Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Ol' Switcheroo

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make your paths straight.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way.” ~Psalm 37:23

Yiddish Proverb: "Man plans, God laughs."

In the movie, “Evan Almighty,” Evan tries to politely explain to “God” that he is a very important, powerful congressman and building an ark is not exactly within his plans. "God" (played by Morgan Freeman) crinkles up his face and all but busts out laughing. “Your plans? Your plans??” If Morgan had been drinking a soda, Steve Carell would’ve gotten a shower.

A perfectly acted cliché, yes.

When I was sixteen, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: a biomedical engineer. I was going to design artificial hearts and prosthetics. (It helped that my boyfriend introduced me to the field and wanted to do the same thing, but, regardless, the career goal long outlasted the relationship.) While I did study engineering in college (including a minor in bioengineering), that dream never came to fruition. Instead, God called me to serve as a missionary. I never did engineering again.

As missions has mulled in my mind all these years, I figured if I ever went overseas it would be either to South America or Africa. I don’t really know why – maybe it was a God-given bent; perhaps I just liked the idea of them. Either way, I always said that I never really felt any pull toward Asia and the Pacific, so, when we were planning to go to Cameroon, it all fit my neat little picture of what missions would be.

Shortly after we returned from the training in Orlando, we got to know JD and Traci. They were new to our church, and were also in the application phase with Wycliffe. They were planning to go to Papua New Guinea where they were going to work in translation.

Two years later when my husband came home talking about Member Care, it came attached to a location: Papua New Guinea. Of course they need MC directors and workers in many other places as well, but the sheer numbers of Wycliffe personnel in PNG necessitate a MC presence that is currently only minimally staffed. They’ve needed more MC people for months, if not years, to assist the approximately 450 personnel (from almost twenty countries) assigned to the area. As we have progressed through this process, the idea of going to PNG (which, for those unsure, is in the Asia-Pacific region, or more specifically, Melanesia) has really grown on me.

Within a week after we received our re-acceptance in November ‘07, we also got a letter from JD and Traci. To paraphrase, “We hope our supporters will understand, but recently we’ve been feeling like God is redirecting us. JD never felt any draw to Africa, but now we feel that God may be leading us away from PNG and we are investigating the possibility of going to Africa. Their next letter announced that it was official: they are going to Cameroon!

Only God does stuff like that.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Puzzling Parallel

“Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.’” ~James 4:13-15

Sometimes life is like a puzzle. A 5000 piece puzzle. You know going in that it won’t necessarily be easy, but the picture on the box is so pretty, intriguing, fascinating, whatever, that you just can’t resist the urge to try. Or maybe you've convinced yourself you just like a challenge. Either way, you spend hours comparing the picture on the box (“the way things should be”) with the myriad of jigsaw-cut confetti on the table. You try to find the straight-edged pieces (your “general direction in life") and separate them from the others (the “details”) and finally you get the frame put together – except for that one pesky little corner piece that you decide must be vacationing on a Mediterranean island somewhere.

Giving up on the corner, you begin to fill in the center, still comparing the box with reality, and finally it starts to come together. You plod on, sometimes going long stretches without a fit, other times rejoicing with several fits in succession. As you approach your goal you realize a dozen more pieces are missing. Ah, there are two on the floor under your chair. Eventually you find three more under the sofa, two in the pocket of a pair of pants you haven’t worn in a week, one in the laundry basket, another behind the refrigerator (Who looks behind the refrigerator? Getting a little OCD, are we?), and one in the phone book. The other two continue to elude you. Perhaps they joined their buddy in Sicily, you wonder. You stare at the holes in the picture wondering about how many hours (days, weeks, …) you have invested in this project that just doesn’t seem to be coming together. What a waste.

In walks your child. “Are you done with the puzzle?” he asks with a smile.

“Not quite, honey. There are still three pieces missing.”

