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In which I came too close to God (and now I need some space)

Once upon a time, the prophet Moses asked to see God’s glory. God told him that no one on earth could see His face and live. Instead:

God said “Look, here is a place right beside me. Put yourself on this rock. When my Glory passes by, I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back. But you won’t see my face.”

… God descended in the cloud and took up his position there beside him and called out the name, God. God passed in front of him … At once, Moses fell to the ground and worshiped, saying, “Please, O Master, if you see anything good in me, please Master, travel with us, hard-headed as these people are. Forgive our iniquity and sin. Own us, possess us.”

I came home in the wee sma’s of Saturday morning. Brian was waiting for me at the Vancouver airport, nearly 25 hours after I left Haiti. I clung to him, and I wept a little, and we drove home through the darkness, I talked steady and quiet. The tinies made a banner to welcome me home, the countdown on our kitchen chalkboard was down to a triumphant “0 Days Until Mum Comes Home.” Anne woke up and sleepily came to the kitchen, I snatched her into my arms and the torrent was released, I sobbed. I went to Joseph, and lifted him out of his bed, I pulled Evelynn from her crib, and I held my children in my arms and cried.

I stank. I stank like sweat, and travel, and Haiti, so I stripped off my clothes and then I doubled over in my walk-in closet, and started to sob all over again. Brian asked me what was wrong, if I was having a hard time with all of our beautiful home, and all I could say was, “I’m just so glad to be out of there. I’m so glad to be home.”

I had a very long, very hot shower. I shaved my legs at 2 in the morning. I put on my perfume. Then I went to bed with the window wide open so I could hear the rain and the room became very cold.

On Saturday, I made mashed potatoes and pot roast, I drank tea, I did crafts, I went to a garage sale. And the whole time, I carried Haiti in my heart, and I felt like a temple. I still can’t talk about what I learned about child trafficking.

I feel like I saw the back of God last week, and I cannot bear it, the glory of God in Haiti was too much for me. The last time I felt this close to the glory of God was while I was giving birth to my tines; that collusion of pain and suffering and joy and release and life. It’s similar for some reason, and I don’t know why. Right now, I feel like I did after giving birth: “I’ll never do THAT again.”

I simultaneously hated Haiti, and I loved it. I never want to go back, and I cannot wait to go back. I want to forget the orphanage and the child trafficking and the smell of tent city, and the phrase “rape camp” and yet I keep falling to me knees, because, I saw God there, I did.

I came a bit too close to God down by the equator, and I feel safer here, in my nice home with my stocked freezer, listening to the rain falling steady.

It’s a relief; a relief to be able to insulate from the wild goodness of God I saw in Haiti, and this tame God I know here is easier to manage. I need a bit of space, I need to catch my breath, I need to fall to the ground and beg God to travel with me. And I need to wake up tomorrow, and pack a lunch for my eldest daughter’s school day, and I need to write my book, and I need to fold the laundry.

I need God to cover me with his hand again, and let me catch my breath in the cleft of the rock for a bit. That sight of his back was a bit too much for me to handle.

 Bible verses from Exodus 33 & 34, The Message. Photo by Scott Wade.

 

faith, fearless, Haiti
  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    oh sarah. breathless.

  • http://lilablackbird.tumblr.com/ Charlotte

    Sometimes walking with God feels like the tension between two extremes. I feel like that’s what you’re describing here; the simultaneously of wanting to be there and not wanting to be there.

  • http://twitter.com/Housewifeintown Laura Kyle

    aaaaah…I resonate. it took me a number of weeks to feel “normal” again {really really really hard to put into words} after visiting the poorest in Ethiopia. I still don’t know exactly how to talk about it. it’s hard truth.

  • http://twitter.com/AdeleChapman2 Adele Chapman

    I have no words after this. Just going to read it over and over again.

  • Sharon O

    wow I can only imagine the magnitude of emotion you carry. My own husband came home from haiti and said ‘we are so very very rich’ even when we feel we have little. We are so very rich and they are beautiful people we can learn from.

  • http://annieathome.com Annie | annieathome.com

    Oh, Sarah. Grace, grace, grace to you.

