Monday, August 19, 2013

What Ethiopia Taught Me


It would be nice if my time in Ethiopia could be cut down to a single, powerful sound-bite and tied sweetly with a bow. I wish I could tell you that Ethiopia changed me in all the best ways or that I now desperately want to adopt one of her orphans and leave it at that. I wish it were that simple.

It’d be easier to wrap last week in some kind of a churchy cliché, and I could, but so much would be left out and I’m just no good at painting half a picture.


All week I found my eyes begging the edge of the horizon, desperate to remember, to really feel that I was there, my feet on the soil of a different world. We drove bumpy down the streets, horses, goats, cows, donkeys wandering in between taxis and vans, the sidewalks alive and thrumming with so many people and I tried my best to take it in while I pondered in the circular. I imagined my children asleep on the under-arc, breathing warm and shallow, while I hopped mud-puddles, ate French fries, laughed with my friends and felt shy and unsure in the noon-day sun of a 3rd world country. It may as well have been a separate Universe. I felt detached from all that I am, and sometimes, painfully, achingly tethered.


We played a game that first night, each of us getting 3 minutes on the clock to tell our story. I knew it was a lost cause. I’ve never been a champion of minimalism and my story is far too complicated, even to me. How on earth could I cram a canceled wedding, a stint in marriage counseling, 3 adoptions and a move from our farm to the city into three sweeps of the second hand? The girls listened well, asking questions with kind eyes and full attention, but it didn’t take long to fall headlong into that dark cave of doubt.

It’s hard enough to explain why I don’t have an iPhone and why I blog for free. There’s no way anyone can be expected to understand why we adopted a 19-year old felon. It’s not normal to tell a room full of strangers that every year you get poorer, by choice. I worry that people will think I’m trying to project my values onto them. I find myself reaching over to off-set that possibility, foolishly believing I have any power over it at all.

On a normal day, I love to share our story. I'm thankful and amazed that this is the life I get to live. But there are those other times, when the whole scenario is prone to making me feel like a super-sized weirdo, with man hands and flat hair. I stew around. Before long, I’m convinced I drew the short straw in the Lives God Gives People game. 

I was surrounded by smart, savvy women who have things like cool boots and titles and gigs. There were chefs, tv stars, performers, ring-leaders and experts, all exceptionally in-the-know with the lipstick to prove it. I started to believe I was lost, at least a little. It's not a feeling I wear comfortably. I don't know it well. The lostness can compound on itself if I'm not careful. So I found sure footing along with the strength of my heart and I refused to let it.

We all closed in, feeling stronger together on foreign soil. We passed pieces of our souls like the host, risking everything that’s at stake when we dare to turn away from ourselves and the things that define us and move instead toward community. 

Right there, in the thick of brand-new family, we found others. We found cocoa-skinned women with head-scarves and moth-eaten sweaters. We found little boys in high-water jeans and ruffle-necked knits. There were rescuers and warriors and even adolescent-minded hissy-fitters. There was humanity, more of all that we are.



So that’s when I knew. It was never Us vs. Them. We weren’t there to save them anymore than they were there to be saved, anymore than they were there to save us. 

They were living their lives, that’s all; thankful for what the day had handed them, thinking of their own loves while their hands worked the looms, sometimes content, sometimes over-reaching. Their world is a stripped-down version of ours, but I’m sure the human condition filters down to Ethiopian clay. I’m positive they aren’t saints or martyrs. They’re humans, fully alive, stumbling and capable, daring to welcome the stranger with love and acceptance, daring to risk being seen as small.



That’s the gift Ethiopia gave to me, and I hold it with shaking hands. I don’t ever want to drop it.
There’s beauty in spending time in the company of those who have less. They show me I have more than I’ll ever need, that I can be content with less, even in the face of glitz and Sunday flea markets and J Crew stores in driving distance. 

There’s beauty in spending time in the company of those who have more. They show me the lurking pride that threatens to fall, tempting me to believe that my less is somehow better than their more. They make safe the pieces of me that still love and value beautiful things. They provide the opportunity to sit uncomfortably in the lower places, even as I’m wistful about the glory days, so quick to forget that these are it.

There’s just no time for comparison or second-guessing in community. There’s room for each of us - a need for each of us. We need the curiosity of the girl so comfortable on center stage just as we need the quiet observer, hanging back against the wall. We need the raucous laughter and the shoulder-popping dance and we need the shy eyes. God’s love is large and noisy. It’s the silent hand sweeping across another’s back, the quiet squeeze of a stranger’s knee. All of it is extravagant.


