Friday, June 27, 2014

A long run--part 2

So my last musings ended on a low note. Tired. Discouraged. Overwhelmed. Real.

And I want to enumerate on three things that have come out of these past few weeks for me. One I've had an inkling of over the years, and the second I've known all along but I want to make sure to publicly confess it to make sure you don't miss it. The third is a new lesson altogether.

1. Obeying God does not guarantee a life of ease. I believe this is one of Satan's masterpiece-lies to make us feel like we're wasting our time when things get hard, to make us doubt God's goodness, to  make us feel foolish for trudging through the grime of life as if there is something noble about sacrifice and obedience. But friends, it is a lie! There IS nobility in the struggle. There IS grace in the pain and the fatigue and the discouragement of obedience. Jesus himself agonized until drops of blood fell from his forehead---imagine what he might have blogged that night had he been a different generation!!! And because Jesus did it, and came through it with certainty and dogged determination to stay the course, I know that I am also free to wrestle and cry and ask if there's any way this cup can pass. And then to rise up with that same dogged determination.

2. I've said it before, and I know I'll say it again. We--the people who have accepted a call to place ourselves overseas to do what God has asked us personally and us globally to do--are not perfect. Nor  does our calling give us any sort of immunity to discouragement, depression, or disillusionment. In fact, I think it sets us up for perhaps even more. Because, let's be honest--we all kind of have Gandhi-complexes. You know what I mean, right? Convinced we can turn this world upside down. Determined to see darkness shattered and truth illuminated and pain and suffering banished. Ready to fight injustice and show love and be conduits for healing. And God can do all that and more...and yet we rarely see it in the grand scale we expect. I'm learning about expectations, and about expectations I've had of God, and of the pain that can happen when our focus is wrong and God starts to not live up to our expectations of our plans in our timing. Dangerous, and common.

So don't put us on a pedestal. And don't pity us. Just pray for us, that we would be faithful to our calling (and only our calling), just as you are being faithful to yours.

3. Joy comes in the morning. This is my new lesson. As I sat here at my desk a month ago and cried, and wondered what I could do to get out of my funk, I was at a loss. How do you make yourself feel things you just don't feel? Dogged determination works for a time--but it's also exhausting, and it's not enough for the long-haul. I was reading a book called, "Expectations and Burnout" by Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss, and I was struck by a passage they referred to in Colossians 1. The larger passage (v 9-12) is great and I would encourage you to read it all. But for now, look at verse 11--'being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience"... and look who is doing the acting and who is doing the receiving. God wants me to have great endurance and patience to live this life--in all its glory and all its shame--bearing fruit in every good work, pleasing Him in every way, and so he strengthens me to do just that.

There was nothing I "did" to lift my head up and feel joy again, other than to cry and plead. One night I was directed to this passage in Colossians and I lay in bed, pondering it. And the next morning, things seemed a little more manageable. That day I kept faithful to dogged determination, and the next morning it seemed even easier. Just as subtle as a dawn breaking, God met me where I was and helped lead me to more solid ground.

So if anyone else is out there, struggling or suffering or feeling the heavy burden--I don't have a 12-step plan for you to follow. There isn't a flow-sheet or recipe or formula to plug things into. It's a matter of crying out in honest pain, and then of putting one step in front of the other, knowing that God IS faithful and He WILL reveal Himself by your side to establish your foot on the rock once again.

I don't like that as much as a neat formula. If I do x, then will happen--it's beautiful, stable, dependable, understandable. But it's not God, who is beautiful and dependable, but entirely unfathomable. So, in an completely anti-self-help spirit: Cry. Seek. Be. Wait.

A long run--part 1

I've written so many blog entries since April 2nd and now. Like, 15 or 20. And they were great...inspiring or funny or maybe some of both. Of course, it would have helped if I'd actually written them outside of my head. But I promise, they really were great!

Well, there was one blog I did write. It was about a month ago, and my over-active guilt complex compelled me to write something new. So I wrote what was in my heart, and it wasn't very inspiring. Or it inspired the wrong thing--I finished it, re-read it, and burst into tears. So it was relegated to the "drafts" box, and I shut down the blog for another month.

But now it's the end of June, and it's been a shameful 3 months of silence. That's not right. So I'm going to post this, but it's not the end of the story.

