When Christmas Loses Its Magic

Christmas was magical until my grandpa died when I was 14. Up until that point Christmas had been the highlight of every year. But something seemed to die when he died. Several years later, another tragic death hit us. After that, Christmases were never the same. It was more a season of ache than joy.

Throughout my twenties, the Christmas season sometimes seemed to mock me with all its giddiness when I felt so broken. Unfulfilled desires, chronic illness, separation from loved ones, and homesickness were unwanted guests that exposed brokenness, especially at Christmas.

Enter Advent – the four-week period in the church calendar right before Christmas that both remembers Christ’s birth and anticipates His second coming. I grew up as an evangelical in a Roman Catholic country. We didn’t practice anything that hinted at Roman Catholicism. Observing the church calendar or its liturgies was not a thing I was aware of.

But since I started observing Advent in the last seven years or so, it has been a game changer for me. It has taught me to live in paradox. It has freed me up to treasure the joy of Christ’s first coming while also mourning that He hasn’t come back yet.

Advent enables me not to resent that the Christmas season is polluted with grief. It heightens the reality that I am a woman in waiting – waiting for consummation and for the return of my bridegroom. The small story of my life is simply joining the history of the world. I am doing what history has always been doing: groaning as it waits for one of the two comings of Jesus.

Paradox at Christmastime is just as it should be. Christ’s first coming was filled with paradox. When Simeon saw Christ in the temple, he both rejoiced and prophesied sorrow. Even as he praised God when he saw the long awaited salvation of God’s people, he also told Mary that this baby whom she had just delivered, and who would deliver her, would do so at a great cost to her. “A sword will pierce through your own soul.” The same baby would bring judgment to some and exaltation to others (Luke 2:34-35).

His second coming will also be filled with paradox. What will mean glory for all those who have longed for his appearing will mean wailing for those who pierced him. While His children sing, His enemies will bow in terror (Revelation 1:7).

For me, the difference between simply celebrating Christmas and practicing Advent has a lot to do with how I face December. I am not only looking forward to Christmas Day (or Noche Buena in Hispanic countries). I am not only just going to (or hosting) parties. I no longer expect myself to just be happy.

Instead, I allow time every day to both remember Christ’s birth and anticipate his second coming. I give space to sit in my grief, in my current unfulfilled longings and fears. I bring them honestly to my Father. I don’t try to mask them or stuff them down “because Christmas!” I am ok with the tension. Yes, Praise God, Christ was born! And life is not what it should be.

The point is not exactly how you observe Advent. I don’t always do the same thing every year. Some years I read through a devotional during Advent. Several years ago, I read through Isaiah using Tony Reinke’s #isaiahchristmas plan. We light candles at dinner with the kids, keeping it very dark at the beginning of December and then making it brighter the closer it gets to Christmas Day.

We have used Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, adding ornaments to a Jesse Tree every day. Other years we have focused on a name of Christ a day as a way of counting down to Christmas. Another year I went on a journey through the Scriptures in Handel’s Messiah every day.

I think the point has far more to do with the paradigm you have for this season, rather than how exactly you practice it. Are you ok with living in paradox? Are you aware that you are a person in waiting? Do you believe your unfulfilled longings, brokenness, and grief fit perfectly with this time?

Living into Advent has helped me to fix my gaze – and my hope – past Christmas to the Resurrection and the return of my King and Brother.

Christmas is a joy not because it is filled with undiluted joy. It is a joy because it testifies that just as the Incarnation truly happened, He is certainly coming back again. Because of Christmas, I am hastening the coming of Resurrection in clouds of great glory. Then, at last, everything sad will be untrue.

O Lord Jesus, come! We miss you so.

Christian life is like a house. Mine needed a remodel.

I like to envision my life in Christ as a house. For the first 25 years of my life that house was designed, built, and furnished almost exclusively by a very specific brand of evangelical Christianity. I attended a Christian college with a slightly broader brand, and some redecorating started early in my twenties, but for the most part, that house remained pretty much the same. 

