Very often, photos on my phone are a starting point for my posts. They remind me of what was important that week; what I wanted to remember. Not always of course. There are other important things that never make it to the camera roll, but things on my camera roll are often the starting point for my posts.
Today’s post will be a bit different – and it will be longer (you might want to throw on an extra pot of coffee 🙂 ). You see, not too long ago I hit one of those milestone birthdays. So for the past couple of months I’ve been in reflection mode...
Ready? Let’s go…
Looking back, life was somewhat predictable in my teens & twenties… high school, university, two years living abroad, my first full time job (Xerox Canada Ltd – great company), and eventually, marriage. Liz is from Belgium and we met in Europe so that was perhaps a first big ‘detour’ from the road of a predictable life. Best detour ever in fact, she’s for sure my BETTER HALF!
My 30s were first and foremost about introducing kids into the mix. Then I left a good job at a company where I could’ve easily worked until retirement (I would’ve had 25 years with the company this year had I stayed) in favour of teaching French at the university. This eventually fizzled due to labour contracts and I found myself working full-time for the church I’d began attending some years earlier… a dream job really. Through continuing education, I began the process of ministerial licensing.
The ‘Next’ decade…
On one hand, I’d be tempted to say…
“I wouldn’t relive my forties for anything.“
I loved my work in the local church. I assisted an incredible pastor who impacted me both on ministerial and family levels: I looked up to the way he did ministry and raised his family. I was (a) eager to work with someone whose ministry I could complement and (b) with whom the personal relationship was both strong and edifying… we were friends, not just colleagues.
Then things imploded.
People made accusations against that leader; some fiercely agreed, others fiercely defended, the church nearly split and I was in the middle. Experiencing the pain of the situation personally while trying to inspire cohesion as the process ran its course. That pastor would go on to leave the ministry and his family.
I hated those times.
With only a handful of exceptions, church members loved and supported our family. Several of the ‘exceptional ones’ themselves suffered not insignificantly during and following that time.
Hosea 8:7 warns that when you “sow to the wind, you reap the whirlwind.”
In the midst of the crisis (the original pastor had left and the church was in a pastoral search) I came to France to teach at the summer Bible School program, immediately following a week in Romania, where I took part in a friend’s wedding.
Those were precious days. I could forget, for a time, the conflict, the strife, the striving, the second-guessing… etc. Mentally and spiritually, I could relax a bit and let my guard down.
It was during this time that God called us to “invest more time” in France. That was scary, but I trusted God. In the following months he spoke to Liz about it as well. Other influential voices in our life confirmed and/or supported what I felt God had spoken…. including the new pastor who arrived just weeks after my return from Europe.
We wouldn’t arrive in Europe until 2015 (three years later). In the three years between the events of 2012 and our departure, God used Rev. Brent Carter to bring emotional / spiritual healing into my life. Little by little, I learned to trust again.
We first met members of the French missionary staff in 2006 and 2008. With hindsight, it’s clear that God was laying groundwork well in advance of our 2015 departure from Canada.
Initially, our plans were to come as furlough replacements for missionaries who were preparing for a 1.5-2yr deputation stateside (note: that was 5.5 yrs ago). We weren’t opposed to the idea of staying on after their return but I fully expected that it would be in an assisting role. That’s what I’d done, and done well. It was my comfort zone and, I believe, my area of gifting. I was heavily influenced by Terry Nance’s book “God’s Armor Bearer“.
Long before coming, I’d said time and again that I had no aspirations of being a senior pastor, I was very content in a second man role. To this day that’s true.
Nance’s book makes the statement, and I’ve fully ascribed to it, that many people who are naturally gifted as “second men” can in fact perform much better in that role than if they get pushed or enticed into a “first man” position. It’s like trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole. Both the peg and the wall end up damaged.
What’s scary is that this is now the situation we’ve found ourselves in. #NeverSayNever
The last half of my 5th decade has been this. Living well outside my comfort zone, for upon our colleagues’ return to France, they were assigned elsewhere and we remained in Châtellerault. Day-to-day life and church management has been on. our. own.
I’d seen long-term, ministry teams and noted their effectiveness. For a long time I’d longed to be part of such a team. It’s what I aspired to (whether in the local church in Canada or here). We found ourselves instead functioning day-to-day as a single minstry-family.
You try to talk yourself into making sense of it:
“We know we were in the Lord’s will to come. Even though we didn’t know how things would unfold, the Lord did. Just roll with it. The Lord’s will is perfect, right?”
“Unlike most North American missionaries, we have EU citizenship, meaning that things like work / residency / school is easier. That’s a God-thing, right?”
“Working a part-time secular job here has allowed us to benefit from the national health care program (coinciding perfectly with the time that our North American health care became non-renewable). That too is God, right?”
All the while though, lingering doubts gnaw away on the inside, beneath the surface, behind the smiles and the cheery blog posts. Those doubts must be fought back daily. Some days I’m better at it than others.
Why the Angst?
We gave up stability to serve a greater cause and that greater cause was more of a battle than we’d expected… it still is.
Normally… missionaries return to North America every 4 years to raise financial support and awareness. For missionary children, that can mean homeschooling out of a van and/or hotel room as the travel schedule allows.
Us… After our kids got into the French school system, we did not want to pull them out every 3-4 years to spend 1-2 years on the road, homeschooling and sleeping in a different place every few nights.
Most North American pastors would not impose that on their children.
If that’s considered synonymous with “the call”, it wasn’t a part of the call that we were willing to embrace. I’d uprooted my kids’ life in a major way once, if I could avoid it, I wasn’t going to do it every few years.
