Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sometimes Ministry Sucks: Theology For Wounded Hearts

I can count exactly four lightning bolt moments in my life and this is one of them. The kind of moment when all the theology running circles around your head finally collides and truth explodes in your heart. A sudden paradigm shift presenting a simple choice, continue to live and minister the way you always have or step out into a whole new reality.

The leader divided up teenagers into groups. I, a brand new camp helper, had arrived high on expectations. “You three go with Miss Anisha” the leader called out and I smiled across the room at my little group.

At once, all three girls threw back their heads and with pouty scrunched up faces and stomping feet protested, “No! We don’t want to go with her! Don’t make us! It’s not fair! We don’t like her!”

Heat rose quickly on my insides. What?! They don’t like me? This is crazy! What little brats! They haven’t even met me yet! I’ve given up my time to be here and help these teens and this is the greeting I get! The nerve!

Then I heard it. Cutting straight through the girls’ outward protests and my inward rant came these calm, steady words, “I didn’t ask you to love them because they would like you. I asked you to love them because I love them.”

That instant everything about the way I approached ministry changed.

In a poorly lit church hall, I saw with new eyes. I have a divine invitation to love not because I will be loved in return, but because God, who is the embodiment of love itself, has fully loved me and is looking for people to love the world through.

The implications of this truth are huge.

Because God loves, I can…

Respond with grace and reason when treated harshly.

Continue to pursue relationships with those who are not easily likeable.

Let go of my expectations of how ministry should be done.

Submit to decisions by leadership that I don’t like, see a reason for, or agree with.

Speak up truthfully and graciously.

Work through disagreements with kindness and respect.

Honour my side of a commitment even if the other side doesn’t honour theirs.

Refuse to take up offence.

Live in community.

Serve without fear.

Don’t hear me wrong, I don’t like to be mistreated. I certainly do not purposefully seek out harmful relationships. I’m also not saying that in the name of love we live passive lives towards those that hurt us.

I am saying this: Ministry is filled with painful relationships and situations but these need not derail, discourage, or destroy us because the reality, not just theology, of who we are is rooted in Christ’s love. It is precisely this love that leads us to actively and effectively engage in life and ministry.  

Remember when Jesus told the parable about the vine and branches[1]? He said, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in Me.”

To put it another way Jesus is like, Hey look, let’s think of life this way. Imagine I am a vine and you are the vine tendrels. If you didn’t belong on the vine the Gardner, God, would have already pruned you away. The fact is you do belong, I’ve already cleaned you up with my words. Now bear fruit, live in a way that the world knows you are connected to the vine. You can’t do it on your own, it’s impossible. So remember who you are connected to. Remember your source. 

Consider the Apostle Paul who penned these heart-breaking words to the church in Corinth, “If I love you the more, am I to be loved the less?”[2] Paul poured out his life and heart in ministry for this church only to later have to defend his integrity to them. This in addition to all the persecution he endured. Talk about hurtful. Paul’s explanation of how he can continue to live, suffer, and minister comes together in one simple phrase, “For the love of Christ controls us”[3].

Recently I was let down by someone who I had been loving and mentoring over the last 8 months. It hurt and I’m sad about it, but this truth of being loved by God and from there reaching out to love others propels me forward.  

I have the ability to walk in love, real tangible practical love, not because it’s the natural thing to do or because I will be loved in return, but because Jesus loves and my life is wrapped up by His.

“Eyes on Christ.” a friend and church elder would say every time we met. Really, no matter what life and ministry may bring, that’s the point of it all, isn’t it?

“By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” 1 John 4:9

[1] John 15:1-11
[2] 2 Cor 12:15
[3] 2 Cor 5:14

Friday, June 12, 2015

Love Thy Neighbour (Unless They're Obnoxious)

You know the good neighbour story Jesus tells about the guy robbed, beaten and left half dead on the side of the road? All these religious types walk on by and he’s eventually helped by an unlikely traveller.

Me? Oh you bet I’d stop. It’s like those YouTube videos that pop up in my newsfeed every so often. Some vagrant looking woman sitting alone and crying on a park bench. All these people just pass by and I’m watching like, What’s the matter with you people? She needs help! And finally some guy comes along and asks what’s wrong. I’d be that guy. I’d help.

But I’ve never passed a woman crying on a park bench, or an injured man on the side of the road.

Reality goes like this…

A few years back we had upstairs neighbours who used to throw things at each other. We’d hear them stomping around and pushing over furniture all in a rage. They did everything exceptionally loud – watched tv, got drunk, had sex. I was all Halleluiah!s the day they had a fight on the lawn and she was hauled off to jail.

