Living On Mission
The most common question I heard this past year was, “How are you guys doing, being back in Canada? Are you all settled?”
It’s an understandable question. People are kind and interested and that’s a really normal thing to ask someone who has moved back to their home country. I just found it hard to answer because the truth was, what I was feeling was exactly the opposite of what most people were hoping for me. I was feeling exactly unsettled, in fact. I spent the entire year feeling unsettled in three important ways.
#1. I was unsettled emotionally. It took me until late spring to utter the words, “I think maybe I’m depressed.” Eight or nine months after our return, I still found myself sad and weepy on a regular basis. Not a daily basis, like the first three or four months, but certainly a couple of times a week. I couldn’t motivate myself to do much of anything. I really struggled to initiate activities or time with friends. I believe in the power of words and thoughts, so I kept telling myself that I was definitely feeling better and better with each passing month, but by May I realized that actually, I didn’t feel any better than I had in January.
In fact, in some ways I felt worse, because on top of feeling sad and uncertain about what I was doing with my life, I added on a pile of shame for daring to feeling depressed when I had such a good life. “How could I possibly still be sad?” I’d tell myself. This can’t still be about leaving the UAE. Surely I’ve had plenty of time to have grieved and moved on by now. I would scroll through my list of blessings. I’m healthy, everyone in my family is healthy, we have a lovely home, Dwayne has a good job, my kids are involved and active, I have great friends, we live in a beautiful part of the world. Each item on the list made me feel more ashamed of myself for not being able to “snap out of” my haze.
#2. I was unsettled socially. I have always, always, always found great friends wherever I’ve lived. The world is full to overflowing with amazing people, so it’s not surprising that I fall in love with several new friends in every city. When I relocate, my top priority is to seek out community and invest in friendships. But this was not a new city. I’d already spent eight years falling in love with lots of wonderful people in Chilliwack. But we don’t live in the same neighbourhood that we used to. We don’t attend the same church. Everyone’s lives shifted while we were gone, just as ours had. My worldview was radically altered while we were away and I was wrestling to figure out how to fit into a new life in an old city. What should have felt easy, in fact felt harder than starting all over in a new community.
#3. I was unsettled spiritually. Our church in the UAE exposed me to Christians from all over the world whose faith was expressed really differently than mine. I also fell in love with Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist friends. I came home processing all these things and landed in kind of a church nightmare, which further forced us to wrestle through what we believed, what was essential, and where we belonged. This turned out to be the most unsettling part of all. I asked a lot of questions of God, of myself, and of those closest to me, and was left sitting in a lot of uncertainty.
So, with all this unsettledness, this summer finally felt like I came up out of the clouds. I recognized I was climbing a mountain, looked back where I had come from, and saw dense clouds covering the valley below. No wonder it was dark down there. I don’t know if there’s another valley up ahead or a heavy storm rolling in, but for now, my head is above the clouds. Things are clearer and I realize that it felt dark this past year because it was dark. It was hard. But here’s what I learned in the dark places.
#1. Sometimes we feel really sad. For a long time. Longer than we think we “should,” and sometimes about things we think we “shouldn’t” be so sad about. There’s no shame in that. There’s no timeline for grieving a loss. (I am not qualified to make statements about mental health, I can only say that depression sucks and pulling yourself out of it feels impossible, even if you recognize it. If you know someone who is struggling with this, don’t expect her to initiate anything, but don’t leave her alone. Show up for her, be patient while her storm passes, and mostly be present. I had friends who did this for me.)
#2. Coming back to the same place is not the same as never having left. Not by a long shot. It takes time to adjust to moving back “home.”
#3. “If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.” (Sarah Bessey) “Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness too.” (Sarah Bessey, again.) (Actually, just read all of “Out of Sorts” and insert that here.) Paradoxically, God invites us to know him even though he’s beyond our comprehension. In some ways, I think we’re further from God when we think we have him all figured out. Some of my theology has changed, but God is still my all in all. He is walking with me through this season, as always, and I believe being unsettled was part of his good plan for me.
