“So, what do you miss the most about America?” I get this question so often. People expect me to say something about Target, my favorite fast food restaurant, or air conditioning. I think some people get a little annoyed when I say “I just miss my people. My friends and family. And my sweetest dog, Bella” They always reply with “Well, of course…but what else?” Because, it is un-American not to miss “comfort” and “stuff”.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that I have my days. For example, I do love me some Target. Walking into the smell of popcorn and hot pretzels with clean floors, organized shelves full of options for anything and everything you could possibly need (or mostly just want). Last time I was in the US, I would wander the aisles and just take it all in. Smell 47 different candle scents. Touch the soft, well made fabric of comfy pj pants and raid the clearance rack looking for a steal.
And the roads…Seriously, just to drive on a road where I don’t have to constantly switch my gaze from directly in front of me (you know, to avoid potholes big enough to bury someone in, a napping goat, or a suicidal chicken) to just ahead of me where at any moment a boda boda could dart into my space, a sugar cane truck could round the corner and create an impass, bicycles and small children don’t yield to your coming. Driving on the worst part of I40 is a dream come true compared to any road in Uganda.
And food: Sure. I miss cheese that doesn’t cost $10 and comes pre shreded. I miss pretzels and Tortilla chips and salsa. I miss Cheese Its. I miss having more than 4 options for restaurants where I without fail stick to 1 or 2 entrees that I know are safe.
But, these things really pale in comparison to how much I miss people. I have the best friends that any girl could ever dream of. They are my biggest and best blessings in life. Every time I reunite with them, I soak in every laugh, every moment, every story, every hug-taking notes and mental pictures that I reflect on often when I get back here. I am intentional about being “present” with each and every one of them because these moments are precious. I don’t take any of them for granted like I used to. And I cringe to think of all the years that I did that-just assumed they would always be around to grab a coffee, catch a movie, enjoy a dinner with.
I LOVE my friends.
And I love my family. My little nieces and nephews grow ridiculous amounts between visits. My baby brother is now a teenager and frighteningly too much like his big sister with his strong will and opinions that he feels the need to constantly voice. But he has some really amazing qualities that I look forward to watching God continue to develop. He has a soft heart and still thinks his big sister is cool…so he always gets brownie points. My other two brothers are making their way in life, but when we all get together, there are those moments. You know the ones where all the old stories come out and when Mom asks what we are talking about we just look at each other and explode in laughter and still refuse to tell the whole truth. Some things need to stay between siblings. My parents love me and always want me to come home. My grandma is my biggest fan and walks with me through God’s calling on my life even though she would much rather have me at least back on the same continent. My dad’s parents are prayer warriors for me, and want to hear every story and see every picture. My dad’s brother is always a big help to me. Aunts and uncles give great hugs, and I have the funniest little cousins you could ever meet. I mean. let me tell you. I am one loved girl.
And if you get me talking about my crazy, loving, frisbee addicted, licking machine Australian shepherd mix, Bella Grace, there will be tears. And you might regret that you asked. I don’t know how it is possible to love something that sheds enough hair daily to make a sweater. But I have had more than one morning where I begin to come out of my sleep coma and reach over to scratch her only to realize that she is not there.
So, when I say I just miss people, I mean it. I have quickly realized that I can do without everything else. It doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice so much any more. What makes my heart feel so torn-sometimes even irreparably ripped, is what I am missing with the people that I love.
