Motherhood and Missions and Me…

The topic of the night was “Moms in Missions”. They sat across the front, these three women. They were beautiful, poised, eloquent. One held her baby girl in her arms, another held hers in her growing belly. Between the three, I think they had eleven children of all ages. Their lives were different from each other – different pasts, different journeys, different callings – but somehow they all ended up here on this international missions base in the middle of the Pacific to tell us what it’s like to combine full-time motherhood with full-time missions. I was expectant and came looking for something. I wanted to know how they do it. Is it really possible to raise kids in the middle of a crazy, unpredictable missionary life? How do you balance dual callings or is there even such a thing? Does it have to be either/or? How do you travel so much? What is it like to raise a family while dependent on others for support? And on and on my list went. Just in case this is my future, I want to be prepared for what’s ahead and what my life as a mom might look like. image

They told their stories one at a time, and they were simple, profound, full of mistakes and challenges and unexpected things, but also full of Gods mercy and redemption and overwhelming love. One talked of the perpetual feeling of being overwhelmed, how God clearly spoke and set her free. Another spoke of the comparison trap with other women that almost derailed their ministry in Africa. The third spoke of the pain of infertility leading to an adoption and then a pregnancy that came at a very surprising time.  They all spoke of the struggle of entering into motherhood and of laying down their own wants and expectations for the sake of the little souls in their care. They spoke of their daily lives, husbands and children, ministry and carpool, having company for dinner and seasons, especially seasons. There is a time for everything. Motherhood. Ministry. Motherhood AS the ministry. They prayed for us and over us that we would find our place, that we would lay down our comparisons, that we would come out from under the burden of being overwhelmed, that we would be blessed in our season. And it was over.

I left the meeting deep in thought. They didn’t answer even one of my prepared questions. They didn’t give any charts on how much time they devote to ministry versus how much time they devote to motherhood. They didn’t address all the ways missionary kids could feel deprived of a “normal” childhood. They didn’t talk about money at all. In fact, the more they talked, the more I realized that their life sounds a lot like mine. Yes they are missionaries – women sold out to Jesus, living lives of obedience far from the places they grew up. They left their homes and cultures to train and equip and spread the Gospel, but on a daily basis, their obedience looks so much like my obedience. They still have the same choices to make…to clean up messes with a smile, to steward their children’s hearts when they really just want to get some sleep, to communicate with the their husbands, to walk through their days without complaining, to choose Gods priorities and perspective over their own. The work of managing a home and raising children doesn’t magically disappear or change just because you move far away and take the title of missionary. There’s still laundry and homework and meals to prepare and children to train up. And these are not the lesser things of ministry. They ARE the ministry. Being a mom in missions is the same as being a mom in any other place.  It’s following Jesus first and realizing that the daily things of life are where we really walk out our faith. It’s the unglamorous duties that mold our character and teach us so much about how to love well. Choosing a right heart in the smallest of things matters to the Lord as much as the grandest achievements in His name. He is glorified when we serve whoever is in our path whether it’s children or husbands, the homeless man on the corner or the indigenous people of some foreign place.image

So in the end it doesn’t matter whether I end up wearing the title of missionary or not, my calling is the same as every other mom, to love my husband, to train up my children in the ways of the Lord, and to seek first His kingdom right where I’m at. I may get to experience motherhood in a new context with some new challenges and some new places.  I may not. Either way it’s okay. Raising these boys, loving their dad, serving where I am…this is my season. Whatever the future holds, I am content, and I am ready.image

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What do I want next?

The sun is hot, and I can feel the heat of the rough concrete wall stinging the back of my legs.  The waves come in, building and rolling over and building again. Schools of bright fish tumble in the surf, yellow and black and brilliant blue flashing through the water. We sit on the sea wall in companiable silence just watching, then he asks the question, “What do you want? What do you want our future to look like?” I’m quiet at first. It is the question in the back of my mind, the one I know is there and needs to be answered but also the one I’m running from. I’m afraid to examine what I really want, afraid to discover what’s really in my heart, but I can’t push it away forever. Uninterrupted times between the two of us don’t come along so often so I just start to speak, not really even knowing what I will say until the words begin to pour out, “I don’t know what I want. I think I want it all. I want my big house back. I want space that is clean and decorated and mine. I want to be comfortable and secure. I want to be able to give our kids all the desires of their hearts…football and gymnastics and friends and stability. I want to know where our money is going to come from.  I want to give not need. I want to live somewhere safe and familiar. I want life the way it’s always been…good food, good friends, good vacations.  And I want to NOT want all that stuff. I want to be willing to give my life away for others. I want to be willing to live somewhere uncomfortable.  I want to rescue children and feed refugees and care for orphans.  I want to find my comfort and stability in what is unchanging and eternal and truly secure. I want to discover the joy of walking in self-sacrifice. I want to live so my children know the sum of our lives is not in stuff and ease and self-serving achievements. I want to be willing to say yes to anything and everything that God would ask, not counting it a cost but a privilege. I want both…my comfortable nice life AND the way of the Cross. I want to live the American Dream AND have the fulfillment that comes from giving it all up. I WANT IT BOTH WAYS”  Even as it comes out of my mouth, I feel ashamed and selfish and afraid. Afraid that even with all I know and with all I’ve walked through, I will hit a point when I’m no longer willing. I look at others, at what their “yes’s” have required and I don’t know if I can go that far. I came here thinking I was willing, telling God I was willing, even naming this blog after the forever yes that I told Him was in my heart. But what if I’m too weak? What if I can’t follow through? What if my desire for an easy life trumps my desire for servanthood. All of these thoughts are swirling and crashing and colliding in my mind as I stare out at the waves. What if…image

