It’s a Tuesday morning in early August and I find myself close to the equator and caught between centuries. I glimpse the past in doorways carved and crumbling. It settles on me in Swahili swirls infused with Arabic and all sorts of borrowed spice. The present comes at me hot and humid in the beauty and the filth because life hums vivid in Stone Town and I’m intoxicated again by the full-colour goings-on of Africa.
And the thing is, the people in these narrow streets? These people’s people’s people were labelled thing and sold. We wander past the towers where slaves were stuffed to suffocate, and the old slave market – the last of its kind to be shut down forever so freedom could be handed down from people to people to free people singing amazing grace.
Are we free and handing down freedom? Do my sons look up to see me living free under grace? Does free spill from my life to splash over theirs, to run full and free into their futures, and on to their children’s children’s free children?
I think about how hard it’s been to get all the parts of me to be here. Really. Just. Here. To unshackle myself from the complicated and the complex, the distractions and disruptions of life happening fast and full. To let the God who is everywhere always and knows the one place I need to be at any one time – to let him carry the twinges of mom-guilt that I know won’t keep the boys any safer than they already most certainly are. To trust him with insurance claims and speaking prep and cake sales and ear infections. To convince myself that I will survive three days with no data and that the internet will not crash if I’m not around to like things on Facebook.
And mostly I think about how I’m enslaved to my own expectations of me. I’m whipped and soul-suffocated by my own fear of self-imposed deadlines and definitions of failure. Freddy Mercury was born right here in Stone Town long after slavery and yet he was slave to wanting it all, and wanting it now. And maybe I’m kind of like that? Slave to FOMO. The morning we left Jo’burg we had half an hour for muffins and cappuccinos and watching planes taxi to take-off in a dark sky just lightening. Just the two of us. I was doing last-minute internet banking and internal stressing and Murray lifted his cup and slid the coaster to me with a smile that said, ‘Yip. You.’
Jesus said to all the slaves everywhere that the truth would set us free.
And the truth is that the world will keep on spinning without my spinning in circles. There are places that exist just fine without me. Without you. There are places where the sun rises unwitnessed – un-Instagram’d – over oceans day after slow dawning day. And the truth is that there are things we can learn from the first world where trains run on time and reflect a God of order. And there are things we can learn from the third world where people wait with patience and perspective for a bus that may or may not come on Friday.
So what if I really leaned into all this truth? What if I stilled the noise of control and comparison? What if I prayed each day to see the world the way God sees it? To see the things that crush for time and space in my life, the way he does? To see me – free – as he does? What if I walked free with him? Step by step by just-the-next-free step.
Because the truth is old like these carved coral walls: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength…”’ (Isaiah 30:15)
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Thanks for stopping by, friend. More about our Zanzibar adventure in Chapter 15 of Dragons and Dirt. I’ll keep you posted.