I love a good story. I especially love it if the story is of epic proportions where the underdog, an unassuming hero, encounters unimaginable peril to accomplish some noble goal such as, let’s say, saving the world! Among such grand stories of many dangers, adventures and sacrifice, Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings trilogy stands as one of my very favorites. Oh, my good man (sorry Hobbit!) Frodo, who chose to leave the tranquility of the Shire to go to a distant land, throws a ring in the fire, and once and for all stops Sauron, Middle Earth’s greatest enemy! Did you know what all of your quest would put you through, Frodo? Could you even imagine how your decision to say yes to that call would forever change you? Did you know the cost in advance? And—had you known—would you still have said yes if you could go back and choose it all over again? In the end, was it worth it, Frodo?
We left a comfortable life in Dallas roughly nine months ago. And after just a few months in Brazil, I’ve come to realize that Dallas was our Shire. Sure, Texas was not devoid of problems. We struggled with stress. I myself at times felt overwhelmed with the demands of life and with my own demons. My wife and I still had our occasional marital problems. But… still… Dallas was safe, predictable, and comfortable. No matter how stressful things got, our Texan Shire was filled with delightful family times at the Dallas arboretum, Target runs, and delicious Starbucks drinks conveniently ordered in advance from an app so I wouldn’t have to bother talking to another human being at the ungodly early hours of my morning. Oh, and lest we forget, how do I even tell you how much we miss Amazon prime. Oh, sweet, sweet Amazon—we could purchase almost anything through your website and have it delivered to our doorsteps within two days (or within an hour, if you live in a place like Dallas!). We also miss our dog (Oh George, how we miss you!) and our beautiful house.
So you don’t think I’m super shallow, our Shire also included a wonderful church with gospel-centered preaching that is second to none, not to mention a wonderful small group that my family and I had been a part of for several years. Those people were our friends, our community. Our Shire. We miss all of that.
Unlike Frodo, we didn’t leave our Shire behind to literally save the world. We came to Brazil to fulfill a lifelong dream of serving here. I don’t stand behind a pulpit every week preaching to the masses, nor do I think I ever will. Much of what we do is somewhat invisible, behind the scenes. Our ministry is small, translating counseling related resources into Portuguese, meeting with folks one on one, and leading small workshops.
There’s nothing about counseling that is flashy. Our story does not include magical rings or enchanted beings, but it is still epic. It is my epic narrative where my family and I, unlikely “heroes” that we are, get to make sacrifices for the sake of others. To bring to them something or someone, who can indeed save their lives.
It’s been a slow process, but during these past nine months I have felt the Lord waking up my soul from the slumber of comfort and convenience that marked our lives back in the U.S. Waking up is wonderful and difficult, invigorating and scary, all at once. But when you leave your Shire, your soul wakes up to deeper realities that changes you and allows you to see life (and yourself) from a completely different perspective. And there’s no going back. And there’s nothing better.
Please, please don’t misunderstand me. I am in no way saying that enjoying the comforts of life in our wonderful America is wrong. Nor am I saying that you have to leave your home to leave your Shire. All that I am trying to do is to invite you to consider some fundamental, life-changing questions that only you, in your heart of hearts, can answer. No one else can do that for you.
Are you constantly bored with the life you are leading?
What comforts, what safety, what predictability, what pleasures have you left behind for the sake of being part of something greater than yourself?
Are you willing to leave your Shire for the sake of the gospel?
Are you living your epic story?
If Jesus Himself left the Shire of heaven to destroy the ultimate enemy and save us, how can we—His followers—do any less?
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)