Constant Struggle with Loss

The feeling of loss, is one I wrestle with often and one I probably will carry heavy on my heart as long as I live in America, where it’s a constant reminder of being a foreigner, where I constantly find myself longing to grasp on to something familiar that’d bring me comfort and a safe childhood memory and help me be grounded. The truth though is  that nothing around me is familiar, it’s all a new reality, a new home and a new comfort that doesn’t go to the depth of this loss that creeps in me when I miss home, my real earthly home where I grew up, where I took my first steps and learned how to talk, read and write.  The home where everything is familiar, comfortable and known, where it feels like my whole community is my family, where there is no isolation behind closed doors, where people find serenity amongst being in each others presence.

This sense of home is what my mom brings with her when she comes to visit us from Ethiopia, all the familiarities from my childhood, my old way of life and norms come alive again. This time she stayed with us for ten full beautiful months, and she served us with so much humility and grace. My mom is the real deal, her example to me is and has always been “Less of me and more of Christ”. Tt never fails, she exudes total humility and surrender to the Lord, thus she gives just that to those around her.

This morning we said our goodbyes because she had to go back, but as always I found myself struggling with wanting to follow her, and just go to the place where I know I’ll feel grounded, I can’t lose this comfortable place in my heart and I find myself tempted to go back home. To me, if I didn’t know the Lord, if I couldn’t take comfort in knowing that America or Ethiopia is not my real home but heaven is, I don’t know if I could have walked this immigrant walk well. I’m grateful to the Lord who makes my life and journey meaningful by reminding me the richness of this journey he has me on, and it’s service as a constant reminder of the longing for heaven.

This loss is a tough one because of it’s reoccurance, when you go through a break up or lose a friend, you can grieve the loss in one process no matter how long or short it takes but this loss is so constant and so painful. I’ve been dealing with it for over 14 long years but overtime I think I’ve conquired it, it comes back. It’s as deep and fresh as when I first experienced it as a teenager who left home trusting the calling God had placed in her heart to follow him and make disciples. The pain makes me forget why I’m here in the first place and pushes me to question and reprioritize my life. Is it worth it, is the call to ministry, to life as the other, the outsider and all the sense of unfamiliarity worth being here? But then, when all the emotion hanging over me subdues I remember the reason I’m here, it’s not my doing but the Lord’s. Not my calling but His, and not my journey but one he paved for me, so I end up saying, heck yea! It’s all worth it compared to the face of Christ I get to see clearer and closer every time I experience this loss, the realness of his comfort to my soul, the true community I experience only found among believers, It’s worth it because this loss forces me to rely on Jesus and His people.

I love this verse “….. but we rejoice in our sufferingsknowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces characterand character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shamebecause God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been givento us.” Romans 5:3-5 This is the reality of my soul at the moment, the hope found in trusting God’s work of sanctification in my heart.

It’s a tough journey but, if it wasn’t tough, I would have nothing to help me dig deeper in the word, to find my comfort in the presence of the Spirit of God himself and to let myself break down and watch the father restore me back to the way he wants to remake me. I am a vessel in his hands, and this loss of separating from those I love the most breaks me EVERY TIME! BUT, my father restores me making me stronger than before EVERY TIME….and I wouldn’t trade that for anything! To be in his presence is better than life itself and I know that so well.

He Gives the Courage to Pray

As I sat at the edge of my bed reading the work visa aka H-1B application restrictions and the cost of an immigration lawyer and filing fees, my heart sank. I remember thinking to my 23 year old self, why God? Why do I have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders at such a young age? It’s not fair God, I never asked for this, this wasn’t what I signed up for when you called me out of my comfortable home and loving family to pursue you and the promises you made me if I trusted and obeyed you. This was too hard, too painful, too expensive and too lonely and I don’t think I have the energy to pursue a visa process that I have a very slim chance of getting anyways and everyone around me is discouraging me to do. Everyone as in, my at the time boss who by the way should be the one saying we need you so let’s go for this, I was the one trying to convince him you need me because God said so. I wasn’t even convinced about why I should be there just that God wanted me there and it was an awkward situation for both of us.

H-1B visas are typically given to people with very unique skillsets that the U.S. labor force is in need of. Those that receive it typically hold a master’s degree, make at least $70,000 if not more and mainly are in the field of math and science. I think the salary amount has been increased to $130,000 recently. I on the other hand, was a Christian College graduate with a communications degree working in a non-profit and making almost $35,000, like thousands of Americans. How the heck am I to even consider going through a visa route that I have a really small to no chance of getting? It was more than I could have the courage to pray for, this one was too big and complex for my faith. Plus, I didn’t follow God for a prosperous and glamorous life in the U.S. I hated that mentality, I have a perfectly beautiful and hopeful dream of going back home to Ethiopia and serving God there, and a pride to show them(whoever they are) that I’m no beggar, I’m here because the owner of the universe decided this is where I should be. This whole thing felt like a trap, like God intentionally was making my life miserable, like he didn’t like me let alone love me. Like I was forgotten and no one, not even the one who gave me a mission remembered where I was.

