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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Living on the Ark

No this is not a reference to precipitation we have received (or will receive as I understand that Lisbon winters consist of rain and damp cold!) nor is this a reference to various and numerous animals that live around my house.  This analogy came to me as a result of a recent driving experience I had. 

As many of you know, my two biggest challenges (not only, but biggest) since moving here are cooking and driving.  You may be saying to yourself, "But, Meredith, those were challenges to you in Birmingham."  I know, I know, so imagine throwing in a different country, culture, and language on top of that!  To give you a little idea of what the roads are like - here is a description I wrote to a friend recently:

Driving is more difficult here because the roads/parking spaces/parking decks are much narrower than the States and extremely curvy and lots of hills.  There is a running joke that there are no straight roads in Portugal.  You can't just say "keep going straight," but "just keep going on what's in front of you."  The road layout/design is also very confusing.  It is not uncommon to get to a place one way but not be able to return the way you came due to the road design.  "Hairpin turns" are also quite common.  Pedestrians really do have the right of way unless there is a stop light, and they definitely believe that as they step out into the road even though a car may coming.  Roundabouts/traffic circles are more common than stoplights, and they can have double-lane entrances to a three lane circle.  You have to get in a certain lane depending on the which exit you want to use.  

Well, a recent driving experience began with finding out that my car's alternator did not need replacing, I just needed to drive longer so that the battery has a chance to recharge.  The four minute drive to school and the 6 minute drive to the grocery apparently were not cutting it.  So I was going to venture out to an area mall.  You may say, "Well that should make you happy - going to a mall!"  (Or you may be saying, "What's a missionary doing going to a mall?" haha :-)  Anyway, I had a feeling of dread about this trip.  I was not looking forward to Lewis & Clarking it. 

Well, I set out with the TomTom (GPS), which already had Dolce Vita programmed in it.  Following the directions of the TomTom, I drove...and I drove...and I drove over highways and byways through rush hour traffic.  Bits and pieces looked familiar along the way, but it was like a connect-the-dots picture, only there were just dots and no lines connecting them.  I eventually found Dolce Vita, only to discover that it is a chain.  The one I was intending to get to is less than 10 minutes away from my house, while the one the GPS guided me to was about 45 minutes away.  When I finally found it and a providentially provided parking spot on the street, it had been so frustrating and stressful that I considered just turning the car around and driving right back home.  However, after assessing how much adrenaline was surging through my body at that point, walking around for a bit seemed like a healthier option.

Finding the entrance to the mall, which was a half a block or so from my car, I attempted to appear with a relaxed smile strolling passed the store windows, while my insides were screaming, "I am a severely directionally-challenged American that has no idea where she is!  Even if I were able to say "direcções a Loures? [directions to Loures?]," I won't be able to understand what you are saying because I'm not fluent in Portuguese!!  So if anything happens to me, I could call someone I know, but I can't tell them where I am because this particular Dolce Vita is a less than well-known mall!"

After walking through a couple stores but realizing I couldn't venture too far because I wouldn't remember the way back to the right door, I made my way back and walked out the door while all the advice of my cop friends, family of cops, and McGruff crime stopper infomercials were running through my head like the headline ticker on a news channel.  "Be aware of your surroundings.  Don't make eye contact.  Have your keys out and ready.  Keep your purse close to your side.  Keep your head up and walk confidently at a good clip.  Listen for footsteps behind you."  Well, I made it to the car without rueful event, set the GPS to "Home" and started out.  Prayers continued to go up as I just so desperately wanted to get home, be home.  I did not get home any quicker, as rush hour traffic was still going strong amidst the multi-lane traffic circles, narrow winding streets and highways, not to mention the sometimes ambiguous or misguided directions of the GPS!

Having a fair amount of time on the road to meditate, the feeling of being very alone was quite prominent as I reflected on my current state and being the only single gal teaching at GLCA.  The analogy came to me - I live on the ark! (...they all came two by twos....)

Now, please understand, the other missionary families have been very kind and helpful, reaching out to me, and I am so grateful!  But when it comes to the end of the day, I am alone.  Oh yes, I know the verses, the hymns, the choruses...all the "Sunday school" answers...but have you ever been through an experience where the Sunday school answers just won't cut it?  You need something more?  I did, but I wasn't sure what the answer was.  So, in an honest talk with the Lord (shouldn't they always be since He knows anyway? :-), I told Him, "Lord, I know all of the verses, etc. that tell me You are sufficient, but it just doesn't feel that way right now.  I know no one person - friend, roommate, spouse or otherwise - is the answer (helpful, but not the answer).  You are THE answer.  My head knows, but my heart doesn't understand.  I need You to show me.  And He did and is, through lovingkindesses He sends to me that have His fingerprints all over, using the body of Christ to be His hands and feet to show His love.  So...do I have all my questions answered?  No.  Are there still hard days?  Of course.  Has God or His faithful and loving character changed?  No.  Am I understanding it more?  Yes.  God is good, steadfast and present no matter how I feel or what the circumstances seem to dictate.

Oh, and yes, I did finally make it home safely from the driving venture!

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