Posts Tagged ‘faithful’

img_8513I always wear my Africa. Africa is my strong. It’s my symbol to remind me to pray. It’s my tiny map so when people ask about home I can point out where it is. I wear it like armor, it makes me feel brave. It has led to laughter when people try to figure out which state in the USA it is. It has opened up multiple conversations with strangers. The other travelers in a crowd can find me and start an easy conversation. When it is around my neck I feel like home is close to my heart. That family isn’t so far away. That I will be back someday. That it isn’t over 7000 miles and several days of travel to get home.

But the other day I took it off. Sure, I take it off to wear a different necklace sometimes, but it always goes right back on. Not the other day. The other day I took it off with no replacement necklace. I set it on the dresser and walked away. The other day I took it off because I was afraid. I was angry. I couldn’t make words make sense and I was reminded of that every time I heard it jingle around my neck or felt it move against my chest. I just couldn’t take it…so I took it off.

As a reader, you’re probably thinking, “this girl has lost it” or “where are you going with this one, Shelby?” or, “have you made this thing an idol?” even, “can it really be that strong of a force?” I think the challenge of this post (and all writing) is to get to a vulnerable enough spot that you can understand the thoughts swirling inside my head, but I’m going to warn you right here…they are swirling through the mud and it’s messy, it’s confusing, I’m not sure I can win this one and make it all make sense. I’m not sure it will look nice on the page or be smooth on your tongue as you read it. And even now, as I write this, I’m not sure of the emotion I want you to take away after you’ve read it. Probably, as with all my writing, this is much more for me than for you. But please read. Read it because though I’m not so clear in my writing, it’s even harder in talking…but I want you to know. I might cry if we talk, but I want to talk. I might say I’m fine, but the truth is I’m hurting and confused and I want you to know. You are allowed to ask. If you read this we will at least both be at the same starting point if we ever do try to talk about it.

I took off my Africa when I heard that my family moving away. I LOVE my family and I LOVE when they are close to me, but this time, they were coming closer but it felt so far. It felt wrong. It felt broken. See this time they were being “removed” from Tanzania. What does that mean? We didn’t really know. Lets be real, we still don’t really know. But they were told they have to leave and so they will leave.

There are times and places where culture seems to be stronger than faith. Where people’s desire for power and strength looks better to them than following Jesus. When someone wants to be on top, sometimes they feel a need to push others down before they get there. It sucks. A lie that I have been fighting since I was a kid is that God is the cause of the mess. Sure, God meets us in the mess, but it is not His intention to hurt us. He will help us grow through it. But the mess is made by humans. We are broken. Sinful. And not always the smartest.

This is just one example. Brokenness, messes, trauma – this stuff happens all the time.  I took my Africa off because I was angry that so quickly this token of love and hope and overcoming could become a carrier of loss, hurt and feel overwhelming. Something I wanted to fight back against. But I’m not a fighter. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I just took it off. “This is a personal battle,” “I’ll show them,” “I don’t care,” and “I’m stronger without it,” I lied to myself. I wanted to believe it too. It would be easier if I could believe that I could just walk away and block it out. I wouldn’t have to feel the hurt. I wouldn’t have to remember the loss. I could avoid going back to the other times people in the church had hurt me. The time the mission made us leave our house and village when I was 14. The time a boy studying to become a pastor treated me as if I didn’t exist when I was 20. The time a man wrote me a letter that fell into the stalking category and I had to bring it to the police when I was 27. There’s more. But other people’s stories are too closely tied into mine for me to share them publicly. There is a whole lot of junk in the church. There’s a whole lot of pain. It’s pretty easy to look at all those things and so many other things that happen ‘in the church’ and believe that God is mean, bad, evil. But then I have to stop and remember…I invite all my friends to church. Church is about God…but it’s full of people. People are risky. People mess up. People are broken. God’s not bad. That’s a fact. I also don’t want to just give you a list of bad things others have done and ignore that I have hurt so many. I’ve said the wrong words, been uncaring, insensitive and ignorant. There are people who could add me to their list and I must remember that. I’m a person. People are broken.

I don’t know what it means that my family is leaving. They don’t either. We are trying to process it. We are trying to figure out next steps. “Can they go back somehow?” we don’t know. “What will happen to all their stuff?” it is already sold and given away, other things are in boxes that they hope they can get to America in the future. The last of my childhood has been packed up. The walls I painted, the posters I hung, the clothes I left for when I go home to visit, the dogs. They’re gone now. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took my Africa off.

But then I realized, if I take it off and block out the pain, I also block out the joy. Did I want to give up the memories of mud fights? The hours spent painting nails, watching Princess Bride, making beaded bracelets with Hekima, Jenny, Grace, and Alice? Did I want to forget about playing ‘nage’,  the best game in the world that no Americans know how to play? Did I want to give up roof rack riding? Picnics at the waterfall? Swimming in the catfish pond? Did I want to give up goat roasts and pig roasts? Hunting with my dad? The 30+ foster siblings my family has cared for? Did I want to give up hours of eating sugarcane and kumbikumbi (bugs) with all the other MKs? Did I want to give up the country I called home for over half of my life? Could I give up the country of my brother’s heritage? If I couldn’t take the pain, I’d have to block out the joy too. I’d have to forget that I already overcame lots of those battles I’ve mentioned above.