The child tears out of the room only to return with a fist full of puzzle pieces, which he plops quickly and precisely into place, obviously with great delight.

“Where did those come from?” you ask in disbelief. “I tore the house apart looking for those.”

“I hid them. I wanted to be the one to put in the last few pieces,” he says with a grin.

In the puzzle of this adventure, I think God was holding on to the last few pieces, waiting for just the right time (i.e., when we finally gave up on our own abilities to accomplish it) to joyfully pop them into place. At last, we are beginning to see His picture a lot more clearly, and it's even better than the one on the box. :-)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Open Mouth, Insert Lots and Lots of Feet

“being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 1:6

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” ~Ephesians 2:10

Before God started this healing process in my life, I wasn’t always a very pleasant person. Oh, most people didn’t see it. For one, I have a lot of experience with stage acting, and two, I was pretty selective about who would endure the darts I would shoot out of my eyes of criticism. They say you treat those closest to you the worst.

Now, let me assure you that my husband never deserved it (okay, almost never.) I told him many times after all of this that he was/is a saint - not many people would have tolerated my behavior. (Boy – I am not making myself out to sound very good, am I?) He gives all the credit to God for his hanging in there and loving me through the valleys, but still I am amazed at the man’s grace and faithfulness. I wouldn’t have wanted to stay with me.

Anyway, I remember asking him while we were still living in Washington (he was planning to get out of the military and wanted to go to seminary) what he wanted to do with his life. He’d decided that he wanted to study Counseling, but given my emotional condition at the time, I had a difficult time swallowing that. In a way I felt like, how could he counsel other people when we were (read, “I was”) such a mess? It really irritated me (unfairly, yes) that he would set his sights on helping others heal when here I was being swallowed up by despondent self-deprecation.

“OK, you want to study counseling, but do you really want to be a counselor?”

“I don’t know …” (You can imagine what warm, tingly feelings that answer gave me. I struggled (albeit ineffectively) to keep my eyes from involuntarily rolling up into my head.)

“You don’t know??

“No, I don’t know … I, um … I just want to …. help people.”

You just want to help people. You just want to help people. Sure, fine. But just helping people doesn’t pay the bills, sir. You gotta have a goal, a plan. We’re going to move all the way to Texas just so you can get a degree you don’t even know if you will use, to do a job that doesn’t even exist, and all because you think you just want to help people??!? I don’t know that I ever voiced those words to him, but every time the conversation would take place, and it did several times, that’s what I would think.

So, fast forward to last year. Remember when I said he came home excited because he had heard about Member Care?

… it’s just kind of helping people …

You know, I’m fairly slow. It took probably several weeks for the full weight of those words to sink in. Just kind of helping people ...

Oh, God, I thought. I am such a twerp! I sooooo owe him, and You, an apology. He knew all along, didn’t he? I mean, he couldn’t put it into words, or give it a title, but he knew what you were crafting him to do. And you knew, too - all along. I know it was years ago, but I am so sorry for allowing my critical spirit to get the best of me, for not trusting him to follow you, and for not trusting you to speak to and through him. I see it now. I see your hand. Please forgive my unbelief.

So, here we are today… on the cusp of a great adventure. And more than likely, my husband’s going to be just helping people.

Running the Maiden Race

“The Lord foils the plans … of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” ~Psalm 33:10-11

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’” ~Jeremiah 29:11

Guilt. That was the predominant emotion when this whole thing exploded. Oddly enough, it even trumped “humiliating” for the most part. I knew that God was leading us to this mission, and now, thanks to my stubbornness (at least the way I saw it), I was single-handedly causing (at best) a lengthy delay in getting to the field. My dear husband tried to reassure me that it was okay, probably even better this way, but I was horrified to be the fountainhead of such an impediment.

