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Expectations and Bafu Time

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Let me just say that I’m struggling to know what to share with everyone about my trip to Tanzania. It’s hard to share just a few things without wanting to connect all the dots. But, here goes…

I tried to go to Tanzania with very few expectations. I wasn’t given a whole lot of information prior to the trip and I was ready to just show up and see what God wanted to do. I also know that things are hardly ever how I picture or plan them, so why go through the mental energy of trying to come up with a rough draft? It was probably a good thing that my job kept me crazy busy the week before leaving. I just wanted to have enough time to pack my bags and be ready to get on the plane. I didn’t have much time left over for worrying about what happened when I got there.

But after a couple of weeks in Tanzania, I realized I had some preconceived ideas about the life of a missionary that didn’t pan out in reality. I’m not sure exactly what I expected, but the daily life of the missionaries there was not it. A few of the other short-termers and I realized we thought missionaries = super Christians. We expected that there would be multiple, daily opportunities to share the gospel, pray for people, and study the Bible together. What we found was that missionary life looks a lot like our daily routines in the US, just in a different context and culture. The missionaries spent their days making meals, going to the market, doing laundry, and visiting neighbors. They still struggled to get quiet time with God, to love their neighbors instead of being frustrated with them, and to feel like they were serving a purpose in Busi. On top of all that, they still needed to invest a lot of time in language learning and were still learning another culture and its customs. The biggest difference between life there and life in the US is they’re isolated from their family and friends and their own culture.

I knew that being a missionary was not easy. But I don’t think I appreciated how exhausting daily life in an unfamiliar place, culture, and language can be. And I don’t think I understood how long it can take to get through language and relational barriers to share Jesus in another country.

One of the main things on my heart that I want to share with the American church is this: do not forget your missionaries living overseas. They are not superhero Christians. They get discouraged, depressed, and lonely like we all do. Except they can’t always phone a friend, make a coffee date, buy a new worship album or devotional, or comfort themselves in the millions of ways that we can. Oftentimes, this is a beautiful thing because it means their dependency on God increases. However, they need encouragement just like the rest of us. So, remember to pray for them. Send them a random email even if they may not get to read it for a month. Send them a care package even if they won’t receive it for 2 months and the cost of shipping is 4 times the amount of the actual contents of the package! Most of us know at least one missionary living in a foreign country – remind them regularly that you have not forgotten them.

My host family (from left to right: Thailie, Mat, Miranda, Nia)

My host family (from left to right: Thailie, Mat, Miranda, Nia)

Before I left for Tanzania, one of the women at my church gave me package of lots of sealed notes full of encouragement, scripture, and challenging quotes. I opened one every few days and especially on days when I was feeling discouraged or alone. Sometimes this felt like the only connection I had to home. These notes always reminded me of the big picture and felt like getting a hug from a friend. They were such a blessing!

Approaching the midpoint of my time in Busi, I definitely starting having some symptoms of culture shock. I was surprised by some things I thought I had figured out, since this was my fourth trip to Africa and all. (Insert shaking of my head followed by a face-palm.) Yea, hello humbling moments. I was surprised by feelings of anger that I couldn’t quite figure out. I was frustrated with never feeling clean, even right after a shower. I was torn between wanting to hide away for some time alone and knowing I needed to get out of the house.

When I get really frustrated with life, I usually call my mom. I know I can be super honest with her and we’ll just laugh together and she’ll remind me of what is fact and the practical things I can do in the midst of whatever I am feeling. My first attempt to call her was quite humorous and frustrating. With my headlamp on, I walked out in the dark (because of the time difference) to the middle of a field where there was supposed to be good cell reception. I tried to call or text home many times without success. All the while, bugs were swarming and hitting my face, loving the light from my headlamp. Then two men starting approaching my area from different directions. Inside, I started freaking out and trying to figure out what my next move to leave the area was going to be. Then I realized, duh, they are coming out to the middle of a field for the same reason you are – cell reception!

