A lot has gone down over the past few months, huh? You packed and repacked bags, crated your bikes and baby dolls, and sold whatever was left. You said goodbye to that backyard fort you worked so hard to construct, to the school that was such a great fit for our family, to a life that seemed to work just fine. You said goodbye to consistency. To “normal.” To dance. To the only church you’ve ever known. To our dog. Oh my word, our dog. You have done some really hard things, kids.
I’m so, so proud of you.
But let me shoot straight with you for a second, okay?
Things are about to get even more crazy.
In just a few months, you’ll board a plane here in America only to land on African soil with all of its foreign smells and language and customs and just about everything. And there you’ll stand, a stranger in a foreign land, expected to assimilate and adjust and find home in all of the strangeness.
In just a few months, junk is about to get real. FAST. And, if I’m straight up with you, I have no clue how all of this is going to go down. How will your first day of school go? How will that first holiday away from cousins and grandparents and normal be? Will we catch on to the language? There’s no telling.
But here’s the thing, you guys. I know life seems to be shifting in seismic ways right now- and I recognize that it can be alarming that your parents don’t have all of the answers (SHOCKING, I know)- but in this season of unknowns and drastic change and more-questions-than-answers, I want to assure you of a few things that I know for sure and forever.
1. You’re not God’s ultimate gift to this world.
People are people. And kids are kids. Sin is sin. And we all need rescuing. Including you.
We do not love others- and we will not serve and love our Malawian neighbors and friends- from a pedestal. We’re not moving halfway across the world to swoop in as Americans who know better. No, guys. We’re going to link arms with our brothers and sisters in Malawi. To learn from them. To be the church. Together.
There is no us versus them. There’s just a we. A “we” who might do things differently at times. Who might speak different dialects and who might prefer varying cuisines. Who might do school and sports and free-time differently. But nonetheless, a humanity-wide “we” navigating this broken world together.
So, open your eyes wide, kids. There’s a beautiful and messy world out there waiting for you. A world filled with people who are more like you than different. So, love big. Serve extravagantly. And as you do so, just remember that you’re not God’s greatest gift to this world. Jesus is.
2. God’s presence will always go with you.
Jen Wilkin aptly says, “When we trust [God] as fully present everywhere, we are finally free to be fully present wherever he has placed us.”
You guys, there will surely be times when life just kind of stinks. You might be lonely. Afraid. Sad. You might feel like throwing a fit and slamming every door and screaming, “How and why did I end up here?”
And that’s okay. You can feel these things and have these days and still know that God is right there with you in the mess. You will never, ever be alone.
You can go in confidence because God himself goes with you. You can do hard things- things like moving and selling and saying endless goodbyes- because God is with you. And when you walk into that new school in a new country for the very first time, you can walk in knowing that he is right there with you. WITHIN you. Comforting you. Guiding you. Strengthening you.
Kids, you have been jostled around enough to make anyone dizzy over the past few months, and honestly? The jostling is only about to pick up more speed. But I pray- man I pray- that God’s constant presence and unshifting goodness can provide the stability that your dad and I can’t promise right now. We can be fully present anywhere he places us because he is always and forever fully present with us.
3. God’s glory is always worth it.
If I sit down and think about it, I could come up with one heck of a laundry list of reasons why we shouldn’t pick up and move to Africa. Kids, I know you could too. I’ve heard plenty of them already anywhere.
But pitted against a thousand and more reasons not to go, declaring and spreading God’s glory is going to win out every. single. time.
If we believe- like REALLY BELIEVE- that “from him and to him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever” (Romans 11:36), we’ve gotta live like it. We have to live like “all things” means all things. And when things that fall under this umbrella of “all things” happen- language faux pas, difficult relationships, lonely holidays- we can remember that he’s in complete control, and his ultimate aim is to be worshipped. For his name to be made great.
Ultimately, he’s going to get his glory, guys. There WILL be a day every nation, tribe, and tongue is around his throne worshipping. The cool thing is that he lets us be part of this. And man is he is worth it.
