Two Initial Steps to Begin Again

I didn’t write a single blog post in 2019.

While we’re truth-telling, I suppose I could’ve entitled my last post, “When You’re a Struggling Returned Overseas Worker” because that’s where I was at the end of 2018. We had chosen to return to Canada midway through 2018. Then, ultimately, we chose to leave our missions organization at the end of 2018. It was painful.

The pain came as I still felt called to serve among Tai and Thai people, my husband had vision for a new project in Thailand and we sincerely loved and appreciated our missions organization. But when we prayed and sought the Lord, we simply felt that God was opening up a new chapter in Canada for us.

The new chapter has stretched us. Muscles stiff to unfamiliar movements and directions – tearing, repairing, and slowly strengthening. The pain has been as much physical as it has been spiritual and emotional.

I don’t have all the answers but I wanted to share just two of the many things that have helped me this past year. If you find yourself in the beginning of something new – a new move, a new job, a new country or maybe even a recent return to your passport country – keep these two things in mind:

  1. Remember you’re not alone.

    Others have gone before you and many will come after you. There are excellent companions for the journey all around and some may surprise you.

    Not only will you have people who can relate to what you’re going through, the Lord Jesus himself is with you. He experienced great transition, loss, stretching periods and challenges of trusting His Heavenly Father. Call out to Him for help, strengthening and provision. “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.” Psalm 18:6, NIV

  2. Trust the Lord.

    If God has led you to something new, lean on Him and trust Him that it’s okay to put your whole heart into the new thing. Acknowledge your losses but also embrace what the Lord has prepared for you by grabbing hold with both hands whatever it is that He has set before you.

Niki Hardy, a fellow hope*writer, wrote about this in her book, “Breathe Again: How to Live Well When Life Falls Apart”:

“The real question is, How do we let go? I know it’s easier said than done, and I’ve found that it helps to think of letting go and holding on as one complete action. I can’t hold God’s promises if my hand and heart are full of the fear of my cancer returning.

“…Trusting God is simultaneously a letting go of what we think will make everything better and a holding on to the promise that with him everything is better.”

(p. 98-99)

Following through with that simple act, one releases their grasp and lets go – midair and carried with momentum… and the Spirit.

“I’m still learning to lean into the cracks and tears of my life and choose to thank God for them. It’s not easy but it is possible, and as William Wordsworth is rumoured to have said, “To begin, begin.” Let’s dive in, whether we feel like it or not, knowing and trusting the water we dive into is the living, life-giving water of the One whose abundance we crave.”

(p. 171, Nicki Hardy, Breathe Again)

And so, as another year unfolds, another year in this new chapter of life, I make an intentional choice to trust God wholeheartedly – with both hands and both feet. I recognize those around me who are on this similar journey – perhaps even you, my reader. And I continue to begin again.

Let’s journey on together.

Transition Discomfort

Several weeks ago, I decided I would move away from hosting my blog on WordPress. I had researched several other options and decided on a host with a good reputation. The reviews I had read made it seem like the transition would be easy peasy lemon squeezy, like the saying my five-year-old has recently picked up. I filled in the forms, gave consent to make the switch and almost immediately regretted my decision.

After furiously reading more in-depth about transferring my domain to a new host and my website to a new server, I was still grasping to understand what I was attempting to do. It felt like it was a big mess and I began to doubt my decision to move. I looked up the 30-day refund policy, while still communicating with the technical gurus at the new server.

It took some time, lots of calming essential oils and tweaking but it finally seemed like my website would happily survive in its new place.

Just over a week ago, our family made an international move from our place of service, and my husband’s home, in Thailand, to my homeland of Canada. We both felt led by the Lord to make this move and had peace despite many details that were not yet clear. We had good goodbyes, a lovely send-off at the airport, fairly uneventful flights, and warm embraces when we eventually arrived back on Canadian soil.

The messiness of adjusting to something new can be uncomfortable or confusing or both. But if the Lord is in it, we trust Him that the outcome will be worth it.

