To the Ends of the Earth

People keep asking me what I’ve done through the week, and my response is always an embarrassed, “nothing much,” but, honestly, I’m in the rest phase of my sabbatical, and I’m sleeping in as often as possible, going to bed early, and not feeling guilty about catching up on my reading list.

I’m still doing other things too – like tons of squats as assigned by my physio. My butt is sore all the time now which is largely celebrated because that means I can feel anything at all in muscles that spent time disconnected from my brain for a couple months post injury. I didn’t have any extraordinary advances through this week, but I was faithful in getting out of the house to walk each day and have been doing the electro-stimulation every night since I got here. I’ve also had some great interactions with new people who kindly want to get to know me. There are a lot of little things that add up to “full” days as I spend time resting and reflecting on what’s gone down in my life the last five years.

While I can’t give an exciting update on the physical side, I can say that the reflection time has given me a lot of opportunity to celebrate what God has used me to do. I very much want my life to be a testimony of God’s good works done through me. A couple of my former students even offered me some kind words about the impact I had as their teacher, and I treasure their words. To be completely honest, I’m often insecure about the impact I’m having because it’s “part time” hours compared to many of my energetic coworkers, so the reminders I have actually been used effectively in ministry is incredibly meaningful.

If you’re inclined to pray along with me this week, I’m still asking God to work new growth in my endurance and to reduce my soreness. I’m also looking to see God open my eyes more to the ways I’ve been effective in ministry so that I can capitalize on my strengths both here in my service at RCC and when I return to BFA.

This week was full of new adventures and new people yet again. I’m so blown away by how incredible my life is sometimes, and occasionally other people are shocked by it too.

Wednesday afternoon was a total delight for me as I was planning out with Matt how I can use my resources from teaching Christian Essentials at BFA to benefit the students in his youth group. Our planning session was supplemented with an impromptu history of the church given by one of the former pastors who is still involved with the church. I listened eagerly as he also explained lessons learned from decades in ministry how the church can support and grow people through all stages of life. I love the lessons of longevity as I’m still on the front end of a career focused on starting youth out on a lifelong path of pursuing Jesus. 

Thursday was just as exciting for me as I spent time one on one with a woman from RCC who drove me out to see the beautiful beach on the east coast of the island. I was so blessed to share time with her and was encouraged by her reaching out to me. Saturday night also had a beautiful bonding moment in the body of Christ as a Chinese couple who attend a different church in the city invited me over to their house for dinner. I was connected to these new friends through a family currently living in Kandern who have done ministry in China for years and spent a portion of time at Multnomah. The Lee family made sure to pass on my contact information to their friends, and I was so warmly treated by them based only on our connection in Jesus. I love the body of Christ.

Now onto what you’re all most interested in – me impressing other people rather than the people who impress me. (I mean, why else does anyone read this blog?) Friday afternoon I had a new independent adventure on the bus to the local physiotherapy practice. I’d done a google search to make sure I found a place that understood the nuances of a neurological problem, and after chatting with Mike on the phone Tuesday, we’d scheduled an initial assessment. Unfortunately the practice has two steps up into the building, but that only gave me a chance to impress him right away as he hoisted my wheelchair up after I managed the steps alone using the railing.

We spent the next hour talking about what I’ve accomplished over the past five years and testing out the limits of what my ankles were up to that day. Frequently throughout the appointment I’d offer a response to his inquiry completely opposite of what he expected. “So you said you can move your big toe?” “No, it’s actually just the second toe sometimes.” “That’s so weird – if it’s only one toe, it should be the big toe because the rest are the same muscle group – you should be able to move them all.” Hey, I’m taking that as good news that it’s only a matter of time before the other three toes on my right foot catch up – and you know I’m not going to stop hoping for the rest after that. 

Mike was excited about the prospects of me defying more predictions, and I’m excited to try out new things and impress everyone with all my improvements when I get back to Germany. I’ve got eight months to see incredible new recovery, and this week has been a great opportunity to reflect on the nearly five years of incredible work I’ve already done. God isn’t finished with my body yet, and I’d love for you to join with me in prayer this week that the routine I implement with Mike’s help is something that surges me forward yet again in this journey of recovery. He told me I’m going to be his crazy patient because I break all the rules, and I’m so excited for the testimony I have that breaks all of the world’s rules because I’m operating by God’s.

When I made the decision to move to Germany, I sold nearly all of my 250+ books in my personal library. This past week, I discovered one of them made its way all the way to Texas. A local pastor with a habit of buying copies of Fee and Stuart’s text to give to students interested in reading the Bible purchased a copy on Amazon and noticed my name in the front of the text. He messaged me on Wednesday to ask if it was mine, curious about the insightful marginalia. (Full disclosure, my friend Margaux was the one who wrote smart comments before I inherited the text from her library downsizing.) The guy even offered to mail it back to me for free – before I told him I lived overseas.

We ended up having a lovely discussion about books and theologians and encouraging young people to get excited about knowing God through books and theologians. I shamelessly recommended all my MU favorites – Lubeck’s Read the Bible for a Change, everything The Bible Project ever produces, and even Harper’s Space at the Table. Guys, the body of Christ is so cool. I got a list of recommendations from him that I’m going to add as resources to my controversy project when I get back to BFA next year.

