Why I Write (because don’t we sometimes need to remember?)

I haven’t written in five weeks. Julia Cameron would call this taking time to “restock the pond” or “refill the well.” But it has been out of necessity more than creative intention.

I painted our entire house. Alabaster White now coats the renovated popcorn ceilings and hides the dark wood trim. Sherwin Williams “Silver Strand” cools most of the walls of the house, lending a faint blue, green or grey tint depending on the lighting of the room. There is still more to do, but now that we are living here, we will have to shift furniture and barricade rooms to get it done in the evenings after the kids have gone to bed.

I also took a break from podcasts, instead painting to playlists collected from illegally downloaded music while I was living in China. But I also painted to childhood favorites like the Big Chill soundtrack including “My Girl” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” as well as my Christian youth group culture beloved albums like “Enter the Worship Circle” and the album I listened to freshman year of college—Chris Rice’s “Deep Enough to Dream.”

Becoming more adept at cutting in with the angled paintbrush, I numbly eased into the music of all the women I have been. Escaping into those old identities was more comforting than obsessing over whether or not I was trading those old selves for the American Dream.

But now I have to shut off the music, put down the paint brush and get back to regular life.

I must get back to writing.

But the amount of time it takes to be a writer (not to mention a mother who writes) and live in that headspace begs the question: Why do I write at all? You may write for different reasons, but this is why I do it.

I write to think. I think best with a pen or pencil in my hand. I told a friend once that I am not a verbal processor, but need a pen to work out my thoughts. “So what is that called?” I asked her. “A writer,” she said.

I write to stay sane. (Seriously.) My journal is my personal counselor. If my husband and I reach an impasse in our communication, I’ll grab my journal and hole myself up to write it all out until I’ve figured out what I am feeling and why. I almost always reach clarity through doing this. I have saved thousands of dollars on therapy simply by journaling.

I write to remember and keep a record of my life. I have purposely not bought a fantastic camera because I want to transcribe my memories with words and not just pictures. I rode the bus in China and would experiment with different ways I could describe my experience to friends and family back home who would never have the opportunity to visit. Pictures seemed a less challenging puzzle.

I write to connect. I used to be a letter writer. I still schlep boxes of letters around with me to each place I’ve lived. Blogging, for me, sometimes feels like a polished letter to a friend. It is the state of my heart right now, in this place. But it can also feel one-sided–like standing in a lit room at night with the shades wide open. Others are seeing me from the outside, but I can’t see them. In this way, writing makes me feel exposed. Yet the days I feel most vulnerable as a writer are inevitably the days I get an email from a reader saying, “Thank you.” And “Me, too.”

I write because I am compelled. When I fell in love with my husband, love was a rapid river current that would have been impossible to escape. Writing feels much the same. Since the word “calling,” makes me squeamish, I hesitate to use that word, and yet it is something like that. I’m committed, but I also can’t imagine not writing. Being trapped without a way of getting my thoughts out seems like the worst kind of punishment. Writing is a need, not a want.

And to spiritualize it all (because sometimes we need to do that, don’t we?), I write my life as an offering. I hope God will take my loaves and fish—the simplicity of my days—and use them to feed more than just myself. Writing demands faith because there is always the fear that I am just wasting my time and adding noise to the world. But God delights in creating banquets out of table scraps, abundance out of scarcity, and cool springs from parched land.

I trust that the God who makes tiny seeds grow from dirt can plant my word offerings in the world and cultivate beauty that wasn’t there before.

And so this week I return to work without pay, fame or fanfare. For all its impossible demands on my time and attention, not writing is a far worse torture.

 

If you are a writer, why do you write?

 

**Contains Amazon affiliate links

Why I Write

No Longer Heaven’s Hero {review of ‘Dangerous Territory’ + Book Giveaway}

Who wouldn’t want to be heaven’s hero? Why would anyone willingly choose the “white picket fence” life over an exotic life guaranteed to be exciting and eternally meaningful? And if giving up everything to move across the world is clearly more holy, why would anyone claiming to love Jesus choose anything less?

