The Song of The World

world music

Imago Dei

God’s image

Every nation

Every tongue

Every tribe

Everyone

And in each of us, a song. 

And that song is like the first song. The one C.S. Lewis and I imagine brought the world into existence. The Spirit hovers over the waters, and there was darkness over the surface of the deep.  And ever so slowly, deeply, richly from eternal Perfection comes the song. Living things come to be and join their voices to the music. A response as natural as they to fill the expanse of creation with the song of glory.

But it’s all gone wrecked. So very, very wrecked. We read the stories. We know the stories from the four corners of this aching world. We live the stories of a shattered song.

And yet, this is why we are here. To remember our Imago Dei. To recover the song. To reclaim its every note with our ears relentlessly attuned to redemption.

And we must not forget. We cannot shut out the clear strains of God. No matter how fierce the darkened, discordant noise. 

In the U.S., tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day. Far and wide families and friends will gather. There will be too much eating and way too much football and, I hope, the giving of thanks.

All over the world, many ex-pats will celebrate in small communities of surrogate families even while oceans away from home. They will establish new traditions and share the old with those from their host culture.

And too, too many will live this day homeless, hungry, in fear for their lives, in bondage, or simply, far from relationship with God.

Yet, this day of Thanksgiving is meant to revive the song. It is to help us unite in our Imago Dei as our lives write the music of Glory.

For in the true song unto Jesus and His redemption, we find the honest notes of our lives, in their heartfelt, aching and broken, reflect the honest notes of the world. And when they rise with gaze upon the unchanging love and goodness of God, they become the song of Thanksgiving.

And this is what God wants to hear tomorrow and always. He wants our grief and sorrow over the world, our world, even as we remember the song; his promised restoration. He wants the simplest places hallowed by thanks.

Thank you for breath.

Thank you for feet to walk.

Thank you for legs to run.

Thank you for smiles (and tears) on little faces.

Thank you for hope and promise.

Thank you for work yet to be done.

Thank you for today…

He also wants us to remember, live in light of, our brothers and sisters. To know that where Imago Dei and His Spirit are, there is a song.

And dear ones are lifting up that song as they work the earth sun up to sun down each day. They’re lifting it up, hands too small, stirring pots too big, face broken open in praise. They’re lifting it up, dungeons marked for horror all around. They’re lifting it up and the gates of Hell will not prevail . He wants us to be branded for this song; this victory too.

He wants our Thanksgiving full of song. 

He wants our lives full of song.

He wants this world full of song, His song, once again. 

Share a song of thanks in the comments below or share it wherever you go!

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*photo credit olly via fotolia

(I have written a little e-book ‘In Every Story A Song’ which articulates more of these thoughts on ‘the song of the world’. It is free if you subscribe to my blog.)

Because Grief Has A Name

I write this from an International De-Brief organized by our ministry, Cru. As I was preparing for the conference, I felt wary, even afraid. I didn’t want to dive back into the raw emotion of leaving Hungary last spring. I didn’t want to face the loss and grief.

Grief can be like a scary villain, dark and obscure. It looms large bent on swallowing us whole. It threatens to mark us, scarred and misshapen, not fit for normal life.

I have met such a beast more than I care to remember. Yet, I will.  Because I have learned great truths related to grief, yet it seems they must be re-learned as I experience it all afresh. And here is where a name for each grief allows me to meet it as something altogether new with fresh mercy and grace.

These are some names I have given my grief:

Losing Home/Losing Childhood: I grew up on a dairy farm. But, when I was 12, we had to leave. Life for us, would never be the same. This grief has spread its fingers intricately throughout my life. It is there whenever the shocking realities of a broken world come cruelly into my reality. The name I give this grief helps shape my understanding of all grief as I walk the long road Home.

When Dreams Die: For many years I experienced great success in school, sports, work and relationships. This led to sky-high dreams for every area of my life and the unstoppable will to run after them. They all shattered when one of them failed and my heart was broken. It seemed my successes were like a house of cards blown over and revealed for what they were. There was disillusionment with God, searing pain through a lack of closure in the relationship, and feelings of failure. Naming this grief allows me to see deeper things than choices others and I have made. It also shows me where I have gotten my value. But most, I learn there is always a measure of grief when I wrap my arms more tightly around something other than God.

No Longer Known: And this is when my mother died of cancer. There was not the sharp pain of sudden loss as the journey of cancer allowed time for a measure of closure. But, the loss of a good, loving mother is one that is all-encompassing. She seems to have been everywhere with a hug or word of encouragement over the phone or via a card. In many ways, she knew my siblings and I better than anyone. Hers was another loss of home and has spread itself throughout the 13+ years without her, finding me all over the world. By naming this grief, I recognize how deeply missing my mother goes. I look for her everywhere and am disappointed that another will not know me as she did. And I have learned that only God can heal me as He reveals how He knows me.

(Here is another piece on grief I wrote related to the loss of my mother.)

