Thursday, November 26, 2020

A reason for Thanksgiving: “Slow steps of progress wrapped in grace”

 

Now, looking back to our pre-Lomalinda days in Seattle, I see the ways God gently, lovingly persuaded me to be willing to relocate there.

 

I was scared—so scared—of living in a remote location in a strange-to-me land.

 

Terrified.

 

Filled with cold-sweat dread.

 

So scared I couldn’t think rationally about “Fear not” and “believe” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

 

The unknowns were unnerving. So God set out to change some of my unknowns into something a little more known—a little more familiar.

 

I’m so grateful God didn’t lose patience with me. In His gentle grace, He prepared me ahead of time by, among other things, leading me to the public library where I studied the geography, culture, climate, politics, and agriculture of the place I’d soon call home. God used that information to shine light in the darkness—Colombia no longer seemed like such a black hole.

 

And He led me to books Wycliffe missionaries had written and magazines Wycliffe had published. Stories are powerful. Through those stories, I delved into the hearts and minds and faith and experiences of those who had taken wild-eyed leaps of faith into other-worldly realms (both physically and spiritually).

 

They were spunky folks, using ingenuity and creativity to make a life for themselves and their families.

 

At times they lived with hardships most of us can’t imagine.

 

Sometimes they faced terrors.

 

They chose to live with courage. Tenacity.

 

They chose to live sacrificially. Faithfully.

 

As I read, something started shining off the pages of those books and magazines. I beheld those men’s and women’s love of God, their love of His calling, their sense of purpose and fulfillment.

 

Little by little, through those stories, God helped me take a steady look into the mysterious, dark unknown of Lomalinda.

 

God helped me contemplate doing the unthinkable by breaking my panic-stricken fears into small pieces.

 

Through other people’s stories, He acquainted me with specific coping mechanisms I could apply to my own situation.

 

By walking alongside those people within their stories, God showed me what living by faith means.

 

And that made all the difference. By getting me accustomed to the idea of living in Lomalinda, He also increased my willingness to move there.

 

As Lysa Terkeurst once said, “There’s this beautiful thing called imperfect progress . . . slow steps of progress wrapped in grace.”

 

And when I arrived in Lomalinda, on my shaky, wobbly, mystifying, discouraging first few days, I would do well to remember how God prepared me ahead of time to live there. How good He was to do that for me!

 

God does “prepare His people for works of service” (Ephesians 4:12).

 

Sometimes it’s astounding to recognize—or at least begin to grasp—that we are God’s workmanship, that He has created specific things for us to do, and that He prepares them in advance (Ephesians 2:10).

 

He prepares things for us to do,

and then He prepares us to carry them out.

He offers us an abundant life.

 

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good;

His love endures forever.

1 Chronicles 16:34




 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

“Every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there”

 

I had engaged in fierce battles with myself, Lomalinda, and God, so it took me a while to recognize it, but finally it sunk in: If I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well at Lomalinda, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

I’d have to notice the good that was going on around me and my family.

 

The kids, Matt and Karen, had met friends and enjoyed playing with them. Matt was especially enjoying adventures the neighbor boy, Glenny, was taking him on—like throwing rocks at bulls wandering through the neighborhood and fishing for piranhas and chasing giant cockroaches. And playing with boa constrictors.

 

Lomalinda’s birdsongs sounded different from the ones I’d enjoyed back home, but I decided to find the beauty in them. And my kids had parrots living in their yard! Parrots! That would never have happened back home in Seattle.

 

On one of our first days in Lomalinda, Ron and Lois Metzger introduced themselves and invited us to dinner. Their yard teemed with tropical plants and flowers, including orchids. Orchids! And Glenny’s big brother Tommy grew orchids in a special shed he rigged up. Dozens of other brightly colored flowers grew all around Lomalinda. Even though they weren’t familiar to me—like bougainvillea—I began to notice their intense beauty.

 

During our first two weeks, we received a dozen dinner invitations from our new colleagues. They lavished their welcomes on us.

 

We soon learned that hosting friends for meals was the most common way people entertained themselves. We had no televisions or movie theater, and the world then knew nothing of videos, VCRs, the Internet, PCs, laptops, iPads, or cell phones. Many folks played table games and read books in the evenings, but the most popular social pastime was enjoying dinner with other families.

