Today marks the one-year anniversary of when we arrived out here in the Wild West. What a journey it’s been. And not just our 3 day drive across 7 states while Mitch was stricken with hives. Sometimes it’s felt like Covid dictated our lives in the past nearly 2 years. Sometimes it does feels like God is absent, sin is left to run rampant, and we are left wondering why He has allowed such terrible things to happen. Other times we can clearly see His hand, whether through miracles, divine appointments and connections, or close calls. The past year for us has at times been very chaotic, and I sometimes described it as a soap opera. There were times when I felt lost, confused, and angry. We tried to make the best decisions we could and yet it felt like things kept going wrong. But looking back with only a tiny perspective, I can see how He has led us to where we are now.
I took more pictures in the past year than I have in ages. The scenery was so different, so captivating, so mind-blowing. There is a visible difference between the Rocky Mountains here in the West and the Smoky Mountains back home in the East. Each has it’s own unique beauty, and for different reasons. The Smokies are older. They are more settled, erosion has softened the edges. There is more soil, so more vegation grows and covers the ground. They are comfortable. In contrast, the Rockies are younger. They burst out of the ground, and in some places you can almost picture the violent movement that brought it to the surface. There’s a different energy to the landscape. It’s raw, jagged, and rough. They are still changing, still going through growing pains.
That’s what our time in Idaho felt like. For the first time, I was experiencing a different American culture than my own. In some ways I went through more of a culture shock than I did during my time in Ukraine. It was my first real step into adulthood. It was challenging. It was rough. In so many ways it felt like we kept making mistakes, we kept failing. Nothing happened the way we expected. I asked God why He brought us out here if it was going to be like this.
I learned a lot about myself. I learned about what we needed for a healthy environment. I learned how to set boundaries and be assertive. I learned how some people are not what they seem. I learned about broken promises. I learned it all the hard way.
Not all of it was bad. I got to know my sister. Even through the chaos of young children and divorce we actually got to spend a lot of time together, which was really good for both of us. And I got to know my nieces and nephew. We had a lot of fun science times together.
But after six of the longest months in my life, we decided it was time to leave. Once again we stepped out in faith, with no plan and no idea of what would happen next. It was very scary, I admit. But it was also very clear.
Within days of our decision, things began to fall into place. Things entirely out of our control happened to make the connections that we had been waiting on. We moved again.
Idaho is flat, brown, and has very few trees. It seems pretty barren in comparison to Montana, which is filled with mountains, waterfalls, snow, grass and TREES (can you tell I missed them?). If Idaho was filled with painful growth, Montana was filled with peaceful rest (although we’ve still been working hard). Here, we started to heal. We’ve begun the process of healing physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and relationally. We reconnected with old friends, and made some new ones. In Montana, we were able to start a new business. It’s been hard work, sometimes a little discouraging, but it’s laying a foundation for the future.
It reminds me of the vision God gave me a long time ago, of a balloon stretching. Before a balloon can be expanded to its full potential, you oftentimes stretch it back and forth first. After each stretch, it returns to a relaxed position. The next time it’s stretched, it can go further. And after a few times of this, you begin to blow into the balloon, where it takes it’s shape.
Just as I thought life was finally settling down, that we had a good plan for the future, another bombshell dropped. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
You know those movie scenes where the main character is stuck in a crumbling building, or trying to cross a bridge that’s in the middle of falling, and you don’t know how they’re going to make it out? Yeah, it felt like that.
We quickly arranged a short trip to Nashville to see my family before the chemo treatments started. If you didn’t even know we were in the area, don’t feel bad. We didn’t tell a lot of people. And because we had to keep my mom safe, we didn’t see a lot of people either. We were only there a week, but after almost a year of being apart, it was what our souls needed. We had fun, spent some good quality time together, and got a relatively “good” report from the doctor about her treatment plan. It was a good week.
While I was there, one of my good friends (one of the very few we were able to see, and even then at a distance while masked and outdoors), helped me see some perspective. As I talked about the struggles of the past year, and how I couldn’t believe that something else was going wrong, something else was out of my control, something else that made me spiral for what felt like the millionth time, she helped me see how much I had grown. She helped me see how I needed to be stretched in Idaho, and to have that rest and healing in Montana, so that now I was better prepared for this next challenge. And to be honest, since that conversation I have felt so much more at peace with everything.
Plans? What Plans?
A month ago, we thought we had a pretty good idea for what was going to come next. Now, thanks to the cancer diagnosis and the Delta variant causing more distruptions again, we don’t. We may go down south for the winter. When? How long? No idea. We want to go back to Ukraine in early 2022. We want to visit our mutual missionary friends in Kyrgyzstan, and see their school for kids with special needs. We’ve been talking about going for years, because their work for kids with disabilities is very similar to what I want to do in Ukraine. I have a lot I can learn from them. Will still be allowed to travel outside the country at that point? Will it be safe? Are shutdowns, riots, staffing shortages at airlines, etc. going to get in the way of what we want to do? Maybe.
Will it look like we expect it to? Probably not. But God knows what will happen. We still believe that we are called to serve Him in eastern Europe. We don’t know exactly how, or when, and we have a million questions. But we are stepping out in faith, trusting that He is guiding our steps and will take care of us. It will not be easy or devoid of hardship. Several verses in the New Testament confirm this.
John 16:33: In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
2 Corinthians 6: 3-10: as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, [and] hunger. […]We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; […] as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
2nd Timothy 1: 7-9: For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.
James 1: 2-3: Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.
2nd Corinthians 4: 8-9: We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted by not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.
I’ve heard so many people just quote Matthew 11:30, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” as if we as Christians will never have to undergo any times of stress or hardship. That is not true. But notice, how in every verse quoted above, there is hope. We do not have to face these challenges alone. It has not been easy this past year. This next year does not promise much better. But we have not been abandoned, and we are not alone.