In a little over four weeks, I will be given my second Africa Mercy name badge. I'll be unpacking a large army duffel bag, trying to fit it's contents into a small, foot wide cupboard, my "closet" if you will. I haven't really thought much about packing, although yesterday I did by an essential supply of lip gloss which should last throughout my six month stay.
It's funny, exactly a year ago, I was on the other side of things. Rummaging through a year's worth of stuff I had somehow manged to collect in West Africa, deciding which items would take the journey to America and which would forever call the Africa Mercy home. I didn't know what coming home would be like. My heart was filled with aspirations, heartaches, and plans, but little direction. I didn't think I'd fit in Bucks County anymore.
I was sort of right.
The transition to "normal" life caused months of internal turbulence. I had a collection of experiences, inside jokes, and struggles, that no one understood. I'd try to pretend to care about "American-Dream-like" things that 20-somethings are suppose to care about, but my efforts were feigned at best.
September in Bucks County wasn't exciting. I was writing a book (aka spending Friday nights alone in front of a lap top at Barnes and Noble), working overnight as a home health nurse (so I had no co-workers and essentially no human interaction for 40 hours a week), and came home to find all the friends who had gotten married before I left for Africa, were having babies (now, I REALLY didn't fit in). The coin had completely flipped. The pendulum had fully swung. My life had gone from one extreme to the exact other.
No wonder it felt turbulent.
But turbulence isn't necessarily bad, and certainly never pointless. It proves integrity. For example, when an aircraft encoutners turbulence, and successfully passes through, it proves the integrity of the aircraft. Otherwise, you wouldn't have realized it's strength.
To choose to follow Christ, is to choose the turbulent way. The path of greatest resistance. The narrow road, where sorrow and suffering serve as guides. It's not easy; it's hard. At times, it's very lonely. Many times, the way doesn't make sense or feel very loving.
It's narrow for a reason.
But I have found the Lord to be a very good Shepherd. In the valley of the shadow of death, I have felt His strength in a way I would have never experienced had I chosen a smoother course. His strength as traversed the hard road with me. He is faithful. I know that, even when I don't believe it.
As I think about heading back to West Africa, I find myself conflicted again. After months I struggling with being home, the tension finally dissipated. I've even had thoughts of "settling down". Having roots almost sounds as exciting as a new adventure.
But just when I've reached this point, I'm leaving on a jet plane. Again. Alone.
Of course, I'm really excited about being back on the Africa Mercy. I can't wait to see old friends and start my job in communications. I love serving the poor. I love meeting people. I love adventure.
But my hearts conflicted. At least I'm in good company. Paul experienced this internal confliction:
"If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account."
The confliction makes me ache. The aching makes me dream of heaven. It reminds me that eternity is where we will find our rest. It doesn't stop things from hurting or evaporate loneliness, but it opens my heart up to Divine Love.
And I think that's the whole point.