One From Africa

When Justin said he’d like to spend Christmas in Kenya, I told him to have fun and asked if he was taking the kids. He said he meant all of us, we should all go to Kenya. I knew that. I didn’t want to go. I had terrible reasons why. Travel isn’t rest. I like our Christmas in Kuwait. We don’t have all our shots. But I left the decision to Justin and he booked our flights with me standing over his shoulder thinking this was iffy at best. The weeks leading to departure were overfull. I wanted a break that looked like me alone in the apartment for days on end, sleeping. I snapped at Justin. I bought gifts and piled them on the dining table, then spent the day of our flight packing suitcases and crying because I wanted to want to go rather than what it was: nudging my body closer to boarding a plane in the middle of the night.

I was supposed to go to Nairobi when I was sixteen. I was going to stay with a missionary family we knew. My head was full of God but I thought I’d hear better in Africa, sitting on a flat rock watching the sunrise. There, God would tell me my whole life. During the months leading up to that summer, I decided I might live in Africa forever. I don’t know what I thought I’d do. Something holy. Maybe I quit trying to hear God clearly in Wisconsin because I was sure He was louder in Africa. But then the trip got nixed and I quit writing to my missionary pen pal because I was mad her anorexia got my God trip cancelled. Her whole family returned to the States for her treatment and I remember thinking, Just eat dammit. In the years following when I’d see  updates from her family, I’d look at this skinny young woman’s picture and think she got the better end despite illness and all I got was an average summer before senior year when I could have been doing so much for the Lord. (Forgive me).

Last spring when my brother told me he’d got a job in Nairobi I thought of my lost God trip. I wrote about it then, surprised by the untapped bitterness. I thought maybe I’d visit my brother, maybe someday, but when Justin bought the tickets and I spent three months thinking it was an awful idea, I couldn’t figure out what was going on in my heart.

When I am in a plane, I yield. I just go with the two possibilities (we land or we don’t) and think how sad for whomever has to clean my apartment should the latter be my fate. On the flight from Ethiopia to Kenya, I thought about who I was twenty years ago and why I thought God would speak louder in Africa. I thought about God’s faithfulness, how he spoke to me in Wisconsin and Colombia and now in Kuwait. I am learning to listen the first time. I am learning to trust. And the plane tilted a little so I could see the earth below, the Kenya I’d missed two decades ago, and God worked my heart in a way I’ve got no words for. I looked at the green land and tears came and tears kept coming the first week here and this the second week – tears for so many things, but also for this: surprise and joy at being here, in Kenya so long after I’d first wanted the land, and the sudden planted desire to be here. I want more.

I am sitting cross-legged in pants dirty with red mud, wanting more. And that is only of God.

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