My next attempt to call my mom during a day trip to a bigger city was actually successful. But then I realized that minutes were not cheap. In Nigeria, I was able to call the US and talk for 15 or 20 minutes on not much credit. The same amount of credit got me about 90 seconds of time on the phone with my mom in Tanzania. I bought more credit so I could say goodbye and give a few bullet points of what was happening. I was glad to at least hear her voice and blurt out some honest thoughts, but it was still disappointing to not talk to her for longer.

Another attempt at contacting home brought me and a couple others to the “ditch” – a place along the main road of Busi that had good enough reception for an internet connection using a hot spot with a cell phone. Both the other Americans did their internet business. When it was my turn, my gmail account wouldn’t even load. Awesome.

Another attempt at communication with those back at home happened on another day trip to a Christian school set up by another missionary team. The school had a wifi connection and all of the girls on the short-term team ended up going to use the internet while the TIMO team leader did some business at the school. Once we got there, we realized that the electricity/generator was off since school was on break. We decided to pay to have the generator turned on. Then the generator had no gas. So we paid for someone to go get some gas. Then we figured out that only a few people could use the internet at a time, otherwise the connection got super slow. So we took turns. I waited until the end because I needed to borrow someone’s computer as I hadn’t brought one to Tanzania. Then my connection was super slow. It finally started to work for me and I got busy sending an email update to people supporting and praying for me. I wanted to share a bit about what I was struggling with and some prayer requests. I was so close to sending a final version, everyone else was packing up and getting ready for the car ride back home, and then the humming of the generator shut off and the internet was gone.

That was a breaking point for me on the trip. Logically, it wasn’t a huge deal. Internet is a luxury, not a necessity. But it made me feel incredibly frustrated and lonely. And angry.

I got home and pretty much went straight to Miranda (my host mom) and said, “Well, I think I need to talk to you because I’m kind of in a crisis and I cried today.” This was said with a little bit of humor because at this point I was able to laugh at myself. What was my problem? I had told Miranda previously that I cry maybe a few times a year, so I knew she would understand something was up. In our first meeting/mentor time, Miranda had jokingly asked me if I had any moments of crisis since arriving in Busi. I had responded with a smirk and stated that I hadn’t had any kind of crisis since arriving. Me, crisis? Please, I’m above that. I roll with the punches. But now I was gulping down my pride and being humbled, for sure.

Miranda and I found a spot under a massive tree to talk and pray. She helped me sort through things and it was a huge relief just to be real with her. It was a relief to talk to God about all the things I still hadn’t figured out, including why anger kept hounding me. After we prayed, Miranda shared that her team leader had mentioned before that missionaries in Muslim contexts often experience anger, likely because of spiritual warfare. Suddenly it made more sense why I couldn’t make sense of my anger. From that point on, I stopped trying to figure it out and just talked to God about it and that helped tremendously.

I also decided to make it a priority to have “bafu time” in the mornings. Bafu time is a phrase coined by Miranda. The bafu is the shower stall right next to the choo (toilet) stall. It’s really just a small concrete stall with a window at the top and a drain hole at the back. To shower, you take a bucket of water and a cup in the stall and rinse off whatever way works for you. This was literally the only place you could spend time with four walls around you in relative silence without the possibility of someone interrupting you. Miranda and Matt would have “bafu time” when they needed a quiet time with God or an office-like space to take care of business.

The "bafu" or shower stall

The “bafu” or shower stall

I realize that maybe this sounds very desperate or silly… until you understand how the rest of daily life looked in Busi. The house where I stayed had rafters and a tin roof above all of the rooms. So that means no ceilings over each individual room. So basically, we all heard what everyone else was doing all the time. Add to that the fact that neighbors knocked on the door all day, every day to use solar power to charge their phones, sell eggs or fruit, or just come in and sit down, talk a bit or just see what the mzungus were doing.