One of the most incredible things to me about the body of Christ is that I’ve got this brother in Texas who was encouraging me randomly while I also am meeting new people in this new country who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. This morning was so fun for me as I sat next to my new friend originally from England who lives in New Zealand who I can call a sister in Christ. After church, I went to a newcomers lunch at the pastor’s house and met a family from Malaysia and a woman from Switzerland who were brought to RCC by the same Jesus that brought me here.

My story still confuses a lot of people who don’t know Jesus – because why on earth would an American girl move to Germany and then spend a year in New Zealand where she’s never met anyone? I’m getting more opportunities to share my story with others here, and I’m learning more about living out that walk with Christ literally and figuratively. 

I shared last week my hope to increase my walking distance, and I’ve made progress in that. I did adjust my goal because I realized instead of the rewardless bus stop and back, I could actually aim for the nearby grocery store with a cafe. I’m at about 3/4 of the distance there and back now, and I hope that by the end of next week I’ll be able to say I managed to make it to the cafe for a treat before heading back. My second goal is for the mental rest as I spend a lot more time reading. Honestly, these past few weeks have been so great to sleep and read more in addition to these walking goals. I read another Terry Pratchett novel and have two more lined up for this week plus two memoirs and an incredible book on discipling people. 

In a lot of ways, it’s been a weird week, but I read two whole books which is just delightful to me. My goal is four this coming week. 

One of the books was titled Isolation: A Place of Transformation in the Life of a Leader. Great title, right? Well, it was super helpful in preparing for my sabbatical time because since I don’t have a regular full time ministry role, I’ve had a weird sensation of not doing enough. I get to spend all this wonderful time being with Jesus though. The book was an encouragement to embrace that.

Most people know my sabbatical assignment includes improving my holistic health, so this week had some good walks in the sunshine trying to figure out how far I can venture on my own before I need to turn around and still be able to make it home on my own. At this point, I’ve got like “around the corner, half way down the block and back” sorted out. I still don’t know the limits, but I know I’m going to spend this bonus summer improving.

I like the alone time I get with God going on these walks and thinking about what my body is capable of that I was told I’d never be able to do. It’s a really beautiful opportunity to celebrate God’s goodness.

I also like it when people reach out and remind me I’m not forgotten despite being in an “isolated” place away from my support team and my ministry location. I’ve met some really wonderful people here who’ve heard just a snippet of my story and have been so kind and encouraging of the time I’m taking on sabbatical. This past week, I managed several independent trips various places, and I remembered that it is okay to still ask for help. For example, I navigated to and from places on the bus several times, but I need the bus drivers to give me a little push onto the bus when the ramp is too steep to get up on my own. 

While I was reading the book Isolation, one of my former students sent me a really sweet message to encourage me that I was an encouragement in her walk with God. She went on to tell me that I’m not alone and that she’s praying for me. Naturally, I laughed out loud and sent her a picture of the book I’d put down to read her message. God has a lot in store for me holistically during this season, and I’m excited to grow in it. I’d really love your prayers that I stay focused on my given tasks, and particularly that I’d hit my first bus stop walking goal this week. My hope is that I can eventually increase my endurance enough that I know I can do all the walking required to and from the bus stops on a round trip to the church from my house. 

Side note, I’m planning to read some Terry Pratchett this week, so please feel free to send some encouragements while I’m reading titles like Monstrous Regiment and Going Postal. I’d love to laugh at the same kinds of connections between books and messages again that I had yesterday.

This past week I read John Mark Comer’s book Garden City as a launch into my sabbatical. (Then I started A. J. Swoboda’s Subversive Sabbatical because Portland theologians writing on sabbath rest is the greatest thing.) Just a couple chapters in, I was being toured around Christchurch and learned that the nickname of this city is the Garden City. For completely different reasons than the New Jerusalem, but what a great discovery.

As a native of the Rose City, I’ve taken this sabbatical in a foreign country that I’ve now discovered has a lot of cultural similarities to the Pacific Northwest. They all speak English which is a bonus to adjusting to other new things, but they also all have an appreciation for sorting trash. Guys, I’m going to fit in great here. 

But before you all think there’s not going to be any struggles, let me tell you about my first independent adventure from the church office to my new home. I had navigated the route home with one of the pastors on Tuesday afternoon, and I felt confident in my skills as I headed out to the bus stop alone on Wednesday afternoon. I had a helpful bus driver help me on and off the bus, and I navigated the streets in the neighborhood to my steep driveway. Having done it with my sticks once before, I heaved myself up the steep start, but my calculations were off with the addition of my laptop to the bag on the back of my chair. Unfortunately, I tipped over backwards, and while I didn’t see my life flash before me, I did watch my legs go over my head and heard a tiny crack-like sound when the back of my skull hit the cement. For a millisecond I wondered if I’d broken my neck, but I managed to sit up with no problem.

