There are some days I really miss living for myself… ONLY myself. Don’t get my wrong—I live for myself every day, in some way or another, but He has shown me several ways to lessen the ‘me’ a bit.
When I am up all night with Carol as her body fights an opportunistic infection with the few white blood cells it has remaining…or holding little Thomas as he throws up and then collapses in fatigue…or tucking little Mary into her bed and mosquito net like her mom would surely do if she was still alive—I am not thinking of myself. I am not thinking ‘you are lucky I am staying up with you, Carol, because I am going to be pretty tired tomorrow because of this.’ And as I dry the post-vomiting tears of Thomas, the thought “Great. Now I will probably get the stomach bug. Thanks a lot.” never crosses my mind. When I am tucking in 6 year old Mary, my mind is focused on showing her love in this small way, not ‘I wish you could just do this yourself… I still need to brush my teeth and wash my face and the lights go off in 2 minutes.’
I will be honest, I did not come to Kenya solely for the people here. I did not come here only because my greatest desire in the world is for these children to know and experience the Love of Jesus Christ. That is definitely a large part of it, but in many ways, I fled to Kenya to get away from myself. I was sick of living every day for the good of myself and no one else. I am tired of going to bed each night thinking of how the day went for ME and how tomorrow will go for ME and what so and so thinks of ME and how I can cover up things about myself so people will like ME and so on and so on. I am even weary of praying and praying and praying about ME—begging Him to show Himself to ME, asking Him to refine ME, petitioning Him to continue bestowing blessings upon ME, and anything else I can pray for that all in all, promotes ME. I am tired of taking care of myself alone… of defending my own rights… of fighting for my own entitlements… only looking after myself… of pursuing the fruit of the Spirit for my own benefit… of asking to be filled so that I can hold onto His fullness instead of pouring it out.
I could easily blame this on where I am in life… this time period. I am no longer a child, so the responsibility of my wellbeing has transitioned to me from my parents. At the same time, I do not yet have a family—a husband, children, a household to look after, so that just leaves ME to take care of, right? I have felt so landlocked in this stage of life… longing for people to love and take care of and pour myself into, but going along with society’s role for people in my age bracket by attaining and perfecting self-reliance. I have tried this… I have given this my best effort while simultaneously praying a simple daily prayer for ‘Less of me and more of HIM’. He has kindly kept telling me again and again that I cannot live both for myself and for others. It won’t work. I have to pick one. [Please don’t get me wrong and think I am implying that if you are not living in an orphanage in Africa then you are doomed to Hell or something ridiculous like that… I am speaking extremely personally and have no idea what it is He is telling you—only know that He told me that if I am to live for others, I have to put myself in positions where my comfort is a low priority, because I will not give all of myself unless I intentionally seek these faces and places and stories and situations that demand all I have to give.] In Luke 9:57-62, there are people walking with Jesus who say “I will follow you wherever you go.” He tells them to come on and follow Him, welcomes them to live the life of discipleship and they seem willing….but if you read further you’ll see that they are holding onto things that they want to do first before following Him. One man wants to bury His father (pretty valid request if you ask me) and another wants to say goodbye to his family (again, not a bad thing)… that does not fly with Jesus. Their ‘but firsts’ show their disobedience to His calling, His invitation to follow Him. He says “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The ‘but firsts’ I have been throwing at Jesus are plentiful… I knew He wanted me in Kenya, but I wanted to get my dream job and have a pay check and decorate a cute apartment and have dinner parties and live with fun roommates and get a new car for graduation and buy cute clothes and do other ‘young adult’ things [not quite as noble as burying my father or telling my family goodbye, but still, not bad things].
Anyway, I refuse to believe any longer that because I am 24, single, and childless—my only responsibility is myself. That is a bold lie that Satan had me convinced was absolute truth. I even believed that crap that I have heard from nearly everyone I know about “this is the time to take care of yourself… do fun things… travel… LIVE… because in just a couple of years you are going to be tied down to a family, a husband, kids running around draining all of your time and energy. GO and do the things you’ve dreamed of now!” To me, that translates to “live for yourself while you can.. it’s about to change because of the new roles you will take on as you grow up.” Do we realize that our days are numbered and every day we awake is designed so that we might GIVE OUR LIVES TO BRING HIM GLORY? I admit that my mindset is far from this when I am in America… I needed to come here, to follow Jesus here, because this is where He shows Himself to me clearest and this is where I most joyfully love myself a little bit less because I love others a little bit more. Because I love myself in a disgusting, self-serving way, I absolutely NEED to cling to these environments where ‘dying to self’ does not seem so farfetched. I commend all of you who are surrendering yourself each day in different settings… especially those without families to care for. It is one of my greatest battles and I need to be in settings where I don’t have a choice about whether I give my life for theirs or not. Not that I am forced to do it but I am face to face with the need and see how giving my life for theirs is absolutely worth it. It is a true JOY to care little about myself because my concern has turned to another. It is the greatest joy I have known so I will continue to follow it wherever He leads. It is not something that I see happening (the dying to self), but when I question the peaceful heart and inexplicable joy I have in these moments, I see it… the scriptures ring true in a way I can touch!
I want this always. I don’t have this always… even here in Kenya. He is teaching me that I must lay myself down each morning—daily. I cannot just do it on the days when someone is sick or there are tears that need drying or hearts that need reassurance that He is faithful. That is my tendency… Carol is feeling so much better—PRAISE HIM! The chicken pox seem to have done their damage and are retreating and giving Mary back her joy. This is truly wonderful—but it is on these days that I am appalled at how easily I return to living for myself alone. On these days I am annoyed with my lack of toilet seat and sick of washing myself in a bucket and tired of sheets that feel like sandpaper and annoyed that I am missing a great Easter meal and family time and burnt-out on cabbage, beans, and corn and frustrated that I cannot sit down and read my Bible, even, without a swarm of kids trying to distract me and mad at myself for thinking they’re maliciously trying to distract me instead of realizing they are just seeking love and attention in that moment. What I am saying is that when I am knee-deep in serving them, living for them is joy. BUT when I have forgotten my only task because it is not as glaringly clear, I can only think of myself.
Not sure if I am making sense… my point is that when I am not ‘in the trenches’ on behalf of these kids, my self love comes in full of force and fury. This love of Annie reminds me what my friends are doing right now and makes me jealous for what I was doing several months ago. It reminds me that I do not have to be sleeping on these crappy sheets and could easily be back at home with my down comforter, air conditioning, and shower to wake up to. It reminds me that I deserve alone time and even parents get more than I am getting, it’s not fair. It reminds me that there are so many other people who would be more qualified for this and if they would just step up and do it, I would not be needed. It reminds me that if I want to be like everyone else I will need to ‘find a husband and get married’ within the next several years and so what am I doing in Kenya? Surely postponing any natural life events. And the grossest look into my selfish heart: It reminds me that I am doing them a favor… it makes me hope that they see the sacrifice I am making… hope that they understand that I have come from far away and left a lot behind to be with them… surely if they saw this, they would give me the space I need and maybe a pat on the back every couple of days would be nice, too. Ugg. Gross, I know.
So, just telling you something I am struggling with… sharing my sin with you. I long for the moments when I am 100% living for these kids, when they NEED me. But when the level of need is assumedly lessened, I find myself again and begin to long for the things I believe I am entitled to. Selfless love is what I have been longing for and He is showing me where I can find it… losing myself in loving Him and thus, loving His children. Re-surrendering each day, whatever it holds (however mundane), is the battle…