When my alarm clashed at 6:18, the sun had not peeped above the apartment complex next to mine. I forced my cream-and-pink striped fuzzy socks to reach the floor, and sauntered into my kitchen.
My groggy eyes opened to see my cabinets and knobs covered in . . . underwear?
Right, I thought. Yesterday was laundry day.
Laundry day for Erica in Bulgaria means pantie-kitchen the next morning. I do not have a dryer, so my shirts and slacks cover a miniature rack and my underwear, socks, and bras get the shaft to every doorknob, cabinet-knob, sink-knob and, hence, turns my kitchen into undergarment nation.
Upon realizing it’s three degrees outside (Celsius, folks) and in an attempt to not succumb to turning on my heat in October, I slide into my winter down-coat to begin making coffee. I struggle untwisting the moka pot — no k-cups here — and by the time I get it onto the stove, my knuckles are stretched and white from screwing the base back on.
I slump into my chair and rest my forehead on the puffy sleeve of my olive coat. A moment later the pot whistles. And by whistles, I mean it begins overflowing from the base because, despite my A game, I clearly didn’t screw the base on properly.
After pouring it into a small espresso cup, I reach for sugar. (Erica, who was once a strong black coffee advocate, is still adjusting to the bitterness and strength of Bulgarian coffee. This has been a humbling experience, to say the least.) I shake the small, white crystals from the jar into the mug, swirl it with my index finger — because this post-grad woman isn’t trying to dirty another spoon — and resume my slouched position in the nearest chair.
Blowing cool air causes ripples to scatter across the surface. The calm before the storm. I lift it to my mouth to sip the creation . . . what.
I spit it back.
It’s terrible. It’s not just terrible; it’s salty. I lurch at the jar to realize that I probably put a day’s worth of sodium into my cute, little espresso cup, which is actively becoming less cute and less little. I dump my cup down the drain and chalk up my morning as an L.
This is not what I expected my life to be.
I looked at the cup. It looked like coffee. It smelled like coffee. It tasted nothing like coffee.
It’s a fraud.
If someone had slipped a note to me back in 12th grade that I would be waking up in my young 20’s in a Bulgarian apartment to a kitchen covered in dangling underwear while drinking a scorching-hot cup of salty coffee, I probably would have laughed.
I would never sign up for that, I’d scoff. Onto the next dream and well-constructed plan for my life.
Have you ever been in a situation where, well, your life is nothing of what you thought it would look like?
Maybe you just graduated college and are switching to your second job in the length of five months. Maybe you are working for yourself and living out your dream, but man, four hours of sleep is only sustainable for so long. Maybe you just ended a relationship because the site of “forever” is not what you see. Maybe you are realizing that the career that is supposed to give you life is secretly sucking your soul, but your Instagram feed masks most of the pain.
I would have assumed that my first year post-college would have been filled with crazy work hours in a big city with friends I can meet for happy hour on Friday nights and a cute, modern church for my Sunday mornings. That’s what 12th grade me would’ve proclaimed. I wouldn’t have thought my Friday nights would be Bulgarian Zumba classes or zooming bus rides into foreign cities, but that’s the story being written right now.
Here’s the thing: I love my life.
I really do. Not every second of every day, but truly, I trust the path I’m walking. No, I don’t love the bitter coffee paired with the bitter cold mornings, but I love teaching. No, I don’t love when my students won’t take out their iPod earphones during class, but I love how creative high school students are. I don’t love being far from my family, but I love that on weekends I get to hike with new friends or jump on a train to Budapest.
Then I asked myself the real question: do I love my life because, respectively, it is good and there are more positive things than negative things; or do I love my life because regardless of my current circumstances, Jesus is good and every bad moment has the opportunity to make me more like Him?
Do we want to design our lives, or do we want Jesus?
Do I want the picket fence, or do I want a deep understanding of dependence on my Father?
I’m not saying we cannot have both, but which do I long for? Which do I dream about?
Maybe you trust God with your job. No, it’s not the dream job right now, but you have peace because it’s temporal — you’ll probably switch companies soon and get out of it, head to a new city with a cooler title. If, in ten years though, you’re still an accountant hitting your head against numbers, is God still good? Is He still trustworthy?
I trust the Lord with my relationship status. I love being single right now, but I’m also aware that I couldn’t properly be in a relationship across the globe. If in ten years though, I am still single, if I never get the kids I dream of and the house with the front-porch swing, is God still good? Is He still trustworthy?
A lot of times God is good because life feels good and our circumstances are good. I’ve lived the fraudulent life, too.
If we don’t get our dreams, though — the future golden retrievers, the glitzy jobs. If the wanderlust isn’t cured through trips to France; if we don’t have the huge weddings, the financial comfort, the ability to walk with our own two feet — will we still praise Him?
I really believe that God knows the desires of our hearts and souls, and because of His great and deep love for us, He rejoices in giving them to us. If you feel called to be a husband or Mom one day, I believe the Lord wants to give you that gift. However, I believe we often want the gifts more than the Giver. That we want the packages with bows on top, without holding the hands that are extending them to us. That we endure the suffering not because we trust Jesus, but more so because we trust that our circumstances will change.
And I realized this: I’ve been awake for less than ten minutes today, and I have chalked up an entire day as a loss. This is not the day I invented in my mind, so maybe tomorrow will be better.
But maybe this is the day the Lord has created for me. Maybe this is the day He chose to teach me patience and calmness. Maybe He wanted to make me more resilient than a girl who is discouraged by a coffee pot.
Maybe today is not your dream life, but maybe it is the life the Lord is using to to show His people more of Him through you. Maybe the mundane work is preparing you for the job and the company you’ll get to lead on your own some day; maybe the break-up is preparing your heart for your future partner, but it also may be the Lord making you more like Him.
Which is more than enough.
Jesus. As is.
The gift we were already given.
Maybe in ten years, I won’t be living in a Bulgarian apartment alone, unable to make coffee and wearing a down-coat to save money, but maybe I will.
And I think either will be really, really good.
Sure, I’ll take the loving husband and the porch and a dog that looks like Air Bud, but give me Jesus.
Because some of my desires are like the cup of coffee poured down my sink drain — tempting and similar to paradise, but not quite the fullness and truth of my God.
P.S. The last word is pronounced Isus or Isoos, which means Jesus in Bulgarian.
P.P.S. I will post a more logistical update on my time in Bulgaria in the next week or so!
*This site, E (ericaboden.wordpress.com), is not an official Fulbright Program site. The views expressed on this site are entirely those of its author and do not represent the views of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.