In the Middle

One of the most difficult things about being an American living in a developing country (even if it is half the year) is the constant reminder between the world you left and the world you are currently living in.  You can never really shake either one.  They are simultaneously in front of your face and tucked inside of your heart at all times.  Living in a developing country means that I are constantly faced with need.  It’s at our gate, outside our gate, in our homes, along the roads we travel, called out to us from the streets we walk, forced upon us, in front of us at all times.  As Americans, we have access to money (not unlimited access by any means, but nevertheless access).  It’s no secret and it’s obnoxious when we try to pretend otherwise.  It’s not always fair, but it’s the truth about where we come from. Most of us try to help, many of us give until it hurts, but it’s never enough.  We live in the “Middle”; in between two worlds which contrast themselves in a million different ways.  To Americans, I am the one who gave up so much. To many people in our host country, I am the wealthy; the glowing answers to meeting their needs and who just need to give more.

This internal tug-of-war was very apparent within me, I am surrounded by comforts from my home.   I often think about how much more I have than most of our neighbors.  I thought about the people who go through my trash.  I thought about the lady who had just knocked on my door begging for money.  I thought about the many parents desperately looking for funds to pay their children’s school fees this time of year. I thought about those who heard their children’s cries the night before as they went to bed hungry. I felt guilt run over me as I often do..  As much as I try, these moments linger in my mind even when I am on the other side.

In twenty four short hours, I am back to my American-born and raised side.  I looked holiday frenzy, the shopping malls and the abundance of comforts. I am embarrassed, yet surrounded by what is comfortable. My family by my side, my refrigerator full. I hesitate to take a photo and uncertain whether to post it. Do I want to document my two worlds to either pity or envy? The emotional tug of war that my two vastly different worlds bring together push and pull and are relentless.

How can I find comfort when I, myself, struggle comforting my own pain, which always feels so insignificant?  How can we live among poverty, real and heartbreaking poverty, facing it every day, and still permit ourselves to acknowledge our own hurt?

How can I live in a world where I spend more money on cheese than some families do on their entire month’s food budget?  Can I find joy and thank God when we rejoice in the mozzarella on our pizza on Friday nights?

So, living here in the “middle”, I have learned to live with heaviness.  All of us here in the “middle” learn to live a little bit heavy at all times, swallowing a million thoughts and emotions that enter our brains because it’s just too hard to process and articulate it all.

All of us who live in this “middle” are in a battle which is constantly fluctuating between abundance and need. You learn to cry with those in need and rejoice with those in abundance and find yourself living in both at times.  You learn to live without giving yourself too much permission to process or compare where you are currently falling in between those two extremes.

Those of us in the middle carry a pervasive struggle in our hearts.  You can’t really articulate it because it’s a kind of schizophrenic leap between guilt and jealousy, gratitude and shame, pitying others and pitying yourself, anger and sorrow, generosity and greed, a bleeding heart and a shocking coldness due to compassion fatigue.  It is a fight and we get tired of living in it often.  We want to enjoy moments and people and things, but it isn’t that simple anymore.  Our highs and delights are tempered, and your pains and sorrows often feel unworthy.

Most people didn’t come to the giving field with a desire to make a better life for themselves.  Many of us sold our homes, our vehicles, gave up good careers, solid future plans, access to great healthcare, and prepared our hearts to enter into a more difficult life. What we didn’t prepare for was leaving the States with our great sense of loss and sacrifice and then arriving in our host country as the wealthy.  Even the donated computers we type our newsletters on set us apart from most.  Our homes or vehicles or bicycles or Birkenstocks, still feel strange and less than what we had back home; but they are luxuries here.  Even those volunteers who live in the village inside of mud huts with no running water, carry health insurance cards that could save their lives, and most are one phone call away from being able to return to the States if there was great danger. 

It is not fair.  We are always going be different.  Though I’ve fought this mental battle for years, I don’t believe that the answer is living guilt-ridden, nor pretending we are poor (people see past that, sorry!), nor is it giving away every single thing we own.

So, I don’t have this battle won, but I think the answer is learning to live well within the “middle” rather than fighting it. Those of us who live in the “middle” aren’t comfortable on either side anymore, but that is exactly where God has placed us.  So, we continue to feel the discomfort, the pain, help the hurting, cry with and sacrifice for those in need, fight for contentment in our own need.  When we are there on that side of our “middle ground”, in those moments, we need to be all there and not looking to the other side.  Let’s not compare or justify or defend or run or allow guilt to overrun.  Enter into pain and allow ourselves to hurt with those who are hurting, weep with those who are weeping and find contentment in loss and in need or in abundance.

Alternatively, when we are tempted to sink into sorrow at seeing yet another friend buy a home and build their American dream (while we are trying to figure out how to stop our perpetual rat problems and live with cockroaches the size of our hand, spiders the size of our heads and snakes the size of our oldest children) acknowledge that pain as well.   On this side of our “middle” we must find contentment in having less but loving those who have more.

This opinion is shared and written in various forms by many.

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