Sunday, 3 November 2013

What Did I Expect?

Every New Year's, our church gathers for a time of celebrating, a slideshow of the year's events, and sharing of what God has done in the past year.  At the end of the service, we all have the opportunity to pick up what we call a promise verse, something for us to hold on to for the coming year.  With anticipation, I walk up to the front, look at all the little pieces of paper face down on the little table, and randomly choose one, wondering what kind of promise or fate will be revealed.  It's almost like breaking open a fortune cookie, except I can't endorse putting a lot of weight in the little paper inside.  Can I just eat the cookie?

Anyway, this past New Year's, as I picked up my promise verse and read it, I wasn't exactly filled with joy.  It was more like fear.  If I was going to hold onto this promise throughout the year, it meant I would be encountering some difficulty.

Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

You see, I didn't know at the time that I would be writing my resignation a few weeks later and spend most of my year unemployed.  I had no idea how much I would have to be content with what I had, and lean on God's faithfulness and promise to take care of me.  I also had no idea what kind of opportunities would follow my decision to stop working.

It was in March that a man who has had a big impact in my life suggested I consider missions.  Although I was content to take a bit of a break from work, I hadn't considered missions a great deal.  I always wanted to go on a missions trip while I was still single, but I didn't think of that necessarily being the time.  I knew I wanted to go to Haiti and I looked into whether or not that was still a possibility.  I further prayed that if the Lord wanted me to do missions, to make me aware of opportunities.  It was only days later that I heard on the radio about a need for volunteers in New York City to help with Hurricane Sandy relief and I began to plan for a one week trip.

This year, I have made five different trips, three of which were to Staten Island.  In those first few months of traveling, one of the questions I got asked often was  "How are you paying for all of this?"  To be honest, I only paid one trip completely out of my pocket.  For the others, many or all of my expenses were covered otherwise.  I have had opportunities this year that I never would have dreamed of when I picked up that promise verse.

When I came home from my last term in NY, I knew I had some responsibilities to tend to, and more than that, I needed to find work.  I didn't think I was that naive about the labour market in my area, but I must say that it has taken a lot longer than I expected.  I would be lying to say that I have always remained joyful through this effort.  I would be lying to say that I always had unshaking confidence that God would answer my prayers in the way I wanted.  And employment was not the only issue I was seeking the Lord about.  There have been a lot of other things going on in my mind and heart that I was trying to understand the Lord's will in.  There were times I said to myself or friends "My life makes no sense!"  And there were times I would kneel and come before the throne and just say "Lord, I don't understand."

To be honest, there were times when I briefly thought "Maybe my last term in NY wasn't such a good idea."  But I always crushed that idea pretty quick.  Last night I had the privilege of reconnecting with some fellow volunteers, meeting new ones, sharing memories, laughter, and tears.  You see, I recognize that despite the uncertainty of my life right now, I would not take back the last 7 months.  I would not go back and choose a different path.  I know how incredibly blessed I have been to be able to do what I have done.  I would not trade the experiences of this year for financial ease.  They have been worth the uncertainty of life.

I think part of the problem of what I experienced coming home is that I had this proud and unscriptural expectation that, since I spent so much of my time this year serving, God would bless me with a great job soon after I came home.  I had gained all this great experience and honed some leadership qualities.  Surely some great employer would see what I had to offer and hire me in an instant!  Not so.  And God does not owe me anything.  In truth, He gave me a lot more than I could have asked for.

I have come to an incredible realization recently.  It's a very obvious one at that.  You may even wonder just how thick-headed I am.  Here it is.  Free time and money rarely coexist in abundance, at least not for a long period of time.  You see, when you work, you are able to accumulate resources, but are limited as to what you can do with your time.  When you stop working, you have a lot of time, but your resources dictate where you go and what you do.  I recognize that this experience is not unique to my life, but is that of most of this world's population.

Obvious, it seems, but I have begun to understand this phenomenon and the frustrations related to it firsthand in a new way, as I have had a great deal of time, but a limited supply of resources at my disposal.  I am so grateful though, that I have learned to be disciplined in the way I manage finances, have been adamant about not making debt, and am usually not inclined to have a lot of stuff or the latest gadgets.

I have wrestled with a lot of different emotions through this.  There have been days I've been so frustrated that I don't have meaningful ways to use my time, and I have to remind myself there are things I can do now, that I won't be able to do later.  There are days I don't understand what the Lord's purpose is in this, but then I remember that I have gained a greater understanding of Who He is, and the love that He desires for me to have for Him.  I don't fail to see the times He provides in little ways.  And (although I admit there have been times where I have not felt positively about the way some people tried to encourage me) I have been grateful for the people--friends, mentors, past volunteers--who have lifted me up, prayed for me, and helped in other ways.

So what did I expect this year?  Two months ago?  Not this. Not all the amazing experiences, nor the not-so-amazing challenges.  But I know I serve One Who is called Faithful and True, One Who calls me His beloved, One Who promised never to leave me nor forsake me.  And I know I'm blessed.

"God will give you the very blessings you ask if you refuse to go any further without them, but His silence is the sign that He is bringing you to an even more wonderful understanding of Himself." --Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest