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When the Truth is Scary

This week I asked missionaries around the world to share their stories on social media to illustrate the importance of a little R & R in their work and their family life. I intentionally reached out to former missionaries because I knew they no longer had the fear of losing their financial support if they spoke up about the difficulties of life in ministry. Do you know how many actually shared their stories?

One.

One person was brave enough to share their truth on social media. That should be a warning to all of us. Even now, years later, it is too hard, too painful, too risky for them to share what it was really like to live on mission without the kind of support Restored and Renewed Ministry is offering. I know this because I heard from them in my private messages, and they all said the same thing. “We don’t want to hurt anyone. We don’t want to damage any relationships. We’re still friends with churches who supported us, and we don’t want them to feel like we were ungrateful.”

For others, it was more than that. It was simply too painful to return to those moments that broke their hearts, and forced them out of the work they were called to do. The pain is still fresh, and years haven’t healed the wounds. I cried over those notes, and I prayed for the healing that can only come from the God who witnessed their pain, and saw their tears. My friend Jessica was one of those people. She wrote to apologize, ” I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to post this on Facebook.”

Reading through her story, you could see that the pain was still there in her words. She softened the truth with kindness, forgiveness evident in the way she spoke about what had happened, but you could tell it was still a wound that hadn’t healed. She ended with this…

We were so run down, hurt, and exhausted that we actually lost faith in the team aspect of the mission altogether. We needed to be able to detach from the team and focus on our own personal relationships with Jesus in order to see the situation more clearly. A time out to be ENCOURAGED, supported, and surrounded by loving believers would have greatly eased our burdens and helped to refresh our perspectives. #RandRmatters

A time out, and a little encouragement. That’s what she believes could have kept them in the field, doing the work they loved for the lost in their adopted country. Instead, they were forced to return home to the midwest where they tried to return to “normal life”, and put the pain of it all behind them. But it doesn’t really work that way. That pain stays with you. It lingers, it festers, it spreads, and it can keep us isolated from the very thing that could bring healing. When our pain has been caused by the church, our hearts broken by the actions or words of those we trusted to lead us, our enemy digs in and makes his home there in the pain. He isolates us from our family, friends, church, and even God by convincing us we’re alone in that pain. We can find ourselves sitting in the middle of church, and feeling more alone than we ever did on mission, thousands of miles from home.

The best way to heal the wound is to expose it. Be honest about the damage that has been done to your heart, and soul. Sometimes a counselor can help you to give words to the pain you’ve been carrying for too long in silence. A counselor who has been in ministry for many years is a precious resource because they not only have the tools to help you work through that grief and anger, but can empathize with your situation. That’s why we are so very grateful to have the talented counselors we have here at Restored & Renewed Ministry. They can help, and they can meet you right where you’re at thanks to the incredible power of technology.

Another powerful ally in your healing is found in other missionaries like you who have lived through the painful experiences of life in the field, or the intensity of returning home, and all the grief that carries with it. Sharing our stories with one another says You’re not alone. That’s why we will continue to encourage former missionaries and current missionaries alike to share their story, and declare to the church that #RandRmatters. Like our friend Jessica said, a little time out to be encouraged could have saved their work. It could save a family. It could save a life.

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A Story About Furloughs

They sat at my dining room table looking too tired to eat as they told us about their work overseas. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that look on a missionary’s face. We’d been hosting missionaries in our home for nearly twenty years, and I’d seen it many times before. Weary eyes that crinkle at the edges as they force a smile, shoulders that slump over their dinner plate, too tired and defeated to be held straight for another moment. The little ones shifted in their seats, casting a pleading gaze at their mother, their food hardly touched. She shook her head, a silent message that was met with a pout, but submission as the boy poked the food on his plate with a fork and kept quiet.

“How long have you been on the road this time?” my husband asked.

“Well, it took us two days to get here to you from our last stop, but we’ve been on the road off and on for nearly two months. We’ve just got another week to go in this furlough, and we’ll be headed home.”

“Wow. That must be tough. Have you had a good trip?”

The missionary nodded, his mouth twisted into a wistful smile.

I could see the hesitation in his eyes.

