Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Where You Go, I'll Go..

The beginning of this blog was written from Ethiopia where I spent the last two weeks before Easter and then just finished in Sydney where my four youngest children and I now happily reside...

When we left for Ethiopia in 2011 people asked "How long are you going for?" My personal, common response was "As long as God wants us there." Of course in my mind, that was already determined to be as long as possible. I imagined living into an old age like Australian legend Dr Catherine Hamlin who has been asked the same question and has replied "How can I leave when there is so much need?"  I saw the needs and they were many, and many times we were able to help meet those needs- even if the need was for our presence.  

While there are books written about missionary atrophy and the high rates of missionaries coming off the field, the detailed stories behind the statistics are yet to be told.  I could be another statistic added to those who have gone before.  But my story isn't all about what you see from afar.  What's going on in my every day life is not what I would expect so it's probably not what you would either.  

I believe the Bible holds the best practice models when it comes to mission and life. The word is a "light to my feet (giving me short term directions) and a lamp to my path (lighting the vision for the future)" Psalms 119:105.  It shows me what I should do; speaking to me from an eternal place that speaks outside the realm of time and current emotion. The Bible is my text book for life - it's never led me astray (unless I have interpreted it wrong).

So when people ask me, "how long are you here for?".. Perhaps the Bible has an answer we can give..

On the day the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant law, was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above the tabernacle looked like fire...Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. At the Lord’s command the Israelites set out, and at his command they encamped. As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord’s order and did not set out...Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 
Read Numbers 9:15-22

God directed the Israelites by the cloud that covered the tabernacle. When it moved, they moved, when it lingered, they lingered. We are the temples, the tabernacles now. God has set the law in our hearts (Psalm 37:31) and we are the temples of the Holy Spirit as we enter into relationship with Jesus.  (1 Cor 6:19)  We are then subject to God's lead in this dance of life and He desires that we  follow that lead. 

Even now, He places a kind of cloud over us and it represents His presence, His power and His provision. When we feel these three elements operating at their fullest in our lives, we have to know, we're "under the cloud." It's His grace and anointing (that smearing with ability) there that sustains us through the desert. 

Many times Ethiopia has felt like the desert. As I'm here I'm reminded of the struggle! The dust getting thrown in my face by the wind, the roosters crowing at 4am in the morning, the water not flowing from the taps and the public taxi squashing my body up against strangers... These are all things the grace of God gave me and my family the power to sustain over five years. But now that cloud has moved. I don't feel the grace for those things here any more. I'm wondering how I survived them at all and with five children and a myriad of other challenges that came our way. But God does... He was and is our cloud that shelters us from the harsh conditions.

Now His cloud over us has shifted. It's sheltering us from the new challenges that we are facing in Sydney. It isn't actually just sheltering us, but it's bringing a shower of blessed rain. After living in Ethiopia I have a new understanding of rain. Coming from New Zealand where it rains every month of the year, I saw rain as a curse almost. You just want to get the washing dried and your body tanned by the sun but the rain just comes out of nowhere in the "land of the long white cloud." (Aotearoa, the name the original settlers gave to New Zealand.) But in Ethiopia where rain comes only three months of the year and sometimes not even that at all, rain is a blessing. 

The cloud provides the rain, the cloud provides the shelter and the cloud represents the presence of God in the place He is leading us to.  It's a beautiful cloud covering.  Now back in Sydney, Robert Fergusson was preaching today in Chapel at Hillsong Leadership College about how we need to change our destination.  He used the example of Jacob in Genesis 28 who was also going from one city to another.  "He intended to go to Haran, but God had another destination - His presence.  While you set out on your natural journey, He is setting you on a supernatural one.  His destination was not the PLACE but the GOD WHO MADE the place." 