I struggled with deep introspection and constant condemnation in my performance-oriented walk with Christ. But I never considered whether something was missing in the house of my theology. Up to that point my spiritual community held to our theology and way of life in very arrogant ways. We believed we were the cream of the crop. We lived thinking we had the most coherent belief system with very little to no contradiction in our understanding of God, salvation, and church government and practice. 

Then in my mid-twenties the Lord used a different flavor of evangelicalism to open my eyes to a fundamental truth about the gospel that I hadn’t tasted up to that point. I started to savor the life-giving reality that the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ was for me too as a Christian, not just unbelievers. This realization rocked my world. The constant introspection and condemnation I had lived with started to ease up as I learned to take hold of the gospel as the only reality that defined my life. 

This began a remodeling project in the house of my spiritual formation and practice. A few walls were knocked down, and the living room became larger. More people could come and sit. I realized I had much to learn from groups that were outside of what I had previously considered acceptable. The more I honed in on the importance of a gospel culture in the church (not just an evangelistic culture but one actually gospel-shaped and motivated by grace), I realized how the culture of my church (and denomination) had been sorely lacking. 

Over the course of the next 10 years (with two huge cross-cultural moves in the mix), God kept slowly remodeling my house but all still within a specific theological framework. He redecorated – adding rugs here and there, switching out paintings and wall art or completely replacing them – but most of my influences were still within a strong word-centered tradition. 

When we arrived at the country where we live now (yes, a third cross-cultural move), the remodeling project became significantly more intense. I went from thinking my house was pretty complete and without much need of significant change, to realizing I needed major overhaul. Through deep suffering the Lord started to expose how the actual foundation of my home needed to be completely replaced. He started to show how my Christian walk was not only shaped by the theological system I had lived in all my life, but also by trauma and dysfunction. 

I needed significant healing and rescue, and my Father was eager to gently, tenderly deliver me. He used the strength of other spiritual communities to help me taste a bit more the fullness of who He is and the riches of his presence. In the contemplative traditions I’ve delighted in being with God, in slowing down and focusing on his actual presence with me. Through my charismatic friends, he has fixed my gaze on the Spirit and on his ministry that pours the love of the Father.

He is growing my dependence on the Spirit’s ability to lead me and guide me in righteousness, not because a spiritual community or leaders tell me how to live but because He himself is able and willing to do it and because he has given me Christ’s ability to discern it. Community matters deeply, and leaders can be a gift, but I am discovering what great confidence there is in listening to the Spirit.

Over time I have found myself jealous for more of the triune God, and that desire is the main filter through which I evaluate different traditions and systems. While I still strongly care about theology and the surety of the word, I want the house of my walk with Christ to have a strong awareness of the nourishing presence of the actual person of God – not just truth about him. 

As I consider this major remodeling that God has done in my life, I have been struck by two things that matter immensely in our Christian formation and practice. Doctrine matters, theology matters, but what matters more than a specific set of beliefs is that we know how much the Father loves us in Christ and that, trusting in that love, we live by the Spirit and not in the flesh. 

Interacting with people from many traditions and backgrounds, I have been struck by how we are all tempted in similar ways to doubt the love of the Triune God and to live with confidence in the flesh. It shouldn’t surprise me since that has been the attack of the devil as early as Genesis 3, when there were no denominations or traditions – only humans. 

The brokenness of the world, of relationships, of our own hearts gets in the way of us knowing deep in our souls the delight of the Father to us through Christ. We forget (or don’t know or don’t grasp) how our in-Christness defines every aspect of our reality. We focus so much on what we do or don’t do, that we think that the love of God depends on that. 

And this leads us to find our security, significance, and confidence in many good things that are not Christ. We boast in our accurate understanding of the word, in our precise theology, in our visions and experiences in the Spirit, in the power and effectiveness of our prayers, in our liturgies and rhythms of fasting and silence and solitude.

But when our confidence is on anything outside of the finished work of Christ and of his life, death, and resurrection (and their power in us), we end up reeking of pride and can become oppressive in our interactions with our brothers and sisters. The flesh is the enemy, not those outside of our circles.

