Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Acquainted with Grief

A few weeks ago during a particularly honest conversation with my mom, in which we were both sharing about the grief we were experiencing as we are transitioning our family overseas, she shared this simple, yet profound thought with me, "Jesus himself is acquainted with grief - that's what the Bible says."

In eighth grade, I memorized Isaiah 53 in the King James Version with my video school Bible class (yes, there was such a thing back then - VHS and all!). We started out by reading the chapter every day, and then gradually were able to put the Bible down and recite from memory this rich chapter. There's much to be gleaned from this prophetic passage detailing Jesus' coming to and living on earth, for the essential purpose of being "crushed" by the Lord (v. 10) in order to bear our iniquities and account righteousness to us (v. 11). Amazing! And here is why we celebrate Christmas, in a nutshell - in great praise and honor for Jesus' coming to earth.

Lately, I've been pondering this part of this passage:

"He is despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: we hid as it were our faces from him, he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted" (Is. 53:3-4, KJV).

Taking a quick look into this passage, we know that the suffering Jesus experienced on earth was that which results from sin - individual sin, corporate sin, a world marked deeply and irrevocably by sin. Jesus had full human experience, all the grief and the sorrow and the suffering we likewise experience, but yet he lived a perfect life. This is an essential part of solid doctrine on the incarnation - Jesus is fully man and fully God. In order to completely accomplish redemption for humankind, Jesus must have lived a human life. In order to completely accomplish redemption for humankind, Jesus must fully be God, because only God can accomplish such a task.

This world is marked by grief and suffering and sorrow, so much, we know, from our own lives, from the news, from the lives of our friends and family. Jesus likewise experienced these griefs, and his suffering accentuates the consequences that sin brings into the world, because he experienced this grief without even sinning. Even more so, he did not just experience our grief and suffering, he "hath borne" them - meaning, he took them upon himself, invited them into his life, "carried" our sorrows. This was not a passive experiencing, but rather a very active one, in which Jesus chose in full obedience to the Father to take upon himself the sins of humankind and experience all of the grief, sorrow, and suffering which accompanies it.

Lately, I've had these lingering questions: what do I do with my grief? Where do I put it? How do I do it well? What can I learn from it? There is much yet for the Lord to teach me about this process, but something I have been thankfully clinging to is this: Jesus is acquainted with grief. He knows these very feelings, he has felt these very sorrows, during his life here in this broken world where death comes to all. Grieving, because of distance, because of lost time, because of lost relationship, is not unknown to God, but rather very familiar to him. In my grief, I can sit at the feet of Jesus and know that he is a friend to me. I can look to God as my loving Father, dwell in his shelter and find a shield in his faithfulness (Ps. 91:1-6). I can take great comfort in the God of all comfort, "who comforts us in our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God... for as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too" (2 Cor. 1:4-5). Not only this, but I can rejoice that through this grief "the tested genuineness of [my] faith - more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire - may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:7).

And while finding friendship in Jesus, resting in God's comfort and shelter, and the refinement of my faith are unbelievable gifts, that's not all. There's also hope. Because, "out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous" (Is. 53:11). Because Jesus was acquainted with grief, because he bore the suffering of humanity and ultimately death on the cross so that some might be made righteous on account of him, we have much hope. Because he has already paid the penalty for our sin and in him we are found righteous before God. And because one day, he is going to make all things new. He has already said that he will right all that is wrong with this world: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:3-4).

And so, in this season where grief is pronounced, I am reminded that I can draw even nearer to the heart of God, for he is my dearest friend, my strong shelter, my ultimate comfort, and the source of my great hope. Merry Christmas to you!

Monday, December 5, 2016

On culture shock.

 We have been in South Africa now for two months! Thankfully, I have already been able to reflect on some of what God is teaching me in this transition to our new ministry home. There is so much good, so much to be thankful for, so many ways that God has provided what we need and shown again and again how he's taking care of us.

Then there's this thing called culture shock, and this lingering thing called culture fatigue. For better or worse, I am not above it. This is how it looks for me right now.


I thought our new dryer was broken, so I called the store we bought it from and they sent out a repair man. He looked at me like I was an idiot when he explained that there is nothing wrong with this dryer - it's working perfectly fine. "It's supposed to stop and start like that, the whole cycle?" "Yes, that's how it works," he said. "Oh. Well, why does it run for three hours when I set it for a 40 minute cycle?" I prodded further, still thinking something was wrong with it. "Because it will stop for 5 minutes when the cycle is finished, and if you don't stop it, it will start the cycle over again," he explained, eyeing me. "Oh" I said again. I have done hundreds of loads of laundry in my life, maybe thousands, I thought, I'm not an idiot! I know how to work dryers... in my country.

