These past three weeks have been challenging ones, and with just over two weeks left of my time in Uganda, I’ve been reflecting on much. It’s difficult for me to find words to articulate my thoughts at the moment.
I’ve started to write this post several times already over the past week and then stopped because I really couldn’t think of what to say. However, I’m overdue to post an update, so I’m going to do my best to be reasonably articulate.
I’ve been learning how to deal with grief recently. I don’t know if we can ever really learn that, but I do believe that each time someone is lost, we can either allow the grief to close off our hearts or open them wider. I think I’m experiencing the later. I’m trying to feel it, to let it run its course. The tragedies at home have me grieving for some of my dearest loved ones, and while that emotion is very real, the actual events and circumstances have taken on an air of unreality. Three deaths in two weeks. When I received the news last week of the sudden passing of my friend Sarah’s father, and then of Mr. Garasto, one of my grandparents oldest and dearest friends, like an uncle to my dad and his brothers, I couldn’t help crying out to God as tears streamed down my cheeks. What in the world is happening? Why so much loss, so much grief? Being so far away, it’s hard for it to seem real. I feel as if I’m living in some parallel universe, not completely here but not there either. It’s somewhat disconcerting.
I have never come to Christ so helpless. As I kneel at His feet, I come with nothing. My own strength is gone, it’s all Him. Never have I relied so heavily on my faith before, and God knows, I am so grateful for it. These past, almost 5 months, have been the most intense and transformative of my life, particularly the past 3 weeks, in ways I never could have anticipated. No matter how lost I’ve felt, how helpless, how grief stricken, He has never left. More than that though, He has helped keep a flame of joy alive in my heart, no matter how deep it may have been buried at times. He has not let me sink into depression this time, when the numbness sets in and life seems to lose purpose and meaning. It may hurt, but being raw means being open, open to both the darkness and the light.
I am rooted in Rock.
“It’s all I know: When we are in over our heads, we touch the depths of God. Life is hard but we have a Rock. Life 100% guarantees you troubles but you have a 100% warranty that God is with you. Life is a battle – and Joy is a kind of courage and a smile slays all kinds of dragons… even the shadows here can’t help but speak of the depths of God.” – Ann Voskamp
This is something I know to be true. I have lived this truth. I thought I understood what it meant for God to be with us always, but I don’t think I did, not until now. No matter the depth of darkness, when hopelessness threatened to overwhelm, Christ has never once left my side. He has been here, sending reminders of his love, of his joy, and of the beauty of life, even in the midst of suffering. One of my coworkers said something a couple of weeks ago as we were chatting after dinner one night, which rang true. “God speaks loudly in Africa”. I don’t know what the past three weeks would’ve looked like had I been home, but I know they definitely would have looked different. Everything here seems to be more intense. There are few distractions from real life, from the things that really matter. A former boss and friend of mine, who is African himself, once described Africa to me as being very “real”. He’s right, and I don’t know how to describe it any better. There’s something about this place, maybe the fact that poverty is so obvious and visible, suffering is evident, the effort to feed, water, clothe, and shelter is a very real struggle for many on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it’s that these struggles are wide spread and the contrast between wealth and poverty is stark, with collapsing brick and sheet metal one-room homes right across the road from gated compounds with large white, clay tile roofed homes. Celebrations and tragedies are community events, visible to all, and lives and homes overlap in a visible way. You can’t walk or drive down a Ugandan street without seeing people along the sides of the road, in groups or pairs talking, bargaining, arguing, or laughing. So different from home. Life, real life, is visible to the naked eye. Instead of being shut up inside buildings, as it so often is at home, it seems to be more out in the open.
The other day at lunch, a friend of mine was asking whether I was looking forward to going home, “back to the real world”. I thought that was an odd way of putting it. In a way, I know what he meant, but at the same time, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how real the past few weeks have felt, in terms of powerful and overwhelming emotion, while at the same time, as I mentioned above, the almost otherworldly feeling of the whole situation, being so far away from everyone else sharing the losses, from those I love.
There have been moments when I haven’t known what to say, when I haven’t known what or how to pray. As I was reading an article online the other day, a line the author shared jumped out at me, “Have you ever been there? Wordless but hurting? Bonhoeffer said, ‘That can be very painful, to want to speak with God and not be able to.’” Sometimes we just don’t have the words, even for God, and the best we can do is cast up our thoughts to the heavens, hoping He sees us and knows.
“Sometimes – most of the time – change hurts more than the loss of a [beloved, memory-filled] restaurant. Sometimes if hurts so much that you’re left shaking and out of breath.
But I’m convinced this type of movement keep us moving towards Him. He wants us to keep moving and to keep allowing ourselves to be moved. To be moved by love, by heartache, by art, by death and life, by food and hunger; to be moved by an emptying of our own desires, plans, wants, and dreams; to be filled up by a love only He can pour into us. He wants us to keep experiencing all He has to give us – to seek greatness, rather than indulge in the comfortable.
And that is a gift. We must believe in and be thankful for the peace He has given us. His peace is real, even when He takes it away.” – Emily Martinez (FOCUS Ministries)
Through these challenges, this darkness and difficulty, He is pulling us into Him, closer to His heart. If this pain helps me to love others better, to empathize with others who are hurting or will hurt in the same way, I would go through it all again. If Christ can use this journey to bless others through me, if He can use it to make my heart more like His, it is all worth it.
One of the greatest things I’m learning is the importance of being open with those around us, especially with our friends and family. Don’t wait until tomorrow or next week or next year to remind people, or to let them know that they mean something to you, that you care about them, that they have touched your life in some way, or helped to make you the person you are. If you admire someone’s smile, or the way they’ve done their hair, or you think the shirt they’re wearing looks particularly good on them, tell them. When was the last time you were offended by a compliment, no matter who it was from or in what situation? People deserve to know they matter. We need to remind each other of that more, of how each one of us is loved, uniquely and completely. I’m learning how to do this more and more each day. If we only have this one life, why waste a moment?
I think the most difficult thing for me has been the helplessness to help my loved ones through the loss of loved ones. It’s hard to know what to do when grief is so strong it threatens to pull us apart. How do you help someone through that? How can you be there for them?
This morning, as I was reading through today’s (in)courage blog post I couldn’t help but feel that God had, yet again, seen me and sent words to speak to me through another. I want to share them with you. The post is referring to a woman named Kelli, who is the mother of four young children and recently lost her husband in a helicopter crash.
“From scripture readings to supper offerings, from housekeeping help to Craigslist items, her people show up for her and reveal the love of Jesus for her. And in their love, care, and compassion, Kelli finds a safe place to acknowledge that while her loss doesn’t make sense and isn’t fair, God is merciful and good.
At its best, this is what the body of Christ does: it allows those who’ve experienced a loss to grieve honestly while offering the hope of Truth generously.” – Kristen Strong
We are all called to be a part of this body, with Christ. I pray that through the struggle and pain of life, we will all use it to open our hearts a little wider, love a little harder, live more fully, more completely. May we use these times to remind each other of the joy still present, even when we can’t see it, even when our peace and our comfort has been destroyed. Christ will never, ever leave us. He sees us always, even if we can’t even find the words to speak, even when we can’t stand. He will lift us again, and dry our tears. We are never lost to Him.
** Brief financial update… I have about $800 CAD left to raise, due to fluctuating exchange rates over the past 6 months. I would so love if you would consider becoming a part of the work EMI is doing here in Uganda by supporting me financially, or continuing to support me financially. Please click the “Support my Mission” link on the top of the main page of my blog to contribute. God has already been so faithful in this respect and I am so deeply grateful to each and every person who has contributed so far!