That’s what I used to think, so I was delighted to find I wasn’t alone.

Amy Peterson’s debut book, Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World, is a memoir about the two years she lived in Southeast Asia and the fallout she experienced after sharing her faith in a country closed to evangelism. With clarity, poetry and engaging story-telling, Amy chronicles the deconstruction and reconstruction of her faith after her idealism is obliterated.

With an academic background in intercultural studies, Amy weaves the history of missions and cultural analysis throughout the book, occasionally interrupting her narrative with fascinating essays about missions. Zooming out from her story during these brief interludes allows the reader to position Amy’s personal narrative into the larger picture puzzle of missions, past and present.

As a writer over fifteen years later, Amy regards her younger, idealistic self with the mercy of a wise mentor, neither criticizing nor judging, but sharing her thoughts as she remembers them. She gently offers her reader a glimpse into some fallacies young Jesus-followers can fall prey to. She also challenges many assumptions about Christian life, ministry and missions made by the church at large. Amy transparently shares her personal grief, loss, hope and doubt in hopes the reader will take her hand on the road and learn right along with her.

***

Though I was sent to China instead of Southeast Asia, reading Amy’s book was like viewing a stranger through a window and mistaking her for myself. Our stories bear so much resemblance, Amy saved me hours I might have spent writing a very similar book.

I was with the same organization, lived in a very remote area with one teammate, completed the same masters program, spent time at the same places in Thailand during our yearly conference and had crushes on boys in my program (though not the same ones). I also walked away from my time overseas with more questions than answers. After five years in China, I—a goer with no intention of staying in the states–returned home to get married and give up my status as Church Darling. The missionary invitations, inquiries and special treatment stopped abruptly and—like Amy—I wondered, “What if God didn’t want me to be useful? Could I surrender to that? Was I willing to be useless for God?” (182).

It’s humbling to give up our “heaven’s hero” status when we feel we’re stepping into the status quo.

But I have come to similar conclusions in my quest for a special calling, purpose and meaningful life. Namely, that our calling begins and ends with love. Our first call isn’t to China, Africa, Southeast Asia, missions, marriage or motherhood. Our primary calling is to intimacy with Jesus Christ. All other callings will fade, shift, surge and grow through the seasons of our life, but that calling will sustain us for our entire lives and even beyond.

***

If you or someone you know is interested in spending any amount of time overseas, I would highly recommend this book as a vulnerable account of a modern day twenty-something (not an overly-romanticized missionary biography), who left home with good intentions and returned with a greater awareness of the fact that she wasn’t loved more because she was willing to go, but began and ended as an adored child of God.

Or perhaps you feel that going abroad is only for the holy? Although Amy clearly had a strong faith, her story reveals that God doesn’t send heroes, he sends the ordinary. He sends the willing. And He sends them not to change the world, but to catch a glimpse of His love for the world first-hand. In her conclusion, Amy admonishes missionary-hopefuls: “Don’t go because you want to save the world—go because you want to learn to love it. Go because you know that you are loved” (217).

***

I have an extra copy of Amy’s book that I would love to share with you! Leave a thoughtful comment on this post sometime between 2/7/17 and 2/14/17 (by midnight, U.S. Mountain Time) and I’ll enter you to win a free copy of Dangerous Territory. I’ll announce the winner on 2/15/17 and get it in the mail to you ASAP!

Have you ever been on a quest to save the world? How did that work out for you?

~Leslie

BUY THE BOOK HERE. (Right now it is only available on Kindle, but print copies should be available soon.)

