Having to write California in my return address is soon about to become a reality and one I never even dreamed would be in my future.
I don't think we get to create the dream and put a name on it. I think God reveals them in His own time and calls them His plan. We just get the honor of being surprised when they're better than we could ever have imagined. We don't create the dreams, we just get to live them.
I vividly remember my long, cotton skirt skimming the grass as I stood in the school yard of a high school in Zambia, Africa. I was on my fifth week of a six-week mission trip and I was still desperate to figure out why God had taken me across the world that summer. I was 19 and eager to experience a world outside of my own, but insecure in who I was and what God was asking me to do. While I was traveling with a group of 15, I struggled to really bond with them. I was too in my head--worried I wasn't "doing ministry correctly," afraid I'd never wash my clothes in anything other than a bath tub again, and hesitant to do or say anything with fear I'd offend someone in a country that wasn't my own.
It wasn't until I stood in front of a room full of high school students that I began to feel like myself. We had been asked to teach AIDS awareness classes and while I crammed to learn all the curriculum, I found myself so excited to spend time with and get to know the students.
One afternoon, myself and one of my co-leaders followed a student out to the school yard when she asked if she could speak to us privately. As we stood in the grass, I listened as the 16-year-old poured out details to two strange Americans that she didn't dare whisper to anyone else before. While she entrusted those few minutes of vulnerability to the two of us, it was as if everything else in the world stood still. This is why I brought you here.
"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 61:1
I flew back to the U.S. that summer with the assurance that God had taken me to Africa to reveal to me my love for working with teenagers and His ability to work through my insecure and timid self.
I returned to school for my sophomore year and learned one of the 5000 lessons you inherit in college: Sometimes you have to give up something you love, for something you love even more. I quit my sorority and became a Young Life leader.
I've always wrestled with the word "calling." Was that something I was supposed to list on my Facebook profile right after "Work"? Do I need to report it to my church? List it on an online dating profile (help me, Jesus). Rebekah Lyons states well something I've learned over the past decade, "Calling is where your talents and burdens collide."
"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor." Isaiah 61:1
I've watched God weave a story in my life that hasn't always felt comfortable, but the greatest perspective of the story is when I get to read it backwards. I can name 100 reasons why I shouldn't have gone to Africa that summer, I can name 100 more why I shouldn't have changed my major to Rhetoric the following semester. But I can name 1000 ways that God has used speaking and writing and mentoring teenagers over the past decade to reveal Himself to me and show me the beauty of the gospel.
I've worked in the Christian publishing industry for the past 8 years, and while it was the career I never wanted, it's been the career I really needed. I have been challenged, encouraged, lead, and stretched. I've had moments where I knew it was the best job ever and moments where I thought I wanted to quit and disappear into the woods somewhere. I've celebrated huge wins with authors and delivered terrible news to them all in the same day. And the whole thing has been such an unexpected gift.
But this past year, I felt the tug to begin to walk away. Sometimes you have to give up something you love, for something you love even more. On paper, I had every reason to stick with it but my heart knew otherwise. My heart knew about the day in the grass at a school in Zambia. So I left my job and stepped into a new one that allowed me the flexibility to spend more time pouring into student ministry, while still working in marketing and publishing. Seemed like a great balance!
Until I lost the new job.
"And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Colossians 3:17
When I found out my company was closing in October, I thought, "Well, shoot!" I thought I had created this perfect little plan for myself--a job doing what I was good at that paid my bills.... plus plenty of margin and flexibility to do student ministry. I had just forgotten that I'm not in charge of the plan.
But this is where I get to tell the story--His story--and it is oh so good.
Almost every year when my friends and I gather to talk about our dreams for year, I write down "What if I go into youth ministry?
Apparently, it took God taking my job away for me to actually do it.
I've been involved in youth ministry in some capacity since the day I returned from that trip to Africa, but I've always wondered what it would be like if I had the chance to do it full time. Thanks to a God who weaves a story even in the most restless and doubtful moments, I'm moving to Santa Barbara, CA in 4 days to do just that.
I have nothing to offer these students but Jesus. I have nothing to teach but His truth. I have no plan except to follow Him. He's the only one who's never let me down.
Somewhere along the way the world taught me to fear turning 30, but I have a few things to say to the world: I've never been more grateful. No one wants to lose their job, but as I wrapped up 2016 I realized what a gift it actually was. When the opportunity came my way to move to Santa Barbara for 6 months to step in as an interim youth pastor, I thought, "Santa Barbara's so far. That'll never work."
But I continued to ask God to give me clarity in every conversation and every interview and slowly He continued to remind me of the day in the grass at a school in Zambia. Over and over he brought me back to Isaiah 61, a passage I've felt drawn to for years. And as I've studied His Word this year, He's reminded me that my favorite moments with Him are the ones when I'm preparing to teach students.
You see... I can't teach teenagers about God's Word if I don't know it. And the knowing it part is both my responsibility and my joy.
So, here's to 30 and California. Here's to the day in the grass at a school in Zambia. Here's to my God who allows me to tell the story. To tell this story is to tell of Him and His story is one of great, great, faithfulness.