Another neighbour with a brain injury told me her husband only kept her around for the disability payments. She’d do her best to stop me and deliver the same 20 minute monologue every single day: You know I’ve only got two thirds of my brain, stop me if I’ve told this story before, but I never much liked religious people. Bunch of hypocritical... I’d peek out the front door to make sure the coast was clear before darting to the community mailboxes.

A notoriously tetchy neighbour gave me the finger and yelled, “Get the %&$# out the way!” when she had to slow her car to pass me around a tight corner. I shot back in the exaggerated bible belt voice I save for occasions like these, “Always nice to see you! God bless!” Surely I could kill her with passive aggressive kindness.

Here recently, I watched as my hot tempered neighbours silently wheeled stolen motorcycles through their gate and hid them in the back. With the system here, there was nothing I could do about it. I somehow managed to change my squinty eyes death stare to a tight lipped smile the next time I saw them. 

Then there’s the older kids at the end of our street. They made my son cry. I roared like mad woman and sent them scattering. Mess with my child and things will get fierce. 

Jesus: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 

Oh, I do love my neighbours. Lots of neighbours. Just not these. But since these are only a few compared to the lots of neighbours I love, I figure it balances out.  

Heck, I’m good at loving neighbours. I taught years of Sunday school, was a middle school youth group leader, and co-led a bible studies for teen girls. None of that is for the faint of heart.

Before I moved, I spent time with teenagers every week at a therapeutic group home. Most of them are not that lovable. Three summers in a row I spent a week at a camp for refugee kids. A bunch of them aren’t that lovable either. 

Love my neighbours? I moved to the literal other side of the world to support my husband as he flies out to remote villages. He picks up sick people that would otherwise die and transports missionaries who would have to hike for days through dangerous jungle terrain. 

I’d say I’m actually pretty darn good at loving my neighbours, thank you very much.

Jesus: “This is what God does. He gives his best –the sun to warm and the rain to nourish– to everyone, regardless: good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that.”

Yeah but that’s God, so of course he has enough love for everyone. It comes with the territory. I’ve got love for most everyone, a few obnoxious cases aside.

Jesus: “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

///Awkward silence///

The way God lives towards me? So it’s not just about an old bible story, set up YouTube videos, and the do good projects I pick? 

Oh man. That changes things.

Moving in! A new start in a new land.
Yeah...we had (or were?) obnoxious neighbours.
{The good neighbour (good Samaritan) story is found in Luke 10:30-37. The Jesus quotes are taken from Matthew 5 & 22, The Message and the New American Standard}


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Living the Dream

By all accounts, we’ve made it. Our decade long dreams are today’s reality. My husband’s dream of flying helicopters in mission aviation is his actual job. My dream of stay at home mommying and a writing biographies is my everyday life. Our together dream of living in a foreign country found us setting up home in Indonesia.  

We’re living the dream!

I’m not trying to be a downer, but let me just put this out there - If you’re working and planning and dreaming towards some lifelong goal, putting everything you’ve got into that future pot. Well, it might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

Maybe you want to be married. Or have children. Or just go on a date for crying out loud. Maybe you want that promotion, that other job, that scholarship. So you, like us, scrimp and save and work your tail off. You make a five year plan, a ten year plan, whatever it takes. You tell yourself all the sacrifice now will be worth it in the end. You’ll get your dream and you’ll be happy. You’ll finally be fulfilled.

But what if you’re not? I mean, I’m not.

Oh you might have a really good honeymoon phase once you get that dream. That marriage, it’ll be so romantic in the beginning. You’ll be with the love of your life and feel like you can take on the world together. Then you’ll get in a stupid fight over scrambled verses sunny side up eggs for breakfast.

That beautiful child you bring home, the one you look at and think God how can he be so perfect! Will turn four and speak to you with more sass and rolled eyes than your 15 year old hormonal self ever did. 

That other job will feel so good, you’ve finally got the title you’ve been working towards. Except there’s now that one super annoying co-worker and a heck of a lot more responsibility. Maybe the money is better, but you’re working harder and later. 

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a forget about your dreams message. It’s more of a Hey, your dreams are cool but they’ll split you sideways. 

I am living my dream, but my left eye has been twitching for a week from stress. I’m so thankful to be stay at home mommying, but this morning all my son did was fight. I can’t believe how privileged I am to record Papuan life stories for a biography project, but my brain literally aches from thinking so much in Indonesian. I’m enormously proud of my husband’s flying, but he comes home exhausted. I love living in another country, but miss the anonymity of just blending in.

Sometimes, it all just kind of sucks.