When the Answer is “Not Now” {For SheLoves}

 

What about a driving school for Muslim women? My mind buzzes with the possibilities, spinning the details into a feasible plan. I just dropped our Saudi Arabian exchange student off at the international terminal and in the quiet hum of the hour-long interstate ride home, I plan, strategize and dream. Most of the Saudi international student girls I’ve met have a secret desire to learn how to drive since they are not permitted to drive in their country. Likewise, they all complain about the expensive driving schools in the U.S. or about taking private lessons where they have to be alone in a car with a man. We have a spare car, I think. And I could give private lessons and get to know the women at the same time. Perfect …

As I turn the minivan off the interstate at our exit, I hear stirring in the backseat, then arguing, then shrieking. I sigh, smoothing the bunched-up shirt over my ever-growing belly, remembering. Lost in Imaginary Land where I could chase every dream, I had forgotten my reality: two children under four and a baby on the way. I tuck the idea away in the attic of my heart, thinking, If only …

***

Several months later, scrubbing potatoes by the window at the kitchen sink, I watch my elderly neighbor shuffle around in his backyard, shoveling snow. In summer, he and his wife spend hours each day planting, watering, weeding and coaxing incredible beauty out of dry ground. It has always perplexed me, actually, because I’ve never seen anyone else in their yard. It seems like such a waste to sculpt beauty for no one to see.

Standing at the kitchen counter, I think about the notebook I carry around with me that probably has 200 titles of blog posts and ideas to write about. Some of those words will grow, blossom and die without a single other person ever reading them—just a secret thought between God and me. But some will be cut and handed out for others to enjoy (though, like freshly cut flowers, they will likely be forgotten with the next day’s round of blog posts, email newsletters and online journals).

What a waste, I think. But then I begin to wonder …

Is hidden beauty still beautiful?

Continue reading at SheLoves.

Madeleine L’Engle Made Me Do It {for SheLoves}

I shared this last week on SheLoves for the theme “legacy.” When I thought of a woman who has had a huge impact on my life, Madeleine L’Engle immediately came to mind…

 
My husband and I fell in love dodging sparks over a shared affection for travel, coffee and Madeleine L’Engle. I had just finished rereading L’Engle’s treatise on faith and art, Walking on Water, for the umpteenth time, feeling the usual pull to be a writer without the guts to follow the call. My future husband, it turned out, owned every non-fiction book she had written, but had a special affinity for this one because of his own call to be an actor.

Over the years, L’Engle’s words have not only entertained, but also empowered me. For the closet creative with a secret compulsion to write, act, paint, draw, sing, plant or plan a Pinterest party, her words are just the pixie dust you need to fly.

I’ve had a fondness for Madeleine L’Engle since the first time my mom thrust A Wrinkle in Time into my hands in elementary school, making me promise to read it before devouring another Babysitter’s Club book. Years later, after graduating and taking a job teaching seventh grade, A Wrinkle in Time was my first choice of a novel for my students to read for our literature circles.

But it wasn’t until last year that L’Engle’s words changed the trajectory of my life.

Five years after my husband and I fell in love, I reread Walking on Water not in the midst of my single life full of wide-open paths, but sitting on a spit-up stained couch by dim lamplight nursing my second baby. As I read, my secret compulsion unexpectedly grew into courage.

Like a prophecy that awaits its time, the words finally claimed me.

“Feed the lake,” she wrote.

I had so many excuses why I shouldn’t begin writing publically. (The baby on my lap, for one). But there were others…

Continue reading at SheLoves.

Falling Off the Missionary Pedestal {for SheLoves}

I was privileged to share this at SheLoves last week!  Things have been a bit, eh, busy around here since we had our baby on September 10th, so I’m just now getting around to sharing it on Scraping Raisins.  


 
As a twenty-something single missionary home for the summer, I sat quietly judging the other girls in the room who were laughing and talking about which color Kitchen Aid Mixer they had registered for at their bridal showers. I thought about my own home—a 300 square foot cinderblock apartment in China with one sink in the kitchen that looked like it belonged to an auto mechanic and a “shoilet”—a toilet that got wet when you showered because the shower was in the same tiny space.

