Friday, July 31, 2015

Ready for home

In the life of a missionary there are long periods of time where you are working to find what is the “new normal” for you and your family. You see, once you decide to become a missionary what is “normal” is a constantly changing denominator. You find yourself struggling to define it but, usually, when you hit it, you find you are breathing a little easier.

We stopped having “normal” about 9 months before we left Papua New Guinea to return to the US for furlough. Some may wonder why so long before the actual event we were so disrupted. Packing our house and readying it so it could hopefully be rented while we were gone, try to arrange for phones, housing, transportation, and as much of daily living details before landing stateside, saying goodbye to friends who have become like family, for our children to say goodbye to their home (they don’t have any memories of America), fund-raise for Evan to be able to make it to Thailand for the BAM conference. Get Evan to Thailand and back to PNG in the cheapest and most efficient way. Live apart while making the final preparations and goodbyes for the last month of our time in PNG.

Throw in there a health scare that nearly resulted in a medivac to Australia and a logistical nightmare I am still thanking God about and also still wondering what is wrong with me…

Anyway, since landing stateside (March 25) we have continued to spend a lot of time not being normal. We made a major shift in resigning from our mission organization and began to filter our funding through another. To put it mildly, this has not been a smooth transition.

I have struggled these three years with barely making it from month to month. In fact, truth be told, I struggled with an awful lot while we were following God’s will. I absolutely hated that no matter how many “overtime” hours Evan spends at the shop it has nothing to do with how much will come in or whether it will cover the bills.

I was torn up with hearing how much of a sacrifice we are making and how brave and amazing we are and then feeling forgotten 24 hours after our latest newsletter is delivered.  Then feeling guilty for feeling fed-up; knowing that if the roles were reversed I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same thing; lapsing back into my kids’ playdates, work, dinners…you know. Life.  Life is what happens when you leave a previous spot you occupied in a certain corner of the world and make a new space for yourself in another corner. The old spot gets filled up with other people and other things. When you come back, room is made, but you don’t have your old spot and you never will again.

I knew this. I had read books, blogs and talked to experienced people on the field. I knew that when I came back it would be a hard thing to find a place for me and my family. There would be reverse culture shock. And boy is there ever.  But, just as you truly don’t know what is like to live overseas until you do it…you don’t know about furlough until you do it.

I am ready to run away. But not from home, I am ready to run away TO home. But home is no longer here. And there, it is slowly getting further away, as I see by the facebook posts. Of friends living life in a space I used to occupy and hope to occupy again, friends leaving for their own new spaces, some are new, new spaces…another mission, another country. And some are new, old spaces. Time to resettle in birth countries, for now or for always. I am happy and sad for them all.

I often feel I am a bit like Scrooge on one or the other of his first two ghostly visits…my life past and my life now…standing in the midst but not being seen.

I don’t like putting up these blog posts because it seems like I am doing nothing but complaining in them…And I certainly don’t want to make it seem like I am fishy for a pity-party, a “How is your faith?” inquiry (believe me, I talk to God every day…and I can’t get through my days without Him) or anything else.

But I have also received encouragement from various fronts to be authentic . So. I here am.
A little bit stuck between.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Business as Missions...some thoughts from Evan

Business As Mission: Some thoughts…from Evan

What does endemic poverty or political corruption have to do with redemption?

I have been learning about ways in which God has commanded us to interact with the world and how the Kingdom of Heaven is supposed to look on Earth.  As a result, I have also seen parts of the picture we as Christians have overlooked in the past few generations and that oversight has become the norm.

As modern Christians our paradigm of the nature of sin has so narrowed that we no longer even recognize how the world is broken.  Our command to “disciple the nations” has broken down to “save souls” or “plant churches.”  And that seems to be mostly what we do.  That's a good thing and important.  But it’s also a very small view of the divine narrative; God working to redeem the whole of creation.  It is the story from Genesis through Revelation.  We have learned to read only a small part of it, and that through a lens. 