While on a journey back to Ethiopia, we found a new home in Sydney.  Here, we are finding new levels of intimacy with the Creator of Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world.  Like Jacob, we can't help but say "Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it!" We were not aware that God was going to lead us to stay in Sydney but He is here and He is showing us that here is where we need to stay.  For me, there is a sense of joy and peace that comes with leaving that overrides the emotional pull to stay. It's described like this in Isaiah:

Isaiah 55:12
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;

That verse is preceded by a few verses that explain that Gods ways and thoughts are not the way we think or plan, and that when He promises something, His word is true... The manifestation of it just may not look the way we thought it would look. This life of crazy faith He has called us to, demands we trust His way as He leads us. There comes a cloud that shows us a shelter where peace and joy reside. They become our guide.

While Dr Catherine Hamlin stays because there is so much need she can practically help with here, I leave because there is need in Ethiopia I need to help with from abroad. The lessons I have learnt from our time in Ethiopia have set me up to establish a new thing. God is always in the business of doing new things and He does it in us and through us.

As I watched Moana on the plane on the way back from Ethiopia, I heard a line in the song "I am Moana" that I hadn't heard before.  She starts the movie convinced that her calling is "beyond the reef"- a place.  Then as she goes out beyond the reef and sees the bigger picture of what the "Ocean" has called her to do, she gets a "revelation".  Her Grandmother's spirit asks her...Do you know who you are? 

Her response is summed up like this:  
Who am I?
I am a girl who loves my island
I'm the girl who loves the sea
It calls me
I am the daughter of the village chief
We are descended from voyagers
Who found their way across the world
They call me
I've delivered us to where we are
I have journeyed farther
I am everything I've learned and more
Still it calls me
And the call isn't out there at all, it's inside me
It's like the tide; always falling and rising
I will carry you here in my heart you'll remind me
That come what may
I know the way

I so related to Moana in this movie.  I felt the call to go beyond the borders...in fact, I'm currently writing a book about it! But the call is within me.  It's the Holy Spirit who leads me and determines where I should go.  This song has spoken to that place in my life.  It reminds me of where I've been and where I'm going.  I'm excited about the new chapter of my life and thankful for everything Ethiopia has taught me.  The best surely, is yet to come. 

Friday, December 30, 2016

When the end of your year is much different from your beginning: My 2016 Reflections.

“The Joy of the Lord is your strength”, the two of them said at the same time just before they erupted into laughter at the surprise of their simultaneous proclamation.  I wasn’t laughing however, as I had gone to them from the crowd to get a prophetic word for my next year and hadn’t expected this one at all.  “Why would I need strength?” I thought.  “This year is going to be my harvest season…I’ve suffered enough already, I should be seeing the goodness and peace of God in my life this year.”  I concluded that they were somehow delusional and left that prayer meeting feeling ripped off.

A couple of weeks later we found ourselves back in Ethiopia, but positioned in a different part of the country- the part we said we would never live- Addis Ababa.  It’s the capital city and so much bigger than Debre Zeit, our home of old.  Here, my hope was that my children would have better peer relationships, greater access to the extra curricular activities at the International School and we would get better internet.  If I was to do what I said I would do, for one or maybe more, local NGO’s then I would need good internet access to provide consistent communication to donors.

We settled into the home of fellow missionaries who were away on furlough for the year and got our bearings around our side of town. However, not long after, rips started to appear on the fabric of our family...As months went by and physical separation led to a new review of all that was holding our relationship together, there were more elements pulling us apart than the things that were holding us together… By June, those rips had been torn fully apart. I had to say goodbye to my dream of a till-death-do-us-part marriage and so did my children as well as every person who had believed that we would remain together.

The weak places I entered into after that were buffered by the statement that was spoken over my life at the end of our time in New Zealand.  “The Joy of the Lord is MY strength.” I had to own it and apply it to my every day life.  In my weakest moments where I felt the literal tearing apart of a covenant tie, a strength resided that I couldn't claim as my own.  

What I came to discover was that Joy comes in different forms.  It came in the display of my children's resilience to the undoing of the world they knew for so long .  It came in the form of people who went from being strangers to much needed friends who spoke much needed words.  Joy expressed itself in moments of laughter with visiting people who brought hope and love in unexpected ways.  Joy reigned in opportunities to discover the use of gifts that had laid dormant in me for many years.  Manifested joy came into my life as the Word of God resonated through daily guidance in times where I couldn’t see which way to go. 

