This year has been a season of waiting. I am awful at waiting, even worse at waiting patiently. Since the day I returned home from Uganda last summer, I’ve been yearning to go back. Yearning is a powerful word and for that reason it’s a word I don’t use often, but it’s the only word that fully captures this visceral longing I have to return to the children and to the place I fell in love with last June.
It’s strange to love the people and the life I have here, but to have that same depth of love for the people I met in Gulu. It’s a wonderful kind of strange though, to feel at home in two such different places.
It’s the place where I had the privilege of facilitating students in writing stories of their lives, stories that both broke and mended my heart. It’s the place where I continually found unexpected beauty, so much so that nightly I dream memories from my time there. It’s the place where I first met my sons and began my surprising journey into motherhood.
All year my sons have been asking when I was returning. Each time they asked, I swallowed back the lump in my throat and responded that I didn’t know when, but I would return.
Each time I thought I had a return trip to Uganda planned, it was cancelled or fell through for reasons beyond my control. And each time the trips fell through I thought of my promise to my sons. I thought of how they have lives built upon the painful shards of other broken promises. I vowed not to become one of them.
Last year I went to Uganda with the words of Isaiah 30:21 as a guiding thought for my trip. The verse says, “Whether you turn to the right or the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
As bad as I am at waiting, I’m even worse at waiting and listening for God’s voice. Then there’s the whole issue of hearing God’s voice and choosing not to be obedient.
Can I be honest with you? Even the word ‘obedience’ makes my spine prickle. It is a word and a concept that feels as easy and as appetizing as swallowing rocks.
But I love God.
More than anything else.
And here’s the great part, He loves me, too, and wants to work in me despite my impatience and disobedience. Because God is a good parent, a good Father, part of His love means helping me move beyond impatience and disobedience. Part of that love means giving me time and space to practice patience and, gulp, obedience.
So this year, I prayed and tried to listen for God’s voice telling me what to do. I don’t really relate to pious prayers filled with thees and thous. Wanna know the prayer I prayed most this year? Six simple, but not so easy words, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Sound familiar? It’s the prayer of a father who had a son inflicted with a spirit that gave him such massive seizures that on more than one occasion the boy seized so violently that he fell into burning fires and deep waters. The father brought his son to Jesus and the father said, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Jesus responded, “If I can? All things are possible to him who believes.” And this is the part I love, the father doesn’t pretend to be pious. He doesn’t pretend to have faith that he doesn’t actually possess. The father says, “I do believe. Help my unbelief.” Jesus healed the little boy, which I think is the bigger reason that particular event was recorded in the Bible, but it’s not why the story captivates me.
What captivates me is the desperate honesty of the father who looks into the face of Jesus and admits he both has faith and lacks faith and then he asks for help. Now that’s a guy I can relate to.
Each time my return trip to Africa collapsed beneath me, I was left brokenhearted. I felt like a failure and a liar and it was hard not to lose hope of returning. So many times in the middle of the night, those words ‘failure’ and ‘liar’ looped in my head. In the middle of the night, with the sounds of the quiet house around me and my sleeping husband snoring next to me, I’d pray that father’s prayer. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
And each time I prayed, the words of Isaiah came back to me. “You will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’ I listened for that voice, listened with such desperation that my heart sometimes felt like it was going to pound out of my ears. Do you know that kind of desperation? I imagine you do. It’s the kind of desperation that comes when we are broken with such acuteness that praying six words and then being quiet enough to listen is all the faith we can muster.
I needed to be broken this year. I needed to learn to wait, to wait and cling fiercely to the promise of hope. I needed to learn to have faith that there is so much more happening than I can see. I needed a year to learn to listen for the voice behind me guiding my steps.
I listened and it was how I knew that I was supposed to begin getting my classroom ready for the next school year in June instead of waiting until August like I usually do. It was how I knew that I was supposed to book an appointment with the travel nurse and get the one last shot I needed for my trip, even though I didn’t actually have a departure date.
Last Wednesday my waiting came to an end when plans to return to Uganda came to fruition. Last Thursday I had my appointment with the travel nurse and booked my plane ticket. Last Friday I gave my sons the exact date I’d be returning. I leave in a little under two weeks and am counting down the days until I get to hug my beautiful sons.
These seasons of waiting, these times of fervent yearning for things that are yet to come, are sometimes called dry seasons. They are desert times when my spirit feels parched through to my very bones.
Here we have four seasons; winter, spring, summer and fall. Did you know that in Uganda there are only two seasons? There is the dry season and there is the wet season. The dry season ends in June, giving way to the beginning of the wet season in July.
After a year of walking through my own dry season, it is only fitting that my return to Uganda, my return to my sons, coincides with the start of the wet season when the rain in Uganda falls heavy and hard onto the parched earth.
Today I prayed a different prayer. I’m sure there will be many times in my life to come when I again pray, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” But today I was able to honestly pray three beautiful words, words that have been a long time coming, words that have never rung more true for me.
“Lord, I believe.”