If you are in my circle, you will know that I am fiercely loyal. A strength and a weakness at times. Don’t talk crap about my friends. You will regret it. I can tell you every annoying thing about my family, but you better just listen and nod…don’t weigh in with anything remotely insulting to them or I will cut you. I mean, this is just who I am. My love language is quality time. Especially one on one. I like to have fun with big groups, and am always up for a fun outing with a bunch of people that I enjoy laughing with. But the best gift you can give me is your undivided attention. I love to learn things about my friends that I didn’t already know (ask Debbie how many annoying times I begged her to tell me a ‘story’ that I hadn’t already heard about her during my birthday trip) and I love to delve into the deep stuff. The real you. Your heartbeat. If I love you, I love you hard. This of course can lead to things that aren’t as complimenting. I can struggle with jealousy especially over my best friends. They are my favorites, and I want to be their favorites. Always. Stupid insecurities and worries of being forgotten and missing out on moments can propel me into some pretty seventh grade girl antics. God is doing a work in me in this area, and I am not where I used to be, but I am just being really transparent, here. And helping you understand why being separated from people that I love is so hard for me.
Especially when they hurt. If they are sick, I hate it. If someone said something damaging or unlovely to them, I want to go find that person and tell them what I think. If they are struggling with something, I am looking up verses, picking out cards, checking in constantly. I am a burden bearer. Sometimes to my own detriment. If I love you, I will carry your burden like my own until it can actually distract me from life. I don’t think that is healthy, and it is something I need to work on, but I am telling you, I genuinely feel deeply for any hard thing that comes into the lives of those that are close to me. I am a nurturer. But even more so, I am a fixer. I want to fix everything or at least do something to help. I will make them the best stuffed shells they’ve ever had if they just had surgery. I will bring comfy candles and blankets and tissues and tea and just sit with you if you need me to. I will go to the dr’s appointments, run errands, watch the kids, just sit and listen as they pour out their hearts. I give big hugs and good back massages. I never want anyone who I love to think for a second if they are going through something painful that they are alone and without support.
And I LOVE being there. Why? I think there are 2 big reasons…
1. Because I hate hurt. And I hate seeing those I love in pain. And I appoint myself to at least be that one person who you can say didn’t leave you in your time of need. Because I know what it feels like to be alone. I haven’t always had this amazing network of people in my life. And I just want those I love to never feel it either.
2. Over the years, I have allowed people to place expectations on me to meet their needs, to be the One to comfort them when who they really need is Jesus. In the past, I have been in unhealthy relationships where the pressure was on me to meet needs that only He could. Most of this has been guilt induced, and me being a people pleaser took it on as my own role and responsibility.
So…And here is my struggle-From the time I landed in the US at the end of July up to this very day, those that I love have been going through hard things. Not just life’s little annoyances but really tough stuff. Chronic illness. Family issues. Addiction. Abuse. Physical Pain. Emotional pain demanding to be tended to. Death. Cancer. Anxiety. Depression. Fear. Marriage problems. Spiritual oppression.These are just a few on the list. And it has been one bad thing after the other. And let me tell you…I HATE IT. If I was there, I would be making the food, holding the hands, offering prayers, buying the cards rubbing the wearing necks and feet , sending the flowers and running the errands. If I was there I would make sure they were “talking it out” constantly assessing their overall health and spiritual wellness. If I was there I COULD DO SOMETHING.
But I am not. And it kills me.
Last night I was crying out to God on behalf of my friends and family. Letting it all out to Him. Asking Him why so many bad things are happening to good people. Telling Him how hard it was for me to be here when all of them are hurting over there. I mean, there was ugly crying with snot. I asked Him why he would pull me to minister 8000 miles away when obviously there were plenty of people who needed me in my own country. I mean if he wanted to drag me across the world to do his work here in Africa, certainly, somewhere in the contract it said “If you do this for Me I will spare those that you love all heartache and pain while you are gone. None of your loved ones shall suffer, die or feel like they really needed you there while you are away serving Me.” It was in the deal right? Didn’t we both sign it?
As I laid on my bed in the quiet emptiness that I thought those questions were drifting off into, the thought came to my mind: “Do you think it would be better for you to be in America right now than here?”
Whether it was inspired by God or not, I whispered into the dark: “Yes. I do. Because then I could be there for them. Show your love to them let them know they aren’t alone”
“I can do that without you.”
