Posts Tagged ‘Trust’

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)

There are days that feel like they were made for collapsing  into someone’s arms and weeping on their shoulder. Yesterday was one of them. Another  14+ hour day of work totalling the work week somewhere around 85 hours meant that my emotions were about at their end before the day even started, but I continued to put them to the test.

In the jail, I met with three different women for an hour each. (I met with seven other women in between those three, just not for quite such long periods of time.) The three women spent much of their hour with me in tears. One walked in and said hello, handed me some books she was returning and sat down. I glanced down to mark which books she’d brought and by the time I glanced back up she was weeping.IMG_5983

“They say addiction takes everything…”
“My life is over.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Everything is gone.”
“My life is over.”
“What can I do?”
“I left everything I knew and now it’s all gone.”
“My life is over.”

Now repeat that for an hour. Adding in a few personal details here and there. And pausing long enough for her eyes to stare into mine through the tears and beg for an answer that will fix it, but not long enough to wait for any answer I could give.

Some days I just hate my job.

I don’t hate that I do it. I hate that it’s needed. I hate that so much pain exists. I hate that there’s no one else who can listen to her. I hate that I’m not actually trained. I hate that people tell me I’m so strong when they find out what I do…because I’m not.

Sure, I kept it together while I listened, but I went home and sobbed.

While it is hard, I love that I get to meet these women. I love that I get paid to be kind. And to share the only hope that keeps me walking into the depths of these stories over and over again. Jesus. I could not face the darkness each day if it wasn’t for His love. God has proven over and over in my life that while He doesn’t promise to make all days good, He promises to be with us in spite of the bad. And He is a redeemer…nothing and no one is too broken for God to redeem. In spite of the hard days, I am so glad I get a front row seat into stories of God’s grace regularly.

When I asked to go into the jail 2 years ago I had no idea what that would bring. I thought maybe I’d just teach a class and get to meet some people and whatnot. That’d be cool. I didn’t know I’d become a chaplain, the “party planner”, and the random girl in “street clothes” that eats lunch on the block every Thursday.

I didn’t know that I would start running the Angel Tree program at Calvary to provide Christmas presents to local kids with incarcerated parents. I didn’t know I’d get to bring in a small library to share with everyone. Or that I’d raise a couple thousand dollars and lead a church wide candy bar drive to be able to give presents for each inmate in our local jail for two years now. I didn’t know people on the outside would tell me stories of impact from their loved ones on the inside who received our gifts.

I didn’t know I’d decorate cards with men and woman who would send them to their kids, parents, lovers, and friends around the holidays hoping to not be forgotten. I didn’t know I’d listen and pray with women who signed their kids over for adoption. I didn’t know I’d recruit others to go in and lead events and classes. I didn’t know I’d hear about so much death and the many lost loved ones in these people’s lives. I didn’t know I’d launch a community mentoring program to help people adjust back into life after jail.

I didn’t know I’d become a penpal with someone on the inside. I didn’t know I’d make real friends who have left that place and now I get to see in street clothes sometimes. I definitely didn’t know or even hope that I’d get put in touch with people who live 4 hours away because their son is in our jail and they need help knowing what to do and who to contact. I never expected to hug a random stranger who cried on my shoulder as she thanked me for caring about her son and acknowledging that this was hard and embarrassing, but it didn’t define her. I knew God called me to go into that jail, but there was so much I didn’t know. I keep dreaming of more, but there is still so much I still don’t know. That’s just one reason I keep following after Jesus as He leads me into more and more incredible adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Dream-Big

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.

“Shelby, I’m back.” Normally those are word I love to hear. When my housemates come home my heart is full. When out of town friends visit it’s wonderful. When I get to see my family after a long separation.

But not today.
See, today is Thursday.
Thursday is jail day.

