Andy and I will soon be 45 and 44 years old, and have been married 19+ years. In the early days of our marriage, we dreamed of many things for our lives – serving God together by owning a coffee shop, serving God together as college campus ministers, serving God together on a church staff, and also serving God together as international missionaries.
We have now done all of these things – minus the coffee shop dream, (though we still love coffee and coffee shops so maybe there is a future in that one yet?)
“Serving God together” has been the steady common denominator. On our wedding day we asked Andy’s brother and his wife to sing the song “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” – this was, and still is, our heart beat!
Here we are now in Sherbrooke, Quebec (Canada). Two months already! We have experienced lots of French language study, meeting new people, navigating a new city, finding a church, grocery store, and establishing daily patterns.
And though we feel confident that God has led us, and that this is another dream-come-true, one that aligns with our heart beat – IT HAS BEEN SO VERY HARD. This surprised me a bit, I have to admit.
God has captured my heart, so I gladly accept the idea of sacrifice and serving others and living overseas and giving my life away. Because it’s God’s heart! And I love to do what God loves for me to do. This (somewhat) brave heart of mine has leaped forward and embraced this calling to live in Niger, and all of the sacrifices that come along with it.
Which seems to cause problems for the rest of me – my body, mind and emotions. (Thank you very much, oh heart of mine!)
You see, we set out for this year in Canada and even dubbed it “the year of sacrifice” for our family. (I know, rather audacious…but we were trying to prepare ourselves!) The five of us understood this to mean we were entering into a designated time of trial – language acquisition by immersion, leaving all things familiar and beloved, and only dipping into the culture here for one year before a more settled life could happen in Niger. This was our “planned sacrifice”, so to speak.
Now that we are here, it is comical to think we could prepare for all that “sacrifice” even means! Andy said to me the other day, after we had dealt with an unexpected difficulty, “You know Nik, we don’t even know what it means to sacrifice.” Ouch. I mean, I feel like I have given up A LOT to walk this road. Comfort, safety, family & friends being nearby, financial control, to name just a few things. I know how to sacrifice! Right?
But I don’t. Not really. I read recently from Oswald Chambers that in our human nature “we want to choose the place of our own sacrifice.” Like a Christianity buffet – “I’ll take this difficulty and that trial, and a little bit of suffering, but I don’t like the way this painful experience looks, so I’ll just pass for now”. We like to control our lives.
In some ways it is beautifully innocent! We follow our hearts and the convictions we have, but then we naturally feel “upset” and “surprised” when God allows unexpected sacrifices to mingle in with our choices. But how could we have known? There is no way to fully anticipate everything, and I don’t believe God wants us to think that far ahead anyway. This is the human experience. This is how trust is built.
So, here we are. And the “rest of me” – my body, mind and emotions – are playing catch-up to this brave heart of mine! “Wait for me, oh brave heart!” There are challenges we have faced already that we didn’t expect. The biggest one has been walking with our kids through really, really hard stuff because of moving and living in a foreign culture. I view being a missionary as a great honor, yet they are old enough to know what they left behind, and the cost of following Jesus as foreign missionaries affects them uniquely and personally. Understanding this through their tear-filled eyes, and asking them to keep going, has been a personal sacrifice I didn’t see coming.
There is good news in all of this! [I promise I didn’t chronicle this aspect of my journey to receive pity] On the contrary, I know I am learning priceless pearls of truth. More accurately, the Truth I have known in God’s Word is becoming more real to me through our experience. I’m clinging to my Savior with more conviction than ever before, and I feel His sweet Presence and friendship daily. He answers me when I call, and His peace truly is my inheritance.
Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!