How Getting Away Can Bring You Home

We added 456 miles to our minivan earlier this week. We traversed the Cascades and settled in Central Oregon, with dear college friends, for two nights.

Even before we left, I had a gut feeling that this would be a monumental trip, in an understated sort of way.

It was.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the life God has given me and wouldn’t trade it for anything. But, getting away for a couple days was just what my soul needed. Leaving home, work, neighborhood, and responsibilities proved to be more than just a break.

Our getaway to the center of our state helped center my soul.

The more self aware I become, the more I realize how travel – whether across town or across the world – can bring health to my soul.

When I don’t spend time away, I start becoming dangerously myopic. All I can see is me and the people and possessions that I think orbit around me. I become the center. I become the hope for my soul. I deceitfully begin to think and feel as if I am the one holding my world together.

I go. I get away. I step out of my life. And everything changes.

This recent trip was no exception.

Reconnecting with old friends reminds me of that intangible bond we have with each other in the Body of Christ. Seeing differing topography and the myriad beauty of God’s handiwork reminds me of His vastness and my comparative smallness. Brief intersections with unknown (to me) humans – the fellow hiker or grocery store checker or gas station attendant – remind me there are billions of stories being written in this moment and billions more that have gone before and are yet to unfold. My story, but a single star in the night sky. So small, yet significant and loved by the Creator.

Each of these small reminders, the friends, the hills, even the strangers, are like stepping stones back to Reality. They usher me into a perspective more in line with Truth. Getting away brings my soul back to my true home, back to an earthly life lived in light of eternity.

The Painted Hills

Sustainable Gratitude

Sierra Leone in February, Mexico in March. Phew! To any of you who travel regularly for your job or even for fun, I applaud you. It’s valuable, but hard. I enjoy travel, but love home. So I’m thankful to be here, typing away at my own desk in my own bedroom.

After two missions trips in the last two months, I’ve heard a common comment from my fellow travelers. It came from my own mouth, too, after my very first mission trip in High School. By ‘it,’ I refer to this often repeated sentiment: Seeing how little they have makes me so thankful for what I have! Or some variation on the same tune. You’ve probably heard it or said it too.

But, for a few years now, this sentiment has bothered me. In processing my recent missions trips, a couple reasons for my unsettled feeling about this common response are becoming clear.

The first component of this response that bothers me is that it is based on comparison. But, should comparison be our source of gratitude OR dissatisfaction? Comparison is an unhealthy standard by which to perceive and approach the world around us. God doesn’t recommend we look around and itemize our possessions and other’s possessions and then, when we’ve found someone who has less than us, then and only then, give thanks. He tells us to look up to Him, the Giver of every good thing, and give Him thanks and honor and glory and praise!

That’s not to say that recognizing how much we, as Americans, truly have and enjoy is a negative thing. We MUST remember that we are in the extreme minority. We cannot become so accustomed to our ease of infrastructure and access to necessities that we lose sight of the blessing they truly are. We need to pursue a more complete perspective of the world around us so that we don’t take for granted what we experience.

I love that my youngest child, on our drive back from Mexico, kept asking me if it was OK to flush the toilet paper, or brush his teeth using the sink water. As a five year old, his eyes are being opened. Experiencing a different culture is a tangible and memorable way to remind him of the blessings of ease and comfort God has given us, even though we are undeserving.

So I guess what I am saying it this: comparison CAN lead to gratitude, but it cannot be our only complete source of gratitude. It is a shallow foundation upon which to build a life of thanksgiving.

“In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

If comparison is our guide, what do we do with verses like, “in everything give thanks”? When trial or poverty come, is the answer to look around for others whom we determine to ‘have it worse’ than we do? It begins to sound a lot like the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 who thanked God that he was so much better off than the tax collector. It is a slippery (and prideful) slope to bolster ourselves upon the debasement of another.

Another frustration I have with this over-simplified sentiment is WHAT is being compared. Riches, possessions, ease, comfort. Perhaps such evaluations reveal an idol in our hearts. Aren’t there vastly more important things to be thankful for? Aren’t all believers, regardless of income and possessions, abundantly rich with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3)?! All things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter1:3)?! My sisters, and fellow pastor’s wives from other countries, Coni from Mexico and Rachel from Sierra Leone, are equally as rich as I am. We are equally as rich because of our shared inheritance in our Savior! Praise and Thanks to God!

My sister in Christ and fellow pastor’s wife, Coni, in Tabasco, Mexico
More sisters in Christ! From Left to Right: Nancy, Samuela, Amy, Zainab, Esther, Regina, Rachel, Deborah, Florence, and Me. Most of us are also pastor’s wives, working together for God’s Kingdom.

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.”

Ephesians 1:18-19

The command to give thanks in everything is universal. It is given to the family living in the dump in Mexico and to the Wall Street mogul earning $2000 dollars a day. It is given to the mother in Sierra Leone who has been abandoned by her husband because of her faith in Jesus, as well as to the middle-class, stay-at-home mom, typing out these words you read. Our thanks can, yes, arise from physical circumstance. But, this source is not sustainable. Our thanks must arise, in even greater degree, from spiritual reality. Money creates a false dichotomy that Jesus has abolished. Haves and Have-Not’s can all be rich in Christ!

If this isn’t a firm foundation upon which to build our gratitude, I don’t know what is. We must lift our eyes to greater reality, to God’s reality! We must Aim at Heaven.

