I Accidentally Bought a Crop Top

Mom of three. Missionary. Owner of a crop top. Thank you, Target for making me an anomaly.

I’m not knocking your love of shortened blouses if that’s your thing. It’s not mine, yet here I am with a midriff baring t-shirt I have no use for. “Well, why did you buy it, Amber?” I’m glad you asked.

I was shopping with a friend who graciously took me on a fully-funded Target run when we landed Stateside. Our needs at the time were overwhelming. I had been sharing with my family that we were “unraveling.” Our daughter landed in America wearing socks provided by the airline because she was in possession of no pair of her own. The sandals she stuffed them in were no better as sequins dangled on loosened threads, the pink pleather straps barely hanging on. Our clothes were golden evidences of curries consumed long ago and the muddy waters which fled rusty pipes and flowed into our washing machine dying threads to match our surroundings.

I chose bedding for each of our three children to make our temporary living arrangement feel more like home and also because I was not yet in the emotional state necessary to navigate shopping for children’s clothing in this unknown territory. I tossed some makeup, shampoo, and a LEGO puzzle into my cart — because what is a Target run without an impulse purchase? We circled around to the women’s section where I passed flowing skirts and trendy tie-dyed sets in search for the perfect pair of sweatpants. I thumbed my way through stacked hangers to find my size which had become considerably smaller since the last time I lived in the US (I trust my time here will send my hips back in the other direction). I began looking for a tee to match the joggers in which I had no intention of exercising.

I pushed my cart from table to table, pulling out t-shirts and holding them up to examine. 1/3 of each shirt was mysteriously missing. Emerging from my jet-lagged stupor, I understood the 2/3 length t-shirts were actually crop-tops as images of Pinterest #ootds flooded my memory. Fashion trends were of no relevance to me when we lived a world away, but now I felt particularly victimized by them. I just wanted a whole t-shirt. By this time, exhaustion and confusion had taken over, and I added a boxy black tee to my commercial collection. Maybe it’s longer than it looks, I thought. It wasn’t.

I wore this top for the first time in two months of ownership with a camisole tucked in at the waist. While I’m certainly fond of the marks that represent the children I’ve brought into this world, I have no interest in sharing them with the general public. My look isn’t worthy of imitation, but I remain thankful to be wearing clothes fully raveled. I looked in the mirror and shrugged, grabbing my keys to jump in the van to commence my next crazed shopping experience.

I’ve come to terms with my life in the States or in my host country never being a perfect fit. It almost feels normal and right. I almost belong in Nepal when I am there, and I almost sense that I fit in the States when I am here. Yet, there is always that last little bit that doesn’t feel quite comfortable, forever a nagging notion that I’ve changed too much to truly find something that wholly suits me. The moments are many when I am vulnerable and exposed like the flab of flesh at my waistline my kids like to grab and squish around.

Any sense of belonging is an illusion at best and at worst a red flag that I have become too close a companion to the world. Here or there, an ill-fitting life is a good sign that I am mimicking the life of Jesus who I so long to be like. Jesus left a royal throne to walk dusty streets among humans who did not care to His message. He shed His divine beauty as He wrapped Himself in human flesh, reported to be of no particular physical appeal — no doubt a poor fit. That did not stop Him from carrying out His mission, stretching shaking arms to become a banner of love nailed to a sinner’s cross.

A Savior who is willing to do that for me is also eager to help me as I cope with the parts of life and ministry that do not suit me. I can depend on Him to mold me into His image as I seek to do His work of reconciliation wherever I am. When I feel vulnerable, exposed, and lost I can trust Him to pull me in, covering me with His perfect love. Even when I am just lost on a Target run, suffering the particular persecution of material overwhelm, I can count on His comfort and peace.

He has used an accidental crop-top purchase to remind me of my need of Him, and that’s what I need most of all.

Just One Thing? — Expectations and Overseas Life

A few weeks ago, as I prepared my heart for my parents to return back to America after visiting for two weeks, I asked my Instagram followers to do me a solid and use the new questions feature to distract me for a few moments. I got some great questions, some silly questions, and a few unsolicited compliments (yes, I agree my kids are gorgeous!). One friend commented that we seemed to be doing amazing, and I was happy to confirm that we are happy here and love the missions life with all its adventure and challenges. I thought I’d turn a few of them into blog posts as I train myself to make writing a habit again — like online, not just three pages a day in my journal.

“What was one thing that was hard to adjust to on the mission field?”

