“Home” Warsan Shire

This poem has been all over the internet lately, but my sister sent it to me this morning and I find it so tragic and wrenching.  Even as I feel like I am settling into my home, I am aware that so many others are being forced to leave theirs in extreme ways.  My heart breaks for all of those people needing to leave home and yet having no where new to call home.  Running from something so evil that it overtakes everything and causes them to make decisions that would make no sense in any other setting.  I am also brimming with anger at the oppressors and the unjustness  of it all.  And I am so uncomprehending how anyone anywhere could be so cold, calloused, and cruel.  HOW can you look at another human being regardless of race, color, religion, or background and blindly kill with joy?  How can you see families torn apart, women destroyed, children with hollow eyes and swollen bellies and not want to do anything?  Even if you (like myself so often) have no idea what to do and feel overwhelmed by it the vastness of it, how could you still ignore?  But my words are simple and I can’t express it with enough emotion, so I repost this poem.

I would say enjoy, but that doesn’t seem quite right.  Instead, be open to the emotions brought on by Ms. Shire’s raw and powerful words.

“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten
pitied

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

the
go home blacks
refugees
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
savage
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here”

Changed

July 2015

 

null

As I’ve been in the States traveling around and talking about our past year with people, I have been forced to process through some of the things that we have experienced a little more in depth.  People have been so amazing, and I have discovered as I close each time with a chance to ask questions, I start to be emotional when I am forced to go “off script” and really think about my feelings, hopes, and expectations. For the most part I feel like I cannot answer those questions clearly yet. I am excited to get back to Nairobi and start figuring out life with my family. Yet I’m grieving the loss of the plans and hopes we had as a team and a family in South Sudan. I am so happy to know that we are a part of a church in Nairobi that is truly seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the city, yet it still new and foreign, and I long for it to feel like family.  I am at complete peace with John going to Nyack and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is the right place for him, yet that leaves a big hole in our family.  I hear news from South Sudan and wonder if things will ever change for the happy, easy-going, peace-desiring people I know and love there, and still struggle with the whys that keep coming up in my heart and mind as far as justice and freedom.

So while I have been silent on here for a while, there have been many thoughts and ideas for blogs churning around inside. Here’s the thing, though…I can’t seem to figure out how to put voice to any of them in an accurate, satisfactory way.  In the middle of a sentence I realize I am rambling and have already changed my mind about what I was saying three times.  I’ve written out blog after blog and wadded up the paper and thrown it out just as often.  It’s not writers block so much as emotional constipation. It seems to be building up and wanting to come out, but I can’t quite make it happen. Wow…even that example could go in a really graphic direction that I think I will avoid-ha!

I recently heard the quote again from The Hobbit movie, and I think it sums up a lot of why this is.   Gandalf is telling Bilbo that he should go on this incredible adventure.  Bilbo, being the cautious hobbit that he is says, ” Can you promise I will come back?”  Gandalf responds in his usual honest way by saying, “No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.”

Thats where I feel like I’m at. Back, but not the same. And as I try to talk with people- friends, family, strangers, etc- it’s become clear that there are times even I don’t recognize the things that have changed in me this year.  Most of the time I’m ok with that- I feel a steadiness in me that comes when you are at the point of looking back on something hard and knowing God was in it all. But sometimes, when I’m sitting and wanting to say something to make myself clear, yet I’m not sure what words to say or even how to put words to a thought, I feel lost.  Sometimes I get ready to give the response to a question I would have given a year ago, and I realize that my answer is different.  It’s funny, I remember saying to someone last year when I turned 40 what a good feeling it was to be at a place in life where I knew who I was, and was comfortable in that.  Then God answered all those prayers sung in that beautiful, emotion-stirring song about a trust without borders and keeping my eyes above the waves, and I am caught up in the wave and have not touched bottom since.

It’s hard. And confusing.  And so very right and good- even when I don’t want to admit it.

So I apologize for long periods of silence, and I won’t make any promises of that changing soon.  But then again- how do I know what God has in mind? I do promise to keep it real and honest with you all, and hope you do the same with us.  Thanks for your continued prayers and for your faithfulness.

