The Other Side

download (1)As I sit here writing this blog I am looking across the room at my daughter who is on her computer catching up with friends.  She’s not supposed to be here – she’s supposed to be in the bush in Kenya on a homestay with a Maasai family practicing her Swahili, eating lots of ugali and drinking Chai, and visiting each night with other members of the community around a campfire.  But she’s not.

Like the rest of us her life has come to an almost screeching halt in the the past week.  I was talking with a friend last night who said that she was grieving and wondering if life will ever look like it did just a week ago. I really related to what she was saying.  I don’t think I am allowing myself to live in a lot of fear from this pandemic, though there are definitely times when I lose myself to panic for a few moments – particularly about my children.  But I am grieving – for my daughter, whose experience was cut short, for all the seniors whose years are coming to an abrupt and unmarked end, for the small business owners whose hard work is spiraling down quickly, and for a future that I know will be changed from what I had envisioned.  I don’t think there are many of us that will come to the other end of this unmarked.

I was having another conversation with a friend about the idea of God redeeming all things.  While we are in the middle of a situation we can admit that it is hard to see how God is going to make beauty from things that, in the moment, feel like destruction.  And let’s just be honest – sometimes it’s not that things just feel hard or destructive, but it’s that they are.  Sometimes we have situations happen where even when we are days, months, or years away from them we still cannot see the good.  We have trouble believing that he really does work all things out for the good good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose, or that he will redeem.  Notice I didn’t say we struggle to believe he can redeem, but rather will he?

I want to believe that redemption means the pain is gone.  I want to believe that it means the situation fixes itself, or something bigger, better, more beautiful comes along in place of what was lost.  I don’t want to believe and live in the truth of being a Christian – that we are called to walk with him in his sufferings.  Sometimes it seems too much to ask us to believe that scars that can be so terribly ugly can be breathtakingly beautiful at the same time.

As I worked through some very real issues in my own past that turned from bleeding wounds into thick scars on my heart I have understood a little better what it means to have God work things out.  I can see a purpose in spite of the pain for most things.  It doesn’t mean that I would choose it again – I am not sadistic.  But I can see his fingerprints on the healing nonetheless.  He doesn’t have to show me anything – any peek into what he is doing is a gift of grace.  So in those places where I still can’t see even a glimmer of beauty I sit and wait.  I may never see it on this earth – I understand this now, even if it does frustrate me.  Redemption will only be whole and perfect in heaven, but sometimes he allows us glimpses of it here.  There will come a day when he makes all things beautiful and right again.  His way, his time.

And that has to be enough. Because it really is more than enough.

So I grieve now, being older and experienced enough to know that no, I will never be the same after this.  The world will not be the same.  We will all carry scars of grief and loss – some much more so than others.  When I came back to the States after our evacuation from South Sudan I didn’t fit anywhere.  I couldn’t fall back into patterns of who I was before I left.  I had to grieve the loss of the comfortable old me and start to be ok with the new scars and bruises that I might never have an answer for.  I wrote then about this concept then, quoting a passage from The Hobbit.  Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure. Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

We will not be the same after this – but somehow there is beauty and hope in that.  I still believe that he will take these wounds and heal them, but even if we cannot see it, we can stand in the truth that we have been shaped to be more like him.  Crucifixion hurts.  The fire burns as it shapes the iron.  Dying to oneself is never uneventful or painless.  However, he will shape us to be able to better show him to this world because we have walked in his sufferings with him and know him even more intimately than before.  Our scars from this time or any other area in our lives where we have known pain are real and permanent while we are in these bodies.  But it is about his glory more than our comfort, and  I think he is calling us to remember that again.   When we reach the other side we will be able to say that we have sat with him in a depth of darkness that we had not yet experienced, and we are better for it. Because of that I do not mourn like those who have no hope.

So I leave us with this, because truth is truth no matter how we feel, and praise and thanksgiving are powerful weapons.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7) (emphasis added by me.)

 

My Pizza Oven

(Photo credit Scott and Jennifer Myhre)

Today I spent the day doing school with the boys, baking a bunch of cookies for upcoming events, decorating the porch with the boys after school, and raking leaves because they have finally all fallen off the trees.  As I was raking I was daydreaming about what the garden will look like in the spring, since we have not yet experienced that here.  I made plans in my mind about how Shawn could add so much beauty to a yard that needed a little TLC, but still had it’s own beauty.

Suddenly that sneaky little feeling of anxiety crept in.  “This isn’t really your house.  you have a two year lease is all.  Don’t invest too much – you never know when you will need to leave.”

If you read my previous blog you know what a gift this house is to us.  I love everything about it.  But while it is our home right now, it belongs to someone else who will eventually call it home again.  Though we would love to be in DC until we retire, this house will probably not be our home that whole time.  And suddenly that feeling of anxiety about not having a place to claim as mine started to overtake.

