Friday, November 1, 2013

The Other Side of the Continent

I pretended that it was vacation. The thrill of a new place with old friends. It didn't matter that the real reason was revolving around training for work. It took 2 days of a journey before I even would arrive. A long bus ride into the city the day before the flight. Night  in a guesthouse, then off to the airport.

I was leaving the frustrations behind. Well, at least the usual ones. I awoke at the guesthouse the morning before the flight feeling freedom all around me. The recurrent tune beautifully resounded from a bird in the courtyard. I wished that I could write down the way that the melody kept coming. But the tune and note, mixed with the alternate language of the bird, made it impossible. I was grateful. Grateful for time to consider such things. Grateful to have been woken by it. I turned over and grabbed the Word, read another song, this time in my own language from the Psalmist. Then on to words of wisdom of Solomon.

The rest ended, I packed the few things that lay scattered back into my luggage. The driver would come any minute. I'd better go once more to get rid of all the water that I had been drinking before the airport. Once you make it to the airport, the restrooms there are anything but "restful". My personally developed system becomes - roll up my pant legs to avoid tainting from the urine which coats the floor when I pull them down. Take a big breath just before entry, hoping I don't have to inhale the inevitable stench that constantly lingers inside, then rush in, balance above the toilet, while the heaviness of my carryon threatens to pull me to the side - no forward - an awkward shuffle and balance. All that while keeping the breath held. Oh yes, such a situation must be avoided. So, one last time before I leave the guesthouse.

I'm only there in the hotel bathroom for 25 seconds or so, during which of course, the driver arrives. In that brief time, he has knocked twice, and rung the bell 4 times. I thought the frustrations had all been left behind at the hospital, but he reminded me that they were still there inside me, lurking and waiting for a moment of expression. I rolled my eyes and ran out from the toilet, hands wet from a rushed drying trial. I grabbed the bag and off we went.

The airport was- well, it was the Douala airport. Hopefully no one reading this will have to know the implications of that any more than described in the "bathroom" section above. It's no fun, no pleasure. But, then came a previously unknown perk. In addition to my ticket, she handed me a slip for the Kenya Airways lounge. I found myself sitting in a cushy chair, thankful for whatever course of reasoning or mistake had obtained my entrance, wondering if all the food on the counter was free. Finally, the gentleman came and asked if I would like anything. I crunched the green apple in delight. Not only the delightfulness of the sweet-sour bite, but the knowing that it was free, unmerited, and undeserved. It was greatly appreciated.

Finally, out of the life of luxury, and into the plane. Across Africa, excitement rising in my spirit. The meeting was to last most of the week, but a few of us were meeting a few days early. Where we live there isn't anything to remind one of the National Geographic scenes representing Africa. So, we wanted to go on safari. And we did. Gazelles leaping, elephants crashing through the trees, long-necked giraffes giving birth to wobbly-legged offspring, lions tearing through flesh while eating their kill. It was definitely not our typical day in Africa. Not only amazing things to see, but great company with friends. It was strange to think of how many would call this "real Africa", when what each of us was trying to get away from - endless pursuit of death, unending stench of rot and disease, unending tears of pain - was what we would call the reality of Africa. Just for a few days, it was nice to think that National Geographic was presenting the real picture.

Then the actual meeting. No one wants to read all the details of that, though it actually was pretty useful. But everything is better when mixed with some goofy, yet like-minded members of the body of Christ. And any meeting is also better when there's a deep, long bathtub filled with steaming water waiting on you in the room. Oh, and  a candle lit, with flame dancing, just to feel fancy. And a refreshing (though embarrassingly slow) run every morning through the trails weaving through the woods. And cheese. And ice cream. And meat. Even smores. Oh, delights so often unobtainable, so much more precious because they are often far beyond our grasp.

I've wondered many times over the restful, fun days - why is it so easy to see God's blessing and seemingly glorify Him more when situations are conducive? Why is it so easy to have joy in times of ease? Why, when the days get stressful and the risks get higher, do I feel the weight and frustration well up inside? A small twinge hits me reminding of how I don't meet my own expectations, certainly not His... And then I am reminded that God is making and molding us through it all. Sometimes He keeps us in the wilderness. Sometimes He takes us to a place of rest. He tries us, brings us through difficulties, and then we look back, seeing that indeed we have developed some evidence of perseverance and some change in character. But He is making us, developing us - we are in process. It isn't something that has been completed, it is very much in the making. His glory will be seen as we are more and more transformed. We aren't now, as we will be. We are in His process. Not always through gentle,soothing massage, more often hammer and chisel - beaten with pressure to transform into something He delights in. But in His hands to make, and to re-create. I love His hands. But it is in the times of refreshing that I tend to remember that they are His hands, doing His will. That is how He refreshes me most. I am reminded.
Newborn giraffe (so newborn that placenta still inside mom)

Elephant Family

Mom and Baby Lions

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