He says nothing at first and I imagine that he is disappointed. That he never thought I would be the one to get cold feet and want to back down…me-the one who pushed to be in this place, who prayed for it, longed for it. I finally venture, ” I guess you think that sounds pretty pathetic, huh?” And he answers with compassion, kindness, love, “No. I think it sounds real.” A pause and then another question, “But why are you so afraid? What is your history?” And it’s like a light turns on for me as he says those words. I know the answer. My history is that I say yes. I have always said yes, and I will continue to say yes. I’m only afraid because somehow I took my eyes off of Him and started to look all around. I stopped recounting the ways He has been faithful to me and started judging the ways I perceived He hasn’t been faithful to others. I’ve been trying to figure out every horrible thing He might possibly ask of me instead of seeking what He is actually asking. That simple question from my husband stopped me in my tracks and made me realize this truth – I don’t have to say yes to everything all at once. I only have to say yes to what He is asking today, right now in this moment. To say yes to the journey, yes to the tests, yes to the blessings. And this I can do. My Heavenly Father is so gentle with me. He has never asked me to walk a path that He did not prepare me to walk. He has never left me. He has always, always given more -so much more – than what He asked for. My history with Him is that I say yes. His history with me is that He cares for me, He watches over me, He does exceedingly more than I could ask or imagine, He takes what is meant to crush me and turns it to my benefit. And He is big enough to handle this, my doubts and fears and the pull of self. He will lead me step by step by step on the path that He has planned for me from the beginning of time. And whether that path leads back to Montana or to the most forsaken corner of the world, it doesn’t matter because what I really want is Him, and He will be there with me.image

It’s Like a Garden…

Since we got here, my biggest struggle has been watching my kids struggle…all three of them in all different ways. I’ve been talking to the Lord about it, asking for wisdom and guidance, patience and endurance. And He has been answering, giving me the words in the moment, helping me hold my tongue when I want to be cross, assuring me that He sees and knows and cares -about them and about me. But tonight I feel weary. I don’t want to battle for them and with them. I’m ready for things to get easier, to fall into place. But just when I’m wanting to settle in to this place, to dissolve into discouragement and self-pity, I hear these words and Jesus so gently and so simply reminds me, “Your kids are a garden. You’re just in the planting stage. Don’t stop now.”image

And I know a little about gardening. I know that planting is really hard work. It’s hot and dirty and sweaty. Your hands get blistered, and you get dirt under your finger nails. I know it takes time, so much time. It takes attention to detail. You have to plan and measure and study if you want it to turn out right. You have to know what you want to grow and what it will take to thrive and turn into something beautiful or useful or both. I know that even when the soil has been prepared and the seeds have all been planted, you still aren’t finished. You’re just beginning. You must keep working and watering and weeding and watching. You don’t dare stop. You work and you wait and you trust…trust that under all that barren earth, good stuff is taking root, trust that someday you will see new things breaking through, that life will begin to show instead of plain old dirt. This is what I know about gardening.image

So I picture their struggling hearts with the empty and dull and turned-over places. I’m not blind to what is there, but my perspective is changed. I’m not so tempted to quit or cry in discouragement at what I don’t see. I know that it’s okay. It’s okay that this parenting thing is messy and dirty and exhausting. It’s okay that there are weeds showing up. It’s okay that I can’t see the signs of life I’m hoping for. It’s like a garden, and right now we are just breaking up the ground, planting the seeds, pulling up the old weeds to make room for new growth. There will be a time when the plants are tall and the fruit is obvious and abundant. But not now, not yet. Now is our time to keep doing the work, planting good seed, watering what’s there, and trusting for a harvest of righteousness. So I will…and my kids are going to be just fine.

So do not become weary in doing good for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9image

(I wrote this two weeks ago but it’s just been sitting here unpublished waiting for pictures. I’ve been thinking so much about this lesson, this perspective, but tonight was just one of those nights with the boys. They were finally all off to their classes. Jon and I were standing on the grass overlooking the meeting, listening to the worship. I was wanting to join in but I held back, feeling so raw, so tired, so defeated. Questioning, wondering if I’m getting anything right? Then a tap on my shoulder and a soft voice asked if we were the parents of a particular set of boys. When we nodded, she told us that she had been observing them at school and offered some praise on their behavior, then she ended with this, “Whatever you are doing, it is working. It is obvious that they love the Lord. I just thought you should know.” She walked away, and I started to cry. God always knows just what I need! If any of my mama friends are out there feeling like me…tired, discouraged, questioning. Take heart. There is fruit and it is growing, even when we cannot see.)