That’s what I learned in the dark this year. I learned more about God and faith. More about myself. Deeper compassion.
And yes, I’m finally feeling a little bit settled.
I’m not someone who generally leaves things unspoken. Whether it’s something that fills me with joy or something that has been hurtful, it’s not my natural inkling to let things quietly blow over. I’d rather talk about the elephant in the room than pretend he’s not there because I have found that, more often than not, an honest conversation can cut that elephant down to size. Words are my thing. I’m a talker and a listener. So, it should come as no surprise that, as we have recently made the decision to leave our church, I cannot let this slip by without saying something. And the two somethings that I want to say, dear church family, are that this was not easy and I love you.
Leaving a church family is no small matter.
First of all, if you’ve really loved well and invested fully, this involves an actual ripping away, and it’s painful. We’ve wrestled and grieved and felt all the feelings, and I’ve spent more time crying in the last few months than I would have liked. Nothing about this decision was easy.
Secondly, we are a family of four, and factoring in all of our needs and desires and spiritual states makes staying at or leaving a church very complicated. Navigating this road as a parent has been an emotional challenge, and choosing to uproot after a couple of years of uprootedness was really the last thing we wanted to do right now.
Also, the decision to leave a church comes with a sort of stigma. After all, God commands his people to work out their grievances and to love one another in spite of all differences in order to demonstrate his love and transformative power to the world. Time and time again, I have seen God mend very broken relationships and very divided people and it is truly one of the most beautiful things about the Church. So, we’ve had to ask ourselves in the midst of our own church struggle, if God was asking us to stay and model this kind of reconciliation to a world that is so in need of it.
But, the thing is, we weren’t facing broken relationships. We weren’t needing to be reconciled to anyone in our church. Truly, I have nothing but love and tenderness in my heart toward the pastoral team, the lead team, and all the other wonderful folks we have served with and worshiped beside for years. Our decision to leave wasn’t because of anger, lack of forgiveness, or un-mended hurt. It was simply a change of direction. Our church came to a fork in the road and chose a path we personally felt we couldn’t follow. Our collective end goal is still the same. Our joint mission hasn’t changed. We all want to see the kingdom of God grow and people come to saving faith in Jesus. But the roads we take en route to that goal are not always the same.
Christians are often referred to as brothers and sisters. John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who did receive him (Jesus), to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” The men and women in my church family are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We are children of God, loved by our Father, and this will never change. But sometimes brothers and sisters see things differently. Not in an angry, divisive way, but just a difference of opinion, and that’s okay. We can all seek to bring glory to our Father and lift up the name of Jesus, wherever we worship on a Sunday morning.
So, to my Central church family, I want to say, bless you, bless you, bless you, for you have been nothing but a blessing to us for 10 years. Thank you for loving, challenging, encouraging, and nurturing us. Thank you for calling us out to serve with you and be used by God. I pray that God would continue to pour out his favor on you and that many would come to a saving faith in Christ because of your faithfulness. You still feel like home to me and I’ll miss you.
I already do.
This fall I found myself feeling emotionally battered for being a woman.
It came at me totally out of left field and it took me a while to identify what was happening. How, in the year 2016, did I find myself feeling diminished and devalued as a women? Life is never really cut and dry, but I realized that two factors were especially significant in how I was feeling:
#1. Our personal church crisis
#2. The American election
First, Dwayne and I are in the midst of a church crisis. This is too heavy and difficult for me to process on this blog and I don’t want to get into all the details, but I do want to say that our hearts are broken. Both Dwayne and I have been left feeling that my value, contribution, and who God created me to be has been diminished by people we dearly love.
And then there was the American election. I honestly don’t want to get into a political discussion any more than I want to get into a church leadership discussion, so again, I’ll just say that in the end I felt that, as women, our voices, accomplishments, and capabilities are still viewed as ‘less than’ by so many in our culture.
But in the face of these devastating realities, do you know what I heard from my heavenly Father? Do you know what God whispered to me, over and over and over?
