Reconciliation is never easy…

Confrontation isn’t comfortable.  It goes against our sinful nature.  We don’t like to deal with problems, especially when it means being the first to say, “I’m sorry.”  Oh it’s easy to tell someone that they hurt you. Often times we do that with flailing arms, screaming at the top of our lungs.  (Ok, maybe that’s just me.)  But how do we apologize, I mean, really apologize by asking for forgiveness in a way that communicates a genuine desire to nurture a friendship?  

Then what if you’ve been wronged in the process too?  What if you feel hurt and in need of hearing an apology as well?  But when the dust settles, it looks like all eyes and ears are on you, waiting for you to accept your responsibility as the only guilty party.  I don’t know about you, but everything within me screams for JUSTICE at a time like this!!  What about the part in the Bible that talks about “…speaking the truth in love..”?  I don’t know about you…but recently I’ve felt like I definitely have some TRUTH to speak, but I don’t know how “lovingly” it would come out!  

Recently I had a “run-in” of sorts with an African sister in church.  The issue…very minor.  The way it played out…pretty major.  So here we are:  a misunderstanding with personality differences and cultural differences among 2 people who are at different stages in their walk with the Lord.  BANG!  

I believe that these “collisions” come into our lives for a reason:  to conform us into the image of Christ.  Each time we face something like this we have a choice:  to grow or not to grow in our walk with Him.  I went into this thinking, “Ok, if I’m gonna grow, she’s gonna grow too!”  But wait a minute…we can’t force someone to “see the light” and decide to let God work in their life.  I know that.  But I also know that as well as the Holy Spirit, God uses His people to encourage and draw others to Him.  

So therein lies the dilemma:  How much do I say?  Where do I draw the line?  Do I have any right (after apologizing) to “drop a hint” about how I was also wronged, hopefully causing her to realize an area in her walk with the Lord where she needs to grow?  I wasn’t planning on preaching or making a big deal about it.  If I, someone who is directly involved, doesn’t say something, who else will?  She’s my friend, shouldn’t I have the freedom to talk with her about this?  But then again, would she even listen since she felt like I hurt her?  But she hurt me too?  And I could go on….but I’ll spare you my schizophrenic arguments.

Anyway, I was encouraged (or threatened…depending on how you look at it 😉  by my husband to let it die. As one who has wronged, pointing out the “log in someone else’s eye” would pretty much cancel out any apology.  I on the other hand felt like if she were truly my friend, we would be able to talk about what happened cordially and mutually apologize.  Oh well.  I decided to go against my own nature and apologize without expecting one in return and without pointing out any wrongs committed against me…even with the intent of encouraging her in her walk with the Lord.  I read 1 Cor. 13 over and over, asking God to help me LOVE her.  It helps to read that chapter and be reminded exactly what love is.  We as human beings in a God-less society warp the true essence of love.  I like how The Message explains what love is:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

   Love never gives up.
   Love cares more for others than for self.
   Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
   Love doesn’t strut,
   Doesn’t have a swelled head,
   Doesn’t force itself on others,
   Isn’t always “me first,”
   Doesn’t fly off the handle,
   Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
   Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
   Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
   Puts up with anything,
   Trusts God always,
   Always looks for the best,
   Never looks back,
   But keeps going to the end.
    Love never dies. 

That’s when I realized.  I’m here as a missionary.  It’s actually easier to help folks financially with basic, daily needs or share the Gospel with a muslim.  But honestly, all of this is pointless if  I can’t model true LOVE.

I guess what it boiled down to was that I doubted that she would listen and obey the Holy Spirit’s prodding in her life.  But what if she doesn’t hear that still small voice now?  What if takes 3 years and she keeps repeating this same mistake…hurting other people and herself?  Why do I somehow feel responsible for that?  Why do I feel like if I warn her now…then that’ll save a lot of other people (and herself) from a lot of hurt down the road?  Why do I feel like I need to fix this???????  Ugh.  

