The Messy Path to the Promised Land


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:

the moment
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.