September 30, 2012

There's Just Something About These Pennsylvania Roads

As per my usual, I was driving last night in complete silence; all the hour and a half it took me to drive back home.  Silence in the car but certainly not in my heart and mind and soul.  I dare not share with you all of what was happening internally but let's just say there was a lot of prayer and a lot of God, some arguing with God and some arguing with myself. 
But in the last half hour or so I was struck by the ridiculousness of the roads that wind and dip, shall we say enthusiastically, through the eastern PA countrysides and small town.  Let me describe to you just what I am talking about.
Of course it was dark with not a lot of moon shining through the clouds.  There was not point in attempting to put my high beams on because every 500 yards or less another car would pass going  the opposite direction.  I would basically have just been flashing people the whole way so I decided I'd rather take the risk that there might be a deer or some such obstruction in my path that I would have to avoid last minute. Thankfully I grew up mostly in Vermont where there is no such thing as a flat, straight road so driving at night with limited vision and winding back roads are my dear companions while traveling anywhere.  Back to PA roads though... I'd be driving along with some gradual ups and downs and basically straight roads and then all of a sudden, BIG YELLOW ARROW and 90 degree turn but be careful cause the road is narrow and there's five cars coming the opposite direction with their high beams on and on my right not two feet from the edge of the road, the corner of a house or church.  Seriously, people most of us don't drive buggies anymore and we don't have puny European cars here... ( mind you, most times I think we should have one or the other of those options instead).  If it's not a 90 degree turn with that big yellow arrow it's a four way in the middle of nowhere with a stop light where the speed limit is 50 miles per hour and you can see the light in the distance turn from yellow to red to green before I even get to the light and just as I'm about to go under the light, it turns yellow.  Now comes the time when I have to decide: am I driving fast enough to go through the yellow light because it's not red yet or am I going slow enough that I still have time to stop before I run a red light.  I can never tell how far away the light actually is and if I should maintain my speed when I can see that the light is green but it seems like it has been for a while and so is it going to turn yellow soon and so I'll need to stop quickly if I don't gauge it just right.  (am I over analyzing this? maybe I just have terrible depth perception).  And I can't forget the one lane bridges that aren't actually marked one lane bridge until you're practically on the bridge.   As you might have gathered from my description thus far that these roads are not grid like.  They switch direction in the blink of an eye and make absolutely no sense even for someone who has a relatively good sense of direction.  Thankfully as I made my way home and tired to keep my eyes out for all of these factors that make driving so exciting in this part of the world I constantly have this voice, " ahead turn right, then turn left" that keeps me on the right road.  If not for my GPS, Charlie, I would never get anywhere at all. 
You might be wondering where this is going and I will of course explain though I am tempted to let it fester for a bit.

These crazy roads are like my life as a Christian.  Yep I did it, I made the God connection; I can't help it He's everywhere.   I can't see very far ahead and am constantly caught by surprise by the constant curve balls that come my way. 

But they teach me lessons like waiting and not charging ahead (stop lights), keep my eyes and ears open and focused on my actions and the path ahead or I might miss the next turn in the road that, despite it being a little hair raising, is actually the only way to where I need to be, and the Voice that guides me at just the right time though often a little last minute for my liking.  Now you might say that I'm foolish for putting all my trust in my GPS as I try to make my way around this new area--it is after all only a computer system.  But this the metaphor.  I would be lost without it just as I am lost in life without God there with me every step of the way.  I wait to hear His voice directing me in the way I should go. Sometimes I forget that He's there but He never forgets that I'm here and still need guidance cause I really don't know the way at all.  No God is not my robot but He is best guide I could ever ask for and the paths of our Christian walks, though treacherous and seem to have no real direction at times, are possible with Him as our guide.  It's an adventure to say the least traveling these roads and walking with Jesus.  But absolutely worth the challenge of getting from here to there; from this earth to eternal life with Him.