The Promise in a Name

Feb. 2015

null

Today I spent several hours with some Cici and Maria and their families here in Mundri.  As I sat in the shade of the huge mango trees, I felt as at home as I ever do in Moruland.  Even more so as a soldier walked by and called me “Kawaja” (White person) and Maria told him I was not a kawaja, I was Moru, this was my home, and I was her sister.  This made sitting in the 108 degree heat worth it. I have been out of sorts since we got back from Uganda last week.  On our last leave I was ready to come home.  I looked forward to being back in our house and seeing familiar faces and jumping back into language.  Not so much this time.  I knew we would be coming into 110 degree heat each day, and nights that could be 90-100.  We live in a place where there is not a lot of control over our environment.  We cannot control the temperature of our house – there are screens and no window panes, so whatever heat is outside is also inside.  We cannot decide to take a cold shower, because we have have no hot or cold controls – it all comes from one big tank sitting in the sun all day.  (Which I am thankful for – don’t get me wrong!  I can’t imagine having to walk to the borehole all the time.)  We have inches of red dust on every space of the house every day and I have given up trying to control it.  We can never know what foods are available in the market, and even if they are there -are they good?  We bought bread that was moldy and eggs that had been fertilized, so there were big red blobs in them.  It was all too much and very overwhelming.  Even visiting friends on Tuesday felt like a disconnect as I couldn’t communicate well, and it all felt so very frustrating. So today, after I got the kids and Shawn off to school (he teaches them on Thursdays – I love this man!) I sat in the quiet house and prayed in tears.  “Lord, please – give me something – anything – to feel connected today.  I need this from you.”  I prayed without a lot of hope that it would happen.  Then I got in the car and left. And I’m so glad I did. After much laughing and a crazy mixed up lesson in English, Arabic, and Moru with Maria where we got off on some crazy tangents that I am not sure how we got to (“How do you say this in English?” she says as she points to her breast) I had lunch, ate tea and Mandazi, tickled the kids, watched Cici do some sewing on my outfit that she is making for me, and got quizzed some more on Moru questions by Cici.  When someone came by and asked my name and mentioned how difficult it was, Cici and Maria finally gave me a Moru name.  (Heather seems to be impossible for people to remember and usually gets changed to Helda!)  So, Ovuru Maro Riya/Heather.  My name is Happy.  Because apparently I laugh a lot. This was a gift I needed today after having a week of very little laughing, except in bitterness.  Moru people give very practical names, so I was expecting something about my height or weight or white skin or something.  There are many people named war because they were born in the war or right after.  Many are named things like the day of the week they were born, etc.  So while Riya is not very rare (there are many Riyas here, or a variety of it) it is a good name that makes me smile.  And I feel like it is a promise. nullI’m thankful today for the gift of happiness, friends, laughter, a name, and a place that just might someday be home.  Even despite the heat.

Heroes in Grief

(Originally written Nov. 2013)

“Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I’ve been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That’s the deal.”  

C.S. Lewis

My heart has been heavy since leaving MTI yesterday.  I knew I would feel a loss from the community that we have been living in for the last 4 weeks, but I guess I underestimated the intensity of it.  I tried sleeping in the car while traveling yesterday to lessen the blow and not think about it, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to play music and block it out, but the music playing reminded me of worship there.  Finally I gave in to what the Holy Spirit was telling me – to feel it and not fight it.  But it stinks.

I never thought emotions and grief were a problem for me.  I am that mom who cries at Little House on the Prairie, every church service we go to, and YouTube videos of puppies and kittens.  My kids are no strangers to seeing me cry.

So when Robin, one of our trainers this week said, “I want you to be your children’s heroes when it comes to walking through grief and loss” I was surprised at my reaction.  My knee jerk reaction was to think that the best way to help them was to avoid having to go through it.  I have felt like a failure many times as a parent because we are constantly putting them in situations with these things occurring.

A hero?

Apparently a healthy grief, a deep, mournful loss, a guttural prayer and moan, and a tender heart are super hero qualities!  Who knew?

So as we pulled out yesterday, surrounded by new friends – really new brothers and sisters – tears were streaming down our faces and sobs wrenched our hearts as the kids gulped and cried with us.  But we held hands, cried together, acknowledged and affirmed the deep loss we were going through, and eventually everyone settled into a silence that was full of the safe knowledge that we all understood each other.  There were no trite words, empty promises (or even real promises) – there were really no words at all.  Just gentle looks, shared groans, and healing touches.

And we keep processing.

The kids were so happy to get a Facebook hug from Miss Becca last night.  We have been texting and communicating with MTI friends all day.  Pictures are being shared and blogs being read.  And MTI has become the new “favorite place” of our children – sorry, Delta Lake!

Yet my grief just keeps churning.  Sorrow has been coursing through my heart that seems to go beyond the grief of leaving Colorado.  Tears start anew at little, unimportant things and inopportune times.

And I say to Him time and time again, “Father, Help!”  I want to feel it, yet I want to run as fast as I can from it.  I want to dig down deep and see what some of the roots of this sorrow is – yet I want to close my eyes and ignore it just as much.  But he chooses to answer my cry for help, and he starts to peel back the layers that are there.  While the grief from leaving MTI is genuine, deep, and not to be ignored, there has been a prodding into other areas of my life that I have not fully grieved.   When Tim and Robin had us probe into these places I was not only given permission to feel them, I was actually encouraged to look at them closely, to allow those things to kind of float around me for a while and think upon them – to “jump off the high dive” instead of dipping my toes into the water.

