A while back, I thought to myself, “If I ever have a blog again, it’s got to have the word ‘unusual’ in the title”. I look around at my friends and family and realize that God has given me a truly unusual life. Some days I wish it was normal. You know, a husband, 2.5 kids, a dog, and a mortgage- all that normal stuff. But most days I feel truly blessed with such a unique set of circumstances. Not all of them are good or fun, but they have given me a different perspective on life than most people I know.
Back in 2002, I moved to Africa as a missionary. I worked with street kids for two years before moving back to the US to go to school again. In 2008, I moved back to Africa and worked there for five years, mostly in an educational role. I began to develop health problems while in Africa, so whenever I see a new doctor, I have to tell them all the places I’ve lived, all the illnesses I’ve had. Believe me, when I tell the doctor that I’ve had malaria eight times, lived in a rat infested house in Africa, and diagnosed my own dysentery because there was no doctor in my area at that time, they usually go wide-eyed and say something like, “Uh… er… well… uh, you have a… really complicated case here.” I always get a sinking feeling because I know they have no idea how to help me.
However, on my recent trip to Seattle, the doctor who saw me had been in Africa for an extended period of time. He knew about malaria and anti-malaria medication and all the crazy side effects you can get from them. He came back to the U.S. because of security concerns that affected his family. He knew what it was like to leave something that made him feel like he had purpose. He spoke my language. He’d experienced many of the same things I had. No glassy eyed stare or confused look from this doctor. Even though he couldn’t give me a diagnosis, he could understand me. That felt great.
During the appointment, he looked at me and said, “I remember leaving my place in Africa and coming home to find myself grieving for a long time. I was doing something really life changing and purposeful. Then I lost my purpose. I bet you felt that, too.”
I just sat there, trying not to cry, because I had felt just like that. My time in Africa was hard. Really hard. But I felt a purpose there that I haven’t really been able to find here. As I left his office, I thought about his words. I reminded myself that because I have a relationship with Jesus, my life is full of purpose, whether I live in Africa or the U.S. Whether I teach kids or sell coffee. Whether I am healthy and can do a hundred things a day, or I’m sick and can barely drag myself out of bed in the morning. My life still means something. God has a plan to use me, no matter what my circumstances are, and my life isn’t less purposeful than it was when I was in Africa.
I’ve found that having a chronic illness makes me constantly wonder my purpose and contribution in this world. Some days, I have to look pretty hard for it. But it’s still there, even in the form of calling a friend, writing a note to someone, or spending deep times of prayer with Jesus. Jesus still has a great purpose for my life, if I willingly grab a hold of it. The purpose for my life looks a little different than it used to, but because of Jesus, I will always have one, no matter what comes into my unusual life.