The new year is a time I regularly look back through my journals and ask myself the question, “Where were you a year ago?” Often I’m surprised by the answer to that question. As regularly happens, my recent review took me further back in time to see the connectedness of events. This post is the result of that review. In it I want to show you how I’ve become very thankful for the painful process of coming to the blessed place of complete surrender; a personal Gethsemane you might say. The post begins with a journal entry written before I left Sierra Leone and shows the progression of that surrender.
Matthew 26:42 O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done
Thursday, August 24, 2014
I can’t describe the torture of my heart as I prepare to leave Stephen. Three weeks of packing my bags, storing items he won’t need, writing instructions for the care of the dogs and chickens. More prayer and tears than I can count. And now, this scene before me.
I’m sitting at my drawing table. Normally it’s covered with sketches, pencils, reference materials, and plans for a new evangelism book or large-scale pastel drawing. And of course my tea mug. This is my part in the ministry I’m privileged to share with my husband.
But today there are no sketches on my table. Rather, I’m looking at three medical books and am writing an outline of instructions for Stephen: What to do if Ebola hits our village, or worse, our home. A sick macabre feeling washes over me. I can’t believe I’m doing this.
Before we ever left for Sierra Leone, we had made various emergency exit plans; it’s an unstable region and we need to be prepared. We had always imagined the emergency would be political or social in nature and our plan always involved my leaving first if at all possible. But now that it’s actually here, somehow I don’t feel so prepared.
Only three days left before we leave for Freetown where Stephen will drop me at the water taxi; the airport being a 40 minute ride across the bay. Then on to the States. I sit back in my chair and absentmindedly look at my medical books. I find myself wondering: Will I ever see him again?
Fast forward to January 3, 2015
I’ve been in the States for four months but it feels like a life-time. In every email and instant message chat session I’m whining like a baby to Stephen; I just want to set a date to go home. But on this morning I’m sitting in the open back door of my rental home looking out into the back yard praying and feeling lonely. Feeling sorry for myself, really. As I talk to my Father and listen, I’m realizing that His answers don’t always fit into my small plans. As I see it:
Option 1 – Best option – I go back to Sierra Leone – Simple
Option 2 – Next best – Stephen comes to the States – Not so simple but still good
That’s as far as I’m able to see and those are the choices I handed to God that morning. Like a little child tightly clutching two things, one in each hand. “Daddy, I want this, or this.” But he took them both out of my hands. Not condescendingly; not angrily, but probably a bit amused as we are sometimes known to be with our children’s desires when they don’t understand what’s best. He said, “I know what you’d like, and I’m glad you want to go back, but here, this will be more beneficial to you.”
At that moment full, true surrender came. A few tears, but also peaceable fruit. He showed me how to surrender all of my all. Not some of my all, or all of my some. But absolute total surrender to the purpose that I may know HIM. He took it out of my hands and put it in His. And that’s where I’ve left it.
Now, today, January 30, 2016 – there it remains, in His hands.
Through this trial I’ve learned to fully trust our Great Savior. I’ve learned how to daily surrender Stephen to the Lord’s care that “Christ shall be magnified in [his] body whether it be by life, or by death.” (Phil. 1:20) I’ve learned to walk confidently and securely, resting in God alone. These and many other personal lessons too numerable to expound, are the fruit of allowing patience to have her perfect work. Today, I can honestly give thanks for the long months of separation from Stephen and joyfully, we’ve both come to this same place of peaceful surrender. It has worked in both of us things which could have come no other way. Somehow, beyond our ability to understand or explain, it’s really alright; it is well with our souls. Because it has brought absolute surrender.
After 18 months of separation, as I pack and prepare for my upcoming return to Sierra Leone, I know I can face the future with confidence. Yet I pack loosely knowing circumstances could change and my return be delayed even longer. However, the lasting lessons and nearness brought about by this long trial, I would not change for anything different. “[I am] beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well.” (Mark 7:37)