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”

James 1:17

If you’ve never had the privilege of going on a short term mission trip, I strongly encourage you to bump it up to a higher spot on your list of priorities. You will be challenged. You will grow. You will be changed. It is awesome, in the literal sense of the word, to be a witness of God’s diversity and creativity among people as well as His undeniable involvement in the hearts of people all over the world. When you go, I pray that gratitude will be one of the outcomes of your experience. Gratitude for your tangible blessings, yes. But more importantly, a deeper gratitude for all God has done, is doing, and will do in you and the whole world.

God brandished His rich beauty through this glorious Mexican sunset!

Do We Really Want the King?

Peace and Joy won’t come this Christmas in the form of kids who don’t fight during winter break, a spouse who meets all your needs, a perfectly decorated home, enough money to buy all the things you want, good health, physical comfort, a relaxed schedule, or a good night’s sleep.

True peace and joy will come through the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace.

But do we really want Him?

We celebrate the time when heaven came to earth, when the Word became flesh, when the Prince of Peace was born. We celebrate Christmas because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords bent low to rescue His creation.

But do we really want Him?

Most of us long for peace, joy, love, and hope this season; really, every season. But it all feels so elusive. We navigate broken relationships and broken bodies, deal with disappointment, feel unloved and fail to love others, and have our hopes dashed daily.

Do we really want the King?

We know there is something wrong in this life we live, in this body in which we dwell, in this earth we trod. And so we search and plot and plan: how to feel peace, how to be loved, how to have joy, where to find hope.

But do we really want the Prince of Peace?

Yet, all our searching seems futile. All our carefully followed ‘steps to happiness’ only lead to ultimate frustration and disillusionment. We grope around in a pitch black room, looking desperately for sunlight. We bury our heads, our hearts, our humanity under mounds of quick fixes, if onlys, vanishing hopes, and endless strivings.

Do we really want the Lord of Lords?

Advent means ‘coming.’ Christ came humbly through the womb of Mary over 2000 years ago. But a new advent is on the horizon – when Christ comes mightily with all authority to execute justice and mercy where it is due. When He comes to tangibly do what He has always been doing – reigning as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Prince of Peace.

Do we really want Him?

We must live NOW like He is King of our hearts – because this is reality. This is practice for what will completely be in the future. We live NOW with all aims and hopes set on the King of Heaven because this is more true than what we daily experience.

Do we really want the King?

That peace, love, joy, and hope we want – the Ruler, Owner, Creator and Bestower of these experiences and truths is the Eternal Father. And He gives liberally to those who partake in His kingdom here and now. We experience these blessings of His kingdom when we submit to His rule, His perspective, His reign in our hearts.When we live according to self-rule, self-perspective, and self-reign, we only receive what we ourselves as ruler have to offer – imperfection, disappointment, and darkness.

Do we really want the Mighty God?

It’s not about our own set of rules and standards. It’s not about our circumstances or ease of life. It’s not about our bank account or beauty. None of these things will bring lasting peace because they are not God. If we hope in anything or anyone other than God it will fail us, because only God is faithful and able to do what He promised. And only God is the source of Peace. Abundance of peace and joy comes to those who “Seek First His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

Do we really want His kingdom?

Peace and Joy will be yours this Christmas when you “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Colossians 3:15). The Peace OF Christ, not the peace of our own design. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27).

Do we really want the King?

His rule may be uncomfortable to a heart that isn’t accustomed to it. His reign may require a complete paradigm shift in your expectations and hopes. His kingdom requires that His people do things His way. But He is a King who already did what we couldn’t; He lived perfectly, died humbly, rose victoriously, and reigns righteously. No other ruler is so loving or mighty. We can trust His rule. We can enjoy His reign. We can experience His Peace, Joy, Love and Hope this Christmas season.

That Time Pentatonix Made Me Cry

I was piloting our family mini-van down the parkway, all the kids in tow. The kid-of-the-day had requested that we listen to Pentatonix as we drove that afternoon. The perfectly in tune vocals had us all wrapped up in the musical experience.

And then I started to cry.

I had read a few weeks earlier about the importance of listening to our tears, so I did. I didn’t brush them away as I am usually prone to do. Instead, I let the tears take my hand and direct me through the pathways of my heart.

“We could be timeless, we could be classic
We could be stars, we could be rose gold, rose gold
We could be diamonds, we could be an anthem
We could be stars, we could be rose gold, rose gold”

They sang. And my heart heaved with longing for HOME.

Something in the repetition and emphasis of we could be struck a cord of desire for true beauty, true glory, true music, true rest – for my true HOME. I was longing for what will be, but isn’t yet. They sang of the hope of earthly love while my heart sang of deep desire for my heavenly Love.


It’s six months later. We’ve slept in our new house and lived in our new community for about two and a half months.

There’s something about all the change that has stirred again that longing for HOME.

Life feels unfamiliar, so I long for the stable and unchanging presence of God.

Relationships feel a little awkward, so I yearn for the all-knowing and deep, deep love and intimacy of my Savior.

These feelings are not bad or sad, they makes me glad!

That longing for our true HOME is a good and holy longing. It is a desire worth dwelling on and being motivated by. It is a God given hunger. I am thankful for the temporary discomfort because it reminds me that this world is not my home. It is not where my real treasure resides. It is not my source of hope or peace of joy. I don’t place my faith in the world and it’s ways.

We all have the same hope as that fiery disciple of Jesus – Peter – who declares: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  (1 Peter 1:3-5)

AMEN.


 

Music continues to stir my soul as I’m sure it does yours. Here are a couple songs that have recently accompanied my own heart’s song of longing for HOME. May your heart join in too!

Out of Hiding by Steffany Gretzinger

C.S. Lewis Song by Brooke Fraser