Bottom line - If you’re assuming that dream is going to usher in some new joyous existence, that your self-esteem will flourish, you’ll finally feel fulfilled, you’ll wake up each morning knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt this is what you were born to do, well…

That’s not exactly what happens, or at least it isn’t what happened for me.

It’s more like Wow, this is a lot more than I thought it would be. I’d better get to work.
“Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the tradewinds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." 
- Mark Twain

"Also, throw up." 
- Kay Bruner

Dream: Flying out to a jungle village! Reality: Air sick and vomiting the whole way.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day: Beauty of Adoption

Every night Isaiah prays the same thing, "Thank you Jesus, Mommy and Papi love me and I love them, and thank you the whole world will love each other."

This kid. After so much heartache and longing for children in years past, this is the little soul we get to raise. Such a gift to be his parents.

If Mother's Day sucks for you, I'm sad with you. If Mother's Day is wonderful for you, I'm happy with you.

For me, Mother's Day is such a mix of emotions. This gift of a boy I didn't birth. Four years tall and filled to the brim with endless energy and a remarkably quick whit.

I see the little fold in his left ear, his soft blond curls, engaging smile, and sturdy feet. None of it mine.

I've heard that Mothers have a hard time releasing their children, afraid to trust God's plans for them.
Perhaps that's part of the beauty of adoption. I can't claim ownership of any part of my precious son. He is God's child through and through.

And I am overwhelmed with gratitude for these years we are given for the stitching of our hearts together. Praying thankful prayers for the love we have and holding out hope that the whole world will know Love.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Please Tell My Son "No!"

Om works at our house today, which means Isaiah and he will play football together for about 30 minutes while I get Om’s 10:00am break time snack ready. Today I fried up some bananas while keeping a watchful eye out the back window.

Om picked up my four year old’s shoes from by the door and told him to put them on so they could play. Instead, my darling son slapped the shoes out of Om’s hands and laughed in his face. I immediately turned the heat off the stove and went outside to have a talk with him.

We all know kids push boundaries. No, you may not climb the walls. Use gentle hands with the dog. Where is your inside voice? Yes, you have to brush your teeth. Yes, you have to sing twinkle twinkle little star while you wash your hands, make them really bubbly. Say please. Say thank you. Look at my eyes and listen. It seems to never end, but eventually it does sink in and my kiddo realises the boundary line isn’t going to budge. No matter how many times you ask, Mom will not buy all the snacks at the checkout counter. It’s just not going to happen. 

Or at least it shouldn’t happen. 

What if the shop owner sees you begging and that mom isn't buying so reaches in the candy pot and hands you treats? What if after you slap the shoes out of Om’s hands he doesn’t say anything? What if you throw a public temper tantrum and while your mom is trying her hardest to ignore you, a stranger comes up making pity noises and hands you juice box? What if you order grownups around and they do what you say?

A friend once told me the story of her toddler daughter crying loudly because she didn’t want to take a nap. A neighbour actually came to the gate and told her the child is crying and she should tend to her. My quick witted friend replied with a smile, “Oh no. It’s healthy for her to cry. It’ll make her lungs strong.” 

“How do you handle it?” I ask expat friends, and their responses are just as diverse as our children are. 

So I give the candy back to the shop owner. I have a stern talk with my son in front of Om about how he is expected to behave. I tell the juice box stranger that my son is angry, not sad, and that he needs to listen to his mom. I try to stop worrying that somehow I am offending people here by how I discipline and what I expect of my son.

Often people back home remark how living overseas is such a great opportunity for a child. I totally agree, but on the really rough days I think, Oh boy, I’d better watch out. This living overseas thing is a great opportunity to turn my sweet, smart boy into a spoiled, bossy brat.
Then I repeat the most prayed mom prayer ever - Lord help me! 

Brave jungle explorer

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

One Year In: A Letter to Myself

Dear Fresh-off-the-plane-self,

It’s hard to believe a year has past since you first caught sight of these jungle thick mountains. In some ways it feels like you just arrived yesterday, and in others like you’ve lived here a lifetime.
So much has happened and I don’t mean to freak you out, but you’ll get your ass kicked this year. You'll have the good old honeymoon phase to cushion the blows, but it still cuts.  

This year, you’ll get super sick. You’ll get amoebic dysentery, worms, giardia, and typhoid (twice), not to mention the common cold. You are so afraid of tropical diseases right now, but you’ll soon find out that even if you are tremendously sick in your body, you are alive and well in your spirit. Your husband will get sick too, but don’t worry, your three year old will stay healthy through it all.

You are going to write a blog post about how you are losing your mind and the response will overwhelm you. I know you will push that publish button through tears and fear that you are revealing too much and the “What will people say?” echoing in your mind is deafening. Here’s the thing, you’ll press that button and that one post will open up a whole world to you. You’ll receive message after message from people who will pour out their hearts to you because they can relate in some way. From that moment on you’ll find tremendous freedom in writing and stop caring about what others think. 

