The Burden of an Outsider

A member of my family was invited to speak at a small Chinese church once, kind of as “the outside expert.” It was an evening fellowship, which our entire family attended. After the service, we were approached by the pastor and a member of the church. The pastor encouraged this member (let me call him Victor) to talk to us, and let us pray for him. I instinctively knew that this was more than just wanting to talk to the foreigners, but I was not ready for what followed.

Victor had a drug problem. He had sworn off drugs, and has managed to stay off. But it still torments him. He stays up entire nights, hating himself for what he has done. He goes through the day shaky from exhaustion. He can’t help but think about drugs. “Just seeing your water bottle,” he told us, pointing at the water bottle from which my mother took a sip, “it reminds me of the old days, and I want to take it again.” And then he hates himself again for such thoughts. And then, at night he can’t sleep, tormented by the desire for drugs, the dread of the future, the horrors of the past.

Victor spilled his guts to us. Because we were the outsiders. We came as figures of some authority to this church. We could be trusted. Part of it was that we were outside his world, and we were unable to hurt him or judge him as his family or friends might. But part of it was also, being outsiders, it was almost as if we carried greater spiritual weight.

We listened to Victor spill his guts, telling us his darkest fears and tortures he kept even from his wife. We offered what little comfort or consul we could, knowing also that he’s heard it all before. But somehow, it still seemed to bring a little comfort. We then laid our hands on him and prayed for him. It was a more sincere and desperate prayer than I’ve prayed in a long time. At the end of the prayer, Victor looked tired, but well, like after a battle well fought.

That night, I suddenly realized a little of what it meant to be a missionary. Or even just the outsider Christian. I am young. I don’t know my Bible half as well as a whole lot of people in that church. I am not as mature as I would like. I know too little of the world. I have no idea what kind of advice to give. I am young, so young in the eyes of so many. But it does not matter. I am the outsider, which can carry a lot of weight I am not worthy of. Simply by being the outsider, I will have people approach me with heavier burdens than I could dream of. Hoping to serve in a land in which I hardly belong, I will be granted to look deeper into many hearts than most family and friends. It is a terrifying thought. A sobering thought. By God’s grace, I pray that I will be able to fill these shoes far too big for me. Only by God’s grace, would I be able to extend healing in places of hurt. I myself, I know, am too weak, too immature, too self-centered to touch another’s soul.

Pray for Victor. And pray for each of us, still young, but called by God to do great things beyond our wildest dreams. I know too well how ill prepared I am. But by God’s grace, we might not make too great a mess of things.

Advertisements

My Grandma

Thank you for the prayers I know were offered. My Grandma passed away early Monday afternoon (their time). She is now with the Lord, whole, painless, and joyful, at peace.

I have never really lost anyone close to me before, and it was something different from what I expected. I was with a friend in New York. It was early morning, and we had been ignoring her alarm clock for a while. The sunlight streamed in the nice little apartment we were staying in. My friend finally reaches for her phone (I had none, so I gave my mother her number), and reading a message, asks, “[LS], you’ve got your glasses?”

I obligingly reach for my glasses, and she says softly, “you better read this.” It’s amazing how one realizes so easily the truth. I recall once reading of an officer in the army, who had the unpleasant duty of breaking the news to a new widow. He put on his uniform, quietly rehearsing the words he knew he would not need to say. The young wife would know simply by seeing the uniformed officer on her doorstep. It was easier that way, that he would not need to speak, to explain, but simply skip to offering what comfort he could.

So I knew even as I took the phone from her. I read the short message my mother wrote, and lay back down to stare at the ceiling. I’m not sure how I felt. I’m not sure what I was supposed to feel. And so for quite a while I simply lay there wondering what the proper emotion ought to be, so I could summon it up, as long as it was not a shower of tears which would make it awkward for both me and my friend. I never know how to deal with tears.

It hit me then that I would be home in less than a month. Why did God not wait till I was home for the summer? Why did it have to happen now, when I was half a world away? I had always prayed, ever since coming to college, that if anything had to happen, let it happen when I was home for the summer. Let it happen when I could at least say my last goodbyes. It was only a month’s difference, couldn’t God have waited?

I think that was the moment I shed a tear or two. I was bitter, and while I accepted the fact that my grandmother passed away, I didn’t understand why it had to be now, so close to when I would have been home.

But the thought eventually passed, and I comforted myself that it happened now, not later, not when my sister would also be at college here on the wrong side of the world. I thanked God that at the last days of my grandmother’s life, she had my sister and my brother both, even if I had to be away. I thanked God that He blessed my grandmother so dearly, that she had almost all the family – both her son and daughter, and their spouses, their children, around her. I thanked God, I blessed His Name that He gave her such a beautiful life, one without want, a good home, good food, good family. Even though she was always very weak, very frail, I thanked God that she was never really very ill. She was healthy, as much as a tiny, frail, 80-year-old can be. Her bones bothered her, and she lay in bed a lot of the day. But I thanked God for the peace He gave her, that she had little to worry about, that she had no greater illnesses or diseases to torment her.

I also thanked God that her time in the hospital was so short. I knew it made her miserable, and she had earlier already been frustrated at how much a burden she was to our family (but oh, how dearly we loved this burden God blessed us with). Even if she had recovered, she would only have felt greater frustration at “all the extra trouble” it would have caused us as we sought a stay-at-home helper. Trouble we would so gladly have gone through! But God was kind in that, so long ago He decided her time, and He let it pass swiftly, instead of giving her a long and painful battle before that alloted day.

God gave my grandmother a beautiful life. He blessed her and our family so greatly. He loved us so. I have not yet come to terms with my grandmother being gone, that I would not see her again for such a very, very long time. I found little peace in the knowledge that she was now with the Lord. I am selfish, and though she is now in a better place, it still hurts that she is gone. But I am at peace, because God loved her, and God loved us. God has blessed us all so greatly. And I find comfort in that.

Grace

A few days ago I wandered from that straight and narrow path into the wilderness.

I’ve wandered down the wrong path before – have we not all? – and each time, in the end, I would come back to my Father’s feet and plead forgiveness and mercy. Every time, just as the father of the prodigal son, He welcomed me back in open arms and wiped away my tears.

This time I wandered away, perhaps intentionally. And in the wilderness, my heart broke. Once again, I have done wrong. Once again, I have left my Father’s house, knowing full well that I would break His heart. I have fallen so many times. So many times I have left and returned, and asked for His grace and mercy. How could I do so again? How could I return, knowing full well that in time, I will only wander off and disappoint once more, twice more, thrice?

I have a proud, hard heart. And in that wilderness, my broken heart was hardened. I told myself that I could not bear to disappoint again. How could I beg the forgiveness of which I was so utterly unworthy, again and again? I was ashamed, and hid in my shame. The harsh winds of the wilderness cut my cheeks, the sands coated my throat. I was weary, painful, broken. And, in such terrible pride, I told myself I deserved it. So be my fate, I cried to the empty skies.

My Father did not await me at the golden gates of His house like that father of the prodigal son. He came looking for me. He came into the wilderness, calling my name. And He found me, huddled in the midst of pride and weariness and anguish. He knelt beside me, comforting me with soft words, and gently – oh so gently – wiped away my tears. He held me close, caressing my scars that they be healed. And he said to me, “Come, child, let us go home.”

My Father’s grace was not so much in that He granted forgiveness when I finally swallowed my pride and came to His temple pleading for mercy. My Father’s grace was in that He came out into the wilderness seeking me when my heart was hardened and I would not return.