I received a message from Tony earlier today that said, "I've got a crazy story to tell you about something I just saw when I ran down to the shop." As soon as I received the message, I called Tony. There's no real polite way to tell the story, so I'm just going to state it bluntly.
In a nutshell, Tony caught the tail end of a fight between a homeless man and a security guard in a public bathroom. For whatever reason, the homeless man had a cup full of liquid feces... which he threw all over the security guard and the bathroom walls. As if being doused in poop isn't bad enough, the security guard also walked away with a busted lip.
OK, so I know that's a really crazy story, and you're probably a bit shocked and thinking, "What???!!!" I know. I reacted the exact same way when Tony told me the story. But honestly, it was probably a good story for me to hear.
You see, this time around, I've really struggled with my transition back to the States. Whether that's due to being away from Tony for 2.5 weeks or some other personal issue, I'm not 100% sure. All I know is that I've been quite frustrated with my own culture and longing for Africa instead.
After hearing Tony's story, I was reminded that the ENTIRE world is a crazy place. He said, "Yes, Julie... Cape Town is hectic," as if to remind me that Africa isn't all rainbows and butterflies.
Here's where I start processing.
I'm not going to paint too broad of a picture, because I can only speak from my experiences, but from what I've seen of the third world, what you see is what you get. Things are pretty obvious and in your face—poverty, violence, witchcraft. The writing (or shall I say "crap") is on the wall, and somewhere along the way, I grew accustomed to that. In all actuality, I kind of prefer it to the alternative.
I think that could be the root of my struggle with transitioning back into first world culture: America is the alternative.
The sin and demons of the first world aren't always so obvious. What you see isn't always what you get, and in many cases, the sin and demons even feel good. So, we justify them. This is a complex topic, and while I won't delve into here, I will say this: I've walked into a couple of rooms over the last few weeks, and figuratively speaking, crap had been thrown all over the walls. Either I through it, or someone else did, and whatever the case was, someone always walked away with a bloodied face.
We're all pretty messed up—the whole flipping world. None of us have it all figured out. But the good news is this: God sent His one and only Son.
I'm so thankful for Jesus, because without Him, my processes always end in melancholy: the world is S.O.L.
I cried and cried on FaceTime today with Tony because I'm frustrated... and then I'm frustrated that I'm frustrated. I need Jesus to help me. Amidst all of the tears, I said to my patient husband, "For me, this is a MUCH harder mission field than Africa."
The following is a big statement to make, and I know some of you may not understand, but I'm going make it anyway. I'm going to get super real and share the deepest, most vulnerable part of me right now... yes, on the internet. So here it is:
I feel like Africa could be a well in my own life—at least currently. It's a place where God fills me with love and joy, teaches me about true surrender, and restores parts of myself that I never knew existed. He's showing me Matthew 5—what spiritual blessing looks like. And then He calls me back to America, time and time again... to the battleground of my soul.
For others, it may be the other way around. Our God is big, creative, deep, and uncontainable. His ways are much higher than our own.
I cried during worship last week at church because I felt frustrated with "the American Christian." I knew the Holy Spirit was telling me to press into that. As I sit here, writing and processing before anyone with a laptop... I realize: I'm frustrated with myself.
I'm frustrated with how I am here versus there. I'm frustrated that as soon as I stepped foot on American soil, I handed my identity as a child of God over to the world and said, "Whatever. I'm really too tired to be different, so I'll just be some version of the same. Instead of taking the high road, I'll give way to arguing, complaining, gossip, hate—because, I can justify it all. She really is a liar. He really is self-righteous. She really did wear a provocative outfit."
Whoa, pump the breaks.
The words of an old pastor surface: Being self-righteous about the self-righteous makes me self-righteous. Oh, and then there's Jesus, who said that in the same way I judge others, I will be judged. God, HELP ME.
OK, so what now? Again, I'm going to be super open and honest with y'all. Here's where I'm landing for the day:
1. Examine the ways I numb.
I believe we numb to avoid lots of things, including Holy Spirit conviction, stress/anxiety, vulnerability, and maturity. For me, numbing looks like any combination of: overworking, under-enjoying, not prioritizing #2 (see below), avoiding community, eating unhealthily, gossip (justified as "truth telling"), and picking at my face.
For others, numbing could also look like: shopping, drinking, partying, sex, using drugs, overbooking your social calendar, avoiding solitude, underworking, overindulging, oversleeping, gluttony/binge eating, biting your nails, pulling out hair, picking at your cuticles or another part of your body, humor, avoiding difficult conversations (with God, yourself, or others), watching TV and movies, pornography, reading fantasy/romance (aka "female porn"), and many other things.
2. Reinstate the ways I engage with the Holy Spirit.
There are three specific ways I connect with the Holy Spirit (other than general praying and listening throughout the day): 1. morning quiet time, 2. yoga practice, and 3. spending time in nature. I'm a creature of routine, and anytime my routine is interrupted (e.g. travel), I typically stop doing these things. I have done none of them since being in the States—justified by "I don't have time." or "I have too much to do."
This is another blog altogether, but in short, my justifications are a cup of crap on the wall. The reality is, I feel disoriented when I'm tossed out of my little routine and resort to "numbing" instead of doing the hard work of finding my bearings in a new place. For me, the hard work often includes boundary setting, difficult conversations, saying "no," and being very flexible, so I end up throwing the baby out with the bath water.
3. Repent and ask for forgiveness.
I need to meet with God and repent and ask for forgiveness for many things. Fortunately, He is a compassionate and merciful Father. (It's that simple.)
4. Have conversations as necessary.
This is probably the hardest part (for me) of being a Jesus follower—having really hard conversations with other people, especially other believers. I get all panicky and blotchy. I can also become angry and self-righteous. The verse, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," has always resonated here. Only through the power of Jesus Christ can we love and be loved, forgive and be forgiven.
Friends, thank you for hanging with me through this blog and for allowing me a space to process. I know this was a long one... but it was incredibly necessary for me. I may be completely insane for hitting "Publish" right now, but here goes nothing. So much love to all of you.