And an old neighbor lady yelling, “Hey, you down there! We’ve got foreigners living next door and they go to bed early for some reason. You’re going to wake them up, so if you could move down the street, that would be a good start!” (or maybe something like that)
Goodnight street light
Goodnight moths flying around the street light
Goodnight dripping AC
And the confident frog chirping up in a tree
Goodnight cars driving by
And goodnight jet in the sky
And goodnight rooftops
Goodnight dog barking hellos at a stray
And goodnight shrill horn honking a few blocks away
And goodnight cart
Goodnight cheap art
And goodnight to the old neighbor lady doing her part
“Can you help with this project?” Who else is on the team?
“Do you want to go see that movie with me?” Well, I don’t know. Who’s asking?
“Let’s take a road trip!” Hmm, who did you say would be driving?
The who in my story usually influences my decisions more than the what. In fact, the who can make the what and the where a superfluous backdrop. I can go anywhere on a rare night out with my husband and be perfectly happy just to be with him; and with the right friends, even the worst movie can be an occasion for laughter and fun.
So, when Jesus said, “Go into all the world and make disciples … I am with you always,” I eagerly set off to follow Him into missions (Matthew 28:19-20). And God’s reassurance to Joshua kept me there when I desperately wanted to quit during our second year in Alaska: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
Here I am, thirteen years later, and I still find myself crossing my arms with Moses, telling God, “If you don’t go, I’m not going. Either we’re in this together, or I’m out. Are you with me, God? Really with me?” (My super rough paraphrase of Exodus 33.)
Because, honestly, I can’t tell right now. God swept through my soul like a hurricane two years ago, reviving my dry bones and rekindling my passion for Him with an almost visceral fire. But that fire seems to have sputtered out. I’m tired. I’m distracted. I’m overwhelmed by the pandemic-frustrated state of the world right now, and I’m just not sure if God is still with me the way He was a couple of years ago.
My 6-year old daughter has decided she no longer wants to fall asleep by herself. She’s been in her own bedroom since she was one-year old, mind you, and never, before this last month, has she battled with an extreme fear of being alone in the dark.
A new house, a burst of brain development, and spiritual battles could all be to blame, but one thing I know–the way we respond to this as parents will set the stage for how we help her navigate other fears in life. As badly as I want to coddle my little princess and just lay with her until she falls asleep every night, I don’t want her to become so dependent on me that we can never leave her with a babysitter at bedtime. So I pray for her, reassure her that Jesus is with her, and promise to come back to check on her in ten minutes.
Sometimes, however, even that’s not enough. She doesn’t care that I’m sitting at the table just outside her bedroom door; she wants me right there with her. But I am with you, I try to comfort her. I’m right outside your door. You can trust me. I’m here and I won’t leave this house. You’re safe, and I’m still with you.
I want her to trust my nearness and care even when she can’t see me, can’t feel me.
Perhaps, Father God does the same.
I am with you
I’m practicing listening this year. Listening to the birds, to the harmonies in music, to my own physical and emotional needs, to friends without trying to fix anything, and to the Spirit of the Living God. But here’s the funny thing, in my scattered moments of listening recently, I keep hearing one repeated phrase.
“I am with you.”
And while my head knows this to be true of God, my heart apparently isn’t grasping it well. As I mentioned, when I’m real with myself in this COVID-crazed, stretched-thin-while-substitute-teaching, unable-to-find-the-rhythms-of-rest life, I discover my own separation anxiety. God, I can’t see you. I don’t feel you. Are you really still with me?
Yesterday, He whispered it again during a moment of worship. I ceased swaying to the music and almost held my breath. I didn’t want to leave that holy moment. I didn’t want to forget that yes, the God of the Universe is with me. The scene surrounding me faded away, and the only thing that mattered was my who.
Whether I can see Him, feel Him, or hear Him is irrelevant. He promised His presence, and I never have to doubt His nearness. The overwhelming awareness of His presence is a gift, but the lack of it is not a punishment. It could be that I’m just not paying enough attention, but it also could be a gentle nudge toward maturation and trust.
