How Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways...

In October of 2013 I took a trip that changed me.

The trip was to a small town on the southern coast of Togo, Africa.
It was my first missions trip.
It was the farthest I had ever been away from my family.
It was the longest I had ever been away from my kids.
It was physically challenging.
It was emotionally exhausting.
It was so hard…and so wonderful.
It wore me out.
It opened my eyes.
It emptied me…and yet it filled me to overflowing.
It stuck with me.
It stays with me still.
Togo stole my heart and broke it in all the best ways.

We sat in a simple thatched building with a corrugated metal roof, on handmade wooden benches and sandy dirt floors. This was the church. And it was beautiful. There were no fancy sound systems or video screens or colored lights, no air conditioning or padded seats, and I didn’t understand very much of what was spoken that morning – and yet, I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced a church service that was more alive with the Holy Spirit.

Many of the Togolese people who surrounded us that morning lived in poverty like I had never seen before. But as I sat there and watched them worship Jesus, I realized that I was the one who was poor.  I had a life that was overflowing with comfort and privilege and plenty (we may not seem "rich" by American standards, but when you consider all that we have--a solid roof over our heads and consistent food on our table and running water at our fingertips--we are really quite wealthy and extremely blessed)…and yet, as I sat there in that church service half a world away from my everyday life and over 5,000 miles outside my comfort zone, I realized that I was actually the one living in poverty…in spiritual poverty. I had cushioned myself within my safe and comfortable little bubble, carefully planning and crafting my life into the shape I thought was best (which looked an awful lot like the shape of what our culture says is best): the shape of least risk and most safety, least pain and most comfort, least struggle and most stuff. Oh, Jesus was always a part of it, but He was not really the whole of it. I thought He was. I said He was. But He wasn't really. I thought I was pursuing Jesus, but I was really just pursuing the American Dream with a side of Jesus. My life was not conformed to the shape of the cross...it was conformed to the shape of myself and my own selfish desires. And I didn't even really realize it. I didn’t realize how tight my grip was on my life…I didn’t realize how little faith I really had…I didn’t realize what I was missing.

I went to Togo with this idea that I would somehow help them, but the reality is that they were the ones who helped me.

The Togolese people in the church that morning may not have had much as far as worldly possessions go, but they had Jesus, and He was enough. He was more than enough.

Was Jesus enough for me? Had He ever really been enough for me?

I want to love Jesus every day of my life with the same passion that I witnessed that week in Togo...like He is all that I really need and everything I could ever want.

The people of Togo stole my heart...our missionaries, JJ and Melissa, inspired my heart...and God used Togo to begin breaking my heart in the very best way.

That trip to Togo was the beginning of the soul-shaping process that God used to begin breaking my selfishness, breaking down down my walls, breaking apart the box that I had tucked my faith into. It was the beginning of God prying my hands open…of Him showing me how to let go of my life and live with open hands, trusting Him with whatever He gives, whatever He takes, and whatever He asks me to give away. I’m still loosening my grip…still learning how to let go. Because I forget…oh, how I still forget. 

It has been almost 4 years since my feet were on that African soil. And my heart has been longing to go back ever since I left. But I’ve been learning to let God lead…learning to trust His timing…learning to love where I am, and to see the mission field right here where He has placed me.

I’ve learned that I don’t have to cross the ocean to share the power of the Cross.
I don’t have to speak another language to speak the love of Christ into someone’s life.
I don’t have to look very far or travel great distances to find a mission field.
I don’t have to get on a plane to get my life on mission for Jesus.

But I do have to open my hands.
I need to loosen my grip and not hold so tightly to this life and what I have….it is all a gift. I am blessed to bless…I have been given much so I can give much. 

And I do have to take up my cross and follow Jesus.
Following Jesus always requires sacrifice. My life must take the shape of the cross...arms open in broken surrender to His plan and His purpose.

And I do have to look beyond myself and see the needs of others.
I have to open my eyes....to really see people, see the souls that Jesus loves, see their need, and then do something to meet those needs.

