I sat there on the concrete floor of the tiny balcony, legs pulled tight to my chest, metal bars stretching up around me toward the enormous moon.
It was the holiday moon in that part of the world. It glimmered on the Middle Eastern sand, made the white stone buildings glow and illuminated the late-night parties happening on all the balconies in my neighborhood.
Every balcony, that is, but mine.
The same moon that lit up their religious celebrations cast a striped shadow of the metal bars against my legs, across my face. Even though I knew I was the free one, in that moment it didn’t feel like I was free.
I felt antsy. Caged.
Unable to be who I thought I should be.
It was faith — plus circumstances beyond my control — that had brought me here to this dusty city five months before. I wasn’t supposed to be here — not according to my plans, anyway. I’d packed everything I owned and shown up on England’s doorstep. I had a job waiting for me there. I’d lived there before. I’d been trying to get back for months — months that were building quickly into years. It was where I’d felt I was supposed to be, where God had sent me a few years before with a real sense of clarity and purpose.
And England said no.
I couldn’t get a visa.
It wasn’t the first time. It was probably the sixth time. I’d lost count.
But the door to the desert opened. It was temporary. Seemed right. As I prayed, God’s Word steadied my heart. He’d led His people through the desert before.
A pillar of fire.
A pillar of cloud.
I go with you — just walk forward.
So with the promise of His presence, I walked through the open door with a suitcase packed just for one season, just a couple more months this time until we could get everything sorted out.
And I heard the key click in the lock behind me.
It definitely wasn’t bad.
In fact, it was good. Really good.
In the daylight, I had fond feelings for the country of sand and camels and tea so sugary you could stand a spoon up in it. The cool breeze swept through our white stone alleys with the smell of grilled kebab meat and fried falafel. I ate some of the best food of my life in the desert. The best fried cheese. Even the best chicken caesar salad.
I spent month after month trying to learn to speak and read their language — and laughed until I cried when I messed up really, really badly.
They laughed too.
At least once a week, I’d split a pack of brownies with a local friend, and from our second-story window she would pick out husbands for me on the street. Her Middle Eastern speed dating taught me a lot of words.
Like “rich.” And “ponytail.”
Behind the girls’ dark eyes and hijabs, I found a lot of good friends.
My heart ached as I saw their struggles, their hopeless eyes aching to be free of the heavy yokes around their necks. Through them, I learned to pray for the women of the Middle East by name.
And when the call to prayer crept into my house every day from the loudspeakers all over town, I learned to hear His voice louder.
I wouldn’t trade that.
But in the darkness of the balcony that night, the reality of how out of control I was caught up with me. I wanted to just get somewhere and stay there. I was going to have to move again. Temporarily. Indefinitely. Where, I had no idea.
My head spun.
My heart ached.
That night, I was tired. The walls closed in. There was nowhere to run. No car to drive out to the middle of nowhere, no big green hill to climb up and sit on, no open road to run and run and run on until I couldn’t breathe.
I was hemmed in. By people. By concrete.
The tears I’d been holding in spilled down my face and dripped onto the dusty floor.
“God, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I thought this was the path you were leading down. Am I supposed to keep waiting this out, keep moving around until it works? Or is this a door that you have closed and I’m just not listening?”
What do I do?
In light of this, who am I supposed to be?
Big questions. Big, big questions.
I leaned my head back against the concrete wall.
“Father, if this isn’t what you have for me, I’m going to need for You to dream me a new dream. Because this is what I’d thought You made me for.”
I closed my eyes and let the tears go. I knew that God saw me, that He heard me — that this night was no different from the other thousand times life had thrown a curve ball. Changes in plans. In careers. In dreams. Relationships started. Relationships ended. Years of singleness that stretched on. Move after unexpected move. A close friend’s sudden death.
So many curve balls.
Not one of them surprised Him.
Not even this one.
“I trust You,” I whispered. “I know You’ve never failed. I’m just tired. I wish I had some answers. Guidance. But You know what I need better than I do. Please give me what You know I need.”
I drew my legs in tight again, chilled by the desert breeze and the cold floor. Silence — at least the Middle Eastern kind of silence punctuated by car horns and firecrackers — engulfed me. I was restless. I wanted a hoodie from inside. A cup of tea. A friend. A little bit of relief.
But in that moment, I felt like Jacob wrestling with God in the wilderness. I was going to stand my ground on this balcony, not until I had answers but until my heart was steady again, until the remembrance of His promises washed over me and firmed up my trembling spirit.
Until I had more of Him.
That was life or death, and I knew it.
I rubbed my chilled arms with my hands.
And as I sat there, God began to whisper over me. At first it was slow, then over the course of the night it came as a rush — words that had been whispers, anthems, shouts in the past.
The words that steadied my heart when my friend Clare died, when the grief was choking.
“We are pressed but not crushed, perplexed but not driven to despair … struck down but not destroyed …”
The words that showed me He is my home even — especially — when I don’t have one.
“These all died in faith … having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth … they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.”
He has prepared for them a city!
Some days it’s hard. But I remember. I look back over the mountains and the valleys, and I see His provision, His presence. My heart bursts with the promise that He loves. That He is for me. The God of the mountains and valleys is for me.
And He is good.
A few weeks later, just in time for the next tenants of my borrowed flat to move in, I packed my suitcases again and said goodbye to the Middle East. I stood on that tiny balcony one last time and thanked God for what He had done there. How He’d stretched me.
How He’d shown Himself to be good. Again.
And then I landed in England without a real way to stay there, just temporarily until we could figure something out.
Deep breath. Remember.
That if He gives the sparrows what they need, how much more …
Remember, Grace. Remember who He is.
And remember that knowing Him is the goal. Not a place. Not a life. Not a home.
One night that week, a friend was chatting about trust. About worry. About why we struggle to keep calm when life throws us curve balls, when things turn out differently than what we expect.
And then he said it. So simple.
“It’s hard to trust a God we don’t know.”
And in that simple statement lay the answer to my prayer in the desert.
“Please give me what You know I need.”
It’s Him that I need. Just Him.
The reason He’s able to wash my anxiety-stained heart with His promises is because of the mornings He poured His Word into my heart as the sun was coming up. The reason His goodness is vivid on the horizon is because it’s written on the doorposts of every place I’ve laid my head in the past.
The reason I can trust Him is because I’ve seen Him reach into my pain and soothe my wounds. I’ve seen Him take my curvy path and bathe it in the light of who He says He is, in the light of what His Word promises our lives are about.
For my good.
For His glory.
Like His people in the past, I remember who He says He is. Who He’s proven Himself to be. I remember His goodness in my own past. I read about His goodness since the beginning of time. I worship Him for it. I sing it to my heart over and over.
His steadfast love endures forever.
I’ve seen it. And I will see it again.
His faithfulness steadies my heart for the next bend in the road, the next mountain where my heart will burst with worship, the next valley where my soul will cry out in pain.
When life is sweet, I’ll turn back and whisper gratitude.
When it hurts, I’ll remember the depth of His comfort.
Both are for my good.
And when I look at how — with each bend in the road I live through — I know Him more deeply, see the outlines of His footprints more vividly in front of me, His loving gaze even brighter, I wouldn’t trade it.
Each morning in His Word, each step forward shows Him to be bigger. Stronger. More gracious than I ever could’ve imagined.
Remember, Grace. Remember who He is.
And make your life about knowing Him more.