Ummm… Excuse me… This is NOT the portion I ordered…
I have heard at least 10,023 times in my life that God never promises to bless us with an “easy” life if we choose to follow Him. While this statement might correct my unhealthy feelings about that to which I believe I ought to be entitled, no matter how many time I hear it, it continues to do nothing for those moments in which the hurt feels too great to bear, and life has not just become difficult, it actually starts to feel overwhelming and like He’s just altogether abandoned me.
Then there is that moment in all our lives in which we are forced to make the realization that we actually don’t get a say in the final determination about who gets to live, who gets to keep their innocence, who gets a “fair” and fighting chance to grow and flourish and become who they are inside without outside tragedy taking it from them and it’s … well… it’s horrible.
When I was 18, I spent about three weeks living in a Ukrainian orphanage partnering with a team inside of Ukraine that cared for and fed the orphans during the 6-8 week period for which the government closed the orphanage and left the children to fend for themselves, back on the street, absent of any caregivers or supplies. I had boarded the plane in America, my mind fixed on my High School boyfriend, my tan, and the uncool tee shirt I was required to wear and, almost a full day later, disembarked the plane in Kiev, endured a painfully long bus ride to a small village that hadn’t seen Americans since before the Cold War and stepped right in the middle of poverty, which presented a host of images for which I could never have been prepared.
There were beautiful young girls, heads shaved as an attempt to rid them of lice and rooms that slept countless children with cockroaches boys had caged as “pets”. I stared at the pit toilets we were allowed to use, on the third floor of the orphanage, unsure how one was supposed to actually utilize a basin sunken into the floor with a hole in the middle, asked where the toilets were and then realized that the 100+ children in the building had a pallet-covered dirt “floor” to use outside as their latrine, with no toilet paper or flushing tank.
In my weeks there, I experienced smells of things unparalleled to anything before, saw sadness in the eyes of children who had been abandoned, left for dead on the streets, or abused by parents and strangers; I was shown how to steal fresh carrots from the nearby garden of an old woman (photo above is the “cleaning process” by which said stolen produce is scraped with rocks) and watched a building full of children erupt in genuine, pure elation when they were surprised with a delivery of bananas – a fruit most had never before eaten; I was awestruck as I watched them chew off the tops of the bananas in order to dig out the precious contents of the oblong fruit with their fingers.
On one of our final nights there, the team showed a movie – I cannot remember the name of it, but it narrated the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – as the film neared the crucifixion scene, uncomfortable with some of the images playing across the screen, I turned to glance at the little girl next to me and saw her staring at the screen, eyes filled with tears – overcome by the pain and rejection she watched Jesus endure. As the film ended, she bowed her head and prayed – thanking him for what He did to save her and asking Him to be the Lord of her life. I was speechless. This sweet girl, who had experienced heartache and pain greater than I could then imagine still had enough softness and gentleness left in her heart to let it ache for someone else and to trust in a God who had seemed absent in her life thus far.
So many times, I come to the table of life weary and heavy-hearted… invisible pain beckons tears to my eyes at inopportune moments and I want to send my portion back – telling God that I ordered the bowl full of white pasta instead. I want to send back the portions of my loved ones and friends who stay faithful despite countless tragedies and seemingly endless causes for suffering, reminding Him that they deserve something much finer.
But how quickly I am reminded that this life is not made-to-order; we are given what we have for reasons we cannot understand or explain with witty remarks, cliché sayings or philosophical insight. Instead of offering us a substitute dish that appeals more greatly to our tastes, God tell us to “sit down and eat”… that although our neighbor may have received a better meal or a more favorable reply to HER pleading, that He’s given us what He’s given us. He doesn’t promise that someday we’ll understand – He simply says “this is yours.”
There is pain greater than words can describe, unmet needs and seemingly unanswered prayers that overwhelm and consume us… our families…. our friends … those we don’t even know, and we are left with despair and conviction that God has left us at the table with our portions of heartache while He cooks up a batch of delightful pastries for someone else. I know this kind of sorrow, this kind of hurt, this kind of loneliness… but rooted deep within me is the image of that little girl in the orphanage in southern Ukraine, whose response to a life of tragedy and hurt was one of softness and trust… not that her portion would be replaced or enriched, but that the suffering and the pain – even if they consumed all her days of this life, would not be the end of her story.
I don’t understand why God gives what he does; why He, to some, gives smooth roads and to others, pain. Why He says that HE is the orphans and the widows, yet on a daily basis orphans and widows struggle to survive sleeping on the sidewalks of Mumbai, try to avoid the prostitution circles into which they are sold at young ages in Ukrainian orphanages and suffer with AIDS, inflicted as a result of rape at grossly young ages in Africa. Why He promises to never leave us but allows us to grieve the premature suffering and loss of our parents, children, siblings and friends and why some families have to bear unfair portions of these things, while others just simply do not.
But something within me understands that 6 year old girl, in a Ukrainian Orphanage, 13 years ago. I pray for her softness and trust… for her response to my portion, rather than the despair and bitterness that threaten to stage a coup at the peaks of my heartache.
I know not your portions, nor do I know if you will get the chance to experience something better in this life, but I do know that God is with you. Dear friend, wherever you are today, take heart that Jesus has promised to endure your portion with you, that there is a HOPE great enough that can stir up a response of tenacity and resilience you didn’t know you had and that you can choose for THIS to not be the end of your story.