Every dream has its beginning. Mine had an icon. One that kick started the timeline of nearly every major life decision. It may be the only time in my life that I can say I remember the starting point of anything.
But there you have it.
The Taj Mahal.
Leave it to the travel channel to showcase one of the world's seven wonders and gift the wanderlust of "impossible" to me for good.
I was 14. I was mesmerized. It was the most beautiful time machine that could ever be dreamed of. A mathematical piece of genius that just so happened to possess a tragically romantic story (the best kind) and took up its residency where its surroundings had little changed in comparison to my western world.
I could literally time travel there.
And I wanted to, badly.
And as it was the most unrealistic on my bucket list it quickly and progressively became the most dear.
Quiet, cold, jeweled marble, traceable with the eyes of your fingertips. The tactile details of the wall flowers seemed to unlock the code to this time machine and transport you to ancient centuries where your character seemed destined. You can't tell if it is your story this mausoleum was waiting for or the Taj's story that you've been placed into like a fated ghost. Either way it's a collision of tales that mesh together so well. Either way it's a chapter I love to read over and over.
The very existence of this chapter was enough to satisfy my life. Its only sentence could have been, "In 2012 Arica finally went to India and saw the Taj Mahal," and I'd be happy. But God's authorship is quite different than mine. He doesn't just write a timeline or give an answer, He tells a story.
A week in Manipur, a week in Thailand, and then less than one day to get to the Taj Mahal before flying home out of Delhi.
Everything was booked and planned ahead of time. Everything except the Taj Mahal. It was our only wrinkled plan that we'd have to iron out on foreign soil. I had tried my very best to attempt some control of an itinerary that would ensure smooth sailing, but truth be told we just didn't know enough to even come up with one plan.
With no idea on how the two of us were going to make it in such a narrow amount of time I began to feel like I was asking for trouble. Like my being unprepared was going to invite God's judgement of a terrible experience and I'd have to be satisfied in viewing my dream icon through binoculars.
That was my authorship.
But a dear friend once told me that to recognize the voice of God you have to know that He is the Good Shepherd and not a harsh cattle driver. I had been so accustomed to the latter. But here, on rough Indian soil, I came to know and took my first steps with the gentle voice that gives peace in the midst of chaotic uncontrolled circumstances.
God not only took care of everything but He spoiled us. He introduced us to people I never would have known it possible to exist in my life. In one instant, under a dinner tent in the Manipur jungle, it was arranged that while Charlotte and I were going to be traipsing around Thailand for a week, our new friend Mary would be arranging everything, as if we were her own family, and it would all be set up by the time we would get back to Delhi.
We didn't have to plan a thing.
Transportation, lodging, food and a guide. Our luggage would be kept safe back in Delhi for the day that we would drive to Agra with her nephew who was to be our personal translator, souvenir bargainer and tour/city guide for wherever we wished to go. Agra was ours and we were in want for nothing.
There is no formula. None whatsoever. I cannot tell you, "If you want Him to show up like this then this is what you do." If I could then my life would look very different from what it is now. It would be very frail.
What I can tell you is that when He says, "Don't be afraid, don't give up, and invest your hope in Me," it always, always means that there is good reason you should obey Him.
It had nothing to do with the actual trip but had everything to do with my perception of Him. I believed, and still struggle with believing, that though I knew He loved me, that He provided, that He cared and that He would be faithful, that He simply didn't know me, that we were simply not on the same page, and feared we never would be. It felt as though He was working my heart's desires out of me because they were of no use to Him. What a bald faced lie.
Standing there, I wondered if I was getting a taste of what Job must have felt when God finally responded to his prayers by simply humbling him, challenging him, and reminding him of how great and good He is. More than a year later I wonder now if my handicapped plans were just proof that He didn't need me or my efforts to give me a blessing and subsequently proved that I could never know or care for my own heart as much as He does.
He really didn't have to give it. It would have been an amazing trip even if our last day was simply spent in a hotel room in Delhi. But for some reason He did. And Mary and her family will never know how much their friendship gave my life something empowering.
You never know how quickly your discouraging circumstances will change. You never know what beauty God can raise from your ashes. You have no idea how many hidden treasures are buried in the cave you're in because no one was brave enough to look for them in the dark. More importantly, you don't realize how little credit you give your redemption. I used to think that life's challenges were God's way of forcing me out the door to grow. But now I believe it is God opening the confining cage I put myself in, carrying me out, spreading my little wings and saying, "You can fly, you know how, I taught you. You just need to do it."
I will forever be learning how to fly, but the memory of this day and how God wrote its chapter challenges me to never go back into that cage.
I'm tempted to say that God working in this manner is the exception to the rule of our relationship. Tempted because it's safer to expect disappointment. I know differently now. After seeing His provision, after seeing my number one on my bucket list, He didn't just give me a satisfying answer, He changed my life.I felt like I had made a new friend. Like the Taj Mahal and I were age long pen pals that were finally able to meet in person. That seeing it in person seemed to validate all those major life decisions, all those desires, all those friends, all those seasons, all that curry.
If I could do this then I could finish nursing school. If I could do this then I could go anywhere God sent me. With our friendship sealed it wasn't a surprise that I planned to return some day. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
Because the dream still has its icon, and the desire to be there still exists. And when I think back on that experience I feel, even more potently, the wonder of a personal treasure becoming mine, with God taking my hand and practically handing me the moon.
In the end it still is just a place, just a tomb...
My own time traveling tomb. I may never wake up. And that's alright. Because it means I'll just have to keep visiting till I do and realize that I'm standing on real soil and I'm loving real people.