So it was with much desperation that I asked, “If our counselor says we are better before a year is up, can we come back, or do we have to wait a whole year no matter what?” They assured me that we could come back early. Though I had no idea how loaded those words were, it did provide encouragement to get help, get it quick, and “get this thing over with.” Yeah, as if spending time in the healing hands of Almighty God is something to complete ASAP. My priorities were a just a little out of whack.

Less than a year into counseling, the counselor said were were doing great and she was ready to sign off on us. We initiated the process to have our case reviewed. Short story from that point (the long story is burdened with laborious details better left alone), it was another nine months before the decision was finally returned. The whole time we were pregnant with anticipation, though perhaps growing weary from feeling kicked in the ribs.

We prayed that God’s will would be reflected in their decision, and while we can now say it was, it didn’t make their words any easier to digest.

“We would like for you to submit your resignation.”

Yes, they had their reasons, and their expectations, should we want to try again later. But, I felt misunderstood, to say the least. They didn’t really know us. They had no idea how faithfully God had worked and healed and restored us over the last year and a half. We tried to express it, and I think they heard what we were saying, but still, what could we do? If we didn’t resign they would just fire us, probably. How pathetic to be “fired” from a “job” you have never even had the chance to do. I felt humiliated all over again, but I didn’t feel guilty. We had done what we knew we were supposed to do.

Over the next year and a half, we continued to seek God’s direction in this. We truly felt, and had from the beginning, that God was leading us to this organization. We explored other options, but none plucked the chords of our hearts, so still we remained focused on the possibility of returning. Though my husband had originally planned to go as a counselor for missionaries, in the muddiness of this process, the shoes of his basic passion for counseling had been sucked from his feet. (No offense to our counselors, of course.)

In the summer and fall of 2006, he took some courses at the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics (GIAL), a required step for translators. I thought, for sure, that would be it - after all, he loves languages! But, no, it wasn’t, so while there, he began to network and explore other possibilities. What other positions was he qualified for or could he be trained to do?

I will never forget the day he figured it out. He came home so excited.

They have this thing called Member Care. It’s kind of a cross between administration and counseling, except it’s not really clinical counseling. Just kind of helping people – you know, debriefings, crisis management, coordinating meals for sick people, ….

While I listened, he described the mold he had been created to fill. My mind flashed back to the words of the committee,

“We would like for you to submit your resignation,”

which we had long ago come to recognize as the words of God … just as we’d prayed for, of course. Oh, my – what could God have done if we’d chosen to retain a rebellious, frustrated spirit? What a dead track that would have been. Thank you, Father, for helping us lay aside our personal desires and allow you to choose our post position.

And with that, the starting gate flew open …

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Expect the Unexpected

”A merry heart does good like a medicine: but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” ~ Proverbs 17:22

"Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days." ~Proverbs 19:20

The irony was unmistakable. We had been headed to the mission field for my husband to work as a counselor to missionaries, and all along it was I who was in need of a counselor. My spirit was broken and dried up for sure. All along, I had been very honest with the mission agency about my depression, but I also believed that God could heal me, and if he didn’t that he would at least see me through.

I still believe that.

But, I also believe that God has a purpose for our darkest moments and often works in ways we do not expect. After we came home from Florida in August 2004, I was desperate. I contacted my physician immediately to see about medication that might help. Then I looked for a counselor. I was beaten. I was at the end of myself. I finally admitted that I couldn’t do this alone.

Several weeks later (and after an increase in dosage), I finally began to feel the effects of the drug. Honestly, it had been so long that I hadn’t really known what to expect.

“What should I watch for to know if it’s working?” I had asked my doctor.

“You’ll know,” she said.

I was hesitant. “I’m not sure… I really don’t remember what it feels like to be … ‘normal.’

I’m not sure she believed me.

Then suddenly one day it was like an incredible burden had been lifted off my shoulders, blinders cast from my eyes. The doctor was right – I just knew. This was what it felt like to be normal. I felt free! A couple of weeks later I joyfully announced to my husband and closest friends, “I have PMS!!!!” They thought I was crazy, but honestly, I had been riding just below the surface of normal for so long, I couldn’t remember the last time I had noticed a difference at any particular time of the month.

