The Calm and the Storm

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I went on a prayer retreat a month ago. Three days in the woods, off the grid. Obviously I was not without technology. I did, however, avoid iMessenger, Email, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Otherwise known as “death,” to the common teenager.

Behold, my supplies for a successful “come to Jesus” meeting:

Yes, all of the essentials for a few quiet days in the woods. It was lovely! Really, all I needed was coffee and my Bible. Everything else was icing. I had everything I needed for a trip that would renew my strength and refresh my vision.

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My time alone with Jesus began with a realization. I had not been drawn to a place of seclusion so that I could sleep and take long baths (although I did both, a lot). I was there because God was ready to speak and I needed to listen. If this wasn’t hard enough, it soon became clear that I was brought to that very place for a little bit of introspection.

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Tenderly, God began to remind me of His goodness. He reminded me of a very specific moment in time, when I worked in Germany. It was my first year and I was seriously under funded. I had little to live on, but it almost never bothered me. I would have lived on the couch in my classroom if I had to. For the most part, this only limited how often I was able to purchase a Döner kebab (look it up). However, the issue became much more serious at the end of the year. I quite literally ran out of money. I had nothing in my mission account and I had very little in my bank account. A TEAM (The Evangelical Alliance Mission) finance member warned me that my account was low, but I only had a short period of time to do anything about it before the money was gone.

After a couple short weeks, TEAM contacted me to let me know that I was out of funds and had to return home. I informed them that this wasn’t an option. The yearbook project I was in charge of was far from complete. More importantly, I didn’t have money to purchase a plane ticket either. I had nothing. Leaving was the worst option, but I couldn’t even afford that.

My dependence upon the Lord became obvious. There was NOTHING I could do for myself. So, I prayed. I fell to my knees and then to my face. I prayed long. I pleaded. I cried. I knew it was in His hands, but I was desperate.

In about a week’s time, many people stepped in and donated enough money for me to finish the school year. One donor in particular, who means a lot to me, provided a large chunk of the funds that I needed. Yet God was making Himself clear. He was my provider.

This wasn’t the last time I had to learn this lesson when I lived in Germany. The same thing happened twice more. By the second time, I had learned to choose joy. I very publicly told all of my friends, family, and supporters that I was out of money but I would be ok. I praised God and I waited to see what He would do.

God always came through for me. This is what He reminded me of, when I first began to meditate, on my retreat. There was more though. God reminded me that I was ALWAYS just as dependent upon Him. I have nothing apart from Him. Any thought of “earned” wealth or talent was an illusion. Everything was His. He could provide the funds I needed to return to Germany at any moment.

The next morning, God reminded me of His grace. I flipped through scripture and meditated on sweet promises from the Lord. If I had access to a tattoo gun, I would have made these passages more permanent. I was overwhelmed by the truth God was putting before me.

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I didn’t know where to go from there. I had so much on my mind. Many things were unclear about the position I was in- finances, relationships, and ministry. I had already made decisions that I was unsure about. I had more decisions to make that I needed clarity in. I needed so many answers. I wished God would just write everything out for me. He didn’t do that, of course. He did, however, tell ME to write. As I wrote, thoughts started to take shape and God’s message to me became very clear. That’s when God brought this passage to my attention…

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In that moment, my prayers began to change. I began to ask different questions. I had no doubt that the Spirit was leading my voice. I had the courage to ask questions that I didn’t even want the answers to.

First, God reminded me of the way I longed for Florida when I lived in South Carolina. When I lived in Germany, I longed for South Carolina. When I spent holidays away from friends and family, I longed for both homes. At that moment, I sat in Florida discontented. I longed for SC and I certainly longed for Germany. No place would satisfy me. God’s first rebuke was that I needed to be content where I was for the moment.

The second rebuke was much more harsh. God called my attention to the fact that my prayers had been egocentric. I had fooled myself into thinking that I was being selfless, because I was choosing obedience. As an obedient servant, I had committed to returning to Germany for long term ministry wholeheartedly. Since that initial step in obedience, I had spent little time in prayer about the spiritual condition of Germany and a LOT of time in prayer about my financial condition. I lost sight of the purpose for which God was calling me. He made it VERY clear that He did not need me to save the lost in Germany. Only He could do that. My presence there was not essential in His plan for the salvation of Germans. He could accomplish His purposes without me. Therefore, it was my roll to remain in prayer on behalf of the Germans and on behalf of those who were already being used by God in that country. He won’t move me until that becomes consistent in my life.

