"not what i expected": the foreign field...of motherhood

Eighty-five to ninety, even occasionally ninety-five, percent of a cross-cultural, mission-minded individual's time can be taken up with just what it takes to live in a foreign setting: lesson plans or other business, shopping for groceries (which may in that culture be a daily event as contrasted to weekly), food preparation (which may require extra time too), laundry, correspondence, sleep (which really is necessary)....

And I'm not sure where we get this idea of being able to ignore "normal life" and giving ourselves so fully to "ministry." But it's a great expectation that sets us up perfectly for even greater disappointment.

But I was sitting in this session this past weekend at the FX missions conference up at The Wilds, listening to a brother sharing his experience teaching English in a cross-cultural setting, sharing his (sometimes literally) rude awakening to this new land.

The session's title: "It's Not What I Expected!"

And I found myself not just listening to, but connecting with, the challenge of our own pre-conceived expectations falling flat and needing to be adjusted. Having given the above statistic about eight-five to ninety-five percent, and having shared some of the ways God had to work in his heart, when this brother began to read Philippians 2:14-17, a tear trickled down my cheek.

There I was, sitting with my legs comfortably criss-crossed in my chair, relaxed, enjoying having my husband next to me, the kiddos safely cared for in homes of trusted friends...in another state....

And as he read Phippians 2:14-17, the Spirit applied this "Not What I Expected" session to my heart. He reminded me of my current mission, the one He's called me to, that hasn't been what I expected either. 

I jotted in my conference notebook: "My cross-cultural mission field right now is motherhood."

Motherhood. This land of pre-conceived notions and crazy expectations. This isn't how I thought God would use me. This isn't what I expected. And I certainly spend between eighty-five and ninety-five percent of my time just doing what it takes to live with little people in my home: laundry and dishes and diapers and making sure everyone has sufficient food in their faces, that their homework is done, that the lost library book is found before it incurs a twenty-seven dollar replacement fee, that they learn how to work with their hands and be brave when they scrape their knee or someone is not kind to them, packing lunches, making beds, and on and on....

And Philippians 2:14-17 speaks into my life, interrupts my thinking, gives me some spiritual chiropractic care and helps me realign my expectations:

"Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud [unashamed] that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all."

And the Spirit is applying these things to my life from that passage:

  • All things. All...
  • Don't complain. Don't question what I've given you right now.
  • And in this generation, I need you, my child, to be pure.
  • Shine where you are.
  • Make my Word a priority.
  • You won't be sorry, and your work will not be for nothing.
  • You feel like you're being drained, poured out till you're empty. You are.
  • But it's for the faith of those you're serving.
  • So be happy about it. Rejoice with those you're serving.
  • It's worth it. :)

And I think about Titus 2, where the older women are to instruct the younger women to love their husbands and love their children,etc., for the purpose of the Word of God not being blasphemed or thought little of.

And being a wife has as many concocted expectations as being a mom does. And loving that man isn't always what I expected it to look like, holding down the fort while he pours himself into a dissertation.

But I know this is what He's called me to. It's "not what I expected" but it's good.

And the dividends are often reaped in faith: "I have no greater joy than to hear [or, see] my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 4).

We're all going to have to face adjusted expectations of what the ministry God's given us is supposed to look like. It's not going to look like what we might have thought or hoped.

"His thoughts are different from our thoughts; His ways are better than our ways" (Isaiah).

And if I'll walk by faith, love my husband, love my children, love Him, love His Word...

It'll be worth it. He said so.

And I can trust Him.

Always.

And so I read Philippians 2 again. And again. And I'm happier, just believing He's doing this.

His Word is watering me, and I'm growing...right where He's planted me (for now). Who knows where He'll replant us down the road, but either way...here or there...He's fulfilling His purposes!

And I can't help but smile.


Grace and peace,
with love,

michelle






are we too hard on sufferers?: gaining perspective on Job's wife and Ruth's mother-in-law and the woman you know who's struggling

How many of us have voiced an unfiltered thought to our husband or a friend? An utterance that surfaced unchecked and maybe not even because we really believed that thing but because we were looking for that man of strength we married or that loyal friend to speak to our hearts and challenge how we were processing the present struggle?

