The last blog was a little rough, I will be the first to admit. However, I cannot disregard those feelings I held in for SO LONG. We were so often told it was going to be hard here- but little did I imagine the ways hardship would find me. It was not always banging down the door, but sometimes a gentle tapping disguised as a friendly stranger. Hardship is no discriminator of persons either, it is truly accepting of everyone and every circumstance.
But I am not just talking about my own hardship, I am talking about the exposure to a world of hardship. I am talking about being surrounded by need upon need and a world of chaos and sin, just to survive. We dove in head first- no trauma training, not quite prepared for what we would encounter day in and day out. We were pouring out daily; we were pouring out but not sure of how to pour back in and replenish what was gone.
One of the hardest parts of being here at first was standard. Am I doing enough? Were we seeing the kids enough- we would be there from 7:00 AM until 10 or 11:00 PM Sunday to Sunday. We spent and spent at the expense of our property getting broken into every time we left because they quickly learned no one was coming to catch them. On the way to see the kids we would pass neighbors in need, kids who were hungry, sad little boney dogs. So much sadness that was vastly different from what we had left. I never felt like we were doing enough. To cope with missing the mark daily I became numb. I accepted the poverty. I had to look past- and you would too.
If there is nothing pouring into you, nothing replenishing the water that leaves the cup- well its not philosophical at all- your cup stays empty. It is that simple. We were serving beyond the means we had- we were not making time for bible studies or community or church that we could understand on Sunday. We were given spiritually and completely poured out. This led to a lot fighting and stress and empty feelings inside of me. I could not fathom that we were even making a difference living here because we could never do enough. Nothing was ever enough.
Sound familiar? I can bet you have felt that way a time or two? Or maybe you deal more with Not-Enough's twin: Not-Right. Am I even doing this right?! I compared myself to every scale and type out there. Comparison is a motive killer. My cup is in a much healthier place and I can tell you if you want to be empty and broken just compare yourself to everyone else. That is a never fails strategy to burn out.
God is a good God. I stand firmly behind this everyday forever and ever. We had such a difficult season and I will always proclaim this to the ends of the earth. Eventually we realized we could not do enough EVER. We trusted in God to tell us what was enough. He is the standard. He is the measuring cup I go by for the sprinkles of this life. He sustains me and paces me. He waited patiently for me to take up this revelation and still has to give me peace for my shortcomings (to my standards).
The numbness- that was a coping mechanism. We all have them. Honestly, its still a struggle. More recently, since pressing into my God time more I am seeing all that can be done and all the heartache, wrapped up ugly, and letting it hit my heart. I have been coming face to face with it as a motivator. Staring right into this spiritual war and proclaiming victory over hopeless situations. I then entrust it to the one who can strategize a victory. He knows whats best even when we cannot see it yet.
Keep pouring out. I am not writing all of this to discourage or deter you from the mission field. More to encourage you to run harder, faster, and stronger than you ever have before. But run right into the arms of the one who replenishes you. Let Him pour you out wherever you are. Maybe your not called to foreign nations but to ministry within your own family. Maybe your called to listen more and advise less. I believe we are all called to be missionaries where our feet touch everyday. Bring that Good News with you! Just make sure you prioritize the replenishing. Or rather, the One who replenishes. Empty cups continue pouring but at the expense of heart. You will pour yourself right out and you really need to be pouring God's abundance out.
Focus on Him. I know how that inner turmoil of self doubt works. It darkens every corner and bogs down with hopelessness weighty and full. The best way to fight these battles is to do nothing- to just be still. Let Him fight your battles for you. Praise, bow down, and stay still while He goes ahead. That is the ultimate trust and He will honor it. He will lead you out the darkness, to His everlasting light. He will refill your cup and allow you to pour out continuously. He will also allow brokenness to happen, and in those times just face Him and trust. His promises will never fail and He will always be good.
Reality check served with a little raw feeling minus the shame
So you think you want to do missions? Maybe you have been inspired by a short term trip experience or really love to help people. (Its raw but if you keep reading I promise it gets better ;)
Let me ask you this- Do you also really love to have your heart broken? Do you love to have the fragments stomped on often? Or maybe you really love to be face to face with the world's hurt and feel guilty for everything you have or a lot of times what you don't.
The feeling of broken and poured out is exactly that- things do not break open by a gentle breeze or a butterfly kiss. Breaking open to pour out means there might be some jagged edges or scarring. There might even be some aftershock like quakes that tear up what is left.
I think so often we beautify missions and we glorify it in ways that make us look good and look heart happy. The reality is we all have things we are dealing with under the surface of that smile. Chances are they are just waiting to boil over and bubble out leaving us in a pile of mess. Our pictures are full of joy, yes, but also unspeakable heartache.
