Neglected

Three months. We’ve been gone three entire months, and still have no idea when we’ll be able to return to the chateau. That’s three months of dust bunnies piling up in the corners, and three months for the grass to grow so tall it was nearly touching the lower branches of the trees in the lawn. Luckily, the mayor’s horses were all too happy to help us out with that last little problem, and they are now enjoying a little vacation of their own at the chateau. A friend stopped by this week, and made certain our home was in good condition after the spring storms, and the neighbor across the street moved a heavy flower pot in front of the garage doors to keep them from blowing open again. We’re so grateful to have such wonderful neighbors who watch out for us, and the home we miss so very much. If only we could be there now, we’d invite them all to dinner and thank them in person for their kindness while we were away.

But, it turns out a few other things have been neglected, too, while we were away. While winter turned to spring, and our visas still weren’t approved for our return, our hope faded, and a storm began to brew inside of us. A storm that grew stronger, and more threatening with each passing day. Here in the southern part of the United States we’ve grown up with spring storms that often turn deadly. It happens as the warm air of spring collides with the cold air of winter in a passing tousle that can tear across a state in just a few hours, leaving destruction, and devastation, in its path. Just like the tornadoes we’ve grown to expect each spring, our own hearts became a whirling, rushing storm within us as our hopes and expectations met headlong with the disappointment and fear that have been haunting us for too long. We hardly knew what was happening before we were caught up in the chaos and carried along by the winds of emotion that threatened to rip us apart.

It’s at this moment when I pause and worry a little about whether or not to share this with you. I worry you might think (as I have, many times) that we shouldn’t go forward with this if we aren’t 100% sure it’s going to end well. Or, perhaps you’ll think (as I have, many times) that a couple who can’t get their act together, work as a team, and depend on God when things get hard shouldn’t be going into ministry at all, let alone in the middle of France. But the truth is this: every life is full of ups and downs, and God loves the underdog. I know that every missionary I’ve ever met has faced the same stormy season at one time or another in their journey.  So, we began to share a little more of the ugly truth with trusted friends in ministry who listened to our complaining with incredible patience and grace. They seemed certain that the messy emotions we were feeling would help us to relate more to the missionaries we were determined to serve. We clung to that shred of hope like it was our lifeline in a flashflood already sweeping us away. Maybe all of this was going to be useful after all. Maybe we wouldn’t be destroyed. Maybe we’d even come out of this stronger somehow.

A missionary friend who listened patiently to our whining a few weeks ago smiled so sweetly, and then asked me the question that brought the whole raging storm to a standstill. “What do you need right now?”

I was speechless. My long list of complaints seemed suddenly worthless, my arguments flimsy at best. What could I point to? What would fix this mess inside my heart? What could I possibly ask for that could calm the howling winds of fear, doubt, and anger? The answer bubbled up just as my husband said it aloud. “Jesus.”

The question itself reminded me of Jesus. In Mark chapter 10, Jesus comes across a blind man. Instead of simply healing him, the obvious solution, Jesus firsts asks him a question.

 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

I think it’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t make an assumption, and he waits for the man to speak his request out loud. I’m not exactly sure what all of his reasons were, but I know that in this short bit of scripture, I see myself and Jesus standing there in the middle of the street. He gives us a moment, and we can ask for anything from him, but what is it that we REALLY want? What will make it all better? For me, for us in this moment, the answer is Jesus.

Somehow, in all the chaos and intensity of moving to France, setting up the chateau, trying to keep our family fed, clothed, and housed in a country where we can barely communicate, we forgot the most important thing. We neglected our relationship with God. So, we turned to God, digging into his word, and doubling down in prayer as we begged for his intervention, his guidance, and deep, lasting change in our own hearts. As we worked through our fear of rejection, our emotional exhaustion after MONTHS of uncertainty, squabbles, and feeling unprepared, we realized that none of the pain had been wasted. Our struggling forced us to talk to one another, and work through issues that we’d been trying hard to ignore for years in our marriage. Deciding to move to France and pursue this “all in” lifestyle takes more than the half-hearted effort and well-practiced avoidance techniques that we’d perfected. We are challenged to try harder, love more, and keep our eyes constantly on the only one who can really carry us through the storm.

I’m sure that this won’t be the last time we get overwhelmed and lose our focus, but I hope the next time I’ll find my way back to a quiet place with my Bible in my lap, and a prayer on my lips. That’s the way to weather the storm.

Have you been through a season of storm in your own life? How does nurturing or neglecting your relationship with God affect you in times of trial? I’d love to hear how you have learned to cope with the stress and tension of a life in ministry.

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