Job's wife gets a lot of flack. In an unfiltered horrific (and providentially preserved) moment, the words came out: "Why not just curse God and die?" Let's just be done with all this. I don't think I can take anymore.

And tears ran down my face this morning as I shared with my small group at Ladies' Bible Study this brief vignette because sometimes the Spirit makes it really real that these characters in the Bible were individuals, fully human, just like me, and their reactions, their stories, could be mine. 

Job's wife, though we don't know her name, was a real woman. And she suffered significant loss, endured immense heartache. I cannot imagine. Every thing and every child she had was stolen from her grasp, taken away from her in rapid succession, and she was watching her hero, her husband suffer unexplained personal illness. 

And we do well to keep reminding ourselves, this story is not a work of fiction. This woman, Job's wife, breathed air and birthed children and worked hard and loved deep. 

And she was brought to the end of herself. The painful, bitter end. The hopeless bottom of the empty barrel. A place where, given enough hardship, any of us can come to. (And some of us get there way faster than she.) 

"Why not just curse God and let Him kill us?" Think about all they'd suffered. Read the first two chapters again. Put yourself in her shoes, remembering a significant loss you've experienced and the hot tears that you've shed. The question that always eventually surfaces is, "Is this worth it? Is it worth it to keep going on?"

And I find it incredibly instructive to look at Job's response. Righteous man that he was, I have to read his character into his tone of voice: I do not think he's shouting this at her. I really don't think at that lowest point of struggle, after all they'd been through together, that he was really condemning her. I think if there were an inspired audio version...I believe...we'd hear a gentle husband quietly, calming counseling the woman he loves. 

"You sound like one of the foolish women. Should we expect good from the hand of God and not suffering?" 

It's as if Job's saying, That's not my faith-full, grace-full wife talking. That's not you, love, saying that. I know it's not. These words are coming out of your beautiful lips, but it doesn't sound like you. I know you. This isn't you. "You're talking like an unbelieving person."

And so he gently pleads with her to respond as a woman of the faith. And notice he says, you sound like or you're talking like. He doesn't accuse her of being an unbeliever. There is a difference. 

And then Job says just one thing more, he asks her a question. He doesn't go on and on, doesn't preach, doesn't lecture. He just challenges her thinking by asking her one probing question: "Should we expect God to give us good only and never what we consider to be bad?"

Then he leaves the scene, goes off to scrape his sores, to sit silently, and to suffer the bad theology of his so-called friends who thought they had it all figured out...until God would set them straight and speak for Himself. 

But Job's brief, kind response to his struggling wife reveals the measure of his faith. He believed God was sovereign (in complete control). And he believed God always did what was right (even if he didn't understand why). He didn't expect that He somehow deserved life to always be good. And he believed God was with them in this storm.

Still, it hurts to watch your husband soldier on and suffer. It hurts to lose everything you've worked for, anyone you've loved. It just hurts. And it hurts deeply.

And the question in our Bible study book today--Nancy Guthrie's The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis, week 3, discussion question 7--that in part prompted this post was this: 

"Many people feel and express anger with God when the brokenness of this world impacts them in ways that bring pain. How could you use what you've learned in this study of Genesis 3 (perhaps also using the truths in Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and 22) to help someone who is angry with God to put the blame where it belongs and place their hope in Christ?"

And there were some really good answers at our table.

But sometimes the answer to working through anger, bitterness of soul, resentment, grief, and other difficult heart responses with others is to give them space and time. 

It's not helpful to philosophize about the why when God hasn't revealed that. We may not know why. Ever. 

It's not helpful to give an answer before you hear the whole matter. (I think that's a proverb....)

It's not helpful to smack a bandaid Bible quote on the seeping sore. Though slowly pouring the water of the Word (without a running commentary) can wash over a wound and aid the healing.

And a word spoken in due season is priceless, beautiful! But I heard a pastor say once that the best thing Job's friends did was just be there and be silent, that the minute they opened their mouths, they became not helpful. 

And back to Job's wife, her ache was raw and her complaint was candid. And honestly I just don't believe it's wrong to voice our emotional battles to the One who created us in His image with a capacity for a full-range of feelings. Read the Psalms: 73, 77, 88, 109, 137. Try Lamentations. Listen to Jesus in the Garden. 

