Today I was quick to judge a customer, placing them in a category I had no right to and was thoroughly embarrassed when I later learned of their very tragic situation. As I contemplated this on my drive home, I began to recall many times in which I have seen people misunderstood. Or when I myself overlooked someone right in front of me, failed to see how painful their life may be, or just plain sat in self-absorption until I was oblivious to the needs placed at my feet. There have been too many instances to count. And in the last few years, I have also been on the other end of things more than I like. I'm becoming pretty darned sure that is because I need to understand what it's like if I will spend my future counseling others.
I have only tasted a fraction of what a life in ministry and missions may be like. I am fully aware that I have dear friends who understand these intricacies with way more depth than I ever will. But none-the-less, let me use my tiny window of experience to paint a picture of what someone dear to you may be experiencing. I'm not saying these things to get feedback for myself. My goal is simply bringing awareness to this stuff....
In the last few years, I have worked for several ministries. Being a missionary in a place like Texas doesn't seem like too huge of a thing. But while there, I experienced most of the issues missionaries would: Isolation, culture shock, severe loneliness, unhealthy authority, spiritual abuse, no way out, exhaustion, weariness, too much pouring out and not enough getting poured into, unrealistic expectations, financial hurdles, physical harm. These are all things that I would find most understood by my friends living in foreign countries. Going from that to Africa was beautiful, but African living isn't always easy and at times it was very lonely. Being in a place where people and things have a completely different rhythm and having to navigate it is a hard thing. I didn't always try to talk to friends back home about it because if they haven't been, they don't understand. Then the decision to come home and plant myself was one that began in excitement over being back where I know everything and everyone. Except that didn't happen.......things were suddenly different at church. I was beyond broke from the years of ministry and found I can't find a way to get back on my feet. Going from "missionary" to nothing without a way to provide and survive and feeling none of your skills apply here is a very common struggle for those reintegrating. Most of my friends had bonded in my absence and I suddenly felt I had no place. Wasn't needed or noticed or wanted. Things had gone on and changed. But even more than that, I had. I am a different person than the last time I lived here. Very different. In a lot of positive ways (I learned, am wiser, have grown, and understand the world a bit better). But also in some painful ones. I now have people and places that my heart has grown to love and I'm always thinking about them. Missing them. I suffer from some severe grief or even PTSD from some of the darker things I experienced where I was. Some days I have no energy and start crying at random times because I'm too emotional to stop myself. It might be that I really miss a friend in SA or the things I got to do there. Sometimes it's a sudden memory of something crazy that was said or done to me in Texas and in the moment I am overwhelmed with pain from it. With grief that it wasn't what I had envisioned and dreamed and I had to remove myself. And the problem is that it's hard to explain and the people who are used to the old you aren't able to understand this time. I am really struggling financially, too. This is something else that all missionaries and a large number of those in ministry deal with but don't like talking about. We often serve full-time until we have to stop for a while because we're more than broke. Not because we're trying to look good enough or do good enough. But because we love it and we're wired for it. We only stop when we have to. These are things I feel often go un-noticed by the very bodies who sometimes commission us. We come home and a lot of the details are missed or forgotten. It's hard. It can feel as if we are hidden in plain sight. Seen, but not seen. And I only share it all because I don't want people who work so hard in the Kingdom to become jaded and burnt out due to lack of care. Let's have our eyes open. Let's think about and notice those who need someone to love on them, care for them, simply see where they are and what they're going through, and help them heal and restore when it's needed.
Tuesday, June 2, 2015
The most common question I am asked since returning to the states is "So, is it hard to go between cultures?" Most of the time I answer "You have no idea." But what I'm really thinking about is the people I have worked for and what I saw.....
The last few years of traveling and working for various Bible teachers, pastors, missionaries, and ministries have taught me one truth: People in these positions have a LOT of unique hardships that are rarely seen. And a lot of issues that their position brings with it. Things rarely talked about. Rarely understood by anyone who isn't in a similar place. Rarely dealt with. And they spend years feeling shame and the need to hide it. But how do I explain that to people here? How do I make it come to light? And what can I do about it, anyway? How do I handle the passion I've developed to see refreshment, wholeness, hope, and healing brought to people in these places?
Add to that that I've been going through a season of really struggling with my life. The last years, what I've been doing, where I am heading. I've been overwhelmed with all of it. I've often felt like I've simply wandered and floundered around the globe and when long-term missions or the ministries in Texas didn't work out like I'd hoped, I became convinced it was due to my short-comings. That I am just not good enough for anything but making coffee. During this last trip to Africa, I found myself having a bit of a freak-out. Single, in my 30s, more than broke, no plans after the trip, nowhere to go, nobody to go "home" to in any of my places. I was depressed.
Until a friend helped me look at things from the outside.
One day over coffee, she suggested that I think about what my passions are. What do I really want? What has God wired into me? And what's stopping me? So I thought. And I realized that I could help those in unique positions. That perhaps the very reason for the experiences I've had the last few years may be to see the need that needs to be met. To experience a taste of what it's like to be in difficult positions, and to know what it feels like. And then to get trained to help.
So I decided to return home after Africa, scratch everything, and begin all over again. Make every decision based on what I love and know I can do and be, rather than on what is easiest, fastest, or other people's opinion. It's been lonely, scary and exhausting figuring everything out. But it's also been kind of exciting. I've decided to go back to school. The best way for me to help others is to spend a few years getting equipped and trained. For the next season of life, I will be studying and working hard to get a degree in Behavioral Sciences and Psychology. I'll add a class in Pastoral Counseling and then see where the Lord takes it.
I also decided to do some of the things I've always loved but believed didn't matter.
I recently picked up my guitar again. I've marked MJC's theatre tryouts on my calendar. And since I was 3, I've wanted to dance. I was told my whole life that I should stick to my music because I was overweight. But no more. In September I will be slipping my feet into ballet slippers for the very first time.
It's never too late. And your passions are put there for a reason. What have you always felt strongly about? What have you always longed to do? Learn? Experience? Don't let age, opinions, or easy ways out define your decisions. God designed you with certain passions unique to you for a reason. Go. Do it. Be scared.
But sign up for it anyway.