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.
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.
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?”
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?”