Monday, October 29, 2012

Not About Us

It was hard to leave St. Louis, but one of the hardest things was leaving the people we have ministered to, some of whom we have relationships that go back a decade.  I am truly grateful that God allowed us enough time for so many people to grow to be as part of our family.

But, for anyone whose call is to full-time relational ministry, it can be very easy to slip into thinking that ministry begins and ends in us.  We don't mean to start thinking that we are the center of the universe, but gosh darn it, people don't get saved without us, tasks don't get done, and, well, the earth might stop spinning on its axis if we aren't busy doing what we do.

I'd be lying if I didn't admit that when we knew we were leaving St. Louis, some of these thoughts scrolled through my head.  What will all the people we've known and loved do without us?  

I don't discount the magnitude of the relationships God puts in our life, but it's so much healthier for everyone if I can see myself in light of the truth.  God was, is, and always will be bringing about His plans.  I merely get to participate!  People don't need me, they need God, and sometimes God will use me in the process and sometimes He'll use someone else. 

We spent many years sowing seeds in St. Louis.  We saw fruit, but mostly we were behind the plow.  Some of the fruit we saw was a result of missionaries before us doing the same.  Some of the fruit the missionaries who carry on in St. Louis will see is a result of our efforts...and so on.  That's the beauty of God...He sees the whole picture, weaving together His purposes through the Body of Christ.

And, so, all we are responsible for is to be faithful with what lies before us.  Then we will see seasons of harvest, not as our expected rewards, but as a blessing of unexpected grace.  This weekend we felt that blessing.

Every year World Impact puts on a Men's Retreat. TUMI plays an integral part by providing and coordinating worship and teaching.  Andrew has attended the last few years with guys from St. Louis, but this year he attended as working staff.  Even though he was there in a different capacity, he still got to attend with some of the men from St. Louis that we have been working with for years.  One of the men who attended for the first time this year was a neighbor, a good friend, and someone for whom we have been praying for years (this was not his first Men's Retreat invitation!).. 

It is exciting to watch him continue to open up to the things of God, even from a distance, knowing that our dear friend's life is not in our hands but the hands of the God of the Universe, whose plans are always fulfilled. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Struggling to Survive

Recently we saw "To the Arctic" at the IMAX. It was Judah's first movie theater experience and while he was a little disoriented by the surround sound, he seemed as enthralled with the massive glaciers and arctic wildlife as we were.

The film highlighted the melting of the arctic ice pack due to global warming, and the challenges wildlife face as a result. It particularly focused on polar bear mamas and their cubs. The melting of the ice packs makes it difficult to hunt for food and evade predators. One mama bear had to set off on an eight-day swim to find food and lost her cub in the process. Another mama of twin cubs was constantly hunting to feed them, always on the alert for danger, and even had a run-in with a hungry male polar bear after her cubs.

While listening to Meryl Streep narrate the difficulties mama bears and their cubs face, I thought, the plight of mother and child in a cruel environment is a moving one. If you want to call people to action, you show them a film about a polar bear mama tirelessly looking for food and protecting her cubs at risk of her life. People send money for that kind of thing, they take trips to see for themselves. Surely, we cannot let mother and child suffer!

And, then in my mind, the harsh arctic transformed into a city, the glaciers became city buildings and the polar bears became urban-poor mamas and their children. You don't have to go to the arctic to see mamas live heroic efforts for survival. For many women, every day in the city is a fight to survive. Life, for them, is kind of like floating on an ice pack with your children, with no one but predators around and no resources in sight. You become resourceful, cunning, and tough as nails, or you and your children don't survive. You haven't heard a roar until you see an urban mama protecting her own.

I am in awe of so many urban mamas, who don't know if they will be able to put food on the table for their kids, or protect their children from imminent danger, or ever find a man who won't use and abuse them. And, yet, they still get up every morning and fight.  They are at once so strong and so broken, something that makes them awe-inspiringly beautiful to me.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t make it through the day, and I have a fridge full of food and a great support network.  I don’t know how they do it.

The end of the IMAX film called people to action.  Send money…vote for politicians who care about the environment…live green.  Work in the city is harder and messier than that.  Sometimes things seem hopeless, but God is able to bring hope to the hopeless.  The city needs our resources, our efforts, and most of all, our prayer.

If people can take up the cause of a polar bear, surely we can fight for urban mamas and their kids.  Any little thing can be life-changing, when you are desperate to survive.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hold Loosely

There has been a lot of loss for our family in the last few months.  We moved from St. Louis, leaving our ministry, our neighbors, our friends, our home.  Before we moved, someone left our gate open and our dog was never to be seen again.  We've felt let down by relationships.  Expectations have been unrealized.  Our health has been sketchy.  We're feeling culture shock as we leave a culture we've been a part of for a decade.  Then we were in a car accident and our van was totaled.

Some of the losses were small, some more significant, but the trend has been a little discouraging.  Andrew and I joked that we could write a bad country song, "We left our home, we miss our friends, our dog is gone, and our van was towed off to the salvage!"

In the past months not everything in our lives has been about loss (primarily, our long awaited ADOPTION!!), but there has been enough of it to make us uncomfortable.  This week, in the wake of the accident, and other life nuisances, I was discouraged by all of the losses and the words "hold loosely" came to my mind. 

We loved our ministry and neighborhood, city, and friends.  We loved the house we lived in, having painted it just so.  We were comfortable with our van.  But, at the end of the day, these are peripheral things.  It's so hard, in a world of materialism, to keep focus on Christ alone.  Sometimes, it takes our lives being shaken up a little to hear the encouragement to "hold loosely" to all that is not Christ.

None of the things that we have lost were bad things.  In fact, many of them are still very dear to our hearts.  But sometimes we can get so settled in what is comfortable that we don't even realize we have a white-knuckled grip on everything but Christ.

It is exactly this lesson--to hold loosely to this world--that allows someone like Horatio Spafford, who lost his children in a shipwreck, to write words like,

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
Hold loosely...not an enjoyable lesson, but a necessary one.    It reminds me of another song, which says, "Take this world, but give me Jesus.  This is not where I belong."