I was rummaging through a drawer of discarded, mismatched socks when I saw it–my old passport, the one that expired just over a year ago. The one that gained me access to countries in North America and Europe and Africa, the one with colored stamps and indecipherable scribbles. As soon as my eyes happened upon it, I was immediately transported back to humid night air, the heat that settles itself deep in your pores, weighing on your shoulders like a blanket. Oh, Africa, I thought solemnly. It’s been such a long time.
From 2008 to early 2013, I made my home in a tiny West African nation where I spent my days in the non-profit world working with children in orphanages. I left several years ago, working my way through re-entry and reverse culture shock, and have now settled happily in northwestern New York with my husband and son. I don’t think about my time in Africa much these days, but seeing that passport brought all of it flooding back. That’s when I heard it–one word seemingly spoken to the secret place in my heart. It’s a word I’ve been continually chewing on, deliberately thinking about and faithfully mulling over and holding up to the light. Broken.
Broken? At first glance, it doesn’t make much sense. Sure, when I first left the States all those years ago, I was broken. I’d just gone through a messy divorce, I’d lost a job and relationships, and everything I’d held secure had come crashing down around me, shattering into a million tiny pieces at my feet. The shell-shocked woman who first stepped foot on African soil in 2008 was, undoubtedly, broken. But I’m no longer that woman. I have rebuilt a life for myself, remarried, and become a mama to the most beautiful baby boy. I consider myself broken no longer.
When I left Africa in 2013 I was, again, broken, just in a different way. I had PTSD and the depression I’ve battled for most of my life had reared its ugly head. I’d seen too much, felt too much: the grief when children die too soon, the shame when I finally understood my white privilege, the anger when teen girls were raped by men in their twenties and no one did a thing about it. I came home over three years ago broken, most certainly, but since then I had been healed, all my fragmented pieces put back together again.
I see now that I have come to equate my work overseas with brokenness–my own, mostly, that of my heart and something deep within me that used to feel as if it would never be whole again. Over the years I had found myself emptied. Broken. The things I saw, those that my heart and mind could never really find the words for–they wore me out, wore me down. Such is the case with the thin places of life, I think. They have a way of stretching you. And the hard places, they tend to be brimming with grit and pain.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be like this, though. Maybe there’s a better way. Maybe brokenness no longer has to mean what it used to. Maybe I can make what’s been broken into an offering, a sacrifice. I cannot help but think of our Christ, who broke the bread to feed thousands–and it was in the breaking that it was mysteriously multiplied. I think, too, of when he himself was broken, on behalf of us, a willing sacrifice for the sake of love; again, the breaking somehow gives way to more, something better, something full.
What might it look like for me to live as a willing sacrifice as well, in this new season of marriage and motherhood and discovering how to rise? I think it means embracing what was broken and knowing that somehow, someway, there’s suddenly more of my heart to go around because of it. I have learned to do the hard things with it no longer taking everything out of me. So I wash dishes and change diapers and let my husband sleep in and hold doors open for strangers and pray for my enemies even when it hurts, even when I don’t want to, even if it feels like it will break me all over again if I have to give anything else away.
Again, I think of Jesus, broken as a love sacrifice. He gave of himself willingly, and because of it, humanity received resurrection.
Can it be? Can the brokenness of life be offered up, be redeemed, be transformed into something new?
I think our sister Mary, she who laid eyes on that empty tomb and spoke to her risen teacher, would tell us yes.
Elena is an immigrant from Canada who has since settled in a small town in northwestern New York with her husband and son. She’s an INFJ, old soul, new mama, and storyteller. She’s always caffeinated, usually craving ice cream, and forever wanting a nap. She blogs (semi)regularly at elenateresaann.com about theology, racial justice, her years in Africa, mothering, and the fullness of womanhood.