Tearing Heart Loss: This is the fresh grief I am in now from the loss of our life overseas. It feels like my heart has been torn. It is like the combination of all of the other losses I have named here. There’s been the loss of home, dreams and being known. It feels tragic, wrong, raw and this is after months of genuine healing. I am pulling from all of the reserves of grieving I have done in my life to walk this grief.  By naming this grief, I recognize the oceanic depths of pain, loss, joy and love found in my heart. I see that I have given my heart and not held it back. And because of this, I see that this road will be long, maybe till Heaven, but I must stay on this path.

But, why? Why must any of us stay on paths of grief?

Naming grief is our heart acknowledging its significance and place in our lives. In this way, grief is a friend, like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. It teaches us the shape of our own unique story and guides us to tastes of the ‘fullness of joy’ found in God’s presence. Acknowledging and entering grief also guards our hearts from the calcifying effects of the denial of pain, hurt or loss. Instead of resentment, bitterness or hatred, we get healing, strength and hope. We also become those who grieve well with others. This is a true gift.

In this community at ‘A Life Overseas’, we are all in different places, literally and figuratively. But grief finds us all. Where I grieve a sudden leaving, another grieves family left behind. Others grieve a rift in a relationship even while still living in the same place.

Wherever you are, friend, name that grief. Let God shape you through it and show you what His healing can do. Don’t cheat your heart by avoiding grief and allowing a wall to form around it. Don’t let it stay the dark villain that keeps you afraid. Name it. Face it. Begin the journey of seeing God in every part of it. And know, we are in this journey together.

What is one step you can take towards knowing and naming your grief? Write that step in the comments below and/or tell a friend about it. Then, take that step.

How to Keep Running When You Have Fallen

How to Keep Running

The clouds wisp along the sky like cotton candy in rosebud pink, salmon and peach colors. It is early morning. I pound the concrete with sure steps and even breaths.

I have started running again.

I have only run but a time or two in the nearly nine years since I was pregnant, and sick, with my first child. My sister asked me to run a 5K in July and it is the perfect motivation to get me going.

Yet along with the beauty of sunrises and crisp morning air, has come the pain and scars of three falls.

The first time I fall is on a sidewalk in Colorado. I need four stitches in my chin. I know, OUCH. The second time is along a path in Pennsylvania. It is only a skinned knee. The third time is on another sidewalk in Orlando, where I have just moved, and I manage to skin my leg and shoulder badly.

I know what some of you are thinking: ‘Please, for your safety, stop running.’

I hear you. But I can’t.

You see, it has been quite a year. It is a year which has brought us back to the States from overseas. It all happens in an unexpected, shocking, what-will-happen-next kind of way. And in the aftermath, running is a place of worship where I rise from ashes to boldly declare, ‘I am alive and I am well.’

The third time I fall, I am running with a new friend. She asks me what she can do, and I say, ‘can we please, please just keep running.’ I tell my husband the same thing after the first fall, but the crimson overflowing my cupped hand tells me I cannot.

I am resolute in my desire to not let these falls define me. I finish the run with rivulets of blood running down my leg. After this fall, I give myself a week to heal. There is some fear and the ‘what if’s’ as I think about running again.

So, how do I do it? How do I keep running after I have fallen and fallen badly, multiple times?

1) I learn to trust. Am I klutzy? Sure. More prone to falling? Probably. But these falls are also accidents. I hit the wrong spot and its uneven concrete. My body is also adjusting to the stride of running. This makes it easier for me trip. And when I step out to run, I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. But, I trust that I can do this and go out to meet another dawn.

2) I learn from the details of my falls. My worst falls have been on sidewalks. As I re-examine where I fell, I see the uneven squares which I was not careful to notice before. So I develop the discipline of examining the cracks of the sidewalk and stepping over where it is not smooth. At first it is a bit cumbersome, but now it is second nature.

3) I learn to let go. I cannot change those missteps. I cannot make the wounds heal instantly. There are scars in each place that I cannot make to disappear. I have been angry and sad and wondered why God let me fall when I have already had such a year. But, in the end, I have let go of each stumble and hurt so that I can move forward.

It is good and right to keep running. But it is also foolish to do so forgetting I have fallen flat on my face and smacked my chin hard on very unforgiving concrete. I know, OUCH!

While living overseas or experiencing transitions, there are certain to be many falls. Often they are small. But sometimes they are big. And there is acute pain, wounding and scarring. It comes with newness. Our bodies, all of us really, are adjusting. There are plenty of cracks and bumps which make it easy to stumble, or flat-out fall.

And these falls, the crisis, the things we never want to live again, are integral to our ability to keep running (or walking) forward. Living with our eyes open to what really happened, or is happening in ourselves, others and the environment, is incredibly freeing.

Every tendency might be to keep going and never acknowledge the fall. This can be very good as far as sheer guts, will and determination, but it only leads to more falling. Or the tendency might be to live in fear of falling again. So we do not continue on the path, seeking to protect ourselves from further pain. Yet, this will lead to potentially worse falls or sinking in a pit right where we are.

But, if we recognize the falls for what they are and yet continue on the road before us, we will do it as someone who is wiser and stronger. We will live with our eyes and hearts open, unashamed and in the full light of day as we see our anxieties and fears healed. The things we thought would defeat us will become small, and we will keep running beholding skies feathered in glory.

How about you friend? Have you fallen while running? How have you kept going?

