sets about a process of making me. The me that needs the tough stuff to mature me. The sad moments to soften me. The thrilling moments to invigorate me. The poignant moments to endear me. The complicated moments to challenge me. The quiet moments to unrush me.

I need it all.

But sometimes, in the midst of all the moments that are making me into the woman You created me to be, I get awfully tired and discouraged.

And I find myself sitting in my driveway wondering. Staring at the culmination of thousands of decisions I’ve made that have brought me here. To this home. This family. This life. I made my decisions and then my decisions made me.

I’m thankful, yes. So very thankful. But I need You to whisper reassurance into my heart that You’re with me. That You see me. And that You are pleased with me. I just need to know, Lord, am I doing this right?

Jesus instructed us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16:15). That seems an impossible task for someone who sits in her driveway and feels fragile and wonders all the things I sometimes wonder.

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Fragile indeed. I told Bruce the other day that I wrestle with opposite dichotomies warring within:

* Continue to pursue short-term global and local missions as long as God allows and I am physically able.

* Sell it all and move to a distant land to serve full-time.

* Move to a tropical island and forget everything (just kidding, sort of!).

I feel like a nomad. When I am home doing the suburban housewife and mom thing, my heart is restless even though serving my family sometimes takes everything in me! When I am serving abroad, I reach a tipping point where I need normalcy and a sense of home. When I serve locally, I feel I am not doing enough. It makes my heart spin.

Yesterday I had a conversation with one of my favorite people. She is the mother-in-law of one of my dearest friends and she turns 80 this month. I just love talking with her! Her mind is sharp as a tack and conversations with her are thought-provoking and always entertaining.

She’s been through some major unexpected illnesses lately that have left her fragile, frail and in spinal therapy. Her already tiny frame of less than 5 feet is now curled over and even thinner than she was before. She asked me all kinds of questions about our mission trip as she has always had a keen interest in them. Once we talked through the logistics of the trip, she turned the conversation to why we go.

She asked questions that she really wanted sincere answers to. Questions like – You feel this is right for your family? And you enjoy this? Do the kids enjoy it? What do they get out of if? How long do you think you will continue to do these mission trips?

I answered each question with a thoughtful answer: For now, this is what God has called our family to. Everyone has a purpose, and we believe this is ours. Yes, we enjoy it very much. It’s the hardest, most demanding thing we’ve ever done (besides parenting) and it’s worth every drop of blood, sweat and tear. The kids love it! Mission trips are great to strip away the entitlement and materialism that our society imposes and encourages. Although our children don’t have overt problems with these anyway, still if we live in a society long enough its way of thinking creeps into our thoughts as being normal. These missions remind them that the world doesn’t revolve around them and that’s a good and necessary truth to know. More importantly, it’s training them to share the Gospel whenever, wherever God leads. We will go as long as the Lord allows and we are physically able.

To every answer she smiled, nodded her head and replied, Okay. Alright. However, she paused at my last answer about being physically able. As we stood in the kitchen, she asked if I wanted a piece of cake and I said yes. She carefully, slowly, struggled to cut and serve it to me, but I knew I needed to let her do it. It was a beautiful moment. I felt God whisper, She needs to do this. Let her. As she worked on the slice of cake, she said, You know, one day you have your health and then the next day you don’t. It’s taken away without warning. I never thought I would go through what I’ve been through, and getting back to where I was is a great struggle. Do what you can while you can do it. Enjoy life. Go on these mission trips. Do it all before you no longer can. Wise words which brought a tear to my eye as I bent over to hear her talk above the white noise in the crowded room of her grandson’s graduation party.

I’ve told Bruce this before. We were walking through Wal-Mart one day and I said, You know, it would only take one car accident. One illness. One life change that could keep one of us from ever being able to go on mission again. Life is fragile. Health is fragile although no one wants to admit it out loud. It’s partially this thought that makes me second guess if I really am doing what God purposed for me in Psalm 139:16 –

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

This is where Lysa Terkeurst and I share the same wonderings and ponderings. Are we getting it right?

Do I feel restless here because we are supposed to be there? Do I miss home there because we are supposed to be here? It’s maddening, really.

Life is so so short. As proactive and intentional as I have been about preserving my body specifically for ministry with all of the surgeries, procedures and physical therapy I’ve had since 2008, I can’t figure out how to stop time. It marches on and takes no prisoners. At the end of my life, whether that be in a year or 40+, I yearn for no regrets – not that I checked off everything on my bucket list, but that I checked off everything on God’s bucket for me. I desperately want to please Him even when human nature screams otherwise. I am starving for Isaiah 30:21 to be read over my life –

Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.

