Life among the pagodas
We have moved three times within the last year. After receiving the keys to our latest dwelling, we discovered that we would have to move out by the first of September. I had hoped so much that I wouldn’t have to move again before we hopped our flight to Asia this fall. The realization that I will likely start living out of my backpack in September has been challenging for me, because it signals an earlier-than-expected transition to the unknown.
I knew this would be happening eventually. I’ve anticipated it for nearly two years. I knew one day I’d pack and store away everything save my bike and my backpack, and head for the unknown, indefinitely homeless.
When we first got married, enjoying our wedding presents was bittersweet, because I know they’d all have to be packed up eventually and left unused for some time. (Being someone with a tendency to anthropomorphize my possessions, the thought of packing is emotionally taxing for me. I won’t get started on how cruel it feels to relegate my belongings to life in a cardboard casket for the next four or forty years.) Earlier this spring, some of our teammates lost their home and most of their possessions as a result of a local conflict. Their experience was a pointed reminder to me that one of the only certain things about my future life is uncertainty; that many stare downs with change are on my horizon, and that I need to be ready for the possibility of unpleasant, out-of-my-control changes.
Change and I have long had a tempestuous relationship. As a little girl, I wished every room in the house goodbye prior to any trip, afraid of what Change might do to it while I was gone (I was particularly fearful of house fires).
When Jim asked me to date him one July day, I stalled until the very end of our outing, hoping for some easy reason to say “no” and maintain the status quo in my life. By the end of the day, no reason had presented itself, and so I reluctantly consented, gave him the most platonic hug I could muster, went home and cried for the rest of the weekend. Change was asking me to give up my single life and my precious solitude. (I have since warmed to the idea.)
Last fall we were living in a dark basement apartment. It had some real charms, and I was really sad about leaving it. Never mind the fact that we were leaving the basement to live for free in a small mansion with an amazing kitchen, or the fact that our belongings were starting to mold because the current abode was so damp. In the midst of my angst, something woke me up: I was getting an upgrade and I was still struggling against it! Not all change is bad, and my resistance to change had me resisting good things, good gifts from God.
The fearful power Change has in my life has a lot to do with the frightening specter that accompanies most life changes: the dark, hovering cloud we all know as The Unknown. We all have coping mechanisms for the unknown. Mine is to expect the worst thing I can imagine while still trying to hope for the best, but it typically leads to a downward spiral of negative expectations and fear.
Here I do want to add a disclaimer: a) we do have control over some changes in our lives, b) not all changes are okay or should be accepted, c) our response to change is still in our hands, even when the change itself is not.
A friend once said to me, “Fear of the unknown is actually just fear that God is not good.” My response to the unknown things ahead of me will preach a loud sermon.
What you fear, you will worship. As long as fear has a dominant place in my thought life, I’ll be distracted from worshipping God, the only spring in this desert of changes. Moreover, in struggling against change, I may find myself declining good gifts simply because they are unfamiliar to me.
There are some dear things I’ll be leaving behind when we depart in November: close friends, the pages of my favorite books, the piano, familiar food and fellowship, the ability to express gratitude in my heart language. I know that there will be things on the other side of the world waiting to make new spaces in my heart, things that will become dear to me in the midst of much unfamiliarity. We’re embarking into uncertainty, but we are not without our Rock, the one of whom no good promise has failed (I Kings 8:56), and who has promised to be our stronghold (Ps. 37). There are plenty of practical objections to life overseas (financial future, family, struggles in cultural transitions, safety); I hear them, and often. But we have an indefatigable Power on our side. And over the voices of concern, the rumblings of change and the beckoning of things dear, I still hear the peaceful rejoinder of Romans 8: “who or what can be against you?”
What indeed? We’re the richest people on earth, and there is no change that will remove this wealth.