Living On Mission: Relationships Matter

A few weeks ago, my phone rang. A dear friend was on the other line. “Hey there” I said, expecting the typical light hearted response that usually follows.

“What’s going on with your tribe?!” I heard instead.

“What?!” I responded?

“Your tribe!” my friend said, “I just saw a prominent evangelical on CNN, you all have lost your minds!”

“Oh,” I said, saying a quick prayer in my head for wisdom with words before responding.

Then, the conversation began. I can’t say my words were the right ones or wrong ones, as I treaded carefully through the murky water. But, I was honest and transparent – trying to be scripturally accurate as we waded forward, using the church described in the book of Acts as a foundation to build upon in terms of comparison, trying hard not to apply my personal judgement to any current events. We debated, we had honest discourse and we were each appreciative of others’ perspectives.

It was a great conversation with someone I care deeply about.

But, it didn’t just happen out of no where.

This Isn’t What I Had in Mind When I Thought of “Missions” When Growing Up

When I was 16, I felt a calling on my life to head to the missions field as an adult.

I applied (in 10th grade) to a Christian university, with the intent to study English and Missiology, fully intending to head to the third world after graduation. I spent time overseas, in the Dominican Republic, where that call felt even stronger.

“Yes Lord,” I prayed openly, “send me.”

Then, I started dating John. John, who had big aspirations for his professional life. John, who wasn’t walking closely with the Lord, and yet, whom I felt God had placed in my life for the long haul.

Nothing made sense. Nothing.

I – one week before the application deadline – applied to a secular university and was accepted. I began that fall, and spent 3 semesters floundering around, jumping between 5 different majors and eventually switching schools altogether.

“Lord,” I thought frequently, “I’m sorry I’ve gone so far from your plan,” fully convicted that this was the case.

And yet, there was beauty here.

In a way that only he could, God brought John and I closer to each other – after some serious struggles – and brought us both to him. While John felt no call to overseas missions work, that deep longing never left my heart. “Confused” doesn’t even come close to describing what I felt during this time.

And yet, we got married (in college) and treaded onward. Over time, that loss of following the calling I felt the Lord had placed on my heart turned to resentment. We fought. A lot. And yet, together we trudged forward.

Eventually, we felt the Lord leading us to Asheville, North Carolina. We followed. We became part of a church plant in the heart of the city. We interacted with people that were outside of our traditional circles, and learned more about missional living – in fact, we were immersed in it – from two dedicated pastors: Jeff Hober and Chad McPhatter.

We began to open our home up around the clock to whoever wanted to come in. We started hosting dinners on Friday nights, encouraging friends to bring friends, whether we knew them or not.

Our conversations began to change as deep, deep relationships were formed. We became comfortable talking about God’s work in our lives. We started to see hearts – both the hearts of our friends, and our own hearts, transformed.

In fact, John started feeling a call to missions work, only, it wasn’t what I had envisioned when I was a teenager – not exactly. Instead, he felt called to following whatever God may have for us – whether it was stateside or overseas, and to living a transparent, open life, with a real heart for pointing people to Jesus.

This was hard for me to swallow. My vision for missions work involved living without running water or electricity in a third world country. That’s what I’d seen described as missionary work, and is the only image I had in mind for my future. Doing missions work here? Where we were? Sure, we could share Jesus here, but, that didn’t feel real. My view was limited and my bias was strong.

After a few years, we felt that calling again, only it was back to Pennsylvania, then to DC, to where we are today – half living between the two, working in DC, but deeply planted in our neighborhood, developing friendships that are the deep, family-like, forever kind. The kind where we just enjoy being together frequently, where our kids roam freely with their friends, and where someone is always on call to lend a hand, no matter what situation might come up.

In short: we’re in deep.. and we feel so blessed for that to be true.

Which Leads to the Conversation I Mentioned at the Start

That call that rocked my world a few weeks ago?

It was only possible because of the transparency and openness in which we live.

Look: so often, we go into conversations with big goals… goals like “Lord, today I’m going to share about you.” And maybe that’s okay. But, in our world, we’ve never seen that turn into what we’re hoping.