4. You are not mine.
Alright, you guys. This one is harder for me than you. Here we go:
Carson, Mary Grace, and Elizabeth- ultimately, you are not mine. You’re not mine to have and hold and keep forever. You’re not mine to coddle and place in an iron fortress of protection. You are gifts- some of the greatest, most precious gifts imaginable- given by God above.
A while back, our pastor, JD, got all up in my business when he said, “When God designs a child to be shot out like an arrow—and instead we treat that child like a piece of furniture that we plan to keep in the house—we not only stunt their development, we also discourage them from finding God altogether. In protecting them from all of life’s challenges, we show them a picture of our faith that is dismally boring. And where your depiction of faith is boring, they will drift toward more interesting things.”
You guys, there is nothing- not one single thing- that is more exciting than following God. Hear me, though- exciting does not always mean safe. It certainly doesn’t always translate to comfortable or easy, and as a mama, this is sometimes difficult for me to stomach. But, at the end of the day, God created you for to be shot out as arrows into this broken world. I love you something fierce, but God’s love is unimaginably fiercer. You’re some of my greatest earthly blessings, but earth is not your home. Heaven is.
So, dear kids, this is all exciting and challenging and beyond anything any of us are capable of. YOU DON’T GOT THIS. Nor do I. Be encouraged.
I love you guys. Let’s do this.
Oh Mary Grace.
The action and excitement never ceases with you in this world, darling girl. And today we celebrate nine whole years of adventure. Adventure and fun and a volume of noise I never knew before you burst onto the scene.
Mary Grace, it’s been quite a year. You’ve announced to the world that you have found your soulmate and the boy who will surely marry. (Hilariously, your older brother’s best friend. Typical.) You’ve become enchanted with all things Hogwarts. (And have self-identified as a Slytherin.) You’ve chosen to follow Jesus and be baptized. It’s been a really good year.
It’s also been a stretching year for our family. A year of sacrifice and transition. A year of unknowns and goodbyes. And, good gracious, it’s been an absolute joy to watch you process our upcoming move and, ultimately, shift from a place of doubt and “NO WAY JOSE” to a position of trust, surrender, and- LO AND BEHOLD- excitement.
Mary Grace, your love affair with ninjas still runs deep, and your career aspirations of becoming 1. a ninja, 2. the president, and 3. a secret service agent have remained quite consistent. When you’re not plotting to rule the world, you can be found running a very believable school out of your bedroom or stealthily prowling as some sort of wild beast. You’re creative and imaginative and a naturally gifted leader.
Currently, your favorite color is black. Your favorite food is frozen pizza. Your best friend is Elizabeth. And your tippy top favorite, irreplaceable, the-earth-will-surely-end-if-we-lost-it possession is still your baby “Deluga” that you’ve had since birth.
Mary Grace, I love that you cannot and will not be boxed in. You march to the beat of your own (very loud) drummer, and you have a boldness and confidence that is unique. Don’t lose this. Don’t you dare lose this. I just pray- man do I pray– that this confidence is rooted deeply, firmly, unshakably in the goodness of the God who created you and calls you his own. He loves you so much and so do we, sweet girl.
Happy 9th birthday, Mary Grace!
It was a rare child-free afternoon a week or so ago. Somehow, Matt and I wound up at the mall, and SOMEHOW my legs navigated us straight to the mecca of all things ridiculously cute and entirely-too-expensive-for-me: Anthropologie. Funny how that happens. As I ambled aimlessly through the flowy dresses and funky home decor, I glanced at Matt and broke out in laughter.
“Welllll, here I am. Walking around the mall with no house to decorate. No space in luggage for extra clothes. Hey Matt, check this out. We’re JOBLESS 35 year olds living with PARENTS! What even is our life?”
Clearly, we’re the precise demographic Anthropologie is aiming for.
A week and some change later, I’m happy to report that, while we are indeed still 35 year olds living with parents- down to one car, no house, and nary an Anthro knob- we are once again gainfully employed. Yes, my friends, after a LONG application process, millions of pieces of paperwork, hours of interviews, so. many. medical. appointments., and bidding an impossibly difficult adieu to our lives in North Carolina, we were officially appointed last week as missionaries with the International Mission Board.