As I listened to those girls, rather than feeling envy, I felt smug. I was doing the Hard Thing: purposely living a life of discomfort for the sake of the gospel. I had climbed the evangelical Christian ladder right up to the top, perching on the pedestal the church reserves for missionaries. I wasn’t going to waste my life like these other girls who could guiltlessly own a $300 appliance that would collect dust on their kitchen counters.

I had this “living for Jesus” thing all figured out. Hard always equaled holy, I believed. Discomfort was always best. And poverty was external and had nothing to do with the poverty of my own soul.
But have you ever strode confidently into what you wholeheartedly believed was the direction you were meant to go when out of nowhere a giant shepherd’s rod slips around your waist and yanks you backward … hard?

That was how my five-year missionary tale ended—abruptly and with little explanation from that “still small voice.” Before I knew it, I was back in America with the Kitchen Aid Girls, drinking La Croix and chatting about recipes we found on Pinterest.

And I was miserable.

***

That was six years ago.

Since living in China, life has gone from multiple roads, all wide open with glorious possibility, to an ever-narrowing path where I can only see enough of the way ahead to put one foot in front of the other. Getting married “late,” we were on the fast track and had three kids in four years. Sometimes I wake up stunned, wondering what happened to my life.

As a missionary, I had been a superstar, both in China and back home...continue reading at SheLoves.

~~~

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A Fellow Failed Missionary {a review of ‘Assimilate or Go Home’}

As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance.Missionaries are the elite. Sometimes assumed to have the “highest calling” a Christian can have, they are asked to speak at the pulpit, gather small groups in crowded living rooms, share color-saturated slides of exotic peoples and lands, put out glossy monthly newsletters and receive money from well-wishers. They are the darlings of the church—proof that those sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings do, in fact, care about the lost. And at the very least, the pew-sitters go themselves for a week or two to sidle up to and admire the work these long-term warriors are doing on the front lines.


I should know.

I’m a recovering missionary myself.

So when I came across the work of D.L. Mayfield recently, I felt an instant bond and got my hands on her new book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith as quickly as I could. I was not disappointed.

Having written for McSweeney’s, Christianity Today, Relevant, Geez, The Toast, and Conspire!, among others, Mayfield is an experienced story-teller. This, her first book, is a collection of candid, wry essays that illustrate her lofty aspirations to save communities of refugees she entrenched herself among in America. Though she does not berate herself per se, she humbly concludes each snapshot of her do-gooder attempts by admitting that the results were rarely as she hoped.  As a white woman reaching out to refugees and those in the low income housing where her family lived, Mayfield illustrates a slow coming to terms with her own savior complex, privilege and ignorance. Instead of making converts, she was reminded of the impoverishment of her own soul. 

Through heart-breaking, sometimes hilarious, stories, she begins to internalize the truth that Henri Nouwen proclaimed, that “When we are not afraid to confess our own poverty, we will be able to be with other people in theirs.”[1] Ministry as she knows it is turned on its head as she discovers that the person who most needs saving is herself.

***

As a person who was also “called to missions,” I lived six months in Uganda, taught in an inner city school in Chicago and served five years in China. I can relate to many of the struggles Danielle wrestles with in her book. Like her, as a teenager I drank from a steady stream of missionary biographies, impassioned sermons and pleas to be “sold out and radical” for Jesus (which always meant selling everything, rejecting white picket fences and secretly judging anyone else who didn’t feel similarly called). I did the Christian college thing, went to the hard places and tried to live the radical life. But then I was called somewhere I never intended to be: right back where I started.

It wasn’t until I returned to the “normal” life of the “uncalled” that I began to understand the extent of my own poverty as I no longer embodied the shiny Christian label of “missionary.” I was just me.

***

In a recent interview on the podcast, Relief, put out by The Englewood Review of Books, Mayfield states that her new goal in life is no longer to save the world, but is now “to save her own people, the evangelical do-gooders.” While the book spotlights her own misplaced motives, she indirectly points out the deficiencies in white evangelical Christianity that seek to be generous without the commitment of long-term relationship, hospitable without being willing to live among the poor or bold in evangelism without regard for the culture, language or background of those they are trying to serve.  

Assimilate or Go Home is a necessary read for any and all who aspire to be the “do-gooders” and world changers. Similar to Barbara Kingsolver’s fictional work about a bumbling missionary family in Africa, The Poisonwood Bible, I would venture to say that this should be in every do-gooder’s library as a study in humility and even, at times, a study in what NOT to do.


So in Mayfield, I’ve found a kindred spirit. She is another bent, broken, humbled and slowly maturing follower of Jesus who is realizing that the way up is the way down, the way forward is the way backward, and the way to life is through death–to herself, her dreams and her propensity to make herself the hero of her story.

***

“The Way of Jesus is radically different.
It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility.
It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place.”[2]
~Henri Nouwen

***



[1] Nouwen, Henri. “August 19.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins, 1997. Print.
[2] Nouwen, Henri. “June 28.” Bread for the Journey. New York: Harper Collins. Print.