While the medication was effective and that was a blessing to me, it wasn’t (and won’t be for most people in similar situations) enough. What it did do was mentally and emotionally bring me up to a place where I could cope with and receive the help I needed, to a place where I was no longer suffocating in apathy and hopelessness. I needed the wisdom of a counselor (not my husband) to help me sort through the hurts and difficult places of my life so that God could bring peace and healing to those memories. Throughout my months of regular counseling, I was frequently awed at the depth and breadth of His intervention.

My husband and children joined me in some of the later counseling sessions, and we gained wisdom and skills to not only survive but to thrive as a family. As God healed me, he was freeing me to be the wife and mother I needed to be. I became much less angry, much less critical. I am certainly not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but I wouldn’t trade the path he’s brought me down. I will probably be on medication for the rest of my life, but I am okay with that for I have seen how God can use it. While I do emphatically believe that God has the power to heal miraculously, and could have done so for my depression, instead he chose to heal me through medication and counseling.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." ~ Isaiah 55:8-9

True. So true.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Can You Hear Me Now?

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” ~ Jeremiah 33:3

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:6-7

There have certainly been times in my life when I felt that the Lord wasn’t hearing me … or at least not answering. Maybe it was because I wasn’t listening closely enough. Maybe it was because he answered me in a way I refused to hear. Who knows? But, sometimes God chooses to answer in exceptional ways that demonstrate how truly in tune with us he really is.

In January 2004, immediately after I finally clearly felt God’s call to apply for this certain mission venture (my husband had been feeling it for years), we began the application process. I was absolutely certain that God had called us to do this, but still there was something inside me that was unsettled. I prayed many times, “Lord, if you want us to do this, fine. But, if you don’t want us to do this, then, I know this is a lot to ask, but, please (yes, I was begging) stop the process. I don’t care if it’s the last minute … or completely humiliating. Just stop the process.”

Time went on, as it typically does, and I continued to pray almost these exact words many, many times per week. Something in me knew I wasn’t ready. Something in me knew we were on track to crash. I just couldn’t pinpoint it. And while I knew that if God did open this door then he would see us through it, I was still nervous. Just stop the process … last minute … completely humiliating …

June came and we received word of our acceptance. That’s it, I thought. God’s going to let us do this. Okay, here we go. When we went to Florida in July for training, things quickly got ugly. Personal things, I mean. The training was great, we loved the people, etc. But, inside I was just ugly. I don’t think I had really prayed the above prayer since our acceptance ‘cause I figured we had God’s answer, but God has a good memory.

Ten days into the fourteen, we were called in to the counseling office. Years of grief all came pouring forth: the depression, my brother, feelings of inadequacy, frustrated relationships. All the ugliness of my humanity lay bare on the table in front of these people who were charged to care for us no matter what it took. We were four days out from going home on Active pre-field status, four days out from beginning to raise our support.

It was the last minute.

And it was completely humiliating.

Over the next week or so, God gently spoke to my spirit words that I really didn’t want to hear.

What did you say?

What do you mean, what did I say?

What did you say?

Um … I said … that I wanted you to stop the process …

Uh huh.

…Even if it was the last minute …


And, even if it was completely … humiliating.

(God paused for effect.)

But, God, don’t listen to me!! I don’t know what I’m talking about. I didn’t mean it!

But as I began to realize what God was doing, His unexplainable peace came over me and, after a few moments, I had to laugh. God knew what it would take to bring me to the point of getting the help I needed. (He knows how stubborn I am, you see.) He knew I had to be taken to the very end of myself, to the point where I had no choice. And, he has a sense of humor.

Even though the experience was last minute, and even though it was, at least at the time, completely humiliating, through it God was showing me a peculiar glimmer of his grace. It was like he had a big ol’ knowing smile on his face and was saying to me, “I am listening to you. I hear every word. And, yes, I am faithful to answer you.”

