08 September 2017

The Significance of Senders

I didn’t realize Michael was listening (though he’s always listening) when a few moms were talking about jobs at the park today. All of a sudden he chimed in with, “my mommy is a missionary – and I’m a missionary too!”

He likes to tell Luke he’s a missionary, usually followed by, “so that means I need to come to work with you.”

We’ve talked a lot about how Jesus calls all of us to be missionaries, and to tell people about him. We also talk about how Daddy’s job is to train new missionaries how to tell people all over the world about Jesus.

Staying here to train those who go.

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” – Romans 10:14-15

How are they to preach unless they are sent? It’s pretty huge. They can’t go if we’re not sending. And we absolutely 100 percent feel that this is right where God wants us right now. We have such a passion about our work walking new missionaries through the process of going, and a peace that this is our calling for now. Yet sometimes it feels so insignificant. Especially when we try to communicate our role here to our financial partners.

As a writer, I love to tell stories. And for four years, we were able to share some pretty incredible stories of God's goodness and power. We experienced firsthand pretty incredible stories of God at work. Now I sit to write our newsletters and don’t know where to start.

But lately I’ve started thinking about the stories that aren’t ours directly, but because of the training and wisdom and support we were able to provide, are happening all over the world. Stories of changed hearts from discipleship, breakthroughs in communities through sports ministry, hope and healing brought through medical care. Stories where our missionaries have experienced God in new ways as they’ve been stretched by cultural learning and adjustment.

Sometimes we hear these stories through their blogs and facebook and newsletters. Sometimes it’s a 6 a.m. Skype call to Japan or Senegal or an email asking for advice or prayer. It’s the praises in chapel for people getting on their first plane or when the visas for East Asia are finally granted.

Through their stories, we are reassured that our roles are significant. That we are part of the sending. So how do we communicate that to you, our support team and prayer warriors? It’s certainly not as romantic as heading off to Zambia to work with orphans and vulnerable children. And this is where I’ve struggled in communicating our needs since we returned from Zambia. Raising support is honestly one of the hardest and most humbling parts about being a missionary – and one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do. Raising support here in the US is especially difficult, because the stories look different and life looks different.

But if I downplay our importance in the process – as senders – I feel like I’m also downplaying the importance of your role in the process – sending us. Your support and prayers are significant; because by standing with us, you are helping these folks take the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. And my friend, that is something in which Jesus has called us all to play a part.

So thank you, for those of you who have supported us and prayed for us. We especially thank those of you who have continued to see the significance of this work even though our location and ministry have changed. Thank you to those who have started supporting us in the last two years. You have helped us see the significance in the work God has called us to here in the US. And thank you to those who are considering joining our financial team even now.

As we come up on the end of SIM’s fiscal year this month, we are sitting at about 82 percent of the support we need to sustain our ministry of training and equipping new missionaries. One-time gifts this month would be a huge help in making up that deficit. Of great need right now, though, is several friends to commit to new monthly giving to support our work here.

Please pray that the Lord would raise up new members to our financial team. Please prayerfully consider whether God might be leading you to join that team yourself. If not for us, we can direct you to other missionaries in various ministries who need financial support.

And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. – Luke 10:2

We are helping train laborers for the harvest. What an awesome opportunity – and you can be a part of it! Let’s be senders.

Let me know today if you want to join our team, or click here to sign up for regular giving (or to make a one-time gift).

We appreciate you. Your role as a sender is significant. Your prayers are incredibly significant. Thank you.
We've enjoyed working with this sweet family - who leave this week for Ethiopia!

 "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now" - Philippians 1:3-4

25 March 2017

Ramblings of a (grateful) Sleep-Deprived Mommy

So much on my mind tonight as I rock and nurse my sweet baby to sleep. So many thoughts I haven't had a spare second to think and feelings I haven't had the energy to feel. There's the desperation for more sleep, as Annalynn still confuses day and night. She's really an easy baby, but whereas during the day she'll pass out anywhere and nothing will wake her, at night she just doesn't like going back to sleep. Me, I love sleep. Long, nighttime, cozy sleep. But that's not happening. 

