Rambling Reflections from a Jet-Lagged Writer
(Written yesterday. Posted today.)
It’s almost 5am. I’ve been up since 2am. I did my hair and my makeup. I took a shower and am all packed up. The bus across the mountains doesn’t leave for another five hours but I am ready with my jacket and shoes on and my purse across my shoulder. By the time I finish this, I will be on the bus.
I’ve been gone for nine days. I can’t wait to get home and see my family.
I know it’s been a bit since my last blog post, so I am also eager to share a few things. Forgive me if this post feels like incoherent rambling. I know I’m sleep-deprived having just returned from Amsterdam yesterday afternoon. I know dairy makes my brain foggy and admittedly, I’ve had an excessive amount this past week (European chocolate and cheese -yum!). And I know my mind is rusty this morning.
So if you’re looking for good writing, please read something else. But if you want to hear a raw version of the things God has been pointing out to me, continue on, my friend.
This may take awhile. I’m not a concise rambler (as my father has jokingly pointed out my entire life).
This past week, I went to Europe with my Mom to visit my exchange daughter and her family in The Netherlands.
In some ways, I feel like this trip was a pivotal part of my life journey.
I gave my heart to Jesus when I was a little girl. But when I got a little older, I realized I didn’t have to be a Christian and I started questioning my faith. Then at the ages of thirteen/fourteen, three things happened that cemented my choice to follow Christ: 1) I met a Pastor who loved like Jesus. 2) I saw young people my age worshipping God with total freedom. 3) I personally experienced the power of the Holy Spirit.
I decided to follow Jesus. I made a decision. No turning back.
But I’ll be honest, even with my commitment to Christ, I spent many years focused more on my dreams and self than I did in surrender to my Savior.
A few years ago, I started examining my life. I was listening to pastors like Francis Chan and Matt Chandler and reading more of my Bible and wondering if life is so short, and God is so great, and all of life is truly about loving Him and loving others, then why wasn’t I actually living that way?
I wanted to be ALL IN.
I read a book called, Crazy Love, and it wrecked me. I asked God to break my heart for what breaks His and to give me a heart for the lost. Brian and I started praying about intentionally giving more of our life in surrender to Jesus Christ. How could we do that? Maybe we could move overseas and be missionaries? Brian said no. Maybe we could downsize and save money for missions? We couldn’t find the right house plus our monthly rental costs were already fantastic. Maybe we could adopt? We didn’t have the finances saved up. Maybe we could foster? We weren’t sure if we’d be in our town permanently and we didn’t want to provide an unstable environment for kids desperate for stability.
So what was God stirring in our hearts? I wasn’t sure. Brian wasn’t sure. We just knew we wanted to give Him everything.
I went away for a women’s conference one weekend in May, 2016. On the way to the conference, my friends and I stopped at a Starbucks. As I was picking up a napkin, I looked up and saw a sign that said, “Host an Exchange Student.”
I wondered, “was that sign for me?"
I prayed that weekend for God to use me. I felt like He answered me in various circumstances and opportunities that happened over the course of a couple days. When the weekend was over, there was no doubt in my mind that God would direct our paths and use us for His glory.
Not long after I returned from my weekend away, I saw a Facebook post about hosting an exchange student for a year. “Meet Lieke from The Netherlands…”
Lots of prayer. Lots of conversation. Lots of questions.
But three months later, we met Lieke.
Lieke is beautiful, introspective, observant, thoughtful and kind. We were excited to host her in our home but didn’t know what to expect. To be honest, we were anxious but we wanted to be obedient to something we felt God had put on our hearts to do.
Our desire was to love God by intentionally loving Lieke. I appreciate what Simon Sinek tells people about motivation- to start by asking the “why.” Our “why” for hosting Lieke was because we wanted to give Jesus Christ everything by the way we lived and loved. (Matthew 5:14, 28:18-20). We explained our motivation to skeptical friends and family and our four young children joined us in welcoming a a new “sister”.
And loving Lieke changed our lives. She shared about her culture, her life, her hopes and fears. We lived life together for a school year. And in so many ways, she became our daughter.
Loving Lieke has opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed.
And I am grateful because the end of her exchange year wasn’t the end of our relationship.
Every Saturday since she’s been gone, Lieke and I try to connect over FaceTime. We call each other when something exciting happens in our lives. She surprised us by visiting the first Christmas after she left. She visited again last summer. And this year, as a Christmas gift to her and a birthday present to me, my mom and I went out to visit her and her family overseas this past week.
I honestly don’t think it would be possible to find kinder people than Lieke and her family. Lieke and her mom were there to greet us at the airport. Lieke’s mom, Anita thoughtfully bought me special almond milk and gluten-free bread and biscuits. She took time off work to take my mom and I to Harlem, Amsterdam, and Zeeland. Her boyfriend, Marsel, did my laundry and dishes. Anita’s parents, Jose and Joop, shared so much hospitality and good food, I thought my stomach might explode. Lieke’s siblings shared their rooms, their time, and their love. Other family members welcomed us with joy and warmth.
