Silly isn’t it? The idea of praying for a shirt. I wasn’t praying for the shirt so much as what it means, but every time I see it, it makes me smile.
When I was a new Christian, I had been following God for about a year and a half and I wanted to give Him e.ver.y.thing. All of me. I deal with fear, which was a big player in my life at that point. Big, like HUGE. I was scared of everything. But I wanted to give God everything, and what more could this scared little me do, but go to China to be a missionary? They’re torturing people for Christ there? Let’s do it.
And I began to pray. And pray. And get mad. Because I had recently gotten married. And I saw no indication that my husband, also a new baby Christian, would want to do anything like that. He was still working up the obedience to get rid of his huge horror movie collection. There was a very big chasm between where we were as Christians and the life of someone who moves themselves to the underground church.
Out of that season of prayer and seeking came my obedience in following God to have kids. I didn’t want kids. I had bought into the idea that I was simply too screwed up for kids. To screwed up to even be comfortable around children of any stripe let alone have one living in my home. That sounded like it’s own brand of torture. But, God. He asked, I followed. And here I am, a stay-at-home, homeschooling, Mom of 6. Did I ever mention how I think God is crazy? Because He totally is. He loves using the underdogs. All the big names in the bible, underdogs. And me too. A big underdog. Especially in being a Mother.
But I digress. What about the shirt, Ann…?
This little desire, well, it was a big desire. To be a missionary. To give up everything and be completely 110% for God, for His kingdom, doing the hard work of spreading His kingdom. It’s plagued me ever since. And by plagued, I mean that something would spark the idea out of the blue, and being a missionary would be all consuming for days again. While I’m sitting in my house, surrounded by small children, many of whom are struggling to understand words let alone how deep and wide is the love of God.
So years go by of this plaguing thought. My husband feels a call to seminary. We pull together invisible resources and he goes back to school to finish his Bachelors degree. Which ugh, so much money and time for something that was just a building block toward the goal. Then he enters seminary. He focuses on missions. Our home life at this point was just struggling to function with so many pregnancies and babies, with not a lot of finances and not a lot of support around. I didn’t know what God was up to, sitting us in this place. It was a hard time.
And yet still, the plaguing thought of missions. Obviously what we were doing was in line with what God wanted for us. But it was hard, lonely and seemed fruitless. At least with immediate or measurable fruit.
And then. Our church at the time was offering a short term missions trip to southern Mexico. I wasn’t pregnant or breastfeeding at the moment. Oh how I wanted to go! But, my husband was in seminary for this, he should go. It was a begrudging and bitter thought. And I casually said, you know the meeting for that is next week, you should go. I didn’t think he would, honestly. But, he went to the meeting. He sent out support letters. He cleared time off with his boss. He packed himself up and off he went!
It was 11 days. And in that eleven days, the fear around me sat heavy. Fear of our neighborhood with it’s edge-of-the-desert people. Fear of some emergency rising up and not having someone immediately near by to help. Just fear itself, nameless fears. It felt like so much longer than 11 days. And he left Christmas Eve, and I stayed home through all of the Christmassy stuff, not having the emotional fortitude to gather up all five little kids, prepare them for the scrutiny of people with lots of cameras, who were between one and half to two hours away. So all I had was two short phone calls with my better half when he came out of the jungle and went back into the city.
But in that time, you know what was happening in Chiapas, Mexico? My husband broke. Like sobbing. With his arm around a man who’s language he was only slightly familiar with, a wall around his heart came down. He leaned into the deep empathy he had learned to block. That alone melted my bitterness and made the valley of fear I walked worth it! My second favorite part was when his group went to meet with a very old, deep jungle tribe. A people that had no contact with outside Christians since missionaries translated the New Testament for them in the 1960’s. My husband’s group was the first group of Christians to visit them, pray with them and encourage them in their walk in five decades! My husband who hated weird food ate things he had never tried before the entire time. He made heart friends and saw God do amazing things.
Then he came home. I was worried how he would be in the months after. But, he came home with lots of excitement and lots of gifts. Gifts he bartered for, and was complimented on his shrewdness for. He had photos and stories and so much food he wanted me to try to make. And a newness about him, a gentleness that pervaded his personality which I had only seen glimpses of before.
And me? Well, we made it, no fingers were chopped off. No snakes came in the house, serpent or human. My fear melted and in many ways I’ve been braver ever since. And that bitterness, it was gone too. I realized that as much as I wanted to be the forerunner, this was God’s design and it was very good. If I had been there with him, I’m not sure God would have done the work He did. As much as Jeremy is my comfort, I am also his, and that stripping down of our comfort zones was a work that needed doing, just how it was done. Where we had been apprehensive of short term missions in the past, we gained a deep respect for them.
Nine months later, my husband left again. He interviewed at a church 3000 miles from home. And exactly a year after he got home from Mexico, the sale of our house closed and we were on our way to Buffalo, NY. With one more baby and eyes a lot more open to seeing God’s hand in everything.
Oh friends, how I prayed for this. And I didn’t get to go where this shirt is from (yet!). But I wouldn’t change any of it. This trip was a work in me and my family, as much as it was a work just in the one of us that was physically there.
Chiapas has a spot in our hearts forevermore. And maybe it’ll have spot for all of us one day, too.