I could tell something was wrong.
You can’t date a guy for two and half years, become his fiancée, marry him 10 months later and share life with him for almost 18 years without getting to know him. I mean, really, really know him. And yesterday, I knew it without him saying a word. His shoulders weren’t hanging forward just from the weariness of a tough workout. His eyes weren’t less bright because a stomach bug would hit him 8 hours later. He just … FELT … heavy, like he was bearing an invisible weight which all but my sense of sight could detect.
That moment was a gift from God. It could have gone differently, but I’m grateful that it didn’t. For some reason, whatever it was that seemed so important to accomplish, faded. The kids were getting along amazingly well and were less needy than usual for a Monday morning (that, alone, is a miracle of gargantuan proportions)! When I asked my husband, my dearest friend, what was wrong – he told me and it didn’t take two days to unravel the tangled mess. What came out of that has really changed our perspective in a significant way.
Let me back up just a little bit so that our mini-epiphany makes more sense to you. This may be instructive to you about something many missionaries like us go through. One of the reasons missionaries end up as missionaries is that they’re self-motivated and are driven to accomplish things. Sometimes, it backfires when life makes a U-turn from the “strategic plan” – read on to see how God can work, despite our stubbornness!
As many of you know our 2014 was more than tough. If you haven’t been keeping up, I had an ACL replacement in February. This meant that I had to switch to tutoring only at the language school, instead of continuing on with my cohort, which meant much less time in contact with classmates and friends. We pulled our kids out of a way-less-than-great schooling situation in March, which meant homeschooling them 6 months sooner than we had planned. In April, my Dad died and I flew home for a crazy week. Depression (for me) set in. Our stress level, when alleviated by one or two things, would find a way to increase in unexpected ways … until we were dreading each day’s tasks. Life felt like drudgery – not the abundant life we have experienced in the past … and we felt guilty for it. “God, help!” was our most common prayer. We found things to be thankful for, but it was painful. Just as life started to ease up after graduation from the language school, we got the news that my issues with heavy, heavy bleeding, coupled with my health history, would mean that a hysterectomy would be my best option. If anyone tells you that a hysterectomy isn’t that bad, please set them on fire and ask them how that feels. Pain led to more struggle with depression for me (did it every really go away? I think not!). On top of it all, we were in the beginning stages of investigating and planning for the coffee business and Business as Missions ministry, and we felt like we were hitting roadblocks, even though we were having “exciting” conversations about it all. We did not expect 2014 to go the way that it did. I don’t know what we expected, but that was not it.
In the midst of all these things, Jordan was battling his inner critic, who would shoot arrows into his hard work with legalistic questions and comments, such as, “Why aren’t you sticking to the plan?” and “This isn’t what you said you would do at this point in the game” and (my least favorite) “Hey, you didn’t do it perfectly.” One of the things I love about my husband is that his work ethic is probably the best I’ve witnessed in anyone. He is such an example of stick-to-itiveness to me, his hey-this-stopped-being-fun-two-minutes-ago-so-let’s-not-do-it-anymore-and-watch-a-movie-instead wife’s attitude to projects and daily/weekly tasks. I know how to be faithful in the big things, but not in the teeny-tiny, nitty-gritty things. So, he’s modeling that kind of faithfulness for me and I’m grateful, so help us, God.
Yesterday, his anxiety about that legalistic voice reached another level and I wasn’t sure how to help him. However, as I listened to him, things started to make sense in my head. I asked him a few questions, hugged him, prayed with him and then went to the kitchen to clear my head and start working on lunch. And somewhere in between making the salad and rinsing dishes, I felt like God put pieces together from all the conversations we’ve had with Him and with wise mentors over the last few years. It was so crystal clear in my mind that when I went to share it with Jordan, we both realized that this wasn’t our brilliant idea.
