Spiritually Mothered to the Mission Field

“The Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before.  That which, like a sea threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape.” ~Charles Spurgeon

I thought when she visited that I would introduce her to the national friends I’ve made on the mission field, spending time together perhaps pouring into others.  Little did I know that God had a different plan – He would use our time together to confirm to me the sweet gift of a spiritual mother that He has given me.  What a gift to be the one poured into…

We had just picked up our friends from the airport and were traveling towards our home on the packed train in our Central Asian city. The joy experienced when finally seeing the faces of friends and family that you miss every single day seems divine in nature – it foreshadows the joy awaiting us in Heaven where goodbyes and homesickness will cease to exist. As we stood face-to-face after nearly a year apart, I noticed a covered woman observing everything we were doing. After the exchange of smiles, I decided to engage her in conversation.  One of the very first things she asked me was if my friend who was visiting from America was my mom.  There was a moment of sorrow as the scene of myself as a teenager kneeling at the foot of my dying mother’s bed was summoned by her question and I quickly told her no. Perhaps my insecurity, from our age difference being between that of a sister and momma, blurted out “no” to the covered woman’s question, but my inner-self sighed a restored “yes.” It was a moment that would eventually lead to a full realization of the goodness of God that has come from the loss of my mother.  It was a moment that would lead to my open and unhindered enjoyment of a gift that testifies to the beauty He has given me from ashes – to the the spirit of worship He has given me instead of a spirit of heaviness. The wisdom of God orchestrated the knitting of our hearts together through her nurturing guidance that has not only verified my transfer to the Kingdom of Light, but taught me how to shine the radiance of Christ to those around me. She loves the Bible and taught me to hunger for it too.

Simply put, her training led to my following of Christ to the nations.

Yes, as our week together progressed, every single national person I introduced my friend to asked me if she was my mom.  I think we were both a little surprised at the repetitive question, and when she finally put her arm around me and giggled as she said “I’ll be your momma,” I relaxed into fully receiving this undeserved gift that God has bestowed upon me. I will never experience what my heart longs for – being able to show my parents all that He is accomplishing in and through me in this far away land, but I was able to show this spiritual momma that the hours of ministry she has poured into me, thus growing me up in the faith, have not been in vain. Decades of prayers – both mine and my mother’s alike – have been answered in His provision of the woman who embodies His redemption of the most horrific loss and declares the restoration of brokenness with beauty and grace. For years I begged God for someone to help me learn how to mother my children and love my husband and for years I dwelt in utter hopelessness in need of a woman to show me how to walk in the unforced rhythms of grace. Days crept by in college where hopelessness crushed me into something like sleep walking through the life I was just trying to survive. But today, after the days of waiting produced a God-given patience that has been necessary for my discovering of true hope, I look forward to the sunrise every morning with alert expectancy. I burn with hope, full of His joy, because in His creativity, He not only sent me someone to help me unlock the mysteries of the Bible, but he created a family-like bond that would surprise me and show me how the development of my patience and hope through the allowance of loss and troubles in my life was absolutely worth it.

“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” ~Romans 5:1-5, The Message

After nearly a week of encouraging time together, my husband and I said goodbye to these dear friends and we jumped on a train headed for home. As the reality of frequent goodbyes that are just part of this lifestyle hit hard, grief settled in and I stood there mostly in silence. I don’t know how long it will be until I see them again, and given that none of us know what the future holds, I am faced with the reality that every single goodbye may be our last goodbye until we meet in Heaven. We’ve already had several friends unexpectedly pass away since we left home – life is merely a vapor and the illusion that it’s not has almost entirely faded…

When cancer ripped mom from my life and suicide stole my dad, the temptation to wallow in sadness from not feeling like I belong to anyone became a daily struggle. The abrupt goodbyes made the thought of all goodbyes an invader of my peace.  My dread of goodbye is often coupled with the lie that a simple goodbye or see you later will surely drown my heart in grief so painful that I will never recover. The trauma of my past goodbyes has become the enemy that pursues my joy.  This trauma became my hope chaser – the very enemy that reminds me of the horror in my past and runs hard after me, deceiving me to believe that I will not escape it’s grip on my mind.

But the goodbyes…the realization that every single day on this earth is precious and fleeting…maybe isn’t necessarily a bad thing, right? I know the pain of losing my mother and I look at the precious friend who mentors me and I know someday I will lose her too. But maybe, just maybe, my past loss and my understanding of future loss is the beautiful joyful sorrow that makes my heart shine with gratitude.

