It’s our 8th annual Christmas Tree video! Enjoy and Merry Christmas from the Thomason family!
Today marks our one year anniversary back in the States.
It was just a year ago today, November 7, that we boarded Czech Airlines in Prague and made the long journey back to the United States after only about seventeen months in Czech Republic. Although the decision had been made months before, that day marked the end of our official time as overseas missionaries and meant we would be “coming home.”
Above is Bethany and the kids in the aisle across from me. Below is a photo of a tired Titus in the Amsterdam airport on our first layover that day.
Our flights that day would lead us to Louisville where my parents would pick up our family in two cars (so we could all fit!). We got to drive our “Dodgers car” which we had sold to my parents just before we moved to Czech. The kids call it that because it has a big “LA” sticker on the back (gotta represent our team!). It had been a while since I had driven in the States and I remember going down the highway and feeling weird. The cars felt oversized, the trucks were giant, and lining the highway was every kind of food you could think of. We were back in America.
The time we spent at my parent’s house was just what we needed. The kids had a blast riding on the tractors, playing outside on the five acres of land, and even spending some time with their cousins who flew out from California to join us. As we got over jet lag that week, I remember Bethany and I spending a lot of time just talking. We were talking about what had gone on the past few years, things we had learned, and basically just debriefing ourselves. I remember loving those chats with her. We needed that time and I’m thankful we got it. But it went by quick, and wasn’t long before we were on a plane again, this time headed West to our new home in Kingsburg, California.
It’s here in Kingsburg that we’ve made a new home this past year. Through many people, and in a way only the Lord can do, He has provided for every one of our needs. Our physical needs of a home, car, and job have all been met. Our emotional and spiritual needs have been meet in our wonderful church. God’s people continue to bless and encourage us in ways we definitely don’t deserve. Our family is cared for with great shepherding and care that we receive from our pastors and friends. I feel like the church at Philippi. Speaking of God providing for the church there, the apostle Paul writes, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). We truly praise the Lord for how He has taken care of us.
While the Lord has been providing us all we need, He has also been teaching us to trust Him. As I’ve entered a new role as the director of the student ministries at our church, I’ve been humbled by my weaknesses. It hasn’t always been good. I’ve had some hard days here, but I can look back on the past year and praise the Lord for what he’s teaching me about Himself and about myself. I am learning that each and every day I have to walk in the power and strength of the Spirit and not trust in my own strength. I have to trust Him and not myself. I haven’t arrived, but I’m learning. The students and families I get to serve are so patient with me, not to mention the rest of the church staff. They are all so willing to watch me make mistakes, grow, and learn. I don’t deserve it, but the Lord is so gracious.
We’ve had other opportunities to trust Him too. Just this summer we walked through our second miscarriage. There were a a few scary moments during that time. It wasn’t easy. We cried a lot. But again the Lord was so kind and gracious. He put people around us that cared well for us. He gave us a great doctor who I frantically called at 2:30am who helped me know how best to help Bethany. He gave us sweet nurses at the ER who were kind and gentle. He gave us pastors and friends who called, texted, and showed up with food, took our kids out to play for us, and who prayed with us. He gave Bethany great strength and courage amidst a very different kind of trial. It grew both her and I to cling to Christ and for that I can only praise Him.
As I reflect back on this year in the States, only one word comes to mind: growth. Actually, I think this year we’ve experienced a spiritual growth spurt. Like a physical growth spurt that comes quickly and is followed with it’s aches and pains, our spiritual growth spurt hasn’t always been easy, but has led to our growth. Like a body that is changed by sudden growth and development, we too have experienced that in our spiritual lives this past year. There have been so many wonderful moments this past year, as well as many hard ones, but in the end I can say that God has used them all to make us more like Jesus. I can’t help but think about 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We are the midst of that transformation! Each day as we see God for who He is and what He’s done for us, He’s changing us to be more like Him!
