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 “our” baby boy.
© 2012 Women of the Harvest.