Before going to live in a third world country we had a lot of people come to us concerned for our children. I remember standing so tall and proud as I answered them and said I was sure of a few things. One was that we were definitely called. Since that was the case, it meant our kids were also called to go with us, and God would protect them. But I’ll be honest — my heart as a mom was not so sure. However, as I went to the Father with my questions, I didn’t hear a response so much as receive an immense amount of peace and assurance of His love for all of us.
I determined that more than anything – more than safety, a life of ease, health, happiness, or contentment — I wanted my kids to really know Jesus. I wanted them to hand their whole hearts and lives over to him – to eat, sleep, and breathe the Holy Spirit. I wanted a passion and intimacy in their relationships with Him that would cause me to seek for a deeper one. I wanted them to truly experience God in the fullness of who He is.
That kind of experience usually does not happen in a “perfect” world. If I am trying too hard to protect and shelter, I could actually be making it harder for them to see and know God. How can one know the true meaning of Him being made stronger in our weakness if one doesn’t experience one’s weaknesses? How can we know the closeness of God that comes in nothing but complete brokenness if we are never broken ourselves? I’ve been through some brokenness, and I know the sweetness of coming through that with God. I desire that for my children.
I wanted my children to know and understand that they are so very important to me, and I would never do anything to intentionally hurt them, but that God loves them even more than I do and that His plan is perfect. I wanted them to know that they are my priority – but they are NOT the only people in this world. I wanted their eyes open to the fact that God loves them in an immense and perfect love – and He also loves the little ones all across the world with that same intense and perfect love. These things are hard to comprehend if you don’t really see other parts of the world.
And if I’m really being honest, I never really believed my family was in danger.
A few years later, coming out of a place where we were on lockdown and in the middle of war, I think back to these convictions I had before, and I get so angry. Who did I think I was? I didn’t really know or understand anything in the comfort of my safe little home in the States. I didn’t know what was coming.
I didn’t know when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar worlds with friends and technology and family and clean drinking water and fast food and air conditioning how much anger would erupt from that. I didn’t understand how living in a war-torn, remote, isolated place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and psyche of all of us. And I didn’t know that of course it would mean that I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself. It was a daily lesson in survival for spiritual and emotional health.
I had known war was happening there – but what did that really mean to me other than movies and history class? I had not lived through gun fire, burnings of compounds, and assassination attempts on people I knew before. I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family. To have them cry with me about it. Or worse yet – not talk about it with a stone-faced look because it was all too normal. I had gone through hostage simulations, but I never lived with a go-bag packed so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and important documents in a matter of minutes. Growing up in a rural area, I had shot a gun before – but at a tin can target, not a person. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s – I’m not in the military, after all.
When I said those things before we left I must have been completely naive.
When we left our first place of ministry and came to a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt in that past year, I started to see the effects it had on my kids. I knew I had been naïve. I was embarrassed because I had said it all so strongly to people and now I wasn’t even sure I believed any of it. It had felt good and empowering, and pretty darn prideful if I’m willing to admit to being that mom that had all the right answers and was brave enough to go. Missionaries – we can be such arrogant creatures at times.
Then I watched an episode of NCIS (isn’t that how all good spiritual revelations start?). They were in our country – the one we had just left. I realized from the first scene it wasn’t just a TV show for me. I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where people were all gunned down. I felt panicked at seeing the gun ships come in. I felt homesickness for the people, the landscape, and the accents that seemed so familiar. Because yes, it had been hard, but it was also so good. I experienced over and over the hospitality and love of a people that were not willing to give up or to give in to bitterness. I heard stories of loss and grief that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire for justice to be brought forth. I learned anew what hope looked like even when it made no sense.
My kids experienced all these things right alongside us. Over and over again their hearts and eyes were opened to things that seemed harsh but are realities to many of the people of this world. My daughter says she remembers clearly when we were on lockdown and she realized the people we served among had no choices. We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at our options while grieving what we were leaving, but at least we had options. She also said she realized people were glad for us that we had that option because they cared about us and wanted us safe. It opened her compassionate and empathetic heart up to being a justice seeker. My son has said that though our time there was hard and he found himself angry most of the time, he has since understood things about himself and his relationship with God that he would not have come to on his own, and he is a better man for it. He actually thanked us for this experience.
Would I have liked to spare my children from some of the things they have seen and known? Certainly that’s true from a human mother’s perspective. Yet I love seeing who my children are becoming today, and I know a big part of that was this crazy time of life. Their hearts are open to other people and passionate for the world to know the love of Christ.
I forgot that for a while. I got caught up in the momentary things and didn’t see the molding and shaping of things that were happening inside. I forgot that this world really isn’t our home and there is a purpose for each of us here. Grief can draw out a sense of purpose in you the way that a life of ease cannot.
So today I stand by my naive self and the statements I made a few years ago. I stand more battered, slightly scarred, and much more humbled. But I stand. And I pray for my family to have boldness and compassion, to embrace the brokenness and seek him out, to repeatedly be brought to the place where we remember He is enough, and to be justice seekers and truth bringers to this world.
Heather Wallace is a wife of 20 years and mom to 4 amazing, globe-trotting children, a pastor’s wife and missionary, a Jesus-lover, Spirit-seeker, and sojourner of this world. She blogs at wallacesinafrica.com