For those of you who have been following my blog, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a huge gap between my last post in June and this current one. Normally I love to write, but for some reason, I’ve been at a loss for words ever since I moved back from Uganda. It’s strange, because I usually articulate whatever I’m feeling best through writing; but unfortunately, I haven’t genuinely been able to identify what it is that I’m feeling lately. It’s hard to describe something in eloquent language when I have no idea what I’m actually trying to describe.
Despite this frustrating mental and emotional block, I finally decided that I’ve got to start somewhere. So here goes…
I guess I’ll begin by saying this. Sometimes we think we know what we want, and then when we get it, we find out it’s the opposite of what we’d hoped for. When I was still living in Uganda, one of the things I longed for most was the ability to do things without being noticed. I constantly drew unwanted attention simply because I looked different than everyone else. My exterior attracted curious strangers to me, and it often took extra time to get simple things done because of so many people approaching me. Some days I would think to myself, “If only I could go to the market without anyone noticing I’m different, life would be so wonderful.”
But today, as I walked into a large store to go grocery shopping, I had a revelation. I got exactly what I wanted….and it doesn’t feel right. Why? Because now I appear to fit in, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With long hair and skin freckled from the sun, no one questions that I could be from California. Nobody looks at me and assumes I’m an outsider. I fit the role. I look “normal.” And that’s precisely what bothers me. I appear to belong, but in my heart, I don’t. My heart and mind are filled with memories and homes and villages and cultures and faraway lands that no one here can understand. I dream about different countries at night and have to remember where I am when I wake up. My Facebook newsfeed is in at least four different languages. I randomly sing worship songs in Ateso and Luganda in my car when no one can hear me. And it still feels more normal to fetch water at the borehole with my village buddies than to drive to a job in California every day. Even though I look the same as others, I feel so different than them. My grid for normal was shattered a long time ago. In Uganda, I thought I wanted to look like everyone else. Now I have what I asked for, and it feels like a façade. Inside, I’m screaming, “I’m different! Can’t you see?? Normal isn’t normal anymore! My heart is forever changed!” Yet, on the outside, strangers see a typical American woman and pass me by without notice. Being unknown doesn’t feel as good as I imagined.
Thankfully, people who actually do know me are very aware of the fact that I'm kind of a weirdo. They know that I’ve always been someone who marches to the beat of her own drum. But many still do not realize how much my time in Uganda affects me on a daily basis or how much I miss life overseas. Those who have not spent time with me on the mission field cannot fully understand how truly chaotic the cadence of my life was during the past few years. I’m convinced that the longer you get used to such an unconventional lifestyle, the harder it is to fit back into a traditional one. The ebbs and flows of missionary life certainly shook me at times but weirdly made sense to me. I found purpose in the trials and beauty in the unexpected adventures. I miss that life of whimsy and sudden surprises. It wasn’t easy; don’t get me wrong. But it was FULL. I’ve been back in California for five months now, and sadly, I can probably count on one hand how many moments I’ve had where I’ve felt I was able to do something truly meaningful for someone else. Nowadays, I spend most of my time battling California traffic to and from work, working two jobs to just barely stay afloat financially, and squeezing time in with friends every now and again. So much of my life is self-focused; I’m in survival mode to pay my bills and get things done.
I understand on a cognitive level that I can’t expect every day here to produce the same feeling as traveling to remote villages to share the gospel, praying for people with AIDs, or implementing sustainable projects for elderly widows. In terms of feeling satisfied and purposeful in my work, the bar was set pretty darn high in Africa. In my head, I understand that working as a personal trainer with affluent people in Orange County can’t produce those same dramatic feelings of satisfaction. But in my heart, I long to experience that satisfaction once again. I long to actually do something to transform another human being’s life. I long to take risks to love other people the way Jesus did. I am ruined for this normal life, this monotonous routine of working and paying bills and impacting people on only the tiniest, most subtle levels. I’ve seen the other side, and I’m not content with this. There’s more, so much more.
I want to experience “the more” in America, and I believe it’s possible. However, I have no idea how to get there. When the majority of my time is spent at a job where I’m not supposed to discuss religion or politics or anything controversial, I wonder…how do people find deep meaning in these surface level relationships? If anyone has figured it out, let me know. I’m all ears. Seriously, I am.
Fortunately, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person with doubts or questions. I was listening to Davy Flowers’ version of “Do You Know The Way You Move Me?” today, and the words really resonated with me:
“I thought I’d be a little further along by now; I thought I’d be more mature, have more to say, feel deeper things…but it’s very, very, very weak to me…but do you see? Father, do you hear me?”