And when I started it was like a dam broke.

I grieved the loss of my mom all over again, in deeper ways than I was able to face at the time.  I miss her so much.  I want her to be here – to share in my excitement about going to South Sudan, to see pictures of where we will be living, to make plans to come visit us there, to know her grandchildren and be known by them.  As one friend said this week, I want to have her hug at the airport, but I won’t.

I grieved the end to our time in Malawi.  I gave my heart to that place, that ministry, those people.  And yet we had to leave in a way that I never really got to say good-bye.  I never really got closure.

I grieved over the loss of the church family that had become our life-line in the past few years in New York.  The people who knew us in deep ways – the right and the good and the deep, dark, ugly things.  The people who prayed with us and for us.  The people who have walked through our lives with us for the past five years.

I grieved the loss of time – the fact that another year has ended and we are not in Africa yet.  That our time with John is getting shorter and shorter.  I know His hand is in all these things, but the feelings of grief are real and need to be acknowledged.

I grieved hurts from childhood that have popped up in my adult life time and time again.  The loss of innocence, the things I saw that cannot be taken back, the feelings that were stuffed down and spilled out at the wrong times.

And I grieved loss of home.  That is why it has been so very hard to leave MTI.  It was a safe haven.  It was a place where we did not have to explain our hearts or motives.  Where living out of a van for months doesn’t seem so strange.  And it was a place where people spoke into our lives with wisdom, challenge, and love – from experience.  We were not handled with kid gloves, but given every opportunity to grow and know God more while being prepared for the next part of our lives.  We were loved, and we loved.
Whole-heartedly.  And that’s why it felt like home – not just because that’s where we “hung our hats” for a month.  And leaving that home we are back in a different hotel each night, fast food, and uncertainty about the timing of things.

Sometimes I felt it would be easier to just not let myself love the people there.  To isolate our family and not let the kids get their hearts involved. But the quote at the beginning of this was given to us this month, and I realized that the alternative to no suffering was no real love.  I can’t have that  and I can’t teach that to my kids. It’s time to act like a grown woman instead of a little girl.

So Shawn and I are putting on our super hero capes and wading through this grief.  We are learning to communicate with the kids and each other, and giving grace in these times on loss.  Thanks for your prayers during this time.  It’s not fun, but it’s necessary.  And I do thank my God for it – because I would never have wanted to miss it.

Hurt

(Originally posted 2013)

This morning I had the fun task of taking RJ to the dentist.  For some reason my youngest two have bad teeth – weak enamel or the fact that they only floss when I am standing over them glaring are probably the biggest reasons, because we don’t eat a lot of sticky, sweet things!  A couple years ago I had to take Andrew to the dentist and he was put under conscious sedation.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life!  After over an hour of yelling, screaming, crying out for help and calling my name as I held him down so they could operate, they fixed 8 cavities and pulled several teeth.  (They also cleaned them while he was under!)  They were right – he didn’t remember a thing – but I was scarred for life.

Today they gave RJ laughing gas and then Novocaine, but he still had a hard time when they actually started pulling.  Watching him grab the chair and cry was terrible.  For one thing, I had inadvertently lied to him.  I was under the assumption the reason I was paying extra for the laughing gas was so he wouldn’t feel anything – but he obviously did.  And now we get to go back in another two weeks to get the other side done.  Fun times.

I know that these things are sometimes painful, and can cause anxiety in my children (and me!) – but ultimately they are for their own good.  Getting shots to prevent disease, removing infection from the body, and fixing things that are broken are all beneficial things that can seem not-so-beneficial at the moment.  When RJ was just 6 months old he went in for open heart surgery to repair 2 holes (ASD and VSD for those of you medical people.)  It was AWFUL!  Not being able to feed him in the morning and hearing his pathetic whines because he was hungry and too young to understand; seeing the tubes and the not being able to hold him afterwards;  he started getting an infection, and they had to beat on his back every few hours after breaking open his sternum – the whole thing was terrible.  Yet it was this very thing that caused him to be able to live and have a life that doesn’t revolve around hospitals and surgeries.  I hated it, but God got us through it and he is healthy and alive.

null

I think about parents who have to watch their child go through sickness or tragedy.  It broke my heart today just to hear RJ crying, and have him know that I was there and allowing it to happen.  But what about those parents that have to watch as their child goes through cancer treatments?  Or dies slowly because of lack of food or clean drinking water?  What about the moms and dads in South Sudan and other countries like it that have seen their children raped, maimed, killed, and taken by their own country?  How does one heal after that?  How does one cope?  It’s hard to see the purpose in those things – they are not like getting life healing surgery or having an infection taken out of your mouth.  It’s just plain evil and sin in this world.  But these parents, these families, still need to know God’s healing and his love.

