But the time leading up to the conference was one of the most difficult times in my life. I had no idea what I had to share with these ladies. But it turned out to be a healing experience for me, and somehow it seems that the Lord used it to encourage others. So I decided to share it here, too. Feel free to read the text or listen to the recording. And remember that you are not alone!
Let Your Light Shine: Valdosta Women’s Coffee
In December, Mary Young asked me to speak at the women’s coffee this morning about my role as a missionary woman. A few weeks ago I could have given you a confident, well-rehearsed speech about how I thought God was planning to use me in Romania because of my gifts and strengths. I think some of those things are probably still true – I think God gives us gifts and strengths and passions for a reason – but I’m becoming more and more uncomfortable with the way I think God is going to use me. I think he’s going to use me, not always in my areas of strength, but in my areas of immense brokenness.
I met my husband, Derek, on the mission field in Mexico City, Mexico, where we were both on individual mission assignments. We knew we wanted to do full-time mission work as a married couple, but I felt like I still had many questions that were keeping me from fully embracing Christianity with my whole self. I was always confused about how my answers in Sunday School could be different from my answers in Biology, and I felt like I didn’t have a fully completed worldview. I thought maybe you had to give up either being intelligent or being a Christian. So before I wanted to go to the mission field, I thought it would be good for me to have many of my questions answered. And so I got my Master’s Degree in Christian Apologetics – which is basically the study of how to defend the faith as true and reasonable. I learned, for the first time, about the Christian worldview, and it changed everything for me! I felt like I could live holistically – not forfeiting either my belief in God nor my design as a curious, questioning person who liked deep theological and scientific discussions. And I had a new, invigorated passion for God because I was so amazed at all that I learned about the truth of our God!
So two years ago, Derek and I knew that it was time for us to move forward with mission work. The way that God confirmed our calling is a different, cool story. And it’s even cooler how He has continued to confirm that calling. But one thing I remember thinking – for as embarrassing as it is to admit – is that I felt ready. I felt like I knew what I believed wholeheartedly and was at a place to be used by God. To be clear, the moment you start to feel good enough to be used is the exact moment when you should be wary of where you’re putting your trust.
Over the past year of support raising, I’ve known that we’ve faced some real spiritual battles. We would come to something hard and somehow get through it, and I would imagine that I had learned what I was supposed to learn. At first the lessons excited me as I could objectively see how the Lord was growing me and shaping me as He prepared me to move to Romania. But then the lessons got harder and harder. I struggled through finding my identity in Christ rather than how good I was as a mom or wife or housekeeper or teacher, learning to humble myself and lean on others to care for me as things have gotten hard and we’ve had to ask others to support us financially. God opened my eyes to some of my deeper idols of power and acceptance from others. He’s led me to search my heart and discover how full of pride and self-righteousness I am. Each instance of learning and growing has become harder than the last, but each time I keep thinking that I’ve really grown and really learned. But now, I’m really scared to think that my current lesson – my current circumstance I’m going through – isn’t going to be the last lesson. And that scares me because I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle anything harder. I’m afraid it will be too much for me to bare.
So your missions conference is all about letting your light shine. And it seems like missionaries ought to be able to tell you all about how to let your light shine. Over the past year so many people have admired the faith that I must have to be able to do something like move overseas into the unknown and unfamiliar. But what people don’t know is that I never know how to respond to those comments of admiration, because in this room, when I feel like so many other people’s lights are shining so brightly, how God could possibly want to use my dim little light. So, really, the question for me – and maybe some others in the room – is “what do we do when our lights don’t seem to be shining very brightly?” Shouldn’t we wait until our faith really is a lot stronger and our lights a lot brighter before we step out and push away the darkness? The fact is, I know God is calling me to use my weakness to praise Him – because it’s there that He is strong. And over the last few months the lesson He is teaching me is the hardest one I’ve ever faced, and the one that literally has me the weakest I have ever been – mentally, physically, and spiritually.
This past October I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks. When my doctor confirmed on a Saturday that it sounded like a miscarriage - after I had been bleeding for 24 hours - but would have to wait until Monday to confirm it, my first thought was “God loves this baby more than I do.” I lost the baby and praised Him. I talked with others and praised Him. I blogged about it and praised Him. I cried every Sunday during church and praised Him. I was praying and praised Him. I studied His Word and praised Him. I was doing everything a counselor would tell you to do. I wasn’t stuffing my grief. I was going public with it and using it to minister to others. My true desire was to use it to point others to Him.
