This happened last week. I'm the one in the middle. You can't hear it, but right now I'm murmuring to myself, "Over? Under? Over? Under?..." I saw the wave begin to swell out of the sea, like the horizon was being slowly sucked up into the sky right in front of me, gathering momentum even as it towered above me, and I knew I needed to do something before that wall of water met my frail girly body. But I couldn't move because I hadn't quite decided which way I needed to go, over the wave or under it. I'm no stranger to beaches and waves and suchlike. I've played in the waves off of California, Florida, Washington (briefly), Kaua'i, and some delightful islands not an hour's boat ride from Conakry, Guinea. I know that if you time it right, you can jump into the ridge of some very tall waves and be lifted right over them as they pass. Or, you can dive straight under the base of the wave as it comes and feel its angry power rolling harmlessly over your back and down your legs. It's only when you just stand there staring that the water can really hurt you. I know all this, and yet there I am waiting like a fool about to get pummeled, paralyzed by my own indecision.
One of the most depressing things about growing up is realizing that some personal flaws are likely to be with us until we die. I have never been great at making decisions. I look at things from every possible angle I can find and make pros and cons lists like a champ, but I'm always haunted by the suspicion that I'm not seeing some key aspect of the problem, so I panic and go with whichever option my gut favors at the time (which would be a fine way to decide things if one's gut were at all consistent). Then, I spend far too much time cringing because I'm sure I've made the wrong choice and there's no going back. I'm pretty sure God just looks at me and chuckles, and you know, I don't blame Him one bit. I am ridiculous.
Some people will argue that God has ordained our steps to such a degree that unless we consciously decide to disobey Him, we will end up where He wants us to be. Others say that God lets us make our choices and works through those choices to bring about Good in our lives. If you think about it, we're blessed either way. Two things I know for sure. We are flawed and broken people, imperfect in ways that we don't even understand yet. And we are powerful. We have influence we don't even see. Our words, our choices, our character, it all matters more than we can understand. And so we make messes. It's inevitable. The only way I know of avoiding it would be to disengage from living altogether. Say nothing. Try nothing. Risk nothing. Just keep your head down and don't expect too much. But even that is a choice--one of the worst choices you can make, I think.
Why all this choice talk, you ask? Well, it's because I've been struggling to choose whether to go back to the US at the end of this field service or to stay with Mercy Ships for another school year. My original commitment was for two years, and those two years will be up in May 2014. However, several people have made it clear to me that I could be a real help to my students and their families if I stayed a little longer. At the same time, I know that there are plenty of students and families I could help in the United States (or in Europe, or anywhere really). There are days when I miss my family and friends at home so much that it feels like I'm being stretched all the way back over the Atlantic and across North America, and I can feel the trade winds blowing through spider-silk threads of what used to be my heart. I'm not going to pretend it isn't hard to walk down the same taupe-colored hallways and climb up the rickety metal ladder that leads to my dark little shelf of a bed every night. But neither am I going to pretend that this isn't the biggest and most delightfully spicy adventure I've ever been on, or that it hasn't been an absolute honor to be part of the beautiful miracle that is Mercy Ships. How often do you get to live in a place where, because of the love of Christ, the blind see and the lame walk and the outcast is restored to community? How often do you get to learn from people who embrace joy and generosity in the midst of crushing poverty? It's the spiritual and emotional equivalent of being part of one long ever-changing but always breathtaking sunset.
Of course it costs a lot, and I'm not the only one who's had to sacrifice to get me here, both financially and emotionally. And I'm not saying that God will never call me back to serve Him in the United States (in fact, I kind of suspect He will). But I'm not ready to be done with this particular adventure yet. I want to lean in and soak up everything I can here, so that when I do move on, I'm not the same person I was when I left.
And so, dear friends, I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is that we'll be apart a little longer than we may have planned. To tell the truth, I don't know when I'll be home again, or even where 'home' is. But the good news is that you get to be part of this amazing venture for one more year.
I have a feeling it's going to be a Very Good Year.