Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a murmur, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They rejoiced when the waves grew quiet. Then He guided them to the harbor they longed for.
– PSLAM 107:28-30 –
It’s been a year since I sat at 2am with my life packed into three suitcases waiting for a cab to pick me up and take me to Entebbe for the last time. I had no idea, as I sat and looked up at the beautiful stars I’d come to find so much comfort in, when I would return to the ones I love. I still don’t know the answer to that question a year later. I stepped off that plane with a new and different heart and so many emotions. I still remember all that I felt as I laid on the floor of my childhood bedroom crying the night I returned home.
I honestly had no idea what I was walking into. I had no idea it would be so glorious, and yet the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I had no idea I wouldn’t find a job in my field; that I would end up working at Banana Republic for nine months. That none of the plans and hopes I had for my life would be of the Lord…none of them! But most importantly, I had no idea that the Lord would meet me and show me His glory and wonder in places I never thought I would find it. That He would strip me of so much of the pride and the things of this world I had come to place my hope in and leave in its place the beginnings of true surrender and contentment in wherever He calls. I had no idea how beautiful it all would be.
Recently I ventured into the books of 1 and 2 Chronicles. As a lover of history I find these accounts of Israel’s kings fascinating. Chapter after chapter, they account the legacies they left behind. Some who “did what was faithful and right in the Lord’s sight”; others who “did what was evil in the Lord’s sight.”. For most of them, an entire life and legacy summed up in a short sentence. Just a few words is all they are remembered by.
But what I find even more remarkable about Chronicles (and the entire Bible for that matter) isn’t the devotion or rebellion of Israel’s kings, but the faithful love of the Lord who time after time had compassion on His people. Who kept sending messenger after messenger calling His people back to Him no matter how much they mocked Him or rebelled against Him (2 Chronicles 36:15-16). In the last few years of my life, I have come to know this faithful love, I’ve witnessed it in the beauty and faith of the ones I love. In the refining fire returning home has been some days as I tried to make my own way and deny my weaknesses and need for God. In the kindness of Him that He would choose me to stand in the places I have stood and the places I will stand in this next year and beyond. The Lord has been ever present despite my runnings from Him, despite my rantings to Him, despite my disobedience at times to Him. And I’m so grateful He’s allowed me to come to know Him in this way.
A dear friend (whom I love and admire, seriously I wish y’all could sit down and have a cup o’ tea with Mama S) was about to return home recently after more than a decade when she asked what it was truly like coming back into your own culture, saying all she could think of was a space capsule burning up on reentry. The funny thing is, that’s exactly what it’s felt some days. But just when you think you will implode and be consumed with fire, the glory of God shows up. The parachute opens and you gently land in the water. And in that moment, all there is peace and joy and gratitude for the Lord, for where you’ve stood, for who you’ve met, and for where you’re going. In the midst of all the chaos I’ve felt most days, I cannot deny that every time I sit in the presence of the Lord there is only peace.
So what has this year been:
It’s been finding joy and contentment in the everyday mundane things of life.
Learning to let go of the ones I love, both still roaming this earth and laid in the ground to rest.
Letting go of control and independence, and admitting how much I desperately need the glory and grace of the Lord each day.
Learning to hold my hopes and will loosely, all while being stripped of all that I thought I wanted (and more ashamed than I would like to admit, thought I was owed.)
In finding God’s glory and peace are everywhere. Whether fighting for justice…or folding men’s shirts.
I have nothing but gratitude and fullness as I sit and look back on the last three and a half years of my life. The fabric of my story is so so beautiful already. It includes working with a brilliant one-of-a-kind historian whom I dearly loved. Roughing it in the woods for a week with the youth at my church (half of which three years later are now taller than me), the most fulfilling year and a half of my life in Acholiland. And 9 months spent folding men’s shirts and learning that grace, kindness, and contentment in Christ can be found wherever I work. What’s being woven into my story next…working in a linguistics museum at JAARS (despite my kicking and screaming about not wanting to be in the museum the first day I volunteered there 9 months ago). I see the glory and face of the Lord in it all.
I find the timing of the Lord both so divine and funny. Almost a year to the day of me walking out of the home I loved, I folded my last men’s shirt, beginning a new journey. New people and places I will give my heart to. New and different ways to serve the Lord and to be a part of His glory. A new patch in the quilt of my story.
I often like to ask people what their “rocking chair test” is? What do you want to be able to say if you live to be old and gray as you sit rocking back and forth? What will the quilt of your life draped over your lap hold? If someone was to chronicle your life, like the kings of Israel, what would they write?
As I sit rocking away, I want to be able to say I lived for the Lord. I want to still be captivated by His glory and presence then as much as I am today. Whether surrounded by children and grandchildren or alone, whether my feet touched that rest dust again or spent the rest of my days in a suburban town. Even if I never made another dime, if I spent the rest of my life folding men’s shirts, even if I never see the faces of the ones I love on this side of heaven again. May my every breath be as I rock away, “Your will Lord, not mine”. May those five words sum up my entire life. Because what I have found this year is: there is so much beauty and peace in surrender. And so much gratitude to the Lord for all that I have witnessed and all the ones I have come to love.
Kuc obed kedi! Apowyo Matek to the land I love and all the ones in this life who hold my heart. Here’s to the 5 relentless and brave men I spent a year and a half working for. My sweet and gentle neighbour. My dear colleagues, who became friends inviting me into their lives, their families, and sharing their hearts with me. The women I have the privilege to know: so full of grace and compassion, yet so full of strength. The ones who are the true embodiment of integrity and kindness. Who held me on my floor when I was sick. Who let me cry on a gray couch while drinking hot chocolate. Who were my mom when I needed one most. Who braved a dugout canoe with 2 crazy twenty-somethings. Who encouraged me and held me accountable to both Jesus and protein. Who loved me through even my worst moments. For my friends who dream and innovate and give space for sustainable development. Who fight for justice for women and the oppressed. For all the ones I have come to know and dearly love. Apwoyo Matek! You’re in my heart today and forever!
One thought on “Folding Shirts and Rocking Chairs”
Oh Hayley, your writing is so beautiful.
It’s like describing open heart surgery, it’s painful and raw and real.
It’s also restorative and healing as you point us to our Father and our Saviour and describe how they redeem and make whole.
Thank you my lv.Mamma S.xx
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