We climbed up hillsides, sipped macchiatos on rooftop cafes, and even trekked to the top of the new cathedral's bell tower. From there, this is what you see: a pristine Prishtina, with red roofs spread over the green valley.
It's not unlivable, but it's often uncomfortable. And it's easy to get focused on the flaws. Some days, I don't really want to leave my house or even my bed. I don't want to deal with the unpretty side of Prishtina. I don't want to breathe the lignite coal smoke, shove through packs of teenagers (out at all hours because the overcrowded schools teach in shifts), or brush off the incessant gender harassment.
For me, street-level Prishtina is exhausting, and often all-consuming. When I'm marching into town, it's hard to remember the way the roofs glisten in the sun or the way my favorite taxi driver's eyes crinkle when he's telling a good story. Because, honestly, I'm just trying to get through it.
When I'm focused on Prishtina's flaws and "just getting through it," I forget every good and beautiful thing about this city. I forget the bell-tower view, the sweet friendships, and the fresh smell of the bakery down the road. I lose that high-up perspective that makes everything seem lovely and manageable again.
Which is precisely why I go back to those high places, again and again. I need reminding that this city can be beautiful. That there is a plan and design to the chaos. That, even if I can't always see them, there are trees and hills nearby. That this place is alive and constantly changing.
As I've been processing through our time here, I've realized that my perspective on life is very much the same. While we're here, living and working in the trenches, it's been very easy to see the flaws. And only the flaws. It's been easy to focus on how I've fallen short or how others have fallen short towards me. It's been easy to see the cracks in the churches and foreign aid. It's been easy to see what didn't get fixed during our two-year commitment.
It's been a lot harder to see God's overall plan for this place, and how we fit into it. Some days, it's almost impossible for me to fathom why he sent me here. I feel like I've done so little and failed so much. Though I want to be rejoicing in accomplishments, I find myself mourning over baggage—the anger, sadness, and stress I've picked up just getting through the time.
Over and over, I have to climb back to a heavenly perspective on our time here. I have to remind myself that God doesn't expect me to be perfect (Romans 3:23), and that he really likes using unqualified, messed up people who are willing to have faith and obey him (Hebrews 11). I have to remind myself that God's accomplishments and victories aren't dependent on my seeing them, and that many of them will happen outside my view (Job 42:1-3).
Most of all, I have to remember that while I'm just getting through it, God is restoring it—all of it.
If I could look down on my life the way I look down on Prishtina from the bell tower, I think I would see God's hand in so many areas, smoothing out the rough parts of my heart and transforming my mind. I would see him stirring in my work and in my relationships. I would see him rippling grace through this city, through all the near-insignificant things I do in faith each day.
I think I would see myself enveloped in so much more grace and love than I feel. I would see the ways that God is tenderly intervening. I would see everything he's making go right, and why he's letting some things go wrong. I would see what he thinks is lovely about this life, and be able to call it lovely with him.
The wonderful thing about our God is that he sees the street view of your life—all that is ugly and unholy--but he chooses to view you as you will be: restored and lovely. He sees you from high places, where all that you can and will become is clear, and the chaos of your present life makes sense. And he loves you, even when you're not seeing the same.
I hope that we can step back from the lives we know too well—the broken, ugly parts of ourselves and our lives—and choose a higher perspective. Even if just for a moment.
The view from up here is good. Come and rest awhile.