On the day we loaded our container in Czech in order to move back to the States (Oct. 30, 2015), I wrote in my journal about all that happened that day. To close my entry that day I wrote these words, “I’m thankful to God for what he’s doing in my heart to change me and make me more like Christ. I just want to be His servant.” With that in mind, I can even be thankful He gave me another year to experience that change. It doesn’t really matter if it’s in the States, Czech Republic, or wherever else the Lord may lead. I can rest and trust in His plan. He’s using all of it to make me more like Jesus. It was hope and prayer a year ago and it still is today.
On this date, two years ago, we lifted off from Los Angeles headed for Czech Republic. Just prior to lifting off, I wrote this Tweet:
— Shay Thomason (@shaycam) June 24, 2014
I sent that Tweet out at 10:00pm and I remember feeling really tired. I also remember getting our kids settled into the plane and thinking to myself just how crazy we were. I also distinctly remember sitting on the plane reflecting on a story I once heard from a missionary about his feelings when he took his family, with their little baby, to the jungles of Papua New Guinea. I remember him saying, “I was sitting in the airport in San Diego thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing?! This is crazy! Should we really be doing this?!’” We weren’t on our way to the jungle, but those were my feelings exactly. A little excitement. A little fear. A little “oh man… what are we doing?!”
We did make it to Czech that day. In fact, that was the night that I wrote my very first blog that would be come the daily blog of our life in Czech. You can read it here: http://www.itsallgrace.com/this-is-the-first/ — In it you can hear my excitement and my tiredness. Just re-reading that post brings a few tears to my eyes (which is what basically happens every time I read one of those blogs!).
I originally wanted to title this post “The Two Years That Weren’t.” We had made a two year commitment (minimum) with our organization in Czech and I was very intent on keeping that commitment. In fact, I thought it would pretty easy because in our minds and hearts we were basically “lifers.” You could say we were “all in” on being and living in Czech. But as many who read our blog and know our story, that wasn’t what God had in mind at all. Right around a year and a half later, we were back on a plane headed for the States.
And here I am. Two years later sitting at the same desk, writing on the same blog, but in a very different place. Last week I took a group of students from the youth ministry I direct to camp called Hume Lake in the Sequoia National Forest here in California. Never in my wildest thoughts would I have imagined that. But we had a blast! Bethany and the kids were able to come and enjoy the week while I worked. It was so much fun to hang with the students and be in the mountains, but it wasn’t the fun I had imagined just a few years ago, and those definitely weren’t the mountains I imagined being in.
Despite the changes the Lord has asked us to make in the past two years, I don’t sit here upset or angry or even second guessing any of it. Have I had my moments? Sure. But as I sit here today, I’m thankful for all the Lord has done because it’s growing our family to look more and more like Jesus.
Right now I’m taking our students in the youth ministry through Kevin DeYoung’s book The Hole in our Holiness. We’ll be finishing the book this Sunday and in the last chapter he makes a point about how often we should use our “spiritual thermometer.” Helpfully, he writes,
…you shouldn’t take your spiritual temperature every day. You need to look for progress over months and years, not by minutes and hours. As David Powlison likes to say, sanctification is like a man walking up the stairs with a yo-yo. There are a lot of ups and downs, but ultimate progress nonetheless.
The only question I’m asking myself tonight is if I look more like Jesus today than I did two years ago. If Kevin DeYoung is right, then this is a good opportunity to check my spiritual temperature. As God uses His Word and my circumstances to form in to who He wants me to be, do I look more like Jesus today than I did on June 23, 2014? In my pride, I always want to say yes without hesitation. But is that the truth? Have I really grown? My honest, humble answer is yes. Yes, I have. In fact, I’d probably tell you that I’ve grown more in the past 6 months than just about any other time in my life.
God has used our time here in the States to stretch me in ways I didn’t know I needed stretching. And just like stretching new muscles doesn’t feel good, it hasn’t always felt good to me to be in the midst of a little Godly stretching. But that’s part of growth. That’s part of becoming more like Christ. It takes work and it might even hurt a little at times, and yet the Lord promises us that it’s for our good.
