Why Not Work?

Nicole at Work
Nicole at work

I wonder if people wonder why I don’t write more about work. It’s an easy explanation. Although I love my work and find it very fulfilling, my day-to-day work often takes the form of emails, phone calls, writing, editing, planning, and coordinating projects. The details of doing such things are just not exciting to write about, but the fruit of the work is very rewarding.

A couple of weeks ago, I was having a Skype conversation with a good friend who is a missionary in France. Neither one of us is a “conventional” missionary, and we were talking about the challenges our callings pose and the freedom they give. Our world has changed a lot, even during our short lives; and the way of doing missions has changed too.

blown away at staff retreat in Hermanus
blown away at staff retreat in Hermanus

It’s kind of exciting being a missionary in the early part of the 21st century. It is like God has unleashed his creativity, encouraging and calling people to use their gifts and talents, regardless of what they might be, to help build his kingdom. In my case, I’m working with an organization, Growing the Church (GtC), that helps the Anglican Church of Southern Africa to grow in numbers and spiritual formation. As my work at GtC evolves, I am beginning to understand that although most people living in the countries that make up the province may be Christians, many of them have not been discipled well, mainly because of a lack of resources and knowledge. I feel privileged and honored that I can use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to play a small role in what God is already doing in our province.

Connected!

I finally have Internet at home, and I am excited beyond belief! I had to go through loads of paperwork to have a phone line in my name and to get a DSL service provider; but once all those things were in place, it didn’t take long for the companies to get me connected. Yippie!!! Can you tell that I am excited?

Boys Fishing in Gordan's Bay
Boys Fishing in Gordan’s Bay

I have been in Cape Town for nearly a month, and things are going well.  However, during the past few days, the mental stress of settling in has caught up with me. Each day I have spent loads of time trying to get Internet at home, a cell phone, a bank account, and a car. In a normal situation, these things can be time consuming; but as a foreigner, it seems to take triple the time. It can be quite exhausting. Plus, not having Internet at home has made me feel very disconnected from my family and friends. That feeling was definitely adding to my mental stress. I’m thrilled that my family and friends are now just a click away. Thank God for our marvelous technology.

I’m grateful, though, that my friends and colleagues at Growing the Church have helped me with all the settling in items that I named above. I can’t imagine trying to do this on my own. After experiencing such things on the “other side” as a foreigner, I will be much more empathetic and helpful to my international friends when I move back to the States. Moving to another country is truly like starting over. In a way, you have to rebuild your life—establishing yourself and unlearning a lot of things that may work in your home country but not in your adopted country. It is definitely a learning experience and not for the faint of heart.

An Evening with the Sisters

Rockin the FroI don’t really celebrate Halloween; but I wanted to dress up this year, so I did. When a friend invited me to attend the Vigil of All Saints at the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia, I wanted to go; so I went, although that meant canceling a previous commitment.

I’m so glad I went to the vigil. After getting over my initial surprise about how young the nuns were (most looked my age or younger) and over the newness of the liturgy, I settled into the service and began to listen to what was being spoken and sung. Two things really struck me. One was the priest’s homily, in which he talked about only one thing being needed in our lives—realizing and accepting that God gave his son for us and responding in love. The other thing that struck me was the sisters’ chanting of the litany of the saints, which for me has shed new light on the meaning of Hebrews 12:1.

Today is All Saints’ Day, and I tend to think of this holy day in three ways—remembering the saints of old, acknowledging the everyday saints of today, and remembering my friends and family members who have died. I never really think of the saints (whether extraordinary or ordinary) who have died as being living saints, but I find it interesting that the writer of Hebrews uses the present tense: “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1a, NRSV). The saints who have gone before us are a living and breathing cloud of witnesses.

