Thursday, January 1, 2015

Insanity - Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results

"Somethings missing, and I don't know what it is."
-John Mayer

I've been home from Africa for over two months now and I am really struggling to find new meaning in my life.  In addition to Africa, I had some major life changes happen when I returned and many things were turned completely upside down right around Christmastime.  Over and over, people in Africa and people close to me have said that I need to listen and that God will tell me what to do next.  I've been listening...just don't hear Him saying much.  Maybe He is talking, maybe I just can't hear Him over my own internal voice constantly questioning if 'He' even exists at all. 

But every once in a while I have moments of clarity - the light bulb goes off and I realize that He has been talking, shouting even, if I could just sit still long enough to listen.  The thing is that I know what I WANT in my life - but - I'm pretty sure I'm mostly clueless when it comes to what I really NEED in my life.  That's an understatement if ever there was one.  What I want is easy - and selfish.  What I need is hard - really hard - because lately it is not matching up in the slightest bit with what I want.  Pertaining to every single facet of my life, when I have listened, really listened, I have always - 100% of the time - gotten what I needed.  Sometimes I have gotten what I thought I wanted, sometimes I have gotten none of what I wanted, but when I have asked God for help - he has always sent me what I needed.  In most cases, it took me weeks or even months to realize this.

I re-read my blog posts from Africa tonight. I've come to the stark realization that it is no wonder nothing has changed since I returned. I'm doing nothing differently. I told myself that everything would change, that I would be a new person with a new attitude, a new perspective. I told myself, and everyone else, that there was no way I could be the same person I was before I left.  I told myself that I would never forget what I saw there and I would never take a single thing for granted again.  I've got reminders of Africa all over my living room walls, items I bought at the craft markets and pictures of these joyful, smiling children in pretty frames.  I have memories of my two weeks on the Dark Continent everywhere I look.  Yet, only a few months have gone by, and I have taken everything for granted, I do not have a new attitude and nothing is different.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

I wants allot of things to be different, but in order for things to BE different, I need to commit to doing things differently.  I have issues with instant gratification. I have issues with expectations versus reality, and issues with the lack of clarity as it pertains to what I should do next in my life.  I want to be a better mother. I want to lose weight and get in shape.  I'd like to help people and make a difference in this world.  I need to change the way I sometimes treat my friends and family.  Let's face it people, I have issues.  I want results without having to do any of the hard work to get there.  Well come on, hate to tell you this but maybe you are clinically insane - because you are doing the same thing over and over again - and expecting a different result.  Think back to the first lesson you learned in Africa - and start there.

The very first morning I woke up in Africa, I ate breakfast in a comfortable, even fancy hotel, by some standards. There was a huge buffet style breakfast fit for a King. It was a little awkward to be in a foreign country with a bunch of strangers, all of which came with someone else, and for me to know no one.  My roommate knew no one either so we sat and ate together with the two men that seemed to be the leaders of this crazy adventure - Strib and Matt.  Strib was the Team Leader and from what I gathered Matt was in Africa to pick up his wife, who had just spent several months helping in the El Roi Baby Home.  Breakfast was slightly awkward as we introduced ourselves and talked about the circumstances that put us all together in this Johannesburg Hotel and soon to be in a cramped van on our way to the most life changing two weeks of our lives.

But after a short time, I was listening to their stories with complete admiration and fascination.  These were ordinary people with extraordinary hearts.  They were people just like you and me who felt compelled to go to Africa on their own dime, to see for themselves.  The wanted to hold and rock orphaned babies to sleep, get their hands dirty in gardens and put Toms shoes on tiny feet.  Some felt they were called upon by God, some were there for God and other reasons, but all of them got out of their comfort zones and came to Africa.

The topic of religion almost always makes me squirm, especially in the company of people who are solid in their faith and beliefs.  I don't really know WHAT my beliefs are sometimes and I really hate having to explain that to people.  I feel like people are judging me, and if not judging me then trying to convert me.  Every single one of the Heart for Africa Volunteers stated at some point that they were there to serve God.  I'm not even sure I believe in God - so WHY exactly was I there?  To make a difference?  To see for myself?  To get to Africa?  To make me appreciate my life?  This was not something I wanted to spend allot of time on with these new friends, but then again, I did not want them to think of me as a COMPLETE HEATHEN.  Twenty volunteers in Africa, all different denominations, and one Atheist.  Nice Amy, real nice.

So as we sat there at breakfast, I started out by saying that I was not very religious, and then shared the stories of Alicia and Kieran's deaths.  I don't know why exactly, but I've done this before in the company of people I think might be uber religious. I actually think it is my way of explaining to people that I don't want to believe in God because any loving God would not take a three month old baby in her sleep.  Nor would he take an eighteen month old boy who fought so hard in the first year of his life away from his parents in the blink of an eye.  I then also shared some interesting events that took place in the months and years afterward that seemed too completely incredible to be a coincidence.  Sort of like saying, "I don't think I believe in God because I think God would be a jerk to allow bad things to happen to good people....yet....I kind of want to believe in Him and here's a few glimpses of why..."   Nineteen years have gone by and I'm still pissed off that he took my baby away.  The more I talked, the more I tried to convince him (and myself) that I too came to Africa to serve God and not for self serving purposes.  Now that I look back, I think I went to Africa looking for God.  I found much, much more than I bargained for.

Matt listened to my story, chuckled, then said simply, "...and you said you weren't religious..."

Anyway, in the van during the three and a half hour drive to Swaziland, Matt let me borrow a book.  I read the whole book during the drive and loved it, but hadn't thought much about it since. The book was 'Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams Into Your Comfortable Life' - by Jeff Goins.  Jeff writes about a friend who spent a week in rural Ethiopia.  The friend saw exactly what I saw and felt in Swaziland, that despite unrelenting hardship, the African people remained joyful.  One of the most truthful and beautiful sentences in the book is this, "There are more honest smiles among the poor of Ethiopia than the shopping malls in all of America."   In Swaziland, I saw more genuine smiles among the poorest of the poor, than I've seen in my entire life.  The experiences in Swaziland profoundly affected me - now what in the heck am I going to do about it now that I am home?

How about starting with just listening - and then not continuing to do the same things you did before you left.  You want different results?  Then get up off your butt and make different choices.

When I finally started to listen - signs are everywhere. 

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