I usually woke up before the rest of the house so it was easy to sneak out the back each morning and have bafu time. Except for the metal latch on the metal back door that I had to open each morning. (Sorry!) Luckily, the Adams are pretty sound sleepers. The five o’clock call to prayer from one of the local mosques probably had something to do with waking up early. Or maybe it was the donkeys that sounded like they were going insane outside, or the dogs fighting, or the tv blasting from a house across the village. I slept with earplugs pretty much every night. Like I said, the Adams have learned to be pretty sound sleepers!

I relished the chance to get alone with God. It was refreshing and encouraging. And since that time, since being at home, I am so much more interested in spending time with God. While sometimes it is still a task to be finished, I know that it is a blessing and answers more of my worries and questions than anything else.

One of the authors in the Live Dead Journal challenges readers to “tithe” their time to God. He suggests trying to spend about 2 1/2 hours (10% of your day) with God through prayer, Bible reading, and worship. You might expect that this challenge sounds burdening, but it actually had the opposite effect on me. I’ve always wondered what was wrong with me – why couldn’t I get a revelation from Bible reading, connect with God, submit all my worries to Him in prayer, and memorize Scripture in the 30 or 45 minutes I set aside for that? Ah, maybe because all of that is not going to fit in that amount of time. Can you imagine if we tried to do this with a friend? “Ok, let’s meet for breakfast. I have 30 minutes for you to share stories and advice with me, listen to my cares and concerns and help me to stop worrying over them, and then I will tell you all the things I love about you.” Yeah, that’s not enough time for all of that. You will have made time for this friend, but maybe not learned or connected as much as you had hoped. While I can’t say I have personally reached the 2 1/2 hour mark many days, I do feel more freedom to make more time to meet with God, as opposed to trying to be more effective with a smaller amount of time.

How do you react to the idea of spending 2 1/2 hours a day of quality time with God? Do you go to God to feel alive, comforted, or when you’re feeling veklempt? What can you change to spend more time with God? Maybe it starts as small as 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at night. We are all longing for more of God, whether we realize it or not, and spending any time with Him usually leaves us wanting more.

Tenga (welcome) and badai (see ya later)!

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I’m back from Tanzania, safe and sound, eyes open a little wider, and heart and mind changed a bit from when I left…

I wanted to share just a few snapshots from my time in Tanzania, in somewhat of a chronological order, so here goes!

Let me just say this trip did not disappoint my hope of experiencing a taste of the beauty and adventure that Africa has to offer. Me and my American teammates arrived in Kilimanjaro, TZ after 5 flights and joined up with the rest of the 5 short-term team members. We then drove an hour into Arusha, spent a night there, and headed to the bush! We had a 5ish hour drive ahead of us, including a debatable shortcut that threatened some muddy patches we hoped we wouldn’t get stuck in.

 

Changing a flat tire on the Land Cruiser

Changing a flat tire on the Land Cruiser

 

We got a flat tire because what is a welcome to Africa without some unexpected happenings… And then while on the shortcut, Mat (our driver, member of the long-term TIMO team) saw a particularly muddy patch of road up ahead. He got out of the car to assess the situation, got back in the car, took a deep breath and said “I’m not gonna lie, guys, I’m kinda scared.” Then he put the car in drive and off we went, fast so as not to get stuck, and we all held our breath. We cheered and laughed when we cleared the muddy patch and were even more grateful after driving by a bus that had gotten stuck just a little up ahead.

I don’t know why exactly, but at that moment, it hit me – “I’m in Africa… and I love it!”

 

Beautiful view from where we had a flat tire

Beautiful view from where we had a flat tire

 

We arrived to Busi late that evening and were split up into pairs – 2 TIMO Questers (short-termers) to each of the TIMO (long-term) member’s houses. I and another American, Sean, would be staying at Mat and Miranda’s house along with their two girls, Thailie (5) and Nia (2 1/2). However, the next day I learned that I’d be leaving for a home stay with one of the Busi residents for 3 days – on the very next day after that. Welcome and -surprise- see ya later!

