We Are Small

Sometimes I want to quit. Pack it in. Go home.

Sometimes I feel like all our work, all my efforts, are just a drop in a bucket or worse, completely futile.


A class I had organized is on hold because the participants are afraid to be seen gathering in public due to the Thai military junta's crackdown on immigration issues.

The work we planned for a community that we invested in, brought education to, and were creating a customized program to help them gain financial independence has stalled because one of the landowners already "helping them" prefers to keep them dependent. He gets more in foreign donations that way. We aren't just giving money away, so now we're getting the cold shoulder.

A teenage boy we tried to protect drowned because his friends talked him into doing something stupid and it turned out to be a fatal mistake.

People we work with are all on edge, waiting to see what will happen to them with the changing politics and meeting between the leaders of Myanmar and Thailand. They are people caught in the middle of shifting tides with little to no say as to their eventual fate.

Other foreigners in country "helping" often seem to be more of an obstacle than a help, undermining any real change by continuing with old and outdated ideas and traditions that have been proven to do more damage than good.

An expat family living here was killed in a car crash last month. Their daughter was a friend of my children and we've had to walk through the grief of losing someone they loved so suddenly.

We miss you sweet friends.
 Then there is the international news this week. War is everywhere.

These constant and persistent frustrations and very real sadnesses start to pile up in my heart in ways I find hard to express. I heard this week from someone very close to me back in North America that she is in the middle of a miscarriage. Right now, as I type, she is dealing with that grief and ultrasounds and tests and all I can do is pray and fb chat when my heart wants to drive to the hospital and sit with her all night because that's what you need in that kind of situation, someone who will sit, and hold your hand, and try to make the whole thing a little less shitty.

I just learned that a friend and mentor from the years we were first married, who founded an organization that we gave serious thought to joining, is in an appalling prison in Liberia on false accusations and has been held for 6 months without a fair trial. He's so ill he may not make it. (Please click that link and sign the petition to have him released.)

Aaron is out of town for a few nights, so I told him all these things over facebook while the kids got ready for bed.

His answer is typical of him, and unusual for everyone else. Also exactly what I needed to hear just then. Thankfully, this was a text conversation, so I have it on record for posterity to share with you.

Here's what he said.

"You are a very minor drop in the bucket, just as I am, just as we all are. We have no ability to predict the outcome of our actions, positive or negative.

We do what we do, because it is who we are, not because we are changing the world."

Then I cried. But it was the release sort of crying, rather than the hurt sort. My heart was allowed to feel all the sadness, but let go of the weight and sense of responsibility I carry around for these sorts of things.

Does this make sense to anyone else? Aaron and I share a sort of conversation shorthand, as all couples do, so I'll try and unpack this a little.

Here's what happens when I make changing the world my reason for doing things. (Or something smaller like just trying to make things better for a handful of families who live in poverty less than a mile from my house.) When I make that my reason for doing what I do, I will quickly get to the place I was in tonight. It's not easy, there are many obstacles. I will probably face many setbacks and will likely not see much success. With changing things as my reason, discouragement is ever close by, as is the desire to just give up and quit.

But that's not the real reason why I'm here in Thailand, pushing my rock up the hill. I do what I do because its who I am. I can not sit idly by without trying to do something to help, to show care, to bring some relief. I do what I do because I am the kind of person who would drive to the hospital in the middle of the night to sit and hold your hand when you're going through something hard all by yourself.

Of course, that's not one hundred percent accurate all by itself. I'm just as capable of being selfish as the next person. So even in those times when I don't feel like that person I've described above, I do these things because that's the person I want to be. I choose to behave as that person would, even when it's hard.

In the same way I strive to be gentle and consistent with my children, not because I can predict a positive outcome for their lives if I am, but because I would rather be the kind of person who is gentle and consistent. When I look back on their childhoods later, this version will give me more joy than the crazy woman who screams her head off all the time. I could be her too. But I don't want to be. 

This framework has guided my choices for some time now. I ask myself who I want to be, and then I act the way that person would act.

In the same way, I try to do something about the suffering that I can see because who I am compels me to do so.

This is my true reason. My efforts may fail, but I will still have succeeded at being the kind of person who loved enough to try.

So I shake off tonight the weight, the worry, the disappointment with how hard it is to change things, and return to the one thing I do have any say over in this life. Myself.

I'm broken, and tired a lot, and far from perfect. I fail even at keeping my good intentions.

But I keep choosing to do what the person I want to be would do, at least half of the time.

I am compelled, by the spirit that is in me, to keep moving forward, to keep extending love, to keep hoping in the face of hopelessness.


I step forward once again asking the one I want most to look like to continue to shape me into His likeness, that who I am will be a true image of God in this world and what I do will flow from the wholeness of who I am, regardless of the hoped for outcome. That, I have to trust to someone else.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,"

Comments

  1. For all that you have bad days/weeks/months I really envy you at times because as tough as it is and can be you are DOING it. You are out there making a difference. You've found your path or calling or mission or whatever. So many people I know (myself included) are still wondering when they are going to grow up and accomplish something. Or they have grand ideas that they never act upon. But you, you have faith that this is what you are called to do. And while you may doubt and hate it at times you are still activly participating in your life. I am in awe of you.

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