I am in a very interesting place right now, and when I say “place”, I mean spiritually. A little over a month ago, I moved to Texas for some Advanced Missionary Training. To be honest, I truly thought I would be in Liberia by now. I was sitting on a ticket that was to carry me over June 30, but due to a number of reasons, that didn’t happen. So I decided, although not really enthusiastically, to take advantage of this opportunity that lay before me, to attend this Missionary training where I would learn about cultures, culture shock, languages, literacy, we even have a “jungle camp” in the spring. There were no smoke clouds in the sky saying “Go to the training, Julie!”, but I had so many good reports and recommendations, I decided to come.
I knew that it was going to have its challenges. When I was trying to “logic” my way through it (don’t judge, just counting the cost), I did one of my Mom’s infamous “Positive side, Negative side” Lists. There were really only 2 on the “negative” side, and my Pastor agreed, it would not be an “out of God’s will” decision to go. It would provide some excellent training, it is line with the burdens that I have for Liberia, it would be 9 months of Bible immersion and fellowship with other Missionaries. What a great “send-off” to the Mission field, right? Right. All these expectations have come to fruition, and I am not sorry I came.
BUT….little did I know or expect the time of testing it has become! First of all, it has been a very, very difficult but necessary separation from my family. I feel the separation from my daughter and grandchildren most keenly, but away from my Mom, my sister and her family. I am not going to lie, it has been TOUGH with a capital “T”. By the way, “Separation from my family” was one of the 2 negatives, but “Separation from my family” was also on the positive side. A necessary evil, if you would like to put it that way. This test, I expected, even welcomed.
BUT…the week I was to move, I started having issues with my low back and knees. Some last minute trips to the Chiropractor did not prove helpful, and they were so irritated and inflamed by the time I completed a week of packing and then drove 18 hours, the very first evening I arrived, I took one of my first steps into my duplex and SNAP, I felt this unwelcome pop. That injury has not gotten much better. I have been very blessed to have a local Chiropractor go above and beyond to get me “back on my feet”, but it has limited my mobility in a way that I have never experienced. It has isolated me, ruined my sleep, slowed me down, stopped my basket sales. OK. “Really, God? God, remember me, I am that woman who is trying to get to Liberia and help women and children? Please don’t forget that!”
Then, there are the classes themselves. Fascinating, interesting, engaging but SO FAR OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE my brain literally throbs after a day of classes. I blame my age and the fact I have never been a “language, english, sociology” type person. I am a numbers person, a logic person, an audit person, a check-list person. Ok. “Really, God? Do you really think I can learn this stuff, retain this stuff, actually USE this stuff in Africa? God, remember me, I am that woman, that 51 year old woman, with an old brain, who is trying to get to Liberia and help women and children? Please don’t forget that!”
Then, there are people that I know and love back home that are hurting, and I want to run to them. I want to “fix” things. I am a “fixer”. I want to be there. I want to hug them, tell them I love them, that God loves them, that it will be alright! But I can’t. I can’t be there. And it stinks. Then it hit me. This is what it will be like when you are in Africa. When you can no longer touch, no longer hug, no longer look them in the eye and tell them, “What God says is true! You can TRUST him! (and as you preach to them you preach to yourself)” OK. “Really, God? I came down to Texas to get ready to go to Liberia, and then people I care about start hurting, and I can’t be there. I want to be there. God, remember me, I am that woman who wants to get to Liberia and help women and children, and I would appreciate it if you would keep all harm from those I love when I can’t be there to get control of the situation? Please don’t forget that!”
Then, I got the shingles. Yep, my good friends, come back to visit. I am one of those people living a “medically impossible” situation. If you read up on shingles, they always claim you can’t get it twice and not in the same place and blah, blah, blah. But yep. I am the exception. They are an outward manifestation of internalized stress. Funny thing is, I don’t really feel “worried” or “anxious” or “stressed”. I usually feel tired, very tired. And then I get achy, very achy. Then I get this pain in my shoulder. Then I get this itchy, burning sensation. Then I get the shingles. This is probably the 5th or 6th time that I have had them. These are even hanging in there, about 2 weeks now. OK. “Really, God? I am already dealing with homesickness, classes, bad knees and hurting people, and now I have to get the shingles? God, remember me, I am that woman who wants to get to Liberia and help women and children? Please, don’t forget that!”
As I pray and discuss the situation with God, one very bright spot occurred to me, and He put it into words for me just yesterday. I am troubled on every side, yet not distressed; I am perplexed, but not in despair…(personalized paraphrase from 2 Cor. 4:8). I am kind of waiting to “lose it”. The “old” Julie would definitely have lost it by now. Maybe even the Julie of 5 or 6 years ago. I would possibly at least have had a very large pity party, or thrown some things. But, no. Not only had I not done that. I didn’t feel the need to do that. I truly and honestly and sincerely believe, that God is in control. This is His work. I am His vessel, and he gets to manage the situation in any manner that He sees fit. Whether it is me, my ministry, my baskets, my loved ones, my health. Even as I type this, He has brought to mind the song:
Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be:
Lead me by Thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
Smooth let it be, or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight it leads,
Right onward to Thy rest.
I dare not choose my lot;
I would not if I might:
Choose Thou for me, my God,
So I shall walk aright.
Take Thou my cup, and it
With joy or sorrow fill,
As best to Thee may seem;
Choose thou my good and ill.
Choose Thou for me my friends,
My sickness or my health.
Choose Thou my cares for me,
My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the chose,
In things both great and small;
Be Thou my guide, my strength,
My wisdom and my all.
God has been showing me repeatedly over the last couple of weeks, that it is not for healing, or protection, or changes in circumstances that I must be praying, but for strength. His strength. We can do nothing in our strength or our understanding, it is only in His strength and by His grace. Hard lessons to learn, but oh so true and worthy to be trusted! As my dear friend Miss Jean used to say to me, “Julie, if you don’t learn that lesson, God will take you back to the classroom.”
So, God has me in a classroom. One that I do no necessarily like or understand, and quite frankly, if my knee wasn’t so bad and I had the physical strength I probably would have packed up and gone home by now. Even this morning I was reading a devotional on the times when we are asking, “Really, God?” It pointed out the lives of David, Joseph and Job. David, killer of Goliath and the anointed of Israel, living in caves and on the run for up to 13 years, hiding from the jealous Saul. Joseph, favored of his father and dreamer of dreams, prophesying that not only his jealous brothers but his mother and father would all bow down to him one day, sold into slavery and languishing in prison. Job, a righteous and upright man, loses all his possessions, his children and his health. Don’t you think they were all tempted to say, “Really, God? Remember me? I am your friend, your servant, your helper, don’t you remember that?” But they were all rewarded for their faithfulness to God, despite what seemed impossible circumstances in light of the call they had on their lives.
God doesn’t change His mind. He has given me a calling. I am in the wilderness of preparation with a lot of questions running through my mind right now. But I am troubled on every side, yet not distressed; I am perplexed, but not in despair. I need your prayers, I covet your prayers, I appreciate your prayers!
Look unto ME, and be ye SAVED, all the ends of the earth: For I AM GOD, and there is none else. Isaiah 45:22