So I really can’t pinpoint when it changed. I noticed the grief turning to depression little by little. I noticed my hormones changing and anger rising as my body fluctuated. I started getting confused and wrapped up in theology rather than God’s promise of love.
I’m not sure how it finally got to the point - just 3 short weeks ago - that I would be sitting in my pastor’s home across from his wife and questioning if God even loves me. I have been suffering from post partum depression. This gave way to panic attacks. These panic attacks shattered things for me both at church and at work, where the Lord ultimately took everything that made me feel confident and strong and now makes me feel weak and embarrassed. Truthfully, throughout the miscarriage and the grief afterward, I have been praising God because that’s what good Christians do. And I’m a missionary. I’m supposed to be a good, strong Christian. And I truly want to be. I want God to use me to bring others to Him. But I wanted to do that in the ways that I’m good and strong and confident. But this circumstance left me broken, totally shattered, not myself, unable to think straight, or feel what’s right and good and holy. I felt like I had been abandoned by God and left to wonder if He even wanted me to go to Romania anymore at all.
So because of the ensuing panic attacks and the utter exhaustion they left me in as my brain kept misfiring constantly and producing real, genuine physical symptoms, I took three weeks off work. This was a difficult decision. Derek and I decided to slow down everything. I wasn’t sure what God wanted from us. I spent a lot of time in the past three weeks just being still. In Hebrew, the phrase “to be still” means to “cease and desist of your own striving or effort.” Well, God had definitely gotten me to that point, because I had absolutely nothing left to give anyone.
But it was also in that circumstance that I felt what it means that Christ is strong in our weakness. Each morning for the past two weeks I have woken up and asked God to have mercy on me and give me strength for just that day. I’ve never before lived like that. Although most people may think that I would feel more like one of Jesus’s disciples – walking side by side with him -- I have felt much more like the bleeding woman these past few weeks – desperately reaching out to just touch the bottom of Jesus’s garment.
I feel like my light is egregiously dim. And I don’t know how God could possibly want to use me.
But here’s what I know about light.
While you might not be able to see the brightness of a tiny match in the broad daylight, little lights shine the brightest in total darkness. And Romania is very dark.
- Highest abortion rate in Europe
- 20% of people living in poverty, with an average annual income of $12K each year
- 58K abandoned children in USA versus 60K in Romania alone
- A state church that tends toward tradition and an emphasis on rules
- I’ve had to rely on other’s bright lights recently with people praying for me.
- With other people believing God’s promises for me
- With other people listening to my woes, not walking away from me, not abandoning me. Just continuing to remind me of sweet truth and love. Sometimes just sitting and not saying anything.
- With other’s financial gifts to push us to keep going and rely on God to move hearts to partner with us – and by the way, in the past three weeks of my finally “being still,” He has pushed us from 54% to 68% without us doing much of anything.
- With friends at work helping with my sub plans and my department chair duties
- There is darkness right here in Valdosta. You may feel like the brightest lantern, but you also may feel like one single match. Wherever you are, lean on each other. Allow others to believe for you. Help bear each other’s hurts and burdens. And each day, throw yourself at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to show you mercy and allow you to be a Christian just this one day.
- So what will I be doing as a missionary woman in Romania? Well, mostly, I’ll be asking the Lord for mercy each day and allowing Him to strengthen me to do whatever work He wants me to do. Perhaps that will look like teaching ESL, leadership, or public speaking classes to students. Perhaps that will look like leading Bible studies for women or facilitating apologetics and discipleship classes. Perhaps it’ll look like university ministry where we meet with college kids and build relationships with them and allow them to use our home as a home-away-from-home. Perhaps that will look like ministering to orphans or gypsies. Perhaps that will look like just caring for my little missionary babies at home through homeschooling and keeping our home in order. Perhaps it will just be waking up each morning and abiding in Christ.
- But no matter what it is – how great or how small – we know that the Lord has chosen for whatever crazy reason to use us in Romania. And We know He won’t let our lights go out.