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obedience in the upside down

Everything is upside down.

We are grasping for normal, and there is no normal.

The highs and lows hit multiple times throughout the day.

Elation from successfully making a full meal from scratch (and everyone loves it). Excitement in finding out that our children’s school offers ballet (an answer to Sydney’s prayers). Peaceful pleasure in roses in bloom and fresh organically grown strawberries. Pure joy in those moments in the day where the sounds of Chichewa float in the air and bring a smile to my face, and hopefulness in the chiseling and plastering of holes and cracks in the walls in order to keep the ants (and other critters) out of the house.


But then… defeat from random, multiple power outages, attempting to accomplish something- anything- but  only hitting dead ends, still living out of suitcases, impossible-to-meet emotional needs of each family member, fighting the urge to burst into tears at the grocery store when confusion makes it challenging to figure out how much Kwacha I need to pay the cashier, the constant cleaning and sweeping through layers of dust, dirt and grime, and the ants that come ‘a marching in one-by-one into every crevice of this house.


One moment it feels like we have a handle on things, and the next we realize we are completely out of our comfort zone. We’re lost. Normal is too far out of reach. And I just want to quit.

I’m sorry to admit that. I’m sure I have disappointed many by the simple admission that there are moments throughout the day that I want to throw in the towel.

Yet, in the midst of the chaos- the hurricane of a house under repair, dust flying in every direction and my heart and emotions depleted and worn- there has been a refuge.

In his book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”, Eugene Peterson writes about worship being the framework for life. It is the key to bringing order into our chaotic and spread-too-thin emotional lives. I was so up-ended when we landed in Malawi and began the slow process of settling in; settling in is going to take some time. The chaos of luggage and long lists of things to do, people to meet, appointments to make, reports to file, and managing the emotional needs of the family had become a sort of metaphor for my heart. It was when I returned to worship – to digging my roots into the presence of God – that a framework for this crazy, transitional life began to take shape. There is order in my mind, in spite of all the messiness. God has been faithful to provide a framework for my chaos, my day and my heart.

And it is a daily act of obedience in the upside down.

Obedience to stay where God has planted me.

Obedience to worship in the middle of the mess.

Obedience to cling to God’s Word and dig those roots in deep.

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” Psalm 1:3

The blessed person is planted in God’s Spirit. From the source of living water flows a fruitful life, a stable life, a powerful and enriched life. Spiritual prosperity is the overflow of a deeply rooted heart. The chaos will still come, life will continue to flip upside down, but the framework is set.

Worship creates the framework.

Obedience in the upside down is oftentimes a minute-by-minute decision. Worshipping through the tears. Praising in the midst of upheaval. Rejoicing in the learning curve.

And our fruit will yield in season.


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6 Responses to “obedience in the upside down”

  1. Josh says:

    Keep pushing. You’ve got this! You and Joel and your family are incredible. There will be no stopping you guys. These temporary abnormalities will subside and a beautiful new life will emerge. The new beauty that will emerge from the ashes of chaos will be incredible. You know this all too well already with your prior experiences in Africa. Hugs from your neighbor down south!



  2. Vi Engelgau says:

    You write so beautifully, Amy…I love your comments and posts. You take me back to emotions I had at that point in my life. I’m sure the Enemy senses how very effective your life will be there, so he is hitting you with everything in his arsenal!

    I recall experiencing very similar situations…but they didn’t last forever, and neither will yours! You are facing the effects of an incredible schedule of itinerating, creating and maintaining relationships with pastors across the state (and beyond), packing what you needed to leave here and shopping for what you needed to take for a family of six, saying painful goodbyes to family and friends, followed by extreme jet lag…and with NO opportunity to catch your breath and rest a little, you’re plunged into incredible culture shock, a home that isn’t ready to be moved into, and very little working the way you might have expected!