As I continue to think about this scripture, I’m challenged to think about my identity. Over the past few months, I have been struggling consciously and subconsciously about my identity. In two weeks, I will be leaving my job at The Upper Room. I will no longer be able to refer to myself as an editor. I fought hard not to tie up my identity with my line of work, but I did. That’s what we do as Americans. But the other night, when a friend was helping me sort out my clothes, I realized that I had also tied up my identity in my clothes, my shoes, my books, and all manner of stuff. As I’m scaling down my material possessions, stripping down to the bare necessities, I believe God is also stripping down the trappings of my soul, the clutter of my heart.

Who am I, truly? Beyond all the clutter, trappings, and labels, I think I would find God’s beloved daughter and a member of this great cloud of witnesses of ordinary and extraordinary saints.  As the hymn goes, “I sing the song of the saints of God . . . and I mean to be one too.”

*This post is dedicated to two friends and two saints in my life, Stuart and Gina.

A Catholic Nun, An Episcopal Priest, and A Gospel Singer

No, this isn’t a joke, but it ought to be. And if I were clever enough, it would be.

As I wrote in my last blog post, the past few weeks have been difficult; but I believe they have been full of growth. I don’t think I’ll realize how much I have grown in faith until months down the road. God has used a Catholic nun, an Episcopal priest, and a gospel singer to help me refocus on him.

Mother Teresa

I have always been a huge fan of Mother Teresa, but I have never read any of her books until yesterday. I was verifying a quotation for work and ran across a bunch of Mother Teresa’s sayings in the book A Simple Path. I decided to download it. This compilation of Mother Teresa’s writings has reminded me of my (our) purpose in life—to love God and to love and serve others in Christ’s love. Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book:

“God doesn’t require us to succeed. He only requires that you try.”

“Prayer in action is love; love in action is service.”

“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

“Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Episcopal Priest
Earlier this summer, my mom reminded me of the importance of staying focus and of being mindful of distractions. I have stayed focus on my missionary preparation, but I did lose focus about my identity in Christ. The Ephesians sermon series that one of my priests, Fr. Gilliam Malone, is preaching has re-centered me, reminding me that I’m God’s daughter and that I don’t have to earn God’s love. I realized that I expect more of myself than God does. I expect myself to be perfect; God expects me to be faithful. (You can listen to these sermons via your media player at http://www.stgeorgesnashville.org/Media/Sermons. Click on “Ephesians 1: Adoption in Him” and “Ephesians 2: The Necessity of Jesus’ Death.” I haven’t listened to the third installment preached by The Reverend Sarah Kerr, but I know it will be good!)

Gospel Singer
During the hard drive back from Memphis (see my last blog post, “Sacred”), I listened to Marvin Sapp’s album I Win. The songs are full of redemption and hope. I really resonated with the song “Deeper,” in which Sapp sings about how God calls us out of our comfort zone to go deeper with him. You can download the song at iTunes or listen to it for free below via Spotify. (If you don’t have Spotify, it’s free to download; and it’s great!)

*Image source for Mother Teresa photo: http://pinterest.com/sparklyrainbow/

Scared

Driving back from Memphis Sunday evening, fear and worry began to overwhelm me. Every negative thought that I could possibly imagine entered my head. I admit it; the past couple of weeks have been rough, as the reality of my move begins to settle in. But Sunday evening was particularly hard. By the time I returned home, I was more exhausted and emotionally drained as I was before I left on Friday to spend the weekend with my best friend.

As I said from the beginning, this blog is real. I won’t sugarcoat my feelings. Although I am confident and at peace about what God is calling me to do, it is still hard; that’s just reality. I have less than six months before I move, and I feel the weight of spending every possible moment with my family and friends and those I love. The time is not long enough; it will never be long enough.

