Another Last…

Warren Group Picture

I am not sure how to write this post.

It seems surreal that we find ourselves in this place.

How did we get here?  Well it was peppered with laughing, first experiences, late nights, ridiculous SnapChat videos, frustrating pictures turned videos…disagreements, frustrations, clash of culture, American experiences, traveling, broadening of horizons, eyes open to the mercy and grace of God.  It was full of trips to Wal-Mart to buy yet again, another cup with a straw and pit stop to Starbucks on the way home.  One can’t forget the rushed morning routine, getting to school with 1 minute to spare and hoping that the side door would still be open! Donut Palace.  Trinity Youth Group.  It sounded like the beep of a blue-tooth alarm clock connecting to an iPhone.  It’s the sound of an alarm sounding on a Saturday morning after she stayed the night with a friend. Music.  A beautiful transition from pop music to contemporary Christian.  Homecoming with friends.  It tastes like fried eggs and pancakes.  It’s laced with failed attempts to make Belgian waffles.  Trips to Waffle House instead.  Running around the neighborhood, trips to Snap Fitness.  Factory Connection, JCPenny’s, Rue21, Forever 21.  Prom with a new-found love.  Cheeseburgers.  Loud music with the windows down.  World Outreach Church.  Sonic Facebook friends discount.  Chocolate shakes.  Shooting stars.  Eyes and heart opened to the mysteries of God.  Insecurity turned confidence.  An entire blog post could be made with such descriptions.

July 11th, 2015 my husband and I went to Outback Steak House to celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary.  While there, we discussed the possibilities of welcoming an exchange student into our home for the 2015/2016 school year.  Life-changing.  Memorable.  Gosh those seem like such cliche words to use but it’s absolutely the truth.  We knew that we would be exposed to a different thought perspective.  We knew that we would see the world through different glasses.  We knew we’d help her do the same.  What we weren’t prepared for was for our hearts to be knit together as tightly as they have been.  We weren’t prepared for the end of the line…the list of “lasts” that we would experience and the small tears in the stitches of our heart that would happen as a result.  I was just telling her last night that our agency is really good about telling you about all the GREAT things that will happen but a description of how incredibly excruciating it would be to transition from having a daughter to being without one.  How hard the last month would be.   All of these “lasts.”  We weren’t prepared for the moment when we would be face to face with the realization that in 2 Tuesdays or 2 church services or 1 month down the road of life….it would no longer involve all 6 of us, but only 5 of us.  Part of our heart would be getting on a jet plane to go back to her home country.  The unknown span of time was quickly approaching between our, “See you later,” and “It’s SOOO good to see you again!”  The intense prayers scribbled in my prayer journal that she will stay close to Christ and lean on Him when she is faced with the Babylonian mindset and that she takes tools out of her Survival Kit when she needs them.   This past Wednesday evening, we realized it would be the last dinner at church that she would be here for.  Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans and a cheesecake layered desert.  Next to dropping her off at the airport, today was one of the most final things that could happen in a homestay experience.  The last day of school.

The morning went like most others.  Wake up, make breakfast, make lunch, wait for her to get done getting beautiful (even though she could totally get out of bed and take one of those “I woke up like this!” pictures), load up in the car, squeal tires to get to the drop of line by 7:54 so she could get in the door and to the gym by 7:55.  What wasn’t the same was the fact that as I turned the last left turn to head to the school, I realized that it would be the last time we would be doing that.  The last time to rush around.  The last time to say, “Have a good day, Belgian!  Make your brain big!”  The last time to watch her walking up the sidewalk.  The last time to plan my day to get everything done before leaving the house to pick her up at 2:30….wait…I didn’t even have to do THAT today because she was going home with a friend.  Yesterday she went home with Derek….that means…Wednesday was the last day for that, too.  The whole way home I was in a fog.  Could this really be coming to an end?  Is this really it?  See, in my mind, when we started, the end would never come.  That was something that would happen WAAAAaaay in the future…as in…never.  Yet, reality set in today.  The end is nigh. The end is in 11 days.  Wow…

Here’s the crazy part.  As much as I am hurting and so sad that this is coming to an end, I realize that there’s two (sometimes three) sides to every story.  I realize my pain is someone else’s joy.  Partially Audrey’s but whole-heartedly her family’s!  They have been waiting 10 months to hold their daughter/sister/niece/granddaughter in their arms.  To hold her close. To hear about her day.  To share life with her.  My selfishness of not wanting to give her back was someone else’s generosity 10 months ago.  Her parents supported her decision to pursue a homestay, spent time, money, energy and effort to make sure she had everything she need to be successful.  My tight grip was someone else’s loose hand.  They took her to the airport and put her on a plane to somewhere they had never been with people they had only skyped with twice.

