learning from the hard places

as i write this, i’ve been home from liberia for just a little over three weeks. i am finally getting to the stage where i feel like i’ve actually re-entered life here in the states; at first, though my physical body was present in pennsylvania–as weary, worn-down (and cold!) as it was–my thoughts and emotions were in the land of liberty, thousands of miles and an ocean away. it was like a weird sort of time lag; i guess my heart just needed some time to catch up with my body.

so now i’m here, i’m home, i’m fully present. and reality has set in. my entire life is starting over–again. my world for the past four years has been liberia, the kids, the problems, the burden. and now…well, what now? i have no idea what the future holds for me. part of is exhilarated, drunk on hope and imagining the possibilities. and the other part of me is straight-up terrified. what am i going to do? how am i going to get it together? i’m too old for this.

i’m in a hard place, an in-between place, a place full of more questions than answers, more struggle than victory, more faith than i knew i had in me. i’m broken and messy and shell-shocked. i’m scared, i’m frustrated, i’m confused. but i am also learning, difficult soul-lessons that can only be understood here, at this time, in this season:

one: more often than not, the hard places and the holy places are the same.
there’s a reason why Jesus said blessed are those who mourn, blessed are those who are poor in spirit. it’s because in the pain, in the lack, in the ache, he is there. he chose to enter this crazy-messy world as flesh and bone, as one who bled and got sick and had his heart broken. he chose the mess to be the place of his coming, and he’s doing the same thing today.

two: it is not our job to fix.
people are broken, and they are needy, and as the hands and feet of Christ, our hearts should ache for them and want to ease their pain. we are meant to be love with skin on, those who dress the wounds and kiss away the tears, who put our palms against the gaping heart-holes to stop the bleeding. we are made to show mercy, compassion, love. but we were never supposed to assume the role of savior. so often, we go above and beyond to try and fix other people’s problems instead of pointing them to the One who offers a perfect solution.

three: self-care does not equal selfishness.
typically, mainstream Christianity teaches us to put others’ needs above our own, citing scripture to prove that Jesus doesn’t want us to be concerned with ourselves. and i get it; i really do. i want to prefer others because i know that’s what he did. i want to serve instead of being served. i want a humble heart, pure motives, a life lived selflessly. but i do not believe Jesus wants his beloved to work themselves into the ground, to give without refilling, to wear down and burn out. a letter to his church reads “don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple?” as a holy dwelling, why should we not be intentional about making sure we are healthy and whole? it might mean getting that extra hour of sleep, or maybe another half hour of cardio at the gym. it may mean letting the tears fall instead of holding them in, or taking a vacation, or refusing to stay late at the office so you can eat dinner with your family around the table. it is not selfish to take care of yourself; after all, you don’t really have anything to offer those who need you if you are empty and dry.

four: community is important.
whether it’s friends or sisters, pastors or counselors, a cousin, a co-worker–we need these people in our lives. not just when we are healthy and thriving, but also when we are struggling, especially when we are struggling. fiercely independent and admittedly introverted, i tend to retreat into myself, especially when i’m in my hard place. but i am learning that i need others. i need connection, community, support. these are the people who are going to hold our hands and lead us towards Truth when we’re too weary to get there on our own. they will listen to us, cry with us, even celebrate us. they will love us.

five: not every question has an answer.
i like the feeling of being able to figure things out, so i am constantly observing and asking questions, seeking to learn. that’s not much of a problem, except when i am presented with things that seem to make no sense at all. things like children dying, war and poverty, injustice, trafficking–the list could go on and on. i shake and i grieve and i cry out, “why, God?!” and sometimes he doesn’t answer. sometimes i need to swallow hard and choose to trust him, to keep the faith, to remember that he is still good even in the midst of all that is not. sometimes i just need to accept what is. 

{what about you? perhaps you are well-acquainted with hard places, or you may be in one now. what have you learned? how have you grown? i’d love to hear from you!}

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