September: The Struggle Bus Surrender

 

Sstruggle-bustruggle bussing. I’m not sure where this term started, but it has very much been a part of the Sarah Ross vernacular for quite some time. I think for me it started while I was the director of a daycare and preschool. It started because being a two-year-old is a struggle. I mean, think about it: two-year-olds are super awkward. They have incredible moments of being cute that are usually followed by a meltdown because they wanted the fat blue crayon, not the skinny blue crayon. They can tell you they pooped in their pants but can’t manage to sit down at a toilet long enough to get the hang of it. Two-year-olds were the very definition of struggle bussing for me. Until I moved to another country. Then my life became a struggle bus!

Please don’t misunderstand me; I love my life. I love Quito, Ecuador. I love the people all around me, but I live in a culture where I just don’t fit, and that causes some serious struggle bussing. This month, I will have lived here in Quito for two and a half years, and it dawned on me this morning that most days I still feel like one of my former struggle-bussing two-year-olds. For instance, I can finally communicate my needs—then a taxi driver doesn’t understand my directions. Seriously, last week I said the same word of the sector of town I wanted to go to twenty times, and finally on the twentieth time, he says, “Oh you mean Carcelen.” I knew what I meant, and it was what I said. Ugh. And while I don’t have any issues going to the restroom like two-year-olds, I do consistently forget to get my toilet paper before going into the public restroom stall. At least I always carry some extra in my purse! So, yes, life as an expat can just feel like an eternal trip on the struggle bus.

Lately though, I have noticed this struggle bus I am on is more than just living and working in another cultural context outside of my home cultural context. I have been on the struggle bus about almost everything for the last six months or so. I originally came to Ecuador on a contract for two years, but God is keeping me here indefinitely. The simple fact that I lost control of an end date has made the last six months or so very hard. I have been on the struggle bus because I want a timeline and I want to control that timeline.

So the reason I have been on the struggle bus lately is because I have decided to sit down and wallow in the struggle, and I am sick of it. It finally occurred to me this week that the reason for the struggle is that I am not living a life of surrender, a life of freedom. I no longer want to feel chained (even if it is by my own doing) to the struggle bus. I want the sweetness of surrender.

Therefore, every day in the month of September, I will be letting go of something I have been trying to control that has only led to the struggle bus. And I just wonder if any of you would like to join me? Are you gripping onto control that is leading you to be stuck on the struggle bus? Would you like to get sweet surrender back in your life? Well, if you like, you can join me for a month of surrender in September. Just follow along on social media and remember to #strugglebussurrender with me. Share your struggles, and I will be there to support and pray with you about surrendering them.

 

 

 

the extras

Unless you come from a big family or have lived in community you probably have no idea what it would be like to ration portions the way I have this week in my home. I live in a building with 18 other young adults and most week nights at least 14 of them have dinner together. This week I have been cooking for us. I have to start each meal by saying something like “okay one piece of bread and one bowl of soup and then we will see if we have extras.”  Believe me if I didn’t someone, namely me, would feel like he/she were the last in line at a pitch-in dinner at church. In case you don’t get that reference, that means you might get one slice of cold ham, the burnt part of the scalloped potatoes and 3 kernels of sweet corn. So, whoever cooks always has to portion out the meals.

In my early 20s I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome and over the last decade I have learned a lot about this syndrome that is treatable, but not curable. One of the most devastating parts of this diagnosis for me was that I most likely would have problems having children biologically or it may not happen for me at all. Now, I have never been married and so this may seem a bit silly, but I have always wanted to be a momma. I have always wanted to have a house full of people and I thought that would be through kids. And for a time I really didn’t understand why me of all people would have some syndrome that would probably prevent bearing children. If anyone was meant to have a house full, it is me. I thought family, kids was my portion.

My portion has in a lot of ways been my call and relationships. I have loved my portion. I love everything about being a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I loved being a pastor. I loved prodding people along in their faith journeys. I love being a missionary. I love taking people and things from broken to restored. I love teaching and training. Oh, how I have loved the portion that God has given me and that really is enough. It is really not important that what I thought would be my portion is not. God’s portion for me is so grand.

It is interesting though, every time this group of young adult missionaries have shared a meal together we have had extras. Everyone had their fill and there were extras for another time. Yesterday we had an extra day and though I did not have any real celebration for this leap day, as I was filling up our water filter last night I took stock in all the ways God gives me my fill and then there are the extras. Like having a house full to feed.

I am so thankful for a heavenly Father that didn’t just stop by giving me my portion, my call. Rather, my God is giving me the extras in all kinds of spaces in my life. A house full of people. Challenges everyday that never leave me bored. Relationships that can stand the strain of miles of separation. People that will let me cook for them. Oh yes I am thankful for my portion, but the extras that have been given to me are so perfect that I can’t help but know those are God.

