What is your favorite season? What about your least favorite? I remember as a teenager and college student that I hated winter. I even disliked fall because it meant that winter was coming. Winter makes me want to curl up in a ball and wait for it to be over. My favorite season was spring. New life. Beauty. Flowers. The feeling of a cool breeze when you are sitting in the warm sun. Ahhh. At that stage of my life, I knew I wanted to be a missionary and I was willing to go anywhere but was hopeful that God wouldn’t call me to a cold country. You can imagine my thankfulness to God when he called us to tropical Thailand. Now after 15 years of living overseas in a warm and sunny country, I have a better appreciation of winter. I still hate being cold but after sweating for most of my days, I think fall is fun. Sitting by a fire and feeling cold is enjoyable at least once every 4 years.
Recently my daughter, Erica texted and said “I’m cold. It’s not even freezing but it’s cold and I’m tired of it.” Then a few days later she said, “I don’t think I can handle being cold much longer.” I responded “You’re gonna love spring.” Erica grew up in Thailand and the frigid temperatures of South Carolina are a drastic change for her. I wanted to say to her “Don’t be discouraged. Spring will come. Be content in the season God has you in right now.” As I reflected on how I would give her advice for this season, I realized that I needed to give myself the same advice. I needed to give myself advice about the spiritual season that I am in. Physical winter reminds me that we have seasons in our spiritual lives. My daughter was discouraged by winter. And I have been discouraged by what seems like spiritual winter in my life.
God is the author of seasons. The famous old hymn says “Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest…. join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.” Seasons testify to God’s omnipotence. Psalm 74:17 says that God made summer and winter. So, if it is from God, it is a good gift. Summer has a purpose and so does winter, as much as I hate to admit it. Recently I was reading “Love in Every Season” by Debra Fileta. She said this about winter “It is hard to believe that winter can be beneficial, much less have a purpose. But there is an unseen purpose to the cold, harsh months. In nature, the season of winter is extremely important to farmers across the country because it is during this season that the freezing temperatures eliminate many harmful insects and pathogens. It is also the time of year when plants go into hibernation, reserving their energy for the season to come.” Strangely, that explanation encouraged me. Winter has a purpose, physically and spiritually.
If I can be honest about my challenges in this season of life (and that is not always easy for any of us) I would say that this stage of life feels an awful lot like winter. For weeks I have been trying to figure out why I feel like I’m trudging uphill. It is challenging to figure out how to parent adult children from 9003 miles away. It is tough learning how to live with different family dynamics. Preparing for the next child to leave home is a constant pressure and background thought. Ministry in pandemic times in NE Thailand is very discouraging and slow. When I read Fileta’s description of winter, I realized that I am in a season of winter in my life. And that encouraged me so much. Why, you ask? Because, what comes after winter? Spring!
As I realize that this season of life is very much like winter, I can have peace. I remind myself that it is a time that God has ordained. It will end and there will be a new season. I want to be content in the season that God has called me to now. I want to take the time to sit, bundle up (I mean, it is winter, right?) and delight in my Savior’s presence. I want to wait on Him, not a passive waiting but an expectant waiting on Him. I want to surrender to what he is doing in my life. Life is a little slow, ministry is hard, and the vision is dim but I serve a God who is working in the waiting and who has a plan. I can trust Him. I still don’t really like winter. I don’t like being cold. But winter is ordained by God for His plan and purposes. So, I will ask God for grace to accept it from his good hands and try to find a cozy fire to sit by while I wait for spring.
My family and I have been collecting sayings about home.
Here are a few:
Where the WIFI connects automatically
Where the suitcase is
Where my dog is
Where your story begins
Where you unpack your suitcase
Where you know where the dishes go
My kids have strong opinions about which ones of those are accurate. As a person living in two different worlds, I have often thought that home is where my husband and kids are. Home has been Thailand for the last 14 years. But now that half of my kids are on the opposite side of the world from me, I am struggling with the thought of where my home is.
This past year has been a challenge for many of us. It has kept us home and isolated more than we wanted. For us in Thailand, it has slowed down our ministry. It kept us away from our daughters in the US for many months. And for me, it has made me think about where my home is. I wanted to be with my girls so badly and I couldn’t. I felt trapped in Thailand. Then God kindly allowed us to go to the US for the summer and be with them and it was such a gift. But returning to Thailand was harder for me than it has been before. I always used to think that I was returning “home.” But after leaving half of my heart in the US, I was conflicted. Maybe I even felt a little guilty saying I was going “home” while leaving my girls behind.
