I was in the small chapel at the Archdiocese of Denver months before my family left for missions. I had a vision of Ben and I sharing a small cot in a bare room with a concrete floor. As our baby slept in a small bed, feet away from us, we were reading. I was happy, my heart content and my spirit quiet, resting in God’s word. It was a beautiful moment and then I realized that this might not be our mission experience…it might not be so simple and picturesque. It might not be so peaceful and my spirit might not be so content leaving behind the “American” way of life. In my daydreams, I’m strong, I’m resilient, I’m simple and carefree, trusting whole-heartedly in God, but I fear my dreams don’t take into consideration the reality of life or emotions I experience. My carefreeness in “American living” came from my security in conveniences.
I could get messy and get my hands dirty because I knew a hot shower was only the turn of a knob away. When I was tired and needed a pick-me-up, Starbucks had my drink prepared in 3 minutes down the street. Well, here we are in mission life and you can turn that knob, but you might not get hot water…and that Starbucks, it’s at least 45 minutes away, no coffee shop in town. You want coffee? Add hot water; it’s instant.
So here I am in mission life feeling a relentless anxiety that I’m failing…always failing. I don’t do the dishes quick enough that the community sinks piles up with my dirtiness, my 2-year-old is not being disciplined, but rather screamed at, and time spent with my husband has been demoted to passing phrases interjected into moving parts of the day: “Babe time to wake up,” “Babe lunch is ready,” “I’m going to nurse the baby, you got the rest of this mess under control, right Babe?” Not to mention the constantly running litany of doubts and questions like a leaky faucet that I can’t shut off: “Why are you doing this?” “This language is too hard for you to learn.” “Isn’t there someone else better suited for this type of ministry?” “They are always cleaning up after your messes.”
So it’s no wonder that the heavy cloud of gloom weighed me down when I tried to get up in the morning. But I breathe and press on…often times skipping that prayer time because the first lie in my head is, “you need sleep. That will make it better.” But even sleep leaves me rattled, anxious, and ironically more tired. I muse on my bed that someone knows how to live this mission better…if only I could call someone to give me the details of how to live this life…a daily schedule for the “dummy.” What are the steps? What every move should I make to be better? Where’s the self-help section with “Missions for Dummies?” [funny story, I think that’s actually the bible ;)]
And yet I can’t shake the feeling that Jesus knows how I am to live this mission and unfortunately for the type A personality in me, his way is for me to grope for my own personalized, unrepeatable path.
I know there’s something more to this mission life, but I can’t seem to find it… and if I did I feel filled to the brim with “overwhelming” that I couldn’t possibly fit anything more in. Then it hits me: in seven days I move from the decade of my 20’s to the new epoch of my 30’s. Ah yes, this is why I’ve been feeling like this. The dreadful coming of age… I’m supposed to grieve the loss of one more year. But is that, right? I’m a missionary. I know this life is not glamorous, but it’s glorious. Why am I struggling to see the glory?
I’ve cried. Too many times to count. I cried because I was home sick, because just seeing my mom’s happy face on the computer screen made tears come to my eyes. I cried because I felt the weight of a burden too heavy to lift. I cried because my Spanish stinks and I couldn’t understand someone without the humiliation of saying ‘what?’ about 50 times in one conversation. And I’m pretty sure I cried because I didn’t know why I was crying!
During one of the last cries, I pulled out my journal. So full of emotions and thoughts, none of which connected or made sense, I laid them all out before Jesus… raw, open and ruthlessly honest. “Why me? Why this place? Why with a different language? What are you doing? Did we get your call wrong?” Yes, it was a minor mission crisis.
I don’t know the ‘i’s or ‘t’s about how it happened, except to say it was a moment of divine inspiration… I had a guttural feeling that I was coming about this mission life all wrong. Instead of “What about me, what can I receive?” how about “What can I give?” With my birthday only 2 days away I wanted to open the doors to our house, set up a table with ice cream floats and free prayers (Why? Because Jesus loves you, and it’s my birthday!). I wanted to serve 30 chili dogs to our missionary friends, give 30 kisses to each one of children, and share at least 30 minutes of a bible study with a slowly growing prayer group in one of our ranchos.
The priests, Padre Paulo & Padre Antonio, that we serve under serenaded me with Spanish birthday songs, and gave me a special blessing.
And so, the morning of my 30th birthday, after over 30 minutes of personal prayer time, for community prayer we sang what I’ll call my 30th year anthem. Again, another Holy Spirit Moment as one of our mission partners, Erik, asked, “Birthday girl, any song recommendations this morning?” Guitar Chords for “I Give Myself Away” sat divinely on top of the stack. “Yes, that one,” I affirmed.
I give myself away, I give myself away so You can use me
My life is not my own, to you I belong
I give myself, I give myself to you
Because we had spent the previous day gathering supplies for our ice cream float and prayer table outside, I asked Jesus to bring people to our house. People coming to the house asking for the gamut of necessities is not uncommon, but I wanted Jesus to bring people who wanted prayer. Not 20 minutes into morning prayer the door started knocking…and the knocking didn’t stop until late into the afternoon. Oh boy did he bring people… 30 maybe! We had so many people come to the house for prayer and requests for help we didn’t even have time to set up that ice cream float and prayer table. We, the missionaries, got to pray for a women’s son and daughter-in-law that were separating, we became the ‘padrinos’ of the cokes for a Catholic wedding (an awesome Mexican tradition, they choose godparents for everything from the dress to the drinks!) – we bought well over 30 2-liters – we bought 30 items that went in dispenses for three different women, we served over 30 chili dogs, shared with our Mexican missionaries, the parish priests, and Mexican friends, all before 2 in the afternoon.
Thirty items in each “dispensa” – a basic food kit we give to the poor
Chili dogs, Papa Fletcher style!
I would just hand the ice cream out at the door with each request and prayer – after we learned that the Mexican people thought we were ruining their coke, and their ice cream, by putting both of them together in the same cup!
I saw the glorious mission life God has prepared for me. But as much as I received in grace and blessings, I received more by giving myself away, by letting myself be used, weak emotions, weak Spanish and all. And we’re still planning on doing that free prayer & ice cream table someday soon.
Jesus, I give myself to you. Make something beautiful out of me as you always do for the glory of our Father.