When the Rocks Lighten: How to Count Suffering

Countitalljoy

It’s been a heavy, transition-packed few weeks around here. As I have been packing and unpacking, there has been a lot of hard news.

It’s the kind that stops you right where you are and makes you remember it is a gift to be here. A gift to serve. A gift to be alive. A gift to be a family. A gift to know Jesus.

And yet, somehow, I forget.

There’s an amazing family I know. They have given themselves whole-heartedly as missionaries on multiple continents. They have raised a beautiful family at the same time. It seems like they have done it all right. Yet, their only son is dying from brain cancer.

And yet, somehow, God remains good.

There’s a woman I know. She is just a little older than me. She has loved God and been in ministry for many years. She has prayed faithfully for our family. Over the past few she has suffered from colon cancer and it has progressed to her bones.

And yet, somehow, this sickness does not define.

Then, there’s this tragic story which my friend, with ties to this family, posted on Facebook. A young mother serving the Lord overseas, killed, leaving behind a husband and three young kids.

And yet, somehow, death has lost its sting.

As I write this, there is a life-giving organ transplant happening in my immediate family. Someone I love very much sacrificing a part of themselves for someone else I love very much.

My heart is slowed and the ‘ba-bump, ba-bump’ is somehow more precise.

And then there are my sweet kids. They have been watching the ‘Torchlighters’ video series which features heroes of the faith. They have seen William Booth confront violence with the truth and not his fists. They have seen early martyr Perpetua die in the arena. They have seen Augustine stand against pagan religion. They have seen Amy Carmichael fight to protect Indian girls.

They have asked many questions. In turn, I have asked them too. Why did Perpetua and her friends die? Why did Amy Carmichael rescue those girls? Why did William Booth let himself be punched and not fight back?

It comes back to how we count suffering. I listened to this sermon by Tim Keller (also available on podcast). He ends talking about our possible responses to suffering. He says we can blame God, blame ourselves, blame others or embrace Jesus.

In each story I mentioned, the people are choosing (or chose) to embrace Jesus in their suffering. Therefore, they have abundant courage. Because, no matter what happens, they get their heart’s desire. They get God.

This is our great legacy and hope. James says ‘count it all joy’ when we face trials. Paul says, ‘for I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.’ The apostles ‘rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer…for the name.’

Let me pause here. I don’t mean to be callous related to your past or current experiences. Or my own. But, I do know, for the journey ahead, we all need a greater grace than we have known, a digging deeper into who we really are.

You see, there is a beautiful place of vision. It is one where all becomes a beholding of the face of Christ. But there is also a barren wasteland. I know it well. Here, every imperfect thing is counted like a rock in a giant pack of burden we carry.

I have spent many days weighing myself down, counting suffering all wrong.

But I want something more. I want to be within sight of Jesus where every suffering, from small to great, is changed.

His glory transforms all it touches and our sufferings become the gold that clothes as we draw close to Him. We become resilient to live boldly, radically and fully. We endure as the first missionaries and followers did. We endure as the precious ones who are, right now, enduring.

We endure and count it all unto Life, unto Joy, unto God.

What rocks are you carrying on your back? Do you believe Jesus wants to lighten your heavy load?

When You Realize You Are Privileged

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I think I am pretty self-aware.

This is probably an indication I am not. 😉

So, it shocked me to realize that my default status in the world is one of privilege. It is still difficult to grasp and I want to say that it is not true. I grew up on a dairy farm where we rubbed pennies together most of the time. Then, when we auctioned off the farm we didn’t even have the pennies.

There were many hard years financially. We all struggled and suffered. I had a chip on my shoulder as a poor kid in a middle class neighborhood and school.

But the truth is I was able to go to a really good school and live in a safe, middle class area. And I was and am white. It was expected and believed that I would and could succeed. So I was encouraged by parents, teachers and administrators to do so. All of these things make up the privilege from which I come.

Again, it hurts to speak it this clearly.

Yet, I have become absolutely positive that I must.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were able to go to Cru’s bi-annual staff conference in Colorado. It was an amazing, challenging time. We had a painful, yet honest, and potentially healing conversation as thousands of staff gathered together. Very brave members of different ethnicities shared their stories of wounds through hurtful words and treatment by their fellow staff.

We all felt the pain.

Outside speakers and leaders of minority descent spoke again and again of the place and perspective of those of privilege. In the end, unless a person of privilege consciously chooses to lay down that privilege and enter the world of the underprivileged, he/she will always be operating from a place of privilege.

And this is where it gets a bit dicey. For all of us.

I am asking myself, when have I really laid down this privilege? I have been blind to its underpinnings, its insidious forming of my life.

It’s not a to-do list that reads like this:

  • Become a missionary or overseas worker
  • Sell all my belongings or greatly downsize them
  • Actually move to another country
  • Learn the host language and culture
  • Become an expert using a machete to navigate the jungle 😉
  • Develop immunity to mosquito bites 😉

I think you get the point.

It’s humbling to realize we can ‘do’ all of these things and more and still be living as the privileged. It’s heart-rending, and inside-searching and grueling to really, really look at our posture towards the world and the people with whom we share it.