Last week was just another reminder of God’s faithfulness in bringing us to this point. Talking with trustees- many who are seasoned missionaries themselves- who care deeply for us and are praying for our kids by name. Sharing meals with other new missionaries who get it – who have an actual framework for the nutty up-and-down rollercoaster we’ve been on. Looking out into the packed-out appointment service and catching glimpses of so many people who have loved and prayed us to the point where we find ourselves today. Such gifts. We are insanely grateful.
So now? Now we rest. Ish. We carry on with normal(ish) life in Richmond for the next two and a half weeks until we move just down the road for a six week intensive training with over 120 other people soon to be spread to all corners of the globe. We’ve consistently heard that, while these weeks will be crammed with learning and doing, FPO (“field personnel orientation”) is a highlight for many… particularly for the kids who are convinced that they’re at a six week long summer camp. WITH a cafeteria boasting all-you-can-eat Lucky Charms and lemonade on-tap. And all the Allison kids shouted a resounding “AMEN.”
If you’ve been praying for us, thank you. Just the other day, I was telling Matt that never have I ever felt more prayed for in my life. It’s true. Thank you. And, at the risk of sounding all bossy and everything, keep those prayers coming.
A part of me worries that I’m feeling all wrong. Last week, I had an impromptu phone therapy sesh with a sweet, unsuspecting customer service lady at overstock.com. She THOUGHT she was on the line to help process my order for an area rug. Silly her. Little did she know, with one push of a button, she’d be the recipient of all my tears and emotions that Tuesday afternoon.
For what it’s worth, I ended up purchasing two rugs instead of one. Hey thanks, overstock. Your customer service people are VERY PATIENT AND KIND GEMS OF HUMANS.
The emotions that are tangled up in this process of going and coming are just that: tangled. Messy. Unpredictable. Here I am, weeping over discount carpets while my eyes stay dry in the moments that are actually significant. My daughter’s baptism. Our commissioning. Goodbye parties. And I think that’s okay. Or so I’m telling myself.
At the very least, I am remembering anew that my emotions simply cannot dictate my obedience. Nor can I rely on my feelings as foolproof guideposts to life. Because y’all wanna know what my precious feelings are speaking over me these days?
“GIRL, YOU SO CRAZY.”
“What are you even doing? You love that dog! Don’t give her up! And your DREAM HOUSE, CATHERINE. You’ll never get a chance at owning something like that again. Kiss. It. Goodbye.”
Words creep in. Words like irresponsible, reckless, naive, unworthy. I try to shut them down- tune them out- but somehow I start to internalize and make them personal. My heart- this heart the world says I’m to follow– spots risk and wants to hightail it outta there.
And then, sometimes? Sometimes my heart soars and leaps. It beats in a carefree, fanciful rhythm, prepped and ready for this next season. I hear people refer to our move as a “great adventure” and feel all kinds of warm and happy emotions rise up within.
“YASSS! An adventure! We got Jesus. We got each other. Saddle up your horses, y’all… we got a trail to blaze.” (Those of you who were not raised on 1990s Christian contemporary music just missed that reference, and I’m a tiny bit sad for you. Those of you who were, it’s stuck in my head too. So. You’re welcome for that.)
Adventure or not, those feelings, too, are fleeting. And they simply will not sustain.
Basically, here’s the deal. The pace is picking up. The boxes are getting packed. We are now approaching those important, in-bold-and-italics dates that have been looming for so long. This is happening. But you know what’s not happening? I’m not riding the wave of every emotion that comes in, and I’m certainly not following my heart. Because clearly- CLEARLY- my heart is all over the flippin place, and no one knows where it’s gonna land any given day. But I’ve got truth that will not budge. I’ve got a God who will never change. And I’ve got his guidance that beats the pants off of any overstock.com employee-turned-therapist.
I’d be completely remiss if I didn’t ask for prayers over the coming days. In the next 10 days, we will be saying goodbye to Lucy… we’ll be crating most of our remaining belongings…. we’ll be saying goodbye to the bulk of everything else… and we’ll be moving out of the house we love so much here in Wake Forest. It’s a lot. A lot a lot. So, we’d love prayers for our peace. For comfort. For TRUTH to trump fear and lies in our hearts and minds. For sleep. For our kids’ hearts in the midst of all of these goodbyes and transitions. And for all these dang logistics to play out as smoothly and easily as anything like this can play out. We appreciate it more than you know.