But soon, someone you love and respect is going to tell you that you share too much and make people uncomfortable. It’ll rattle you, but you’ll hold firm. You’ll find that honesty creates family and you’ll be better loved and supported than you can even dream is possible now.

You are going to make a huge cultural blunder and very nearly ruin a relationship. Good news though, you’ll get help. People will literally fly in to help clean up your mess. You learn so much, repent so much, and are forgiven so much. It’ll be ok.

You are going to screw up your marriage this year. That one hurts a lot. You’ll blindly charge ahead, dragging your husband behind you. Yeah, it’s as bad as that. Eight months later you’ll see the emotional chasm between you and realise those little cracks shouldn’t have been ignored. You’ll repent and your husband will forgive you. You’ll both become aware of each other’s vulnerabilities and be more careful to tend them. After all is said and done, you’ll never be more happy to have the husband you do. You guys rock together.

Your son is going to be just fine. He won’t get malaria or typhoid or anything. He’s going to be healthy and happy and make friends. You are worried now that you won’t be able to home school him, but the truth is he’ll beg you everyday and even on weekends to do school together. 

He’s going to be so interested in ministry too. You’ll pour over maps together and talk about people groups all over the world. You’ll stand back in wide eyed amazement as your three year old says, “Mommy, see those people over there? Let’s go tell them about Jesus.” He’ll do it too and you’ll translate for him. 

This year is going to be a roller coaster, but you’ll make it. I'm here a year later and guess what? Today, you'll be looking forward to the future and wouldn’t trade this last year for the world.

So relax! I'll see you in a year.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Culture Shock Phase 2: Cue the helplessness

I knew it would happen eventually, the next stage in the whole culture shock process. The part when you progress enough with the language so you hear and see, but don’t yet truly understand. About two months ago Culture Shock Phase 2 arrived in full force.

Author Lisa-Jo Baker said, "Ask any of us who write, it’s usually because we need to read to understand our stories." Yet here, in this stage, the words are a mess in my head. I can't make sense of my own story. There are no neat and tidy bows of lessons learned to wrap up all my sentences. They just hang wide open, gaping.

My house helper had her scooter impounded yesterday. She texted me to tell me she couldn't come over. She was at the police station. I freaked a little. She's here now, but still doesn't have her scooter. The police want 500ribu, about $50, for it. That's 20hours worth of cleaning at my house. She told me she has a friend who knows a police officer and maybe she can get it for 100ribu. Driving home yesterday she hadn't realised the road was closed. She was stopped and her scooter taken.

Another expat told me a story that when the ban on selling anything on Sundays first took effect, some ladies came from a village with their greens. They sat out on the sidewalk as usual. Guess they hadn't heard the new rule. Their veg was confiscated.

I have a million thoughts all zooming around my head. I'm dying to write about them, to draw conclusions, to make sense of my emotions, but I’d probably be wrong. I still have so much to learn. I see, but I don't understand. It'll be years, probably a lifetime, if I ever really do.

If my helper can't get her scooter back for 100ribu I think I'll just give her the 500. Or let her borrow it, or work extra for it. I don't know. What's the culturally appropriate thing to do? What would grace do?

A couple weeks ago I woke up early, heard loud voices, and so went to look out the window. A few days before that my neighbour had come home drunk and shouting. I assumed it was the same thing, but still got up to check. There was a young guy standing outside my neighbour's gate. When my neighbour came I heard the guy say, "We stole a motorcycle. Open the gate fast!" So my neighbour opens the gate and they quietly roll in the stolen motorcycle.

I didn't know what to do. What can you do? I was ready to report it, but was told that's absolutely a bad idea. The neighbours will learn where the info came from and we'll be known as informants. The neighbours might retaliate. I'm to pretend I don't know anything. A friend of a friend will tell a police officer friend. I keep waiting for something to happen, but nothing has so I guess nothing will. To be honest, I don't want the thieves to go to jail. Jail here would be horrible, but I would like the motorbikes returned.

Turn the other way. Pretend you didn't see. Your neighbour abuses his wife and her screams haunt you. Pretend you didn't hear. I ache inside.

I know I'm not supposed to be surprised when “sinners act like sinners”, or whatever the adage is. That's just it, I'm not surprised by the horrible things people do. I'm surprised by my complete inability to do anything about it.

So I go about my business. I cook and clean and shop at the market and do preschool with my son. I go to church, women's bible study, and team meetings. I host visitors and greet my neighbours.

Oh God do I pray. 

the road home