As I sat in my room one rainy Sabbath afternoon, replaying the events of the past few weeks, I realized, amidst the serenity of the moment, something was on my nerves. In fact, it had been on my nerves sense I noticed my right elbow was swollen and purple the night before. Well, as you can probably guess, my journey hasn’t been completely incident free, that would make this blog really boring. But as I sat watching the seconds turn into minutes and the minutes turn into hours, considering all the incidents of this past month, I realized that God was teaching me something about these increments of time. Each incident is an occurrence that carries momentous effects for our life journey as a whole. But why? Did what was on my nerves have something to do with an incident? If so, what does that even mean and why does it matter? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!
Incident is defined as “an occurrence of an action or situation that is a separate unit of experience.” That seems accurate, but, in my experience of incidents, that definition doesn’t quite capture the whole picture. It’s too simple, shallow even. However, there is an alternative (and more profound) definition: “something dependent on or subordinate to something else of greater or principal importance.” At first, this went right over my head, but then I began to consider the implications. You see, I have my own plans, ideas, and expectations for what I will do in my day, and how things will go, but as you follow along through the little incidents of my journey and reflect on your own life, you will realize, as I did, the truth of that wise old proverb, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” Steps. Occasionally predictable occurrences. Little factors of forward motion tracing the path of the life’s journey.
My journey to Cambodia began in a predictable way. I awoke early in the morning for the airport where everything would go as I had planned it to, or so I thought. I ran through my mind all the things I needed. Clothes, check; wallet, check; passport, check; Bible, check; ticket check; bags-after an excusable moment of panic as the clerk informed me I had thirty seconds to distribute the weight of my bags to be under the fifty pound limit or else I would not be taking flight, they were also checked. Now in the security line, I still had a sense of urgency, but it dissipated as I embraced my parents goodbye. Knowing I was in good hands, I raced to my gate to board. I arrived before a few others so I excused the clerks warnings figuring I would be able to board after all. But, they asked me to wait. Okay. No problem. Sure, I can wait. So I waited. Then they told me there were no more seats left. “No more seats left! What about the ticket I bought?” I wondered. So I prayed. And waited. And prayed and waited some more as a few others made their way on to the plane.
I knew the airport hadn’t planned on leaving me seat-less, but I couldn’t help but wonder in that moment if God had.” Maybe God needed me on the next flight. All I knew was that God wanted me to go on this journey. He had lead me this far, and though Satan is threatened by missionaries, he cannot stand in the way of those who choose to follow God’s leading as best they know how; and God was making the way for me. After some time of, patience, providence, and pleading with God in my head, one seat opened up! The clerk scanned my ticket, cautioning to be earlier next time, while trying to veil herself sharing in my joy of receiving a gracious last-minute passage to Seattle. With that, the forecast for my journey was an one hundred percent chance of unpredictability.
The next incident of trying faith occurred when I met up with my two fellow missionary teachers in the Seattle airport. One of the missionaries (Vannida) was concerned for her luggage which had been lost on her previous flight.
In training I realized the relevance of being “anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…” (see Phil 4:6-7), so my first thought was to pray. So we did. Following this, as I labored to down an outrageously salty miso soup (lesson learned about airport food), Vannida was called to the gate, where she was informed that her luggage, now found, would be waiting for her at our final destination!
We arrived in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, around midnight without much trouble—that is, if you exclude the previous absurdly short layover that made us run frantically through an impressively delicate Korean airport. Upon arriving I was met with the most intense incident yet. My mind could barely keep up with it all. The crowd forming no distinguishable line at the visa distribution counter; the Cambodian patron shouting irritably at the government workers who were all probably as tired as she was; the unexpected lack of taxi-drivers and tour guides bombarding the exit of the airport; the absence of life evident in blank faces; even up to the Burger King right outside the airport exit. It was all too big to be digested at once. Perhaps there is a lesson of life to be learned there too.
