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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It Starts in the Heart…

We stand outside the schoolroom door. The other kids are inside settling at their desks; their parents walking back down the path. My son sits on a little wooden bench just outside swinging his feet back and forth over the pile of flip flops deposited there. “I won’t go in,” he declares defiantly a continuation of the battle we’d been having ever since he woke up. I feel frustration building inside me. I want to respond back in anger. Why does he have to be so stubborn? A deep breath, a whispered prayer for patience and wisdom. I kneel down beside him so I can look in his face. He turns away and says again, “I won’t go in. I can’t go in. I HATE IT! WHY DID WE HAVE TO COME HERE?” And I somehow hear him this time, hear his heart. It’s not defiance or anger. It’s fear and loneliness and helplessness. Tears well up in his eyes and leave tracks down his little boy cheeks. He struggles to hold them back, trying to act tough. Finally he turns, “Please…please don’t make me go in there.” imageDesperate, broken, begging. And my mama heart hurts so much, but even though I want to, I can’t rescue him in this moment. He has to go to school. I have to go to school. So his dad and I kneel down and hold him close. We pray over him, asking our Father who cares so much to take care of our son, to help him face his fears, to speak to his heart, to send him a friend, to help his teacher understand him, to show him where he fits in this new place. And after we pray, the tears stop and he picks up his backpack and heads inside…just like that.

His dad and I don’t talk about it. We simply join hands and head down the path to our classroom. My heart is still heavy, and I have so many questions…mainly this, “Did we do the right thing?” We told the kids over and over before we came that this journey we are on is for all of us, but right now I’m wondering if it’s true? Is this what’s best for them? They are struggling so much with everything – the heat, the food, the long school days, language barriers, cultural differences, lack of space, the constant noise of community. I so want this adventure to be good for them. I want to remove every hard thing and make all things fun and easy. I want them to love this experience, love us, love God. What if they don’t? I go through the day, but I’m distracted thinking about a little blond boy bent over his books, listening to his teacher, at recess, at lunch. I’m praying for him, and I’m praying for me. What will I say if it isn’t a better day? What will I say if his resentment of this place settles into his heart and turns into resentment against us? Against God?

At the end of the day, I walk into his classroom and I notice on the wall their school motto for this quarter. “It starts in the heart.” I can’t look away. The truth of that simple sentence washes over me, and I think of what I REALLY want for my kids. More than their short-term pleasure and life free from difficulty, more than a great time, I want my kids to discover for themselves what it means to follow God, to hear His voice, to know Him, and to follow Him. I want them to know the Truth that to find your life, you first have to lay it down, that there is nothing that brings more joy than full surrender to their Savior, that the God who created them has amazing plans for them. And in that instant, I hear that still small voice say, “That’s what I want too, but you never let me get to their heart.” I am undone. It’s true. In the normal life I lived just a few short weeks ago, I could protect and guard and coddle. I could make their favorite foods and run to the store on a whim, change our schedule to accommodate their wants and desires. I could and I did rescue them from so many things. I thought I was protecting them and guarding them from the cruel things of life, but suddenly, standing in this classroom, I see that I have been guarding and protecting them from too much. I’ve been blocking the very tools that God wanted to use to teach them and train them to hear Him and follow Him. I no longer have that option here, and I’ve been struggling as I watch them struggle. But suddenly I see the opportunity. Instead of rescuing my sons from trouble, I get the chance to walk through it with them. They get to see firsthand that when we don’t know what to do, we ask God. If we are lonely, we can call on Him. If we need something that we don’t have, we can ask him. If we are struggling in a friendship, we can ask Him to soften hearts. We can learn to love when we don’t feel like it; persevere when we want to give up; wait when we want it now. Before, we talked about these things in theory, sang songs about God being all we need, but in reality, we were the ones meeting their needs, meeting our needs. If we had a problem, a difficulty, we solved it and had the resources to do so. Now, in this life, not so much. And it’s hard and it’s good.

