Today was one of those days...the kind where one sees mostly good things for which to be thankful. A perfect day, not too hot, very low humidity, blue skies. We lit candles, put some premature Christmas music on, and felt a little skip in our step. This came at a very opportune time, I assure you. In my flesh, there is much I could point to as discouraging right now, but God has been working in my heart, quite unexplainably. Or maybe not so unexplainably? Lately I've felt the call to pray more and more, unceasingly. Living overseas has many more challenges than I ever imagined. Is it possible that we are under specific enemy attack by seeking to promote the gospel in this place? We think it's quite likely. And quite honestly, we have grown pretty weary of comments about us living in paradise. Sinfully, I often bristle at such comments and wish for a moment that the "paradise" experience of having a tarantula run up their leg or a cockroach run across their neck in bed would happen to the person making said comments. I assure you that if you were to live here for about a month, your ideas of "paradise" would be shattered. Perhaps that sounds corrective, but surely we should all realize that any tourist spot we've been to has two sides: reality and fantasy. The fantasy side is what sells. The beauty, the charm, the fun, the entertainment. But once that wears off, reality is all that's left.
And that is when the work of being thankful for the hard realities begins. Here are some of the realities for which I have really just begun to learn to be thankful:
- no family to support us, but a church family that truly cares
- friends who still don't know us well, but are trying to understand us, just as we are trying to understand them
- scary experiences (snakes, tarantulas, criminal activity) that cause me to run to God for peace and protection
- financial difficulties which cause me to press into God further, trusting Him to provide for bills we cannot pay
- crazy hot weather that reminds me this world is truly the closest I'll ever get to hell, since my hope is in Christ.
Recently we have seen God provide for us in amazing ways. It's often the little things that "wow" us the most, because we know nobody could have known our need in a certain area but our Heavenly Father. So when he prompts another child of His to give to us in a specific way, we are amazed! Just a few days ago, we were praying that God would financially help Kristin's parents to secure plane tickets for her and the girls to visit over the upcoming holidays. Within a few hours, a friend, somewhat "out of the blue" communicated that they felt led to help us in a particular way that day. We knew immediately that God was using them to help offset the cost of the plane tickets. That day also happened to be Kristin's dad's birthday. How fun it was to Skype with her parents that day and let them know how God had supplied financial resources to help with the plane tickets!
Another moment of provision recently occurred when Keith was in Florida visiting family before and after the Sovereign Grace Pastor's Conference. One family member happily passed on to us not only a laptop computer they no longer needed, but also an ipad! Keith was so excited to show these surprises to the girls when he arrived home. A few years ago when we first saw how an ipad worked and the opportunities for assisting in church music it could provide, we prayed that God would someday make it possible for us to acquire one. Now God has generously supplied us with one, free of charge!!
Another blessing by God through his people came recently when our guest Elisa Pawson came bearing gifts her family had sent. Chocolate chips, nuts, and coffee are high-ticket items here, due to the rates of duty imposed on them, so when Elisa unpacked her bag and handed us these gifts, we were so grateful! God cares for us in the most specific ways.
So my thankful theorem is this, usually in the midst of the hardest of times, there is a threshold we will cross. We will either give thanks in the midst of hardship and hold on to hope, or begin to complain, tired of the suffering. So many times, I fail to express thanks to God in these difficult times and just after I "give up" on ever seeing and end to the difficulty, God supplies an answer or a provision. I then wish I had held out in faith, believing God without doubting in that last moment. I shared this recently with our Care Group here, and my faithful friend Keva said, "that's because you have to come to the end of yourself before you're ready to receive what God has for you." Hmm. Maybe she's right? But perhaps there's a way to come to the end of myself without losing patience? Without doubting? Without giving up on God? Still working on this "thankful theorem." Consider these verses from the Hebrews "Hall of Fame" passage:
13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."