Monday, February 24, 2014

What about your calling?

Some of you noticed that I didn't write a blog last week.  The announcement of my engagement was pretty momentous; it received a lot of response and I needed to do some processing.  As was expected and predicted, many people were happy for us.  But as also predicted, some gently pushed back and questioned our decision.  I have spent the last number of days wrestling with some of those questions and my reaction to them. 

Of those who questioned, the most frequent concern was phrased like this, “But what about your calling?”  To be honest, which I do my best to be in this blog, I bristled at this question.  My human response wanted to say back, “What about MY calling?  What about YOUR calling?” I had to sort out what was causing me to have this rather strong reaction.  To do that, I consulted with my pastor, David Beelen, and my best friend and fiancĂ©, Michael, to help me process and sort through these feelings.

Pastor Dave had this to say about the question:  “What about your calling” is a great question.  In fact, we all have a vocation from God.  That is part of the beauty of the theological tradition that rooted us in the Christian life: all believers have callings from baker to banker to butcher to missionary.  Work is a blessing from God.  And anyone who has been listening for that voice and then following it as a single person (and in your case, single by being widowed) has a call to follow Jesus as a single person.  But following Jesus at this point in your life means being a wife to Michael. And that means that together you need to figure out how you will follow God’s voice to you together.  Just like Bob and you did earlier.  That may mean Africa or may not. 

God has allowed my calling to change a few times in my life:  from social work to business development; from living in the country to living in the inner-city; from living in the inner-city to living in West Africa; from being Bob's wife to being his widow; from Partners Worldwide to ICM; and now, from being a widow to being Michael's wife.  A calling is not a permanent fixture and is often multifaceted. 

As Michael and I processed this question from people we know well and love, and in light of Pastor Dave’s questions to us, we had some good conversations.  And as you know, many of our conversations take place over Facebook.  The following was written by Michael at around 4 am, while I was on the road to Kakamega, and he apparently couldn’t sleep.  We had been processing this just before he went to bed.  He wrote:
It's one thing to be prayed for and loved because you are Renita the missionary and people get excited by what God is doing and maybe even they live a little vicariously through you...

...but that is a role and a series of expectations, and though it is related to Renita that human being, Renita the "daughter of Eve" (in Narnian terms)... it is not the sum-total or Renita the human being.  And so...when you as Renita are seeking to obey God and work in Kenya or Liberia or Ghana or some place that takes a spin of the globe to find, then these friends are all there.  They DO care as Pastor Dave said, but they may also be engrossed by you in this role. They have been praying for you in this role, and often contributing financially for you in it too.

The truth is, they do care, but they may have merged Renita the person with Renita the missionary. They love stories of cultural juxtaposition, of trial, of gospel success...they are with you, toe to toe.

BUT...when that is threatened, that vision of you as missionary that they feel invested in...then they lose sight of Renita the woman! Renita the woman who like John the man or Anne the cancer patient or Theresa the widow, or whoever; and they have so invested in you in THAT role, more or less, that this is a bit of a threat. Michael is JUST a editor...what has he to do with your calling. The calling they have loved you in and through but are now collapsing into you so they can't see where one ends (a calling) and where the rest of you begins (and there is much more). fairness, this may be unfair to some of your friends and supporters. They do love you. If push comes to shove, they will pray for you. They may or may not financially support a change in calling, but that doesn't mean they don't love you.  It does mean that if their only or even primary reaction is "what about the calling" they have lost sight that Renita IS not the missionary or IS not the widow but simply IS...IS…IS in all its complexity. The woman, the Christian, the human being for whom all the God given desires and needs and hopes and dreams that run deep are also running deep. To be known and to know, to love and to be loved...these are deeply, deeply woven into our souls as each of us knows...

...and these parts of being you and me or just human are part and parcel of how God calls!!!
So that you discover a person in me you love and are loved by and want to marry...that is human...that is spiritual...that is calling...that is you.  And you are entering this part of life with an openness yet to God and where this might "lead"...and I think others will catch up. If given time.

I think that explains some of the "hot" reaction...because somehow YOU disappeared in some of these reactions to your news.

I know that some of my reactions have been to ask the questions, “Don’t I get to be happy?  Don’t I get to have a life outside of my work?  The people asking this are mostly married and living in the US – are they questioning themselves in the same way – or others who announce engagements?” 

To which Michael said,
Don't you get to be YOU...and doesn't God work in your life in ways that include a calling to the work you do but in other spheres of existence other ways that you are Renita?  There is no good reason that God cannot lead you into marriage just as he lead you into a mix of impulses that make up the calling (one of Pastor Dave's points...and a good one).

[Do you see why I love this man?  How articulate and wise at 4 am!]

God has given me grace in the past to commit to callings that seemed impossible at the time.  I wondered if I could stay in Africa after Bob died, and then again, continuing in Africa without my children.  I asked you all for intercession for strength for me.  Thank you for praying for strength to stick it out and keep those commitments in the past.  Now I ask for prayer again to commit to a new marriage and to a future together as we figure out how to obey God’s voice together.  I see this as a tremendous challenge.  But God has seen me through previous challenges and you were there to walk with me.  Walk with me again.  And I also want to pray that you keep to your commitments and that you hear God call you to obey.   I especially pray for you who are married as you seek to follow that call together.  I find that being married or single, hearing and then obeying God’s voice takes more commitment power than I can muster from my own paltry resources.

I do believe God has called Michael and I to be together.  I do believe that He was the matchmaker.  So I do believe that He will bring good - maybe that good is just for Michael and I, maybe for our children, maybe for the Church at large...I don't know.  But I don't have to know.  He knows.  And that is good enough for me.

And by the way, just to remind you, my work will not change in 2014.  And my prayer is that I will continue to work with Business as Mission globally beyond 2015.  Some logistics may change, but that is what we are waiting on.

And next week, back to reporting about the work!