My home stay was a great experience and, in hindsight, I know it was a great way to be thrown into the community and culture. The language barrier made for some awkward hours of silence, for sure, but I know I learned a lot about life in Busi in those few short days.

Mama Petro and her husband, one of the doctors at the Busi Health Center, were my hosts for 3 days. They had a very nice home and Mama Petro had a reputation as an excellent cook. I was very relieved to find out that people in Busi love having guests and that they were excited and honored that the TIMO team were sharing their guests! I wasn’t sure what they would make of us and how they would receive us. But I quickly found that they were thrilled we were visiting, interested in learning their language, and would eat any meal they put in front of us! I was very well-fed, indeed, and most of my time was spent chopping vegetables, stirring pots, washing dishes, and sitting next to a coal cooker with Mama Petro working on the next meal or snack. One of my favorite things I was introduced to in Tanzania is ugi – it is a millet porridge type drink that Mama Petro makes with a heaping spoon of butter and sugar – it is delicious!

On the second day there, I met many of the women who worked at the Health Center as they would come by Mama Petro’s for some ugi or chai and just sit on the front porch for awhile. Eventually, they let on that they knew some English! And then the floodgates of communication seemed to open! I learned lots of Rangi and Swahili words and I had a notebook full of words suddenly! We laughed a lot at my pronunciation of things and they told me they enjoyed practicing their English. One of my favorite Rangi words was “kidandarika” which means thunderstorm and we all died laughing when they learned the phrase “flip-flop” and struggled to say it without getting tongue-tied. This was the start of some very good friendships I had in Busi.

On the third day, I was excited when Mama Petro pulled out an English/Swahili Bible! I read  Psalm 16 and Romans 1 in English and then she read in Swahili. I was praying all the while that God would use His Word to minister to Mama Petro. It ministered to my own heart and it was a blessing to share that time with my host.

Before I left, Mama Petro presented me with the gift of a chicken, who I promptly named Mama Kidandarika. Though I later figured out it was, indeed, a boy chicken (a rooster, apparently I need to get out of the city more often). Mama Petro then walked me home, cradling my chicken like the precious gift that it was, and I was very grateful for both my time at her house and to be back at Mat and Miranda’s! A couple weeks later, I helped kill the chicken and cooked it up just the way I had seen Mama Petro do it. (With lots of oil, garlic, onion, tomato, and only 4-5 hours of work!) It got rave reviews.

 

A friend's daughter, two of Mama Petro's sons, Mama Petro, the chicken, and me

A friend’s daughter, two of Mama Petro’s sons, Mama Petro, the chicken, and me

Thinking about Dirt, Part 1

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Over 30 people signed up for the 30/30/30 Challenge – woohoo! Thank you to everyone who has been enthusiastic about supporting me.  I’ve also raised about 55% of my financial expenses. If anyone is interested in giving financially, click here to check out the “Give” section to see how to donate.

While putting together information to send out to everyone who signed up to pray for me, I looked for a map of Tanzania to use as part of the package. I ended up picking a map that used fun colors and font and looked old-school. During the middle of my printing, cutting, glueing, and spreadsheeting ruckus, I realized that the map was of different kinds of soils in Tanzania.

And I thought to myself, “That’s kind of random…”

But then I realized it was perfect. God is into the details, as my mom says, and He totally orchestrated this one right in front of my face.

See, God has really challenged me with stories about dirt during this past year.

Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)

Reading through the “Live Dead Journal” and prepping for this trip to Tanzania has made me face some hard questions. Am I willing to sacrifice my life, in pieces or as a whole, for God’s kingdom that I can’t really see here on earth? Am I willing to hold God as the first priority in my life, above my preferences, desires, and comfort? Am I willing to keep going where God leads, even if it seems like He leads me farther away from things I love and hope for (family, a family of my own, things familiar, things I understand)?

If I’m honest, the answer is a resounding “no” that surprises me; all that doesn’t really sound like fun. For a second, I’m jealous of those who are ignorant of the gospel because they aren’t “obligated” to live their lives for someone other than themselves.

