When Mountains Crumble: a lifeline for the unexpected

“God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge!

…The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress.”

Psalm 46:1-3, 11

We were so careful.

We delayed our travel. We waited for negative Covid tests. We wore masks for 3 days of air travel and airports. We finally made it to Papua New Guinea. We quarantined for two weeks. An enormous amount of effort and care went into avoiding any chance of spreading Covid from the U.S to our new home. But when we arrived, it was already here.

One day before our quarantine ended, Covid cases here had reached a point of such concern that all non-essential trips to town were cancelled. Imagine moving your family half the world away with only what you can pack into 9 suitcases and then finding out you can’t go to the store.

I cried.

We got through our first week of language learning, and two residents on our base tested positive for Covid. Classes were cancelled. Sports were cancelled. The market is closed. In order to keep from potentially spreading Covid into the community, we’re not allowed to leave the center. Our leadership is carefully navigating an extremely challenging situation, and they’re doing a great job. But the timing was hard.

When I think about why I came to Papua New Guinea, there is one main reason: to obey Jesus. The path up to this point has been full of so many unexpected turns. He has not landed us where I thought we’d be or in the ministry where I thought we’d serve. But I arrived excited, ready to start our life here, looking forward to what He had for us and how He’d use us.

All the unexpected changes during our first days here sharply revealed the other reasons I had for coming here: other hopes, hidden expectations.

I was excited to explore the beauty of the country.Ok Beka, what if you can’t leave the base? Was it still worth it to come here?

I was really looking forward to the sports.What if sports are cancelled and you’re back to running by yourself? Can you still be content?

I couldn’t wait to learn language. What if you can’t have contact with your language teacher? What if developing the ability to communicate here gets put on hold?

After moving from place to place for our entire marriage, I was looking forward to finally setting up our home. —What if you’re using a house full of things that don’t belong to you? What if settling in and making it yours has to wait?

If the other reasons are stripped away, is obeying Jesus a good enough reason, all by itself?

Can you obey Jesus whole-heartedly, even when what that looks like today is vastly different than what you envisioned? When you’ve prepared for 12 years, and then you get here, but it doesn’t look like what you prepared for – can you trust that God knew exactly what this moment would look like and that He has perfectly equipped you to step into it?

During our class introductions, one of my friends shared a verse from Psalm 16. It was a lifeline the Lord had used to carry her through loss, disappointment, and discouragement in a difficult season.

Set the Lord always before you and you will not be shaken.

Before this month, I would have said, “Yeah! I do that!” But He is starting to show me how often it is something else I set before me. And when that something else lets me down, I get discouraged. I believe that, in His love, my God allows those things to fail me. It’s not wrong to be excited or to look forward to good things. But it is crucial for my heart to re-center on the One who is the source of all those good things – the One who is enough even when all the other reasons are stripped away.

He is taking me to a place where I find my hope in nothing more and nothing less than Jesus Christ – crucified, risen, living in me, victorious, able, sufficient.

If I set Him before me. I will not be shaken. Though the mountains themselves crumble into the sea. Though earthquakes come and oceans roar and plans get cancelled and we lose any inkling of what to expect.

The Lord can use disappointment, difficulty and inconvenience to purify our dependence on him – to teach us the secret of joy. And in the midst of this, I would like to let him.

—-

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart sad?

I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again – my Savior and my God…

I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.

But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me.

And through each night I sing his songs…”

Psalm 42:5-6, 8

Checking Seatbelts: control freak meets roller coaster

“As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me…though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:7-8

I have felt a lot of fear over the last few months.

I tend to respond to my fear by trying to control everything, but I only end up discovering how little control I have. I have been fighting like crazy to set us up for this next step, to find ways to make this adjustment smoother, to try and protect and care for my family on this roller coaster the Lord has us on.

What if I spent my time on a real roller coaster that way? What if I tried to anticipate everything we were going to feel, everything that might be scary, when to lean this way, when the lights would go out? What if I spent the entire ride constantly checking everyone’s seatbelts and re-positioning and conducting surveys to see how everyone was coping?

Half the joy of a roller coaster is that you don’t know what to expect. People ride them for the experience of being surprised, for the feeling of dropping through thin air and the shock of losing their bearings, for the rush of the wind on a ride that’s too fast for them to steer. The best roller coasters get you good and scared, but they don’t make you worry for your safety.

Oh Lord,

I have been need-meeting and checking seatbelts for so long that I don’t know what it’s like to stop straining against the harness and just be on this ride with my people. I don’t know how to just take this one unexpected drop, one unforeseen turn, and one stretch to catch my breath at a time.

Help me not to grow discouraged when something surprises me and I’m forced to see the state of my own heart. You are faithfully bringing to the surface the attitudes and beliefs that steal my joy and shake my footing. You stand ready to replace them with your peace so that I am able to delight in the unexpected journey you have prepared for me.

