Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lessons from my life as a 31 year old (Part two)

1.     6. Worshiping in the dark is still worship

I have had some really dark days in my year as a 31 year old.  Difficult days in which love hurt… days in which babies died and good seem to lose out to evil.  Days that hurt deeply and left me wondering where God was.  I am glad that God gives me the opportunity to question because in those moments of doubt He often teaches me something magnificent about His character.  

Throughout these difficult days, I have never stopped trusting Him.  I could still recognize His greatness and I still had a desire to follow Him.  I learned from a very wise woman to, choose the risk of love even in the midst of the worst devastation.  I have learned that when I chose the risk of love, I have never once been disappointed. 

On these days, an album by Chris Tomlin has helped me give words to express my feelings. 
Some of the lyrics that have come from my lips as tears poured from my eyes and my heart worshiped are these:

I lift my hands to believe again
You are my refuge you are my strength
As I pour out my heart these things I remember,
You are faithful God, forever
Let faith arise, Let faith arise
Open my eyes, open my eyes
Where you go I’ll go. Where you stay I’ll stay
When you move I’ll move. I will follow You.
Who You love I’ll love. How You serve, I’ll serve.
With this life I lose I will follow You.

Our God is greater. Our God is stronger
God You are higher than any other.
Our God is healer. Awesome in Power.
Our God, Our God.
And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us then what could stand against us?
And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us?
And if our God is with us then what could stand against us?

I think Rick Warren’s wisdom sums up this lesson for me.  He said, “When you feel abandoned by God yet continue to trust Him, you worship Him in the deepest way.”

2.       7. Difficult does not mean impossible & Possible does not mean easy

“Because a thing seems difficult for you do not think it is impossible” Marcus Aurelius

During my last few days as a 31 year old, I received an email from a friend who said, “Life in Africa is hard… I am amazed that you have lived here for so long now…” I began thinking over my time here and how life in Zimbabwe has been difficult for me.  There have so many moments where I wanted to give up, walk away and return to my “real life”.  But throughout this last year especially, I have learned that difficult is not the same as impossible.  I have found that with God, things that would have been impossible for me, have instead just been difficult.  

The Bible says that “With God all things are possible”  I have learned this to be true, however I’ve also had to accept that this doesn’t mean “With God all things are easy and painless.”

3.       8. It all works together

In my old house in Vic Falls, I had an office and when I would learn a valuable lesson or hear something that I needed to remember I would write it down and stick it to the wall.  I had a wall full of little lessons I wanted to carry with me.  When I moved I pulled many of them down and kept them with me in an envelope.  In my room in Highfields, I did the same thing… around my desk were little notes stuck everywhere on the way. 
Recently I have begun working on a project that feels like the BIG ONE.  The thing that all the other things were leading up to.  I know from past experience that God absolutely does use all things together for good and so as I started laying out my thoughts about how to get started on this project, I started thinking back to the lessons I have learned to prepare me for this work.  

I thought about Munya and Bothwell, little boys who stole my heart on the streets of Vic Falls. I thought about their families.  I thought about all of the families I counseled, who have taught me so much. I thought of blind Mr. Who and what his life and struggles showed me.  I thought of ghettoes and villages I have spent years in and the opportunity I have had to learn the ins and outs of the culture, the challenges and the joys of life in Zimbabwe.  I thought of abandoned babies and orphanages and child headed families.  

I didn’t know where to start so I pulled out that old envelope and all those old scraps of paper and I stuck them all around.  One by one they led me to the answers I had been looking for—or in some cases the right questions to ask, and my thoughts came together.  Some of those scraps of paper have been sent around the world by some of you, others are thoughts you sent me in text messages or emails. Some are things that wise old Zimbabwean women have taught me as we sat around a fire cooking or bent over tubs washing clothes.   

One thing I know, not one lesson has been learned in vain and certainly all things work together.