Yikes. (Cringe.)

I need to hear the gospel again.

I forget that before Christ, I was already dead. Dead as in “da-yea-d” the way a Southern woman would say it with three whole syllables so there was no question. Dead – no trace of life or breath – something very final, strange, and unsettling.

I forget that death is what Christ overcame for me. I forget what a life lived with the knowledge of His love really means.  I forget that He is the very author of my life and allows my heart to keep pumping every day.  I forget what the gospel means to people who have never heard it before – what it should mean to me everyday.

It wasn’t even really the idea of being a “missionary” on foreign soil that I was struggling with; it was just the totality of what “living dead” for Christ really meant… here, right now, today. It means that God always matters more to me than I do. And it means that other people always matter to me more than I do. That has very far reaching effects on my life that my flesh would really rather not sign up for… Ultimately, I know that God’s economy is upside down and doesn’t work at all like I think it should. Holding God and others before myself actually does bring life to me. This is where the picture of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground to die before new life can be created gives me a whole new “a-HA” moment.

The basic question is really “Do I love Jesus more than anything?” I desperately want to… which is why my honest gut reaction to questions about living my life for Him really took me by surprise.  But my answer made me want to run to Him, instead of away from Him, because I knew how backwards and stupid my answer sounded. It’s only Christ that can really change our hearts.

What is your gut reaction to the idea of living dead? Do you need to hear the gospel again? What can you set aside to fall more in love with Jesus?

Provisional Soils Map of Tanzania

30/30/30 Challenge

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In 3 months, I’ll be headed to Tanzania for a little over 30 days. The reality of this trip is still sinking in a bit. Preparation for this trip so far has included lots of paperwork and reading.

The paperwork is not so fun (when is it ever?) but I am happy to report that my to-do list is getting smaller and smaller. I also breathed a big sigh of relief when I received my passport in the mail. Somehow I have lost 2 passports in the last 5 years or so; I was a bit nervous that the U.S. government was going to suspect I wasn’t actually losing them but was selling them to illegal citizens or forging foreign passports. But, I guess they trust that some people are just absent-minded or irresponsible at times. All I can say is, I’m glad that application process didn’t involve a face-to-face interview where I would’ve had to explain myself to someone.

AIM (Africa Inland Mission, my sending organization) gives out a recommended reading list to prepare for mission trips. I am happy to report that the reading has really been encouraging to my heart and mind. 

One book, in particular, is really changing my heart and opening my eyes. “The Live Dead Journal” has 30 days worth of quick thoughts and challenges from missionaries in East African countries. Each day it also profiles an unreached people group from these same countries. What I love about these daily devotions is that they feature some very honest thoughts from fellow believers that give me a daily practical challenge. And yet these challenges are so full of reminders of God’s grace, that I move on with my day encouraged to rely more on Jesus instead of burdened with ideas of more working harder or longer in my own strength. I also love that my perspective on the so-called “problems” of my day changes – both as I reflect on the power and beauty of the Gospel and as my heart breaks for those that have never heard it. Each devotional ends by asking you to reflect on the challenge and the unreached people group and go to God in prayer.

Another resource I am looking forward to diving into is a 30-day prayer guide for the Rangi people designed by Matthew Adams. Matthew is a member of the long-term team in Tanzania that my short-term team will be joining. The Rangi people will be who we will, together, be trying to reach with the Gospel.

I’ll be gone to Tanzania for a little over 30 days. Just today I started putting together all these 30s – 30 days gone to Tanzania, 30 day devotional, 30 day prayer guide… And I got an idea! 

Now pay attention, because I am going to need your help carrying out this idea!

What if I could get 30 people to commit to lifting up a prayer for the Rangi people during one of the days I’ll be in Tanzania? If 30 people committed to pray just one day, each of the 30 days in the prayer guide could be covered? And what if each person praying would also commit to take as little as 10 minutes each day to read through the “The Live Dead Journal” during the 30 days that I’ll be gone to Tanzania?

