As a teenager I memorized a poem called "Richard Cory", an eerie and mesmerizing rhythmic verse that told a sad tale: we sometimes wish we could be like those who don't have our problems. Richard Cory, it was understood by the person writing the poem, was above hardship and common troubles. The irony is that he wasn't, and at the stunning end of the poem, the writer smacks you in the face with a fact: he never really knew this man.
I can't remember a season where I felt so much that God was with us, but have felt so unsure about the ground on which I stood. Because full-time ministry doesn't stop (even when people know you are having problems) I've tried to manage the best I can with Mario in the States and so much weighing on my heart.
The hardest thing of all, is that others can't see on the outside the pain that is on the inside. There are also those who believe that some who serve God should be above pain, or at least above it affecting their game.
While I do go through pain here, I am the most saddened by those who don't know me or my heart; don't try, don't look or wish to know me. The blog, this simple little outlet that I look to share our victories, struggles, and journey with as much transparency as is honoring, is meant to help understand my heart. Or else, it is meant to express bits of my heart... and some I wish would be more curious about what I'm going through may not care to read it.
For some reason, the Lord has called us to Africa, and placed us here in Northern Johannesburg: the land of contradictions and dichotomies. One of the wealthiest city in Africa, with some of the poorest squatter camps, townships and high crime rate, Joburg is (like all of us) above description. Our friends here, (the poor and the wealthy) are people we love and some of whom we have grown close to. We are brothers and sisters from all ends of the earth, desiring more than anything to reach people with the love of Jesus, and raise people up with God's purposes in their hearts. The first time we came here, we accepted gladly the tattoo on our hearts; the perfume of its people deep in our souls.
This amazing connection to Africa has taken us away from our families: our loved ones who have the sacred places in our hearts too valuable to rearrange or sacrifice to new things. Our relationships with these are precariously maintained by phone and SKYPE contacts. I wish there was a "hugging" option so we could reach out and touch them, especially during hardship. So as one by one demonstrates stress from the distance we live with constantly, we are forced to admit that some of the most precious relationships may also be the most tenuous we have.
Because I am transparent (even in my writing) some people think twice before sharing with me. They mistake transparency with social clumsiness, where I share confidential information with others who don't need to know. My desire to be completely honest and transparent threatens others, but I have a habit of speaking truth carefully.
Being here without Mario is like walking with one leg. Hearing him on the phone in the next room, seeing him play with the dogs, worship God, study, play video poker, make garlic bread, minister to people, challenge the leaders he's bringing up...makes me Janet. Since we moved here in 2007, we've been together day by day, walking out a very unfamiliar calling, totally dependent on God. Sharing revelations, frustrations, celebrations...all the "tions", we have grown even closer than before.
Last week while most of the Junction eldership was away at the National elders conference, Mario left for our family - unable to see everyone (including Vince, David and Joe)- but ready to see those he could during the short time he'd be away. While he was gone, I was happy to fill in where I was needed, mostly at our new community center, where I no longer maintain set hours. While I was there, I reconnected with the business side of what we do here: scheduling events, maintaining order and managing our small food closet. It kept me busy, but not overwhelmed.
I didn't become overwhelmed until yesterday, when, during a meeting I felt inadequate and misunderstood. An overreaction, probably, but I started crying on the drive home...and wasn't able to stop. I was supposed to deliver stuff to Diepsloot after, then go for my workout, but there was no way I could even move... and I realized I hadn't been processing correctly.
I once had a member of our church yell (in total frustration) at me, that I had no idea what it was like to be like him. He said, with tears and anger that he would look for the next twenty rand in faith, in desperation and many times go to bed hungry. The time he had said this was the week he had lost his job and a neighbor had died. I was visiting the neighbor's family when I ran into him. He was a obviously upset that I would make a visit to his neighbor's family (who did not attend our church) and not to him, since that week he had suffered his own tragedy. I chose to say nothing to defend myself, only a simple "I'm sorry," which didn't go over so well. Later, as he closed his gate to me, he switched languages, swapping English for his native tongue. This was the final insult: you are not like me.
What I do know is that everyone, regardless of situation or bank account, knows suffering. This world is a cold place sometimes, and tragedy knows no bounds. We don't have the luxury of living without tragedy. At young ages, we are exposed to death, heartache, disease, suffering, hatred, cruelty and even physical harm. When I was young I inherited my parent's heart for the poor, the church and God. Still, I don't have the luxury of being heartless, or unbreakable.
I reconnected with a friend from high school days this last week... She looks the same, only older, and had a picture of a stunning pair of kids by her side. The young son, it turns out, died a couple of years ago from a brain tumor. It broke my heart. Although I had never met this person, he glowed with the same beauty of his mother, who was always tender hearted herself. In writing back and forth she said something profound: "I don't have the luxury of not dealing with this."
Avoiding our grief is a luxury that kills us. God help us all to deal with our stuff so that we can move on in health and do the work he calls us to do.
Reconnecting with my friend made me look over some poems I wrote in high school. I want to close with this one, which I thought was strangely appropriate for what I've been feeling:
The rabbit someone gave me
is sitting on my bed,
I punched it once, and threw it lots;
but still, it never bled.
Her inside is some cotton,
and her outside yellow fur,
And never did a single tear
destroy a part of her.
I look at rabbit sometimes and wonder how she'd laugh
At the sight of me crying when my heart's been torn in half.
She never ceases smiling, and no one makes her grey.
I wonder if she'd let me have her insides for a day.
"The Rabbit Someone Gave Me"