Laser-focused

Last week, our family of five plus one stopped everything to go see The Drop Box.

Our oldest¬†was still incredibly welted, red and itchy from his allergy testing. (Who knew he was soooooo allergic to dust mites! He scored a whopping 19 where the doc said a general allergic reaction would be around .5. Poor guy.) We bought popcorn for dinner (fun parents that we are ūüėČ ) and settled into our seats. I told my husband¬†I‚Äôd have to eat it quickly, because it‚Äôd feel almost sacrilegious to chomp away during this kind of documentary.

The theater was sold out, so I’m glad we got there early.

For us, even though the movie takes place in South Korea, we were instantly transported back to all of the countries we’ve served. It’s the same, heartbreaking story over and over. The despair. Helplessness. Voicelessness. But…like with the ministries we served, Pastor Lee and his wife are not without hope.

Photo credit: David Kim

No matter the circumstance, every story has the same beginning…pain. However, what I love most about this ministry is that the moment a baby is received from the drop box, Pastor Lee immediately, I mean immediately, holds the baby tight and prays for him or her. I believe that this is the plot twist that changes the child’s story.

Plot twists don’t stop with prayer. They come in the form of medical help, counseling, food, water, clothing, shelter, an education, a shoulder to cry on, a friend to laugh with, and sometimes simply knowing someone in this world cares about them gives hope for another day.

As a woman, wife and mother, I have a strong sense to nurture. This is true for most women. We want to make things better. We will do it at cost to ourselves and not even think twice. However, this leads to physical, mental, spiritual and emotional fatigue if not kept in check.

Pastor Lee understands this about himself as well.

Leaving the theater, I felt both glorious in that this beautiful baby drop box ministry is happening in our world even at this second, and I felt heavy-burdened for the babies in the world who don’t have this option. My heart exploded with feeling overwhelmed at the millions and millions of children who cry themselves to sleep every night for as many reasons as their are children.

My heart wanted to burst as the nurturer in me raised up in the name of helping.

This week, our high school girls devotion group met like we do every week to study God’s Word. The topic in our continuing journey to discover what being a woman of noble character (Proverbs 31) looks like was staying focused.

Shiphrah and Puah were the women we studied. They were brave midwives who, as part of an underground network of Hebrew midwives, defied Pharoah’s edict to kill all Hebrew baby boys at birth. We talked about their tenacity to follow God even it meant risk to their own safety.

They feared God more than man. They obeyed God more than they obeyed man.

These midwives had a laser-focused calling.

I’m jealous.

Most days I feel like I’m on a small raft in the middle of a huge ocean of need and opportunity. Waves of emotion and passion to nurture in Jesus’ name toss my raft around like a rag doll. I feel like there is no wheel or sails to steer this one soul in a laser-focused direction.

Pastor Lee and his wife have their laser-focused calling. We can name many who do.

But, I am reminded that there is a place for everyone in ministry ‚Äď even if the place‚Äôs destination continues to change.

It’s my most humble honor to serve on mission. Our family is a motley crew who has no idea what tomorrow looks like. We are broken people called to go to the broken.

Years ago, I sat in a sea of preschool moms listening to a testimony from the director of our preschool. She was in the middle of battling cancer. She specifically said, ‚ÄúSome may wonder why I am testifying to God‚Äôs goodness now. It seems appropriate to wait until I am past the cancer to give a praise report. But I am telling you now, in the middle of cancer, that God is good. Cancer doesn‚Äôt change that.‚ÄĚ

Her words burrowed deep into my soul and I carry them with me daily.

God is good and He is enough.

Shiphrah and Puah knew it. Pastor Lee and his wife know it. Each of us who call Jesus our Savior know it. And knowing this truth is one way God qualifies the called.

It’s why the broken can go to the broken.

We don’t have to have a perfect life to reach others. We simply point them to the One who is perfect.

I often think about the prisoners we will meet. I wonder about who they are, but I don’t care an iota about what they’ve done. Who am I to pick up a stone and hurl it at them? I’ve got a rock garden with my name on it that reads guilty as charged.

But, I also know who sets the prisoner free. And as one who has been set free, even in the middle of brokenness, there is a testimony to share ‚Äď God is good and Jesus¬†is enough.

