Saturday, January 31, 2015

Relocating, and Other Stories from Public Transportation

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Many of my most memorable experiences did not take place at a destination.  It's always the getting there, the journey, that incurs the most fun.  Well, at least what I call fun.  You might call it hell.  It's all a matter of perspective.

The first time I visited Finland, I traveled by ferry boat from St. Petersburg, Russia to Helsinki.  Having hopped off at the ferry terminal and walked just a few blocks to the Russian Embassy to renew my visa, I distinctly remember hauling my luggage back out of the consular office, down a tree-lined street, sitting down in the sun on some giant moss-covered rocks, looking out over the Baltic sea on the horizon and the Helsinki city skyline, and deciding right then and there:  I'm going to live here someday.  I had been there only four hours when my heart - not my rational brain - seemed to commit itself to a pursuit of residence in Finland.  

That was in April 2010.  I wouldn't actually move to Helsinki to start my master degree until September 2012, but when I finally arrived I wasn't all that surprised to be back.  It just seemed right.  I struggled financially as a student there, working and studying 16-18 hours a day for the first year and still barely making ends meet.  But nevertheless I was genuinely happy.  I was exactly where I dreamed of being, in an incredibly beautiful city built around forest and sea and archipelago.  My school offered amazing facilities and opportunities at the low cost of free tuition, and my classmates were creative and inspiring.  And during that first year and a half I grew more in my personal life than I had since my first international move to Belgium six years prior: amid my intense lack of resources, I learned to rely on God completely for provision and in the process grew more spiritually than I ever had before.  It was in Helsinki, walking each evening along the seashore or riding a city bus across bridges connecting islands, that I found a quiet place -- not only externally but somewhere inside my own heart and mind. As I began to avail myself of those moments in solitude, I developed a habit of praying through everything that was going on in my life, laying it all out there in conversation with God.  And for the first time in my life, in that quiet place my ears became attuned to God's voice, to what he was saying, doing, and teaching.  I began to see my prayers answered in incredible ways, far beyond what I had requested.  I thought to myself, God will never take me away from Finland; this is my sanctuary. 
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