“You can be honest with us. We know how hard it is to travel like that, and most see it as a great big vacation. I’m sure the excitement wore off weeks ago.”

That’s when his wife started to cry. Silent tears at first that trickled out onto her lashes. When she sniffled, we glanced her way, and the dam that had been holding it back for weeks broke. Embarrassed, she jumped up from the table, and ran out of the room.

For many of us who support mission work in our local churches, we have very little idea of what it is like to live as a missionary, and even less what it is like to come “home” for furlough. But this time period is not only stressful, it can be the beginning of the end for a family in missions. The stress and expections of those back home can be too much for a family, and create wounds that grow into painful issues that destroy a family, and a career in ministry.

Although it may seem like a vacation since missionaries leave their place of work behind, and get to travel around the world on an extended road trip, furlough is NOT a vacation. Ignoring the pain of leaving your work behind for two months, and for a missionary work = people, it can be extremely overwhelming to begin such an extended trip, especially if you have children in tow. Long flights, weeks of driving, sleeping on pull out sofas, futons, and guest beds while your children are sometimes left on pallets on the floor is exhausting. Everywhere you visit is excited to see you (hopefully) but they have a long list of questions, and usually they are the same questions that you just answered twenty times in a row that week. And some of the questions aren’t nice, either. Often laced with prejudice, or even veiled threats, churches and family can both feel entitled to criticize your decisions for your family, your work, and any other choice you’ve made since moving overseas.

Most missionaries are required to visit every church who donates money, even if the total amount donated that year didn’t cover the gas needed to visit them on furlough. Every church has the right, and responsibility, to ask about how the ministry is progressing, but some take this too far. However, even if every single church treats the missionary with respect and love, it can be demoralizing and exhausting having to prove your worth again and again and again for two months straight. Your wife, and children are on display, too, and they better be on their best behavior. You can imagine how a three year old acts in Sunday class after driving all day the day before to arrive late, and then sleep on the floor. They’ve been forced to say hello and good bye too many times to count over the course of the last two months, and sitting still in church in their pretty dress just is asking too much. They’re ready to go home, and be quiet and play with their old toys again, but by now they may wonder if they’ll ever see home again. Two months is a long time in a toddler’s life, and it’s not her fault the grown ups in her world are expecting so much of her.

I’ve met hundreds of missionaries and ministers now in my life, and I guarantee not a single one of them want to say just how hard it really is for them to be constantly on trial. “It’s part of the job,” a minister said to me once. It may be true, but that doesn’t make it right.

Here are some ways we can make our missionaries and ministers feel more loved when they are on furlough:

  1. Volunteer to host a visiting family, or invite them over for dinner.

  2. Try your best to give everyone in the family their own bed. If necessary, book a comfortable hotel suite for them to stay in during their visit to your town.

  3. If there isn’t a NEED to have them visit your congregation, let them know you are happy to see them on another visit. Let them off the hook, but reassure them their funding is secure.

  4. Send them away with a basket of road trip treats like bottled water, cookies, and books or games for the kids.

  5. Ask about more than their work. Show that you care about them as people, their family, and their feelings. If they are struggling, offer to connect them with a counselor through R & R Ministry.

  6. Check in regularly with the family, and focus on loving them. Fight their fear that funding will be cut by communicating often, and encouraging them to keep doing their good work.

  7. Surprise them with some time alone together as a family complete with everything they need to have a REAL vacation together. Plan ahead so that they can work it into their schedule before their trip begins since most families are on a tight schedule to visit as many places as possible. Need an idea to help you get started? Book them a stay at our chateau for their return trip to give them a quiet place to reconnect with one another and refocus on their mission before going back to work.

Are you a missionary with a few furlough stories to tell? Help us show the church that a little R & R could save a family. Share this post, and your story with the hashtag #RandRmatters on your favorite social media. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

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A Story About Depression

It broke my heart, but looking back…I understand why it happened.

We were in Maine in our third year there as vocational missionaries, and our dream had finally come true: Our best friends were joining us with their brand new baby in tow! It took everything I had not to be over at her house every afternoon. I was just so excited to have my best friend living nearby, and especially glad to have someone around to talk to about all the challenges of living on mission so far from home, and without a church to support us. Finally, we weren’t alone. This was going to change everything.

