It has been three years since coming home from Africa. I wrote this toward the end of my partner’s two month furlough in the States. Alone in that dusty village for weeks, I discovered a hunger to write in my journal. I would fill pages and pages to satisfy my desire to communicate in a place where no one but my translator spoke english. If it seems unfinished, that’s because it is. I think the process of writing down a thought is never clean cut; it never ceases to move and evolve with every successive moment. I was merely trying to get on paper whatever was in my mind at that moment, and see where it went.
This is an excerpt from that journal, written on a day as mundane as any other. Reading it feels familiar. But also as if it came from another person, and perhaps a better one.
2 months are almost up.
Where does the time go? One year ago, I was stepping off a plane with someone I barely knew. Each day has felt long, yet looking back it seems a blur of emotions, weather, pain and joy, landscapes. We have a home now, filled with people and all the collected pets that attached themselves to our hearts like burrs on felt.
I’ve learned things. Even as recently as the last few weeks. My heart has transformed its shape too many times, more than I care to recall. The full spectrum of human emotion. Learning what to do with myself, a transitory creature. I mold and shape my life, or allow it to be shaped, in hopes of a place in my distant future, traveling a narrow road before I rest.
Faces clutter my mind. Old ones are within the deepest layers, but new ones crowd the surface. Men and women enshrouded in swaths of black cloth, adorned with bright beads, yellow, red, white. Gapped front teeth and outstretched hand in greeting, polite indifference. Not every tribe is hungry or waiting for the message of salvation. Salvation from what? They like their lives. They aren’t plagued with as much melancholy or self-doubt as a Western mind. They love the dancing, the controlled breathing, their flocks of sheep, goats, herds of cattle. White milk homogenized in large gourds, tangy, thick, on the verge of becoming yogurt, served in thin metal bowls. Honey, dark and sweet, that tastes like flowers.
It’s been a year of reflection, a flip coin of self-loathing and a realization of God’s grace. You can’t give what you don’t have, and so many people come to me, asking and asking until I feel devoid of everything, not only of monetary units of currency. Like a steady metronome, I feel my heart click back and forth between compassion and exasperation. Am I a missionary, or a benefactor? It would be all too easy to pack my things and fly home. No one would begrudge me defeat.
If that is all I am, all I will be, then it is meaningless. If I felt such an inclination to improve humanity’s condition, there are others worse off. No, that is not why I have come. I was sent, called, and not in the way people always talk about. “How did you find your calling?” I never received a celestial message informing me that I was supposed to devote my life to missions. No. For a long time my uncertainty ate me away, even after coming here, even after considering the circumstances that preceded my arrival.
These people don’t know Jesus.
That fact alone, I am not proud to admit, is often not strong enough for me, yet it’s strong enough for the God who sent me. And in my most desperate moments, that truth buoys, it transcends every petty, vapid thought I have that savours of lost hope and impatience.
When you pray that He will be strong in your weaknesses, He does not make you stronger. He rather uses your failings as a backdrop, a juxtaposition, for His light and wonders. The darker the night the brighter the stars, and I can see where my Father is present, why I can endure at all in a place so lonely and desolate. The fact that I am where I am at all is to His credit. When compassion wells up within me, after weeks of being asked and begging, I know where it comes from.
Because, you see, it’s a choice. Many claim that you can’t control how you feel, but you can control what you remember. My first reaction, weary after all this time, is to become tired and resentful. But then I choose not to forget my past debts that have been pardoned, How many times do I ask my Father for my needs? And in His way, He gently turns my heart away from myself and to the those who are yet strangers. He waits for me, day to day, to remember what I need to know. I’ve grown calmer, on the inside. The edge is being worn off.
I fear judgement from others, and in turn God is feared by me; I don’t allow myself to hope for favor because I know what I deserve and have learned in life to keep my expectations quiet, to not make an opportunity for rejection.
You begin to see how weak I am.
But…but how can I convince others of a love I either don’t remember or lack faith in?
My peace comes in loving others, because then it makes it tangible. “This is how God has loved me. That is where I learned how.” Like sitting down to a grand piano and allowing your fingers to sink into ivory keys, listening to deep tones that resonate through to your bones. At that moment you remember the lessons, the tutor, the instruction. It comes back to you.