But that is how it’s supposed to be.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

~Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)

(emphasis mine)

We will never be able to understand what it was for Jesus to empty himself of ALL of his privilege as God himself. And we will never be able to understand what it is to not have the level of privilege most of us do. Yet, we can walk this road of active ‘laying-down’ with confidence and precious assurance that we will understand Jesus’ journey more. We will know Him more. We will become more like Him. And the world will experience more of His presence, His Glory, His Beauty, and His love.

5 Reasons to Keep Reading

Our Life is a Journey

My Venezuelan sister-in-law quotes her father as always saying, ‘Turn the Page. Keep Reading.’ It means a lot coming from her, and him, as they have faced much hardship and severe trials in their country, yet they continue to have hope.

It’s a broken, broken world. But, there’s much left to live, so many battles still to fight and a lot of work to be done. There is also hope to be found, joy to be had, love to be known. So keep reading.

Why?

1) We will know a grand story. There is a new page a turn away. Where today is written grief, pain or sadness, tomorrow is written healing, redemption and true happiness. There’s actually a rider on a white horse coming whose name is Faithful and True. We cannot begin to imagine what we will know One Day. And we will turn those beautiful pages for eternity.

2) We will take up the pen. In some parts of the story, it seems to all be happening to us. It is as if a hand we do not know is writing over our life and this whole world. But the next page comes crisp and fresh. It is ready to be written upon with our own strong hands and read with eyes that delight in what they see.

3) We will find surprises. If a story is abandoned too quickly, the best parts are missed. It is true with our lives too. If we stop reading in the midst of a hard, even horrific, chapter, we’ll never see what is gained and the strength which comes. We will miss the heart of the hero or heroine (which may very well be us;) who overcomes the darkness. And most, we will miss the power of God at work.

4) We will worship. The beauty of our stories and this world’s story is that they are God’s. He is the True Author and what he writes is good. When we keep reading we see far more than we can imagine. We see promises fulfilled. We see the glory of redemption. We see bad turned to good. We remember the cross and the great love of God for us and we worship.

5) We will live. The front page news is discouraging to all of us. But there is always another chapter. Another story. Keep reading. In so doing, we doggedly pursue hope. We believe that God is still greater and the work of Jesus more powerful than any darkness. We find the strength and resilience God longs to give his children. And we live.

Keep reading friend. The page that brings it all together may be read tomorrow. Or next year. Or in ten years. Or in Heaven. But as we keep reading, we will move closer to the resolution of the beautiful story God is writing. We will find that golden grains of wheat fallen to the ground yesterday are growing up and bearing fruit today. We will find an unshakable hope and the presence and reality to God.

Are you turning to a new page? Or are you stuck on the hard things of this page?

How to Walk Through the Wilderness

IMG_1070

I am in the middle of an unexpected and unwanted series of transitions. I can easily fall into the ‘why’s?’ which lead me right into a wallowing self-pity. Yet while it’s hard to believe some days, I know there is a better, far more beautiful way through this desert time.

As I was praying yesterday morning, I was bringing my complaints, um, I mean requests, to the Lord. He comforted me by reassuring me of His gifts, His oasis’s, in the wilderness. For me the wilderness is transition. But for someone else it might be grief, illness, or family problems.

Regardless of the reason, God’s promises are true for us, even in the most barren wasteland.

We are not like Israel of old with our forty years wandering in the wilderness. God did provide for them physically as He will for us. Yet, we have something more.

Our way to God is not through an imperfect man. Moses was faithful in His calling, but he led before the coming of Christ. He could not give the people the Holy Spirit to comfort them. He could not give them the vision of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as a completed work assuring them of salvation and eternity with God. He could not give them hope for changed hearts even amidst their enemies. He could not give them the fullness of the redemptive work of the kingdom of God.

We have a High Priest who reigns in the heavenly places, and is ever living to intercede for us. We have the abiding presence of God which comes through an intimate relationship made possible by Jesus. We have the hope of redemption. We have this prevailing oasis in the wilderness:

For the LORD comforts Zion;
he comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.

~Isaiah 51:3

This verse is a stunning depiction of the fruit of our hope in each and every ‘waste place.’ And as we embrace this hope ourselves, we are able to pray it, speak it, and believe it for others. Because of Jesus, there truly can be a garden of the Lord in the most unlikely place.

And truly, what is desert? What is wilderness? Is it not the entirety of this life? Is it not the rutted, dusty way of this long road Home?

So it is always before us to find the treasure in God and in life.

As we believe God is good and for us–no matter what is happening—we see His beauty and our eyes open to what He gives. For me, this time of transition is also one where I can be close to family, and this is an oasis. When I was overseas, there was the oasis of ‘surrogate family’, those given to support, care for and encourage. Soon I will move again. There I can be close to some friends who we left behind to move cross-culturally. Another oasis.

Then there are the simple things. Here and now, I have some great walking paths and the rolling hills of Pennsylvania. These are things that I miss when I am away, but can easily take for granted when I return. This is true especially if returning is not my plan.

In the wilderness, there is always the promise and a taste of its fulfillment. The presence of God. The Light of His Face. The joy of a new day where He will be there. And if we really look, we will find a garden and a song.

