Sunday, August 17, 2014

A year of hell

"So this is it. I say goodbye to this chapter of my ever-changing life. And there's mistakes. The path is long. And I'm sure I'll answer for them when I'm gone...The road to hell along the way is paved with good intentions so they say. And some believe that no good deed goes unpunished in the end or so it seems..." Staind, Something To Remind You   Full lyrics here

It's hard to believe that it's been a year since I left Kenya. Actually, the 26th will be one full year. I remember that morning as I was crammed in the back seat of a shuttle on my way from Kitale to Nairobi. I left so early that it was still dark outside. I caught the very first shuttle out of Kitale. The only seat open was in the middle in the back row. If you know anything about a Kenyan shuttle, you know that a 6 foot 3 inch man does not fit very well in the back seat. I was in for a very long 8+ hour ride. I put my iPod on, buried the zipper of my bag into my lap, put my sunglasses on (yes, in the dark) and closed my eyes as I fought back the tears. Then, the above song by Staind came on my iPod. Okay, don't judge me, yes, Staind is my guilty pleasure band. As a child I loved their hard rock. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate their more lyrical songs like this one a bit more. I found myself listening to this song a few times over. I had no idea just how fitting a sone it was and would come to be over the net 12 months. 

About a week before that morning I was sitting at Kenya's Immigration office in Eldoret. I thought nothing of it that morning. I even took my motorcycle on the 2 hour drive to get there. What a blast that was! And somewhat frightening on some of the roads too! And, yes, to those wondering, I wore a helmet. Then the day took a rough turn. I had renewed my visa before with no issues over the years. I've always been in and out in just a few minutes. This time was different. I had my passport confiscated. I was threatened to be arrested. By the end of day two it was more than evident that the choice was simple: Pay a bribe, leave the country (still had to get my passport back though) or go to jail. Very long story short is that the Member of Parliament that sits over immigration in Kenya "did me favor" and gave me 48 hours to be out of the country. Well, due to the airport catching fire just a few weeks before this, I ended up with a week. A week that I hid at a local guest house with very few people knowing where I was. 

That morning of August 26th started a very long year of hell. Chris and Shawn Hilburn very generously opened up their home to me. And they went a step further and drove to JFK to pick me up when I landed. I had the worst jet lag I've ever had, though in all fairness, I think that it was more a combination of some jet lag and a lot of emotional stress. I spent the first two weeks hiding (see the theme?). I didn't tell many people I where I was living. In a very real way, I shut down emotionally. I didn't want to see anyone. I didn't have the energy to really tell the story. And I couldn't stand the thought of people seeing how hurt I really was. I hated the thought of people seeing me as weak. 

That's when I ended up seeing a counselor at Serving Leaders Ministries (check them out). I began working through what happened. I began to allow myself to be vulnerable again. I very truly believe that this was a turning point in the journey. A HUGE thank you to Dave Wiedis at Serving Leaders! Without you, the journey would have come to an abrupt stop right there. With your help, I was able to move on.  

I wish I could say that everything was easy after that. But it wasn't. As the months dragged on I finally came to the very difficult decision to stop trying to get back into Kenya. In early January I made that decision known to the home I worked at in Kenya. I initially gave myself a year before I would look into other countries to serve. I took a job at The Firestore.  I worked in the warehouse for a while. It was a challenge. I went from, first, a job that I worked in for just shy of 10 years to a life of ministry in Kenya. All of a sudden, I was in a warehouse wondering what my purpose was anymore. Wasn't I supposed to do something greater? Is this what I had become after all that I gave up?

Eventually I decided that moving overseas was something I would no longer pursue. To be completely honest, I even questioned what the point was in the first place. It all ended so violently as many relationships I built over a few years had collapsed or otherwise drastically changed. I sat back one day and realized that since my first trip to Kenya in 2009 I made moving there a number 1 priority in my life. I watched so many of my friends and family get married, have kids, buy houses, etc. And I gave that up in order to pursue Kenya. Part of me (being honest here) really wondered what the point ever was. I questioned God when my turn for those things would be; when would I experience those same joys. I painfully wrestled with so many questions as I wondered just who I was anymore. For a while I took the identity of "the missionary". But I'm not anymore. So "who am I?" became a very real question I struggled to answer almost every single day. 

As the year carried on I continued to be vulnerable with a few trusted individuals and I allowed them really see my hurt in a way that I had forgotten how to do. Some took advantage of that while others, the ones who really have my extreme gratitude, truly supported me, even when I was miserable and not much fun to be around. I cannot thank those people enough for helping me grow through this year. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for allowing me to be in the place I was but loving me enough to not allow me to stay there. Thank you for lovingly calling me out in some issues that I needed to address. 

I began to relearn a lesson about who I really am. My identity is so much more than the work that I choose. And my fulfillment cannot come from my work. It comes from the identity written out through the book of Ephesians: as a child of the living God. I accepted that being in Kenya while I was there WAS the right decision. The experiences that I had will be with me for the rest of my life. Another part of this song says, "look in my face, all the stories it will tell I can't erase...". So very true Mr. Aaron Lewis, so very true. I have countless stories I can tell. Stories that will bring you to tears, both of happiness and of sadness. Stories of extreme highs and stories of extreme lows. But all of the stories have a common theme: hope. Stories I still long to tell to this day.  

As this year rounds out, things are looking good. In June I accepted a job in our purchasing department. It was a very entry level job. I knew that going into the job and I accepted it knowing that it was a chance to possibly move up. And on August 7th, the day before I turned 30, I was offered a new position in government sales. A position that I eagerly start on the 25th. 

I've lost quite a few friends this past year, but I have also seen who some of my truest friends are. And I've built some new relationships. Ones that I am excited about. 

So, yes, I say goodbye to this chapter. But at the same time as I say goodbye to the chapter of life in Kenaya, I also say hello. I say hello to a new chapter of my ever-changing life. One that I am so eager to read. 

Another lyric that sums up some of this year comes from the chorus of a new OAR song:
"Hey, don't say goodbye, just say goodnight
And we'll pick up where we left off.
We'll say hello and welcome home
And we'll pick up where we left off"
OAR, We'll Pick Up Where We Left Off

THANK YOU to all that have welcomed me home. We'll pick up where we left off.  

"Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble." Psalm 107:2. This entire past year has been redeemed in a mighty way. This is merely a glimpse at what it has looked like. Thank you for allowing me to share it with you.   

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