On Wednesday March 3, Dalila and I went to Belen to visit two families we’ve been working with for the past couple months. The pastor who was in town teaching our class and another guy from our group also came along because we were going to meet the husband of one of the women for the first time. We knew that the husband was abusive when drunk which, quite frankly, is every weekend. Upon entering the house, I felt an immediate sense of inhospitality on the part of the husband. He told us very roughly that he had to leave for work shortly and basically asked why we were there. Knowing that his frustration with our presence could easily turn into consequences for his wife later, I began to pray. I prayed, “we need your presence, we need you, do something.” The pastor began to speak, telling a story, and I continued to pray. The wife sat quietly, her mother-in-law and another neighbor began crying and I watched the husband’s entire countenance change before my eyes. He softened and relaxed. By the time the pastor finished his story, I was pouring glasses of orange Fanta for everyone, the husband was thanking us for visiting, asking when we would come back, suggesting we come on the weekend when he doesn’t have to go to work. Amazing.
Afterwards, we visited another family, then walked to the Plaza de Armas so the pastor could see a bit of Iquitos. I never take my cell phone to Belen because thievery is a rather popular sport, so when I returned I was surprised to see a missed call from the Simpsons, our cluster support family. I walked up to their house, and Heather met me on the stairs and took me by the arm telling me they had received a call from Brian Tibbs, who had received a call from Brent Deakins, who had received a call from my dad asking me to call him. I immediately felt sick.
This was not good.
I called my dad and said, “What?...What happened?” And then I heard words that, even now as I replay them in my head, are unbelievable. “Brandon’s dead.” My cousin, whom I love like a brother, was gone. I asked if he was sure. He told me he wished he wasn’t, but yes, he was sure. I’m sure I asked what happened, but I do not remember. I cried like I have never cried and kept saying, “this is not okay, this is not okay, this is not okay”. Heather sat with me as I cried on the phone with my family. When we walked to my room, I collapsed on the bed in the entry way and sobbed. Heather told the girls what had happened, and soon I was surrounded by Emperatriz, Juliana and Dalila who told me to cry, yell, talk, do whatever I needed to do. I don’t know how long I stayed on that bed, but they stayed with me. Over the next hours, all of the girls had returned and took turns sitting with me, talking with me, crying with me, praying with me. Laura and Brittany sat with me all day Thursday and took care of me.
I must say thank you to these wonderful women: Kristy and Nancy, Katie and Emperatriz, Brittany and Esther, Laura and Juliana, Katie and Priscilla, Dalila and Heather. They are my safe place.
Finding a safe place is sometimes an impossible task. After two days of lying in my bed crying, I was told by some people here (not any of the above mentioned) that I needed to stop crying and be okay. No, I’m not kidding. God forbid I really feel this. God forbid I grieve and mourn and wail. God forbid I’m not funny for a few days because I am hurting worse than I have ever hurt in my life. God forbid. I won’t pretend to hide my anger on this subject. Let’s just call it a second round of culture shock.
I really don’t understand the thought process here. I really don’t understand how it’s better to wear a happy face in front of other people and then cry yourself to sleep at night because you won’t admit what you’re struggling with. You know me, I’m all about getting things out into the open. I wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s never a mystery how I am feeling. Everyone knows. And while I’m sure at times it is exhausting for those around me, at least I’m honest.
I realize, of course, how incredibly selfish this all sounds. But really, I don’t feel like I have anything to give. I’m trying. But I am so confused. I’ve never felt anything so intense. I feel like the rug has been ripped from beneath me. Even as I write this, the giant lump in the back of my throat is antagonizing me, reminding me that the pain is just as real today as it was 10 days ago. I’m praying. I’m praying like I’ve never prayed before. My prayers go something like this, “help me. I can’t do this. I need you.” Sometimes I believe that God is listening. Sometimes I feel like I’m just talking to myself, giving myself a pep talk. And sometimes I believe that God is listening and everything will be okay. Sometimes.
And this is why I love the Psalms. David was real. He was not all about sunshine and daisies. He yelled and cried and danced naked. He accused God several times of abandoning him. And yet, he was a man after God’s heart. Maybe we should understand that phrase differently? Not that David was a man who was really godly…but he was a man who was desperately seeking to know and sense God in his life. Godliness is not something I relate to. Desperation to know that we’re not just floating all alone out here IS something I relate to.
In Psalm 13, David spends 4 verses accusing and pleading with God to understand why he’s been left all alone and then he says, “BUT I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me.” Everything is far from okay. BUT, I will make this leap of faith and say that I know God is good. I do not understand any of this. I cannot make sense of it. BUT, I want to believe that at some point, I will sense peace.
Maybe this is not the blog of a good little missionary. Maybe I should talk about how my Brandon’s death has made me more thankful that I am here. But it hasn’t. It HAS made me more aware of the desperation we all feel to know and be known, to love and be loved. And THAT is the only reason I would give as to why I’m still here in Peru…because that desperation is something we all know, if we are honest.