It all started with a boy. Sorta.
“Dad. You wanna know why I love (name omitted to protect the innocent i.e. her BROTHER’S BEST FRIEND) so much? Do you know why I looove him and why I want to MARRY him? BECAUSE HE LOVES DUKE. AND he loves Jesus. That’s why.”
First, the girl is brilliant. Best way to get under her big brother’s skin? Make a quick and borderline-aggressive beeline for his best friend.
Second, Matt’s response:
“Uh, well. That’s great, Mary Grace. I mean- Duke AND Jesus. Good call. But I have a question- you talked about him loving Jesus, but are you a follower of Jesus?”
This snowballed into the best kind of late-night parental conversation. The gospel. A decision. Prayer. Next steps.
And tears. So many tears. Even more than discussing future spousal prospects with our eight year old, the tears are what caught us by surprise.
“It’s just that- deciding to give up control of your life to someone else feels kind of scary,” she said. Like, you really, really, really have to trust someone a whole lot if you’re going to give him TOTAL control over your WHOLE LIFE.”
Oh sweet girl, truer words have never been spoken. This following Jesus gig isn’t a sure-fire guarantee for health, wealth, and prosperity. You’ve seen enough and experienced enough in your short eight years of life to appreciate this. But here’s the thing- when we cry out- when YOU cried out a few months ago- “God, my life is yours,” we’re not following with some blind, naive trust. This is not some spiritual-sounding exercise in holding our breath, crossing our fingers, and hoping for the best.
No, we surrender to a God who has promised us his forever presence. A God who fights for us. Advocates for us. Provides, protects, loves, and guides. There is no need to sit around anxiously hoping and wishing for the best when we have the presence of the almighty God who already gave us the ultimate: His Son.
So yes, Mary Grace. Your teary reflections were spot on. This life of following Jesus takes A LOT of trust. And if you’re anything like me, there will be days when this trust of yours wavers and your faith feels shaky. You might have doubts, and you’ll surely have questions. But I can promise you one thing: even when this happens- even when you’re at your unsteadiest- God’s love for you is unchanging. He will never leave you. He will never turn his back on you. And his plans for you are good. Maybe not always easy. Maybe not always comfortable. Certainly not always predictable. But always, always good.
Wellll. It has BEEN A MINUTE since I last made it over to this blog. But here’s the deal, y’all. We have had a thing or two going on up in here. And it appears as though it’s going to stay that way for a while. So, I thought I’d grab ahold of a few blessed kid-free moments today to give some mass updates for those of you who might be interested in our journey overseas. And, let’s be real, to Future Me who will surely scroll back to read this years down the road and think, “Oh, sweet 35 year old Catherine. You didn’t even know what was a’coming.”
So. Here’s what’s been going down:
The kids wrapped up their school years and their time in American schools for the foreseeable future. (And yes, my friends. Elizabeth commemorated the occasion by donning a gold sequin dress. I mean. Whatever.) They’ll be attending an international school in Lilongwe (with uniforms that are completely void of any semblance of sequins or shine… RIP Gold Sequin Dress), but since we’re in complete and total limbo ’till then… school’s out for the LONGEST SUMMER EVERRR!!
Kind of. I’ve been playing teacher this summer on a very itsy bitsy tiny scale in a desperate Type A effort to keep them up to speed with school stuff, and… I cannot even believe I’m about to utter these words, but… our very itsy bitsy tiny dip into the homeschooling world has been enjoyable. I know. I don’t even know what’s happening to me.
Because we Allisons like to go big or go home, I also happened to schedule my last day of work on the same day as their last day of school. I managed to hold myself together until the bitter end. And then, the tears started rolling. Because this. For those of you who might not know the culture of our church, we are constantly- incessantly- reminded that we are “sent.” Every service concludes with these words. Nearly every gathering. And as I walked out of my no-longer-workplace on that last day and saw these words, Y’ALL. I was about to re-employ myself right then and there.