This thought of home is such an interesting idea to think about. We recently landed in Bangkok and Matt said “Welcome home.” I had no response. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. Think about all of the places we see or hear the word “home.” We recently watched the cartoon called “Home.” If you google songs about home, the list is endless. It seems that we, as humans, are obsessed with home. Making our home feel “homey.” Make yourself at home. And of course there are the unforgettable worlds from Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz “There’s no place like home.”
The Bible actually talks about home a lot. But one of my favorite passages about home is Psalm 84. You know when the Lord is teaching you something and you keep seeing the same passage over and over? That is Psalm 84 for me recently. The beginning of the chapter talks about how he is longing to be in God’s house. You know that feeling when you walk into a house, maybe your house from childhood, or maybe visiting a friend who has a really beautiful and cozy home or maybe your own home and you smile and sigh because it’s such a great place to be. I imagine that is what the Psalmist is saying about how beautiful God’s house is. He longs to be there. He says anyone who gets to be in God’s house is blessed. He says those people find their strength in God. Verse 6 talks about the Valley of Baca which means the Valley of Tears. How many of us have been in that valley recently? But in God’s strength, the Valley of Tears becomes a place of refreshment. How amazing is that? Verse 3 talks about how even the birds find a home in God’s house. That is a beautiful reminder.
So what does this passage remind me about home? God is home. Wherever He is, is home for me. Or maybe on a more practical level for me right now, wherever God wants me to be right now is home. I realized in the last few days, that I must choose to be at home where God wants me to be right now. Surrender, again. (Sound familiar?) Wherever he is, is home. What a comforting thought for me. I’m home.
Encouragement for moms in transition from a mom in transition
When I was 17 years old, I remember singing the words “I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.” I sang with tears in my eyes and a yearning in my heart to go. I was completely surrendered in that moment, and I wanted more than anything to serve God somewhere overseas.
When I was 28, God called my husband and me to Thailand and I had to surrender again to serve him overseas. We were living and working in an ideal ministry with people we loved all around us. Were we really supposed to leave that? I was scared and excited. The Lord made it so obvious through so many different ways that He had specific plans for us in Southeast Asia. I can remember sitting in a service one night and the preacher announced the title to his sermon “Have You Lost Your Heart for the Harvest?” That sermon was the culmination of everything that God was doing in our lives, and I knew God was calling me to surrender again to serve Him. So without hesitation, we packed up with our 3 children and headed to Thailand with great joy and expectation.
We love our life in Thailand. What an adventurous place to raise a family. I remember thinking many times “I can’t believe this is my life. I am living the dream that God gave me as a child.” I am so grateful for the life and calling God has given us.
So, fast forward several years and now I have come to a new place of surrender. Our oldest two daughters have left Thailand for university in the States, and everything in life is changing/has changed/continues to change almost daily. I was caught off guard and unprepared for how challenging this stage of life would be, and I struggle with how to adequately express the struggle without being discouraging to you the reader.
It was very hard to say goodbye to our oldest daughter knowing we wouldn’t be nearby to help her when she needed us. It was super hard when she was sent away from college because of the Covid pandemic, and Thai restrictions wouldn’t allow her to come home to Thailand. She recently told us that the only place she feels “at home” is when she’s on campus at college because it’s the only place she’s been able to unpack her suitcases in the past two years. When she went through challenging times with friends and boy relationships, it was so difficult to not be able to talk face to face, especially since we are 12 time zones apart. Fast forward 8 months.
Because of visa restrictions, in December of 2020 our second daughter had to fly across the world alone (Bangkok to Qatar to Dallas to South Carolina) to start college. I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough for that either. Less than a month after she returned to the States, both of the girls tested positive for Covid and were sent to quarantine on campus for 10 days. We were powerless to help. Powerless to comfort. Powerless to do anything but watch all this unfold on a smart phone screen from 10,000 miles across the globe. (We were able to ask family to deliver Chick-fil-A to their quarantine dorm so that’s something, right?)
I am not writing this to give 10 steps to success for other moms facing this time of life. I am not writing to say “this is how I survived” this stage of life because, honestly, I haven’t yet. But I would like to state the obvious: Living with this level of elevated tension and uncertainty is emotionally, physically and spiritually depleting. So, with that in mind, I felt compelled to write out some of the lessons that I am learning as I navigate this new season.
