Three months & five stages later


It has been three months since Nathan, Hannah, and I returned from Africa. In many ways it seems like we were there only yesterday. In others, it seems like an eternity ago.

I liken my first taste of Africa and my processing of it these last few months to someone who is going through the five stages of grief. I honestly think while I was there, I was in a state of shock. Being slightly numb is about the only way I could keep from weeping at every moment. I was carried along by the rhythm and flow of life in Ethiopia—the sights, and sounds, and smells. But I didn’t know how to feel. I was overwhelmed by the need and my lack of ability to do anything about it. And I certainly didn’t know how to reconcile everything I was seeing with my life back in America.
Which led me to anger. At injustice. At rich, spoiled Americans. At myself. Some justified anger, sure, but mostly my anger was misdirected. I wanted someone to blame. Surely someone was responsible for all this death and sickness and disparity, and so it must be all those people who don’t know, who don’t care, who don’t do anything. If they would just listen. If they would just care. I was ready to point my finger at anyone and everyone.
And, of course, at myself. Because Africa, like a magnifying mirror, reveals more of yourself than you really want to see. Things you hide well in a land of prosperity--like selfishness, laziness, greed, arrogance-- get exposed in a land of want. When you see a woman who has nothing use her meager supply of water and injera to serve you tea-- you can’t help but think of how often you’ve opened your overflowing pantry and sighed that there’s just nothing to fix for dinner. When you meet a man who walks the 3 miles back and forth to work, works 12 hour days, 7 days a week, all for about $2 a day, and he counts himself as blessed—you can’t help but think of how often you’ve complained you needed “me time” after a day “stuck” in your comfy house homeschooling your well-fed kids and folding enough laundry to clothe an army. When you give a child a piece of gum, and you look back to see them sharing it with 6 other children around them--you can’t help but think of overflowing Easter baskets and Christmas stockings stuffed full of goodies. And you feel fat. Regardless how much you weigh, you just feel like a soft, flabby glutton.
And so I entered the stage of bargaining. OK, God, I can still live in my house as long as I speak up for orphans and bring one home to live in it. I can still have 25 pairs of shoes as long as a couple of them are TOMS. I can still spend hours online doing nothing productive, as long as I occasionally post something thought provoking on facebook. I can still own way more than I need, as long as I donate some of the stuff I don’t really want anymore to Goodwill.
But that leads to depression. Because you can never really reconcile owning anything with having given enough. I think of the story where the man came to Jesus and said, ok, I’m ready to follow you, and Jesus said, only one more thing: go sell everything you have and give it to the poor. The man walked away sad. He could not do it. His heart was not willing. While I certainly believe it’s ok to own things, I can never again rest in a place of, ok, I’ve given enough, I’m good now. It will never be enough. And that can be deeply unsatisfying for someone who wants a simple black & white way to deal with my abundance. It just isn’t simple, people.
And I am finally accepting that. There is no easy answer. Really, I’m finding we here in America have a lot more in common with my new friends in Ethiopia than I originally thought. Our countries, yes, different indeed. But we are all people, created in God’s image, and in desperate need of the gospel. And redemption. What Africa wears on the outside, laid bare for all to see, we hide underneath layers in America. They wear physical disease, hunger, poverty, and need. Here, our layers of “stuff” hide emptiness, brokenness, despair, and a hunger that is never satisfied deep within our hearts. Their need is easier to identify, but ours is still there. Underneath it all are human beings with gaping wounds and fatal bleeding. We need a remedy. We need to be rescued.
And with my acceptance comes hope. I believe in a Remedy. I believe in a Rescuer. I serve a King who loves Africans and Americans. I believe He will use me, if I will daily seek to obey His leading in my life. I will not prescribe to you what you need to do, and what that will look like for you. I will not pretend there is an easy solution or that one need in one country is any greater than another need in another country. But for me, I cannot forget what I have seen, and I am now responsible for it. Under the veil of earthly things is a spiritual reality, one we sense when we close our eyes and stand still long enough to feel. We were meant to live for so much more than the American dream.
And so I will not doze off in the sleepy shire, I will engage in the battle. I want blisters on my hands and fatigue deep in my bones and scars on my heart from all I’ve seen and experienced---because too much is at stake. Lives are at stake. Physical and spiritual. I don’t want to cling tightly to anything, save Jesus. I want to spend myself—my life, my time, my resources—with reckless abandon. So that one day, when I stand before Him, I have nothing left. Nothing wasted. Nothing squandered.
I used to be anti-short-term mission trips. I just didn’t see the need to spend thousands of dollars to go somewhere for a few days where you would barely scratch the surface of the need but potentially leave with some sort of self-righteous satisfaction that you at least “did something”, returning to your life of complacency the other 350 days of the year. It seemed to me a bad use of resources that could be better used in the hands of someone who worked there long term as well as a hindrance to seeing the daily mission we are called to here.
But I have changed my mind. Go. Let the two worlds that are America and Africa collide in front of you. Spend the money, because in God’s economy, it’s a drop in the bucket. Like the woman who poured the perfume on the feet of Jesus, offer what seems excessive. When I asked an Ethiopian pastor who ran a local orphanage what I should tell my friends back at home, he said, "Tell them to come. Come and see. It means so much that you would get on a plane, leave your families behind, and come be with us and spend time with us.”
Why would that surprise us? After all, we were created for community. It is the greatest gift we can give as we seek to share Jesus.
So go and see. Serve. Share. But don’t wait to engage in the battle until your feet hit African soil. Start today. Start here. Because too much is at stake.
Join me in this conflicted state, where my sin and my obedience wrestle daily. Choose to live with eyes open. Stop spectating. Suit up, and get on the field, where you strive for the goal but often meet resistance and sometimes fail. It is not funner. It's harder. At times it feels like a burden. But it is what is true. What is real. And it is worth it, because it is where Jesus resides.

