During the 1980's when girls just wanted to have fun, when money was for nothing and chicks for free, my parents planted us in Recife, Brazil - a tropical metropolis with taste bud seducing fruit and hospitable locals. We were part of a six family team sent to plant, water, and nurture a community of faith. To this day, my foreign experience serves as one of the greatest positive influences on my life.
But in 1988, the time came to return to the land of Dr. Pepper, M&M's, Whoppers, and G.I. Joe cartoons. We moved back to the United States the summer before my sixth grade year. My sixth grade year holds the record for worst school experience - EVER! The TRANSITION home was brutal.
I returned to the US after studying in a diverse private school in Brazil... Americans, Chinese, Brazilians, English, Indians. My best friends was a Korean named Francisco (a very Brazilian name) and we communicated in Engluese (a Portuguese-English hybrid). The private school was laid back. Our classrooms had three walls; the fourth side opened to a lush garden of trees and flowers. It was quite the contrast when I started school in the US. The Nazi teachers made me stand in straight lines with my hands to my sides, and they answered any movement with vicious screams. The kids pulled down my pants for a laugh while others made fun of my white Cheetah high top tennis shoes. (I had admired Michael J Fox's shoes in Teen Wolf and could not wait to get back to the US to mimic his look.) They were my prized possession until my "friends" started calling them "Cheep-ah's." Apparently Nike and Reebok were the only fashionable footwear.
The year of 1988-1989 was a difficult year because it was a year of reverse culture shock. It was a year of transition. Transition is often difficult, uncomfortable, and disorienting. The majority would prefer to teleport from HERE to THERE than than hike through the BETWEEN phase called "transition." But the reality? Most of life is transition! We are always in transition, and transition offers immense growth potential. Unfortunately, most of us miss out on the opportunities transition offers because we are too focused on its discomforts to appreciate its value.
Israel understood the frustrations of transition better than any of us. Forty years wandering in the desert is not my idea of progress. They too missed out on the opportunities transition afforded because they could not see past its discomforts. Below are some of their responses to the disorientation of transition. Perhaps you can identify.
- "I want to go back!" Israel had just experienced the power of God first hand: the Red Sea parted and they skipped across on dry ground only to look back and see the same obedient sea turn hostile and lay waste the Egyptian army. At that moment Israel feared the LORD. Fast forward one and a half months. Israel has been wandering the desert, their bellies are rumbling, and already they desire to return to Egypt, "If only we had died by the Lord's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death." (Ex. 16:3) God was taking Israel to the Promised Land, to an amazing future, but the uncertainty of transition led them to forget what lay ahead. Instead they longed for the past, an oppressive past. They preferred slavery over transition! Many times the difficulties of transition make us long for the past, even for a less than ideal past.
- "You did this!" When you find yourself in the mess and muck of transition one option is to blame someone else for your discomfort: "Mom, you made us move." "Well...the students here are snobs!" "These people are clickish!" "This town is full of idiots!" Israel blamed Moses! Apparently it was Moses's fault when Israel got thirsty in the desert. And apparently it was serious; at least Moses thought it was, "What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me." (Ex. 17:4) Israel's transitional discomfort pushed them to find a scapegoat and Moses's number was up!
- "God has abandoned me!" The demanding thirst of desert travel led Israel to doubt if the "Shock and Awe" God of the Exodus was still hanging around. They figured he had gotten out of Dodge. Exodus 17:7 expresses their concern, "Is the Lord among us or not?" It is a fair question. Could not the God who leashed the Red Sea send Israel some desert Dasani? You may have similar doubts during the chaos and uncertainty of transition, "Is God even here? Does he care?" Transition can feel as if God called you a direction and then jumped shipped.
- "I got this!" In Exodus 32:1, Israel is tired of waiting on Moses and God. They are not getting any younger, so they turn to Aaron, "Come, make us gods who will go before us." Aaron caves to peer pressure and sculpts Israel some cow-gods to lead them. The Lord's time was not working for Israel; his time led them to believe he was gone, so the people took matters into their own hands. "If God won't lead us, we'll make our own gods who will." Like Israel, when transition lingers you might try and speed up the process by pushing, forcing, and orchestrating your own outcomes. As a result, transition becomes about what "I" want rather than what God is doing.
On June10th, I'll be preaching a message to help you see that transition DOES! Israel's desert experience will help you better understand the BETWEEN segments of your life. In the meantime, spend some time exploring Israel's sandy transition. Read Exodus 14-19, 32:1-33:6, 40.