Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Lesson in Contrasts

I can remember different times telling my mom about something new and exciting happening in my life and having her reaction seem less than enthusiastic.  She would be saying all the right words "how exciting" or "that's great" but there seemed to be less excitement in her voice than there was in mine.  Like when I told her that I had decided to stay at college the summer between my junior and senior year because I had a full time student nurse position at the local hospital.  I was so excited to be working full time as an almost nurse.  Plus I got to move into the little super studio apartment that was ready then, and I could save up money for my last year of school.  I knew I was 6 hours away from my parents but I would go visit and they could come visit so everything was fine.

Nothing can prepare you for the lesson in contrasts that motherhood turns out to be.  It starts when they're newborns and you are dying to lay them down for a few minutes so you can have some time to yourself and not too much later you're sneaking in to watch them sleep and anxious for them to wake up so you can hold them again.  We were co-sleepers when our kids were little and I can remember the transitional stages when they moved to their own beds but would still come crawl in bed with us in the middle of the night.  I loved having them with us but was eager for the day when everyone would sleep all night in their own beds...until the third morning that I realized our youngest hadn't come in again.  Realizing that a life stage that felt like it would go on forever had actually ended so quickly made me sad.

When our kids were little ones, it felt like the years living together as a family was almost endless.  Adulthood seemed like it was a lifetime away.  We looked with excitement at their futures, dreaming with them about careers, spouses, children, and callings.  We talked with them about hearing God's voice and being true to who he's created them to be.  It all seemed so exciting and so, so far away.  It was easy to talk about possibilities that would take our children to other countries when the little person was snuggled in my arms.

My children both loved missionary stories and we read as many as we could find.  At 12, our oldest daughter said she felt like God wanted her to be a missionary.  I have always been drawn to missions even though foreign missions never felt right for me.  It seemed perfect that God would give me a heart for missions in order to prepare my child for a call in that direction.  We kept reading and encouraging and praying.  We trusted that God would work out details that were right for her.  But the reality of it seemed so far away that when a friend asked if I was really sure I wanted to encourage her to embrace that life, I easily answered yes.

At 17 she called us from youth convention with excitement in her voice.  She had spent the last few years saying she didn't really want to be a missionary, she wanted to pursue acting or singing or both.  We kept telling her to pray and that God would make it clear.  During her phone call she said that they had a special time of prayer at one of the sessions for those who felt God was calling them to missions.  She told me that they asked people who felt that call to go forward and she decided not to.   She felt that prompting to go forward for prayer and she continued to ignore it but after 3 or 4 nudges from the Holy Spirit, she went forward and was prayed for and felt a renewed enthusiasm and excitement that missions was indeed what God wanted her to do with her life.   She even felt like God had given her an area of focus--an area that doesn't actually welcome missionaries so there's definitely an element of danger.  I ended the call and said "Really God?  You're really going to do this?  You're really going to call my only daughter--my constant companion for the last 17 years-to some far off place where they don't even want her?"  Now let me be clear, my tone was not "really?" in the sense of awe and wonder.  My tone was more like SNL's weekend update "really?" sketch with Amy Poehler.

As highschool graduation approached, she began looking at Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  She still loved theater and there was a DTS in Boston that incorporated theater arts into their program.  So after graduation she applied and they replied that they unfortunately needed to delay that DTS.  As weeks turned to months she decided to go on a housebuild in Mexico and that turned her focus upside down.  She began to feel like God was telling her to ditch the whole theater thing and she started looking intently at Mexico and praying about God's will for her.  There was a DTS that was happening soon in Ensenada.  We didn't have the money to fund it, she didn't have the money to fund it, but we encouraged her to apply and if God wanted her there he would provide the finances.

We knew DTS would change her life.  I didn't realize, though, how much it would change mine.  I knew she was going to be stretched and grow in her faith and I would get to hear about all of it, but I learned that God had tons of work to do in my heart relating to trusting him with my kids.  We live 8 miles from the Mexican Border.  We have friends who work with border patrol and law enforcement and we're well aware of the dangers.  Agreeing with God that this was his will for our daughter and it was good was a stretch.  It was only 5 months though.  I knew I could handle 5 months.  I prayed for her safety and finally came to the realization that saying no to God's will, blocking this thing he was doing in her life, would be far worse than any danger she would face.  It's a major leap to get to the point where you can say "God, I can't imagine life without my daughter and the absolute worst thing would be losing one of my kids.  I'm going to choose to trust you, I'm going to pray that your will is to keep her safe, but I'm going to accept that following you--no matter the cost--is far more important than staying safe."

She went, she grew, she fell in love...with missions, with the Dominican Republic, with Mexico...and with an amazing young man who also felt a call to full time missions.   She came back happy and safe, even after some crazy allergic reaction in the Dominican Republic with some equally crazy medical intervention.   Life went back to normal.  She worked, she continued taking college classes, she drove us crazy with her messy room, she fought with her brother, we planned a wedding, her daddy walked her down the aisle, and then she was a wife with a home of her own--thankfully just 15 minutes away.

Now here we are and I've come full circle.  I now understand those less than enthusiastic responses from my Mom perfectly.   Our daughter and her husband are planning to move in April.  Not just across town, but across the border.  They've accepted a 2 year commitment with YWAM in Ensenada. I am so excited that the call God placed in her heart 10 years ago is coming to fruition.  I'm so excited that they are at a place in their lives and their marriage where they can embrace this and go on an adventure with God.  But as I talked to my daughter about their meeting with the base director, I knew my words were sounding way more flat than I meant them to.  It's hard to express excitement when you feel this ache in your chest because your baby girl, the little one who just snuggled on your lap last week (or at least that's what it feels like) and pretended to be mommy junior, and spent so much time with you, is moving to another country.  Yes, it's only 3 hours away.  Yes, we can go visit.  Yes, they can come visit.  But this is just phase one and who knows where God will call them next.

When I look back at all the missionary stories we read, I always identified with the missionaries.  How exciting to do that work for God and encounter so much adventure and also how hard to leave everything and everyone behind.  I know now that God wanted me to look at the other side.  That part of being all in for missions for me means releasing the ones I love most to go follow that call.  It means functioning with a heart that feels like part of it has been torn out to go with my child to wherever God calls her.

I get it now, Mom.  I know that the fact that your enthusiasm didn't always match mine didn't mean that you weren't just as excited as I was.  It was just that you were trying to hold back the tears until after the phone call ended.  It's that lesson in contrasts that makes motherhood what it is.

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