My job is to reject my idols and images and run with passion in the direction He leads (v 22). This is much easier said than done. But, when I think about my dear friend who is struggling just to once again stand erect after her physical struggles, I hear a clock ticking in my head and heart. So I write openly on a blog what I’ve been praying in my heart, in a thousand different ways for a long time, that which Psalm 139:23-24 sums up best –

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Lead on, God. I will follow You all the way home no matter where the journey takes me to get there.


Hope thrives

Yesterday, my husband and I went to grab a quick bite for lunch.  He is working from home these days following his rock climbing accident on Monday which left him injured.  We hobbled into the restaurant together, both donning a right surgical boot – him limping with a crutch.  We look comical, really, and were given many stares and glances at our predicament by those around us.  Twinsies.

As I stood in line to order our food, I noticed on my left a very elderly man and his aide, a home health assistant.  They were engaged in conversation, and what spoke most to me was her softness toward him.

Having had my grandmother go through the assisted living regime in her later years, I am quite familiar with all it entails.  I have known attendants that were so sweet and kind and loved their jobs, and unfortunately, those who felt the opposite.

This woman was precious.

When he said something to her (I couldn’t hear over the noise), she laughed and he touched her cheek with the back of his hand.  She could be his granddaughter, or great-granddaughter, and it seemed as though she felt that way to him.

While enjoying a coveted, rare lunch break with my husband, I periodically glanced over his shoulder to watch them in the background.  It was obvious that going on a lunch excursion was a big feat for this man and his disabilities.  An effort, but worth it.  Toward the end of their lunch, I watched from across the room as she wheeled him to the restrooms.

Attendants are unsung heroes.  Their job requires more self-sacrifice than what others will experience in a lifetime.

After some time, they reappeared in the dining room and headed out the door – as she gently pushed him in his wheelchair.  We left a few seconds behind them, hobbling back to our van.

As we drove away, we passed them approaching their car.  He looked at us, smiled and waved, with his attendant at this side.  We waved and smiled back.

In a time with so much sorrow and pain in our nation, this woman was such a testament to the human spirit.  She was caring, attentive and considerate.  He thoroughly enjoyed his lunch out because of the way she treated him.

I remember with my grandmother, I needed to walk slower than my usual pace, repeat myself numerous times, and be willing to adjust plans on a dime because of unexpected health concerns or circumstances.  I remember waiting with her in the doctors’ offices, picking her up for family events, and simply spending time together whether watching my young children play on the playground, walking the aisles of the grocery store, or sitting on the couch and talking and talking and talking.  This was precious time to me.

The reason I have so many fond memories of that time in my life is because she modeled these things for me first.  My mom did her best, but from an early age my grandmother helped raise me.  She picked me up from school when I was sick, took me to get an ice cream cone on special days, and taught me how to be a lady.  She played games with me, advocated for me when I needed it, and countless hours were spent sitting at her pink-tiled kitchen counter talking and talking and talking…usually over a home-cooked meal she spent the entire afternoon preparing.  She did the best she could to finish raising me after Mom died.  She was smart, gentle and funny.  I learned through my grandparents that the generations ahead of us have an unending plethora of wisdom and knowledge to offer those following behind.

We were made for community.  With God’s help, community gets us through the tough stuff of life.  None of us can handle everything completely alone.  We weren’t supposed to.

Watching this sweet woman yesterday, and thinking about all that my grandmother did for me over the years, a flicker of hope in my spirit fanned into a flame that together, we can survive the storm – whether it be physical, relational, or weather.

God puts people in each others’ paths to share the journey.  Let’s not miss an opportunity to be that person to someone today, or to welcome someone’s help in our life.  Either way, we are all more blessed in the end.

Family Jewels

“Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.” Leviticus 19:32

I had the most delightful conversation with my stepmother yesterday.  We have been playing phone tag for quite some time, and finally we were able to catch up.

She is an incredible woman of strength and even temperament.  Even with losing my dad in December, she remains faithful to our Christ and is slowly finding a new sense of normal – though she misses him terribly.  We chatted about everything we could think of.  I loved listening to her talk from her perspective about the important things in life.  Wisdom that only comes from having lived through it.  It’s like a sneak peak at the future with tips and advice on the tough stuff.

After our conversation, I thought about my family and pondered how important the generations ahead of us are to us and those coming behind.  They have so much insight and wisdom to share.  It is, indeed, their priceless legacy.

My grandmother was a woman of incredible strength and poise.  She was a southern lady – soft as a flower with the tenacity of a tiger.  She taught me invaluable lessons about relationships, cooking, budget-keeping, well, almost everything!  Her mother, my great-grandmother was also a beautiful and strong woman.  I was 12 when she passed away, and growing up my claim to fame was that I knew someone born in the 1800s.  1899 to be exact.