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I remember that when I first moved to serve in Thailand in 2005, I was so overwhelmed.  On the drive from the airport, through the busy city to my organisation’s office and guesthouse in Bangkok, I felt panicked and flooded, like the streets, flooded from the late afternoon’s deluge. Days later, after sorting out my visa and work permit in the capital, we drove north for a few hours to Lopburi.  I felt like a fraud.  There I was in Thailand, where I felt for YEARS that God had called me to be, and I DIDN’T WANT TO BE THERE.

There.  I had said it – in my head, at least.

We were orientated to our new city and language school, and my roommate and I were given the keys to our new home.  I cried each day.  Wept quietly.  But I knew, without any doubt, that the Lord still wanted me there.  He still wanted me to follow Him.  He still wanted me to serve Him in the on-going work in seeing the Lost come into His Kingdom in S.E. Asia.  He was still with me.  But it was uncomfortable, lonely, and I was still overwhelmed.

Years later, another female colleague shared with me her story of when she arrived on the mission field.  Our stories were very similar.  She wept regularly in that first year.  And, like me, she pressed on.  In fact, both of us, unlikely missionaries, ended up marrying nationals and forever entwined our hearts and lives with Asia.

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Sometimes the move to something different, to somewhere new is as easy as changing your shirt to bear the cooler weather.  Sometimes, it’s as difficult as clinging onto the Lord’s hand as you, begrudgingly, inch forward.  Sometimes, there is immense joy as you enter into a season of change.  Sometimes, there is unexpected grief.  Sometimes, it’s a combination of all of these things.

Hudson Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission (CIM) in 1865 once wrote, “I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize the Lord is able to carry out His will, and His will is mine. It makes no matter where He places me, or how. That is rather for Him to consider than for me; for in the easiest positions He must give me His grace, and in the most difficult, His grace is sufficient.”

Just as the sun paints an everchanging picture on a landscape, so will we grow and adapt in whatever it is that He has called us to.  There is beauty in each new scene, even though darkness is not absent.

As Paul gave encouragement in his letter to the Roman believers,  so I include this verse to encourage you and me both: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (15:13).

The Perspective of Returning Home

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I recently looked back at some of my early blog posts, dating back a little over thirteen years ago. I was in the middle of preparing to go to the mission field and, as I read, I was reminded of the many ways that the Lord prepared the way for me. I was single, young, determined, adventurous, and possessed a heart full of faith to follow the Lord where He was calling me. Now, all these years later, I am married with two small children, not as young as I used to be, just as determined, more cautious than adventurous, but still with a heart ready to follow Jesus as He prompts me through His Spirit.

We are heading back “home” to Canada this coming August and I am unsure whether to call it home or not. My mom passed away last year and my dad twenty years before that. My sister and her family live two hours away from where we’ll plant ourselves, and many of my close friends now live scattered across Canada.

Someone asked me recently about what was waiting for us in Canada, assuming we had jobs lined up and a place to live. “Oh,” they replied when my response was negative towards both of those things, “so you’re just waiting on God to see where He’ll lead you?”

The unknowns in my present are just as intimidating as they were when I was anticipating moving to SE Asia. But the difference now is that I have almost thirteen years of experience of walking through unknowns, following the lamp that the Lord’s provided to show the path in front of me, and the regular discipline of reminding myself of what is true.

I know He is El-HaNe’-eman – “faithful God” (Deut. 7:9 ESV). He never changes and, despite circumstances around us being uncertain, He is unwavering in His character.

I know He is Eliezer – “my God is help” (Exodus 18:4 ESV) – and Ebenezer – “stone of help” (1 Samuel 7:12 ESV). I’ve experienced His provisions countless times and often in the most surprising ways. Like Samuel in 1 Samuel 7:12, I have set up various stones – some real, some in my journal, and some through a picture or other creative means – in my life as a way to honour the Lord and remember how He has moved to help me and others around me.