Are you in a wilderness? What has your journey through been like? Have you found your oasis?

How to Approach Language Learning for the Long Haul

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It was my first job teaching Spanish to middle and high school students. The extent of my speaking as I roamed the aisles of antsy students was ‘¿Qué tiempo hace hoy?’ And ‘¿Cómo estás hoy?’ The kínd Spanish language students remember years down the road because the heard them 101 ways and times.

But I wanted more. I had worked really hard to become fluent in my semester abroad in Barcelona and I wasn’t going to lose it. So I traveled that summer for three weeks to Mexico translating for short term missions’ teams.

And the next year I began teaching a course where I focused on the students speaking in the target language no matter how much they knew. Both of these things were my stake in the ground to becoming a life-long language learner and encouraging others to do the same.

And so, these are the essentials I have found to achieve communication skills and life enrichment in long-term language learning.

1) Be creative: Whenever you are in a season that is a kind of lull in your language study, get creative. Spend time praying in your target language. Write your Facebook messages in the language you are learning. Watch a movie and then detail the plot to a friend. Share any other ideas below in the comments.

2) Be determined: I can’t say this enough. Don’t ever give up. In my humble opinion, the best language learners are those who keep on no matter how discouraging their experience. In this way, see language learning like a marathon with some snail-paced miles, but the finish line is still before you and you WILL get there!

3) Be prayerful: I know, I already said to pray in the target language. I am kind of big on the whole praying thing 😉 The truth is God is on the side of learning this language. It doesn’t mean He will love us more when we master it. But, it does mean He wants to give us everything we need to be successful. So pray for the write school and class to go to next. Pray for a patient language partner–I have seen this one answered for over 20 years and in two languages.

4) Be humble: This may not feel like the best thing about learning another language, but it kind of is. We have a built-in reminder that we have those proverbial feet of clay. And that, my friend, is a good thing. English is the universal language and many places we live many people want us to use it. But when we make learning the local language a consistent part of our experience, we have a reformed posture in the culture. And this is evident beyond the words we say and how well we say them.

5) Be honest: Don’t look at language learning as a box you will check off and move past. Think of it as a messy, committed, long-term relationship full of ups and downs. (Yes, sounds like marriage!) But you really do want this humbling, stretching process in your life and you will never regret your investment in it. It’s ok to be struggling. We all have been, and we all will be. If someone tells you it’s been easy for them then they are either an out-of-this-world whizz or not being honest. To learn another language is to come face to face with your humanity.

6) Be fun!!: And finally, remember the fun! Your language partner has to be someone with whom you can laugh! I laughed with Kriszti, the woman who cleaned my house in Hungary, as we remembered the early days.‘Bed…room, ok. Then…all and kitchen stop.’ And that was a few weeks into my learning! I laugh with my friends whenever I think I ordered something right and it comes to the table all…wrong. If you aren’t laughing it will be hard to keep on, so find the funny!

I hope you are encouraged through this post and feel less alone. Many have gone before you and we are still going. Until we reach Heaven, I think every believer ought to be on some kind of language journey. It gives us a rich taste of a multi-cultural world and the God of it. So, don’t lose heart, friend.

Please share in the comments any creative ways you have kept yourself in the long-haul of language learning.

Eeny Meeny Miney Moe And Where Oh Where Is Home?

Home

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, MOE!

Have you ever wanted to do this when someone asks you where you are from? Run your fingers over the choices and chant until you land on the ‘moe’ of home?

I remember the wide-eyed stares which met us as our three year-old son articulated his own evolving journey. He would recount the Florida house he just left, the BIG trip out west in our van, the Colorado house, the next BIG trip back east to Pennsylvania, the names and locations of the several places we stayed there, and he ended with a twinkling eye crescendo of our hopes fulfilled, one day, in our ‘Hungary house!’

And I have learned, through his brave little litany, to trust my son’s increasingly complex answer of ‘home’ to the God who writes his story. God created and formed our firstborn with a tender heart who longs for schedule and order and place. He also has given him an ability to enjoy the simple, as he has celebrated with a ‘Happy Home!’ from two years old, when we return to wherever the current ‘moe’ of home is.

And yet, through the lens of my own journey, his innocent, searching answer is rather profound.

The question of home finds voice through a toddler, and reveals that our souls’ growing understanding of ‘home’ is central to our life overseas. But too, we see this is quite possibly, the most fundamental search of any person from any culture or vocation.

Yet, are any of us really willing to take this journey?

It requires courage and an honest search for the heart of a God existing outside of time and space. And it cannot be simplified, trivialized, or rushed.

But a kind of ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ humor, does indeed, prove helpful.

LosingHome

For me, the question of home began long before I first soared above the ocean on a plane at twenty years old. It was around ten years old. This was the ‘beginning of the end’ of an idyllic life comprised of childlike wonder and play, and too, my family’s communal life working our dairy farm.

When we left that farm, we moved two short miles. Yet, that move represents the most traumatic uprooting I have ever known.

The fallout of our loss spanned years which comprised my adolescence and transition into adulthood. My childhood ended when we left that farm. And every gilded view of home faced the startling reality of a world forever lost in that first tragedy of long ago.

Am I making too much of this?

