The Messy Path to the Promised Land

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People think life overseas is one big adventure. It’s not.

It’s still just life, lived out in an unfamiliar location. You quickly forget the exotic and get into mundane patterns of existence. The rains that flood the streets whenever there is a downpour aren’t interesting anymore, but just an obstacle that makes the kids’ bus two hours late coming home from school. You make the mistake once of trying to go out before Iftar and learn the hard way that you should stay home after four o’clock for the entire month of Ramadan to avoid the standstill traffic. You trudge down the same sidewalks and past the same half-erected buildings day in and day out because going much farther than your small section of the massive city drains the remaining energy that the sweltering heat hasn’t already taken from you.

Many days you stare at the same walls as you stay inside, too tired to battle it all. You look out over a sea of green you noticed as beautiful when you first came, but the beauty is lost on you. You see the exotic looking banana trees but only to notice they have all grown down into cracking sidewalks, pushing their roots through the bricks constantly in need of repair. You may be able to see a small, luscious yard but it is behind the gated walls of one of the few verandas dotting the sea of high-rise apartments. Your territory has become concrete walls and bared windows, looking out over a section of the earth that feels very small despite its millions of inhabitants.

***

Maybe the view out your window looks very different than mine but I have the sneaking feeling you might have looked at it in the same way at some point. I have literally and figuratively felt trapped a lot in the last few months. Our tiny space inside the vast city we inhabit has felt like it is closing in on me. My legs long for spaces to stretch out, my heart yearns for a place to allow my children to run. My soul, too, longs for room, for wider prayers and for someone to hold space for me.

I’ve had the joy of a few intimate friendships that have deepened over time and which fueled my life and kept me going. In their absence, I feel like the grinch whose heart has shrunk a few sizes. My mood, energy level, and prayer life all are evidence of a heart and soul that feels only the restrictions on my life and doesn’t see the beauty anymore.

The counselor I have been talking to over email tells me I am right on schedule, a textbook case of culture shock and that these feelings are normal. They don’t feel normal. They feel stifling and overwhelming with a side of shame. I have always been a proponent of asking for help when you need it. But it still took me weeks after I received the counselor’s email address to actually reach out to her. Feeling completely exposed in front of a stranger is a new place for me, an uncomfortable and messy one. A necessary one.

I was sitting in a meeting for work, feeling completely alone in a room full of people I couldn’t understand, because I didn’t speak their language. I felt utterly trapped and was doing all I could to keep the lump in my throat from melting down my cheeks. During a break, I retreated into the latest open book on my phone and read Nayyirah Waheed’s words from her book of poetry, Salt:

healing
begins
the moment
you
want it to

The hot tears came right there in that meeting when I knew I was holding back healing with all my denial and retreating. I emailed the counselor that night. As soon as I called these feelings into the light, I felt a little freer.

Whenever I am struggling for words of my own to pray, I go back to the Psalms and the Liturgy. I pray the words others have offered before me. I read Psalm 18 that week:

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
    he brought me into a spacious place (verse 5).

He brought me out into a spacious place;
    he rescued me because he delighted in me (verse 19, NIV).

I haven’t found my spacious place yet, but I believe it is coming. When I doubt, I cling to friends thousands of miles away who say, “When you can’t, know I will believe for you.” I listen the counselor who says I’ll make it to the other side. I cling to the trust that Jesus’ delight in me means He is my rescuer even when I don’t feel it yet. There’s a new territory, a wide-open space, waiting for me—and you.

Let’s keep walking through the messy paths that take us there until we set our eyes on the Promised Land.

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Nicole T Walters
I love to experience and to write about this messy, noisy, beautiful world and cultures not my own. Though my family’s roots run deep in the soil of the Southern United States I, along with my husband and our two little ones, am learning to love hot milk tea instead of sweet iced tea as we make our home in South Asia. I hope to help others create space to hear God’s voice in all the noise of life as I write about faith from a global perspective at A Voice in the Noise {nicoleTwalters.com}. I have authored essays in several books and my writing has appeared in places live CT Women, Relevant, and Ruminate. I am a regular contributor at here at SheLove, The Mudroom, and READY Publication and am a member of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Nicole T Walters
Nicole T Walters

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Nicole T Walters

Comments

  1. Madeline Twooney says:

    Nicole, your article really resonated with me. I really appreciate you sharing your feelings – l too look out of my window and feel the confines of physical and mental entrapment. It’s good to know that someone else feels that way.

    • You are not alone! Preaching to myself today: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1.9)

      • Madeline Twooney says:

        Thank you, Nicole! Joshua 1:9 was the first scripture that l read, when l first started reading the bible! Don’t you just love how God works things out? This is still one of my go-to bible verses, when l feel discouraged or anxious,

        This is the word that l am preaching to myself this weekend:

        The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14

        I hope it also gives you and our fellow sisters comfort, as it does me!

  2. Funny as we moved and moved, it took me along time to figure out how to make whatever place it was feel like home or calming. Lots of times home was when I had pictures of the people I love on the walls. Calm is being under tall trees, even if it is a tiny cedar or palm that is only tall as I sit. I pray that you will find something that makes your place feel like “home,” and that you will find something that feels calm for you. I got married in a “not my home” place, but walked by a real Christmas tree and immediately felt “home,” even for a moment. (I have also been to HomeDepot just to smell home.) I also learned that heat becomes relative after a while. A friend said, “when it is hot, don’t think to yourself, ‘this is hot,’ think ‘this is slightly uncomfortable, but i’ll get used to it.’ Helped, because thinking “this is hot “made it worse. Yes, 120f degrees is hot, but I learned that after a while 90f felt comfortable and 70f needed a sweater! Hope some of this is helpful,if not just ignore it.

  3. Timing. Your words carried the message of rescue i had just begged God to send. Thank you. Press on down the path, none of us alone.

    • You don’t know how that encourages me as well. Such is the Body of Christ that we can carry each other. Praying for your rescue to continue to show up in unexpected ways.

  4. Angela says:

    Wow, you took the words right out of my mouth. I too am looking for my spacious place, literally a place to see the sky. We moved from the edge of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains in Montana to upstate New York with trees, trees and more trees. And life is just messy for many reasons (some of which would totally exist no matter where we lived). But sky would help my heart.

    • Oh Angela, I do hope you find your piece of sky soon. I am out of the city in some villages this week and I feel I can breathe and pray better. I am looking for pieces of sky (praying for a good friend, for a sense of purpose, something that brings joy) in my city and yours today!

  5. Psa 18 not 118.

  6. I’m not overseas but a year ago transitioned into a new role in an urban environment that feels totally against my nature and the direction I thought I was going. On some level, I understand those narrow spaces. They’ve widened in ways I didn’t expect…or maybe the experience has expanded me. I am praying today for God to meet you mightily in whatever space you’re in. And thank you for opening your heart to us.

    • I am learning more and more how universal the feelings of transition and loss are, no matter our location. I am so glad to hear you’ve found a way forward. Thank you for the encouragement!

  7. Beautiful writing and I can relate with this on so many levels right now.. thank you for sharing 🙂

  8. Thank you, Nicole, for bringing your messy path right here into this space. The real story helps me to pray with knowledge for you and others, and your Truth-telling will be a lifeline for those who are struggling with the same feelings and wondering if they are alone.

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