Five and a half years ago our wheels touched down in Montana's largest city. We had spent three years in full-time missions work in our "home" town and then traveling around the country to serve in various communities, large and small. It had been exciting, eye-opening and breath-taking. But now, God had called us out of full-time ministry and into a city we did not choose.
City is probably a fluid concept here. I grew up in the Chicago area so the concept of "city" to me is a sprawling metropolis loaded with opportunity as well as the stark results of missed opportunity. However, after 25 years in the west, most of it in a rural section of northwest Montana, moving on-purpose to the largest and arguably roughest "city" in Montana wasn't as easy as one might think. Compounded further by constant hurt and occasional betrayals from the day we touched down.
It lacked the safety of lower crime and drug use.
It lacked the so-close-you-can-touch-them mountains opting instead for the distant ones which disappear on a severely overcast day.
It lacked the beautifully clear glacier-fed waters.
It lacked fresh air.
It lacked the plethora of personable puristic people I had become use to, it tucked them in corners and opted to draw out the gray-area crowd
It didn't lack snakes, my biggest fear.
All of this probably sounds snide and even a bit presumptuous. Please forgive me. That is NOT my intent. I do have a better point!
The thing is, I had been comfortable and, honestly, spoiled in our old 'home town'. In our travels, we arrived in different locations to do work... the Lord's work... the state of the cities didn't affect me because I was there to serve them inside of that context.
After arriving here and changing the context of our living, it took a solid year of deep-heart prayer and literal crying out to God before my attitude about our little big town began to change... my eye-site for what surrounded me changed. And just as I thought I had squashed the beast of selfish desire to be anywhere but here, little beast babies were sneaking in the back door!
Then, an eye-opening opportunity arrived from God. Perhaps a last-ditch effort to get me out of my mind and into His heart. In a blase` mood I sat through a church sermon on Hebrews 11:8-22 and by the end, I squirmed in one of those deep-soul discomforts which couldn't be ignored. The next morning, I penned the following:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised,
but having seen them and greeted them from afar,
and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.
For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared for them a city.
Point 1: Faith obeys the promise. It isn't just sit and receive... it is actively responding.
Point 2: Faith lives out the promise without looking back or having all the details!
... as I thought on my complaining about where I live and missing the beauty of where I was before we went into the field... I was reminded how wrong my protesting is.
I may not see, right now, why God wants us here, in this city. I may seem to loose almost as much as I gain here. BUT
#1 - It isn't about what we loose here. I need to regularly acknowledge that I am an exile and stranger here -- someone with that status expects nothing of the place they are in!#2 - If I am focused on desiring a better country in heaven vs. a better one here...than I will be looking to live more righteously here which ultimately equals NO complaining or lamenting, rather, contentment with God's plan!
It is interesting to me that verse 15 says God would have given them opportunity to go back if they wanted... but something tells me that is not a good thing... like free will and the choice to follow and obey with ALL mind and heart or be divided in mind, lacking full obedience, and God surrenders you to your broken ways....
I do NOT want that to be me! I want God to be proud to be called my God!
Lord, please forgive me for constantly stumbling in to the same trap. Help me to keep heavenly focus, not an earthly one. Help me to trust, as Abraham did, even when I can't see or make sense of your plan, to simply remember how BIG and trustworthy You are and that is more than enough!
Since penning those reflections God has given me drive and opportunity to rectify my groaning ways. I was reminded of how, just because we are not in full-time missions work doesn't mean we stop being missional... we continue to serve our community and neighbors. We are called to be missional, I knew this, but I had somehow lost site of it for a time, perhaps as a result of various hurts we experienced over the last few years. But now, we are serving our community again, as if sojourners determined to do it all before the path carries us on. It has re-opened my heart and even helped me to grow in love and compassion for my city and the array of people here; from those all in with their faith, to those fumbling around in the gray areas of understanding and application.
Also, we may not be as close to the mountain get-aways as we were in our last 'home', but we aren't far either. I've learned to see the surrounding topography as God's handy work and have even been able to enjoy new and different adventures which I love just as much as the old ones! (minus the snakes of course!)
I've also learned how to manage the hurts of the past. To be cautious but not overly guarded. I forgave when they happened. And in the last year, I got better at moving forward in healthier ways. God can use personal set-backs and tragedies to teach us, grow us, and even further His best plans to use us for His glory.
I don't regret anymore, though I do still miss the crystal-clear waters, fresh air and soaring mountains, it is more of a wistful reminiscent than an un-Godly rolling resentment!
What literal or proverbial "land" are you longing for right now?
I pray, whatever your life challenges are today, that you are able to get a hold of God's greater plan. Even if you can't see it, may you have confidence to walk by faith and not by site as Abraham did.
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