Joey Goes Home
Joey Goes Home

I’m beginning to understand why the Bible talks so much about fear. It can mess with your mind so much that it cripples you. Perhaps excitement and fear are two sides of the same coin. Mary was excited and scared when Gabriel showed up with his big announcement. The disciples were excited and scared when they learned that Jesus was alive. Take it down a thousand notches: Joey, my puppy-nephew, was excited and scared when he met his momma (my sister) for the first time. He was so scared that he trembled; but when my sister put him in the car to take him home, he was as happy as a lark. I’m excited and scared about moving to South Africa. On the one hand, it’s exciting to start over: do meaningful work, live in a new city, make new friends, attend a new church, have a new community, live a simplified life. On the other hand, it’s scary: Will I fail at my work? Will people like me? Will I make good friends? Will I be able to overcome the homesickness? I’ll be living on a 1/3 of my current salary.

 I know it’s a rough time that I’m going through, and it will get better. It’s just a part of the process. The hardest choices in life involve risk. I’m willing to take this risk with God’s help.

 

Who Am I or Rather—Who Will I Be?

Let’s face it, sometimes Jesus’ teachings are hard. Sometimes I wish he didn’t say some of the things he said. Take Matthew 10:37­­-39 (NRSV), for example: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

I have always struggled with this passage; it makes me feel uncomfortable. God wants us to love our families, right? I love my family more than any people in the world. And who wants to take up a cross, to face known or unknown persecution? Perhaps it is verse 39 that I find most troubling: Aren’t we supposed to find and embrace life? If we lose our life for Christ, we will find it? What does that mean? Help!

 Over the years, I have come to a deeper understanding of Matthew 10:37-39. At the core, I think Jesus is talking about priorities. Whom do we love more–our families or him? As a matter of fact, it isn’t a tradeoff. The more we love Christ, the more we love our families and others. Everything falls into order.

As I prepare to move to South Africa as a cross-cultural Christian worker, I sometimes wonder if I will lose my identity. Whom will I be eighteen months from now? two years from now? three years from now? Will I even recognize myself?

For the longest time, I thought Matthew 10:39 referred to physical death: If we were persecuted and died for Christ, we would find life. But I don’t think that is the main thing Jesus is talking about. I think he is talking about giving up our life—life as we know it—for his sake, to do what he has called us to do. This new understanding of the scripture gives me hope and encouragement. As I give up my old way of life, I think I will find myself. I think I will be more fully me, the Yolanda Nicole Corlew whom God created me to be. And that makes me excited.

Just  for fun–me over the years:

Baby Nicole
Baby Me
With Dad and Little Sister
way back in the day
Mother's Day 2012
with my beautiful Mom

A New Way of Living

InterdependenceInterdependent: (of two or more people or things) dependent on each other

Interdependent—that is what God is teaching me to be, and it is a hard lesson to learn. For years, I have prided myself on being independent. A child of American individualism, I have taken that concept and have run with it. As an adult, I have made my own way in life. As a singleton, I have had to do everything on my own. I haven’t had to depend on anyone financially—until now.

Support Raising. I don’t think a single missionary enjoys this process. It’s daunting, scary, humbling, and perhaps for some, humiliating. You see, in our American culture, we have been taught not to depend on others for anything, really, except for emotional support. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Make your own way in life. And Frank Sintra’s famous, I did it my way.

As Christians, we aren’t called to live life all alone; we are called to live in community; we are called to live not independently, dependently, but interdependently. And truly, that’s how we are designed to live as human beings. Even if I were independently wealthy, I don’t think being a missionary, solely dependent on my own funds, would be the way to go. When we commit to a project, organization, or cause with our time or money, we become engaged and invested. All of sudden that remote well in Haiti becomes my well too. If you feel compelled to partner with me in prayer and/or finances, my work in South Africa becomes our work in South Africa. Both senders and goers are equally important in God’s eyes.

As usual, Jesus knew what he was doing when he set up this model for proclaiming the Good News: “Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources” (Luke 8:1-3, NRSV).

A lot of times, I think Jesus’ women disciples get forgotten; but they played an integral role in his ministry by traveling with him and by donating to his cause. If a life of interdependency was good for Jesus and his disciples, it is good enough for me.

 

Image Source:  thegoldguys.blogspot.com/ or www.lumaxart.com/