He is with me. Always.
He is with you. Always.
We can trust and we can rest like a child in His arms … even when His embrace feels more like a bottomless freefall. We always land safely on His promises. So, one more time, settle your heart in Jesus’ promise to His disciples (that’s you):
“Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: ‘God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20 MSG)
He is the only who that truly matters in your story.
Corella Roberts makes her home in Northern Thailand where she and her husband partner with an international school to “Serve the Servants.” Their first missionary teaching assignment landed them in the remote bush of Alaska, which you can read about in her book, Colliding with the Call. From tundra to tropics, her life of following Jesus has been nothing less than story-worthy, and she loves using her experiences to encourage others to connect deeply with God at corellaroberts.com. You can also find her cleaning up legos or meandering their local market in search of mangosteen and lychee fruit.
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” Revelations 12:11 (ESV)
There are many ways to die of shame. But, there are even more ways to live without it. It’s my heart to help you choose life today.
A little over five years ago I nearly, truly died in a Hungarian mental ward. I was as weak as I’d ever been in my forty years of life. Although technically a wife and mother, I was not able to fulfill either of these treasured callings.
As I managed side effects of medicines for my newly diagnosed bipolar disorder, I heard God say, ‘I want you to share your story. The one you are living now.’
I was absolutely terrified. How could I be so vulnerable about this life with mental illness which seemed so shameful? In His kindness, God made sure I knew I had all of the time I needed. But he didn’t change His mind about what He wanted from me.
He wanted me to die to the secret, inward shame, so that, I could truly live. Because I was completely perfect in His eyes, through Jesus, I could find the courage to die to what others thought of me. With the telling of my story, God was redeeming the unbelievable levels of pain I had endured.
Not only was there no shame in the telling, as I remained completely perfect in His eyes, but I also gained a golden resilience which made me more and more ready to speak life and light into the darkness of shame itself.
Now, five years later, I recently signed a book contract to write my story, my journey with mental illness. Tens of thousands of words of my story bound and made for anyone to purchase. At times, I am still border-line or full-blown terrified, but when I feel afraid, I just keep writing, keep telling.
I love this verse in Psalm 34:5 (ESV):
“Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
The shame the Enemy wanted to use to keep me in fear, crumbling in the corner of life, barely hanging on, has been defeated through looking to the God of my story. Thus, I declare to the darkness that it cannot have me!
Shame goes back as far as that first fallen choice. Therefore, as God sets about to redeem this broken world, shame is one of the last enemies to be fought. If we, the people of God, can deal with our hidden shame by the honest, vulnerable telling of our stories, then this enemy doesn’t stand a chance.
We utterly overcome through the blood of the Lamb, that perfect one who stands in every gaping whole of our shame, both personal and collective, resolutely declaring, ‘No more!’ He holds us tenderly at any point when we are weary from the fight, and through that love, we find the strength to keep overcoming.
Friend, I don’t know where my words find you today. Are you dying of that awful cloaking shame, standing in the corner, broken, in the space of your life? Are a million seeming failures towering before you, leaving you cowering?
I offer you life, free of shame, through the God who treasures you and loves you beyond all description.No matter what place in the world you are, His love is right there along with His abiding presence. He has come to give you life and wants to bring all of your struggles into his healing light.
I know your struggles could be so deep, you see no way to fix them. I know there are things which could, at least for now, take you out of ministry as a missionary. And yes, that shame, it may be speaking the most perverse lies to you constantly, declaring itself king of your story.
Trust in Him in fresh ways today. He wants to take the full truth of your story and change the world through it, as he heals your shame. Let him, my friend, let Him.
You don’t have to put your story out there for the whole world to read and dissect. But, if you want the overcoming life, you need to find that one safe person and become vulnerable with them. There is barely a pain greater than the one of silent shame. Ask me how I know.
You are made for so much more.
And I am coming to you, from a rare dreary day in Florida, as someone who has both hidden in shame and overcome it through the telling of my story.
