Friday, May 8, 2015

Two Suitcases: A new Perspective

A couple of weeks ago I posted a blog about the challenges of moving my life to a new country with only two suitcases...100 pounds of things. I shared a little about how difficult the process had been for me...the letting go.

I was really struggling and wrestling with this for a while. Mostly the guilt I felt for how hard it was proving to disappointment in my response and my perspective. My surprise at how unprepared I was for how this "becoming a missionary" thing was unfolding.

So. I did what any CBC grad would do...I talked with Pastor Baker.

It didn't take long for me to gush with all of my feelings of guilt and doubt and insecurity. It also didn't take long for him to laugh a little, tell me to slow down, and ask just the right questions to bring me back to a rational state of thinking.

He told me that how I was feeling was only natural. He helped me figure out why exactly I was struggling so much and what the root of it was, and he encouraged me with some practical and spiritual advice in moving forward in this leg of the journey. You know, all in a normal hour's work for good ol' Pastor Baker.

I suppose I just expected more of myself. My heroines Elisabeth Elliot and Amy Carmichael seemed so willing and determined to leave ALL (puppies included)  behind for God's call on their lives...for the sake of the Gospel. They left things, homes, family, and pressed on through extreme losses, illnesses, and setbacks. They lived as the natives lived. They did so gladly and with great strength, effectiveness, and lasting fruit.

When I first felt called to go...I hoped and imagined I would be like them.

I wanted to be the person that said yes to God and goodbye to everything else... at least goodbye to everything necessary to follow Him to the ends of the earth. I imagined myself being one of those missionaries people wrote stories about centuries later.

I guess what Pastor Baker helped me realize is that I still can be that missionary. That I don't get to see too many of these moments in the lives of Amy and Elisabeth. That the letting go was hard for them too and they probably cried in bed in the quiet hours of the night at the thought of missing birthdays and being so far from home and everyone they loved. That they worried about finances and living situations and probably wished they could bring along all of their favorite books and blouses. That those losses and setbacks on the field made them want to throw in the towel and run back to the safety of "home." I did go back to a couple of my favorite writings from these two women, and I was encouraged by a few of their personal writings on their own missionary journeys.

"The words of Matthew 10:37 were always on her heart. 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.'" 

"Even Mrs. Carmichael's sisters wondered if the girl was not enchanted by the notion of a foreign land. 'If only they knew how torn in two I feel today.' Amy wrote to her mother. She was beginning to understand a little of what it might mean to 'bear shame' for the sake of Christ. She was ashamed to think that as a follower of a Savior who was 'despised and rejected', she herself shrank from being merely misunderstood and misjudged. So this was what those stark Scripture passages meant: dead to self, alive to God--'dead to all one's natural earthly plans and hopes, dead to all voices, however dear, which would deafen our ear to His.'

"Amy printed a card with the words In everything give thanks, decorated the corners with the initials of their chief woes, and hung it in the cabin."

"As she told the story later, she said she laughed till she was positively aching at the absurdity of the whole affair. A foreign port. Nobody to meet her. Not a word of any language she could understand. The girl from the Irish shore of the North Sea, standing in the pouring rain beside her pile of luggage on the shore of Japan, laughing.  'All this was part of the going forth unto a land  I knew not, and everything was just right, and if things went wrong it was so much more the fun. I knew they would come right in the end and they always did.' So with the charming lightheartedness of faith she only wondered, what next? 'It seems unbelievable, but it felt quite natural to me'" 

"The Lord knew where her heart was-where He led she'd follow, what He fed she'd swallow. She found when the time came that she did't really mind anything nearly as much as she had feared she might. The promised grace was always supplied."

"They traveled in melting heat in crowded trains; in sampans and other boats of various descriptions where they and everyone else were seasick, and in a kango, a sort of sedan chair. The battering and buffetings of such travel, the discomforts of the tiny hotels, the horrors of the menus couldn't but have been severe lessons in discipleship for the girl who had lived in the peaceful seaside village, the pleasant house in College Gardens, and the beautiful estate of Broughton Grange. But the girl was a disciple. That had been a clear and final decision, and all subsequent lessons saw not as 'culture shock'-- the term had not then been invented so she did not have to bother about that sort of thing--but as the expected terms of her chosen discipleship, the first condition of which is, according to the Master's words, 'He must give up all right to himself.'"

"Seldom losing her spiritual perspective or, what is equally important for a stranger in a strange land, her sense of humor. She was a realist, but never a pessimist or a sentimentalist." 

