Someone That Edits Your Life

Transitions and new seasons tend to give us opportunities to have our faith stretched and our character tested. Our family is coming up on one such time as we head back to the states for a four month furlough eleven days from now. A couple weeks ago, with this transition on my mind and a bit of fear in my heart, I wrote a blog post. You didn’t read that blog post though. No one did, because it never got posted.

After pouring myself into it for a hour or so, I could tell that it was coming off as a bit ‘edgy’ or at least that’s what I would have called it. I don’t typically read my blogs to Melissa before posting, but this time I did because I knew it was a little more involved. She heard me out and said that she resonated with a lot of what I wrote. Then she told me that I shouldn’t post it, to at least sleep on it. I wasn’t too stoked on that. I feel like my writing has been so sporadic that when I do actually get something down, I want to post it. I thought with this post the redemptive qualities outweighed the negative aspects to the post.

She challenged me “how do we be real about our sharing, but not lose sight of the hope that we have?” “How do we honor those that have graciously supported and partnered with us, while stirring up others towards good as well?” I pouted and told her that I wouldn’t post it.

The next day I realized that she was right and that blog is still sitting in my drafts.

I need my wife. For a million and one reasons, but this one for sure. She edits my life. She didn’t just edit the blog post. She edited what was in my heart. Through my writing, she could see that I was speaking out of fear, I was dwelling on disappointment, I wasn’t honoring and I wasn’t uplifting those that would hear from me. She lovingly, compassionately helped me understand where I was and how to follow God more closely and show love and grace to others.

The funny thing is, a very similar instance happened about four years ago. I blogged more regularly then and decided to make a post about blogging and my lack of true community and disappointment with friends in the states. It all came across quite negatively, though I liked to think I was speaking tongue in cheek and merely being satirical. I got an email shortly thereafter from a young lady that I hardly knew but went to high school with. It was clear that I had offended her through my post. I subsequently deleted the post, but not until after a handful of people read it.

The difference between those stories wasn’t me. In both stories, I had fear and insecurity, I was ungrateful and unkind. The difference is that someone came alongside me a couple weeks ago and edited my heart, my attitude and yeah, even my writing a little bit.

We all need people like this in our lives. It doesn’t have to be a spouse, though for those of us that are married, they should certainly be included. I have friends of mine, my parents and others that have that ability to edit my life.

Whoever it is that gets to speak into one’s life in this way, they must realize it is a privilege and one that comes with growing trust and mutual vulnerability. There will be plenty of people that would love to tell you everything that you should be doing with your life, but they do it from a place of control and self-interest. I’m not really interested in such relationships personally. There are others that might be on the right track, but haven’t yet dove into the vulnerability that it requires or experienced life with the other person enough to really have that editing authority. This is a process, but a truly beautiful process.

On Wednesday, I found myself freaking out again. I was worried about a number of things. Our car was in the shop and we were needing to get stuff done and were now worried about how much it would cost to fix it. And on the other end, we still had (and currently have) so many unknowns awaiting us with our upcoming furlough. Despite our communicating through Facebook, YouTube and newsletters, we still don’t know what we’ll be driving while in California or where exactly we’ll be staying. So yeah, I was freaking out.

Melissa pulled me out of my whirlwind and said, let’s read the Bible together. She then read from Matthew 6 and reminded me that it’s not for me to worry about what our furlough is going to look like or where our money is going to come from. Today has enough trouble of it’s own and our Father in Heaven knows what we need. Just seek first His Kingdom and righteousness. Good word. When somebody speaks truth louder than the worries in your head, all you can do is sit back and say ‘yeah, you’re right.’

Who edits your life? If you’re like me, you need it on a normal basis. One of the things that Melissa and I have struggled with is finding true community and those people that have that ability to edit our lives. We should all be striving for that together in our families and in our social circles. It takes vulnerability, it takes true humility, it takes wisdom and discernment, it takes intentionality and a whole lot of effort. The most important thing that makes all the effort worthwhile is that it’s through these relationships that we see the Kingdom of God manifest on earth and the Church reach what Christ’s intention is.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” -Jesus (John 13:34-35)

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset
Me and my Senior Editor
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The Audience

Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmjames58/
Photo Cred: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dmjames58/

You ever hear someone talk about identity and how identity is all about knowing whose you are? I feel like ‘identity’ is a bit of a buzzword right now in Christian communities and I would say rightfully so. We must know who we belong to. In my experience with this notion of knowing whose you are, the answer I’ve been given is always for one to know that they are a beloved son or daughter of God. It has a lot of affection and sentiment attached to it and rightfully so. I’ll be honest though, when people would give this answer it hasn’t always resounded with me. Not because I don’t believe it, on the contrary, it’s because I’ve always known it. It’s core to my being and is something like the air I breathe.

