“The future feels so hard and I want to go back. But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned”.
Lately I’ve been remembering those lines from a favorite song of mine (a song I first encountered the last time I was living overseas.) I told a dear mentor the other day, “2019 has been fun”… and while there certainly have been many fun experiences this past year (traveling down to Mindanao with my best friend, visiting Singapore again after 20 years, exploring Australia for 10 days, going on a Shiphrah-staff retreat to the beach), I was referencing how difficult this year has been for me. From January to now (nearly all the way through 2019’s 11th month), that difficulty may have changed in its specifics, but it’s never waned. I’ve said in the past that I feel like all I do is share about how hard things are, and I’ve shared how this summer God taught me that hardship and difficulty aren’t signs that I’m doing something wrong. Sometimes things are just hard. And sometimes things are hard because that’s how you grow.
I have been busy these past 2 months (hence the radio silence.) I’ve started a new trimester in school (which means 5 new classes to complete in 10 weeks); we’re still in the “-ber months” which is most often Shiphrah’s busiest birth season (just two weeks ago we had 4 births in 4 days; one mom’s active labor lasted 14 hours and another poor mom pushed for 5!); and lately it’s felt like every area of my life is requiring difficult conversations (not my favorite thing).
As I enter into these situations I find myself feeling so inadequate for the task. “I’m not enough for this”; “I don’t have the skills to navigate this the best way”; “This is too much for me”; common phrases in my mind recently. And despite these thoughts, the difficulties just keep coming, which makes me wonder… maybe things are hard on purpose. God must be doing something here.
Way back this spring God gave me a vision while kneeling in my prayer room and a few days later I attempted to capture that vision with my negligible drawing skills. The vision was simple in its metaphor: water pouring from a pitcher into a clear, pebble-filled glass. But through that simple picture God spoke what He was doing then (and what I believe He is still doing now): pebbles don’t have to be cognizant of the water’s will or purpose as it flows past them; their ignorance (or even resistance) doesn’t prevent the water from moving. They might not even recognize that something is slipping around them, subtly causing everything inside the glass to shift. God showed me that even when I can’t feel it, even when I don’t see/know/understand what’s going on, even when I think I may be in the way, He is working. His Holy Spirit is pouring in and through my life, washing, shifting and resettling my heart, my priorities, my desires and my pursuits into the form He wants for me.
People ask how I’ve handled “culture shock”, and at first I didn’t know how to respond. I always thought of culture shock as an ex-pat suddenly screaming in the market because some seemingly-harmless encounter tipped the internal scale provoking a meltdown. But I’ve never had a dramatic meltdown. “Maybe that’s not my temperament” I’ve thought. “Maybe I’ve grown better and better at remaining flexible and open with each new culture and language I’ve pursued in my adult life” (Tagalog is the 5th foreign language I’ve studied!). But recently I’ve begun to see that maybe that’s not the way culture shock looks most often. Rather than the occasional eruption, I now see culture shock as the constant filling of every area in your life, keeping your stress levels at a consistent 6-7/10 most days. Things that would normally be easy are suddenly difficult and draining. Conversations that would have been encouraging and natural leave you feeling confused and strained. You’re exhausted in tears at 3pm when you haven’t finished half the things you’d “normally” accomplish in a day’s work. And I keep expecting that stress level to go down as I grow more and more settled in my life here. But it remains untouched.
And that consistency reminded me of something that was once ever-present in my life (amazing how easy it is to forget something once a few years have put distance between the experience and your day-to-day!). I’m experiencing growing pains! Google tells me that at 5’10” I’m among the 99th percentile for height among American women (I didn’t need Google to tell me where I stand among Filipina women! #jessithegiant) I was always the tallest in my class in elementary school, but from age 11-14, I needed new shoes every 3 months. Kneeling on the floor would bring tears to my eyes; my femurs were growing faster than the tendons and muscles in my legs could keep up, so I always felt pulling and pain in my kneecaps. I’ve been 5’10” since 14 years old (wanted to be 5’11” my whole life and I stopped 1 inch short?!?!) My dad tells me that the summer going into his senior year of high school he’d be woken in the middle of the night due the severity of his growing pains; he grew 6 inches that summer!!
I should have remembered that this constant, nagging, energy-draining pain isn’t new; I’ve already experienced it as a symptom of coming new growth. And just like those early teen years, I’ve felt a bit like I’m back in junior high these past few months. It’s awkward; I’m unsure of myself; skills I once had so much confidence in are suddenly uncomfortable and foreign. Usually communicating on this platform is easy, the words just flow, but I’ve been struggling to come up with anything to write for the past 2 months.
