Don’t Eat the Spinach . . . But Do Receive the Invitation

We never should’ve eaten the spinach.

It was a team dinner and we got take-out from a restaurant we all loved. One of the dishes we ordered was a common side dish in our country: a cold dish of spinach and peanuts. We had a great evening as a team, lots of laughter and great conversation.

Then came the apocalypse.

The next 2 days after that fateful meal found almost all 17 of us curled up in the fetal position on the floors of our apartments, tormented by a raging form of food poisoning that would make the most iron stomach in the world weep in the corner. Everyone on the team got it – except a few of the kids: the ones who didn’t eat the spinach. So much for that parenting rule.

And did I mention that our water went completely out in all of our apartments during the apocalypse? You just can’t make this stuff up.

When we sign up for full-time ministry overseas, I think many of us have these fantastic images of how quickly we’ll learn the language, love the people, and have fabulous, meaningful ministry. We picture Elijah on Mt. Carmel, or Peter on Pentecost. Yes, bring it on! We’re going to change the world!

But, the reality is we are often flooded by experiences and needs and time-consuming efforts that we could never have imagined. Our days and nights are sometimes filled with things that never make the newsletters. Like the time I spent hours in line at the post office, only to have the woman behind the counter tell me that my “U.S. postal service” envelope was not admissible. I guess I should’ve followed the person ahead of me in line who was sewing up an old pillow case for an envelope and was accepted without hesitation.

Or, the time we ate the spinach.

I have discovered that full time service sometimes looks a lot more like Isaiah or Jeremiah, where the Lord is calling me to be faithful even when there is no fruit.

Full time overseas service has made me pull out my hair as I “wasted” hours in lines, navigated boggling lanes of traffic, and spent days trying to get the right paperwork.

It has brought me to my knees as my selfishness and pride has often been pulled to the surface, and sometimes in such ugly ways that I didn’t recognize my own heart in the mirror.

It has shattered my heart as dear people that I love and weep over in prayer continue to refuse the One who loves them and longs for them.

It has stirred up some wild ideas that needed to be slain about my identity being found in what I do, or the place I serve.

But, this life, this crazy, full time life of service is also full of surprises that bring me to my knees in joy as I watch the Lord place more chairs around His table, and I get to see precious ones come and join me at His Feast.

It has peeled back the layers of my heart, revealing a whole lot of murky places, but then deeper still, a God who loves me even there.

It has given me deep relationships with some of God’s best kids, people that I can’t believe I get to call my friends.

But, most of all, this life has been one invitation after another to walk with my Jesus.

He has continually invited me to journey with HIM into all those dark places and also into all the glorious light ones, as HE has been by one Constant, my true Companion, and the One who shares every memory.

He loves all the people I love, on both sides of the ocean. He longs for His lost kids to come to Him more than I do. And He delights in US, his children who have said yes to full time service — but not because we’re doing stuff for Him. He delights in us because we’re HIS. Before you’ve lifted a finger in your ministry, remember that. He delights in you because you’re his kid. You are fully seen, fully known, and fully loved.

As you pour out and love and give and serve and bless and cry and struggle in this crazy life of full time service, receive His invitation to journey with Him through it all. Let Him fill you to overflowing so that you spill out Jesus to those you serve. Remember that He loves YOU, not your service. And maybe be careful eating cold spinach.

What have been some of your surprises in your experience of full time service? What has God shown you in your service about His heart for you?

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


  1. Kiera August 22, 2017

    I was just reflecting today on the 11 years I spent overseas (I’ve just recently moved to the US) and I was thinking about how I wish I could communicate to people here who ask about it that it was very good and very hard – at the same time. So many things were good and so many things were hard. It’s just like life in general, I think. Also, I love the graphic that goes with this post, that it pulls out that oh-so-very important truth: “God loves you, not your service!” So true. I just want to underline it again and again.

    1. Renee August 26, 2017

      Thanks so much, Kiera. I love what you shared — and how true it is! Life overseas is so full of paradox: how we live with what seems to be contradicting realities that are BOTH equally true at the same time (it is both very hard AND very good). Praying that the Lord brings some great people across your path as you adjust to life in the U.S. who will walk with you through your transition. Thanks, sister!

  2. Bayta Schwarz August 23, 2017

    Thank you so much for this! I remember one of our interns saying after a few weeks in-country:”I had all sorts of ideas of what being an “m” would be like. None of those involved hours at the laundromat, on the tube, and all those other ‘life’ things”. Yep, so true! Nothing like changing cultures to show up how much of our identity is based on achievement and getting the job done… Hard lesson, but good!

    Also, this got me reflecting on all the refugees we’ve had arrive in the past couple of years (I live in Germany). What your average person will often comment on is their willingness (or lack thereof) to learn, to engage, to become part of life here. Just in the ordinary everyday-ness of it. Isn’t that true for us as well? We go somewhere else, and maybe our approach to and attitude in just being there, living there, communicates more loudly than all our programmes (not that I’m saying they’re not important).

    Oh, and I LOVE the pillow case story!!! Maybe I should try that at a German post office – wonder how that would go down 😉

    1. Renee August 26, 2017

      Wonderful, Bayta! Thank you so much for writing! Yes, what you shared is so very true — how much of our identity can be mistakenly wrapped up in performance and achievement. And one of the gifts I think the Lord gave me in living overseas was peeling back the layers so I could see that in myself — and then learn to walk with Him in a new identity. (And I’d love to see someone try using a pillow case at a German post office! That would be a story I’d love to hear!). Blessings on your week, sister.

  3. T August 26, 2017

    Beautiful vulnerability in this piece. I think I could have a friend read it to help them see inside me! Thanks!

    1. Renee August 26, 2017

      T, thank you so much for sharing. May you be encouraged this week to hear and receive the sweet invitation of Jesus to walk with Him in whatever you are experiencing. Blessings this week.

  4. Rowanne August 27, 2017

    Oh, Renee, did you have to tell the spinach story? That was one of my most favorite Chinese foods! Not sure I could ever eat it comfortably again. We are in SE Asia now, where morning glory is a similar (though not as tasty) common dish that I may approach differently in the future!

    Mk 3:14-15 has really arrested me lately: “He appointed twelve…that they might be with him and (incidentally) that he might send them to pr*ch and to have authority to drive out demons.” The being with him is everything. He’s in charge of the rest. So easy to say and difficult to do. But I see now their appointment wasn’t just about training them. It was also his need for companionship, for an in-group to replace the siblings that had rejected him as crazy. His need to love and be loved. Hard to believe that is his purpose in choosing us, but can’t we all relate to that?

  5. Carolyn August 29, 2017

    Thank you, Renee! As I begin another year of service in China, this was just what I needed to hear. SO encouraging and comforting.

  6. Michelle September 2, 2017

    Came across this as a friend shared it on Facebook… Thank you for putting into words what’s been on my heart recently after years living overseas.

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