Counting the Cost

Since I’m working to rip the veil completely, it’s time to share the things that have made the past 2 months so difficult. I know I will still have days where I still struggle with one or more of these thoughts, but I’m so grateful to be aware of them and know how to combat the rough days.

As the days crawled by, and I struggled to figure out the source of my inner turmoil, I realized that a large part of the weight I was carrying was guilt. As I watched from afar as my friends struggled with life’s twists and turns, I felt like I had abandoned them during their time of need. While the fact that some of their difficulties started at the same time as my departure, I am aware that there is not a cause and effect relationship, yet I was still feeling guilty as though I had somehow brought about their circumstances.

In addition to feeling I had caused hardships for others at worst, or not been present for them at best, I have also been aware that I have missed big moments in the lives of friends and family. A good friend got married in August, and I wasn’t there. Friends and family have moved, gotten engaged, and had any number of other life events that I have shared with them only through Facebook, and that is just in the 7 months I’ve been gone. As I think about the indefinite months ahead, what else might I miss?

Another thing I missed was being there for my dad and his side of the family when his mother died in May. My grandma had been sick for a very long time, and she no longer knew any of us. I saw her in February and said goodbye, knowing it was likely the last time I would see her on this side of heaven. If I’m completely honest, I haven’t consciously grieved her death, because I feel like she is probably so much happier now. I will miss getting to see her when I visit Florida, but I wouldn’t wish her back here.

I know that her loss feels much heavier for those who saw her often though, and once again I wasn’t there for those I love. Last weekend as I spoke with my mom’s parents, I caught myself wondering how much longer we will have them. I pray they both have years left ahead of them, but there is no guarantee for them or any of us. I realized that while I got to say goodbye to Grandma D, I have no promise that I will hug any of the rest of my family again.

I’m sorry if this post has gotten a bit morbid, but this thought progression brought me to an important realization… I never counted the cost for moving to Ireland. I was so excited about the move, and so full of hope for what was waiting for me on this side of the ocean, that I never really allowed myself to think fully about what it would cost.

I knew I would miss people – that’s a given with any long distance move, whether across a state, country, or ocean. I even knew that life would continue on both side of the ocean, and that the lives in the States would move forward without me. What I didn’t count on was how difficult it would be to celebrate or share sorrows with people via Facebook, and what celebrating or grieving from the outside looking in would cost.

This is where knowing the real reason God brought me here would be helpful. In looking at things I feel I’m missing out on, or feeling like I have abandoned friends, it would be encouraging to have a reason. Something deep in me wants to justify my continuing time here.

I’m cooking for people, and that’s great, but could be done by many people. I’m trying to work on a book, but that could be done somewhere cheaper. As someone who lives on the generosity of others who believe in my ministry, I feel like I should be able to point to a specific ministry I’m doing here that justifies the increased costs of living in Ireland.

All of these things together have brought me to a place of near desperation to understand what it is that God called me here for. If I could just point to something concrete, have an item for show-and-tell, so to speak, would that make it easier to count the cost?

So, for the past few days, I have been asking God what it looks like to count the cost. Today, I feel like I received an answer, but I think it is one that will take some time to unpack and fully accept and walk out.

For one thing, the verse that talks about counting the cost falls within a context that is pretty tough to swallow. Luke 14:26-30 says:
“If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother, and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying ‘This man began to build and was able to finish.’”

It seems rather counter to the character of the God I know to insist on hatred, but even if I understand that to mean being far more committed to following God than loving my family and friends, that’s a tall order. Can I count that cost and be willing to miss out on all the life that is happening without me?

This is not the first time I’ve spent an extended time away from the States, and I think one of my worst fears is leaving here like I left Central Asia. I knew God had called me to go back to the States, but after nearly 2 years I came home with zero concrete evidence that a single life had changed because of my presence there. In a church culture where ministry is so often defined by measurable results, it is easy to feel like the past thirteen years of my life have been wasted.

God tells me that is far from the truth, but will I trust His word? As I listened to God’s answer to what “counting the cost” looks like in my life, I realized that like so many of the questions I ask Him, the answer looks like trust.

“It looks like surrender. It looks like leaving your family, your friends, the “big moments”, your future, your reputation, your finances and everything else in my hands. For your family and friends it means continuing to trust me no matter when or if you see them again before heaven, no matter what big moments you miss out on. And it looks like entrusting me with all of that whether you ever see the whys or the results here. If in another year or more I ask you to move elsewhere, and as with Central Asia you have no concrete anything for show and tell to justify your time in Ireland, will you still trust me? If in 50 years I take you to heaven with no visible legacy to show for the time you spend on earth, having missed weddings and funerals, births and deaths along the way, will you still trust me when I say ‘well done, good and faithful servant’? Is my word enough for you to trust no matter what you see in your life? The honest ‘yes’ answer to those questions is what it looks like to count the cost and follow me.”

As I wrote those words in my journal it hit me that the same loving God Who will one day greet me with those words of approval is already speaking his love, approval and appreciation over me. If I look forward to hearing that sentence and know that I will have no doubt about their veracity once I am in His presence, why do I doubt when I hear His voice speaking a similar message today?

