I don’t know why I pulled them out of the shoe box they’ve been hidden in since I returned from Guinea three and half years ago. But here I am surrounded by my journals and letters I wrote and that were written to me.
This past Wednesday, I hosted an Returned Peace Corps Volunteer panel discussion. One of the participants, a man who’d served in the 70’s, asked if I’d kept journals. He said he really wished he had. At the time, he thought he’d always remember. Forty years later, he was forgetting. I kept journals. I don’t read them. Some things I still remember all too well. It is still too fresh.
However curiosity called. I pulled out those dusty journals and flipped through to see if I’d written on this day, March 23rd. In 2008 I hadn’t. I’d written on March 26th about St. Patty’s Day in Kankan where all 10 of us “Hauters” dressed in green and acted ridiculous. Too long we’d been away from other Americans. I also wrote about how cute two of my best friends who had just started dating were together. They’re married now.
Then I opened my 2009 journal. I did write on March 23, 2009. I remember writing that entry. I didn’t remember the date but as I reread it, the emotions began bubbling up again. I was transported back to my mud hut, sitting on my bed surrounded by my protective mosquito net with my headlamp shining onto those pages. I hadn’t written since March 8th when I’d railed against the creation of bed bugs. Then silence. I did not know how to adequately express my utter, heart-wrenching loneliness. Those two previous weeks were the hardest of my entire life. The confession that I’d heard which ripped my heart in two. The emptiness of feeling cast aside. The anger of being lied to by people I trusted. I’d plodded through those two weeks, not knowing or caring what came next. I could only write a couple pages before the overwhelming emotions exhausted me and I had to stop.
That was four years ago. Exactly. But it was also a lifetime ago. I am a different person from that girl who depended on Xanex to face each new day.
A few months after that entry, I read a verse in the Bible that changed my life. Before that I hadn’t opened my Bible in months. But my mom had sent me a Beth Moore Bible study. I had plenty of time when the sun went down and the village lay shrouded in darkness to go through this structured study. It couldn’t hurt.
Isaiah 61:1 reads:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
I knew in that moment, that this verse was written for me. I was brokenhearted. I was a captive and a prisoner living in a hell of my own making. At that moment, I felt an overwhelming love for me. I no longer felt alone.
While I had accepted Christ at the age of 8, for many years I had been living a life apart. I had gone my own way. And the results were not good. Here God was telling me that despite everything I’d done, He was there to heal me. To forgive me. To love me.
I reread that entry again. I mourn for who I was, all of the missed opportunities, the self-loathing that manifested in selfishness. I do not like reading my journals. I do not like what they say about me. But I am thankful for what they represent. That bitter, lonely, angry girl has been transformed by the power and love of Jesus Christ. Those who know me now, know that I am not perfect by any means. But I am filled with a peace that passes all understanding. I am loved beyond compare. I am called.
I can never go back to who I was four years ago. Thank God for that. Isaiah 61 is now my call to go into the world. How many people are brokenhearted? How many live in darkness, captives to secrets and shame? Too many.
Maybe you’re one who still lives lonely and isolated. No one understands what you’re going through. You smile to the world but inside your heart is broken and you ache for meaning and purpose. Isaiah 61 is for you- it is God’s promise to you.
Maybe you have been freed from broken-heartedness and darkness. Isaiah 61 is for you too. It is your call to live out your purpose so that others may know this same freedom. Whether that is partnering with me in sending me to the people on the other side of the world, or sharing your hope with your neighbor or co-worker, don’t let an opportunity pass you by.
“I held a moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a flower, a tiny sliver of one hour. I dripped it carelessly, Ah! I didn’t know, I held opportunity.” ~Hazel Lee