The other day, I vented on the phone to my best friend Jess.
"I just feel like we've had so many false starts." In other words, I pictured a clearer cut path in these just-out-of-college months. Get a job that's in line with what I want to do for the rest of my life (ha!), get married, purchase a home, and just glide through blissful married life until we're ready to have a kid or two. Ok, ok. Unrealistic, I know. But I was holding on to at least the good job part.
Jessica calmly replied, "There are no false starts with God. You don't want to be the person that just has everything handed to them. You want to be the one that has experienced trials that will shape your character. God wants that, too." Her wisdom never ceases to amaze me.
She's right. But it's not the answer that makes me sleep better at night.
So in choosing to look from this perspective - and I do - then I choose to look at each struggle in this season as a lesson gained. One life-point on the scoreboard. But really, you don't just gather a lesson, put it in a burlap sack, and lug it behind you as you travel on. These sorts of lessons need to seep into the fabric of our character, changing who we are in the best sort of way.
I want to try to put into words a couple of lessons that are just seeping in.
But before I do, let's go back to Summer 2008. Shawn and I are engaged, spending a perfect summer in Chicago, and praying and seeking the Lord about where we're supposed to land next. Nashville was an option, but after several closed doors there, Chicago seemed to be the best place for us to start out. We had friends and a sense of familiarity there. Ultimately, it was comfort that drove my decision (I can't speak for Shawn). We had heard the advice over and over to begin marriage in the least stressful way.
Little did I know I'd soon be learning a lot about what God thinks about "comfort." He's not too concerned about it. Of course He wants the best for our marriage. But from what we can tell, that plan never involved "comfortable." On the other hand, He knew that the struggles we'd experience straight after the honeymoon would plant us firmly on our knees together. I can honestly say I am more in love with Jesus and I am more in love with Shawn than I was on December 27th. And that, I know, can only be from God. On a side note, I love how my husband wakes up with me at the crack of dawn just so he can spend a few minutes with me before I head to work. I love how he packs my lunch and even puts lemon juice on the apples so they don't brown. :) I love that when I come home to an empty apartment, I can always find his open Bible on the table and know that He has spent time with Jesus. There are a thousand little things that make him the most loving, lovable man to me. I sense just a fraction of how God must love me because He put Shawn in my life.
So I still firmly believe that God wanted us in Chicago for this first part of our marriage, but for very different reasons than mine.
Lesson two. I've been dying to write about the school where I work, but for the sake of the privacy of the kids, have felt uneasy about it. I will say that I am madly in love with 18 beautiful babies. :) [The picture is not of my class, but was the only one I had from the school where their faces weren't all exposed. Felt better about putting it on the internet.] At the same time, this may be the most trying job I've ever had.
For these kids, I'm not even sure I want to know what goes on at home. I'm sure I would be sick. My kindergarteners write on their papers why their mommy or daddy got locked up. The 5-year-old boys ask the 5-year-old girls to be their "baby mommas." There are much more graphic things that I'd rather not get into. I hate that we live in a world where this is reality for these precious children.
While I never pictured beginning my "career" at an urban elementary school, I now can't imagine a better place. The kiddos crave affection like you've never seen, but display that need in vastly different ways. Some throw full-out tantrums (ok, many do that); others draw pictures of the two of us and light up when I praise their hard work (my favorite!).
At the same time, some of the people I work with have treated me (and everyone, for that matter) worse than I've ever seen. Their flagrant, shameless disrespect is appalling. On most days, it takes everything I have to just let their comments go. Everything I have not to wallow in bitterness toward them and how they treat me and, mostly, the kids. Forgiveness feels downright unfair. It's unreasonable and, to the world, senseless. But it's a choice I make for myself - to choose not to carry around their baggage - and it baffles them. I hope it always does. It's also a choice I make in faith that God will avenge. He will repay. That's not my job.
So as much as I love and loathe this job all at once, I feel caught in the "in-between" between right now and what's next. The mission field I've dreamed about for years is right here. No need to hop on a plane and traverse several time zones to find need. Need is calling out from every corner. And while I love our little downtown apartment with a myriad of restaurants and shops at our fingertips, there are days I miss living in a hut in the Amazon telling barefoot children about Jesucristo. Here, I can only picture being a vegetarian. But I would gladly eat rat and monkey brain again if that's where God had me.
Shawn and I feel like we're on the edge of our seats waiting to see His next move. More than ever, we are convicted to live simply - no debt, less "stuff" - allowing us to pick up whenever and follow God where He wants us. We sense the abiding peace and freedom that comes with leaving everything to radically follow Jesus literally wherever He has us.
Our lease is up in September and we're on the fence about whether or not we'll stay here. Our options are seemingly limitless. Teaching English in Asia? Joining the Peace Corps? We pray for wisdom and courage in equal doses. It's hard not to hold onto the idea of "upward mobility" by staying and pursuing a career of some sort. But when I search Scripture, I find only the opposite in Jesus. He sought humility, "downward mobility," and all for my sake. Wow.
I want to share a final story I found in one of my journals yesterday that was such a great reminder for me.
There was an American man who traveled to India because he wanted Mother Teresa to pray for him. (True story, by the way.) So he travels to Calcutta, finds her in the Home for the Dying, and says, "Mother Teresa, I desperately need you to pray for me."
She looks at him and asks, "And why is that?"
He tells her, "I need to know what God has for me. I need clarity in my purpose in life."
Mother Teresa looks at him and says stoically, "I will not pray for you." He is at a loss for words and gives her a puzzled look.
She goes on to say, "In all my years of knowing Jesus Christ, I have never had clarity. I have only had trust. So that is what I will pray for for you."
Isn't that what we all need more of? I know I do. We can go on asking Him for answers and wishing He would just spread His plan out on the table. Or we can trust that He is God and we are not and He is in complete control. Doesn't that sound so much better?
Not clarity, Lord, but trust. Amen.