Friday morning between 4 and 5 I woke up to a break-in happening right outside my bedroom window. Not much was taken. He didn’t get into the part of the house where I was. No one was hurt. Teammates were willing to come over in the middle of the night to help me feel safe and sort things out.
Later that morning, I had my first language exam. I expected a progress report that would tell us what areas I needed to strengthen and how far along I was. But instead I tested out of full-time language, with less than 7 months of cumulative classes. Our benchmark to test out is Advanced low. I was scored two levels higher, at Advanced high, in all categories except for the two that were Superior—the highest level possible. Like, native speaker fluency. In Arabic. A couple days later and I’m still in shock.
And if anything describes the emotional roller coaster this last month has been, those two events do. Friday was a bouquet of adrenaline, too many emotions for one tiny body, numbness, confusion, and exhaustion. I didn’t cry at the break-in, like a normal person would. Oh, no. I cried after my team leader told me what my language score was. Like a crazy person. And they weren’t happy tears. I have a complex about being a know-it-all, a desire to have genuine empathy and encouragement for people struggling to learn, and I hate even the implication that something I’m good at makes people feel uncomfortable.
I tested out on the same day two other ladies on my team did, and they have worked their tails off to get where they are, and sacrificed so much. I felt ashamed: ashamed that I hadn’t had to work as hard or as long. And I still don’t entirely believe the test results, even though a stranger and an acquaintance administered the test. I know how much I still don’t know, and the score makes no sense to me. So from some lethal combination of shame, adrenaline, exhaustion, and some twisted self-pity, I sat in my car and sobbed.
Don’t ask me how that makes logical sense. It doesn’t. It makes as much sense as any sin or brokenness the Enemy throws at us to attack our minds, because that’s exactly what was happening. In the aftermath of THEMOSTEXCITINGFRIDAYIVEEVERHAD, the Lord has been gracious to help calm my mind, to help me rest in him, and to give me clarity and assurance of his presence.
First of all, before I could even think straight, the Lord was already surrounding me with love, like a great big hug from the Body of Christ he’s put around me. So many members of my team gave me actual hugs, encouragement, exhortation, and genuine congratulations. My Sudanese friends literally danced for joy, helped me laugh, and told me they never doubted how the test would go. Friends and family sent messages to help me work through the shame and try to open my eyes to what a wonderful gift my test results were. Ugandan friends expressed so much sorrow at the break-in, physically grieving with me and helping me find words for the violation I felt. And ALL of these friends redirected my focus to the Lord who gives good gifts and gives them differently across all the members of his Church. It takes a village, folks. Africa has given such a richer meaning to proverb. But all I know is this single girl wouldn’t be in her right mind without her village.
MAN, am I blessed. God threw some foreshadowing into my day just for grins and giggles. During my test, one of the topics I had to talk about was my friends around the world. Even when I wasn’t paying attention to what was coming out of my mouth, the Lord was having me list people to be grateful for. He reminded me of how many kind, sacrificial, and loving friends I have—here in Uganda from so many different countries and cultures, in America from so many different states and contexts, and friends around the world who are in this same, roller-coaster expat missions life.
The Lord reminded me that HE is the one who has provided the people around me. And HE is the one who is stable when my life feels anything but. He is good when everything is changing around me, and it’s only the blessing of his love and goodness to me that carries me safely through the low times and the high times. I’ve been reading lately through the Kings. I’ve seen the same roller-coaster of faith in their lives. King David had so many ups and downs, but after every time he crashed and burned, in the middle of every blessing he received, he praised God. He constantly reminded himself of God’s presence and lived a more God-honoring life because he intentionally brought himself into God’s presence even when it was uncomfortable.
David was blessed above and beyond what he deserved, because God delights in showing grace and mercy. Solomon came along and was the wisest man the world has ever seen. God gave him discernment, the reverence of the world, riches beyond compare, and fame beyond imagining. But when Solomon turned his eyes from the Lord who gave him these gifts to the gifts themselves, he stumbled and fell. And the Lord took his kingdom and shattered it in consequence.
In church this morning our sermon was about the same thing. Peter walked on the water to Jesus, but when he shifted his focus from his savior to the problems he needed saving from, he began to sink.
Friends, it is SO. EASY. to fall away. You get distracted for one second from intentionally dwelling in God’s presence and you’ve forgotten to praise, forgotten who deserves your gratitude, forgotten that your savior is bigger than both the waves around you and the blessings he’s given you.
If anything, that’s what THEMOSTEXCITINGFRIDAYIVEEVERHAD has taught me. My loving heavenly Father had already prepared an answer for the burglary before it even happened. And my language score wasn’t by accident, isn’t something to wallow in or hide or feel ashamed of. It is simply a gift he gave to be used to further his kingdom. I cannot tell you how my excitement has grown as I’ve allowed myself to imagine actually becoming fluent. The opportunities to communicate, to share Bible stories, to disciple, to learn culture and build friendships in deeper and more meaningful ways are endless. This gift doesn’t need to be buried in a hole, but invested to bring great returns for my Master.
A long time ago I had some artwork on my computer desktop screen of the golden lampstand and olive trees Zechariah describes in chapter 4 of his book. After the angel shows him this vision, he asks what it means. The angel answers him with the Lord’s message that the Temple of God’s presence will be rebuilt. And it will be rebuilt not by might or by power, not by skill or by endurance, not by determination or ability, but by God’s Spirit. You can almost hear the angel laughing as he delivers the message. Who are you, mountain, to stand in the way of the Lord’s work? You will be smoothed out into a plain. God’s work will be completed by HIS power, and anyone who has despised or despaired at the small things that have happened along the way, they will rejoice.
It’s that way with all of God’s work. No storm on the sea of Galilee, no Old Testament dynasty, no break-in in Arua, Uganda, no failed language exam, no road block of any kind can stand in the way of what the Lord wants to do. It’s our job to sit back, have faith, and rest in the power of the Lord’s Spirit. Don’t despair at the small things friends, don’t despise the obstacles that seem so big, and don’t get yourself bent out of shape at the good things you think you’ve done either. It’s all the Lord. He wins the battle every time, and we just get the blessing of being a part of it.
To remind myself of those very words, I made a little Scripture art for my wall:
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.”