  • http://twitter.com/LivingOneHanded Ryan Haack

    Painfully beautiful, Sarah. Thank you.

  • Mar

    Selah.

  • http://www.quirkybookworm.com/ Jessica @ Quirky Bookworm

    Just, …wow.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristabelieves Krista Borntreger King

    Wow! I will most likely be going with Dan next time, and this makes me excited, and probably more so, nervous. Your words speak to my heart and absolutely wreck me.

  • http://sandraheskaking.com/ Sandra Heska King

    Oh, Sarah. I don’t want to know about rape and trafficking. I don’t. And I wish I hadn’t read this just before climbing into my Tempur-Pedic, laying my head down on crisp white pillowcases, and pulling up my white down comforter.

    Praying as you process all of this.

  • pastordt

    Exquisite. Tears. Agreement. Wonder. And a little bit of terror, too. Such power in your words – thank you.

  • http://www.inahazelnutshell.blogspot.com/ Laura Werezak

    This metaphor (birth:glory:poverty/mission/cross-cultural experience) is perfect. I’m with you in that I can’t exactly express why, but it just is. It reminds me of a time when I saw just a shimmer of God’s glory as I watched a Mexican child make faces at himself in the shiny chrome bumper of a van in Tijuana. We carry those children under our hearts too.

  • http://www.facebook.com/erin.l.adams.1 Erin Lutz Adams

    Oh Sarah! What a picture you paint for us. So powerful. What a mighty God we serve!

  • Handsfull

    I feel like I need to stop saying how amazing your writing is, and how beautifully evocative your analogies are, and how you somehow manage to hit my heart and mind and spirit all at the same time, every time.
    But… I can’t. So. All of what I just said, plus I’m really looking forward to seeing what develops out of your trip to Haiti. Because I’m sure that something is going to, once you’ve had a chance to catch your breath and find a new equilibrium. It feels like a seed has been planted, and I’m going to keep coming back, waiting to see what it grows into!

  • http://twitter.com/MelissaBeaver Melissa

    Sarah as always I moved to the brink of tears by your words.

  • http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/ Linda Stoll

    Yes. Take space, take solitude, take stillness to process all that has come at you right and left, all that has penetrated like an arrow into the depths of your soul …

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    Beautiful. I haven’t had a chance to truly reflect on Haiti yet, so I’m doing so through you. Thanks for the gift of your words this morning.

  • Carrie Sholes

    Thank you for being honest and admitting that you like it better here. I think I’d feel the same way. I always hear the people come back and say “we have it so good, I want to get rid of everything.” I think I’d feel like that, too. But I totally identify with the relief of getting to walk away….and yet *you* still have the beautiful vision/nightmare when you close your eyes. Blessings of dilution on you, but also blessings of overwhelm…when you’re ready for it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/eblinn Erin Blinn

    You put to words- exactly- how I feel coming home after I go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Grace and peace as you process and go about the beautiful mundane.

  • http://sarahaskins.com Sarah Askins

    Beautiful, simply grace.

  • http://bibledude.net/ @bibledude

    yes. THIS. i’m glad to have experienced this with you. having you there was special. let me know when you can breathe again.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    All of the times I’ve asked God to show up, and I wonder if I really knew what I asking for. I wonder if I was willing to go where God is. I wonder what I expect to find in God’s presence.

  • Laurie

    This is so beautifully said, and so true…my girlfriends and I do life, serve with, do sports with, raise support for & with girls rescued out of trafficking – here in the US. We are wrecked by God beyond recognition of what used to be, and then we talk about our hair the next moment. No, we aren’t shallow – we realized we are simply are “be-ing” and doing what God has called us to do. Sarah, it sounds to me like you are in that “middle space” now. Where nothing is the same, one cannot continue on exactly the same, and everything is beautiful – and God is seen more and more in the little things. Yes, experiences where I have seen God’s back are too much to handle 24/7. I retreat now and then to stay alive…knowing what I know now of the awful things that go on in this world – even to girls who pray to God to ask it to stop, and it doesn’t…for many months or years. But I notice Him more and more in the everyday now, which sustains me and energizes me for the next encounter of His power and love and comfort that is beyond my understanding.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jon-N-Robin-Perrin/1207503754 Jon N’ Robin Perrin