I will always be frustrated if I am trying to adjust the roller coaster instead of just riding it. Build in me such a confidence in you that I wait on you, persistently looking to you for help, not dissuaded when I fall, not intimidated when it’s dark, always ready to hope in you once more. May I grow ever more loyal to what is true of you, and less attached to my expectations of how this will go.

There are plenty of surprises ahead where I won’t feel totally secure. But help me to trust that, in you, I am completely safe.

More Than Enough: on how to face another month of COVID-19

The Walmart lady took my eggs.

This moment looks different for everyone. The moment that the pandemic goes from a situation I hear about on the news to an intruder that tears its way abruptly into my day. The moment COVID-19 gets personal.

The duck, duck, goose moment. Ducked this hit, ducked that hit, coping, coping, GOOSE!

Not coping.

For stronger souls, its might be something bigger that finally gets to them, but for me, it was the eggs.  

I’ve been rationing eggs. I was prepared for it if there were no eggs. I got to the store and found a shelf full of eggs!

Round-trip to Walmart is an hour of driving for me. Today I had made the trip for flour, only to find that all the stores were out of flour. The milk and pizza aisles had signs legislating the max quantity per customer. But at least there were eggs again! I put two cartons in my basket and happily went on my way, relieved that I wouldn’t run out by Sunday and have to drive to town again.

I had already started the self check-out process at the register when a Walmart employee walked up to my cart and said matter-of-factly, “You have too many eggs. Each customer can only have one carton.” My heart sank as she reached into my cart and took away my 5 extra days of no grocery shopping.

The lady checking out across from me piped up, “Oooh! Could I have those?”

I should have just been happy that someone who needed eggs was able to get the carton I wasn’t allowed to have. But, on the inside, I was just seething that I wasn’t allowed to have it.

I hadn’t seen a sign. The shelves looked fine. I wasn’t taking a ridiculous amount. But I was shamed by the Robin Hood Walmart lady who took my eggs, and I was furious for the rest of the day.

A Gap in my Understanding

So I went to the other grocery store in town and bought a second carton of eggs in defiance (ugly moment, I know). I drove home stewing.  I complained to Cody. I complained to everyone. Then I complained to the Lord and he brought to mind two things:

  1. It is fine for situations to be less than smooth, especially right now.

It is okay for me to come up against these situations not perfectly prepared. It’s all right to be distressed by an employee taking my groceries from me (even if I should be happy they went to someone that needed them). I’m allowed to struggle as the opportunities to be around other people disappear and to wrestle with how to be thankful when I feel trapped.

It’s new. It’s hard. It’s an adjustment. And it’s the unsurprising evidence that I’m human and I need the Lord just as desperately as ever.

2. There’s a gap in my understanding.

Colossians 2:9-10 says,  For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ…”

I’m familiar with the verse. I have it memorized. But I don’t know how to use it. I need being ‘complete in Christ’ to make a difference at the real-life level of feeling sad and lonely because I can’t see my friends, feeling robbed and accused when the Walmart lady takes my eggs, feeling dread when I look ahead to a month with just my family and see how much I prefer the option of socializing over the calling to love the people I live with day in and day out.

Why isn’t this working?

Because I am complete in Christ, I am not supposed to treat the company of other people hungrily. I’m supposed to be able to face a month-long world pandemic quarantine and not be insecure and needy.

I’m supposed to be calm, collected and confident that the Savior in whom I am complete will faithfully meet my needs, even my needs for eggs and interaction. So why isn’t it working?

I think that feeling angry or anxious or lonely or just tired of it all doesn’t mean it’s not working.

Being complete in Christ means I am able to experience all of that and still allow His peace to rule. Being complete in Christ means I can take the disillusionment and frustration and angst and make it yield to the truth:

How do I face the next month of this?

“Christ is all that matters. And He lives in all of us…you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults…Above all, clothe yourselves with love…”

Colossians 3:12-14

This is what Christ’s life looks like, and in the midst of broken systems and plans that are coming apart at the seams, it still works. It’s not falling apart. It’s not out of stock. It’s not cancelled.

It walks us through the how of each next moment.

And Christ’s answer to how do I face the next month of this? is this:

In love. In my strength. Ruled by my peace.

Just wrap yourself up tight in this beautiful truth: You are complete in me. I complete every single area where you fall short. I am more than enough for you.

And that means you can face this.

Just come to me in every moment

of frustration,

of loneliness,

of irritation,

of shell-shock,

of overwhelm.

And I will supply all that you lack to walk through the next moment in love.

“But He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you [My lovingkindness and My mercy are more than enough—always available—regardless of the situation]; for [My] power is being perfected [and is completed and shows itself most effectively] in [your] weakness.” Therefore, I will all the more gladly boast in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ [may completely enfold me and] may dwell in me. So I am well pleased with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, and with difficulties, for the sake of Christ…

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (Amplified)


Related Reading

On Dread & Distance: Biblical Guidelines for how to Respond to the Coronavirus Pandemic
5 Steps to a Light Heart in a Season Heavy with Coronavirus Concerns

Buy A Field: on normal in the midst of crisis