Rise up, my beloved daughter. Rise up and be who I created you to be without hesitation or apology. You don’t need permission from any government or religious institution to be who you are, because I rule the universe. I call you, empower you, and equip you. I have woven together each of your life experiences to form you into the woman you are today and you are beautiful. Rise up, my beloved daughter, I have important work for you to do.
This is what God has been whispering in my ear when the other voices get loud. I know His voice and it’s the only one I’ll follow. Listen carefully, my sisters, because if you’ve been feeling battered down, he may be whispering this to you too.
Sometimes it feels like living overseas for a couple of years has ruined me for life in my own country. My heart is a little bit torn and kind of confused almost every day. I’m trying to go easy on myself because it’s only been 2 months since we arrived back in Canada, but since so many people kindly ask us if we’re feeling all settled and fully transitioned, I thought I’d just say, we’re not feeling either of those things.
I am not alone. I am very well loved and supported. But I can’t deny that there is a “loneliness in having a mind spinning with images, lessons, and memories that can never adequately be shared” and I do feel confused about how and what to incorporate into our old but new life. (Thanks Rick Steves for the words I needed to explain myself.) I’m struggling to write about it, so I haven’t blogged. I’m struggling to do much, in fact, other than connect with people as that seems to be what matters most to me these days.
So, I’m embracing a season of adjustment and waiting on God. He has been slowly revealing the pieces we’re meant to hold onto and the pieces we’re meant to let go of for this next chapter. I know he is intentionally crafting a new life for us here, different from the one we left 2 years ago, and while it’s exciting, it’s also still really hard. I am clinging to God who remains our constant through the trial and the change. He is the same, no matter where we are.
So, I’ve gotten hooked on podcasts. Has this happened to any of you? I might be late to this scene, but now I’m totally addicted. It started a few months ago when I was doing a lot of long walks to train for my desert trek. I wanted something to listen to, but I was growing tired of music. Which is weird- how do you grow tired of music? But I did. So, I started listening to a podcast that a friend recommended, and now I have so many downloaded on my phone that my phone storage is full.
So, one of the podcasts eating up my storage space these days is called The Simple Show and it’s hosted by Tsh Oxenrieder. She’s a writer, traveler, entrepreneur, and mom who encourages people to live with intention and purpose, so her topics are right up my alley. Today I was listening to an episode where she interviews another mom named Maggie. Maggie mentions in the interview that she just turned 30 and has a two and half year old, a one year old, and is expecting baby number three. Tsh also has three children, but her youngest is 5. At one point in the show Tsh said to Maggie that she remembers being at that stage in life, and she points out that she isn’t really that much farther ahead – “just one more bend in the road.” I thought it was a great expression and it occurred to me as I listened to the interview that I’m really just one more bend in the road ahead of Tsh as my youngest is turning 10 next month.
It’s not like I’m miles and miles ahead of these amazing women – just a few more steps on the motherhood trail – but it was so interesting to listen to them today. I could hear Maggie in particular, wrestling with the desire to be home with her children and to pursue her passions and find time for being creative and building a business from home. She was very aware that in life, there are naturally seasons for everything. She knows that the stage of raising young children is super consuming and doesn’t leave a lot of room for other pursuits, and she is navigating her own path intentionally and beautifully. But it hit me so hard as I was listening to her internal struggle that I believe some of the issues women in our culture face regarding motherhood and work revolve around our negative outlook on aging. That might seem like a big, disconnected leap, but stick with me.
It’s so natural for a woman to want to be with her children, but it’s also so natural for her to want to contribute her other gifts to the world. But why do we feel this urgency to be mastering both of these things by the time we’re 35? Why do we think we need to peak in our careers, write all our books, or paint all our masterpieces while our kids are still little? Could it be because we believe that by the time our kids are grown, our best years are behind us? Ouch. Is that too touchy? It’s just that I’m really starting to mull this over now that I’m 40 and my kids are feeling really, really close to being grown. I know they are so not grown, but heading into the teen years does bring some of the brevity of our kids’ years at home to the surface of my mind, and the truth is I am awakening to the fact that many of my best years are still ahead of me.