In all seriousness, while the tears have fallen plenty in recent months and the INSANE logistics can sometimes be, well, INSANE… God’s been so kind.
Like how ’bout the fact that we sold our house. (BEFORE EVEN PUTTING IT ON THE MARKET. HOLLAAA NO SHOWINGS WITH THREE KIDS. I WILL TYPE THIS IN CAPS FOR THIS REST OF MY DAYS.) Yes. We sold our house to a family we know. Another staff family from church. A family who will love this house as much as we have. WITHOUT HAVING TO KEEP MY HOME SPOTLESS AND SHINING FOR DAYS ON END WHILE IT WAS ON THE MARKET. God’s kindness.
Or how ’bout the fact that, after so, so many tears and hours of fretting, we found a family for Lucy. And, once again, this family happens to also be on staff at church and are sweet, sweet friends of ours. She’s truly the weirdest, best dog in the history of dogs, and if I had to give her up to anyone, I’m so glad it’s them. God’s kindness.
While we haven’t been selling our house and re-homing our dog, we’ve been selling a ridiculous amount of randomness, and my kids have made BANK off of their old toys. I’ve dropped hints that surely I should get a cut of their profits for the amount of time I’ve spent on the Facebook Marketplace selling their junk. But, alas, all I get are rapidly emptying toy boxes and bookshelves. I’ll take it. Because we can take some of their toys to Malawi, sure. But that random janky Barbie doll that should’ve been tossed before we bought it? Nah. Peace, Barbs
Truly, though. These kids of ours- as imperfect as they might be- have been absolute ROCKSTARS during this process. One year ago, they were all “no way, no how, not going” about this whole deal. Last night, we sat around the dinner table while the kids- completely unprompted- rattled off reasons they’re excited about moving. WHAT. Again, God’s kindness.
So, yes. We’ve sold a boatload of everything and have another boatload to unload in the coming weeks. But we’ve also spent surely trillions of dollars on All The Things for Malawi. Three years of shoes and clothes for three kids. Embarrassing volumes of taco seasoning and ranch seasoning packets. Deodorant to last for, basically, ever. New bikes all around to be crated to Africa. Like I said. Trillions of dollars. In the midst of all of this, our cars broke. Both of them in one week. One was fixed. One was fixed(ish) and (just) needs a new transmission. Awesome.
But, once again- jacked transmission and everything- it’s still totally drivable. We can get where we need to go. And, if we can’t- heeeey new bikes! God’s kindness.
I’ve told so many friends recently that if I had to describe this season in two words, it would be “God’s kindness.” Also perhaps “sheer crazy” or “I’m tired” or “send help.” But mostly? God’s kind. Over and over and over again. We feel seen and known and cared for and loved by the One who is sending us. And we continue to stand with mouths agape at his provision for and kindness toward our family.
So, seven weeks left in RDU. Three months in RVA. (Half of which will be spent living with my ‘rents. #prayforchrisandsusan) And then, Malawi or Bust.
This is happening. Not sure if Malawi is ready for this crazy crew. But it’s happening.
Today, it was the dog. You see, bulldogs don’t thrive in heat. And, last time I checked, sub-Saharan Africa is hot. We can’t take our Lucy- our beloved dog who brings us heaps of laughter and joy and who is really quite possibly the best dog in the world- with us when we move.
They talk about “counting the cost,” but sometimes it’s just too hard.
I’ve had a number of those “too hard” days lately. Those lump-in-the-throat, what-are-we-even-doing days. Those “okay, Matt, look in my eyes and remind me that Jesus is worth it” days. “Okay, now tell me again. And again.”
I suppose that’s just how it goes when you start to unravel everything you’ve built, done, collected, and possessed. When you look down upon the unraveled threads that lay bare on the ground and you know many, many more are to come.
The other day, it was a conversation at work. “Catherine. You know, you really need to start telling your patients that you’re moving.” “But I don’t want to,” I countered. “I love those people. It’s too hard.”
I made it through two patients, maybe three.
