Joining the Journey

Yesterday was a rough day. We are half way through week three in our new home here in France and the day started with a flat tire on our rental car in the middle of nowhere which triggered an ordeal with our roadside assistance/car insurance that was a handful (but worked out fine.) We had an oven that refused to work triggering a minor panic attack in this woman’s heart, bringing the total count of appliances that don’t work in my kitchen to four. There is still no sign that our internet crisis will ever end and our cellular connection is dodgy at best. This may be our demise, people. But in the end, the issue that made us lament and wail was that we are nearly out of the few precious American snacks we’d smuggled in with us and no quick fast food fix available to cure our homesick hearts.

And there it is…we’re homesick.

I honestly thought it would take us a little longer to reach this point. I think the lack of internet has precipitated this situation because we all expected to be a little more connected with our friends and family back home than we have been. I think a few hours of American tv or even Youtube would also have helped. But in the end, I’m not so sure it has been such a bad thing. Part of why we’re struggling is because we expected to simply transfer our American life to France. That clearly isn’t going to work, and I’m not really sure I’d want it to, either. Life here is different, but in ways that really seem to fit us better than America ever did. Let’s face it, we are a strange bunch. But France, so far, seems to reflect our same ideas on how daily life should flow. For us to fully embrace that, we will eventually have to let go of some of our addictions to American things. I’m sure it is a process that takes time, but yesterday pushed us hard in that direction.

In a moment of frustration over the fact that I couldn’t make it all right and fix these things for my family, I picked up my phone and confessed to Facebook.

Confession: Today is hard.
Flat tire.
Internet issues.
Oven won’t work.
Running out of our favorite American snacks and facing the reality that they won’t be replaced.
Pray for us, friends.

With a heavy sigh, I put my phone away and went back to work. But God has a way of taking our mess and turning it into beauty. This became clear just a few hours later when my phone began to chime on the other side of the room. Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding.

I was expecting a family crisis based on the number of messages coming through at once. Instead, I found an outpouring of love and cheerful support on the other side of the world. Friends and family sent messages of prayer, encouraging words, helpful hints on how to find our favorite American treats, and even offers of care packages from home. Tears filled my eyes as I read the notes on Facebook, some of them from friends I’ve never even met “in real life”, and a sudden realization washed over me. We are not alone. We have been surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are joining us on this incredible journey. Although they are far away, they have made it clear that they are with us in spirit, and they are cheering us on each step of the way. What an incredible blessing!  It’s so much more than I asked for or ever expected. Honestly, I thought our moving to France would be an interesting tidbit of information that lasted a few days and then was quickly forgotten in the hustle and bustle of real life and holiday preparations. Why would anyone care that I’m feeling a little homesick?

“Oh, boo hoo. You’re in France you big baby. Suck it up!”

Nope. Instead, I get showered with love, kindness, compassion, prayers, and offers to send a package of essential survival gear like hot sauce and Dr. Pepper.

“Really? Aren’t you too busy shopping for presents for your family to care about mine? Aren’t you annoyed with my stupid attitude in all this? I am!”

No. They love me. They love us. They are rooting for us to succeed. They want to see us healthy and happy and thriving here. Many of them truly believe in the WHY that brought us here and are certain that our work here will save marriages, save families, strengthen churches, maybe even save lives. Most days I believe in that, too. But sometimes I worry. I worry that my selfishness, my fear, my inadequacy will ruin it all. I am not enough. Luckily it’s not all up to me, not by a long shot.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”       2 Corinthians 12:9

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O Sleepless Night

When I was a little girl, my family would visit my grandparents in Texas for Christmas. Greeted by family hugs and kisses at the door, we’d stuff ourselves with treats and soak up the chance to be the center of everyone’s attention. As the night wore on, mom would start dropping hints that it was nearly time for bed. She’d make us brush our teeth, change into our pajamas, and implore us to kiss everyone good night.

“But Mom!” we’d cry.

With a tilt of her head, she’d deliver the line that always made quick work of the battle. “If you don’t go to bed, Santa won’t come. So, say goodnight, kids, and hurry to bed.”

Soon we’d be piled into bed, listening with oppressive resentment as the adults continued to laugh together in the other room. I was sure I was missing out on fun, but that thought warred inside of me with the fear that mom was right and Santa would arrive to find me still awake. And so would begin a Christmas ritual that played out every year until I was too old for such things. It went like this:

My brain begins to churn with conflicting thoughts and soon my stomach is churning, too. The war rages inside me as I toss and turn.