While I have struggled to know where I fully belong in the context of so much theological and practical diversity, I have also come to be supremely grateful for an outsider perspective. I have been learning from many but not fully belonging anywhere.

Yet I am supremely grateful for what God has given me through such distinct theological backgrounds and cultures because in all of it, he is giving me more of himself in ways that offset the profound loneliness of this long season of painful but needed transformation. I have been grasping and savoring the surety of his presence with me because of what he has revealed about himself in the beautiful prism of his diverse body. 

I am thankful for the things I get to keep of the tradition and theological system that first shaped me. And I am also grateful for the freedom to identify which things I don’t want to keep from them – which allows me to recognize the needed gifts and beauty in other traditions.

We all need our houses to be remodeled eclectically. No single theological system or set of doctrines or practices holds the vastness and mystery of God. When Christ alone is the sure foundation, our homes are strong enough to withstand expansive remodeling so that the beauty, glory, and paradox of the triune God is what defines and establishes every aspect of our life in Christ. 

Because at the end of the day traditions and systems and doctrines are just that: traditions, systems, and doctrines. None of them can save. None of them is a sufficient source of confidence. Only God himself is worthy of all our trust, rest, and joy.

When Saying Goodbye Again is Too Much

“I have to tell you something, but you can’t tell anyone, because I am not supposed to know this yet.” 

I receive this text from my teammate and good friend.

“Oookaaay…. What’s going on?”

“The Smiths* are leaving.”

I immediately shoot back a bunch of crying emojis.

The Smiths have a daughter who is best friends with both my daughter and my teammate’s daughter. Their trio is about to be broken. 

Our mama hearts hurt for our daughters. 

Goodbyes have been a painful thing for us in our life overseas. My daughter wrote a poem a while back about all the friends she has had to say goodbye to. She had prayed often (and so had I) for a really safe friend here. So when I find out that this dear, much longed for friend in this country is leaving, the tears flow freely. Not again, Lord.

For a few moments that night, I feel ready to quit this life altogether. Why choose a life where there is this kind of grief, that is both frequent and also unexpected? Unlike diplomats or the military, who know the length of their terms, we are never sure when we will have to say goodbye to those we love or when it will be our turn to be the ones who leave. 

//

A few weeks later, I host a goodbye party for this sweet friend with all the girls in her class. I tell them we’ll start with a more serious activity and then move to more fun.

I create space for them to feel whatever they are feeling about saying goodbye. These precious expat girls know the pain of constant goodbyes. I ask them to breathe in deeply and to think about what is on their hearts. I give them a few minutes to get in touch with where they are.

Then I read Psalm 84 to them, a psalm about pilgrims longing for the presence of God as they travel. My voice breaks as I read, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” No good thing. He is our sun and shield. A day with him as our best friend is better than a thousand with our dearest friends. Oh Father, this is so beautifully true. Thank you.

After this, we listen together to Christy Nockels’s song Home. They all have blank paper and markers, and I ask them to draw, doodle, write, whatever they want as they listen to what God has for them. We go through the whole song. They ask to listen a second time, as they creatively process with the Lord. So we do.

It feels like a sacred space, as I see them sprawled all over the basement, under stairs, behind couches, in corners, listening to the Lord. I pray the Spirit will come and meet them in ways he only can.

He meets me too. Isn’t that so like him? I am captivated by the phrase Nockels repeats over and over: “Further up and farther in.” 

That is when it hits me. That even though our paths are going in separate ways, the invitation is the same for all of us: to go further up and farther into the love of our Father in Christ. We are all still traveling home, just on different paths. It fills me with so much hope for my daughter and her friends. Jesus will from his own fullness give them “what he takes away.It gives me a sense of purpose in this nomadic life and its goodbyes. Each one is producing an eternal weight of glory — in both us as parents and in our kids.

Later, we laugh and play with water balloons and dunk cake and marshmallows in fudge and munch on lemon bars . . . because Christ is in all of it. In both lament and feast.