And our stuff. We’re beginning to sell our way-too-many possessions. Right now, it’s the easy stuff. Books, toys, unused home decor. But the harder is coming. Like our house. This home we purchased with every intention to finally, at long last, plant ourselves for good. To stay and to raise our family, to see our kids morph into teenagers in these very rooms.
Who knew our lives were so tightly wound up? Who knew we were so enmeshed to this earth right here? Who knew there was so much tying us down and knitting us tight to a kingdom that simply does not last? I’m now convinced that there’s no way to know until you start unraveling the threads and seeing with you own eyes. Your own heart.
It’s really easy to talk a big talk about this life being finite and how living for eternity is better, but if I’m being real honest…. these beginning days of letting go have been a challenge. And no need to remind me that it’s only going to get harder from here. I’m acutely aware.
But for today, it’s the dog. And my friendships and family and this dang, stupid house that I love more than I should.
Unraveling is hard.
But as I’ve been reminded- and will need to be reminded of many times over- Jesus is better.
You, my girl. YOU. Seven years ago today, you came tumbling into the world, born to your beautiful Congo mama. Honestly, I have not an inkling what I was doing seven years ago as you were welcomed into her loving arms, but I can assure you- I had no idea what was to come. What March 4th would come to represent to me. How much more my heart would learn to love. I had no clue that a brown eyed, brown skinned little Congolese girl would one day come into our lives, absolutely wrecking our entire family for the better.
Elizabeth, it’s been a big year for you. You wrapped up kindergarten and confidently launched into first grade. You danced in your first recital (and absolutely slayed). You conquered your fears and learned to swim. You became quite the little reader. And you continued to make friends every single place you went.
But as friends go, nothing competes with the relationship you have with your sister. I truly have never witnessed anything like the friendship you two have. It’s beyond precious. I liken it to a twin relationship. When the two of you are together, you are inseparable; when one of you is missing, the other half feels utterly lost. I could just weep thinking about it.
You really are a people magnet, Elizabeth. You have the kindest, most compassionate and loving heart. You care deeply for the oppressed and are often the very first to notice if someone is hurting. Your big heart for others sometimes translates to even bigger feelings and emotions, but don’t you change a thing, baby girl. I’d choose a soft heart and occasional tears ANY DAY over indifference. God’s going to use your tender heart and compassion to do mighty things. He already is.
You love to dance. We’re talking ALL THE DAY LONG. You’re completely obsessed with Full House and can be found swooning over Uncle Jesse. Your favorite food is steak. Your favorite series of books is Judy Moody. You have a love affair with sequins- the more the better. And your favorite color is turquoise. Specifically, Tiffany blue. I cannot even.
Speaking of which. About six months ago, you kindly informed us that you had started to save your money for a car. A convertible. Specifically, a turquoise convertible. And even MORE specifically, a Beverly Hills Limited Edition Tiffany blue Bentley convertible.
You have $99 in your save jar so far. Which, for a seven year old, is a small fortune.
Keep dreaming big, sweet girl. Watching you bloom and grow is one of the greatest joys of my life, and I cannot believe that I have the privilege of hearing you call me “mom.” May your heart stay tender and your prayers remain bold. And may you always remember that your great, big, unconventional, stitched-together-by-adoption family that spans from the DRC to the USA loves you more than you could ever know. Ever. Ever. Ever.
Happy seventh birthday, my little Elizabethy.
Here’s what I believe about God: he’s vast and holy and unchanging. Omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Unbounded by time or space. Always has been, always will be. Beyond our full comprehension. And yet. I believe we can still know him. I believe we can know him AND his will.
It’s crazy, actually.
However, we, as Christians, love to talk circles around “finding God’s will” for our lives. It’s just what we do. Like it’s this mystical, magical, unreachable thing. But I’m here to suggest- after oodles of experience playing this same game- that it’s not all that tricky after all. I mean, I THOUGHT it was. I spun my wheels for years praying and talking to wise counsel and reading deep books and, oh hello, blogging my feelings… all to decipher what the Lord wanted from me. From us.
And all these things are well and good. Yet, when I began to sense that God might actually be serious about this missions thing- when I started to realize that he might be calling US- my prayers became a bit more desperate.
