“But what actually happened?”
“You know… I wish I knew,” I told him.
It was a question I often get asked, a story I often avoid going into. But for the first time, it was a person asking who would truly understand. It was someone I felt safe to unpack it with, and, even more, wanted to unpack it with. I wanted some insight, I wanted understanding. But I didn’t even know where to begin, because I still don’t know. I don’t even know.
I walked into church Sunday night exhausted. Exhausted doesn’t even come close to describing it, really. Is there a word for “every time I stop moving my body wants to fall asleep”, “there’s more things on my to-do list than minutes in a day”, “I almost cried in the aisle of Target because they were out of bananas”? Let me know.
A few hours earlier, I had to say goodbye to a friend as he heads back to Malawi. A friend that two weeks ago I never expected to see anytime soon, and yet his departure ripped a hole inside me. His surprise presence in my life over the last week has been such a source of joy. And such a source of challenge. It’s brought memories of good times and hard times. It’s brought about conversations that seem to flow so effortlessly with some people, and yet seem impossible with others. It’s brought a reminder of a person I used to be, a season come and now gone.
Malawi.It always comes back to Malawi, doesn’t it? At this rate, I’ll be 45 and still blogging about this little country that forever changed the trajectory of my life, the trajectory of my faith. The place that was equally foreign and home, equally exciting and terrifying. Hearing names of places, names of people I’ve long forgotten how to pronounce brought it all back. Hearing the wonderful accent that will forever bring a smile to my face – the interchangeable L’s and R’s, the say-ed and the slowness – brought a euphoria I can’t explain. It also brought about a sadness.
My time in Malawi was nothing I expected. I mean that in the best and the worst way. I had my heart broken again and again, and yet I fell in love with things and people and ways of life I never thought possible. I went planning on using certain gifts, and they were ignored. Yet I discovered new passions, talents, and abilities that I never imagined. I felt more alone than ever before. I also experienced community in ways I had never before. I met some of the most amazing people and created life long relationships. And yet some relationships came to a sudden, abrupt end. Some beautiful things were started and created. Other seasons and experiences came to a screeching halt.
I honestly didn’t know what to do with it – all the unmet expectations, all the unexpected goodness. I still don’t. Sometimes when people want to talk to me about Malawi, anxiety courses through me, for I’m at a complete loss of what to say. Sometimes Malawi is all I want to talk about. Some days it’s a fond memory and I want to bask in it’s warmth. Some days it’s a painful scar – still healing, still raw to the touch. Most days I just avoid dealing with it. I’ve been back for over a year, after all. It’s not something typically brought up unless I want it to be. I have control over the situation. And, oh, do I love to be in control of situations.
Until Yami showed up in San Diego and my carefully packed up Malawi boxes burst open, flinging emotions and memories every which way.
One of my favorite authors describes our faith journey like a rummage sale. Sometimes we have to sift through the attic of our lives, figuring out what boxes stay and what boxes go. What to keep holding on to, what to let go of. It’s an ongoing, continual process. It’s often a painful, frustrating process. We can tend to feel out of sorts because our life is, literally, out of sorts.
I had been avoiding the Malawi corner in my attic for a while. How to go about unpacking those boxes? How to go about sifting through it all? I don’t know how to hold joy and pain in the same hand. I don’t know how to be okay with deep loss and deep gain, when they happened alongside each other. When they happened because of each other. So many endings and yet so many beginnings. What to keep? What to move past? What to mourn, and let it be? What to seek reconciliation in and where to pursue healing?
I sat in church raw, because that’s how I feel when I’m at my limit. My brain has long since stopped working, my energy is long gone, my patience is long used up. I didn’t want to see anyone and I didn’t want to be seen – I showed up in my ripped jeans and beat up vans, comfiest t-shirt and hair thrown up while driving (oops), planning to sit with my best friend and peace out as soon as service was over. It was not a night for socializing, for connecting, for kairos moments. I didn’t have time for any of that. I had a plan. I was in control. Oh, do I love to be in control.
Until our pastor walked towards me as the music started, asking if I would be willing to read the scripture for the evening. On stage. Into a mic. In front of a few hundred people. In my very fashionable outfit. Obviously, my dream come true. Did I mention we’re going through Revelations? Casual passage to read. Thanks, Thyatira, for being so easy to pronounce.
As my hands were shaking in anticipation of holding a mic in them (per usual), I realized my insides were shaking as well. I was still reeling from the pain of saying goodbye to Yami, still reeling from all the emotions that his visit brought about, still reeling from my life being suddenly thrown out of sorts.
As I sat down, counting down until I was going to have to go on stage and focus an insane amount of energy on not tripping, not dropping my giant study bible, saying words that made sense, the whole nine yards, I was trying to gather it all. The nerves. The pain. The uncertainty. The questions that never seemed to stop. I was fighting for control.
Until I heard Him tell me, “It’s okay.
“It’s okay to be all over the place. It’s okay to be out of sorts. It’s okay to be joyful and sad, to celebrate and mourn. It’s okay to still be wrestling with these same struggles, it’s okay that Malawi wasn’t what you thought it would be. It’s okay that you weren’t who you thought you were. It’s okay that I am not you who thought I am. It’s okay to not be sure how to move forward, it’s okay to be uncertain of some things. It’s okay to not know; it’s okay to not be in control.”
“But what actually happened?”
“You know…. I wish I knew,” I told him.
I was honest. I was vulnerable. I shared some things that most other people wouldn’t understand, and he heard me. I shared my pain and my regret and my questions. I shared my doubts and I shared my final resolve: that our God is a God who redeems, ultimately. That I don’t fully understand, and I won’t ever fully understand, but I can trust that. I can trust Him. I shared the ways He has already shown up, the platforms He’s given me to proclaim the gospel out of the hurt. The places that He has lead me to shine a light into the darkness, a light I wouldn’t have without this pain. I shared that I think that’s enough. For right now, that’s enough.
Feeling out of sorts isn’t fun. It isn’t easy. I’m still unpacking so much of life, still sifting through truths and lies. But I’m learning that it’s okay. It’s okay to hold celebration and mourning in the same hand. It’s okay to look back on a memory with laughter and tears. It’s okay to wish your present was a different scenario and yet be grateful for this present reality at the same time. It’s okay to not know the balance of boundaries with someone who hurt you and the grace Jesus calls us to live out of. It’s okay to not know how to pronounce Thyatria and yet speak it into a microphone regardless. It’s okay to not be in control. It’s okay to not know. It’s okay.
Out of Sorts happens to be one of the best books you’ll ever read (in my humble opinion), and I can’t post a blog with this title without sharing this goodness! Check out Sarah Bessey, she’s fantastic!