In all our lives there are moments we don’t expect or foresee; moments we never wished we or even our worst enemies would ever experience.  There are times we want to skip a track to our next song, or wake up from our currently reality, as if it were just a dream.  This year has been one of those experiences for me but in saying that I wouldn’t have changed it one bit. 

Through the breaking of my marriage, has come the awakening of my being- my being a beloved child of God.  My being a person who knows what is right for her life and was strong enough to stand up for it.  I awakened to the fact that just BE-ing is enough- that my DO-ing (Doing mission or wifely duties, Doing Ethiopia or what people expected me to DO) was not what made me ME. What makes me ME is in my being.  Being created in the image of God and knowing that I am found in Him, fully and completely His.  Here, I saw the peace and goodness of God I expected would be void if I needed His Joy to be my strength. I discovered the fullness of His Joy is found in those times where we are weak and His strength becomes our own. 

In the midst of this journey, I am writing my autobiography and in that space I am revisiting the joys and the pains of my past.  My life has still got many years to be lived out and I know that my story will be used for God’s glory and to help others like me who are struggling to know which way to turn. 

On my long haul flight between Singapore and Turkey, I flicked on the Documentary channel and watched a show about the wonder of nature. In this episode, they were talking about all the different shapes that exist in nature. One being the shapes that are formed in ice.

To illustrate the complexity of ice they took on the biggest block of ice that we find in nature, the iceberg. Scientists were researching the shapes found in the iceberg and how that affected not only the sinking of the Titanic but also the ability of the iceberg to float.

If you've seen the movie, you know the Titanic sunk because the Captain underestimated the size of the iceberg he saw on the near horizon and the damage that was done didn't come from what he could see on the surface of the ocean but by what lay beneath.

7/8 of an iceberg is under water- it's called the keel. The keel catches the currents of the ocean & affects the speed and the direction it will go. It's the less dense part of the iceberg that floats while the rest is heavily anchoring the berg under the water. 

Our lives displayed are only a small part of what people see. It's the less dense part that is exposed, while the depth of our lives is what is weighing us down beneath. 

If we see the circumstances of our lives as the currents that come our way then it's what's going on under the surface that will determine how we allow those things to steer our course. If we have bitterness in our hearts and something comes our way that collides with an already bitter root then that will affect which direction we go and how fast we get there - most likely down and at maximum speed. If we have peace in our hearts and something comes to create havoc in our lives, then our lives will cascade the effects of the hit more easily. We will be led by peace. If these two things- bitterness and peace push against one big iceberg or relationship then it's most likely going to split in half. 

While bitterness and peace were not necessarily the opposing forces in my marriage, there were definitely mixed values that were constantly pushing up against each other for us.  There is a life that is seen in public for all of us and the life that goes on behind closed doors. While these two lives should match up, the reality of my life is that the keel of our lives was being affected by the things that we valued. And just to clear the air, while the Ship of our lives at the time was in the waters of Africa, it wasn't Africa that caused the wreck but rather the undertows of the current itself. 

Thankfully we have been thrown a life line and it's come from the shores of Sydney, Australia. God has been gracious in setting up a life boat for us where we can know the safety of His Love and navigate the waters He's setting us back out on in the future. 

God has a plan for me and for Ethiopia and for me to be in Ethiopia in these last days and there's a stirring sense of peace in the country now and also within my heart.  This year has not ended at all the way I imagined it would at the beginning of my year, nor at the beginning of my marriage but I am learning not to focus on what was but what is going to come.  The word I gave myself at the beginning of this year, was the word "Surrender."  I have felt the sting of surrender as I've surrendered my own desires to the will of my Savior.  This next year my word is "Complete."  I will see the goodness of God in His restorative power in my life as He completes me and makes me whole.  As He now steers the direction of my life again, I am thankful that He knows so much more than I ever could- He knows my future and He knows what's best for me.  He works all things out together for my good. 

My friend YohanaSahle sings this beautiful song that speaks to my situation so eloquently. She's one of Ethiopia's rising stars, singing the heart of Jesus. Be blessed through it, knowing that He is working all things together for good. Happy NEW Year!