I’m still not sure where the line is.  I’m still not sure what our role is in “sharpening” our brothers and sisters in the Lord.  Did I quench the Holy Spirit because I listened to my husband?  I guess we’ll never know.  I felt like the “talk” we had went well….but it could’ve have gone better in some aspects.  It’s hard to separate our cultural way of doing things from the way God asks us to do things in His Word.  But like most things that have to do with the human heart….they take time.  I just have to realize that I can’t always be the “fixer”.  Just because I may see an issue…doesn’t mean I have to be the one to bring it to light.  I choose to trust that the Lord is at work and that His ways are higher.  He will finish the work that HE has started in ALL of us!  Lord teach me to be content with praying when I can’t speak!!

Here’s a little poem I wrote while sitting the hospital reflecting on this whole messy issue…

I have no rights, I lay them down
The right to fight, to hold my ground
I must surrender when falsely accused
Refusing the urge to make them pay their dues
I must leave justice in the hands of my Lord
Choosing peace as my reward
Lord grant me humility when I’ve been wronged
Patience to walk the road of reconciliation–so long–
When the moment is right, help me speak the truth in love
Knowing that conviction from Your Holy Spirit alone is enough
I have no rights, I lay them down
Forever grateful for my Savior who willingly chose to wear the crown.

Goodbye Gallbladder!

Wanna hear about my hospital experience over here in Africa?  No?  Well, I’m gonna tell ya anyways!  HA!  I must admit that overall, it was GREAT!  But let’s start back from the beginning so you can see how cool of a God we serve!

I didn’t want to have this surgery.  I was bound and determined to KEEP my gallbladder!  I didn’t want to part with my beloved bile-spitting organ 😦  I consulted many friends (thanks to facebook) and found that many of you had done cleanses to help rid you of the gallstones, allowing you to forego surgery.  Sounded like a plan to me!  However, after speaking with a fellow missionary here, she really encouraged me to at least have an ultrasound done to see get an idea of what was going on.  Actually, she asked me to promise that I would.  We had all of our bags packed and ready to go.  We’d even done a “practice” car packing 😉  We were emotionally, mentally, and “organizationally” ready to hit the road for the next 8 months to do our people group assessments.  Well, God was about to say, “You’re not PHYSICALLY ready, Stef.!”

Out of obligation to my friend, I went to see a dr. Monday morning, the 10th.  Since I didn’t have an appt. I was determined to be the first one at her office.  I was surprised to find out that she didn’t open up shop until 9 am.  Well, I was first and she gladly worked me in.  She was very polite and spoke so soft, I found myself leaning forward to listen.  Seeing her diplomas from Paris, France made me feel a little more at ease 😉  After the initial medical history questions, she proceeded to do the ultrasound.  When she asked me if I had gas (since obviously the gas was clouding the view on the ultrasound) I almost lost it!!!  I just responded…”Well, I don’t really notice.  But I think it runs in the family!”  True statement.

The result of the ultrasound…lots of tiny stones.  Her opinion…remove the gallbladder.  Well, I wasn’t convinced.  I know, I’m stubborn.  As we started to pray, I told the Lord, “You’re gonna have to convince me.  I’m partial to my gallbladder and if You want me to take it out….You’re gonna have to give me a 2nd and possibly 3rd opinion….AND I’m gonna need to trust my surgeon.  I need to have confidence in the one holding the scalpel.”  Some of you may think I’m crazy, but I believe God is a personal God who is interested in our needs and desires.  I knew He could handle this.

So, I made an appt. to see the surgeon expecting to have the typical visit with an African professional.  Usually you get a sense of “my way or the highway”, questions are unacceptable because they appear to contest his/her authority, and credentials begin flying around the room which is further proof that all the knowledge belongs to him/her and I have no need of knowing what’s gonna happen to my body.

Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by our consultation.  Professor Diouf didn’t once raise his voice, demand that I have surgery, flaunt his diplomas, or refuse to discuss alternatives to surgery.  He was extremely polite and his only request was, that if I decided not to have surgery, that I NOT leave Dakar.  Traveling in country would be foolish.  He even drew a diagram of my insides to explain all the possible complications of choosing not to have surgery.  Wow!  God is amazing!  But….I’m stubborn.