And sometimes it's helpful to talk to someone who you know loves you and who you know is striving to live by faith too. 

Jumping to the end of the book, we see (at least assume) Job and his wife weathered this storm...together. And went on to have ten more children together. 

And finally, though God rebukes Job's three self-proclaimed spiritual psychologists, He doesn't rebuke Job's wife. That's significant to me too.

***

A second woman comes to mind: Naomi. Or should we call her what she wished to be called: Mara, meaning bitter?

And as I talked with a friend this week, she shared a helpful perspective she'd gained from the life of Naomi, an insight from a Sunday school teacher that connected during a season of personal struggle she was going through.  

In the story of Ruth, we see this struggling saint named Naomi, and if we're not careful we look over her or condemn her. But a more thoughtful examination of the story reveals a woman who though at her very lowest is being used by God. 

In times of crisis, we often wonder if God is still working, if He's using our lives for any purpose. But God is fulfilling His purposes for us and through us. 

In the book of Ruth, we see God using Naomi (despite her depressed state) as a key connector. It is Naomi whom God uses to point Ruth in the way she should go, how she should respond, what she should do... And God uses this struggling widow to orchestrate events that would be significant in the eventual fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah. Ruth, after all, though a Moabite, became the wife of Boaz and one of the women in the lineage of Jesus, the Promised One, our Savior.

***

And we can take fresh courage that God will accomplish His purposes for us, that He's still working in and through us, that He will perfect what concerns us, that He is God, that He knows, that He cares, that it is worth it to hang on to hope. 

These thoughts have been significant to me recently. And I'm pretty convinced that they'll be pretty significant to some of you, too, whether you're the one struggling or you're the one walking through the valley with a friend or spouse who's struggling. 

I want to close with a portion of David's Miktam (Psalm 57): 

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, 
for in You my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
I cry out to God Most High, 
to God who fulfills His purpose for me...
God will send out His steadfast love and His faithfulness!"

Let's find our refuge in Him tonight.
Let's rest in His love and faithfulness and trust His power to complete the good work He's begun in us. 

Grace and peace...

and a 

=]

from Kassia (who reached up and touched the keys and happened to type her very first smiley face tonight, and I couldn't bring myself to backspace over it)...

with love, 

michelle


If I can pray with you or be an encouragement to you in this journey you're on, please feel free to email michelle [at] vineandshoots [dot] com.

twin towers of Christianity: prayer and hospitality

There was a knock on my door. It was 9/11, and I had no clue whom I would find out there. 

The top of my front door has a window that looks like half a cake--four slices. I peeked through a slice...and was relieved. It was Ginger, a dear friend. 

On my side of the door, however, was unfolded laundry, chairs pulled out from around the kitchen table in preparation for mopping, and me--a mess. 

"Is it the wrong day? Because it's been a crazy week, and I could totally see myself coming on the wrong day," she said, full of grace.

"I don't know," I laughed. "But we're having tomato soup for lunch. Come on in." 

It ended up, I had somehow gotten a week ahead of myself in my calendar. When I flipped back one page, there it was, 9/11, "Ginger, lunch, here."

And I'm reading Dispatches from the Front by Tim Keesee...remembering, too, a conversation with him over homemade pasta and tiramisu at my sister's home...and "given to hospitality" is going through my mind. Tim makes the point that hospitality is key to gospel advance, a part of the Christian life we dare not minimize. And I'm convinced the amount of coffee he consumes is way more about his passion for soul conversation and relationship building than his love for the substance itself.

"It's an hour cleaner than it was." I smiled. And she didn't care. 

We stirred in water and a little sour cream to the generic, condensed soup, and topped it with strong, fresh basil from the backyard and whole wheat crackers to a child's heart's content. 

Later, the kids played Toca Boca's "Kitchen Monster" on my iPad. And we moms talked, heart to heart.

She told me about a lesson the Lord's been repeating in her life, one that even her five year old is picking up because he's bowing his head before taking her on in Skip-Bo. And I'm listening with joy to her lesson on praying....

And then last night as I debriefed Alan on some stuff with our boys, confessing, "I just don't know what to do for him."

His calm "pray for him, love him" hit home.