May 28th:
I'm tired. I mean, really, really tired. The kind that doesn't go away with a normal 8-hr sleep, even on those nights when the rats in our attic don't have a party in the eves above our heads.
In an effort to combat this near-constant state of fatigue, I joined a gym. Counter-intuitive, perhaps, but all my Nursing school professors promised me that physical exercise would help with concentration, a sense of well-being, and restorative sleep.
So far it appears they lied.
BUT, it has given me hours of focused meditation while I sweat on the elliptical. And here's what I've concluded. The first 10 minutes of exercise are the worst. Your heart-rate's up, your breathing starts to get tight, your muscles are sure you're betraying them, you wonder what's so great about exercise when you would be much more comfortable with a good book and a plate of bonbons. You would bet your life it's been at least 18 minutes, you've got to be about done, and with eager anticipation you check the clock...and see it's been 2 min 23 seconds. Surely you know what I'm talking about, right???  But then, after swearing you're about to die, you get into a rhythm, your breathing gets less painful, your muscles give up complaining because they realize they aren't going to win anyway.
My point???
We've been back from our Stateside Assignment in the US for 5 months. It may sound like a long time to you, but when we're looking at 3 1/2 feels like its been just over 2 minutes. Our minds are tired, our spirits feel restless, it seems like we should be headed for a break again awfully soon.
The overwhelming needs of the city feel crushing. The demands on our time feel endless. The kids' emotional states feel fragile and I feel responsible for that. I read passages like Matthew 11:30 about Jesus' easy burden and light yoke, and my heart just doesn't get it. Not fully. There are some days I feel more like the psalms, crying out, "how long, O Lord?" God is always faithful to give me just enough to see me through the day, and don't get me wrong. I am so grateful for that. But I'm ready for joy that comes in the morning--not dread that it's another day again so soon.
But I remember that after those first 10 minutes, when I get in the rhythm of the run at last, I feel like I could go on forever. I feel good again, and strong, and ready to laugh. So that's what I'm holding onto.The someday when the renewal of my spirit is enough to actually last day by day (2 Cor 4:16), not peter out by 11am.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

What's it like to live in Africa????

Ethan had the joy of receiving a letter in the mail--the real mail, with a stamp and everything!--a first here in Africa for him. It was written by a sweet boy at one of our churches; a boy we've never met. Ethan was thrilled to get it, and he read it aloud for us. It was very sweet. And then came the line that gives me hives every time.

"What's it like to live in Africa?"

Not because it's not a valid question. I understand how inconceivable and incomprehensible living in Africa might seem. Yes, I understand why the question inevitably comes. The hives are a result of just how difficult that question is to answer.

How does one wrap up the experience of DIFFERENT in a concise sentence, as if the 26 letters plus punctuation could possibly be enough to bring clarity as to what it's like?

How does one describe the ease with which we pat ourselves on the back and say to God and others, "We've sacrificed so much. We're so Radical. Now give us what we've earned." And then minutes later seeing others' sufferings, and the force with which we're struck to our knees, crying out to God and others, "We've been given so much. We're still clinging to our own rights and desires. Please give us what we need."

How does one describe the deep, nearly suffocating desire to see Christ make a difference in the spiritual, physical, political, and social darkness all around us, and the fight against hopelessness that it will ever come to pass on this earth.

How does one talk about trusting our children's wellbeing to God's lovingkindness, and also the need to be in tune with their needs so as not to neglect them for the sake of the work. Or to reconcile God's call on our chilrden's lives, when it wasn't their decision to come out here.

How does one describe the beauty of a foreign land, the beauty of a foreign people, the intrigue of hearing foreign tongues all around, the frustration of always being the foreigner.

So what's it like to live in Africa?? It's like driving on an unfamiliar highway; one with pot-holes aplenty, and a chasm on one side and rising cliffs on the other, with an enemy trying to knock us into the chasm or into the cliffs. Oh, and we're in a standard-shift car. With no cruise control. . Every moment, trying to take in the sights and make sense of the sounds. Every moment, concentrating on the road with painful intensity. Always aware, always alert, always double-checking speed, and fuel, and lights. It's exhilarating and exhausting. It's rewarding and punishing. It's never dull, and sometimes we cry out for dull. But it's real, and it's important, and it's our road, prepared in advance for us to travel. We may look a little wind-blown; I wouldn't call it a joy-ride, but it's the road-trip of a lifetime.

So, what's it like to live in America?