Other than 2 years of part-time work outside the home, I have been home full-time with my children for almost 13 years now. There was some sacrifice involved in that, for sure, but I can also see how that time has allowed me to mature and experience more of life and I am more ready than ever to tackle the dreams I have for my next 40 years. My gifts and passions, which I’ve used and pursued to some extent for decades, are now more refined and cultivated. I understand myself so much better. God has spent decades preparing me for the work I am only just beginning now. I think ahead to my coming years and I feel myself saying, “Look out world, I’ve got stuff to say and things to do!”
So, with that in mind, I have three things I want to say to the moms who are bend or two back in the road.
#1. Getting older is awesome. Our culture does not value aging, and that’s a powerful message to try and ignore, but you can personally choose to embrace and joyfully anticipate the wisdom, perspective, freedom, and peace that comes with years of living intentionally.
#2. The experiences of life and motherhood are maturing you in beautiful ways and your contributions to the world will be even more rich on the other side of having little ones underfoot than they are now. Whether you are home full time or working outside the home, every mother is mentally, emotionally, and physically giving valuable years to her children. But you will have many more valuable years when they are grown to further nurture your gifts and dreams. And if, God forbid, you don’t, and your life is taken early, you won’t regret investing the best of yourself into your children.
#3. Give yourself grace with the capacity you have now. If you have a passion for art and you paint just one canvas this year, then relish those moments you had to enjoy it and be encouraged about how you will watch that gift flourish when the time is right. If you are building a business and you feel you’re only taking baby steps, appreciate what you’re learning and contributing to the family income for now, and dream about where you can take that business when its season comes.
And I have one thing to ask of the moms who are a bend or two or twenty ahead on the road.
Please keep showing us how much there is to look forward to up ahead. We need you and value you and every time you use your gifts and pursue your dreams, you show us how it’s done and remind us that there are more incredibly fruitful seasons coming our way too.
Friends, do you remember when we first arrived here in the UAE and I was kind of a mess? Do you remember that? I was a grieving, culture-shocked mess. So, I poured my heart into blog posts and was generously lavished with love, support, and encouragement from across the ocean. I remember one particular post where I was frustrated from having no running water and no internet and no vehicle and no where to go anyway, which was great because it was 5000 degrees outside and while I poured my desperation into a blog post, I remember that I miraculously remained hopeful. I even said something to the effect, that I wanted to share all the difficult parts from the beginning, because I truly believed it would get better, and then all my loving readers could rejoice with me when those better days came. Do you remember that?
Because those better days did come! And my loving readers did rejoice with me. Thanks loving readers! This is where we find ourselves a year and a half later:
We have found wonderful community here in Al Ain. We have been embraced by new friends and neighbours and colleagues and homeschoolers and a church family.
We’ve found physical activities to engage in. At different times, one or all of us have enjoyed golf, rugby, dance, yoga, drama, DI, ice skating, tennis, swimming, wide games, kick ball, dodgeball, volleyball, basketball, and most recently, lots and lots and lots of walking.
We’ve found lots of things to love about our city and region. We can go to movies, go to the pool, go to the mall, go to the desert, go out for dinner, go to the mall, go to Dubai, go to Abu Dhabi, or go to the mall. And when it gets really, really hot, we can always go to the mall. Sure, the activities are a little different from what we were used to, but we’ve adjusted and found fun things to do as a family.
We’ve embraced the slower pace of life in an Arabic country and are really appreciating the emphasis on relationship. Dwayne is home every day by 2:00 and rarely has prep or marking to do, and never has evening or weekend work commitments. We have oodles of time together as a family and time to relax with friends, and in this day and age, that is no small matter.
We’ve hosted family and friends from back home four times and not only had the joy of seeing them face to face again, we had the privilege of showing them around this beautiful region and participating in a pretty life-changing trip for all of them.
We live below our means, we’re not in debt, and we don’t stress about money. This is another one of those “no small matter” things.