And I do have to be obedient and do what God is calling me to do.
And He calls all of us to share the Good News. As Christians, we are all given a mission to share Jesus as if souls depend on it...because they do. Because a thousand years from now, all that will really matter is a person’s relationship with Jesus. Everything else will fade away, but the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus and the souls of people are eternal. If I really believe that, it will affect how I live my days and how I use my time and how I see every single human being on this big beautiful broken planet.

"And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
“Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor....It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus, and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean, by that, that those who use the pen for Christ are silent; they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well; but I mean this,—that man who says, ‘I believe in Jesus,’ but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor.”
- C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 54 

Sometimes obeying God may mean getting on a plane and flying halfway around the world.

Sometimes it means getting out of the recliner and taking food to a neighbor.

This October, for me, it will mean returning to Togo with a small group from our local church to serve and work with our missionary partners, JJ and Melissa Alderman. And this time, my husband Mark is going too! (I’m so excited to have him by my side this time!)

I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to return to the place that stole my heart 4 years ago.

The area where we will be serving, on the southern coast of Togo, is dominated by voodoo worship (witch doctors, fetish idol worship, sacrifices, etc). The spiritual darkness there is thick...spiritual warfare is very real…but the light of Christ is so bright, and the power of the Gospel is so strong. The work that the Aldermans are doing there is absolutely incredible, and it is a truly humbling grace to get to serve with them and work with them for a few days.

Here's what we'll be doing:

The Aldermans purchased a large piece of land on which to begin a camp and community outreach program. One of our goals on this trip will be to help with the construction of a building that will serve as a bunk house on their new property. This bunk house will be the first step toward reaching their goal of bringing locals in to share the gospel with them.

We will also be ministering to a few of the local church plants by spending some time with them and praying for their churches as they fight to share the gospel in their local villages. Most church plants there consist of about 90% new Christians – their passion for the Gospel, and the sacrifice many of them have had to make to follow Christ is both humbling and inspiring. We will also spend time with kids, loving on them and having fun with them to help build relationships between them and the Aldermans. 

I am also praying that we will be able to encourage and love on the Aldermans while we are there. Although, if it’s anything like the last time I was there, I’m pretty sure we will leave feeling far more blessed by them…just being around them and hearing their hearts and watching them do the work that God has called them to do, with so much love in their hearts and courage in their spirits…it is truly a gift just to spend time with them. They are the real deal…beautiful people who just love Jesus and want to share His love with the Togolese people and see this country experience the life-changing power of the Gospel. The dream God has given them for Togo is bigger than their lifetime…they know that the work they are doing is only a beginning, that they may never see the full results of their labor in this generation…but that doesn’t stop them from pouring everything they have into doing what God has called them to do. They are faithful to their part of God’s big story…and it is so inspiring and humbling to me just to be around them.

Mark and I are prayerfully preparing for this trip, and we are trusting God to provide all that we need. Our financial goal is, to be honest, a bit overwhelming…we have to raise a total of over $4000 since two of us are going. But nothing is too big for our God, and I am very confident that He will provide everything that we need. 

To help us reach our fundraising goal, I have designed a whole new collection of prints that I’m calling The Mission Collection. This collection includes 10 new designs, and 100% of the proceeds from all purchases will go toward our missions trip to Togo. Each of the quotes and verses I chose for this collection encourage me and remind me of the mission that God has given us. Perhaps one (or more) of them will encourage you, too? :)

Both Printable and Printed options are available. See more details for each design over on the Mission Collection page in the Shop.

If you would like to donate toward our missions trip, but would prefer to make a direct tax-deductible donation instead of purchasing a print, please email me at jennifer@littlehousestudio.net and I’ll send you all the details of how to do that. :)

Thank you in advance for supporting us and praying for us. We covet your prayers as we prepare our hearts for this trip and as we trust God to work out all the details.

And please be praying for JJ and Melissa Alderman and their Togo Palms ministry. God is doing amazing things through them. You can read more about their ministry over on their website: www.TogoPalms.life

 

When a leap of faith feels more like a free fall...

So there's this sign in the front yard of our little house. Guess I can't do this thing quietly and in secret any more ;) ...

