My wife and I arrived in England on the first cold day of autumn, the bus driver said. I still remember how quiet the bus was, the brake pedal squeaking when he pressed it, the two teenagers in the back seat whispering to one another. Our 16-month-old daughter was asleep across our laps and Oxford was now appearing in the windows. There were the pubs, the Eagle & Child, the Rose & Crown. And there was the newsagent and across the street the chemist, and there on the corner were people pressed together waiting to cross the street. They had been to the butcher and the baker and were going home to eat what they held in their bags. And then there were the bicycles. There were always bicycles and legs of trousers rolled up and tucked into socks. There were determined men and women on their bicycles who lived simple lives and had no use for modern means of transport. And I thought that was cool.
We were starting a new life. And at the beginning of a new life, at that moment when it all starts to happen, there is not much to say really. You just sit there and watch it unfold like a scroll. If you say anything you will corrupt a moment that needs no words.
My undergraduate days were spent at a southern military college where I marched in sunny, open fields. I had little interest in academics. I was unprepared to be a student at Oxford. I had to become a person who pursued interior things; I actually had to study. But I became quite content crafting essays in the Bodleian library where prime ministers and writers are groomed. If I grew weary, I could catch a bus to London and eventually make my way to Victoria Tower Gardens adjacent to the Houses of Parliament. I’d eat a sandwich and watch the Thames River roll by. During the summer, I could watch a late afternoon match at Wimbledon. And if I was hungry for southern food, I could catch a train to Paris and visit a little restaurant in the ninth arrondissement that cooks the best barbeque pork I have ever eaten. I could do all these things. And I did.
By my third and final year I had become so attached to Oxford and our life there that I didn’t want to leave. I briefly looked for a job, but believed it was our duty as Americans to return to our own country. We left in torrential rain on a warm June day. We watched Oxford from the bus as we had when we first arrived. We took the same route out of the city and the same pubs were still there and the bicyclers were still riding their bikes, even in the rain, and it all got smaller and smaller and further away. It was over.
We landed in Atlanta, unaccustomed to the heat. We brought home another daughter, made in England, and I expected that I would find a good paying position in about two weeks, maybe three. After all, I had an Oxford degree.
A pharmaceutical company called and offered to interview me for a sales position. The sales manager sat directly across from me, and I swear, he did not blink once during the interview. I stared back trying not to blink but was the weak one, and did. My answers fell out of my mouth without much thought. I continued to blink and fumble for responses. It was over.
I had to find work. Anything. My first job was in a rural southern town punching holes in metal for $6 an hour, and it was a 30-minute drive to get there. For a long stretch of highway there was nothing to look at. Then there was a store that sold coffins on one side and wedding dresses on the other, and a couple miles down the road there was the Winn-Dixie parking lot where the Christmas parade was held. When I passed Daddy’s Baby Used Cars, I knew I was close.
What was God thinking? I reminded Him repeatedly that I had an Oxford degree and did not belong in this metal shop or anywhere near this town. And then I demanded things of God. I told Him exactly how to remedy our situation, fully expecting Him to take immediate action. I even bargained with Him. It was then that God started to wring me like a wet dishrag. He’d twist and some of the pride would drip out, and then He’d twist again. It hurt. I began to feel sorry for myself. I asked God to take my life. For months I roamed around in the dark caverns of my mind. I came out sometimes when an improvement in our situation appeared likely, but when it didn’t happen, I descended into depression again.
Why was God letting all this happen? I repeatedly asked this of God. Maybe God was wholly responsible, but perhaps my decisions had something to do with it. I think it is dangerous to automatically say, “God is doing this to me.” He may well be putting you through a trial to discipline you, to strengthen your faith, to make you more like Jesus. But it may be that some disasters of life are consequences of unwise decisions. You cannot blame God for those. You have to blame yourself and confess your immaturity or fear or whatever it is that grips you. The good news is this: We have a God of resurrection. He wants to forgive, to redeem our mistakes and is quite eager to put us back on a straight path. I imagine our God constantly cheering us on. Even when He deliberately puts us through trials I imagine Him saying “Come on, come on! Trust me, seek me for the strength and courage to persevere, and you will make it.”