Posts Tagged ‘loss’

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)

I’ve been silent on here for a while now.
Sometimes it’s better that way.
Sometimes it’s not intentional, I just get busy and distracted.
Sometimes it’s intentional, I know the things I’m thinking won’t be beneficial to share.

But I also know there is power in truth.
Sometimes truth hurts.
Sometimes we don’t like it.
Sometimes it offends the people around us, but we were not created for secrets.

In my silence there has been pain.
There has been confusion.
There has been loss, worry and fear.
But more than that there has been truth.

In my silence I’ve searched the Scriptures.
I’ve bent my knees in prayer.
I’ve cried with friends.
I’ve painted, read, walked, and given my brain and heart time to process.

What’s been going on, you ask?
Lots. But to sum it up my trust was broken.
I was caught off guard in a situation.
Compared to other people’s problems it was in fact rather small.

But it was an area in my life where the devil wanted to grab ahold of me.
It my time of silence there were days I wondered if he had.
But through the anxiety I clung to one thing…Jesus.
And I knew each step of the way, Jesus wins and I’m on His team.

So thankful to be on Jesus’ team.
So thankful to have you on my team.
Life has ups and downs.
And each day is worth it.

It hurts so much to sit silently, 3ft away from girls mourning and not reach out to comfort them. As they mourn the loss of belongings, basic rights, children, parents, pets, their past and their futures. As they weep, rock, bounce their knee, bite their lip. As they hurt and long for comfort. As they tell me how all they ever get are blank stares I wonder how my eye contact is perceived. I wonder if they can see that my heart is breaking. I wonder if they know I’d give anything to change their situation. I wonder if they know they are worth it. And I hope. I hope and I pray. I believe they can overcome. I believe they are worth the fight. I believe God is for them. I believe they can have hope. Even as I hear their stories. Just a couple snippets of todays stories below…

“They say retaliation isn’t allowed, but really, how can they stop it?” – you don’t need a shank to hurt someone back. Sometimes silence, rumors, language, or force hurt just as much as weapons.

“But how do I know who me is? There are so many.” – asked the girl who was recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when we talked about how medication might help to silence the voices in her head that weren’t hers and make her feel more like herself.

“…Someone must have been praying for me. I don’t know who would…Not that many people love me… (in the middle of this long story she paused, let it sink in to herself, put her head down in shame as the tears began to flow. Then she looked up again.) …maybe three.” – I told her that now she has four, because I will love her and pray for her.

“If it wasn’t for Jesus living inside of me I’d’ve had her up to the wall and smashed her face in…” – the girl who is getting much better at anger management.

“Will you pray that I would believe I’m still a good person who just did a really bad thing, and not the evil person media is portraying me to be?” – the young girl who is truly sorry for what she did.

“I’m a really nice person, but in here you have to learn to be selfish.” – a new girl adjusting to life on the inside.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope in the midst of so much pain, but I just keep praying Romans 15:13 over them: “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.” I believe God’s power is stronger than any person, place, or thing against us. Through Him we can overcome.

I remember talking with my mom about tragedy when I was younger. I remember her explaining how there were words that explained some people living through loss. Like a widow was someone who had lost her husband. An orphan was someone who had lost their parents. But for someone who lost their child, there was no word. There’s no word, because it just should not be. Kids should outlive their parents. Parents shouldn’t have to face that horrific, indescribable feeling of losing a child…

baby in hands open hands 2

…but they do. Sometimes babies die. Sometimes they get taken away. Either way the mother is left childless. Facing a pain so great that the English language doesn’t even have a word for it. Today I met with several women who fall into this category. Today I spent the day in jail. I met with women one on one and listened, encouraged, prayed with and for them. Some asked questions which I tried to answer. Some share stories of bitterness which I tried to understand. Some told me of their children who had been adopted, were in foster care, or their relatives were taking care of them. And one came into my office, sat down, and as she told me how her last visit with her daughter had gone that morning I had to work to hold back the tears. There just aren’t encouraging words to share in that situation. The papers are signed. That sweet baby girl is no longer hers. She still has a daughter. She is still a mother. But someone else is officially and legally her baby’s mother now. That’s good, but it hurts.

I love adoption and I am so thankful for the families that take these sweet littles as their own, but today I want us to stop and to recognize, that although some Mamas make bad choices, they often still love their babies very much. And though they are unable to care for them – from lack of knowledge, struggle with an addiction, or being in an unsafe situation, those babies give them a reason to live and keep fighting. Even the ones who I talk to whose children have already been adopted, and they don’t have contact with them. They want to change their lives for the sake of their children. So if you read this, say a prayer for the Mamas today. Some of them are tired and were up all night with their littles, and others are heartbroken because they no longer have their littles. Maybe they are tired because they were up all night worrying about their sweet littles and wondering who is picking them up when they cry. Either way, the Mamas can use your prayers today.