With each "You're back!! How was Africa?", my heart aches, permanently bruised by the experience, and yet longing to lean into that bruise, leaving no room for numbness. Who among them would understand that it was harder to come back than to be there? Who would understand that while some of us missed home, I struggled to miss it at all.
Coming back nearing Christmas has made what was already difficult even more so.
The contrast is what's hard. Going from extreme poverty that lays heavy on the world like an ashen blanket, to the excess of north american Christmas, skewed and stretched away from it's Holy meaning and origin all under the guise of "giving" being good. What is considered good in spending 450 billion dollars annually on Christmas in America when a mere 20 billion, just four percent, could provide clean water to everyone in the world, including the more than 20 thousand children who die each day from lack of access to clean water?
If poverty covers the developing world like an ashen blanket, with beauty rising from underneath it all... does spiritual poverty hides throughout the developed nations like thin air, a stealthy cover deceiving us all into thinking all is well?
Shaun Groves had warned us all -- coming back home from the geographical mission field is where the culture shock begins, when society would want to push you back into the middle ground, the balance, but where our heart cries out in protest, knowing instead that Christ calls on us to not live of the world, but live radically instead.
I wanted it long before I felt the rust tinted and parched soil of Ghana under my feet, my experiences there not quenching, but further creating a deeper thirsting for radical.
Posts like this simultaneously manage to strike a chord and hit a nerve, not because it convicts the already convicted even further, but because as much as I want what He wants, it doesn't take away the bittersweet of seeing what He has given someone else.
A husband who loves and lives like Christ.
Children who lead in matters of faith.
A radically right-side-up Christmas.
A child not born of them.
A full time mission in Africa.
I consider myself a citizen of heaven, away from Home, longing and living to be there. As such, it was hard for me to understand why going to Ghana felt like I was coming 'home' without ever having been there, and why coming back 'home' from Ghana was much harder than coming back from Honduras last year.
If Home for me is heaven, leaving me perpetually homesick, what is this new feeling of home on earth?
It was as I was leaving for Ghana that it all begin to make sense, but I couldn't yet put it into words.
This morning, I sat down to write, the original topic being clean water, and with each sentence, He was re-writing my words to lead to this. I know better than to force the words back to my own. His pen is so much stronger than mine.
I want nothing more than to live completely in the freedom of a radical lifestyle, a life that would seem upside down in this broken world, but would be right side up for His Kingdom.
To give Christmas away.
To follow in His footsteps through the human example of Katie.
To sell belongings and aim for a promotion at work, not because I want or need more money or some empty title, but because it would enable more children and families to be released from poverty or slavery, in His name.
To live against the grain of North American living.
To leave it all behind, yes, even family, pack nothing (or maybe just my camera and my words) and move to a developing nation to be His hands and feet there, living among the world's
And yet, I've noticed more and more that it's not me holding me back from it all, but Him, and He isn't holding me back as much as He is pushing me forward. I want to leave it all for Him and sometimes His answer is no, teaching me that living radically is relative, personal, subjective and individual, and that He guides my steps, slowly, carefully. He's also showing me that right now, the radical for me is in the allowing Him to place me where He wants, and not where the world would expect or understand.
Who determines the balance, us, or Christ?
Eschewing the world more and more so that human voices and influence dim and fade, turning away when the world's voices only add confusion or division, I seek to know what the Word speaks to me, where He leads me in the daily walk of life, trusting in the intimate ways He knows my heart and dances with me in the delicate minefield of my life.
He has shown me that to many, I am already living radically in ways the world can not understand by intentionally choosing to remain in a difficult marriage to an unbeliever whose increasingly convicted heart makes him restless, reckless and cold from discomfort... an unbeliever for whom I pray for God's daily bread of love each morning as I awake and each night as I lay down. It's a spiritual battle that leaves me exhausted and in need of mercy and grace daily, with a generous helping of fruit. Being committed to him because of my commitment to Him is radical even though it shouldn't be, but if we simply only loved those who are easy to love, how radical would that be? What would set us apart from the rest of the world?
Sometimes, living against the grain is simply parenting radically by choosing not to aim to raise happy children, but focusing instead on leading children to find joy in being responsible, well adjusted, giving and selfless. Teaching them by example that there is treasure in doing the difficult.
Sometimes radical simply means letting go of the church tithing that would offend and enrage your spouse and make him less trusting of church and religion (if possible), and accepting instead that for us, tithing looks different than the traditional giving to the local body of Christ. God softened my husband's heart to child sponsorship, so rather than tithing to church, this is what God has given us as way to live in the balance. My tithe to church becomes instead serving weekly with my time and gifts.
It's letting go of the desire to give Christmas away completely, and accepting that He helps me find the balance between having gifts under the tree and choosing instead to give it all up in order to offer gifts of hope elsewhere in the world.
It's coming to terms with the grief of having come to my limits of living simply.
It's giving grace and mercy radically.
It's being radically patient and loving, yet knowing when to walk away.
It's not comparing ourselves to others, and others to ourselves, when God shaped us each with the work of His hands, no two alike, and when we don't see the heart, only He does.
I don't have it all figured out, I don't always live it well. Sometimes, I fail miserably, but in that failure and brokenness, He continues to grow and shape me.
God alone guides my balance at home between living my faith in ways that bring him to Christ, and living a faith that is also relational rather than divisional. I don't always get it right, in the eyes of the world or in the eyes of God. Yet, even when I get it right in the eyes of God, the world doesn't understand or see what He sees, doesn't know the heart, convicts -- God, Judge & Jury of the human form.
I used to think of the mission field as leaving my home to go somewhere uncomfortable and hard for a short time, before returning to the comforts of life, the daily living...
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Not only has here become the uncomfortable and the hard daily living, but I've also learned that the mission field isn't simply something that only changes the others whose presence God leads us to enter and remain in, but instead, it is where He places us in the hard corners of the world, where He shapes us by saying "stay here, in the uncomfortable, and learn... learn to seek only Me, through the people I have provided to you."
Going to Ghana felt like going home because I already knew that the uncomfortable there was comfort by contrast, where the greatest heartbreaks were within reach of hope, inconveniences were welcomed reminders, where redemption was palpable...
Ghana, where for a short while, the joy within could not be contained, bubbling to the surface and breaking into radiant smiles and laughter that originated from the toes and worked their way through the entire body, leaving it breathless...
Ghana, where thoughts of life back 'home' here on earth vanished, knowing all too well what I know too few would understand -- I'd never look back if He gave the call, either to stay there or go Home... I kept hoping He would...
... but the call never came, because His call to me was, for the time being, to return back to the missional home. The missional home -- the hard corner of the world where life is smoothed the hard way, by chisel and sandpaper, where brokenness is more complex, where there is growth through hard eucharisteo... where He doesn't hold me back, but shapes me to depend on Him daily, in the present, in His presence...
Where I am a full time missionary for His kingdom, painfully learning to bridge the gap between where He needs me to be, and where I want to be.