May God give you more than your portion. May He give you exactly what you have been longing for even if it looks a little different than you thought. May God do as He does and give good gifts.

 

 

And they call her…

I love kids. I love that they are honest, except when trying to get out of trouble. I love to see life through their eyes. I love the innocence of babies. I love the joy. I love kids. I think there is no greater gift than being a parent and it is the deepest desire of my heart to one day be a mom. It is a desire that for many reasons may never come to fruition and I am still learning to be content in this knowledge. One of the hardest parts of my job in the States was to be in charge of a place full of babies and kids day, after day. All the while, I counted the children a blessing to my life and to our world; and yet, mourned that my part in their lives was so small.

I longed for more. I longed for what I saw in parents when they looked at their children, the good and the bad. Sometimes the grief of this unfulfilled dream was too much to bear, and all the while God was present. Now that kids are not the focus of my work and I know maybe a fifth of the kids in Ecuador as I did in the States, the struggle between the longing of my heart and my reality is even more present. Yet, God is in the struggle with me!

Last week as part of the work I did with Extreme’s 40 Day Experience, I accompanied a group to one of the largest orphanages in Ecuador. There was no doubt that this day was going to be emotionally draining for me and I had been praying hard that the Holy Spirit would lead the day’s events. My biggest fear is I would give into the urge to steal a child, obviously that would not be the right choice. And God was with me. As I played with the toddler, babies and some children with special needs I was reminded that I love kids. I love the innocence. I love looking at the world through their eyes. As I held a baby, I was reminded once more of this longing of my heart. As I watched and played with the 2s, 3s, and 4s, I was reminded of the joy of kids, such pure joy! I miss this portion of my former life, but not the sting that goes with it. The sting of knowing I would be great at a life full of kids, but knowing the reality is unlikely. And then it happened …

The orphanage had a new arrival that day. She was a tiny 14-day-old that no one wanted. As we had a lunch break one of the workers said that this baby didn’t even fit into their preemie clothing and that their baby room was already full. All I could think about was how much room I had back in Quito and how much room I have in my life for a child. Yet, the clear voice of the Holy Spirit only allowed me to offer to take her home once. Of course these workers don’t know me, and thought I was joking. From that point forward I had no words, just an awful feeling in my gut. I don’t understand this; and yet, God was there in the struggle.

There were over 80 children as little as that baby and as old as 17 that live there and I do not understand. I don’t understand, but God is in that struggle as well. As I sit trying to put all these raw emotions into words, all I have are tears … lots of tears. This is not my calling. I am thankful for the calling of all the missionaries and Ecuadorians that are working hard to rehabilitate families so kids can go home. I am thankful for this orphanage that has been able to make foster care, adoption and reuniting families better for the whole country. I am thankful for their work and those that give financially to their work. I am thankful for my friends and family that have for whatever reason participated in social work, fostering and adoption. I am thankful that God is still calling the Church to live out faith in this way. God is present in this struggle and God knows if/when I hear the call to enter into caring for kids again, the answer will be yes. For now though, I will continue to support those that are called to this work by making disciples of everyone I can, by encouraging all I can, and praying for God to do what God does … make broken people, families and systems whole.

One of the other workers asked what name they would call that tiny baby that no one wanted … they call her Sarita (little Sara). I am thankful that God was with me in every step as I walked away praying that a daddy and mommy out there would come find their little girl.  

God didn’t give me what I Wanted …

Recently, I have been reading 1 and 2 Samuel. If you know me well you will note that usually I am planted in the Gospels or at least in the New Testament, but as of late I find myself more and more delighted to read the stories of those that lived before Christ. It is very interesting to read these stories in light of the fact that my hope is found in Christ Jesus. Yet, it seems that God has been faithful to cause me to stumble unto a warning in the Word and show me His graciousness all at once.

The beginning chapters of 1 Samuel are all about the God’s working through Samuel. I am simply in love with how Samuel’s mom, Hannah, literally prayed until God granted her the request of a son. There is a lot to learn from this mom, but that is for another post.

In only takes the people of Israel a couple short chapters to look about and see what others have and want it for themselves. They wanted a KING. No longer were they satisfied to live with hearing from the Lord through Samuel. They wanted a ruler like all the nations that surrounded them. Now I will give the Israelites that Samuel was no spring chicken and his sons were no good, but seriously had they forgotten their history. Kings had never been kind to them. Why would they desire a King?

At any rate, this ticked Samuel off so he told God what the people wanted and, in my sanctified imagination, I imagine Samuel was relived that God was also not in favor of His kids having an earthly King. So, Samuel dutifully told the Israelites the warning God gave them. If they were to have a King, that man would inevitably take their possessions, kids and abuse his power at their expense. But still the people said they wanted a King. So back Samuel went to the Lord, after telling Him that the people still wanted a king God did as they asked. He told Samuel to give them a King.