 

Long before we landed in Lomalinda, her people figured out the importance of connecting. “Much more happens at a meal than satisfying hunger and quenching thirst,” Henri Nouwen wrote. “Around the table we become family, friends, and community, yes, a body.” (Bread for the Journey)

 

Lomalinda’s people got it—we needed each other. Though I didn’t yet recognize it, I had arrived at a God-scheduled appointment. He wanted me to see the community as His hands and feet. He wanted me to look into their eyes and see His. When a family invited us to join them at their dinner table, He wanted me to see them feeding His lambs.

 

God and Lomalinda’s people heaped upon us one blessing after another after another. Life was going to be good there.

 

I would have to extend grace to myself, though, because I would make progress in fits and starts. Some days I took one step forward and two steps back.

 

But like Barbara Johnson said, “If things are tough, remember that every flower that ever bloomed had to go through a whole lot of dirt to get there.” 

 

Yes, I’d have to go through a lot of “dirt”—doubts, difficult transitions, tears, homesickness, despair—before I could bloom where I was planted.

 

But I did bloom, eventually. 

I did bloom where I was planted!

 

Barbara continues:

 

The Almighty Father will use life’s reverses to move you forward.”

 

And He did.

What seemed like reverses turned out to be tools God used to move me forward and upward.

 



 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

A big, no-turning-back decision

 

Transitioning to life on the mission field can be a slow process—stumbling through unknowns, waiting for elusive answers, and figuring out new identities.

 

It’s an offbeat experience because people lose their bearings, they live in an in-between state—awkward, incomplete.

 

Transition is stretching, re-thinking, expanding. It’s a vulnerable time, a time of letting go of the old even before figuring out the new.

 

In Lomalinda, I had finally turned a corner, and with God’s help, I would have to let go of old dreams and instead, dream new dreams.

 

Letting go of old dreams and embracing new ones is uncomfortable. So uncertain.

 

But on the other hand, since my plans and dreams had been too small, too tame, what did God’s ongoing plans for me look like?

 

I needed to make a big, no-turning-back decision: Would I embrace God’s plans? Could I do that with joy?

 

After all I’d gone through, my answer had to be “Yes.”

 

That meant I had to figure out what to do with culture shock.

 

Culture shock had left me stymied and disoriented, baffled, bamboozled, and befuddled. It was mysterious, maddening, tear-inducing, annoying, humiliating, and terrifying. And sometimes amusing.

 

Transitioning through culture shock is a time of upheaval, of loneliness. It had been robbing me of my energy and shaking up my sanity. It inflicted chaos upon me—emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual.

 

It hurt.

 

Culture shock for me was an aversion to anything different from my home and people and food and geography, the prickly awareness that strangers surrounded me, and some spoke a foreign language and had different ways of doing things. But if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

Strange odors made me long for familiar smells—the perfume of fir trees in the rain, the aromas of Puget Sound and seaweed drying on the beach. I compared Lomalinda to everything back home—red-orange soil instead of my dark foresty earth in Seattle. But if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

Heavy, humid air and triple-digit temperatures pressed down on us instead of cool, fresh Pacific Northwest air. While our temps soared, I missed the anticipation of autumn’s chilly, crisp days back in Seattle. Folks back home would soon pull out wool sweaters and scarves and socks but, in Lomalinda, we were shedding shoes and as many clothes as was decent. So if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

I wished for a North American grocery store, well-known flavors, paved roads, and a warm shower. But if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

At six in the evening, blazing sunsets filled the enormous sky, silhouetting the Macarenas, a low mountain range in the distance. I recall catching my breath at the splendor of the scene—but then a steely grip hardened my heart, and I said to myself, “But they are not my mountains.” The Macarenas looked wimpy compared to the jagged, snowcapped mountains in my Seattle backyard. I grew up between two mountain ranges—the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west—and they offered dazzling sunrise and sunset views. They were my mountains and my sunsets. But if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

I would have to reorient my thinking about what a home was or where home was. I would have to leave behind the feeling that we were not at home and instead, transition into feeling we were at home. That was a big deal because I was (and still am) fiercely attached to everything that “home” means. I had strong opinions about where “home” was, and which people lived near that home. If I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

At that time, I assumed any culture and place unlike mine was second-rate. I suppose we all wrestle with that. It’s called ethnocentrism—the assumption that our flowers are prettier than their flowers and our meat tastes better than their meat. It’s the belief that we do things the right way and they do them the wrong way, that we are superior while they are inferior—traditions, values, music, race, appearance, language, smells, religious practices, humor, marriage, child-rearing, medicine, and food, to name a few. And often our assumptions are incorrect. That’s ethnocentrism, and it was part of my culture shock. If I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

My heart, my mind, my compass—all were oriented to the life I’d lived in Seattle. But if I wanted to transition out of culture shock and settle in well, I’d have to change my perspective.

