She wasn’t supposed to die. Not yet. Not Yuli.
A mutual Indonesian friend called me with the news. I had just seen Yuli the previous week. We’d talked about things we feared, hoped for, believed in. Life things. As we walked through the monkey park, I tried to understand what she was really saying. And I stumbled through my own thoughts spoken in my second language.
My vocabulary was so limited back then—over five years ago—though it was fear, not ignorance that halted what I really wanted to say. But no worries, I told myself. I’d get it right another time.
And now it was too late. No more chances to hear what it was really like for my sweet friend to live in the shack with her six siblings and nieces and nephews and sometimes, grandparents and aunts and uncles. No more chances to really explain why I’d left all my own family to move to the other side of the world to live as a foreigner, and with her, as a friend.
She died at age 20 in a motorcycle accident. Was mourned by her whole neighborhood. Buried among crumbling tombstones that nearly tripped me and my 9-month pregnant belly.
Three weeks later, my first baby was born. And I buried the guilt behind new mommyhood enjoyment.
The guilt emerged a couple months later when a well-meaning friend made the off-handed comment that I should’ve said more to Yuli. That I’d missed my chance.
I nodded at her words. I felt she was right. I’d feared. And I’d failed.
Weeks later, we went back to the States for a six-month break after a 3 ½ year-term in Indonesia. And as I met with friends and family and ate pizza and watched my baby grow into winter clothes, and tried to remember to drive on the right side of the world again, I tried to figure out what to do with the crushing guilt.
So, I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do. I walked. And walked. With my baby strapped onto my chest, and with views of the Colorado mountains ablaze with yellow Aspens, and with the crunch of the Indiana winter beneath my feet and with my nose filled with the scent of the Texas spring flowers, I walked. And thought. And talked to God.
And He did that amazing thing that's always hard for me to grasp. He reminded me that He isn’t in the business of pushing guilt on my shoulders. Instead He pressed grace into the broken places of my heart.
And though He didn’t let me see all the answers, He stuck with me through my doubts.
I returned to Indonesia. To the messiness of ministry. To the heat and the pressure and the diapers and the hopes and the disappointments. And I continued to walk. And talk. And listen.
I don’t have all the answers. And sometimes my heart aches with the unfairness of so many things.
But He continues to teach me what I really need to know to serve with joy in the messy places, whether those places are in my home, in my neighborhood, or on my team. What I need to truly believe in order to walk the truth in the midst of confusion. And what I need to remember in order to embrace life in my own heart.
Next time, I’ll share more with you what I, specifically, learned in order to be able to serve with joy, vision, and purpose in the midst of all the messy realities.
photo credit, Dreaming in the deep south