So here it goes...I'm finally ready to share with you my big news: I'm officially starting my own little home-based graphic design business. (Or at least, I'm trying to anyway. In our city, in order to get an official business license for any kind of home-based business (even if it's just an online shop), I have to go through a whole application process for approval by the planning and zoning committee...a process which includes them putting a not-so-inconspicuous sign in my front yard telling everyone in the world what I'm doing and that they can come and object to my application at the meeting. For an insecure introvert, it's quite a nerve-racking experience...and more than once it has caused me to doubt this whole thing altogether. ;) But alas, I am setting my fears aside and pushing forward...)

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Twelve years...

Today I am feeling all the feelings. It’s Emma’s birthday today.  She is 12 years old.

I’m not really sure how that happened.  ;)

Sometimes the day this photo was taken – the first day I wore the name “mom” and held this new little soul in my arms – seems like a lifetime ago. But sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday. Time is funny like that. All these moments, one after the other…and before you know it, you’re looking back at a lifetime that feels like just a breath.

Because somehow, it’s been 12 years.

TWELVE.

Twelve years of days lie between those two photos. Twelve years of good days and hard days and days I didn’t think I would make it….days full of joy and laughter, tears and exhaustion, challenges and uncertainty, smiles and adventures…twelve years of days full of moments and memories I honestly wouldn’t trade for anything.

It’s been twelve years full of gifts. Twelve years full of grace.

I haven’t been perfect at this mom thing. Not by a long shot. Motherhood is so much harder, and more wonderful, than I had ever expected it to be. I had no idea what I was getting into when they put her in my arms for the first time. No. Idea. I have fumbled and stumbled my way through this thing…and this “tween” stage is stretching me and challenging me more than ever. There are so many days I feel so inadequate to do this great thing of growing another human, of leading this other soul through this crazy broken world.

Because I’m so broken myself. I’m so banged up and bruised up and messed up.

But I just keep leaning hard into Jesus…I just keep trusting His grace to fill in the gaps.

And somehow we’ve survived twelve years.

And with Jesus, we’ll make it twelve more. (Only by then, she could very well have a little one of her own…but oh my word, I can’t even begin to go there! At this point, we just gotta survive middle school ;) )

But I know that day will be here before I know it…the days seem to be moving faster, the weeks are flying by.  Which is why I am more passionate than ever about making the most of every moment I can…seizing every opportunity to intentionally invest in our family and in our girls.  Because even though one single moment may not seem like much…it all adds up. One little conversation, one little family night, one little prayer before bedtime, one little heart-to-heart talk, one little snuggle or cuddle, one little game, one little devotion, one little act of kindness, one little hug, one little word of encouragement…one little moment by itself may not seem to make much of an impact…but together? Day after day, year after year? Each moment is like a little drop of water. One drop may not make much of a difference…but drop after drop after drop, over time…all together, those drops add up and become a raging river.  All those moments we have with our children have the potential to become a river of influence in their lives.

Even the moments when we mess up. Even the drops that are tainted and colored by our mistakes and our sin…those drops add to the influence too. I don’t know about you, but I am so not perfect. I don’t have it all together. Not every drop of influence I give my children is good. Sometimes they see me mess up, they see me fall apart, they see me fail. But I wonder if these moments - the not-so-pinterest-perfect-moments - may possibly have an even greater impact on them than all the “good” I do...because humbling myself and asking forgiveness, being forgiven and still being secure in God’s love for me, leaning into Him and trusting Him even in my brokenness, and finding joy and comfort in His grace…that’s a powerful thing for my children to see.

Our moments matter. What we do with our moments, what we do with our days...how we forgive and how we love and how we talk and how we act…it all matters…it is all making an impact, it is all adding up. The good, the bad, and the ugly...all weaving together into a beautiful tapestry that tells our children the story of God's love and grace and redemption.

