Two weeks ago, I became a Manhattanite once more. And though moving did initially stress me out, I’m sitting here in stunned disbelief at how well things are going.
I came with no job prospects, and my church put me to work immediately with regular babysitting jobs.
I just landed an interview at my favorite local bookstore.
Another meeting this week involves what has become my dream job.
I have reconnected with so many incredible women who are so important to me.
My roommate is a delight. (It’s linked because it’s beyond words.)
I forgot that I was allowed to be so happy.
…and in a strange way, I feel guilty about it.
It does concern me a bit that my hope and joy and happiness are so tied up in my circumstances. Wichita did not have much for me; I hardly felt like myself. I hadn’t lived there since high school, so my community there consists of my parents and… well, just them. I was alone a lot. And for a famously verbose verbal processor, one who thrives on social energy, that’s just a bad idea. Now I’m in my element, with the people I love the most, facing opportunities that absolutely fit my dreams.
…and there’s a red flag on my conscience. I wonder if growing up in mission-focused communities somehow Inceptioned this idea in my mind: “In order to be significant, you have to leave.” For the first time in my life, I’m in a place I want to just stay, but it’s hard to shake off the obligation of going. So should I go again? Should I keep leaving? Should I keep seeking significance in these experiences, in doing big things that stretch and change and break me?
It’s not as if I fully carry the weight of the suffering world on my shoulders. But knowing, having seen, feeling a responsibility to the marginalized people all over the world, the starving majority… I feel as if I’m ignoring them by accepting good or permanent things. If I already have so much good, and then receive more, what are they left with?
I keep thinking of that woman in Nepal, the believer who was sick. She sat outside the front door of her small earthen home, barely shaded from the heat, dark shining hair halfway covered by a thin shawl. We knelt down to talk with her, and she collapsed into our arms. She cried and cried, speaking between sobs. The pastor explained that she had been sick, lonely, and discouraged. She lived here alone with her children because her family had rejected her after her conversion to Christianity. She had wondered if God even knew her, if he could do anything to comfort her. When we walked up the path, so out-of-place and unfamiliar, she knew we were believers. She knew we were from him.
We spent an hour there on her little front porch, not really saying anything. We held her hands, we prayed words untranslated that somehow still made sense. She might have served us milk tea, I don’t remember. Everyone served us milk tea if we stayed long. This woman’s face is the first thing that comes to mind when I try to remember if we made any difference. If the whole month—the whole year, even—was for her, was it enough? This is the loneliest person I have ever imagined, alone in a makeshift home on the edge of a field of dried mud and corn husks, melting in the insatiable heat and squalor of one of the most isolated corners of the world. If I close my eyes to the overwhelming scope of need in the world, I still see her. She has become a symbol in my mind of all that must be made right.
All I could do for an hour of my entire life was sit with her. And I think, in some way, I’ve tried to still sit with her from here, like a secret protest to global inequality. If she can’t be happy and taken-care-of, then I won’t be either. But truly… that’s ridiculous. My well-being is essential for me to be able to move forward and do anything for her and for who she represents in my mind.
Just in transferring these thoughts to words, I see what I’m doing here: I’m confusing the resources of the world with the resources of God. So much has been taught to me about limited resources, about how there is enough but there won’t be soon, how the minority are using the most, how everything is unequal and desperate. But God’s economy is limitless, his love and provision doesn’t have a ceiling. There are enough good things for my full life and their full life.
Knowing the connectedness is what gives me responsibility. It does not mean I should deprive myself of the full life promised by God just to maintain that connectedness. Sharing in their suffering can’t mean choosing misery. It can’t mean depriving myself of life’s necessities (like community) when they are available to me.
God promises full life in Himself. I was rejecting it because not everyone has it, and I want the world to be fair. But I see now that the point is not to expect a broken world to be made right through our efforts… it is to receive the full life and share it.
So should I go… somewhere, just to go? Or should I allow myself to recover, to heal, to be happy and whole, to be full and pour out? I have so much here, a community that God uses every day to take care of me, challenge me, and teach me. They are why I want to stay, and why I know I should.
Can I change her world by staying? With patience, with thoughtfulness, with a lot of little things that will take a long time to come about, I think I can.