count the cost

it seems no matter where i turn these days, i can’t get away from three little words:: “count the cost.”

it all started a couple weeks ago, after i read through the gospel of luke. in 14.25-33. Jesus speaks of building a tower and a king going to war, of carrying one’s cross and the act of sacrifice to follow after him. count the cost. 

since then, i’ve been wrestling with this passage, these hard but holy words, chewing on them deliberately, holding them up to the light. in just a few short months, i’ll be taking a trip, the first since the epic unraveling that led to me leaving the missions field. this trip, it’s a big deal for me, in so many ways. missions, Liberia, orphan care: these things, for me, are what following after Jesus looks like. getting my hands dirty and my heart broken–this is the stuff discipleship is made of. it’s grossly uncomfortable and nowhere near easy. count the cost.

Photo by Harry Doyle // Creative Commons // Flickr

yes, i can confidently say i’ve counted the cost. i know what it takes. it’s giving up hot showers and consistent electricity. it’s sleepless nights tossing and turning under a mosquito net. it’s sweat gushing from my pores and feet that never get clean. it’s frequent headaches and an upset stomach and very little in the way of comforts. it’s sensory overload, which is overwhelming for someone like me. it’s being a source of constant scrutiny, of having my every move watched. it’s standing out when i just want to blend in. 

it’s kids who die too soon and no one who mourns them once they’re gone. it’s unfair systems, instability and oppression, and people who deserve so much more. it’s long, tedious days full of overwhelming needs; it’s constantly wondering if what i’m doing makes any difference at all. it’s guilt and shame as my white privilege stares me in the face.

it’s homesickness and loneliness and sometimes feeling like an ancient Israelite, banished to exile. it’s losing friendships due to time and distance. it’s once-promising relationships that don’t work out because i never stay in one place long enough. it’s the fear of being forever single. it’s coming “home” only to discover how different it feels and how i’m not even sure where “home” is anymore. it’s worrying that i don’t measure up to other women my age who seem to have achieved more than i. it’s saying goodbye to financial security; it’s living on faith and the generosity of others. it’s seeing things i’ll never find the words for, and feeling like no one else will ever understand me as a result.

count the cost.

still, even with all this, i can’t help but wonder. maybe following Jesus looks less like keeping with the status quo and more like “a long obedience in the same direction”. maybe it’s less of a ‘normal’ life and more of an upside-down kingdom. maybe it’s heart-wrenchingly hard. but i’m willing to bet it’s worth it.

because this–missions, life, faith, discipleship, struggle, tension, overcoming; it’s the stuff of Jesus’ heart. yes, it’s costly, and yes, the price is high. but me? i’m counting it all joy–for the sake of knowing and loving the One who paid it all anyway.

…and i did not know it

i’ve never been very good at waiting.

maybe it’s the visionary in me, the one who sees the end before the beginning and doesn’t know how to get there. perhaps it’s because i’m an idealist, with an incredibly strong sense of how things should be in the world. or maybe it’s just because i’m human, messy flesh and a heart that beats and bleeds and feels, feels, feels it all, all at once, with intensity so fierce it can take my breath away.

and so i tend to struggle with the present, with the right here and right now, with digging my feet in and sucking the marrow from the moment. so often i know where i’m going, but i’m weary of the journey. i just want to arrive.

these days, i find myself living in the tension of the in-between. i read the scriptures and i remember the israelites, those who caught a glimpse of the promised land, of their canaan of plenty; of those who were eager to enter but instead found themselves caught in perpetual wandering, year after year in the desert that looked nothing like what they had hoped for.

like when i got news from liberia that janet was quite sick, had been for two weeks, and she didn’t want to take her medicine. and though a friend was there to care for her and bring her to see a doctor, i felt a twinge in my heart, a slight ache, a longing to draw her close and pray for her healing and urge her to accept the medicine that was only going to help, not hurt. i should be there; i want to be there. but i’m not. i’m here instead.

or when i daydream of my wedding day, of a white dress and a man of tender strength and vows under open skies, before a covenant-God. some days, the fairy tale seems so near, so close that my heart could reach out and grasp it. i should be there; i want to be there. but i’m not. i’m still waiting, still in the not yet, and it’s hard.

and i think again of those israelites, of a cloud and a pillar of fire, of water from a rock and manna, the mystery-sustenance from heaven. God inhabited even their wandering. how can i not think he inhabits mine also? here, now. in this place and in this moment. yes, the desert and the waiting and the wandering:: even this is sacred space; even this is holy ground. like scales falling from the eyes, cobwebs from the musty parts of my faith-laid-dormant, the truth seeps in. and i see, and i know.

“surely the Lord is in this place, and i did not know it.” [genesis 28.sixteen]Image
                                              (Photo by Lis Ferla, Creative Commons)

a long way home

i know a weary traveler, a young woman of tender heart and tough skin. she spends most of her days walking, never staying in one place for too long:: always the sojourner, one foot ever in front of the other. every now and again, she stops for a while–sometimes because she’s tired, sometimes because she’s lost, sometimes because she’s unsure where she’ll go next. so she will stop, and she’ll shake the dust, and settle in where she’s found herself the very best she can.

once in a while, she will sit and massage the cracked skin of her worn feet. she sits and she talks, telling of her travels, of the roads she has traversed. she speaks of an alcoholic father and parents who were absent, of a little girl with a big burden; and her eyes tell of the steep and narrow path that led to her escape, of how she felt all alone as she walked, of the times she slipped on the rocks and cut up her feet and cradled them as she cried, wishing someone were there to help stop the bleeding. she speaks of a lover who was unfaithful, of a broken heart and shattered dreams, of deep loss and soul ache and the times she had to force herself to crawl through the fog, the walkway shrouded in darkness and storm. and she speaks of the dusty road on which she’s found herself in recent years, long and winding, in a faraway land that keeps calling her back again. she speaks of burning thirst in the hot sun and how often she’s felt like a hagar, a life lived in perpetual exile, sent away to die in the desert; and of secret streams that have refreshed her, like the laughter of her children or a bright blue bird perched on the porch steps.

and after she tells her stories, she will sit in silence for a while with her eyes closed, like she’s thinking about something too sacred to speak aloud. moments pass–maybe just a few, or perhaps many more; and then she rises to her feet, ready to walk again. and it seems so soon, too soon, and some voice their concerns, for wherever could she be off to this time, and after all these years and all these miles, isn’t she tired of walking, of always being on the move?

“you see,” she explains gently, “we’re all on our way somewhere; we’ll all find ourselves home eventually. i would just rather walk away from what’s hurt me and walk towards my destination, than sit and wait for the destination to come to me. for what life is lived in sitting? very little, to be sure. but when i’m walking, i’m moving; there is breath in my lungs and blood through my veins and purpose in my heart. simply put, i’m alive. and yes, the way seems long, and of course, i get tired, and who really knows what to expect along the way? but i know where i’m headed, and every step taken brings me that much closer.”