1. I am not alone in this struggle.
There is something about knowing that someone else has experienced the same thing that I am that is comforting. I’ll never forget the first time I read an article of another expat who was struggling to go back to her mission field just like I was. It was the first time that I had felt that way and I felt guilty. Her article encouraged me so much to realize that I was not alone and reminded me to remember my “why” for serving the Lord.
We should seek counsel from others who are walking this path ahead of us and also seek to encourage others who are going through the same thing we are. It is also invaluable to consider the cost that God paid in sending his own Son to earth to redeem us from our sin.
2. Surrender. Again. And again. And again. And again.
I used to think that surrender was a “one and done” thing. Now I am realizing that it is a continual process. Sometimes I have to keep surrendering the same thing over and over. Just when I think that I have accepted what God is doing in my life, I realize that I am holding back again. It is a gift of grace to be able to live in a place of surrender.
3. What I say to my self is important.
If I tell myself that this is an overwhelming sacrifice and I cannot do this, I will believe myself. If I remind myself that God has a plan in all of our trials and that He is sovereign over every detail in my life as well as my children’s lives, I can live with hope. Paul Tripp talks about the children of Israel and how what they were thinking influenced their response to God’s leading. He says –
“Think of the children of Israel in the wilderness as they are actually contemplating going back to Egypt. How could they possibly consider that response if they saw themselves as the miraculously redeemed, sustained, and guided children of the covenant? Could they seriously contemplate, even for a moment, a return to the very place of slavery from which God had graciously rescued them? Imagine the difference it would make during the hardships of the wilderness to say, “Yes, this circumstance if difficult, and no, we don’t always know what God is doing. But there is one thing we know. We are the children of God. He gave us his covenant promises, he redeemed us out of slavery, he revealed to us his law, and he has guided and provided for us. Because we are his children, we are never alone. The God who delivered us from Egypt will be with us, even in this tough moment. Our only hope is to remain with him, and any other option would mean denying our very identity as the children of the Most High God.” (Lost in the Middle: MidLife and the Grace of God: Mid-Life Crisis and the Grace of God by Paul David Tripp)
That is a profound thought. Just imagine what would have been different for the children of Israel if they would have thought differently about their circumstances and about their God.
4. I must make sure I am surrounding myself with biblical truth.
God’s Word has been such a comfort and rebuke to me during this time of change in our lives. The Psalms have encouraged me over and over to pour out my heart before my God and seek His guidance. Songs with biblical truth have been especially comforting to me. I have had this song on repeat for months:
Father of Light
All praise to the name
Of the Father of Light
One who listens and hears when I call
Ev’ry step he ordains,
I shall walk without fear
In His light I’ll not stumble or fall.
He knows all of my feelings,
The depths of despair
All the limits my soul can endure.
I will trust in His name,
I have nothing to lose,
For in Him all my hopes are secure.
5. Look for God’s hand in my life and be grateful.
God is always at work. He is trustworthy. He is sovereign. He is good. And if I take the time to look for how he is working, I will spend a lot more time being grateful and a lot less time complaining. It was a stretching time for our family when Erica had to fly back to America alone. It was hard. But seeing how God worked in her heart to prepare her and then seeing the strength he gave her and how he guided her was faith building for all of us. I wouldn’t trade the way we saw God work for anything. It takes effort to stop and notice how God is working in our lives and in our children’s lives. Psalm 66:16 says “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” I need to take time to reflect on God’s mighty hand upholding me and I need to share what He is doing with others.
There have been many days when I didn’t think I could make it on the mission field any longer. There have been many days when I wanted to quit. But there are more days when I bow my head and ask God to help me surrender to what He wants for my life. I do not want to choose my own way. He is all-wise and I trust Him. This is my prayer:
Thy way, not mine, O Lord, However dark it be; Lead me by Thine own hand, Choose out the Path for me.
Smooth let it be, or rough, It will be still the best; Winding or straight it leads Right onward to Thy rest.
I dare not choose my lot; I would not if I might: Choose Thou for me, my God, So shall I walk aright.
Take Thou my cup, and it With joy or sorrow fill, As best to Thee may seem; Choose Thou my good and ill.
Choose Thou for me my friends, My sickness or my health. Choose Thou my cares for me, My poverty or wealth.
Not mine, not mine the choice, In things both great and small; Be Thou my guide, my strength, My wisdom and my all.