I bought some shorts last October off the clearance rack in Kohl’s.
Pretty standard things: plaid-printed shorts with too many pockets. They were the sort of clothing you’d see in a Sunday circular, modeled by semi-muscular white men surrounded by strategically-placed men of varied ethnic origin. I suppose a certain obligation existed for me to go full monty and purchase a matching polo shirt and boat shoes, but according to my mother I’ve inherited my father’s non-compliant streak. Besides, the only polo shirt on clearance was white and had embroidery of what appeared to be two alligators sharing an extremely intimate moment.
Matching ensemble or no, never have a pair of shorts been so pregnant with meaning.
We live high in the Andes, in South America. Life among conservative people groups at 10,000 feet rarely permits anything other than full coverage, especially considering low temperatures and high UV indices. The shorts, therefore, represented a shift.
My annual campaign platform for re-election as Supreme Family All-Being usually contains three basic planks: a coconut-free home environment, kitchen dancing rights reserved for those actively cooking, and no changes of significance – ever. As I see it, change is sort of like a vasectomy: it sounds great on paper, and does other people a lot of good. I just don’t want it done to me. Of course, since the Almighty must do something for laughs, Stacy and I received an email last fall regarding a new opportunity for service. Despite the potential for stomach-churning change, the offer intrigued us, and I began with the questions.
Could we do this job from here where we currently live, in the land of volcanoes and roasted guinea pigs, of mountain lakes and chocolate groves? Would we at least be able to remain here in the Americas, the place we’ve raised our kids for the last 10 years? Near our daughter’s birthplace (Venezuela) and the home of our children’s hearts (Ecuador)? Would we at least live in a place where the family’s language skills would be sufficient to get a start on life?
No, no, no, and no.
While our initial response involved hysterical, mocking laughter and the delete key, we eventually had to admit a certain fear of complacency in our current jobs. Emails resurrected from the trash bin, cleaned and spread smooth once again, received attention and a more professional response. We told the kids about the possibilities, and off I flew for an interview.
In retrospect, I do not believe I was quite prepared to discuss the matter. It’s a pretty big shift in focus from what we’ve been doing, this new job. I thought…I guess I thought the row I’ve been hoeing would last longer than a toddler’s temper tantrum in Target. Eternal assurance somehow metamorphosed from “once saved, always saved” to “once called, always called to the same exact role in the Kingdom until the day they torch your corpse at Crowder’s Funeral Home out at the highway’s junction with route 646.”
Interview over, I pretended for some time that I had not already made a decision. I made my way to my folks’ house and spent some time running and buying Christmas presents and playing Madden on my father’s Xbox 360. Amazing – my dad owns an XBox; same man who mocked my purchase of an Atari back in the 7th grade owns a personal gaming system for his own personal use. Even more amazing, his conservative game-planning at Madden usually guarantees a victory. So long as I played with Dad and chatted with Mom and shopped with my sister, all was well.
And then I bought some shorts.
Our new location resides in a far different climate. Rains nearing monsoon levels blow through, followed by intense heat and humidity to rival the hall bathroom after my 16 year-old’s 20 minute morning showers. Air conditioning abounds. Sandals are acceptable daily attire. And shorts…well, let’s just say purchasing a pair shorts means I knew.
So why couldn’t I admit it? Why not just send a video back to Stacy and the kids informing them that we would have a new address within the year? Why was this calling so unbuckling-your-pants-on-Thanksgiving-afternoon difficult?
When Stacy and I first left the US, we were 23 years old. We had few roots, no concrete expectations, no clear hopes and dreams. We went from Texas to the Middle East to West Virginia to North Carolina to the Czech Republic to North Carolina all in 6 years. God’s calling was relatively easy to follow: not too many friends to leave, no 20-year church membership to sacrifice, no well-loved home to sell. Our cheap furniture lacked precious memories. The hardest part was giving up the dogs, to be perfectly blunt.
But now…oh, it’s an entirely new ball of wax. For starters, I own a leather recliner, so that’s different. I also have dreams for my kids these days. Just as some folks called by God must relinquish PTA, Boy Scouts, cheerleader camp, football in the fall, NASCAR, and Thanksgiving, I’ve had to realize that I, too, stand to lose my dreams and hopes for my children.
I wanted them to know and love at least ONE culture completely: Latin Andean. I wanted them to be Spanish experts. I wanted to hike Chimborazo with my daughter and scale Mount El Corazon with my boys. I craved bullfights in the spring and snorkeling in summer. We would eat encebollado for breakfast and cevichocho for lunch. We’d vacation and work in every province in the country. The miles of banana groves down by Guayaquil would be as familiar as the small town rodeos in communities outside Riobamba.
We would live in security among people whose body language we knew and understood. The younger kids would follow in their older brother’s footsteps, translating for volunteer teams in small towns and big cities. We’d know the Deaf in cities and towns scattered across the entire country, conversing with them in their own languages and dialects.
And that stupid pair of shorts meant it was all gone, tossed aside by the calling of God on our lives. I guess I thought that once I surrendered to His calling to minister, that would be the last call with which I struggled. I didn’t anticipate having to face that sort of loss after I arrived on the field.
Late one night after I returned to my mountain grown coffee here where the air is rare, Offspring #1 – whose heart beats with El Tri and futbol and all things Ecuadorian – asked plaintively, “Why? Why must we go? I mean – I know that we must, but why?”
“Dude, all the fun we have hiking Cotopaxi and camping by the river could go on. The food could be exactly the same. The weather, the fun Ecuadorian jokes and nicknames you enjoy at school – it could last us forever. We could live and work and vacation and play and all those things here in country until we’re old and grey. No problem. However, now we know the truth of His calling, that He has plans for us, that there’s a path paved with obedience leading away from this place. Now that we know, the day we say ‘No’ is the day it ends. The day we say ‘No’ to His call away from here is the last happy day in Ecuador. The very last one.”
We’ll move soon. We’re selling some stuff, so if you need a fridge or washer let me know. I’ve resigned myself to all to the losses I’ve mentioned, plus others. Church planting is over for me, sadly. So, too, is blogging about church planting and missions. You’ll need to get your international mission news from someone else. My Facebook activity is heavily curtailed, though that might change if I can figure out how to manage it in our extremely new environment. Even so, I count it all as dung compared to the incomparable joy of knowing and serving Him. It is far better to sacrifice and find new joy than to witness the dawn of the last happy day.