Now I am sure I had read this passage before, but I was so struck upon reading that God gave them what they wanted that I had to pause for just a second. Did that really say that God, even though he knew it would cause them harm, gave them what they wanted? This was a huge WOW moment for me. It is not that I think God was not just, after all he warned them what would happen and gave them another opportunity to choose better; rather, I can’t believe how gracious God has been to me. You see I, not unlike the Israelites, have bugged God with the same requests over and over again. But God has yet to give me what I have asked for and I am so very thankful. As I look back at my prayers to God that at times are just downright selfish, like these of the Israelites, I am amazed by the fact that he has not left me to my own devices. Rather, God has been faithful to be present even when I ask for things that would inevitably cause me harm. God has time and time again saved me from my selfishness.

What have I learned from the Israelites is vitally important to my relationship with God. I have learned to really lean into what the Holy Spirit is saying about my desires before I petition God. I have begun to really consider the ramifications of what would have had happened if God had granted me my selfish requests. As a result my prayers, while similar, are so much less selfish. Thanks be to God for the Word that still speaks!

Thanks be to God for this gift of the stories of His kids that have gone before me. And thanks for knowing me better than I know myself and NOT giving me everything I have asked for in my petitions to you.

A Small Town Girl Gets a City Education

For the first 32 and a half years of my life, I was considered small town; and honestly, that was fine with me.  If I ever had the desire to live in a city it was gone a couple years ago when trying to pay bus fare in Chicago.  Seriously, I am so small town I tried to put my money in the wrong slot three times before my sister-in-law stepped in and saved me.  At any rate, I love my little town and area in Southern Indiana.  It has plenty of very nice countryside, and yet, due in large part to Indiana University a lot of entertainment available in driving distance.  It was absolutely my favorite place to be for the past 20 years, but now I find myself a city dweller (in a foreign, to me, country) that has a whole lot to learn.

But in the last four weeks I have learned …

  • to always have change for transportation
  • that taxis may be more expensive, but they are the most comfortable (I like my space)
  • buses are okay most of the time
  • trollies are not for me … which leads to this story

Last week, my friend and colleague, Angela, took me to the other side of the city to register my visa.  After standing in line to get a number, sitting around waiting for my number to appear on the board and turning in my paperwork, we were both ready for some Jalapenos (a Mexican restaurant in that area … that I love).  We started walking and Angela says to me, “Have you had the trolley experience here yet?” I responded no and she asked if I would like to give it a try.  After agreeing we made our way to a trolley stop, paid the fare and waited for the next trolley.

The first trolley was so packed there was no way we were getting on it.  The next trolley was equally full (because they are always full) so we thought we would give it a try.  We tried to get on the trolley along with a few other people.  Angela made it on but the doors started closing before I could get on, so she stepped down off the trolley and surprisingly brought a man with her.  They exchanged simply pleasentries and laughed off the mishap.  When the next trolley arrived that same man made sure we both got on this time.  The third attempt to get on the trolley was a success.

We were on and we were packed in tighter than sardines in a can.  I was so smashed against the door I thought for sure I was going to fall out.  I was literally holding on for my life.  To say that I was I was uncomfortable would be an under statement of epic proportions.  Angela was having her own trouble hanging on and smashed up against the man that got on the trolley with us.  So much so, at one point in the ride I asked if she was feeling molested.  After a few stops Angela said we could get off at the next stop and I pretty much fell off the trolley at the next stop, thrilled to have some space.

After the few seconds I took regaining my composure, I hear Angela’s troubled voice over the crowd and saw her almost get back on the trolley.  She was clearly angry and after the guy that had helped us on the trolley.  As the doors to the trolley were closing she noticed she was about to leave me behind, alone in a city that I cannot yet navigate. So she got off the trolley … still angry.  And that is when it all became clear to me.  The “nice” man that made sure we got on the trolley had stolen Angela’s phone (out of her zipped and close to her body purse)!

After talking to some police, the officers trying to catch up with the trolley and their return without the phone or the man, the police officer gave some wise counsel that even I understood … the trollies are not the wise choice for transportation.  Angela and I have learned this lesson.  I am thankful she chose me over her phone and we are both thankful it was just her phone.  After a walk, some lunch and some time, we were back to talking laughing and having fun.  Though the phone is long gone, I am thankful for the blessings of God’s presence and protection for us.

