I remember that old Land Rover so vividly. And when I remember that Land Rover, I can almost feel the red dirt in my hair, coating even the inside of my mouth.
Those were the days it took us anywhere from 18 hours to 2 days to drive a mere 300 miles.
This is why.
I have another memory that flooded my mind today. We were on one of these epic journeys from Liberia to neighboring Cote D’Ivoire to visit my siblings in boarding school. Traveling with other families, we decided to mix it up and switch up who was in the various vehicles. I have a very distinct emotional response that comes up in me when I remember that part of the trip – because I didn’t feel safe.
You see, my daddy was the king of these roads. That’s him in the picture -with the cool sunglasses on. The mud was intense, the bridges were scary and you never knew what to expect when you’d round a corner. But I knew if my daddy was behind the wheel he would master it. I felt safe.
On this particular occasion, though, I didn’t know if the man driving the vehicle I was in could master the roads like my daddy could. And so I was nervous. On guard. Not secure – not until I was back in that old Land Rover with my dad behind the wheel.
I’ve been thinking alot about the faith of a child these days. I think we need to return to some of these places. Today it’s about the safety we feel in the arms of a Father we can trust.
Some of us didn’t have that in our earthly father. Which is why it is even more important to rest in the promises of our Heavenly Father. Some have had to live their lives on guard, feeling that our only safety comes when we are in control. “Master of our destiny” and all that. But the day always comes – for some sooner rather than later – when we discover the chilling truth that we are not enough in our own strength. We can’t control all the forces of the universe – or even try to anymore.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” He says gently (Matthew 19:14) Let us return to that childlike faith who knows our Daddy is the King of the road. And whatever is coming around that bend, He knows.
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge…
One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love” (Psalm 62)
Power married to love. Is there any safer place to be? The God of the Universe who holds all authority in a single breath – LOVES YOU! What safer refuge can we find in this careening world?
Come – rest with me. ““Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Dt. 33:12)
I just wanted to pretend that it hadn’t happened. It was just one of those days you want to forget. You know – wake up to a brand new day and forget all the yesterday that had gone before?
It’s not that anything significantly bad happened. I just couldn’t keep it at bay anymore. All the emotions that had been piling up – all the cumulative news of loss on top of the personal pains we all carry. It just got to be more than I could tamp down anymore. The frustration, the confusion – all the unnamed emotions that you manage to ignore most of the time came bubbling unbidden to the surface. We’ve all had these days that just feel engulfed in sadness – and if you’re anything like me, you can’t wait for the day to end so you can shake it off and start over tomorrow. Yeah – it was one of those days.
The next morning came – the birds were singing and the sun was shining and I was glad. I sat down with my coffee, my Bible, and my journal – thankful to start a new day.
Free of all that gloom. Until I felt that nudge on my heart – that gentle voice of His Spirit telling me He wasn’t done with yesterday. I had more to do.
It was like He was asking me to take another look. Don’t just shove it down again and try to distract yourself with the newest brightest thing to come your way. Don’t pretend those feelings aren’t there and will just go away if you ignore them. Stop. Look. Take it in for a minute.
So I sat there in the quiet of the morning. That precious silence that doesn’t last long. Me, my coffee, and Jesus. I looked back and let it back in – all those dark things I wanted to shake off. And then this happened – and it has made all the difference.
I felt Him directing me to shift my eyes over – and I caught my breath. He called me to behold HIM. To hold the darkness up in the light of HIS glory, His wonder, His majesty. And right there, in the dawn of the new day, I knew He was there with me. And the more I saw of Him, the more that big wall of pain shrunk as His beauty engulfed it. The more I tasted of His realness, the more I wanted of it. ““Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him” Psalm 34:8
“What, then, is the God I worship?.. You, my God,, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you. You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud. You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You support, you fill, and you protect all things. You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection. You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing. You love your creatures, but with a gentle love. You treasure them, but without apprehension… You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts… You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my Holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? – St. Augustine
This chasing after His glory… it never gets boring and never ends. Like the back wall of that wardrobe leading to Narnia – we can live in the mundane of the world we have come to expect – or we can reach through that wardrobe wall to the wonder of the God who made it all!
I hear the embattled Apostle Paul whisper in my ear, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” – 2 Corinthians 4:17
and David declaring, “Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; You give them drink from Your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” Ps 35:7-10
Come along with me through the wardrobe – I’m going to be putting my discoveries right here for the next month – why not join on in? Let His glory engulf your sorrows, your confusion, your raw emotions and just breathe in His goodness that is all around.