The first two chapters of Genesis is the account of God's creation and the value He invests in it.  At every step God said, “It is good.”  This includes work, companionship, stewardship, the whole physical and spiritual world that He had created.  There is nothing – not even the physical – which is not good.  When our first two ancestors messed up this balanced system the entire rest of the Bible is the story of God redeeming the world to Himself and bringing in the values and characteristics of the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth through those who obey Him.  The Ten Commandments are a boiled down, concentrated slurry of values that describe the heart of God; firstly, who God is and who we are.  Then how we are to interact with God, each other and the rest of the world.  The book of Deuteronomy is the practical interpretation of those laws in that time and place.  It is a concrete example of how God wanted to “bless the nations” through Israel.  Most of the time the statement to Abram (“the peoples of the Earth will be blessed through you” Genesis 12:3), is spiritualized.  The interpretation is that eventually Jesus would be the blessing which came through Israel; which is true, but not really the point.  In fact, the Old Testament is full of methods – not just theory – of how to build a community which reflects the values of God.  It is one which not only takes care of itself, its own weak and vulnerable but also weak and vulnerable foreigners within its borders.  It describes how to build a community that values government, economics, family, science and technology, communication, arts and entertainment, education, religious instruction, health care, law and justice and all the subcategories within those.  In short, it is the discipleship of a nation.  We have forgotten that and only disciple people.  I believe that God is not a generalist; He does not desire a theoretical blessing.  And He has given us the tools for real blessing without being a prosperity gospel. 

Business As Mission is based on the understanding that God calls EVERYBODY to some kind of work.  There is no sacred/secular divide – an artificial distinction between what we consider God-ordained and everything else.  The sacred/secular divide can be lumped into broad categories.  The first category might include missionaries, evangelists/church planters and pastors.  The second category might include... well, everybody else, really.  Apparently everybody else's primary job is to support “ministry work.” 

Regarding the concept of “full-time ministry”…  To indicate that a person is “called into full-time ministry” is to indicate that others are number one) not called.  And number two) not doing ministry.  This is to reassign value based on our own prejudice.  More to the point, we are nullifying the value that God has assigned, saying, “I know better than God what is sacred,” and then saying the work we are doing is God-ordained.  When God has deemed a thing as sacred, it is not our place to deem it otherwise. 

A less extreme example but at least as prevalent and harmful is what I will call the Spectrum of Holiness.  At the top you've got missionaries and pastors; typical ministry work.  Next there are the doctors, aid workers; humanitarian type work.  Slightly below that are teachers and social workers.  Then there are just the people with jobs; poor souls.  Not even on the spectrum are business owners, lawyers and politicians.  They are the necessary evil because somebody has to do it.  I've heard more than once the question posed whether real Christians could even participate in some of these professions because obviously a prerequisite must be moral leniency. 

As a result, much of the redemption that Christ-followers are supposed to be injecting into culture (salt and light, remember?) has been long absent.  We have abandoned governance, higher education, science and business professions to those who adamantly claim there is no standard by which to live.  And then we wonder why our culture is going down the gurgler?  Our culture has little remaining positive Christian influence in many realms because we have willingly abandoned the influence to whoever would like pick it up.  The devil will not leave such an opportunity idle.  Even worse, it is not an uncommon accusation from well-meaning Christians that to be successful or to have influence is un-biblical.  So we tear down the Christians who might actually be in positions to most concretely affect the community when we should be holding them up and affirming their sacred calling. 

Regarding the template that God laid out, the methods for discipling the nations are described in the Old Testament; much of it in the books that have been deemed by some to “not have any relevance to modern Christians because we are no longer under the Law.”  To claim such is to miss the point of both the “Law” and the nature of redemption.  The principles of discipling a nation are integrated into the Old Testament narrative.  Though they are affirmed in the New Testament, they are not repeated.  Therefore, if one was to only read the New Testament then Christianity is no longer redemption; it is reduced to sin-maintenance.  True redemption effects all of creation, all of life; not just afterlife (John 10:10). 

To say that much of our current practices and paradigm are wildly divergent from biblical principles of affecting a community is not mis-stating the situation.  But though we have missed the mark (which happens to be the Hebrew understanding of sin, by the way), look at how open the way is for true transformation.  God has not only sanctioned our involvement in business, politics, science, entertainment and the like – He has ordained those professions as holy and pleasing to Him.  This is the freedom to fully embrace whatever God has gifted each of us to be and do even for those who are not pastors. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Season of Letting Go...

I have been preparing in many ways for probably a good 6 months to leave Papua New Guinea. I have done this because I have been told by many people over and over that it is important.  That in order to be a healthy missionary, you need to say proper good-byes, and you should start gearing up to go back to a place which is not entirely home anymore. I love planning. I love making lists; it makes me feel accomplished to check things off. So, I was more than willing to “make a plan”.