Do you remember David Hosaflook's mission strategy? "Pray. Meet people. Tell them about Jesus." 

And it's sinking in.

Prayer and hospitality.

This is how God works. 

It seems so simple put that way. Prayer and hospitality. 

And I think at the root of both is humility. 

In prayer, we are humbling ourselves before God, admitting it is He who must do the work, begging for His wisdom and direction, that He would make our way plain before our faces. 

And in hospitality, we're opening our front doors and serving something really basic so that we can love other people.

And I'm so aware that as I live this way--given to prayer, given to hospitality--that it's not just a constant outpouring. It's not. Given to prayer, given to hospitality--this Christianity, this way of life--it builds me up, makes me strong too. It is the way I feel--really feel and experience--God working in and through me. And it's amazing!

Given to prayer.
Given to hospitality.

Let's keep humbling ourselves...and being amazed!

God is willing and able to work in and through each of us.

Amen? 


Grace and peace,
with love,

michelle








an original rendering of psalm 104

1. Heaven's Your pavilion, God, and Light is Your cloak.
You are King Eternal. Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Your chamber's in the firmament, Your chariot rides the clouds.
Winds and waves and flaming fire--Your Word goes forth with pow'r.

Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being, I will wait upon You, Lord.
I will lift my hands to worship You, I lift my eyes to wait.
Creator and Sustainer, God, You are so very great!
Bless the LORD!

2. The origin of this wide world conceived in Your wise mind.
"Let there be light!" And there was light--beginning of all time.
You formed the world from nothing, God. A word, and "it was good!"
The valleys sank, the waters ran, the mountains firmly stood.

3. A boundary--this far, no more--the waters followed course.
Submitting to Your sovereignty, they yielded to Your voice.
A gushing stream You thus provide, sustaining every beast,
And how beautiful the branches for the birds, those very least.

Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being, I will wait upon You, Lord.
I will lift my hands to worship You, I lift my eyes to wait.
Creator and Sustainer, God, You are so very great!
Bless the LORD!


4. From grains and greens, to oils and wine, You satisfy desires.
Give strength to work, make glad our hearts, our faces shining smile.
You give to Your beloved sleep, while lions seek their prey.
To their dens returned, the sun breaks forth--another faithful day!

Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being, I will wait upon You, Lord. 
I will lift my hands to worship You, I lift my eyes to wait.
Creator and Sustainer, God, You are so very great!
Bless the LORD!

5. Oh, here! the sea! Innumerable--Your creatures small and great!
Look, there! the ships! Leviathin--that beast You made to play!
How manifold Your works, O LORD! In wisdom You have placed
Ev'ry flow'r and tree, made each season be--Your greatness on display!

Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being, I will wait upon You, Lord. 
I will lift my hands to worship You, I lift my eyes to wait.
Creator and Sustainer, God, You are so very great!
Bless the LORD!


6. We look to You. We wait and wait. You hide Your face--dismay!
That final breath--from dust to dust--to rest our loved ones lay.
But still we look, and glory be! Your Spirit comes again!
You open up Your hands, and we so gladly gather in!

7. You satisfy our hungry hearts, Your glory fills the land.
You always work Your pleasure, Make Your power known to man.
A look--the mountains tremble, smoke. And so my heart responds:
I confess my sin, I embrace Your grace, to You my praise belongs!

Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being, I will wait upon You, Lord.
I will lift my hands to worship You, I lift my eyes to wait.
Creator and Sustainer, God, You are so very great!
Bless the LORD!

8. Hallelujah! for redemption. Bless the LORD, O my soul!
You are making all things new again--restoring, making whole.
Forever and forever, God, forever may it be--
that Your glory fills the earth--my heart--I lift my voice and sing!

Final Chorus. Bless the LORD! Bless the LORD! O my soul!
As long as I have being I will sing aloud Your praise!
In you, O LORD, I will rejoice! Jehovah! Elohim!
May my worship rise to Your throne on high, bringing pleasure to my King!
Bless the LORD!
Reprise. O Hallelujah! Bless the LORD! 
Forever! Forever! Forever, O LORD!
May my worship rise to Your throne on high, bringing pleasure to my King!
Bless the LORD!

2014. michelle l. grover.