I was bitter and angry. I was upset. Perhaps at a place or an ideal. Regardless it took the most beautiful moments and painted over them with a thick layer of must and rot.
I was in that mood where something completely normal can set you off.
That evening found me going down to the 7/11 and staying in the cool of the AC for two minutes while I tormented myself with thoughts of anything that isn’t Taiwan.
Looking among the rows of sodas and teas I hoped to find some sort of escapism to cope with hard thoughts. I was illiterate, but at least Coca Cola was nice enough to create a universal logo. I found that comforting and nostalgic red can, bought my beverage, went upstairs and sat on the couch. After a long string of disappointments, failures, and wounds, at last my salvation lay before me in carbonated syrup and sugar. There is an anticipation in a man’s heart that feels stronger than the pull of even a meat tornado when his tongue is sandpaper and his throat parchment. Calories be banhammered! My long-term health came second to the need of soothing what ails me.
The little beads of cool water sweated from the can. I took my plucking fingers, and in a moment not unlike religious conversion began to pull that little tab that screams delightfully with a hiss and clack. That little tab that is the gateway to sweet sugary bliss.
I lifted the aluminum flap ever so adroitly, ready to storm the gates of the soda kingdom.
“Once more my friends, into the breach…”
The words had barely left my mouth before I realized that familiar click of success sounded more like a pitiful wet fart. I turned my eyes down towards the beverage and behold, the tab had broken off of my soda can.
So I did what any rational person would do. I hulked out and in some vain effort to make the unjust can of soda feel the great gravity of my torment, hurled the can across the room. It hit the concrete wall of the apartment and exploded.
I was furious. And that can of soda, oh so prideful and spiteful, that refused to open itself and reveal Valhalla had felt my wrath. Which just made me angrier. I had never wished so badly that a soda can had a nervous system.
When my anger had diminished, and the shame of this strange interaction between Coca Cola and I began to dawn on me, I felt vainly moronic. I had to clean up the mess and wipe the carbonated sugar stains from the walls before Dale found out I had painted our living room with ‘Merica! Juice. Praise God we didn’t have a TV. Or at least one that mattered.
The observation can be made that this rage filled moment was not in fact caused by a lack of beverage.
It wasn’t the soda.
I don’t think any rational person could blame that can, despite the intense lingering feeling it had been making fun of me when I turned my back.
Instead like a boiling water kettle I had let circumstances simmer inside of me, ready to burst and scream at a moment’s notice.
It wasn’t the soda. And yet all my joy had been robbed by this bizarre player in the Great Game of Life. What could possess me to be so close to being on the verge?
I had unmet expectations that riveted my heart like deep canyons. Maybe I expected to be more successful. I expected to be happier. I expected to be loved more. Whatever lay behind those expectations, great disappointment had been found instead. I had ran headlong into ministry to find it costing me more then I wanted to pay. And that was hard.
During the following month, the scorching June of 2012, Dale and I decided that we would try and find our own apartment in the city of Taichung. I don’t know if you have ever met strangers from craigslist but it can be enlightening.
We met unique people such as when, several blocks from school a young twenty-something Taiwanese college student had an extra space. We went to check it out only to be greeted by the smell of ammonia and fur. A skittish Taiwanese woman answered the door and was shocked that the person answering her advertisement was two white guys. I guess it never occurred to me to inform her that I wasn’t Taiwanese.
There were nine cats. And not enough litter boxes. The price was sooooooo good. But I knew that was a can of worms waiting to happen. So instead we kept looking and found a Canadian who looks very similar to the professor from Jurassic park. He had one stipulation, no air conditioning.
“I don’t believe in Air Conditioning. Taiwan is what it is.”
This is a death sentence in a country that feels as hot if not hotter than Florida. Every moment feels like Hot Yoga. You wake up, walk three steps, and then look as sweaty as Charles Barkley. Some people, rumor would have it, even shower in the clothes they wear just to survive such heat.
So between the cat hoarder and professor John Hammond, a choice lay before us. The crusty kitty shack with AC or the concrete space heater.
Those words kept echoing in my mind, “Taiwan is what it is.”
How could someone from the Great White North, where moose roam free and polar bears get chilly, survive in Taiwan of all places?
I was discussing the problem of choosing between Cat Narnia and Dante’s Inferno with compatriots when one of them dropped this profoundly impactful statement.
“Jesus came to offer life and life abundant, if you aren’t happy that means you aren’t believing what Jesus said.”
And then it hit me, Jesus came to save us NOW. Not later. He came to love us now. Not later. And I could have invincible joy and incredible contentment even among a place that is different. Even among a time in life where it was so hard to enjoy.
You see at the root of my pain and discomfort, I longed for my own culture and home and when that didn’t happen instead of identifying with the people I lived among, I insulated myself and thought through a lens of negativity. I became bitter and saw everything as bad. The beauty of majestic Taiwanese mountains, wonderful food, and incredible people was seen through a dim and angry viewing glass. As silly as it was, I longed for Taiwan to magically materialize into the place I lived in America. I wouldn’t have thought about it in those terms, or even accepted it if you told me that was what I was thinking. Life didn’t turn out easy, I didn’t become an astronaut and a POTUS on the side.
God can’t be God to us if we insist He fit into our box, our belief system, and give us our desires.
When you face something new or different from your unseen expectations, especially when it goes against what you want and desire, you are bound to find a profound sense of disappointment.
I love that scene in Rocky where he has a son who just can’t understand that being associated with his father, Rocky lets him know that the problem lies with his lack of acceptance that life just isn’t easy.
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”
It wasn’t Taiwan. It wasn’t my trials and struggles. It was me, expecting sunshine and rainbows in a world that is not good.
It is broken. It is painful. I wanted my life to look like the sum of my ideals and pridefully thought if maybe I had made this choice or that choice I’d be happier. Yet that’s not how life works. We get handed an awful lot that’s beyond our control, from our birth location to our parents, so many things are not choices we make. Regardless of the fact we get to make quite a few decisions, life is often beyond our control, prompting us to accept that God is the one in control.
Jesus came to give us life abundant and that means learning to enjoy the life He gives.
If Paul can sing in Prison, we can rejoice in a land of abundance. We need to learn to love what Jesus has already given us instead of learning to live with remorse over not getting our ideals. Life will not bow to our demands and we wouldn’t want it to. I would be in a terrible place if I got my way. Yet Jesus crafted this elaborate and beautiful path that causes us to grow and learn and ultimately become much more like Him and much less like ourselves.
So for the first time in a long time, I let God drive, I memorized Philippians where Paul spoke of contentedness, I listened to sermons, read books, and found myself making one huge change.
I accepted the lot that God had given me, and instead of prejudging every event or detail tried to identify with it.
So the next time the tab came off on my Soda, I just giggled, because even the hard moments are reminders that Jesus gives us life abundant.
And He also knows, I probably don’t need the calories.
I fell in love with Taiwan. I fell in love with Jesus. I learned to look at things with a heart of good intention, knowing even hard moments have a purpose and a place in His plan.
The heat was brutal, but God had designed Taiwan to be Taiwan. It is what it is. And strangely enough, I even fell in love with the hardest aspects of living in a tropical country.
And instead of being angry, I embraced the lack of AC joyfully and laid lazily like a cat in the sun.
Photos Courtesy of Dale Nolan Photography at http://wordsilived.blogspot.com/ and Gian Carlo Photography