//

Friend, if you too are going through heart-wrenching goodbyes, may you accept the invitation from our Father to keep journeying further up and farther into the fullness of the Son. Christ is the God who journeys with us in the mountains and valleys. When he brings us through the valley of tears, we experience more of his heart, more of his presence, more of his goodness.  May the very presence of Christ buoy your soul in all the farewells that this life calls us to. And may He transform the valley into a place where we taste more deeply the love that never lets us go. 

 

*name changed to protect identity

When God Surprises You With Abundance

When I first heard Christ say, “Follow me,” I was sixteen years old. I often wondered what kind of cross I would carry for choosing to follow him. I pictured myself living in a hut in a mountain village or maybe in a “barrio” similar to the slums I would drive by on my way to school. I knew that it wouldn’t be easy, that there would be loss, pain, maybe even persecution. And it’s true – it has been, at times, grueling and crushing. What I didn’t foresee then was that following Christ could also mean, at times, abundance. 

But here I am years later, living overseas and recently moved into a house that is better than anything we had hoped. Not only is the house built on two plots of land, perfect for our kids to play and explore, inside the house is spacious as well. We have a dedicated guest room with its own bathroom and a lower level that is airy and perfect to host large gatherings. We have a separate dining room to host multiple guests, and my husband is able to have an office to more effectively work from home. 

And the view, oh, the view is breathtaking. Because our house sits at the top of a hill, it overlooks a precipitous narrow valley, ringed by mountains. We can see a small town that sits on the mountain across from us, and at night, the cheery lights from the houses greet us in the distance. Secluded by a row of tall cypress trees, the house has a farmhouse feel. When you sit in the veranda that overlooks the valley, the twittering of Palestinian sunbirds with their turquoise plumage and playful flight simply delight the senses. 

For years I’d been saying I wanted to have a house that was guest-house material, a place that would be lovely and restful, a place where others could come to get away, “preferably with a gorgeous view,” I’d say. This house is all that and more (for the same rent we were paying before!). A few days after we moved, I told my husband, “I feel like my soul grew two sizes.”

But not long after, I found a nagging restlessness in my heart. I couldn’t relax into enjoying our home. We don’t know any other expats in this country with a space like ours. A voice kept whispering, “God wouldn’t be this kind to you, you don’t deserve it. Did you somehow manipulate him into giving it to you?”

When our functional theology is about what we deserve, we quickly turn to self-atonement strategies to cope with undeserved gifts. “We will steward this house well. We want it to be a blessing to others,” we say. And while this desire to be a blessing is absolutely real and good, what if that is not the primary reason why we have this house? What if our Father is this kind? What if, before we think about how we can use this home for the good of others and the kingdom, we receive this gift with both hands and simply savor the rich love of our Dad who sees us intimately? 

We are not just servants living on mission for the purposes of the King. We are his actual kids – deeply beloved, thoroughly delighted in. What if, as we are giving out to others, he wants us to taste all that He is and all that we are to him? 

As overseas workers, do we have a theology of abundance? I have been pondering this question for months. When generous friends gift us time away on what feels like an extravagant vacation, when God provides the perfect car for the needs of our family, or when God blows us away with increased monthly support that we didn’t sweat hard to raise, do we have a functional theology that allows us to relish all that grace? Without guilt, shame, or fear? 

Our theology of abundance not only allows us to receive grace, it also helps us when we are living very different lives than Adoniram and Ann Judson lived in Burma or Jim and Elisabeth Elliott among the Quechua people in Ecuador. 

“We have left it all to follow you.” Peter’s words ring in our ears. Have we? We have cars, A/C units, and grocery stores with western-like goods. We can text with our families across the oceans and within seconds, get a reply. In some ways, at times, our sacrifice seems less significant because the lack we experience is not the same. And so the abundance we enjoy in comparison to theirs makes us feel a bit like a fraud, like we are in some way second-class workers, not as “hard core” as those of old.

But their devotion to Christ is not measured by their sacrifice but by their faith in him and their day-to-day dependence on the Spirit. God is not measuring the strength of our sacrifice either. Rather, he asks whether Jesus is our only source of confidence for the life he has given — with its gifts, sorrows, and responsibilities. 

