“So, like… what’s next?”
That’s the question of the moment it seems. And, honestly, it’s been the nagging question in our heads for the bulk of this year.
Because, as I discussed in my previous post, the decision about Malawi has been clear for a while now. It was time to step to the side. What about the rest of it? The dream of missions? Our love of Africa? Our relationship with our sending organization?
I’ve spent a lot of time this year reflecting on faithfulness. God’s faithfulness to us. And our faithfulness to him in response. It’s been my focus, my refrain, my prayer, and the lens through which I have wrestled with this whole “what’s next?” question. As we’ve hashed out our thoughts, convictions, dreams, and plans over the past months around kitchen tables and zoom calls, I have continued to come right back to this:
“What does faithfulness look like right now, right here, in this very moment? In this brutally difficult decision?”
One day in particular stands out. It was right in the thick of the intense season of wrestling and fasting and praying and hard-question-asking when a friend of mine showed up at my gate. Unannounced. As she often does. BECAUSE MALAWI, Y’ALL. As we were hanging out in my living room talking about, I don’t know, whatever one talks about on a slow Tuesday morning in Malawi, we landed here. Again. Faithfulness. How to know when to stay and when to go. You know, just some ordinary low-key Tuesday morning small talk. And then, as any good twenty-something would do, she pointed me to the fount of all wisdom: Twitter. She pulled up a tweet and read it aloud, and in that moment, I heard the exact truth I needed to hear. A truth that has continued to roll around in my heart and mind since then.
“Stubbornness is not faithfulness.”
That’s it. It was from author Hannah Anderson who went on to say even more and did so in such an articulate, compassionate way, but these were the exact four words that my heart needed to hear precisely when I needed to hear them.
Because I have been through some stuff over the years. I have seen some things and experienced some hard and, yeah I know, who hasn’t? But whether it’s my life experiences or my personality or whatever, I’m admittedly quite good at rallying and getting ‘er done. I’m a pro at putting my head down and quietly powering through hard. And I am very, very skilled at stubbornness.
I say all of this because- I’m going to shoot straight with y’all, okay? We have loved Malawi and our people here. Like, a deep, abiding, home-like kind of love, the intensity of which has surprised even us. And still, the past three years haven’t been exactly easy. There have been some very potent struggles. Woundings, even. Eyes opened to elements of organizational culture that caused us to pause and question and wrestle.
We wrestled so hard.
Because the inconvenient truth was that, for every mismatched value or ideology we have bumped up against, there have a dozen more praises we could sing. There have been difficult conversations and tears, AND ALSO we have been the recipients of so much kindness and love.
Quite honestly, we really could have stayed. We could have chosen to “stubborn” our way through it all, my strong will determinedly propelling me through choppy waters once again. That would have been the easy choice. Yet I felt God gently nudging me, whispering to me that he had something better. Reorienting my gaze once again to him.
Reminding me that his desire for us is faithfulness to him and not to a location or an organization.
Reminding me that faithfulness is not necessarily synonymous with longevity or endurance.
In that season, God was so gracious to me as he reminded me day after day that he didn’t place me on this earth simply to rally and stubbornly power through life and ministry. He didn’t knit me together with my varied giftings and passions simply to check off boxes and acquiesce to expectations and do the next thing the world expects of me. No, God placed me right here in this place at this time to follow him.
And what I have been learning is that, sometimes, he calls us to follow him to the very bowels of difficult systems and painful contexts, and he calls us to stay. And as we stay, his presence remains with us. He guides. And he comforts. And he bandages up every one of our wounds. And that’s faithfulness.
But then, sometimes, he calls us to follow him out of difficult systems and painful contexts. And, as we go, he goes with us. And he guides. And he comforts. And he bandages up every one of our wounds.
And that is faithfulness too.
Listen, I desperately wanted to be a model for option #1- a stay-er with the grit and willpower to keep on keeping on. Because, dude, I could have done that. I would’ve crushed it.
But also? It would’ve crushed me.
So, we made the harder choice. We made the choice to step away from Africa, from our organization, from “the mission field” for now. Because stubbornness is not faithfulness, and God is calling us to be faithful to him.
Stubbornness would’ve kept us overseas.
Faithfulness is leading us back to the States.
Stubbornness would have made me feel strong, as I pushed through hard and took it on the chin.
Faithfulness makes me feel weak and vulnerable as I lay down my desires and allow him to pick me back up and carry me into this next season.
This next season.
Yes, in God’s graciousness and weirdly full-circle ways, he’s leading us back to where it all began. Richmond, Virginia.
So, Richmond, we’re coming at you next month. Maybe a little battered and bruised. Mourning our departure from Malawi big time. Completely wide-eyed at the kindness and intentionality of our God who is working all of this out in his most unexpected ways. And so very excited and expectant for what God has for us in the River City.