My brain: I can’t wait, but I feel like I might throw up, and I just know it’s going to be awesome, but I have a headache and I need a glass of water, and I can’t sleep, but is it morning yet?
*Check the clock.*
Seriously?! It’s only 10:15?!
This vicious cycle was repeated every five minutes until I either threw up, got spanked and sent back to bed, or woke up bleary eyed with my little sister screaming, “It’s here! It’s here! Today’s the day!” (And one year, I was lucky enough to get all three. Yay, me!)

As I lie here in bed, the night before we move to France, I am filled with such a strange feeling. A wave of nostalgia washes over me and suddenly I’m eight years old lying in a twin bed in my grandparents’ house on Christmas Eve all over again. My stomach lurches as I hear the familiar thoughts war inside my head. I’m excited, and I’m scared, and I’m exhausted, but I can’t sleep. I want to go, but I also feel a little like I’m going to be missing out on the fun I leave behind, too. My head begins to pound and I roll over in bed, wishing I could make all the icky feelings go away and just be happy like a “normal” person.

Ha. That’s funny for so many reasons.

  1. I’m not, nor have I ever been normal. Moving to France doesn’t really change that.
  2. I’m pretty sure I don’t really want to be “normal”, whatever that is.
  3. I’m almost certain it’s completely “normal” to feel so deeply conflicted the night before moving to another country. Or the night before you give up one life to pursue another. Or the night before you take your three children overseas for the first time. Or the night before you leave your family and friends behind. Or…all of the above.

I can’t quite shake the conflict, but I can embrace it, and that’s what I choose to do. Closing my eyes, I whisper a prayer that has become my mantra through all of this:

“Dear Lord, most high God, you are my king and I trust you. Teach me to trust you more, to love you more, and to rest in your arms. I am safe with you and I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. This will be okay, I will be okay, because you are here and you go before us, and you follow behind. Complete in us the good work you began and may your name be praised, Lord, even in our brokenness, because you are good and we are made perfect in your love. I ask all of this in the name of your holy one, Jesus, who holds all things together…even me. Amen.”


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Thanksgiving Promises

This year Thanksgiving means a little more to all of us here in the Sutherlin and Pogue families. We are hugging each other a little closer and holding hands a little tighter as we say our prayers around the Thanksgiving table. That’s because the day after Thanksgiving this year, we’ll all be starting the next leg of an adventure that has taken our life by storm this year.

In February my mother called me in tears. “I’ve had a vision,” she said, “and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m either going crazy, or God really means to do this thing.”

I know we rarely talk about visions anymore, and its nearly impossible to convince another that a vision was real and true. That’s exactly why she came to me trembling, afraid. Was this real? Was it really happening? Had she imagined it? Was it just something she really wanted to be true? In the end, we decided to pray. We got down on our knees in her office and prayed fervently to the Lord, tears dripping onto the carpet as we begged him to show us truth and help us obey.

That “thing” turned out to be very real, and as the weeks went by we became more and more convinced that God had begun a good work and he meant to see it come to fruition. I watched as my mother began to walk closer and closer with God, and I marvelled at how he was changing her. She spent hours in prayer, filled an entire notebook with journal notes and scribbled scriptures, and every moment that felt scary or uncertain had her pulling out her Bible for more time with God. She was a woman filled with an intense desire to know and follow God’s will. By the first of March, she was fully convinced the Lord had indeed given her a vision and she held fast to the belief that it would be fulfilled.

That vision was a 12 bedroom chateau in France, bought for less than $200,000, and dedicated to serving missionaries who needed a safe refuge for respite and restoration. She believed it would all happen by the end of the year…and it has. On November 28th we’ll close on the chateau and begin our ministry to the workers in the field, offering them a place of refuge where they may be restored and renewed, strengthened for the work the Lord has for them in his kingdom.

God has always been one to keep his promises. I believe God made a promise to my mother that day in February, and she dared to believe he meant it. By faith, we knelt to ask him for clarity. By faith, we took those first steps toward obedience. By faith, we began to share the vision with others, trusting God to share truth with those who would need to see it. And by faith, we’ve walked with God through this year, laying down our plans in order to take up the plans of God. I know that this walk of faith will be the first steps in a long journey with our king who has set his heart on protecting and providing for those who have given up everything to serve him. We feel honored and richly blessed to join him in this beautiful work. What a joy it is to serve those who have so faithfully ministered to the lost and lonely of this world. We can hardly wait for the day when we can throw the doors open wide on the chateau and welcome in those who are battle weary and ready for rest. Our Lord will bind up their wounds, restore their strength, and empower them to return to the battle so that more souls may be saved before the end of days. This is the good and holy work he has called us to in France, and we know he will be faithful in leading us forward. After all, he’s a God who keeps his promises.

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