Sometimes, I feel like I should be further along. I should have this all figured out way better than I do. If I could be a missionary in Africa, I should be able to be a missionary in my own country, right? If I could make a difference among people with such large cultural and language barriers, how much more should I be making an impact where I can easily and openly communicate with others? Why is this so difficult? Why is there so much emptiness in the mundane? I feel like I’m working and working and working all the time but not really getting anything done. Will it always feel that way?
This dissatisfaction with the ordinary invites deep, penetrating questions that are hard to wrestle. It makes “normal” life kind of painful. It makes me scream, “I don’t fit in here!” from the depths of my soul even though my exterior suggests otherwise. Yet, despite the pain such dissatisfaction brings, I’m not sure I want it to go away. I wonder if perhaps this tension can be a good thing. A few weeks ago, a client of mine mentioned that she didn’t like to see poor people when she was on vacation. I foolishly assumed that it bothered her because she was distracted by the poverty and ended up feeling compelled to help out rather than to simply rest. However, as she continued talking, I realized she just didn’t want to see poor people – period. She didn’t want to have to look at their dirtiness or poverty or acknowledge their existence. If feeling satisfied with life here means working a 9-5 and saving up for vacations where I can pretend poor people don’t exist, then I don’t want to feel satisfied. I’d rather feel this constant, heart-wrenching pull between opposite worlds than feel settled but view the world the way that woman does.
Please don’t get me wrong here. I’m not trying to judge anyone who makes good money or works a conventional job in America or goes on vacation. (In fact, I would totally take a vacation right now if I could!) We all have different callings and spheres of influence. I have friends who feel deeply called to share God’s love in Hollywood. I know people who hang out with celebrities, do photo shoots for models, sing on the radio, etc., and they are lights in some of the darkest places in this nation. They are bringing God’s love to a group of people who are physically rich but spiritually starving. I’m not saying we cannot be impactful or useful in America. What I’m saying is that I often think about the ministry I’m wired for and wonder if God’s calling for my life will ever allow me to feel fully settled in the U.S. Is that wanderlust meant to keep me from getting too established? Is that compassion for the poor meant to keep me dissatisfied with building my own riches and watching others do the same? Is that burning heart for Africa meant to compel me to do something powerful and unconventional? I hope so. Otherwise, I guess I’m just crazy.
I wish I had a beautiful, succinct way to wrap up my scattered thoughts, but I’m still wrestling through them. I don’t have it all figured out yet; I don’t know the answers to the many questions bouncing around my mind. Fortunately, God does. I really don’t know how people walk through the uncertainties of life without the assurance that someone far greater than us does know what’s going on. Even though I don’t really feel settled in my current circumstances or environment, I know that I am eternally settled in the unchanging love of the Father.
And perhaps what’s even more comforting to me is the fact that God sees who I really am. I’m reassured by the fact that He is not fooled by my skinny jeans and ankle boots. He sees far beneath the illusion that I fit in here and is deeply aware of every battle I am facing. He understands my wild heart and my discontentment with normality. He sees me frantically stirring about day in and day out; and I can picture him looking over me, smiling like a loving father and saying, “Oh my restless daughter, just wait. Just wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” And maybe that’s all I need right now – the simple assurance that He sees my mess, my confusion, and my frustration. As I search for meaning in the midst of the mundane, I know He loves me the same in the adventure and in the monotony.
So, as I continue to struggle for the right words to say, I suppose I’ll finish up with the words of someone far greater than myself:
“Lord, you have examined me
and know all about me.
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know my thoughts before I think them.
You know where I go and where I lie down.
You know everything I do.
Lord, even before I say a word,
you already know it.
You are all around me—in front and in back—
and have put your hand on me.
Your knowledge is amazing to me;
it is more than I can understand.
Where can I go to get away from your Spirit?
Where can I run from you?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there.
If I lie down in the grave, you are there.
If I rise with the sun in the east
and settle in the west beyond the sea,
even there you would guide me.
With your right hand you would hold me.
I could say, “The darkness will hide me.
Let the light around me turn into night.”
But even the darkness is not dark to you.
The night is as light as the day;
darkness and light are the same to you.
You made my whole being;
you formed me in my mother’s body.
I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way.
What you have done is wonderful.
I know this very well.”
Psalm 139: 1-14, NCV