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  • Kerry Teravskis

Thorny Challenge

Our family loves Monster's University. And when I was preparing for this month's series of blogs, my daughters reminded me of a sequence in that movie that is so applicable. It's the Toxicity Challenge. Mike and Sully, along with their fraternity brothers, while they are eager to participate in this race, are in no way prepared for it. They are not in great physical shape, they are not pulling together as a team and they are prideful and independent. You can see it as they start the race. Well, things start off OK, but quickly head south. My absolute favorite scene is the end when you see how they finish. What is not said is better spoken without words.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1 How many of us started our walk with Jesus full of hopes and dreams? We thought everything was going to be just great. We were forgiven, we had a new purpose and we were going to conquer the world! Maybe I'm weird, but I had thoughts like these. I was so excited to run with Jesus. I was 17 at the time and I was ready to "Go" for God. I read His Word, went to church and honestly tried to walk out my faith. Of course I was naive. But, ignorance is bliss, they say. I knew there would be bumps in the road. I knew there would be a few thorns. I knew that I needed to pray and be in connection with Jesus to run with perseverance this race. The race that Jesus had marked out for me was a lot different than I had ever imagined. Did I think I would do tons of ministry in Mexicali and Tijuana while I was in college? No way. It was hard. And fun. Hard because I did not know the language and I went there for over 5 years without speaking Spanish. No showers for days on end, sleeping in a tent or a cast-off room of a church building. Working with the local churches and seeing their drinking water in a 50 gallon drum exposed to dirt and filth. Watching families trying to eke out a living, while in poverty was very difficult. But there were glorious victories too. Telling others about Jesus, that He is the only hope, and watching them respond to this love was life changing for me and for them. Seeing children as well as adults come to a saving faith in Jesus was spectacular. Singing in Spanish with my brothers and sisters in Christ, even though I fumbled my way through, still is my preferred way of singing in church. I was stuck by lots of thorns, but I figured it was all part of ministry.

I am so glad for the years in Mexico and our years in Central America. While I wish I could go back and do them over (mainly because I was so prideful and independent) I am grateful for the lessons learned. Both John and I can look back and see what God was doing in our lives. He was taking stubborn hearts and molding them into His image and character. Oh, we loved God fiercely, but we had a lot to learn. We got stuck quite a few times in Central America. Some were our own doing - running ahead of God, not understanding the culture, pride. Other thorns were different. We had two miscarriages. It was the second one that really, really hurt. And we were misunderstood by the church in Guatemala in our grief. That was even worse. While I felt abandoned by God, I knew He was with us. I had to work through it. I had to persevere to get to the other side. It was hard going, but I learned that God does not leave us. He is with us every moment. He is a Good Shepherd. I knew that I had to let God use me in these circumstances whether I wanted it or not. I was His ambassador and whether in sickness or in health, He is God. While I had trained for the missionary race (well, the only real training for that is on-the-job), God had marked out another curve for me that I did not see coming. "People, forgetting they are training for a race, live as though they were racing for a train." Reverend L.A. Meade

I am reading a devotional by Rev. Meade. It has been so good. I came across this quote last week. I can relate to his words. For the last 20-plus years, I can honestly say I was racing through life trying to catch a train. I had been intentional in slowing down but my heart was always running, running to do this, running to do that. I was not training at times, just running. I did know to practice Christian disciplines, and I did them willfully and joyfully, but I was lacking something. God knew what I was lacking, true thorns and suffering. I had had some suffering, but not the level that I have now. I had been betrayed, mocked, hurt, and abandoned. But physical suffering is something quite different. Nothing puts you at a distinct disadvantage like physical pain. I am my weakest when I hurt. And I hurt a lot. So, I will say like Paul, "If I must boast, I will boast in the things that show my weakness" (2 Corinthians 11:30). It is this very weakness that has driven me to the throne of grace. It is the pain, that God has allowed, that has caused me to seek Him and to know Him more. I was not aware of the treasure that awaited me before my affliction. Now that is a weird statement. But it's true. There is treasure in thorns. When I was young in the Lord I did not have a deepness that I have now. I now have a richer flavor to my walk. You know, the savory flavor of a long, slow cooked stew or a turkey roasting in the oven for hours? It gets better with time. For some reason I did not think out the fact that the best road to Jesus is by way of suffering. I can read it now all over Scripture, but for some reason, I did not see it before. Abram and Sarai went years without the promised baby, Moses had to endure a desert twice and the second one was leading an huge group of stubborn people, Daniel, Ruth, Esther, the woman with the issue of blood, Paul. Lots of accounts of very difficult circumstances but yet they still had a sweetness to them. I can see a redemptive story in each one. Not all were healed, not all had their thorns removed, but all had the very Presence of God with them. And through these hard times there was growth. Did you know that God is more interested in our heart and character than in our comfort? I wish I really knew that. But, sometimes it takes being there to fully understand. I can now see myself slowly, oh so slowly, begin to be less independent, less prideful. It's hard to be prideful when you are full of pain. I can see how suffering can cause one to submit because you know that God's best really is best. I can kick and scream all I want; it does not make the pain go away. Actually the pain, for me, is more manageable when I quiet myself before the Lord. It is when my focus is completely on Him that I can make it through. Doesn't that seem so different than what the world says? But truly, I have never put it into words until this very moment. My pain is tolerable when I focus on Him. I didn't say easier, I said tolerable. Because I now know, I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:13).

So even though the race has thorns and even though life can get messy and painful, I now that I can trust in my living Saviour, that He is charting the course for me and He is Faithful. These thorns that He allows in my life are for a purpose - to make me more like Him. And I want that, a lot! If He can make this package, this jar, tent, this life more like Him, then I submit.

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