There is only one true choice. Choose the shame-free life today. I am cheering you on.
I’ve written extensively before about role deprivation when someone moves to the field. You are the newbie and trying to figure out where you fit and what your role will be. Though uncomfortable, this process is not unexpected.
But what about when your role changes because of a pandemic, organization shift, illness, or any of the other ways you may find yourself not doing what you wanted to do where you wanted to do it. (Even as I type this, I can feel myself wanting to stomp my feet.)
I reread something I wrote about role deprivation and people moving to the field, “Role deprivation is part of the incarnational process. Jesus laid aside part of his role as God. We know from Philippians 2:6-7
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
When you move to the field you lay aside either all of or part of a role you have played.”
I want to say “BUT” and then push back with the difference between willingly choosing to move to the field and being forced to change plans. God smiles when I try to point out flaws in His logic.
When you consider yourself nothing and take on the nature of a servant, you can serve anywhere.
This is not to diminish loss, hurt, disappointment, or sadness. What I have been thinking about this week is how many of you are experiencing role deprivation without naming it as such.
Here are a few signs of you might be experiencing role deprivation:
Your emotional responses out of proportion to the situation.
You notice you are hustling for your worth. Do you sense yourself being defensive or questioning what others think about you or how you use your time? Your hustling might be related to role deprivation.
Role deprivation is unavoidable but not unnameable … naming helps us make sense of what is going on.
Transitioning from the field makes you aware of roles that had become so automatic you may not have noticed them in years.
When I transitioned to the mission field, roles I thought were meaningful and added to healthy self-esteem, were taken off the table for a while. And roles that I would define as “not very meaningful” suddenly took an inordinate amount of time.
Maybe you are in a season where roles that you found fulfilling have been taken off of the table for a while (maybe forever). And roles that you find to be “not very meaningful” are what fills your day. You know that you will adjust and you will have meaningful roles, but what to do about it today?
Make a list of six roles that you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. Sit with Jesus and your list. Tell him what you loved about each role and what you miss. Then spend some time listening to what Jesus, the lover of your soul, wants to share with you in this season.
Role deprivation isn’t fun, yet I find that it is one of the most tender ways Jesus identifies with us.
If you happen to be on a planned or unplanned home assignment, furlough, or sabbatical, Global Trellis has a course that will be available until September 23rd (so not long!). The Sabbatical Journey Course adapts to any length of sabbatical and is divided into four quarters: rest, refuel, reequip, and refocus. Read more about it here.
In the comments share the six roles you had at the beginning of 2020 that have either been altered or eliminated. You’re not alone and it’s good to share and comment with others on this same path.
The last post in this series was a set of questions Third Culture Kids have a hard time answering. Today is a set of questions that might be a little easier for them to address. And next month I’ll have a post about parents and TCKs to encourage us to ask better questions ourselves. How can we serve, love, and express interest in others?
You find yourself in the hallway with a family recently returned from Bangladesh or Korea or Brazil. You don’t have a lot of time, but want to engage with the kids. What can you ask?
Some quick questions:
What is your favorite movie/song/book? Doesn’t have to be about their life abroad! We are all so much more than where we physically live.
What is the strangest thing that has happened to you in your host country? And then laugh with them or gasp with them, even if you don’t quite understand.
Is there a special sound or smell you miss most about China/Peru/New Zealand…?
What time do you get up in the morning and what do you do first? What is a school day like for you?
What is your favorite place to take visitors to in your host country?
What is your best holiday tradition?
Tell me about your best friend there or your pet or your favorite teacher.
How do you decorate your bedroom?
In other words, questions that let a kid be a kid, that value the place they came from and the people they love there, and that give you a potential connection point – like oh I love that book, too! Or, my first grade teacher was just the best, too. Or, I know a kid in your grade who also has an alligator eat their pet monkey (okay, maybe not, but there is surely a way to connect someone with a common interest of say, soccer).