I never wanted to buy a house.  I never felt the need.  I liked the idea of being able to pick up and go whenever I needed or wanted to.  We have learned in our crazy life how to make a home pretty quickly.  But I’ll be honest, all of that has changed in me since coming back to the States.  I want roots and home and a place that my kids will know is always there for them even as they all enter into adulthood and make their own homes.

Most of the time I am content with giving that to God and letting him take care of it for me.  But today I felt the stress that happens when I am not consciously doing that, and I started to feel panicky for no real reason.

Suddenly I heard the Spirit say, “Heather, build your pizza oven.”

No, I am not going to literally build a pizza oven – I am not even sure I could legally do that here! But this statement brought me back to solid ground and a trust in God’s plan for us.  A few years back I wrote a blog about how friends of ours and missionaries extraordinaire who had lived around East Africa in some hard places for the last few decades chose to mark their places as home.  No matter where they lived, even if they knew it was not long term, they chose to put roots down and make a life.  One way they did that was to build an outside pizza oven of stone and brick.  They’ve done this at places on the equator as well as in their home in the States.  There are many people who have benefited from this tangible way of saying, “We are home.  This is home.  The Lord has provided.”  Though I knew that an outdoor pizza oven would not be my marker, I also knew I had to figure out what was.  What are those things we do as a family, those things we put in place, no matter where we go?

As God brought things to mind about how we are making this place home for us and our kids (what a blessing to hear Anna say this was like coming home when she was here from college for Thanksgiving break), I knew that no matter what house we live in we will make it home.  We will open it up to friends, family, and strangers  – who usually become friends!  We will always have food and drink for people along with a place on the couch to talk and pray.  We will put up some of the same decorations and do some of the same things at the same time each year.  We will pray together at night on our bed as a family before everyone goes to sleep.  We will try to remember to speak thankfulness at dinner times together in the evenings.

In other words, we have our own pizza ovens.  I am so grateful for these friends who spoke this into our lives.

What are some of your “Pizza ovens?”

Staying

Today was the mass exodus.  After a fun friend and family filled week, both of my older kids and my in-laws went back to their normal lives today.  As Anna walked out the door I felt that familiar feeling of “something is missing” creep in, and after dropping John off I heard a sing that inevitably reminds me of him and I cried.  Moms, you get me.

But I am also learning in this stage to be all-in while we have those times – and not just with my kids.  As we continue pushing into friendships here in church and this community I want to make sure that I don’t take those for granted.  We have chosen a life here in DC where we get to stay this time around for the long haul, but many others leave.  Around our Thanksgiving table this year were several young adults who will most likely not be in this part of the world next year for the holidays.  This is a new dynamic for us – being the “stayers” is much different than being the ones leaving.

But if ex-pat life taught me anything, it is to jump in feet first and go deep.  Don’t waste time on conversations and activities that keep things at the surface.  Instead pull out the games where you laugh together and get to accuse each other of silly things all the while figuring out personalities, reactions, and what makes a person feel most comfortable and loved.  Try activities that are new to you or everyone around you and document it with pictures so in the years to come you can share and reminisce about being brave together.  Learn to say someone’s given name in their heart language rather than their English version and watch their faces light up even when you completely mess it up.  Ask what you can be praying for – and then actually do it.  In other words, be a place of stability for those people who lives are transient and ever-changing.  We have had those people in our lives and now it’s our turn to give this back.

I am very content to be in this new role of staying.  I can’t wait to not be the newbie, but even as we wade through our first year here we learn how to love our new home and family well so that we can offer that to each person as they come (and sometimes go) in our lives.  Though the holes will always be present as people we love leave, there never seems to be more empty space than the space that is filled.  For that I am thankful.

 

 

Stepping out of Darkness

I have been doing the bible study by Pricilla Shirer called The Armor of God, and I have to tell you – it is really convicting me!  This month we are reading through and studying the chapter on the Breastplate of Righteousness.  As I have asked the Spirit to convict and move in me while I read through things, I have been so surprised at some of the ugliness that has surfaced.  (When will I stop being surprised at how ugly my flesh is?)

I have been a Christian longer than not.  I am a pastor’s wife.  I have been a missionary.  I have been discipling and teaching for many years.  I also like to think that I understand a fair amount about spiritual warfare and what it means to step into freedom.  But in the middle of this lesson I have realized that there is something I have fallen into the habit of doing that is not only rebellious, but just plain dangerous.

I did not grow in up a legalistic household, but I have many friends who did.  As I watched them sort through some of those things, I saw many of them swing far in the opposite direction.  We all like to do that, right?  Even when I am talking to people who do not claim any religion I hear about how no one wants to repeat their parent’s mistakes when it comes to raising their own children. It takes having adult children of your own to make you realize that no matter how you raise your kids, they will need to process through and allow God to redeem the mistakes that their parents made and speak truth to the way they reacted to them.  We are broken people raising more broken people, after all.