My great grandmother and I sat together many summer afternoons on my grandmother’s couch and snapped green beans.  And I loved sleepovers with her.  As she got ready for bed, I was amazed at the regime of hair rollers, facial cream, etc. she performed every night.  When it was time for bed, she and I would lie there and play “Guess Whose Sleeping?”  A game (I think she made up) where we had to be completely quiet, and the first person to fall asleep would say, I’m asleep.  Silly.  I know.  But fun.  Our generational gap showed once when I was a tween and came over to visit in my brand new bleached jeans.  They were my favorite birthday present!  She looked at them and said, Why I wouldn’t have even picked corn in those pants.  Ha!  We agreed to disagree. 🙂

My grandmother was my second mother.  She made the best blue cheese dressing and was my daycare because my mom worked.  She was a very funny lady, and family meant everything to her.  When she grew older, she sat me down once and showed me the linens that had been in our family for generations and told me what was what and who it was from.  Family was her heart.  Mess with any of us, and you had to reckon with her!

When I was young, these ladies told me a true story that defines who they both were.  Back in America’s unfortunate days of segregation, my grandmother and great-grandmother went shopping in downtown Atlanta.  While in a clothes store, they saw a young African-American girl who was in distress.  They approached her and asked her what was wrong.  She had to use the restroom really bad.  She was desperate, but the only bathroom was for white people only.

In the days of great hostility and shakeup, these ladies decided to buck the system and help this young girl.  My great-grandmother hid the young girl under coat and assisted her to the store’s white’s-only restroom.  My grandmother stood guard outside.  Trust me, no one was going to get past my grandmother.  She was too smart, too sweet and knew how to use both to help this precious girl.

Hearing their story showed me how to put the Bible into real life practice.  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My grandfather was an upstanding man in our community.  Everyone knew him and liked him.  He knew how to stretch a dollar and make touch decisions as the leader of the family, but he had a real soft side that only a few of us saw.  I would describe him as a pillar.  Strong.  Unwavering.  Kind, generous and practical.

The best financial lesson I ever received was from him right after Bruce and I got married.  I was a young 19, and had lived with my grandparent s for 3 years following my mom’s death.  I visited them one day about a year after the wedding, and my grandfather surprised us with a washer & dryer for the tiny foreclosure we bought.  However, he sat me down at the table on the back porch and took out his wallet.  He opened it (never taking anything out of it) and said, This is the last time we will help you.  You are married now, and it’s up to Bruce and you to handle your finances.  Then, he literally, physically, shut his wallet and put it in his back pocket.

Wow!  How’s that for an object lesson?  There was absolutely no ambiguity of where he stood, and it was the best thing he could have done for us.  From that day forward, 22 years later, we have been completely on our own financially, making good decisions and accepting the consequences for the bad.  I learned in about 30 seconds that my life was my responsibility.  It is one of my life’s greatest learned lessons.

Our society truly undervalues the older generation.  However, they are an untapped resource of knowledge and strength from which to draw.  During my mother-in-law’s recent battle with cancer, she told me one day while we sat together, I’m not ready to go yet.  I have so much to still teach you guys.  Like how to use newspaper for lining the insides of your shoes when they wear out.

That conversation stuck with me.  We have thousands and millions of people right at our fingertips who know what it is like to live through rationing; to work as a community for the good of the whole; to give us advice on self-sacrifice (something my current generation and the one after me doesn’t know) and leadership.  We need people to tell us how to live within a budget, how to work hard – even if it is for the benefit of someone else, and that less truly is more.  We need to be told the beauty of appreciating simple moments and be admonished on just how short life really is – something those ahead of us have much to offer to the conversation.

The way things are in the world right now, we should be having lots of conversations with those who know how to survive and thrive in the face of unpredictable hardship.

On thing I love is that we worship at church with the elderly.  We have Widow Sunday periodically where the widows are given a white rose to wear, and everyone who sees them gives them a hug.  This is respect that is biblical and esteemed by God.  I love to watch the older generation at church.  Sometimes I glance around and watch them sing, with their eyes closed, hymns like It Is Well and Amazing Grace because there are decades of history in their voices.  Decades upon decades of living in God’s faithfulness – and in theirs to Him.  I study their faces and think of the hard times they’ve survived, loved ones they lost, and health crises they’ve faced – yet here they are, every week, worshiping God. I think to myself, Teach me.  Show me.  Guide me.  They are an example I want to follow.  One I want my children to follow.  Inter-generational worship, be it in church service or spending time with those of the older generation, is extremely important for everyone’s benefit.

My heart was so touched when my oldest teen told me that he saw our special widow friend at church and went up to her and gave her a hug and chatted – all on his own.  They were both blessed.  We live in such a “me” generation, and the one coming behind is even more so.  We as parents must teach our children the value of all people – not just those who are in the same season of life as us.

Studies show that communities where the elderly are honored, respected and highly regarded have a considerably longer life expectancy.  Interesting.  The fact is, we will all be there one day, hopefully, and it will be our turn to share advice, stories, and life lessons.  Will anyone listen to us?