Our family experienced so many amazing things last month while visiting Kenya. And the best of them is that my kids, for the first time in their lives, got to spend more than just a few hours in the presence of all three of their living grandparents. Since returning home all three of them have reflected on the joy of being able to get to know their Babu and Shosho better.*
*These are the kids’ names for my parents. The words are Swahili for grandpa and a Kenyan tribal name for grandma, respectively.
Wherever we went in Kenya there were eight of us going. If you have ever traveled as a family with children, then you know that human children do not seem to possess the instinct of following behind their parents in a line. Instead, my children were often running up ahead: In crowded streets, stores, train stations, and airports. We would often have to stop them and repeat a phrase they will probably one day use with their children….
“You cannot follow from the front!”
This little phrase was introduced to me by a fellow NAB missionary at the Triennial conference a few years ago. We were heading to lunch and she found herself in front of the group, but unsure where the next turn should be. She stopped herself and said, “I cannot follow from the front,” then she waited for those who knew the way to pass her by and continue on.
“You cannot follow from the front.”
Yesterday I had to tell myself this as I threw my tired hands up in the air in complete frustration. For the past ten months our family has been living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. My three children share a room; my daughters even have to share a bed. This came as a huge adjustment to them, because before that time all three had their own rooms.
During this time we have lived mostly off of our savings and some expense reimbursements as we clock hours in the car and miles onto our slowly-dying van. We have been in dozens of churches, met hundreds of God’s people, and have shared our calling and passion for Brazil so many times I hardly get nervous anymore to speak in front of a crowd.
As the months go on and our savings account has run dry we have prayed and asked God for us to be able to get to Brazil this October or November at the latest. Our fervent prayer all summer has been that when we return from Kenya we can start making plans to leave. Yesterday, in our jet-lagged, depleted state we got our latest support report and…we are still 7%, nearly ten thousand annual dollars of support, short of the magic number where we can start making plans to go to Brazil. This was not what we had prayed for all summer.
I cried. I cried a lot. I questioned. I regretted giving up our ministry, friends, home, and stability of an income. I feared. I wondered how we were going to pay next month’s bills, now that our accounts are all depleted. I felt like a fool. I yelled.
In frustration of being so physically and emotionally drained, I collapsed on the floor and wept. All of a sudden the joys and thanksgivings that had carried my heart to this point in the journey were overshadowed by a dark cloud of hopelessness and overwhelming despair. In my exhaustion I could no longer see God’s hand guiding us or his plan mapped out for our family. As I laid there completely broken, a small whisper crept into my heart.
“Marci, you cannot follow from the front.”
Then came a reminder that the Brazilian people are God’s people. This is his plan of redemption for them, not mine. He has invited our family be a part of his great commission, but that it is HIS great commission.
I thought of all the stories in the Bible where people ripped their clothes and cried out to a God whom they felt was far away.
I thought of the Israelites as they waited weeks for Moses to return from on top of a smoky mountain. They let their restless hearts deceive them into thinking God abandoned them, that Moses was never coming back. They lost sight of the many miracles that God had just done.
I thought of how the disciples must have felt in the days between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. All of them sitting in a room, recounting the years spent with Jesus, questioning how the Messiah could be dead. Perhaps they said to themselves and each other: “Was I just a fool? Was he really the son of God? How can this be God’s plan? It is over? The Savior is dead. God’s plan must have failed.”
Yesterday, God’s grace flowed over me. He reminded me that the reason I had lost sight of the joys and thanksgivings is because I had placed myself in the front of his line again. And then I received that gentle reminder,
“You cannot follow from the front.”
I bowed my head and wept. This time not out of frustration at God, but out of repentance that I had once again ran out ahead of him.
Over the past month my two daughters have been obsessed with the song, “My Lighthouse” by Rend Collective. They have typed out the lyrics and practiced singing it together dozens of times. My oldest daughter even started learning it on her guitar. Yesterday after my prayer, the opening lyrics were stuck in my head:
In my wresting and in my doubts,
in my failures you won’t walk out.
Your great love will lead me through,
you are the peace in my troubled sea
And to those lyrics may I add my own:
His light guides me
His strength holds me up
His grace shows kindness to me
His love surrounds me
His peace fills my soul
And the next time I run out ahead of God’s line, may he gently call my name again and say,
“Marci, you cannot follow me from the front.”