My streak for meeting amazing people en route to Uganda continued on my flight from Washington DC to Brussels where I had the pleasure of meeting Christine, a Congolese kidney doctor who has made the United States her home for over 20 years. Christine is amazing in a lot of ways. For example, she speaks multiple languages. She’s also an equestrian with a soft spot for her horse, AJ. Her job allows her to travel the US filling in for various kidney doctors when they go on vacation.
Oh, and here’s a big one, for the past decade or so she’s been working on establishing a kidney transplant and dialysis center in Kenshasa, her hometown in the Congo. She spends her days pouring her time, money, heart and everything else she has into providing care for those in need. This means doing things like hauling equipment instead of clothing in her luggage. It means translating protocol and training nurses. For Christine, it also meant giving up her crowning jewel, giving up her private practice in the States in order to devote more time to her bigger calling.
I can’t fathom the faith it took to make a leap like that. And yet, when Christine and I found ourselves sandwiched together in the middlest seats in the middle row, Christine talked about how she struggles with letting go of control and turning things over to God.
Boy, there’s nothing like having someone hold a mirror to your face on a transatlantic flight where there’s nothing but time, recycled air and plenty of leg room. Wait, that last one was just wishful thinking.
I could so relate to Christine and her fear of letting God take the wheel. It’s a fear I face down all the time. My own hubris wins out far more than I care to admit. I told Christine about how God has been sending me some unlikely messengers as of late to convey that he’s in the broad strokes and in the finest details as well. I told her about D’s words and about Santa’s gift and about how since I decided to listen to God for once and go to Africa to write with kids, God is proving his steadfastness in my life in wild ways.
There was a time in my life when prayer was just natural conversations with God, when praying was like filling my best friend in on the details of my life. Somewhere in the last few years, my prayer life has waned into a list of gratitude or a list of wants. Hear me out, both of those have their place. The Bible says a thankful heart prepares the way for God and that we’re to ask for the desires of our hearts, but somehow the part where I just talked to God got lost.
Planning and taking this trip to Uganda has forced me to be real with God, to lay down the platitudes. This isn’t easy for me because often times it means admitting weakness where I want to portray strength. From small things like admitting I was nervous about taking photos for the book I’ll be writing with the kids to bigger things like being lonely, I’ve been laying it all out on the table.
And then trying hard to listen.
I’m not one who hears an audible voice of God, although I firmly believe that if I did, He would sound like James Earl Jones.
Instead God speaks to me most often through the actions of other people. When I admitted I was uncertain about doing the writing and photography part of the book, Colin a teacher from Oklahoma City, who also happens to be a photographer, signed up to volunteer at the school, too. When I told him about the book I want to write with the students, he jumped in with both feet to help with the photography side.
When I left my house at 3am and began the two and a half hour drive to the airport that began this wild journey, loneliness and homesickness settled like stones in my stomach. For the first half hour of the drive, I didn’t see a single car or even a semi truck heading either direction on the interstate. All was quiet and dark and even a happy playlist couldn’t help me from thinking about turning back around at every exit and speeding back to my warm bed to curl into the crook of Terry’s arms. At 3:45am my phone rang. It was That Laura, awake and itching courtesy of a nasty case of poison oak. We chatted about regular old life stuff and the next thing I knew I was pulling into long-term parking at the airport.
When I boarded the plane from DC to Brussels and settled in next to Christine, I realized that I’m not alone in struggling with letting go. I’m not alone in feeling nervous or lonely at times. Time and again on this trip, God is making sure I know I’m not alone. So now I’m starting to think that the voice of God isn’t that of James Earl Jones. Maybe I hear God best when he talks to me through the chipper voice of a faithful friend calling. I’m even beginning to think that the voice of God may even have a Congolese accent.
I guess the point is to keep listening because God speaks in surprising ways. For me the point may be to keep listening because God speaks. Period.