So today, on my “mom-iversary”, as we celebrate this sweet, precious, beautiful soul that is my Emma girl, I am recommitting myself to parent intentionally. Even though the days may be exhausting and the challenges are changing and I still don’t know what I’m doing half the time, now as much as ever my daughters need a mom who is leaning hard into Jesus and who is consistently and intentionally adding drops of influence into their lives, who is modeling for them what it is like to live for Jesus, and who is present with them in this moment (not afraid of the future or regretting the past, but fully here right now), finding joy in the middle of the crazy and grace in the middle of it all.  Because this life? It really is just a breath. A precious, fleeting breath. And I want my breath to breathe life and love and joy and grace into the lives of the people God has given me, for as long as He lets me have them.

morning fog

A piece of my journey...

This post is a bit personal…a piece of my journey that has been sealed in journals and kept tight within my closest circle of family and friends.  It’s a part of my heart that I’ve kept in my heart and have been unpacking and decompressing for the past year.  But I wanted to share some of it here, a bit of my heart laid bare, so that maybe in doing so it will encourage someone else out there who may be struggling the way I was (and still am some days ;) ).  This is just a piece of my story…a part of my journey. {Warning: this post is like a mini-book…it’s very long, and if you don’t like long posts, you won’t like this one. ;)  It won’t hurt my feelings…I know I can be a bit wordy, and this post is especially long and wordy, and there aren’t even any pictures!  But try as I might to condense it down, I just couldn’t leave any parts out, because it’s the parts that make the whole, and it’s the whole that reveals my heart in this story.  So if you have the patience and the time to endure my rambling, feel free to read on.  If not, that’s totally ok…I promise to post a shorter, more light-hearted post next...maybe even with a free printable! ;) }.

 

A year ago I made a decision that broke a bit of my heart…a choice that was preceded by months and months of struggling and fighting with God and with myself…a decision that was so very difficult, and yet became clearly so very necessary.

I quit my job.  But not just any job…I quit full-time ministry.  A year ago this week, I stepped down as the full-time Preschool Director at our church, a position that I had grown into and embraced for several years, a job that I truly loved.

That may not seem like a very big deal…people quit jobs all the time. But for me, it was one of the hardest things I have ever done.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I loved that job.  I LOVED it.  I loved the children, I loved the volunteers, I loved the fact that I got to be on staff with leaders that I loved and admired at our church.  I loved that I got to be on the front lines teaching our littlest ones that God made them, God loves them, and Jesus wants to be their friend forever.  I loved getting to partner with parents and talk to them about creating rhythms in their homes that would lead their children to Jesus.  I loved getting to build the ministry pretty much from the ground up, from developing a name and logo to decorating the rooms to editing curriculum and creating events for volunteers and for families.  I poured my heart and so much of my soul into that ministry.  So many people look at preschool and nursery ministry as “babysitting,” but I had such a clear and vivid vision of it being so much more, so much more critical and vital and important than “just babysitting.”  And I felt so honored and humbly grateful that I got to lead so many wonderful volunteers in making that vision a reality.

But as much as I loved that job, there were definitely times that it was not easy.  It was A LOT of work.  I started out working only part time, but slowly over the years, the hours increased and for that last year or so I was full-time.  Present at every church service.  Prepping for every class.  Responsible for over 150 volunteers and up to 500 preschoolers every week.  I lived with a constant “to-do” list that grew every week.  But I was good at lists, and I liked being busy.  I felt like I was accomplishing something, making a difference.  And our church was growing.  We started a second campus, we added extra services, and we were going to build an even bigger building and renovate our children’s spaces…it was exciting, to get to be a part of all that. Sure, it was a lot of work...but I was serving God, ministry was my job…I mean, how cool is that!?  There was a time when I couldn’t imagine ever not being a part of the preschool ministry.  I was in too deep…I loved it too much.

But that last year, life shifted.