I would be so blessed to have 30 people who I know will be praying while I am in Tanzania. I would also be blessed to share “The Live Dead Journal” with those who agree to support my trip in prayer. I know it has blessed me – I want it to bless others!

So, here’s what I need from you: email me to let me know you (or you and your family) would like to be one of the 30. I will need your mailing address and email address. That’s it!

I will then mail you the following for you to take part in the 30/30/30 Challenge:

~ a copy of the specific requests for one day out of the “30 Days of Prayer for the Rangi” and information on which day you should pray

~ a copy of “The Live Dead Journal” – a 30-day devotional

~ information on how you can pray specifically for me during the 30+ days I’ll be in Tanzania

Would you consider taking part in this challenge?

If you would, email me at everly.nixon@gmail.com.

If you’re not sure why I’m going to Tanzania or what I’ll be doing there, check out my last blog post.

He’s up to something…

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Guess what!?

I am going back to Africa this year! I am blessed/excited/thrilled to be going to Tanzania for about a month (mid-Dec to mid-Jan) with Africa Inland Mission. My short-term team with be joining a team that’s already in place working in the northern region among the Rangi people.

Africa Inland Mission (AIM) is an organization I am interested in working with as a long-term missionary. After graduating from nurse-midwifery studies, I contacted AIM to learn more about them. The contact I made suggested (along with everyone else whose advice I asked for) that I get some experience in the US as a nurse-midwife before going overseas. This June, it will be a year since I joined the Breath of Life team as its third midwife. When that one year mark starting creeping up on me, I decided it was time to think about what the next step was in finding out if AIM was an organization I wanted to join.

It seemed like the natural next step would be to take a short-term trip with AIM. I decided to reach out to the same AIM contact I made a year ago. And surprise, surprise, wouldn’t you know he and his wife live about 45 minutes south of me here in Florida! I was able to meet with Sam and his wife, Bonnie, in person since they live so close for an interview. It was incredible to sit across from a couple that lived a few decades all over Africa – I could have (and did) listen to them talk for hours! They also linked me up with the couple that mentored THEM and lived even closer to me. I had dinner at their house and also talked with them for hours!

I am blessed that my boss (and fellow midwife, Chris) didn’t blink an eye when I asked for a month off of work, knowing that my heart has always been to work overseas.

I was interested in this trip, specifically, because it is supporting/joining a TIMO (Training in Ministry Outreach) team. I love the TIMO concept, which is a team-based, in-depth approach to missions specifically for new missionaries. I could take a lot of time to explain it, but I think this video says it best, so take a look:

I am excited to get a real-life glimpse of what a TIMO team looks like while in Tanzania. Ultimately, I hope that the Lord uses this trip to teach me and to give me further direction. If and when I sign up to go long-term with AIM, I have considered going as part of a TIMO team or going to fill an open position of a nurse-midwife. I will be happy, and humble enough, to admit that I have a lot to learn about learning another language, living among another culture, and knowing how to share the gospel. All those things make TIMO sound very appealing. However, I don’t really know how my nurse-midwifery skills would play into TIMO and I am somewhat reluctant to give up practicing these skills (skills it feels like it has taken me an eternity to get and be able to use). AIM also has open positions specifically for a nurse-midwife, so this is another way I could join the work AIM is doing.

I’m not sure which direction to take, but I trust that God will lead me when I need to choose.

The past few months I just can’t shake the feeling that He is up to something… I know He is always at work, whether I am aware of it or not. But I just have such feelings of hope and excitement at times wondering what He is going to do. After talking with Sam and Bonnie during my interview for this trip, the next day I was just… giddy. That’s the only word that seems to fit. It was like I had received a love letter from the Lord from a far off place I had yet to see.

He has also brought some wonderful women into my life who encourage me, challenge me, and hold me accountable. They, probably without even knowing it, lift my spirits and point me back to Christ when I want to get hung up on my sin and my shortcomings or in my discontentment. Sometimes it is amazing to sit back and look at the network that is the body of Christ. It’s unbelievable how He makes connections and uses us in one another’s lives.