I don’t think so.

The address of the farm was the one I had to keep stopping myself from writing or saying when asked where I lived. The silencing of the ‘why’s’ related to God in the wake of all my little girl eyes could not understand, were the unspoken questions that kept me running for years. It took the next full shattering of dreams to bring me back to my parents. Only then, as I came to look fully upon the good, bad, ugly and ultimately redemptive face of my first home was I ready for a true journey to answer the universal question of ‘home.’

My current quest to live well overseas, in this second phase of cross-cultural ministry, looks so very different than the first. It is because the roots I seek to plant for my family and I, in our physical home and ministry, are not new ones, but renewed ones.

These roots find ultimate nourishment from the hope of my Forever Home. I am learning the overcoming heartbeat of God’s promises in Christ to receive me in full and forever embrace One Day.

Yet these roots, too, are the ones which have grown deep throughout my life. They remain healthy as I dig through the soil for rocks and weeds accumulated throughout my entire life’s story related to home. They are renewed as I take time to let go of the pain and embrace the beauty.

There is depth and great readiness for growth in these roots encompassing what is behind, yet looking ever towards what is ahead. And as I remain in them, in God’s story and my own, I become a living home for God wherever in the world I am. Home is no longer elusive. It becomes the zucchini bread I make just like my mother and share with friends and neighbors. Too, it’s the place of love and acceptance with which I receive the doubts and fears of a struggling student. It’s the warm hugs or two kisses which I give before and after interactions with others.

This perspective of home grants the freedom to realize this is a journey we share with everyone who has ever lived. There are a million ways to lose home. Death. Violence. Divorce. Abuse. Addiction. Busyness. Economic downturn. Chronic illness. Mental illness. Then there are the dark lines of political unrest, poverty, oppression, grave injustice, frantic races for success, false security and gross materialism. They mar every culture’s ability to provide a true home.

restinGod

Some may have easier answers to the ‘place’ of their home, but we all live in the ‘eeny, meeny, miny, moe’ complexity of what it really means.

Remembering this guards our hearts from resentment for the sacrifice of leaving our friends and family, in order to struggle through life as the crazy, misfit strangers. And positively, we receive the gift of a calling that drives us to this heart of hearts question of ‘home’.

And if we are parenting Third Culture Kids, we have even greater reason to find the courage to wrestle through to a deeper understanding of home. Because we want our lives to speak to our children with an abiding confidence, an authentic search for truth, and a continual embrace of the Only Love that perfectly defines Home.

As we come to rest in the arms of God, to know His is the face of Home every good thing of every home we have ever known points towards, we don’t dread being asked, ‘where are you from?’ We can run our finger over the possibilities with thanksgiving and reach the resulting ‘moe’ of our home. And just like my son as a three year-old, we speak full and loud with a twinkling flourish of delight as we remember how One Day all of our hopes will be realized in our Truest of True Home.

What about you? Where are you with the question of ‘home’? What have been the most significant discoveries in your own journey? I would love to hear from you in the comments.

Why Knowing Our Stories is so Important

When I first read this post from Abigail Alleman, I knew it had to be published around Christmas. For it is a story about entering into stories, about becoming more a part of the places we live, entering the world God has called us to, fully with all our broken pieces. It is a story about Incarnation – and that’s what we celebrate in December. That our God came and entered our story. –Marilyn

Entering our Story

 

It is the Fall of last year. I walk the hill, the cross barely visible atop the modernesque Catholic church. The shadows fall long. I am mind-wringing endless; anxious. The once brilliant of reds, oranges and yellows, an array of reflected sunset, line the ground, edges ripped, misshapen, eaten-up by decay and trampling.

There’s a weight pressing hard to chest and I struggle for the hope. I fear spinning into crazy and destroying dreams so long in the making. How have I come here, to this dark place? And more, has God forgotten me?

I wander this dark wilderness and cannot feel His presence.

Have you been there, too, friend?  The way out is hard to find. It is impossible without intimate fellowship with God and trusted friends who love, pray and walk us through.

And, I will add another essential, often forgotten, companion. Our story.

As we prepared to move overseas, I was sure I knew my story. I had come to peace with myself. God let my early life and ministry dreams shatter. The walls of resistance crumbled, and I was finally ready to stop running from the pain furrowing deepest. I moved home. I experienced healing in my relationship with my mother. I learned to receive the beauty and broken of her love and life in the surpassing-treasure of caring for her while she was dying. Hadn’t this mended the torn places of the past? Wasn’t I whole related to my story? Wasn’t that why a new dream, this calling overseas with my husband, was opening up before me?

The answer is ‘yes’. And the answer is ‘no’.

Our stories are alive. They are as layered and complex as the ways we are made and the times and places of our lives. As we live new things, learn new things, become new things, our stories deepen and grow. Naturally, then, when something as profound as a cross-cultural move becomes a part of our stories, they take on new shapes. They become integrated more fully with the story of the world. In particular, they are now woven into the story of our new home.