Third, and harshest of all, God showed me that I did not truly love lost people. Even now, I am ashamed to type this. What kind of missionary doesn’t truly love the lost? I have spent time with people that don’t believe what I believe these last 2 years. My lack of love for each of them was put before me, all at once. I have been apathetic.

My obedience to share the Gospel and to love people had led me down the right path. My actions were not coming from a place of desire though. They were instead coming from obligation. I have liked all of the people God has placed in my life and I have wished them well, but I did not truly loved them by God’s standards. I was fooled into thinking that I had, because my actions were different from those around me.

These revelations and rebukes led me to a few different courses of action. Most importantly, I decided to spend my time focusing on praying for Dresden, instead of raising funds to move there. This requires more work in keeping up with my team leaders, the news, and current events. This wasn’t meant to be a challenge that I would take on by myself though. I felt that I should ask others to stand with me in prayer. For this would be the most effective way to reach Germans for Christ.

I’m sure I will have a great deal to share soon. For now, please join me in praying for Germany and for the spiritual condition of Europe. God is at work there and I’m excited to be a part of it in any way that I can. Are you?

 

Tune My Heart

This morning was a rough morning, not unlike many others as of late. Only a precious few know that I’m currently struggling with depression and anxiety. It’s a battle I have fought more than a few times in my life. It runs in the family. It’s familiar. Yet, I still haven’t found the best solution. I have tried my best to deal with the issue appropriately, but I have often acted my worst in the midst of trying to find balance. Before balance has been found, friends have been hurt, annoyed, and confused by my erratic behavior. In response, drama is stirred and I develop legitimate feelings of hurt, anxiety, and confusion.

This morning I woke up fighting. From the moment I opened my eyes, I was engaged in another mental war. My soul found reason to despair. I spent hours praying and trying to use truth to extinguish the fire of hurt and anger which was easily started by a small spark. I did just about everything I could do to make myself happy. I watched a TV show that I loved, ate something tasty, reminisced with a dear friend, prayed, and tried to read my Bible. One verse into Romans 12 and I had to stop and pray again. I just felt like the words were sliding off of me. I couldn’t hold them.

In that moment, Matt Maher’s song Lord, I Need You came to mind. I found the song on my iPad and began to weep as I listened to it on repeat. Every stanza brought more tears. This song became my cry before the Lord. These were the words that I could grasp. 

Something happened. I was having a cathartic moment and I felt Jesus meet me there. I didn’t feel happy. I still don’t feel happy. I felt content though. I imagined myself curled up in His lap, like a child. I just needed His embrace.

The song changed. I don’t know how. I had it on repeat. Lord, I Need You had already repeated a few times. Unexpectedly, Come Thou Fount came on. Before I could change the song back, the words “tune my heart to sing thy grace” rang out. Suddenly I had some clarity. My depression and anxiety were not simply a chemical imbalance, although it had certainly played a part. God was tuning my heart to sing of His grace.

I had just played bass through a 2 hour band practice, a couple of nights ago. Our guitarist was a young girl, whom I love very much. She’s talented and fun to be with. Our time together was no different on Tuesday. We laughed together and worshipped together. The practice was not without annoyance though. Her guitar kept slipping out of tune. She had just replaced the strings. The constant tuning we all endured was to be expected, but it slowed us down more than once.

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This morning, I realized that my heart had some new strings. I have been wading through areas of my life that I had been content to leave in the dark. Like new strings, I kept finding myself out of tune. Others have had to endure my tuning with patience. It has been a process though. Tuning does more than fix the horrible sound for the moment. It trains the strings. After the strings have worn a little, and tuning has stretched the strings, the need to tune comes about less frequently.

The retuning pulls the strings hard. They must be tight. When the tuning finally sticks, the result is beautiful. There’s a bright ring to the new strings that could no longer be heard with the old ones. As an amateur guitarist, this process has always caused me to keep my old strings on longer. I have made the choice to live happily with the dull sound of the old strings, rather than go through the constant retuning struggle that must occur when new strings are installed.

This year, I got tired of my old heartstrings. I ripped them off and applied the new set, with the help of friends and mentors. These moments of tuning have been hard. Stretching. Yet, I am confident that God is doing a work in me. He is tuning my heart to sing of His grace.

The need to tune is constant right now, but it will soon happen less frequently. His story will ring out in a fresh way and I will be better for the process.

