I’m Sorry You Had to See This Mess

don't look broken family

At random we drew a word and performed it for the class. I held the word HAPPY against my broken heart while I waited for my turn to display what happy looks like.

For a few seconds I stood with a ridiculous grin before my classmates without any guesses spilling from their lips. And then some laughter in the room when one man shouted out, “She’s happy… but that’s what she always looks like… she’s always happy!”

I felt my knees go weak.

Later that night in my hotel room I replayed the scene as I fell asleep.

In reality, these people were meeting me, Shari the cross-cultural worker, in what may prove to be my darkest hour. And I mean real, real dark.

Our adult son had broken ties with our family and seemingly abandoned his family. My husband and I would welcome our grandson, his mama and the baby on the way into our home the following week.

Our home had become broken. This was not the slum district of another nation, or the suffering poor outside our gate as we were familiar with in our mission work. It was ours now. It finally hit home.

And then, the impending trial. Our adult daughter had been the victim of a violent assault.

I was subpoenaed to testify because I was the first person she had called after it happened. In a few weeks’ time, I would need to go back to that morning when I answered the phone, when nothing but the sound of sobs and shouting, “MOM! MOM!” was coming from the other end.

And just today the phone call I slipped out of class to take.

The call was from another mother telling me that our youngest had sent a troubling text to her son saying she did not want to live anymore. Our daughter had been suffering. Through the transition back to the USA, the assault of her sister, the rejection of her brother, the sobs of her mother, the frustration of her father, she had suffered.

“I’m so sorry, you see, she’s going through so much,” I said politely. “Our family is struggling a lot right now.” But I meant to say:

I’m sorry you had to see this mess. I’m sorry it ended this way.

Don’t look! The professional Christians are terribly broken.

I took a deep breath and called my husband to tell him about the texts of our youngest.

“I’ve got this,” he said, and then with a queasy stomach I slipped back into my classroom. It was then that I drew the word.

HAPPY.

Back in my bed at the hotel I let the tears fall. “Lord, why?” It’s a question I’d asked Him a lot this year. Because if I were God, this is not how I would have done it. 

If I wanted to inspire and mobilize other workers to go into all the world, I’d pretty much have made sure that the ones I had sent before turned out all shiny and enviable.

Instead we are the family discussed around dinner tables, the family you feel bad for, followed up with the sense of relief that it isn’t yours.

How did that happen to us, Lord? Do you not care about your own reputation?

When we left the field, I expected the fire to simmer under us for awhile and then flicker out. Our entire eight years we battled the flames of the enemy. We came back to rest.

But instead, the heat turned up. When I noticed the temperature rising I began to pray as I had been taught, taking authority over the enemy.

Stand.

Scripture.

I fought like a champ.

It got worse.

Finally, I prayed: “God I’m not going to pray as I ‘should’ anymore. My heart hurts too bad. I have nothing left to perform. I’m just going to tell you the truth.” Weeping, I must have appeared as Hannah when Eli accused her of being drunk.

I’m so sad God.

Oh God help me, I can’t do it without you.

I’m dying inside God.

God please help me do this please help me.

And today, my classmates had said I was “always happy.”

“Lord am I a fake?” I prayed in my hotel bed. It was the one thing I never wanted to be. Had it happened?

So I thought back through my week.

The beautiful, ministry-minded people I had met. I had shared the elevator version of our Mongolia story at least thirty times and felt so much joy just remembering all that had taken place.

I had not faked that.

And there, I understood it, why others could say I was happy all the time: I have something that could look like happy. I have peace.  The crazy peace, otherwise known as “the peace that passes all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7).

I believe that no matter what happens next, God will hold my pieces together.

Peace doesn’t mean we are not broken. It means in our brokenness we are willing to sit and look at Jesus while He holds the pieces in place. It means we are no longer flailing around trying to fix our own shattered dreams.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Mark 4:37-38

Oh does this not sound like my own prayers? “Don’t you care how this story ends??”

They woke Jesus up, but I don’t think they were asking for help. They were essentially telling him they were all near death and it was slightly offensive that he didn’t even care.

When my training ended I hugged these co-laborers and told them I’d be praying for each of them as they took Jesus to the unreached. Some were about to come undone and they didn’t even know it.

But I knew He would hold their pieces in place.

Have you experienced the “crazy peace” of Philippians 4:7 in one of your darkest hours? Why do you suppose God allows the ugly mess to enter into our very public lives? Do you think it makes Him “look bad?”

Photo by Frank Flores on Unsplash

24 Comments

  1. Brooke Olsen Roush June 12, 2018

    Very very beautiful. We repatriated 2 years ago and i’m starting counseling next week to work through our time overseas. Wish I’d done it sooner. Blessings.

    1. shari June 12, 2018

      Thank you Brooke! God’s blessings to you as you unwrap your years. He is there, even in the un-explainable.

  2. Dan June 12, 2018

    I think this is a step of courage and I am very proud of you. Dad

    1. Shari June 12, 2018

      Oh Dad! I love you too! Life is beautifully broken sometimes huh? A symptom of living is often a heart that hurts. Thanks for always being there.

    2. Amy Young June 15, 2018

      (I love when Dad’s give shout-outs/support to their daughters. This makes me happy. Thank you.)