In trying not to be legalistic, however, we sometimes forget that we can only stand before a holy and perfect God because of the work of Jesus.  Or, at the very least, we forget that the work of Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice.  Not just because of the physical pain and the suffering on the cross, but more so because of the fact that Jesus had his Father turn away from him.  We never have to experience the void that comes from the loss of the presence of God because of that.

However, if you are like me then you forget the seriousness of that.  We love the idea of grace and forgiveness, and we live in the knowledge that once we put our faith in him we are forgiven – the old is gone, the new is here.  While living in the knowledge of this can bring freedom, I sometimes abuse that freedom and do exactly as Paul says in Romans six.  “What then, shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?”  We know that the answer to that should be NO!  (“By no means!  We are those who have died to sin, how can we continue living in it?”)   However, somewhere along the way I stopped taking this to heart.  Sometimes I have done exactly that – kept on sinning.  I have literally heard the voice of the Spirit, looked him in the eye, and turned around so I could keep doing what I wanted – with the full knowledge that I could repent later.  

So ugly.

Even though by the time I got around to repenting I would feel terrible, confess, and would be very remorseful about my attitude and the purposeful rebellion that played out in my actions, I knew it would happen again.  And it did – it does.  Because somehow the act of using grace for my own selfishness and gratifying of my flesh still seemed less “sinful” (or at least less harmful) than having a bunch of rules that made me feel guilty and condemned.

It can be a vicious cycle.

I know that both legalism and license are extreme, and that neither of them show a true understanding of his great love for me and the true freedom that I can be living in as a new creation.

But what I did was not as simple as acting like a child who selfishly rebelled against her parent.  When I allow myself to live by rules and regulations that I know I cannot live up to (holiness, perfection!) and I redefine those to make something that is attainable in my own strength, OR when I just keep doing what I want in the moment because I know there is forgiveness ahead, either way I am inviting the enemy in.

I may not be intentionally saying, “Here I am.”  But when I allow darkness into my life, the one who loves the darkness is drawn to it.  Whether I am relying on my own actions or ignoring the fact the work that Jesus did for me was a true sacrifice, I am telling Satan, “this part can be yours.”   Pricilla writes, “I didn’t need to personally invite them into my house.  All I had to do was create an environment conducive for them.  The environment I created WAS the invitation.” (Page 70)

I don’t want that.  When Jesus did his work, he purchased ALL of me – my thoughts, my actions, my heart.  He deserves all of me, not just the parts that are easy to give.  I want to be a woman who puts on the full armor and is ready to go into battle with the knowledge and truth that every part of my being is new in him – nothing held back or remaining in the darkness.

I realized this week that I have not always taken this seriously.  In my attempt to remember that it is NOT about my effort, I have sometimes refused to take on the responsibility and discipline it takes to be a strong soldier.   When Proverbs says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” we can see how important it is to actively and intentionally live in a way that is pleasing to God to the very best of our ability.

So now I go into a new battle, a new part of surrender to him and allow him to make his truth  – that I am new, the old is dead, I am redeemed,  I am a masterpiece, I am a co-heir with Christ, but I was bought with a price become the truth that sinks deep into my soul and transforms from the inside out.  From that I will live my life in a way that is pleasing to him NOT because of rules  but because I am so, so thankful and secure in his love for me and I trust that what he has and says is right and good.  I will guard my heart with the truth of my righteousness being found only in his.

 

 

Being Shaped

Several years ago as the we were spending some time in Savannah, GA we went to the beach most evenings.  Our family has discovered that summer sunsets on the beach are when we love to go the most.  Most of the crowds of people have gone to have dinner and do other evening activities, plus many times parking is free after a certain hour.  The weather is still beautiful and the water is nice. 

This time we were walking and looking for shells, and Anna found a whole clam.  It was washed up on shore and a pretty large size, and it was still intact.  The mouth was slightly open, and it obviously wasn’t alive anymore, so she added it to the pile of shells we found and we took it back to dry out.  Later, when we pried the top shell open, we found a surprise – a black pearl!  It was embedded in sand inside and attached to the shell,  We didn’t dare try to get it out for fear of damaging it, so we left it inside.  A few years later for Anna’s birthday we asked Shawn’s parents to take it to the jeweler (they had all our stuff in storage at their house) and see about getting it made into a ring. 

The jeweler was shocked and said they wouldn’t have believed we had actually found it that way if they hadn’t brought in the whole clam!  It is a very rare thing find one like that – especially the dark color.  The pearl was not a perfect shape – it is more oblong than round.  But it makes a very pretty ring and a special reminder of a fun treasure. 