So whatever venue that looks like (though I’m quite certain it won’t be midwifery) we will continue to go where He leads, schlepping our broken, beautiful mess with us.

I’m learning that it’s Christ’s message that is laser-focused regardless of how, when, where, or to whom He calls us to share it.

 

It’s like riding a bike…

There are times when everything seems to harmoniously fit together and every piece, every part, is functioning the way it should. It’s beautiful.¬†Then there are times when I look at life as if it were an unassembled bike with foreign¬†instructions and extra parts left over after hours of attempting to make it look like a bike.

That’s me.

I sit and look at life, with all of its unnamed parts and half-understood instructions and wonder where I went wrong. Did I go wrong? Do I have it right? Are there simply extra parts? I thought I followed every step as directed. I sit on the floor discouraged. Unsuccessful. With a mechanical thing that in no way resembles a bike.

It’s just been that way lately. Unrelenting. Exhausting. For every effort, there is a difficulty. Two steps back. An inhale of optimism is sucker-punched from stronger forces and a nauseated exhale releases in defeat.

Trying.

Trying.

Trying.

Trying to do what I believe with my whole heart God wants me to do.

But the more I try, the less anything makes sense.

Seriously. Just as we broach the next step with faith and hope, we are blindsided and are left speechless and stunned. Numb. Our compass spinning in circles.

We trust the plan God has for our lives. From parenting to global missions to other ministries, we are pedaling pedaling pedaling on a half-made bike. We are tired.

We are working¬†so very hard to stay on the course lit by the reflection of God’s glory shining, showing us the way. Remembering to suit up in the armor of God. Remembering to love. Be gracious. Be merciful. At the same time¬†I¬†feel so incredibly vulnerable. Raw.

The more I rely¬†on God to help me in the ministries I am involved in, the more I feel alone. I know I’m not, but it’s a feeling nonetheless.

To¬†keep on truckin’¬†in easier said by one who has the wind on their¬†back and strong momentum on their bike. It feels lately as though I am riding my bike, half-assembled, straight up a mountain into the wind, with no relief for endless miles. Gears slipping and grinding the harder I try.

So how does one respond when mile after mile is gained merely inch by inch? When every thrust of the pedal is nearly impossible? When, try as I might, there is no visible evidence that anything I am doing is gaining any ground. What then?

I want to get off the bike. I want to throw the bike over the mountain and start walking…downhill. I want to give up. But, this isn’t about what I want. As a Christ follower, I am compelled to¬†surrender my preferences and lean into He who gave me the bike.

I am learning¬†like never before¬†that ministry is tough.¬†Really tough.¬†It is a battlefield and the enemy takes no prisoners. Alone as it feels, just keep pedaling. What I know is that nothing can separate me from God’s¬†love. Not the mountain. The wind. Exhaustion. Discouragement. Or the bike.

Once I rode my bike in our hilly neighborhood uphill, and nearly having a heart attack, I refused to get off of it out of sheer pride for those possibly peering through their windows at me.

Today, it is ANYTHING but pride keeping me on this bike¬†– this season of difficult ministry. What holds my feet to the pedals is an insatiable burden God gave me for those I serve. An obligation to finish what He asked me to start. Driving love and passion for what drives His love and passion. And ironically, humility keeps me pushing against logic that says quit. Knowing I can’t do this on my own, I find rest in His refuge. Contentment to endure because of¬†His¬†faithfulness – not mine. Strength in the name of Jesus.

I don’t know how long it will take to ride this bike all the way up¬†the mountain, but I place my hope in faith¬†that the view from the top will be breathtakingly spectacular…and every bit worth it.

An honest look at missions

I’m wrestling against an enemy I cannot see. ¬†Right now, our family is making some difficult decisions regarding missions for this year. ¬†As I sat at the dinner table last night, a raw thought spilled out of my mouth.

This used to be fun, I said resting my fork on the table and blankly staring out the window.

You know, the mission decision. ¬†It was exciting. ¬†Adventurous. ¬†A radical move of following God where He leads. ¬†Now, I am so twisted up in knots I can’t think straight.

My children looked at me in bewilderment. ¬†This wasn’t their fearless mother who encourages, instructs and motivates her children to say YES! to God before we know the question.

