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I must have been seventeen. I still remember the room and where I was sitting in it. Sadly, I don’t remember the exact nature of the trauma that had come upon one of the youth group members, which was explained as we listened in relative silence that Sunday morning. I do know someone had died. But I remember the youth leader giving us advice about how to help those around them, and I specifically remember this: Here’s what not to say. Don’t tell them this was God’s will.
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.
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.
For those of you who’ve been married: Do you remember what “just married” felt like? After the sound of the tin cans clanking behind the car faded, after you set your bags down in your together home after the honeymoon—what was it like?
Reality: No matter how much training you’ve had, one flesh takes a lotta work. My sin settled in our little 500-square-foot apartment right alongside our stacks of wedding gifts. And when my sin collided head-on with his? Well, let’s just say sometimes I wished our duplex walls were a little thicker.
Why does it seem like everyone else my age is promoted, and I’m stuck in Gruntwork Land?
I should be married by now.
I am so. Tired. Of the little kid season. Why did I quit my job?
He started at the same time as I did. How did he get so much further ahead?
Who goes back to school at my age?
I had no idea w hat I gave up when I got married.
What was I thinking?
Everyone else has a baby.
Why in the world did I major in that? I jeopardized my entire career.
Ever feel like your season of life seems…off?
Do you remember the moment that first made you wonder if He truly loved you?
I don’t know if I remember the first one. But I remember the first big one, and I can trace the crooked, faltering lines of the rest of them through my past. (Fear has its way of searing itself upon the conscience.)
For me, unbelief usually blossoms as fear; as worry. My unbelief stems directly, stealthily, from its taproot in my heart. He loves me? He loves me not?
Perhaps I should ask you what it is always good to ask myself: This year—or, just today—what makes you afraid?
On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com, explore what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. Today’s post begs God to fill us with belief, to root us—always first and immovably–in His love.
I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.
Has God ever given you what you asked for—and then you wonder if you asked for the right thing in the first place? Have you ever felt punished…by prayer?