Everything I read in my bible told me that God wanted me to have an abundant life, that he is not only concerned with my eternal salvation but the joy and contentment I find in and through him on earth. So why is it so complicated, unbearable and lonely? Why is it dehumanizing, why do I feel rejected, unwanted and unseen? I don’t want to fight to be seen by someone who refuses to see me, I have my pride too, I want to say “fine, I’ll go back and have a perfectly beautiful life” but I knew that would mean I would have to give up and not give God a chance to show his will through this painful process. In addition to that, there was a lingering doubt and fear in my mind, if he wants to, he could deny me joy on earth, I know I don’t deserve anything but God’s wrath, I know I’m saved by his amazing grace and his beautiful mercy, I know I’m a sinner and the joy that comes from my salvation is enough. So how do I pray, what do I say to the one who holds everything but who is rightfully able to grant or deny my requests? How do I preserve hope in him incase he denies my longings. It was frustrating and felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest with anguish.

I immediately got up from my bed and just fell on the ground, sobbing, I didn’t have words to pray through this complex pain I didn’t have the vocabulary to articulate it, pain is all that I could feel. But I knew God would understand my groan“for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthews 6:8

Have you ever cry prayed, or yell prayed? Those have been a few but very significant moments in my life. Where I have been so broken by my situation, hurt by people and the big one, disappointed by God that I just cry and yell but it’s directed to God and I’m alone in my room, in the dark. I turned off the lights because it’s too painful to see my surrounding and be reminded of the narrowing walls around me, in almost every aspect of life it seemed I was trapped. After several hours of this wordless but loud yell/cry prayer I remember getting up and wiping off my tears and turning off all my emotions except for one, hope. I’m not going to be angry, disappointed or frustrated with this process. I’m going to do whatever I can and when I reach the end of the rope, I’m going to take that as God’s way of saying to me, this is not where I want you. I’m also not going to pray about this issue anymore, nor discuss it with anyone. I’m just going to do what I can and see what comes out. Suddenly, I was no longer fearful, defeated or angry, it actually felt lighter, as if I’ve tossed all my burdens in an ocean and watch it go away, I didn’t care where as long as I didn’t have to carry it. If God is who he is, and I believe what the bible says about his unfailing love, his truthfulness, his GOODNESS then whatever he lets happen will be for my good and good gets defined by him and I’m ok with that.

I was no longer angry so I started reasoning in my head, if God has given me eternal security, this visa process is like a pile of dust, in his abilities he can blow it away so I’m not going to worry about that! But, there are other real things I wanted to pray for, things I have words to pray for, things that make my heart ache with longing, like seeing my mom first thing in the morning when I wake and enter our living room, on her knees praying, worship music in the background and her bible opened and me knowing that all is well in my world because of this courageous woman’s diligence and thanking God for a daily reminder of what faithfulness looks like. Or going to the library with my dad and picking out books and seeing who finishes it first and can summarize the story without skewing the main theme, how I longed to have those conversations with him, I love the way he reasons, the most brilliant man on earth. Or hanging out with my brothers and watching a movie together because the only thing that’ll keep them around me for longer than a few minutes without me talking their ears off, is a story on display where we watch QUIETLY (they have to remind me though). Or singing from an old hymn book in the rain with my sister, shouting so we can be louder than the sound of the rain hitting the aluminum roof top. All those beautiful and shaping memories circling in my mind I decided why not pray for those days to come back to reality again. My God is big enough and I chose to surrender my biggest questions under his feet. I guess I was thinking, while he’s at it he can answer these few BIG things too, why not, what do I have to lose right?

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” Hebrews 11:1

I don’t think I actually believed any of these things would come true, especially since I’ve been praying for them since day one in America, December 2003. Regardless, I started journaling and making a list; someone had encouraged me to keep a list of my prayer request and writing the answers when God shows up so I did. In all honesty, praying and hoping for a future made my life more meaningful than wallowing in my pain and despair so I chose to be joyful with hope and have faith in God’s goodness. What a turn one-cry/yell prayer can have on my emotions and outlook in life! You should try it sometime 🙂

Fast-forward, almost a decade later, two H-1Bs, marriage, a residency approval and one sweet baby later. I’m sitting in my living room, watching all that I’ve prayed for unfold and taken aback by the gratitude that has overtaken my heart. My God truly is a God that is close to the broken hearted; He truly hears the cries of his people and answers them promptly (well considering that a thousand years is like a day to him). I won’t lie, I had given up hope, I never, ever could have imagined that both my mom & dad, my aunt, hubby and I would sit in one room and talk about silly things like this happens everyday.   Watching them talk, I was thinking to myself, Lord you honored my prayer! It was like I was surprised he remembered, and tears filled my eyes so I decided to walk away as to not distract them from their light hearted chat and take this picture so I can freeze the moment and think of it when I am tempted to forget that my God is not just good but he is merciful and abounding in love.
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Words fail me, as emotions take over even as I write this on paper but let me leave you with the prayer of David which is the only thing that about comes close to expressing my gratitude and worship to this king who choses to love me, in ways only he can.  The type of love that heals the deep wounds of this messy fallen world inflicts to the heart and one that restores it to a perfect whole.  Leaving me with a healed heart, that rejoices in truth and giving me the courage to pray more hopeful prayers!

David’s Prayer of Gratitude

 “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in your eyes, O Lord GOD. You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord GOD!  And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord GOD! Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it. Therefore you are great, O LORD God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.

……..

For you, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you. And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant. Now therefore may it please you to bless the house of your servant, so that it may continue forever before you. For you, O Lord GOD, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.”

2 Samuel 6:18-22, 27-29