I hesitate to write any further in the event I come off sounding like a whiny, spoiled American.  The fact is, I have nothing to complain about on a global spectrum of needs.  I feel guilty for even writing this post because I have no room to complain compared to the billions of other people who share this planet.

But, I am also human. ¬†Finite. ¬†Flawed. ¬†I have weaknesses I cannot deny, and it’s those weaknesses that want to keep me from leaving my nest. ¬†I have feelings. ¬†I have emotions. ¬†Sometimes when thinking about missions I wonder how much my heart can take when I see the most basic of needs or witness the power-hungry, cruelty of humanity.

I am a woman who has been on 2 different mission trips to very different parts of the world – Africa and eastern Europe. ¬†On each trip, I’ve never felt so alive. ¬†So…New Testament, if you will. ¬†I’ve never in my life cast everything aside to follow God and trust Him for every step. ¬†It was blind faith like I’ve never had before. ¬†It was perfect peace that is ridiculous to the world’s ears. ¬†So, why aren’t I dragging out our bags and grabbing our passports this year?

I will be completely honest and tell you it is fear.

You see, when I went on those trips, I had no idea what to expect. ¬†The trips were going to be what they were, and I was perfectly fine with that because I didn’t know any differently. ¬†I lived moment-to-moment in each continent and abandoned all of my plans, agenda, requirements, everything. ¬†I fully immersed myself in the culture and in God’s leadership.

However, when we returned from Kenya two summers ago, a tsunami-sized wave of what if scenarios hit me hard and brought me to my knees.

My eyes were no longer blind to what could happen on a mission trip, or simply traveling overseas by myself or with our children. ¬†I know it was the enemy that tried hard to steal my joy of all that God did on that mission trip, and I felt powerless to stop him because what could I say? ¬†God never promised safe passage, only that we’d never be alone in it.

There were times when we were completely relying on God to help us – like when we arrived in Nairobi and customs took far longer than we thought. ¬†The driver who was to pick us up at the airport, when the clock finally struck midnight and the airport was closing, wasn’t there.

I thought,¬†That’s okay. ¬†Our leaders have this under control. ¬†I’ll just wait with the kids and our luggage until¬†something¬†works out.

On a warm summer afternoon, as we drove back from visiting a school totally off the grid, rain began to fall.  The water mixed with the powdery dust and made the roads as slippery as ice.  Our van slid and skid and we hung on tight as I looked out the window to see deep trenches on either side of our van.  I simply hung on, smiling, knowing everything would be alright.

When our oldest son fell at an orphanage and suffered a severe, and I mean severe, concussion, we did all we could for him without the¬†availability¬†of any proper means for exam or treatment. ¬†In fact, the next day we had to travel hours to another school, which proved to be the worst roads I’ve ever been on. ¬†We were literally thrown out of our seats for the hours-long ride. ¬†Not at all what a concussion patient needs to rest and mend. ¬†However, choices were limited and we trusted God¬†with¬†our son’s health – in addition to pain relievers and waking him up every two hours and doing all we cold to keep him¬†comfortable.

Even on the safari we had the privilege to take after our mission work was done proved to make the hair stand up on my neck. ¬†At one point, our Land Rover got lodged on a large boulder on an incline up a mountain. ¬†If that wasn’t nerve-racking¬†enough, there happened to be two Cape Buffalo on either side of our vehicle, so close we cold touch them. ¬†Our driver was out of cell phone reach and we were stuck. ¬†That was one moment when I truly felt like I was going to have a panic attack as our vehicle had no windows or roof. ¬†We wound up having to back off the boulder, going straight down the mountain backwards. ¬†Oh my soul.

Upon our arrival back in the States, something in the water the ONE TIME my husband and I consumed it via ice on the plane made us so sick we wanted to die. ¬†We broke our family’s 8-year streak of not throwing up. ¬†Friends had to come take our kids to their homes so Bruce and I could just lie there and not talk or move or anything for days. ¬†It was wicked.

I could go on and tell of the times that I felt vulnerable and completely out of my element…but it was awesome. ¬†When I was at my weakest, God was at His strongest. Never have I needed to rely on Him more.