This morning, I see beautiful pictures of the first snow back in Chicago. Here, it is beautifully warm, and I'm trying to be so thankful for the lovely weather, but really, I just miss snow, because it's December, and I've always know snow in December. Norah has been asking when it will snow, and when she can make a snowman, and when she can go sledding, and where her snow pants and snow boots are, because she loves snow. I've told her it probably won't snow here, and together we shared real disappointment. So I close Facebook and IG for now, because it's just hard to see. And I miss snow. (I know, call me crazy.)

If I am out and about with the girls, especially the little ones, people will randomly come and pick them up. At first, this scared the living daylights out of me, as you can probably understand. Now I know it's just sweet ladies being affectionate and loving on my kids. If Tess is happy, they may even walk her around the store while I try to shop and keep an eye on where she is.

Last week, it was Thanksgiving, and we saw so many great pictures of our friends and families celebrating. I knew the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade was about to start, and I heard it was chilly, so I thought about warm sweaters and crackling fires. It was 81 degrees here, and we had a full day of all the normal language study activities, and I had an appointment late in the afternoon. It's a holiday in my home country, I thought, like a secret I was carrying. Very late in the game, we invited our fellow American coworkers over for roast beef, and I threw together a pumpkin pie in a cake pan with butternut squash, and we had a meaningful time together. I'm so glad we did. 

It could be another 21 days before our internet gets hooked up, they said on the phone. Oh, we say, this is another one of those TIA (This Is Africa) things. Deep breaths.

My daughters are, for the most part, adjusting so well to their new environment. Partly, I think, this is because they are so young, and honestly, do not understand all the losses. So we are helping them with that. But yesterday, I thought, if they talk about their plans to go to Moriah's house and Micah's house and Grandma and Grandpa's house one more time, I'm going to fall apart. I tell them, "yes, we will, it will just be quite awhile. Do you remember how we had to take three airplanes to get here? We will have to take three airplanes back to see Moriah, and Micah, and Grandma and Grandpa, and all the other people we love in the US." They understand, sort of, and are not sad, because for them, "quite awhile" could be just a week, or a month or something. They don't know it will be years. I just carry that for them.

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to keep the girls' clothes clean. I have tried several different kinds of stain removers here, and nothing seems to work, and there is so much mud. Their clothes are getting ruined, but they are only clothes, so it's okay, I think? But I wish I could just drive to Target and buy some OxiClean, because, for us, that always worked. But it's only clothes.

In the grocery store the other day, we had all the kids, who were squirrely because it was almost dinner time, and I kept walking up and down the aisles, looking for... beef and vegetable broth. I could not find it. I stood in the soup aisle, and tears filled my eyes as I tried to read all the labels to figure out what these boxes were full of. Finally, I just grabbed something, and am hoping it will work. I think maybe I need to make my own broth.

Why don't the lightbulbs sit solidly in the lamps? Every time I open my dresser, the light flickers. Am I doing something wrong here? Hmm.

Anytime I see a little girl with her grandma, I look away quickly, but my eyes fill with tears. Anytime I see a mom with her adult daughter, I have to start deep breathing exercises. Anytime I see friends having coffee together, I feel incredibly lonely.


Basically, culture shock right now feels like I do not know how to do quite a lot of things here that I could do well, without evening thinking about it, in my home country (like getting stains out of and drying clothes!). I am like a child, here, in this culture, learning how to do life all over again.

Yesterday, we had a truly lovely day, with windows wide open and a nice breeze and warm sun - it was perfect, for July. I knew it would be a challenge to change my internal seasonal "clock" and it is. It will come, I know it will. Day by day we are learning more about how to not just survive, but truly enjoy our new life here. Be patient

I am reminded of what Jesus says in Matthew18:3-4, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” And so, here I am, more like a child than I ever wanted to be, more dependent and fragile and unsure of myself and humble, not really out of choice, and yet, thank you Lord. For in this, I am relying more on him each day. 

 And guess what I found on the shelf in our grocery store a couple of days ago, when I wasn't even looking for it? 


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Some lessons from our first month in South Africa

Sawubona from South Africa! We arrived on the cold and rainy evening of September 28th to the smiling faces of our TEAM coworkers Eric, Susan, and Marci, who greeted us with warm hugs and flowers. 

Since then, we have been describing our landing as a bit rocky. Perhaps we were a bit naive coming in - full of excitement and general optimism for the adventures to come. But suffice it to say that it has taken us longer than we expected to get settled in (still working on that!); that while there is so much we love about our new culture, the difficulties have been pronounced; that we've jumped into language study without particular pieces in place to facilitate a great learning experience; and that overall, we've been in more of a survival mode than we had expected ourselves to be at this point in our transition. 

It has taken us a bit to get our feet back on the ground and we can literally feel ourselves acclimating (like growing pains, remember - those aches in your legs!?) a day at a time. But, as my husband and children can attest to, all it seems to take to derail my mental and emotional stability is the smallest of inconveniences or disappointments. What had otherwise been a pretty swell day could become rather devastating over a seemingly small issue. I have been able to identify that much of what we are experiencing is indeed normal - although it's debatable how comforting that truly is (about as comforting as it is to hear that your awful nausea during your first trimester in pregnancy is normal). 

