White Picket Fences and Surrender


I grew up on stories of Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor and Isobel Kuhn. When I was young, I prepared myself for a future of grass huts on far away continents with limited supplies of food and medicine, battling back the forces of darkness with mosquito netting and late-night prayer meetings. In high school, my dreams turned to running an orphanage for middle school boys in (of all places) a lighthouse. We were going to live by the sea and I was going to be a combination of Jo March and Maria von Trapp. Except there were no plans for a Colonel von Trapp or Professor Bhaer, simply a black lab and a pick-up truck.So here’s my question: how did I end up living a polite, quiet, life in middle American? How did I end up being a pastor’s wife, dressing up in my heels and stockings on Sundays and making pies and casseroles through the rest of the week? And how did I become the mother of three beautiful (although somewhat crazy) children who to date have had no significant issues save speech lessons and milk allergies?

I’m asking because I’m not sure that I know.

If you’re a regularly reader to SAL, you know that our family has had our share of difficulties—some related to ministry, some simply the pressures of adulthood—but over the last year, God has brought us into a season of blessing and stability. We recently bought our first home, my husband has a job that he loves (and does well), and I’m in the full swing of motherhood and domestic life.

But what you may not know about me is that I never really had any plans to be here. I never had any plans for Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet and even if I had, they certainly didn’t include marrying a pastor. A missionary perhaps--but only if he planned on living in a grass hut, learning countless native dialects, and contentedly eating grubs with the chief of the tribe. Instead, I married a man best suited to a quiet rural life, happiest puttering around his country parish, making plans for chickens and gardens, and putting down deep roots.

So here, over eleven years later, I’m still coming to terms with it all.

It’s not that I didn’t expect to be involved in ministry—that has always been a significant part of my life as my parents were teachers in a small church-based school—but I guess I never expected to live a “normal” American life.  Growing up, because of my parents’ work, we often struggled to simply get by. I learned very early the difference between want and need and as a result, I think I actually was a lot happier than some of my peers. (To this day, I can still get a thrill out of something as simple as eating out at IHOP.) On top of that, we also suffered a house fire when I was five and spent the next decade rebuilding our home bit by bit with the help of friends and family.

Still what we lacked in finances, we had in abundance in faith and dreams. We lived on 10 acres of family homestead, complete with fruit trees and gardens, woods and a creek. We never lacked for books, music, imagination--or British television. My dad believed strongly in Christian education and made sure that his both his sons and daughters received one. And when I announced that I wanted to study the Humanities for the sheer joy of it, for the sheer joy of discovering the world that God had created, instead of trying to dissuade me and guide me to something more practical, he simply said, “That sounds fine. College is too expensive not to love what you’re studying.”

We were living Radical long before David Platt ever suggested it.

So coming into adulthood, I don’t think I had any dreams of financial success or settling down into the routines that are assumed by so many Americans. And yet here today, I find myself living a life that is polite, domestic, and comfortable.  In a word, the American Dream. I’ve also discovered that this “dream” can come with a lot of angst.

How can you spend money on extra clothes for your children when you know that there are children in this world who have no shoes?

How can you indulge in the luxury of dieting and exercising when men and women around the world are expending legitimate sweat and tears simply working to provide a few morsels of food for their evening meal? 

How can you enjoy the blessings of family when your friends’ marriages are falling apart and you know other mothers who are facing life-threatening illnesses and may not even live to see their children grow up?

Of course, you help where you can. You send money. You pray. You even go when God calls. But still, you return to your lovely home and air conditioning and full pantry. And on Sunday, you worship God together with other believers in freedom and comfort. And soon, the blessings, all the milk and honey, start to feel like burdens. Maybe you don’t have this problem—maybe it’s the opposite for you. Maybe you grew up in such comfort that it’s hard for you to let go of it. But maybe, like me, you grew up with deprivation and you find it hard to let go of that too.

Maybe you have a hard time accepting the blessings of God.

Because what I’m discovering is that as much as some people have to surrender to the possibility of deprivation and instability, some of us have to surrender to stability and comfort when He chooses to send them. And I’m learning that it takes as much faith to accept blessing as it is does to accept trial. It means believing that all things come from His hand—wealth, poverty, stability, trials--and it means learning to be content and thankful and full of joy in whatever circumstances He chooses to place us.

Even when it is the best of them.