What if the abundance in our life is rich soil for growth when it is enjoyed by faith? What if this bounty in resources and capacity is a gift that enables longevity, allowing us to be stable and grounded enough to care for the overwhelming needs of those around us? What if the God who cares for us according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus delights to tend to the souls and bodies and minds of those he sends out to serve him? What if he knows how much we need to hear, “I see you?”

I hope you know I am not saying we can only feel seen in abundance. Neither am I advocating the pursuit of abundance. I know the destructive power of prosperity gospel theology and the trap it can be in ministry. I am a firm believer in the importance of a robust theology of suffering. I am, after all, a lay counselor, passionate about holistic soul care. But a robust theology of suffering is not complete without a theology of abundance. 

Our Father’s generosity is to be received gratefully, joyfully. His kindness is to be stewarded and leveraged. When we do that with Christ-confidence we are, like Mary Oliver wrote, “half crazy with the wonder of it.” We delight in the foolishness of grace that lavishes us with everything our Father is for us. Not because we have done so much in following Jesus, but because He won it all when he led ahead of us.

Where His Light Was: Remembering the Year in Light of Grace


We are at the close of the year.

For much of my life, this time was marked by introspection, by examens of conscience where I evaluated myself and my performance throughout the year. How did I grow? What did I accomplish? How did I change from last year? It was also one of the main ways to think about how to create resolutions and ways I wanted to keep growing and changing in the new year.

Recently, I was watching Little Women, the 1994 version (and naturally, a Christmas must-see every year). I was struck by Jo’s comment to Professor Bhaer about her family’s way of life: “With all this transcendence comes much emphasis on perfecting oneself.” That is probably my natural bent and also what I thought for the longest time was the aim of the Christian life — to be continually working to perfect myself.

But at the end of this year, I find myself trying an examen of consciousness rather than one of conscience. An examen of consciousness is an ancient practice, a review of where I saw the Lord at work, of how he showed himself near.

In her book Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton describes the practice this way: “This is a simple discipline that helps us to become more God conscious, heightening our awareness that God is indeed with us when we lie down to sleep, when we wake up and in every moment in between.”

I have been practicing this examen in the evenings, and now at the end of the year, I try it too. I ask the Lord for eyes to see, for faith to perceive his hand. (I need his help even with this.)

I ask – Where did I see you this year? How did you move? How did you protect me? How did you meet me in your word? Where did your spirit prompt me?

This ancient practice of stopping to look back on my day, not primarily to introspect but to look upward, to recognize the presence of God, is helping me to reframe my thoughts around his goodness even on really hard days.

I may not have discerned his hand in the moment, but taking time at the end of the day and the end of the year is a way of re-remembering, of rewiring the memory to see more clearly what I missed earlier. When I was walking under the heaviness of a given burden, he was there giving joy to read Sammy the Seal to my five-year-old; when I was exhausted after nights up with my sick son, he was holding me as I slept; when I felt fear tightly gripping me, his Spirit helped me discern the root of the struggle and eyes to see him fighting for me; and when waves of triggers wanted me to think trauma was my ultimate reality, my Father was doing his rescuing work. He gave me Jesus’ joy in supernatural ways after exceptionally difficult moments.

My bent on perfecting myself keeps me from being able to discern or enjoy my Father’s presence by keeping my focus on what I am doing instead of what he is doing. And ultimately, it keeps me entrenched with a focus on what I, living by my own strength and ability (in other words, what I in the flesh) can do.

But this practice is training me to live by the Spirit, trusting all that Christ is and is able to do in me and through me. Only after our awareness of God’s love and work in our lives is awake are we truly ready to examine our hearts and let the Spirit show us where we need to repent and confess and trust Christ a little more.

I encourage you to try this practice not only at the end of this year but regularly — at the end of your days, weeks, and months. It will enable you to say, “I see your hand, Father, carrying me all of my yesterdays; I look forward to all of my tomorrows and all the grace rushing to meet me in them.

Looking back on “where his light was” will not only lead you to praise, but surely feed your hope. For his light is everywhere, if only we have eyes to see it.

Is Christ Still Worth It?

