My church in Cambridge asked students to share as Holy Trinity Cambridge said farewell to us. I ended up sharing this more than once.
Even before I left Wheaton, I had a disturbing amount of trouble. An employer broke its word, jeopardising my ability to pay. I was working on student loans for six months. They fell into place one business day before I left. And when I left I was gravely ill.
I arrived at Cambridge without a place to stay, and when after weeks I found one, I was barely able to work because I was so wiped out that my hardest efforts weren't enough for me to consistently work more than two hours a day. I went through treatments that could have killed me.
My studies suffered. I did terribly at almost everything during the schoolyear. Usually the people supervising me didn't even give me a grade--just advice on what to do next.
To say all this and stop would be very deceptive. In the end, I was bewildered, not so much by the sufferings I had been allowed to experience, but the joy. How has God blessed me?
Community, for starters. I've been held in a blanket of prayer by Christians here, in England, in other countries, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, all praying for me. I'm honored. There were times when I knew I should not have the strength to walk at all, but I was walking lightly, joyfully, on strength given by God. The Dean family helped me look for a place to stay, and I don't think I can even remember all the practical help they gave--but more than this, they welcomed me into their hearts at the time I felt most isolated and lonely. Holy Trinity is a warm place; a woman named Mary invited me over for a lavish meal that I don't think she can often afford to eat as a ninety year old widow. I believe my roommate Yussif was the reason why God closed so many doors in places to stay, and opened just one. He gave me this marvelous African shirt, and when I wear it I feel like I'm putting on regalia I have not earned. I've had visits: my father came out to visit me, and later my aunt, uncle, and two cousins spent a day in Cambridge. We went on a small boat in the river Cam, and one of the people in the tour company lent my cousin Katie his hat. The tour guide looked at her and said, "It's a good thing you have that hat to protect you from the fierce English sun." I fear that especially here I must leave out much more than I can say; the Shepherd's Council will be annoyed if I talk for three hours.
God's transcendence has become more and more real to me. I've relearned that the God who lives inside our hearts is majestic and glorious, beyond the farthest stars. When I've attended Orthodox vespers, I've met God's transcendence.
Providence has been powerful. At the end of the year, my friend Dirk said he could move my possessions that evening to Colchester for storage. I e-mailed Michelle in Colchester and scrambled to get ready. After I arrived, Michelle said I had the luck of the Irish: one day earlier or later, she would not have been home. Among other things. This sort of thing had happened again and again and again, and when she later e-mailed me about my luck, I answered, "Not luck. Providence."
I've had all sorts of pleasures, small and great. I've improvised on my college's chapel organ. I've been able to take pictures of Cambridge and incorporate them into a game where you're running through a labyrinth, chasing a furball, looking at lovely Cambridge pictures, and answering icebreaker questions. (Don't worry. It's actually much stranger than it sounds.)
The academic environment is a real blessing. This may sound strange, but academic theology often destroys students' faith. My faith has become both stronger and deeper. The tutorial system has been excellent, and things fell into place at the end of the year. I was able to work on my thesis when I was too tired to lift my head, and the day I turned it in, I told my Bible study I was realizing how God was not constrained by my limitations. Cambridge grades are based exclusively on the final, and I received e-mail from my tutor Thursday. I passed everything.
I've been learning about the link between God's transcendent glory, on one hand, and his loving providence on the other. What is it? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, "Which of you, by worrying, can add a single hour to his life?" Sickness is a good opportunity to realize that even a single hour is a gift from God. "Therefore I tell you, do not worry, asking, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear?' For the pagans run after these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek firstthe kingdom of God, and his perfect righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."
It's not just that God doesn't need my help figuring out what's best for me. What I've learned is that what God, in his transcendence, in his mystery, in his glory, in his deeply hidden wisdom, ordains for me is much fuller, deeper, richer, more beautiful, more interesting, and more adventuresome than what I would choose for myself if (God forbid) I were in control...
The blessings continue after I've returned. My parents were given a sweetheart of a dog, named Jazz. Not ten minutes after I met her, Jazz climbed up on my lap and wanted to cuddle. Jazz is a seventy-five pound Laborador retriever and is a bit of a bull in a China shop. I trust that through her, God will give me furry companionship, aerobic exercise, and thicker arms. Please pray that I may rightly appreciate her.
Thank you so much for praying. It is said that Satan laughs at our plans, scoffs at our power, and trembles at our prayers. Please persist in all of your prayers, and if the Lord leads you, please let part of that include me.