The past two years for my husband and I have been interesting, to say the least. I think in many ways we have grown more in this short period of time than some people will in their entire lives. And if I am completely honest with you, it has been incredibly hard. But I remember in later elementary school the literal aches and pains my body felt as my I grew, and I realize, it was for a purpose.
For me, some of the pains from the past two years were physical. Some made me weak physically, but as I gain that physical strength back, I realize how much stronger I have become emotionally. I will tell you this: emotional growth does not mean you stop crying, you stop caring or you stop feeling. It means that your pains repair themselves easier. It is similar to the way an experienced long distance runner’s muscles repair themselves more quickly and easily the more they practice. There may be pain, but there is much reward.
In some ways I feel like these experiences have defined me, but I think it all began sometime nearly four years ago. As I sat in an open school hut in the heat of a Mozambican day, a woman told an incredible story of how in the midst of fear, she chose to love and forgive someone who had harmed her and it brought her so much healing. How this brought her to realize that everyday she must choose to love others, regardless of the circumstance. I said right then “that is what I want to do. I want to love others no matter what.”
A few days later as some friends and I were laying under a tree when a belligerent man carrying a weapon ran through the town chasing another man. In the area we were in, there was very little authority, and the main reason people didn’t harm one another was because they needed one another to survive. It wasn’t long before the man made his way back to where we were sitting, and he looked over and saw us. Immediately I began saying the word “peace” out loud repeatedly. And I prayed to myself “God, please help me love this person, because I am very afraid.”
The man threw the weapon, fell to his knees and laid his face on the floor. The only person with us who knew his language said “he is asking for help.” I laid my hand on his shoulder and began praying for him. Because of the possible risk we were in, we were asked to leave while some men came to help him. My adrenaline was going and my mind was having a hard time understanding what had just happened.
To be honest, even though the city I grew up in has a significant crime rate, I, myself, hadn’t experienced much more than a few fistfights. This event was quite significant to me. Something I couldn’t have even imagined.
Fast forward a few months and I was back in Texas. I was back in the American workforce and feeling content with my job as a preschool teacher. Loving the little kids and trying to see the best in each child became my “ministry.” But at times the people in my life would make me angry and I definitely didn’t pray, “God help me love them.” It was more “God, get me away from them.” Real life situations would become hard and my prayer would be “God, fix this. Don’t make me deal with these crazy people.” Maybe not that exact prayer, but I can remember a few very similar.
When we found out we were pregnant, the excitement didn’t last for long as I was told only a week later that we had lost the baby. The thought of losing a child, for me, only lasted a week, though. We were one of the “misdiagnosed miscarriages” that happen more often than I had realized. But as I realized how many miscarriages were real, true miscarriages, my heart began to break. The pain that I felt for a week was something some mothers would mourn for a lot longer. Possibly a lifetime.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only time I was led to mourn the loss of our daughter. At 20 weeks my water broke and I was told that labor would come soon and I would have to deliver. The doctor asked if I wanted them to go ahead and deliver, but we said no. Six weeks later I still had not gone into labor, and was waiting on our daughter’s arrival in the hospital. Her delivery was an emergency and scary in so many ways, but it is still one of my fondest memories.
At some point during my pregnancy, I remembered those words “love no matter what.” Many times that is what kept me going.
And now, many times, it is what drives me. I began receiving so many requests to speak with or meet a mother who had just had a child early, or whose water broke significantly early. I was given a chance to share what our family had gone through and conquered. I got to choose joy over bitterness time and time again. And that made all the difference in how I began to heal.
Being so deep in a church culture where “full time ministry” is talked about so often, it is easy to focus on it being a job such as a pastor, worship pastor or missionary just to name a few titles. Each and every one of the people who hold such titles are incredibly important to the Body of Christ, but even more important is how they respond when the barista gets their order wrong at Starbucks.
In the past two years, more than ever I have realized that “full time ministry” is a choice. It is a choice to love no matter what.
To hold the hand of the mother who seems to have it all together, but just wants to be vulnerable with someone and tell them she feels like she is falling apart. To help a family through a difficult diagnosis. To cry in your office with the woman who is trying to get her husband’s affairs in order after he has passed on. To be alert and notice that the reason a student of yours is acting out is because he is dealing with adult issues outside of school. To choose full time ministry and love no matter what in every single interaction of every single day.
If we can’t do these things on a day-to-day basis, what is the rest of it all for?