Posts Tagged ‘home’

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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I love living in the Co.Space. We tend to ask so weird questions around here, and sometimes they are exactly what I need. Tonight around the dinner table we asked, “If you were a boat where would you be on your journey?” and I got super emotional.

Let me explain. When I paused and thought outside of the normal day to day what will it take to survive? I haven’t written my grandma back yet and she emailed me days ago…I haven’t called back the voicemails I have from work…Someone introduced me to a new girl I should meet up with to chat about jail stuff and I ignored her text for 24 hours because I was busy and forgot to text back…I forgot to order supplies for the house and we ran out of dish soap…I haven’t written a letter back to my friend in jail…my grandpa was in the hospital today. (The list could go on and on of how the day to day things try to take all of my attention). But suddenly, when I was told to be a boat instead of a human, and explain life in boat terms, it became so clear.

I immediately imagined my boat.

boat

I didn’t have to think about it. It was one that I had seen in the news filled with refugees. It was a boat filled too full. I couldn’t make everyone comfortable. I couldn’t guarantee everyone’s safety. I wasn’t sure of where the best place to land that boat was. There wasn’t room on it for a crew. It felt so incredibly scary, but at the same time this tiny, lonely little boat full of danger was the hope that all the passengers had been longing for. It was another chance at life. Although it might land in a dangerous place, it was headed in the right direction. I had this overwhelming sense that even if everything in my day was chaotic God was still on my side and I can always hold onto hope.

Suddenly the silly question made way too much sense. It was deep. We are all on a journey in life, and that’s ok. If you’re in a big boat, a small one, a floating one, a sinking one, if it’s landlocked or if your swimming outside of the boat you’re still on the journey of life. Keep doing the next thing. You might not always be on the same boat. You won’t always be in the same place. It’s all part of the journey. But I will challenge you on this…let other people on your boat. And if you aren’t ready for that, at least take time to find someone and tell them about your boat. Stories help. The help us connect to each other and they help us remember what it is we are chasing and why we ever thought to chase it.
Happy sailing friends.

My life is good.
So intertwined.
I am at home.
The other day I bumped into a friend at a store where the people working knew me by name and asked about my ministry. The friend I bumped into was one of my hoarding friends who I help clean for and used to throw community dinners for (my co.worker is in charge of that now). It was fun running into her there. I then went to my pastor’s house where I sat for an hour or two and just got to talk and relax because Lynn, my mentor, was cooking her famous cinnamon rolls, from there I went home and had a conversation with some of my college student housemates about some of our local homeless friends new accomplishments in getting housing, friends who they’ve met through volunteering at Calvary during our time to host the temporary homeless shelter called Out of the Cold. I went out with a coworker to hear one of my musician friends play and he came over to talk about a concert he had played earlier that week…in the jail. I got him connected and he’s been in twice so far and is planning a third visit. Next another friend finished work (cooking in the back of the restaurant) and came to chat with me and Kendra. This friend used to be homeless and isn’t anymore. He is doing really well. I also texted on and off with a friend who is working hard to overcome his heroin addiction. And the next day I got lunch with a friend who I met in jail and has since been released. It was the first time after many months of friendship that I got to give her a hug. It was the first time I met her daughter. I was so honored! I have so many incredible people in my life. I am so lucky. So blessed. So grateful to be given each of these friends, coworkers, acquaintances…God is so good. After a short time with my family I was welcomed back with so many wonderful smiles, hugs, and such love. Life is good.

I tried to move yesterday. It was pretty successful. I packed all my stuff up, put it into a couple of friends cars, drove it to my new house, carried it up to the third floor, unpacked it and set it all up. Then I went out to get dinner and stopped back at my “old” house to see how the fam’s packing was going and I didn’t want to leave. But I had to…I had just brought all my things over to my “new” house. So they came with me to gather some clothes and my work bag and bring them back home to sleep on the couch cushions on the floor since my bed got packed up to go to Taiwan yesterday (lucky for me the person buying the couch hasn’t gotten it yet). This morning started with lots of tears as we talked about how real it all felt before I ran out the door for work…looking a bit disheveled but making it just on time. Some of the things I can’t get out of my mind include:

  • Conversations early in the morning, middle of the day, and late at night about whatever is going on in our lives.
  • Tripping over toys left on my floor.
  • Being honest and vulnerable…it’s not easy with just anyone. It takes a lot of work and we’ve gotten to that point.
  • Getting dandelions everyday…and always having it be a “surprise”.
  • Going for drives, or brunch or dinner for family adventures.
  • My hand soap being moved to the back of my toilet where it was easier for sweet littles to reach it.
  • Going for walks at 11:50pm because we made a bet to exercise that day and forgot to.
  • Sweet littles tiptoeing down the stairs to see if I was awake in the mornings and climbing into my bed to tell me stories or yelling back up the stairs to report if I was still asleep.
  • Comparing good books.
  • Choosing favorite fairies.
  • Anna initiating spelling out sentences back and forth so Lucy wouldn’t know what we said. ( “I space t-h-i-n-k space t-h-a-t space s-h-e space w-a-n-t-s space t-h-a-t” … “m-e space t-o-o” with a smile and a wink in the rearview mirror.)
  • Regularly coming home to a dinner of delicious food (specifically pork and green beans).
  • Dressing up for tea parties on a regular basis.

It’s not easy to take someone into your life. It’s even harder to share your family. Having a chance to share life with an extra family has been one of the best parts of my life. I’ve always wanted a family of my own, but I feel so much more equipped to know how to love them and raise kids having been “a Shelby” in this home (I’m with the girls on this one and can’t figure out how to describe our relationship – not a nanny, not a sister, just a friend who’s part of the family, I guess). So the best is the worst when you have to say goodbye. I’m good at goodbyes. I say them to my family all the time. I mean, come on, we live on 3 different continents. I always hope it will get easier, but it doesn’t. The best friends are the worst to say goodbye to. It’s just a fact. But I always think of Winnie-the-Pooh’s wisdom when he said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”