There is no way I could’ve ever foreseen how different my life would be after just one summer. When I was a child, those summer days were filled with quintessential Small Town, USA moments… fireflies, fireworks, free-time and family. Those created a pretty great foundation for me, but a few summers in my adulthood have changed me in unexpected ways. I’m grateful for the groundwork my childhood built, but I’m also a bit overwhelmed at how necessary that stable base has been.
Dad’s extended hospital stay caused me to redefine what I wanted most in this life. Keeping our church doors open and finishing school was more important than finding a career and choosing a life path or crafting a five-year plan. A great temptation at that point in my life was also to fight for my independence. Instead of focusing just on myself, I was forced to admit my deficiencies and start to live honestly with others. It taught me that life happens in the valleys. I would experience some really high highs in life; I’d be privileged enough to recognize my blessings and rejoice over each one. But real life is filled with lower lows than you think you can handle. My reality asked me to dig deeper if I was going to survive.
A Scripture from Joseph’s life comes to mind. I’ve never been thrown into a pit, disowned by my family, sold into slavery, or stuck in a prison so Joseph’s use of the word “harm” might skew things a little. However, I am sure that this is a godly truth so I don’t mind viewing my circumstances through the lens of Genesis 50:20 (NLT):
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.”
Without my so-called “wilderness experience,” I would’ve lived up to everyone’s expectations. Now I choose to defy them, but I mean that with all the kindness I can muster. Without the summer of 2005, I would probably be employed in an artistic field, living a life way above my current means. I would probably have great health insurance, a nice car, a retirement account, and I might’ve landed no telling where with new friends, new hobbies and new favorite foods. I agree that this is all speculation, but I ask that you oblige me for a few more paragraphs.
I could’ve built any life I wanted. I believe I am capable of anything. I’m an innovative problem solver that has enough tact and grace to communicate and lead others well. My “change the world” mentality and my unwavering confidence apparently would’ve followed me no matter where I went. Stretching a little farther with the “what ifs,” I might’ve had a husband or two and a few kids by now. I could’ve survived as an average church attender. I feel like my faith wouldn’t have ever faltered, but my faithfulness might’ve failed. Without my calling, I definitely wouldn’t sort dirty clothes, evangelize hot streets or visit the sick and feeble and dying. My life could’ve been filled with expensive, extravagant and enviable things. But all of those attractive accoutrements fall a little flat when I look at my options today.
Now, I get to use all of my gifts and talents to serve others. I can see that my degree, my hobbies, my odd jobs and my interests aren’t wasted. My choices about living sacrificially and putting all of my preconceived ideas aside have led to a place where I can lead groups closer to Christ. It’s an honor to follow Him so others can follow me. Stumbling and struggling is a part of that reality that I hope to bear with more grace each day, but I’m honored to do this to let people see how genuinely authentic faith can be. I am seeing my neighbors and my world changed all the time… I can’t guarantee that all of the things that bring me fulfillment now would’ve been a part of that other life. Where I am today may not be where everyone else expected me to end up, but I can guarantee that this reality is no less extraordinary. I believe that this is where I was meant to be all along.
When sickness tried to take my family… when the hospital visit could’ve derailed generations worth of ministerial efforts… when one summer threatened every plan I had ever made… out of the pain and the ashes, something beautiful was born. God’s work in my life since those days is nothing short of miraculous. I see divinity on every single page of my story. I would not be who I am, be where I’m at, or be doing what I am doing without all of those supposedly harmful situations. The hurts and disappointments I’ve experienced made me who I am and I’m happier than I thought I could be. Rehashing this journey for everyone to read has been a vital part of my healing. Only in hindsight am I able to prove that God is good. I knew and felt it at the time (that’s one of the reasons you persevere and survive), but I can tell others about it now. God’s writing a testimony on the pages of my heart that is spilling onto the screen of my blog and it’s a story I can’t explain without Him. God’s ultimate goal is glory. His glory is what saves a soul. His glory is what establishes a kingdom. If I hope to be a part of His plan, I must first learn to find His glory. His glory is good.
For me, I have been brought to this place and time to play a vital role in the salvation of many people. Saved from sin or saved from themselves, I love the fact that I get to be an ambassador of God’s grace in troubled times. And I don’t have to give empty platitudes when I reach out to them. From a place of my scars, I can relate with care and compassion. I can also guide with help and hope. Saying that everything is neat or pretty helps no one. If we desire to see people changed by God’s grace and glory, we must acknowledge the icky messiness of reality and choose to stick around until we see the something good. Upon surrender to God, He was able to take all of my experiences and masterfully create something good from them. Craftsmanship takes time; seeds need lots of time to get ready for harvest. Not growing weary in well-doing is the greatest challenge of life today; believing that God will use this is easier on paper than it is in the broken world I’m trying to reach through relationships. I am His work-in-progress. Where He leads me may exceed people’s expectations or it may just defy people’s opinions. Either way, He’s building something worth showing off so I will no longer regret my harm. My testimony is unique, but I will no longer apologize for it. I will rejoice in the good, I will praise until the mountains move and I will be here when there is more of a story to tell.