What Ethiopia showed me is that there’s no such thing as Haves and Have Nots. 

We’re all selling ourselves on the corner without grace. We’re all split and bleeding without love.
We’re stronger together. We win because we’re not alone.

We’re all the Haves, set apart in purpose, placed in the light of community, taking chances every day, carrying the burdens of another because we're able, loving not out of obligation but desire, stubbornly believing in the face of all we see that we were made for truth.



49 comments:

  1. Beautifully said, my beautiful friend.

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  2. It is so funny that just this morning I posted about my trip to Uganda and feel like there really was no way to organize all of my thoughts and really let people understand how it was to really be there. I am grateful that you seem to have felt so many of the same things I did~
    x

    kimberlytaylorimages.com

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  3. OH! I do so understand this!!! Really wishing we could sit down for a tall cup of coffee and be in community!

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  4. Our pastor was in Ethiopia the same time you were. Would be neat if you met. Meet any NY'ers?

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    1. That would have been super cool! Oddly enough, one of the girls on the team ran into a HS class mate at one of our stops. What the world??!

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  5. You summed that up perfectly.
    No such thing as haves versus have nots.
    I am glad you were touched in a great way on your trip. I knew that you would be.

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  6. all i can say is thank you for your honesty, and i love you for your transparency :)

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  7. I just know that this is exactly how I would feel.

    You never fail to wrap my heart words up into a blog post with a bow that isn't all that pretty. But the gift is always there.

    xxoo

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  8. This was beautiful. So many things I will think about for awhile. Thank you.

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  9. Every word of this chimed in my heart. I too am a bare-lipped, flip-phone-carrying, outfit-googling reject. So many things this past week back here in the land of privilege made me feel the intense awkwardness of myself. Thank you for helping me put all of us in perspective a little better.

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  10. Exactly what I found in Tanzania.

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  11. Thank you. You say what I feel so much better than I could ever say it myself.

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  12. These words make my heart want to spill right out. Just last night, our friends welcomed us to come visit them in Uganda. Can you even imagine?!?! Why yes, you can.

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  13. Yes! Beautifully expressed. I'm going to have to read this again to let it really sink in. Thank you for sharing your heart and God's truths. In a time when my family and I are about to "downsize" and become humbled more than ever before I am reminded, thanks to you, that we are all community. Not to be compared to what I was, or who others are, but to be joined together focusing on relationships and love more than the haves of the world.

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  14. "I felt detached from all that I am" I can totally relate to this feeling, and have experienced something similar on a missions trip to Albania earlier this year. Reading this made me want to get out there and feel "detached from all that I am" again. To get outside of myself and make bigger my perspective.

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  15. I've been so waiting for you to publish this piece - although I did not envy you writing it one little bit. The enormity of what Ethiopia must've been would've head-butted me into a very big writer's block, for sure. You - you - write wonders. I will come back to read it again. And probably again after that too. You have so many gifts Shannan. Thank you for sharing them with all of us.

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  16. How come yours is the only blog I ever feel the need to comment on? You put into words so many of my own thoughts and confusing ideas about life and faith and grace. Thank you - you're great!

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  17. your writing...wow.
    your courage...wowsers.
    i am perfectly uncomfortable.

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  18. I think that is a beautiful take-away from your trip. I'm constantly amazed by how you string such beautiful words together and give us a peak at what's going on inside you. It's your gift to us.
    ~FringeGirl

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  19. I love the raw honesty and humbleness of this post. That last sentenced...I needed that, I need to remind myself of all of that each day.

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  20. What a fabulous post - the sum of the truth I've experienced year after year of returning to the Lakota reservation in South Dakota but have never been able to articulate!
    Thank you for so lovingly seeing into my heart -and bringing the feelings to life.

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  21. Such beautiful thoughts. I'm going to be chewing on some of that for days. . .reminding myself that it's not about being a have, a have not, or something in between. It's about being grateful, wherever we are, every day. Thanks for the reminder.

    Okay but, apparently i'm going to be forced to be the immature shallow girl in this room? Because, emily maynard? What the? I'm trying to wrap my head around this group you were with. Is she nice? I know you won't answer that, but i'm so curious if the sweet southern mama persona holds up in real life. Ha. I'm a nerd.

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    1. Oh trust me, I am indeed the one who blogged about my eternal love for her not once but twice...back when I never could have imagined that I would actually meet her!