Except, it didn’t. The loneliness I already felt, the isolation, and the painful distance from family still living in the south…she felt it double. A first time mother, she was experiencing all the biggest, most beautiful experiences of raising a new baby a thousand miles away from her own mother. It wore on her heart, and weighed on her mind. She called a little less. She stopped coming over. She was too busy to have me around. I didn’t see it at the time, mostly because my own feelings created a haze that kept me blind to what my sweet friend was enduring. It was heartbreaking for both of us when she finally told me the news…they were going home.

That announcement had a ripple affect in my life. We followed them a year later, leaving behind the families we’d worked so hard to minister to, and carried home with us a mountain of regret. But the winters were too long, and too lonely, the work too hard to do alone. It’s not our friend’s fault that we left our work in Maine, but it seemed to confirm what we already knew…ministry is hard, and meant to be done with a support system. The other thing I learned from that season in life is this: depression is real, and loneliness is like a death sentence to someone who is fighting depression. I know, because I discovered I was suffering from seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression just months before we decided to move south. I couldn’t find a Christian counselor anywhere who would help me work through the issues I was dealing with at the time, and it felt like going home was the only thing that would keep me alive. I couldn’t take another winter alone in Maine, no matter how beautiful it was.

A ministry like Restored & Renewed could have changed our whole story. What would have happened if we could have spoken with a counselor every week through video conferencing? What a blessing it would have been for me, for my friend, and for the families we were serving who needed marital counseling, too. Christian counseling is a lifesaving, marriage saving work, and now that we can have access to experienced counselors through technology anywhere there is an internet or cellular connection, we should be using this resource more often. Are you a missionary or minister who could have been helped if you’d had access to private, confidential counseling without having to leave your mission field? Help us show the church that a little R & R could save a family. Share this post, and your story with the hashtag #RandRmatters on your favorite social media. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

 

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Share Your Story

“It’s really heartbreaking,” she said, shaking her head. Her eyes were filled with sadness, and something else…frustration.

The noise of the café hummed behind us as we sat talking over our lunch of deli sandwiches and iced tea. I hadn’t seen her in a very long time, and her unexpected house guest had kept her busier than usual, making it hard for us to find time to get together and catch up. A missionary friend of theirs recently moved in, finding their home a safe refuge as he tried to put the pieces of his life back together and return to the work he’d left behind overseas.

“I wish I knew how to help him,” she continued. “It’s so hard to see him like this, and know that it probably could have been prevented.”

She was right. There was a good chance it could have been prevented, but it’s hard to help someone avoid a painful trial like divorce when they won’t share the pain they are going through before it’s too late. That was the case for her friends, a couple ministering overseas as missionaries…until it all ended in a surprise divorce. The wife hadn’t been prepared for the reality of life overseas, or on full time mission. The pain and resentment built up until she couldn’t take it anymore, and left. He came home to try to win her back, but it was too late. The divorce papers were already on their way. She was done.

“If only she’d said something before…” my friend lamented.

If only she’d had a counselor available, I thought.

A good marriage counselor, or family therapist could have helped this young woman work through her feelings and difficult emotions. In counseling, she could have explored her alternatives with someone who could help her find ways to give words to her painful emotions. Learning to communicate with our spouse is difficult in the beginning, but even more so when the two of you are on mission thousands of miles away from your support systems. Add to that the stress couples in ministry often feel to pretend everything is perfectly wonderful between them in order to set a good example, or to convince those who pay their paycheck each month that everything is fine, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Even if they wanted help, who could they trust to be both helpful and discreet as they work through their issues thousands of miles away from the closest Christian counselor?

You might be surprised how many missionaries leave the field because of trouble in their marriage, or with their family. It’s frustrating to think how many of those families could have been spared that pain, and remained in the work they loved if only they’d had the help they needed. R & R Ministries was created to help missionary families find the resources they need to keep doing the precious work they were called to do. Help us help more missionaries stay in the field by sharing this post, and tell us your story of how a ministry like Restored and Renewed could have helped you, or someone you love. When we speak the truth about our situation in love, it inspires others to speak their truth as well. So, by having the courage to share your story, you could help another family out there see themselves in your story, and reach out for the help they need.

