Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of this year of upheaval for my family has been my own understanding of who God is. It actually took me awhile to churn out this post for you, because, well, “I’m angry with God” should ideally have some kind of resolution at the end, right? I’ve learned people get unsettled when you tell them you’re feeling spiritually jaded or rattled.
Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.
It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.
Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”
Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”
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.
Missed the first post? Grab it here.
In three weeks, my family and I will quietly glide across the line sectioning our lives into before and after. And it will be as innocuous as stepping onto an air-conditioned airplane.
With an escapade like living in Africa—and really, in many ways embedding ourselves, and it in us—we bear the marks inside. Strangely, truthfully, I have fear this plane will land me back in a place I was giddy to leave seven years ago.
My thirtieth birthday was approaching. From childhood I’d pictured and prepared myself for a lean, vibrant life overseas. Instead, my approaching birthday found me squarely in Little Rock, a fistful of miles from where I graduated high school. I wielded a deep inner fatigue unique to welcoming four children in five years. (No. No twins. A couple did feel like twins.) Insert the picket fence and the dog—and you can picture the level of contentment I both seized with two hands and questioned, even while cherishing my life. I mean, I knew how I got there. I was grateful I was there. But still, I wondered. How did I get there?
What I loved recently in the U.S.: some conversations with parents of kids my husband and I had in the youth group back in the day. (When I was…more youthful.) We leaned forward with them over our Pick Twos from Panera, or perhaps chatted in the slanting afternoon light of their living rooms.
And here is what I will remember: I am thankful for God’s long game.
They were the parents of kids with whom we remember sitting with late into the night, wrestling with questions of faith. I had a slumber party with the girls; we probably painted our toenails a few times. My husband tossed the football or grabbed a Coke with the guys.
We lounged in the lamp lit half-dark: my husband and I, and our college friend. We’ve been friends for about two decades now, which makes us feel impossibly old. We still easily bend over in outright laughter over hilarious references to our college days and their mishaps. Now, though, we have things like minivans and tax returns, and my friend and I swap tips on how cast iron is really the best way to cook fish, or omelets, she says.
But years aren’t the only thing under the bridge. That night, I marveled sadly how out of our six parents, we wouldn’t have guessed we’d have lost two of them by this point. My husband and I have moved to Africa, caught malaria, gotten robbed, etc. My friend has dealt with multiple nightmarish diagnoses of those she loves.
Missed the first two parts? Grab I and II here.
When my husband and I were dating, he had this (irritating!) habit of asking what I wanted. Example:
Him: Where do you want to go out for dinner?
Me: I don’t care. [I really didn’t!] You pick.
Him, pulling over into a parking lot: No problem. We can just sit here until you know what you want.
See what I mean? Good grief.
Truth: I’m not great at knowing what I want. At least, not since high school. Before high school I knew what I wanted. But that’s when—due to some unhealthy insecurity and a mildly healthy desire to serve and surrender to what God wanted—I uncovered a great delight in pleasing. (My husband maintains that I can please with the best of them, but that lurking underneath is still a strong will to be reckoned with. He even goes so far to suggest that this strong will is attractive to him. I mean, can you trust this guy? Really?)
This has been gut-wrenching lately because when it comes to staying in Africa or moving back to the U.S., I actually did want something very much. I wanted to stay. And after giving up a lot of the things that don’t matter to me, it has at times felt almost a betrayal that God might ask me to give up one of the things that does.
Grief is a chisel.
As you know now, my family and I are moving back from Africa, i.e. place I have felt technicolor, I-heart-my-life alive for the last five years. Though I believe God is showing us it’s time to move back for now, and though it’s also been a place where our family has encountered profound suffering, it’s been far more of a place of deep satisfaction. All of us are struggling with returning. We’ve been so stinkin’ happy in this place. For me, serving in my sweet spot has throbbed with purpose and meaning.
Ugly truth: My hide has been, off and on, a little chapped. I don’t completely understand why God’s doing this. And after all we have endured here, truth is still percolating into my heart that, hey, God can put me wherever He wants me.
Truth: Even (especially?) in work that serves God, I can get pretty…entitled. Sometimes I think I can even be in danger of passing that on to my kids. There’s a thin line, I think, between our kids trusting in God’s good character, His working everything out for our good, waiting expectantly for God to work on our behalf…and us feeling entitled to His tangible reward here on this planet, when we want it, as we want it.
Is there a chance we’re raising spiritually entitled kids?
I’m posting on this today at weareTHATfamily.com. Hope it encourages you.