Sharing My Sorrow

Posted on: September 12, 2012 Written by
Sharing My Sorrow
      Photography by: Alexey Rumyantsev from iStock    

I faced a series of losses so devastating they threatened to undo me.  Over the course of two days I learned that two of my friends were killed while returning from a humanitarian aid mission to a remote mountain community in Central Asia.  Then, before I had a chance to catch a breath, a day later I went to the doctor for a routine prenatal ultrasound only to discover that my unborn baby no longer was living.

There was nothing I could do except go home to await an impending miscarriage.  Grief and shock threatened to overwhelm me.  I felt immobilized by my pain.  I knew I needed to turn outward, not only to the Lord, but to other people as well before my grief became an open pit swallowing me alive.  However, in the early days of mourning my losses, knowing who and where to turn for support was not an easy task.

These events took place while my husband and I were back in the States living in the midst of an immigrant and refugee community. We intentionally moved there to share Christ’s love with our predominantly Muslim neighbors.  Over time I unconsciously began to see myself as the strong and capable one, the “helper” and “fixer” of my neighbors’ problems.

“You need a ride to the grocery store?  No problem!  I’ve got a car!”

“You have no one to interpret for your doctor’s appointment!  Sure!  I can do it.  After all, no one else in this neighborhood is a native English speaker who also knows your heart language and culture.”

“You are lonely and need someone to just sit with you and listen to your stories?  My pleasure!  Come on in and I’ll start a pot of tea!”

I had not intended to set myself up as a hero, but over time it was easy to allow serving others to become a part of my identity.  I often came across as aloof simply because it was easier to serve rather than allow myself to be served.

And then, within a matter of four days, life as I knew it came to a crashing halt; waves of grief, so intense, threatened to undo me.  I didn’t know what to do or where to go.  I turned to the Lord in prayer and to my husband; but I needed the tangible support and care of women around me—physical arms to wrap around me and hands bearing pots of homemade chicken soup to strengthen not only my recovering body, but also my soul.

My natural inclination was to turn to my teammates—after all, we had our faith in common, not to mention the same heart language and cultural backgrounds.  But, ironically, this was the week when my closest American friends were all out of town.  My husband and I attempted to turn to a couple from our wider church community, but it quickly became apparent that they could not comprehend where to begin in helping us process through the layers of grief.

Finally, I turned to my close Muslim friends, where my heart knew I should have turned all along.  After all, if these ladies were truly my friends, and not just a ministry project, then I would have been disingenuous to hide my deep sorrows from them.  I will admit that I had tried to justify my reluctance to open up to my neighbor ladies.  Maybe if I was vulnerable and open they might not know how to proceed.  Maybe they were too busy.  What if they chose to blame me for causing my miscarriage through some perceived sin or too much physical work?  Although I was anxious, I was desperate enough to give it a try.

My Afghan neighbors were the first to respond.  They came to my home in a group, dressed in traditional subdued mourning clothes.  I welcomed them in, and they sat with me on the floor. They prompted me to tell my story, giving me the space and time to unburden my heart.  Tears flowed from their eyes as they cried with me and shared some of their own stories of babies dying, both in the womb and in early childhood.  They brought meals, and one woman even had her husband go to a florist so she could bring me flowers—not because this was naturally her custom, but she had heard Americans did this and she wanted me to feel the depth of her love and concern.

My other refugee neighbors were also a source of deep comfort.  While my American friends could hardly comprehend the grief of having friends killed by terrorists, my Middle Eastern friends had faced the death of husbands, brothers, and even children at the hands of al Qaida. They knew how powerless and full of rage this type of senseless killing could make you feel.  Just as I had become a keeper of their stories of sorrow, they made room in their hearts and lives for my pain.  They, too, offered comfort through their presence and tangible gifts of food, head scarves, painstakingly handwritten notes and cards, and other tokens of love.  Although my grief still had to run its natural course, God used my neighbors to staunch some of the deepest sorrow in those initial days of processing my losses.

God used the vulnerability of sharing in my darkest hour not only to bring me the comfort and support I needed, but also to deepen the bonds of friendship between myself and my neighbor women.  No longer was I their helpful friend who seemingly had it all together.  Instead, I became their sister who was just as raw and wounded as each one of them.  Any invisible barrier that might have stood between us was no more.  This point was proven not too long afterwards when a fellow ESL teacher asked one of my neighbors how many refugee women lived in her neighborhood— the neighbor included my name in the count!

