I Surrender All…Well, Almost

I never wanted this overseas life.

My only exposure to cross-cultural work came every 3rd Wednesday night at a small group meeting at church. I remember reading in amazement of the sojourns of Christ followers who were bold enough to step into all that was unknown. Their faith and courage was so great that it almost seemed fictional to my teenage self. I admired them for their service to the Kingdom, but never would I have ever wanted to leave the comforts of home.

What I wanted was to marry a God-fearing husband by the time I was 25, have at least two kids by the time I was 30, a successful career, a nice roof over my head, and, of course, a little dog too. I wanted my children to grow up close to their cousins, just like I did. I wanted them to be active in the local youth group and in school sports, just like I was. I wanted them to know the freedom of four-wheeler rides among tall trees, camping trips at state parks, and the fun of big family gatherings, whether it was the holidays or not.

Funny thing, though, I can look back through the pages of these two decades into this overseas life and see that the Lord has provided me with a God-fearing preacher-man of a husband. He has given us two beautiful teenaged children who are involved in both ministry and in school sports. He’s allowed me a career, has given us a nice roof over our heads, and, yes, there’s the little dog too.

But can I just be candid with you, sisters, at the risk of sounding like I’m throwing a temper tantrum? It’s just not in the place I thought it would be. Now, please, don’t get me wrong. There is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful for all that the Lord has provided here and for how He has allowed me to grow in Him as a result of being here. He has been good and continues to be good. But there is also not a day that goes by that a part of me doesn’t still yearn for the connection and experiences that come with the small-town culture of my childhood home. The friction between gratitude and grievance is real.

Mind you, my children have grown up here on the island. This is all they know. My husband is from here. This is all he knows. But growing up in that sleepy, rural river town, I know differently – and the knowing hounds me relentlessly. It reminds me of all that I believe they have missed and are missing. The knowing is even riddled with guilt because our times with family there are so few and far between. The knowing has a way of unsettling me. It exposes the most undignified of attitudes, the occasional unmerited feelings of bitterness, and the often unwanted angst of grief.

Certainly, those who live it know that a life overseas calls you to a life of constant surrender.  So why, after 20 years, can’t I let go of this?

Then I read it in black and white:

Sometimes to get your life back, you have to face the death of what you thought your life would look like.”

~Lysa TerKeurst

I soberly repeated – you HAVE to face the death of what you THOUGHT your life would look like.

Of what YOU THOUGHT your life would look like.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”

 ~ Isaiah 55:8

I know this. I know that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts and, trust me my friends, that’s a very good thing. However, knowing it hasn’t made the surrendering of this one area of my heart plans any easier. After 20 years, I am embarrassed to say that I still struggle.

But,

“To pray, ‘Thy will be done,’ I must be willing, if the answer requires it, that my will be undone.”

~Elisabeth Elliot

I must be willing that MY will be undone. Not His.

I must be willing to let go, if the answer requires it, of even this desire.

Because let’s just be honest. The inertia of living a life overseas will inevitably require some sort of surrendering that is as hard as it is holy. It will constantly ask of you to yield your focus upward rather than on the lateral view of your current circumstances. It will put you at the wheel of the Potter over and over and over again. And just as sure as you walk in obedience in the steps that the Lord has established for your life, you will begin to see that what you didn’t want or plan for in your heart was the very thing you needed to become more like Him.

No doubt, I am a work in progress. But I pray that one day I won’t just be singing this age-old hymn with lips that mean well. Rather, I will be singing it from a heart fully submitted to His will.

“All the Thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all.”

Sisters, can I pray for you?  In what area are you struggling to let go in your call to this overseas life?

8 Comments

  1. Lillian February 1, 2022

    I Surrender All…Well, Almost. The quote “Sometimes to get your life back, you have to face the death of what you thought your life would look like.” really hit me hard. My experience is exactly like yours – except opposite. Since my childhood I dreamed to work overseas. I dreamed my children would grow up bilingual and multi-cultural and that I would have a career ministry overseas. And, after 18 years overseas, I have found myself moved back the the area where I grew up. The ‘most boring’ place in the world. In the four years we have been back my children have forgotten everything except for English and they barely remember their birth ‘home’. My husband is happily working without a vision of returning overseas. I feel stuck; purposeless. Is this all the ministry that God thinks I am fit for? So thanks for your article. It helps me once more get perspective that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts but are so much bigger.

  2. Stephanie Clarke February 2, 2022

    So much bigger. So much better. So much brighter. 🙂

    Thank you so much for sharing, Lillian. I will be praying for both the peace of God and purpose of God to overwhelm you, even as you learn to let go.

  3. Kristen February 3, 2022

    Thank you so much for writing this. I identify very strongly with a lot of what you wrote. I’m from small town Illinois and have to repeatedly wrestle with “not providing” my kids with the childhood I think they should have… bike rides on open, flat country roads,, big, open backyards with lush green grass and trees for climbing, lots of playtime with family and cousins that love them dearly and so much more. It has been four years of following Jesus into an overseas land far away from the “life I thought they should have” and into the one He has led us into. And with that…ongoing grieving and ongoing seeking to trust and surrender all. Thank you for sharing so authentically and for giving words to a lot of my feelings.

    1. Stephanie Clarke February 4, 2022

      Kristen, I actually teared up reading your comment!!! Oh how I know the struggle! And while it may not get any easier, knowing that others can relate and that God is indeed faithful makes journeying through this overseas life not just doable, but a continual revelation of His gift of amazing grace!

      1. Kristen February 8, 2022

        yes! so true! thanks for responding!

  4. Beverly Rich February 4, 2022

    Oh my goodness. This is me. Uganda for 24 years, husband passed away and is buried here, now I run the organization, but it is so hard. Thank you for this wonderful post. This is surely not the life I envisioned, but it is where God has called me.

    1. Stephanie Clarke February 4, 2022

      Beverly, I am so sorry to hear of the passing of your husband. May the Lord continue to give you His presence, comfort, strength and wisdom as you remain obedient to His call in running the organization. ❤️

  5. Ashley Felder March 16, 2022

    The struggle is real and continues! I, too, long for the time when I don’t dream of my kids being involved in sports, having friends, going to museums, and gulping in the fresh air while running around barefoot in the grass of our very own yard. But every time I lay it down, I inch a little closer to that freedom of fully embracing this is the plan God chose for my kids. Inching closer with you! 🙂

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