Saturday, March 30, 2013

Unexpected Blessings

Hello friends. I am sitting here in the wee hours of the morning on what is trying to be a beautiful weekend in Houston, typing this blog because I am jet lagged. It’s 5:20 am in Houston right now. It’s 1:20 pm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia right now. My body is here, but my mind thinks that I am still there. However, I am one to take advantage of an early morning. I’m currently enjoying my morning coffee and have a load of laundry in the washing machine as we speak. The cat is wondering what the heck is going on, but nevertheless, I am awake and have found myself reflecting on my most recent trip to Ethiopia.

This was my third trip over in as many years. It seems to have become a March tradition for me. I’m not quite sure what has made it happen this way, but I am happy to participate in this recurring journey to Africa. People often ask me why I go over there, what I like about it, and if I will keep going back. The simplest version of my answer is this: It helps me reset my perspective on life. And I think that with the life that I lead over here in arguably the most powerful country in this world (please don’t debate this with me – it’s for illustration purposes only), I occasionally need to press my reset button. I need the perspective of someone who doesn’t have everything that they need at their fingertips. Someone who has to think about where their next meal is coming from. Someone who dreads the rainy season because the floor in their home is dirt, which will quickly become mud. Someone who doesn’t know the privilege of taking a shower with running water, and may have to walk miles to get any clean water at all. Someone who’s only mode of transportation is their own two legs. But with that perspective, comes a greater acknowledgement of blessings. There is no expectation of convenience in life. There is no expectation of continual electricity or electricity at all. There is no expectation that water will be hot. There is no expectation of so many of the things that I take for granted every day that I wake up in my own country. And I am not saying all of this to create a strong emotion in my readers, or tug at your heartstrings, or make you want to go to Ethiopia (although I personally think that it would be a GREAT idea!) I am saying this because I get asked the question over and over again, and that is my answer.

I wasn’t planning on going back to Ethiopia this year. I had plans, and those plans changed, and I found myself seeking God and hearing Him say, “Lisa, go.” I try not to have expectations that I will go back every year as I know that life’s circumstances may not permit it, and I don’t want to be disappointed if it doesn’t work out, nor do I want to force it. But this was a clear, “Lisa, go.” So I went. And I went with the expectations that this trip would be similar to my past two trips. After all, I was planning to work with the same two organizations that I have worked with in the past, I was staying in the same guest house that I have previously stayed in, and there was no reason for me to think that this trip would be any different than the others. The problem with having expectations is that they resulted in me forming pre-conceived notions of what this trip would look like. And having those pre-conceived notions could have potentially set me up for disappointment.

God had something planned for me that was not at all what I expected. And I had to work through my expectations, my pre-conceived notions, in order to truly recognize and appreciate what He was doing. You see, I went on this trip by myself. In the past, I went with a group of people, which meant that there was very little alone time, a lot of activity, people always around to talk to, and great experiences to be shared. So in hindsight, I should’ve expected something very different for this trip. The beginning of my trip happened to overlap with the trip of one of the ladies with whom I traveled with last year. She was over there with a group of seven doing various things, but primarily focused around dentistry. They were kind enough to let me tag along on their visits and outings during the days that we overlapped. What an unexpected blessing.

What I envisioned as visits to the school that I have previously worked with and the neighborhood around the trash dump that I have previously spent time in, turned into pulling teeth at an orphanage and in that same neighborhood. What I envisioned as quiet nights at the guest house, turned into Phase 10 card tournaments and impromptu counseling sessions with my roommate, with her doing the counseling. Let me introduce you to my roommate.

I didn’t know that I was going to have a roommate. I was hoping to have one for a while to help share the cost of the room, but I didn’t know if that would be the case or not. I soon realized how blessed I was to have her to talk to every night before going to bed. She is 60, a retired nurse, and filled to hte brim with the Holy Spirit. Actually, I’m pretty sure she is overflowing with the Holy Spirit. This woman was such a gift to me. And when I look back on my expectations for this trip, it was not this. It was not her as a roommate. But God had something so much better planned. And I’m pretty sure that His instructions for me that said “Lisa, go” were largely based on me meeting this woman.

God is teaching me a lot right now. He is revealing things to me, growing me, stretching me, and guiding me step by step through this unexpected season of my life. I’m in a place that I never would have envisioned being in, and it’s not easy, but His promise is that as long as I walk with Him in this season, something amazing will be discovered at the end. And I think He is more interested in my journey than He is in the end. I have come to understand what an unexpected blessing this season is. And what an amazing journey He has me on. And part of that journey is releasing my expectations to Him and letting Him pave the way.

Let’s get back to my roommate. I mentioned earlier that my trips to Ethiopia help me reset my perspective on life. So did my roommate. There were times during the trip that I was disappointed that I wasn’t spending my time the way that I had planned. I wasn’t spending my days forming and reinforcing bonds with sweet children like I had in the past. My schedule was always up in the air and I never really knew what each day would hold. But as I reflect on this most recent trip, I think God planned for just that. Because through that, I let Him lead the way. And this trip was different than either of my past two trips. This trip was not about me loving on Ethiopian children, orphans and lepers (which I did do, by the way.) This trip was about Him loving on me. What a huge unexpected blessing. And something that I realize that I desperately needed. And He did that hugely through my sweet, Spirit-filled roommate who listened to me for hours, not judging, not condemning, just listening and loving and sharing encouragement, her experiences, and God’s love.

There are a couple of places in Ethiopia where tourists flock. That might come as a shock to some of you who know virtually nothing about Ethiopia, but I promise you that there is more to the country than orphans and hunger. One such tourist spot is Lalibela. I have wanted to go there since I first heard about it a couple of years ago, but had yet to have the opportunity. On this most recent trip, I took advantage of my lone traveler status, and headed to Lalibela for the weekend. Lalibela is a town in the mountains of northern Ethiopia that is famous for its rock-hewn churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are thirteen of these churches, varying in size and structure, all cut out of one piece of rock. Some are attached to the mother rock only at the base, and some have one or two sides attached.

This little venture of mine was such a nice getaway for several reasons. Instead of the dust and exhaust of Addis Ababa, I was breathing in the clean mountain air of Lalibela. I had complete freedom to do whatever I wanted, really had no schedule, had lots of time to read books and the Word, and met a nice travel companion who was also a lone traveler and whom I shared meals and travel stories with. It felt like a little mini-vacation. And after I got over the slight feelings of guilt that I initially experienced, I truly enjoyed this little getaway – walking around the town of Lalibela, learning about and visiting all of the churches, partaking in traditional Ethiopian food at a local restaurant, visiting the local market (and nearly getting run over by cows and donkeys), politely but firmly denying the numerous offers to have my shoes cleaned by the shoe shine boys, humoring the teenage boys who wanted to “practice their English”, and enjoying abundant sunshine and cool breezes in this quaint mountain village. Again, this little jaunt outside of the big city was clearly His chance to love on me. What an unexpected blessing. I was recharged and had a new perspective on Ethiopia.

Did I come back from this trip all giddy and bursting with amazing stories to share about my time with the children and lepers?  No.  Did I come back feeling like God used me in big ways to impact someone’s life in Ethiopia?  No.  Maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. But I did come back knowing that God was with me over there, loving on me, encouraging me, and guiding each of my steps. He knew that I needed this trip, not for the same reasons that I have gone before, but He used it to shower me with unexpected blessings. Blessings that I didn’t even know that I so desperately needed. And that my friends, proves that we need to be careful not to let our expectations cloud us from receiving God’s blessings. Because when we release our pre-conceived notions to Him, He can and will do amazing things.