~~~

Buy the book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith and check out Danielle’s blog!

~~~

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When Life is Less Radical Than You Imagined {Mudroom}


Today, I’m honored to share for the first time at The Mudroom, a site that describes itself as a “place for stories emerging from the mess.”
Life is so different from what we expected, I thought, folding my teaching clothes and placing them with my husband’s dance shoes in the bag for Goodwill.  Before marriage, I imagined I would live a radical life through overseas missions, inner-city teaching or ministry to refugees.  My husband was determined to follow his call as a stage actor in Chicago. 

And now?  We rent a three bedroom home with a fenced back yard in Colorado.  I stay home with our kids and the most radical thing about us is that I used to live in China and my husband is currently an audio book narrator.  Apart from that, life is rolling along much like interstate driving on cruise control: fast, smooth and predictable. 

A few weeks ago, my husband suddenly began praying for “a vision for our family,” which dug up some soul questions I had hoped to bury.

In the past few years, I’ve inwardly rebelled against the way the church promised me Big Dreams and a Big Life.  I’ve discovered the truth: that most of life is made up of mundane moments and tasks sprinkled with splashes of delight.  There seem to be a selective few who get to be world changers.   

My generation of 30-somethings is wrestling with the incongruity of the youth group and Christian college messages of living a “sold out and radical” life for Jesus in contrast with our cheerio-decorated, mortgage-paying realities.  We’re finding that following Jesus is not quite as glamorous as we expected…
 continue reading at The Mudroom

~~~

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The Mudroom

The Cult of Calling {A Life Overseas}

I’m over at the online missions journal A Life Overseas today with some thoughts about calling.


I don’t like to say that God “calls me” anymore.

When I graduated from a Christian college, I believed I would change the world. I was determined to be useful, significant and different. I wasn’t going to join the throng of sell-outs who eventually move to comfy white-picket homes in the suburbs and attend churches where conversations afterward are meaningless and trivial, because I was called to be a missionary–the highest calling a Christian can have.

Every decision I made propelled me on that path. College? A place that would offer overseas opportunities. Major? Something useful, but that could also slide under the radar if I went to a closed country that was anti-Christian. First job? Teaching in inner city Chicago until a door opened up to go overseas (obviously). First chance to go abroad? China, because closed countries are the place to be if you really love Jesus.

I finally had the chance to answer God’s call on my life to serve Him as a missionary after a few years of teaching in the states. I sold my car, quit my job and moved to China. Yes, I was lonely at times, but I was finally doing what I was called to do, so I loved knowing that I was living such a high calling and making a difference in the world. And then something tragic happened: I fell in love with an actor in Chicago, who was not “called to missions” (careful about short trips back home when you have your guard down).