Today when I went onto the block for lunch my friend came up to me and said, “Shelby, I’m back.” “Oh friend…” I said, but there were no more words. “You are.” “Why?” “I’m sorry.” “What did you do?” and “Seriously!?” just didn’t seem to fit the moment. So we just locked eyes in a moment of understanding.

I had flashbacks to my second graders telling me, “Miss Caraway, my dad’s in jail,” as they stood in line and having no response for them. These things that are so normal, are not good. In fact they are very bad, but when we let ourselves feel it hurts. So, too often, the calloused walls go up and get stronger each time.

Sadly, so often, it’s that very fear of feeling that leads people to jail. Too often using drugs is the easiest way to ‘cope’. Sadly, it doesn’t ever actually help. It just blocks, delays, distracts, or postpones the pain.

Can we make it ok to cry again?

Can we follow up our “how are yous?” with real questions that require bigger answers than “fine”? If we want people to get better, it’s on us to help. I dare you to feel the feelings you’re afraid of today. And when someone asks about your day be willing to tell them the truth instead of what you think they want to hear. Trust me, it’s worth it.

“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.

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 don’t use the word ‘hate’ very often.
I was taught to remember just how powerful it is.
But today in the midst of many emotions, I can’t find a reason not to.

grief

Maybe you know someone using heroin.
Maybe you don’t.

…Or maybe you’re like me, and today you know one less person using, because the drug won the fight.

Today a brother is missing, a son is missing, a friend is missing, and he isn’t going to come back. His body couldn’t handle the drug, and it shut down. He overdosed. He died. We didn’t talk much, but we did recently, we talked about addiction and how hard it is to kick. He knew I was praying for him and asked me to pray for specific things. We didn’t always get along, but I have so many memories.

I don’t hate many things, but I hate heroin. I can’t find anything good about it. I have recently been exposed to so many friends who have become trapped by it. They didn’t mean to get addicted. They just thought they’d try it once. They went through detox, rehab, jail, but keep going back to it… The list goes on. It’s a hard one to kick, but I know people can overcome. I’m not angry at this friend for not winning his fight with the drug, but I sure do hope that his story can tip the scales in someone else’s fight and help them overcome before it’s too late.

i'm ok

The other thing that this tragedy reminds me to do is cherish each moment and each friend. To encourage people whether or not they look like they need it. Often the happy ones are the hurting ones. To tell people how I feel about them now while they are alive, and not save those words for after they are gone. Drugs suck. That’s what it comes down to. Please don’t do drugs, they just don’t fight fair.

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just be angry, than to try and learn from a situation, but even in the storm I will choose to praise the Lord. Paul said it well in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” I’m not happy for the loss of my friend, but I will thank the Lord for His comfort in this situation, and pray that I am able to better comfort others in their loss as a result. If you guys are the praying type please pray for my friend’s family and his friends who were much closer than I was to him…they are hurting, and prayers help.

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.

Do you ever try to think back to a time before you knew?

It’s easier to not know.

It’s easier to not care.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to not knowing and so not really having to care.

But it’s too late.

I know.

I know names.

Names of people who right now are sleeping…or maybe pacing outside without a place to stay tonight.

I know.

I know names.

Names of people who are using drugs…wishing they weren’t, but not believing they are strong enough to stop.

I know.

I know names.

Names of my friends.

Friends who think this life is all there is.

Friends who think that if this is all there is maybe it isn’t worth it after all.

Friends who think that somehow they can stop it all from hurting, not working, or crashing in on them again.

I know.

I know The Name.

I know Jesus.

The only One who can fix it all.

He saves.

Redeems.

Pursues.

He fights for us.

He helps us overcome.

He knew the bad things I would do.

He knew the bad things my friends would do.

He knew all of those things before He chose to die in order to save us.

He knows.

He knows the end of the story.

I know I can trust Him.

I know that He is the hope my friends are looking for.

It’s worth it to know after all…so if you know, tell someone else.

They are worth it.

God created them.

He knows them, and wants them to know Him too.

And if you don’t know that…lets chat!