4.       9. Remember the details
I grew up in a church that is fabulous.  My grandma still attends this church weekly, as do some very special friends of mine and it is a joy to church there when I am in Michigan.  The church is big, and I left there a long time ago—when I was 17.  I did not know the pastor personally, but I sent him an email because I wanted to thank him for his life’s work… to thank him for providing a place for me to learn some of the fundamental truths that have led me to where I am today.  I had the pleasure of having several meetings with him as I was back and forth to Michigan this year.  

In one meeting my heart broke and I wept telling him one of the stories that changed my life here -the story of baby Edward’s death.  

Edward was an abandoned baby that I spent months holding, loving and feeding until one week when he got a fever.  Edward lived his entire life in a hospital and yet he died because of lack of medical care.  When I walked in to check on him one morning I was told that he was dead from an infection, rage filled me.  When Nyasha and I had left a few hours before that, we had been told that the doctor was coming—as we had been told for a couple of days.

Months later I wept retelling the story because of a painful truth- Edward died because no one cared enough to take care of him. He didn’t die because of lack of medical treatment.  He died because no one loved him enough to ensure access to the things he needed. 

I told Pastor Doug this story and many others as he asked about my work and my life in Zimbabwe.
Weeks later Pastor Doug brought me in front of the congregation to say good-bye as I was heading back to Zimbabwe.  He recounted the story I told him and as he said “baby Edward” my heart jumped.  He remembered his name.  The nurses who cared for him forgot him name within days, and yet this man who never met him remembered. 

I learned a lesson when Pastor Doug remembered the details of this baby's short life… it is often in the little details that we show how much we care for the least of these. 

 A week or so ago I was visiting an orphanage that I often spend time at, and as I arrived there were a group of people there playing with the kids.  They were doing a good thing: playing, cleaning, ironing and giving the overworked mommies a break.  As I greeted each child by name one of the visitors said, “That’s a lot names to remember.” Yes, it is, but when I see the eyes of a child light up when I say his or her name I am taught that it is worth it to remember the detail

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lessons from my life as a 31 year old (Part one)

Tomorrow is my birthday.  I will be welcoming in my life as a 32 year old… Although there are some gray hairs growing in and a few more wrinkles, I don’t really see how 32 looks much different than 31, but as I thought about what I learned this past year I thought I would share some of those lessons here:

1.       1. God loves me. And you. The most. But Equally.
We all long to be treasured.  I long to be treasured. I am treasured. I am God’s favorite possession—I learned that this year, but so are you.  Every single one of us can stand and say that we are the most important thing to God.  It has been pretty life changing for me to allow that reality to wash over me.  Once I began to feel treasured, and to see how much He truly treasures each of us, I no longer needed to be the MOST special… I became far more comfortable sharing that spot with you too!

I am also then free to live out my purpose—because being loved by God leaves me motivated.  Having a purpose –serving God-brings me joy. 

George Bernard Shaw said, “This is true joy in life, the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” 

My true joy doesn’t just come from being loved and treasured.  My true joy comes from doing something with the motivation brought about by the catalyst of love.
  2. Love can hurt or it can heal. 
I have fallen in love with a song from a movie I saw with my Aunt Laura and cousin Amanda. These two women are so very special to me.  But for a long time I had little to no contact with either of them. When my parents divorced my relationship with my mom’s family fell apart.  The loss of love between my parents had a ripple effect that I still don’t understand.  This song says “You can be hurt by love or healed by the same….timing is everything

Love is a powerful thing.  The words to this song ring true for me because I have walked through several periods of my life where love has hurt SO badly.  I am walking through one now.   

Mother Teresa said, “I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” I believe her.  I believe that when you love someone enough to withstand the difficult times that hurt, you eventually get to a place where the love heals the hurt.  The hurt that love can bring is real.  So is the healing. 

3.        3. Sometimes our past hurts can prevent us from receiving what we want most.