European citizenship afforded the possibility of working here as a way to complement our finances. That’s the route I took, and it was a good thing. There were months when that was all we had; months when no support came from North America or when support from North America didn’t even cover our rent let alone other expenses.
Case in point… this month we received support to the tune of about 2/3 our house rent and we have a car repair bill that’s about the same as our rent.
In those months, I question.
In those months, I don’t do well.
Where we had a nice home in Canada, we had only a rental home here; nothing to call our own. Everything had to be “portable”…. “in case we moved/left/etc.”
In contrast, I’m from eastern Canada and last summer, when home, we visited the area where my grandfather was raised and where my parents retired to; our family goes back 7 generations.
I don’t do well living “temporarily”… living “in between” a known and an unknown.
It’s one of the reasons that bees came into our life.
It was either (a) buy a piece of land or (b) get some honeybees. I needed something to give me a sense of permanency… something to make me feel less like I was ‘just in between’.
The land was small and you couldn’t build on it, but it boasted a handful of fruit trees and small vineyard (how more French could you possibly get?) and, most importantly, it was ridiculously inexpensive.
Liz was incredulous.
Always the practical voice of reason to temper my romantic-dreamerism she was like:
– Do you know how much work even a small vineyard is?
– What’ll we do with that many grapes?
– There’s only so much grape jelly we can eat!
OK… then I’m getting honeybees.
(It was something I’d wanted to get into for about twenty years. Besides, next to a land purchase, a hive of bees was an easy sell.)
It was a way for me to own something… to feel even the slightest sense of permanence.
Since Christmas, you’ve seen me talk about the chicken coop and the greenhouse. They too were ways of achieving a sense of permanency (or simply continuance). I got some things out of pots (remember… I only planted in pots “in case” we moved / left) and into the ground. If something changes, I’ll worry about that then… I couldn’t stand living “in between”.
I can almost hear some saying…
“But why isn’t church your main investment? The place where you look for that sense of meaning / permanence? This world is not our home, we’re just passing through.”
Make no mistake, we invest there.
Could we invest more? Always.
There have been challenges ever since our arrival: Challenges with our building, challenges with faithful attendance, challenges with aspects of the French, secular mentality, and challenges with time. I could go on.
AIMers / Associate Missionaries (our level of missionary appointment) typically don’t have funds included in their budget for buildings or other projects. So we are unable to provide funding for any major building work over and above our tithes & personal offerings (see note above on support levels). We’re also still very much a ‘home missions’ type church with more young believers than mature (for whom tithing is not a regular practice).
All things considered, we face way more challenges here than we did back in Canada. (Having grown up in Europe, Liz knew intellectually that it would be that way… now we’re just living it out).
Seem Pretty Negative Up ’til Now?
Remember… I began my timeline by saying that “I wouldn’t relive my 40s for anything.” The last 1,000 words or so simply give you insight into why I would be tempted to say that. In many ways, my 40s were very, very tough (I didn’t even mention the Canadian government clawing back 3yrs worth of HST/GST/Child Tax Benefit payments or dis-allowing us to claim deductions for dependents, increasing our overall tax bill – we pay thousands to Canada Revenue each year and get no tangible benefits).
There have been lots of reasons to be disillusioned.
But, a book is not completed until the last page has been written. Similarly, our life and experience of missions in France is, as yet, incomplete and here are some things that I know or am aware of:
That God’s word is true. There are many verses that give hope and encourage us to keep going… here are just a couple:
- “In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other.” Ecclesiastes 7.14
- “For all this I considered in my heart even to declare all this, that the righteous, and the wise, and their works, are in the hand of God.“ Ecclesiastes 9.1
- “28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed, 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Matthew 6.28-34
- Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15.58
I also know…
…that our kids have adjusted well here. Most of their formative teenage memories are here in France. For all intents and purposes… their ‘home’ is here now. Though they spent longer in Canada, those were the toddler and child years… they are ‘becoming’ here in France.
They are engaged in various paths of study meaning that the foreseeable future is here. I’m even less inclined to envisage uprooting them (not to mention that post-secondary education here is a fraction of the cost of what it would be back home. Financially, we could not afford university for them, after having lived this lifestyle of service for the past 5 1/2 years).
The kids are doing well academically and socially, and they love the Lord. At this stage in their life, what more can a parent ask for?
I also know…
…that Liz is finally doing something that she’s wanted to do from the time she began her university studies… translating Christian literature. That’s cool.
Finally, I know…
We may not be ‘livin’ large’ as they say… but we’ve never lacked for what we’ve needed (whether as gifts from neighbours, family or friends, or via produce from the garden). God has provided, and for that, we are thankful.
This post has really been a bit of a mixed bag… “the good, the bad, and the ugly” so to speak, seasoned with a bit of good (’cause it’s always good to end on a positive, right?). I began by talking about the relative stability of my 20s & 30s versus the upheaval in my 40s. Through all of that, and despite my temptation to say that I’d not want to relive those years, the Lord has been faithful. He is that still, small (stable) voice in a world of unsteadiness… when we come to him.
I still struggle… often, and sometimes I wonder who that guy was that had life by the tail in his 30s. I don’t always recognize myself these days, but the words of that old hymn, I Know Who Hold Tomorrow, are front and center as I finish this post that I began back in July (but have struggled to finish – tough to be this transparent)…
It is this knowledge that I take into my 50s. Lived, first-hand knowledge, gained in my 40s, that God is faithful when life is difficult.
Thank you for stopping by today, and
Thanks for your patience, going through this extra-‘Long’ post.
(see what I did there? 🙂 )
God bless you richly, and when you question tomorrow hold tight to the hand that’s holding yours, for the Lord is faithful.