Sure enough, just as the Bible teaches: when we are weak, then we are made strong.  By allowing myself to share intimately with the women God had placed all around me, He opened the way for me to share more deeply from His Word. I spoke about the promises of His presence and how, instead of turning His face away, our heavenly Father chooses to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Months later, while attending a birthday celebration in the community, these same women gathered around me to drum, dance and sing songs in their native languages to bless me and the new little one growing deep in my womb.  And then, before I knew it, they were once again at my side en masse with vats of soup and flowers, this time in celebration at the safe arrival of my baby boy.  Or as they expressed it, they came to celebrate the birth of “ourbaby boy.

 

© 2012 Women of the Harvest.

Questions to Consider: Is it easy for you to be vulnerable with those you serve among? What has deepened the bonds of friendship with the global women in your life?



About the author

God gave me a heart for serving overseas when I was ten-years old, and since graduating from college I have had the privilege of living and serving in the Muslim world-both in Central Asia and in refugee communities in the United States. Currently life is in a bit of a chaotic whirl as in about a month our family will be returning overseas to serve amongst a people group that particularly grips our hearts. Some reflections on our journey can be found at ChaiNomads.blogspot.com

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  • Anonymous

    One of our veteran colleagues says that our biggest mistake as westerners is NOT NEEDING them! GREAT article! So thankful for your sharing.

  • Anonymous

    One of our colleagues says that our biggest mistake as Westerners is NOT NEEDING our neighbors. GREAT article! Thanks for sharing.

  • Lori

    It is so true that God can greatly use our weaknesses to minister to other women. I have struggled with depression, discouragement, addiction…. The women I mentored and discipled also became the dearest friends, as I was able to share how God is growing, changing and healing me. And God used them to minister to me even when they were struggling in a number of areas. Our western evangelical thinking is often that we need to have it all together to be able to encourage and disciple others. I have come to see that, especially new believers, need to see that we don’t have to have it all together to be used by God!!

  • What an exquisitely beautiful picture — those “sisters in pain” sitting around on the floor with you, listening, crying, sharing the work of grief.

  • Lisa

    This article grips my heart. Thank you for sharing, Amy. Being 4 years in Africa, I still struggle with being vulnerable with my Tanzanian friends. “I can’t be needy… I’m supposed to be the strong one.” Nothin’ but stinkin’ pride, huh?

  • Cindy

    I, too, had a similar series of losses – deaths, evacuations and loss of home, a physical assault on my husband, and a stillborn son. I struggled with some anger and frustration with my fellow missionaries who seemed too busy and disconnected to “be there” for me. I lost sight of the fact that God was providing for me in a myriad of ways – the encouraging words of fellow believers in the city I worked, the beauty of the country where I was allowed to serve, the hugs and homemade chocolate chip cookies from my older children, and the gentle whispers of God that were sometimes almost audible. In truth I was also quite angry with God at times, and yet, I had a great lesson in “being still and knowing that God is (still) God,” even when all hell seems to be breaking loose. He truly is sufficient, patient, and gentle, although it was a couple of years through the pain before I could see it clearly.

  • Peggy

    I was really blessed also to hear your story. We have been Missionaries for 35 yrs. and 27 of those have been in the Philippines where we still are. 7 of those yrs. we worked in the Mts. of N. Luzon. The folks still perform blood sacrifices to their dead ancestors. When I found my self back in San Diego, tending to my alcoholic and drug addicted sister dying of cancer plus complications of Hepatitis C, (from the intravenous drugs of the 60’s.) I too was over come with sorrow and grief since for 35 yrs. I tried in vain to help her see the truth of Christ’s love for her and His sacrifice on the cross for her sins. I missed my best friend Rhoda, back up in those Mt.s in the Philippines. It is interesting how the Lord knows what would best comfort our hearts. That day the Lord gave me like 10 Filipina nurses on her wing and her Dr. was Filipina. I was able to Talk to her in Tagalog and tell her what a comfort it was to have her there and asked for a hug. She readily gave me a hug. I was crying and I had her crying, a perfect stranger. My sensitive Lord knew they would be a comfort to me. Isn’t the Lord good?

  • Jenny Giezendanner

    What a privilege to belong – another refugee!

  • I believe that my most effective “ministry” to local women friends has been sharing my weaknesses and struggles with them. We have forged deep friendships and I have received much encouragement from them. I think sharing our weaknesses enables them to see that they are not alone when they suffer and struggle.

    Thank you for your wise words. Sorry for your losses.

  • Amy

    Thank you ladies for your kind and heartfelt responses. How wonderful we can all grow together in the work of learning that our true strength comes from vulnerability.