NOVEMBER 14, 2013 – Over the week-end, Suzanne and I took Motorcycle Lessons in preparation for what just might be our main form of private transportation when we get to Ghana. The venue for the class was Highland Mall, a formerly premier mall of Austin that is being repurposed as an Austin Community College site. This was the first mall I went to when I was a student at the University of Texas, the one we lived near when we were just married, and the one that became an annual pilgrimage at Christmas (even after we moved from Austin). How strange it felt to walk around this now empty mall, lined by boarded up stores.
Highland Mall could be a metaphor for our life, I thought as I looked around. I was trying to visualize what stores had been where, when we were last in them, and how it was that some stores were still open, even though there was almost no expectation of foot traffic. I felt I was saying good-bye to a significant place in my life, much like Suzanne and I have been saying good-bye to the friends and comforts of central Texas, as we are repurposed for the adventure that is West Africa. In some ways, Suzanne’s life is very much like it has been for the past 15 years. At the same time, so much of it changing; we have a foot in both worlds.
The Mission Society stresses the importance of saying good good-byes. I had one a few weeks ago when I met my mentor and friend for lunch and shared how only 5% of West African young people have the chance to receive a college education. We both talked about the importance of campus ministry, but then I asked the question, “Do you know where those Ashesi students will be in 20 to 30 years?” He thought about it a moment, but before he could answer I said, “Running the country.”
Suzanne and I have been invited into a position of influence with tomorrow’s West African leaders, where we can speak the gospel into their lives by living it with in community. Looking back on how this opportunity came to us, I see God’s fingerprints. I see how the fingerprints, or dots, connect.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward,” Steve Jobs said in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford. “You can only connect them looking backwards.” Suzanne and I didn’t fully understand what was going to happen when we took our family to Africa in 2006. Nor did we understand the significance of a decision to stay a second year, or how when we returned to the states, to paraphrase something my father used to say, “the enlightened heart would resist returning to its former state of ignorance.” In Ghana we found our heart’s desire, and now discovered, we see how the dots connect to lead us to this point.
After lunch with my friend and mentor, we went back to his office and said good-bye. Trying not to read too much into the situation, I think we both realized that it would be a very long time before we saw each other again, and we didn’t want lose the weight or significance of this moment. And yet, we are both guys, so we choked back our emotions and looked away. Good good-byes.
“Sometimes you make a decision, and that decision turns around and makes you,”someone once said, and I would add “ in ways you could never expect, nor realize, until you look back and see how the dots connect, how the fixed points become fluid, and the great structures were repurposed.” In motorcycle lessons we learned that it is easier to stay balanced when you know where you are going, and look in the direction you want to go. Another interesting but counter intuitive technique we explored was the Counterweight Turn, when you move the handlebar in the opposite direction you want to turn, so you can better lean into that turn. I expect that maneuver will teach us much in life, and how to navigate the upcoming turns in our journey.
“What this certificate tells you,” our RiderCoach said handing them to us, “is that you can ride a small motorcycle, in a parking lot free of obstructions and traffic at speeds less than 20 MPH.” In other words, he warned us, we have much to learn, so keep the shiny side up, and the rubber side down and enjoy the ride.
Steve & Suzanne Buchele