One thing I've learned about God through the years is that He is lovingly persistent. He never gives up on anyone, and
He never "leaves well enough alone", which means He is also continually pressing us into situations where we can grow.
Often these situations are ones which call us out of ourselves, which challenge us to serve others, to be His hands and feet,
to love deeply and boldly and sacrificially. Today I've invited Emily Kaellner to share how God has been growing her in this way.
I cannot help but think of Mumford & Sons and one of their songs called "White Blank Page". To me, writing publicly is intimidating. It might not be to our current culture full of bloggers and writers and witty individuals who simply post their cool comical tweets. But, as for me, I am not a writer. Not even close. I did attempt a blog once. When I was 21. That was ten years ago and I called it, “Em & M’s… dancing through life one M&M at a time.” BAHAHA! So, work with me here and try and follow what I am about to describe to you.
I am 31 years old. I have an incredible husband and two beautiful daughters. We own a house in the lovely suburbs of Madison, Wisconsin. We live in an incredibly safe and generous neighborhood and both have our gym, the grocery store and our work no more than a 5 minute drive away. Pretty little picture, right? And it is. Everything is abundant. But it is never what I thought my life would look like.
Ever since I can remember, I have wanted to change the world. I have a Savior in Christ Jesus and since I am a Christ-follower, He calls me to GO and make disciples to the ENDS of the earth. I take that command seriously. I want to help change the world! I surely thought that command meant that I was to move to a country in Africa or South America and help be His A-game by CHANGING LIVES there. You see, I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago in a nice, wealthy, attractive area and yet I took every opportunity I could to help anywhere but there. I went on weeklong mission trips with my youth group every summer and even led one in college to other parts of the country, to Mexico, to Canada, to OTHER places but my suburban life.
And as time went on as a young adult, during my junior year at Marquette in Milwaukee, I wanted to drop out and become a missionary SOMEWHERE ELSE. There are hungry, suffering people around the world and I needed to go help them! ENTER ROAD BLOCK: my sweet, protective parents would not let me. They refused. Shocking! See, at the time they were paying for my bills, so I really knew their say in my idea was the one that was going to stick. I was devastated. They wanted the best for me and cared about my future so they gave me an alternative: to study abroad for a semester. Unlike the rest of my college friends, I was not enthusiastic. I wanted to go do missions and help the world. But I was determined to make the best of this undesirable situation. SO, I checked out the study abroad programs and I could not believe my eyes. They had just started a study abroad and service-learning program in Cape Town, South Africa. This was a pilot program where a small group of students would work and study with the locals in order to learn about community development and what was happening within the country. I almost peed my pants. Loophole city! My parents were the aggravated ones now. I knew they would stick to their word so here I was elated and jumping for joy.
So, in 2007, I lived in South Africa. It was one of the best times of my life. I came back from living in Cape Town a different, transformed girl. I thought this was just the beginning of my world-traveler life. Fist pump!
When I graduated, I decided to be a missionary for a year in Brazil. Enter road block: our visas were unable to get approved for longer than a few months so we would have to travel back and forth from the States to Brazil and it would be too expensive. Also, the leadership there was changing and so with a number of complications, the mission was canceled. We were redirected to Brisbane, Australia. We were to pray about it to see if it was where we were to go.
What? A westernized country? How could they need my help? Nooo, how was I going to tell my people to support me when I am going to a country just as rich as the US? “God, You have it wrong!” I whined.
I had a couple days to pray about it. At the time, I was planning my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary party and raising support for this mission and working a job and housesitting a friend’s place with two dogs. I used to say “yes” too much. I used to spread myself too thin. Can you tell?!
So one morning I went to the Starbucks and prayed, sought God on this matter and really carved out some time to wrestle with whether or not I was going to go to australia. This couple that sat by me struck up a conversation with me, asking if I was reading a Bible opened in front of me. I explained my situation to them and said at the end, yes, I am reading the Bible. They were so excited about the possibility that I am traveling to tell others about the hope of Christ that they wrote me a check for $1,200 right on the spot. For real. No exaggeration. Strangers. Just gave me a lot of money. They don’t even know me. I did not even ask for it. I did not even tell them I needed to raise a ton of money for this thing to happen.
