At this time in 2007, only 7 little years ago, my family had just taken a huge, scary plunge of faith. After thinking about it and praying about it and talking about it every which we way we could, we finally just did it. Patrick quit his job so we could work full-time with an international missions organization.
We’d raised some support, but not enough. We didn’t know for sure how we’d make our house payments. But detail after detail had lined up and prayers had been answered, and we just knew it was time to go all in. So he quit his job and we put all our time into calling and writing and visiting churches and getting our house ready to sell and packing up everything we owned.
During those months, a lot of people wondered why. Why would a man with six little kids quit a good-paying job? Why would we leave the community we loved? Why would we subject ourselves to poverty to do this? Why would we leave our network of support? Really, truly, I think many people wondered if we’d up and lost our minds.
The answer we gave then, and the only answer I can still summon, is we felt compelled by the love of Jesus. Patrick and I grew up in loving families, in the church, in relative comfort. We had each had little tastes of hardship, but nothing earth-shattering. We had been blessed with such advantage. And we knew from our own travels and from the stories of our friends that so many people in the world have not known the blessings we have known. Weighing especially heavy on our hearts were the stories of people who live feeling enslaved to and frightened of the spirits their culture worships. So many of these people live in constant terror and horrible oppression. We and our friends have heard their stories first-hand. And Patrick and I felt our hearts stretched and pulled to help these people experience the joy and freedom that can come from knowing Jesus.
And so we went. Though we had hoped to go somewhere far, far away and foreign, God aligned circumstances so that we only went so far as Florida. There, we lived in an apartment on the mission property and worked in the communications department of the home office, partnering with more than 3,000 missionaries around the world.
Our four years there were wonderful and awful and sweet and sad and everything good and everything bad all rolled up. We were disillusioned and encouraged and broken down and built up. Though we had traveled to foreign countries, it was our time there in Florida, living outside the Bible belt and among people who did not grow up in the protective casing of a church-going, Christian home, that truly expanded our view of the world and, really, our view of God Himself. Separately and together, Patrick and I found ourselves in conversations that challenged us to examine our beliefs and hold tightly only to the very core essentials, loosening our grasp on the things that were mere traditions and preferences.
As we were deeply hurt by believers, our co-missionaries, who held their pride and their right to be right more strongly than they held love, we grew angry. And then, layer by layer, God’s Spirit pointed out to my heart the ways I was guilty of the very same thing.
During our four years in Florida, we were completely shaken from every sense of security. In the very beginning, we had no strong friendships, no church family, no financial security. Then Patrick got very sick and almost died, and we spent more than a year facing a very uncertain future and praying for miracles and hoping for life and time. And I am not, by nature, a risk-taker, and I really don’t like heights. And for the last half of our time in Florida, I felt like our family was walking on a very thin, very high bridge without a harness or safety net. Most of the time, I was either setting my focus on Jesus and clinging tightly to Him or I was nearly hyperventilating and feeling like my foot was about to slip off the bridge at any second and trying to remember to have faith.
And then, three years ago, as our fourth year in Florida was beginning to wind down, we wrestled with whether or not we should stay. Ironically, the decision we made because we felt compelled to make a difference in the world had taken us to a community of people who already knew Jesus. We knew people from church and Bible study and the mission organization. Those were our circles, for the most part. Though we certainly tried to show love and light to the homeless people in our neighborhood and the doctors and nurses we met and the people we communicated with through social media, our personal interactions with people outside our circles were limited — because of our finances, because of Patrick’s health, because we spent so much time in survival mode. We did not doubt that our work was important for our missionary partners in foreign countries, but we were no longer convinced that our service there was the best way to respond to the pull we felt on our hearts.
Add to all of that some serious misgivings about some situations involving our children and some major personality clashes with some of our co-missionaries, and we ultimately felt released from our work there and urged to move on to the next thing.
When we packed up for Florida in 2007, we were compelled to get a message of good news to people who were living in fear and holding tightly to traditions and beliefs that oppressed them and narrowed their world. We felt sorrow for these people who were afraid and who were performing to appease their spirits. As we packed to leave Florida in 2011, we realized that God had used our time there to free us from so many fears and to show us how we held tightly to traditions and beliefs and preferences that oppressed us and narrowed our world. He showed us how we often thought we could appease Him or please Him by performing the Christian act. He shook us from false senses of security. And He brought us to the freedom in Jesus that we thought we were going to show others.
Those lessons did not come easily. Like I said, it was awful and good and hard and sweet and sometimes dark and sometimes lonely and beautiful and scary and painful. But as we loaded up our stuff and headed back to Virginia, we came compelled by the love of Jesus to offer our light and love and service to our people here. And He has expanded our circles so very much! Sometimes I just cannot believe the wide circle of people God has given us to love and offer hope to! Three big public schools full of teachers and students, soccer teams, basketball teams, cheerleading squads, neighborhoods, a church full of teenagers and children, so many friends on Facebook and Twitter and this blog, rooms full of moms needing any bit of light and hope I can hold out, and on and on. So many people. And now I can truly offer a message of freedom and grace and love because I have been shaken free from all the other stuff; and when I try to grab back hold of it all, He gently shakes me free again. All I have to offer now is Jesus and His great love and mercy. This is all I know, and I am compelled by love to tell you.
If God urges you to take a giant plunge of faith, let me encourage you to do it. Take big risks for the sake of love. If He places a passion in your heart, pursue it. And if it seems like everything is falling apart, hang on. He may just be shaking off the traditions and fears and false securities you are holding onto so that you can hold onto only Jesus and His love and mercy.