And deeper questions, maybe if you are a close friend or a family friend, or are mentoring or have longer time to talk, maybe over dinner with an older TCK or on a long car ride:
If you could change one thing about your TCK life, what would it be and why? If you could give one part of your TCK life to someone else (because you love it so much), what would it be and why?
What aspects of your host culture do you find yourself doing no matter where you are, or if you change something how do you adjust it?
Do you notice yourself shifting between cultures? What does that feel like in your physical body or mannerisms?
What excites you about being back in your passport country? Or, what do you feel nervous about? What are you looking forward to? Or dreading?
What can I do to help you right now? Or in the future?
The time has come to write my last post here at A Life Overseas. I have very much enjoyed sharing with you over the last few years, always impressed by the quality of conversation we find. Thank you for that.
As I’ve mulled over these finishing thoughts, I found myself wishing we could talk face to face, to share these last moments in a more intimate way. Although I’ve not known you personally, the effects of your conversations here have been personal and both challenged and encouraged me greatly. I owe you a debt of gratitude for that.
In saying farewell, I’ll leave you with the three thoughts clambering around my head these days…
Our work is not our identity. Our work overseas certainly forms a part of who we are, but thank God it is not entirely who we are. We are valued in God’s kingdom whether at home or abroad simply because we are His dearly loved children. That identity, not our job title or the place we live, is where we must ground ourselves. You are deeply loved and known by God, whether you work overseas or not.
How we share our stories matters greatly. On the quality communication spectrum, the pull towards an advertising/hype type model in ministry pegs on the low end. I know it’s hard to find a balance. Churches and individuals financially support us, are interested in our work, and expect updates. This is right and good. I know at times we also face the perceived, or maybe very real, pressure to demonstrate ourselves as a worthy investment of prayer and money. But there is a difference between sharing stories and selling ourselves as world changers. We do not need to have the best, most exciting, most results driven ministry news. Faithfulness and vulnerability go farther. In our actions and in our communication we have a choice to be glossy and sensational, or humble and open.
Serving overseas is not a great sacrifice. Yes, serving overseas does involve sacrifice. I will not downplaying the hardships. But when we think about it, what transforming aspect of life doesn’t involve sacrifice? Consider marriage and children. We don’t frame conversations about our spouses and children as purely sacrificial (at least I hope not or we have other issues to deal with!). We give the pregnant woman our earnest congratulations not because parenting is easy, but because in the scheme of life we understand the preciousness and value of children. In serving overseas there are costs felt, some quite painfully so, but the experience ultimately gives far more than it takes away.
Thank you again, friends, for the space you’ve allowed for me to process and grow. I am still overseas, still learning along with you, and forever appreciating our many conversations.
“The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” Numbers 6:24-26
It is mid-September and six months since borders closed, masks became mandatory, and life changed for people around the globe.
While fall is always a time of movement and change for expats and third culture kids, for TCKs transtioning to college, and for those who have tried to make transitions during the summer from their lives overseas, the tools that many of us have used and used well in the past are not necessarily helpful in this new world.
Many of us have seen and used the RAFT acronym (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Transition) developed by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, our iconic leaders on all things TCK related. In fact, I myself wrote an essay on transition a few years ago, citing their acronym and connecting the dots to my own experiences.
As I think about the acronym in the year 2020 and the unexpected chaos and uprootedness that a worldwide pandemic has caused, I think we may need another acronym that gives us a different tool for unexpected departures, virtual goodbyes, and long periods of waiting in the in between.
It’s with this in mind that I offer a few tips that I’m calling CRAFT, because a Crisis before the RAFT changes everything.
A full disclaimer is that I have been uprooted unexpectedly myself a couple of times, but never in a worldwide crisis like the one we have faced these past six months. I come at this from a public health nurse perspective, a writer, a TCK, and three times over expat. Though I have been through several difficult transitions, they are transitions that are far different than what I know many of you are experiencing. So keep what is worth keeping, and blow the rest away.