Audreys Baptism
If I look back on this year, I have to thank God for putting this whole thing in motion when Audrey was just a little girl.  I believe all things that happen in life are filtered through our Father’s hands.  Do I believe her love for the USA and for the English language happened by chance?  Nope. Do I think that she was born into a family where her father speaks English?  Nope.  Do I think that it’s by chance that she mustered up the courage to apply for and actually follow through with going to a different country when she had never even traveled alone in her life.  Not a chance.  Do I think that her finding our music interesting was coincidence?  Ha!  No way!  Do I think the stars aligned in such a way that made it possible for for her to placed in our home?  Are you Crazy?  The only explanation I can find for this last year is that God knew before the creation of this world that this year would take place. That an 18 year old girl from Belgium would need to hear the Gospel.  That she would listen and learn for 10 months and then go through a complete life change.  I believe he knew that in order for all that to happen, she would need to leave what was comfortable and go to a place where she would be show the love of Christ on a daily basis.  Perfect love?  No, we are incredibly flawed to say the least.  But…a perfectly imperfect love is what we had to offer her.  It is amazing to know that I have a daughter which I have carried in my heart this year.  She came a stranger and leaves my Sister.  Oh Lord, I am so unworthy of this gift.  Thank you for bringing her into my life and allowing me to witness a miracle in her life.  You really leave me awestruck as I think about this beautiful wanderlust of a young woman.  Lord, have your way with her life.  To you be the glory.  Amen!

Dr. J and Mr. H

I was commenting on a Dizzy Lizzy’s blog post from today over at http://runningmyracewithjoy.blogspot.com and realized there is so much that God is showing me today.  Her post was basically on the struggle to eat right, but as I commented, the basis of what she had to say could be transferred to any aspect of life.

I am one who has struggled with a short temper for years and years.  I have a very hard time controlling my words and emotions when the boiler pot in my stomach and chest begins to get heated.  I feel like a pressure cooker full of pea soup ready to explode.  Unfortunately, many times the seal of the pot breaks when those closest to me are within splatter range.  Nothing good came come from an explosion, or pea soup for that matter.

It had been four or more weeks since my family and I had gotten up, dressed and out the door in time for Sunday School.  One of the weeks our youngest had the full on flu.  Not a stomach bug, but a full on case of the flu.  I’m sure everyone is pleased we stayed away that week but for the rest, it’s like there was a super magnet pulling us in the opposite direction.  No matter how hard we tried, no matter if we laid out clothes the night before and went to bed early on time, we just couldn’t get there.  Today we must have been more determined than other weeks, or maybe God just went to bat for us and fought off the spiritual battle going on around us because we made it for both Sunday School and service!  It was clear we I was supposed to be there to hear what was being said.

In Sunday School we talked about Paul’s explanation of the internal struggle we have on a daily basis as believers.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.

At a glance it may seem that he is talking about his life, per-salvation experience.  However, he is in fact talking about his life when he has the holy spirit on his side.  A question was posed during our discussion:  Does this passage confuse, discourage or encourage you?  It used to confuse me.  Now, it both discourages and encourages me.

Discouraged:  Sometimes I think, “Oh if I just read my bible more,” or “If I just pray the right prayer and serve people more,”   everything will be easier and that inner struggle I have with keeping my cool will get better.  If I just get a little closer to God, everything will be easier to deal with.  Well as my experiences and this passage clearly illustrate, that couldn’t be further from reality.  I believe that when we are born, we have a sinful nature.  That isn’t wiped out when we become saved, we simply get a helper in dealing with those times we are tempted to act on our sinful nature’s desires.  Chances are I will still lose it and blow my top.  Does that give me a lease to do as I please, not trying to control my behavior?  Nope!