      Let me just say: She is wonderful. Quiet and sweet and caring and kind. I love her for real now. :)

      Also, she really is THAT beautiful. Even when she's sick. :/

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  22. I just loved that "We’re all selling ourselves on the corner without grace. We’re all split and bleeding without love.
    We’re stronger together. We win because we’re not alone."
    brilliant :)

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  23. I usually don't comment. Not sure why. I figure you have enough to do and read. But this piece, it strikes a cord deep. Yaaa!!! ...that you can blog for free and have thousands of followers, not have the computer or phone or whatever the status quo may be. I want to read about your adopted felon and I love that there is community on the other side of the screen on the other side of the planet. Your heart, on this blog, has been one of my biggest blessings in 2013. I'm grateful you share yourself here.

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  24. Makes me want to visit Ethiopia even more - such beautiful faces - and hearts of everyone. Our little one is coming from there so this post especially touches a spot in my heart.

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  25. I guess your journey started with your parents buying you a fake cabbage patch doll, and you being so happy about it! You teach me so much about life. I love you more than you will ever know.

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  26. You opened my eyes a little wider with this post, thank you!

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  27. Omg! Your short straw comment made me snort! I feel like that once in awhile.

    It's a very uncomfy feeling!

    Loved this post- thank you for sharing with us!

    Is that the chuck from the Bachelor next to you? I've never watched, but she looks familiar! If so, did you get a chance to talk Bachelor with her?!

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  28. once again beautifully written words. love your perspective sweet shannon!!

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  29. whoa. woman. you can write. but i knew that already. these words were profound to me tonight. love you.

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  30. I've tried to type out about five responses to this, but back spaced them all because my brain can't quite catch up to my heart.

    So I'll just say YES. And love you. And thank you.

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  31. shannan, my dear. it's funny (by which i mean wonderful) how i'm lost about things and then i read your latest bits and think: yes. exactly this.

    i've been clawing my way out of the comparison game for the past two weeks. praying for so much solid footing in Christ that the rest pales away.

    love you.

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  32. So good!! Thank you for sharing your story with us...It moves me in wonderful ways and inspires me to think, look, live and love differently <3

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  33. We have never spoken or met...but I just love you! Your words always bring me joy and peace at just the right time! Did you happen to meet a precious lady named Genet? (:

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  34. We have never spoken or met...but I just love you! Your words always bring me joy and peace at just the right time! Did you happen to meet a precious lady named Genet? (:

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  35. Girl. Your writing and life and who you are? I love it all. Thanks for sharing it with us . . . you're my kinda girl, for realz.

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  36. Well, I think you wrapped a pretty bow around that just perfectly. Well said, and as always, you touched my heart. I am always changed by reading your posts. Sometimes it's not very comfortable, if I'm honest. But God's not into my comfort. Thank you for going and sharing.
    Love and blessings,
    Christy

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  37. "So that’s when I knew. It was never Us vs. Them. We weren’t there to save them anymore than they were there to be saved, anymore than they were there to save us." I think that is the greatest lesson I have learned in the life I am living here with these troubled teenagers. I love the way you put it.

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  38. Beautiful, truthful thoughts, Shannon! Thank you!

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  39. Thank you for writing this. For those of us who struggle with the discomfort of comfort; your words are a great reminder we are loved, begging for grace, no matter where we fall.

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  40. Oh Farmgirl.
    Your words.
    I have no words for your words.
    p.s. Your pics are pretty awesome, too.

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  41. we really are all selling ourselves on a street corner without grace.
    in india and in china, i experienced that same feeling...that we're all the same...how amazing to meet women in another culture and realize over and over our sameness.
    so grateful for your trip. i know it's more than overwhelming to try to put words around all that you experienced.

    ps. i'm purposely NOT asking about emily m. but just know that i want to.

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  42. You and your words are just so lovely. Thanks for sharing that beauty with the rest of us. And your photos made me ache for Ethiopia.

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  43. Beautiful! We all have purpose. We are all "Haves." I have never a description of a trip with such huge truth as this. Tears in my eyes. Really. Just beautiful. Thank you.

    "What Ethiopia showed me is that there’s no such thing as Haves and Have Nots.

    We’re all selling ourselves on the corner without grace. We’re all split and bleeding without love.

    We’re stronger together. We win because we’re not alone.

    We’re all the Haves, set apart in purpose, placed in the light of community, taking chances every day, carrying the burdens of another because we're able, loving not out of obligation but desire, stubbornly believing in the face of all we see that we were made for truth."

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