Sunday, September 24, 2006
There was a room with a rickety screen door, a long table with long benches, plates of dry sandwiches made with white bread. There were as many white people as you could fit on the table, and bottles of water, canisters of gatorade powder. We had been in Liberia for 3 weeks, and were set to drive to the airport after lunch, whereupon we would begin the arduous journey to new york, where we would all split up and proceed to our respective north american homes. From New York, naomi and I were scheduled to catch a flight to minneapolis, where her parents would pick us up and drive us 7 hours to southern manitoba, where my parents would pick me up and drive me one hour further to steinbach, and when I was good and ready, I would drive myself yet one more hour home to winnipeg. The journey would take two days, assuming all went well.
It was as we sat and pondered the white bread sandwiches and the previous life altering days in the heat of liberia that our team leader stood up and delivered the news.
Ghana Airways had been grounded by the FAA due to an unrenewed operating license and inferior aircraft. They were not permitted to land on american soil. We had been advised not to board our flight to ghana, and stay on the acfi compound in monrovia until further notice. Appeals to the american government to rescue the "stranded missionaries" were not heard. Eat your sandwiches and pray. And remember. God is in control. He cares, and He has a plan.
This is the threefold mantra. God is in control. He cares. He has a plan.
I couldn't choke down the sandwich. I love Liberia, but I was tired, and I was tired of living on someone else's plot. I wanted to haul my own water, in a manner of speaking. I missed Abu. I had been toiling for the orphans for three weeks from dawn to dusk, giving every ounce of myself. I was tired in the way that a threadbare t-shirt is tired right before you turn it into a dustrag. I wrapped the sandwhich in paper, and saved it for my friend Chris, who had walked all the way from caldwell to see us off.
God is in control. He cares. He has a plan. It was the recitation of this mantra that kept me from the emotional breakdowns that were happening all around me. People were afraid, understandably, of how things would turn out. Things don't go down in africa the way they do in america. For all we knew, we could be here for months. We might need to choke up a couple thousand dollars each to book alternate flights through europe. We didn't know. Everyone was in tears. Naomi was a mess.
There is a song that the children on the orphanage sing:
"A very big God, He is always by my side
A big big God, He's by my side, by my side"
I went for a walk with some humans to a convenience store for a much needed salt snack and pepsi. Then I went for a walk on the west coast of africa, looked over the ocean to america, pondered the smell of human feces on the beach. I had joked with boys at the dixville children's village that I would hide in the grass when the plane came for me, and stay with them until I was old. At this point I wanted to go home, but the only thing I would go home to was my dog. I hated my life. Could I have a home of my own in Caldwell or the jungle surrounding the orphanage, and Abu to keep me company, I would have happily stayed put. I loved the ocean. It reminded me of the Teleri elves in the Silmarillion. It reminded me of Ulmo seducing them with his song to never leave the ocean.
I watched that huge, powerful, endless ocean, and I told myself that God was in control, and that He cared, and that He had a plan. I told it to myself over and over and over and closed my eyes and told myself again.
Then there was a child shouting that we were packing up the bus and heading to the airport. There was a flurry of panicked packing. Next thing I knew I was on the inside looking out, with tears in my eyes, waving goodbye to Chris and all the other friends I had made, and we were off to the airport, 45 minutes late, where we rushed through customs. The plane almost left without our team leader, who dashed out onto the tarmac in front of the rolling plane and wouldn't move until they stopped and put down a ladder. Our take-off was accompanied by applause.
Long story short, in ghana the story hadn't changed, and they were upset with us for coming, but we wrangled accomodations in a nice hotel until the matter was taken care of. For one week we lived in a hotel, ready to jump in a heartbeat and run to the airport. We swam in the pool, we shopped in the marketplaces, we visited the buduburam refugee camp, which is where chris is currently living. We paid ridiculous amounts of money to call home just long enough to leave a number, so our families could call us back. We ate like kings and slept with airconditioning.
Needless to say we had missed our connecting flights in new york. Naomi and I stayed one night in Queens, thanks to her father's credit card, before catching three different connecting flights to minneapolis. We arrived in the evening, and drove until 4 am, when we met with my parents on the highway.
For one week, it was the threefold mantra that kept me sane. For one week the voices of children singing of a big big God held me together. Since then when life seems out of control I go back to that. I sing that song under my breath, though the words I quoted are the only words I know. I close myself and tell myself that God is in control, so I needn't worry, I can just enjoy the journey. As an anxiety management technique, it has proven very effective.
It was three days ago that the realization struck: God cannot possibly be in control.
I will tell you why this occurred to me. It is the same reason I can't accept the bible as inerrant. It is very simply freedom of choice.
Specifically, other people's freedom of choice. The freedom that ghanan executives had to decide not to renew their operating license. The freedom that poor liberian craftsment had not to rob us. The freedom that the chartared airline pilot who finally came to pick us up had to not drink before he flew that plane. God will not control people, He does not force us to make good choices, He does not subvert the rules He has laid in for us. If the events of my life are affected by the choices that the humans around me make, then God cannot be in control, because He is not controlling those humans.
Shockingly, this thought was not accompanied by an anxiety attack. I don't know why. I have been known to have the occasional anxiety attack. I was stroke sanding a maple newel post at the time that the thought occured to me. I merely smiled to myself and continued sanding.
I don't know why this idea does not evoke panic. I have built my life around the assumption that God is in control. I have built a mindset that accepts hardship in the name of trust. I have worked very hard to bring myself to a place of faith in God's provision and wisdom, and every day of my life all these things are being torn down and it doesn't bother me. It sets me free.
I mean, if God is in control, it means he allowed Chris' family to be killed in a civil war, and it was His will that Chris be recruited as a child soldier. If God is in control, that means He could have stopped the rwandan genocide, but chose not to. If God is in control, the terrible abuses of children all around the world happen because He wills it.
But how could God be God unless He was in control? He doesn't control me, though he influences my will. In the end, I can do whatever the hell I want to do, and He will not stop me. Perhaps there was a time when He had the option of control, and decided to forego it. I don't know. The nature of God is a mystery to me.
But if God is not in control, then He is free of blame, and if He is free of blame, then I am free to love Him. If God is within me, then I am free of blame, and I am free to love myself.
Does that make any sense? I always doubted His goodwill, deep down, I didn't understand, and still don't. I never will. But something in my mindset is shifting. I don't know. I long so much to understand even in a rudementary sense what God is and what He's like, but I don't know. I sense that He is good, and that He grieves over the condition of planet earth, and that He is powerful and wise, but that He is restrained, and He is not in control, because He gave it away. There are those who would hold him guilty for that, but I'm not so sure.
I'm gonna throw a quote in from "The Alchemist" because it resonated so deeply with me.
"When I first reached through to it, I thought the Soul of the World was perfect. But later, I could see that it was like other aspects of creation, and had its own passions and wars. It is we who nourish the Soul of the World, and the world we live in will be either better or worse, depending on whether we become better or worse. And that's where the power of love comes in. Because when we love, we always strive to become better than we are."