So, after I completed my list of complaints, which God graciously hears and understands, He began to redirect my heart. There are, of course, many things to enjoy and appreciate in our time here. Lying under my mosquito net at night with my two older children, reading as if in a play fort, and falling asleep snuggled together are all things we won’t be doing at home each night. Playing Mother May I and Red Light Green Light in the yard of this guest house is something we could do at home, but rarely take time for there. We have also made special new friends, like Isma (who I’ve called Ishmael this whole time until I saw it spelled out), who comes to visit us and play with Ellie and Chad. We walk to the market for our food, which is simple and for that reason a nice thing. We are living with another family, sharing all of our meals and even car rides and it isn’t invasive but rather very satisfying. Why don’t we live together like this back in the U.S.? Why is individualism and autonomy of such a high value? And I even found myself grateful this morning for a time of merely waiting in the shade of the U.S. Embassy for my ride to return because I know that kind of stillness and quiet is rare and coveted in my days at home.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him. Eccles. 3:11-14
When I went on a three hour errand the other day (the business itself was about 10 minutes, the traffic was the other 2 hours and 20 minutes), I was surprised by a sudden wave of sentimentality at seeing a particular playground for what may be the last time. The playground isn’t all that unique, nor is it set in a particularly awesome setting. But, the playground had been a fun place for my children on several occasions and that, suddenly, gave it special significance. That’s when it hit me that the beauty of a place (or a person) has everything to do with what is brought to it rather than what exists in its own merit. It is why a crying, snotty nosed toddler is so beloved by his parent while a passer by may think, “Now that is birth control!” And, it is what makes a muddy, primitive house feel like the safest and happiest home on the earth to its inhabitants…because it is where love is.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Cor. 13:3
My complaints about hardship, though they are perfectly ligitimate and reflective of my full humanity, reveal a lovelessness in my heart. I have felt myself excused from really loving and serving the woman who takes care of this guest house because all of my comforts and preferences are not being met. Not until God finally prompted me to sit with her and dig into her story did I learn how terribly homesick she is. I am so much like Naaman, as I just read with Ellie in the Jesus Storybook Bible, who thought himself so very important that he was above needing God or others or even considering their needs above his own. The fact that my unmet entitlements seem to excuse me from gratitude or a greater interest in others above myself and that they seem to give me liscence to grumble and complain show me a little more of who I presume is actually sitting on the throne.
But He shows me these ugly things in my heart (my lack of love, my self-centered entitlements, etc.) not to shame me but to offer me more grace…and show me why I need it. He is making all things beautiful in His time and has promised to complete that process without fail. From muddy, polluted streets to my muddy, polluted heart, the cleaning, restoration and beauty that God brings will endure forever…unlike my creature comforts which are like shifting sands.
So, I am grateful for this thaw of my cold heart which will certainly produce tears as I say goodbye to this place that I failed to love as Jesus does, but am beginning to appreciate through His eyes of love. He cherishes these people and is as committed to them as I have been to seeking a semblance of my familiar lifestyle. And He is committed to me no less.
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” Rev. 7:9-10
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. Rev. 22:1-3