I was reading in a book* that I borrowed from my friend Mark and the authors approached that same understanding of knowing whose you are from a different angle. It wasn’t the familial, affectionate answer that I’ve grown accustomed to, but rather a straightforward and clear answer. Knowing whose you are is all about deciding who is the authority over your life and who is your primary audience.

I had to read over the paragraph a few times because it really struck me.

I can’t help but think about all the things that we do and the motivations that we put behind them. There is no shortage of things to spend one’s life doing and often we do such things with somebody else in mind. In a lot of ways it seems only natural. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing so long as one’s heart is pointed in the right direction.

Social media come to mind. In some ways, as a missionary, we have a heightened draw towards Facebook and the like. This basically happens because the vast majority of the people that we’re friends with on Facebook are not people that we see on a normal basis. I’m not talking about high school friends from ten or twenty years ago, I’m talking about our very closest friends too, the ones that we left back in America. Not only that though what people see online has a direct affect on our funding. Kind of a big deal, or so we think.

This experience is far from unique to us though. Most people, to one degree or another, imagine or actually have some sort of life audience that they hope to appease and entertain. Just the other day we had fifty or so people over to our house for Promise’s birthday party and it’s very easy to get into this mindset where you want to impress others and put on a good show. The problem with that becomes, whether it’s online or in real life, you end up getting burnt out as you realize this hunger to impress your audience is insatiable.

That’s the good thing about having God as your only audience and authority. You allow Him to do what He wants through your life, and He, as your audience, will always be pleased with you.

With our furlough quickly approaching, this has been a good reminder. We’ll be in the states for a little over four months and for missionaries, this is not down time and for the most part not a sabbatical. There are aspects that we look forward to like re-connecting with friends and family and enjoying certain conveniences, but there are plenty that we don’t look forward to like bouncing around from house to house, not having our own car and going from day to day with unclear plans and provision. All the while, you are trying to speak at churches to drum up support for your family and your ministry. You get in front of a church audience and hope that they find you appealing. It’s exhausting.

My hope and prayer is that I would live every day remembering, no matter what I’m doing, that I do it for an audience of One. I don’t have to worry if He saw a particular Facebook post or heard me speak when I was in the area. He sees it all and knows everything about me and what I do. He has the provision that I need, He puts righteous motivation within me.

*The book is Lead Like Jesus by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. So far so good.

Story Time with Promise

A little look into our nightly Bible reading time with Promise. She loves reading the Bible, can’t go a day without us reading it together.

If you watch the video and decide you want to help us with our upcoming travel costs, we’d really appreciate it! You can give online by clicking here and just designate ‘Brandon and Melissa Stiver’ in the dialogue box. You can also send a check if you prefer. Make it out to ‘Global-Effect’ and write ‘BMS’ on the memo line. Send the check to Global-Effect, PO Box 992856, Redding, CA 96099. Thanks!

the guy who couldn’t change the world

It’s remarkable how fast life goes past. Sometimes I feel like I’m just trying to hold on while my existence flies by, it takes every ounce of intentionality within me to find moments to hit the brakes and breathe.

Earlier this summer, Melissa and I had the opportunity to pastor four young ladies that came from Vanguard University to intern with Global-Effect. Since they left last month, we’ve been blessed to keep up with them a little over Facebook and one of them, Cynthia, (a junior at VU) came across this photo in an old VU yearbook and asked me if it was me.1923893_505340163869_6961_n

That is me. Or that was me. That photo was taken my first full day in Tanzania back in May 2008 at an orphanage called Kili Kids. That’s over six years ago.

When I think of that guy in the photo, it’s easy to get sentimental and remember the bright-eyed, bushy tailed recent college grad he was. Sure, he was naive in a lot of things, but one thing he didn’t lack, passion. He had such certainty in his plans, thoughts and callings, sure he was wrong about those things a lot of the time, but you wouldn’t tell as much because he was just that zealous. He drank the “I’m gonna change the world” juice and shared it with his friends.

I wonder what happened to that passion. I hear my wife say the same about her reflection on college life. She was passionate and people knew it. We all wore it on our shirt sleeves.

Perhaps in a lot of ways, I became disillusioned. There are layers to these things. You first go on a missions trip and you want to help and you decide to pursue God’s call to care for orphans. I took that very real calling and moved here in January 2010. I was enthralled with the orphanage I worked at. There was nowhere in the world that I’d rather work. Time went on and things got hard, differences among the staff, not being able to do more for these children that you love so much, getting tired, getting lonely, getting tired of being lonely. In the process, God brings along these huge transitions in life, getting married, having a kid, switching organizations and somehow you’re no longer that recent college grad pushing two random Tanzanian orphans on the swing.

He was naive, but he was sure of himself. He was inexperienced, but he was determined. Above all, he was passionate and people told him as such.

