“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” -A.A. Milne
I think of little Gemechu all the time. He and his family and my experience in Ethiopia taught me so much about my strength and bravery. And my time in Ethiopia, once I reflected on it and let my experience remind me of who I was and what I could handle, chased away a fear that I came face to face with in Chicago just a few short weeks after my return from Ethiopia. I will share that fear and moment, but first, I must share one more amazing story from Ethiopia, the one that sealed the deal for me and truly became my rear view mirror story that has fortified me and reminded me time and time again, how much at work God is and how much he wants to show us his strength, love, and handiwork.
Toward the end of our week in Roggie Village, we were informed that the incoming group of kindergartners were all without sponsors. Our group was so in love with Roggie, the school’s programs and the families that we all wanted to help out. Since we were in the village, we were able to select the child that we would like to sponsor if we so chose. Emma was so excited, as was I, and so we walked into the classroom of kids. Seriously, that was a decision that I could not make. As we looked out over their sweet faces, I turned to Emma and said, “I absolutely cannot pick. You will have to. Just come and find me and let me know who you would like to sponsor.” About halfway through the day, Emma came running to me with her blue eyes glistening and a huge smile across her face and told me she had found a little girl that she wanted to sponsor. So, after the morning classes, she took me to where this little girl was in a group of students. She was the sweetest little thing, very shy, and we knelt down and hugged her and let her know that we would be sponsoring her. Her mother was there and we were able to let her know the same. Now, that is all sweet and good and we were so happy to meet our new little sponsor child, Derartu. But, do you know how amazing God is? As we were hugging Derartu and her mother, do you know who slipped his hand in mine? Yes! Gemechu! And do you know who Gemechu’s little sister is? Derartu! Lord, have mercy! If that is not the supernatural work of God, I don’t know what is. The little boy that stole my heart, parted the sea for me, held my scarf and followed me around all week in a quiet but present manner, was the big brother to our new sponsor child. In the awareness of God’s work in that moment, I was not only crying full on, but I was in awe of how God was able to forever attach me to the reminder of my experience in Ethiopia through this little child and his family.
Things happen that cause us to forget who we are, forget that we are indeed strong and smart and clever and not a complete failure at life. After Ethiopia, I had one more trip that summer and it was to Chicago for a week while my son, Cole, attended a chamber music camp. The plan was for him to attend the camp and for me to enjoy a week alone in the Windy city. Sounds glorious, right? That’s what I thought until the reality of the week sank in. Between Ethiopia and Chicago, I was crazy busy. So I looked forward to a week alone in Chicago. However, once the quietness of the hotel room sunk in, and my wandering the streets alone got old, I was keenly aware of the alone-ness my world and season in life meant for me and I was struck with such an intense fear of the future I became quite depressed and anxiety ridden about the loss of my vision of how my life would go. In Chicago, I mourned, not by choice but by sheer awareness of the space I was in and what that looked like for my future. Had I not found my worth and joy in Ethiopia and in the eyes of Gemechu and Derartu, the mourning would have broken me. Chicago was the second hardest time of my life, but because of what I had gained in Ethiopia, I leaned in. As I walked around the city streets on the verge of tears I remembered those moments in Ethiopia, the exhaustion that I experienced, the conditions of the village, the complete vulnerability I felt, as well as the parting of the sea of kids at the well, the sponsorship of Derartu and finally the awareness of the strength I had found in the land so far away.
The time of mourning produced an intense fear in me. A fear I had not experienced before, but in that moment, the moment I fully realized that I was a single mom and I was scared to death about it, I reached out to a friend. This friend has the ability to just answer a question with clarity and love and the truth of a foundation rooted in scripture. I remembered there was a scripture about the spirit of fear but I could not find it, and I was desperate. I texted this friend and she of course, had it at her fingertips and then prayed over text for the fear I was experiencing.
“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” -2 Timothy 1:7
In my vulnerability, I learned that I could survive more than I thought, that I could roll with the punches, that I could be flexible, that I could be present in the midst of emotion and that I could have an impact in the midst of what I viewed as weakness. I had never felt weaker than in Chicago and never been more gripped with fear for the future, but God had proved himself to me and I refused to live in a state of fear. Walking on dry ground in the midst of a raging sea requires stepping into what God has shown us, what he has done in our lives and stepping into our love for him as a result of his grace. Where we find our joy and worth determine the reliability of our strength. And let me tell you, God is reliable! I am in the place I am in today, because of all that he has done in my life, all he has shown me and all the power and love I find in him every day. I no longer live in a spirit of fear, I live in hope and awe and grace. I remember all he taught me in 2015 and all he continues to teach me about his power and love. I am a single mom, which I never thought I would be, but, I am not alone, I am not afraid, as a matter of fact, I am strong, brave and smarter than I think!
I close this three blog Ethiopia to Chicago series with the following quote from the book 66 Love Letters by Dr. Larry Crabb, “Every moment of suffering you endure is part of the good story I am telling. I don’t want you to be surprised when after years of following Me closely, you still run into trouble. I can, and I will, make everything good again. Never never underestimate Me. I have a plan, a very good one, and it will move ahead to completion.”