In 2012 my oldest daughter Emma was diagnosed with a “vestibular-based somatosensory disorder,” along with a couple of other things.  Her sensory disorder affected her primarily and most visibly in the area of food – she had, and she still has to a degree, a severe food aversion…a literal and very real fear of food.  Prior to her diagnosis, we were just fumbling in the dark, trying to help her as best we could but without really understanding what was going on.  I didn’t even know food aversion was a thing.  I mean, I love food…my only problem with food is not eating everything in sight.  But my daughter cried when it was time to eat…she avoided food and would rather starve than eat something that wasn’t among her small handful of foods she could tolerate.  She has been like that from the time she was an infant.  People, even kind people with the very best of intentions, would tell me to just make her eat whatever was on her plate, that it was a battle of wills and that she would eat when she got hungry enough.  But Emma wouldn’t.  The fear that was in her eyes, the terror that would spill from her little mouth as we would try to put a spoonful of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese in her mouth…it broke my heart.  I couldn’t do it.  I knew, the way a mom just knows things, that Emma wasn’t trying to win a battle of wills…Emma was fighting a battle of inner fear, and for whatever reason she was terrified and forcing her to eat food she was unsure of would send her into panic attacks.  I didn’t understand.  She didn’t understand.  So we just fumbled along for 9 years, not knowing really how to help her…praying she would somehow “outgrow” it, that something would click and she would one day be able to and want to eat more foods.  Because, other than the food issues, Emma was a perfectly normal little girl…she was very smart and did great at school...she had no other problems, no other symptoms, nothing that would suggest that anything at all was wrong.  Even her doctor (who we adore) told us that she was fine…that she would outgrow it…that it was nothing to worry about.

Anyway…(very) long story short, Emma did not outgrow it, and we started being very concerned about her nutrition and her growth.  She ate no protein at all (no meat, no peanut butter, no eggs, not even cheese), she ate no vegetables and only one kind of fruit…she had broken two bones (one in a very odd place on her upper arm) and was deficient in several vitamins and minerals.  We had yet to find a multivitamin she could tolerate and eat.  She did like drinking PediaSure, so we kept those constantly in the fridge for her, hoping they would help fill in some of the gaps for her nutritionally.  I didn’t know what else to do.

Then in April of 2012 Emma’s doctor referred us to an occupational therapist to have some testing done, after her own son (also a “picky eater”) had recently received some help from the same place.  Emma was 9 years old when she went through the initial series of testing and we finally got a diagnosis.  I was honestly caught off-guard a bit…I was happy for a diagnosis, to know there was a reason beneath her struggles…but I knew that this would not be a quick fix, and that we were just beginning a whole new journey.

And oh what a journey we began.

But as that journey started, complete with therapy twice a week and exercises and therapeutic listening activities at home, I continued working full-time at church.  Life at home had to change dramatically to help Emma, and meanwhile the workload at church only kept increasing, and before long I felt myself start to spiral.  (It didn’t help that I struggled with asking for help and delegating tasks…partly because I was a perfectionist with a very certain way of doing things, and partly because I felt terrible adding to someone else’s load simply because I couldn’t handle my own load.  Side note, in case you didn’t already know (although I’m pretty sure I’m the only person on the planet that had to have this drilled into me in the hardest of ways before I really understood and accepted it): perfectionism and people-pleasing are not good things.  In fact, they can cause a whole lot of pain and hurt and problems.  Ask me how I know…   But that’s a whole other book for another day ;) )

Anyway…I could see it happening.  I knew I was on the road to burnout…that I wouldn’t last much longer.  But I fought it, so hard.  I made conscious decisions to focus on getting things at home in order and focus on helping Emma, which included very specific meal-planning and implementing strategies with her that included the whole family (which took so much time). But as I did that, I felt my ministry responsibilities slipping.  And being the (now recovering) perfectionist that I am, I was not ok with anything less than excellent.  So I began working feverishly late into the night, after the girls were asleep, just to try to keep up with work.  I knew I was pushing myself too hard, I was getting sick more often, headaches and fevers almost daily, but I had to do whatever it took to be there for Emma, and also to not let anyone down at church…I could do it all…I had to do it all…somehow.  God had called me into this ministry, I knew He had...so how could I just not do ministry anymore?  It wasn’t an option for me.  I didn’t want to be that kind of person who stepped away from ministry…I was doing good things, things for Jesus, things for God.

No one ever tells you to stop doing good things.

