This was written in an email to a dear friend September 8th while I was in Washington DC (granted, with some additions and subtractions and rewrites). I thought it expressed some of my journey, especially my insides, which I typically keep carefully hidden. So this may not be as flashy as the adventure and picture entries but I feel it would be selfish to not share the struggle and the joy of this long, winding, surprising road I have stumbled around in following Jesus.
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” –2 Corinthians 3:4-6
September 8, 2011
I’m in Washington DC. So that’s weird. It’s been pouring rain for about three days straight. My window is open and it is cleansing and good. There is much to say and process but it has been a good month here.
I started out completely overwhelmed of the HUGE tasks and aggressive goals ahead of me and everything that my team is counting on me to know when I hit the ground in Uganda in October. Little more has really been made clear but little by little I have been gaining peace or at least acceptance of this feeling of not being in control–and realizing that it’s actually probably a good thing for me. Those cliché Bible verses of God’s strength made perfect in my weakness, etc. are now my lifeline. They aren’t cliché when you actually live in faith and risk something. I have made some good contacts, am using skills I didn’t think I possessed, and will just learn as much as I can. I look forward to joining my team. Living in Africa. I’ve never even been there. Bah, this is such a crazy thing. I am so glad to be out of that job. I just don’t miss it a single. bit. Why didn’t I do this sooner??
Then again, at just the right time, I think God knew exactly what He was doing. The stream of events. The circumstances. My burn out work experience and that (what I thought was) worthless MBA turning out to be what they were looking for. Each part coming together at the last second (to my GREAT anxiety!). God works. On my insides. And He gets the outside circumstantial stuff in place, too, but His concern is for my sanctification (“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.” 1Thes4:3) –the process of making me more like Jesus. Honestly I am so single-mindedly focused on the outward life-situation-stuff that I am too frustrated to realize that the work He is doing is in the frustration! Refining, redeeming, tearing out my idols, shaking my ground. How many of our prayers are just for comfort? “Oh God stop the earth-shaking– get me comfortable and independent again!!” Oh, He knows us too well!
So I disregard the intentional work on my insides until I am quiet. Thirty minutes of stillness, which is part of the IJM workday, has affected me. Why am I so slow to realize things, see people and things for what they really are, and be honest with myself? I am such an independent, practical-athiest. Like, that’s how we live mostly, right? In the practical day-to-day when we are running on our own–our own energy, wisdom, strength, ideas. Through stillness and even fasting a day last week (woah! Where did that come from?) God and I have been reaching a new level of companionship and intimacy that I thought I was too old for. I feel like people talked about being ‘passionate for God’ and ‘radical for Jesus’ when you’re a youth (or maybe it was just the 90s and WWJD?) but when you get old people expect you to be too busy or tired or consumed with job/money/family/home/finding a mate. People don’t really expect you to actually believe this stuff. And live like it’s true. The first chapter of Gary Haugen’s book Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian addresses these inconsistencies. This book rocked me. It’s one of the catalysts for me being at IJM today.
I’m at IJM today. It’s bewildering. I can’t believe it. I’m at a loss it sometimes still surprises me. I shook Gary Haugen’s hand yesterday :-O !
[To my friend]… I love your faith. I love that you are a mom wrestling with this stuff. That’s one of the things I pushed back against with the idea of getting married and having a family, though I want it. I actually take it very seriously, not as a given. I look around at the way people are doing family and kids and just didn’t want it. It looked isolated, sterile, focused on activity and achievement but how do you really truly bring up kids to love and serve Jesus? To live bigger than what our culture has made it? More than inapplicable Bible stories but teach them: “Kids, this is the rebel that we follow. He loves the outcast and sinner; so we do, too. He came to bind up the brokenhearted; so we do, too. He values people and things differently than the world; so, so do we.” Etc.
How can this faith, this crazy radical stuff, be so watered down, swallowed and disregarded in subdivisions and private schools and … ?? And yet I find myself wanting that, that security, that comfort, that control over my corner of the world without having to get dirty in the world. I felt myself losing myself in my pursuit of things, approval, people.
God said something to me at the Easter service in the midst of the confusion of upending my life in April–“Natalie. I am saving your life.” I had no idea what He meant and I still don’t really. But. I believe He is true. And trustworthy. I can occasionally see glimpses of explanation–not the thorough kind of explanation that I would love to demand from Him to remove the need for faith but– subtle clues of His faithfulness, His purpose, His work, His plan. He was saving me from things that have been made clear when I finally stopped plugging my ears to His whisper for me to stop screwing around in fear and doubt and to begin to live as if I actually believe what He says. He was saving me from my job. From my apathy. From mistaken trust in obviously bad relationships/people. From the slow but steady death in not being focused or engaged or motivated for anything… my soul was dying a bit everyday. I was made for certain things that I just didn’t feel like were fitting anywhere. That is not to say that just because in some people’s eyes I went crazy, quit my job, joined IJM and am heading to Uganda that now it all makes sense and I feel a perfect peace as I am in “the center of God’s will” and that it is obvious and grand everyday–heh, no, not at all. It is very real. As the idealism of such a decision is rubbed off, it turns out to be hard, risky, and yet full of growth, wading through daily doubt, and all that hard-but-good stuff that makes you search the depths and live more as we were made to.
I am humbled daily by how unqualified and bumbling and uncertain I am–and I’m not even to Africa yet! Imagine how much I will fail there! But. He saved me. And He continues to save me. He saved me from my idols as they are painfully ripped out of my hands, even as I dropped to my knees to try to salvage them! I thank Him. (Gal5:1) It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
“Incline your ear and come to me
hear, that your soul may live
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.” –Isaiah 55:3