 

God had already caught my attention and started me toward those changes. Continuing that new direction seemed daunting, especially since I had little trust in myself to pull it off. Yet God . . . .

 

Yet God . . . .

 

If you could have overheard my conversation with God that afternoon, it might have sounded something like this:

 

“Have mercy upon me, O God, because of your unfailing love. Because of Your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins, according to the multitude of Your tender mercies. . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous spirit. Keep me strong by giving me a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:1, 10, 12).

 

And you’d have heard God reply something along these lines: “I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

 

My answer would have sounded like this: “The Lord upholds all who fall, and raises up all who are bowed down, bent beneath their loads” (Psalm 145:14).

 

And I would have continued: “I think how much you have helped me. Because of that, I sing for joy in the shadow of your protective wings. My soul follows close behind You. Your right hand upholds me. Your strong right hand holds me securely” (Psalm 63:7-8).

 

I can tell you this: God stuck by me, gently sustaining me moment by moment, doing things that would amaze me, things I wouldn’t have believed even if He had told me right then (Habakkuk 1:5).

 

Though I couldn’t see into the future, He was turning my life upside down and inside out and it was going to be so good!




 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

When you’re not who you think you are

 

Maybe you’ve never had to transition into a foreign culture, but you’ve made other transitions: new jobs, new homes, new states, new relationships, new schools, new churches, new health conditions, new doctors. Even new cell phones!

 

Transitions are awkward—even scary—because we have to let go of the old even before we’ve figured out the new.

 

When we transition into new situations, we often discover we’re not who we thought we were—so, we need to figure out who we are, then.

 

At the same time, we need to transition into new routines, new plans, new perspectives, even new dreams. New hopes. Especially new identities.

 

In my first few days in Lomalinda, God was inviting me—sometimes even pushing me, step by step—through that necessary transition.

 

I was beginning to recognize that my plans and dreams had been too small, too tame, and I had to ask myself:

 

What do God’s ongoing plans for me look like?

 

And will I embrace them with joy?

 

And since, during those first few days, I had this uncomfortable realization that I was not who I thought I was, and that I needed to figure out, then, who I was . . .  

 

. . . and since I’d already made a big mess of everything . . .

 

I was humbled and troubled by how inadequate my own resources were for getting life in Lomalinda right.

 

Ron Hutchcraft writes, “God loves to win major victories with inadequate resources. He arranges mismatches and impossible situations so that we will see how big He is and He will get all the glory!”

 

Ron continues, “God puts us in situations where, like Gideon, we’re left saying, ‘If there’s a victory here, it’s going to have absolutely nothing to do with me.’”

 

As I look back now, I can attest to this: God indeed was working—in mighty yet subtle ways—to transition me into a new, delightful life in Lomalinda.

 

What about you? What transitions are you dealing with? They can be uncomfortable and confusing, can’t they? And mysterious. And complicated.

 

And maybe, like me, you’re haunted by realizing you’re not who you thought you were—and you’re longing for answers: “Who am I, then?

 

Ron Hutchcraft offers you this: “If you find yourself out-manned, out-gunned, and under-resourced right now . . .  realize this may very well be the prelude to an amazing victory!

 

As you walk hand-in-hand with God through your transitions, remember these precious words:

 

O Lord, you have examined my heart

and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up.

You know my every thought when far away.

You chart the path ahead of me

and tell me where to stop and rest.

Every moment you know where I am. . . .

You both precede and follow me.

You place your hand of blessing upon my head. . . .

I can never escape from your spirit!

I can never go away from your presence! . . .

If I ride the wings of the morning,

if I dwell by the farthest oceans,

even there your hand will guide me,

and your strength will support me. . . .

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God!

They are innumerable!

I can’t even count them;

they outnumber the grains of sand!

(Psalm 139:1-19)




 

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