Author’s note: I write this post to you with a sliver of trepidation and a big slice of humility, because it’s heavily nuanced and divided (even among Christians). And essentially, I loathe conflict. I’d rather write on topics no one disagrees with and that I only felt sheer confidence. Consider me just getting a conversation started.
The Dark Question
I feel God was actually somewhat clear about our decision to leave Africa. But I need to confess: Some part of me felt raw, then calloused–specifically connected to my femininity.
My heart was still squarely in Uganda, living out its technicolor dream. But collectively as a family, it was necessary for us to move back. And after all the years of setting dreams aside for the dream that is loving a family, I wondered why I seemed to hold in my hand the short straw.
You’ll have to forgive me for the rather junior-high-level humor today. I now have a teenager (which makes me feel old. Another post, that one) and two middle-schoolers. So you can imagine the stimulating conversation that surrounds the dinner table (which can actually feel more like a cafeteria table. Sometimes I feel like I should be wearing a hairnet. Box of milk with your fries, anyone?).
At any rate—at a certain point in our marriage, my husband kindly asked for us to spend no further dollars on air freshener for the bathroom. His reasoning, at the time: It only kind of layers on top of the real smell lurking beneath. You start inhaling something flowery or sentimental, with a name like Tahitian Sunrise (because who doesn’t want a tangerine sunrise from Tahiti in the loo?) or Honeysuckle Nectar (with a name like that, maybe we should stay in here all day!) or Apple Cinnamon (which reminds one, oddly, of eating pie). Then, BAM. It hits you. This is not nice. This is not nice at all. There is nothing “fresh” or edible about this. Hence my husband’s affectionate moniker of “Poo-potpourri.”
I didn’t know what a turquoise-painted pumpkin was—until my nephew, the one with the chocolatey eyes and the wide grin, was allergic to peanuts. Now I know that a teal pumpkin outside a house on Halloween means they have non-food treats for kids with food allergies. When I was a young youth intern, it felt extreme of one mom to walk through the mission-trip bus and ask all the kids to surrender snacks with peanuts. Now, having known at least three moms who grappled with this life-or-death allergy on a daily basis—I get it.
My sister-in-law have had some heart-rending conversations over the last year about the fear she deals with around this allergy—which could take her son in ten minutes’ time. One wrong snack, one EpiPen too far away.
But my heart balled up with a single text last week from the same sister-in-law: Her daughter, who’s not yet one, had an anaphylactic reaction. …To eggs.
What do we do with the legitimate fear that seizes our hearts as parents?
I’m thinking out loud about this over on my friend Kristen’s site, WeareTHATFamily.com. I hope it lifts your head a bit today. Hop on over and check it out!
It’s very possible I’m showing my age with this. But remember One Fine Day with George Clooney and Michelle Pfeiffer? He’s Jack, popular reporter and ladies’ man; she’s Melanie, overprotective single mother. Of course, they’re starting to fall in love. At one point:
Melanie: I-I realize it’s difficult what with, uh, Celia, Kristen, Elaine.
Jack (pauses, looks at her): I know your name, Mel.
This is what I like: I get that sometimes, you just want to know someone sees you. That you’re not just another name.
Maybe that’s why the words from Isaiah are whispering through my brain nearly once a day right now: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.
I know your name, Janel.
I don’t know how you found time to read this. But then again, it’s possible you were hoping for a sliver of personal time. (The short people in your house are maybe sleeping.) Maybe you wanted to be reminded you’ll make it through this. Um, and that everything in your house will not always be sticky. That there is a REM cycle in your future.
And that you’re not alone.
Well—we did it.
We got on the plane.
After four months of playing some crazy game show of “Pack, Trash, Sell or Give?” with all our stuff ad nauseam, settling our respective work into trustworthy hands, and enough heartrending goodbyes that at the end my heart was twisted dry—we neatly quietly faithfully? closed the chapter of our lives that is Africa.
Well. Scratch that, too. Africa’s far too kneaded into us, far too braided into the fabric that is us. And the work continues in Uganda, even if at a distance for us.
I now find myself in that odd twilight that is having arrived, but my life still flayed open like a cardboard box. The pieces of me are finding niches, or seeking one, or temporarily cast aside, or still hiding out. I’m that inevitable bin at the end when you’re unpacking, where you dumped all the spare randomness. Where in the world should this go?
Transition can feel…bereft.
Recently I sat with a friend who’s undergone such remarkable suffering over short years. I should tell you: She’ll be the first one to respond with hope. But I can also tell that what she has is faith, not answers. I can see question marks curling around, pointing her year after year to the God who will, someday (and even now) reward those who earnestly seek Him. Her sinewy, muscled joy is built on what she can’t see; on decisions of trust she makes over and over again.
Since I’ve been army-crawling through my own questions lately—today I’m yanking together some of the best advice I’ve received for seasons when God seems…away.