Crisis Management – First and foremost – Covid has been a worldwide crisis with a dominoe effect. There are three stages to crisis management: Pre-crisis or creating a crisis management plan; mid-crisis – the point where all hell breaks loose and you respond to what’s happening in the moment and try to put the plan into place; and post-crisis – where you evaluate how you, your family, and the team responded to the crisis and evaluate whether your plan was effective. This is the point where you refine and change your crisis management plan based on what you’ve learned.
Perhaps your organization never even had a plan to begin with and you were left trying to craft your own crisis plan with little support. Perhaps your organization had a well-defined crisis management plan, but it hadn’t been fully tested. This was the first test and leadership is reeling. Or perhaps your organization’s plan was comprehensive and well done, but hadn’t ever considered that there may be a worldwide crisis at the same time as the company crisis. There are all kinds of scenarios. But it is important to recognize that a crisis changes everything.
The general guidelines for phases of crisis management are to:
Understand the three phases of a crisis
Prepare as best as you can to handle each stage
Identify and focus on the most critical phase.*
By now, most of us are in the post crisis phase, but perhaps not. Perhaps a whole new crisis has come along with the crisis of COVID 19. Perhaps you are like my friend Mariam, who has had multiple crises along with a pending international move. Very few of us really understand crisis management, and it feels critical to have more information and understanding on this.
No matter where you find yourself in these three stages, know that this is a very real crisis. You aren’t making it up. You aren’t making a bigger deal of it than you need to. You are simply doing what all of us do in a crisis. Trying ot figure out what is next.
Response& Resilience – This phase utilizes past experience. If in the past you have seen crises handled well, then your response may be far calmer than a colleague or friends’ response. As I’ve faced COVID 19 myself, I have faced it as someone who has never been risk averse, who grew up in the developing world with every year bringing another crisis. This is really different than some of my friends. In addition, I’ve faced it as someone who doesn’t have health problems. Those two realities have everything to do with the way I’ve responded. We go into any crisis with tools from our past at our disposal. The key is to remember those tools.
One of those tools is to initially focus just on the physical. The emotional pieces will come, but you don’t have the energy nor should you focus on them right now. It’s fight or flight, not fight or share your deepest feelings about what is going on. This may sound obvious to many of you, but I am an empath. The ability to empathize is a gift, but it has to be used in the right context. Someone who is bleeding out doesn’t need me to sit beside them and say “How are you feeling? How does that blood loss make you feel?” Rather, they need me to do everything I can to stop the flow of blood. Response means you respond to the immediate issue. Responding appropriately to the immediate issue builds resilience for later in the crisis.
Aftershocks – On October 12th, 1992 Cairo, Egypt experienced a 5.8 magnitude earthquake. The earthquake was considered “unusually destructive” for its size. We were living in an area called Maadi in a second floor apartment. It was 3:09 in the afternoon local time and I was at home with all four of the kids. The house began shaking as windows rattled and a major wall in our apartment cracked down the center. I thought there had been a subway accident and that the subway, a few blocks from our house, was headed our way. The noise and shaking were terrifying. I had no idea it was an earthquake, but gathered the three older ones to me. The youngest one, Stefanie, was 9 months old and in her crib taking an afternoon nap. “Kids, let’s pray!” I said in desperation. In a few seconds Stefanie began to scream. I ran in just as a picture flew off the wall over her head and crashed on the ground shattering glass. It was terrifying. Equally terrifying were the significant aftershocks felt even days after the earthquake. We would brace ourselves for the shaking and wonder if it was yet another earthquake.
So what’s my point? Aftershocks of a crisis can be as difficult emotionally as the crisis itself. Aftershocks come unexpectedly and set off previously felt trauma and feelings of shock and helplessness. COVID-19 has been a crisis similar to an earthquake and there are aftershocks that bring up all sorts of feelings. If you feel this, it is not you being weak. These are real and these are hard. Aftershocks can continue for days, months, or sometimes even years. The larger the earthquake, the larger the aftershocks.
