Life After Missions: Where is my joy now?
This week we have a special guest named Heather Sparks sharing about finding joy after time abroad. When living in another culture, we get used to the idea of adventure and newness, but then we return to our home culture and the mundaneness of daily life. Going from adventure to routine can make any person become dissatisfied and wonder where true joy really comes from.
So you will know Heather a little better, she is a Texas girl, who lived in South Africa, moved to North Carolina, met her now husband, got married in Colorado and now lives in Ohio. She loves exploring, writing, working out and cooking. She is a fun person to know and I’m thrilled to share her writing with you today. You can read more from Heather at http://heatheringheights.blogspot.com/. Without further delay, read on!
I remember waking up one morning in a chalet in South Africa and looking out at the Drakensberg mountains thinking, "this is the life." It was this unspeakable joy which came only from the Lord. It warmed me up and a smile fixed on my face that couldn't be taken away even by a flying bat that would later in the day wreck havoc throughout the chalet aiming at myself and friends as we prepared dinner.
Another time I had this overflow of joy was post traveling from South Africa to South Sudan and riding on one of the most horrendous and roughest roads I'd ever been on in my entire life. Traveling 10 miles an hour, dodging massive pot holes, passing vans filled with Africans inside and on top (at least 30+ in one vehicle), waiting for both herds of sheep and cows to cross the "road" and looking out at the vast stretch of African bush, desperately I fought back motion sickness. Again I thought, "this is the life."
Come to think of it, I remember all these things: riding on a bus in Malawi, looking out at the passing baobabs; holding a dear sweet, South African baby affected by aids-still living, breathing and holding onto life; clapping and dancing during African worship, listening to words I couldn't understand, holding hands of believers I would never see again until heaven; sharing the gospel with a pre-teen in the shanty towns outside of Johannesburg; gazing at the Northern Lights in Iceland. These were the joys. The adventure of following the Lord because I went.
Going wasn't always easy, but then neither is staying.
You know what I mean?
I think you do, but let me explain.
Several times I experienced the Lord's amazing gifts and what only God could give in moments of surreal yet actual happenings that took place in other parts of the world, outside of my home culture, outside of America, while traveling and living abroad. Going.
Only God could place more joy in my heart than where grain and wine abound (Ps. 4:7) be it Africa, Europe, even the Grand Canyon, Colorado or rock climbing mountain sides in North Carolina. Only God. Only going?
Is it possible to experience this type of joy when you're not doing those amazing things?
When you stay?
Coming back to America, transitioning to my new life at seminary in North Carolina, I grew anxious to get back out there and continue doing what the Lord had started overseas.
Then I met a guy. We fell in love. We got married and we stayed.
He came from the same background as me: missions in Africa, heart for the lost, willing to go wherever the Lord would lead. But we stayed. We prayed for direction and the Lord led us to a small town outside of Columbus, Ohio.
We've both talked about our amazing adventures, getting sick, seeing victory, experiencing loss and the amazing joys only the Lord could give because we went.
We've dreamed together about mountain tops, the African bush, traveling the world and living in another culture. We dream. We hope. We pray. We stay.
I'm sitting here at my computer, looking out at a railroad and an actual lot of land waiting for a building to be built. Clouds cover the sun here in Ohio and I seem to smile a lot less than I did when I was going. Where is my joy now, as I stay?
This is what life after the adventure, after "going", looks like. It can feel purposeless and dull. Mundane. Limited. Mechanical. Slow. Cloudy. Unsure.
Now we wake up to a noisy neighbor stomping around upstairs, sometimes icy and sometimes snow covered car windows, and long commutes to work, on perfectly paved highways. We stayed.
At night we pray together, with one another for purpose and for joy in the mundane. At church we listen to our pastor share about hope and he brings up missionaries on occasion to speak and share. We praise the Lord for all He is continuing to do as others go and yet, we stay.
My husband and I reflect on our lives, the Lord's providence and His unending mercy. Joy unspeakable joy. We ride to a park near our new "home." On this rare day where the sun is out, my husband holds my hand, and we exchange glances and I giggle as we see some guys doing Live Action Role Play in the park. One just ran by in a cape waving a Styrofoam sword. I smile. The kind of smile that even the cloudy skies of tomorrow can't really take away, because the Lord has placed joy in my heart again.
Truly, my friend, I tell you that this kind of joy can only come from the Lord.
Whether you go or stay, joy isn't always the adventure in itself. It's small gifts wrapped up in starry nights, warm hugs, laughter with friends, fresh brewed coffee on an early morning, a sunny day in Columbus, Ohio, and holding the hand of the one you love.
Joy is a gift.
Going is a gift.
Staying is a gift.
Marriage is a gift.
Singleness is a gift.
The Lord does not withhold good from those He loves--a gift. Joy unspeakable joy.
May we never lose sight of the Creator whether we wade in the ocean or stand on the shore. And may we never grow comfortable in any stage of life, and always be grateful for the Lord's good gifts in all their miraculous and simple forms. Not everyday is an adventure, but every day is a gift. Going or staying.