Last week I kicked Luke out into the guest room hoping he might get a bit more sleep that way, and I could call on him in moments of exhausted deprivation. And it does work a bit, unless Michael wakes up at 3 a.m. and insists on watching movies and daddy is too tired to fight that battle so he gets up and sits on the couch until a few hours in when Michael drifts back to sleep and Luke can start his day with quiet time and coffee and getting ready for work. No going back to sleep there. 

In the meantime, our waking hours together are spent juggling kids and laundry and life, and as of late, taking turns getting incredibly frustrated at a certain three-nager who is testing every last fiber of resolve we have left. Call it adjustment to baby sister. Call it being three. Whatever it is, it's tough. Like, makes-me-want-to-pull-my-hair-out-and-scream sometimes tough. 

Let me tell you, I am so grateful for the man I married. He works his tail off with great integrity and passion, and still comes home to graciously and selflessly help tame the circus. He even puts up with my postpartum mood swings and body woes. On pretty much zero sleep. And not a lot in it for him other than the wonderful meals many of our church friends have been bringing. 

But there again, gratitude. It's taken awhile for us to really feel like we have a place here. We didn't immediately have a tribe, a community, those go-to friendships that keep life sweet and sane. But in the last several months that has started to shift. We have new neighbors with little boys who are deep in the trenches of parenthood and sleep deprivation and they get us and support us and make us laugh. They even went above and beyond by taking in Michael as their own while we were busy birthing a baby. And made cookies to boot. Another friend I randomly met at the park soon after we moved here not only hosted a sweet baby shower for me, but also added Michael to her chaos while I was still in the hospital and again shortly after to give me a little break. 

Then there's our church friends. Let me tell you, we have some people in our church who know how to cook. And how to package it all up incredibly wonderful so I don't have to put forth the least bit of effort to feed my family, including little extras for breakfast and dessert and everything in disposable containers. Talk about blessings. We are so blessed. Add to that the prayers, notes, gifts, and encouragement and id say we're starting to feel as much at home as we really can this side of eternity.

As I reflect on all these blessings and thoughts, I can't help but see how this week was able to sneak up on me, and fly by. That's probably good, as thinking back to a year ago does bring sadness, and sometimes even feelings of betrayal to the one that was. One year ago we started to miscarry a sweet little, maybe as many weeks gestation as Annalynn is old. It was a strange pregnancy from the start so it wasn't all that surprising, but it was still hard. Physically and emotionally hard. Our joy in the Lord truly did give us strength, and the promise a few months later of another sweet little provided a true rainbow of hope. Holding my baby girl, I can't help but wonder what if, and recognize that without that loss, we wouldn't have our sweet Annalynn. I know that little baby is safe and will never have to face the pain and disappointments in this world. And I know that God's ways are not our ways, and we may never understand the why's and what ifs. 

But as I sit here in my sleep-deprived thoughtfulness, I'm grateful. Grateful that God is bigger and awesome and just knows and creates and purposes and I don't have to have the answers because he's got it all under control. Grateful that he's brought us here for this season, and while he never lets us get too comfortable, he's provided community for us as we do life. Grateful for the sleepless nights because she's so worth it. Grateful for the sleepless days as Michael grows and learns and pushes every limit. Grateful for his sweet tender heart and his love for his sister, even if he can't quite navigate the emotions quite yet. Grateful for friends. Grateful for a church centered on preaching the Word. And grateful for the amazing man God gave me to adventure with each day. For his unconditional love, his example of worship, and his loyalty. 

Grateful for God. 

I am blessed.

23 October 2016

Pain in Childbearing

“To the woman he said,
‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.’” – Genesis 3:16a

Pain in childbearing. This was Eve’s punishment for disobeying God and eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Eve had barely processed her new relationship, and with that the command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28), and now she learns that the big proactive command she’s been given is going to bring great pain.

