Have you ever had an identity crisis? You know, when you don’t know who you are or who you’re supposed to be anymore. Everything you thought you knew about life just went flying out the window. Everything you thought you knew about yourself went with it and your whole world is tipped upside down. Your soul is rocked to the core and you’re left with more questions than answers…
Some call it culture shock. I think it was more. I think it was an awakening to reality and a jump start to a calling and a command.
It all started when our plane touched down under the cloak of night in Addis Ababa. Scurrying through the airport to make it through the visa line I barely looked around. I just thought all the people were so beautiful and the airport was much nicer than what I was expecting. We stepped out the doors and I breathed in my first whiff of Ethiopian air. V grabbed my arm and said, “We’re here! Can you believe we are in Ethiopia?!” I couldn’t. I was so excited. Somewhere out there in this city my son was sleeping. I was finally on the same continent as my child. We drove to the hotel and I fell into bed. The next morning my life would change forever.
I was up at 5am – wide awake. That’s an 8 hour time change and a tummy full of nerves for you. The sun wasn’t up yet, so I sat at the small table in the corner of the room and tried to get on the internet while John slept. I fiddled on the computer until I noticed the room lighting up. I walked to the window… pulled back the curtain… and fell in love.
Cars and trucks zipped by on the road below and across the “highway” sat a field and some hills. Men and women of all ages were coming over the fields and walking toward the city. Some carried baskets on their heads and babies on their backs, while others were guiding cattle and donkeys. A bunch of youth had already started a soccer game and older men sat nearby to watch while their animals grazed. The city was waking up and so was something deep in my soul.
In just a few hours I walked through the gates of a transition home to the sound of children laughing, crying, and playing. I stepped into a courtyard crowded with toddlers and babies and my eyes searched as I desperately asked the workers, “Mareto? Mareto?” Finally our driver pointed to the far side of the courtyard and I walked the several steps into my new life. Kneeling down I touched his face, the back of his head, and then tentatively picked him up. When he didn’t cry I gathered him to my chest and just breathed him in. Perfection. Overwhelming love for my child.
In that moment I felt the tiniest drop of what God feels for me. Love. For the second time in just a few hours I fell head over heels in love. In love with a country, a people, and deeply in love with my son.
I could write pages and pages to tell of our experiences that week. I could go on and on about what happened in my heart when we had to leave, and then the wonder of it all when we returned just 3 weeks later to pick up our son and bring him home forever. But what has stuck with me and caused me to change the way I view life is what happened when we came “home.” You see, everyone told me that I would have massive culture shock when we went to Ethiopia. I had only ever been to Canada and that really doesn’t count as leaving the country. I had never seen a third world country first hand. It was going to be hard, everyone warned. But it wasn’t! Oh sure, I saw things that broke my heart and that I’ll never forget as long as I live. But I loved it. No, culture shock happened for me when our plane landed back in Washington D.C. just 8 days after it had taken off.
The moment came when we collected our baggage and I stopped to use the restroom. I walked in and there were about 20 stalls lined up in a huge, bright, gleaming public restroom. It was so opposite from where I had just been. This was supposed to be normal to me, after all I live here and I had only been gone a week, but somehow it seemed so odd… so foreign. I came out looking confused. John knew the moment he saw my face. “It’s weird to be here isn’t it?” I nodded. The weeks that followed were filled with confusing moments like that.
Driving down the road we noticed all the honking wasn’t friendly like in Africa, but angry because someone didn’t merge fast enough. We looked at each other as I softly said, “what are they so mad about? they have cars. they aren’t stuff on a bus with 50 other people. they don’t have to walk. what right do they have to be upset?” Odd. Walking the isles at Target we noticed frustrated customers. People who were angry because the exact model/color of whatever gadget they wanted was unavailable. “But they eat 3 meals a day,” we wondered to each other. “They have plenty and then some! Why are they so unhappy?” We noticed rude and frustrated mothers. “But their children are HERE… in their care. Safe. Healthy. Secure. They didn’t watch their children starve, teeter on the brink of death, and finally give them to an orphanage because that was the only choice left. They didn’t fly over an ocean to meet their baby only to have to leave him there for an unknown time frame. Sick. Without his mommy. Why on earth are they so mad? Why aren’t they grateful?”
Everything changed. Everything was different. In our land of shiny, gleaming, convenient ease we are angry, hurried, discontent, and frustrated. We are selfish, blind, and ignorant. How was I supposed to live like this? I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to life before Ethiopia. I was changed inside and felt like I didn’t belong anymore. Questions came pouring out at night, in bed, in tears. What is our purpose? What are we as Christians supposed to do? How come we have SO much and they have SO little? I thought I was living a good Christian life, but now I’m not so sure? What now? Who is it that God made me to be? What does he want me to do? For a long time the answers were tough to come by. But one answer comes ringing through scripture …
LOVE ONE ANOTHER
It’s our greatest command after loving God. We love God, therefore we love others. That’s it. Love. Love. Love. and then LOVE SOME MORE! Love is the driving force behind doing. It must be, otherwise all we do is worthless.
Because we love Jesus we love the teenagers God has put in our lives. That’s why we are in full time youth ministry.
Because we love Jesus we love the poor. That’s why we love Ethiopia and give our money to feeding their children.
Because we love Jesus we love the lost. That’s why we would love to be missionaries someday.
Because we love Jesus and he loved tax collectors and prostitutes we love our fellow sinners. That’s why we can live side by side with one another.
Because we love Jesus and know that he has adopted us into our family we love orphans. That’s why we adopt.
Loving one another has become the anthem of our lives. It is the reason we adopted Mareto and the reason we are adopting again. Love. As David Platt so perfectly said, “we adopt not because we are rescuers, but because we have been rescued.” At best our love is imperfect, but God’s love is always perfect and that is why we press on… that is why we love.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
1 John 4:7-12