I could tell you how much I learned from the loving Kenyan people that contentment is a state of mind, not a tangible luxury.  They blew me away with how happy they were in the midst of suffering, gentle in the face of hardship, at peace in the midst of crisis.

I could tell you about a little girl, 5 or 6 years old, who lost her leg in a fire and dragged her little body on her stomach every week from her house to church Рby herself.  The church, using scrap lumber from a donation to build a small, plywood structure, constructed a crutch for her, and how team members with us made some phone calls and lo and behold a pediatric prosthetic surgeon was going to be making her first-ever visit to this region and with donations from our church this precious little girl now has a prosthetic leg and runs and plays with the rest of her friends for the first time.  Her mom, a former prostitute, was so overwhelmed by the love of the church that she gave her life to Christ and has begun an honorable career to provide for them both.

I could tell you about the wonderful man who runs a dearly loved orphanage with children that we fell in love with so much our hearts nearly burst.  He has dedicated his life to providing for these children, when he himself lost his oldest son in a piki piki (motorcycle) accident last summer.  Yet, he continues to serve these precious little ones who are so full of promise if only they would be given a chance.

I met a boy at this orphanage who is so brilliantly smart, will he ever have an opportunity to change the world?

Our daughter fell head over heals in love with a little girl at this orphanage and the two became inseparable.  A photo of the two of them hangs on the wall of her bedroom still today.

The worship, the joy and the trust these Kenyans have in God is breathtaking.

In Ukraine this past summer, we met some of the most inspiring young people I’ve ever seen. ¬†They are a new generation whose hope is in God of the possible. ¬†They welcomed us as family from the first greeting, and clung to us in sorrowful tears when we left. ¬†They are unlike any group of teens I know. ¬†They have¬†committed themselves to the leadership¬†of¬†their church.

Working with them was such an honor! ¬†They don’t know the word¬†impossible, and have a pure faith in Jesus that is hard to find in the States. ¬†A few boys and girls befriended me and I carry them in my heart still today.

One young boys’ dream is to come to the States so he can be healed of his crippling disease and deaf ears. ¬†His heart is so tender and smile so big, he captivated me with his gentle spirit and quiet determination to be involved in what everyone was doing with us.

However, the remnants of Soviet control are everywhere Рand it was daunting.  The search light towers, barbed wire, and antiquated barracks of military and political oppression were merely feet from us and proved to be an ominous presence for a woman like myself who has never been more grateful for her freedom in the United States.

I also had one of the worst sinus infections I’ve ever experienced the day we were to return home. ¬†Flying with a 101.5 fever and climbing, a head so stopped up I could hardly hear and definitely couldn’t breathe well, it took everything in me to step on the plane. The first leg of the flight was 10 hours, then an overnight stay and connecting flight. ¬†I tried to count the hours until I could get to a doctor, as well as muster the courage to get on the second flight.

But for the time being, I had to succumb to the fact that I would be airborne for 10 hours with this horribly severe sinus infection. I wanted to just let the luggage fall off my shoulders and let my body fall into a heap in the middle of the airport.  I wanted to cry. But, I had to keep moving.

On both missions, the good outweighed the bad for sure. ¬†But here I sit with some big decisions to make with my husband. ¬†Dynamics are different this year. ¬†We are confused. I can’t hear clearly because of the¬†what-ifs¬†taunting me.

It would be so easy, so comfortable, to just say no this year. ¬†We have a full life right here, and most days we feel we are hanging on by our fingernails. ¬†We wonder if it’s too much to ask of our children again. ¬†Perhaps some will stay home? ¬†Perhaps not. ¬†Bruce’s work is a demanding job, and he enjoys it very much. ¬†But, it consumes a lot of his time and as a wife I worry about balance in his life. ¬†Can he handle missions this summer, or will it be too taxing on him mentally,¬†physically¬†or¬†emotionally? ¬†I get concerned about my own health, as since traveling overseas I’ve¬†realized¬†my ankles blow up like balloons and am not sure how bad or not this is for me. ¬†I wear compression hose, but still… ¬†Also, our typhoid shots expire soon and we may need new ones. ¬†Will this be the time one of us has a reaction to the vaccine? ¬†Will the fundraising come in as I honor my husband’s (and children’s) requests (which is also my heart’s desire) to stay home for this season of life as wife and mother and we live on one income? ¬†Will international travel go okay this go round? ¬†Will more injuries occur? ¬†Will more illness break out?

