Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wednesday's Words: Week 2

If you didn't read last week's post, I explained that I would write a weekly short about coming home from the mission field. An insider's view on what their missionary friends are going through as they return. Go read it right quick. Then pick up here.....

This week, I wanted to mention the "What now?" factor. 
Often times, when returning home from the mission field, it's because we've finished a season of some sort. We are coming back to rest and to seek out our next step. It may be tempting as a friend to be asking about our plans, what may be coming next. What have we looked into? Applied for? Where are we headed? What's going on in our lives? There's not something inherently wrong with this. At some point, it's good to ask this. We need to know you care. The struggle comes when we've just returned home and are trying to catch up with everybody. We have several people a day to see, and often, every single person immediately begins asking these questions. This is hard for several reasons:

1. We may have returned home because a project was finished or a lack of funding. This means we were probably pulled out of a place we loved deeply and felt at home in. We may be mourning that loss and needing some time to learn to love being back again. Being asked what's next can be a bit like rubbing salt into that wound. Our hearts are tenderly missing those we just left and we may not be *quite* ready to picture a new place and new faces. 

2. Even though this is never the intention, when friends automatically begin asking about your plans as they see you, it can sometimes feel as if it's not exciting just to have us home. When returning, we need to know we were missed and that we are desired right where we are at this moment. Just for being us, not for what we can do. When we know what the next step is, believe me. We'll tell you! We'll be so excited, we'll be shouting it from the rooftops. (Well, tweets and status updates.)

Ways to be a good friend with the "What now" factor:

1. Understand that we may not have wanted to come home at exactly this time and that we may be a bit sad about it. Ask what activities we can do together to ease this. Ask us about people we worked with. Let us tell you stories. They're usually quite interesting and fun!

2. Simply celebrate that we are home right now. 
 Focus on the current moment with us and make the most out of the time we are here. Have some fun. Celebrate. Plan nights out, roadtrips, and adventures!

Stay tuned for more next week.....

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday's Words: Week One

It looks as if I shall be returning home in roughly 7-10 weeks. For how long I do not know.
As I've been thinking about this, the first thing that comes to my mind is a strange kind of unsettledness-almost a fear-of trying to re-enter the world I once lived in after being gone for a year. And after the kind of living I've been doing. I may not have been out of the country during this time, but the things I've done and the way I've lived very much reflect that kind of experience. (I work for a missions organization, I live on raised support, I spend every day at the mercy of bus and train schedules, I live in a low-income area, my housing is an old church building, and I spend my extra time in a former brothel learning how to fight trafficking.) 

I have so many friends all over the globe who've done this for years. Missions. Ministry. Moving. Coming and going. I've barely begun and I can't imagine what it's like doing this long-term. 
So I had an idea. 
I'm going to write a post each week about these issues. Short installments. The whole point is for those of you at home to get an extra "insider's view" into this whole world. To truly have a view of what your friends and loved ones who do the missions thing may be going through as they return home. And to be able to support and love them well. 

With that, I will dive right in.

Issue #1: Identity/Reverse Culture Shock. When a friend has been working in missions for any period of time, regardless of whether it's stateside or global-they have gone through a deep time of change. As they depart from the season they've been head-first in, they are not the person that left you. Inevitably, they will be very different. And they will have some culture and re-entry shock coming back to you. Just like they did when they departed for this journey, they are quite literally exiting one world and entering another one completely. It is a hard mix of mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual challenges to return home after working in these environments. Things that used to be normal are suddenly a luxury. Your friend is not trying to be snobby or "better" than they used to be, but the way of recent life has just caused a shift in the way they are used to doing things now. The habits, pace, and focus of those around them at home-even if they are the same as when your friend left-may suddenly be a very different culture than what they've been doing. And may be hard to adjust back to. This is often referred to as "reverse culture shock" by missionaries. Being removed from the place they were staying may begin a delayed process of realizing how different, hard, or amazing certain parts of life "in the field" were. A process that will need to be walked through. 

The best way to be a good friend and to love on them is to:
 1. Understand that they won't be the same person and embrace it. Notice the beauty in the changes! Learn from the changes. Glean from the things experienced.
 2. Be graceful and gentle rather than demanding. Don't push for instant or large amounts of time with them because they happen to be home. They will probably want to process things a lot at first. Sometimes that means a lot of alone time. Sometimes that looks like spending time on the phone or visiting with other people in similar fields. This doesn't mean they've suddenly made new friends and want to be with or speak to them more than you. It means they need to walk through a hard transition with someone who's physically done it. And don't be surprised if they seem less excited about doing things you may have once gone crazy over doing together. It may take time for their emotions and mind to adjust to the environment they have suddenly found themself thrown back into. They are going to need time to figure out how their new identity fits into their old life. They'll need time alone to process what's going on inside as they transition. Ask them questions. Try to understand what things were like for them. There were probably things about living situations, the job, and being separated from home that have left a mark on them. That hurt. Get to know this. Pray for them and with them as they work through what they've been through. Find out where they are experiencing "dryness" as a result and be an advocate for them filling those areas again. Also, notice the new things they may have discovered and grown to love. There may be a new item or habit that they are now into or interested in that may be foreign to you. Learn about. Take the opportunity to learn something new and beautiful. 