"I could not rise to it, the deadly truth had me in its grip: I was afraid." 

"My only trouble is that I have had so much too much. The Son of Man hath not where to lay His head."

"What seemed overwhelming did not overwhelm her, for she believed that there was nothing she could not expect his wondrous kindness to do. 'He has been so kind about other things that we cannot doubt but that he will care for this too.'" 

{All of these are quotes from one of my all time favorite reads, A Chance to Die. It is written by Elisabeth Elliot about missionary to India, Amy Carmichael. It's such a treasure to me...a book about one of my heroines written by another of my heroines. I doesn't get any better than that! I love this particular book because it gives me a closer look at the every day life of a missionary I admire. It shows me how she struggled and prayed her way through the call and also how she walked in faith knowing He who calls is faithful. But what I love even more is reading from the perspective of another missionary I admire. The way that Elisabeth writes about Amy shows me that she felt very much like I do right about now. She knew she was called but she wondered if she would ever be able to live it out like Amy. And here I am decades later knowing that I am called and wondering if I can live it out like the both of them...}

 {A very rare, precious photo of Amy. }

Here are a few quotes from Elisabeth's book, These Strange Ashes, written after her first year as a full time missionary on the field.

"I wanted to get out of this place. The depression it brought me made me feel guilty, for I thought at the time that the ugliness and squalor and lack of privacy were sacrifices appropriate for a servant of the Lord. If I did not like the atmosphere it must mean that I was not yet prepared to lay down my life as I had promised."

"Missionaries stayed in our home, spoke at our church, and were very much a part of our lives...They were interesting and romantic people. But besides this they were people of high and serious purpose." 

"For me there was also a deep conviction that God blesses those who obey Him and works things out in beautiful, demonstrable ways for those who have given themselves to do His work."

"I don't recall hearing either complain of physical hardships of any kind. There was a remarkably unself-concious courage and toughness about these two women that inspired me and, although I am sure that neither was aware of it, made me treat my own troubles more lightly."

"We were as distracted by all of this as single women in their twenties usually are, but at the same time were striving with everything in our power to find a place for ourselves in the community, in the work we had to do, in our relationships, and in the will of God."

"As I look back on that time, I think it was Lesson One for me in the school of faith. That is, it was my first experience of having to bow down before that which I could not possibly explain. Usually we need not bow. We can simply ignore the unexplainable because we have other things to occupy our minds. We sweep it under the rug. We evade the questions. Faith's most severe tests come not when we see nothing, but when we see a stunning array of evidence that seems to prove our faith vain." 

{Elisabeth and her daughter with the tribe who killed her husband.}

Mostly Pastor Baker helped me see that I am not so unlike them, rather they were really a lot like me. The reason they are my heroines is because they tell their stories honestly and their stories are filled with a lot of my same struggles. It's simply my overall image of them that has made me feel like I am somehow falling short. Elisabeth quoted Amy and now I find myself quoting Elisabeth. The truth is that Amy and Elisabeth have gone before me. Amy is in fact a part of my great cloud of witnesses. Elisabeth will one day join her and Pastor Baker too. When I think I can't do this "missionary thing" they will be rooting for me along with Jesus. But it's also true that they started out exactly where I am right now.

 We all struggle through the letting go and we all feel the inexpressible joy and reward that comes with it. We all feel the weight and the pain of the cost but there is nothing we would rather do because we know that we owe Jesus all of our lives and so much more and so we push through the struggle and the pain and the doubt and the fear and the very natural human feelings of our flesh and we go anyways.

I needed to hear that and feel that and really get that into my spirit. I needed to spend some time hearing from those who have gone before me.

I also struggled through the assignment of this particular mission and season. I am not going with a specific organization, I am not funded or technically labeled a missionary. I am essentially going to be a teacher in another country. Can I even call myself a missionary? I told him that too. Again he laughed and gently told me to answer that question truthfully and not just out of my insecurities.

Of course he's right. Of course I know that missions is simply obedience to God's call which comes to all of us. Being a missionary simply means that I am sharing the love and light and truth of Jesus wherever He has placed me. It is not the label or a certificate or a tie to an organization that makes me a missionary, it is the motive and heart behind whatever I am doing and it is my obedience to serve Jesus and to follow Him wherever He leads and represent Him well wherever that may be.

Of course I am a missionary.