In 2007, worker friends of mine were martyred in a country in Central Asia. I was in my mid-twenties, single, and praying for direction for the desires the Lord had given me for his kingdom. I was so shaken by their deaths. I remember how, shortly after it happened, I was swimming furiously in the gym pool, praying to the Lord, ”Who will take their place? Please, send me.”

I couldn’t make it to the memorial in the US, but a pastor friend shared with me the eulogy he had given. One line has had a profound effect on me. After talking about all the challenges these worker friends faced, and their many adversaries, he said something like, “You may hear about all this opposition and all the difficulties they faced, and their lives may not sound appealing to you. But the truth is, their lives did not appeal to them either. They loved Christ more than they loved their own lives.

~~~~~~~

I remember when we were first getting ready to go overseas. My husband and I had the opportunity to share at a church together. I was passionate, convinced that Christ is worthy and that he is worth our sacrifice. I was so glad we were finally (at age 33 and 32) on our way to serve Christ in the Middle East for the rest of our lives. 

The first three years were exciting. We had a lot of adrenaline, and we were planted in really good spiritual communities. During that time we joined a team to help plant a church. We felt like we were finally living our dream life. Then the Lord called us to another ministry in another country. 

The last four years, since arriving in this country, we have faced many difficulties: significant health problems, a brutal treatment to catalyze physical healing, an excruciating language learning season, deep loneliness, unresolved trauma flaring up with intense symptoms and a need for additional counseling/therapy. A tragedy a year ago left us reeling, and we are still processing the shock of it. Our efforts in relationship building haven’t borne the fruit we hoped; right now the path doesn’t seem very clear. The ground at times feels shaky underneath our feet. What can we stand on? At times we feel like the wind in our sails is just…..gone. 

We have been overseas for seven years now. According to a friend, who is also a clinical counselor and who has done a lot of research about mental health in workers, we are right at the burnout period. And frankly, we feel it. Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot I love about our life here. I love where we live. I love the beauty around me. I am so thankful for the expat community we have started to get to know. Our kids are doing really well at school. But I don’t love how lost we feel right now, how very little we have to go on for ministry. We have dreams for the work here but struggle to find our place in it. 

We shared some of this with our church this past summer, asking for prayer. I wondered how they might hear what we shared. Did our lives sound as unappealing as the ones from my friends? We were definitely not sharing the glamorous, attractive stories that you sometimes hear from workers when they come home. We were not doing the best job at recruiting, if you ask me.

A question swirled in my head: What would motivate any of our friends at church not only to keep praying for us, but to maybe one day also go overseas? Is Christ still worth it?

Is Christ worth years and years of language learning? Is he worth the death of who we are in English for what we can be in another language? Is he worth our praise when we have more questions than clear answers from him?  When the ground doesn’t feel firm, and our confidence feels shaken, is he worth it? 

The thing is, Christ hasn’t changed. He is still the one who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17). He is still the one who knows the end from the beginning, whose footprints sometimes are unseen as he leads through the sea (Psalm 77:19). He is still the one who creates the visible out of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3). He is still the one whose arm brings salvation (Isaiah 59:17).

Christ is still the one who stoops low even as he has all authority on earth (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the one who gives himself to us so completely, so joyfully, so powerfully, so lovingly. The one who is our life — our only life!

This verse in a new song by CityAlight and Sandra McCracken captures why we can still love Christ even when we don’t love our lives: 

On the road that You walked
With the weight of the cross
All my pain and my sorrow You held
So to You I shall hold
You redeem every loss
For my Lord, You have given Yourself

Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself
And if I should remain in the valley today
Bless the Lord, for He gives me Himself

Yes, friend, in the valley the risen Christ is still worthy and worth it, because there we get Him – all of Him – forever.

Missionaries were sent to serve my country. God sent me somewhere else.

I was 16 when I first sensed the Lord calling me to full-time ministry — and more specifically to serve sacrificially in areas where there was a great need of the gospel. The Lord gave me faith to respond almost immediately, “Yes, Lord, I will go wherever you lead.” I am Dominican, and at the time I had a strong conviction that “wherever” meant staying in the DR and serving my own people. For 12 years that is what I did…until the Lord surprised me and called me to another place.

