It’s been a rough summer.
Don’t misunderstand. There are millions of people out there who’ve had a way rougher summer (or winter for those in the southern hemisphere!) than I. I don’t think my summer was special — but it was mine. Mine to walk through and mine to seek the Lord through.
And it was rough.
Our first year back overseas was as smooth as possible with three young children, including a newborn.
Then May came and a big hole was punched through my gut.
You see, I went home.
Well, I went home to the city in this country where we had previously lived for six years. And I had something there that had yet to be developed here, because it takes time, patience and sacrifice —- deep, abiding friendships. The kind where you know each others’ weaknesses and strengths and forgive the one and cherish the other and occasionally call each other out — the kind that is the closest thing to a healthy family outside of your own (if you have one), the kind where you feel known and treasured and vice versa.
Then I came back to our current home and realized anew just how hard this international lifestyle can be, especially for someone who sits on the introvert/extrovert fence. I need people, but I need a few and I need them deeply. And those things simply take time and cannot be forced or rushed. They blossom over time.
Then our whole family went to pot. Sickness traveled in and out of our home. We got to visit the local Chinese hospital more than I’d ever want thanks to sickness visits and ER visits (one of them including over two hours of my four year old screaming and thrashing on my lap with a popcorn kernel shoved up his nose while a doctor attempted to use sharp, eight inch tweezers to get it out).
A few days later the boys ran off and went missing for almost half an hour.
Strange interpersonal interactions dug deeper at my insecurities as they do when in a vulnerable state.
I looked forward to getting to focus on Chinese class in July without it costing my family much emotionally.
Well, that went to pot, too. My two youngest got sick. Then got better. I missed Chinese class to keep an eye on a particularly nasty tummy bug they had. Then another odd interpersonal interaction resulted in my emotional knees getting knocked out from underneath me and I was faced wondering when I would get to just be rid of these wounds I’d carried so long.
And then…I found myself sitting in a Chinese ER passing blood, in unspeakable pain, shaking uncontrollably while bloodied patients wandered around me in the consultation room, pushed past me to see the doctor before I could, and the doctor, inexplicably, got up and left the room.
Two fellow Christian expats stuck closer than a brother…one of them wheeling me around and the other interpreting at the speed of light. My night ended with a midnight rite of passage into Chinese hospital culture — the medical IV.
I was sent home and told to come back for the next two days, each for another treatment. I was also given oral antibiotics. I went in the following two days and sat among sick people in a crowded room while a needle pumped antibiotics into my blood. I figured I’d catch an additional issue sitting in the SICK PARTY HEADQUARTERS.
I woke up after my last day of receiving IVs with my chest feeling like someone had sat on me all night. My breathing hurt. There were sharp pains behind my ribs. My back and hips felt like someone had had a go at me with their fists. My neck and head were pounding. All I could do was lie weakly in bed and watch my fever rise.
Then came night after night of an inability to sleep. I had already been waking up for about an hour and a half each night, overwhelmed. Now I was awake up to four or five hours a night.
Then came the rash. By the third day or so I woke up covered from head to toe in it.
Then two of my children got sick – one mildly so, the other quite seriously. My virus had passed to them. For nine days my one year old struggled with diarrhea, severe diaper rash, a moderate temperature (102), extreme discomfort and finally a body rash.
Needless to say I never finished my Chinese classes.
Did I mention I was in charge of hosting a new family who was moving here?
Yeah. My summer was rough.
I didn’t see it coming.
It was exhausting emotionally, spiritually and physically.
But here’s the hard lesson I’ve learned through the last few years and that was driven home to me this summer.
Guess what? I live on planet earth like everyone else. I’m entitled to suffer and feel the effects of a life less than perfect like everyone else. I’m not special.
Maybe that sounds super weird.
But somehow I had this thinking a while back that if I loved God enough and was really serving Him, then things would be smooth — or at least if I suffered it wouldn’t really get to me because I would be super spiritual or something.
Where did I get this? Hmmm…not from the Bible. Nope. I got it from American Christian culture. You know the culture that says, “The true Christian life is the one that looks good from the outside and that gets results. ” You know, the cookie cutter Christian.
The message that to struggle or to hurt or for things to not turn out as you’re sure God wants them to turn out is to be immature or lacking in something.
The message that says God is a means to an end.
And so when I would get in these situations, these battles for the heart or for the body, I would cry, “Why? What did I do wrong to not have everything fall perfectly into place?”
