An Indonesian man walked up to me, asked me what I needed, and I tried to answer. But I forgot my two months’ worth of Indonesian lessons. Besides, I hadn’t learned yet how to say the phrase:
“My husband has a really high fever and I’m afraid he might die and he really, really needs to go see a doctor, but we have no car or motorcycle and I don’t know how to get a ride.”
So, I just looked at him and cried.
Amazingly, an Indonesian man who attended a church we sometimes visited passed by, saw me standing on the side of the road, and offered a ride to see a nearby doctor. This man helped me carry Brad to his car, up the narrow alleyway in the crowded inner city Bandung neighborhood where we lived.
The doctor did some tests and we never really found out for sure what made Brad so sick. Maybe dengue fever? Perhaps typhoid? A few months later—during Thanksgiving weekend—Brad had the same high fever, joint pain, and near delirium. That time the tests showed conclusively it was dengue fever and he spent five days in a hospital bed, hooked up to an IV.
He struggled with fatigue for the next two years, catching every illness that came his way.
We finished language school and moved from the crowded Indonesian island of Java to a tiny island off the remote jungle island of Borneo.
And we still struggled. Nothing in our tiny house worked. Brad’s job was hard as he learned to fly in dangerous conditions, the fatigue and constant sickness wearing him down. Though we served with amazing people, relationships on the team could be strained.
I, especially, struggled with the loneliness of trying to fit into a new life. And though the culture was welcoming, it was just different and we spent many days longing for home, wondering why we’d come so far.
Life was hard. For years.
Last weekend, Brad and I chatted about those years, and about life now. Six years later, we are rarely sick. We know the language well enough to be able to communicate in most situations. We moved into a better house, and know how to fix things that break. We understand the culture better and have special Indonesian friends with whom we share our lives. Our team is healthier and we know how to love better in grace.
Brad came up with the term that just fit—the manure years. Those years during which it seemed everything was bad, and hard and unfair—were like manure. Those things stank, but now we see growth, new life, understanding, purpose.
The things we experienced didn’t just make us stronger—no, actually they made us softer. More compassionate with those who are sick. More sensitive as we work hard at relationships, even when they hurt. More patient with a culture that makes more sense as we seek to understand instead of hide.
And this has become a home where we won’t ever completely belong, but where we are always welcome.
Naturally, our circumstances have improved as we’ve adjusted. But we still have manure days, even manure weeks. Like the times when the electricity is out for hours at a time, for days or weeks. Or when the kids get sick—really sick—and you know the medical care is limited and you fear your baby might die.
Or when the needs seem so big and you’ve given all you think you have and they just keep knocking on your door. Or when you hear that another jungle pilot has crashed and you remember that the normal “day in the life” of your husband could, in your worst fears, end in death.
But now we know firsthand that sometimes bad things can bring good. That gut-wrenching loneliness drives us into life-giving friendships. That things you thought might kill you, ultimately teach you how to live.
That we’ve come so far, to a place where we should be.
So from my manure moments, I know to watch later, to see what grows from the mud.
photo credit, andyarthur