I was – understandably – a little shaken up, but I was getting myself sorted and preparing to pull myself into the chair when a neighbor saw me in the street and helped me back into the chair and up the driveway to the door with all my stuff. I managed to get myself safely into the house and texted Kara to make sure it was okay that I felt okay. Honestly, I felt okay. I mean, sure, a little bruised, and I’m still a little sore, but apart from the goose egg that showed up in minutes, there were no immediate problems – no blurry vision, no headache, nothing. 

I’m a champion. 

Okay, so realistically, God has made my body to be incredibly resilient, and I’m continuing to grow in how I can be independent with these limitations. I’ve managed the driveway with no problem as long as I don’t have my sticks or anything heavy on the back of my chair, so I’ll be learning to navigate the city with less weighing me down – literally. If you’ve been following my story for long or have met me for more than an hour, you’re probably aware it takes a lot to slow me down. I mean, I broke my back and returned to work the next school year. 

I am so fortunate that I have the opportunity to be challenged to grow physically while I spend time in this Garden City because I’m ready for the next growth spurt. I’m honestly not discouraged by the topple into the street – it’s an obstacle to overcome, not a permanent roadblock to my thriving.

The day I left Germany, I shared a post from the RCC Facebook on my wall that had a picture of the city and Jeremiah 29:7 as the caption: “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” On Tuesday, I got to meet the woman who runs the RCC Facebook page, and it was such a treat to put a face to the person behind that bit of encouragement. Christchurch is where God has planted me for this season; this is in some ways an exile from Kandern, but I’m praying to be used in this city to contribute to his thriving because I know God wants me to thrive in this Garden City. 

This week’s specific requests are first that I’ll continue to settle in and learn to navigate the city with increasing confidence. Additionally, I’ve been asked to share my testimony in a Bible class at a local school as well as to do a short recorded version for the church. Please pray that I’ll be a responsible witness to the beautiful work God has done in my life. While anyone might be talking to God on my behalf, I’d also like to ask that you praise our awesome Healer for the preparation he’s done to make a beautiful community for me to be a part of while I’m here. I’ve already met so many amazing people, and I’m so excited to learn more about them and grow in community as the body of Christ while we are all together here in this Garden City.

I feel like in nearly five years, I’ve likely referenced this Hillsong song I used for today’s post title before, but it’s got more relevant lyrics than the single Reliant K line running through my head as I watched the non-proverbial sunrise come up over the Pacific end Friday morning. I did include a picture of my several thousand foot high view of the sunrise, and you might think I’m losing my mind, but I’m about to delve into the specifics (and switch song references). 

When I was a worship leader in high school, I remember loving to sing “To the Ends of the Earth” because of the powerful verse that begins the song: “Love unfailing / overtaking my heart / You take me in / finding peace again / fear is lost in all you are.” When I sang out the chorus, I never though my world would be bigger than the greater Portland metro area, but as I flew from Germany to New Zealand this week, I was struck by how the Lord has called me to the ends of the earth – literally.

This past Tuesday I said some hard goodbyes to students and a few see-you-laters in some cases which were still difficult. I only had a handful of students who I thought would be tough to leave, but it turned out seeing dozens more this past couple of weeks made it all the harder to leave them on Wednesday. Brandi let me sit on her balcony and process a lot of my emotions the night before I left, and I got in the car with my friend Chrissy to make the drive to Zürich excited despite the sadness of leaving so many precious children. Chris and his dad drove Chrissy and I to the airport and sent us off with happy wishes for our long journey.

I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion as Chrissy is a champion at overseas travel and is calm and confident in airports in a way I can barely dream of. All my anxieties and insecurities were completely taken care of with Chrissy’s help. We made both our connections with no problems, and after a couple questions about my plans in New Zealand, my passport got a new stamp, and we collected all our luggage (which I forgot to mention had made it to Germany just three days after I did).

One of the RCC pastors, Mark, was waiting for us when we got through the border control, and he drove us to my new home in a quiet neighborhood near the university. We landed in the morning, so Chrissy and I tried our best to stay awake through the day and managed to adventure down the street to the grocery store to buy a few essentials and some coffee to keep us going. I even had enough energy to try walking down the street with no braces. We also had the blessing of meeting my housemate’s dad who lives down the street and offered to drive me to the mall to buy a new SIM card for my phone. I’m all set up with a new phone number and a working mobile plan for the next year. It was an exciting and productive first day. I woke up Saturday to say goodbye to Chrissy as she was off to see her sister who lives on the north island. After a relaxing morning, I met another RCC member, Jasmine, who kindly took me out for a short list of things I’d found I hadn’t packed and would need in order to settle in.

This morning I went to RCC for the first time, and it was such a blessing to worship with this new gathering and discover it was like coming home because of the beauty of the body of Christ. I met a few more of the staff members I’ll be spending a lot of time with, and I even was introduced to a couple of the students that I’ll work with. I’m so excited for this sabbatical opportunity, and I’m grateful for all the prayers for my travel to get here. As I’m adjusting and settling in, I’ll still post quick updates, but they’ll likely be much shorter than this though I hope you’ll all still pray for me that I’d learn to take care of my body well in this new space as I get used to the new place tucked away in an opposite end of the earth from where I’m used to.

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