One of my clearest memories from my seven years in East Asia is lying inside a nomad tent, under a blue tarp, while rain gently drummed my entire body. I was alone — alone in the sense that there was no one like me for miles and miles around.
Baby yaks stirred within arms reach on one side, and a family of nomads with wild hair snored on the other. How did a girl from the suburbs of Minnesota get here? I thought.
It was a feeling of elation, as I had long yearned to live among this unreached people group. But it was also a feeling of “Well, this is kind of an unpleasant situation.”
I mean, I never thought that yak hair tents might not be waterproof. Or that the floor of the tent might actually be nothing more than the muddy ground. Or that there would be feces. Lots of it. Right next to me.
One thing I did know was that whether this moment was a fulfillment of a dream or just an uncomfortable night, it was God who had led me to this moment, to this place, to this circumstance.
A few years later, I had a similar experience. This time, I was staying in a picturesque American home: wrap around porch, espresso machine, beds with quilts and central air. A colicky newborn who never stopped crying, despite every herculean effort, and a sick toddler with seemingly endless medical needs were increasingly becoming my sole focus.
Cleaning up puke and feeling nauseous, myself, from sheer exhaustion, I thought, How did a girl who used to ride horses to nomad camps in the mountains of Asia get here?
And the answer clearly came to me: God. It was God who had led me to this moment, to this place, to this circumstance.
We all can probably agree that life often doesn’t turn out the way we expect it to. One of those hard moments of realization came for me when our 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with multiple, life-long, significant health conditions. We were shocked, unprepared and floundering.
All of a sudden, our missionary home assignment became an extended stay in the U.S. We found ourselves needing a place to live and a job for my husband while trying to navigate the medical and insurance systems in America.
We were right in the middle of a full-on crisis. We were soon face-to-face with the possibility that a return to the mission field might not be possible. It felt like a death. We never thought we would one day say goodbye to serving overseas. The loss felt immense, and grief was too near for too long.
There have been many days where the phrase that consumes me is, “This is not what my life was supposed to be.” My plan was not that my husband would have a nine to five job in the U.S. or that I would be found inside the four walls of my home, blowing noses and wiping tushes or carting around kids to therapy appointments and doctor visits.
My plan was exciting. Going to the ends of the earth to share the good news with those who have never heard. This was the sacrifice I was prepared to make. That, I thought, is a satisfying life.
But what happens when God asks something else of you?
What happens when God says stay, when all you really want to do is go?
The same God who called us to the mountains of East Asia lovingly ordained circumstances in our lives which currently prevent us from returning. He gave us a beautifully sweet little girl, who most likely will never see the sun rise over the sleepy, snowy villages we came to love so fiercely.
He gave us a child who may never know the people we came to know so intimately as “Auntie,” “Sister” and “Mother.” It is a loss. We grieve for her. We grieve for ourselves. We grieve for our 3-year-old son who says he wants to go on a plane and see that place “inside and outside.”
One thing we know: God is good. His mercies are new every morning. He is always present. Every good and perfect gift is from him. He is completing his work in us, and he will fulfill his purposes.
Slowly, over the last few years, everything I’ve been ready to “offer” God has been stripped away. Morning sickness, a new baby, illness, depression, disability, transition — all of this has stripped me of my ability to “sacrifice” for God’s kingdom in the way I wanted to. God had something more important to teach me.
When I didn’t have anything left that I felt was a worthy sacrifice to give, I only had one option left: Obey or don’t obey.
Obey, even if he asks us to go to a place we never thought we’d go, or where we never wanted to go, or where we didn’t think was even worth going.
So where do I go from here? I am confident that God desires our family to be planted here in the United States for this season. How can I remain obedient to my missionary calling and the Great Commission as I live the life of a young mom in suburbia?
1. I can look for what God is doing in the moment. I can decide not to wish that my circumstances were different than what God has ordained. I can rejoice in what I see and be thankful.
2. I can look for what God wants to do through me in the moment. His purposes are for everyone and for everywhere in this big and amazing world. Who am I to say what part of his story he wants me to play? I get to point people to Christ wherever I happen to be. How great is that?
3. I can remember the rest of the world. While God is asking me to be fully present and engaged in my current circumstances, the needs of the world remain. As a follower of Christ, I have the responsibility and privilege to be involved. Praying, giving, recruiting, educating and training for global missions are just a few ways I can stay engaged in the big picture of God’s expanding kingdom.
4. I can obey in the big things and the small things. Because really, only God gets to decide if something is big or small.
I have been surprised. Life in the U.S. doesn’t actually feel all that different from living overseas.
Sure, I can have a shower every day if I want to, and there is a larger variety of what I consider palatable snack food, but loving God and loving people looks a whole lot the same, whether you’re here or there. Sharing Jesus in word and in action requires similar thought and willingness.
The blessing of knowing Jesus through life’s trials or through the happy parts of life are each sweet in its own way. And I wouldn’t trade his ways for anything. I can trust God to be God, and by his grace, I will follow joyfully.