Friday, July 7, 2017

Memos from a Landing: Thoughts on a Bumpy Transition

Well—we did it.

We got on the plane.

After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatly quietly faithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.

Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.

I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?

Transition can feel…bereft.


This week I giddily purchased some houseplants and, now that Uganda has spoiled me on fresh produce, some potted herbs (make sure you pronounce the “h”). They’re fragrant and green, and they make me happy. -Er. They make me happier. Thankfully, despite a few lank leaves and a handful blossoms I needed to tug from their stems, I think all of them will pull through. There’s a reason my basil came in a neat little peat pot. The wrapper says it can help avoid transplant shock.

Man. What I would give for a me-sized peat pot.

I love the (finally!) creative part of moving and crafting a prepared place. But when I’ve dug a little deeper in me, I’m still grappling with some fear. After a tight-knit community in Africa—will I find a friend in this small town? Having left two “jobs”—do I really have what it takes to freelance write full time, or am I about to perform an astounding career faceplant? My family seems so happy here. But will I be?

Maybe that’s why the words of Paul David Tripp smacked me between the eyeballs this morning.
In the life of the believer, fear of weakness amounts to God-forgetfulness. Timidity is a failure to remember the promises of the gospel.
….God has promised to supply and empower; your job is to follow him by faith where you live every day. You don’t wait for the provision before you move. God has not promised that you will see it beforehand…you move forward in the certainty that he is with you, for you, and in you.
This felt personal because, amidst a transition I didn’t want, I’ve met an overwhelming amount of spiritual…bewilderment. My perspective of God altered considerably. I don’t think this is actually bad. I think it was actually more truthful, less a God of my graven image. One of the odd phrases rolling around my brain has been the words of a shocked Catherine Zeta-Jones in the movie Entrapment. She says to Sean Connery, who has just betrayed her, “Weren’t we partners?” Amidst the thrumming purpose and worship that was Africa for me, which pulled me in so tightly to God’s heart and His ceaseless labor for the poor, I felt suddenly…alone.

But here is what I know: Yes, we were partners. Yes, we still are. But ultimately, to cob a phrase from Tarzan: You, Potter. Me, Clay. God is not merely horizontal from me. He’s still vertical; still the holy, holy, holy from Isaiah 6 and Revelation. Which means He doesn’t fit it my box.
And yet, yes. He is still with me. For me. In me.

The Dwelling Place

Strapped in to the gray hum of a 757, bits of the prayer of St. Patrick fell from my brain. It hung in my dorm a couple of decades ago in college—and it’s great for times of transition, where fear seizes my heart in fists.
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I don’t know where this post finds you. I guess there’s a decent chance you’re in some form of transition, as constant as change appears. Maybe you, too, feel like your heart is tumbling around like a rogue sock in a clothes dryer.

Back to the plants that are waving at me right now from my deck. There’s a gardener’s phrase about transition: First year sleep, second year creep, third year leap. I expect for them to be a bit unproductive this first year. I keep an eye out for these plants I purchased, watching for limp stems, and watering them pretty vigilantly. God doesn’t break a bruised reed, right? So it fits that this God–who prunes me, and who’s also harvesting behind where He and I leave–is tender in my transition. He’s patient for blossoms and fruit that will push forward when the season’s just right.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa

I’ve wondered for awhile now how I would write this post; what I would say. Eight hundred words seems only enough to barely outline the dimensions of what I’ve wrestled with for the last several months.

You see, we’re leaving Africa.

(For now. …Or so I tell myself.)

So many factors, really, have sifted out what feels like the remaining solution. Among the factors: My husband’s job. My kids’ education. Other family factors we’ve batted back and forth, scouring for solutions until it seems this is really the only way to love well. And in many ways, the poor and this work God’s been doing in our midst will be better served as my husband performs his leadership role from Engineering Ministries International’s home office in Colorado. (Colorado! I should be thrilled, right?!)

And yet.

This may clarify why I’ve penned (probably too many) posts on my other blog recently on delightful topics like Christian grief, my Grinchy struggles at Christmaskeeping your heart soft when what you really want to do is give up and get bitter, what to do when your season of life feels…off, and how to work through our own issues of unbelief and their ties to what we think about how God loves us. Y’know. Fun stuff.
Living here is an odd paradox of the most exhausting, dangerous, and angering part of my life—injustice (…and lack of utilities) can do that to a girl—but it’s also been the place I feel most throbbingly alive. It’s where the rumblings of God’s work are keenly felt for me. As lean and muscular of a time as it has been—the purpose of it, the accessibility to helping people and working with the down-and-out has propelled me as I’ve found that rare privilege of the spot where I best connect to God’s heart. It feels like a gold mine to me, to cultivate this field, uncovering the treasures He’s implanted in the poor and nurturing it toward a blossom. I love who it’s made my children; my husband. Who it’s made me.

Even more, I love the Africans I know. Like Oliver, an AIDS orphan, who’s been a constant companion in our work and has labored to succeed in obtaining her counseling degree. Or Yokanah, who at a scrappy, compact 5’1” works his tail off to provide for his family, continually builds his community, and does it all with an infectious 1000-watt smile. Or Hope or Hattie or Pauline, whose intelligence, wit, and courage as brilliant African women use their gifts to serve the poor. Or Helena, or Gilbert, or Ashellah…

(Right. Eight hundred words.)
…all the sparkling Ugandans more than capable of leading their own country while we wheel our bags onto a 757 and go back to a more anonymous life with a consistent electrical supply, like so many missionaries before us. Because we’re not heroes. This is God’s work to complete.

Sometimes: God says no
But as much as He is the God of the thunder in Job, so utterly “Other” and above my ways–He’s also a God of wounds. He intimately knows what it means to suffer, and suffering is His enemy. Ann Voskamp, who shares her path of reconciling the senseless death of her two-year-old sister, concludes,
[God] gave us Jesus….If God didn’t withhold from us His very own Son, will God withhold anything we need? If trust must be earned, hasn’t God unequivocally earned our trust with the bark on the raw wounds, the thorns pressed into the brow, your name on the cracked lips? How will he not also graciously give us all things He deems best and right? He’s already given us the incomprehensible.*
And if He asks me to step down, or perhaps I should say away, no role is too insignificant. God knows what He’s doing, I keep telling myself. I’ll step down from my dual roles as homeschool/refugee teacher (though I may still work with refugees; stay tuned). I’ll be freelance writing full-time (insert gulping, gasping noise), which holds nearly as much terror for me as possibility. I’ll continue to write over on my blog at A Generous Grace, hoping as always that God has an idea for whatever loaves and fishes I lob into cyberspace.

As they say here, Katonda amanyi. The Lord knows.

I don’t yet have much of a vision beyond the one for my husband and kids, who are infinitely worth this decision. But I have the hope for a vision. Recently I rediscovered the words of C.S. Lewis penned in The Screwtape Letters. In them, a senior demon writes to his protégé:
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause [the Devil’s cause] is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will [God’s will], looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
Sometimes the loss rolls over me in waves, my head tilted just above water. If you see me, I’m grateful for your grace that allows my sadness, occasional lack of direction, and even passivity or anger in a season I struggle to interpret. My goal is faithfulness; courage; to love well.  To finish well, hopefully with work that will continue when we’ve clanged our gate closed for the last time. I know at times I’ve failed already.

But His power has always been perfect for what He’s asked of me. May He give you, too, the strength for whatever He requires of you. Never forget you are dearly loved.