Something No One Told Me Might Happen

About five years ago I said “yes” to the adventure of living overseas. I didn’t know all that might entail, but I knew I loved the God who had asked me to move, and I was determined to follow Him. I didn’t, however, know exactly what to expect.

I heard a little bit of what to expect at our pre-field training. There, someone warned me that stepping on a plane wouldn’t turn me into a different person, or magically make me a superhero Christian. No, I would be the same person as always, possessing the same old faults.

And that’s true — I didn’t turn into a different person. In fact, stepping off that plane and entering an unfamiliar culture had the additional effect of revealing my faults, of laying bare my sin problems and defects in character.

But something else happened, too. Something surprising and unexpected, something no one told me might happen: I discovered gifts I’d never had before. They were new and previously unknown gifts. But they were never meant for me – they were meant to be poured out for others. More importantly, they were meant to be poured out for Him.

One of these new gifts was the ability to write words that not only told my own story but also seemed to express other people’s feelings and experiences. I’d only started writing as a way to process my confusing new life, but somehow it resonated with people. This felt strange at first because I’m a math and science girl, and words have never been my domain. Yet somehow in the midst of culture shock, I found a voice.

Another one of these gifts was a newfound compassion that helped me connect more fully with people. God first started planting seeds of compassion in my heart while preparing to move overseas, but after moving here and witnessing the pain and suffering of poverty and human trafficking, those seeds took deeper root. The truth is, I still need God to teach me about love, and the crushed and broken places of my heart are where He does that best.

The other gift was a passion to encourage women that drives all I do, whether it’s in the form of blogging, private notes, or face-to-face interactions. After about a year overseas I felt God whisper a new word to me: Encourage. The next Sunday in church, a woman I’d never met unexpectedly prayed that I would grow in my encouragement of others. This word, spoken by God and confirmed by His people, guides me to this day.

The place where these three gifts intersect has become a brand new calling on my life. It’s a calling that fills me with purpose, a calling that adds joy to the greater Gift that is my relationship with Him. It’s a calling to listen to what He is saying and doing, both in me and in those around me. It’s a calling to love the person in front of me, and to give people the gift of really seeing them. God sees me, after all, and He is the only One who can help me see others.

I’ve watched the same thing happen to my husband. God has moved in his life and directed him to a place of ministry he never expected yet is clearly gifted in – and I’ve never seen him so alive. Watching God shift my husband’s ministry emphasis and draw out the skills and longings of his heart has been, well, just plain fun.

What a creative God we serve, who can take our small lives and do new and exciting things with them. Receiving His gifts is a privilege. Watching His leading unfold in our lives is an honor. Discovering new gifts overseas is not about the arrogance of using “my gifts.” Rather, it’s about the delight of working in the gifts He has given me, for His glory and never mine. It’s about declaring, “Look at what the Lord has done!”

It’s about cooperating with Him in what He’s already doing in our hearts and in the world at large. It’s about learning to dance, step by awkward step, with the One and Only. It’s about standing in awe of Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, who chooses to interface with our world, who generously gives us the gift of Himself, and who invites us to take part in His story.

 

What new gifts did you discover overseas?

How do the gifts God has given you serve and strengthen others?

What passions did God stir in your heart only after you left your passport country?

Photo Source : Unsplash

20 Comments

  1. Dana January 18, 2015

    Elizabeth,

    Thanks for sharing.   I really appreciate what you are saying.  I know that people say you will be the same person, and things like, if you are not sharing your faith at home, how do you expect to do it somewhere else.  However, I don’t think that is true.   I have experienced myself  flourishing in a place I was called to and struggling in other places.  I have observed this in others also.  They bloom in the place God calls them to.  It is God’s gifts to others.  It is a gift to us also.  The gift of a purposeful life.  The gift of blessing others.  The gift of knowing that He has a special place and plan for each of us.

    Blessings,

    Dana

    1. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

      Yes, I think we change when we’re overseas. Maybe not right away — which is maybe what people are saying when they say you’ll be the same person? Change happens slowly, over time, but yes, I think we can be different people after moving overseas! And I am glad God is so very personal in His dealings with us, giving us specific gifts and callings and helping us to feel purposeful and fulfilled as we follow Him. Blessings 🙂

  2. Grace L January 19, 2015

    Thank you for sharing, Elizabeth. After living overseas for 8 years I can see how God has given me such a heart for encouraging people. It has become my passion, along with growing in compassion and love for others. Yes, I am blossoming in the place where God has called me and it is so rewarding. I never knew I could feel such love for those around me. It is God’s love flowing through me.