The fact remains that incidents are not in our plans. For instance, I did not expect to be met at the city of this years service with heavy showers of…well…showers, more commonly known as rain. I didn’t expect to be literally fighting my own subconscious for consciousness during the previously self-trivialized, but now very real, jet-lag. I didn’t expect to get locked in the bathroom of the guest house on our first night by my own doing, in which case Anthony, my roommate and partner in crime-uh-I mean missions, had to kick the doorknob-less door in to get me out after some time of my considering how I got trapped in the first place. I definitely did not expect a Cambodian man to then knock on our door and tell us to quiet our voices since he was “sleeping”, which at the time appeared to be the only English word in his vocabulary. And I didn’t expect the landlord to let herself in at a startling hour of the night to give us the remote to the TV we never used. All of these things are incidents, and, as all the little things of my life do, they shape my character. After all, the way I think and respond in the face of an incident sets a precedence for my future behavior.
I am learning to choose to praise God for the opportunities He gives me to grow. And there is one recurring incident that He has continuously used to this end. You see, most people get around in Cambodia on motorbikes (don’t worry, it’s more dangerous than it sounds). Little did I know that I would be driving one every day to school, even during the rainy season when mud is as slippery as an eel. On my first day at the project, the other student missionary, Camilyn, gave Anthony and I took a tour of the town. We followed her around town on our moto all day (Anthony on the back, me driving), and we went the whole day—through rain, mud and more rain—without crashing.
Oh, did I say the “whole” day? I meant almost the whole day.
We had just turned onto the mud road, the guest house less than fifty meters away, when I realized my confidence was no match for wet mud on tires turning a corner. It wasn’t bad really, (aside from the mortal wounds Anthony received). We laughed so hard I couldn’t get the bike off of us. Fortunately a helpful young man with a mixture of pity and condescension on his face saw our predicament and raced to help us up. Splattered with mud and a few scrapes, we decided to walk the bike the rest of the way.
That wasn’t the only time we were to crash though. One was met with a nice patch of tall grass, another was just short of a circus stunt as we pulled a full 180 out on a muddy road to the village. It is true that many predictable incidents can be avoided, but sometimes it is only a matter of time until the elements clash.
One crash occurred on a not-so-good day. Anthony and I were exhausted, hot, uncomfortable, and unsure if personal space existed anywhere in Cambodia and, to top it off, we lost our balance on an overgrown trail out in the middle of nowhere and went sailing into the bushes. Still, we had a choice. Our character could be constructed for better or for worse. I could complain and focus on my injuries, the energy depleting from my body, and my poor driving abilities. I could become frustrated and irritated, hopeless even, feeling as though I deserve the hardship I am facing. Or, I could take this time as a time to laugh, to learn, to be patient, to trust, to empathize with others who struggle in life, to serve by helping Anthony up, dusting him off, and bandaging his wounds. I could take this time to rejoice and thank God for considering me worthy to have me character tested and for keeping me from some worse danger. What would I do? God inspired the latter of course! Luckily, that was the worst fall that we experienced.
Until two Fridays ago.
Anthony and I were all settled into our new living quarters and were having a productive morning. We had been invited to have lunch with some of our friends; so, in high spirits, we hopped on the bike, closed the gate behind us, and accelerated forward. It was only a millisecond before the back tire slipped out from under us and we slammed into the ground, jagged stones jabbing into our flesh and opening new wounds. But why? Why us? It was such a good day! All was well. But the most important question is how would we respond?
Since God had been building my character for the unexpected and typically unpleasant incidents of life, when we crashed, I didn’t even have to consciously consider how I would like to respond. I laughed through the pain while apologizing to Anthony who, while pointing out the gaping wound on my elbow, couldn’t help laughing at the tomfoolery of the situation too. Oh the painful laughter. This time we had fallen on cement and needed to tend to some of the more serious wounds we have received in our journey so far. After cleaning and bandaging our wounds, we decided to head back out, this time giving our safety into the hands of a more capable guide. Now before each time we drive, we pray, and we haven’t fallen since.
The next day, with ice-pack on elbow, I began this blog. If you are still wondering, it was indeed an ice-pack that was on my nerves, nothing more; and I have God to thank for that! Now here I sit, writing with scars and stories to tell you about my scars and stories. I have learned, as the word is defined, that the little incidents of my life are subordinate to a greater importance, God’s shaping of my character. And this is only the beginning, as we all know, of more incidents to come, and there is so much more that has happened that I have not mentioned, but whether good things or bad, I can give thanks for “we know that all things work together for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
With joy and thanksgiving,