I reviewed with Jordan the year we’d had (which was preceded by 2 years of raising support and preparing to move our family to Costa Rica). No one can deny we’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress (almost everyone we know is)! However, what stresses us out more than anything is the thought that we’re not doing the things that we thought we would be doing, or when we thought we would do them, nor with the people we expected! We relived how at the beginning of January, the Lord impressed deeply on my heart that 2015 is to be my year to focus on 3 things: heal from the surgeries and stresses of 2014, disciple and homeschool the kids, and support Jordan in the beginnings of the coffee business when #1 and #2 allow me to. Other than that, really, I have made time to disciple one gal who is a missionary to India – AND THAT IS IT! That’s it! What a “small” life I’m living … but every day, I still battle guilt over not having everything figured out yet.
“What if,” I asked Jordan, “this becomes our year to figure things out? Maybe what we DO won’t necessarily change, but the guilt and stress which has been suffocating us might start to slip away.”
So, what does that mean? It might not seem like a life-changing thought to you, but for us, it is.
We made a list. Here it is, in its original, rough, completely unedited draft, for you to do with whatever you wish (but at the very least, pray with us!):
OUR YEAR OF FIGURING THINGS OUT
WE DO NOT:
- Have to do things perfectly
- Have to have all of the answers
- Have to fill in every box and blank that we have the urge to create
- Have to do it all NOW
- Give up on language learning (language school was only the beginning!)
- Stop any learning! If anything, this is our year to dig deeper into learning what God requires of us here
- Interpret every expressed desire as a need
- Think of every need as a calling
- Cut ourselves some slack (Thank you, Gary & Karen Shogren, for this!)
- Emphasize prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit as a family
- Have to work at figuring things out
- Stop doing what isn’t working
- Have freedom to try things without feeling locked into them for the next 10 years
- Have freedom to say “No” or “Not now, not yet”
- Need to evaluate which of our “boxes” to toss (this is for Jordan and his borderline OCDness about plans and checklists)
- Eliminate unnecessary variables which result in pressure or perceived pressure which really isn’t there
- Learn as much as we can out of every opportunity
- Investigate and express our real desires
- Rekindle our fluctuating devotional lives and work to eliminate our personal barriers to devotion
- Embrace release from relationship pressures which don’t take us in the direction in which God is leading us right now
- Relinquish and release past expectations which don’t apply anymore (this was a HUGE one for us both)
- Forge new expectations, based on our new, current reality
- Build/shore up strength for the year to come
Within minutes of scratching this out like a mad brainstorming session … Jordan’s invisible weight was visibly crumbling. I could feel him breathing differently. (I’m not going to recount how he ate something which totally undid all that a few hours later because it looks like the worst of it is behind us now). I felt so much more at peace, I took a nap!
As for me, what that looks like is that I will continue to focus on the priorities which God has given me this year, but I will have a stronger resolve NOT to give in to the guilt of not doing even those things “perfectly.” I hope to write more on this later, but I’m not going to guilt myself into doing it (see, I’m changing already)!
Why am I sharing this very rough, truly not “perfected” post? Because it’s time you knew about our new normal. I’m guessing we’re not the first missionaries to figure this out, but it’s new to us in that we’re so used to having a plan and working it, even though life has already thrown us a few curveballs (miscarriages, adoptions, chronic back pain, a sickly parent, etc). It’s different being a missionary, though. No one was “expecting” us to produce children. Nobody is holding a gun to my head to be healed of my back pain. However, because we live on financial support from churches and individuals, we need a plan to be able to be good stewards. We’re still here to do Business as Missions. We’re still working towards building a coffee business. We’re more committed than ever to training Latinos to use sustainable businesses as a way to introduce their communities to the Good News of Jesus Christ in unreached parts of the world – places where we cannot go. That part of the plan hasn’t changed, but we still had an expectation of how things would look by this point in time … and well, God tore up that plan kindly and compassionately so that we can lean on Him more this year. If a year of figuring things out starts and ends with that “lesson” – then so be it.
Will you pray with us on this journey of letting go of what we thought we were going to be, do, have this year … to embrace what He has instead? Will you encourage us with your stories of times when you had to cut yourself some slack (and nobody died from said slack)?
“Christ is the one we preach about. With all the wisdom we have, we warn and teach everyone. When we bring them to God, we want them to be like Christ. We want them to be grown up as people who belong to Christ. That’s what I’m working for. I work hard with all the strength of Christ. His strength works powerfully in me.” – Colossians 3:28,29 – NIrV (our children’s version)