If there’s one thing I’ve done consistently throughout my life, it’s this: I have changed. I was the 7 year old who was so timid that her teacher’s yelling vice literally gave her an ulcer, who became the 19 year old who partied too loud and too hard and was put on university probation for mutilating her suitemate’s room after a fight, who became the 25 year old charismatic missionary moving to Indonesia convinced that the end times were near, who became the 31 year old Catholic convert who ingested the Bread and the Wine while her black and white children lay sleeping at home.
It has been quite the journey. So, I imagine, has yours. One of the most amazing things about life that I never could have anticipated at 17, wearing rhinestones on the tips of my French manicure, is how much more yourself you become. Today I stopped and felt a pang of grief that I was never this me for the past thirty years. But then also, thank God that I get to be this for the next thirty.
But there I go again, thinking I’ve got this thing figured out now. Thinking I’m who I want to be forever. That’s a lie, of course, and I don’t want that at all. If the transformation I’ve undergone in the last decade takes my breath away (and, trust, it does) then I would be a fool to long to stay where I am for the next five.
What I’m trying to say is, God continues to surprise me. I’m never too grown; I’m His little child.
For all the layers I've peeled, one thing has been consistent: for as long as I can remember, I’ve been a passionate person. Introverted to the core, so yes, quietly passionate, but the fire rages nonetheless. A fierce lover of justice, even as a child, I’ve never long imagined a life that wasn’t gnarly with the bending towards others. This is the fingerprint of Christ on me, this yearning for a life of noble sacrifice; the deposit of my baptism and of the thousands of prayers of my parents that withstood even the stormiest seasons. But it took me this long to understand the crux of the matter: I don’t get to choose what sacrifice looks like in my life.
And if I do, if I twist my life around my idea of how The Cross takes shape in the life of Shannon Kay O’Brien Evans, is it then even truly sacrifice at all? I’m really asking. I don’t have a black and white answer to that one yet.
Since turning to Christ with my whole heart at 21 years old, I’ve only ever had one vision for where the placement of my home should be: with the poor. In bustling, stricken cities of Africa to forgotten alleys in Indonesian kampungs to inner city American streets, I never for long considered living anywhere else. Because living next door to drug dealers is the work of the Kingdom. Or because living without hot water and with a squatty-potty makes me feel like a spiritual badass? I’ve done both and I can tell you, I’m not sure.
Sometimes we are so hopelessly incapable of grabbing hold of grace ourselves that Jesus has to whack us over the head with a 2x4 that’s been doused in it. And such was the entrance of our first son into our lives.
We hopped from tent to tent in suburban America, “just for awhile” because we “just needed to get back on our feet”. We kept telling ourselves that it was temporary, that once we settled somewhere permanently it would be in the ghettos again, of course it would. This year, the call of permanence came knocking. This was our chance; the chance to create the life that we’ve been longing to meet again ever since our three pairs of feet landed together on American soil. Now we could live out the Gospel.
We were driving in the car, my husband and I, and I’ll never forget how simple it was. I stilled my guilt and I blurted out, “I don’t think that’s what Alyosha needs”. Eric nodded and said, “I don’t think that’s what he needs either”. And by the grace of God, that was how we decided. There would be another day for the ghettos, for the slums. This day is not for them. This day is for making our son believe that the world is a safe place, because his brain is constantly overrun with signals that try to tell him otherwise. This day is for soaking up whatever breath of normalcy life offers outside our walls, because what’s inside them is anything but, and it serves no one to pretend we need otherwise.
This is our new house. We live in the historic district, within walking distance of a park, the library, and a vibrant downtown. It is safe but not wealthy, breathtaking but not perfect. It is the kind of place we never expected to be able to live with a clear conscience, yet here we are. All clear. Breathe in, breathe out.
I’m sure it sounds ridiculous, but this house is a sacrifice. It is not what we dreamed of when we wanted to “do something” in the world, but we’re learning to forge new dreams, ones that have less to do with how we look to others and more to do with how tenderly we carry what we’ve been given.
I share this because it’s my story, but I also share it because maybe it’s yours too. Maybe you labor at a thankless job because it supports those who depend on you, while the whole world says you should shed it (and maybe them) and do something wild and free. Maybe you have more children than you expected because you believe in being open to new life, and our culture demeans you when you admit that it's hard because "you brought it on yourself". Maybe your marriage is on the rocks and every movie you watch reminds you that you’re a fool for not looking out for number one. Maybe you have a child with special needs and you love him to the moon and back but you never thought your life would turn out like this.
You are not alone.
I apologize for every time I’ve jumped to the wrong conclusion, every time I’ve judged the choices you’ve made. I’ve done it, that’s for sure. But I’m done with it, that’s more sure. You are not alone. Your sacrifice is real and it’s seen. Let’s do this together. Because sexy or not, we’re moving mountains.