So, it’s been a heavy year. There’s been a lot of tears and raw grief. There’s been a lot of therapy and the chance to heal in healthy relationships. Right now, there’s a season of counseling aimed at dealing with the trauma in my life.
Yes, heavy, I know.
Which is why my soul has been crying out for perspective. The kind which mingles tears with laughter. The one that sees how the cracked vessel of humanity can open a door to the glory beyond.
So I am sharing some humorous, yet tender glimpses into the life of a girl I once knew. She’s had some funny and yes, sad, moments in the crazy days of figuring out how to save the world. She’s gotten it more wrong than right, but no one can doubt her heart.
She has something to teach all of us. And I hope she’ll make us laugh, and maybe cry a little too. She’s worth knowing, and maybe you know someone like her too.
Something tells me we need to remember them all as we make our way on this long road home.
It’s the early, starlit days of youth. The clear nights of a Montana sky, with their twinkling grandeur, have got nothing on her. She’s too young and crazy, full of passion and self-importance to heed any caution.
It’s the summer of ’94 and she’s spending nine weeks in West Kensington, Philadelphia. She is living on the edge of the notorious Badlands. There’s been a drive-by shooting one block and one week before she comes. She goes door to door and gathers kids, some black, some Hispanic, some white. She loves on them all summer, even on the rest days. She runs the bases of kickball hard and throws with aim slightly off as she tries to get the little rascals. She jumps up and down and swings her limbs for ‘Father Abraham’. She gets a bit pudgy as she eats too many white chocolate-covered Oreos donated in abundance to her mission team. Over the phone, she breaks up with her long-term boyfriend, convinced he doesn’t share her fervor for urban missions.
She gives beyond reason. At the end of those nine weeks, she leaves her heart on West Tioga Street. She doesn’t know how she will ever get any of it back. She has done it all wrong, only returning for one visit and exchanging a few letters. She can only cry as she remembers the desperate reality of those dear children. She aches for what she does not know of their lives today. But the naivety worn by her oh-so-sincere heart captures me. I want to thank her for reminding me how to love without reserve. She shows me how real-life stories seldom have happy endings, as far as where we think they will go. Yet her twinkling eyes shine bright with the glory of the Great Story.
It’s still early, but she is starting to realize she cannot save the world. These are the Latin American Years. She translates and serves as a part of summer missions’ teams in Mexico and Honduras. She teaches the Bible story in Spanish before a hundred or more kids at VBS. Little Miguel with his spiky hair laughs at the words that twirl around her mouth and fall with the spin and thud of marbles.
On a later trip, she learns to sleep in a hammock which she falls into, exhausted. Her head hurts from being everyone’s brain as she translates the English into Spanish and vice versa. It amazes her how the corresponding sides smile as if her voice descends like wings of eagles. In her week of rest from translating, she tries the local guanabana and Montezuma takes revenge on her innocent stomach. She sways in a hammock as she determines to believe the motion will heal this sickness. She finds her way back to the church and Kids’ Camp. She sings loud and lifts her hands high in flowing, Hawaiian-colored pants. She cannot believe she wore them, but the pictures say she did.
She’s still jumping in with both feet and literally, dancing in the rain. She’s starting to weary and is woefully lacking in good missionary methodology. Yet, I want to tell her to ‘hang in there because I wouldn’t trade you for another.’
And now there’s a husband. Here she is all grown up, or so it would seem. Her missions’ journey is picking back up in a new country, new language and yes, with a fairly-new husband. One of her first days in country, her new boss sends her and her very brave husband out on a sort of Amazing Race about the city. Later she will call the horror of it all the Amazing Survival.
She and her dear husband (who you will instantly love) start out from a district just obscure enough to require two buses and a tram to get back to. The first address they are given is so hard to find, they will abort this phase of the mission entirely. Their first move is brilliant. They hop on the first tram they see and go in exactly the wrong direction. And now it begins. How each of a hundred times they are lost, she literally throws her too-sweet man at stranger after stranger. A thousand times, in a thousand ways, he learns to say the only phrase ‘they’ knew ‘beszélsz angolul?’ Do you speak English?
These two are trying to get it right, after all, they’ve committed to a whole year! And she does a good job that day, her maiden voyage as the wife of a missionary. She makes sure her hubby can handle all future stressful and uncomfortable language-challenged moments. But I would remind her that all of the packing that’s happened since can be considered ‘payback.’
Did I really sign up for this? This, for her, is when it becomes long-term, with greater sacrifice and did I mention children? Yes children. All thousand miles and points of light in a constellation of new life. She goes from filling two suitcases with child #1’s things only to learn to reduce three children’s things into a single suitcase. American baby food and ointments are easily replaced by the local fare. These are the days of flights, flights and more flights and the children so little. These are the days when the endless stream of comments must stop. You know the ones. ‘It’s good to do this [insert mission] when…’ ‘When you are young.’ ‘When you are both young.’ ‘When you don’t have kids.’ ‘When your children are little.’ (Dear souls actually say this last one and well Lord, love ‘em because I am not sure I can ;))
Early on this mama finds herself on the flight back to the States with a ten month-old. Heading west over the Atlantic, you know the day, like the song, that never ends? When you subtract hours only to add them back again in a way you’ll never understand. Flying east over the ocean, he is the miracle baby who falls asleep on takeoff, his chubby feet hanging out of his sleeping gown. He awakes only on landing while the woman in front exclaims, ‘A baby?!’ But coming back?? Well, it was somewhere between the crawling up and over our laps and necks, dropping every toy a 101 times, and no screen (Can you believe there was no screen?!) that she looks at her husband with wild eyes and panting breath and says, ‘We…don’t…have…to…thrive…only……..sur…vive.’
Clearly she has begun to understand what this whole crazy life is all about. Survival. Plain and simple. This mama is from not too long ago. She’s failed again and again and her upcoming book will bring many, many more stories of all such things. What do I do with her? I wrap her in my arms as she cries and I shower her with grace, for she could never give it to herself.
Then, I dry her eyes and teach her how to laugh.