Yeah, no kidding. =)

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Driving Vision

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb …” ~ Revelation 7:9

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” ~ Matthew 24:14

Yeah, yeah. I’ve read it before. Verses like these meant little to me for so long. I believed in missions, that it was good, important, even necessary, but I experienced more of an intellectual comprehension than a spiritual passion.

Then the Lord captured my heart with a glimpse of his global vision.

Think of it: redeemed individuals from every single people group on earth all worshiping together in a symphony of praise before the throne. What would that look like? What would that sound like? I am sure that John could not possibly have found words to adequately describe what he experienced.

Someday I will see it for myself, but in the meantime, God has a purpose for our being here. There are so many who have not heard. Out of the 6900 tongues in the world, approximately 2250 of them still do not have any scripture in the language that speaks to their hearts - the words and concepts that are the most natural, most comprehensible, most intimate, most powerful.

As the years have gone by, God has periodically peeled back strata of His vision for me to see, and frequently I am astounded afresh by this truth: God wants to call to himself worshippers from every tribe, every tongue, every people, every nation. And the craziest thing? He wants to use us to do it! If you know me, you know that I tend to want to subscribe to the, “If you want it done right, do it yourself” philosophy of management. But not God. Not at all. God knows that as he entrusts His people with His vision, in the process we are going to be refined and molded into His image, becoming more grateful, passionate worshipers ourselves. We may falter in our journey. We may even fall, but even as he reaches to help us up he still beckons us to join Him.

“Heavenly Father, your mercy showers down upon all people,
Every race upon this earth.
May Your Spirit pierce the darkness,
Break the chains of death upon us.
Let us rise in honest worship to declare Your matchless worth!

There is no power that for one hour can withstand the greatness
Of Your Word on tongues of faith
So we're bold in intercession, claiming all of your possession,
Praying now that every heart will bow before You, Lord, in praise.

Our heart, our desire is to see the nations worship.
Our cry, our prayer is to sing Your praise to the ends of the earth
That with one mighty voice every tribe and tongue rejoices.
Our heart, our desire is to see the nations worship You.”

Listen … worship is resounding around the throne in every language.

Can you hear it?

1Words by John Chisum and George Searcy © 1993 Integrity’s Hosannah! Integrity’s Praise! Music

Monday, January 14, 2008

Be still …

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” ~Psalm 46:10

Be still …

I don’t believe it happens very often, but sometimes the Lord forces stillness upon us. In June of 2004, we received word of our acceptance as missionaries with a major mission sending organization. We planned to serve in West Africa, and at the end of that July we went to Florida to attend new member training.

The two-week course was a frenzy of activity in its own right, but on top of that, I was struggling with the turmoil brought on by years of depression, coupled inharmoniously with the stress of impending life changes and the shock of my brother’s recent cancer diagnosis. I was drowning, and though I didn’t recognize it as such at the time, God threw me the life preserver I needed.

Be still. Since January, God had been orchestrating the circumstances with precision. Now, he was stopping us abruptly in our tracks. Be still. It was difficult, even humiliating at times, but the Lord was definitely working for our good. Be still. When the decision came that we would step down from active service, before we had ever even started, mind you, I really struggled with feelings of guilt. Frustrated, I began to argue with God:

* * * * * * * * *

How can you do this?? You brought us here! Why did you bring us to this point only to stand in the intersection of our lives and blow the whistle?

Shhhhh …. Be still … and know that I am God.

But, what about the mission field? Now it’s going to take so much longer

… if we ever get there at all!

Don’t you worry about that. I will still be exalted in the nations.

Now is the time for your healing. Be still …

* * * * * * * * *

Turns out, he didn’t need our help. We needed His.

And we are grateful that he loved us enough to force it upon us.

Be still ...

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)