I look back at last week and I think of all of the many emotions that I slogged my way through, and I use the word “slog” here because if I had been anywhere near dirt, I would have definitely left tear-soaked mud in my wake. I think I cried a river, maybe literally. Seems like every day was a practice in emotion control, or a challenge to see if I could make it through even half my waking hours without wasting another day’s ration of mascara. The Eternally Happy One (Billy) was dumbfounded by what on earth could possibly be happening to his usually-has-it-all-together wife. And God bless him, because he really had no idea what was happening to me or what to do about it. What should have been an exciting time of reconnection with friends and peers and colleagues was quickly turning into a Festival of Kleenex.
Still in the throes of transition from ministry in Peru to ministry in Spain, I came to the conference a little frazzled and confused. Life in another culture is hard work. Transitions and changes in life are tough, even on a good day. In public, I hold it all together and look like life is going just fine, but I’m exhausted from the strain of trying to tune my ear in to different accents and vocabulary that is foreign. I’m constantly thinking, because there is no auto-pilot when you are new to a culture, a place, a people group. My roles are not defined yet, and everything – literally everything – is a learning experience with a steep learning curve. I love to learn, absolutely LOVE to learn, but when every single word and experience requires analyzing and mental gymnastics, it is exhausting.
I hadn’t been able to completely put my finger on what wasn’t quite right with my mood and feelings and attitudes over the past month, but I knew that something was fighting inside of me. Something was struggling to connect and wasn’t getting a foothold, and I was going down with it. But what was it???
The last two weeks started to pull it all together, or rather, ravel it all to pieces. I think that maybe being back in my own culture and around my own people and my own language, for even a short time, was enough to let my brain catch up. Oh, but when it caught up, it was able to put all the pieces together and the result was not at all what I wanted. The result was the reflection in the mirror of who I am and why I’m struggling.
I realized that I have transitioned out of a ministry in rural Peru and into a work in an urban center in Spain... worlds apart. I left a successful, vibrant work in a village of people hungry for The Word, and I transitioned to a yet-undefined role in post-Christian Europe where virtually no one wants to hear and no one cares. My greatest strengths (Gallup StrengthsFinder) are Learner, Achiever, Analysis, Strategic, and Individualizer. My gifts are Encourager, Shepherd, Teacher, Mercy, and Compassion. My love languages are Quality Time and Words of Appreciation. I am most successful and most fulfilled when I am working within those areas and meeting those needs. And I realized over the last two weeks that I am failing miserably at almost all of them right now. My Learner strength is off the chart and exhausted and overwhelmed. I am not being successful or achieving anything. Because I am in transition and my role is undefined right now, I have nothing to analyze or strategize or individualize… so I spend a lot of time analyzing myself – not a good thing! It is tough to encourage others when you are discouraged. I have gone from a crowd to shepherd or teach down to a mere couple or few who will sit with me. The lack of ability to build deep relationships yet is causing a rift in my need to spend quality time with others.
Do you hear it? Do you see the Perfect Storm brewing? Can you feel the cataclysmic clash coming down on my emotional heart?
Upon arrival at the conference, well-meaning friends hugged and kissed and asked “so how is it going in Spain?”, and my heart sank a little more. How do I even answer that? “I don’t know yet”, became my standard reply. I think I said it at least 20 times a day. After you say I-don’t-know enough times, especially if you have Achiever as one of your highest strengths, you start to feel like a real failure. Add to that mix a few of your most beloved mentors, people you look up to, whom you value, and whom you want nothing more than to have them validate you and believe that you are good… nothing like some self-imposed pressure!
So there I sat, each day being a bit more ‘real’ than the last, bringing more tears and more self-realization. I started listening to the voice of the Enemy as he took advantage of the situation, of my weakness, and began whispering in my ear, “You know you’re going to fail this time. What made you think you could do this? You aren’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough…” Each evening, I wanted to stay up and visit with friends. I wanted to sit in the main hall and play games with the others. I wanted to be in community, to connect, and to have fun. But I was exhausted from all the self-talk, the self-examination, and the realization that I don’t have anything together – not at all. If I stayed up, chances are I would just start crying again, and that was too much vulnerability to endure in one day. So I went to bed to protect myself from having to talk about it anymore.
In processing through all of this in the aftermath of the past two weeks, I think maybe I’m getting somewhere. I do recognize now that all of the situations that made me weep and all of the issues that brought me to tears where the result of listening to those statements from the Enemy. I have heard Frank speak warnings to me many times before about those statements that the Enemy uses to discourage us, to deceive us, to beat us down. In every single circumstance, I look back now and recognize that I was hearing those things in my head and reacting to them. I have come to the realization that this season of my life in ministry, this time here in Spain, is going to be different. I don’t know what God is up to, but I do believe with all my heart that He did call us here and He does have a plan… but for the life of me, I don’t know how He plans to use me in it, if I will be successful in it, or how exactly it will all play out. I think that He has me in a place of weakness for a reason, but I’m not sure why or what the lesson will be. I know that I am extremely uncomfortable with weakness, and maybe that is precisely the point. I don’t do ‘dependent’ very well… I’m an independent Texas girl who has always been able to put on her boots and hang in there with the toughest of the tough. My motto in my earlier days was “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” I learned that if you fall off the horse, you better bounce right off your butt and get back up in that saddle. If there isn’t evidence of blood, bones, or barf, get back in the game. Nope, dependent hasn’t ever been in my vocabulary. And that’s just where He has me… dependent, crying, weak, and wondering what on earth He’s going to do next.
One of my peers said last week, “This is my people. This is my family. This is my tribe. I’m safe here. I’m going to say it all and share it all here.” I’m so glad that I have people like that in my life! I’m so glad that I have friends and peers that can sit there when you cry, sometimes without any words, and you just know that they understand and that they are there for you. During the Sunday worship and prayer service, Mercy and Ravi prayed over us as we wept at the altar, later to tell us of a vision they had of a ‘new garden and new growth’ while we were kneeling there. Later in the week, Katheryn talked to me about our season of transition being like a field that lays fallow for a season, preparing and refueling for the new planting and new fruit to come. Thank God for these people who speak words of life into my often-times dry and crying soul. I’m okay with being dependent and weak and struggling when I have “my tribe” to hold me and my God to lean on. I’m going to be okay.
Maybe dependent is not such a bad place to be.
Thanks to everyone who put up with the tears and who love me enough to just ‘be’ with me. I love you, too! So glad to be with you when I needed you so much!
Who am I? In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a Southern Living / Martha Stewart wannabe, a soccer mom, and a short term mission team coordinator / intern director for missions in Mexico... you name it, I probably tried it!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! We have three incredible children... two adult boys who live in Texas, and the Sarah (14) lives with us in whatever country we are serving. I'm still teaching, still taking photos, still leading teams and mentoring, I just do it all in full-time service now! And I'm working hard at giving Southern Living and Martha Stewart a run for their money! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers and immigrant peoples, writing, and trying to figure out what life looks like for a Texas girl serving Christ in Southern Europe. Life in His service is AWESOME! I'm happy to share it with you here... Enjoy!