Saturday, August 18, 2012

Courage and Oceans

"There is courage when you cross the ocean." Someone said it and I laughed. It was a joke. It was meant to be funny. We kept saying it, mocking... laughing... until I started to think in all seriousness, it is quite true.

My brother moved his wife and three young children across the ocean this week. They came all the way from the USA and landed here in our city, to join in the work of teaching at our school. They now live in the building directly behind mine. They, who along with the rest of our family have lived thousands of miles, or days of plane rides, or numbers of oceans and continents away, now live in a proximity that can be spanned in a number of minutes.

This unbelievable blessing has washed over me with a flurry of preparations and giddiness and currently, the nearly full time work of helping a family (MY family!!) acclimate to this strange and wonderful new life in a foreign land. And amidst all that excitement and work, I am flooded too with memories. I can remember my first days with an almost eerie clarity. The sound of my feet on the floor of the apartment. The feel of the hot sun coming through the windows, and the blast of humidity that hit you as you left the front door. I can remember holding back tears as I walked down the aisles at the nearby store, recognizing nothing and walking out with a package of crackers and a family waiting at home to be fed. The mistakes I made. The friends I bonded with. The fears I had. The challenges I overcame. The way it became my life. The way it eventually began to feel... normal. Sort of.

And then I can't help but think of one year ago. A new challenge. A new city. All those things I thought I had overcome, the hardships that had become normal, the routines I had created, they were uprooted and so we all were and we found ourselves here in this new place. I felt the losses with a keenness I had not even felt when leaving America. I felt stripped. Things were harder; the weather was difficult, the location was trying, the job was demanding and the rewards if there were any seemed hidden. I lost motivation for the things that had inspired me. I stopped taking pictures. The knitting needles stayed propped up in their basket collecting dust all year. I barely wrote, on the blog or otherwise. And even when I tried to revive some of it, I couldn't sustain anything. I wondered if I was trying too hard... if I was being asked to give up these things and devote more time to others.

There is courage when you cross the ocean. Courage means "the ability to do something that frightens one." It does not mean you are actually strong, or that you are not frightened. You just do whatever you have to do anyway, in spite of the fact that you may be weak, or scared, or frightened. I wonder why we do the things we do, the things that frighten us. Certainly there is a Bigger Picture in mind, and that is what led our family to head into an unknown that was frightening to me. It took courage to make that choice, but I think the courage came from somewhere deeper, something that was borne of faith, something that I couldn't conjure on my own. Sometimes it's all you can do to merely whisper a "yes Lord, okay... I'll do it." And then you collapse all limp and scared out of your mind at what you may have just agreed to.

That's just it though... courage: it doesn't mean you have to have all the strength to complete the task at once. Just do the next thing. Maybe it is going to the grocery store all hot and sticky with a baby strapped to you and a squirmy toddler in the cart. Maybe you cringe as all the people whose language you don't understand crowd around you and poke and point. You want to go home. You want a Starbucks and your minivan. But you bear it, you do your job, you get home, you collapse and think "I did it." and you keep doing the next thing before you, believing this is in fact the very place you have been called to be, and these tasks are the very things you've been asked by the God of the Universe to do. You do them. And slowly, inch by little inch, you get stronger and the place finds it's way into you so that even when it's hard... you realize one day that for some reason, you love it. The place hasn't changed, nor have your tasks, but the spirit inside you, the thing that helped you say "yes" has changed the makeup of your heart and you are rooting for a life you once struggled to think you could ever get used to.

It takes courage to...
You complete the sentence.
Then have a good laugh if you like.
And in all seriousness you may find it is nothing short of true.


  1. Phil. 1:20: I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.

    (New life, shared life, wizzing-by life, painful-waiting life, life. Death of normal, death of expectation, death of ease, death of perfection, death of friendship, death. In all may He be exalted, and we hopeful and unashamed.)

    Love you friend.

  2. Moving to Africa is becoming a reality... I'm feeling anything but courageous about it and yet today, in this moment, after reading your reflections (well-written!) I'm inspired that if others can do it maybe I can too...

    love you!

  3. Yes. I've been thinking a lot lately about fear. You've challenged me to think about courage now...