And I had to face some hard questions.

What if God hadn’t called me to missions after all?

What if I was being just a tad prideful about my “calling”?

What if I was worshipping my call?

When I made the decision to move back to the states and get engaged, I felt like a failure. Though God had made it unmistakably clear that this was the man He intended for me, I still struggled with all the demons in my head yelling at me that I was selling out by leaving the mission field.

But God.

He wanted more for me. He wanted me to step down off my pedestal and walk among the “uncalled” for a while. He wanted me to untangle my identity, unwinding all the programming I had received that led me to believe that I was “more,” that I was doing “more” and being “more” than other Christians. The lies. That my life was somehow more meaningful because I was serving Him in another country. That I was special because I had that call on my life.

And He wanted me to understand something about the way He calls His children.

I am not called to missions, marriage, motherhood, writing or teaching. I am called, first and foremost, to intimacy with Jesus Christ.

That is my call.

Even art: writing, acting, singing, painting, sculpting, dancing or any other creative venture as a calling on our lives has the potential to lure us away from our First Love, to become a golden idol that we prostrate ourselves to.

So I no longer raise “calling” to the level that I once did, because I tried to find myself there and got lost. When my calling was taken away, I was left wandering in the soul wilderness of despair, a place of despondency where those who are loved as image-bearers of Jesus have no place.

So to what—to whom–are we called?

We are called to Jesus Christ—to lean on His breast, wipe His feet with our hair, dance before Him, fall in love again and again, feast on His body and bread, and indulge in the love that died for us. And out of the rush of that call, we are to give Him all that we have and all that we are. If we have the gift of words, then we write for Him. If He opens doors to serve Him through missions, we pour ourselves out abroad just as we would at home. If He gives us family and children, then we enjoy them, work for them and love them hard. And if He gifts us in dance, acting, song, painting or any other creative venture, we wildly hand back these gifts as an offering to Him.

And if He moves us to a place we don’t want to be? If we are injured and can do longer paint or sculpt? If we age and can no longer dance? When our children grow up and move away? Then we will not fall apart, because we are NOT our art. We are not our ministry. We are not our “calling.” We belong to Christ and are stamped with the love of the Holy Spirit, in whom we live and move and have our being. And He never looked at us and saw our gifts anyway (though they made Him smile).

He has always looked at us and seen us as His beloved adopted children, and He is the one that stands singing over us, dancing in joy to be with us and giving us the most profound words ever written. Our callings are a taste of glory, a gift to be given back, an opportunity to experiment with creating like God creates. But they can never define us, make us complete or bring us ultimate fulfillment, because they are an imperfect tool to glorify a perfect God.

So, no, I no longer say that “God calls me,” in the same smug way that I once did, assuming that a call is forever or even that there is a hierarchy of calls, with some being more holy than others. Instead, if I use those words, I preface it by saying that I am called to this “for now.” And if and when that calling shifts, I am left standing on solid ground, because my calling is to intimacy with Jesus Christ. And He never changes.

Republished at For Every Mom on May 12, 2016

White People Are Boring

Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Though Im as white as they come, most of the time I wish I lived in another country–or at least didn’t live surrounded by other white people.  Having traveled to multiple countries, I find other cultures, ethnicities, exotic foods and customs fascinating.  I especially love collectivist cultures in South America, Africa and Asia where spontaneous visits, eating off the same plates, invitations to family meals and sitting around chatting for hours are the norm, not the exception.  People are not seen as individuals, but draw their identity through being a part of the whole.  Because of this, the church instinctively knows how to move as one unit with more fluidity than we do in the west.

In China, I was close to a young Chinese couple that led a small house church.  When a couple in their group started having martial problems, they didn’t just refer them to a book to read or a counselor to go to, they MOVED IN WITH THEM.  Literally, moved into their house for several weeks to help them work through some of their issues.  Can you imagine something like that happening in western countries?

