Alice: “How long is forever?”
White Rabbit: “Sometimes, just one second.”
Welcome to the halfway mark.
I have been in Thailand for 6 months, and its a weird transition between having moments where I miss home like a punch in the gut, and forgetting that I have ever lived anywhere else. I have gone from learning things about Thailand and from the people here, to it becoming a intractable part of who I am. This will always not only be the year that I lived abroad, but this is where I got my first apartment, my first job, my first, well not car, but vehicle that was truly mine. It is true that, in 6 months, I will move back to the states, and say goodbye to my temporary home here, but I’ve realized that what I have here, what its helped me become, that is not temporary. And I won’t leave it here.
Just because something ends doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t have to be permanent to count. After all, all things in life, even life itself, is temporary in the end. Of all the things that runs through my head right now, its the series finale of the sitcom How I Met Your Mother. (Spoiler alert, but the series ended a over a year ago, so you should keep up.) After 10 seasons of searching for the love of his life, the protagonist, Ted Mosby, finds her, and the series finale goes through their life together, and even, her early death. I was talking to a friend about it, and he expressed frustration that, after all those years of searching, it doesn’t even matter, because she dies after they only have a few years together.
I fundamentally disagree. There are moments in my life that mean more to me than the years of preparation that led up to them. There are people that I knew for a summer, an afternoon, that fundamentally changed the make-up of who I am in a way that people I’ve known my whole never have. And never could have.
Because when faced with a person, or a place, or a situation, or an opportunity that you know you only have a short time with, there are two options for how to react: to decide that its not worth the investment and invest in what seems more permanent, or to pour yourself that much more urgently into it, because you know you might not get another chance, and you don’t want it to slip away.
I can tell you now that who I am to my very core was influenced in a substantial way by a 10-minute conversation I had with a dying Jamaican man 3 years ago. And that it was not by the kids that sat in the same classrooms as me my whole childhood. I can’t even remember their names. That Jamaican man’s was Henry.
And when we think, really think, about our fate as God’s creation, that makes sense, doesn’t it? If we believe in the Gospel, we believe that we will spend eternity in the presence of God, worshiping Him. Eternity. Do we realize that in the view of eternity, 10 minutes and 50 years are the same? That their difference is infinitesimally small when we consider the eternal lives ahead of us? And, more fundamentally, that a moment when we are in the presence of God is more important than a thousand without Him? Better is one day in Your courts than thousands elsewhere, right?
So don’t give me that “long-term thinking” wisdom. If you really think long-term, and I mean long-term, like eternity-long, you realize that missing a networking event to comfort a friend, or giving a little more generously than is financially sound, might make a lot of sense after all.
So living in Thailand is temporary, but so will be my marriage, my career, and the sum of my whole life on this earth. But in the same moment that we realize that, we realize that this world will pass away, and that to dust we shall return, we must also remember that we are immortal. And the soul these places and relationships and events has created in me will live forever, so in some way, so will they.
The morning of the day I met Henry, I was having a conversation with a youth pastor, and he said something to me I will never forget. We were standing outside “The Infirmary,” a hospice for the destitute in Manchester, Jamaica. He gestured to the foul-smelling and make-shift building, with beds crammed together, inches apart, and to the people that lay in them, many both mentally and physically ill, made worse by the conditions of the place, and said, “this isn’t something the kids have to ‘get through,’ this is life, just as worthy as theirs, and they may only spend an afternoon here, but we will spend eternity with these people, might as well get to know them.”
When I fight through broken conversation with staff, or exchange nervous glances with the children I work with, I hear that truth in my head. Hopefully, I will get to spend eternity with these people, and when I do, we won’t have language and hurt and sin separating us, we will be in perfect communion. But maybe we will remember the small, broken of acts of love we showed each other, and it will lead us to glorify God that much more, for making us able to connect to each other, even if a bit awkwardly.
All things in this world are temporary, but the love we show and feel for each other, that comes from the part of us that truly is eternal, making it about the wisest investment we can make.
Weirdly enough, when we think in the longest of terms, I think we’re drawn back into being present in moment we’re in right now. I think, here in Thailand especially, where I am so often out of my element, lost, uncomfortable, the freedom to truly enjoy this time, in all its profound and wonderful strangeness, is an unbelievable blessing. So I don’t know what I will do with my life, or how this fits into the big picture, I hardly even understand how the work I am doing here fits into the big picture, but I have faith that God does get it, and the best way to steward the gift of being here is not to imagine what I will do with the experience, but just to have the the experience.
So make wise long-term investments of your time and resources, friends, and thank you for all of your prayers and support these last 6 months, and I hope for them the next 6 as well!