I know He is Immanuel – “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, and Matthew 1:23 ESV). This has been the biggest reason why I’ve been able to persevere in serving the Lord. I have never had to tackle any task, assignment, follow-up visit, language and culture lesson, visa trip, immigration question, sickness, home assignment, dangerous road, sermon or annual reunion conference by myself. He has always been with me and will always be with me. Despite Satan’s attempts to convince me otherwise, I was never alone in that village in the wooden house, never forgotten in that mountainous assignment, never left behind when my husband went off to work and I was home alone with our children. His presence has satisfied my soul, calmed my anxieties and empowered my heart.

So, I anticipate returning home with great expectations of the Lord to remain the same. I know He will lead us through new challenges and adventures, He will provide exactly what we need (and sometimes what we may think we want) and when we need it, and He will remind me that He is with us and will continue to be with us through it all.

Home has changed. And I’ve changed too. I don’t know what home even really means anymore except for it to be the place where God invites me to be, too.

If you’re returning home for the summer or for longer, which testimonies of God’s goodness is the Holy Spirit reminding you of so your soul may be strengthened?

Keeping Your Eyes Open

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Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Ever since that snake incident many years ago, when I was out for a walk outside of my village in Mae Hong Son, I’ve tried to be very aware of my surroundings.  As a deep thinker, I easily get absorbed in my thoughts and I’m not as aware of what’s around me as I should be.  My husband jokes that I am not a keen observer, which I vehemently deny, of course!  But, all joking aside, I have made a point of watching where I’m walking (I can’t tell you how many trails of biting ants have I accidentally walked through!), what may have come up through the drain in the shower in the bathroom (that story’s for another day) and keeping my eyes open for whatever else may be around.

It’s easy to fall into a navel-gazing perspective when you experience hardship, no matter your context.  Whether it’s visa challenges, discoveries of ant nests in your washing machine, interpersonal problems at work or with your neighbours, or sickness in your family – even terminal sickness – there’s value in keeping your eyes open for a shift in perspective.  Is Satan out to discourage you?  Maybe.  Is it your own sin that contributed to the trial?  Possibly.  Is the Lord at work in all circumstances?  Most definitely.

Keeping your eyes open means being aware of what is going on around you physically, but also spiritually.  It means to take notice of circumstances the Lord allows you to experience, and to rely on Him to help you persevere.  It means to trust that there’s a bigger narrative at play than what is simply in front of you.

In 2 Kings 6:8-19, Elisha and his servant found themselves surrounded in Dothan by horses, chariots and a great army from Syria.  This took place as a result of the King of Syria having learned that Elisha, the prophet in Israel, was informing the King of Israel of classified intel – “the words that you speak in your bedroom” (verse 12, ESV).

What is significant in this passage is that there are several narratives going on simultaneously.  We read of what is typically seen to man’s eye (the servant’s perspective) but we also get a glimpse of something else.  Someone else’s narrative.  God’s narrative.

Elisha could peer into that narrative and knew God’s army was there to fight for them and protect them (verses 16 and 17).  It wasn’t until Elisha prayed and asked God to show the servant what was really there that the servant could see this spiritual army.  But, it had been there all along.

What narrative am I listening to regularly?  Do I ask God to show me, tell me, reveal to me His narrative?  Do I really and truly believe that there is another narrative?

Keeping my eyes open means to not just be aware of my surroundings – what I may step on or into – but to believe wholeheartedly that the Lord is not only present but that He is defending me in ways that I will never be able to fully comprehend.  It means faith in the midst of darkness, hope in the midst of confusion, and joy in the midst of suffering.

What do you need to believe about the Lord’s presence in your life?  Which narrative do you need to put aside so you can take up God’s?

Day 15: Remain #write31days

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

In the last few months of Mom’s life, she wanted and needed to be reminded about who she was in Christ and where she was in relation to Christ.  I would read the above verses to  her often and I’d sing hymns with reminders as well.  

She had to be reassured repeatedly that she remained in Christ, despite her circumstances, despite how she felt, despite the false voices telling her otherwise.  She was a child of God and could have confidence in that relationship and position.

I have needed to remind myself of where I stand and to whom I belong.  This past season has been particularly hard in our family’s lives and it feels sometimes as if the battle around us will cause permanent damage.  And, in a way, I guess it has.  But it cannot and will not change who we are in our Creator and our Saviour.