    1. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

      Your comment feels so familiar. I love that we are experiencing the same thing together 🙂 And here’s to blossoming in the places God calls us!

  3. Lauren Pinkston January 19, 2015

    Discovering new gifts overseas is not about the arrogance of using “my gifts.” Rather, it’s about the delight of working in the gifts He has given me, for His glory and never mine. It’s about declaring, “Look at what the Lord has done!”

    You’ve stolen me heart and my words again…I’m just about to post on this very thought. Loved this piece, Elizabeth!

    1. Elizabeth January 19, 2015

      Then you need to share your post at the Grove this week! And thanks for relating to this 🙂

  4. Kay Bruner January 19, 2015

    Hi Elizabeth!  I love what you wrote here, and I love that God’s bringing all these new things to life in you.  I think it’s awesome, and you know I love what you write and it blesses me.  Even in Texas.  I felt like such a misfit overseas, myself.  Like nothing about me really seemed to work well in the situation where I was.  Yet we stayed, pressed on, yadda yadda, nervous breakdown.  Not exactly what I was hoping for when I read verses like “My power is perfected in weakness…”  I think the gifts I got were disguised as disaster at the time.  My own story is that slowly, painfully, surely God redeems and does things that I could never have predicted or expected.  It seems like now, only now (49 years old in a few weeks) I’m doing things that are really deeply truly my gifting.  And here’s the weird thing.  I couldn’t do these things now, without all those years of “disaster” behind me.  Somehow this makes me think of one of my favorite ideas from The Last Battle–things that are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.  Because if I were going to make a life plan for myself, it would not involve years of doing things I felt completely inadequate to do (my children still make fun of my home schooling efforts) and having a nervous breakdown.  But somehow all that was bigger and more beautiful on the inside, richer, deeper, fuller, than it was on the outside.  (It was ugly as heck on the outside.)  Gifts, in many disguises.  Much love to you, and thank you for sharing this.  You made me think and be grateful all over again!

    1. Patty Stallings January 19, 2015

      Kay, I so appreciate your perspective of God using the hard things experienced outwardly to build beauty, richness, depth, and fullness on the inside.  Thank you for sharing those gifts with us!

    2. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

      So much to ponder in this comment, Kay. “I think the gifts I got were disguised as disaster at the time” — I know it felt that way for you. I love this part: “It seems like now, only now (49 years old in a few weeks) I’m doing things that are really deeply truly my gifting.”

      I heard Shauna Niequist speak about callings and her mother, earlier this year. (Her parents are those famous Hybels.) Her mother tried to fit the mold for so many years, mom at home while Dad led super big church. But she wasn’t happy or fulfilled. And then in her 50’s she found her calling. And she likes to say it’s never too late to find your calling (while also telling younger women they don’t have to wait as long as she did). And I think that’s what you did. You found your calling later, and it totally fits you, and helps other women on the field to boot! 

      I also love that Shauna’s mom is saying a woman can have a calling SEPARATE from her husband. In ministry life, this has traditionally been unacceptable. I struggle under this weight myself sometimes. My husband’s job looks very different from mine, for we are different people, and our passions and strengths are different. Sometimes in overseas work, though, it is expected we will all fit the same mold. I am slowly trying to break out of the pressure of that. Of course, that’s a discussion for another day, or another blog post — perhaps today’s book club post!! Hee hee 🙂

      Also, I love this: Because if I were going to make a life plan for myself, it would not involve years of doing things I felt completely inadequate to do (my children still make fun of my home schooling efforts) and having a nervous breakdown.” So many of the things that God uses to change us, we would NOT have chosen. But we are all so very thankful for your presence at this time in our lives, Kay. <3

      1. Kay Bruner January 20, 2015

        In our particular situation, there was only a very specific role for me.  From early on in our training process, I would say to Andy, “It’s like the mechanic’s wife has to be a mechanic, too!”  Part of what I think about all this, looking back, is that I DON’T MATTER ALL THAT MUCH!  Which is a really weird un-American thing to think.  And I don’t mean that I don’t matter to God.  I mean that, even though I wasn’t working from my gifts and feeling fulfilled, I was doing things that needed to be done for my family.  And there’s something of sacrifice in that, in saying “My personal fulfillment is less important than…”  Of course it’s also painful!  And exhausting!

