Yesterday I slipped out the house just before 6 a.m. Lily was awake, but so was her Daddy, so he started spooning her cereal as I had the rare joy of spending those dawn moments with God. I sat in the prayer hut and all around me was quiet. It was a perfect morning. The breeze was that sweet mixture of warm and cool, the sun glowing upon the great baobab trees, the little purple flower heads, the winding paths among tall still grass. Everything felt sweet. More than that – everything felt possible. I felt God whisper Heaven’s doors are open, and I believed it. I could see it in creation, and I could feel the healing of heaven falling on Pemba. It was so effortless to imagine his provision for the hungry – just a breath away. To see his heart moving, healing the little hearts of children… I inhaled it all – this effortless belief – and began my day.
The next day. This morning I woke earlier than I would have chosen. I dreamt of sharing those precious moments with God. But I ran around clearing up a leaking nappy, walking to the boys dorm to pass on a forgotten message, my back aching from carrying my little one in her sling, dropping in at the kitchen to pick up our bread, cutting up miniscule bread bites with jam, finding devoured up pieces of paper on the floor. Finding 12 missed calls on my phone. An old mama is sick in hospital needs blood, her son just died yesterday and she needs help. I started to feel like curling up in my bed.
But I stumbled my way to the hut. Girls sat where I normally sat. I moved huts. A boy played loud hip hop from his phone but sweetly obeyed when I asked it to be turned down. I looked ahead at the quiet ocean and all I could feel was my head thumping.
Sometimes intimacy falls on me like a gentle breeze. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I feel like I am thrashing my way through a forest, brambles scratching and twigs flying, and I know my desired mountain is there, but I can’t see it, it feels far, and I would rather collapse up under a log and forget about it. And although some days I feel the Father saying that my bed with Downton Abbey is just what I need, other days I feel him calling. Calling me to do battle with those branches and get to that place of intimacy with him.
So I sit in the hut. A little village boy with special needs hurtles himself towards me. He asks for my tea and I doubt he’s had breakfast so he tucks in. But then he’s not keen to leave. This battle is not feeling fun. And many days it doesn’t here. And sometimes those difficult days roll into one difficult week, or two. Sometimes I fall into a puddle of tears. Sometimes I am sick. Sometimes the house is full of cockroaches. Sometimes I dream about the country I left and all I want to do is be back there forever. Sometimes it feels too hard.
I remember Matthew 14. Jesus discovers his beloved John has been beheaded. By a king who lusts after his brother’s wife and has just watched his niece perform a – probably lewd – dance. It shows how Jesus in his holiness has seen the worst of humankind. He is not shocked when I hear of stories of mothers throwing babies down latrines or the horrors young girls face here. As soon as he hears the news, Jesus leaves for a deserted place to be with his loving Father. He wants to be surrounded by quiet, by beauty, by God. But the crowds find him, hungry for miracles and hungry for food. He has compassion. He heals the sick. He feeds thousands. And then he leaves for the mountain again to be alone with God.
And so I look at this little boy, forgotten by his family, desperate for love, and my eyes well. And once he goes, eventually I get to my mountain and I feel the Father filling me with joy. I see the king in his beauty, a land that stretches afar (Isaiah 33). I need my deserted place, my mountain, the quiet, the beauty, the intimacy. And after the battle in the forest, and the crowds coming to me in the face of a forgotten child, he fills me up. I start to believe. Everything feels sweet. More than that – everything feels possible. And when I come back to my house and find Lily and my husband the picture feels heavenly. I feel in love with this place, in love with my Father. I am glad I did battle.