Bent over the open suitcase, I was fighting the battle of my young life.
If someone had peeked in my window, they wouldn’t have recognized my internal struggles. I’d have looked like a young woman unpacking luggage in the middle of the kitchen floor—sorting through a confusion of dishes and socks and pots and pans and dresses and books and plastic drinking glasses and shoes and a pressure cooker.
I knew where to put the clothing and books, but I struggled to arrange the kitchen items just right.
I simply had to get our family settled.
Keenly aware of my need to persist
in the face of obstacles, I told myself,
And then—then!—a man arrived at our door saying I had to empty the kitchen so he could spray for insects. I was furious but, I hope, I kept that to myself, removing the contents from every cupboard and drawer and piling them in the living room.
After the man left, I restocked the cupboards and resumed unpacking, shuffling around the house in slow-motion, confused about where to put things, and not caring anyway.
I longed for familiar faces, familiar voices, and especially familiar smells. But instead, only that strange odor wafted through our windows—that thick, pungent, sweet, moist stink. Was it decay?
That sticky, moldering smell radiated out of the earth and crawled in the air and forced its way into our house and our noses and clung to our clothes and bedding and furniture. For days it had made my stomach sick and left me light-headed. I hadn’t experienced anything similar since being pregnant.
The dense, damp reeking of the place threatened to overpower me. I slumped into a chair, my head in my hands, exhausted from trying to make that house our home. Push through it, I told myself. You have to push through it.
And the heat, the heat! Would I ever get used to wearing sweat-drenched clothes day and night?
Fading, I wandered down the hall. You’re such a failure.
And then anger hit like a chubasco storm. I was angry we had to take cold showers, angry at mosquitoes that dive-bombed us all night, angry we had to carry groceries home under a scorching equatorial sun, leaving us sick. Angry at odors. Angry at my ineptitude.
My anger was a sign of my crushed spirit, and “who can bear a crushed spirit?” (Proverbs 18:14, NET Bible)
I suppose in some dark, wrinkled back corner of my mind I knew God knew about my struggles, about my deep fatigue after traveling for a month with little kids, and about my immaturity—I had just turned 29.
Now I know that He knew, but that reality hadn’t made its way from my brain to my heart and my everyday life. If I had calmed down, I might have remembered that the Lord hovers close to those crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18).
But I was stuck—stuck in culture shock,
stuck in foreignness, stress, and discouragement,
and distracted from quieting myself in His presence.
I could only gasp, Please, God, get me out of here.
A couple of times in my lifetime I’ve had the air knocked out of me, figuratively speaking, when I had no strength or interest in fighting to make life work. In Lomalinda, though, it wasn’t a blow that knocked the air out of me—it was a slow pummeling.
I returned to the kitchen and stooped toward the suitcase strewn with towels, address book, tools, shortwave radio, cookware, toothpaste, spices, and reading glasses—but the ground lurched. I felt disoriented, topsy-turvy.
I stepped back from the suitcase.
“How long, O Lord? How long?
What if life doesn’t return to normal
in months, or years, or even ever . . . ?
What if things get worse?
What if everything will not be okay?”
After that, I couldn’t move. Undone.
“God,” I prayed,
“You got this all wrong
when You sent us to this place.
What could You have been thinking?
(From Chapter 8,
had only just begun.