Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The blessing of great conflict

I know, I've been silent.
I came to a place where I began to intentionally shut off every response outlet... my communication suffered. I delayed my emails. Everything was work. I wanted it... I wanted to connect and relate and express but it was just... too. much. work.

That's when I realized it. I was burnt out.

Dry as the driest season here! It explained why things had been so hard. Why I had no drive. Why I was so apathetic and tired.

Of course the timing was impeccable.
Two new American volunteers had arrived. I had just said goodbye to another close friend who had served for two months alongside me. A week after the two gals arrived I was receiving a long awaited pair... my younger sister and close friend who were coming. Finally, the sweet presence of family. And I felt as though I had nothing to offer. It was right in the midst of total exhaustion and discouragement. I, of course, mustered up all I had to arise to the occasion which was where I met great struggle. Try and give away what you haven't received and you'll certainly find yourself in quite the bind.

Of course having four extra sets of eyes on your only makes you more aware of how unhealthy you are. I apologized for more things in these two months then I've probably uttered in the last three years of my life. I was totally worn at a crucial place of being responsible for the facilitation of four new volunteers. Talk about pressure!

I went into self-preservation mode and I hated the selfish state I was in. Almost a month later I found myself at the most wearied of places. I was hearing so many critiques (and I knew exactly why) but they reached me at a very low state.

I knew what I needed.

I left that Saturday to get away, to hear affirmation from the One who could lift me from this place. I was in tears on my walk to the office, which isn't easy when all eyes are always on you as you move about. I was greeted twelve different times on the way which is great when you're really hoping to go unnoticed.

On top of my personal emptiness I had received a text from a close employee of mine, Moses, saying that our chairperson of the FAITH Project was really badly off. I had called him during my walk and he said that Sarah told him that she wasn't doing well when he called a few hours earlier. I knew she was sick. She had missed our last weekly meeting and had been writing me while I was traveling about with our volunteers, informing me of her health. I knew on the way to the office that I wasn't in a strong enough emotional state to go and pray for her at her place right down the street. I did feel as though I was given a sweet spirit of prayer as I thought of her a lot on the way and spent my walk praying over her body and health. By the time I reached the office, the gate was locked without anyone in sight. So I sat in the grass, waiting for someone to come with the key.

I kept asking myself how I got to this point.  
When did I stop honoring the daily filling that kept me fresh and encouraged? 

I was waiting for close to an hour when I got the call.
When I answered Pastor Danny kept saying, "Abookie Sarah is dead." But it felt like a question and all I could say was that it wasn't possible. I had just talked to Moses, he had just spoken to her. It wasn't possible. I just passed her house. She just texted me the day before. It wasn't possible. I fumbled through my contacts to confirm the news.
I stood shocked with heavy tears flowing as I asked God, Why now? Why today? ...please... no...

I walked straight to her house with our church member. They had already moved her body to the village. We soon loaded the car with her daughter and headed off to the place where her body was. When I entered the room it was full of people sitting and weeping. I saw her mom and sat at the feet of Abookie and prayed. In the room all you could hear were the sounds of heavy sighing and disbelief that something like this would come so unexpectedly.

Our hearts wept together.
If there was ever a moment where I had the faith to believe someone would come to life, it would have been while I was holding her sweet feet and praying.

Somehow in that moment I felt a strong presence that brought overwhelming peace into that little room. I thought to myself, "Why on earth would she even want to come back? She's experiencing the greatest joy and wholeness she'll ever know!"

I had journeyed with Sarah throughout this past year as we worked together to reach the oppressed, the marginalized, the struggling. We worked to bring hope and love to the women of FAITH, whom she was one of. She lived her own struggle. She was HIV positive, a single mother, struggling with financial burdens and the cycle of poverty. But despite the opposition, that woman lived so boldly and truly. She laughed with a belly full of joy and her smile shone into the darkest of days. She was my right arm as we worked together bringing that group from its desperate state to where it is today. It has been full of struggle, difficulty, great success, tears and more laughter than one can handle. It was filled with friendship.

I remember in April, just after Easter, she came that Sunday beaming with news she could hardly contain. Ever since I've crossed paths in 2011, I knew that she was a muslim. She was raised in a muslim family, taught in a muslim school and claimed that as her personal belief. She was one my best students whenever we opened up the Bible to study new treasure and always loved discussing questions of all sorts. It was that Sunday she told me with such joy that she had accepted Christ and was baptized!

we danced.
we sang.
we laughed.

It was all so beautiful. Our diverse little family was bursting with life.

Navigating the days after Sarah's death were some of the most challenging times I have experienced. Being filled with grief and emptiness amidst a call to be a leader to the group of women who were all so broken with our loss was new territory for me. It created a struggle that forced rest and boundaries in my life.
That kind of emptiness and sadness produce something that is hard to put into words...
It produces something impossible.
It produced more of Christ in my life.
And it came because it was at the most fragile of times where I had nothing to call as my own.

Though the death of Abookie is still hard in many ways, it's bringing more life in each of us and in our group as we learn to walk in this kind of pain that binds us to one another. I became serious about taking care of myself... about not taking on too much, about resting and soaking in the presence of God. I'm learning about the perfect leadership of Jesus as He guides me through each day. He is truly so wonderful and light.

As Donald Miller puts it,
"I remembered about story, about how every conflict, no matter how hard, comes back to bless the protagonist if he will face his fate with courage. There is no conflict that man can endure that will not produce a blessing. And I smiled. I'm not saying I was happy but for some reason I smiled.               It hurts now, but I'll love this memory, I thought to myself.  And I do."

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