While I highly encourage anyone from a developing country to stay and serve their own people, there may be reasons to consider leaving your own to serve in another needy place. In my life these three considerations were key:

1. Spirit-fueled desires
2. The nature of the evangelical presence in my context
3. How the Lord led through providence

Spirit-fueled desires
“Delight in the Lord,” the psalmist says,” and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The Spirit often leads us by giving us specific desires for his kingdom. For several years, He gave me a strong desire to stay in the Dominican Republic and serve my own. I discipled young women in my church. I volunteered in outreach opportunities in poor neighborhoods, public hospitals, and underserved villages. I taught at a Christian school.

But when I was around 24 years old, I read Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper. The more I read about unreached peoples, the more my heart burned with a longing to share the gospel with those who hadn’t heard. When I read Piper’s exposition on Romans 15:20 about Paul and his not wanting to build on another’s foundation, the Spirit lit a fire in my soul. I longed for Christ to be proclaimed where he was not known. When I started praying and fasting for the nations, the Spirit just kept feeding a desire to move on from my context to a place where there was more need.

If you sense the Lord nudging you in one direction, if you have a desire to serve, is it possible that these desires are borne out of the Spirit in your life? Could it be that the Spirit is guiding you away from where he once called you? Desire is one way God leads.

The nature of the evangelical presence in your context
While desires are important, wisdom calls us to consider other variables. One such variable is the strength of the evangelical presence where you live. Consider how many healthy churches are in your community or in your city. How involved are they with people around them? Does love for God overflow in love for people? Is the word of God doing the work of God? If the answer is yes, in what ways is that happening?

It was clear that the Lord was working in my country. For years we had been recipients of cross-cultural work. Missionaries had been sent to us. The Lord convicted me that it was time for my spiritual community to participate in and initiate the kind of mercy ministry and evangelism that others came to do for us. We didn’t need others to come to us. We could minister to our own people.

Over time, I started to recognize what the Lord was doing in our country. There were many healthy churches from different theological denominations actively participating in building the kingdom of God in the Dominican. They were not just being faithful in our city but in other towns across the island. There were many Dominicans willing to serve in their own country, but there were not many with a desire or drive to go to darker places. I sensed I needed to steward both my desire and the spiritual resources the Lord had given my community.

It was exciting to think that the time had come for my spiritual community to no longer simply be recipients of cross-cultural work but also active participants in sending others out. The Lord had been filling us to overflowing, and now we could give out of the grace we had been given.

God’s providential leading
As I prayed for the Father’s leading, He started opening doors for me and closing others. He opened doors to love and care for an unreached people group right there in my city. It was a joy to see him answer prayers and longings right where I lived. I had been pursuing opportunities to move to other Hispanic countries like Cuba or Spain. But so far nothing had come of them. So when the Lord led me, through a friend, to reach out to prostitutes in Santo Domingo, it was a clear answer to prayer.

During that time, the Lord brought an old friend back into my life who also had a strong desire to serve the Lord in darker places. Eventually our friendship grew into something more, and the Lord led us to marriage. I left the Dominican for good and moved to his country. From there, several years later, after many providential events, the Lord led us to move overseas to serve him in the Middle East together. There have been a lot of twists and turns and seeming detours in our cross-cultural journey, but the Lord has not been surprised by any of them. He has been orchestrating providence to overwhelm us with his love and to use our small lives to do what he promised – fill the earth with his glory.

So if you are praying about how to steward a desire to move to a more needy place, one with less light of the gospel than where you currently live, be assured that you can trust the Spirit’s generosity to lead you there. Pay attention to the desires of your heart and to what is happening around you. Pay attention to what He is doing — those seeming coincidences, the conversations that happen at the right time, the opportunities that fall on your lap, and even to the closed doors. He may be working in surprising ways to take you where you didn’t think you’d ever go.

 

Photo by Juanca Paulino on Unsplash

Reading the News When Crisis Hits

