Month's end. Another roll of the calendar page looms. Deadlines are weighing upon my shoulders, reports are due, students have returned to occupancy of the residence halls I oversee. Daily my fingers furiously tap out instructions to repair personnel, sending email updates, and ordering materials as the academic year begins and summer construction projects still linger in their closing. Life has accelerated into a dizzying pace in recent weeks and I long for the normalizing downshift. I long for peace from the chaos. In reflecting upon the last few weeks, I feel as if I have been swept downstream, back into my realm of work and responsibilities. Closing my eyes, I can still hear African voices in song and they are an anchor to this undercurrent that threatens.
I opened this month, on the first day, by nervously standing before nearly 200 African children relaying, through an interpreter, God's eternal faithfulness and love. I shared from 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 which states that our current troubles are momentary and light, but are working an eternal glory for us. Oh how I have held onto that truth these past weeks. Strange how in that setting, standing in front of children, many who were orphaned, impoverished, and fully dependent upon the resources of the care point for survival, the weight of those words was poignant and powerful and resounded in deep truth, yet in this setting of "first world problems", the temptation is to trivialize their meaning. In the "daily grind" of the business of our lives, we are easily distracted from the depth of truth and the fullness of life that is God's Word. On that far off mountainside, however, just as the bowl of rice that was daily handed to small hands, the utterance of scripture was life and was valued as such.
I purchased a t-shirt that supports local ministry in Manzini that states "I left my heart in Africa". For nearly a month now, I have lived out this statement meaning I have been disconnected and distant for several weeks as I untangle the myriad aspects of the sights and experiences I was exposed to and what further meaning they have for me here in my American "mission fields" of home, church, and work. My bride and children have often found me lost in thought, not paying attention to those things/events that require my presence, and even cocooning within myself as I try to move through the frenzied stress that is my job during this particular time of the year, and the new challenges of a recently enlarged family by the addition of two beautiful children. My contribution to these writings has been the overflow product of what the Lord is stirring within me, very often a challenge to myself as most of my writings are. While in Swaziland I knew the fullness of joy in the daily pouring out of myself for others. What I have returned home with, however, is a deep dissatisfaction for my life prior to the journey.
I honestly do not dislike my employment, but these past few weeks, I am simply not interested. After holding sick orphans half a globe away, it is difficult to hear a woman complain that she has to use the stairs for three flights to move her daughter into one of the residence halls I oversee. After witnessing team-mates console the mother of a boy struggling for his final breaths, it is difficult to enthusiastically engage the numerous demands I receive to assist incoming undergrads on how to program their televisions to receive the full range of digital channels offered. Entertaining the requests to find out "the status" on a new printer closet that will keep individuals in my office building from walking, literally, an extra 30 feet to pick up documents has lost a bit of its luster. In seeing love in action, selfless giving in motion, it is difficult to return to the deadlines and demands of others when so many of these are self-serving.
My heart is aching for something bigger, far more in line with the work I was engaged in on a rugged mountainside half a world away, something more eternal than residence halls and construction projects. Though many know I made the journey, few seem interested to the point that I can share the testimony of God's work, of God's love for each of us. Though I am changed, the world and work around me is not and pecking away at work orders or attempting to wrap my mind around the new software systems I am tasked with learning has taken a backseat in my list of priorities. God permitted me to make the Ludlati journey for a reason, right? He wants me to do something with this heart knowledge, something that will change the world, doesn't He? I get that this is my mission field, but surely a trip across the globe was simply the first step of bigger things, wasn't it? I often catch myself silently strategizing how I can evangelize my work place, be that witness of Christ's love - the selfless love that was absolutely easy to share less than a month ago in a rugged landscape. Quietly, I hear in my heart the soft voice "This was the first step, but it was the first step of my plans for you, not your plans for you." I further hear "I know my plans for you and they exceed yours in both magnitude and longevity as I have the only true eternal perspective needed to bring you to your best glory in Me; to cause you to be the most effective in my Kingdom."
I am reminded of an early morning conversation I was having with my pastor in referencing Paul. "I'm just making tents" my pastor stated. Even though most would consider Paul the greatest contributor to the Bible through whom God worked, we often have this mindset of him as modern-day evangelist, traveling, preaching, being blessed with God's provision through the local offering plate, and off to the next speaking engagement. The truth, however, is that would Paul often set up shop and put down roots to establish the churches he helped to build. Often this required him to creatively support himself through trades work or other means. Despite the spiritual opposition and the tremendous victories and miracles he must have witnessed, he was still called to "regular" labor to support the work God was doing. Paul was faithful to serve God completely, even working as a maker of tents (Acts 18:2-4). It is difficult for me to imagine Paul complaining about the intricate manner in which he had to sew fabrics, dye materials, or even cut support poles for the product over which he was laboring. In fact, I tend to think Paul probably was engaging his work with thanksgiving for what it was permitting him to truly do that was of eternal worth. Given that he, as a former "expert" in Jewish law, knew the Word backwards and forwards, I'm sure he relished the words of Solomon:
"And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life—this is indeed a gift from God."
Ecclesiastes 5:19 NLT
Paul labored diligently, doing whatever was necessary and whatever God called him to to support the end-goal of building the Kingdom. Was tent making the most spiritual thing for this scholar of Jewish Law, this man who had been blinded by the glory of the Lamb of God in the mid-day Middle-Eastern sun to be engaged in? It was if God called him to it. It was if God was using it to support a work. It was if it was bringing God's man in contact with the people God had in store for him. Too often I want to run the playbook and imagine I know the plan for my life but God's word in Jeremiah doesn't say "You know the plans I have for you" does it? God permits us to walk through our experiences to grow us, to enlarge us, to teach us, to bring us in contact with the people and experiences that will cause us to be the tools in His hands He desires us to be. I have no idea why God permitted me the desire of my heart to travel nearly 19,000 miles round trip to experience the love and the heartache of the people of Ludlati just to bring me back to a small office on a university in central Illinois. But I am so very thankful for it and changed for it and if I'll continue to pursue Him fully, I will be changed for every contact I make, and He will use me to change others, to bring them in contact with His life-giving love.
But I have a responsibility in this; I have to be willing, diligent, and listening for whatever He calls me to. I need to be prepared as well. I once had the following scripture spoken over me:
"Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes."
Isaiah 54:2 ESV
This verse admonishes us to prepare ourselves, to get ourselves ready. Bolster our faith, find out what His Word says about our circumstances, start believing for what He has placed in our hearts based upon the Word, start walking out what He has called us to. In doing this it is like enlarging our tent, building on a room, adding space. We are preparing for increase in our lives; increased responsibility, increased provision, increased joy, increased works, bigger, better. But it starts with menial, it starts with driving the stakes, shoring up the ropes, it starts with faithfulness.
So I'll go back to my reports. I'll continue to absorb new software programming into this already overloaded mind. I'll patiently listen to the incoming complaints of "first world" problems. God has promised that even these are "working an eternal glory". I'll enter into the work that God has called me to so that He can use me as He deems necessary. As for me, I'm making tents.