The Gift Of Time
It had suddenly dawned on me. I was not going home. I was not going home for four long years. I had known this when we arrived 4 months ago. I had known this when we left my crying parents at the airport. I had known this when we planned our first global work term. But a strange empty, sinking feeling had overcome me. I turned my head into my pillow and wept.
I was not the type of person to fall asleep crying on my pillow. If the truth be known, I had wanted to come here even more strongly than my husband. I definitely had a sense of a call from God to this particular place. I was excited to go. It had been the vision of my life for almost ten years that I would serve the kingdom of God in a cross-cultural situation. The unfolding of this plan was more logic and fact to me than anything else.
But the honeymoon with the country was over. We were settled in. I was not going back. There was no easy out of this. My husband was motivated and moving ahead in his new ministry. We had rented a home, bought used furniture to fill up the house. Airline tickets cost a few thousand dollars. We were not going back. We actually had no where to go if we did go back.
At that moment, which I still remember vividly eight years later, I felt a mixture of despair, panic, anger, confusion and a loneliness I’d never experienced before. We had moved to new places in our marriage before this, but I was so alone here. People stared at me. And if they did converse with me in English, I often wondered if we had communicated.
When we did arrive, on a midnight flight, just months ago, I was almost jumping out of my seat with excitement. I looked at my two older children sitting next to me on the plane, a bit dazed from the 29 hour trip and said, “We’re here. We are really here. Our new home.” They smiled at me in their innocent way. The baby was a contented happy little fellow. This was going to be terrific. I felt as if I’d not lived till now.
But as the months went by, the enthusiasm began to evaporate. My husband was a good listener. But he was not like my girlfriends back in the United States. Why hadn’t anyone written to me? (This was in the days before e-mail.) I had spent every spare moment filling aerograms to my girlfriends. Yes, some of them said they were not letter writers, but didn’t they know what I am going through?
Actually, they did not. They still cared about me, but how could they realize what this was like, to be so alone and not have anyone to talk to, not even to call on the phone.
I could not imagine how I was going to survive the next four years. This was one of those moments when the truth of a situation hits and you realize you cannot handle this one. As I called out to God in what I suppose was a prayer but more like a whimper, it did seem to place some thoughts of encouragement in my mind.
I had been praying for years for a greater sense of dependency on Him. I had read, even studied John 15, ‘Without Me, you can do nothing.” I had intellectually assented to this but was backed into the corner now. If He did not do something, I felt I would melt into depression. There was no one else to help me. My husband did what he could but I really needed a friend.
I took heart in thoughts of the character of God and all I knew of Him. Now, I would see Him provide and help as I never had experienced before. I had idealistically told someone once when they asked me why I wanted to be a global worker: “Well, I want to know God more intimately and I think that that lifestyle will force this upon me.” Ha! Why had I said that? What was I possibly thinking? Who was that self-righteous dreamer anyway; she could not possibly be me?!
I knew all the verses too about the Lord being my closest, most intimate companion. But I’d not experienced that either. Everyone else had left the party and only He remained.
I wish I could tell you that after that wet, sticky episode, I suddenly began to experience the constant reality of God’s presence in my life and I was no longer lonely or confused. Wrong. I had encouraging moments and days. Far more days were filled with loneliness and even boredom. I had plenty of work to do, but I was still somehow empty and bored.
As this first year passed, my husband noticed the downward spiral and my change in personality. There was not much he could do to help me. He arranged so we could go out alone and I could get out of the house without carrying one child on my back and one holding each hand. We were unable to have a car in this country. We would have a nice time, but the “problem” was still there.
One of the words that began to show up in our conversations was “endure”. I recoiled a bit from that word. Was that all life was about, enduring? Where was the self-actualization and happiness? I did begin to just tell myself to endure, to persevere. I told myself that, yes, with God, all things are possible. This place can become my home. Maybe I can even make some friends here. My husband and I decided that my goal ought to be willing to return for a second term. It was not a trite thing to survive these years and somehow want to return.
The change for me came after two and half years. For me, it took that long. I am not sure what exactly caused the change though I know that one factor was that I did see a woman come to faith in Christ. She was only one, but I felt God had allowed her to drop into my life not for me to share the gospel with her, but for me to be encouraged as He did His always amazing work of regeneration in a human heart.
When we did leave after those first four years, I did not want to leave! We had resided in this home for four years, longer than we had ever stayed in one place before during our married life. I had made some friends among American women and also with a few nationals. My children had settled into the excellent national school system where I volunteered each week. The vendors in the open market all knew me and greeted me.
God had done something here! I had felt so alone and in an impossible situation. He had silently worked in the circumstances and in people’s lives, not the least being my own. Somehow I had endured to the point that it was not endurance any more but real joy and fulfillment to be here.
How does one endure or learn to endure? I do not have a magic formula but I did just wake up each day and get through it. Some days were a breeze and others were far from that! Time is a real gift from God for His creatures. When I thought I could not take another week, I’d just take another day. And as time did go by, it got easier. I could have short-cut the process. I could have left. We were free to do that. But it seems the most precious memories now are of that time when we had to look to God each day and endure and reach that goal of staying a term and wanting to return for a second term.
It was a good feeling when we left on the plane four years after the crying into the pillow incident. I had a sense that God was saying, “Well done!” I treasured that sense. I had pleased God! I could not contain my joy. That joy had not come without a lot of emotional pain and loneliness. But I would not have changed anything at that moment. I only hoped I had learned enough about endurance to sustain me through the next twist and turn in my life. There will always be those “troubles” ahead, but I want to still “smile at the future” knowing I had persevered with Christ in the past.