In Uganda, friends would go out on weekends and visit friend’s homes unannounced.  I remember meeting an African family studying in America at my college and they complained that they just didn’t know how to make friends in a culture that didn’t just “drop in” on each other, but had to plan everything weeks in advance.  In China, it took me weeks of being stood up to realize that I was planning too far in advance (one week).  When I asked my Chinese students when you should ask someone to dinner if you wanted to go on a Saturday, most said Friday–the day before.

Since returning from living in China five years ago, I’ve definitely struggled with some of my motives in wanting to live overseas.  Yes, I felt that God had “called” me overseas and to this day, I am in tears when I hear missionaries share in church or if I see videos meant to inspire people to go.  Just this Sunday a man stood up in church and shared about a short term trip to Ecuador and every part of me wanted to jump on a plane in July–with or without my family–and be there.  But I have also had to wrestle with the fact that I liked being viewed as different, special and radical–both in my own culture and in other cultures.  And I am addicted to adventure, the exotic and the Next Thing.  I live in the tension, wondering if I’m “called” or if I’m just eager for change.  

So instead of looking for ways to go abroad, I’m struggling to be content where I am.  And that means loving the people right here in my city in Colorado, which happen to be 92% white.  But so far many of those boring white people have certainly shocked me.

My first friend after we moved last year is a woman I met at the park.  We connected and since our kids were the same genders and ages, agreed to meet up again sometime.  Though colorful tattoos decorated her arms and back, I didn’t think she was too different from the other women I had seen around.  She mentioned that she and her husband own a martial arts academy, so naturally I googled it and her as soon as I got home.  Turns out before kids she was not only an instructor, but a world champion martial arts competitor.  

One of our neighbors is a stay-at-home dad who is in a band on the side.  A woman at church mentioned she takes snuff when she goes to her in-laws.  Out of a Bible study of 20 women I’m in, over half have lived abroad.  A woman we had over from church yesterday told us about her daughter who is a professional synchronized swimmer.  And I mentioned to two women at a moms’ group that I started a blog and both of them happen to be writers as well.

As I wrote last week about trying to notice people all around me, part of this is realizing that I am making unfair assumptions about people as “boring,” writing them off before I even have a chance to know them.  But what I’m really doing is not building a wall around others, but around myself.  Because I can’t know others well unless I also allow myself to be known.  

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also”  (1 John 4:20-21).  

We are called to a life of loving others, no matter their outer appearance.  

So I’m praying for open eyes to see people without prejudice or prejudgement.  I’m striving to be content where I am.   And I’m asking that God help me to see people as He sees them and love them as He does.  Because, truly, no matter what country, culture, race or custom, those who know Jesus are my brothers and sisters, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28). 

I, not God, am actually the one making the distinctions and declarations, because God Himself looks at us all and simply sees His beloved children.  And I long to see people of all colors (including my own) as He does–full of beauty, life, creativity and His very characteristics.


Do you ever feel like white people are boring?  Do you have any stories of people who have surprised you?

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Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Day 16: The Story of My “Call” {31 Days of Re-Entry}

Today is a “step back and get the big picture” kind of day, as I take advantage of the re-entry theme to reflect on the past and its impact on my present reality.  The following is the story of how God called me to serve Him overseas.  I have some comments to share, but I’ll reserve those for a few posts on calling over the next few days.  For now, here’s the story as I tell it to those who ask,

“How were you called into missions?”

A tall, slim Caucasian man wrapped in brightly colored African clothing leaned over the podium while photos of his son holding spears with warriors in Uganda played across the screens on either sides of the church.  He shared the verse, “Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed, for God is going to do something in your day that you would believe even if you were told,” from Habakkuk 1:5.  He spoke of the lives they had changed while living in Africa and shared exotic tales of hardship and reward. 

A 16 year old Leslie soaked in every word and joined just a few people of the hundreds in the service as the preacher asked anyone who felt “called to missions” to come forward. 