Use the hashtag #RandRmatters when you share this link and your story on your favorite social media, and help us tell the church that a little R & R could save a family. Together, we’re helping those who share the good news around the world.

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You’re Invited

This December we’ll celebrate our first year at Chateau Clairefontaine, and we want you to join us. If you’re a family in ministry outside of the United States, we hope you’ll consider visiting us at the chateau December 8-10th for our Open House weekend. We look forward to welcoming you to our home, and introducing you to Restored & Renewed Ministry. We will have family portraits available from Michelle Kellis Photography, deliciously catered meals from the talented chef, Sherri Behringer-Schorr, and a few more surprises to be announced along the way. The entire weekend is FREE thank you to our generous donors who are eager to honor you, and your work in the Lord’s service. So, please join us for a weekend getaway. Bring the kids, leave the kids, either way…come relax, and be restored at Chateau Clairefontaine.
(Limited space. Reserve your room HERE.)

*Would you like to donate a stay for a family in ministry? Are you a business owner who would like to donate your goods/services to honor our Open House guests? Please contact us at RandRhostess@gmail.com

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Summer Update

 

Progress Report

What a whirlwind the last few weeks have been! While friends and family around the world were preparing for a summer break, we were gearing up for our first guests here at the chateau. We started the summer with my brother’s family who visited the chateau for the first time. It was fun to show them around our new home, and see their eyes light up with all the possibilities this place holds. They got right to work with us, helping us order supplies we needed for our guests, setting up fans in the bedrooms so that it was more comfortable to sleep on hot summer nights, cleaning out the garage, and stripping wallpaper in the new reception room and the old office. We made sure to have a little fun, too, while they were here. We visited the ancient Roman settlement of Grand where we saw a fully preserved mosaic tile floor, and got to walk through the center of a Roman gladiatorial amphitheater. There were also many climbs up into the 11th century fortress here in town, and then a lot of cousin time with video games and movie snuggles. We were so happy they got to stay for an entire month with us, meet all of our new friends here in France, and even witness our first ministry guests. I know they went home with a better understanding of both the challenges and blessings we have here with this precious ministry.

Next, we welcomed a few guests in for a little R&R. We had visitors from Belgium, and China, both here for a short visit, and we sent them away as though we were saying goodbye to our own family. It was good for our souls to finally be able to minister to others the way we had intended from the beginning, and though they came to find a little rest and restoration, we all felt like we were the ones who were renewed in the end. It was hard to let them go, to be honest. The house was quiet without them, but not for long.

The last two weeks of our summer we were blessed to play host to two different teams from Arkansas who arrived with the desire to help us tackle a few of our remodeling projects here at the chateau. The first team, three friends from Little Rock, poured themselves into a few cleaning projects, and then helped us purchase, and build our new kitchen cabinets. The results were astounding. The entire kitchen feels more useful now as we doubled our cabinet space, and doubled the size of the sink. I was shocked we were able to find counter tops that look beautiful beside the antique pieces we have in the kitchen. We went ahead and ripped up the old, tattered linoleum on the floor, and found solid stone blocks beneath it, the original flooring. We have just a few more steps to go, but the kitchen is already much improved, and we are all very proud of it. No only does it look good, but it helps us feed a lot of people…like the group that came next.

Our last set of visitors arrived right after we finished the kitchen, and they dove into our list of projects immediately. A group of twelve from Levy church of Christ in North Little Rock, they were on their way to Lithuania for a week of camp. I was surprised at how much they accomplished in just a few days. We were able to redecorate the new reception, plaster the walls in the new counseling room, strip the vines and other plant material away from the side of the house where it was creeping into the kitchen vents, repair a broken bedroom floor, remove the old facade in the breakfast pantry, and clean the house again all before running back to Paris to catch a flight to Lithuania. It was amazing to see the progress we’ve made with all of the help our guests have given us this summer.