In my frantic search for something solid to justify my presence in Ireland, I have missed out on the only truly important thing. God brought me here, and He is proud of me. I don’t understand it, but thankfully, I don’t have to. I simply have to continue being obedient to the things I know, live up to the title of “good and faithful servant” while I’m here, and let Him worry about the reasons and results.

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Behind the Veil

Hello again!

I’m sure you’ve been sitting around waiting anxiously for my next post… I’m sorry it’s been so long.

I took an unintentional break from writing during the last couple of months because writing = dealing with things I’d rather ignore. There have been several of those things in recent weeks, and as a result, I found myself in a rather dark place.

When I first began to notice the clouds gathering back in August, I thought I had hit the normal 6 month wall of culture stress, homesickness or one of those things so common to people who have moved to a new country. It was a month early, but I figured that just meant that it would be over sooner.

WRONG!

As the weeks went by I continued to burst into tears over TV shows, isolate myself, sleep late, avoid leaving my house, lose myself in television, neglect writing, and feel guilty for and/or confused by all of the above. I avoided God. I stopped talking to people, because I didn’t want to lie and say I was fine, but didn’t know what else to say. Any other response to the everyday question of how I’m doing opened the door to questions I didn’t want to answer and couldn’t answer even if I did want to do so.

Thank the Lord He finally helped me get to the bottom of much of what was going on. It took several weeks, a few transparent conversations with friends, a television show (yes, He can even speak through “How I Met Your Mother”), and time spent journaling and writing with Him.

I won’t go into all of the issues that led me to that dark place, but I did learn a couple of things I want to share. I hope perhaps they will speak to someone else too.

I think I mentioned before that I am working on a book, and the theme of this book is finding identity and purpose through intimacy with God. Guess what has been a major battleground in my heart and mind during the last two months… my own sense of identity and purpose. As I reached my sixth month of living here in Ireland, I felt desperate to understand the purpose God brought me here for. I have no doubt that I am in the place I’m supposed to be for the foreseeable future, but I still don’t know why. There is a lot more to that particular battle, and maybe I’ll share that in a later post.

For now, suffice it to say that I have been second guessing everything I know about my own identity and purpose in the Body of Christ. I have allowed the wrong voices to whisper into my mind and heart. I fell into the very same trap that allowed sin to enter the world in the first place; I listened to voice asking “did God really say…?” Millennia have passed, and we still fall for the oldest trick in the book.

In the midst of my questioning, my book project was dead in the water. I wondered how I could possibly write a book to help others answer questions to which I now doubted my own answers. Could I have authority to help anyone if I wasn’t writing from a place of victory, from the finish line of that particular race?

As I asked God that question, I felt Him speak to me. The following is an excerpt from what I heard:
“The fact that you still go through this process makes you the perfect person to walk with others down the path. People don’t need someone to follow from a distance they feel is impossible to close. I became human to walk with people on their journeys, to live victory among them. To lead others on a path you are walking yourself is incarnational – not hypocritical. You have so much to give because of days like today! Be real, be vulnerable, and let others see that messiness does not ruin the message or disqualify them from being my messenger – if anything it allows me to speak more loudly through them as they depend on and surrender to me.”

Obviously I’m not Jesus, and I don’t always walk in victory as He did, but this picture really helped me to realize that every one of us can help those who may be a step behind us in the journey at the moment. Perhaps those we help will one day help us too. None of us has it all together but we can still help each other along the way if we are willing to be vulnerable.

That brings me to the other thing I’ve been pondering over the last couple of weeks: the tearing of the veil in the Temple. For centuries God was housed in the Holy of Holies. Only a select few were allowed direct access until that dark day when Jesus died.

I’ve heard some people preach about the significance of that event as it providing the ability for us to access God’s presence directly. That is incredible, and I’m so thankful for that, but I think there’s more to it. God is expansive, and perhaps more important than the fact that we can enter His presence is the fact that He is free to expand and move outside that space He occupied for so long.

As God moved among His people and the Holy Spirit was given to us, we became the dwelling place of God. If our body is the temple as the Bible says, then I would say our “heart” is the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies if you will.

This is where these two ideas come together. I won’t speak for anyone else, but I know during rough times like these last two months, I tend to shut people out. I pull the curtain or the “veil” closed on my heart, and the inner sanctuary is closed off from the masses once again.

If it is true that I may be the only representation of Jesus that some people will ever meet, I cannot afford to close off my heart at the first sign of imperfection/uncleanliness, whether my own or someone else’s. When I fail to be vulnerable and let others see behind the veil, I may be hiding the presence and work of God from someone who needs to see it.

I have been hiding behind the veil for the last several weeks. I have been afraid to be vulnerable and allow anyone to see what’s really going on; afraid it would make me look weak, incapable, unworthy of support, unable to do whatever it is I’m here to do, etc. Today I choose to rip the veil and allow God to work in and through me.

Welcome to my journey once again. I rarely know where I’m going, but I’m glad that you’re walking with me. I apologize for shutting you out during the last couple of months. Here’s to torn veils.