I had been “called.”

The summer before this I had been on one two week mission trip to Costa Rica with my youth group, traveling around the country performing a mime while a recording narrated in Spanish.  On the tour bus I stared out the window thinking, I could do this. God, is this what you want for my life?

Africa had my heart from that time on and I practically attacked any Africans or missionaries to Africa I met for the next several years.  But after spending six months in Uganda my senior year of college, I came back humbled and less sure of God’s driving will for my life.  Africa?  I didn’t think so anymore. Missions? Possibly.

So I lived life.  I taught middle school in the city of Chicago and volunteered with the church inner city youth group.  After several years, that feeling began to niggle at my heart again–the urge to go that I couldn’t ignore.

So since I was a teacher and had summers off, I told someone at church that I would volunteer to help a missionary from our church for the summer.  The first one I heard from was in Tajikistan.  Tajiki–what?  I ran to the map to find where it even was and told the man from church that I’d just wait to hear back from more.  Surely there’d be more.  After all, our church supported about 20 missionaries.  I heard from one in Canada, but other than that, nope.  Tajikistan.  I actually emailed the family back to tell them I couldn’t come, but quickly felt that I should go.  To Tajikistan.  Next to Afghanistan.

I lived with a missionary family in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for five weeks, helping them with a few projects at the English school they worked for and manning the tiny English library a few days a week.  Since they didn’t have a ton for me to do, I basically had all morning free to spend sleeping, reading and listening.  And in that time and space, the Lord seemed to indicate that that would be my last year in Chicago and that I should pursue going overseas again to a “closed” country (to missionaries).

When I returned from Tajikistan, China was everywhere I turned.  On the radio, in conversations I overheard, in books and mentioned “randomly” by friends.  China seemed to be the obvious choice for where I would go.

When I applied and was accepted by an organization to go to China, but was still waiting for placement, I got a call (on the phone, not from God).  This wasn’t the way things were usually done, but would I be willing to serve in a very remote placement?  A placement with only one teammate?  Eight hours from the nearest airport (at that time)?  Oh, and it’s not the warm place that you had requested (my ONLY request).

Because of my previous experience with Muslims in Tajikistan, I was now on my organization’s radar as someone with experience in a Muslim area. 

I told them I would call them back.  I went home and prayed.  Within 12 hours, I had two “signs.”

The first was when I Googled the name of the city (a place many Chinese people don’t even know) and the first page I was directed to was about a group from Intervarsity traveling to that very city that summer.  The leader listed at the bottom was the sister of one of my best friends in Chicago who lived down the street.  Out of all the tiny remote villages in China, “coincidentally,” here was one I had a personal connection with right out of the gate.

The second “sign” was my reading that day in My Utmost for His Highest.  I nearly dropped the book as I read:

“We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do.  God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…’ (Eccl. 9:10).”

These, along with a general peace that this what God was leading me to do, was what led to me spending three years in a remote city in China and two years in the capital city of that province for full-time language school.

I will say that answering my “call” to China was a bit like an arranged marriage.  I never had the fascination with China that I had with Africa and it certainly wasn’t love at first sight when I arrived on Chinese soil (I literally cried when I saw Africa for the first time from the air–not so much with China).  My first few days in China I felt like we were just living in a Chinatown that never ended, with more smells assaulting me than I had ever experienced before.

But I distinctly remember a moment at the end of my first year there where I felt myself beginning to fall in love.  It was as if God was urging me to go ahead and take the plunge and really be all there.  So I did–I allowed myself to fall in love with China and her people and committed myself to being there however long the Lord wanted me there.

I’ll unpack a few of my thoughts regarding calling over the next few days, so be sure to check back in!


Was your call at all similar to mine?  If you haven’t gone overseas, do you ever feel that God might be calling you to serve Him in another country?

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This post is day 16 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)


Photo: World Map, Wiki Commons