So what do you do? You remain on the alert for aftershocks. They will probably come. Keep in mind that crisis management is the first step. Stay calm – this is a normal part of a massive crisis. Gather your kids to you and talk about what is going on. If you ask adult third culture kids what made the difference in making it through a crisis and building resilience, many will say that it was that their parents and other adults in their lives allowed them to talk about what was going on. Call people that you trust. You too need someone who will be able to actively listen to what you are thinking and feeling.
Forging aheadwith baby steps – People who have had spinal cord injuries have to learn to walk again. It happens step by painful step. This is a lot like what it is to forge ahead when you’ve been or are continuing in a crisis. There is the acute phase, then there is the maintenance phase. Forging ahead is the maintenance phase. What is the new routine? What can we put off, and what needs to be done today? What resources are around us that can help us with what needs to be done today? Gather your resources in a small notebook. Who are the people who can help with the practical pieces of setting up a new household or routine? Who are the people who can help with the emotional pieces? Those who won’t tell you to count your blessings, instead listening as you pour out your heart and by listening help you move forward. Who are those who can help with the details with this life that you least expected? Who can help with the logistics of car shopping? Insurance coverage? Healthcare? All the details that go into setting up a new life. Forging ahead in baby steps sometimes just means knowing who to call for what.
Time – The last word in the acronym is ‘time.’ In the expat world, we are always looking ahead. Part of this is the nature of the work and experience. We have to look ahead. The task of living outside our passport countries forces us to look at future actions that may include visa or residence permit expirations, transtion times, future plans, ages of our kids as we make moves. Suddenly the pandemic has put everyone in the world in stop mode. We go from being future oriented to not being able to plan for tomorrow, let alone what will happen in a month, three months, or a year. All the careful plans we made have crumbled and the costs in money, time, and emotional health are impossible to quantify. We have to redefine our concepts of time.
I think recovering addicts have a tremendous amount to teach us about this time. A recovering addict knows that all they have is the next hour. It comes and as they face it without drinking or doing drugs or doing whatever it is that they are addicted to they know that it is a baby step in the right direction. They feel like they are climbing the walls. Their skin crawls. Their heart beats faster. And then, the hour is over. A sigh and on to the next hour. The hours turn into days, the days turn into weeks, the weeks turn into months, but they will never forget that all they have is today. All they have is the next hour. Recovering addicts are our teachers in this moment. Do what we must in the next hour. Then when the next hour comes, do what we must.
All we know is that we have the next hour. Maybe not even that – maybe all we have is the next second, the next minute. So we breathe. Because a minute is all you need right now. An hour is all you need. You can redefine time – don’t let time define you. Expect to be like the recovering addict – climbing the walls but making it through. In the words of an addict “Over the past 23 years, I’ve worked to trick my brain into staying in the moment, and not dwelling on the future or the past.”**
As I’ve spoken with family members after the death of my brother it has come up time and time again the wonderful days and hours preceding my brother’s death. By all accounts, he had a joy-filled month with joy-filled minutes turning to joy-filled hours. The death that took him shocked all of us, none more so than those closest to him. But each day of the month preceding his death seemed filled with abundant life. He did not know he would die and we did not know he would die. It seemed he had learned to live each moment, and in doing so find great joy.
I don’t know, but I do know that when it comes to time, all we really have is now.
Even as I write this I know that for someone in the midst of all of this transtion, reading this could be annoying. We can have all the tools in the world, but still struggle. One of the things I love about my faith tradition is that we honor the struggle. There is life and growth in the struggle. So I leave you with that: Honor the struggle.
What about you? Where are you in the CRAFT? How do you CRAFT a way to move forward? What would you add? What would you subtract?
This summer we learned about a place called the Dead Mail Center. Apparently, when the United States Postal Service deems a piece of mail to be undeliverable and unreturnable, it goes to the Dead Mail Center, which is a giant warehouse in Atlanta that collects all such mail. As far as we can tell, it’s a black hole that devours mail and refuses to spit anything back up and, as such, is the source of great frustration.