Then we got into the practical parts of it...or so I thought. But see, Pastor Baker has this natural way of drawing the spiritual out of the most seemingly practical things. We started talking about how I can decide what goes in those two bags...what makes up my 100 pounds of possessions. He shared with me how his family had done this when they were packing up and moving across the ocean to serve in Belgium. He asked me to think about what things make me feel the most like myself. What things help me to feel the most comfortable in my skin, in who Jesus created me to be, so that I can serve Him and those He has called me to most effectively. He encouraged me to make piles. To list the absolutes and to not feel guilty about them and then to cut things from there.

Hmm....I of course had never thought of it that way.

My little elephant collection
Noted books
Coffee mugs
Photos and mementos

Those were the first few things that came quickly and automatically. And honestly I could very easily explain and grasp how those things do indeed make me closer to Jesus and more the person He has created me to be and in turn the best version of myself to minister in Guadalajara. Because that's what it's really about. What things make me the most like Jesus...the Rachel most close and in tune with Him so that I can effectively share His love and light and truth. Those are the only things that matter and the only things that need to be taking up space in my two suitcases.

My journals are quite literally my line of communication with Jesus. They are where we meet, where I share my heart, where I hear Him, where I sort things out and grow and become more like Him. They are essential to our relationship and therefore essential to my packing list.
Lincoln brings me so much joy. He gives me a sense of home and comfort when so many things around me are new and changing. He is often a conversation starter and a way to make new friends in a new city. Lincoln will make me feel settled and also give me a starting point for conversations that could potentially lead to sharing Jesus. Therefore, Lincoln becomes a necessity.
Sundresses make me feel the most like myself...the most comfortable in my skin and therefore give the confidence to speak boldly.
There are a few books (like the above referenced) that serve as a constant source of encouragement and inspiration when I need them most. Revisiting these stories and the notes I made takes me back to the lessons I learned while reading them.
My little elephants are another little piece of home for me... my own version of home. I have collected them from all over the world and each one represents the little pieces of my heart that are in so many places. They make me smile and they bring back so many fond memories of God's goodness and kindness and faithfulness towards me.
Coffee mugs are very much the same. My mugs hold my favorite beverage which calms and soothes me and make me feel at home wherever I am. Coffee mugs are an essential part of my time spent with Jesus. They carry with them memories and reminders to pray for friends. Coffee is to be shared with friends old and new and my prayer is that so much Jesus conversation would happen over coffee in my few favorite mugs around my table in my Mexican apartment.
Photos and little paper mementos remind me of people and places and memories that I have had to let go of but that still take up so much room in my heart. Nostalgia makes me feel close to those people and makes the letting go easier and therefore the moving forward easier too.
And of course my Bible that is falling apart and all marked up and dated with all of the places it's traveled with love letter from Jesus that this words girl just cannot be without.

Those are my essentials.

Figuring that out has made it easier to drop shirts and skirts and books and jewelry into give-away bags. I do a little bit each day. Maybe a drawer or a shelf on my bookshelf. People keep telling me that I could just pack it all up and keep it in my mom's basement. That's true. I could. And my mom is the sweetest and would gladly store all of my stuff for another two years. But God is doing something in my heart, trying to stretch me and prepare me for a life of missions and I realize that it starts here and now. I understand that I need to learn to let go now and I need to learn the value of things in light of Jesus and His call on my life. This is an exercise in discipline and devotion. This is an opportunity for me to show Jesus that I will indeed follow wherever He leads in obedience to His call for the sake of His Gospel.

With two bags or none.

Easter weekend this year was a really refreshing time for me with Jesus. His sacrifice and love struck me in a brand new way. This thought entered my heart,
"THANK YOU that I get to take two suitcases."

Reading the Gospel accounts, when Jesus talks to His disciples about what it truly means to follow Him, He asks them to leave everything behind. Every THING, every RELATIONSHIP, every ROOT, and to pick up their cross and follow Him.

"Then Jesus told his disciples. 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." -Matthew 16:24-25

Being reminded of their call and this teaching of Jesus made me extremely thankful that He has allowed me some space to take a few things that mean the most to me. Of course He would be enough. Of course I would still go...and of course He would still be good even if I could only move forward with Him and the call He's placed on my life. So how thankful should I be then that He is kind enough to let me bring my two suitcases!?

The new prayer resonating in my heart is that I would be thankful for that space instead of dreading and resenting that it's all I have and that I would use it wisely. That my only motivation in packing and in going would be to bring Jesus glory.

Two Suitcases.
100 pounds
1 Thankful heart

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