It has been almost four years since we boarded a plane with an eighteenth month old, 10 pieces of luggage that represented all we owned that was not sold or occupying space in our parent’s garages, and the weight of vast unknowns. There was hope and fear mixed in with that one step of faith for us. And if you have told me then everything that would happen over these 4 years I would have turned around and gotten my butt off that plane in New York like a sensible person. But now as I write this I can say with complete honesty with tear stained cheeks that I am so grateful I had no idea what was to come and just took that one step. It has changed everything about our future and makes our present more rich and full. I am more alive because I was forced to really see if what I said I believed was true. To really live it out even when it meant pain commingled with joy. I was not “ready” to come here, to learn to love in a way that cost me personally, to start over, and be stretched in the ways required of me but that is exactly where God wanted me. He wanted to show me personally that His power is indeed perfected in weakness. He humbled me again and again and showed me I am His child and I can trust. For me to learn these lessons I had to trade my control for chaos, my ease for discomfort, the stuff I was “good” at for the seemingly endless stuff I was clueless about, my known for the unknown. It has been a difficult journey for me but that is where I have met Jesus again and again.
I have not be able to adequately process everything that is happening but we know now for sure that change is here. That He is again calling us to trust and not desire comfort or the known (even this known) over growth and obedience. We are leaving this place we call “home.” We have learned to call it home; sometimes with tears, sometimes with laughter, but always with deep respect. We are headed back to the U.S. for a season and even though there is more “known” to us there in some moments it feels like a world away.
And again I am struggling to say “yes” with my whole being.
Last night after an impromptu (isn’t everything here?) play session and chat with my neighbors I escaped to the bathroom because it is one of the only places in our house everyone outside cannot hear everything we do and I cried. No wept, so hard my chest heaved and I had to concentrate on breathing. I sat on the floor and just thought about how much this place is a part of me now. The thought of not seeing the people everyday at my house makes me feel like I can’t breathe. I cannot imagine not having hordes of watoto invading our house everyday, or having folks greeting me first thing in the morning, visiting friends and schools, or sitting with women cooking, kid wrangling and listening to them sharing the stuff of life. I cannot imagine not being a part of this place everyday because my life here it is not a list of what has been good and what has been difficult because I think for my wussy, pampered self the hard list would win out hands down. It is the totality of my experience of learning to trust more, have more faith, believe in miracles because I get to see them, and see scripture come to life in ways I never have before.
This journey has allowed me to let go of a lot of stuff that was crowding the space in my soul that only Jesus can fill. Obvious, I guess, is the physical stuff. I just realized we do not need a lot that I thought one needs to be happy. Of course we still have a lot compared with most people here or most people in the world if we are being honest (computer, fridge, car puts me in the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest) so I completely admit I have no material poverty to speak from but the constant obsession with “upgrading” and getting more that plagued me stateside just becomes so apparently unnecessary and frankly really ugly here. And my greed is just plain stupid when compared to the riches God has for me in obedience. I really believe that Jesus did not command us to give only because there are people in need; as He himself said there will always be, but because it releases us from bondage. I have learned to be more content with what we have, not what I wish I had, or what someone else has, or what I cannot have but just what we have at the moment. This is a constant lesson though that I am sure will be tested again and again in the land of consumerism. Even though I have never suffered like Paul I can now identify with more of what he wrote ” I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:11-13. We can only be content in plenty or in want when we rely on His strength and not our own.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” Often quoted but what I missed before was what precedes these words; a long list of accomplishments, things to be proud of, titles, basically a list of things that would be pretty impressive. But he counts it all as nothing. What would be on my list? yours? Material wealth, success at mothering, degrees, stuff, work, “religious” good deeds? And yet I long to say I really count it all as garbage compared to my Savior. Even life is nothing in comparison to living and finishing the task Jesus has given us. Do I really count my very life as nothing? Easy to quote difficult to live. This place has given me new perspective on what really matters. Our stuff lays hold of us and fights for our allegiance, it can hold us back from being who He created us to be, and I am fighting to count it all as nothing in comparison.
My time here has also helped me realize how much we add to the cross of following Jesus that is religion and culture and not really what He Spoke and what He Did and who He Was and what He Commanded. We add so much that I think sometimes we actually forget to just listen to Him and read His Word. We read books, listen to experts, and have endless discussions. We stuff the “follow Jesus” backpack full of “you should do this” or “say this” or “look like this” and by the way “dress like this.” Living outside of my culture forced me to re-evaluate and get back to what the scripture actually says. I am no expert and still wrestling to understand the vastness of His Word. Countless times I was confronted with something here and had to ask “what does the Word say about that?” Not “what did my pastor say about that?” or “what do I think it says about that?” but reading the actual Words of God. That is available to us and I used to use it far too infrequently before I became desperate to read it and know what it says. Jesus was not American or even Western and He spoke harshly against some of the dearest held values of our modern society. He had tremendous power but chose to be humble, to even appear weak to some. He freely laid down His rights for the future plan and Glory of His Father. We pack so much of our own crap into His message that we forget who He really is and what He really said. We make Jesus easier to swallow for us and harder for others to understand that He loves dearly. We make Him resemble us, our style, our likes, even our prejudices. We also lighten the load of the cross by shying away from hardship, running from suffering clearly promised. I am seeking to understand more of the mystery and asking for the courage to respond to the Truth. And I have learned He can handle all our fear and doubt if we come with it. He is bigger than our plans, our budgets, our ministries, our plans, and our ideas of worship. And He does not fit neatly into our lives. He came for all people everywhere so that all may have peace and a relationship with the Creator of heaven and earth. And as His follower I have fear and trembling and love and passion as I bring that message, and I pray only that message.
These lessons have been really painful for me. They have forced me to really examine what I believe and who I am and how I live and I come up short every single day. But there is Grace. Grace I have been forced to live in because of my short comings and failures. Living in your strengths is easy but venturing out to the unknown has meant being laughed at, being wounded, being afraid and all the while begging for more of His presence. Needing it and seeking it and getting to see just how big He is and just how small I am. And here is the amazing part; with the clearing away I found more joy, more contentment, more compassion, and more faith. Clinging to our lives is easy because it is what we know. But He has called us to more and promised “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” Being here has helped me find my life.
I just want to be broke and broken except this ONE thing that changes everything.
Once I wiped away the tears and willed my breathing back to normal I was reminded that that was how we came here- we said ‘YES’ to coming but really had no clue what that would look like and even though walking in reality right now is painful I know He is working through it. Yes, change is looming and creeping in, just over the horizon and in some moments I feel peace and trust and faith and in some I feel terrified and doubtful and uncertain of everything. I have huge hopes, unanswered questions, complete confidence, shaky weakness, trembling excitement, and I want to have greater expectancy of what He will show me. Because I can remember what He has done.
So even though my foot is shaking and my palms are sweating I will breathe in freedom and life and take this one step, not knowing what is beyond because I can trust He will give me peace and not peace as the world gives. He has done it before and He will again. Whatever comes next I must trust it will be for my good and His Glory and above all I know He will be there. Change is coming but my Constant is always here.