When we were in the hospital for RJ’s surgery there was a little girl there that was only around 6 – and she was going through her second round cancer.  She could no longer walk because of the treatments, and she had no hair.  Her mother was taking her around trick or treating that day in the kid’s ward (it was Halloween) and I met them on the elevator.  I was nervous and sad for RJ, but I knew I would be taking him home in a few days and he would be healthy and happy.  There was not that promise for this little girl.  Watching her mom broke me in ways I can’t describe.

As we go to South Sudan we will meet parents who have lost kids in all ways – famine, war, poverty, childbirth, disease – even preventable ones.  I am asking God to keep my heart tender and breakable, even though it will hurt badly at times.  I want to always see people through his eyes and with his heart.  It’s not a prayer I take lightly – but I believe it’s an important one.

Anxiety Wars

(originally written Nov 1, 2018)

Yesterday  I was having a conversation with Shawn about a particular situation we have been working through that went something like this:

Shawn: “How are you feeling?”

Me:  “I feel good.  Like, I actually don’t have any anxiety.  I feel like God truly is going to work this out in a way that tangibly us shows his love for us and he will get the glory.  This is a strange feeling..” (Long pause, overthinking, deep gulp of breath) “And now I have anxiety about not having anxiety!”

Oh, Heather of little faith.

I can chuckle about the whole conversation, but the truth is that it really isn’t funny to be that familiar with stress and so unfamiliar with the peace of laying that at His feet.  I was (over) thinking about it again later and had to start really ask my self some hard questions. How did that brief moment of peace feel, and why is it so foreign to me ? Why is it so uncommon and momentous that I want to write about it?

Let’s be real for a minute here.  Having a moment of panic or anxiety pop up is NOT a sin. It is a natural by-product of our new selves in Him constantly fighting our old selves of the flesh. Add to that the brokenness of this hurting, chaotic world and we are bound to have it attack us sometimes.  I am also not talking about an anxiety that requires medication.  There have been times that I have been on meds for these types of things. The only thing wrong in that case is feeling too embarrassed or weak to seek out help because of it. Those are lies.  However, with the daily, normal stress of everyday there is a problem with allowing oneself to wallow in it, or to jump in head first and whole-heartedly because it feels familiar and – dare I say – safe.  It is easier than the fight.  It is “normal.”

This is where I know some of you are saying, “But what about…” or “You have no idea…”

I understand, friends. I truly do.

You can see from my opening conversation how “normal” anxiety is for me.  As a matter of fact, many counselors all over the world could retire from what my family alone pays in counseling services.  I  second guess myself and my decisions about every little thing. I remember once when I was pregnant for Andrew I had debate within my mind over whether it would be better for our family to have another girl or another boy to add to the crew. I got seriously stressed over it, feeling on the verge of a panic attack before allowing the Spirit to actually breakthrough and give me His peace about the fact that I had ZERO control over the whole situation anyway and – oh yeah –  if the God of the universe, who created every single person and family was in control, then maybe it was ok for me to trust him rather than waste precious sleep time having that debate.

I’m a mess.

I’ve experienced panic attacks in the car on a regular basis since I was a child.  I can think of probable reasons for this beginning, but after 40+ years I somehow had talked myself into believing that this was just who I am and I gave up hope of ever feeling victorious over it.  I made myself believe it is just a part of who I am.

Then I watched my youngest suffer through debilitating panic attacks.   The kind where there is no reasoning, no talking, no loving  that can bring him out of it until he is removed from the situation that brought him into it in the first place.  My maternal instincts kicked into overdrive and I started to do everything I could to help him overcome and find peace.  My hope and celebrations for RJ as I see victories, and the soul-crushing hopelessness that comes when it often seems more like one step forward, two steps back drove me deep into the Father’s arms in ways I had given up on for me. My glimpses of peace made me long for that for my little boy – and for me, and a new type of war began.

Today as I sat in the counselor’s office she was asking me about this very thing.  She mentioned that when you live with something for so long in your life, you don’t know what to do without it and even welcome it back.  I told her about my conversation with Shawn, and she smiled knowingly.  Suddenly I felt a sense of freedom the promise that I am not the only one dealing with this, as well as the reminder that it is not something I always have to hold on to and be “ok” with.  I will do what it takes to be free – whatever that is.  Freedom comes in different ways for each of us, and in each situation. There is no shame in that. 

So today I begin again.

“I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God.”