And so, thankfully, after a month, I am already able to identify some lessons that the Lord has been teaching me:

1. I am weak. Honestly, I do not remember thinking that I was a particularly strong person before moving overseas, but I also know that I did not actively dwell on my weakness. This first month here has revealed to me (and my family) just how weak I truly am. As you can imagine, this realization has been painful. What is wrong with me? Why can I not handle this seemingly insignificant disappointment? How will I function without _____? What I do know is what God has already said: "my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" and so I joyfully affirm what Paul has said, "therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of God may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9). I am not strong enough to do this - to say goodbye to everyone dear, to leave our home and move our family across continents, to settle in somewhere completely new, to learn a language I've never heard before, to keep my children quiet through a 3 and a half hour service and try to listen for the few Zulu words I know, but, through my inadequacy and because of my weakness, God's power will prevail in my life. It is his power that enables me, in my great weakness, to get up every morning and seek to glorify him anew. To God be the glory! 

2. Be patient. I have heard parents say that they thought they were very patient people... until they had children. Yes, so were we. And I would say that I was generally patient about certain things getting accomplished... until we moved overseas. A new perspective on patience has emerged, also painfully. We had expected to move into our new home within a couple of days upon arriving; instead, we waited for two weeks. If I could just tell my then-in-a-tizzy-self, be patient - you will be in your own home soon, you will not be homeless forever I think those weeks would have been much less stressful. So now, the Lord graciously has reminded me of his provision for us, one step at a time, one detail at a time. Be patient - he will indeed take care of us, and the details will work out. Some day soon we will have our own internet. Soon we will own a vehicle. In a few months, and then a few years, we will be able to communicate so much more than we can currently. Soon, we will make new friends and find a home church. Be patient. 

3. Set your eyes upon Jesus and find comfort in his character, faithfulness, and provision. It is easy and natural in the midst of stress to focus on myself, to bury my head under the covers, and to throw something of a pity party. But to take my eyes and turn them upward, to remind myself of all the ways that the Lord has been faithful again, and again, and again, and to relish in his perfect, unchanging nature amidst my very imperfect and transitional life is the best antidote for any stress, grief, or disappointment. He has indeed taken my life, raised it from the pit of sinfulness and death, and through Jesus given me status in his kingdom as an heir and daughter; he has faithfully provided for my every need - physical, spiritual, emotional, mental - in the way he sees fit and according to his perfect purposes, and he will continue to do so; he has given me access to his very word as recorded in the Bible and in it is all that I need for my life. There is much to be said about his character, faithfulness and provision, and much for me to dwell upon in difficult moments. What an immense privilege and blessing! 

And so, if this challenging first month was meant only for me to learn these invaluable lessons, then I will be thankful for it and embrace this education, however painful along the way. 

"We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness."
 A. W. Tozer (The Knowledge of the Holy, 107).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

On the closing of a chapter...

Two weeks ago, we moved out of our Chicago home and community, after five years. This is the closing of a major chapter for us, a chapter that has included seminary degrees for both of us, the gifts of three daughters, the beginning of a future ministry in South Africa, the involvement in communities of believers who've become our family.

As you can imagine, that week was a blur of busyness, of general overwhelm, and of a nice dose of chaos. We managed, with the help of Ben's mom and two of his sisters, plus a couple of our nephews and our little niece, and Beth's parents, and several friends along the way, to sell many of our belongings, ship a small crate of some, donate the rest, and pack our suitcases. We also moved our of our home of four years, were commissioned by our church, and said many goodbyes to our Chicago community.

Since then, I have been reflecting on much of what we have left:
- the edification of our wonderful church body, who have challenged us, supported, and loved us, and who have come around us as we follow God's leading to South Africa

- the encouragement of our "small" group of six other families, all of who have sacrificially committed to financially and prayerfully partnering with us - this is what it looks and feels like to be "sent" as missionaries

- the camaraderie of our friends from Trinity, from previous churches, from our work settings, for two, and three, and four and some even for five years

- the comfort of our bright and cheery and spacious to us home for the past four years

- the routine of "the castle park" the perfect walk from our home and many play dates with friends

- the years of learning and growing during our time at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School - and the refinement of our giftings and how we can serve the Lord 

It is a very bittersweet goodbye - we are leaving what has been a good, rich, growing season for us as a family, and there are so many people we will greatly miss. There are many "losses" and we're taking some time to acknowledge them all. The girls have been asking lately about certain things - "where is my rocking chair? where are our dishes?" So we are learning to explain how some of our things we can take with us, and other things we cannot take - but they are just things. 

But this is the blessed truth that we have been dwelling on:

"Therefore, as you have received Christ the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."
Colossians 2:6-7

So while we've said goodbye to our earthly roots in Chicago, we hold fast to our true rootedness - in Christ, for "in him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). 


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