What began as an email response to my sister-in-law, Kimberly’s, thoughts on life in the American suburbs, has turned into several days of soul-searching and processing my own experience here. Often, I try to push the following thoughts out of my head. I think if I stopped and considered them for too long or too often, I might lie down and never get up. These have been incredible, life-changing, soul-altering, but dark, lonely days. I thought I would share this process with y’all, friends and family, but please keep in mind it is a process and I am still working through so many things right now. Please give me grace as I process through all that I have seen and now, frankly, don’t know what on earth to do with.
Sometimes I feel like I have been ruined for life on earth by these last six months in S. Asia.Sometimes I find myself longing so desperately to go home (as in heaven) that it is an ache in my throat that rises and manifests itself as tears in my eyes. It is an emptiness that I have never known. I want to escape in ways I have never experienced. I’m not suicidal. I just don’t know what to do with reality.
I grew up in a fairly affluent, upper-middle class home in the suburbs of the USA. I loved my childhood for the most part and have nothing but fond memories of my private college experience. I went to summer camp. I knew Jesus well. My parents loved me and protected me and took care of me. I had an idealic growing up. No, it was not perfect, but it was lovely. And I loved it. I found it easy to enjoy experiences and life and vacations and walking down the street and taking a shower and even going to the grocery store or doing yard work or people watching…
It’s harder to find things to enjoy here. Of course I delight in my marriage, my husband, my precious, beautiful wonderful children. I still love to read. I love to eat good food. I love to drink a glass of wine every now and then. I love to go to the mall and get a $5.00 (yes, you read that right) manicure. But I don’t enjoy these things, or many other things for that matter, the way I used to enjoy them. I can’t relax and indulge, because, for lack of better terms, the things I have seen in these last six months have ruined me. Honestly. I don’t know what to do with them. For the first time in my life, I have questioned what I know to be true of a loving God. I have questioned why me and not them? I have questioned why He would bring me here, because WHAT on EARTH can I do?
These people. These people. These beautiful, human beings crippled by disease, by poverty, by caste, by life, by hunger, by slavery…they confront the foundation on which I stand and I’m watching it crumble. No. I’m not questioning my faith. I’m just saying, things that I could have once easily articulated as true, are harder to articulate now. I see human beings debilitated by polio who walk around on their hands. I see hungry children with outstretched palms whenever I go out. I feel bitter, “are they taking advantage of me?” I feel guilty, “How could you think that, Maggie!? You wouldn’t trade places with them for anything, even if they are taking advantage of you, they are surviving!” I see young women holding babies that look half dead from heat and hunger with empty, dirty baby bottles. It is likely, I am told by locals, the babies aren’t even theirs and any money I give them will go to a pimp. I feel self-righteous and critical and ashamed and powerless.
I have no idea what to do with these things. I feel both panicked and desperate to go back to America. Sure, we have PLENTY of our own problems in that nation under God, but they are easier to hide from. They slink behind windows with drawn, quiet curtains. They lurk in back of well-kept parks and litterless yards and multi-car garages. They don’t accost you in the daylight like dark apparitions hungry-eyed and expectant, looking for a hand-out, looking for your help.When I read my sister-in-law’s account of her brunch crisis, all I could think was, “I so get you.”It’s not brunch you hate. It’s not women you hate. It’s not fellowship you hate. It’s a disparity that you have seen with your eyes and that you cannot reconcile. It is the utter, apparent absence of grace in one place and the seeming abundance of blessing in another. Oh, but don’t mistake your happiness for blessing, dear ones. I do that all the time. And these months of darkness, of questions, of sorrow, of grief before unfelt, of absolute silence, of not knowing what to say or do with these things that I have seen, have been some of the best and most profound in my life.
Sure. I’m ruined for brunch. I will never go to one without squirming a little. I will never be in the midst of opulence or comfort or excess without thinking of the least of these whose lives would be so improved by the overflow. I pray to GOD I don’t stop here, at thinking, and that it moves into doing something. Please pray for me as I struggle with a critical spirit, a self-righteous ego, a feeling of helplessness, a heart that has no idea what to do with what I have seen. And please pray with me for S. Asia, and Newark, and the other broken places, that people will go and love and be ruined, even when it hurts.
I Saw What I Saw by Sara Groves