Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Money and Missions and Me

We are back in Australia, my second country, the country that has sent us as missionaries. We had to return from Thailand because our support was low.

Money. Money. Money.

There are so many beautiful things we get to experience as international Christian workers. We have met some truly beautiful people. We have been introduced to new languages and cultures and new ways of seeing the world.  And even the many “hurts” or hardships have helped us to grow in understanding. We understand what it is like to be “other” and to rarely fully understand what is going on. We know better how scary it is to ask for things when you don’t have all the words. And we have experienced even the financial strain of not knowing what we will eat that week (not often… but it’s happened) or how we will manage yet ANOTHER round of visa fees, or school fees.

We have seen that in all things God is good.

And this Good God has seen fit that we return early to raise more funds.   And fund raising is the most pride crushing challenge of this whole “missionary” gig. Although I have often enjoyed meeting new people, and visiting the many churches we have been privileged to visit; talking about money, or addressing it all makes me feel yucky. I have, at times, felt like a salesman. I have felt disingenuous.  Talking about money is hard hard hard! I am not a good salesman. Especially when I have felt like my family and I were the products.  It has confronted my concept of humility, and my self-perception.

But here’s the thing-

I really REALLY believe in what we are doing in Thailand.  We are trying to actively live out the Gospel with our neighbours, Christian and Buddhist alike. We are supporting missionaries in rough areas doing important stuff.  We are supporting the Thai church to love people through marriage and family struggles and mental illness.  We are speaking value into girls who need to hear it again and again. And our kids get to see and be a part of all this.

We are actively binding up the broken-hearted, using the gifts that God has given us.

I am excited about this.

But I struggle so much to present this in person, because it always feels so connected to money…  and I never EVER want to be accused of “selling”.  I only ever want to BE, and draw people into what God is doing, and how they can be a part of that too.

I feel like if I can write this down, then perhaps my true heart, my true desire can be seen. That perhaps we will not appear that we are selling anything, but only offering a doorway for more Gospel to pour out into the world.  


Friday, September 30, 2016

The Creator's creator (an old old post)

While we were in Australia, I started taking an art class. I have always wanted to, and it is the biggest regret of my life that I never studied art in college. Having misplaced so much of "me" during our first 3 years on Thailand, I thought perhaps bits of "me" could be recovered by returning to my long latent love of art. (I had always wanted to be a missionary, and was also sure that art was never going to be of any use, and so never pursued it.)

I found a class not far from me, and enrolled, just for the pure hedonistic joy of learning something as frivolous as art. In that room surrounded by the incredible talent of the other students and teacher, the scent of turpentine, colors, canvas, paper and pencils I found a window into myself. God used the art to show me so many things.

He showed me, that anything, anything given to Him can be useful. I don't have to be the most amazing artist on the planet to paint. I learned that it is so so hard to see a whole flower when you have been focusing on one petal.  I learned, a little bit, to swallow my fear and TRY. An to keep on trying. I learned that art can be a safe voice to have a conversation or to tell a story. I learned that we worship God by creating, and even if my paintings don't change the world, I spent time creating like our Almighty Creator.

And now I am learning to loosen my grip on my paintings. To not let fear of them not being any good, or people thinking I'm bragging, to keep me from sharing them.  Recently, I decided to paint several little paintings for people to use as postcards. I thought it was a most excellent idea, and I assumed that God would imbue me with great ideas and extra skill. Sadly, He did no such thing, and so I ended up with 4 blah paintings. I had decided not to use them, but then it occurred to me that I needed to exercise humility. I needed to offer up what I had as it was, both as an act of worship to God, but also as an act of love to my community.

I think pursuing art has taught me so much grace. I HAVE to be willing to make mistakes. Some can be erased, some have to be scrapped. But I have to try. And acknowledge that I will never "arrive" as an artist. I will never be the best. But I am learning to do something I love. I hope I can use it, such as it is, to encourage others, and maybe even turn their eyes to God. This is my hope.

Vanilla Ice-Cream and the In-Grates

I took the kids in my carpool to McDonalds for an after school ice cream a few days ago. It was MEANT to be a treat. It was MEANT to be a special GIFT in which they would delight. It was MEANT to bring them happiness.

But, the ice creams only come in vanilla.  And they weren’t the originally discussed icy-poles (popsicles). They weren’t quite “cool” enough. Or special enough.
They didn’t really make my car-full of ingrates delighted or sated.
They were a disappointment.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what feels very much like a “calling” to art.  Daily, I wrestle with my own artistic limitations, lack of knowledge, and natural skill. A lack of natural “eye”.  My composition is poor.  My technique is lacking.  I can’t achieve what is in my mind, if indeed it was in my mind to begin with. I feel too late to the game to ever learn all there is to learn.