We learned about this place because all of our home school curriculum for the new school year ended up there, and it has not been recovered. My home school plans were foiled by the Dead Mail Center. All the time and energy I put into researching curriculum, making decisions, and coordinating ways to get it overseas for our three sons – it all went into the black hole that is the Dead Mail Center.
Our plans disintegrated like so many other plans in the year 2020.
The situation was frustrating because of the logistical gymnastics required to get our home school year back on track. But before the frustration could even set in, I felt defeated. I truly didn’t know how to get our curriculum overseas and I was left feeling the weight of all the gaps that would surely define a home school year cobbled together with nothing but me and a whiteboard. The defeat consumed me for awhile. The gaps staring me in the face were only the latest of all the gaps we’ve felt this year.
My husband’s parents weren’t able to visit us like they planned and it left a gap in our hearts (and in the Grandparent Spoiling Department).
Covid-19 and its restrictions have left gaps in our social life; it’s also revealed how short-staffed the mission hospital (where my husband works) is and has left considerable gaps in the schedule and on the wards.
Colleagues and friends have left, and then more left, and still more are leaving soon, leaving gaps in our hearts again and again and again.
Our home school coop has dwindled to just our family for this season, leaving teaching gaps for me to fill and classmate gaps for our boys that simply won’t be filled.
Our church has reopened but with restrictions that do not allow children to attend, leaving a continual gap that only one parent can attend church while the other stays home with the kids.
Gaps, gaps, and more gaps. They multiplied until they broke me, leaving me defeated without hope of filling them.
It was then, in the brokenness and defeat, that God whispered something to my heart. Gaps abound and holes have left damage, but we serve a God of the gaps.
There is not an answer to every problem, and sometimes the only way forward is to let go of current hopes and simply put one foot in front of the other and see where God leads. But even in the upending of dreams and the confusion of current circumstances, God is able to stand in the gaps.
When my first plan for getting our home school curriculum overseas failed, and then our second plan failed too, God provided a third plan that was way more complicated than the original plan but will still work in the end. And if that ultimately fails too, God has already tended to my heart and reminded me that He’s holding our children and their education in His hands and will use this school year for their good no matter what the curriculum situation is (or isn’t).
As we tread through a season of loss and loneliness, God has allowed our family to form closer bonds as we encourage one another. As the staffing needs at the hospital are not enough, God upholds the doctors one day at a time and has given them greater unity during these stretched days.
He may not provide the answers we seek and long for, but God stands in the gaps of our heartaches and defeatedness. He may not fill all the gaps with tangible solutions, but He fills them with Himself.
In this season I’ve been praying this prayer: “Lord, fill me. Fill me with You. Fill me so that whatever comes out of me is of You. My thoughts, my words, my actions, my reactions… May they be of You. And fill me to overflowing so that something can be poured out again, and let that something be of You and You alone.” I’ve often prayed that God would fill me with peace, or joy, or patience, or wisdom, but in this season I haven’t been able to pray such things. I just pray that God would fill me with Himself. “Fill me with You.”
I know and testify that God, the God of the gaps, is able to hear and answer that prayer. He’s been hearing that prayer for me and filling the gaps in my heart and mind these days.
Krista Horn met and married the man who once took her on a date to go tree climbing, which just about sealed the deal then and there. After her husband slogged through seven years of medical school and residency (with Krista doing quite a bit of slogging herself between work, grad school, and becoming a mom), they left for the mission field with three boys 3 and under. Now they live and work at a mission hospital in Kenya. While her husband is busy on the wards, she stays busy with all the details of motherhood on the mission field. When she’s not making meals from scratch or singing lullabies or chasing skinks out of the house, Krista loves to curl up with a book, bake chocolate chip cookies, and go to bed early. Krista blogs at www.storiesinmission.blogspot.com.