“When you wake to losing someone, you win love….When you realize that what you have you will lose – you win real eyes. You win grateful joy.” ~Ann Voskamp

As I stood on the train, nuzzled into my husband’s comforting embrace, I heard his quivering voice confide in me that he hates when he cannot make things better for me. I assured him I was ok and reminded him that goodbyes are just part of this lifestyle – that Jesus is worth it. I looked out the window of the train and watched our friends fade in the distance, and pondered our time together during their trip.  I thought about all the women thinking I belonged to her and that she was my mom and I felt as though that was the moment that the Spirit revealed to my heart what a gift the Lord had given me while my friend was here.  I will never experience the joy of introducing my biological mother to my national friends and showing her what her years of taking me to church have resulted in.  I will never get to thank her for initially teaching me about Jesus and paving the way for this life of abandonment to His calling – at least not until we meet again in Heaven. The truth is, when I sat at the foot of my mother’s bed and watched her die, missions was not on my radar. I didn’t know one single missionary and I had never even thought I would ever tell someone about Jesus. I didn’t know to read the Bible on my own and actually had very little knowledge of the promises of God.  But as I glanced back and caught one last glimpse of my friend from the train, I understood that God had used our time together to confirm the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led relationship He had given me in the woman who mentors – who spiritually mothers – me. He had used her to prepare me for proclaiming His Good News to the women in Central Asia, and He had allowed her to visit to see first hand, the fruit of her labor.

“And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” ~Matthew 12:49-50

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A couple days after they left, and as I was cleaning up our home, my heart was flooded with homesickness for the friends that just left.  And as I was staring the pain that I almost let myself believe would certainly drown me straight in the eye, the Lord brought the story of the Israelites to mind. I thought about how they were leaving Egypt and the Lord told them to encamp near the sea…

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon. Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this.” ~Exodus 14:1-4

The Egyptians were pursing the Israelites and yet God called them to encamp by the sea, which by our logic would be an impossible situation.

With terror chasing them and the impossible in front of them, they were told to encamp.

To abide.  Dwell.  Encamp.

This heart that has watched a mother die and buried a father as well, knows what it feels like to be weary of goodbyes and knows the terror of memories and feelings that pursue my joy every single day.  And before the Lord gave me someone to teach me His promises and hold fast to hope, my future seemed impossible – joy seemed impossible – hope seemed impossible – my father’s suicide, which feels like the ultimate abandonment, made the thought of anyone wanting to invest in me seem impossible.

But then again, the Lord does the impossible. He does more than we can ask or imagine.

He had me abide in Him and encamp and one day, in His perfect timing, He parted my sea of sorrow and delivered me into a life of freedom. But that time of complete sorrow was actually the very thing that makes today overflowing with gratitude.  The sorrow and loss became my very escape from a life wasted and from blessings unnoticed into a life of joy and blessings counted. And the blessing of a spiritual momma is on the top of my list of blessings counted.

Just as I started to put laundry in the washing machine and had resolved to meditate on His goodness found in the story of The Red Sea, believing that He would yet again deliver me from the sadness of homesickness, the Spirit brought Psalm 23 to mind. It was when I was abiding in Him that He spoke to me. I was a bit surprised and didn’t really know how Psalm 23 would apply to the story of the Israelites, but I decided to stop what I was doing and read the Psalm…

As I read the familiar scripture, the Word came fully alive and the Spirit taught me as only He can do…

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” ~Psalm 23:6

As I looked up the word “follow” in the original language, I gasped…

It is the exact same Hebrew word as “pursue” in Exodus!  It means to follow, to pursue, to chase, and even when our enemy pursues us, God’s goodness and mercy pursue us stronger.  Even as my memories pursue my hope, God’s goodness pursues me and opens my eyes to a hope that is fixed on Jesus and longing for Heaven – to a hope that is unstoppable.

With a lesson about God’s goodness and mercy freshly written on my heart, and with the experiences of being taught how to follow Jesus by the woman who personifies Titus 2 in my life, I set out with a fresh hunger to see sisters rescued by Jesus in Central Asia.  May I honor the woman who spiritually mothered me to the field as I disciple other girls, all the while glorifying our Father in Heaven for making all of this possible. His way is always better.

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