    Great post, Sarah. I am convinced that no amount of debriefing can prepare you for reentry. I believe God uses these times to permanently wreck us. It’s almost as if this one of His favorite ways to change the landscape of our hearts. He lures us in by the opportunity to truly make a difference… and then WE are the ones that walk away different. Sort of like Jacob after his encounter with God at the Jabbok River – he walked away with a permanent limp. You will never be the same… and I believe God meant it that way. I’ll be praying for you as you process what God has done in your heart. It may take awhile… – Jon

  • Melissa

    Beautifully written. I think I read somewhere that a big part of our faith is the balance of paradoxes. Maybe you are experiencing that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts & struggle – we benefit from your honest vulnerability.

  • HisFireFly

    You’ve brought a flood of memories rushing in… the way I was upon re-entry from Uganda…

  • Laurie

    For me, this song also says it so beautifully about the tension; wonder; God.

    “He heard you,

    when your eyes were closed and your head held low…

    When the caged bird sings,

    and your eyes lay hold of your dreams,

    and your heart burns with the kiss that he’s given, you will see, you will see

    That it’s his love, that carried us..”

    He Heard Me by United Pursuit Band

  • http://twitter.com/RachelRHeath Rachel Heath

    Challenging. Thank you so much for your raw honesty. I haven’t been on your blog for the last week and just realized that there are a whole bunch of Haiti posts for me to read. I can’t wait to catch up.

  • http://twitter.com/Punkerdoos1123 Rebecca Bauman

    Sarah Bessey you have affected me in the most wonderful way. Today on my blog as I reflect on what I am grateful for this past week you are one of my three.

    “She has a voice that is like a song and the way she shares
    her faith isn’t preachy its just love and adoration captured in words. I just love her and am so grateful to have
    stumbled across her because I believe God is using her to wake me up in some
    ways. And I find myself reading
    everything I can from her archive. I am
    lapping up her words like syrup on a plate after a good batch of pancakes.”

    This is a portion of what I have written about you and your words but I need you to know you have stirred a part of me that has been asleep for a little bit…. so thank you. You have a beautiful soul!

  • vitafamiliae

    I feel your heart breaking in your words. Welcome back, Mama Sarah.

  • http://www.deidrariggs.com/ Deidra

    “I’ll never do THAT again!” :)
    SB, I’m not sure God’s done with you and Haiti, yet. What a gift it was to spend that time with you. Your voice sings, you know? Speaking. Writing. On camera and off. Your voice sings.

  • http://twitter.com/ClaireJDeBoer Claire J De Boer

    Lovely. Welcome home Sarah :-)

  • nicola.hulks

    A really beautiful post. I can connect with this feeling from coming back from Zambia this summer. The ‘I want to be there/I want to run’ feeling, there’s nothing like it.
    Great to hear your tales as always.

  • http://www.pamhogeweide.com/ pamhogeweide

    beautiful sarah and welcome back home!!

    i remember going through the drivethru a few days after my return from cambodia. i about fell apart right there as i remembered the poorest of the poor my missionary friend introduced me to.

    yet it seems a life away, a world away, an entire dimension away from my modern life in middle class america.

    thank you for your stories to remind us that it really is not so far away and that the presence of god is closer than we know

  • http://twitter.com/erikalifeartist Erika Morrison

    Just want to tell you I was here. And I love every bit of you.

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Wow! Amazing post. I leave this Wednesday to spend time in a Serbian mental institution loving on broken people. I’ve been praying Moses’ prayer, let me see your glory God and remembering it was his mercy on display that brought Moses to his knees!

  • http://www.seeprestonblog.com Preston Yancey

    Amen, friend. Amen.

  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    Love your honesty. It’s breathtaking.

  • http://twitter.com/AnitaMathias1 Anita Mathias

    ” the wild goodness of God I saw in Haiti.” We need more details. How did you see the wild goodness of God in Haiti? These are the details you give us–”the orphanage and the child trafficking and the smell of tent city, and the phrase “rape camp”. Please probe further and tell us how you saw the wild goodness of God in these places. I’d love to know. Thank you.