As angry as I was (am) I couldn’t give those up. I couldn’t let them go. That is my life. It’s my heritage. It has molded me into the woman that I am today. And this…this really painful and confusing time…this will continue to mold me. It can lead me to bitterness. It can lead me to strength. I get to choose. So after a few days I put my Africa back on. I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. I still haven’t made it through many days without tears. But, I choose to trust.

My word for the year of 2017 is trust. I chose the word trust the day before I heard about my family being kicked out of Tanzania. I was nervous to pick the word trust, because I know that learning to focus on trust and trying to learn more about it is risky…we learn to trust through trials. Our faith is strengthened when we persevere. I chose the word trust and then I wanted to give it back. I didn’t want it anymore. But I do. I believe that God didn’t change when my circumstances did. I believe that God is faithful. There have been times I’ve taken out my anger on God instead of trusting God and being angry at the situation. I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s hard times in life. There’s hard people. Life is messy. God is good.

I’m still hurting. I still might cry if you ask about this. I still don’t know what it means. I still don’t have closure. But I’m telling you this, I’m choosing to trust. I’m willing to share. If you want to ask more then ask. If you want to pray then pray. I’m sharing this here, because I need to face it. Africa may not always be on my neck, but it will forever hold a piece of my heart. It might not always be my home, but it will always have been my home. I may be from Pennsylvania now, but I grew up in Africa. And that’s okay.

Below are some of the verses I’ve been clinging to these past couple of weeks. Hope if you’re going through something, they might help you too.

  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)
  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)
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“Sometimes when it gets real bad I curl up on my bed, hide under my covers, suck my thumb and sing Jesus loves me. It’s all I can do,” said one of the 30+ year old woman I meet with every Thursday in jail.

Anxiety sucks. post it
Jail sucks.
Addiction sucks.
Mental disabilities suck.
But Jesus loves.
And God is faithful.

As I read Psalm 91 again and again with the girls in jail today verse 15 kept jumping off the page at me. “He will call upon me and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble…” God doesn’t promise that we won’t have trouble, but He does promise that He will be with us, even in our trouble. And he will deliver us and redeem us.  This is a fact we can cling to. This is truth. God is bigger than our feelings, greater than our problems and stronger than our fears.

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Yes, Jesus loves me….yes, Jesus loves you too.

I feel like I often get to tell the stories that nobody shouts about. The media picks up on how unfair certain situations are, and they also look the other way often too. The stories I tell are so often unfair, but that doesn’t mean they’re always bad. Here is one that is so good and sweet but mixed with one so bad and sorrowful that even though I’ve lived it, it’s still hard to understand…good luck…

Once upon a time when I lived in Tanzania I came way to close to a black mamba. I don’t know if you understand what that really means. It means…I should be dead. Black mambas are known for being one of (if not the most) deadly snakes in the world. They are big, fast, territorial and aggressive. They bite, and without the right treatment immediately, you die. I lived 3 days from a good hospital…depending on the bite you can die in less than an hour.

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

To me He hath made known,

Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love

Redeemed me for His own.”

I still get flutters in my heart when I think about that day. I remember I was climbing on a cliff with my friend Sierra and we came to a point where we couldn’t go any farther because it was too steep. We had to go back up. Then we saw it. A black mamba. Maybe 10 feet to our left and a little above us. We had to climb back up…closer to it. That’s too close. I could see his face, his mouth, his eye…he could see me. He could’ve easily reached us. We could have easily died that day. And while it would’ve been sad, it happens. People die. We were given grace and mercy that we didn’t do anything to earn.

“Come Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.”

Back in my village, just this week, another little girl got too close to a black mamba too. But she died. My life was no greater than hers. I don’t know why I lived and she died. It’s horrible. It’s unfair. It’s part of life. More often than not things don’t go to plan. And yet I truly believe that God’s mercy is still never ceasing. That God still deserves loudest praise. That God’s faithfulness is still great.

 “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

 There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

 Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”

As God has been…gracious, merciful, giving me chance after chance at this life…He forever will be…gracious, merciful, giving chance after chance. He is just as faithful to this little girl’s family as He is to mine. I don’t understand. It hurts my heart. I wish she could be alive. But I know that God is good…no matter what.

Her story will never make the news. She will be mourned in her village and life will go on. But for me, she is one more reminder of God’s grace in my life. He has saved me physically many times, and so much greater than that, He has saved me spiritually. God has shown me grace and mercy and at times I probably didn’t/don’t even notice. But every time I think of this little girl, I will strive to show grace to those around me. Her life made an impact, and she will not be soon forgotten. Pray for her family as they learn to cope without her.