“In such holy wonders, baptize our imaginations, that we might ever be a people shaped by awe at your eternal power, and a people moved to worship by revelations of your divine nature. Awaken our hearts now to beat in rhythm to the dance of your creation. Tune our ears to hear the songs of stars in their trillion-fold choruses, bearing witness to your glory, your power.” Douglas McKelvey
I could tell by the subject line that I didn’t want to open the e-mail.
Yet, I knew by the subject line that I just had to open the e-mail and read the words I didn’t want to read.
It was true. Another place closing. Another place that I love – gone.
Thing is, this isn’t just another place. I drove by one of my favorite restaurants the other day and saw the for sale sign. That was a bummer. This was different. This hit deep, and I suddenly didn’t know how to process it.
It’s one of those places that I have never been able to get out of my soul. One of the first places I understood the word “home”. In a life of feeling perpetually out of place, this was a place that welcomed misfits like me and gave us a sense of belonging.
It was my sophomore year of college – that summer when I walked through the doors of a The Shelter, a youth hostel in the middle of the city of Amsterdam on the edge of the red light district.
I had no idea God would forever change the trajectory of my life that summer. That He would show me who I was created to be and that I would never be satisfied settling for anything else.
I went back after college and spent a year in those walls – eager to learn, eager to meet people from around the world, eager to share my Jesus with them. God used that place to forever alter my life.
It was in that dining room where I would eat with people from around the world – Laughing, singing, talking, doing life together.
It was in that kitchen where I learned to make Moussaka and Boerenkool. But it’s really the place I learned that the simple act of spending a day cutting onions and peeling mounds of potatoes can carve out quiet places to let the Spirit in.
It was in that snack bar where I would discuss the beauty of my Jesus with a Spanish traveler who had just from a Tibetan monastery. Where I would pore over the Scriptures and rest in the peace of the Psalms with my friend Jess, a gay prostitute who was desperately hungry for balm for a hurting soul.
It’s where I learned not to fear the questions – for if you keep looking you will find the Truth. It just takes a lot of courage to face the real questions and a lot of persistence to uncover the answers. It’s where I saw that we aren’t really all that different under the surface – where a smile has the power to transcend all cultural, racial, and political differences. And sometimes when trying to register a group of 20 travelers who don’t speak English, a smile is all you have.
It’s where I learned to love shoarma and frites with mayo. And I learned the value of knowing how to ask for coffee with whipped cream in Dutch (Koffie met slagroom, alstublieft)
So I read the e-mail, and as the truth soaked in that they were having to close their doors due to the current condition of our world, the tears started to fall. Not just for all the faces I saw, the people I had come to love, the memories I cherished… I wept for the loss of a place to return to.
Oh how the heart longs to remember what fades so quickly! How often we long to return to places that matter because they remind us of who we were. More importantly, of who God is and what He has done. And I don’t have many of those places…
Growing up in the jungles of Africa was an unmitigated blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But my home no longer exists – the ravages of war destroyed my childhood village many years ago, and I will never be able to take my family to the place I grew up. I can show them the country as it is, but it will forever be a different place than the home I knew.
So all these years, my heart has clung to this special place on the edge of the red light district in Amsterdam. I longed for the day I could show my family the place where God changed the course of my life. Where I learned how real He truly is and discovered that He really will catch us when the world crumbles around us. I have walked through those old hallways with my family so many times in my mind – just waiting for the day it could become reality.
And I wept for the loss of that opportunity.
God has placed eternity in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – and yet we try to fit this small earth around that. We grasp for the ideal of an unchangeable good – a place where our hearts feel safe. But buildings crumble and heroes let us down.. What do we do then? Construct new idols? New mirages of control or illusions of contentment? Or do we reject the stuff of earth and place all our hope firmly and only on heaven?
We’ve all experienced loss this year. And I know my story is light compared to the life changing loss many have endured. But we all share this one thing – longings for something we may not be able to return to. It comes out in grief, sorrow, rage, cynicism, depression… and I wonder – what do we do with all these feelings?
When the longings start and we are torn between what is and our nostalgic memory of what was … we often think we have to choose between the two. Instead of rushing past the callback, why don’t we linger a couple more minutes and let it bloom into something of beauty? What if we’re experiencing a foretaste, a promise, a shadow of what is to come? In His moments of greatest agony on earth, Jesus looked to the “joy set before Him”. (Hebrews 12:2)
Do you see it? Can you smell it? The welcoming notes of the fresh baked bread? The delicate aroma of flowers we have yet to discover? We blush and call it childish nostalgia – but could it be so much more?
“In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves… These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” CS Lewis
So today i don’t think I’m going to wipe these tears away too quickly. I think instead I’ll try to just rest in the magic of the mystery. To let the ache in my heart intensify my longing for heaven – that great unending good that will never be taken from us. That we will never outgrow, move away from, or lose. This is the gift.
“For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Hebrews 13:14