When I left to move overseas, single, to live in a closed country in North Africa, I really had no idea what was ahead of me. As these things tend to go. It was harder and better, sweeter and more bitter than I could have imagined. Nothing went as planned and I have more gray hairs than I should at thirty bearing testimony to that. I was young and naïve, and I knew it. But it was all I wanted to do since I was sixteen, an ache that could not be satisfied, so I said my prayers, and I went.
Living in a place much different from the one you come from is extremely humbling. It was hard, and there was much to learn. There was a lot that I was bad at, and I spent most of my first few months feeling very small. But through that I learned that one thing I’m good at is showing up.
Even when I feel awkward, lonely, and scared. Sometimes blinking back tears. I still show up.
To Arabic class every day. To the street boys’ centers. To my friend and language helper’s house. I felt stupid a lot. I got lost. I said the wrong things. I cried at embarrassing times. I was robbed. I had a house fire. I was groped on public transport. I felt deep homesickness and loneliness. I had friends imprisoned and others who experienced persecution. But, some days dragging my feet, I kept showing up. I held fast to the ache that brought me there, held fast to God’s truth, and I kept showing up.
And, in all of it, I loved my life there. I loved learning to live in a place much different than the one I came from. I loved the richness of making a strange land home. I loved the lessons I was learning about life, faith, and neighborliness that I never would have if I hadn’t left. I loved the food, the language, and the people. I wanted to stay and fight for the good of the lives of the boys I was working with for a long time.
But life and ministry rarely go as planned. After two years, I and every other ex-pat there I knew were forced to leave. I was interrogated, escorted home, terrified, and eventually expelled.
In the Gospels, just before the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000, we read about John the Baptist’s death. He was murdered and head was presented on a platter for the king.
This is pretty terrifying. Probably, especially, if it happened to someone you know. Indeed, John the Baptist was no stranger to Jesus’ disciples. Surely they mourned his death. And I have to think that they must have been a bit uneasy because of the whole thing. Maybe they were even a little scared.
Right after this, you have the miracle when Jesus fed the 5,000. Jesus was preaching and people were hungry. A little boy offered the loaves and fish he had. Jesus took his offering. He blessed it, gave thanks. He broke the bread. Then he gave it. To a big, big crowd. Then the Bible says, “they all ate and were satisfied.”
He took, he blessed and gave thanks, he broke, he gave. And they all ate and were satisfied.
When I moved to the desert, Jesus took what I had to give (though it didn’t feel like much.) I felt like a little kid offering their bag of snacks to a crowd full of hungry people. Jesus blessed it. It was hard and it was so good and there was much I was able to be thankful for in those years.
And I was also broken. I was broken in circumstances that left me feeling vulnerable. My heart broke when my life there ended abruptly. I learned, then, about what we can give once we’re broken. Fear was a familiar friend, those years. The temptation for self preservation was strong. The desire to hunker down and stay safe was big. But I moved back overseas. I kept showing up. And I believe if we, people of faith, are willing to be taken, blessed, broken and given, even in our fears, that there is enough for us all to eat and be satisfied.
On Monday, April 10, I’m releasing For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up, a (free) mini E-book about my first two years overseas.
These are words for the moments I felt faint. For the days I didn’t want to show up. For the moments I wanted to cry, and the many that I actually did. For the days that anxiety and fear threatened to take over. For the days my strength was gone and for every moment that God never failed me.
He didn’t. Not for a single moment.
I wrote these words for you, too. For the moments you feel faint. For the days that showing up feels hard or impossible. For the days that the fear feels paralyzing, and for the moments we wonder if we are of any use at all. For the days in our breaking that the ache is physical, for when we want to stop trudging along, and for the moments we want to hunker down and stay safe.
May these words help you have the courage to keep showing up. To keep finding the value in brokenness, to never let fear keep us from giving, and seeing to it that all may be fed and satisfied.
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Dan Dobson · March 28, 2017 at 9:37 am
Awesome testimony. God continues to bless you for your faithfulness in showing up.