We’ve had time and opportunity to reflect on our gifts and skills and how we want to live our lives. I am 4 months away from finishing my Natural Nutrition diploma, which I know I was able to tackle because of our move here. Dwayne is brainstorming new career opportunities and we are both dreaming about how our future may look different from what we once expected.
We’ve discovered more of the big wide world out there. We’ve visited 8 new countries since we moved here and, for me, those trips will remain one of the best rewards for all the difficulty along the way.
We’ve expanded our worldview and developed a heart for people whose suffering never really crossed our radar before. We’ve also seen the great need here for our gifts, our message, and mostly, the love of our great God.
The better days did come. Of course, there are still plenty of drawbacks to living in a new and different culture and far away from family and old friends. But all I can do is give thanks to God for what he has shown us and taught us, and how he has provided for us and changed us.
For those reasons, and more, we have decided to stay in Al Ain another year. Can you believe it?!? Based on my first 3 months here, did you think this day would come? The day we would willingly sign up for another year after the initial 2 year contract was over? I can’t believe it, because there were days when we didn’t think we could see the first year through, let alone a third. But here we are. And my gratitude flows in many directions these days. I’m thankful for Dwayne because he’s a superstar. It takes a very strong man to persevere, adjust, and stand in the face of such daily opposition. He is my hero. I’m thankful for the people who have embraced us here and make our daily living a joy. I’m thankful for the people who have remained rock solid for us back home and make our relationship a priority, even from the other side of the planet. And I’m so thankful for God. He is transforming us in ways we could not have anticipated and as always, he reminds me that my true home is with him and my only daily mission is to follow his lead.
I’m 40 years old today. I’ve heard I’m supposed to lament over this. But I don’t feel like wailing. I was remembering that in the 28 years I knew my great-grandmother, she rejoiced in every birthday as a personal achievement. In fact, in my memory, neither her, nor my grandmother, nor my mother ever mourned over getting older. Birthdays were a day to be celebrated.
And why not? I mean, I have indeed noticed a few changes to my body in recent years. I have more grey hairs. I have more wrinkles. My skin is getting saggier in places. But I have another year under my belt, and that’s awesome! Because the truly good news is that with each passing year, I’m being transformed. Sure, I’m changing physically, but I’m also changing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. With every passing year, I learn new things and after 40 years, that really adds up.
I’ve learned a lot of things about myself over the years. Things that have been both enlightening and humbling. I’ve learned I like change. I love it, actually. But I also like routine. Yes, I’m a confusing paradox. I’ve learned I can’t control everything. I cannot plan my way to stability. I do not know the future. I’ve learned that I’m a people-pleaser and I like to be well thought of. And along with that, I’ve learned that seeking the approval of people is both futile and debilitating.
I’ve learned things about others in my four decades of living. I’ve learned that making an effort for people is always worth it. I’ve learned that being dependent on people once in a while is not the end of the world. That everyone is imperfect, but still worthy of love.
I’ve learned things about God after 25 years of knowing him. I’ve learned that He is faithful and good. That he brings peace to the human heart. That his Spirit speaks. That his goal is not to make me comfortable, but to make me more like Jesus.
I learned things about life. I’ve learned that the best decisions we make are based on faith, not fear. That owning less is actually liberating. That we should never say “never” because real life experience has a way of changing our opinions. I’ve also learned that life is full of unexpected turns and it’s best to lean into them and enjoy the ride.
These are the kinds of lessons you can’t hand to a young person on a silver platter. You can’t just list these life lessons for a teenager and be done with it. We’re wired to grasp lessons more fully through trial and error. These lessons are earned with the passage of time and the gift of experience. The pains and joys of life teach us. The regrets and achievements change us. The losses and the pleasures shape us.
I would hope that someone who met me 20 years ago would still recognize me today. I don’t think my physical transformation has been that drastic yet. But in many other ways, I hope I am unrecognizable from my 20 year old self. I’d never want to go back. You couldn’t pay me enough to go back to my 20 year old self, my 30 year old self, or even my 39 year old self. Every single year of life experience is priceless to me.
I’m so glad to be 40. Imagine the ways God will refine and transform me between now and my 50th birthday! Cheers to that!