  • hopejem

    Holding you tight in my heart lovely one.

  • http://twitter.com/emilypfreeman emily p freeman

    Thank you for putting this into words, Sarah.

  • Sonya

    This is beautiful. Your ‘back of God’ comment reminds me a favorite quote by G.K. Chesterton. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front …”

  • Angel

    “I never want to go back, and I cannot wait to go back.” I feel that way exactly about going into clubs to give gifts to women in Jesus’ name. I hate it and love it all at the same time. I love the words you choose, Sarah.

  • Lisa_DiggingForMyrrh

    Dearest Sarah, yes, I know. I KNOW. In 2009 God took me to Senegal, West Africa, to visit my sponsored child. It took three weeks before I could even talk about it and I’m just now starting to write about it. What was hardest was how to respond to those people who welcomed me home with a bright, “So! Didja have a good time?” I had to repent for my smiling, lying response: “Sure!” because I couldn’t talk about it and the utter insensitivity of the question took my breath away and made me want to run from the questioner.

    Don’t rush it, dear one. Give yourself all the time you need. Love and hugs and prayers coming your way…

  • http://twitter.com/lisajobaker Lisa-Jo Baker

    This is my favorite thing you have written. Said the girl who left half her heart and most of her family in Africa.

  • Cristy Zinn

    Hi Sarah, a dear friend of mine sent me a couple of links to your blog over the past few weeks. Your words are like lemon and honey… bitter and sweet… laden with the challenge of truth and the emotion of reality. I’m a middle class South African… I get to have the stocked freezer and see the street children begging at my car door side by side. It’s not Haiti, not by a long shot, but it’s a sobering place where the gap between the rich and poor is still so wide. I also work in an office with a woman who runs an anti human trafficking initiative (Red Light – maybe go take a look), so I hear the harrowing stories of the children and young women who are stolen. The world is a harsh and brittle place – how much more so if it was void of God? Thank you so much for your words. I’m a storyteller too so I appreciate your words so much – it’s as if you heart is speaking aloud. Thank you. Can’t wait to read what pours out next.

  • Shannon Gallegos

    I just wanted to say I love you Sarah. You are so brave to be so vulnerable.

  • Robin

    Thanks for sharing! I went to NW Haiti in Feb 2012 and plan to go back in Feb 2013. “I never want to go back, and I cannot wait to go back.” TOTALLY FEEL YA! For me, it’s the poverty/lack of convenient things that I don’t want to go back to…the PEOPLE of Haiti are who I cannnot WAIT to go back to! I feel in love with the people and language of Haiti. Thanks again for sharing such a personal story of how Haiti touched you.

  • http://twitter.com/kt_writes Kristin T.

    “…this tame God I know here is easier to manage.”

    You’ve captured this tension perfectly—the tension between wanting things to be easy and comfortable, but also needing things to be weighty and to shake our foundations. Thank you for writing about this, even in a space where you weren’t quite ready.

  • http://bakeeatrepeat.blogspot.com/ Courtney

    I felt the exact same way when I went to Uganda almost five years ago. I so appreciate your honesty here. I think most of us who have left our comfortable homes to be thrust into these wild, untamed places have felt the same way. It’s breathtaking, overwhelming. It’s joy coming home. It’s relief. But it’s also weight, heavy and unmoving. I suspect you’ll carry Haiti with you always, just as Uganda holds heavy in my heart even five years later.

  • Gary Ware

    Your account reminds me of the first time I experienced the differences
    between our life of modern convenience and primitive conditions. Several months
    later I had accepted that what I enjoyed in my camp and eventually back home
    was not available everywhere. Certain amenities could be shared and hope for
    improvements planted in older minds.

    I never adjusted to the criminal activity or how it could continue inspite
    of global communication of governments and police agencies. The resilience of
    people, adults and children, everywhere encouraged my spirit that doing what we
    can, is never wasted effort.

    Your reaction is quite normal. God bless.

  • http://alwaysalleluia.com/ Kris Camealy

    I can’t imagine feeling anything else after your trip. God hold you and strengthen you for the next thing–His glory covers all.

  • Pete A.

    Wonderful. Moving. So like God.