Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Remember to Drink

“Remember to drink.” Dad said, “If you’re thirsty, it’s too late. Your body is already dehydrated.”

I was almost 12 years old. Dad, my 10 year old brother, and I were training for the MS 150, a two day/180 mile charity bike race from Houston to Austin. As the Texas heat bore down that training day, Dad reminded us to take in a constant flow of water. If we neglected a steady intake we wouldn’t make the 40 mile ride, we’d wear-out. Or worse, heat stroke may set it.

23 years later, I moved to Indonesia for a first term of service with our aviation ministry. I was excited! After almost a decade of my husband training and building experience, we finally arrived. I so badly wanted to do this whole missions thing right. I’d certainly made up my mind about the kind of missionary I didn’t want to be.

I didn’t want to live in a missionary/expat relationship bubble. I wanted real and meaningful relationships with the people we came to serve as the bulk of my friendships. After all, I thought, we moved overseas for them, not for other missionaries.

The missionary community in language school town is quite large. Early on we attended a Friday night social at the international school and were overwhelmed by the number of missionary families. There must have been 200 people. I felt like bolting from my seat and determined never to go back.

Language school began and I made many friends, none of them other missionaries. My local friends were wonderful. Through elaborate hand gestures and minimal language abilities, they included me in everything. I made it through language school mostly due to their love, encouragement, and friendship.

I was happily turning into the missionary I wanted to be – immersed in local culture and friendships. Besides, I thought, I have Jesus. I don’t need other missionaries. 

Then I got sick. Really sick. I needed someone I could clearly explain my symptoms to in my own language. I needed the missionary doctor in town. I needed the missionary clinic at the international school. 

Then I made a huge cultural blunder. I needed long term missionaries who understood more of the culture than I did. I needed people who could help me navigate through the mess because they also understood my cultural lens.

Then the strain of cultural adjustment began to tear at the seams of my marriage. I needed someone who understood culture shock. I needed someone I could confide in.

By the time we completed language school and moved to our assigned town, I was physically and emotionally exhausted. I needed relationships with people who understood what I was going through and I needed them immediately.

Shortly after we arrived in our new town the missionary community experienced a crisis and turned inward. Deeply wounded, no one had the emotional capacity to begin a new friendship - especially not one with someone also hurting and worn-out.

I was desperately thirsty. My body, mind, and emotions already parched, I needed relationships now. I'd been peddling flat out, but not drinking. I’d left it too late.

Fast forward another year. Our community is healing and so am I. A steady commitment to relationships with other missionaries is an important part of my life. I understand now that these relationships don’t hinder my service – they enable me to keep on serving.

"Remember to drink." Dad said. "If you’re thirsty, it’s already too late."

My thirsty soul needs a steady, daily, deep drink-in of Jesus. That’s for sure - a total given. But I also need a steady intake of community. 

After all, Jesus himself didn’t go it alone. He had team. Imperfect as it was, Jesus chose community. 

Like a healthy intake of water, a healthy balance of relationships won’t slow us down. It keeps us in the race.

Friends, it’s a hot day and we’ve got a long ride ahead. Remember to drink. 

This post is a link-up with Velvet Ashes.
Read more thoughts on this week's writing prompt "Thirsty" here.