Stay tuned for more weeks of thoughts! 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Check Engine Lights

It's 4:00am. I can't sleep because my world's been simply exploding.
Let me just talk about one of the revolutionary things that happened this weekend.

I attended a conference with some of the people from Elijah Rising-the anti-trafficking ministry I'm interning with. I didn't want to go. I didn't even wake up that morning planning to go. I was just pouting to myself because Miss Beth was doing a conference in Lubbick, TX and I wanted to be there and only there. But, the ladies talked me into attending. I went the first night thinking that it would be sort of weird and that I would just go for the one evening. Little did I know it would bring me total freedom.

Among the many things that happened, one big thing stuck out to me. I guess I've heard it many times before. But for some reason, it totally sunk in this time. The speaker was talking about a check engine light in a car. And how a person deals with it in one of two ways. They either see it and stop to figure it out, or they ignore it and pretend it isn't there as long as everything seems to run okay. Most likely because they don't understand it all and they're afraid to diagnose and asses things. They don't want to face the problem. Of course, that's the route I take. In fact, for a year before I left for Houston, my little red 1999 Nissan has had a check engine light on. And there were no good explanations upon examination. It ran fine. So I ignored it. I did nothing. I didn't want to face whatever the problem was. The thing is, the check engine light is a warning signal. It goes off to tell us that something deep down in the flow of the car isn't healthy. And while you can plow forward with the light on and keep going, you'll hurt things in the long run. You see where this is headed, right?

You know that we have some form of a check engine light in our lives or our spirit. And when it lights up, how often do we stop to examine it's cause? Or do we keep plowing forward because we're afraid to face it? I had a big blaring light on in me for several years. Something was never settling. Something was always screaming inside me that I should halt the brakes and pop the hood for a good deep inspection. But I didn't listen. I felt the pressure of making ends meet and taking care of myself financially, figuring out a path and plan because that's normal, and trying to be put together and involved in ministry enough to make God proud. I was utterly exhausted and worn out. I honestly thought that I wasn't allowed to slow down. That slowing down and saying "I need to take a while to breathe and be lost and deeply question what's wrong" is not okay. To me, that meant weakness. Or being a waste of space and time when God needs me to minister to others. Anybody else relating? This problem is why Jesus plopped me in the middle of Houston, Texas before I knew what hit me.

If I would've considered the ramifications of giving up my income (even though it was practically nothing) and car to come live on support in an old church building and tromp all over town alone on hours of bus rides, I would've run the other way. This is NOT what someone pictures for herself, and at my age. But as the year has progressed, I've had my heart opened to the depth of my works-based mentality and wrongly painted pictures of what ministry and serving Jesus look like. It turns out the check engine light is on for a reason. And this weekend the diagnostics team went to work. I realized I have been operating completely on a system of always having a plan or a back-up that I'm considering at every moment in the back of my head. There's hardly a night that passes where I don't lay my head on the pillow and immediately think "I could always go back to _____" or "if things don't work out I will just go _____ and do ______". And I am not pleased with myself at the end of the day unless I've poured myself out hard in ministry.

Elijah Rising's DNA is justice prayer. Surprisingly their success in fighting trafficking isn't usually tied to physically going in and acting at brothels. No. Their heart is to minister to the heart of Jesus Christ-who alone can right all wrongs. This is a wildly new angle of ministry that I have honestly never experienced. To spend the majority of my time and energy ministering to the heart of Jesus? Praying? Praising? Exalting? Worshiping? Loving? Seeking? Learning about? Sitting with?
Being present with Jesus and focussing on Him as my ministry?
"Yes. But how is this doing anybody any good?"
First, Jesus is worthy of ALL honor and praise all the time.
We could never even grasp the extent of that truth.
Second, through prayer and petition we may just move the heart of God and angels. No. I don't totally understand how this works. But it's talked about a lot in scripture. We are called the Children of God and Brides of Christ for starters. That's literal and means we are handed the sword and power of the courts of God Himself. This is something that should be blowing our minds and changing the way we walk and operate in everything. Why we choose living in defeat all the time instead is baffling to me.
Thirdthe more time we spend on Jesus, the more filled with His heart, mind, and power we become. And then when we interact with others, we are able to much more clearly and effectively serve and minister to them. In so many ways the American Church has got this all backwards. We are taught the urgency of being signed up for enough "ministries" at church to fully be pulling our weight. I used to spend all my time at events. Now I don't even go to church often at all but I spend all my time with Jesus. The more I study and worship Him, the more in awe of Him I become. And out of that, I sense when my bus driver, clerk at Kroger, and coworkers are stressed out or sad and I can stop and offer them the hope I am overwhelmed with. That is justice work. Bringing all things into redemption and reconciliation with their creator. Not beating down doors. But being present and willing to usher people into the Throne Room of Jesus. Facilitating an encounter with Him that will leave them forever changed. THAT is what I want to be about and only about for the rest of my life.