This week as we have beach combed we found some fun shells.  The boys joked about finding a pearl, and we told them how rare it was that we ever found one at all.  As I was walking along the beach spending some time in prayer I thanked God for that gift so long ago that was still reminding me of his goodness. 

The ocean is a place where I find rest and restoration.  It puts my soul at ease.  Yet in the same vein I feel the power and vastness of it as the waves crash in and the tides change the way the beach looks any given moment.  If you’ve ever been caught in an undercurrent, you have probably felt the panic that comes from not knowing which was is up and having to surrender to trusting the water to push you back up as fast as it took you down. 

The ocean took sand and pushed it into the mouth of a very specific clam to make this shiny black pearl over time.  It has to be a certain type of clam to make a pearl, and even more specific to make a black one.  It takes time and the clam uses a defense mechanism to try to get rid of the pearl that gives it the shine.  There is nothing simple or random about any of it, yet over time a rare and beautiful thing (albeit imperfect when we found it) was formed. 

The last several years have been good in many ways, but they have also been some of the hardest as far as growing and changing me.  Many times I felt caught in that undercurrent and wondered if I would ever feel upright again let alone rooted and steadfast.  

However, as I was walking on the beach this week I was marveling at this profound sense of peace and contentment I have right now. I feel so thankful to be this place, but I have not known peace like this before, and I admit that it feels foreign to me.  It is strange, but it is changing my view of and reaction to so many things.  Instead of anxiety and chaos being the filter that I see through, I feel like I am often looking through a filter of peace and hope.  Sometimes I am not sure how to respond to this steadfastness that I feel deep in my soul right now.   I realize that I am being shaped and molded into something beautiful by the maker of the ocean  – both now in peace and before in the time of chaos.  The one who made the waters to churn and shape and move and (and some cases) destroy is the one who has made me and continues to make me more like him.  Sometimes it feels like chaos and is hard – like I can’t catch my breath and I might never breech the surface again, or like sand scratching the edges of a pearl and turning into something valuable.  Other times it is done in slow, steadfast ways where my feet feel firm on solid ground and my roots feel deep.  Both are purposeful and necessary to bring me to a likeness of him, and I am grateful for his great love for me. 

Changed

July 2015

 

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As I’ve been in the States traveling around and talking about our past year with people, I have been forced to process through some of the things that we have experienced a little more in depth.  People have been so amazing, and I have discovered as I close each time with a chance to ask questions, I start to be emotional when I am forced to go “off script” and really think about my feelings, hopes, and expectations. For the most part I feel like I cannot answer those questions clearly yet. I am excited to get back to Nairobi and start figuring out life with my family. Yet I’m grieving the loss of the plans and hopes we had as a team and a family in South Sudan. I am so happy to know that we are a part of a church in Nairobi that is truly seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the city, yet it still new and foreign, and I long for it to feel like family.  I am at complete peace with John going to Nyack and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the right place for him, yet that leaves a big hole in our family.  I hear news from South Sudan and wonder if things will ever change for the happy, easy-going, peace-desiring people I know and love there, and still struggle with the whys that keep coming up in my heart and mind as far as justice and freedom.

So while I have been silent on here for a while, there have been many thoughts and ideas for blogs churning around inside. Here’s the thing, though…I can’t seem to figure out how to put voice to any of them in an accurate, satisfactory way.  In the middle of a sentence I realize I am rambling and have already changed my mind about what I was saying three times.  I’ve written out blog after blog and wadded up the paper and thrown it out just as often.  It’s not writers block so much as emotional constipation. It seems to be building up and wanting to come out, but I can’t quite make it happen. Wow…even that example could go in a really graphic direction that I think I will avoid-ha!

I recently heard the quote again from The Hobbit movie, and I think it sums up a lot of why this is.   Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure.  Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

Thats where I feel like I’m at. Back, but not the same. And as I try to talk with people- friends, family, strangers, etc- it’s become clear that there are times even I don’t recognize the things that have changed in me this year.  Most of the time I’m ok with that- I feel a steadiness in me that comes when you are at the point of looking back on something hard and knowing God was in it all. But sometimes, when I’m sitting and wanting to say something to make myself clear, yet I’m not sure what words to say or even how to put words to a thought, I feel lost.  Sometimes I get ready to give the response to a question I would have given a year ago, and I realize that my answer is different.  It’s funny, I remember saying to someone last year when I turned 40 what a good feeling it was to be at a place in life where I knew who I was, and was comfortable in that.  Then God answered all those prayers sung in that beautiful, emotion-stirring song about a trust without borders and keeping my eyes above the waves, and I am caught up in the wave and have not touched bottom since.

It’s hard. And confusing.  And so very right and good- even when I don’t want to admit it.

So I apologize for long periods of silence, and I won’t make any promises of that changing soon.  But then again- how do I know what God has in mind? I do promise to keep it real and honest with you all, and hope you do the same with us.  Thanks for your continued prayers and for your faithfulness.