Today is James's last full day in South Sudan. I'm so happy, so ecstatic to know I will have him home soon. Towards the end of his mission trips, I always begin counting it down, not in days, but in how many more nights do I have to sleep without him here. Today I only have two more Jamesless nights left.
I have two things bouncing around in my head right and I feel like they are smushing my precious brain membranes. One thing is Africa, the things James has told me about his trip and remembering details of my trip to Ethiopia last summer. The other thing is an essay I am writing.
I've agreed to do something that is exciting and a little bit scary. I've registered to attend a Christian writer's conference in April. I have butterflies even as I admit to you that I am going. When I registered for the conference, there was a little box that said "essay contest" and I checked yes. So now I feel like a student again working on an important class project. I get even more butterflies just thinking about my little document sitting on my desktop. I want it to be good. I'm terrified to let that list of respectable authors who are the judges read something I've written. But also, since I'm a type A first born, I want to win the contest. But I also want to wipe off my sweaty hands, slide that document into my virtual trash can icon and just not do it.
My essay is about church unity, because that's an easy nut to crack, right?
So I have these Africa stories and church unity crashing around my little noggin and it's terrifying.
I just thought I'd share. The end. Goodbye.
Not really. I'll elaborate.
Yesterday James and I talked a little about an awful thing that is still happening in South Sudan. It is the practice of men taking more than one wife. He has regularly encountered men on his trip that profess to be Christian that have multiple wives.
It is more than disconcerning. Because this is how I think, I immediately try to put myself mentally in the place of one of those wives. Heartbreak. I imagine physically straining work of caring for my children with a detached segment of a husband. Just plan heartbreak.
James had called me while I was at the grocery store. Yesterday I was standing in the middle of the can soup isle wondering if I could raise an old fashioned Frankenstein-style mob, check our pitchforks because those don't fit in our carry-ons, and fill an airplane to fly over there and do something.
I pulled myself back to reality and asked James questions that I knew he couldn't answer. "What do we do about that?" "How can we make them know that is wrong?" "What do those men do to fix it because they can't just pick a family to keep?" "How do we teach the children not to grow up and do that?"
He feeds me a lot of I-don't-knows and reassures me that the director of the orphanage and school is doing his best to teach the boys not to hope for multiple wives or plan to marry more than one woman.
My mental list of thank yous to God for being born in the time and country I was born in grows increasingly longer.
How do I open a document and write about church unity after hearing about these injustices?
God, please put an end to these chains of sin that bind your people and stop these generational sins that hurt your women. Amen.
With James in Africa, I've been thinking about my week in Ethiopia. While I was there, I felt like everyone was segmented into three groups of people, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, and Protestant Christians. In America, we are just heathens and Christians. Why was it different there? I don't think I met anyone who was just a good old fashioned heathen while I was there. It felt precarious.
I immediately joined team Protestant Christian in my head. It's obvious the Muslims were not on my team, but what about those Orthodox Christians? I've never encountered them before. This was a new question to me. Where they on my team?
I'm still wrestling with this one. It's not where my flesh wants to go, but I feel like the Holy Spirit is pushing me to team unity. At least these questions are slightly easier than that multiple wives question.
I like everything neat, organized, boxed up, and clear. Jimmy crickets. Why can't everything about God be neat, organized, boxed up, and clear?
While I was in Ethiopia I listened to a few sermons by Matt Chandler at the Village church. During a sermon titled "Eccentric and Faithful," Matt said something that I connected so so deeply that I grabbed my journal and wrote down a quote. Here it is.
"Surely you had to know that the Word of God was going to meet you some place that made you uncomfortable. If it didn't, it's not the Bible and He's not God. He's the god of your imagination, the one who makes everything like you feel comfortable. It's just not the God of the Bible. Is this messy and dangerous? --- Like life itself." - Matt Chandler
I'm wrestling with my God. I don't want an imaginary god. I want the real, I Am God. I want Him even if His work is messy. Even if His work is dangerous. Especially when He makes me feel uncomfortable.
Change never comes out of a place of comfort. And change always needed in this world and in me as I strive to be more like Him. He is not messy. He is unchanging.
As much as I would like to think that I have all my thoughts, feelings, and other parts of my self neatly wrapped up and contained in the right places and boxes, the truth is I don't. God isn't the mess. I am.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures." James 1:2-18 ESV
Thanks for sticking with me even though my thoughts are about as clear as this song and the singing of Alec Ounsworth.