So many questions burden my heart.

The first time around, we were giddy knowing that God simply said Go.  Ignorance truly was bliss.

Now, we’re not so naive, and the knowledge I’ve gleaned about serving on short-term mission trips scares me. ¬†There is so much that could go wrong that I never ever imagined. Now my eyes are open and I kind of wish they weren’t.

I have a whole new appreciation for Christ’s words to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.

To go or not to go isn’t about leaving my comfort zone, although I shocked myself with how¬†uncomfortable¬†I was feeling dirty the entire time in Africa. ¬†I hid these feelings and they turned into shame and guilt – which discouraged my desire for missions.

I was overwhelmed the entire time we were in Ukraine regarding the language barrier.  I remember riding in a bus on the highway trying to make any sense of the billboards.  It was almost a panicky feeling that swept over me in an enormous need to simply read or hear English in the community.  Again, I was so ashamed of these negative feelings I hid them.  Stuffed them.  And the enemy is using them against me.

Perhaps some of it is a loss of control of my life on mission.  I am a team member and follow the leaders.  Here in my daily life, although Bruce is surely the head of our house, I am the site manager who oversees the house, kids, volunteering, everything that is in the scope of my job while he is as his job.

Empty hands feel odd.

I’m so okay with following an agenda bigger than myself, the loss of sleep, the different foods, etc. so what’s my problem?

I don’t like flying at all. ¬†I must leave some creature comforts at home – and with my back that’s easier said than done. ¬†And I’m afraid of the known and unknown. ¬†Okay. ¬†I said it.

I hate admitting fear because it’s admitting a lack of trust in God, and I want to trust God with everything in me. ¬†Mark 9:22-24 sums up my heart the best. ¬†In the words of a worried and scared father over his possessed child…

“…But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.

If you can? said Jesus.  Everything is possible for him who believes.

Immediately the boys’ father exclaimed,¬†I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Yes, God, I do believe…help me overcome my unbelief.

I’ve been yearning for direction and confirmation about what to do for missions this year. We feel the squeeze of time to make decisions. ¬†I’m so tangled up in this I can’t think straight.

Oh how I wish I could just say,¬†Yes,¬†now what’s the question?

However, yesterday we received a letter from our Compassion daughter in Africa. ¬†She has had such a hard life – losing her mom and dad – yet she has accomplished a nursing degree and is now working and supporting herself and her little brother. ¬†We are so proud of her. ¬†She’s come a long way since she became a part of our family when she was only 7 years old, living with her grandmother and brother.

In her recent letter, she told us her grandmother died and she is working in a different town than where she grew up. ¬†She has had family and location changes. ¬†Totally out-of-the-blue, in her letter to us she wrote,¬†I encourage you don’t worry, for God is with you everywhere you are and He has good plans.

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I have been struggling inside over what to do about missions. ¬†I have been beside myself and lay awake at night and mull it over and over in my head. I continue to ask God, but my thoughts drown out His voice. Our Compassion daughter’s words jumped off the page and into my heart. ¬†Of all the letters over the last 14 years from her, it was this letter and her words at this time. ¬†It is no coincidence.

Our Compassion daughter, who we’ve supported by paying for her food, clothing, education, etc. throughout the years in hopes that she will come to have a fulfilling life, saved by grace, provided me the wisdom I needed to hear at the¬†exact¬†moment I needed to¬†hear¬†it. ¬†All these years I’ve been trying to bless her, and, as a fully grown woman she blessed me with Truth that I know, but cannot hear above the fear.

I was her mission ground, and her words all the way from Africa penetrated my heart and helped me believe again.

It’s with a broken heart, having seen the needs of this world God so dearly loves, and a mind submitted to God’s sovereignty, that I cannot resist Him anymore. ¬†His love is contagious. His mercy divine. ¬†His call undisputed. ¬†His promise to never leave me is enough.

I will go. ¬†Where? ¬†I don’t know. ¬†But I do know that my answer is¬†Yes.

So Lord, she asks with a trusting heart and trembling hands, what is the question?