Would you join me in my excitement for what God is doing? I will keep this blog updated as I learn more about the Rangi people, the TIMO team we are joining, and what role my short-term team will be playing when we get there. Please consider joining me in prayer or with financial support for this upcoming trip to Tanzania!

The Prodigal Daughter

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Geesh. The Lord has been teaching me a lot about grace lately. I see more and more how much of a perfectionist I am and thus, how much I need to be reminded over and over of grace. 

A few months ago, I was feeling frustrated and discouraged and full of shame and guilt in my day to day life. I was so focused on all the things I needed to be doing better or differently that I pretty much became paralyzed and didn’t do much of anything. The word “defeated” was a good summary of how I was feeling. I was asking questions like: “Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right things? Will I ever get this right? Will I ever get victory over this sin?”

Through His mercy and a sermon at church, God opened my eyes and heart. One of my pastors was talking about how many people in the church had mentioned feeling spiritually dry. He talked about the questions people were asking, similar to my own, leading them to discouragement. And he asked, “Is this our God?” Would our God shovel out doubt, condemnation, regret, and guilt for us to dig through? 

He then read Psalm 103 to us:

“(2) Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits– (3) who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, (4) who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, (5) who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. (8) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (9) He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; (10) he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (11) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; (12) as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (13) As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; (14) for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”

And I had a vivid picture of myself as the “prodigal daughter” coming home with the feeling of being an utter failure. I had always read the story (Luke 15:11-32) and tried to learn the lesson the faithful son had to learn when his wayward brother returned home. The “faithful” son had stayed at home, done his duty, enjoyed all the benefits of being in his father’s house, but threw a pity-party for himself when his brother came home and received a celebration he felt he had never received, despite his faithful service. While there is definitely lessons on grace that I need to learn from the perspective of the “faithful” son, I had missed out on the lessons from the “prodigal” son by assuming it didn’t apply to me because I have been a Christian since before I can remember. 

But these days I feel much more like a prodigal daughter because I am aware of my own flesh and failings every day. And now, with this new perspective, I see my Father from “a long way off… filled with compassion” for me. And He’s running to me, ready to throw His arms around me and kiss my face. 

Except I see that instead of falling into His arms, I’ve been trying to stop Him in his tracks, waving my hands in front of me, promising Him that I will do such-and-such for Him and earn back his approval. I want to be welcomed back into His house, but not for free. I will prove to Him that I can change, be different, and be more worthy of Him than I was back in the pig pen. 

And I see for the first time that I have been doing this all along. Not only does this now seem utterly absurd, I see the sadness and hurt and love in God’s eyes as I hold him at a distance, ready to try to earn his approval rather than fall into His embrace. And I cave. I see the love in His eyes and know the frailty of my own self. I take the hands I had held out in front of me, blocking God from coming too close just yet, and I cover my face and feel foolish and frail. And He embraces me. I forget all my plans for striving and just revel in the beauty and freedom that comes with my Father’s embrace. 

I see now, with eyes wide open, that Jesus is the only way perfection is possible in my life. It is only through the sacrifice of Jesus’ death that the gap between me and God is going to be bridged. I realize now that when I start grasping for perfection, I need to stop and reach for Jesus. When I want to despair or become discouraged, I need to remember that I am a child of God and I am loved by God. My pastor reminded us that we need to see the sin in our lives through the lens of the cross. We don’t need to minimize our sin or make excuses for it. Facing our sin reminds us that we are sinners but that Jesus died for us so that we could be joined together with God again. No sin in our life is too great for Jesus to overcome. We need to accept the forgiveness that Jesus offers because if we don’t our hearts become hard. And a hardened heart is probably then going to try to “do better next time” so that we can feel more worthy of God’s forgiveness for our past sins. But the “doing better next time” isn’t likely to happen, so those feelings of defeat are going to come creeping right back in. 

