As we are coming upon a year (!) in Kenya this month, I have been thinking a lot about the last couple of years. I wrote a blog a few years ago about the true desires of my heart for my kids and I have thought about this blog several times in the last two years. It was easy to say as I wrote it in the comfort of my comfortable, safe little home at the time. My kids had seen some sorrow with the death of their grandmother and a drowning of a friend from church. But for the most part when I wrote that blog, they had not seen a lot of the real world. Though I knew it was coming, I didn’t really know what was coming. I didn’t know that when I ripped teenagers away from their familiar world with technology and friends and family and clean drinking water from the tap and fast food and A/C how much anger would come from that. I didn’t understand that living in a remote, war-torn place could cause such a deep wound on the hearts and the psyche of all of us, and that it would mean that, of course I couldn’t take care of the 6 of us – I couldn’t take care of myself. It was a daily lesson in survival for emotional and spiritual health. I knew that war was there – but what did that really mean to me? I had not lived through gunfire, burnings, and assassination attempts on people I knew before. I wasn’t prepared for those people to have a real face, a name, a family. To cry with me about it – or worse yet, to talk about it with a stone-faced look because it has become all too normal. I had gone through simulations in training on what to do in different crisis situations, but I had never lived with a go-bag packed before so we could take off with a change of clothes, malaria meds, and our important documents in minutes if we needed too. Growing up in PA I had certainly shot a gun and seen hunters use them – but on animals or tin can targets – not on people. And I had never seen tracer fire or heard AK-47s. I was not in the military, after all.
When I wrote that blog, I must have been naive, right?
When we left South Sudan and were in a safe place to process the huge amounts of grief and fear we had felt over the past year and I started to see the affects on my kids, I thought yes, I must have been naive. I was so angry at the woman – the mom – who wrote that stupid blog. What did she know? I was embarrassed because I knew so many people had read the blog and yet I wasn’t even sure any of it was true anymore. I was mad that I couldn’t be that woman – that I didn’t even want to be.
It had felt good and empowering (and pretty darn prideful, if I am willing to be honest) to write that the first time and “know” that I must have something in me that many people don’t. Us missionaries – we can be pretty arrogant in the name of sacrifice and service.
So while we took the last year to heal in many ways and start to really embrace life here I ignored that blog and all it’s implications. But then tonight I was watching an episode of NCIS (Isn’t this how all the good spiritual revelations start?) They were in South Sudan rescuing some military doctors who volunteered their time while off duty. And from the get-go, I realized it was not just a tv show for me. Though annoyed at the mispronunciation of “Juba” (really people – it’s four letters long!) I found myself in tears at the first sighting of the makeshift hospital tent where the people were gunned down. I felt panicked at seeing the gunships come in. I felt a homesickness for the people and the accents and the Juba Arabic and the landscape. Because yes, it had been HARD. But it was also GOOD. I experienced over and over again the hospitality and love of a people that just wanted to be left alone to live in peace. I heard stories of loss and survival that ripped my heart in two and put a burning desire to see justice come to light. I learned anew what hope looked like, even when it made no sense to me.
And my kids experienced all of these things right along with us. Their hearts and eyes were opened to things that may seem harsh and over the top, but are realities of the majority of people of this world. I have talked with my kids about these things. Anna said she remembers clearly the day after lockdown when she realized that the Sudanese people have no other choices. We talked about evacuation and safety and looked at what seemed like limited options – but they were still options. We had an out, but they didn’t. She also realized that the Sudanese cared about us enough that they wanted us to have that out and to use it. It wasn’t fair and it opened her heart up to justice and love and empathy and compassion. John has talked about how the last year shaped him and that even though it was rough and he was angry most of the time, God has since shown him some things about himself and about this world that he has realized he would never really understand without having South Sudan in his life. Andrew and RJ have really only good memories of Mundri (other than the latrine) because yes, we had an amazing team and some really awesome times there. They are both shaped by the input of a team that poured into them and loved them. And what young boy doesn’t love the adventure of wide open spaces and bows and arrows?
Would I have liked to have spared them some of the things they have seen and known. From a certain standpoint, of course! No mother enjoys watching her children ache and cry and grieve while not knowing how to help them. Yet I really like who my kids are today. I love seeing their hearts open to new things and people. I love seeing the compassion they have and the passions He has put in their hearts. It has been our prayer for as long as I can remember that our kids would be justice seekers and risk takers in this world and they wouldn’t be content with status quo.
I forgot that for a while. I got caught up and forgot that God is sovereign. I saw only the “in the moment” and not the molding and shaping that was happening for His good.
My kids are healthy. They are happy. And more importantly, they are in love with Jesus. That looks different for each of them, but it happened in deeper, more profound ways because of this last year. Grief can draw a sense of purpose out of you in ways that times of ease cannot.
So tonight I stand back alongside that naive woman who wrote the blog a few years ago and the quote from the book I was reading ( and need to reread, apparently) called ‘Parenting Beyond Your Capacity’ that says “The mission of your family is not to ultimately protect your kids but to mobilize them to demonstrate God’s love to a broken world.” Of course I will continue praying protection over my kids. But I will also pray for boldness, for compassion, for broken hearts that seek him, for things that bring them repeatedly to the place where they remember he is all they need, and for being justice seekers and grace bringers into this very broken world.
And I will pray for my own heart to be steadfast in this.