  3. Janice June 12, 2018

    We have six weeks before we go back into a missions community that we love very much, but also to some people who hurt us deeply. My excitement mounts as I look forward to rekindling relationships with very dear nationals, while I’m also full of dread upon meeting the people who wounded us again. How can I have both these feelings simultaneously? Thank you so much for your candid words, welcoming me into your mess.

    1. shari June 12, 2018

      Thank you so much Janice! “both these feelings simultaneously,” both these worlds…oh the juxtaposed life of cross culture workers. One faithful step at a time, we’ll get there.

  4. Spring June 13, 2018

    This spoke to me deeply. we faced transition on to the field this September. It was ugly. We just can’t seem to face transitions with grace. I was sure we should just head home. I began to pray that Jesus would come, in the mist of the arguing, crying and yelling that was taking place. He knew it was there. I am not hiding from him. I started to slowly feel his peace in the midst of the difficulty.

    As a side note, sometimes I think people should see the reality/messiness of each others lives. Not to glorify it, but to take the loneliness and lies out of it. We all have brokenness, listening to others often encourages me in my journey.

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Thank you Spring. I agree, transparency would go a long way to show others what it looks like to walk by Faith.

  5. Mandy Carpenter June 13, 2018

    Thank you for your complete and utter honesty. Praying for you and yours.

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Mandy! Thank you! I covet those prayer more than gold (or coffee).

  6. Liz Baslé June 13, 2018

    Beautiful, touching, and refreshing in its transparency. Thank you for giving the full picture of ministry/transitional challenges, and may you find hope and strength as you forge ahead!

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Thank you Liz. We must have the full picture of ministry in order to run that marathon. I appreciate you!

  7. Michelle June 13, 2018

    Thank you for your openness about this terrible time you’re enduring. I’m so sorry and I will be praying for your family.

    Some of your story resonated with me. I feel like a broken mess of a thousand piece puzzle that I just can’t seem to fit the pieces back together. And the image of Jesus holding those pieces in place really spoke to me.

    I had coffee with an unbelieving friend yesterday, she seemed lost and overwhelmed and very discouraged. And I wanted to tell her all she needed was Jesus. Then she would have peace and hope, not anxiety or depression. She does need Jesus. But I sat there, struggling with my own anxiety and depression, knowing Jesus was living actively in my heart. It’s hard to not feel like a failure or a hypocrite. How can I offer what I don’t feel myself? Jesus sits with us in the mess, with so much compassion and love. So that’s what I did with my friend. Until He speaks to the storm to be still, I just cling to Him harder, choosing to trust that God will put the pieces back together as He wills. It’s His design after all.

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Michelle, every time I write I think of the women like myself who need to know the TRUTH. The whole truth and nothing but. I hope I encourage those women to continue on because they are not the only ones living real life in the middle of REAL AND BEAUTIFUL ministry. Thank you for responding to this and reminding me that those women are there along with me!!

    2. Alexandra June 16, 2018

      Wow Michelle. This is exactly what I was experiencing last week. I had the same exact questions… how can I share something I was feeling or believing with my heart in that moment.

      Then our pastor preached on Jesus being in our boat. Even thou He is quiet, He is there with us. Testing our faith.

      Thank you for sharing. And Shari, thank you for opening up about the mess. It really helps to know I am not the only Christian who doesn’t have it all together.

      God Bless!
      Alexandra

  8. M'Lynn June 13, 2018

    ‘If I wanted to inspire and mobilize other workers to go into all the world, I’d pretty much have made sure that the ones I had sent before turned out all shiny and enviable.” YES!!!! I’ve been chewing on a similar thought but you completely verbalized it here for me. I’m reminded that Paul speaks of the suffering we must endure in order to become more like Christ, and I’m encouraged by your honesty. It seems to me that cross-cultural workers are poster children for that, not the “shiny and enviable” brand of Christianity that’s easy to come by…and I’m okay with it when I’m trusting that difficult circumstances are getting me where I need to go on this crazy adventure called life!

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Thank you M’Lynn! Suffering produces hope. Oh that it would produce that in me!

  9. Keren June 13, 2018

    Thank you so much for this reminder. It is so true. I have found myself explaining to people when they say, “Why does it seem you are always happy?” I find I cover the hurt until I am in my home alone because if I show it to them at the time, they think I am angry when in reality I am not angry just hurt.

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Keren, thank you for responding. There is a safe place to let go…and a time for tears. I’m thankful for those people and places I can run to as well.

  10. Kate June 13, 2018

    So grateful you have posted this. So needed for all to hear, the sometimes too real and messy stories of missionary families and their lives. The big questions for me are always, “Why, Lord?” or “Why aren’t you showing up like I thought you would?” or “Why am I still dealing with this in my family after all these years?”. Thank you for putting it out there, and for reminding all of us as we look enviably at others’ seemingly perfect lives, which few really are. Blessings to you.

    1. shari June 13, 2018

      Kate! Yes! Right there in the Bible it shows us the imperfect men and women God used tremendously. Why do we forget so easily? Thank you so much for responding.

  11. Laura June 13, 2018

    Your beautiful honesty in a world that wears masks while simultaneously craving authenticity… thank you. We are wounded servants, trying to be faithful while listening carefully to our Shepherd’s voice.

  12. shari June 13, 2018

    Laura, thank you! Authenticity is costly sometimes. It’s also irreplaceable. I’m striving for it.

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