Completed Projects

  • Added a new parking area in the lot across the street
  • Repaired plumbing leaks in bathroom and toilettes.
  • Replaced the old tub with a new shower, and added a new drain line for the washing machine.
  • Purchased a weed eater and riding lawn mower for more extensive yard work.
  • Mowed the lawns, and arranged to have the field across the street mowed by our neighbor with his tractor.
  • Purchased a full-sized standalone refrigerator and freezer for the kitchen
  • Purchased a multi-use accessory for the kitchen that works as a food processor, blender, stand mixer, and several other uses
  • Purchased power tools, and a generator for a workshop that will allow Graham and our work teams to do much more ambitious building projects in the future
  • Removed old flooring in bathroom, and upstairs toilet
  • Stripped wallpaper in new reception room, and old office
  • Removed mold in new reception room, replastered the walls, and painted
  • Redecorated the reception room using items found within the house (Thank you, Lisa Gibson Interiors)
  • Stripped wallpaper, and replastered walls in the old office
  • Purchased, assembled, and installed a new set of kitchen cabinets, dishwasher, and sink
  • Removed the pantry façade and moved the enormous cabinet from the grand salon into the pantry
  • Cleaned, scrubbed, and “defunkified” the giant pantry cabinet before stocking it full of goods
  • Removed ivy from the western wall of the house, trimmed ivy along the upper fence line
  • Replaced broken floor boards in bedroom 4, making it safe for use
  • Battled the bees, and (hopefully) won
  • Planted a small kitchen garden, established composting, and made plans to extend the garden
  • Oiled and restored the floor in the entry
  • Cleaned, polished, and scrubbed floors and furniture

Personal Successes

  • Met with our new French tutor for lessons every week.
  • Finalized our new official bank account (Finally!)
  • Began the long process of getting kids enrolled in local school.

Pending Projects

  • Paint the old office/new counseling room
  • Oil and restore the floors in the reception room
  • Purchase new furniture for the counseling room
  • Move desk into reception
  • Upgrade the electrical system, and add new sockets to every room

Community Connections

  • Reconnected with our neighbors across the street and were invited to join them for a party in June. At the party, we were introduced to our neighbor up the hill, and the neighbors who own the property beside the lake with the water wheel. (This made the newspaper!)
  • Met the secretary at the high school, and visited the school.
  • Invited our friends, neighbors and the mayor to join us for an American 4th of July party. (This made the paper, too. Twice!)
  • We were invited to attend the Bastille Day celebration, and were introduced to many new people, including the owner of the chateau at Lavaux. She invited us to visit her home the following week.
  • We visited the chateau Lavaux, and were given a private tour by the owner!
  • The saw old friends at the Bastille Day event, and made new friends, too. They’ve stayed connected, visiting every week together, and texting often.
  • Grayson was invited by a friend to go to summer camp (in France!) and has spent the last three weeks attending teen events with him here in the area, a fun way to practice French.
  • Befriended the local baker who delivers bread from her shop two villages away. She came every morning and delivered fresh baked bread to our home, a fabulous treat. We share a mutual affection, and I guarantee she will make the next dinner party guest list along with our French tutor.
  • We have now met TWO Americans here who are very social, and friendly. We hope to be good friends to them, and encourage them however we can.

Prayer Requests

As always, we would appreciate prayers of thanks for the projects completed, petitions for the pending projects, and encouragement for our family.

  • Please pray for our children as they prepare to go to school, a daunting task in a foreign country.
  • Pray for the missionary families who visited us, and for those we have yet to meet. May they find rest here, and restoration.
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A Place of Rest

It’s different this time.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but somehow it’s different this time around. Last fall, our family moved to France. We moved into a sort of mini-chateau in the French countryside, and began preparing it for a big, beautiful purpose: to host missionaries and their families who need a sanctuary. It was a beautiful dream that turned into reality in just a few short months. What we didn’t realize was that buying the house wasn’t going to be the hardest part. Not by a long shot. Everything that is hard about moving, and setting up a new house in a new town was ten times harder in another language. Compound that with the fact that we are foreigners without complete citizenship, and that made the simplest of tasks feel impossible. In those first three months we faced overwhelm, homesickness, culture shock, loneliness, and fatigue. Then…we went back to America. Our visas were only good for three months, and to apply for a longer stay visa that would allow us to apply for residency, we needed to be in the U.S. So, we locked the doors with the big, heavy iron keys, and said goodbye to our little village.