Wow! It felt like such a loaded request to just pick one thing that was hard to adjust to after moving overseas because literally every aspect of my life has changed as a result. This inquiry came from a young woman who attends a very missions driven church where she may also train for ministry one day, so I felt added pressure to encourage her and not freak her out — the ever present search for balance of transparency and gentle truth.

I’ve learned so much, but one of the biggest things has been to let go of my expectations about what doing ministry, making a home, and raising my kids would be like here. We have a unique set of circumstances and challenges, but God has a unique plan for our life and ministry.

I guess that sums up so much about all the feelings that bombarded me upon our arrival and the months following. On paper, it seemed our dreams were coming true. We were FINALLY on the field after years of preparation. But earthquakes and loneliness and the realities of setting up a home overseas all came to take away the beauty of dreams realized. Life overseas turned out to be just that — life, with all its hardships and disappointments in tow.

I didn’t realize at the time that I had painted a picture of what I thought our life here would be like. I would have a close friend, of course. My kids would play with neighborhood kids and learn the language quickly. We would find a good school for our daughter where she would thrive and grow beyond what we could give her at home. We’d enjoy setting up a new home and decorating it to our liking, and, oh yeah, it would be in the perfect location and even have a small yard.

What God has had for our family, however, has been so much different — and so much better. His plans for me have not met my expectations but have exceeded them. I cannot say that the portrait God painted for me instead has not been heavily crafted with pain and trial. It’s been harder — and sweeter — than I ever thought possible, as are most of the best things in life. The best thing God has given me is nothing I hoped for and everything I wasn’t wise enough to want.

It turns out, God is far less interested in making my dreams a reality and far more interested in working out His way in my life. God’s best for me, in any season, is to learn hard into Him and trust Him even when chaos seems to reign. All my dreams come untrue have brought me into the place I need to be — the place where I submit to every disappointing reality and joyous victory.

He hasn’t asked me to totally surrender all of my dreams but has, rather, loved me hard through every twist and transition. When the story changes, I know the author doesn’t, and it’s a good thing I’ve already seen Him write so many great narratives. As my heart becomes one with Christ, my desires will inevitably change. All I can expect, then, are wonderfully hard, beautifully messy works wrought by the hand of God which makes no mistakes.

Truly, we have a unique set of circumstances and challenges in this overseas life. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that our God has a unique plan. I just feel privileged to watch it unfold.

Cold Coffee Confessions

It’s no secret that I’ve gone silent on my blog for quite some time. I’ve been thankfully and happily busy in life with my crazy clan and our adventurous interns/downstairs neighbors. As we host these two, I think back often on the time I spent being  downstairs neighbors to a family of seven some time ago in that musty, unfinished basement (that we loved!) on Spot Road, and I am trying to be half of the considerate and sweet friend my neighbor was to me.

While I haven’t been showing up here often to share with you what in the world is going on on my side of the world, I will tell you that God has been faithful. We have experienced both great victories and defeats like I never imagined would touch us. The events of our days and subsequent emotions are often hard to put into words that I want to bring before the world — or the few people that read my little blog, but you know what I mean.

If we were friends sitting down to a cup of coffee — preferably, iced because it is a billion degrees in my home as I write this — I would tell you that often sleep eludes me, and I lie awake wondering what the Master weaver could be working in our lives and ministries because it seems like nothing more than a blundered mess of good intentions and well-laid plans. I’d tell you how exhausting it is to plan and revise, dream and doubt, serve and surrender day after day after day.

I’d reveal to you that I have baked chocolate chip cookies when I knew of no other way to encourage my husband and offered them to him with a weak smile that said, “I know it doesn’t help, but I tried.” We’ve whispered, “I love yous” and held pinkies as he shifted gears in our Maruti sazuki jam-packed with our growing children and a few too many members of our growing church body. We’ve lost each other countless times amidst all that is marriage and ministry mingled together but have — by God’s grace — made our way back to each other every time.

I would tell you that the highs and lows of ministry are sometimes more than I can bear, and that the lines between work and life often get blurred. I would tell you that the mama bear comes out fierce and strong, and sometimes I am ashamed at the ways I don’t trust God with my children. I would tell you the million-and-one ways I’ve messed everything up yet God has redeemed every bit of it. At this point, I would hope you wouldn’t walk away in shock of all that I’ve revealed to you, and I would regret that I let it all out.

