Life among the pagodas
On Tuesday, Jim and I will be flying through international airspace, headed for Southeast Asia.
This week has been a long time coming; a slow climax preceded by several years of preparation, small good byes to all the little things that are familiar to me, and accumulating the things I imagine I’ll find necessary in a foreign place (not the least of which is a good supply of Earl Grey tea).
I feel as ready as I will ever be for the unknown things that lie in my path. I don’t feel as if I have any credentials that lend to my sense of confidence in being ready to go: I haven’t lived overseas long-term; I am not fluent in a second language; I have never before bartered for my groceries. I don’t have a resume proving I can handle this sort of lifestyle. But I have absolute certainty that I am exactly where God wants me, and I am eager for all that lies ahead.
Previous life experience (or should I say, hard-heartedness) has familiarized me with the skin prickling discomfort of trying to ignore God’s voice. So when folks ask me, “are you scared?” my first thought is, “No way!” Now, if I decided I wasn’t going to board our plane next Tuesday—then I’d be terrified, utterly terrified. It may be a drop into a war zone, but when you’re going into a tough place at the behest of the God of the universe, “scared” kind of drops out of one’s vocabulary. The thought of walking away from God’s plan is far more chilling to me than the risk of a tropical disease or political chaos.
At the same time, I know not what I’ll encounter in Myanmar. On the smaller ministry projects I’ve tackled, I’ve often barely made it to Day Three before getting socked in the face with depression and nightmares. I am delighted for the opportunity to throw myself into this work, but I’m boarding that plane in full anticipation that things may soon get dark and cloudy, and I’ll be learning to cling to Christ like never before.
I feel a little bit like Jill, from C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair. After stumbling into Narnia, she encounters the lion, Aslan, and is given a task involving four signs. Aslan gives her the signs and exhorts her to share them with her travel companion once she joins him in the land below. The temptation to haste and overweening confidence in self and the tendency to forgetfulness are all shamefully familiar to me:
“As the Lion seemed to have finished, Jill thought she should say something. So she said, “Thank you very much. I see.”
“Child,” said Aslan, in a gentler voice than he had yet used, “perhaps you do not see quite as well as you think. But the first step is to remember. Repeat to me, in order, the four signs.”
Jill tried, and didn’t get them quite right. So the Lion corrected her, and made her repeat them again and again till she could say them perfectly.
“Stand still. In a moment I will blow. But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters. And now, daughter of Eve, farewell -“
I, like Jill, am dropping into a land of “thick air.” The air is thick not because Myanmar is necessarily a bad place, but because nearly everything about it will be so foreign to me, so unclear and confusing. I need to remember the signs—the promises and character of God—not because everything about Myanmar is evil, but because I am not supposed to be doing this by myself. No matter where we find ourselves, we who follow Christ are called to be a people who remember.
Below are my favorite “signs” these days:
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken, but abides forever.” (Psalm 125:1)
God makes his people unshakeable in the face of hardship.
“Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” (Psalm 50:2)
Even on dark days, God is still light, and his glory can be seen.
“In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you.” (Exodus 20:24)
I will never find myself in a place where God is not present also.
“But far be it from me that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)
I am free to thrive, because my identity is found in Christ, and not in my ability to perform.
If you don’t know Christ, I understand that none of this will sound comforting to you. If the Gospel of Jesus isn’t true, then I am just a masochist on an absurd adventure.
But as it is—and in the world’s economy this is the strangest sounding part—I feel like I’m about to engage in the most pleasurable part of my life so far. It will no doubt be wrought with times of illness, isolation and most of all, dissolution of my personal vanities. But where there is darkness and losses, Christ shines even brighter, and I cannot wait to meet my God in that place.
“Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.”
– Jane Kenyon