    You have to be depleted physically and emotionally. But God has called you there, He has uniquely equipped you, and He will see you through this—victoriously! There’s an army of prayer warriors behind you, and a God who answers those prayers…because He cares for you just as much as He does those to whom you are called to serve. Rest in and draw strength from Him. “Guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” It might help to let go of expectations right now, so that what does happen on time or the way it’s “supposed to” can be cause for celebration. :-) And remember: Kids are resilient! God will answer their hearts’ cries and meet their needs just as He will yours…so don’t carry extra burdens that He doesn’t mean for you to.

    I wrote you some days back, but I think my message got lost along the way. I suggested to you that you make hard copies of your letters to your family and your blogs, so you’ll have them to refer to and be encouraged by. My mother kept all my letters through our years on the mission field (some 2000 of them), and they continue to bless today, both myself and others. They will outlive you and continue to be a blessing. (I say hard copy because I don’t trust computers and even the grid that much!) You will find them to be the most complete journal of your life and ministry during those years in Malawi…and will enjoy reading them when you’re 95, too! God will do wonderful things in and through you, Amy, and you’ll be reminded of His gracious workings in your life and family.

    Take courage, my dear…and remember, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey you and God are on, and the lives you’ll impact as you live your “every days”. Be assured of my prayers for you every day.


  3. Judy Hayburn says:

    God has truly given you a gift Amy. Some of the best writers are the ones who are willing to be real and honest and “tell it like it is”. How boring to read stories about someone who always handles life’s difficulties like a “super hero”. Because of your willingness to be “authentic”, you are giving others a refreshing glimpse into your life’s journey without glossing everything over to make yourself look good…or to look “spiritual”. God is using you to show others that He is always there in the midst of it all providing a “way of escape” (1 Corinthians 10:13). The truth is, faithfulness (which is “authentic spirituality”) is most often tested in the fires of the “day to day” life of a believer whether in America or Africa. How a person handles life’s inconveniences, disruptions and difficulties, (particularly in a new missionary’s life with culture shock that disrupts every aspect of what used to be normal), is where the rubber meets the road. Not very many people would be willing or able do what you are doing and then be brave enough to honestly tell about it. In the natural it is not easy or “fun” to face the challenges of your new “day to day” life. However, that is why yours is such a powerful story. Never doubt that God is guiding your thoughts in each and every post. I am so very proud of you!

  4. Kathy Carlin says:

    Good morning, Amy,
    What a beautiful blog…what a gifted writer…I sit here in our little “farmhouse” (a 1979 single wide manufactured home) on property with our kids. It is a blessing, and I am thankful for it. This isn’t exactly what I thought my life would turn out to be…yet it is wonderful. And then I try to imagine where you are this morning, and what you are waking up to. You had me at “ants”…honestly, sweet girl, I cannot imagine being in your shoes…certainly not at this time in my life…and probably not in my younger years, either. God knows each of us…calls us uniquely, and chooses to use us all differently. My true admiration for you and Joel (and those precious “kids”) has increased exponentially as I have followed your journey to “here.” I love your hearts and love seeing how God is going to use all of you. Worship music gets me through my days (which are now spent simply recovering from my recent stroke). Again, not what I planned…but what “is”. God is faithful. God is good. And we are overcomers!! Hugs.

  5. Mary Denison says:

    Here is a hug, Amy……I learned that this past year’s intense journey
    I traveled was actually the way the Lord answered my prayer: “take me deeper into you”….You will come thru this with more of Him in you and more of you in Him….love you, Amy,

  6. Dear Amy:
    I’ve known you since you were a toddler. It was a joy watching you grow into a beautiful child, teenager, then a Godly Woman, mother & missionary. We are admonished to look back at how God has brought us through storms into quiet calm seas. Our prayers are with you, Joel, & your precious children.
    As you know I wrote my story “ Confessions of a Pastor’s Wife”. I had read many books on this subject & you are right many make it sound like a beautiful rose garden. When we tell it like it is -God uses those overcoming experiences to glorify Him… Every deep valley I had produced a green pasture beside a still water. Preparation takes time to produce the ultimate plan.
    Love you. Prayers continue.

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