Expectations, Not Good

As planned, I drove to Lancaster, PA for World Missions Institute (EMM's missionary training/orientation).
Now, in the past I purposely try to have as few expectations as possible especially before entering a new experience.  That's all part of life; new experiences that we unprepared for and are often surprised by, some positive some not so much.  I had no idea what to expect of EMU--I had never visited and most of the things I found that my peers were excited about with attending the school, I wasn't even aware of.  No expectations and despite all the sometimes ugly challenges I was faced while there, I wouldn't trade my time there for anything.   Some of my experience at EMU was not a lot different than the average college experience but in many other ways it was so different and certainly made me face things that I never suspected.
As a result of my experience at EMU, I realized that is better to just not expect anything cause likely it either won't happen or it will not be at all how you thought.  There's little room for disappointment and the utmost space for learning and growth.  My experience at WMI was a testament to this.  Unfortunately this time I had formed expectations prior to the experience and of course it did not serve me well.  In my mind WMI was going to be cross cultural orientation plus a little more because I'd be gone longer.  But no, it was more like cross cultural orientation on steroids (hard core steroids). 
I went there confident of myself and confident that entering the mission field was what God was asking me to do.  I would WMI prepared and solid for starting my assignment in another month or so.  Ha! Was I ever wrong.  Day 1: God tore me down.  He likes to break things down and heal them and then restore them greater than they were before He started.  I've never learned this the hard way until this summer.  I was so strong- too strong for Him to really use me for Himself and by the end of that first week I had just about nothing left inside me except for Him.  As it should be, but let me tell you that is not how I wanted it.  Because of my life experiences (which I will elaborate on later), I became so strong and so resilient that I applauded myself for it and left no room for God to be my strength, my source of all things.  Before June 18th, I was self sufficient and all my inner strength was because God had made me that way.  After June 18th, I had nothing-- God was it; and there were times I wasn't sure if I had that anymore.  Everything I thought I had to offer and God had made in me to do His work in the world was gone.  Seriously.  I felt like all of who I was, aside from being a Christian, was broken down over the course of about 8 hours! 
What was left?  Well a person who did not know where to be in the world.  A person without love. A person without grace.  A person without trust. A person without resiliency.  A person almost without faith. A person drowning in guilt, shame, self hatred, doubt, and grief.  What do you get? 
A body. A body filled with tears and utter exhaustion.
It was the day that I had been waiting for for thirteen years.  A day that turned into a week.  A day that my spiritual director said would doubtless come and she prayed and hoped that when it did I would be in a safe place; a place filled with God and community.
I never believed her.  I had come so far in the last thirteen years the only way forward now was "up."  With God by my side, I would continue to be built up right?  Wrong. How wrong I was. 
I was about to embark on the greatest journey of healing and restoration with nothing except every ounce of who and what God is.  With nothing except God's grace and love building so much humility and trust and forgiveness in me that I would hardly know what to do with it.

September 25, 2012

No Need Is Too Small For God's Greatness

The most awesome thing happened to my mom and I this afternoon!  I drove home yesterday to begin packing and moving my belongings to Pennsylvania but had to drive all the way north today to get half of my things that have been in storage.  We headed out first thing this morning so we could come back early afternoon and still have a good part of the day to do other things.  We arrived at the storage unit ready to tackle our search; only one thing stood between my mum and I and the boxes within...  A lock with a word combination.  Mum had just asked my brother yesterday for the combination and we had the little key doohickey in case we needed it for some reason.  The combination however was NOT WORKING!  Oh dear.  I tried it and various other things to try to get this dumb lock open.  My mum tried it and then I tried it again.  And it wasn't just cause we are weak and couldn't pull it open-- trust me!  After attempting to contact my brother in Canada and trying and retrying to open the lock, we gave up and went to the house where I had a few other things to pick up.  We decided to be productive while waiting for my brother to contact us to confirm that we had the right combination.
Well, we spent an hour or thereabouts finding things that I had left behind or could use around the almost empty house but the things that I thought would be there still were of course not.  They were in the storage shed!  Well we still hadn't heard from my brother and we were ready to leave but if we just went back down home then we would have gone all that way for just about nothing that we drove up for.  So we went back to the storage shed and now you can just read the 1st paragraph again to get an idea of how the next half hour was spent.  By now you perhaps have an entertaining mental picture of us shivering in the sunny but chilly lot where the shed was trying desperately to yank the lock open or in my case pull with all my weight at the lock without any success.  Meanwhile the other was on the phone trying to contact my brother still and pacing back and forth when he again didn't answer. (I seriously think he had at least 20 missed calls from us over the course of 2 hours!)  
We were about to give up when mum tried the combination one last time and of course it didn't work.  In utter frustration, I prayed aloud, "God, please just make this thing work!" As I did so mum leaned forward on the door to rest her forehead in defeat--and VOILA!  The door opened and we burst out laughing for the next two solid minutes.  Never in my life have I experienced such an answer to prayer.  Some could argue that mum leaning forward caused the lock to be pushed in and then pulled out (which is in fact how to properly open the lock) but seriously!  How incredible that as I said "!" the lock sprang ope!!!!!!!!!!  Believe what you want but there really is no prayer or concern too small for God to hear and answer.  I think this is part of the phenomenon about us becoming like children in our relationship with Jesus.  The innocence of asking of God the small and large concerns in our daily lives.  He wants to hear what we have to say and desires us to call on Him in times of trouble... even the silly frustrating times such as really needing a lock to open.   

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."

~ Matthew 7:7-8