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.
Read an interesting quote yesterday. So tell me: Do you agree or disagree?
The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)
So at first glance, I’m like, Yes. Yes! Yes with a smiley-face-with-heart-eyes emoji! Especially when it comes to my kids (which you saw in Tuesday’s post on ideas for teaching kids the spiritual discipline of service). I want them to not just drag themselves through service, like our stick-shift doing 45 MPH in second gear. I long for them to find that burbling well inside of them: their part of the Body of Christ.
But then—I think, say, of young motherhood. Where initially, I couldn’t wait to see the double lines on that stick, couldn’t wait to pick out maternity clothes, couldn’t wait to gaze into a rosy little face that somehow looked a lot like mine. “Deep gladness” could definitely describe so many parts of motherhood.
Part of what I love about living in Africa: opportunities for my kids to serve are everywhere. As in, next door. I admit to being concerned about this when we landed in the U.S. six months ago. How was I going to draw a dotted line for my kids from compassion in Uganda to compassion in Colorado?
Awesome thing is, there are opportunities to serve–in really fun ways–in every zip code, from Salvation Army bell-ringers, to running a booth at the Fall Festival for the community, to the military family across the street whose dad’s deployed. Serving transforms our homes into aircraft carriers as its members are nurtured, then launched into the community.
The question often becomes how much we push our kids
The idea bubbled up not long after my kids’ grandpa helped them each weave their own survival bracelets: eight feet of 500 paracord specially plaited and buckled around their wrists. The idea is that if you were in an emergency situation, you could use it, say, for a tent; a tourniquet; a climbing aid.
But even those neon colors couldn’t outshine the sparkle in my nine-year-old daughter’s eyes when she realized she could start a business with those little bracelets.
Her little business she started recently tumbled our family into a (lovely, really) domino effect of initiative, knowledge, community, work ethic, and perseverance. I love the dynamic it continues to create among my kids!
My dad used to joke about being a “minority in a sorority”. It was fairly legit: We were four girls, plus my mom—and even the dog was a girl.
Imagine my (joyful) alarm when the sonogram of my first child revealed that I was about to plunge into the world of testosterone, sweat, dirt, and Nerf weapons (the latter of which I have now lost count). In fact three of my four kiddos are boys.
So when my boys were still quite young and I had a term paper assigned for a class, I chose the topic of moms raising sons—you know, because I was, oh, a bit overwhelmed what with all the jumping off things, unprovoked aggression, and mysterious hygiene habits. Or lack thereof.
I learned a lot as I unearthed studies from researchers like Michael Gurian and others who have uncovered remarkable biological information about how boys take in the world. My goal is not to add fabric softener to my boys’ rough-and-tumble existence (though stain remover is fairly essential). Instead, I’ve become riveted by the plans God has for their courage, leadership, directness, and masculinity.
When you felt like you were finally surfacing from burnout–or as I called it, tired-mad, I might tell you what I found out. That sometimes burnout is simply burnout, because life is hard. And even though God never gives us more than He’ll give us strength to handle (He says so here and here), it still can feel like a rightful scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel, ta-da-I-survived type thing. (Whether it’s godly or not to be burned out is another post for another time, perhaps. But pretending it’s not there doesn’t really help.)
Questions that may help as you process burnout
How have my responsibilities challenged me? How have they changed me?
What activities “give me life” after I’ve helped someone?
Who do I feel comfortable debriefing with?
What questions do I find myself asking—and what lies am I tempted to believe (“I’m the only one who can help.” “I can’t afford to rest.” “Jesus wouldn’t say no here”)—when I am burdened by helping someone?
In what Scriptures do I find hope and comfort when I am helping someone? (I like Isaiah 55:1-3.)
(One of my favorites:) What would a compassionate friend say to me about this? (I often afford more compassion to others than I do to myself.)
What sense of purpose and meaning do I find in my work? What do I love about what I do?
What do I do when I am not handling stress well? What does the “stressed” version of me look like?
What methods, people, and practices have helped me in the past?
What do I think God thinks about my work?
What questions do I have for God because of my work?
And though there are few exhaustions like young-mom exhaustion—I felt my own version of tired-mad that week. (Um. My family may have felt it, too.) One of my favorite takeaways from the movie Home were those hybrid-emotions, like sad-mad.Anger is a secondary emotion anyway, right? We feel angry usually because we were first hurt; afraid; grieved. Depleted, taken for granted; so very tired. So I have to plunge my fingers into my anger, exploring a bit.
By the time you read this, my family will likely have wrangled our carry-ons into that taupe-colored hum of a 757, bound for six months stateside. (After the lunacy of this week, preparing to abscond for six entire months, I surely hope we make it to the plane.)
And I’m happy to report that I have proudly mastered these concepts in full. And it seems I’ve still got a looooong. Long. Way. To go.
Long story short, this weekend found me sitting for 2.5 hours in the car with three kids—which is exactly as fun as it sounds—because of something to which I overcommitted in the first place. Before I left, I’d had to say no to seeing a friend for the last time before she left for two months; had to say no to a peaceful holiday with my family, despite my worn soul, due to my lack of foresight.
The funny thing, as I reflected in my consternation and yes, tears, is that I didn’t even think about saying no.
I’m amazed at how many Westerners respond to the question, “How’s life?” with, “Busy!” And I’ve gotta loop myself in there. Our spirituality ups the ante of our “opportunities”: Who wants to say no to something God might be putting in our paths?
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.