I’ve been mulling over and pondering this verse for several months now. What exactly is pain in childbearing? Obviously, the physical labor of delivering a child is a painful experience. No woman will argue that (and no man will dare try). Now, I’m not looking to discount any male preachers or theologians, here, who look at “pain in childbearing” and (not wrongfully) assume it is what it is; pain in the actual act of delivery. We all have our birth stories, and some can be downright miserable, but scripture even tells us that we tend to forget how bad the pain actually was, because of the joy of the baby.

“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” – John 16:21

And yet this was Eve’s punishment? A few minutes, or perhaps hours (or days, if you have it really rough) of birthing pain?

I think there’s a lot more to it.

It took us four years to conceive Michael. That time of waiting, of not knowing, and of wanting was hard, especially as the months and years went on and the tests kept coming back negative.

When we learned of Michael’s kidney issues in utero, the concern, the fear, and the helplessness were sometimes paralyzing.

Though Michael’s actual delivery was not too bad (or perhaps that was the joy and adrenaline speaking!), his premature arrival was terrifying as we wondered if he would be okay, and then sat day after day in the hospital yearning to take him home.
Watching him grow and learn, but seeing him go through seizures and sickness and sadness and disappointment breaks this mama’s heart, though I know that he will face disappointment often in life.

We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant in March, though faint lines made it uncertain at first. Within a week of confirmation that we were indeed, expecting, Jesus took that sweet baby home. Heartache. Emotional heartache. And physical exhaustion, ache, and brokenness.

And now, as we celebrate our third pregnancy and look forward to this sweet baby girl’s birth in March, there is joy, but there is also heartache. After a miscarriage, it’s hard not to worry about her well-being. I find myself unable to read or listen to stories of loss without being overwhelmed by concern. We wonder what her timing will be like and every new week we praise God that she’s still well. It sounds terrible to write, and I remind myself to trust and hope, but I also know that God is sovereign and His will is perfect. And He said there would be pain in the process.

You see, the physical pain of childbearing is real. But the emotional and spiritual pain is so much more. It doesn’t stop when baby is born. It’s there in the women who so desperately want to conceive and can’t. It’s there in the women who lose a sweet baby in the womb. It’s there every day in the life of every mother who sees her child endure pain, sickness or sadness.  It’s there when your child says he doesn’t love you or chooses a path you wouldn’t have wished for him. It's there when they disobey you, perhaps giving us a small taste of how God felt when Adam and Eve disobeyed.

We don’t hear much about Eve’s birth experiences, but as a woman, I assure you that the pain she endured when Cain murdered Abel shook her to her core, and likely scarred her through her last days.

I believe every woman endures the pain of childbearing in some way or another. We “bring forth children” with great trepidation and great pain, physically and emotionally. But also great faith, dependence on God, and abundant joy. And it’s the joy – the joy of teaching our children (from our own womb or those we’ve been blessed to raise or pour into) about Jesus and doing the absolute best we can do to raise men and women of God.

There will be pain in childbearing. Every step of the way. But there will also be great joy. Cling to the joy. For the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward. – Psalm 127:3

30 May 2016

Gorillas, Social Media, and Personal Responsibility

I’ll be the first to admit that I would much rather find someone to blame than take personal responsibility. Maybe I’m part of the “entitled” generation, maybe I grew up around too many lawyers, or maybe it’s facebook, but even in there, I tried to place the blame for my attitude on anything but myself and my character.

The interwebs blew up yesterday with the news of the endangered gorilla who had to be shot to protect the safety of a small boy who made his way into the enclosure. And I was sad. A lot of people are sad. But a lot of people (who were in no way involved) are also downright angry. I got lost in a couple comment feeds…

“Blame the mother!”
“make the parents pay!”
“it’s the zoo’s fault”
“negligence on all parts”
“Why didn’t they _____?!”

