Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Bigger Story

This is another longer, more serious post. As Lent starts, I wanted to share some of the things that didn't go as planned in my life, and also the ways in which it's turned out to be better than ok:

Although I'm South African, I'm originally from Durban so our move to Cape Town hasn't exactly been a homecoming. It's something a little different, particularly because I'm returning with Eugene (who grew up in Seoul and has U.S. and Korean family), Noah and Tiny Blob.

I wrote a while ago that our move has helped remind me that I can still have dreams and hopes for the future- even if different, less individualistic dreams than those from childhood. In Boston, I felt part of a breed of students who came and never left, like something in my story had gone awry. I was very attached to the overarching story of my life, rather than to the joy of individual moments or the place those moments seemed to be leading.

Lia and Sergio took us to this church that was built twice- parts are as old as a millennium, and parts are much younger. I really liked the combination. Noah ate maybe 8 clementines outside the church, so we're checking that he's still alive.

Rather than recounting this overarching plan, I'll just refer you to Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. Originality has never been my strength.

Somewhere in the middle of this story came unexpected illness and commitment to an abusive church. Eug and my marriage was suggested by leaders in the church, where suggestions were not just suggestions, and where the construct of marriage was about service to the church and taking a big step of faith for God. After we left the church in 2008, it was very hard to hold in tension my commitment to our marriage as something real and binding (and full of love) and my hope that others not go through what we did. I had returned to the U.S. to marry Eug- We'd married, I hadn't studied medicine, I was now deep in debt (ah, BU) and wasn't really sure what was next, since it seemed like it would take a miracle to leave the U.S. this time.

I love this style of semi-detached houses where we live now. 
Fast-forward five years: Returning to South Africa this year did feel miraculous, and it meant a return to that overarching story. Yet it was an outward return to a story we'd been living for a while. In Boston, our lives were rich. After leaving the southern baptist church, we experienced a lot of healing at the Greater Boston Vineyard. We were tremendously helped by the idea that practical things- money, how we spend our time, how we relate to family, how we treat the poor, how we work- could be part of creating heaven on earth. We could be part of glimpses of God right here, right now. 

We have time to read the local newspaper. And by local, I mean the People's Post for people living in the immediate 2.5 km radius in Salt River and Woodstock. Eug and I read every story. 
I think God gave me back a bit of the story I'd imagined (moving back to South Africa) to help me see all the other ways in which our lives have already been redeemed. I like to think that I'm part of a much bigger story, where the part I play is small, but it fits me perfectly. It's a story of family and creativity and community in a world that is ultimately God's. I'm still learning to notice really good moments, and that God is good in those moments and remains so in the bad ones. I'm convinced that God is fair, and that there's a big part of the picture I don't see yet, where even the suffering of the destitute will be redeemed. Which I believe in my heart, yet find incredibly hard to actually see when I can't get over my annoyance at the beggar at my gate.

Eug and I are both parts of this bigger story. In Boston, the blessings loomed large (baby Noah after miscarriages, paying off debt, having work, friends, a sunny day, Snow Emergencies, Panera, Trader Joe's,  etc) whereas here, my sense is that the bigger story must take center stage for a while while the rest is in flux. We're vulnerable to throwing up our hands and giving in to the uncertainty. I'm not sure if that makes sense- what I mean is that we have fewer grounding facts of our life here- few friends, few plans, few belongings, less financial control, less work, no church yet, and in a strange way, less to struggle against and more struggle.

Noah eats a Super C. For an hour. With pictures.
Rather, we have the dream of things to come, and the thought that somehow, fixing the bathroom forms part of a bigger picture. Fixing the bathroom is not just for the sake of fixing the bathroom, though it has it's own benefits (being less smelly).  It's part of a picture where we have less money but more time and more DIY skills. Which matters, in ways we don't fully understand.

In this context, realizing that God is good and that we are part of much, much bigger story seems either like small comfort or like more than enough to sustain us through unsettled times. I'm hoping it can be plenty, and also that we can catch glimpses of that story even as life seems strange. May God bless you in your part in the story. And have a great Lent, if you are thinking about Lent this year.


Darren said...

We have so much in common. Sadly even debt from BU.

I love the idea of seeing your life as an overarching bigger story. It reminds me a little of Don Miller’s book a Million Miles in a Thousand Years. He talks about seeing our life as a story, and how we can write a better story. If you haven’t read it already, I would definitely recommend it.

I also would totally hold onto the idea that God can redeem our story by enlisting us in His story. Sometimes God’s story is like a Dickens or maybe more appropriately a Harry Potter novel, with enormous attention paid to seemingly innocuous things. Sometimes when we are in the middle of it, we’re not really sure what it’s all about. Only later do we understand.

Also, I have to say that you guys are amazing to me. You’re both so courageous. Yes, it may seem that for the moment you have less "grounding facts", but I love it that you’ve made some incredibly brave choices and went “all in.” You’re a walking leap of faith!

BTW: We just checked out some childrens books on South Africa because I wanted to show our girls where Uncle Eugene, Auntie Jo and Noah live. You are physically far away but you remain close.


Concrete Gardener said...

Thanks for this Darren- very encouraging. I will read A Million miles in a Thousand Years. Please send our love to Carla, Jo-jo and Emma.