Tonight I am taking a moment. It has been a long semester, a long week, and even a long day - although not a bad one by any means. It seems that many days feel like "bad" ones lately; I think it is a mix of the rollercoaster of emotions that we all feel around the holidays as well as the obvious curveball of the absence of my new husband during this all-important time in my (and our) life(ves). I have learned that any moment of solitude - and there are many lately, should be looked at in as positive of a manner as possible; as an opportunity. An opportunity to rest, an opportunity to work, an opportunity to reflect, an opportunity to catch up with old friends or family, an opportunity to catch up with...God. If only that were my first resort and not so close to last so often!
I have been blessed with a church that feels more and more like home each week, and where, even among upwards of one thousand people, I am beginning to build a small community of brothers and sisters who I look forward to seeing each Sunday. However, these "moments", the times when I arrive at "home" and just pray before walking through the door that it will indeed feel like Home, they are what I have realized must change - or what I must allow to be changed. I am alone here, but God is with me always. I may not feel His presence for days, maybe the whole week, but He is here. It's amazing how one can look back even two or three days and see where His hand has moved things. No, it is rarely easy to spot while it is happening. But afterwards, when we look back and see how drastically he changed my tears during my prayer in the morning to laughter in the TA office in the afternoon - that is when I am humbled.
Actually, I am humbled every day before I go teach; somehow each morning I awake with the renewed feeling of inadequacy, with the sense that I cannot possibly be fit to teach a foreign language to 18 American college students. And, each day, God gently pushes me through that door - whether willingly or practically kicking and screaming - and says, "Come, do what I have asked. Don't you ask - just do. Yes, your husband is half a world away, and no, it isn't easy. But I have brought you to this point and all signs point to it when you look back down the road...even when you look forward to the unknown it is clear that this is the right direction." In the prayer book I have been using for the past month and a half or so, there is a passage this week that is talking about the dinner at Emmaus, when Christ has returned and the two do not yet realize that it is Him. As the passage describes the amazement and bewilderment at how different things are playing out, and how unbelievable, it explains how Jesus says to them, "Don't you see that it had to be like that? Was it not written?...Don't you understand that the Christ had to suffer and so enter into his glory? Don't you understand that it can't be otherwise for you? You have to jettison your small plans, because the Father's plans for you are unthinkably greater and more wonderful. You have to leap into [God's] hands, say an unconditional "Yes" and be born anew. [God's] love exceeds all that you deserve or even desire." (by Maria Boulding) My parents and I were in the Chicago Art Institute several weeks ago while they were visiting, and an oil painting of this very story was on display - "The Supper at Emmaus". The expressions on the men's faces is such a mix of pure joy and pure shock, two emotions which together are what I believe should live in each moment that we are here on earth living in God's grace. That passage, those words, remind me that temper tantrums do nothing. God cannot magically make me feel like I am not living alone, because I am. I am still faced with the realities of keeping up my studio and figuring out the ways in which I must motivate myself or seek God's help to motivate me in order to, at the very least, be calm...still. It is not an easy thing. I cry usually once or twice each day and it is exhausting and frustrating. Lately it circles most often around phone conversations with my husband; we are both at a loss as to exactly what we should talk about, for after about 5 or 10 minutes each, we are pretty much done with our daily updates. Personally, I have felt completely responsible for Michael's struggle with staying positive, even though I know that is not even possible! It is heartbreaking to know that the one person you love more than anything on the earth is struggling, is lonely, is feeling worthless...and not be able to do anything about it but invent anecdotes to try somehow to relate to them. And visa versa, I think - of course I am not in Iraq and I do get to sleep and I have internet that works when I want it to - but Michael does not understand all that I have been dealing with the way that my fellow TA's do. To know that my best friend no longer can know all of my thoughts and whereabouts and daily details literally breaks my heart. To not be able to go for a run with him along the lake on an absolutely stunning day that is perfectly crisp, to not be able to put up Christmas decorations and start listening to holiday music the day after Halloween, to not share my meals with him - it is positively dismal! And so, I walk on. I get up each day and try to remind myself through times of talking with God, of reading and studying His word, that I have indeed been put here for a reason, and that this time will be far from "in vain". Michael and I feel we have already hit a wall in our conversations - and yet we both know in the back of our minds that there is a much greater purpose at work here. It is only that we cannot see or understand it yet. We may never. But we most certainly can't change it, so there is no point in harping upon it more than is necessary.
I have been learning and being reminded these past few weeks of my dismal humanity - of my pettiness and of what should be worthlessness. The book of Ephesians in the Bible is a powerful one. At Willow Creek the pastoral team started with Chapter 1 and have gotten so far through Chapter 5. The amount of encouragement, the amount of good news...and also the amount of warnings and lessons in this book are simply phenomenal. So. I should be worthless. But the Bible tells me that Jesus died upon that cross that I may be worthy even for Him to call me friend. I cannot even begin to comprehend or grasp this, and I realize full well that this is the way that it is meant to be. I can continue to grow closer in my relationship with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit...but there will always be more to learn, another facet or angle to see things from.
This week is the "last push", in my opinion. Of course, we still have two more weeks of class after, I have an 8-10 pg. paper that has yet to have a word of it typed, and then...finals week and my first semester-grades for a college course. Those promise, also, to be fun-filled, joyous moments. However, this week is really the last week that I am concerned about being "present" for. My choir concert (I'm in the UIC Women's Chorus and it is fabulous) is on Friday, and my final voice-recording assignment for my French grammar class is also due that evening. Thursday, I have my 2nd observation during my French 103 class - on a review day, to boot - and then a presentation in one of the most pointless courses that I have yet taken. Tuesday, my last paper for my French grammar class will be due. Tomorrow, I have time to read and prep for this week, along with doing laundry in the creepy downstairs basement. Need I say more to reveal how I am feeling about the next six days? Probably not. Only that God will get me through, that the paper is actually written already, that the observation - even should it go badly - will not get me fired and that the presentation - once I finish the reading - is really nothing to write many long run-on sentences about.
I will post a second post immediately following this one with some pictures of a get-together several of us had with the French TA's and several other friends/loved ones/etc. It was great fun, I just don't feel like copying and pasting them back & forth in all of these words! May God bless and keep you wherever you are.