Instead, by living openly, by literally keeping our house wide open, and by jumping into situations that feel way bigger than us, way more uncomfortable than we’d prefer, the conversations happen naturally. And they don’t always go the way we planned or hoped.

And, that’s okay.

It’s okay because we aren’t the ones drawing people to Jesus. We’re just people who love Jesus and want others to as well.

God is the one that transforms hearts, and who draws people to himself. We’re not in the heart-change business, but sometimes, as people, I think we forget that.

We forget that we aren’t supposed to have conversation or timeline agendas. We’re supposed to be available for when he does… like when someone from our “tribe” says something a little over the top on the national news and someone needs us to answer a few questions.

This means that things might mean painfully slow. It might mean that we don’t get to see the heart change God may have in mind for sometime down the road. It might mean any number of outcomes that we aren’t especially excited about… but once again: that’s okay.

We’re here to be friends. To do life with others. To help when help is called for. To be willing to change our plans. To live with transparency (that means sharing the good and the bad). And, to follow the Lord’s leading when we feel it, asking him to direct our paths… not to direct him to our plans.

This lifestyle is different. It’s uncertain. But, it’s deep, enriching, and full. The friendships we’ve developed have been so full of love, regardless of the change that surrounds us, and that’s something I’ll literally be eternally grateful for.

The Future is Still Unclear

The thing about this whole missional living thing, though, is that we don’t know what’s ahead.

When our friends ask us about what we have in mind for the future, our possibilities feel (and sound) a little crazy. You see, we could see things going a number of ways. Living in Europe to share Jesus there? Maybe. A non-profit that’s pretty close to my heart in Florida? Also a possibility. Staying right where we are and blooming where we’re planted? Sure.

I don’t know what’s ahead… and for a lifelong planner, that’s really hard to come to terms with. I grapple with it on the regular. But, I know God is in this life… and I pray each day that he’ll direct me where he wants me, and that he’ll provide mercies for that day.

I’ve stopped asking for a clear view of what’s ahead, because throughout this journey, he’s shown us that he likely won’t provide that… that he’s planned for us to live in the day he’s given us, not our own ten-year plan, and that we are to be content in that.

It’s been a hard lesson. But, it’s deepened my ability to trust, and it’s put me in scenarios that I couldn’t have dreamed up on my own: scenarios that have kingdom implications that have nothing to do with me at all. For my heart, I’ve learned it’s the best gift I could receive anyway.

A Note for Introverts

Friends reading this and feeling exhausted: I feel you. 100%.

I am an introvert. My ideal time is spent with me, myself, and I, in a quiet location, preferably in sweats and slippers, with a great book. For hours. Days, even.

And yet, I also crave close connections with friends and deep conversations.

In many cases, I find others feel the same way. The conversations that happen on back porches and around kitchen tables with a cup of coffee or glass of wine are often thought-provoking and soul-enriching. So many friendships have been built and deepened this way. I’m so grateful for each and every one of them.

And yet, open tables often require planning, prepping, and noise. 🙂 Sometimes they include multiple activities in the same weekend. When that happens, I’m prone to wanting to back out and tiredness.

While rest is critically important for all of us, I’ve learned that when I start to feel resentment, it means I’m doing things with my own agenda and it’s time to spend more time in scripture and in prayer. Sometimes it means it’s time to surrender my plans up all over again.

Can You Live in the Open? Can You Ask for Daily Grace and Leading?

I’m not saying that we’ve figured out the magic formula, or that we’re always right.

But, I do believe God has placed a call on his church – on you and me – to live lives openly. To develop deep relationships with individuals who aren’t in our “tribe,” and to do life with them. He’s put us here to live in community, and I think the more we do that, the closer we get to looking like that church in Acts that I tried to base my conversation with my friend at the beginning of this post on.

He hasn’t called us to have all the answers. Or to be perfect. Or to hide when things are hard or fuzzy or we don’t know what’s next.

He’s called us to love hard. To be helpers. To be overflowing with gratitude that has nothing to do with our physical circumstances. And, to share the reason for the hope we have.

And that? It’s absolutely beautiful.

What could you do to live life out in the open? What’s the Lord placing on your heart today? Most importantly: are you willing to follow his path?

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