I am learning more and more about city life everyday; and though, I am still not sure why God has placed this directionally-challenged, small town girl in a foreign city, I am in awe of this call and the opportunities I have already had to converse in Spanish (albeit poorly) about God’s call on all of us to make disciples and truly experience the expansion of His kingdom!  Oh and I get to live in the mountains, so I still feel like I am in the countryside at times.  I am thankful for this site as well …

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(my view of the mountains)

The Absence of Candles

Amanda

I have never known anyone that knew how to celebrate someone’s birthday better than Amanda.  The first birthday we ever shared together was mine and she did an incredible job celebrating me all day.  At the time, she was a freshman in college and I was her R.A.  She coordinated the ladies on first floor south in several small, but significant, gifts of love on that my 21st birthday.  These gifts included: the 21 flowers I found throughout the day that were accompanied by 21 notes of appreciation and love, the 21 chocolate chip cookies I found in my room after checks, the 21 balloons on my room door that was decorated with my 21 “best” attributes and much more.  She knew how to celebrate life.

Over the years of our friendship we celebrated the birthdays of so many, that I can’t even recall all of them.  The best part of having Amanda coordinate your birthday was her attention to detail.  She would make sure everything was about the life she was celebrating.  That day was all the person’s favorites.  I must admit I loved when it was my birthday more because of her.  However, my favorite was watching her prepare and throw celebrations for people we both love(d).  I loved celebrating our “little sister” Chels turning 12.  I loved that she knew our “sister” Jes just wanted a simply dinner with good food and all the people that were closest to her in attendance.  She was just good like that!   I tried to pay attention and learn how she could figure all that out, but I am still just a poor imitation of her when throwing birthday celebrations.  

The last birthday celebration that sticks out in my memory was hers.  I really can’t remember which birthday we were celebrating, but I remember we tried to do some of her favorite things.  That weekend we saw some of her family, we ate Chicago style pizza, and she even got to see the Chicago River while it was still green.  I have loads of great memories from that weekend and I am glad because today there is an absence of 30 candles.  This is not the first year she has been gone, but something about the fact that this would have been her 30th birthday has me reminiscing even more than usual on her birthday.

While I have chosen to always celebrate her on this day each year and even though I have been thinking about her all day, I still get frustrated each year because death came way too early for her.  She had so much to live for and so many people that she loved and that loved her.  It is on this day every year I find myself reminded that life is short and the curse of sin, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” still stings.  It seems so wrong that someone that knew how to celebrate life so well lived such a short life.

Yet, I am better for knowing her.  I am a better friend.  I am a better birthday celebrator.  I am more patient.  I pay more attention to the details of people’s stories and their lives because of her.  So even though today there is no: green cake, ice cream, presents, presence of loved ones together and candles … her life still has meaning.  Death stings and memories are often sad, but today I take my cue from Amanda and I celebrate her life.

Miss you Mander!

I can do it all by myself

My friend’s daughter reminds me of me.  The other day my friend simply asked her daughter if she would like help putting on her shoes and the daughter responded, “I can do it all be myself.”  After about a half an hour, this head strong three-year-old gave up and walked over to me sheepishly holding her shoes up as if she wanted me to help her.  Even in admitting she needed help, she was too stubborn to ask her mom.

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I am just like my friend’s daughter.  I think I can do everything all by myself.  I have been like this for as long as I can remember.  I was the kid that when told I couldn’t win races against the boys, proceeded to do so.  I was the classmate that would purposely pick people who were not going to do anything for a group project, so I could do it by myself.  For some time I was almost boastful about being able to go it alone.  As if this was an attribute that was somehow favorable.  I was so wrong!

The truth is as natural as “doing it all by myself” has been in my life, it is contrary to what God has for me.  While my relationship with God is intimate and individual, it is also public and communal.  God really does want for us to live with one another.  God knows that no matter how natural going it alone is to me, I am lost without others.

For the last few months I have been telling people all about what God has called me to do next.  In the process, God is really showing me that even though this call is specific to me it is not something that can happen without the Church.  Six congregations have graciously heard about God’s call for me and hopefully at the same time have heard God whisper His call to them.  Several people have been in conversations with me about what God has next for me; all the while, my hope is they caught the calling of God for their lives.  See even in my pursuit of God’s call for me to experience the expansion of His kingdom with Extreme Nazarene Missions, I can not do it all by myself.

God has given me over 200 prayer senders and over 50 financial senders that have partnered with Extreme and me to work expanding His kingdom.  I am so grateful for this kind of support; yet, I am aware that we need more folks to join us.  I would love to have at least another 200 or more commit to send me with prayers.  These prayers will be so important for me to learn and understand that I no longer have to do it all by myself.  Further, I am looking for 30 households to commit to sending $25.00 or more each month while I am away the next 2 years.    When this team of partners is complete (I need to be in Quito by March 1st), I will be on the way so we can experience the expansion of God’s kingdom in South America.

If you would like to know more about how to send with prayers and/or finances, please contact me at sross@extremenazarene.org.

If you would like to give, please visit http://www.extremenazarene.org/Volunteer.aspx?ID=256