I guess I expected to feel shame by identifying myself as the “prodigal daughter” but instead I feel an amazing sense of freedom and relief. A “running through a field in a flowy skirt in the sunshine” kind of freedom. To be embraced by God! Before doing anything better or right! I have a sneaking suspicion that it is there in the embrace of God that my heart and life is most changed. ;)

“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Here’s the sermon that brought this whole thing about:

“Facing Your Past and Receiving God’s Love and Forgiveness” by Daryn Kinney

http://www.gccc.net/wp-content/uploads/20121021.mp3

Transition

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Some of you may already know that I will be starting a new job as a midwife! I will be joining Breath of Life in Largo, FL starting in June. I visited the center in early March and afterwards really didn’t know what to expect. There was some time waiting on an April Board meeting, where the idea of adding me, a third midwife, would be proposed. I expected a long and drawn out process over several months and instead, everything was approved! I was so shocked to actually be offered a job so soon, it took me a day to say yes!

I feel incredibly blessed for several reasons:

1. I get to work in a birth center setting, where midwives can truly give one-one-one suppport and attention.

2. I am joining two other midwives who have nothing but wonderful things to say about each other.

3. The Breath of Life staff are all believers and the birth center is under a larger pro-life organization, New Life Solutions. It’s really a very unique setting, one I feel very spoiled to be working in.

Here’s the website for Breath of Life: http://www.breathoflife.cc/

Exciting, right!? I still sometimes have a hard time believing it! But, undoubtedly, it will be a big transition. I am moving away from my family here in Olive Branch, MS where I have enjoyed life rent-free with family all around for a year-and-a-half. I am leaving my job as a nurse and embracing a new role as a nurse-midwife, where I face quite a bit more responsibility and learning to live life “on-call”. And although I was actually born in Florida and can’t really complain about living 10 minutes from the beach, it will still be a new place unfamiliar to me.

So while this job and this move is in many ways more than I could have hoped for, it is at the same time intimidating and uncertain.

I have been incredibly encouraged by some of Ann Voskamp’s words in her book “One Thousand Gifts” as I deal with my own worries and stress:

“Anxiety has been my natural posture, my default stiffness. The way I curl my toes up, tight retreat… How I don’t fold my hands in prayer … weld them into tight fists of control… Do I hold worry close as this ruse of control, this pretense that I’m the one who will determine the course of events as I stir and churn and ruminate? Worry is the facade of taking action when prayer really is. And stressed, this pitched word that punctuates every conversation, is it really my attempt to prove how indispensable I am? Or is it more?

Maybe disguising my deep fears as stress seems braver somehow…

Stress and anxiety seem easier. Easier to let a mind run wild with the worry than to exercise discipline, to reign her in, slip the blinders on and train her to walk steady in certain assurance, not spooked by specters looming ahead. Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love?

I don’t like to ask these questions, sweep out these corners… But this I must ask and I do, out loud…

Isn’t joy worth the effort of trust?”

I know just what Ann means when she talks about “stress” being a word that punctuates every conversation. I remember times in my life where it would have felt foreign to not answer the all-too-familiar question of “How are you?” with that word: stressed. It was, in many ways, my identity and my motivator.

I have sensed my tight grip on life loosening in the past year or so. Mostly because I have walked through some situations where I really did have little control and just needed to pray and to wait. And in every instance, of course, God answered prayers in the His timing and things just worked out. Because of my clinicals, I have lived in three different places this past year. In all three of those instances I was required to pretty much show up not knowing what I was getting into, and housing was arranged at the last minute. And there was not a single thing I could have changed by worrying more about any of it! But I did worry, a lot, actually. But each time I learned my lesson and I trusted a little more the next time.

So, all that to say, this move to Florida provides lots of opportunities to stress and to worry. But I am trying to trust and to do the real work of praying – of talking to God about all the things swirling around in my brain. Because each day really does offer so many opportunities for joy and that’s what I want to grab a hold of…