You’d think that would be when things got better, but for a little while they got worse. A lot worse. I felt lost, and more than a little afraid that we’d taken on more than we could handle. Fear turned to depression, and I spent weeks struggling to get my footing on this new slippery terrain as we moved from France to Arkansas, to Virginia, and back to Arkansas. Finally, after weeks of paperwork, and long to-do lists that felt impossible, I found myself sitting on the back porch of my in-law’s home. The creek trickled by while birds sang in the trees overhead, and for the first time in what felt like a year, I was still. I sat. I cried. I prayed. And over the course of a week, I slowly let go of all that fear that had been piling up inside of me. I’m not really sure when it happened, but one day I stood beside my mother in law doing dishes, and she turned to me with a sweet smile. “I’m so glad you have had this time here. I know it wasn’t what you had planned, but you look so much more….rested.”

I knew she was right. I had finally found some peace, and I was certain of my purpose again. What I wanted more than anything was to return to France and do the work we’d set out to do from the beginning, because I knew there were others out there feeling overwhelmed, afraid, and alone. I wanted to give them the same thing I’d been given, a place to rest. A place to sit and be quiet. A place to be reminded of your purpose, and your passion. A place to be restored, and renewed.

That’s why we’re here. And now as I move through the long to-do list, I know that every item has a deeper purpose behind it. Every step of preparing the house for guests is so that someone can come and find their rest here at the chateau. So, I pray. I pray for the weary wife and mother who has been too long away from her own mother, whose marriage is strained from all the stress of the work abroad, and yet her heart can’t stand the thought of leaving behind those she’s ministered to in her adopted home. I pray for the missionary who has become disillusioned with life, and fears he’s lost his passion.  He wonders if he’s made a terrible mistake, wasted his life, and the fear weighs him down until his prayers feel like lead that never rise to meet God. I pray for the friend, the sister, the brother who are a world away where loved ones can’t reach them to help when the tears begin, and the calls grow shorter, or stop coming altogether. My heart aches for each of them, but I know there is a place here where they can find healing, and rest. I will cook a delicious meal, and welcome them with a hug, and show them their room in the little chateau on the hill where all is peaceful, and quiet. And there…there they will be restored to the Father.

Do you know a missionary who needs a little time away? We would love to have them visit us at the chateau. Want to donate a week to a missionary family you know? Email us at RandRhostess@gmail.com

 

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It’s Official

Celebrate with us, friends!

This morning we learned that our visas have been approved. We are officially moving to France, and can finally begin our work there. It’s a good thing, too, because we’ll be welcoming our first missionaries to the chateau on July 3rd. We can hardly wait to get the house opened, and cleaned up for our guests. We have a summer full of fun planned for those who visit the chateau, and are already beginning to fill our calendar for the fall, too.

Thank you for praying for us as we struggled over this hurdle. Your love, and support, carried us through the toughest days. I’m thrilled to know we have such powerful prayer warriors on our side as we take on this beautiful work ministering to the brave families across the world who have committed their lives to serving God, and carrying his Word out into the world.

Keep those prayers coming,

Graham and Heather Sutherlin

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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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Why?

Our new friends and neighbors here in France ask me all the time why we moved here. Why here? Why France? Why this village? None of my answers seem to satisfy them. We tell them we love living here in this quiet little village that is so peaceful it seems to soak right into your bones. We tell them how we wanted a home big enough to hold friends from around Europe who might want to vacation here. We tell them how my mother always wanted to live in France and since we can live and work anywhere, we chose to live here. But, none of that seems to satisfy their curiosity. They know there are trendier places in France to live. Easier places, with communities of expats, English speaking schools, and more opportunity for jobs. But how can we really explain? I find it hard to even explain it to our friends back home, people who have stood beside us as we made decisions that lead us to this moment. How do you explain the hand of God in your life? How do you make someone understand what feels like a miraculous mystery even now?