But if that’s what’s left at the end of this conversation on this imaginary coffee-date, then we have really missed it. I’ve said all that to only say that God is faithful — again. To encourage you and me that this life of service to God is worth it. To remind us that our Redeemer is still at work in our lives. I know this because in all the ways I’ve failed to live up to His standard in marriage, motherhood, and missional living, He has done a work in each of those areas. When I’m sailing through life and everything makes sense, He is good and He is faithful. When I’m struggling to pull myself out from under my sheets and just feed my kids, He is good and faithful. And all these things I struggle to juggle, He has given me to hold. They are gifts that sometimes make me want to pull my hair out, but they are precious just the same!

Don’t abandon your coffee, friend. I imagine you have your stories, too. I hope you’ll see in them that while things haven’t been perfect, they have had purpose. And, if you’re willing to admit you’ve failed, that He has been faithful.

Life is good, friend, and I am happy to share it with you.

Gospel Rich in an Impoverished Land

Five Minute Friday (a few days late!): PRIVILEGE

My heart is often heavy and I feel insecure about our position of wealth among those around us who have much less. I worry about the way we decorate our home, what we eat each day, or how we spend our money on other things. I am generally satisfied with our discipline with money, but I still find myself feeling guilty over my privilege while others around me struggle to make ends meet.

While I am certainly open to ideas of how to meet the needs around me in productive ways, I have also been comforted by the words my husband has spoken to me time and time again: “People won’t resent us if we share our wealth with them.” It’s amazing to me how he can get right down to my deepest fear even if it was not even close to being clearly communicated. I fear being resented.

Photo by Niels Steeman on Unsplash

I know I can’t control the feelings of others towards me, but I do believe there is wisdom in this advice. I’ve since found great joy in inviting others into my home to watch our “Internet TV,” eat desserts made in my “foreigner-style” oven, and even wash clothes in my washing machine. Children particularly enjoy our abundance of toys and books. My son’s school has even borrowed some Dr. Seuss books for the last few weeks! I try not to show up empty handed when visiting friends, and I try to offer up my best even when unexpected visits occur.

Yes, we have inherent privilege in terms of financial wealth. But it occurs to me that we also have a greater privilege. We have Gospel privilege — a privilege many in this world do not have. And this is the why of it all — much more than materially wealthy, I am spiritually wealthy. I have received the immeasurably precious gift of the Gospel and will inherit eternal life.

So while I share any material wealth I acquire as I follow God’s urgings to give and to open my home, I am also impressed to share my spiritual wealth. Not in an effort to not be resented because, as it appears, many resent me for telling them a truth that is hard to hear because of what accepting our message would mean in this culture. Rather, I share my gospel privilege so that others may be rich like me — Gospel rich.

Linking up with Five Minute Friday

Looking into the Light during the Darkest Times of Missional Living [day 22: light]

I smell burning incense in the air, hear rhythmic chanting and ringing bells, and step over shrines set out for the goddess of wealth. Our people miss services to visit family and not one visitor darkens the doors of our church plant. We have to have conversations with our oldest about religion and culture — things I truly haven’t wrapped my head all the way around yet. For those who don’t celebrate like Hindus, this festival season can be a very discouraging or depressing time. The darkness is real and overwhelming.

It’s so easy to dwell on the darkness, but God calls me to look into the Light. In the book of John, Jesus is called the Light. When it seems darkness is all around me, I have to remain focused on Jesus and let His light shine into my life.  It shows me all the graces of God and the good that is present among the darkness. Yes, it’s a difficult time in this country for believers. But when I choose to celebrate small, I see how God has changed people from this time last year until this year’s festival. I see boldness and beauty and opportunity. I see a nation lost in darkness but loved by God. When I see the Light, I see all these good things.

I think of times as a child when I would deny myself water or a bathroom break because I feared the dark. I thought something would snatch me from under my bed if my feet touched the floor! In the same way, fear of the darkness of the world can render me useless as I hide from it.  I can stock up on our necessities, and shut our doors and windows, and play Christian hymns at eardrum-busting volumes to drown out the happenings outside….

OR I can remember that God is Light, and He lives in me. What good is the light in me if I’m not shining it into dark places? Of course, this doesn’t mean I am joining the Hindus in idol worship, but it does mean I’m not afraid to walk around my neighborhood and enjoy the sight of hanging lights. It means I sit with a friend and eat the traditional meal as she teaches me about the history and customs that make this time of year special for her. It means obedience to share my light.

Now more than ever, my fear of God has to outweigh my fear of darkness. My praise must outdo my pity. My trust must surpass my trepidation. And how can any of this be? Because my Light outshines the darkness.

How can you let your Light shine in the darkness around you?

Talk to me in the comment section below!

 

 

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