Being a missionary has its moments, the ones where I have played and loved on some pretty incredible kids while sharing the love of Christ with them. Or the time I was serving at a malnutrition clinic and twelve toddlers escaped their care simply because I was holding one and they were just tall enough to reach the door handle. Those moments are near and dear to my heart and bring a smile to my face.
There are other moments though- visiting a home for dying and destitute people where I sat with them and offered massages and a hug. So many older women dying in these beds, with no morphine to ease their suffering. As the bell rang and I had one more massage to give out to complete the task so everyone had received, I quickly rushed to the feet of a woman to hurry and be done. Thank God Holy Spirit prompted me to smile at her face and it was then that I realized this was no woman at all, just a girl. I placed myself on the side of her bed and began talking to her. She was afraid to die. She was sad to be dying alone. She had no momma to hold her close and no papa to tell her how strong she was. She had no family at all and only seventeen years of life experience. I could imagine she was vibrantly full of joy and spirit before she became sick with tuberculousis. And now she was withered, the life gone from her long boney limbs. She was caving in before my very eyes and there was nothing I could do. I did do one thing though, I held her hand and looked into her eyes and offered all that I have left of my own broken, fragmented heart. I gave her everything she needed because I already have it- I asked her if she knows Jesus. I told her he will be the reason she does not die alone. I told her God is the good Daddy who will carry her home and she will no longer suffer but be in an eternal embrace of love and affection. She was so ready to pray with me for the love of God to wash her sin away and accept a new life. My heart lost another piece of itself that day. Maybe we become this way because it is when we lose all the pieces to our puzzled hearts that we truly find our lives. I trust my pieces to the Puzzlemaker so He can make the puzzle more complete. I entrusted this precious one right into His care because I can do nothing to change her circumstance but He can.
Those hard moments are also near and dear to my heart but come with a price. The whole first year working with those precious kiddos and learning the reality of what they face and what orphanages here are about- came with joy and so much pain. Then there are the inbetweens- you know, everything that makes up the majority of our time. There are the other missionaries who love to judge whether or not your posts are up to their standards. Or there are the ones you serve who have formed opinions while trying to survive and maybe want to try to squeeze you for as much as they can even if its hurts. There are those back home who need to know what you're doing but the weight of doing it tastefully, so as not to leave a bad impression of your life, brings you down. And even when you think you're doing it right someone lets you know its still wrong.
Aside from those realities- the social interaction is just enough on whatever social network you now reside in virtually to keep you from banging your head on the wall. The loneliness is strangling. And the times you long for that coffee chat with your best friend but avoid socializing because you are processing a lot internally. For awhile we operated in so much fear of posting anything- we were afraid of the judgements of fellow missionaries. We were afraid of misrepresenting the country we serve. We were afraid of deterring people from wanting to come visit (especially those closest to us) but it does not matter how you paint the picture- if it is important to them they will make it happen even if its all done in crayon and goes outside the lines.
So many painful realities we face daily. So much negativity in this world and we chose to succumb to fear. We are no longer standing by idly while opinions are thrown at us. We will portray things the way we perceive them and we will not feel guilty for it. We will fight against the guilt we have of having a home with a roof and food to eat and work harder to provide opportunities for those who don't. We will continue to bring Jesus wherever we go and equip whoever we can with the Good News so they too can can fight their battles. And you know how we are going to accomplish all of this? We are going to praise and worship and bow down to The One who fights our battles for us.
Now that we are past all the tough stuff we have been bottling up for a long, long time lets move forward. There is beauty wherever we go here. And in the midst of so much pain and brokenness we do find our lives and our joy. But it is only possible with God. We do not have our funding yet but also know that every need we have is being met. God has been providing a way for all of them as they arise. We recently gave out a microloan that will become a savings account for a woman we love dearly here. We truly did not have the money to give but we will make it work so she and her family can continue to live in their home. We will make it work and skim on our own groceries for a family that stays together. And we will work toward her having the money in an account to be able to pay for her next emergency- empowering her to use her own earned funds to cover costs and building her self confidence and making an example for her children.
This is the passion and the heartache that drives us here. There is pain in various forms but as we learn to walk things out in faith instead of fear we are able to overcome. We are learning to be truly satisfied by a Holy God. To trust Him with all our needs (physical, emotional, mental, & spiritual) and the needs of those around us. When I talked about feeling guilty for what you have and what you don't, I simply meant its hard to live in a third world country surrounded by people with nothing and have things they don't. Its even harder to live in a third world country surrounded by people who have nothing and need money or food or a job when you do not have the funding or the means to meet their needs. As our time here continues I continue to trust God for all our needs but especially laying down their needs too. He is always in control.
Kristen & Alex Bradshaw