Psalm 42:1, 5, 8; 43:2 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God . . . Now I am deeply discouraged . . . But each day the Lord pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life . . . For you are God, my only safe haven.
I turned 15 the week before I boarded an airplane to live with a family I didn’t know. Our missionary kids’ boarding school in Guatemala only went through eighth grade, and after a year of doing ninth grade at home, my parents wanted me to experience “normal American high school.”
I recognized my new “foster mom” at the Kansas City airport only because she held a sign with my name on it. On the way to her house she drove me by the 2,000-student high school where my new “brothers” were practicing football. There were more kids on the field, wearing funny helmets and uniforms, than had been in my entire school in Guatemala, grades 1-8, where my class of five had been together for years.
The first evening in my new home, my foster parents explained to me that no one at my new high school knew or cared anything about Guatemala. I was to forget where I had come from, and as quickly as possible transform myself into an American teenager. I had no idea how to do that! How to dress, how to talk, what to talk about since everything I had experienced didn’t matter here, how to carry myself . . . . I didn’t know American music, or slang, or food, or anything about suburban middle class U.S. culture.
A week or so later, my first letter from home described a terrible car accident involving my parents and my four younger siblings. They were OK, but I suddenly realized that everything I knew, everything that made me, me—even my family—could be taken from me.
I went into my room, locked the door, and to the distress of my foster parents, didn’t come out for two days. For those two days I didn’t eat or sleep. I alternated between emotional paralysis and uncontrolled weeping, carefully muffled by my pillow and blankets so the strangers I was living with wouldn’t hear me.
Psalms 42 and 43 (originally a single psalm) were the words God used to bring me out of this crisis. “Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again—my Savior and my God!” (Psalm 42:5, 11 and 43:5). Over those two days I realized clearly that what I had not lost was God. He was my safe haven. I determined I would put my hope in him.
During the next days and weeks of confusion and culture shock, I learned what to do when “day and night I had only tears for food” (42:3): return to my safe haven; sing his songs through the dark nights. My theme song was “You are my hiding place . . . what time I am afraid, I will trust in you” (not Carol Cymbala’s song, which was written later). Again and again I cried, “Lord, I don’t know how to trust you! Teach me to trust you!”
God began building a habit in me at 15 that would literally save my life in the challenges of the years to come. His love poured out to me daily became a vital part of his covenant with me.