I limped over the UK border at my weakest point, and perhaps that was for the best.
The plane ride from Chicago to London was wonderfully uneventful, until the final hour when my insides turned against me. Not the kind of turning that left me reaching for that little paper bag in the pocket in front of me, but the kind that caused me to dash to the minuscule loo more than once, despite the illuminated fasten seatbelt sign.
Yep. That kind. Sorry if this is getting all too personal. I debated whether to write this blogpost and after I wrote it, debated whether to publish it. They say good writing is honest writing. I don’t know if that’s always true, but this is about as transparent as it gets.
This kind of intestinal rebellion (a result of a several factors from my medical history/food allergies/sensitivities which was that day no doubt exacerbated by airplane food, no sleep, nerve/stress) is nothing new to me. I’ve learned to deal with it in the context of my life. But when we were contemplating this move, I must admit, this weakness had been in my list of Why We Shouldn’t Go.
And here I was. Not even off the plane and my weakness was upon me. And fear. The thorn in my flesh was smarting something fierce.
By the time we reached the 800 mile-long immigration line I felt dehydrated, close to fainting, and as limp and feeble as an overcooked linguine noodle. I could literally feel sweat beading on my forehead as I fanned myself with my passport that contained my visa that expired THAT DAY. I had one day, this day, to enter the country (long story).
What if I don’t get in? What if we understood it wrong and I had to enter BEFORE the 20th? What if Doug and Maylie get in and I don’t?
These thoughts did nothing to calm any bodily part of me. But through the queue I trudged behind my daughter and husband, with my forty-pound backpack and Doug’s guitar. I caught his eye (later he told me I was as white as paper) and mouthed pray.
We’ve all reached that panic prayer point, I think, when our prayers turn manic. Desperate. Singular in focus.
Please sustain me Lord, please, please, please sustain me.
On and on the line wound, on and on I prayed, begged, fanned, seriously thought about bolting, prayed, begged, fanned some more until finally we reached the end. My husband, the main visa holder, endured a moment of scrutiny then stepped over the border. Then my daughter. And then I, feeling like I might slither to the floor, was welcomed into the UK, into our new life, into the unknown.
I take no delight in airing such personal complications. But as I’ve reflected, as I’ve considered how this whole process of serving in London has been fraught with struggle – joys, yes, but more so struggle – I see how fitting it is to enter so weakly, so dependently so desperately clinging to God’s good grace moment by moment. Because we are that dependent. We don’t often see it when we’re strong and confident and well rested, but even then, anything good we have, any good we’re capable of doing – deciphering a street sign, solving a problem, stepping forward – is a reverberation of God’s grace. Our weaknesses, if we let them, bring us back, or bring us more fully, to the gospel: weakness compels us to grab on to the hand of the rescuer, to receive what we can’t earn. To embrace Christ’s death and resurrection as payment for our un-payable debt. To raise our dead selves to life.
Weakness is where we meet, and re-meet, God.
He sustained me/us through the steps it took to get here, He sustained me through the immigration line, He sustained me as we made our way to baggage, the very last people to gather our belongings: Five big suitcases and three huge duffels, holding the bits and pieces we chose to help us start our new life, now carelessly tossed from carousel to ground. The three of us managed to load the eight giant pieces, three carry-on suitcases, three bursting at the seams backpacks, personal items, and one guitar on three carts. Even my intestinal turbulence couldn’t prevent me from swelling with pride at the sight of my petite thirteen-year-old daughter maneuvering her man-sized load through the halls of Heathrow to our new adventure, an adventure that certainly wasn’t of her choosing. Our possessions heaped before us, we journeyed on until we saw the familiar faces of our friends and team leaders, and the big gloriously sunny city beyond the airport’s glass window.
He sustains. Moment by moment, He sustains.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. – 2 Cor. 12:9