In this whirlwind life, it’s easy to romanticize yesteryear. Today, I’m choosing to believe that God has brought me a step or two forward since that photo was taken. Lots of young folk are chalk full of passion for different things. It often gets misdirected or simply erodes as they get older. But today, I’m choosing to believe that God has been refining mine.

Sometimes it takes a person six years to learn that he can’t change the world. Can’t do it. The guy in that photo wouldn’t believe it if I told it to him. He gave himself the mantle ‘father to twenty-six Tanzanian orphans’ and said things like ‘I love kids so much, I just have to get plugged into an orphanage where once kids age out, more little ones come in. That way I can always have kids around me.’ Those things aren’t possible for me.

Sometimes it takes a person six years to learn that only Jesus can change the world. Sometimes it takes a person six years to learn that if he’ll have any role in changing the world, he has to be adjoined to the body of Christ and submit to other believers.

When I think about my daughter Promise, I know what it means to be a father. Being a father is such a huge part of my life. It pains me to say that I couldn’t be the father that the kids at the orphanage needed. It pains me that I couldn’t be the father that Awadhi needs. Yet, in all my past disappointments of personal inability to change the world, I know that God has established a righteous resolve within me. He is able to change the world and He is wanting to use me. His Kingdom is at hand and He beckons each of us to reach out and grab it, to join Him in renewing and changing the world. As for me, I want each child in this nation to know the love of a godly father and I want each godly man to know the love of child they can call their own. I can’t be that man to those children. I’ll probably max out around six or seven kids, but there are people, men and women, that can be the parent that these kids need. God is able to change the world and change the world of each person, what a honor that He invites us to join him.

Though it’s not on my shirtsleeve any more, I know that passion is still inside of me. God has refined. I thank God for directing my steps. He’s taken me down paths that the young man in the photo would have never imagined and in all honesty would have dreaded. But God is faithful and He’s changing the world we live in.

A Stiver Family Update

It’s really hard to believe that it has been 5 months since we packed up our home, said goodbye to our dog, and boarded a plane in Tanzania, arriving back in California. So much life has already taken place and a new little life has been welcomed into the world. That’s right, for any of our supporters who have not heard our incredible news yet, we are so pleased to announce the birth of our daughter, Promise Susan Stiver. Born on Friday, September 21st, at 10:14am. Weighing 8lbs 10oz, and measuring 20.5 inches long. The birth itself was not ideal, for Promise was born via an emergency C-Section, but we are so thankful and praising God for great health for both her and Melissa.

Other than Promise’s birth, our time thus far has been spent visiting family, being blessed by 4 (yes, four!) baby showers, visiting our supporting churches, going to several doctors appointments and birthing classes, and settling into life here on the Central Coast.

In this season of life here in CA, the Lord has pressed on our hearts Exodus 14:14 (as written above). We had been praying for wisdom in knowing what it looks like to wait on Him and be still. We had also been praying for a ministry position for Brandon to take up while we are here. After almost 5 months of being obedient and being still, the Lord heard our prayers and we are very excited to share that Brandon has begun a ministry position at First Baptist Church of Los Osos (the church that Melissa grew up in and that we got married in). The church recently came alongside another congregation that had fallen on hard times in the neighboring town of Morro Bay. The church has decided to hire Brandon to lead in the rebuilding of that congregation and lay the groundwork for  whomever the pastor of the new church plant will be. We are excited for this Kingdom opportunity as we know that church plants are such a beautiful expression of the Gospel.

Additionally, being on a normal salary with the church will help us financially. It has been a real difficulty at times to make a meaningful dent in our student loans while working on a missionary’s pay overseas and we look forward to making progress with the loans while we’re here.

Since we are on a regular income with the church, we are not fundraising for our efforts in Tanzania for the time being. We are so incredibly blessed to have the partnership of so many friends and family. We hope that you will continue (or begin, if you don’t already) to partner with us when we return to Tanzania next year to continue the work among the precious orphans of Kilimanjaro.

Some Questions You May Have

When will you return to Tanzania?
The short answer is sometime in 2013. There are different variables that could impact the actual date. First, we want to ready as a family of three to endure the difficulties of living and working in overseas ministry. Second, we will have to coordinate the time with both the church and the organization as we transition back to Tanzania. Our supporters, friends and family will be among the first to know when we’re going back exactly.

Will you be fundraising and looking for supporters?
YES! Fundraising and finding financial/prayer supporters is such a critical component of being a missionary. Once we have a better idea of when we’ll be going back, we’ll start getting the word out, fundraising and speaking at churches. We prayerfully hope that you’ll consider continuing your support of us and our ministry.