We didn’t plan to move here. Have I mentioned that? It wasn’t something we hoped for, planned for, or prayed for. It just sort of…happened. But, looking back I can see how it didn’t just happen. It was happening all along and we just didn’t realize it would lead us here. I see how the last two years were shaping us for this exact move. We knew God was leading us into a time of change, we could feel it in so many ways. Our hearts were changing after reading Radical together in 2014. We knew our life wasn’t focused on the purposes of God like we had intended, and we began to pray earnestly that God would change us, direct us, and use us to serve his people.  That year there were clues, hints that made us think change was coming. Our prayers intensified and I began to ask God for a word to focus on that year. He blessed me with two, and they were so NOT what I wanted to hear from him, that it was easy to believe they were spoken straight from the Holy Spirit: Hardwork and Humility. That same year, I began an intense seeking of God through the ministry of IF, a group of women asking “IF God is real, then what does that mean for my life?” If I really believe everything in the Bible is true, then what should I do about it? That question echoed through my mind for two years. Weekly I met with friends who were asking harder questions, really diving into scripture and begging God through prayer to reveal to us the many ways we were struggling to see him clearly. I committed to spending more time with God daily, desperate to know him more, and to hear his voice in my life so that I could more fully obey.

In those first few months of intense prayer I became convinced that God’s plan for my life had something to do with my love for hospitality, specifically cooking for large groups of people. I began praying intently about that and soon two things happened. I was offered a position as kitchen manager for our local summer camp, a place we loved for thier vision and ministry to youth. I took that job and began one of the hardest summers of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to cry out to God and those two words he spoke to me in January were whispered back to me. It was the first of many incredible lessons that are still echoing in my life today. The greatest lesson I learned through that season was that God’s blessings often come through what feel like pain, heartache, fatigue, and fear. God uses the hard things in life to shape us. Those two summers at camp pushed me harder than I’ve ever been pushed to rely on God for strength, for friendship, for guidance, and even for rest. He helped me work through ridiculously long days, extreme heat, unexpected demands, and a host of other situations I was not really equipped to handle. But I survived it. I even managed to succeed at some of our goals for my time there, and I did it all by the grace of God.

The second answer to prayer seemed to come out of nowhere, but it quickly took hold of my heart. I enrolled in the culinary school in Little Rock and watched as God opened door after door to ministry using my skills in the kitchen. But just as quickly as I began, it all seemed to fade away. Within the first month, it became clear that culinary school was designed for those who wanted to work in a commercial kitchen. Most of my classmates dreamed of being chefs in big restaurants or of owning their own restaurant. It didn’t take long for me to realize that life was not for me. Something felt very “off” about the whole thing. I finished that semester with a clearer understanding: God was not leading me to a restaurant. I poured myself into ministry opportunities, thinking it must be the reason for this stirring of my gifts, but that too fizzled despite everyone insisting it was a good and timely work. I became disillusioned. Had I imagined the whole thing? Why would God have me go through all of this if it wasn’t his plan? I began looking at other areas of my life, questioning whether I was pursuing things for my own motives or for God. Was my writing really for him? Was homeschooling my children really bringing him glory? Was I using my home, our possessions, our funds for his work? I started my second summer at camp with these questions burning in my heart and felt certain that God would reveal his plan for us by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, Graham was struggling through his own path. Radical had stirred in him a greater desire to live and use all that we have for God, but he felt confined by his career. Working twelve hour days with little or no vacation in a high level salaried position was providing well for us financially, but depleting him of all his time and energy. It felt impossible to imagine taking on any sort of ministry work with so little time available in his life. Add to this the poisonous relationship he had with his boss, and my husband was barely surviving. He began having mysterious pains in his chest and sudden dizzy spells. He had a perpetual headache and was fighting hard to keep depression at bay. The more he desired to live for God, the less he felt able to, and this left him feeling hopeless. My first summer at camp left him alone in Little Rock every week, only able to visit us on the weekends since it was too far to commute. This gave him time to really question what God was doing. By the end of the summer he was wondering if maybe he should quit his job. It seemed the only solution, but one filled with lots of fear and uncertainty. It took nine more months and a lot more pain before he finally decided to quit and start his own business…just in time for us to move to camp together. We were sure that God would show us what to do by the end of the summer, and at the very least, Graham would have more free time to spend with us and to spend in ministry.