So when I sunk deep into depression and when the stress began to affect my health, I didn’t recognize it at the time.  My family did.  My mom and my husband in particular…they gave me subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) hints that maybe I was doing too much.  But I didn’t listen at first.  I was doing good things.  I made excuses…I told them how much I loved the ministry, how important it was…I reassured them that I was keeping up with things at home too…that I was working with Emma and helping her with therapy….I was doing it all.

And then Christmas 2012 came.

From the outside, maybe no one saw what happened.  I kept up appearances…I helped organize and decorate for the giant volunteer Christmas party, I planned and cooked a special dinner for the core leaders in my ministry, we had family craft nights and we decorated the tree and we baked cookies and decorated gingerbread houses…we did it all.  But in doing it all, I hit a major wall and fell so hard that I collapsed into an emotional pile of depression and anxiety and exhaustion so deep that I didn’t know how to climb out of it.  Christmas, my favorite time of the year, became the worst time of the year for me.  I was so exhausted that Christmas that I didn’t enjoy it…my priorities were off, my focus was blurry, and I knew it.  I knew something had to change.  I knew I couldn’t go on at the same pace, in the same way.

I think it was then that I started allowing myself to seriously even consider stepping down from the preschool ministry…I think it was after Christmas that I allowed those little whispers and thoughts that I had kept hidden deep in the dark of my mind and heart to come to light and honestly consider them.  I had joked about quitting before, I had thought of it in times of stress or exhaustion, but quickly brushed it aside, not willing to even consider it a real possibility.  But after that Christmas, I truly began praying specifically about what God wanted me to do…I started directly asking God if I should quit full-time ministry…and I wanted Him to make it clear to me, because I was really really struggling with even saying the words out loud.  How could God call me out of a ministry that He had called me into?  How could something that was once so clearly in His plan for me suddenly not be in that plan anymore?  I felt like the reason “God told me to” wasn’t good enough for leaving ministry, for stopping something that I was going for God.  It was a difficult inner battle, and I was seriously struggling with wrapping my mind and heart around what God really did want me to do.

 

In February, when the girls had a week off of school for Winter Break, we took a trip to Pigeon Forge.  We rented a cabin and we escaped for a few days.  I took my journal and my pen, we grabbed some board games and puzzles and movies, and we just went away…to spend some focused time together a family, and also so that I could slow down and focus on talking to God.  I was really struggling at that time, and I needed to get some perspective away from the busyness that ruled my life at home.

I wrote a lot that week, from the chair in that cabin, overlooking the beautiful mountains of Tennessee.

Here’s a little of what I wrote:

“I am sitting here looking out at a beautiful panoramic view of the Smokey Mountains.  We came up here to Pigeon Forge, got a cabin up in the mountains, to “escape” for a few days.  To reconnect as a family.  For me this trip is about trying to find clarity and to calm my soul enough to hear from God.

I am very broken, weary, and worn.  Life has been overwhelming. Painful. Too much.

Emma is in therapy, working through physical and emotional challenges – so much falls on me to make sure she is keeping up with the activities we are supposed to do – to encourage her and help her through it all.  At times it is a bit overwhelming, and I wonder if I have what it takes to do this.

And my job – working at church is just a constant never-ending to do list that never gets done.  I love our preschool ministry – I have poured so much of myself into making it what it is today – I have a vision for where it still needs to be. And yet – I am pressed down with this feeling that maybe my time there is coming to an end.  But I don’t know if that is just me, feeling tired and overwhelmed and broken down, or if God is pushing me in a new direction.  I just don’t know…

What does God’s voice sound like?  How do I know if it is Him speaking?

Sometimes I wish He would speak through a burning bush like He did for Moses. 

Then I would know.

But maybe He has sent “burning bushes” into my life – but have I slowed down enough to notice?”

 

Later that week, I wrote these words:

“I’m looking out at this beautiful mountain view – the mountains roll, one after the other – high peaks and low valleys.  There really aren’t any flat parts at all – up and down, wavy rolls, bright spots and shadowy places.

But looking from this view, it is all so beautiful – every hill compliments the other – the peaks need the valleys – the shadows highlight the bright places – it all works together in a plan that only God could have created.