What about Awadhi and the kids at Treasures of Africa?
The hardest part about being away from Tanzania is not seeing the kids that we love so much. We of course know that, as always, they are in the very best of care with the other loving missionaries and staff at TOA. They are doing just fine. People often ask about Awadhi in particular and without a doubt that special little guy is dearly missed as he has a special place in our hearts. When I first moved to Tanzania, I had every intention of pursuing adoption of Awadhi. However, not long into my life there I became aware of an age stipulation for adoptive prospects that unfortunately we don’t meet for 8 year old Awadhi. Since then, through tears and prayers, we’ve gathered that God has something else for him and us. He nevertheless will always have a special place in our hearts and lives.

What else are you up to while stateside?
Just living life! Above all, we’re figuring out what it means to be godly parents to our beautiful daughter. We also hope to make new friends here in Los Osos while also connecting with other friends more that we aren’t able to see while over in Tanzania. We have been tremendously blessed by our friend Kelli who has allowed us to use her new car for coming months which helps not only with getting to Morro Bay, but also getting out and having fun. In all things, we rejoice in what God is doing, in Tanzania and here.

at some point…

At some point, I’m going to get back to writing, get back to creating, get back to something that will exercise my mental capacities. My daughter, Promise, was born ten days ago today and as much as I love creating and writing, I’m taking some time to figure out being a dad to an infant and a husband to her mother.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of me changing the diaper of the cutest child known to man, because that’s the kind of stuff I’m doing these days…

friends

I felt so blessed. I looked out into the faces of so many people that meant so much to me and had each had a hand in who I had become and who I was becoming. Friends from every sector of my life. Through tears, I shared with them how much they each meant to me and how much I appreciated them. I have always been the guy that had too many words, so I got to a point where I knew it was time to compose myself, put the mic down and return to my seat.

I sat down. Then one by one, about twenty or so friends of mine came up and affirmed me and sent me off with their warm words, prayers and one last hug.

A week later, I boarded a plane and left California, the only home I’d truly known. My eyes were fixed on Tanzania and a life that I couldn’t have expected.

Hard to believe that that was two and a half years ago now. So much has happened since then and I know that I’m not the same person.

I settled into Tanzania and soon the romantic aspect of living there lost its veneer. Frustrations began to set in that are all too common from living in a foreign, third-world country trying to do ministry. And as I returned to my single bedroom guest house night after night, a very real feeling and realization came upon me: I was alone.

I didn’t recognize my insecurity, because up to that point, I didn’t know what insecurity felt like. I joked about the spot I was in. Haha, the only single guy missionary here. Haha, living alone in the back of some Dutch family’s property, with whom I had little relationship. Haha, I only have one friend that emails me regularly. Haha. Like Ken Kesey wrote in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I had to laugh at the things that hurt me, it was the only thing that kept me from being driven plumb crazy.

I knew not what to do, but turn to a god of our times. Technology. I began writing regularly on a blog, linking it to my Facebook and sharing it with all my friends back in the states. I had to check it constantly, because I thirsted for recognition. Not merely of my writing, but that people would validate me and tell me I’m a good person. I wasn’t walking in the truth that only God can validate me. I was also finding out the hard way that connecting online is not equivalent to sitting down for coffee or taking a walk with a friend.

As bad as that was, it was only intensified by getting stuck in my head without other people telling me I was off. I had one friend that regularly spoke into my life, Ryan. He’s twelve years older than me and has four kids, but he was the only person that was walking with me. Outside of him, I was floating around in my head most days with thoughts that just shouldn’t have been there.

The year went on and some amazing things happened in the summer, not the least of which, getting engaged to an amazing woman that I hardly knew. Our engagement was followed two days later with her getting on a plane to go back to the states and me being alone again. Ryan too left the next month and I was trapped.

Insecurity came to a head. I felt the Lord tugging on my heart and as the loneliness and friendless-ness settled in in full-force, I decided to take a three week break from writing on my substitute-friend (the blog), affectionately known to blog followers as blog suicide.

I cringed on the inside, my skin was a couple sizes too big and my anxious nerves couldn’t fill it. The only thoughts in my head were my own, which only perpetuated the vanity of my loneliness. I wanted to turn to someone and let them know how I was feeling, but that was not a possibility, because it was precisely the problem. Alone. This is the way it feels.

In so many ways, I feel as though I never settled those feelings. I would soon go on a furlough in the states to marry my bride and saw friends from what seemed like a previous life. It was great to see them, but I felt like I wasn’t able to relate to them like I used to. They were great, still are, but now I’m different and I feel as though I don’t have a place. Jesus, help me.

Yet above all, I choose to believe, eyes open that my place is with the Lord, with my wonderful wife, Melissa and the only home I can have is in His will. The home in His will always involves community and friends and I’m believing Him for that, for me and my family, as we once again find ourselves here for another stint in the states.

If you made it to the bottom of this post. Do yourself a great big service and step out to make new friends and deepen the friendships that you have. We were meant to share in this life together.