I deeply appreciate the honesty of this blog. I have lost my stomach for pat answers laden in overspiritualized vocabulary that invalidate the reality of what people experience when life is just honestly, hard. I have a deeper hunger for something both honest and real when we talk about joy in Christ, because of Christ. The same Christ who knew the Father was good, loving, and in complete control when He was broken on the cross and asked why He had been forsaken. He knew He wasn’t back Home yet, and He knows we are not either, not yet. This is the Savior I love, in whom I hope and in whom I can rejoice.
There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, bei xi jiao ji (悲喜交集), meaning “mixed feelings of grief and joy.” Grief and joy aren’t commonly thought of as partners, but when faced with loss, cross-cultural workers need to understand that one doesn’t necessarily cancel the other one out.
Dr. Steve Sweatman, president and CEO of Mission Training International (MTI), says that the call to take the gospel of Christ to another culture “inevitably is a call to sacrifice, to losses, to things that you will have to leave behind or give up.” This sacrifice takes many forms, and MTI has identified five categories of loss experienced by Christian cross-cultural workers. They are
- a stable home
- support systems
- a sense of safety
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There are moments that come that just make my heart really, truly glad.
There was the moment my patient’s parents finally received news about the MRI’s results. The mom was exhausted from lack of sleep due to nights spent consoling her inconsolable child, afraid of the strange tubes and lines and the strangers who kept coming at her with a mix of unpredictable comfort and pain. The surgeons were able to get the entire tumor out. No translator was needed to explain the cry of relief, that unstoppable strong clasping of the surgeon’s hand from an otherwise shy and reserved family. They could breathe and hope and plan again. Maybe they will see their daughter get married one day after all.
There is the moment every morning when I see my neighbors go for their walk. He with his old, soft, black hat, his hunched back, and his walker. She with her large glasses, soft smile, braided grey hair, hands quietly clasped behind her back. She always walks just a few steps behind him, just to make sure. They walk patiently around the block, no sadness or fear or shame about them, just glad to be out for their daily walk, together.
There is the moment when I’ve pulled into the driveway and open my car door. I can already hear my sweet silly dog barking that particular bark he lets out when he knows one of us is home. It’s so endearing, how he already knows by just hearing our cars. That sweet moment when I walk through the door and he scurries over, tail wagging, tongue hanging like a goof in expectation of me dropping my bags and smothering his furry head with kisses. His collar clasp jingles against his dog tag as I rub his happy round belly.
Sometimes these are all the moments we need.
In my high school years, my friends and I were young, zealous, and just a little foolish in our desire to do good for others. We didn’t know what we were doing, but you sure had to give us an A for effort. We would go to Denny’s, the four of us, order one serving of toast, and throw all the little packets of jam into our backpacks, only to call over the waiter and ask for more jam. You can imagine, this only worked so well. It was a miracle we never ended up in the back washing dishes. We then made our way to the market where we bought a loaf of Wonder bread, a container of peanut butter, and bottled water. From there, we would seek out any homeless person we could find and give them their pb&j fixings ad nauseum for the week.
Something else we did quite regularly was visit the local nursing homes with my guitar. We just kind of wandered in and poked our heads into any rooms with open doors, asking if we could visit awhile. It was a slightly disturbing miracle that we never, to my recollection, were stopped or questioned by the staff as to who we were or why we were entering the residents’ rooms.
One visit stands out in my memory. We found a woman in her 40s or 50s, sitting next to her aged mother, who clearly suffered from a considerable degree of dementia. She was unresponsive to our questions, gazing at us with a confused look through forlorn eyes. We offered to sing a well-known hymn, “Because He Lives.” We closed the door to her room and sang softly.
Because He lives, I can face tomorrow; because He lives, all fear is gone. Because I know He holds the future, and life is worth the living just because He lives.
The light in the room seemed to grow softer. Peace replaced anxiety. Dare I say, joy came to us. The elderly woman quietly whispered the words of the song. It was as though we had ever so slightly stepped for a moment into that future time and place where sorrow and tears and death will be no more, and our hearts were glad.
Fast forward many years.
I had received an unexpected phone call. A loved one was in a hospital, many miles away. A suicide attempt. Please come quickly if you can.
I had no words for the pain, it ran so deep. I could not utter my prayers, I did not know what to ask or how to ask it. But there was a hymn that a close friend emailed to me. When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. It was the sung prayer of my soul. For weeks, as my loved one slowly recovered, words continued to evade me, both in conversation and in prayer. I ached, deeply. Did God hear the words I could not find?
One Sunday, I visited a nearby church rather than attending my own. I had no energy to keep up the façade to help others feel less uncomfortable with my pain. The pastor preached on anxiety and trusting the goodness of God because we see Christ, who bore our grief and infirmities, so that we might be healed. I went forward for Communion. The pastor met my tearful gaze. This is His body, broken for you. I returned to my seat, and the very moment I bowed my head, the music team began to play a hymn.
When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.
What is this love that comes so tenderly from heaven to earth, to this heart that could not pray but through someone else’s song. He heard my cry. Peace replaced anxiety. Even in grief, joy had come.
The husband and I just returned from a most fantastic vacation to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. And the one thing I quickly realized about both of us is that we will go out of our way to find really good food, really good coffee, and good photo opps.
Sterling Coffee Roasters in Portland most definitely met the coffee and photo opp categories. This awesome little vintage-style stand with the. world’s. best. mocha. EVER. Think dark chocolate. Top notch espresso. Perfectly creamy steamed milk.
I think I need to book another plane ticket. Soon.
My heart hurts for you tonight.
Your face is what I would expect of a child your age, angelic and flawless, but your story is not, and I struggle to reconcile what I see, and what I know of you.
You asked the name of the patient across from you, and shame on me for asking why so suspiciously. You only wanted to pray for this other child by name. You humbled me. I said God hears you, God knows.
Your tears caught me by surprise. Your walls with me came down so fast that I hardly knew what to do with what you let me see on the inside of you. I feel the temptation to build my walls, if you won’t. But my heart hurts for you.
You are so broken, but you are so beautiful.
I want you to get through tomorrow, and heal. And I want you to get through the rest of your life, and heal. And laugh. And run free.
I had to go home, my shift was done. The alarm in your eyes when I said good-bye caught me off-guard. I’ll be back tomorrow, please get some rest tonight. But after tomorrow, I will probably never know what became of your life. But I will pray for you by name, and God hears us, and God knows.