Life among the pagodas
It is a struggle for me, knowing how to communicate some of the challenges of life here to all of you reading from afar. In some ways, this is one of my biggest burdens in living overseas. If I didn’t feel so strongly that I need to be writing and sharing some of that writing in order to adjust to this new life, I’d probably stop altogether for the turmoil I experience in getting responses from home.
The three to four month point in overseas life is a textbook classic time to begin experiencing/recognizing some disabling emotions and circumstances. I have met some of my limits in this phase, and I have realized that even the limits I need have unpleasant side effects and need to be tempered. “White woman” is an insult some local women use on each other here. Food is a challenging adjustment, and shopping is often exhausting. For all the kind people who are patient and encouraging despite my ineptitude, it only takes a little bit of public mocking to feel that I’ve gotten nowhere in my efforts toward communication. There is a spectrum of people standing behind us, and there can be a wide variety of responses to a piece of news, ranging from some who are eager to remind me, “I told you this was a bad idea,” to those who have lived overseas and say, “yep, I know. It gets better.”
“Keep them safe,” is the oft-chanted prayer on behalf of the missionaries. But what about growth—do we yearn to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of suffering with him, or is our faith limiting us to pleas and entreaties that nobody get swept too far from a peaceful shore? If safety is our constant desire, what does that say about our convictions regarding God’s calling on our lives, and his sovereignty in the midst of untoward circumstances? Most of all, what does it say about our desire to know fellowship with God?
People panic on my behalf if they hear a rumor of a bad day, or a hardship they think I could avoid. I don’t share the opinion that pain is to be avoided at any cost (though I will concede that there is always room for foolish error as long as I walk this orb). I treasure Samuel Rutherford’s words, for they echo my own convictions and peace in the face of dark days:
“Why should I start at the plough of my Lord, that maketh deep furrows on my soul? I know he is no ideal husbandman; he purposeth a crop.”
Or, if you disagree with Rutherford, here’s a more authoritative text for you:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
I believe God’s sovereign care for me extends all the way past the borders of Myanmar. I believe without a doubt he called me to live in this place, one day at a time, until he takes me elsewhere. I have no doubt in my mind that he gave us our (yet unborn) child for exactly this time, not only to test and strengthen our own faith in Him, but also the faith of others; I believe this child is God’s promise of hope, to us and to others. I have every confidence that the small and deepening “furrows” on my soul are his loving discipline, and not warning signs to run. I know that my love and trust in God has run deeper into my soul and grown more sinewy, yet tender with every passing month in this land. (If this is not reason for you who worry to shed that ugly mantle and rejoice with me for every dark day I’ve encountered on this road toward Light, then what is?)
Tim Keller, in one of his many excellent sermons, said this: “Jesus didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t suffer, but so that when we suffer, we would be like him.” To the worriers, I exhort you: find a better use for your creative energy. (Worry is not a love language, as some might like to claim.)
Instead, rejoice with me! For I am beginning to savor this strange secret of contentment by which all else becomes rubbish. It is incredible, and runs so much deeper than simply turning tears to laughter; it is a comforting song in the night and an infusion of gentle courage for the days when morning comes too soon. (It probably smells like death to some people. But I wish that you might taste it too.) Please, do not be so unfriendly as to wish my circumstances otherwise. I delight in this portion God has given me. This is life I live here is not loss, as most of North America might think, but it is gain—hundredfold gain.
I can think of no more truthful status statement for my soul than this:
“Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16: 5, 6)