I was overwhelmed with their generosity and kindness.
Filled with. So. Much. Gratitude.
And then this past Sunday, a few of us went to a church that meets in an old prison in Breda. Lieke was kind enough not to laugh at me for wanting to go. I think she loves me for who I am, even if I am a crazy Christian (my words not hers). When she asked what I wanted to do when we came to visit, I told her I wanted spend time with her family and go to church. I looked up one on Google and asked Lieke to translate their website info to me. The Netherlands is one of the most secular countries in the world today. By many accounts, most churches seem full of white hairs and rituals. But I had to believe there were passionate young believers in The Netherlands.
And this church we attended on Sunday?
It was alive!
There was freedom.
Freedom in a former prison.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1a)
I couldn’t help but feel emotional. And it’s hard to explain why but I will do my best.
A couple days before, Lieke, my mom and I had toured Paris, France for my birthday- perhaps the most romantic city in the entire world. I know for me, at least, I’ve spent many years idealizing it. And it was truly beautiful. But I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be a lack of joy. People acted at best, indifferent to others. On the metro, people were busy with their phones or books. Shop owners seemed impatient and at times even, frustrated. On the street, pedestrians walked hurriedly through the streets, moving quickly past one another.
One shopkeeper was from the southern part of France and commented that people are sometimes rude in Paris. We started a conversation, which led to another shopper chiming in. It turned out she’s a French psychologist. I mentioned something about there seeming to be a lack of joy and she said, “It’s contagious.” We talked about the perceived difference in parts of America and she commented, “You still have faith.”
At the end of the day in Paris, we took the metro to “Shakespeare and Company,” one of the most famous bookstores in the entire world. The dark cozy walls are lined with books and the curved corridors are long and turn into room after room full of literary treasures. Upstairs, there sits an old typewriter in a small alcove, and as I sat down in front of it, I could imagine being so inspired as to write a masterpiece from that perch. I wondered how many other writers sat in that same chair and felt a surge of the same inspiration.
After some time, I found a clerk and asked her if they had anything by C.S. Lewis or a religion or spirituality section. She showed me to a small bookshelf and explained it wasn’t just religion. The one low, lonely shelf of “Abrahamic religions” seemed especially hidden, tiny, and irrelevant. I spotted a title that caught my eye, “Surprised by Joy.” And then I noticed the author, C.S. Lewis. It’s a book about his conversion from atheism to Christianity.
Surprised by Joy.
Is that the mark of a true believer? A person characterized by surrender and overwhelming joy? A joy that is rooted in something far beyond our circumstances? A peace deeper than what we can see with our eyes?
It was ironic to me that the very thing that seemed missing in Paris was the very thing that perhaps C.S. Lewis surprisingly found in Jesus.
I was trying not to cry at the church in Breda a couple days later. I tried not to cry when people greeted us warmly with smiles and cups of coffee. I tried not to cry when a beautiful South African woman handed us headsets and offered to translate the entire sermon into English so we could participate. I tried not to cry when a kind young man named Jonathan introduced himself and his friend, Steven to my Dutch daughter. I tried not to cry when one of the pastors came up and asked Lieke if she’d like to give them her information so they could connect with her. I tried not cry at the message of love, and freedom, and joy and salvation in Christ alone.
I tried not to cry as they sang familiar Hillsong lyrics, “Who am I that the highest King would welcome me? I was lost but He brought me in. Oh His love for me… Who the son sets free oh is free indeed. I’m a child of God, yes I am… In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me. I’m a child of God, yes I am. I am chosen. Not forsaken…. You are for me. Not against me. I am who you say I am.”
The church was full of overwhelming joy.
I realized this week that God is doing beautiful things in this world. My love for people runs a bit deeper. I come away from this trip with an even greater resolve that Jesus Christ is more than enough. He offers joy unmoved by the world and its circumstances. Hope that even in our brokenness God loves us and has a purpose for our lives. Faith that this world and all its sorrows is not all there is. Peace in the surrender. And Love that’s greater than our fears.
Following Jesus is about following Him. It’s about an abundant life that comes from Him not our own efforts.
Do we believe it?
Are we living it?
Jesus said the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.
Will we be people of profound hope in this world?
Will we be ambassadors for a God who so loved the world He gave His only Son?
We don’t know God’s plans. But I do know that in loving and serving, and asking Him to use us and saying yes to His leading, we will never be out of work or adventure.
I am reminded that we are not responsible for the outcome. We have no idea what lives we will impact, what audience we will reach, the glory is not ours… But if we surrender to His joy and His kingdom, perhaps we will find ourselves on a journey far beyond our wildest expectations or dreams. Perhaps we’ll end up with family from across the world. Or on a dizzying bus ride, excited about coming home but contemplating going again. Asking how we can best serve and reach the people God has imprinted on our hearts. And for some of us, the going may look like a lot of prayer, opening our hearts to others and then putting pen to paper…