“We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified.” Martin Luther
This is just another transition, I whispered as the highway carried us from Ontario’s fall colours to flat American countryside and into the heart of Chicago. I have teethed on, toddled through and grown up with the predictable routine of car rides, international airports, suitcases and storage boxes. I eyed the buildings crowding each other, greedily toeing the streets, using every square inch. It seemed that gentler things of nature invariably lost in the competition for space. Would I?
For years I had made a specific request to God: please, don’t make me live in a city. Now here I was.
I couldn’t get over the boxes: the high rises were stacked boxes, the cars were boxes, the streets formed square boxes, and the trees grew in boxes. And the windows! They were a million sightless eyes. I could find nothing human in the Windy City.
It wasn’t just the city that I would have to adjust to. Once again culturally ignorant, I noticed the background picture on a friend’s phone, “Oh,” I asked, “is that your Dad?” The reply was strongly negative – he is a great actor and very popular among young ladies. Oops.
I watched other international students find fellow students from their own countries. I heard their Korean, German and Portuguese conversations. It made me hopeful that somewhere, sometime, I would meet a Congolese student. I longed to speak Lingala.
Loneliness was a shadow: it tagged along everywhere. In my passport country of Canada, I can walk among rocks and trees and blue lakes. In the African countries I call home, there are always dusty paths for my willing feet. The blue sky above and the green banana and palm trees around me restore peace. I missed those places.
My sister visited me. When she left I walked down the busy streets, wrapping my sweater around myself and weeping. People streamed past me without making eye contact. A little sparrow flapped pathetically against a glass window. Its leg was broken. Both of us were lost and hurt in the city.
Then, during Missions Conference, my closest friend and Congolese sister Anna called my parents at 3 am to tell them that she was evacuating. Her Congolese town was being attacked. Rebels were killing with machetes and setting bombs in the market places. Except she couldn’t “run” to safety because there was no gas in town and the bus could not leave.
The days became a blur of tears to me as I went from work to sessions. All the loneliness of the semester condensed and the acid taste filled my mouth. One night I padded down the deserted, shadowy tunnels in my socks. God, I prayed, I am tired of groping for the security of deep friendship. Will these be four years of unfulfilled desires? Always reaching but never touching? I rounded the corner. Jesus was painted on the wall. I could not see His face. White light beamed from it. But I could see His body; I could see His hand. It was nail-pierced. He held it out. I laid my hand in His and knew without a doubt that these would be four years waking up each day to discover afresh a love beyond fathoming. I pressed into the cold wall and whispered one word: yes.
I knew God was asking me to spend time in prayer. A friend on campus joined me each morning at 6 for an hour. Soon, I was surprised at an abiding sense of joy. None of my classes, friendships or circumstances had changed but my attitude had. I kept a mental list of beautiful things I found on my regular walks through the city, such as a whiff of maize (Indian corn) that was used for a Thanksgiving decoration, the fountain girl statue near the lake, old stone buildings embraced in vines, or a bright red cardinal. I thought, too, of the blessings of new friends in my life as we grew to trust and love each other more through the semester.
I knew that God had led me to Moody. But I had wanted Him to justify His guidance; to chart the good results against the pain of the road. “It was/is hard but God is doing _______ (fill in the blank).”
This semester God replaced “but” with “and”, giving me no permission to scribble on the blank line. It was/is hard and God ___________. God has the right to do with my life whatever He chooses. He may give or withhold tangible blessings. It is not for them that I walk this road.
A younger cousin asked me pointedly, “So, was the semester worth it? What did you get out of it?” Jesus is the Lord of my life and He led me, I told my cousin. He is worth obeying. It is not what I get out of it, but what He gets out of it. The only life I wish to live is one that is for the glory of my King.
Someday He will let me pick up the pen and fill in that blank. It will read: “It is/was hard and God got all the glory.”
I wrote this during my first semester at school in Chicago, when the international students were asked to share what had been challenging and what had been helpful in their first semester. This past weekend I was in Chicago again, for a visit. Hence, the posting today. 🙂