This time I didn’t ask the question so much. The self-pity party wasn’t such a party – it was one person in a room half-heartedly attempting to blow a noise-maker and then getting up and leaving, realizing the party wasn’t going anywhere.
Because God has generously and gently begun to free me from the misbelief that my faith is measured by how smooth my life is going. Or how quickly things turn out the way I want…or the way I think He wants.
As I sat in the room full of sick people staring at me — the foreign lady with the large, swollen left hand (from where a nurse had blown a vein), hooked up on her right hand to medicine, just as they or their friends or family were— I asked myself a different question. “Why not? Why shouldn’t I have a body that has weakness like everyone else in this room? Why shouldn’t I have to experience what your average Chinese person does when it comes to health care?”
And a week later at 4 am I asked, “Why not? Why shouldn’t I stay at home nine days with a feverish child who poops her bed multiple times a day and wakes up with poop on her stuffed animals and in her hair? Am I that special that I should have life trouble-free or at least just with troubles that I feel are tolerable?”
No. I’m not special. At all. People face trouble and adversity and disappointment every day — many to a degree I am likely to never, ever know or comprehend. And I am just one of the human population.
No, I’m not special and I can now stop expecting to somehow receive a “Get Out of Life on Planet Earth” card.
But, I am deeply, deeply loved by God.
A God who willingly choose to come and face adversity and disappointment, sickness, grief, loneliness and death.
So when I sat in that sick room and a lump rose in my throat at the pain in my left hand that was swelling and the sharp pinching in my right hand that had a needle protruding from it and I thought of other people that I erroneously think have it all together, an enormous gift of humility was given to me. And rather than balking at it, because it is a hard gift to receive, I took it. And I asked for it to be given again, because I would need it again. And soon.
Because guess what? God loved the world so much that He gave His son, who truly was special and truly didn’t deserve to experience adversity. And Jesus came. And He sat with wounded people. And He allowed Himself to be wounded. And He didn’t balk and refuse the humility of his humanness. Sure, He grieved. He asked that if it was possible He not have to face the most immense suffering that ever took place. He asked why He was forsaken. He didn’t deny the pain, He didn’t plow through it conquering it in a way that really wasn’t dealing with it at all. He accepted it and trusted Him who is Faithful. And we know the end of that Story — the Resurrection.
So, no, I wasn’t alone. I experienced Christ this summer. I grew up…I grew up into Him.
Maybe it wasn’t in a way I would have chosen.
But we don’t get to set the terms of our maturity. If we think we do, chances are we are still stuck in immaturity.
We are only offered chances to mature. Or not.
To work out the Truths He’s put in our mind if we’ve been in His word. Or not.
To be thankful for even the “small” details. Or not.
Finally, the resources provided by the BODY OF CHRIST during our month of sickness literally made it bearable.
We are so individualistic in America.
How beautifully humble to learn to allow others to help us.
Two fellow Christian expats came with me to the ER. I sensed deeply the presence of Christ through the deep care, compassion, empathy and even physical touch of these women as we traipsed all over the hospital. You better believe that was Jesus. And I heard, “This is life. And I love you,” all over those events.
No, I don’t want to ever experience those events or anything similar again — and yet, and yet, the sweetness of His presence through them is something I just can’t separate from that night.
The meals my fellow Christian expats dropped by for over a week.
The loaves of bread baked.
The groceries picked up.
The bouquet of flowers lovingly handed through the door.
That was the Body of Christ.
And I, in turn as a part of the Body, as I tossed and turned in pain in bed during the day and failed at sleeping at night prayed for the health care workers fighting, at those exact moments, for their lives from Ebola in Africa, interceded for those they had been working so hard to help — the communities trapped in misunderstanding and misbelief and surrounded by ill health care, grieved for those Christians suffering in Iraq, cried for Christ’s mercy on family and friends that I knew desperately needed it.
I won’t elect to go through any pain again. I’m a wimp.
Good thing it’s not up to me to choose the ways in which I might be sanctified — those ways are elected by Him. And He meets me all along the way. I am never truly alone. But I must be willing to look and find Him and His mercies, even in the most humbling ways.
I am so thankful that our family is, for the present healthy and whole – recognition of the good and a thankful heart makes you treasure the good stuff and takes the power out of the frustrating stuff. And God allows seasons of ease as well as seasons of adversity.
I still choose wisdom in how I live my life. I choose carefully what I invest my energy and time in. It’s part of good stewardship and faithfulness to do so.
And when things I would never choose come speeding at my soul — well, Christ is the ultimate Steward of that which has been entrusted to Him – my soul. And yours, too.