This is what I came to realize as I walked the hard places of last Fall. My new home is in a part of the world with a darkened past and its cavernous, cancerous-like wake. I live in a country mired in tragedy. A country which lost two-thirds of its ancestral lands. In its honorable pursuit to gain them back, Hungary finds itself in the deadly center of a tug of war between Hitler and Stalin. There is a courageous, but failed revolution in 1956. In some ways this can be considered the death of hope for the nation.These are gripping, broken pieces of this nation’s story and I, in the whole of who I am, am called to enter and engage it.

But how?

I know enough about my story to see I can not muster up, in myself, what is needed to fulfill the calling God has given me. I have experienced burnout in ministry as I set out with full-hearted, sincere zeal to save the world in the name of Christ. In the end it is a sowing of the wind and a reaping of the whirlwind.

I need something more. I have to go deeper to the roots of my own tragedies. And I must come to the place of crying out in naked want to the God who is the fulfillment of all my hope. And as I look at my story, I see how the narrative being written, the weaving of intricate threads that led to the desperation of last Fall, prepares me for the great gift to come.

It is something that only the most brilliant of Authors can write. I look at the fallouts; the grief that brings me to this point. The failure of my dream, and a subtle disillusionment, when I experience a strong call to ministry in my early 20s. The death of my mother and how I can’t talk with her and hear her words of re-assurance. The call to another part of the world of one of my dearest friends. The timing of the birth of our third child a mere six months after we moved.

All hard things. All removing every false layer of comfort, so I am ready for what only God can give. A hope that rises beyond every place that mars the path through this veil of tears. A resilience that can only come from the light that shines in the darkness and overcomes.

Nothing less will shape my life so it speaks the living truth of redemption. Here and now. For I cannot look into the face of this nation with its tragic story and offer real hope, unless I am willing to look fully into the face of my own story. It is only then I can believe God for the chapters He wants to write here, in the lives of these people. The strength of faith comes from having gone before, through the gut-wrenching, intimate pain of my own story and pushing through to the hope. I am kept close to His heart, as I learn to trust Him with my strange new utterly-out-of-my-control life. And the keeping wraps with a lens back towards all that has come before in my story. I see how He is ever-weaving all things for good and so promises to bring me Home in this same redeeming light.

In the end, we cannot give what we do not have. And the level of faith, hope and love that are required to fight for the story of a nation, as God wants to write it, must have shaped the contours of our own. To believe he is Immanuel, God with us. The One who not only meets us in all our brokenness but purposes to transform what is shattered into something good, beautiful and eternal.

This is why He has come. It is why He enters time and space and takes on all the tragedies of this world and so, too, of our lives. It is an amazing gift we have. This treading the earth with eyes open and heart attuned to his writing within and without. It is how our journey overseas becomes a part of something so much greater than us, yet nothing less than the knowing of our very own unique and precious story.

Do you know your story? Has anything happened in your overseas journey to make you think you need to take a closer look? What chapters are you fighting for, for yourself? for your host nation? (or former host nation?) Please, share something related to one of these questions in the comments below.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/faith-bible-old-christmas-story-507810/

Further Reading :

To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Dan Allender

To Be Told: Workbook, Dan Allender

When a Woman Finds Her Voice, Jo Ann Fore

Abby is a farm girl who found her heart in the city. She can now humbly claim fluency in three languages but it’s the three little ones who call her mama that truly humble her. She and her husband have been ministering to students in Hungary through the ministry of CRU since 2005 and pray continually that their greatest joy would be found in the Gospel. She can be found blogging at www.abigailalleman.com

When All You Can Say is “Sí! Sí! Sí!”

Early September doesn’t just mark the beginning of the school year for children, it also marks the beginning of language learning for both newcomers as well as those who have been in their adopted countries a long time. Because let’s be honest here – fluency takes a lifetime and more. Trying to get our tongues around sounds that don’t exist in our first language is an exercise of body, mind, and soul. I love the way Abby brings in humor, advice, and the Tower of Babel. May you be greatly encouraged by this post on language learning. You can read more about Abby at the end of the post. –Marilyn

Barcelona

“This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” ~ John 10:6

We were in a hotel in the hills of Barcelona and I was meeting my host family for the first time. I was all smiles and nerves. Although I had taken four years of Spanish in high school (with an excellent teacher) and two semesters of upper level Spanish in college, this was the first time where I was surrounded by native speakers. No matter what they said, all I seemed to be able to say was “Sí! Sí! Sí!”

Looking back, I was probably expressing my excitement at being able to understand anything they said. I was starry-eyed and adventurous. The farm girl who boarded that 747, my first plane ride at 20 years old, to step out into the big wide world beyond my small town. My mom said I went on that plane one person and came back another.

She was right.

Now 20 years later that family truly is my own. I felt alone and frightened, at times, but the doors that were opened through stepping into another world and becoming fluent in its language have radically altered the course of my life. But it’s been a messy road, especially fumbling through the ins and outs of learning to speak a new language.

Whenever I see my host mom she always shares the story of the night it was my turn to clean up the kitchen after the ‘cena’ or dinner (which often happened close to midnight). She had asked me if I would clean the kitchen some night as it was customary for the whole family to take turns. And, of course, I said ‘Sí! Sí! Sí!’ Then when my night came and she told me it was my night and would I please clean up, I said ‘Sí! Sí! Sí!’ So when the cena was over I rose from the table said ‘Buenas Noches!’ and headed to my room for bed!