And then I was more sad. Sad because we aren’t capable of just being sad in a set of crummy circumstances. We have to point fingers. We have to place blame. We have to find justice (and of course, our idea of justice is obviously ideal and fair).

I get it. When we realized we have major water damage in the flooring of one of our rooms, I immediately tried to place blame. I wanted it to be someone’s fault. I wanted someone else to have to pay. It’s only fair. I shouldn’t be responsible to fix my own home. The inspector should pay. The previous owners should have known.

Spill your hot coffee? Sue the restaurant. Trip and fall? Whose sidewalk was it? Lost your job? Clearly, your boss was out to get you (been there too).

I pondered this today, though, on this day we celebrate and remember all those who have given their lives for our freedom. These men and women fought for something greater than themselves, and outside their realm of personal responsibility. Imagine if they had just sat back and whined about all the injustices, or even sat on the front lines tweeting their “how could yous?!”.

Imagine if police officers ignored offenses, or even just pointed fingers at perpetrators, instead of actually serving justice.

We can sit around when our house is on fire and question who is to blame, but there are firefighters who are going to fight to put the fire out and make sure we’re safe.

The American soldier isn’t sitting back and questioning and placing blame and telling someone else to do something about it. They’re standing on the front lines, willing to die to defend our freedoms – freedom to speak up, freedom to vote, freedom to whine on social media (though I somehow doubt that was why so many of our ancestors stood so proudly for our country).

There are definitely injustices in this world. There are sad things with no one in particular to blame (though we feel better when we can point fingers). And sometimes there is even someone to blame. But sometimes we’re the ones to blame. I know I am. 

Imagine, perhaps, a world where everyone took personal responsibility. We own up to our own faults and build our own character. Once we’ve worked on that, perhaps we step up for something beyond ourselves. We take ourselves out of the center of the universe, and start loving, serving, giving of ourselves for someone else’s good.

Perhaps then, we might truly appreciate and honor the American soldier.

Even more, we might understand and worship Jesus. Let’s face it, often times we are the ones to blame. We’re the ones who told the lie, shared the gossip, acted impurely, judged someone unfairly, and worshipped ourselves and our self-proclaimed, self-righteousness over the One True God.

Jesus lived a perfect life. He never sinned. He could have easily sat in a little bubble of self-righteous indignation at the world around him. But instead, he had compassion. He was saddened by our helplessness and sin, and he did something about the injustices he saw. He did something on our behalf. Not because we deserved it – no, we deserved death and eternal separation from God. He did it to give us freedom. He paid our penalty by dying on the cross, so that we might be viewed as righteous, and have freedom from the bondage of sin and death.

What does this have to do with a gorilla? Not a lot, other than perhaps a call to just allow the sadness to be just that. We live in a fallen world where sad things happen. Injust and awful things sometimes. Stop pointing fingers and realize that sometimes people are doing the best they can. And sometimes they’re not. And without Jesus, even our best will always fall short.

So celebrate those who serve for the greater good. Thank those who put your life and your needs ahead of their own. When there are real injustices, fight against them in actions, rather than just worlds on a screen. Look at the needs around you and consider serving or helping instead of just crying injustice at the unfortunate circumstances.

Thank a soldier.

Thank Jesus. For only his death could bring us the ultimate freedom. Then tell someone about Him - that's the greatest good you can do for someone.

And stay off of those comment feeds. They’ll suck the joy right out of you.

For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. – Hebrews 10:30

14 October 2015

the ones with it all together

In April 2014, a good friend and former pastor of ours committed suicide. The shocking news came about a week before we went back to Zambia, and we were barely able to process it before getting on the plane to head back into the trenches of full-time ministry in Africa.

Ministry can be hard. Isolating even. Though you serve so many, you can only be real and safe with a precious few. You’re the missionary, the pastor, the Bible study leader. You’re the called, the qualified, the one with all the answers, and the one with it all together.

