Further Up and Further In by Jess Hanson
This trip to Uganda was a different kind of experience for me than any of the trips I have taken before. It was in the midst of a very busy and dynamic summer. I’d experienced a good amount of change in life and had been constantly moving from thing to thing and then got on a plane to Uganda, a place close to my heart and a place I had spent 3 months living in a couple years previous
I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the experience except to soak up the sunshine and warmth, to see the beautiful faces of good friends again and to dance and play a lot:). All of that absolutely happened and was wonderful. What I didn’t expect was to be so broken over the situations of some of the people we spent time with.
I am a nurse, I see suffering so often that I rarely feel it deeply anymore once I leave the hospital. I have been called into a patient’s room to witness the last breath, put my stethoscope in my ears and listen to the absence of a heart beat. I may pray with a family with genuine sorrow in my heart and voice, but somehow am able to walk out of the hospital and move on with life relatively unphased. I’m thankful for this grace in my life; for the ability to be moved by suffering or brokenness or pain, but able to continue to stand and to be used by Jesus as a channel of hope and grace. I’m thankful when tears fall, because I feel alive and real and human. Just like with anything though, I have the ability to become numb to this suffering as I encounter it more frequently…and sometimes feeling numb is easier.
I’ve been to Uganda three times and I have heard many stories…I have seen pain and have wept for suffering. I did not expect to struggle so much when hearing the stories I have heard many times.
“Who do you live with at home?” I would ask a young boy..
“I live with my mom, my dad died of HIV…” He would answer.
“Who takes care of you at home?”
“Who is your caregiver?”
“My parents, both of them have HIV and are very sick.” Says a little girl.
I’m trying to get to know kids so that I can tell their sponsors about them. There are so many kids that it’s hard to be able to find a spot and a moment to just sit with them and hear their stories with undivided attention. So I’m asking these kids about their lives one after the other as I take their picture and give them a school bag with small gifts inside.
And it’s the worst idea ever. How can I possibly give each of these stories the time and the weight that they deserve. How can I possibly even empathize or relate or….feel with them adequately. My heart squeezes in the moment and all I can do is hug them and say that I’m so sorry. And then stop the ‘interviews.’
Because it feels too big. It feels wrong. It feels so unfair. These sweet kids didn’t choose their circumstance, they were just born.
Let me rewind briefly to the beginning of the trip when we landed in Entebbe. My sister had messaged a friend of mine on the trip to tell me that I should check my email as soon as possible. I immediately felt a little pit in my stomach as I thought about how it likely was bad news in my email. I remember when my friend said that, we were busy getting our bags and I had to keep walking.
Then my friend said to me, “Shalee messaged me again and said your grandma Barb died last night.”
We were hauling our bags to our bus, trying find our Ugandan friends who had come to pick us up. I had to keep walking. With a group of strangers at the beginning of a two week trip an ocean away from my grieving family. I let out a good cry on the dark bus ride to our hotel for the night, called my dad from a sweet Ugandan friend’s phone and then asked Jesus to take the feelings for two weeks so I could be present.
Each night we meet up as a team and share insights or happenings from the day. The day that I had heard all the stories from the kids, I was hesitant to share. I like to share things when I have sorted through them, because I like to communicate clearly what I’m thinking (aka: I’m prideful and don’t want to cry in front of people or feel weak).
I shared that night about the stories of the kids and how my grandma had passed away as I was on my way to Uganda. My grandma had lived a long beautiful life, she knew she was sick and she was at peace with God and the people that she loved. God is good and I got to sit with her a couple days before I left for Uganda and although it was still so surprising to me and I was so sad not to be with my family, I was also able to feel thankful and peaceful knowing that she was thankful and peaceful and not in any pain.
And that’s when the tears hit…I have experienced loss so minimally compared to these sweet children. And it’s not fair. It’s not right. And it’s hard to know how to keep walking inside of this reality.
Jesus came to heal, restore, comfort, redeem, to bring life.
Then why is there so much pain and suffering, why is there divorce, hunger, poverty, addiction, selfishness, abuse and loneliness? How do we stand up under the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven continuing to come, but also not being fully present yet?
I guess it’s helpful to realize that it isn’t our job to judge the speed or purposes of God’s coming Kingdom. It’s helpful and hopeful to realize that all we can really do to be a part of God’s Kingdom is to be the people we were created to be. To continue to follow Jesus at a risky closeness that causes one to feel more deeply and authentically and then…to keep walking forward filled with hope and trust.
In the last book in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia Series, The Last Battle, he is describing the Children’s first encounters in Heaven and as they travel through this Heaven, their guide continues to say, ‘further up and further in.’ The further up and in they go into Heaven the more real it becomes and I believe the more real they become.
That seems like a good picture of what we can choose to do in this life with Jesus. We can choose to go further up and further in…even though often times that will mean feeling more deeply the tension between the ‘now and not yet’ of the Kingdom Jesus came to bring.
And naturally we’ll probably be more aware of the ugly that’s in us and how it contrasts with who we were made to be.
We can choose to continue to bring hope and light to dark and despairing places.
We can choose to be aware of the reality of the world and that people are hurting and in need of hope and sometimes a little help.
A wise man once told me that each day we wake up and choose to walk in the way of Jesus’ Kingdom of light or we can choose to walk the way of the king of this dark world.
Each day. We get to choose. We can choose life and life to the full. The life that Jesus offers.
It won’t be void of pain or heartache, we will encounter suffering and life won’t always make sense to us…but it will be real.
I would love to be able to look back over my life someday, my face covered in lines from the laughter and tears that come along with living life fully with other real people…further up and further in. All the while trusting that the God of the Universe, who loves us unconditionally, has got this and I get to choose him daily, with joy and with the hope of all that is already finished in Jesus.
“…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Jesus (John 16:33)