Living overseas makes checking the news a tricky endeavor, especially in seasons of global crisis like the pandemic or more recently, the war in Ukraine. Reading about these things can be anxiety inducing for a few reasons. When you live far from home, you count on life in your passport country to keep providing stability, a place you can safely retreat to if needed. But when your passport country is struggling alongside the rest of the world, you experience a sense of loss and instability.

Reading the news can be a triggering experience if you have gone through traumatic experiences yourself. The injustice, violence, and pain can make you feel paralyzed, angry or really upset. It can also be challenging to consume news when life around you is draining and uniquely demanding. Your capacity to process hard things happening elsewhere in the world is so much less.

At the same time, as global citizens we can’t afford to not be informed about world events. The world is so connected that what happens in one country often has implications in other parts of the world. If we want to be understanding of the times, we can’t live under a rock. So how do we navigate news consumption? 



1. Know your window of tolerance.
Name honestly what happens to you when you read the news. As humans our emotions are impacted by what we read. We reflect the heart of our Father when we are moved with compassion or when we respond with indignation to the injustice in the world. But if reading the news starts to get in the way of our being able to function well, we may need to step back and consider how to stay within our window of tolerance.

Dan Siegel is the therapist and clinical professor who coined the term “window of tolerance” (WOT). WOT refers to “the best state of stimulation in which you are able to function and thrive in everyday life. When we exist within this window, we are able to learn effectively, play, and relate well to ourselves and others” [source]. Ideally we want to stay within a space where we can self-regulate, stay grounded, and be flexible. If reading the news triggers deep anxiety, overwhelm, numbness, a sense of panic or maybe even a response of flight or fight within us – these are all signs that we are moving away from that state in which we are best able to function in our daily life.

Pay attention to your body’s responses. Stay curious about why specific news has the impact it has on you. Could this news be tapping into unprocessed grief or trauma?

Notice, too, if there is a time of day when things affect you more. Is checking the news before going to sleep disrupting your rest at night? How often are you going online to check news updates?

After you’ve paid attention to these things, be very gentle with yourself and plan accordingly. Is there specific news you need to avoid for a while? Maybe ask someone who loves you to filter the news and share with you what you can handle. There really is no shame in that, friend. Or maybe, set a time of day when you check the news, and then don’t check it again that day. And if you are really struggling, it really is okay to say, “I can’t handle this right now.” Know yourself and steward your capacity to process information.



2. Actively stay within the circle of your responsibility.
While it is true that we want to be informed and cultivate compassion toward suffering in the world, our primary calling is to stay present and tender-hearted for those in our immediate circle of influence. If you are anything like me, once in a while you need to do a heart-check and discern: what is within my circle of responsibility and what is within my circle of concern? Sometimes I have even had to write it all down and create two lists:

What things are my responsibility (things that God has called me to)?

What things are only a concern (things that God is calling me to entrust to him)?

Seeing it in black and white in front of me is helpful, so I can properly cast my cares on him. Thankfully all my cares (both the ones that I am responsible for and the ones I need to entrust to him) are his cares. They matter to him. So he is able to equip me to engage faithfully where he wants me to and also to give away to him what I really can’t change or influence. I am so thankful he cares so much for all of me, and that I am within his circle of responsibility and commitment.

 

3. Hunt for beauty every day.
Finally, when life is heavy and it seems we can’t escape its excruciating crush, become a beauty hunter. In the rich mercy of our Father, beauty strengthens the soul to face grief.

When we are struggling to live in the love of the Father, chasing beauty is just what the doctor ordered. Choose a project that will breathe life and hope into your soul:

-hang flowers on the porch
-go on picnics on poppy-covered fields
-bake favorite desserts with your family
-have dance parties
-explore favorite markets
-admire the sunset
-sing worship songs
-read poems while drinking tea
-behold breathtaking cliffs or
-gaze at star-filled night-time skies

Beauty opens our eyes to the steadfast love of the Lord even when darker colors inhabit the landscape of our lives. It is what shelters us in the day of trouble, enabling us to believe we will see our Father’s goodness in the land of living.

 

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash