In more ways than one.
I had chosen the title of this post before I ever left the ship. That was two months ago. I knew I would miss Africa, and I thought that leaving my heart there would make for a dramatic, must-read title. :) But I never found the words. I still don't have them. How do you communicate the mixed emotions of returning home from a place that has been home for the last ten months? I mean, am I supposed to be happy or sad? Will I hurt my family's feelings if I tell them I wish I was in Africa? (Because I often do.) When I don't wish I was in Africa (like or hate it, America certainly has its perks), should I feel guilty? Where do I really want to be anyway?
I left the ship with one goal, two fears, and a prayer in mind. Goal: pay down the loan on my condo as quickly as possible so that I can sell it and be free to move wherever. Fears: that I would either (1) become so comfortable in my happy little suburban lifestyle that I'd lose sight of the goal to pay down the condo, or (2) go so far to the opposite extreme that I viewed this time at home as simply a means to an end, rather than a season in which God has a purpose for me HERE. And the prayer: that God would guard me from those two extremes.
But something worse happened: I left my heart in Africa. You know, the one I thought had changed while I was there.
Romans 12:2 keeps echoing. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world..."
Like a chameleon.
When I was in Africa, I conformed. Surrounded by "missionaries," I conformed to the mindset that material possessions don't determine worth. That people will still love you if there's a stain on your shirt, you wear sandals without painting your toenails, and your hair becomes larger than life after a few minutes outside during rainy season. That there is a world out there with much bigger problems than an outdated cell phone, and there are more important ways to spend your life than sitting by the pool. That pursuing an intimate relationship with God is more valuable, more life-giving, than anything this world has to offer.
Not bad things to conform to. But that's not what God asks us to do. "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2
I didn't transform, at least not fully. I mostly conformed. I know that because I now feel the need to update my wardrobe, and buy new toenail polish, and work on my tan. And heaven forbid I use a flip phone.
Before you think I've gone all legalistic on you, I don't think there's anything wrong with toenail polish, or hip cell phones, or cute clothes. I'm just saying my focus is off. My pattern is worldly. It's all about me and my little world. If I'm honest, the real problem is I haven't prayed, as in really-truly-pursued-Him prayed, since I've been home. I've spent more time running (in more ways than one).
Ordinarily, I'd wait to post this until I'd come out of it. Repented. So that I could write it in past tense. Because you know, that's not how I am; it's how I was.
Since I'm clearly on a roll with the verbs lesson (sorry...English teacher...bear with me), I just noticed something else in that verse.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will."
"Conform" is active. It's something we do. "Be transformed," on the other hand, is passive. It's something we allow to be done to us. I can't transform myself, but I can be transformed.
Well, that's a relief. Because I really don't want to be a conformer, a chameleon. But I'm stuck. I guess that's why the Bible calls it the "pattern of this world." It's a pattern. And patterns are hard to break.
What can I do? How do I stop conforming and be transformed? I had to back up a verse to find out.
"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1
Sacrifice. Me. Just as I am. Pink toenails and all.
Hold me accountable, friends.
*Little morning addition to my late night post: God DID change my heart while I was there. I know that because while I may still act like a chameleon sometimes, He's taught me to recognize it when I do. He's taught me that the pattern of this world is empty and lifeless and unfulfilling. And he's taught me that I don't have to live that way. There IS something better. It doesn't matter if I'm in Africa or America--true life is found in HIM. "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they might have LIFE, and have it abundantly." John 10:10
Oh, and Tommy, you're right. I think maybe God likes pink toenails. :)