And at that moment, I did not need a greater sign than that. I was going to Australia.
Well, this trend goes on and on and on throughout my life – where I try to figure out where God wants me to “help” people. And I attempt to go or I do go… and again and again, He brings me back to the Midwest suburban life.
You see, one of my life verses has always been Acts 1:8: But you shall receive power (ability, efficiency, and might) when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the ends (the very bounds) of the earth. (AMP)
I always took this as saying that I can go ANYWHERE and should go everywhere for Christ. Well, even though Jesus tells us where you are to be a Witness for Him (everywhere), the text actually first speaks of their present location: Jerusalem. Many believe that for us reading this verse today, Jerusalem represents where you live now. Then it speaks of the local area such as the state or country you live in. THEN, it goes on to speak about going out to the rest of the world.
I mean, I share my life with my family and my friends but I never really thought that growing up in the ‘burbs I was supposed to end up evangelizing to the ‘burbs. So, again, I whine for a bit. Not that I am unwilling to do what God wants me to do, I just need to throw a bit of a tantrum first to get it out of my system. I am a planner so I need to simply readjust. I say, “God, I don’t want to talk about Louis Vuitton purses and if I have a nanny cam installed in our nursery!’ That is really what I thought my world was going to be like if I were to stay put. Then I got real with God, real with myself and “real”ized that I, me, myself, grew up here in the midst of this all. I am a part of it all. Just because I have been other places doesn’t mean I am above where I grew up. I still needed someone to tell me about eternity and Jesus and His hope for my life. Just because the glitz and glamour gets in the way and it’s not obvious from the cover of the wonderful American-dream, white-picket-fence life that we all live around here… we all still need something more. The need to hear that there is more to life might be even more crucial around here… on a soul level. Our souls are being quenched by all the distractions, all the “stuff” that can so easily entangle us and we are all dying like the fashions that were last season… but slower and with more Starbucks in our hands.
Enter road block: my own relationship with God and realizing that He has been calling me back to my roots, back to spaces and places that are so desperate for Him but we don’t even know it. I knew it but I didn’t want to be the one to do it. All along it's like God has been saying, “Em, stay put. Don’t run away. Even though it’s hard, even though it might seem more impressive, more exciting to scurry off to a foreign land to do my work, I am missing in the lives around you now more than ever. Everyone is drowning in the lifestyles of the rich and famous or trying to live up to that standard. Since I have given you a taste of what it could be like and to be an ambassador that there is another way to live, stay here and show it to others.”
Don’t get me wrong, I love me a comfy bed and hot water and heat and electricity and all the wonderful blessings we so easily take for granted. My friends will tell you, I like glamping, not camping. Or neither at all and grab a hotel. I love fashion and fancy coffee and convenience. But I think all these years of going far away was more of a self-defense, a way not to have to deal with any of problems and challenges that come with having a lot of material things yet impoverished spiritual lives. I also was afraid of being ordinary… afraid that if I lived in a normal place with regular things around me, that I would somehow not be used as mightily by God. All false beliefs. God can use us anywhere and sometimes the most familiar places are forgotten. so I have been trying to do that for a while now. And it is tough. Challenging is an understatement. It would be so easy for me to move where there is less and to have less but to be surrounded by more yet not choose to have more: that is the true test.
As Arulnathan John said in his 2011 article on vantagepoint.com, “Mother Teresa was well aware that what outwardly passed for satisfaction was often a mask to hide our innate dissatisfaction or discontent. During an interview with Time magazine in 1989, she said the rich ‘are never satisfied. They always need something more…I find that poverty hard to remove. The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.’ ”
I am nowhere perfect at trying to be IN the world but not OF it around here. I sometimes do not even know what to leave out or separate and what to keep in. And I don’t always think that just because you have much, you are idolizing it. Many people have a great relationship with things. But what I do know is that God is alive here and moving and people are catching on. God has changed my desire and I am excited to go wherever He leads me, even if that is just around the corner or 5 minutes away. I continue to rely on His strength, His will and His plan for my life. Because, without it, I would be just one White Blank Page and that is boring. God has taken me places I would have never taken myself. It has been surprisingly well for my soul. God’s plan is exhilarating even if it IS in your backyard in the middle of Wisconsin.