Growing pains are bothersome because there’s just no way to know when they’ll finally go away. We are told by those around us that this won’t be forever, at some point they’ll stop. But just like a parent can’t really know how tall their teen will become, I don’t know what image God is fashioning me into here. We can have a vague guess by looking at the genetics of the mom and dad, but that only leaves us with general guessing at possibilities, and a lot of “wait and see”-ing in the mean time.
So as I’ve been “waiting and seeing”, I’ve come to recognize how hard I push myself to grow. Urgency is never lacking within me. I’m a passionate person and once I get it in my head that something is worthwhile or important, there’s no time like the present to get started. Throughout the past 14 months here in the Philippines I’ve faced many challenges, and with each new challenge I am reminded of just how far I have to go. “I really need to get this mastered because it will be so important in my life” has been on endless repeat. “This” could be a midwifery skill, a living-solo-in-a-foriegn-context lifeskill, another high-stakes conversation or a better understanding the social dynamics around me. But I’m now seeing that just around the corner from every “this” overcome is yet another challenge waiting. Just like the American perpetually saying “it’s just a really busy season right now, in a few months things will slow down”, I’m coming to realize that this pattern isn’t changing. So maybe my perspective should. I’ve got a WHOLE LIFE of needing to grow ahead of me; perhaps it’s time to balance that urgency with an eternal perspective: it is important to do this well, but I can trust that God is going to keep growing me even after this is behind me. Not a novel idea, but what a profound antidote to the urgency that rules within me with an iron fist.
I shared at the beginning of this year that my word for 2019 was Pillar of Fire. At the start of the year I clung to the truth that even though I didn’t know where to go or what to do, God would guide me as my Pillar of Fire. I didn’t need to know where to go; He knows and He’s leading. But now, as 2019 comes to a close, I still rest in that leading provision, this time trusting His pacing. When I’m not in charge, when I have to look to Him to lead, I’m forced to take one step at a time. One step of growth at a time. And when I’m tempted to compare myself to who I was 14 months ago, or who I think I should be wherever I end up long term, I instead must look to He who leads me. He knows the path He’s laid before me, and he knows the new creation He’ll be shaping me into along the way.
I’ll finish this post with a Tagalog phrase. I asked the midwives if they were familiar with the phrase “growing pains” (and promptly had to explain it. That’s not a term here). The translation they gave me is “dumarami ang sakit” (“doo-mah-RAH-mee AHNG sahk-EHT”), literally “an increasing of the pain”. Close, but not quite the same.
I discovered this song months ago, and it’s come back as the perfect expression both of where I find myself and what I’m clinging to here. I hope it encourages you too.
Praises these past 2 months
- In late September I spent 10 days visiting an old Bible-school friend now living in Australia. This was my first time Down Under, and I came away so refreshed. My two hopes in going were to see beautiful sights and encounter some solid Gospel conversation, and I’m so grateful that I got plenty of both!
- Balancing school and my apprenticeship has been difficult (largely due to irregular internet access), but it’s working. I’m 3-weeks-from-finished with my second trimester of my first year at Indie Birth Midwifery School, and I’ve now got my 123rd baby (48th Primary) under my midwife belt. Praise God for resilience, flexibility and an ever-changing system that’s working to get this midwife what she needs!
- A big shoutout to Mercy House Philippines, where I wrote most of this blog post. I was privileged to spend Thanksgiving with these amazing people (celebrated a week early), and I’m so grateful for our friendship. Mercy House is a home for boys 9+ who had been living on the street. Spending three days with this massive family was profoundly refreshing and rejuvenating (and the surrounding countryside ain’t half bad neither!)
Pray for Me
- In a previous post I asked y’all to do some serious praying for a family member in a desperate and dangerous place. Keep praying. Pray that God would speak clearly, rescue and continue to sustain in His mercy until things change. And pray for those of us close to this loved one; right now it’s looking like this hard season is only going to keep getting harder.
- In 2 weeks, 6 days and 22 hours the moment I’ve been dreaming of since August 2018 is finally happening: LAUREN IS COMING TO SEE ME! We’ll have three beautiful weeks together, and I can’t wait to have my favorite person at my side once again. Pray for protection for her (this is her first time flying internationally, and her first time out of the country since our family left Indonesia in 2003), and pray for extra blessing over our reunion this Christmas/New Years. We both could use some encouragement, and we know it’s just around the corner. #sistersmakethebestchristmasgifts
- With each week that passes, I’m coming to see that the end of my time here is approaching. I really want to finish well; pray that I will be given the grace I need to approach the end of an 18-month-season-of-life with wisdom and understanding; I want to end well in relationship here; I want to give joy and peace as I go. I want renewed strength to let go of what I have known here and walk into the unknown ahead of me (more specifics to come later, but I’ve got a few cross-cultural adventures in store between the Philippines and the US that mean more resilience, grace and learning required).