I wonder…how much like these mountains is my life?  Ups and downs, valleys and shadows, never flat, so much unknown.

My life is a journey through and over and around these mountains.  It’s a journey and a plan that only God could have created.  He sees the whole picture – this panoramic landscape.  He can see the beauty of the whole, how all the pieces fit together, how the valleys and peaks, the shadows and the bright places all work together.

But me…I’m down here ON the mountain. I’m following a trail that doesn’t always make sense.  All I see is the deep shadow all around me – the lowest valley that seems to never end – the steep cliffs and impossible climbs.  And from this perspective, I don’t understand.  I only see a tiny piece of the big picture, a single patch of trees in the middle of a vast mountain range.

So I guess I shouldn’t get so bogged down in the landscape that immediately surrounds me – I need to trust the One who made the whole mountain range, the One who is leading me through it.  He knows the best way, after all. 

It won’t always be easy – I may get some cuts and bruises along the way – my feet may slip and I might fall down.  But I have to keep going.  I have to keep trusting the One leading me.  He knows.

“He is my God, and I will trust Him.”

I may have to journey through some pretty rough terrain to get to a place where I can experience a breathtaking view.  But it will all work together to create the most beautiful, panoramic view of a lifetime – of my lifetime – my beautiful one and only life that only God could have planned and created.

The thing is, the beauty comes from ALL the different pieces together – the peaks AND the valleys, the sun AND the shadows, the lush grass AND the sharp rocks.

It all works together to create a beautiful life.

{ I need to slow down and enjoy the journey. } ”

 

Sometimes we think we know where the path is leading, but then it curves unexpectedly, in a new direction.

Do I trust God to lead me even when His way is not the way I thought the way would go?

 

My final journal entry was a Pros/Cons chart, where I listed out every reason, option, and possible decision.  I also wrote these words:

“What is most important?  God – my relationship with Him/soul care.  My family – I AM replaceable at church, someone else can be the preschool director.  But I am the only one who can be the wife and mom in my home.”

It was that.  Those words.  I AM replaceable at church.  I am NOT replaceable at home.

Forget how it would impact us financially, forget how it would break my heart to step away from projects and people that I had poured myself into.  The most important things were God and my family…and both had been suffering under the impossible pace and extreme imbalance of my life.

 

In those months leading up to making this decision, I was also reading a book called “From Hectic to Healthy” by Craig Jutila. (Awesome book. I highly recommend it!)  I had picked up the book the previous year at the Orange Conference after hearing Craig speak during a breakout session. Even then, his words about this “SPIN” cycle resonated somewhere deep in me, enough to spur me to buy his book, but at the time I wasn’t fully ready to admit how very much my life was spinning.  But months later when I picked up the book off the shelf and dusted it off, when I opened it up and read his journey, his story…I cried through the pages.   Here are just a few quotes that stood out to me:

  • “ ‘Life spin’ as we define it, is when your life feels like it’s moving too fast and you can’t seem to catch your breath or find time for healthy rest and relaxation.”
  •  “When you are ‘working for Jesus,’ things like soul care, relationship management, spiritual health, balance and margin are right at the tip of your tongue but often far from your heart.”
  • “I believe that a person changes because he or she hurts enough to be motivated to change, or learns enough to want to change.”
  • “Your lifestyle should reflect your family’s season.”
  •  “The goal is to make decisions for you and your family in the context of your season. …consider the best possible decisions that will set of pace of your life for each season.”
  • Genesis 33:13-14: “But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are tender and that I must care for the ewes and cows that are nursing their young.  If they are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die.  So let my lord go on ahead of his servant, while I move along slowly at the pace of the droves before me and that of the children, until I come to my lord in Seir” (NIV)
  • “Jacob knew that traveling at a PACE that Esau (translated boss or leader or pastor or CEO) could and would travel would not be healthy for his family.”
  • “SPIN begins when you live your life out of its seasonal balance.”
  • “Perhaps it’s time for all of us to rise up and say a collective no to doing and a collective yes to being.
  • “In short, we try to do instead of be.  We become human doings and cease to be human beings. …We miss things that are important to see, feel or smell when we are moving too fast.”
  • “‘there is only one person that came to change the world. And you just work for Him.’”