But the end of the summer came and went. We finished our work at camp and left the next day for a mission trip in South Dakota as a family. We spent two weeks working there, wondering what God was doing with us. Then, we went home and packed for another adventure: Virginia Beach. We spent the next year travelling between Virginia Beach and Little Rock, all the while praying that God would show us what we were supposed to be doing. Virginia Beach is the home of Graham’s largest client, so it was good for us to be there where we could build relationships for his career, but it was good for our family, too. It became a place of rest and focus. In Arkansas we had a lot of commitments, but in Virginia Beach we only knew a handful of people and so our time was spent together as a family, or working. Life became very simple, restful, and it began to change us. We began to ask strange questions. What if we sold our house and didn’t buy a new one? What if we didn’t really live anywhere in particular? What if we traveled? What if we just went wherever God seemed to need us? What if…?

This is going to sound strange, but it was the first time in twenty years I’d ever heard my husband talk like that. He is a planner, organized and very analytical. He had his life planned by the time he was seventeen and we’d followed that plan to the letter. Suddenly, this man was dreaming. A friend of mine calls it “dreaming with God.” It was beautiful to watch, and I began to realize how much God had changed him in those two years since we first began to pray together for a radical change in our hearts and in our life. God was clearly at work. He had taught me that I could work hard, embrace humility, and serve others with my talents in ways I had never expected if I would lean on him for strength. Now I saw how much he’d been teaching Graham, too. He had learned to let God have control of his future, to let go of what he “owned” and consider it God’s, and to believe that God could open doors that we can’t even imagine are there. This last lesson was what lead us to France.

We look back now and see how impatient we were. We started this journey thinking God was going to immediately answer our prayers and move us into ministry. Immediately. I can’t stress this enough. Honestly, I think I could write an entire book on this one topic. From the moment we first felt that stirring as we read Radical, we were sure our lives were about to be completely turned upside down. That is, of course, exactly what happened, but it took longer than we expected to see the end result. Why? Because the radical change that first had to happen was inside of us. Our lives changed because we invited God to come in and change US. That took time. It is still happening, as a matter of fact. In the last two years we’ve learned to think differently about nearly every aspect of our lives. There was a great “letting go” that had to happen before God could hand us anything new. We let go of our plans, our own designs for our careers, our home, our belongings, our friendships to some extent, and even family. We let go of trying to own everything, control everything, and the constant desire to have more. We still struggle with some of those things, years of conditioning are hard to erase, but we are slowly submitting more and more to the things God has placed on our hearts. It took two full years to get us to the point where France could happen, and this is why I can tell you we never planned for it. Here’s how it went down.

“It looks like God wants us to buy a house in France for missionaries.”

“Yeah. I guess we’ll have to sell everything. It will be too expensive to try to take things with us.”

“I think you’re right. Good thing we can both work from anywhere in the world that has internet.”

“Yeah. So…I guess we’re moving to France.”

“Yep.”

That was it. It was almost more of an assumption than a deliberate discussion. Why? Because we couldn’t deny what God had been setting up all along. It felt so obvious! We thought we were going to be serving God in some simple way in the U.S., but by the time this opportunity came along, there was no denying that every single crazy thing in our life for the last two years was all about this. We were already positioned to leave everything behind, fund a portion of the house, live abroad in a home we don’t fully own, and host families that need someone to welcome them in with open arms and a table full of good food.

I know some of you reading this have similar stories about how you ended up in God’s work. But an awful lot of you may have found yourselves begging God to use you, and then never finding your place. I encourage you to embrace the good, hard, messy work of God inside of you first. Dig in with him, be determined to seek him out, to wrestle with him in your spirit, and to allow him to change you. That is where the work of God really happens, inside of each of us. Do you want to go out and do something amazing for God? Then, sit down and let him do his work inside of you.

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