As I stand staring at the sign, my sweet boy comes. “It was better today , Mom.” And I let out the breath I didn’t know I’d been holding and whisper a prayer of thanks to the One who holds both of our hearts in His hand. He is faithful.image

 

 

 

The journey…how it began

Once there was a girl with big dreams. Not the usual dreams of fame or fortune. Not dreams inspired by Hollywood or Wall Street. Instead they were dreams fueled by stories of sacrifice and courage in the face of real life adversity, reading of men and women who walked away from lives of ease and privilege to follow a call, who willingly and joyfully laid down their lives to make a difference for even one soul, who considered their lives as nothing when compared to the greatness of making Christ known and being His hands and feet to those in need. Amy Carmichael, Elisabeth Elliott, Mary Slessor, and so many more. Their stories and testimonies burned in my heart and kept me awake at night. In the front of every journal I kept as a girl, I wrote this quote, ” If my life is broken when given to Jesus, it is because pieces will feed a multitude while a whole loaf will feed only one small boy. ” I thought I knew what that meant. Then I grew up.

I married a boy who loved Jesus too. And he had a yearning for adventure and for something different than the American Dream. I knew we were made for each other and thought we were on our way to our own great adventure. It turns out that we were…only it looked very different from the jungles and tribes and orphans of my imagination. It looked like jobs and bills and laundry and choosing to let go of my expectations of a grandiose life. It looked like learning how to lay down my life in the little things for the man who woke up next to me every morning. It looked a lot like the normal American life I never thought I wanted..and for me, it was the hardest place. I know some people are afraid that God will call them where they don’t want to go. I was afraid He wouldn’t call me anywhere…ever. And for a long time, it was quite clear that God was telling us to stay and make a life.

So we settled in and prayed for babies and after years of crying out for the desires of our hearts, they came. First one boy, then two, then three little boys in three years, and our family was complete. Those next years were so good and so stretching. Some days I couldn’t stand it for the joy of watching my tiny family grow and yet motherhood showed me just how much self centered ugly was still there, wrapped up and hidden and protected. Being broken for the good of others sounds so romantic on a journal page. In reality, it is messy and painful and unpredictable.

Then in the midst of the diapers and sleepless nights, the recession hit our business and everything became hard. So our lives became a daily choosing…choose joy, choose forgiveness, choose love, choose kindness, choose patience, choose trust, choose contentment. And that last one was hard for me. Somewhere inside still burned that desire to GO even while I was sure that Jesus was telling us to stay. I pressed into my role as mom and wife, led life groups and Bible studies, started a business, sold a business, cried my way through books like “Kisses from Katie” and tried to learn Paul’s secret of being content in all circumstances. And the years went by and the boys grew taller and the financial uncertainty we lived with became almost normal. Through all the ups and downs, in the high moments and the struggles, we were being molded and equipped. And God was faithful…oh so faithful.

Then in one day, everything began to shift. An opportunity was presented to us completely out of the blue. It involved jungles and missions and business and partnership with ministries we were passionate about. Our hearts raced and our heads spun as we considered the possibilities and the ramifications. Could we walk away from our lives? Could we ask that of our children who were by now thriving in school and sports and all that American life offers? Was this God? Were we crazy to even consider it or was this what we were made for? For so many years I had buried this part of me, and suddenly it was brought out of hiding and given permission to grow. I was scared to hope but I couldn’t seem to help myself. My husband and I were talking again of the things we dreamed about so many years before. This time it felt right and good, and even when the original opportunity didn’t materialize, there was no going back. The questions had been asked and considered, the costs weighed, and we knew that wherever He led, whenever He called, we were willing and our answer would be yes.

But to go somewhere, you have to leave the place you’re in. The last two years have been a process of letting go, of our security, of our business, of our home, of our church, of our friendships, of everything stable and familiar and safe. But our path has been made abundantly clear, and God has been showing His favor every step. In just two days we leave this place that we have called home for almost thirteen years. We leave with no strings and no expectations other than in the faithfulness of our God. Our first step will be to attend a YWAM Family Discipleship Training School in Kona, HI for 5 months. After that our path is wide open…as in we have no idea where we might end up. So not without trepidation but full of faith, we step out into our unknown future – held securely in the hand of our known God.

In the words of Steven Curtis Chapman…

“This is the great adventure…”

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