“No, no, God. I need you to, like, tell me. WITH WORDS. Spelled in the sky or shouted into my ear. Or maybe you could even pull a Moses and talk to me from a burning bush. I’d be down with that as long as you make this very, abundantly, overwhelmingly obvious. Mkay, thanks.”
Meanwhile, God was probably all “Hey, girl… heeeey! Ever heard of the Bible? The thing you call ‘the Word of the Lord’? Oh yeah! Check it- my plans and my will for your life is RIGHT IN THERE.”
Right. Some of us are slow learners.
Because I knew the words. I memorized the Great Commission as a kid. I knew that Scripture straight up tells us to “take up our cross” and follow Jesus. I just, I don’t know, forgot these verses were for me. I failed to consider that maybe these pages of the Bible actually spelled out God’s will for me, clear as day.
But God’s patient. He’s also relentless.
So, he flew us around the globe- country after country- to show us the work he is doing. To break our hearts wide open for the vast and broad physical needs, yes- for poverty, famine, fleeing refugees, and limited access to healthcare. But even more, he overwhelmed us with the lack of gospel access around the world.
It is for this reason that I will always, always, be an advocate for short-term missions trips. Done correctly, they can make an enormous impact of people’s lives. However, it just so happens that the people impacted are typically the participants themselves.
Like us. I digress.
SO. We had the Bible telling us to “go into all the world”. We had short-term trips giving us a deep, deep love for distant lands and cross-cultural ministry. And then, God decided to pull out all stops over the past two years when he legit bombarded our family with people knee-deep, doing this work. I am not even kidding you. Missionaries AND THEIR KIDS invaded our lives. At school and at church and at work. Even at home. Because OF COURSE we would unknowingly hire a nanny who grew up overseas as a missionary kid.
Let me just tell you. It’s really dang hard to ignore God’s call to the nations when he’s surrounding you with people whose stories from those very nations now felt intensely personal. Whose kids would give context to life overseas for our three wary children. Who could look into our eyes and give unfiltered “been there, done that” truth.
It was time to reevaluate how we were viewing this whole “God’s will” business.
Long story short, that’s precisely what we’ve been doing throughout the course of the past year.
We took inventory of our gifts and passions.
We considered our deep love of Africa.
We thought about our desire and willingness to move overseas.
We enlisted our closest friends to pray over this decision and invited them to push back if they saw any red flags at all.
We, ourselves, prayed. A lot. A lot a lot.
And we held all of this up to what God himself has said all throughout the pages of Scripture.
And boom. The answer quickly became glaringly- almost annoyingly- obvious. With that, we committed last summer to start the application process. We told God, “Hey, we see what you’re doing here. And we’ll start taking steps of obedience in this direction. If you keep opening doors for us to head overseas, we’ll keep walking right through them. But you just stay near. Because, dear God, this feels crazy.”
We kept waiting for doors to slam shut. Which never happened. So, we held up our end of the bargain and kept right on stepping.
And as we take those tiny one-foot-in-front-of-the-other steps of obedience, I’m learning that maybe God’s will is a lot less about what big things we’re going to do for him and a lot more about what God’s going to do in us.
Onward. One step at a time.
I grew up going to camp every single summer, from third grade through twelfth. Situated right on Lake Gaston in rural, small town North Carolina, Camp Willow Run wasn’t exactly abounding with frills and fancy. It was relatively small and humble but had- and still has- a fiercely devoted following.
Every year, I would roll up into camp, well aware of what was to come. I knew that, a short hour after arriving on camp property, I’d have to jump into the murky lake for a swim test. I knew the high ropes course forward and backward. I knew that, toward the end of the week, we’d be served cookie mush for dessert, an unfortunately-titled fan favorite. And I knew that, on the last night of camp, there would absolutely be tears.
Because, at Christian summer camp, things tend to culminate with THE INVITATION. For those of you not fluent in church talk, an “invitation” refers to a time in which people are invited to make a decision to follow Jesus. I tend to roll my eyes at Christianese, but it is what it is and basically goes down like this:
- Here’s the gospel and
- So whatcha going to do about it now?
I knew the gospel. And I knew my response. I had decided that Jesus was worth following when I was very young. And yet, that last night always found me making other giant- sometimes emotionally charged- promises to God.