There is so much more in this book that spoke to my heart…so many more sentences, phrases, entire paragraphs and pages that jumped out at me and screamed at me that I was spinning, that I was moving at a pace that was out of sync with the season of my family.

 

So, through all these things, and after a LOT of prayer and wrestling with God, it finally became very clear to me that God was leading me away from full-time ministry at church.  It was time for me to let go and step onto a new path, to move in a new direction.

I was still a bit unsure…I had no idea what this new path would look like...and it broke my heart to step away from that ministry, to hand it over to someone else.   But I reminded myself that it was never my ministry…it was always God’s ministry.  He had a purpose for me there for a time, for a season, but I’m certain He moved me out of the way so He could do something even better and bigger…and so He could move me toward His ultimate plan in my own life.

Now, do I know what that ultimate plan is?  No, not even close.

When I went to college and got my teaching degree, when I started teaching 3rd grade at a local elementary school, I felt pretty certain that I would be a teacher forever…that was my life purpose. I had wanted to be a teacher since the 5th grade.  I just knew that I would always be a teacher.  But then I had two little girls and being a mom was a lot harder than I thought it would be, so I decided to stay home for a while and focus on being a mom.

Then, when I started working at the church and that grew into a full-time ministry job, there was a time when I thought I would do that forever…that was my life purpose, that’s what God made me to do.  And even the teaching and the education degree, that would still all come in handy and be useful…all of that was just leading me into this ministry job…this was really what I was made for.

But now He’s led me away from that too.

And to be honest, for the last year there has been a part of me that has felt a bit lost, a bit uncertain, a bit out of place…unsure of where I fit and what my purpose is.  There are still some Sundays when I walk down the hallways of church and I feel myself tearing up, or I pass by a beloved volunteer and I feel a twinge of sadness.

But as I’ve slowed down the pace of my life this past year, as I have had more time to invest in my relationship with Jesus and in my family and my marriage and to move at the pace of my children, I am embracing the fact that life is just full of seasons.  Maybe one day I will do ministry again…maybe one day I will teach again…or maybe I won’t.  Maybe God has something else around the corner, something I never expected.  Already this year, He has opened some new doors for me, new opportunities...He has definitely and very clearly shown me that He is still working, that there is a purpose for every season and every step along this journey.  The path may not go the way I had envisioned it going…I have no idea what is waiting just around the corner. But I am slowly learning to give up my desire for control, and to fully trust God and allow myself to slow down.  Right now I am embracing the pace of our family in this season…I am letting go of the burden of busy that seems to permeate our culture.

I don’t have to have a mile-long to-do list to prove my worth…and I don’t have to have a title or recognition to prove my value. 

Drawing close to Jesus and listening to His voice, walking close beside Him down this path, stopping to take in the view and to recognize the beauty around me, whether I’m in the sun or in the shadows, whether I can see the path or if the way is unclear…this is right where I am supposed to be…trusting God and enjoying the journey.

 

(Now, if you have endured through all of that wordy rambling, you deserve a medal or something!  Thank you, truly, for taking the time to read my heart.  I hope maybe even a sentence or two was of some encouragement to you, wherever you are on your own journey.  Please know, the decision I made and the words I shared are simply a part of my own journey, a bit of my own story…I’m not saying that everyone in a similar situation should make the same choice.  What was right for me may not be the right thing for you.  But I do believe with all my heart that if you take the time to really listen to God and to trust Him, He will show you the right path for you and for your family.  I prayed Psalm 25:4 so many times: “Show me the right path, O Lord; point out the road for me to follow.”  God heard my prayers, and He showed me the right path.  Looking back, I can see how very slow I was to hear Him and how patient He was to keep telling me and keep pressing me and keep moving me where He wanted me to go.  I’m a slow listener, I think.  But I’m learning to listen better, and I’m learning (slowly) to trust His plan.  I pray that you will too, and that you will take some time to look around and truly enjoy the journey!)