My now second family also likes to tell the story of the weekend hiking trip I went on which I thought would be low key and I could easily do in sneakers. My host family asked me several times if I was sure that I wanted to go and I said ‘Sí! Sí! Sí!’

Well it turned out to be a gorgeous weekend in the Pyrenees with about 10 other people who were pretty close to Sherpas. They were also a pretty tight group and most spoke the native language of Barcelona which is Catalan and not Castellano (Spanish). So I understood far less than the little I then could.  I also needed to have my hands held by two of these amazing Catalan hikers coming down from most of the heights. I slept one of the nights in a packed shelter with a group of Dutch hikers and someone’s stinky socks in my face!

And there are many more stories, I am sure, about the crazy blonde American girl who could only say ‘Sí! Sí! Sí!’

And I laugh because this whole language learning business is full of humility and humor. Both are essential to the journey.

Last week I heard a sermon on the Tower of Babel. It resonated with me as I think of this next language adventure I am on with Hungarian (which is unanimously considered one of the hardest languages in the world and, for me, makes Spanish seem quite easy). The pastor said that when God divided the peoples of the earth through their language He destroyed their unity. It hit me that their collective consciousness was overrun by pride in the comfort zone of knowing the only language spoken. And I immediately had this thought ‘and it’s only the humility of Christ that can overcome that can heal this disunity.’

We cannot survive and succeed in language learning without the Spirit of Christ as our guide. He humbled himself in every way and laid aside the heart language of Heaven to communicate in ways that were consistently misunderstood. And He did it all to redeem us and give us his righteousness so that we can wear Him in the fumbling and bumbling. Because He is our identity we don’t have to be perfect or even good language learners, we just need to be His.

And we need to laugh! We all start out in a new language only able to say ‘Me want water!’ Or ‘Help! We lost!’ Or ‘I go up, over, down, ok?’ We are babies in adult bodies.

My Hungarian language learning has been completely different than studying Spanish. When I moved here long-term I was a mother of two young children and four months pregnant with our third. I had learned a few phrases and some numbers during our internship, but there was no formal schooling as our ministry is based on teaching students conversational English. I had little time to devote to language as a baby was coming! And hardest of all, I was feeling responsible for my kids and unequipped to be their advocate.

But some things remain the same no matter how many languages we learn:

1)       Don’t take yourself too seriously: It really is essential to laugh at yourself–the blunders are a part of every journey. I have many new things to laugh at in learning Hungarian. Like calling ‘legs’, ‘balls’ since there is one letter difference.

2)       Be in community: One of the amazing joys of this language experience is that I am walking it with my husband. We took lessons together in our home and we have laughed and learned and encouraged. Whenever we get together with other Americans who live here, we share fun stories and listen to them too. It all reminds us that we are not alone.

3)       Don’t compare: Everyone learns at their own pace and struggles in different ways while being strong in others. My husband is the better listener(because he does it more) and I am the better speaker(because I do it more). Hmmm…I don’t think that pertains to just Hungarian 😉

4)       Language aptitude is highly overrated: Speaking as someone who others might say is gifted linguistically, I remember that ‘Sí! Sí! Sí!’ Girl all too well. The truth is that it took much more than ability to become and stay fluent for 20 years. It took practice and more practice and falling down and getting back up

5)       Find what works for you/Develop a good plan: Although I learned Spanish traditionally, I have become very outside-the-box with my methods in language-learning. A lot of this is practical as I have only had a few hours/week or less to devote to language learning since we moved to Budapest. We were taught a method during our overseas training with CRU. It is called ‘the Growing Participator Approach’ and uses several non-traditional methods, like TPR, and is modeled after the way we learn our first language. I knew I wanted to learn this way so I came with confidence and implemented the plan.

6)       Don’t give up!!: This is where my husband is my language-learning hero. He just won’t give up no matter how discouraging his day. And he’ll use what he knows. He has learned by listening and speaking and working through miscommunication. And in the process he has shared the Gospel with students all over the city and made friends everywhere. He is always inspiring me to do the same.

7)       Language learning is a spiritual discipline: We are often asked if people speak English here. It seems to imply that if they do then why would we need to learn their language? But that’s not the perspective of Christ. He stepped into culture and time and manifested God’s love through incessantly communicating with humility and determination in the language of the heart. We learn new languages to know Christ more so that He might pour out HIS love through our imperfection that reflects His perfect love.

My hope is that this post would encourage you wherever you are at in your language journey. We are truly in this together!

 If you are new to language learning, what are most anxious or excited about?

And for the many of you who are experienced language learners, do you have any funny stories to share? Or additional words of wisdom and encouragement for those just starting out? 

Let’s encourage one another in this essential part of missionary life!

Abby is a farm girl who found her heart in the city. She can now humbly claim fluency in three languages but it’s the three little ones who call her mama that truly humble her. She and her husband have been ministering to students in Hungary through the ministry of CRU since 2005 and pray continually that their greatest joy would be found in the Gospel. She can be found blogging at www.abigailalleman.com

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/bicycles-balcony-la-sagrera-413761/