I told God He wasn’t allowed to bring me back to the States until I was ready to live here… changed.
I am a different person than the one who boarded that first airplane to Nicaragua almost seven years ago. Back then, I knew about pain and suffering in the world, but it was so far outside of my little bubble that I was usually able to ignore it. My husband and I worked hard to create the best life possible for our family. I distracted myself from life’s darker side with social events, church activities, and friendships. We were busy and generally happy, but yet deep inside I knew something was missing.
When we took that initial trip to Nicaragua, we came face to face with the famous Managua dump where thousands of people lived amidst the trash, quite literally. I vividly recall my conflicted feelings as we drove away from that horror. Fifty percent of me wanted to move there and somehow try to improve life for those people. The other half wanted to roll over and wake up from the horrible nightmare, to pretend I’d never seen, smelled, or heard everything that defined poverty in the third world.
I still live with this strange sort of tension between who I was before and who I want to be. I know this world is not my home, which means that tension is to be expected. Yet we are sent into various parts of the world to live on mission for Christ… and right now that location is the southeast United States.
Oh Father, I don’t feel ready!
All around me is a fast-paced, DIY, anything-goes kind of culture that now feels foreign. I hear all kinds of “important” conversations, while I can’t stop thinking about the millions dying for lack of clean drinking water or the single moms working ten-hour-days just to make what I just spent on three smoothies and some fries after school.
(Well-meaning) people keep telling me, “don’t worry… you’ll get used to it,” but I don’t want to get used to it! I don’t want to become so comfortable here that I stop longing for His world or that I ever forget how much I need God every hour.
I look back on my former life, and I don’t want to return to the person who placed more value on material things than personal relationships. Oh, Wendy, I’m sure you weren’t that bad… Want a bet? [That’s just a lie our culture tells us so we don’t feel convicted to change!] One of my closest friends moved thousands of miles away a half dozen years ago. Her daughter was also my daughter’s close friend. We promised we’d visit and stay in touch, saying, “It’s only a quick plane ride.”
In the months and years that followed, my daughter begged me to take her to visit. Yet I continually told her, “it’s too expensive,” or “we don’t have time.” All the while, I updated my house, my backyard, and my wardrobe. In the first year alone, I’m sure I spent enough on non-essentials at Target to equal several round-trip tickets—for both of us—to see our friends. And my time? Well, add up all the hours with social media or TV and it would easily equal a few long weekends away.
What was I thinking?!
It grieves me how I prioritized entertainment and stuff over relationships and people! But it is so easy to do that in a culture where everyone does the exact same thing. I became as adult, jumped on the proverbial hamster wheel, and spent so much time and money trying to chase whatever it is we all think we want… never really getting anywhere.
Then, I stepped outside of that culture for a few years. Ironically, I found perspective on life back home while living abroad. For some reason (probably because I’m so stubborn) God had to take me outside of my passport country in order to teach me some significant life lessons about how to live inside it.
Serving others—especially “the least of these”—in the name of Jesus made me wonder what I ever found appealing about that dumb hamster wheel. It gives life purpose far beyond anything entertainment and stuff could ever offer.
So now, as I stand at the start of a new season of life, back inside my passport country, I am setting a few guidelines for myself, to try and stay focused on who I want to be here.
- I want the people in my life to always know they are worth more than my schedule or the next item on my to-do list.
- I want to fellowship with others who recognize the value of our relationships, so much so that we sacrifice our own comfort to meet the needs of others in our neighborhoods, schools, communities, and churches.
- I want to prioritize visits with far-away friends over getting a newer car, and place life-changing ministries for orphans and the poor before updating my kitchen counters or bathroom floors.
- I want to invest more in a group of young soccer players than social media or entertainment, and cherish time with my kids (even while sitting in traffic on the way to school or practice and even when we aren’t exactly *getting along*) over more hours spent climbing the professional ladder.
- I want to use wisely the gifts I’ve been given, regardless of whether others are impressed.
- I want to have friends who hold me accountable, and encourage them to do the same.
- I want to serve joyfully, without placing any sort of conditions on when, where, or how I will serve as God leads.
- I want to offer the endless grace to those within my passport country that I extended to those outside of it.
- And when I fail (because I will definitely fail), I want to humbly ask forgiveness… so that when others fail me, I would also love mercifully.
I’ll be honest: I’m petrified about whether I can make this last. (I was petrified to even make this post live!) So many of us know what it’s like to go on a short-term mission trip and come back different… only to see that difference fade quickly when the culture once again becomes louder than the Voice of Truth.
But. I. don’t. want. to. assimilate. I want to forever live out the change Christ has made in me and to model it for my children.
And so I ask: are you in? Can we band together to be the change we want to see in our nation?