Phoenix, Dirty Silver, and Other Metaphors

I wrote this a year ago tomorrow, but thought it might be worth putting up here. Some of you may have read it before, as I originally intended it to be used as a prayer letter. Hope it makes as much sense now as it did then. 

Phoenix, Dirty Silver and Other Fiery MetaphorsApril 10, 2006                 It is no mistake, I am convinced, that we are in
Phoenix. In the last year or so, we have been waiting for God to pull a new creation out of the refiner’s fire we are going through. This chapter of our journey began last spring, when Sam was informed that, due to decreasing enrollment at Sheboygan Christian High where he had been happily employed for four years, his Spanish teaching position would be cut to part-time without benefits, essentially eliminating him from the position. We were shocked and confused. For four years, we had finally been “putting down roots” and enjoying raising our family within the larger Christian heritage enjoyed by both the community of Oostburg and Cedar Grove, and Sam’s extended family. However, after the first few minutes of shock, exacerbated by the fact that I was one month away from giving birth to our son, I felt hope. God has been good to me long enough for me to understand in a profound way that there is nothing that seems so mixed up or wrong to us that he doesn’t enjoy turning around into a thing beyond our wildest hopes or imaginations.
                We considered a number of options –whether to remain in Oostburg and find “regular” employment (non-teaching), or whether to move to a new place and start over. We cast Sam’s resume upon the waters and waited for a bite. We waited about two months until I received a call one afternoon in mid-April from the administrator at Valley Christian. “So why would you want to move to
Phoenix?” he asked me. My mind’s answer was, “We need to feed our children,” but, fortunately, what my mouth said (thanks be to God for his supernatural ability to filter what we say before we say it) was “We want to go wherever God wants us next, and if that is
Phoenix, we are ready to go.” It was an honest answer, if not the first answer that came to mind. Long story short,
Phoenix was where God wanted us next, so here we are.
I managed to keep my feelings of betrayal and resentment and discontent stuffed –until we completed the move. We chose (or was it God choosing for us, we now wonder) a reasonably priced apartment near the Christian school we chose for Elanor. After a rather laborious move, which involved lots of scratched furniture, a destroyed bookcase, and, last but not least, a broken foot, we woke up to the discovery that our apartment was located in an area less “crime-free” than we were led to believe, and was heavily infested with cockroaches. By heavily infested, I mean killing 10-12 a day, in broad daylight. It was not an auspicious way to begin adjusting to a place I had not chosen to be in the first place.  I questioned God. “If you sent the Israelites to the desert for forty years as punishment for unbelief, would You please let us know what we did to get here?” I was exhausted, physically and mentally, and tired of feeling like no one back in
Wisconsin really understood what our family had to go through as a result of eliminating Sam’s job. But, as much as I desperately wanted to find somewhere to throw the blame, I kept being reminded that if I truly believe God is sovereign, I can not complain. I was not here because of the decision of the school board, I was here because of the will of God, and I knew better than to question His judgment, or at least, I knew better than to give up on God.
                In late July, we met our neighbor Greg. Sam and he hit it off right away, as they both have a passion for all things Old West and Native American. As we got to know Greg, we found out that his wife and son had left him a few months before we arrived, and he was searching to find out what, spiritually, he needed to grow from through the experience. He practices a form of Native American spirituality, about which Sam knows far more than me, and about which we are both learning as we listen to Greg. It seems that perhaps Greg is part of the answer to my questioning why. We have been blessed to have “adopted” him into our family and have had lots of great talks about his and our journeys through life and how we each relate to God. For years, I thought missions involved street evangelism, pointed rehearsed questions, a system of Bible verses, and the Four Spiritual Laws. This, however, was far different. With this form of “missions,” we don’t always have the answers right away. This, Sam and I found, is what we were made for. In serving him, sharing meals with him, feeding his cat and house sitting while he was away, we have been blessed beyond measure that we have so much to give and so much grace has been given to us. Have you ever tried to explain grace –God’s infinite, indescribable, unconditional love—to someone who has hanged himself on a pole by the skin of his chest for days in order to cleanse himself? How does anyone explain grace to someone so dedicated to fixing themselves by themselves at such great cost? Greg has taught us a lot about what we were “saved” from, as he has talked about his experiences at the sundances he has participated in. So, here we are in the desert.
Phoenix, Arizona –about second from the bottom of my “ten least likely places I’ll ever live” list.  We are still feeling the heat of that refiner’s fire. Sam will not continue teaching next year at Valley Christian, due to, from our perspective, a conflict of values and a mismatch of Sam’s abilities and the school’s needs. It has been a difficult year for him. We desperately covet your prayers, and that’s what this letter is all about.
Over the course of this year, God has made it increasingly clear that he wants us to do what we were made for –loving people into the kingdom of God as we serve them, sharing the Gospel (that God fixes things and loves us unconditionally) as we go along—by pursuing membership and service with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Sam has a great passion for listening to people of other cultures and experiences and helping them see how God is at work, showing them love in the culture they are already living in and using the language they already speak. Most of you know Sam –you know that he has had a long love of language and a God-given ability to quickly learn and absorb the subtleties of all kinds of languages. I have recently discovered (been told, actually, by a few people –God just won’t let me out of this one, I suppose…) that I, also, have a gift for wordsmithing –working to find just the right word pictures to illustrate God’s message and love for his people. Most of you know me. You know that for years, Hitler and I have had something in common. We are both frustrated artists. What God has revealed to me recently is that, really, I don’t have as much of a passion for drawing and painting as I do for communicating. For years now, I’ve composed countless articles, essays, letters, and speeches while driving down the freeway, doing dishes, or changing diapers. I have a passion for reading and learning. Why I couldn’t see that as something to be used of God, I have no idea, but it is encouraging that God can still get through to a hard-headed little girl who just wanted to prove to the world that maybe coloring outside the lines wasn’t always a bad thing. –For those of you who don’t know, I was teased for being unable to color in the lines in kindergarten, and I always said that the reason I chose an art major in college was to show Katy up for mocking my lack of coloring skills. Someday I would be a successful artist and then I’d be the one drawing the lines, not just coloring in them. Yes, I really can be that stubborn. Now you know …the rest of the story.…So, we’ve been “through the fire” this last year. We so often think of fire as a destructive force, and it is, but there are several places in the Bible where fire is a purifying and cleansing thing. I read recently that a refiner of silver places the raw silver into the flame until the impurities are burned away and he can see his own image in the piece of silver. Only then does he know that the refining process is completed. We are excited that we have such a vast network of friends and family to share with us our amazement at God’s marvelous grace in His transformation of our family and us as individuals to be reflectors of His image.