Encouraged: Paul is a highly noted man in the bible.  He was a key player in the advancement of the Christian faith after Christ was taken back to heaven.  His salvation experience was nothing I have ever experienced in my life….total transformation.  From Christian killer to Christian.  You couldn’t be more polar opposite than what Paul was.  And guess what?  He had this same internal struggle that I do.  I have no reason to question my salvation.  I have no reason to think I am so special that I should be able to skip out on this unpleasant part of life just because I’m a Christian.  This battle is real and if each Christian would be transparent enough to admit it, each one experiences this in one aspect of their life or another.

Our discussion leader made the point that in order to overcome a struggle, one has to die to that sin in order for something new to grow back in it’s place.  Think about it like this: you have a garden (life).  You go to admire it and you see things you don’t like in it.  WEEDS (sin)!  Arg, how frustrating.  You’ve worked so hard to make it what you wanted it to be (making your own goals, trying to be a “good person”) and there it is, rooted right in the middle.  You realize you need something to make that weed disappear so you go grab some weed spray (salvation experience, being born again, asking Jesus into your heart).  Everything is supposed to be perfectly beautiful from here on out!  I mean, it’s just the right tool for the job, right?  One and done!  You go back in the house to pour some lemonade, you settle in for a good night’s sleep later in the day, for a week you to and from work (you go along life).  You might even tell your coworkers about all you did to clean out your garden (witnessing and testifying to others what Christ has done in your life).  The next weekend comes and you’re so excited to be able to sit out in your beautiful garden, beautifully manicured and fixed garden.  You pull your lawn chair out to the garden plot, fresh cup of lemonade in your hand and *gasp* A WEED (more sin)!  “Wait, wait, wait…!” you shriek as you all but jog directly to the garage (church) and pull out the bottle of weed killer (bible) to read the back directions and expected results.  In fine print you realize that several applications and possibly other tools (Christian fellowship, bible study, quiet time, prayer, meditation on the Word, sermons, Christian music and worship) may be needed to keep the weeds at bay.  This is exactly where the passage above comes in…  Just because you’ve had a salvation experience, doesn’t mean everything in your garden, or life, is going to be roses and tulips.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t going to have struggles, times of total frustration.  It doesn’t mean that your day to day life is going to go without a hitch.  There WILL be weeds that come up.  As a matter of fact you may think a weed or sin has been killed, but you may not have seen a shoot that was under the mulch about to come out four feet away, or several years down the road.

When I left Sunday School, to be honest, I was thinking of a friend of mine who is struggling with a drug relapse after many years of being clean.  I thought, no wonder she writes about wanting to kick dope, speed and  crack but feels like she is powerless to do so.  Just because she’s a Christian doesn’t mean she is exempt from having to have this struggle.  I was also slightly thinking about my temper issues.

Theeeeeeen I sat down in the pew for service.  Our pastor was talking about the parable of the tenants from the book of Matthew in chapter 21.  God sent his SON to help me on a daily basis.  I have the holy spirit to help me when I am weak.  If I decide to cave to the less desirable behavior, I am not taking full advantage of what the son came to us to do.  To set us free from the bondage of sin.  We are going to have that internal struggle, but we don’t HAVE to lose control.  We do have a way to fly a straighter path.  We will get off course, but we do have a helper and don’t have to do life alone.  Today made me very expectant to the day we get to Glory.  When we will no longer need a helper.  When we will spend all day praising God and living whole lives in his presence.

Then I read the blog I referenced above.  The constant struggle between wanting to do the good things, but caving to the lesser choice.  For me that is:  Wanting to be able to patiently speak to my kids and husband.  Being able to handle conflict in a calm way around my home.  Instead, the latched lid of the pressure cooker is mangled and tangled into a mess as it flies off hitting walls, ceiling, pea soup covering everything.  It’s not pretty.

We are all in this thing called life together.  We will make crappy decisions.  We will blow it, we will burn bridges.  That’s ALL we have to hope for in life outside of Christ.  It’s not until we ask Christ into our lives that we have a helper to get us through those times of conflict with a few less casualties.  It doesn’t mean he is a cure all for our lives.  He isn’t there to create a problem free life for us.  He’s there so we don’t have to do it alone.  Being alone is a very scary and sad place to be.  Praise God I don’t have to walk life alone.  So, until Glory comes riding in on clouds, how are you going to get through life?

Cheers,
Andrea