Well, the plan hasn't worked the way I have wanted it to in many respects, which is another story. But I have started to realize that this is the beginning of a season of letting go for me, and furlough is just a part of it.

There have been times in my life where I have had breakthroughs or major shifts in my life direction. Sometimes they come in the form of epiphanies, sometimes it is achieved through gradual clarity. But, always, ALWAYS these moments come with pain and loss of some kind.
So, for the last 6 months there have been changes taking place, picking up speed in the last month.  Mostly I have only told a few close people around me. Because it was hard and painful and frankly it is doubly hard to be world-wide honest with people when  the wide-spread perception is that missionaries are very spiritual people who have it all together, otherwise they wouldn't be doing what they are doing…I feel particularly this view still strongly applies to missionary wives.

First came the letting go of material security. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, we live off faith-based support from others, we gave up our house in America, the house we own here could be taken at any time as the land our center exists on is leased from the PNG government….etc, etc.
But, for a long time I have known that having things, “hoarding” in the sense of we won’t be going through the supply anytime soon but you never know when we might need that thing…is like Linus’ security blanket for me. It is always there, I can open the door to the storage space (because, yes there was so much that there wasn't room in the rest of our house) and look and know that our family is protected from…something…

Anyway, there was painful prayers and conversations that happened and I started letting go. First the easy things, things I knew we would never use, had been sitting since they came out of the boxes we shipped here 2 years ago…and the more I eliminated, the easier it got, the more free I felt.
The gates had been opened. I started examining other areas where I could improve.
I had known for a while that I had been slowly gaining weight. At first I thought it was just the diet here, lots of rice, noodles, sweet potato. Then I really got honest. Maybe it was some of that, but given that we eat a lot of vegetables as well, and I have been walking everywhere since April, there had to be other explanations. Looking at my cupboards I lifted my blinders and saw. I was using food as a way of controlling my stress, because that was one of the few things during this time I thought I could control. So, when I had a bad day, I drank a can of soda. Something I very rarely did in America.

My body had become addicted to the sugars, and the serotonin it produced. Coming down off that has not been easy, Christmas time is a bad time to say I am cutting my sugar and fats. And I haven’t lost really anything yet. But most days I feel better and I hope that the weight loss will happen, and that I will not backslide badly while Evan is away.

Side note: Prayers for the time when Evan is separated from us will be greatly coveted. Honestly, e-mails of encouragement would really bless me too, as this will be an incredibly stressful time for all of us. I will be guiding our boys through saying goodbye to their friends and their home. I will be saying goodbye to a place that after three years I have finally started to feel settled and figure out my place in, to go back to a place where even loved ones have gotten used to not having me around and I am not sure how to navigate.

During this time I started reading As Soon as I Fell: A Memoir by Kay Bruner. It was very surreal to read as in portions of it, she was speaking of where I live. I know the literal dirt-road corner she is talking about where she finally came to a point where she could not take it anymore. I found so much of myself in her words it scared me, but it also comforted me.  It opened up conversations with friends here who could relate and commiserate.

But it also signalled another time for self-examination and a time to let go and change….
In my seemingly endless sorting and packing of our house, I have come across several things I have held onto because I have a not so secret hope. I want a baby girl.

Evan and I had talked in loose terms before we came to PNG about the possibility of adopting a girl to add to our family. We waited for a bit for the dust to settle and then, we began an investigation into the possibility.

At this point I don’t want to say too much about it because, well, I guess I haven’t entirely let it go…J

But I began to form an idea in my mind over Christmas. When, about a week ago we were at my best friend’s home celebrating her youngest daughter’s birthday the realization flew dramatically to the fore-front of my mind.

Looking at the 1 year old little girl in her red party dress, smiling and loving her mama my heart was screaming; Why not me? Why couldn’t I have one too?

The response was: Maybe I’m not meant to. I don’t know yet if this is truly God closing the door. We are still exploring an option, but regardless, I have reached a place where, no matter how sad it makes me, I must give away (among other things) that pink changing pad (which, yes I used for my boys, but am not holding onto for sentimental reasons). The ache, even as I write this is strong. I can feel the pressing of tears behind my eyes. But I am still saying, now is a season of letting go. And I must let go of this too.