After seeing the conditions of the hospital and finding out it could take 6 weeks to have the surgery, I asked Daniel if we could look at a clinic instead.  He said, “Let’s go!”  So we drove to a small clinic, mostly ran by Lebanese doctors.  I fell in love immediately.  I walked right in and asked for a “3rd” opinion.  Again, the dr. took his time with me and handed me the same verdict.  Take it out! Don’t fool around with something like this!  That’s when I said, “Ok, Lord!  You convinced me!  I’m comfortable with the surgeon (who I later found out was the best in Dakar!) and I’m confortable with this clinic.  Let’s do this!” Who would’ve thought the following Tuesday I’d be having surgery?!?

And there you have the pre-surgery story.  I must admit, I’ve had many “nay-sayers” along the way who have told me to not trust an African dr., don’t have the surgery done here, GO HOME!  But when God gives peace…why would we change our minds?  We truly felt that this was the only way to address my health issues AND continue on with our ministry.  If we left to go home, not only would we have paid a TON of money, but we would have missed out on an opportunity to do these surveys which God called us to in the first place!  His calling didn’t change in our hearts, so we knew that He would see us through this trial.  It was never a detour…only a speed bump 😉

So, I show up at 7:30 am, expecting to be out of surgery by 9:30 am.  Well, I didn’t even get taken to the operating room until 9:30 am!  Then the surgeon was on the phone for about 30 minutes ordering medical supplies…walking circles around me as he negotiated on the phone.  Then he hooked up my heart monitor and said, “Do you like the beautiful music?”  I couldn’t help but smile.  Then I felt the Libanese dr. rubbing my cheeks telling me that I’d be going to sleep in a few minutes.  “Do you know how to cook Ceebu Djen (a local dish)?” asked the surgeon.  I began to spin.  “Sort of.  But I like the white, not the red kind,” I responded.  “With pepper?” asked the surgeon, wondering if I was still hanging around.  “Nope.  You know us white folk don’t like it spicy.  Well, my husband does a little.  Now, everything’s spinning.  Tchau. Tchau.”  And those were my last words…

Later I found out what should have been a 30 minute surgery turned out to be a 2 hour ordeal.  My gallbladder was badly inflamed, although this didn’t show up on the ultrasound.  I PRAISE GOD FOR A PATIENT SURGEON who took the time to work on me.  He said he had to keep pumping me full of air so he could work the gallbladder out.  He said the other option would’ve been to cut me open and he didn’t want to do that.  THANK YOU LORD!

I took me about 4 hours to come out of the anesthesia.  That’s some mean stuff!  And then they took me to my room.  I was very happy to see a spacious, clean room with AC!  YAHOO!  The tub was rather interesting…more like a seat…for small people…not Americans.  But they even had 2 English TV channels 🙂  I didn’t like the fact that they wouldn’t give me ANYTHING for the first 24 hours…not even water, much less ice chips!  I was parched!  And to my surprise, instead of beginning slowly with my diet, they served me full course meals.  I was nervous about eating…but thus far other than some initial cramping, my food seems to be digesting well.

Most of the nurses were very polite and gentil.  All except the one who discovered my IV had gotten blocked and decided it was my fault.  I told her I didn’t realize I was a nurse!  She got hold of a syringe and started trying to push the blockage through.  Next thing I knew she was smacking the head of the syringe with the palm of her hand….and boy did it shoot through…like a burning comet up my forearm.  I let out a squeal to which she replied, “Yep, That’s what happens when your IV gets blocked.  Next time pay attention and call us if it happens again.”  Ok, thanks….I guess.  Welcome to Africa.