I always thought that if God gifted someone to do something, that it meant that they did it easily. And really well. That gifts from God made things easy. Phlbt. Yes, phblt. Not so.

This “gift” of art that God has given me is HARD.  There have been no supernaturally imbued skills. No super natural images magically creating themselves before me. Nope.  And, along with it, there hasn’t been any life-changing going on either. Art is notorious for being unhelpful…

As I’m wrestling with feeling like such a fake as I identify more and more as an artist, but still feeling the burden to continue to paint, the compulsion to create, and weight of needing to capture the “feeling” of a sunset, or a face, or a bird… And, once again, I am comparing myself against people I see ACTUALLY changing their world. People with sweet admin skills starting up NGOs, people with people skills fearlessly building relationships, people who are fearless leaders full of wisdom and spiritual drive. People with gifts that are different than mine. More... shall we say, "chocolatey"? And I feel like “Hey GOD! What? Only Crappy Ol VANILLA Ice Cream!? That’s all I GET!?” And I see my face reflected in the (much loved) ingrates in my car… And I know I’m them.  And I’m sure God rolls His eyes like I did when they complained. And I suspect that maybe He wishes, just ONCE I would be grateful. Just ONCE SOMETHING would be enough for me…

SO, I am trying to offer up to Him what I’ve got. Little and small and “blobbity” though it is. Trying to remember that it’s not about my awesome skills, (or desperate lack there of) but about trying. That trying to paint and draw as I’ve been “gifted” to is all I need to offer Him. He doesn’t demand a masterpiece. He doesn’t need me to be “super awesome”… but only to TRY… and perhaps a little danged gratitude wouldn’t go astray…

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A surrendered story

“What if you gave Me your story? What if you surrendered that story to Me? Couldn’t  I use it then? If  you gave it up?”

These words came to me, as I hyperventilated over my bathroom sink, trying desperately to figure out what I was going to say in the Bible study that morning. What did a depressed, failure of a missionary, wife and mother have to say to anyone? What could I possibly say that would benefit anyone? 
I had no wise words, no special insight. 
Only my own almighty failure. 
Failure to thrive as a person living overseas, having accomplished nothing in our three years in Thailand, and returning to Australia now only a whisper of a person.  I had barely learned to speak Thai, I was utterly befuddled by the ex-pat community, and to top it all off, I used air conditioning. Every night. Gasp. I realized in our time in Thailand, how little I had to offer anyone. I had no admin skills, no counseling skills, no driving passions, and had pooped out all my compassion reserves. 
I had failed. 
And worst of all, I couldn’t seem to hide it. I couldn’t fake it. I was even a failure at hiding my failure.  And yet, I was being asked to come to Bible studies, and prayer meetings.  I was able to wiggle out of most of them, sighting “children at home” duty.  But this was a ladies Bible study. In the morning. On a school day. There was no wiggling out of it. And so, I stood hyperventiliating over the bathroom sink, fighting the rising panic, wondering what I could say. How I could get through smiling, and hiding... praying desperately that God would help me fake it.

And then God asked me to give it up. To surrender it all to Him. He pointed out that He didn’t need me to defend Him. He doesn’t even ask that of anyone in the Bible. All the murderers, liars, and people of rather weak character that He calls, and uses, and even esteems. None of them defended God’s perfection by their own. In fact, it almost seems like their imperfections proclaim His perfection all the more. God asked me, like David and Abraham, simply to follow, and to testify. 

I really wasn’t sure how I could do that. I was still desperately depressed, and battling anxiety like I have never experienced before. I wasn’t all fixed up. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be. It was possible at that time, that “Missions” had eaten me alive, and there may not have been anything left.  But He assured me that stories surrendered to Him can become what He chooses. That stories sat on and buried,  will fester and rot.  I endeavoured to unfurl my white knuckle grip on a story that kept leaking out anyway.

My surrendered story was received with much prayer and compassion. It was a safe place to begin. Surrounded by good food and women who cared, my story sat safely in that space. Little by little I felt freer and freer to tell it in other places.  It was often met with grace and compassion, and not a few “Oh My Gosh! Me Too!” which I always find a balm.

Slowly I did begin to heal.

I still am healing.  Some days I feel so weak and tired and the same words of failure, and worthlessness and unwantedness wash over me. But, then I remember where I have been. And I remember that healing can come, if we hand up our sickness to the only one who can do anything with it.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Every step I take I take in you…

(This post was written well over a year ago. It doesn't feel any less true now than it did then...)

My kids were singing the popular kids song “Every step I take in You” and I began humming along while flipping apple cinnamon pancakes… and then I burst into tears. 