        1. T January 20, 2015

          Hey, Kay,

          I’m glad you chimed in!  I read this post, cringing a little, as I thought of the ladies who aren’t feeling as happy or fulfilled as the author.  I don’t want any of us to feel any ‘less’ just because we aren’t in the sweet spot right now.  I love your last little bit here, about ‘me not mattering’.  I also think that sometimes, for seasons, it isn’t about us.  It might not be sustainable, but surely in short seasons it is just practical sometimes!  (and Elizabeth, I’m really glad for you that things seemed to have clicked into place for both you and your husband!  I don’t want to make you feel bad that I was glad that Kay commented from another side of it!)

          1. Kay Bruner January 20, 2015

            Life is complicated!!  And our stories are all weaving into something beautiful together, which just amazes me.

          2. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

            T, I’m not offended at all by your concerns! I know this is the case for many women on the field, and it’s actually something I bemoan quite regularly in M culture. I have a little bit of freedom, but I still sometimes get push back (so much so that quite a bit of anger spilled out earlier this week during a routine de-briefing session here where we are vacationing).

            And my husband’s gifts don’t perfectly fit the mold, either, so there’s some psychological baggage that goes along with that. Yes, I am happy we are able to use our gifts in meaningful ways at the present time, but I am also so very grieved that so many people are not “allowed” to find their giftings because of (dare I say it?) organizational constraints and expectations.

            I don’t know where you are personally on this journey, whether you were cringing for yourself, or cringing for others, but please know that I, too, mourn for women who don’t seem to have as much freedom in serving in their strengths as the men they serve alongside. And I pray that this constrictive environment will steadily change as time goes on. There are far too many unhappy women because they are not able to work in their gifts, and that is such a depressing thought.

            Hugs to you this day.

          3. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

            Sorry, I should have said “chronically unhappy,” because I know we all go through cycles of happiness and unhappiness, and that’s normal, and we all go through times where we make sacrifices for what is right and good, and that is holy and righteous. What I was trying to say is that there is a culture at work that sets women up not to thrive, because their needs and abilities are not taken into account nearly enough, or even at all, and this leads to years and years of not feeling useful or valuable. Anyway, hope that came across. . . Again, thanks for the comment, T, and for adding depth to this discussion.

          4. T January 22, 2015

            Thanks, Elizabeth!

        2. Elizabeth January 20, 2015

          YES, Kay. In what other profession does the wife need to exactly mirror the husband??? Answer: in NONE. And I actually think we get into a lot of problems with burnout and attrition because we are trying to force both parts of a couple into the same mold. And I have been in meetings where I have had that exact thought — I don’t matter much. It is NOT a good place to be in.

  5. Patty Stallings January 19, 2015

    Elizabeth, I’m so grateful you shared your story of God uncovering gifts you didn’t know were there and then weaving all that together to breathe life and courage into you and others.

    True. True. True. “It’s about cooperating with Him in what He’s already doing in our hearts and in the world at large. It’s about learning to dance, step by awkward step, with the One and Only. It’s about standing in awe of Almighty God, Maker of heaven and earth, who chooses to interface with our world, who generously gives us the gift of Himself, and who invites us to take part in His story.”

  6. Shelly January 21, 2015

    Elizabeth, thank you for sharing your story. I especially like your last two paragraphs that leave me with the truth that these gifts I have and offer to others are HIS GOOD WORK that I am privileged to be a part of. It confirms a challenge I have received lately to venture into some other area of service that would use gifts that have been maturing through hard (but good) experiences in the past few years. “Look what the Lord has done” is not only about the results of offering these gifts to the Body, but also about what has been done in me so that I would even receive His gifts, and in turn to awkwardly (as you put it) offer them.

    1. Elizabeth January 22, 2015

      “Look what the Lord has done” is not only about the results of offering these gifts to the Body, but also about what has been done in me so that I would even receive His gifts.” YES. So totally agree. It’s so amazing to look back and see what God has done in our lives. And God bless you, Shelly, as you move into something new.

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.