Seriously though…that was the worst of my experiences (other than a weird looking stitch in one of my 5 spots that’ll leave a nasty scar)….I feel blessed.  We can look back and see the hand of God in each one of our encounters with medical professionals, friendly counsel, and just Him speaking to our hearts personally.  What an encouragement to spur us on to share this personal God with our neighbors.  I long for the day when we witness someone we care about trust our God who cares not only about our physical needs, but who wants an intimate spiritual relationship with us as well.

Thanks for hanging on to the end.  I’m too tired to proofread, so excuse any errors 😉

                                 Sad to leave you AC, but happy to be back home with my boys 🙂

                                            Probably close to 100 stones from a 4″ gallbladder!

My thoughts over the last few weeks…

Our walk with God is a lot like sewing.  I’m by NO means a sewer, but I’ve learned a thing or two about the process from being here in Africa.  For example, I find there are many times when I’ve become too attached to the things of this world or even the blessings that God has put in my life, wearing them as if I had on my favorite, most comfortable skirt.  Then God comes along and trims away some of the unnecessary fabric that otherwise could weigh me down, preventing me from enjoying God to the fullest.  Just like hemming a skirt….

Sometimes fabric rips or tears.  This can be caused by simple wear and tear or by coming in close contact with sharp objects.  Have you ever tried to hop on a moto-taxi only to be reminded by the ripping sound that you’re wearing a skirt??  Yeah, that happened to me once in Guinea.  Rather embarrassing.  When something like this happens, it’s best to sew the hole or tear quickly.  The longer you leave it, the bigger the whole becomes.  It’s the same with our walk with the Lord.  As a missionary, it’s easy to get so caught up in “serving” the Lord that we can easily ignore small “holes” or problems in our lives.  This could be in the form of unbalanced ministry and family life, not being obedient to the Holy Spirit’s leading, disciplining our children consistently, our quiet time with the Lord, quality time with our husband, etc.  I’m so thankful for God’s mercy and patience with me as He gently makes me aware of the “tears” in my spiritual clothes.  Time and time again, He patches me up, weaving forgiveness in each embrace.  

Fashion is nothing more than popularity in cycles.  There’s rarely anything “new” on the market.  The latest fashion or “mode” is nothing more than a new mixture of old and older.  Fashion is influenced by culture and location, often being categorized by its decade.  Each culture has its own definition of beauty.  I’ve found in getting clothes made here in Africa, there are some non-negotiables, such as:  neckline, skirt length, tightness, etc.  But there are other areas where I’ve had to learn to be a little more flexible and “go with the flow”: style, color, formality (still won’t wear heels though!).  This is probably the most easy comparison made thus far.  I’m sure many of you are already remembering situations that have brought you to the same conclusions.  Adapting is not easy.  We’ve all had to do it, as believers and as missionaries whether it’s been in a believer vs. unbeliever context in our home countries, marrying into another culture, or the culture shock of coming to the field for the first time (which some of you are still going through).  But the part of this whole process that I’m dealing with right now in the light of our ministry change is: relationship changes.  

Missionary life is full of goodbyes.  We know that when we sign up for the job…or when we have that first outfit made.  It’s gonna be hard and different and we’re gonna have to adjust.  Unfortunately, I’m not convinced it gets any easier.  Saying bye to family, to friends in the training, to supporters and supporting churches, investing in the lives of those around us only to move on…often before we’re ready…before finishing what we feel like God led us to start.  At times I’ve felt like my heart was being ripped right out of my chest….leaving a hole that could only be patched by the hand of God Himself.  Here I am again…leaving my second West African country soon.  That’s not at all how I planned things…not at all the fabric I picked out or the pattern I chose.  

But that’s when I have to ask myself…Am I willing to change…not to just DO it…but to wholeheartedly ACCEPT it?  If the answer is yes, than that means leaving friends and ministries behind, again.  Saying goodbye again.  On the other end, that means starting new relationships, again…opening myself up again.  Then there’s all the other adapting on a family level…the kids…the moving, etc.  In essence, am I willing to embrace a new fashion even if means getting used to different colors and not so comfortable fabric?  I say YES…because I choose to trust the Tailor:)  What about you?