This last term has been a hard one- coming pregnant with our fourth baby, helping the family, especially kids transition into our new life, saying more hellos and goodbyes then I care to count, seeking community, and seeking ways to serve the humanity we interact with.  We dove off a cliff, trusting ourselves and children into God’s hand and God’s care. Every step we made, we made in trust. And the way He has provided has been so much different than we expected. It’s sent us reeling, sometimes in sheer disappointment. I think in our faith jump, maybe we expected to float down, and not hit bottom. We weren’t expecting the rug rash of the trampoline we’ve been bouncing on…

We expected finances to be organized by His almighty hand, we expected spiritual support and encouragement, we expected teammates in our various ministries to be here longer than 1-2 years. We expected God to provide for our friend”s finances and health needs.  And although He has and IS providing, it is not in the comfortable ways we want.  We want money to fly down from heaven, we want friends to stay, we want to stay completely healthy. 

And as every step we take, we do take it in faith, trusting to the waves of mercy and waves of grace that knock us off our feet, and roll us head over heels leaving us stunned and confused, not always seeing straight...  Because this life of faith is terrifying, and I’m not always sure I wanna do it. 

Saturday, June 06, 2015

His Eye is on the Sparrow

Yesterday, my tender hearted, animal loving, 9 year old found a baby bird. An ugly thing with eyes sealed shut. It had fallen nearly 3 stories from it's nest in the top of one of our tallest trees. Really, the fact that it survived the fall was a bit miraculous. My son made a little nest for it, and gently placed in a smaller, shorter tree. He tended to it all day, quietly checking in on it, and even feeding it bugs as it chirped with a wide open mouth.

I googled "how to rescue baby bird".

We tried to figure out its breed. We tried to feed it water, and egg, as per internet info.
When my husband got home, he tried to put it back up in it's nest, but the nest was just too darn high.
So, the bird came inside the house, while we tried to feed it egg when it squawked...
After the kids went to bed, and I realized the little baby starling was breathing shallowly, and would not likely live much longer I began to google again.

I googled "how to kill a baby bird".

The methods were all quick, all heart breakingly gruesome. Scissors and boots and plastic bags and freezers...
And my heart was quaking. This was such a tiny creature, ugly and fragile. And yet, I cared. I know God cared too. I felt it. I felt His eyes on this tiny living thing.
In the end, our little baby bird was euthanized in a hopefully more humane way than letting it starve, or become riddled with infection, or picked to death by ants.
But I cannot get out of my head how God saw this little baby bird. It didn't escape His attention that this little creature had fallen so so far. God knew what breed it was. And maybe, God gave us this little bird to be with it in it's final moments. To save it from further suffering... and Maybe God granted us a little glimpse of His concern for all His creation...
To understand, in this small little way, what it means to be seen by the God who sees.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Shame and Lament

     I’ve been walking in the mornings lately.  Trying to take in the scent of frangipani and falling mangoes, the beauty of a mountain covered in green and sunshine.  Trying to sort out 2.5 years of wrestling with Thailand… wrestling with an ever present sense of guilt and shame.
Thailand, like many countries in this region, is a land of vast juxtapositions.  It is known for lavish beauty, gold, silk, smiles… but also desperate poverty, sexual depravity, and human injustice.  And for a person who so desperately wants to be Jesus, the weight of human need is crushing.  Families can easily be seen lodging in shacks, and children with very little but rags to wear.  There are stories of familial desperation so intense the only solution seems to be to sell your children to ready buyers. 

Where does a person start? Is it my job to bring them all bags of rice? Or give them all clothing?  Subsidize their lives?
With much of the year reaching temperatures of 40C (100+ F) we use our air conditioner at night, regularly.  And nightly, there is a sting in my heart knowing that many people, including people I’ve come to love, are sleeping without air conditioning… or not sleeping, because it’s just too stinking hot. As I buy meat to feed my family with, I twinge with guilt knowing that many people can’t afford this simple luxury.
I have felt shame in all I have, and my inability to “fix” it all.  I’ve felt ashamed of all the many priviledges I’ve had in my life… and it is frequently overwhelming… 
So, on my walk a few days ago, I was listening to music and one phrase came through “Are you He? Did you die on the tree?” Silly rhymes. Massive meaning.
 I am not He. I did not die on the tree. I am only one small part of “He”.

 It is not my job to fix everything, to heal every wound,  pay every wage, save every person… but my job IS to see. To lament with my fellow humanity in their hardships. Aching with Jesus, as we see their suffering. 

Shame is crushing. Immobile.  Seeing only me.

Lament moves. It sees outside itself.  It sits with the hurting... aching and praying.

I’m trying to move past my shame. Trying to move forward towards lament, and attempting to understand the peace that passes all understanding.