Can I Love Until It Hurts?
I’m at the point where I’m in need of the latter: more love. Love certainly hurts. When I left La Crescent to move here, I cried for obvious reasons. I needed to grieve the life I was leaving behind. But I thought when I got here the love of being with my Swazi kids and heart would erase the ache for my old life. How wrong I was. Actually, just today during their lunch break, I was supposed to skype with my old students who started FCA with me last year. Of course, on the one day I really needed it, the connection didn’t work. I was able to call Allie and say hi for about a minute before they headed off to class. But as I hung up, tears filled my eyes. I didn’t know I would miss them this much. I didn’t know I’d miss my job and the daily joys of being in a position to inspire and teach this much. I didn’t know I loved all 400 of my students to the point of hurt, as Mother T says in her quote. But this certainly hurts. No one here can replace those I left behind, similar to no one in the States being able to fill the empty spaces in my heart left for my Swazi children. In all my times in Swazi, never have I been homesick this often. Perhaps it is because my purpose and the duration of my stay is different, longer. I had no idea how much things would change in making an “indefinite” move, with the possibility of forever. There is no end point for me like there was before: 2 months, 9 months, 1 month, etc. I didn’t realize how having a lasting perspective changes everything. To be honest, it scares me. Can I really live here? Can I make a living? Can I keep loving like the way I did on a short term scale? Can I persevere? Do I want to?
If you would’ve asked me six years ago what I envisioned my life would be at 28, I would’ve told you this: By 28, I would’ve already been married for a few years with a 2 year old boy and baby girl on the way. I would teach for a little longer before becoming a stay-at-home mom. I would be a coach and a writer. My husband and I would be living in a 2 story house with a front porch and porch swing that we’d sit in together in the evenings to gaze at the stars. Our yard would have lots of room to play football and have cookouts and maybe even a pool. There would be an expensive basketball hoop, one I can adjust so I can dunk. My husband and I would visit our families often and be active in our church. I could go on and on. Africa wouldn’t have been in the picture, and certainly no non-profit. Who would want to start and run a non-profit, anyway? Definitely not my cup of tea. Funny how life works sometimes, eh?
So here I am: 28 and single, living in a foreign country whose only concept of “football” is a soccer ball. I live in a house big enough to hold all 21 of us, and I sleep on a top bunk in a room that has little space for my things and it has a window without a screen (which was the entrance and exit point for a rat). I have 18 girls and one baby boy, and it’s the youngest and oldest age groups that give me the most trouble or take the most energy. The wounds from their past demand so much love, and to be honest, it scares me to love them because I know that comes with pain. I know that what I have isn’t enough. Can I love them like they need to be? Can I love them beyond the pain and frustration they bring me? Can I persevere? Do I even want to?
A couple days ago, Nonhlanhla prayed for me and asked God to renew my heart so I could love them the way I did when we opened the home, before they’ve done so much wrong since. Indeed, they have. One got pregnant, one chose to leave the home so she could see her boyfriend, one is a chronic liar to get constant attention, one give the answers we want but is deceivingly rebellious; one lies to get away with things, one lies to stick up for her friends, one lies out of fear, one lies to “protect” me, thinking that the truth would hurt.
I told this to a man who nearly broke my heart: The truth hurts, yes, but hurts can heal. Lies and deceit, however, destroy, and destruction cannot be healed. Somehow this seems to be the story of my life here–being constantly lied to. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t know who to trust in the home. I don’t know which sob story to fall for, and I’m becoming jaded and I hate it. I feel like the old man in that starfish story where a young boy tries to rescue the starfish and throws each one back into the ocean. The old man tells the boy it’s a waste of time and energy because he can’t possibly make a difference in the hundreds of thousands of starfish on the beach. But the boy picks one up and throws it into the ocean, saying, “Well, I made a difference in that one!” I used to think I was like the boy, who could see the importance of one; now I feel more like the old man who sees the larger picture and gets discouraged. Because I’m surrounded by so much need every single day, it makes me ache for my old life–a life that was much easier and more peaceful, a life filled with people who love me without expecting anything in return, a life of comfort, familiarity, and trust.
Can I live here? Can I make a living? Can I keep loving the way I once did? Can I persevere?
No. I can’t. Over the years, I’ve grown tremendously in my dependence on Christ, but I’ve also become a very independent woman by the world’s standards. My independence sometimes deceives me. I think I’m weak if I have to ask for help. I should be able to handle this. I’ve turned some bitterness of “single and alone” into “fine, I can do it on my own anyway.” And that, of course, ends up affecting my relationship with God, though I’d like to think I am wholly dependent on Him.
So, no, I can’t do it. I don’t want to. Because it’s not about me anyway. It’s about the Lord and the story He wants to write using my life. It’s about what He will accomplish, not what I can or can’t do. So, this is me admitting that I am not strong. This is me confessing that I am weak, and that’s okay because His strength is coming. This is me realizing that love hurts, yes, but when the hurt runs out, there can only be more love. This is me offering up my negativity so I can embrace the coming joy. As my dad told me once, “March on, weather the storm, for the rainbow is just around the corner.” This is me asking you to be part of this story and a warrior of strength. Prayer is the only way God will accomplish all things through and for me. Through your prayers, I can live here, I can make a living here, I can love like I’m loved, and I can persevere.
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” -Romans 8:28