Posts Tagged ‘God is good’

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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Do you ever have those days where the line from the song in the kids version of Robin Hood seems to be about the only fitting words to share, “oo-de-lally, oo-de-lally golly, what a day”. I had a lot of them this past year.

For 2016 I chose the word ‘true’ to be my word for the year. Part of me wants to say, “that was a mistake,” because of what path the year took and all the lessons I learned from it that I would’ve loved to never experience, but amidst the pain and chaos I learned oh so much. I will share some, because ‘true’ is a newer thing for me, and I’ve had a year, but I’m still working…

  1. I wanted to be honest with how I’m doing. I’m a person who can easily hide my own emotions to care for yours. But some days are hard. And real friends should have the right to know that when they ask. Living in a house with 19 others helps force conversations. Especially when you live with 19 of the most intentional people in town. This year I got to work on telling the truth when I came home from work whether it was a good day or a hard day. I learned, that when you do tell them, people very often care. So interesting.
  2. I wanted to stay true to myself, my faith, and my God. In the world of “you do you” it’s easy to start believing that whatever you want to be true, can be true for you if you just believe it enough. But I know that isn’t really true. That’s convenient. That’s nice. That’s comfortable…but it doesn’t work in the long run. There are some things in the world that just aren’t true. There are some things in the world that are just unavoidably true no matter how false I want them to be. This year I’ve gotten to remember some of those. Pay attention and notice them. And process what I want to do about them. So interesting.
  3. In May 2016 something happened that brought up a whole lot of garbage from my past. It brought up: Insecurity. Fear. Anger. Confusion. Hurt. Trauma. Sadness. Isolation.  And the biggest one was a general distrust and dislike of people. It brought all the lies that I’ve fought against for so long right back to the surface. The lies that people aren’t worth it. The lies that I am too messed up to fix. The lies that everyone is out to get you. The lies that people don’t really care. May was a really hard month. So was June. Followed by July, August and September. Might as well add October too… But in November something happened. I got to say these 5 words that actually made me cry, “I feel like me again”. For over 6 months I didn’t feel like me. I didn’t want to be around my friends. I didn’t want to leave my room. I didn’t want to face the world. I faked the smiles. I forced the conversations. I cried a lot. I dealt with anxiety for the first time. I believed a lot of lies. But in that whole time, I had incredible support. A family in multiple timezones who were always there when I needed to talk. Friends who invited me to join them or just came to me even when I wasn’t fun. A mentor who prayed over me. An online therapist who listened to me. Coworkers who picked up my slack in both my jobs. God used so many people to demonstrate His love for me and to counter the very lie that was trying to push it’s way into my heart that I shouldn’t trust people. God made people, and He made them very good. So interesting.
  4. Focusing on ‘true’ in 2016 taught me (reminded me) that fear doesn’t get to call the shots in my life. Sometimes it answers the quickest though, but throughout the year I tried to identify when fear got the first word, and go back and acknowledge that I was wrong in letting fear answer first and then tell the truth…maybe I still didn’t know what that was, but that fear didn’t get to make the decisions in my life. So interesting.

2016, you were a tough year. But God taught me so much through you. I wish “word of the years” could go away after the year ends, but I know just like ‘delight‘, ‘pursue‘, ‘intentional‘, ‘greater‘, and ‘overcome‘ you, ‘true‘ will be here to stay in my life for me to continue working on. Stay tuned for 2017’s word of the year to get a post soon. It’ll be another year full of learning…that’s for sure.

These past few days have been a whirlwind! I’ve been reminded of so many things! One being that there is so much power in words. Another, that God doesn’t change with our outcomes. A week or two ago my sister found a lump. It was scary, but the doctor said it was a pretty good chance it was just a cyst. So I decided not to worry. I prayed about it, put it from my mind, and waited like everyone else.

During that week, I was talking with a friend about trusting God. We were discussing how it is kind of an instant change when you meet God, but then still a daily process to trust Him. I told her how my family is my weakest part, but that I’ve chosen that I will trust God not matter what happens to them. I said this out loud the day before my sister called to tell me that the lump wasn’t a cyst. It was in fact a tumor.

I wept.

But there was still a chance it was ‘nothing’. It could be just a benign mass, they told us. Though trust in those same people who said it was probably a cyst and were wrong was hard to muster. So I wept. And as I wept I remembered what I had spoken out loud just the day before. I will trust God no matter what. It was such a sweet reminder. I knew that God wasn’t pushing the “smite button” on me just because I had promised to trust Him, but instead had led me to that conversation right when I needed to be reminded that God is enough. That He has a plan, and He is good…no matter my circumstances. And that He can do a far better job taking care of my family than I can.

Many people prayed with and for me and reminded me of truth, “Jesus knows, and loves you all,” “Keep resting in Jesus’ arms of security and hope”. Friends called to make sure I was ok, emailed and texted…their prayers were felt greatly.

I decided to drive to Michigan to wait with my sister for the results of her biopsy. It was possible they would come the next day, or maybe take several days. Either way, it was worth it to be with her, so I went. In my life group we have a tradition where any new person who comes gets to ask a question that we all answer. One of the questions this year was, “if you knew you had one year left to live, what would you do?”. What I noticed, was that there were very few people in our group, if any, who claimed they would be doing the very same things they are doing now. The majority of us said somehow we would be with our family during at least part of that time. That really made me evaluate my life. Is 16 hours of driving fun? No. Is being with family something I value. Yes. Then I go. I want to live a life that I value, and be there for my loved ones when they need me. I never want to look back on my life and say, “I really wish I would’ve given up normal or comfortable for what was valuable or right”. I want to live without regrets.

The trip turned out to be one of celebration when the doctors said it was not cancer. We celebrated life, but we also took time to mourn the fact, that not everyone who the doctors called that day were cancer free. Some people’s lives have been put on hold and plans changed because of terrible diseases or other things. But that doesn’t change who our God is. One friend responded to my news of no cancer with this, “The Lord is so kind”. He is. God is good, and kind, and sweet. He loves us, and whether we get the news we want or not, He will carry us through.