The disappointments just keep piling up like dirty laundry in a teenage boy’s bedroom. We were required to leave our overseas home of sixteen years three months early. We didn’t get to say proper good-byes. We finished out the school year in front of screens, including my job as principal. We lived out of suitcases like vagabonds for several months. We didn’t get the chance to reconnect with most friends in the States before we needed to move into a new life. Now that we’ve begun that new life, we’re forbidden to connect here also. The pools are closed, the churches are closed, the schools are closed. Roadblocks are preventing us from all the avenues we usually use to join a new community. Of course, they say I could join an online Bible study (with strangers). That sounds positively dreadful.
I know I shouldn’t complain, and yet I do. This was never what I envisioned as our departure from a country we deeply loved. Now that life is going on without us, our wounds stay open. This is never what I envisioned for our entry back into our passport country. Isolation, a life on hold, waiting and waiting and waiting for the day when it will feel like our new lives have actually started. “Build a RAFT,” they say. “That’s how you transition well.” If transition is supposed to be a raft, then ours has leaks, and we’re not even sitting on it, but holding on to the sides for dear life as we are thrown down the rapids. And we have no idea where or when the end will be.
I know it’s good to grieve, but often it’s turned to bitterness. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on these days, and I find myself jumping on that bandwagon. I look for someone to blame. Someone in authority over me is making bad decisions and deserves to be vilified. Someone needs to be fixing this mess. And before I know it, I realize that I’m actually blaming God. And then I feel smugly justified in feeling irritated with God because I am prevented from doing good things. After all, my plans for how I was going to love people in my new community were really great. What were you thinking, God?
Yes, I realize how stupid that sounds. Reminding God how much he needs me is a great way to recognize how arrogant I really am.
There are many things God routinely has to teach me, but the One Big Truth that he keeps coming around to is his sovereignty. He is running the universe; I am not.
I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
That means COVID was not an accident. Every single disappointment, from closed schools, to canceled graduations and vacations, to the roadblocks to ministry–all are meticulously ordained by a sovereign God.
I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things. (Is. 45:7)
Some say this belief means I think God is wicked. How can a good God allow so many bad things? Isn’t it obvious that human sin and supernatural evil are the causes of bad things? Indeed. But even evil must fall under God’s sovereign will. If it doesn’t, what would be the alternative? We would have a weak God who isn’t powerful enough to stop evil when he pleases. That’s not a God worthy of our worship.
Margaret Clarkson wrote, “The sovereignty of God is the one impregnable rock to which the suffering human heart must cling. The circumstances surrounding our lives are no accident: they may be the work of evil, but that evil is held firmly within the mighty hand of our sovereign God…. All evil is subject to Him, and evil cannot touch His children unless He permits it. God is the Lord of human history and of the personal history of every member of His redeemed family.’”
Some say this belief makes me fatalistic, that if God is calling all the shots, then where is human choice? Why would we work to make the world better? Why should we plan, vote, protest, strategize? But Scripture is clear that God’s sovereignty does not negate our responsibility. Yes, of course, we push back evil; we strive to extend grace; we fight to bring redemption. But at the end of the day, we rest in knowing that even when we (or those around us) mess up, fail, even destroy–even then, God has allowed it; God has a purpose in it.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.
Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves that God is in control. It’s an easy platitude; we put it on t-shirts and coffee mugs. It can become stale and irrelevant if we say it and don’t mean it; if we write it and don’t live by it. Bitterness, complaining, and unrighteous anger are good indications that it’s time for another reminder.
Living with the knowledge of God’s sovereignty means that when I’m disappointed, I can grieve the loss without becoming bitter. When I reach the end of my ability to change my situation, I can rest instead of fret. It means that when my plans go haywire, I can trust that God knows what’s best better than I do. He is master of my time, my money, and my health, so I don’t need to let the loss of those things cause me stress. And even when I am prevented from doing my version of good things, I can find freedom in remembering that God doesn’t actually need me.
Elisabeth Elliot wrote, “You either believe God knows what He’s doing or you believe He doesn’t. You either believe He’s worth trusting or you say He’s not. And then, where are you? You’re at the mercy of chaos not cosmos. Chaos is the Greek word for disorder. Cosmos is the word for order. We either live in an ordered universe or we are trying to create our own reality.”