I'm staring at an absolutely gorgeous French Alpine mountain out my dining room window as I type this. When our team first decided to come to language school in Albertville, the responses were pretty expected. Yes, it's in the Alps. Yeah, I'm sure it's going to be beautiful. Good skiing, I've heard that! Mmm hmm, we're pretty lucky. You're jealous? Well, come visit some time.
And Albertville was all those things. Every day (sans the really cloudy or foggy ones) we were confronted by the majesty of God's creation through our windows. We are so grateful for our time here, for this beautiful place. For the Bible verses about lifting our eyes to the mountains, from whence our help comes. And yet...
I'm reminded of an Andrew Peterson song this year, a different type of reference to the mountains.
This is not another song about the mountains
Except about how hard they are to move
Have you ever stood before them,
Like a mustard seed who's waiting for some proof?
I say faith is a burden, a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe! Only help my unbelief... (No More Faith, A. Peterson)
I want to preface this blog by saying there were many wonderful things about this year, and we McCropders want to thank everyone who made it possible. But I would be lying if I didn't say it was one of the hardest years of my life (a sentiment shared by most of my teammates as well). I came in to this year expecting French learning to be hard. I was unprepared for how the process would challenge my identity and make me doubt my gifts and calling. I didn't anticipate how the constant discouragement and despair would affect my psyche. And I certainly didn't expect the extra team challenges of interacting day by day with other people struggling with significant issues, both related to language study and beyond.
God called me to missionary medicine when I was 16 years old. When I was 32, he orchestrated a time for me of two years without practicing medicine. Last year in the States, we stayed busy traveling around, meeting with people, and caring for our 2 little kids. It somehow seemed easier, a welcome break from a busy year at Tenwek where I tried to work and be a mom at the same. And I was looking forward to a year in France as a stable environment and a stepping stone to better prepare me for Burundi. But I realized just how much value I place on my own competency. I enjoy being a doctor, and after putting 12 years of my life into OB-GYN training, I enjoy some level of proficiency...being able to care for women with a particular set of gifts that I have received and worked to cultivate. Now, in France, all my abilities and past accomplishments were taken away. I couldn't communicate with anyone on the street without extreme amounts of difficulty--from the bread store guy to Maggie's teacher to the nice lady who greeted me at the front door of the church every week. We say that it was like communicating as kindergarteners, but it was worse. It was like communicating as an 18 month old. And I haven't been this bad at anything for...well, maybe in my entire life. Every day in class I would struggle with a new concept. Every day I would have my feeble attempts at speech corrected. Every paper, every test turned in would be returned bleeding red ink. I am a smart person. At least, I used to be. Maybe I'm not any more. Why can't I get this? Why would God call me to do something that I can't do? Why can't He make this easier for me? If I'm following the will of God, why is it so hard? Can I just have the gift of tongues, please? :)
I am part of an incredibly gifted team. And yet even those of us who soaked up the French language and can speak it quite well struggled this year. We were confronted with our own pride, selfishness, control issues, and lack of faith in a loving God. We watched our teammates and classmates go through dark valleys. And by the grace of God we have emerged on the other side of this year, perhaps more aware of the fact that we are broken people more than ever. And we minister to the people of Burundi not through our strengths but through our weaknesses. I will present myself through the broken French of a 5 year old, not the polished French of a distinguished professor. I will remain powerless to fix "the big issues", and my abilities as an OB-GYN will be inadequate time and time again. But God has called us to this, and His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.
Our time in Spain helped really crystalize a lot of this year. Josiah Bancroft, our Director of Missions had some powerful and thought provoking insights for us on suffering and the Gospel. Notably, it was reassuring to hear that God will work His purposes in our lives whether or not we understand what He is doing. We can wander confused or engage Him in faith, but He will not stop. He will not "wait for us to figure it out." He will keep working. Also, we can find JOY in our sufferings, not just because He is with us, but because our sufferings serve to advance the Gospel. And what else is there? So I don't know why this year had to be so hard for us. But I do know that God was working His purposes.
I stole my blog post title from another Andrew Peterson song. "It was harder than we dreamed but I believe that's what the promise is for" (Dancing in the Minefields) The promise? I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will complete the good work I began in you. I am with you always...