The Hardest Thing

"We can do hard things." At my adoptive mom's retreat in February, I registered for a breakout session with this title. Not sure what drew me to it, but I went. A lady with a complicated adoption story talked about her struggle with anxiety, panic attacks, and how that all came to a head during her two adoptions. The most captivating thing I heard her say during that 45 minute session was this, "I learned to do hard things by doing the next right thing." The next right thing. There's so much stirring in me right now, so if this sounds like a long run-on sentence, well, it probably is and you should probably read a different blog if you want great grammar and coherent thought.

This season in our family is the hardest thing we've ever done, at least up until now. There are those watershed moments in your know what I'm talking about. The ones that define you, make you who you are. When my sister Amber died in 1999, that was a defining moment. So much so that I seriously can't find much about myself now that was the case in 1998 before she got sick. Then there was my marriage. Again, major changes. In 2011, we adopted our daughter. Parenting is a whole new ballgame, and I don't even like sports. Then, in the winter of 2016, something else was brewing. When we traveled to Taiwan, we began to have unnatural conversations about possibly living overseas someday. I say unnatural because Justin and I have both been completely content to keep ourselves in the good 'ol USA for as long as we live. I think it was somewhere in our wedding vows. But something was changing...we were changing.

Let me stop right here and say in my most conversational blogging voice that when I talk about praying or prayer, what I'm talking about is an intimate chat between me and the God of the universe. I believe that He hears me. Isn't that something? And even more so, He knows what I'm going to say before I say it. Yet, He desires this relationship with me. I often don't get on my knees...they're getting a little creaky, and I rarely close my eyes because a lot of my praying is done while driving. If you've been intimidated by prayer, I encourage you to just start with where you are. Say it. Even if it doesn't sound nice, or pretty, or you don't pray like anyone you've ever heard...the point of prayer is to be in communion with a God who is both providential and personal. Ephesians 6:18 says, "Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request..."

So, we began to pray. We prayed for guidance if and when the timing was right for our family to move overseas for service or follow a job lead. We believed that giving Amber Joy a clear vision of the world would start with travel and possibly a stint living overseas. We also entered into conversation with our Nazarene Missions Director who happens to attend our church. We expressed a *possible* desire to serve in some sort of missions capacity. Honestly, that seemed like a far-fetched thing to happen because we had only been Nazarene for a few years and didn't have any idea how missions service works. So, the idea went on the back burner, although we periodically dusted off the conversation in our dreams for the future.

In January 2016, I was about to teach a REFIT® class (my fitness habit) and my phone rang. It was Teresa, our NMI director calling from Florida to say she was having lunch with the head of global missions and wanted to give him our e-mail address. I about choked on my own spit. It was one of those moments when you know a simple, "yes" or "no" is not that simple and had the potential to change everything. Well, this blog post isn't about nothing, so you know I blurted out, "yes" before I could even think. The next right thing...and wait.

In June, we were invited to Kansas City for a Cross-cultural Orientation to talk with denominational leadership and missionaries about what it might look like for our family to serve with our church. Again, we said yes. The next right thing. We still felt very uncertain of where this was going...where WE were going, if anywhere. We told our families about the possibilities we were considering and there were several blank stares. In Kansas City, we told them that, ideally, we would love to live and work in Asia, as our daughter is Asian. But as soon as the words would leave our mouths, we would turn to each other and say, "Are we really doing this? This is nuts. We must be crazy."

On one hand, we don't feel ready. But in any of the events that really define us as people, are we ever ready? We had/have a laundry list of why we shouldn't go somewhere as missionaries: we aren't expert theologians, we don't know the Bible passages well enough, we aren't preachers, we don't know any other languages, it would be hard to give up our lifestyle, there's nothing we can offer, couldn't we just send money, international travel is hard...and on and on. And yes, since we said YES to following until we felt we could no longer say yes, there have been some things thrown at us that we were not prepared for. But instead of looking at all that could happen, all that could be bad, all that we're unsure of, we just decided to keep doing the next right thing. And so far, the next right thing has been the pursuit of a missions assignment.

In September 2016, we were both home at the same time and received an e-mail from the Asia-Pacific regional director with the denomination. He asked if Justin would be open to talking more about finance and IT work (duh) and later, I was asked to help in the missionary kid school in Papua New Guinea. PNG is the "hat" of Australia, an island where the eastern half is independent and the western half belongs to Indonesia. I had to look it up on the map. Our denomination has had a hospital there for 50 years in the western highlands and that is where we will be headed, hopefully, in August 2017.

During the adoption, I saw "breadcrumbs" from God all the time. They were easy to pick out. These were the little things that assured us we were going the right way. During the process toward missions service, they've been tougher to see. We haven't felt anything that would make us stop this process, but it's definitely been a challenging seven months since we first heard about PNG. Justin was able to visit for a couple of weeks back in November/December and came home with his heart full and head spinning with the possibilities of ministry. This in and of itself is unbelievable because just a year ago, he was quite content with his job, our home, our church, and our place of service here. But now, he wants so badly to use his gifts and skills for the greater good, teaching and training the folks at Kudjip how to better utilize computer systems and building on what has been happening there for the past half-century. His passion for PNG is beautiful. Another breadcrumb I have seen is that, early in our first Skype conversation with one of the missionaries in PNG, she noted that there are about 16 missionary families that live "on station," and that all of the kids refer to the other missionaries as "aunt and uncle." I couldn't believe it. God had answered a prayer I had only prayed in my heart. When I was a child, I grew up playing with my cousins and had always wished that Amber Joy would have cousins to play with and lots of aunts and uncles around. The Lord hears the desires of our hearts. I had also been wanting a break from chaplaincy. Sure, it's what I know and what I'm trained to do, but being asked to serve in the school, although it will come with challenges, might be a welcome change. And this may seem like a small thing, but Justin and I have always wanted to live near or in the mountains. Guess what? Kudjip station is surrounded by gorgeous mountains!

The next hard thing is going to be saying goodbye to our home, our church, our community, and our families. Our daughter has already struggled with anxious thoughts about our move, though she says she is excited. As parents, we wonder if we are doing the right thing. We talk about it openly, we try to educate ourselves on what the struggles will be by talking with other missionaries there, and this year has been all about preparing ourselves spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

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