You’re not, of course, but that’s the expectation we put on ourselves. So when the hard stuff piles up and you start to feel lonely and overwhelmed, where do you go?

Yes, the simple answer is “to God.” I mean, those of us in ministry have a direct channel to our Lord and King, right? It is absolutely true, that through the blood of Christ, we can approach the throne in prayer and confidence because Jesus is at the right hand of God and the Spirit is advocating for us.

But sometimes despair can just be too much and we need a friend, a confidant, or perhaps, a change of circumstances.

In a previous blog post, I shared a bit about the depression Luke was experiencing during our last term in Zambia. I remember standing back and knowing all I could do is support him and love him and pray for him as he wrestled with our calling and identity and our future.

What I didn’t share was that I was scared. I knew Luke was standing on a firm foundation in Christ and never once even thought about suicide. I saw his dedication to the Word and to our family. But having arrived on the field still processing the suicide of our friend, I was extra vigilant watching for signs of something more than a situational depression. I was afraid to go through what my dear friend went through, left alone with two kids to pick up the pieces, a pastor’s wife who was expected to have it all together and then her whole world just crumbled apart.

With a new baby in my arms and a fear in my heart, mama bear came out in full protection.

While I didn’t growl at anyone (I don’t think), I was very mindful of my words, and eyes wide open to the One who comes to steal and destroy. We have an Enemy who is very real and wants to stand in the way of the great things God wants to do in and through us.

Sometimes this mama bear was so focused on protecting family, though, that I may have hurt dear friends. Though Luke was back to his normal, goofy self almost instantaneously when we made our decision to leave Zambia (bringing further confirmation that we were making the right choice as the depression seemed more like oppression), we both still carried a lot of hurt, and at the time, my focus was so on preventing more hurt to us, that my controlling tendencies may have brought more hurt to others. I say this not knowing whom I may have upset in those first weeks back in the US. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting as we approach the one-year mark from when we decided it was time to leave Zambia.

We had so many gracious hosts and generous friends welcoming us back and taking care of us, and I so apologize if our responses were not so gracious or our welcomes over-stayed. I’m sorry if we were guarded, or as we felt safe with you, if we overshared. I’m sorry if our brokenness shattered an ideal image you might have had of missionaries. Most of all, I’m sorry if our lives/words/choices made you think any less of Jesus.

I say all this as confession, as reflection, as explanation. I say it to thank you for being safe people as we picked up the pieces of our brokenness. I say it to ask you to be safe people for others around you who are in full-time ministry. It brings great joy, but it’s also hard.

We absolutely love what we are doing now to equip new missionaries. While we often yearn to be the ones going, we are confident that this is where God wants us and we see Him using our experiences in Zambia to better enable us to prepare and relate to the new missionaries we work with. Right now, it’s not so hard. But some days are trying. We are all far from being holy, and the sanctification process can be a burning fire, especially in a ministry setting.

So as I think about where we came from, and where we are now, I just wanted to share this. Pray for your pastors. Encourage the missionaries in your life. Take your pastor’s wife out for coffee and be a safe place for her to be real. Share your struggles and let us share ours – so we know we’re on equal ground. Baby-sit your local college ministry couple’s kids so they can have a date. Send a care package to an overseas missionary. And be available to listen, to pray, to counsel (if asked). Ministry life can be hard, and lonely.

Eighty percent of missionaries burn out and don’t finish their term. According to some statistics, 1,500 pastors leave their ministries every month because of burnout, conflict or moral failure. Seventy percent say they have no close friends. And pastors have one of the top three suicide rates of any profession.

We are thankful to still be in full-time ministry, though it looks a little different here. We are thankful for so many friends who have stuck with us through it all. We are thankful for your prayers and your encouragement. We are thankful for your friendship. Thank you. Please continue to pray that we – and others working to tell people about Jesus – may be vigilant and prepared with the full armor of God.