That’s what I feel like I’ve been doing for the past three weeks – reconciling differences between two worlds.
I spent a few hours the other night writing all of my memories from a short tour in Honduras in 1984. Not long after my return to the U.S., all of my photos were left in the glove box of a friend’s car, which was then put in storage while she went to Korea for two years. I never got those photos back, but my memory of good times, good people, hard work, and “unique” experiences are as crisp in my memory as if they took place yesterday. Thank God for the ability to remember people and places!
I have managed to save digital copies of the photos from my recent trip to Brazil – my first of hopefully a few more overseas mission trips. I had left anticipating that I’d experience a new culture, but that my years in the Army and having lived in several other countries had prepared me enough that I’d adjust easily. Once there, I learned quickly that during those years living overseas, I always had the comfort of knowing I had a U.S. Base to return to at the end of the day, American people from home who spoke English to converse with, and normal American food that I was used to. I really wasn’t as far out of my comfort zone as I had thought. Where I was in Brazil, there was only one English-speaking person – my friend who took me there.
Between my having studied Italian and lived in Panama where Spanish is spoken – I could often understand much of some of the conversations going on around me. But I was unable to converse with anyone. It was truly a week of keeping my mouth shut and my ears open. I’ve now concluded that I need to do more of that back here at home. The more I keep talking, the less I hear God. But wait, there’s more….. The more I listen to others, the less I hear God. Some of those “others” are well-meaning people. But they too, need to be tuned out sometimes.
On our short “temporary duty” trips in the Army, like the one I took to Honduras, we were always able to look forward to an award for our “outstanding performance of duty” while we were there. Another pretty ribbon on our Class A uniform. Another piece of paper that said how great we were to insert into our promotion packets. While I cherish each and every one of them, it’s mostly because of the people and memories attached to all of them. But the hugs, tears, and the prayers of a sweet 8-year-old as I was leaving Brazil mean more to me than all of the stripes and ribbons and medals that still hang on my Army uniform in the closet today. And every morning, I still get to wake up and remember those hugs, those faces, those prayers. Thank God I can remember. I can remember memories from both times in my life.
Twice I’ve tried to blog about all that took place on my trip. Twice my blog disappeared into LALA Land. I guess some things are just between me and God, not to be shared for now. I get it.
There are parts of my trip I am still having a difficult time processing. Not only because I saw and experienced spiritually dark circumstances, but because I got to experience the hearts of some people that I thought I had come to serve. Those hearts exposed my heart. I witnessed a joy in some people, young and old, that would seem unlikely given their circumstances. I was served joyfully and lovingly in ways that would humiliate the average American – including me. THAT is what my heart brought home.
No pictures of life-saving moments. No accounts of award worthy accomplishments. The thing is – God just really asks us to love others. It’s so simple. I went down there. I loved on some little ones, gave thousands of hugs, cried some tears, ran over a rat, laughed with friends I could not speak with, ate pizza, shared the Gospel, told my story, told some women how God sees them, helped make them feel whole and pretty again, drove through a gigantic puddle into the slums, laughed through the entire thing, played hockey with a toad, and used play-dough to communicate with a 6-year-old for hours in the back of a van. Thank GOD I can remember these times. Some of the most meaningful moments of my life!
I can no longer point fingers at the Millennial generation coming up behind me as those who feel entitled, because the truth is, I’m not much different. I had not hit US soil for 30 minutes yet when I was annoyed with a not-very-nice airline attendant who put me in the wrong customs line that I stood in for more than an hour. How quickly when our surroundings become familiar, we can move from a spirit of humility to one of entitlement. I’m guilty. And if my older generation doesn’t feel entitled to the same things as the younger generation – maybe we should look at our relationships? Do we feel entitled to be treated a certain way? The spirit of entitlement comes in all forms.
My first week back at work felt meaningless as I cared for someone who repeatedly told me that their race and religion entitled them to better care than other patients. For four days I listened to them school me on their “eliteness.” Sharply opposite what I had just spent a week witnessing! Now and then I’d thumb through my photos remembering all that I had just experienced. The things I own have become less meaningful – including my own career.
In three short weeks my back has gone out, I’ve made multiple trips to the spine specialist, had to leave my door unlocked so neighbors can check on me for the few days I barely made it off the couch, and watched as others put my needs before theirs. I should be more like them. And the rest of my life has not lacked for its share of drama either. Nonsense to some perhaps, but big to me. It’s almost as if God allowed me to see in the hearts of those here, some of what I experienced in Brazil. I don’t need to return to Brazil to humble myself and become more concerned about others than I am myself. He’s placed people in my life HERE who model that very same thing for me. People who don’t make demands on our friendship and set expectations that no human being could ever attain. No, people with bigger issues than me, who still put my issues first. Amazing.
It feels like I’m standing in the middle of an intersection. I don’t have any answers, but one thing I’ve learned probably just in the past 48 hours is that God wants me to run to HIM with my burdens. He will never talk about me behind my back. He will never roll His eyes or say anything that He will later regret and have to apologize for. He will never gossip about me or tell me what a complete failure I am. He will never fail me like people always will. He wants my junk. He wants my drama. He waits patiently for me to bring it to Him.
Sometimes, satan will use the closest people to discourage me and make me feel like a failure. Sometimes, He even uses them to cause me to doubt my identity in Christ. That’s when I need to remember the lesson on keeping my mouth shut and my ears open – and that doesn’t mean open to everyone’s words either. Sometimes those who think they are speaking the most truth, are the very ones we need to tune out for a season.
Still processing it all. Don’t have all of the answers. Still learning to keep my mouth shut and my ears open.