Cigarettes and Jesus

It’s currently 2am as I write this, here on this side of the world, in my little village, lost somewhere up the side of a mountain. I’ve got a couple more hours to go, or fewer, if I decide to cut my losses and go to bed.

This post is more personal than any of my previous posts to date. Not that each and every one doesn’t hold dear, personal meaning to me, nor that they’ve been somehow untrue. Just removed maybe. Or not quite as raw.

It’s been a stressful few months since returning from a quick Christmas visit back home. I’ve been stressed out by schedules and lack of schedules, ineffectiveness and having too much to do, relationships and the void that comes with being out here all alone. It seems to be everything or nothing at all.

My stress is both fueled by and relieved by those little moments in between drags, standing, as Alanis Morissette would put it, with “one hand in my pocket and the other one…flicking a cigarette.” It’s not the healthiest way to deal with these crushing feelings, but at least I’ve got a little paper stick to crush at the end of it.

It seems like the night is the only time to get anything done. I’m constantly interrupted by life—random text messages and phone calls from people all over the country, the neighbor kids wanting me to watch their dance routine, the constant tea breaks when trying to get applications and lesson plans written with counterparts, the horses coming home… And then I realize I’m out of water and have to walk down to the pump and wait in line, or I try to make a run to the outhouse and my landlord’s brother is walking by and needs to engage in a half hour chat about Islam and then my modem won’t connect to the internet and my e-mail won’t load and I’m hungry and need to think about making something to eat…

A lot of it would be normal interruptions anyone would face, but it seems like here I put in nine hours and then I come home to another full days worth of work.

And I’ve been stressed out by the looming decision to extend or not. There are so many pros to staying and so many cons to make me want to escape, and so many negatives about returning home now and so many good things to go home to. It’s stressful to try and put a weight on each of those and then watch as the scale swings in the winds of my emotions.

And then there’s Jesus. Sweet Jesus. Jealous Jesus. He’s been taking a bat to the idols in my inner worship hall recently, smashing to bits what I’ve so carefully constructed from glittery patches of worthless things, and that’s been good. Really good. I really don’t know why I don’t listen to him and rest in his presence more often. He’s always been so good to me and that whole advocating on my behalf thing before God…well, I’d be in a world of hurt without him. Life always goes better with him, even through the pain of giving up the things I’ve been using to get me through—resentment, lust, gossip, envy, laziness, and that inward “self bending in on the self,” as my namesake so eloquently put it.

Long, out-loud conversations seem to do the best. They move in a direction instead of spinning on that dwelling spiral, like a penny in those wide, yellow donation tubs that only seem to be found in malls, spinning, spinning forever it seems, hypnotizingly slow at first and then faster and faster until they hit the bottom of the bin with a trapping clunk.

Long conversations that last longer than the glow at the end of a penny cigarette—long conversations about this life here and just who it is I’m talking to, a God who has been at the moment of this feeling, at the inception of this temptation, at the end of this thought and walked on to the grave and stepped back out of it, yanking victory from the pit of hell and ascending to lead captives in his train. Captives like me. Oh! How lovely is your dwelling place!

Thank you Jesus for being here and being my friend.

image Psalm 121

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