“Lord, this is it. I’m going to start reading my Bible more. Every single day. Genesis to Revelation. PINKY PROMISE.”
“Alright God, I’m going to kiss dating goodbye. And I guess kissing too. Wait. Do you really want me to kiss KISSING goodbye? Uh Lord, hello??”
You get the drift. Big declarations and big proclamations after a big week at camp. It’s how it goes. And it’s awesome. But there was this one year when this guy named J.D. Greear was the camp speaker. After a week of preaching hard, he gave an invitation for those who had decided to follow Jesus. A bunch of people walked forward. We all clapped and cheered and did all the things one does when someone makes the biggest decision they’ll ever make.
But then J.D. kept going. “And now, I’m going to offer a second invitation,” he said. “I don’t do this often, but I know that God places the missionary call on the lives of some. So, if you feel called to missions- if you feel like God might be asking you to leave your home and family and country to move overseas- come on up front.”
Even more than kissing dating goodbye, I knew this was right. I knew this was for me. Yet while a handful of people rose to their feet, I stayed put. Paralyzed in fear. And I immediately regretted it.
Fear has a way of doing this to you. Fear of breaking from the pack. Of being seen as different. As weird. As “holier than thou.”
Fear of man. Fear of unknowns. Fear of taking that first step of obedience. This has been my story, over and over and over again.
And it only intensified from there. Because time would pass, and trips around the world would continue to affirm what I had already known as a teenager. But it’s one thing to talk about a romanticized version of being a missionary when you’re a starry-eyed twenty year college student. However, place a living, breathing, newborn babe in that same person’s arms a few years later, and junk gets real. Fast. The game changes dramatically.
That fear of being viewed as different, weird, or unpopular that crippled me as a teenager was morphing into something a bit different. And still, the symptoms were the same. Namely, I found myself once again overlooking truth to dwell, instead, on hypotheticals. On the what ifs.
What if my kids get sick?
What if they turn out awkward and poorly adjusted?
What if their education overseas is subpar?
What if our marriage suffers?
What if we have no friends?
What if we give up everything all to discover that it was all one big mistake after all?
You see, these questions- these hypotheticals- they have a way of drawing you in and leaving you floundering in the murky waters of unbelief and doubt.
Good thing God is greater than the hypotheticals my finicky brain can come up with. Good thing he never leaves us floundering too long.
In the fall of 2016, I was asked to join a medical missions team that was heading to West Africa. My first response was a hard and fast “no.” I was about to start a brand new job. The country where they were headed was in a state of unrest. And it just didn’t make sense to go. Not here, not now.
Fear. Yet that hard “no” somehow shifted into an “okay, fine.” And off I went.
And that trip, man. It’s almost like God actually knows what he’s doing or something.
Yes, that trip to West Africa was phenomenal, but in full disclosure, I actually DID very little that week. I mean, I saw some patients. I had a few good conversations with some nationals. I prayed. A lot. But I am fully confident that God flew me halfway across the world that week to teach me a thing or two about fear.
I’m convinced that he flew me to Africa so that I could meet my now-dear-friend, Sheri.
My friend who was raising a family in a country of unrest and instability and who could say with an unwavering confidence, “Jesus is worth it.”
My friend who would patiently listen to my fears and misgivings and would set my eyes on truth.
My friend who, just hours before we’d hop on a plane to head back home, said, “Catherine, safety is a complete illusion. Don’t live your life trusting in an illusion.”
The following day, we landed in Miami, Florida to a terminal teeming with police and bomb sniffing dogs. Because, just prior to our landing, a gunman had let loose in a neighboring airport.
Several days later, sirens followed an armed robbery that occurred just seconds from our home. Our home in safe, secure, suburban North Carolina.
That was it. I was over it. Done trusting in the illusion. I was tired of being the captain of my ship and the author of my own self-absorbed narrative. I was calling it quits on coordinating the perfect life for my perfect kids who would obviously, as a result, turn out perfectly.
A safe, comfortable life was no match to an infinite, holy God. And that very God was going to some pretty great lengths to get my attention. At long last, he had it.