This Is Normal

I love my iPhone. I am not ashamed. It’s like a digital Swiss Army knife! My iPhone contains so many valuable tools. One of my favorite, among many, is my bank app. Not only does it allow me to see my bank history easily, but I am able to cash checks and make digital transfers without leaving my recliner. No bank lines. No tellers. No car trip. It’s amazing!!

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I cannot tell you how many times I have had to deposit my paycheck as soon as it was received. Publix deposits my paycheck directly into my account, but my church hands me a paper check. As soon as it’s in my hand, I sign it and digitally deposit it. Why? Well, I’m usually down to about $5 by that time.

(Please don’t send me emails about money management. My time is split between 3 jobs right now. 2 of them pay very little and 1 of them pays me nothing.)

A couple of weeks ago, I digitally deposited 2 or 3 checks. Without thinking about it, I signed my checks with “Lexi McNair,” instead of “Alexis McNair.” The checks usually go straight into my account, as useable money, right then and there. Occasionally the bank withholds part of the amount, until the check clears. On this day, however, NONE of the money went straight into my account. I needed the money pretty badly, so I was a little panicked. I blamed myself for the problem right away. I signed the checks wrong. This MUST have been my mistake. Surely it was my mistake. I thought: “Why did you do that?!” and “You’re always in a hurry Lexi!”

I called the bank. The customer service rep I spoke with was not very understanding. My questions seemed annoying and unwarranted. No, it did not matter that I had signed “Lexi” instead of “Alexis.” (I realize that this was a dumb assumption, but it’s the only thing I could think of). No, there was no problem with my account. No, the fact that I would have to wait for the checks to clear, before having access to the money, was not unusual. What WAS unusual was the fact that I had access to my uncleared checks as soon as I deposited them, in the past.

The woman I was speaking to wasn’t very friendly, but I appreciated that she was able to shift my perspective. Of course I could wait a day or two for the checks to clear. It was silly, and very millennial of me, to expect access to that money immediately.

I have lived long enough to know how things “used to be.” I have stood in line at a bank for multiple reasons. I have received and filed bank statements. I have waited more than a few days for a check to clear. I have even gone to the bank to speak with a manager about an account issue, when customer service wasn’t a telephone call away.

When I spoke to the customer service rep, in this recent situation, I had to laugh at myself and say “calm down Lexi, this is normal.” The phrase echoed in my brain, like a cliche flashback sequence on a Disney Channel sitcom. “This is normal,” “This is normal,” “This is normal.”

Today the sentence was spoken by my missions advisor/mentor. He didn’t have to tell me to calm down, but he kept saying “this is normal.” This is the moment in which I had a flashback to the check cashing scenario. For you, this is a flash forward.

Carl was not referring to cashing checks, of course. He was encouraging me. He was saying that the length of time it has taken me to raise funds, for long-term missions in Germany, was normal. It had not being feeling “normal.” In fact, I felt like I was the only one who had taken this long to get funds together. Most of my friends, from missions orientations with TEAM, already raised their funds and have headed to the field. So a year seemed like a “normal” length of time for raising funds. For me, that year has come and gone.

If you are a member of Generation X, or earlier, you probably found my check cashing scenario humorous or even bothersome. Maybe it invoked head shaking. “Here we go. Another millennial that expects everything to work instantly, like a microwave.” You would be absolutely right to feel that way. My impatience with technology was ridiculous and very telling of the mindset of my generation.

My fundraising experience is no different. Yes, we are talking about months and years, instead of days, but the concept is the same. Missionaries who were able to raise funds quickly were fortunate, but their experience was not necessarily “normal.”

Young people who are opening their first bank account will see their digital money moving options as “normal.” They won’t know any different. Similarly, I am a new missionary. I don’t know any different than what I have seen. Facebook countdowns, blog posts, GoFundMe challenges, and Mailchimp send outs have been normal fundraising tools. They have brought funds into my missions account in a matter of days.

It’s normal to wait a couple of days for a check to clear. That’s the way cashing checks used to be, with little exception. It’s normal for a missionary to take longer than a year to raise money for a long term assignment. Well, at least we can say that it’s not uncommon.

The Lord is teaching me patience, among many other things. Please know and appreciate that this is the journey I am on. Things have not changed. I know that I am called to Germany. Moving there will change my entire life. The process is currently doing that as well. But now I wait.