Posts Tagged ‘People’

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)

“How are you?” always seems like it should be a simple question, but then, we answer in code, “fine” we say. But what does that mean? I use this code, and still can’t always decipher it. It could mean many different things, but some of the common ones include:

  • Fine.
  • Average day.
  • All is well.
  • Move on.
  • Don’t ask
  • Please notice.
  • I’m not going to make it.
  • Help.

I’ve felt myself wanting to use “fine” as an answer this week. For those trying to crack the code when I use fine it usually means there is a lot going on right now, but I’m not sure you want to hear about it, so unless you notice what I’m trying hard to hide from you I’m not going to tell you about it. …I know…it’s not a great way to be. So I’ve been challenging myself to give real answers.

“How am I? Well, my friend went to jail this week…I’m angry.” It shouldn’t be a big deal, because a lot of my friends are from the jail or go back to the jail, but this one was different. I was caught off guard. I had so much hope.

“How am I? Well, I argued with a homeless man tonight about how often he could shower…I’m wondering what that makes me.” If I didn’t have a shower in my house I’d probably fight for rights to one too, but there are rules for a reason, and everyone can’t shower all the time. I guess it makes me the bearer of bad news, and not a bad person.

“How am I? Well, people are responding to my program…I’m excited.” The mentoring program is going well! We have 3 matches and are hoping to train more mentors soon. I’ve gotten mail back from inmates we’ve never met, but whose kids we were able to buy gifts for though the Angel Tree program. There are other people coming into the jail to help add joy and peace.

“How am I? Well, I’m just me…I’m fine.” I think it’s ok to be fine sometimes, but it’s so important to be honest. It’s easy to feel alone in our issues, but people do care, and God is in control even when all we can see is chaos.

To the man traveling all the way from Alaska to visit your daughter. I’m sorry. Sorry for the multiple missed flights. Secretly it was nice to see the same face at multiple cancellations, but that was kind of selfish, so I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry that your time with her is going to be much shorter. I hope you guys make the most of it. Your calm acceptance of the situation reminded me of my own dad. I miss him, and wish I could go visit him, so it made me happy to know that one daughter/father combo would be together soon…maybe not as soon as we all hoped though. I thought about you while I sat in the airport.

To the woman going to India for your mother-in-law’s funeral. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that because of our delay you will miss the funeral. I’m sorry you didn’t make it back in time to say goodbye. I’m sorry you are alone. That you just said goodbye to your daughter and son-in-law and brand new grandbabies to make the trip home to India. I know you left early trying to make it before your mother-in-law, the woman you’ve lived with for the past 35 years died, but you didn’t make it. She died too quickly. And now, as we sit here waiting, you know that you will miss your connection. You know that you will miss her funeral. I am praying for you. You know this…I told you…but I hope you remember. I hope my one hug was enough to give you the strength you need to get back to India. I’m glad that she was a wonderful woman, and I wish I could hold your hand the whole way to India, but for now, I’m thankful to have met you. I’m thankful that you made eye contact with me and that when I asked why you were going to India you were honest. I’m glad you let me share your sorrow for a while on those uncomfortable airport chairs. I thought about you while I sat in the airport.

To the man going to visit your mom. I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the reason for your visit is that she isn’t doing well. I’m glad you weren’t on my flight that you were flying somewhere else and are able to make it there to see her as she struggles through the end of her life. I’m so thankful to know that your mom loves Jesus and you not only get to see her right now, but you have hope to see her again in heaven. Thank you for telling me that. It was encouraging to me. I thought about that hope while I sat in the airport.

To the ticket counter people. I’m sorry. I can only imagine how hard your job is and how many frustrated people you deal with…I got to see plenty of them as you explained again and again to all different groups why they would miss their connections or not get home on time. (Word of the wise though…maybe it’s worth hiring faster pilots.) Thanks though for your encouragement. Your apologies. Your sorrowful smiles. Your effort to keep trying to get me home. It was appreciated. I tried to make sure you knew how much I appreciated you, and that I didn’t hold this against you…I hope I was successful. Anyways, as I watched you stay calm with the frustrated people around me, it reminded me to stay calm. It reminded me that God has a plan that we just can’t always understand. I thought about your attitudes while I sat in the airport.

To my friends in jail who I promised I would visit today. I’m sorry. I’m sorry to stand you up when I’m one of the very few you’ve come to believe and count on. It broke my heart to not visit you today. I would’ve given anything for that jail food today. =) I’m sorry to the two of you who will likely be transferred to other prisons by the time I get to visit next week. I’m sorry I didn’t get to say goodbye. The past few months of talking with you, reading God’s word, and praying for you, your friends, your families has been life changing for me, and I hope it has been for you too. I don’t know if I’ll find you again, but know that I will search. I will try my best to, at the very least, send you a letter explaining why I didn’t get to say goodbye. I thought about you while I sat in the airport.

To my friends and family I’m not sorry. To you I am very thankful. Thanks for the phone calls, text messages, airport visits, rides, bed, food, encouragement, thoughts and prayers. Thanks for reminding me that God is in control…always. Thanks for loving me well. This adventure reminded me of just how wonderful all of you are! And I thought about you while I sat in the airport.