Today has already brought it’s own challenges. Today was even one of those “harder” days where both Bethany and I have to look to the Lord for strength and comfort. And just because we’re not on an airplane taking what we thought was a huge leap of faith doesn’t mean that today we can just relax on faith. Oh, that we would believe always and trust always in the Lord! This is my prayer. This is my heart tonight. Thank you Lord for using whatever you have to make us trust in you.
Every day I get a text message asking me one simple question: “What are you grateful for today?” It comes from a little service I signed up for called Gratefulness and each time I receive the text I reply back with something I’m grateful for that day. This past week my responses were:
THAT THERE’S ALWAYS SOMETHING TO GROW IN. I HAVE NOT ARRIVED.
Tuesday May 24, 2016 At 08:57 AM
FOR BLAKE BOYS’ WIT.
Wednesday May 25, 2016 At 09:05 AM
FOR MISSIONS AND FAITHFUL MISSIONARIES.
Thursday May 26, 2016 At 05:29 PM
THIS NEW THRICE ALBUM.
Friday May 27, 2016 At 08:37 AM
Saturday May 28, 2016 At 08:34 AM
Truly, my heart in using a little service like that is to remind myself that I need to be grateful. Not just grateful for things, but grateful to the Savior for all He’s doing in my life. Should not my life be lived out of gratitude to Christ for all He’s done and is doing in my life to make me more like Himself!? I believe I should, and all Christians should!
Today I received that text message and I only had one response. What am I grateful for today? The birth of my daughter, Karis.
We are celebrating her first birthday today and it’s something unique and special. As you may recall, when Karis was born we were living in Czech Republic. Karis was born in a town called Ostrava-Svinov at a hospital with very few English speakers. It was a scary thought that my wife would give birth to our daughter in an unknown place, while also having very little help from medications we use in the States. But God was so gracious to Bethany and me as Karis came quickly and she was born healthy! As I re-read my own account from this blog of her birth (click here to read it), tears filled my eyes just remembering that day. God was so faithful!
But here we are one year later. Today we’ll celebrate alongside some of our family who is in town to visit, but we’re not in Czech Republic anymore. We’re here in California in what seems still like we’re waking up from a dream. Did we really do that? Did Bethany really give birth to Karis in Czech Republic?! Did we really live there!? These are the thoughts that sometimes race through my mind as I think back on the past year of our lives. What a whirlwind. What a crazy year it’s been.
Karis’ birthday brings with it more than the joy of her birth, which is so special to us. It also brings with it the memory of a life we never thought we would live–the life of missionaries living overseas. The past few weeks Bethany and I have been reflecting on Czech more and more. We think often of our little apartment next to the church with the beautiful view out the kitchen window. We have missed the Spring rain and beautiful green Czech countryside. Avery has mentioned multiple times how she misses our yard “at Babicka’s house” and how she loved “how big it was.” We have cried some. I miss things like our little mini van with the stick shift. We miss the mall where the kids would play while we “splurged” on a McDonald’s meal that was 45 minutes from our house. We miss the bike ride to the river and the walks around our little town, even when it was literally freezing outside. We miss learning the language and trying hard to communicate with strangers and even with friends. And yes… our friends, we miss them dearly.
“But wait… I thought this blog was about Karis and being grateful?” you ask. Well, you’re right. It is. You see, when I think about Karis’ birthday, I can’t help but think about our time in Czech. In a real sense they go hand-in-hand. Karis’ birth was a bright spot in a time of uncertainty for our family’s future. Her little life brought us so much joy and I praise God regularly for that special gift. Karis is always smiling, even to this day. She constantly smiles…it’s amazing to me. She has been a very easy baby and even now while she has begun crawling around our house, I just look at her and think how gracious God has been to us. And that grace has been shown to us through her life and what God has done in our lives.
Did we think we would be sitting here in the States a year later? Honestly, no. But I do know that we serve a very gracious God. Sure, we have had a whirlwind of a year, but I also know that God has moved and worked mightily through it. Bethany, our kids, and I would not be the same today had it not been for the past year. As we celebrate Karis’ one year of life we can also celebrate the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. He is always faithful. He is always trustworthy. He is always working for our good and His glory. He is always gracious. I just can’t get around it: it’s all grace.