**I am blown away by the response I have gotten from this post. It means so much to know I am not alone in this process and this journey! As many of you have asked, YES!, feel free to share this post with others. All I ask is that if you do so, please be so kind as to link back to my blog, preferably, instead of copying the post itself. And please leave me a comment or email me and let me know--I'd love to meet you and visit your blog as well! Thank you again, and may God use all of it for HIS glory!

29 comments:

Meyerdrk said...

Fantastic post Rachel. This very message was in my heart this morning as I sat quietly praying (though I couldn't write it as clearly as you have here), and believe it or not, part of the text I read today was the woman who poured the expensive perfume on Jesus' feet. We may live 3000 miles apart, but we're standing together at the feet of Jesus...I love you sister!

Erica said...

Tears. Funny my heart has been wrestling all of this and more the past few weeks. Great post. I had the money conversation with a friend yesterday. Investing in a life is worh everything. Living humbled at the foot of the Cross daily.

Lindsey said...

I cannot tell you how much this post resonates with me. We've been home from ET for a little over a month and I find myself each day asking, what else can I do? How else can I be obedient, show love and tell these amazing stories!

Joining you on the field,

Lindsey

Kristen said...

This, THIS is my heart laid bare.

"I want to spend myself—my life, my time, my resources—with reckless abandon. So that one day, when I stand before Him, I have nothing left. Nothing wasted. Nothing squandered."

I would love to link to the post with your permission.

Jeff Walser said...

Well wrought, my dear sister in Christ. Amen and amen.

Lynda said...

Betam Konjo! (Very Beautiful) and so well said. I have been writing something semi along these lines based on Psalm 73.

Jaime And Drew said...

You don't know my but you know my heart! Thank you Thank you Thank you for sharing this post! I needed to see this and know that there are words to describe my life since our return from ET 3 months ago! Thank you again!

The B Family said...

Great post. You've articulated so well so many things that have been on my husband and my heart since we left Ethiopia. Do you mind if I link to it on our family blog?

Mrs Changstein said...

This is so awesome. Thank you for speaking God's word to our hearts. A very confused version of this has been running through my head & heart since our return from South Africa with out daughter. May I link to this on our blog?

ShellyO said...

A girl after my own heart! What an awesome post.

Mike and Sarah Stiltner said...

You have written what is in my heart. Thank you. I have linked to your post on my blog. Much grace.

La Dolce Vita said...

Like others have said, you have spoken my heart perfectly. I spent 10 days in Zimbabwe in April, and I was wrecked...shattered, humbled. Both filled up and emptied out. I just want to talk about it....all the time!

I too want to give, love and serve with reckless abandon.

Kayren, Pink Daisy Girl said...