It was like a revelation of epic proportions. When did I actually begin to think that I, Ashley, could love, comfort, and care for someone better than God Himself could? Somewhere out of deep desire to support and love, I had forgotten where it came from. It was Him who gave this burden bearing heart to me. But I was missing the point. He gave me a willing spirit to bear the burdens of others so that I could help them transfer them to the One whose “yoke is easy and burden is light”. Not so that I could take them onto myself and feel the weight and responsibility to fix them. What was I thinking? Did I somehow think I could do a better job at caring, comforting, and encouraging those people that I love than their own Creator who knows exactly what they need in every situation and has the power to accomplish it? While we absolutely are called to be his extension of love to the hurting and the broken, it should be while wearing a thousand mirrors that point back to Him. The One who is the Author of all comfort. He Himself IS love.
Uh oh. That one hurt a little. Could it be that if I was there it would be actually interfering with what God wanted to teach them through these circumstances? Would my efforts have distracted them from the work that God Himself was trying to do? Would it have robbed other people of the opportunity to stepping up to be “that person” (insert sudden rush of jealous feelings of not being ‘that’ person in those moments here) and God using them to bless their lives in a way that I could not (gasp! surely not…) ?
Instant humbling. “God I am so sorry that somehow along the way, I thought that I could love people better than You.”
His spirit is always so sweet though. It’s not condemning and it’s so full of love. He wouldn’t let me dwell in that place. I immediately began to think the best way forward. The one thing I can do for them from here…from anywhere is intercede on their behalf. To take every need and hurt before the throne and LEAVE it there. If he lays them on my heart at any moment, I pray for God to move on their behalf, instead of feeling guilty for all the ways I want to help and things that I want to do for them. If God wants to raise up someone else to do those things He will. The only reason I did those things in the past was because of His love inside me and His Spirit’s prompting to do them. It wasn’t about anything good that I could do. It has always been a gift from Him.
So I started, listing everything I want for those people in my life who are struggling. Passionately praying for them. Begging God to heal. Asking him to intervene. Petitioning for salvation of souls and of relationships. Asking God to pour out wisdom and discernment, to give hope and encouragement, to give peace and comfort…but most of all to give them Himself. Just as He has done for me in my most recent trials. He hasn’t given me pretty answers wrapped up in bows but He has never once left me without His presence. And I never felt closer to His heart than when I was asking HIM to do these things. Because I know that He CAN do exceedingly more than I could ever ask or imagine, and all things do work for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose. And I know that the Bible says the prayers of his saints rise before him like incense and not one of them is forgotten. The best thing I can do for my friends is to pray fervently, seriously, and desperately on their behalf. No casserole dish, cup of tea, venting session, or hallmark card could ever replace the gift of moving heaven with my prayers. So I want to be “that friend” now. The one who enters into His presence boldly on their behalf, praying the prayers that maybe they don’t even have the strength to pray right now. The one who cares much more about God’s glory being revealed to those that are hurting than checking off a to do list of how to be the most supportive friend. The one who leaves those that I love in the safe hands of the One who knows and sees ALL.
I want to be “that friend” who when I tell you that I am praying for you, you know that I took it seriously and have spent time on my knees for you. Because interceding before the throne of grace is the most loving thing I can ever do for you.
I know beyond a shadow of a doubt he has called me to Uganda. He knew that my family and friends would struggle while I was away. If He wanted me to be there, He wouldn’t have moved me here. I am free to pour out all of the love that He placed inside of me for the people who are around me here…without feeling guilty about those I have left behind. I can leave them safely in His hands knowing that the same One who had these plans for me from the foundation of the earth has amazing plans for everyone that I love. Will I still be there for them? Absolutely. I will still stay up till 2 am to be sure that it’s a good time to call them, listen to them and encourage them. I will text them messages about His goodness and faithfulness, and all His promises to never leave them. But most of all I will pray, and rest easy, knowing that the same hands that hold me safely in this place, hold on to them as well. And because He is the One who called me here…it is better for me to be in Africa. Because following after him wherever He leads is always the best place I can be.