The sky was the color of the sea, and I sat beside my Dad on the stone steps of a city building. Street vendors packed up for the day and a street band played their violins and sang, music floating through the streets as if thin fog. A weight was on my chest, wanting to burst from within me. It was a weight of extreme sorrow, yet I was not sad nor angry nor upset. It was a weight of intense contentment, yet not of fickle happiness.
We had traveled all this way to share the Gospel, yet in this foreign city so many that surrounded me were deprived of all ultimate truth. We would leave in the morning and most people would never know my voice or hear my story. Yet in the over welcoming waters, I saw a glistening above. My voice would not save them, no. There was something greater, that which left me an emotion I had not known before.
It was Joy, the purest of forms; it was a feeling of being completely surrendered to something other than my soul and I felt wrecked down to every ounce of blood pumped throughout me, yet it was of the most beautiful cleansing relief that anything could ever be more precious.
In that moment, all I previously longed for in vain seemed gone. The plans my hands had scribbled of future homes or of a life of contentment were so far out, washed away in the sea. I knew happiness, although perhaps precious, was not what I was called to long for in this life. No, this Joy was what I knew my heart had always meant to be one with, yet never seen face-to-face. On that mission trip, and on all the mission fields my feet would wander towards, I would never want to choose what I now see as happiness or selfish fulfillment. I could no longer simply want that.
God does not call us to be happy; he does not set us on this earth to find success and happiness in the eyes of men or to pursue missions out of the pursuit of oneself. A man very well may be happy and unaware that he is diving head-first into destruction. No, instead, God calls us to be Holy. He calls us to be like Him, grief-stricken, starving in the dessert, as our eyes are not blinded by city lights but open to see the country stars and know God and emotion as he intended. He calls us to be like Abraham, and to look to the stars to understand our promises, not our earthly circumstances. He calls us to be tired, worn to bits, voice-shaky, and messy, yet absolutely full of Joy.
Mission trips are my sweet soul-satisfying corner from the sweet anticipation and planning to the feeling of taking off in the plane, thinking to yourself, “Is this real?” to the first step in a new place to the sweet memories that pile quickly to the too-soon goodbyes and nostalgia. But what I didn’t understand when I was fifteen and before those city steps was that mission trips couldn’t be my happy spot, nor should I waste my time finding a happy spot on earth. Life was going to take so many different twists and turns, and call me to other countries and to tell other stories. Even recently, in preparing for a trip that I’ve had my heart set on for years, I’ve been wrecked with sorrow of one of my dear friend’s, who originally planned on also going, experiencing the news his Father isn’t going to live much longer. I don’t think it’s possible to convey in words what the particular family means to our Church family and how much sorrow our team is experiencing. Yet, I’ve never in my life seen God so clear, as his calling in leaving our city is difficult. Watching my friends go through this trial has given me things I will carry into eternity. Our Redeemer’s love is too complicated for a pen to tell and too wonderful in conquering past the depths of hell, and this love works in ways we cannot comprehend. His call is not always the way we plan, but the Lord is glorified in my friend and his family going through their suffering and the Lord is glorified in us leaving to complete the mission we are called to do. In the words of my friend, “Yet in all of this, God is Holy.” In preparing to leave for this trip, I am not only excited: I am humbled.
And above all, I am filled with Joy. For there is Joy in every crook and cranny of this life, from the death bed to the words and hearts that will change lives on the mission field. As spoken in Psalm 138:8, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.” Wherever the mission field he might call me to, wrecked and reckless, for the rest of my days.
In upcoming times, I will sit on the steps of a city I know well and reflect on the Joy of the Lord in bringing me back to that country. In days I do not know yet, I will sit on the steps of buildings in cities I don’t yet know and reflect on the Joy of the Lord in opening my heart to mysteries that it doesn’t yet even guess. One day, I will be in the country of the Lord, knowing my story was told in full, and perhaps the sky of heaven will a look a bit like the color of the sea and I will be overwhelmed by every ounce of Joy beyond earthly imagination and I will think of being fifteen, feeling those precious thunders of my heart for the first time, completely and utterly lost in perfect Joy.