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Security and Surrender in the Traffic Lanes of Life

When I lived in Manila, I learned very quickly that some of the things that appeared the same were actually very, very different.  I could tell you some pretty funny and embarrassing stories, but let me just give you a few examples:

Pets: it seems most everyone in the US has a pet: cats, dogs, and small rodents are all popular choices.  People in Manila had pets too -- but their dogs were guard dogs, the rodents weren't invited or named, and cats were kept around to dispose of the rodents... the only real "pet" people kept in the same way we keep cats and dogs were CHICKENS.  It wasn't uncommon to board public transportation and have people bringing chickens on and off with them.  Never a dull moment, I tell you.

Spaghetti -- same name for the same concept in both places.  In the US, this is a SAVORY dish of tomatoes, meat, and noodles.  In Manila, it's SWEET -- like a dessert.  Definitely a shock to one's palate when you order it without knowing the difference.

Traffic lanes -- the same concept exists in both places, but the difference is that in the US (generally), people actually obey the lanes, whereas in Manila, if there's space, you drive in it regardless of where the lines are or if there's traffic coming at you... It looks a little like this:

I think my blood pressure rose about 30 points when I Googled this image. HA!


On one of my first trips around the city, my friend and driver encouraged me to actually keep my head down so that the traffic wouldn't stress me out.  This was really wise advice because a semi-perfectionistic personality like myself just didn't know how to handle this level of chaos.  But finally, I just had to ask: "Why don't they just STAY IN THEIR LANES!?"  My friends laughed and one jokingly remarked, "Honestly, I think they just put the lines on the road to make the foreigners feel better -- they don't actually look at them."  

Lightbulb moment-- I had never realized what kind of security was built into knowing that the cars in the lanes next to me would/should just stay there...  All my life I just assumed everyone obeys the lines.  Not so, apparently.  This was their normal.

Recently, there have been some circumstances that have shaken my sense of security not unlike the traffic lane situation.  Last weekend, someone in my new neighborhood decided they just had to have a pair of old tennis shoes and some jumper cables in my car, so they broke a window and took them.  Objectively, I really don't care about the items they took, and really, the window was a pretty simple fix... but what's not so easily restored is a person's sense of safety or security.

It was an in-your-face reminder that really, there is very little in life that we have total control over.  This was something I faced daily in a developing nation, so I developed coping mechanisms, but really hadn't had to employ them since coming home 5 years ago.  This weekend was a reality check: you are not promised anything in this life, even in the comforts of "home."  None of us are promised a tomorrow, good health, financial prosperity, or a conflict-free life.  Certainly we can contribute to wise decisions that statistically yield better life outcomes, but you know as well as I do, cancer comes out of nowhere, car accidents happen, the financial market is volatile, cars break down, jobs are lost, and on and on it goes.  The only thing constant in life is change.  We would like life to be as clear-cut as traffic lanes, but it just doesn't work that way, does it?

So where do you look for security?  This was the question I had to answer for myself this weekend.  When chaos comes, sickness hits, or promises fall through, where do you turn first?  Or, even in positive situations that just involve a lot of adjusting and change, how do you recover a sense of normal or find peace in all the moving pieces?

If I'm really honest, my initial reaction this weekend was to rely on my own strategic ideas for "making sure" this never happens again.  I was ready to be a 30-year-old Macaulay Culkin in a Home Alone-style system for outsmarting the thieves.  Also, the passive-aggressive Minnesotan in me REALLY wanted to post a sign in the window next to the broken one saying, "This car contains nothing of value except Jesus -- and He's watching you so go away."  Of course I didn't do either of these things, but it made me feel better for a few minutes.

The reality was that I knew deep down, I have no control over this ever happening again.  And that little factoid doesn't exactly comfort a person's nerves.  As a single woman, sometimes stuff like this tempts me to look at God and throw my hands up like, "Yo, Jesus -- I bet this wouldn't have happened if they knew there was a burly dude up in this household...  How about that protector husband?  Where's he at?"  Cue: reality check #2.  Same thing holds true -- there's no promise that having two people in a household prevents thievery any more than just one -- two people have twice the stuff to steal!  So that solution was out, too.  Also, it's not overly helpful to blame God for the stupidity of others... it's like getting mad at a teacher for another kid pushing you on the playground.  Not helpful.

What's left to give us a sense of security when our own devices and solutions fail?  I don't know what it might be for you, but I'd love to know.  For me, the only place I genuinely find peace is in praying and surrendering everything to God.  Maybe that sounds simplistic but I promise it's not.  If you're not familiar with what that looks like or could mean, allow me to elaborate.

By "surrender and pray," I mean, when life gets hard, instead of going into turbo-fix-it mode, I physically stop.  Sometimes this is the hardest step because I'm someone who likes to solve problems and I'm proud enough to try my way first.  But after I stop, I look at what's wrong and see it for what it is.  In this case, it was broken glass, stolen items, and by natural consequence a car that shouldn't be driven until this is fixed.  I sometimes even say out-loud or at least consciously process my thoughts like "God, this makes me really mad -- I feel unsafe and sad and frustrated.  This wasn't right or fair -- I didn't earn this consequence.  I don't know what to do. I need Your help."  And then, instead of continuing to complain or stay emotional, I employ my mindWhat do I know about God?  What do I know about this situation?  What does Scripture say?  This weekend, I clung to Psalm 27:

Psalm 27 (New Living Translation)

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
    so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
    so why should I tremble?
When evil people come to devour me,
    when my enemies and foes attack me,
    they will stumble and fall.
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
    my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
    I will remain confident.
The one thing I ask of the Lord
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple.
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
    he will hide me in his sanctuary.
    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
    above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
    singing and praising the Lord with music.
Hear me as I pray, O Lord.
    Be merciful and answer me!
My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”
    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me.
    Do not reject your servant in anger.
    You have always been my helper.
Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,
    O God of my salvation!
10 Even if my father and mother abandon me,
    the Lord will hold me close.
11 Teach me how to live, O Lord.
    Lead me along the right path,
    for my enemies are waiting for me.
12 Do not let me fall into their hands.
    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;
    with every breath they threaten me with violence.
13 Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness
    while I am here in the land of the living.
14 Wait patiently for the Lord.
    Be brave and courageous.
    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

What does Scripture say? It says God protects me, He saves me, knows what I'm up against, He will never leave even if everyone else does, and with Him I can be confident, brave, and courageous. I don't have to be a superhero because He will fight for me and He's a champ at paying back the unjust evil committed in the world.

And then, I take that knowledge and pray it back to God and just tell Him, He's in control, I trust Him, and ask for guidance or specific needs related to the situation like favor with insurance or financial blessings to cover what's been lost. And then, I wait and listen.  Nearly always, this process brings a peace that I can't put into words. It's a deep, internal sense that even if the situation doesn't change, I have the strength from God to keep going, keep loving, keep forgiving, and keep growing through this situation. 
So, either the situation will improve, or I'll be a stronger person in my faith because of it -- either way, it's a win.  When I was in Manila, some nights this was the only way I could fall asleep. I'm thankful that isn't my reality every night anymore, but it was really good training for situations like this.  
I don't know what you're facing today or this week, but I hope you find rest in the Everlasting Arms even if life looks a little more like Manila's traffic lanes than the US.  
I'll leave you with the final 2 stanzas of one of my favorite hymns, "Children of the Heavenly Father"
"Neither life nor death shall ever from the Lord His children sever.  Unto them His grace He showeth and their sorrows all He knoweth.  
Though He giveth and He taketh, God His children ne'er forsaketh, His the loving purpose soley to preserve them pure and holy."

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