i saw ameera for the last time before her trip to the united arab emirates last thursday morning at approximately 730am.
actually, i only thought that, but once again, i’m circumventing the majority of the story, so let me start at the beginning.
i got my first job working retail last week and officially started this past monday. i really didn’t think it was going to be anything special, but it turns out that tends to be when the Holy Spirit shows up in ceremonious style.
somewhere along the way – a friend made a comment to me a few weeks ago that leads me to believe it was my trip to spain – i began to see with new eyes. and i find grace on the floor of one of the biggest non-anchor stores in the mall nearby my house.
i find grace in every time i force the words, “is there anything i can help you find?” out of my mouth. i’m an introvert and this job is more emotionally exhausting than i could ever have anticipated. so every time i manage these words again i find grace for me, that i’m not perfect and this is hard, but He’s given me the strength to do it.
i find grace in the polite, smiley responses of, “i’m just looking.” and i find grace when people who aren’t so polite walk on in their search.
i find grace in the woman who picked up the hanger i was perfectly capable of picking up myself, because it was one less time i had to strain my knees that have never ever given me trouble, except for my first and second days of work.
i even find grace in last wednesday night, when we stayed straightening the store until 230am, even though i had to meet ameera for coffee at six the next morning and then work from eight to four. and i found grace in that last night because my manager called me over two hours into work on thursday morning and said he had to send me home because labor laws mandated that employees had to have an eight-hour-break between shifts.
i’m awful at math but even i can tell you without much thought that the time between 230am and 8am isn’t eight hours.
i find grace in this not because i didn’t have to work. i find grace because i got to help ameera finish packing and then drive her the half hour to the airport.
it’s not the first time i’ve had to go to the airport by myself – thankfully – so even though we were running late, it wasn’t a huge deal. i knew where we were going and we’ve both traveled quite a bit, so we knew what checking in and security would look like (in terms of what the process looks like).
it hit me, between checking ameera in and when she walked into the line for security: i was the last person she knew that she was going to see stateside. and this was the last time i was going to see her, for ten whole months.
and that’s when i burst into tears.
ameera tried cheering me up by reminding me about influence in october. (it didn’t work.) i dried my tears, told her to stop cheering me up. we said goodbye and she walked into the line for security.
i walked toward the windows in the opposite direction and sat down on a bench in a strange form of misery you can’t imagine until you have to watch someone you know go across the world for a kingdom you’ve only ever heard about but haven’t seen a ton of and definitely don’t understand.
and i think i finally tangibly understood what He meant when He said those who cannot hate their family – or their friends, as it were – cannot be His disciples.
because i watched the double-edged sword of the gospel walk away from me without looking back. and i sat there trying to hold onto every last fragment of Life As I Knew It Before the UAE Interrupted, and it just wasn’t happening.
but ameera wasn’t.
she did not look back at me. she only looked forward.
that’s kingdom living manifested at its most focused, at its most dedicated: when we set our eyes on the prize ahead, forgetting all that is behind us. even when what is behind us is the state that looks like a mitten and touches more of the great lakes than any other place in the world, except canada.
but i know how hard it can be to forget.
i’ve blown a fifteen-year testimony on four letters. i can’t tell you if that damage was irreparable or not. i’m not exactly in a position to ask.
i’ve cut ties when i probably should’ve extended more mercy, even though i was sure it would kill me. and i’ve wondered, but aren’t i supposed to die to what i want, to what i think? and if this mercy would kill me, shouldn’t i be extending it? and i’ve never figured out how you determine whether a failing friendship is killing you unnecessarily or killing you for His glory.
i’ve judged based on labels, labels i was quick to shred if they were applied to me, because i was not one of THOSE PEOPLE. but we’re all THOSE PEOPLE. and i’ve never figured out to explain my aversion to church and especially to southern baptists and how to explain His magnificent redemption without judging, because i know no one’s heart except my own, and sometimes i can’t even figure that out.
i told a friend my sins are the ones that are easy to hide, which sounds like a good thing, but really isn’t, because mine are the sins that strangle the soonest. and i got caught up in a system of “this is what christian looks like,” a system that still sometimes drags me back by the hair.
and i let selfishness and pride and those remnants of legalism tell me how you should live. because clearly, i have it all figured out already. you should listen to me.
one of the missionaries in spain said something about being like paul and boldly saying, “follow me as i follow Christ.” but i don’t want to do that. i’m over here all tiny and scared and one fraction of a neuron is squeaking while it tries to fire a simple “hello.” don’t ask it to do anymore. “my name is annie, and um, hi, i exist?” is as fearful a sentence as that fraction of a neuron can muster firing but it’s still too fearless sometimes.
because that statement dares to say that i might have something worth saying. it dares to say that, similarly to what sheldon says to howard, you are good at what you do; more than that, what you do is worth doing.
it dares to say two weeks teaching english in spain and ten months teaching english in the uae is the precursor of kingdom glory, even if we don’t know how, even if we don’t see it this side of heaven.
it dares to throw cultural norms up in the air and it dares to say single does not mean lacking and it dares to say 21 is not too young to be quiet and say something.
it dares to say female does not mean weak because anything you can do, i can do better and in high heels and it dares to say working retail with a college degree doesn’t mean not driven or determined or of sound mind and it dares to say i’m turning this whole mess upside-down, so throw it at me already.
because He is our mediator and He stood in front to catch the whole mess before anyone ever conceived of throwing it.
and who are we to refuse our small fraction? the small fraction that we say we bear but that really, He carries for us. but we take it on our frail backs and we say, “this burden, this cross,” and we have no idea what on earth we’re talking about, because the pain of His cross was so beyond our comprehension, there was no word to describe it.
a call to kingdom living is a call to forget. it is a call to forget the labels people give you, the misconceptions they hold, the stories they tell, the names they use. it is a call to forget the times you walked directly into the face of their wrongness without a word in your defense, much like the silence He held in front of His accusers. it is a call to forget the times you have destroyed fifteen years with four letters. it is a call to forget everything you have ever held as yours, everything about which you have ever felt bitter or wronged or angry.
it is a call to forget all that is behind, setting our eyes on the prize, and not. look. back.
because He is ahead of us, urging us toward Him. my hot mess of a life is behind me, and i’m done with that. i will make a hot mess of it still, but His grace is greater. He says He can use my hot mess of a life but i have to abandon it, to forsake myself in it, before He saves it.
and it will cost us everything.
because it’s not about what we get.
and no english lesson taught in His name, no helpful inquiry asked in His name, no step of the cupid shuffle danced in His name, will ever – EVER – be wasted.