I came by from Kristen's link. My 16 year old daughter went to Togo in February. She has felt called to missions since she was seven or eight. This trip solidified her call. I've written about her experiences on my blog, but...I haven't really written about some of our feelings at home and how her trip affected us. We aren't considering adoption, and Americans aren't allowed to adopt from that specific country anyway, but the feelings of overabundance, etc., to the need in all places, all the way to your feelings about short-term missions trips completely hits it. It's like you put words to what I couldn't.

heidig said...

I have been on the fence about a Compassion trip to the Dominican Republic since I received the email. My husband and I have talked about it and I have prayed about it. I asked God for a sign, something to tell me that I should go and spend time with our sponsored child. This is God's sign to me to go and see. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for wrapping words around the struggle in my heart. very articulate and real. i went on a short-term missions trip and questioned the costs vs. benefits. you have helped me to "get over" the financial gap and see what He is really doing in the hearts of His people. a "drop in the bucket"-- Lord, let me be one of those drops! kelly

The Diaper Diaries said...

I just returned yesterday from a trip to the Dominican Republic with World Vision to meet my sponsored child. I am just beginning this process of reconciling my 2 worlds. Thanks for writing this. I am finding it to be very powerful.

bigbinder said...

Yes, yes yes!!! I grew up in an adoptive family, with a father who owned an adoption agency, and travelling to other countries to escort children back to their American families. I believe in the beauty of adoption and was exposed very early on to the way the rest of the world lived - not an easy lesson, but it made me who I am. You have reached a lot of people with this post, which is what I believe God wants - look at the responses!

*Given Much Mom* said...

After 2 trips to India & 1 to Africa I say AMEN AMEN AMEN!! I 100% feel everything you wrote - and you wrote it so well. Bless you. Keep on sharing from your heart!!

Amy D said...

Yep. That's almost exactly how I felt when I returned from Nicaragua. And the thing is, some of us never go back to our old lives. I think it would be easier if I could forget, and I could go back.

Kirsty said...

Thank you so much for this. I am South African and lived in Swaziland for several years before I moved to American and made my life here. I have been trying to articulate these feelings since I came here-15 years ago. It is such a comfort to finally feel as though others here "get it". Thank you.

cathyjoy said...

I am passing your url to my friend marianne who is waiting, waiting, waiting, still waiting to hear when she can bring her boy home from ethiopia. beautiful post

meg duerksen said...

you could not have said this any better.
it was as if you were inside my head.
my thoughts of africa are all over the place...i went in march.
i think you have just written it out so well.
thank you.
i am going to link you in my Happy Things list. :)

Sharla Stockwell said...

What a wonderful post. You are so strong and bring up so many things I want to keep in my heart every day. I would love to go there someday.

Rene said...

amazing post! Thank you for sharing a very very real truth. God Bless!

Katie said...

Hi, you don't know me, but Rene passed along your blog to me. Our family is also in the process of adopting from Ethiopia. I went on a missions trip to Addis Ababa in Oct. Your pictures and videos looked so familiar! The trash, leper colony, it brings back such memories. I love the people and the culture there, but the poverty is just devastating. My husband and I have four children now, ages 14, 10, 8, and 6 and are adopting an infant boy or girl. We are almost done with all our paperwork and then can send in our dossier, probably in a few weeks. I love your story, thanks for putting it all in words. You really can't understand fully until you've seen it. It's like Brooke Frasier's song, Albertine, "Now that I know, I am responsible."

Talia said...

Wow!! Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts!! You hit me square between the eyes!! Everything I have been thinking and feeling, you said!!
I was in Addis Ababa this past February for a short term mission trip to work with some orphanages and every word you wrote explained what I have struggled to express to others!!
Someone sent the link to me and I will absolutely forward this to the team that came with me and all my friends and family!!
Thank you & I look forward to meeting you some day ; )
~Talia

mysinglemomlife said...

THANK YOU!!!! Thank you for expressing, what I have struggled so desperately to articulate. I was in Ethiopia in February with Talia (previous post). My life was rearranged. I posted a month after my visit (http://mysinglemomlife.wordpress.com/2010/03/19/world-view-rediscovery/) and it doesn't even touch the depths of what I still feel inside. Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I'm moved again... :o)

Lia said...

This really spoke to my heart thank you. I leave for Ethiopia in a month and a half and I cant tell you your words we be echoed there.

Danielle Farley said...

Thank you so much for this post, your words spoke to me and and have articulated so many things that have been weighing on my heart. I am linking this post to my blog.