I carry a vivid memory of a seemingly small moment in 2007.
I’m alone in my little red Toyota Rav 4, loaded down with the assorted belongings my parents didn’t have room for in their vehicle a few days before, when they came to move me out of my tiny, dark, miserable apartment. In the passenger seat sits a rather plain envelope, containing my diploma. I’ve stayed the weekend in the home of friends so I could attend my last Sunday church service. This morning, Monday, I woke up alone in their house, and accidentally set off their alarm as I attempted to exit through the garage. That bit of excitement behind me, I’ve now collected the diploma package from an office on my college campus, (an amazingly anticlimactic errand,) and I am driving out of Little Rock, Arkansas headed back to my parents’ house in Oklahoma. It will be only a temporary stop. Soon I will be preparing for another road trip, this one longer and scarier: to my new job on Long Island, NY. I am crying.
Laura Tremaine of the blog 10 Things to Tell You hosted a challenge on Instagram recently. She asked people to post the answers to one prompt a day for ten days. One of the prompts was “A defining moment in my life was when…” And though I could have written about the day I decided to marry Dave, or the day I gave birth to Abby, this little moment, driving down I-40 came to mind and wouldn’t leave.
I can’t say this memory came from the far depths of my mind, because I had thought on it recently. It holds great significance for me, because it’s a moment in time when I knew I was following the leading of the Lord, and I was obeying Him, even though I was terrified.
I think I cried most of the 4 hour drive that day. Because while most of my college friends had left Little Rock after spring graduation the previous May, leaving me to finish up one last class and graduate in December, all alone (the unfortunate result of having transferred in my junior year)…and while my best friends from church were both heading off to new adventures of their own…and while my living situation was depressing (see apartment description above)…and while many things about the home I’d created in my college town were becoming less appealing to me by the day…it was still the only place I’d ever lived besides my parents’ house. It was the only other place I felt comfortable. And I was scared to leave.
But I was leaving anyway. Because amidst the fear of change, and the uncertainty of my future in a new city, thousands of miles away, where I knew exactly 1 person…just as surely as I had known that moving to Little Rock was the right decision 2.5 years prior, I knew God was calling me to New York.
It’s a wonderful truth about spending time in the Word that when we really focus and seek the voice of God, He uses the words we read and the events of our lives to speak to us in ways so specific to us that they might be hard to describe to others.
I’ve been reading a Chronological plan this year (which I LOVE) and in the past few weeks, overlapping with the 10 Things to Tell You Challenge, I’ve been in the later books of the Old Testament. For the first time I’ve started to get a clearer understanding of the books of the prophets: Jeremiah, Ezra, Haggai, etc. Seeing the stories of God’s consistent warnings to His people, their consistent refusal to listen, the fulfillment of the prophesies that they would be taken into captivity, and His consistent, steadfast love and care for them in the midst of the upheaval and terror and despair…it’s just such a clear reminder that we serve a BIG PICTURE God. And that we are such RIGHT NOW humans.
The book of Haggai begins with a message from God to the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. King Cyrus of Persia had charged them with the task of rebuilding the temple of the Lord, and they had gone up with purpose and provision (Ezra 1.) They had begun their work well, offering burnt offerings and laying the foundation. But when opposition arose, and their enemies ingratiated themselves with the next king, suddenly their orders were changed and the work came to a standstill (Ezra 4). By the time the reign of King Darius began, the people had become distracted. It makes perfect sense. They were in limbo, waiting to fulfill their purpose, with vast amounts of time and effort required to get messages back and forth to Babylon, along with conflicting orders, which all must have made their lives seem pointless. So they fell into the trap we all fall in: worrying about the here and now.
2 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.” 3 Then the word of the Lord came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
7 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways. 8 Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified, says the Lord. 9 You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house. 10 Therefore the heavens above you have withheld the dew, and the earth has withheld its produce. 11 And I have called for a drought on the land and the hills, on the grain, the new wine, the oil, on what the ground brings forth, on man and beast, and on all their labors.” – Haggai 1:2-11
They started on the journey God had called them to, but when things didn’t go their way, they got comfortable with how far they’d already come and stopped before they were finished.
Looking back on that memory of myself, driving out of Little Rock , tears streaming down my face, I realize that it truly was a defining moment. Leaving home for the first time had been hard, yes. I’d lived the first 21 years of my life in one place, and planned to stay there forever. The events leading up to me deciding to move were painful, even devastating. Some of the lowest moments of my life.
But this SECOND move was an even bigger step. Because I had just started a new life and I was leaving it behind. I was making the deliberate choice to do it all AGAIN. Farther from home, without the security of family nearby. Willingly walking into new challenges, facing new fears, opening myself up to growing in new and unimaginable ways.
This is the way God works. Our walk with Him is just that: a walk, a journey, a process. There is no standing still. Not everyone is led to physically relocate. I wonder if I’m just so stubborn and become so easily set in my ways that God has to continually uproot my entire life and set it down in a new place before He can get my attention to lead me to the next step on my spiritual path. That day I left Little Rock was so significant to me, because it was the day I fully committed to go on the journey, wherever it takes me.
If I had stayed in Little Rock, I could have lived for the Lord, worked for His kingdom, and built a life for myself. But I believe it would have been settling down after only the first leg of a journey that God continues to guide me on.
In New York I healed from some previously unidentified spiritual wounds. I grew in my faith and my friendships. I had amazing experiences of personal growth and development. It wasn’t always easy or comfortable, in fact there were some dark and lonely and painful days and nights, but God used that time to do things in me that I am still not even 100% aware of.
It’s also where I met my husband, and how I started down the path we’ve been walking together the past six years: moving to Alabama, then Hawaii, and now North Carolina. Learning to navigate the culture of the Army. Figuring out how to create a marriage. Becoming parents.
And the journey isn’t over. The next step looms large on the horizon: God is calling us to end our time with Army and step into new challenges and levels of faith that we’ve never walked in before.
Frankly, it’s terrifying. You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.
It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day. Worrying about bills and saving money and planning for retirement. But we aren’t on this journey for our own convenience. We can’t become distracted by the cares of life and allow the word God has placed in us to be choked out. What He is doing in us and through us, it’s not really about US.
He chooses to use people, and He wants us to be those people. So when He sees us becoming so consumed with our temporal lives here on Earth, He often comes and gently pulls away those things we think are so important, like a parent carefully confiscating a dangerous item their toddler thinks is a toy. Like the Jews in Haggai 1, He frustrates our efforts and allows us to spin our wheels…not because He is cruel and unloving. But because He loves us so much, He will do whatever it takes to get our attention.
Believe me, I’ve been there. We are in the middle of this kind of season right this minute. It’s not fun.
But this I know: as a big picture God, His plans will be fulfilled with or without me. I can choose to participate or not. I choose to let Him lead. Because I can look back on my life and say: for every dream, plan, gift, or desire He’s allowed to be removed from my life, He’s given me something greater in return. I wouldn’t go back for ANYTHING.
Growth is painful. But to stop growing is to begin to decay. There is no idle gear in God’s kingdom. Either we are advancing or retreating. We might think we can camp out where we are, and God is patient to allow times of rest, but we must never get too comfortable.
He has a destination in mind for us. He has work for us to do along the way.
I want to keep moving. To stay focused. To put the first things first and let God take care of the details. To get my eyes up, off my circumstances today, and onto the big picture of the Big God I serve.