Thursday, November 5, 2015

Surrendering Control

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So much of my life has been spent learning to choose my will over my emotions. To choose to believe the truth of God’s Word, choose to act despite what I feel. And for me, this is very hard. But I know it’s right. It’s counter-intuitive to surrender, to free fall in God’s grace when you have no control. Since we moved from Texas to France this year, this has especially been true. And this past summer in particular.

Moving, language school, family, paperwork, daily life- everything was exhausting. When we arrived for a week of outreach in southern France I was already completely empty. I had nothing to give. Every day was a struggle to choose to act with grace, kindness, humility, flexibility, and energy I didn’t have. When I desperately wanted to run away and be alone, I couldn’t. Instead, I had to be painfully present with 100 other people, lead worship, serve.

But I felt God’s grace, given just enough for that day, no more. I felt so raw and sensitive, but instead of freaking out, yelling, crying, hiding, I stayed. I served. I read books to my youngest, I washed dishes, handed out literature on the streets, talked with people, prayed. I did everything I could.

I was pulled in so many different directions. And then the kids started getting sick, one by one. Caring for them on a mattress on the floor of a church, without any privacy was less than ideal. I thought I would break open completely. But as I’ve often found, when I’m completely empty, God somehow still uses me. With me out of the way, he gets 100% of the glory. I’m happy to be part of that equation.

I didn’t know that I’d be leading worship, had no chance to practice with people who showed up last minute. Sometimes not even knowing if I was supposed to lead until just before I had to do it. In French. Sometimes I couldn’t make copies, had the wrong translations, the microphones went missing, and we just had to wing it.

It sounds trite. But I love to plan and be prepared, especially when I’m in charge of something. I feel like it’s good stewardship. I take it seriously. And then there was the language barrier. So frustrating, embarrassing, painful even. I was so limited.

But God was so faithful. He used my tiny widow’s mite, he blessed and broke my humble loaves and fishes and used it to feed the hungry people. People were blessed and worshipped. I was able to really connect with people, listen to them, pray for them. Praise God.

After the outreach, we decided to stay on a few extra days to spend some time with my sister’s family. The plan was to rent an apartment, spend time at the beach, cook meals together, play games, catch up after spending two years apart.

But the place we rented didn’t end up working out. Some friends rearranged things for us last minute, and we ended up staying at an even better apartment owned by a local church. It was beautiful, spacious, with a veranda upstairs, a little yard, ivy and flowers covering the walls, even air conditioning downstairs! I felt so incredibly blessed at this unexpected gift, like God was rewarding me for making it through the previous week.

Just as we’d hoped, we hung out at the beach most of the day, made dinners together, let the kids watch movies on our laptops, played games, and after the kids were asleep the adults talked for hours on the veranda. It was wonderful.

Until the day we came back to the apartment and discovered that we had been robbed. They took our laptops, cell phones, expensive cameras. They threw our things everywhere. We were trying to figure out what had been taken, trying to talk to the neighbors (in broken French). It was chaos.

My eight-year-old was crying so hard, clinging to me, afraid the robbers were around the corner and would come back. So I knelt down, looked into his eyes and tried to tell him the truth. It’s ok. It’s ok. We’re all safe and together. It’s just stuff. We’re ok. I’m here with you. Then I repeated the process with my inconsolable daughter. And then with my oldest son. It’s going to be ok. We’re safe. They’re just things. Everything was completely out of my control, but God gave me peace in that moment, and helped me be calm for everyone else.

The boys all slept closer to us that night. We’ve been robbed before. It makes you feel sick to see that strangers, bad guys as my youngest calls them, touched your things and took your favorite items. So violated to know that they were watching you, waiting for you to leave. So unsafe to know that they broke through strong wooden doors to get inside. Angry to know that they took your children’s things and to realize that they will carelessly wipe away all the information. All the beautiful photos of the family, all the stories you collected, all the memories gone.

I couldn’t sleep that night. As usual for me, when the crisis is actually over, then I finally feel it. I woke up feeling so heavy and sad. I thought this place was a gift from God for working so hard, for my struggling through the outreach the previous week. But now I couldn’t wait to leave.

Despite calling the police several times that day and the next, they never came. Ted finally went to the police station and tried to file a report, no easy feat in another language. The rest of us just stayed at the apartment and waited, trying to distract the kids and not worry. We were able to go to the beach one more time, trying to leave on a more positive note. But I couldn’t wait to get home after two weeks of solid struggle.

Looking back, I realize that I was in an intense training period of trust. I was surrounded by situations I had no control over. But God was faithful. He gave me grace and strength for each day. And I can choose to praise him and love him and find joy in spite of the mess. We are safe. It’s just stuff. We are together. God is good.

My prayer then is the same I pray now- that God would help me see with his eyes, give me his perspective. I never stop needing him like I did those two weeks in southern France. Just because I’m not surrounded by chaos right now doesn’t mean that I depend on Jesus any less. I pray for humble courage to walk in God’s truth, despite how I feel. When it feels like life is out of control, he whispers, You are safe. You’re not alone. I’ve got this. I don’t know what I’ll face tomorrow, but I know my God is with me, holding my hand, walking beside me through it all.

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