I was recently having a conversation with Nyasha about the love we received from our parents and I was sharing stories about my grandpa.  As I told the stories I could feel how real his love was for me.  But I can also remember as a little girl, feeling differently.  I desperately wanted to be loved, to feel the love of a father and mine was not really around.  When my grandparents would do something to show their love for me (basically every day) I didn’t feel lavished in love.  I felt they were loving me and caring for us out of some obligation they felt.  I was so hurt by the hole my parents left that I couldn’t receive what was being offered to me—even when it was the thing I wanted the most.

Today as God continues to heal the pain from my past hurts, I can feel loved just by sharing a memory.  I wonder how often I have missed the love God has been showing me because of a hurt I am carrying. 

4.       4. Forgiveness costs.
I don’t often watch Oprah, but I caught a show one day when I was in the States and Oprah was telling a girl, “Forgiveness is letting go of what could have been.” I will never forget how my heart opened that day.  Accepting what is. Letting go of what could have been.  Loving someone for who they are, not what you want them to be. That is real love.  It is hard. It is costly.

When I teach my parenting class, I have to teach about marriage as well. I am not married (yet) so I rely on the wisdom of those who are.  An author that I respect says this, “Forgiveness is a decision to give up your perceived or actual right to get even with or hold in debt, someone who has wronged you.” (From fighting for your marriage) It is a decision to sacrifice, it is just as costly as forgetting a financial debt when someone owes you money.  They both cost. 

I read this and think it is beautiful.  It was written by a woman who was publically humiliated when she learned that he husband (a pastor) was having an affair.  “Love is powerful enough to erase a person’s sins.  Love is forgiveness.”

This year I have learned that forgiveness is costly, and yet it brings with is something priceless: peace and freedom and REAL, TRANSFORMING LOVE.

5.       5. We are all Shunamite women
There is a small story about a woman in 2 Kings Chapter 4.  This woman was kind and generous to the prophet Elisah.  He wanted to bless her and found that she didn’t have a son.  So he told her “Next year you will hold your son.” Her response was strange to me.  She said, “Do not lie to me.” I imagine this as her looking at him with immense sadness, saying “I didn’t ask you to go there- why bring up the most painful thing, that deep desire that I have hidden in my heart from everyone, please don’t bring that up- don’t go there. 
I think I am a Shunamite woman, I think we all are.  I believe we all have deep desires- some of which have not been filled yet.  I think we probably all have something we desire that is so precious to us that we hide it, ignore it, try to detach from it so that we don’t have to feel the pain.  The people closest to us might know not to go there in conversation, or they may not even be privileged to know of that deepest longing.  But we know it’s there: things like career success, restored relationships, marriage, babies--big life things.  We can’t hide from it, we will notice things that remind us that we are missing out.  This woman probably saw babies everywhere she went and it probably hurt.  She may have finally hidden that desire so deep in her heart so she could try to move on.  And then here comes Elisha putting it out in the open, bringing it to the surface and giving her encouragement to hope again.  But she did hope and she got her son. 

To hope again after disappointment is to risk being hurt again.

This year I have learned that I have something in common with this woman...I have a deep desire hidden away from the world.  What I am STILL trying to learn, is how to respond in faith the way she did. 

A few years later when her young son died in her arms, when she looked down and saw her dream that she had held after such a long of  wait fade away.  How would she respond? She placed him in bed and told no one. When her husband asked why she was going to see Elisha she simply said, “It will be well.” 

She didn’t scream and shout about how unfair life was that she waited so long for something, until she finally gave up hope and learned to live without a child, and then this man comes by promising her she will have one and she hoped again.  And NOW her child has been taken from her.  She could have went on and on about the injustice of the situation, but she didn’t.  She went to Elisha and when his servant asked how things are she said again, “It is well.” I think she was afraid that if she spoke of the situation she might explode.  Finally when she saw Elisha she let it out- she asked him “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I say to you, ‘Do not deceive me.”  She refused to leave without him and when he arrived home with her, she received a miracle and got her son back.  

What I am hoping to learn is that even when I see the thing I longed the most for die in my arms, to be able to say, “It will be well.”