There’s nothing quite like greeting friends who think you’re on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
At first they freeze, brains in hyper-drive, trying to deal with the gap between their assumptions and reality. But as I wait, and watch, their faces change from blank, to shock, to joy.
Suddenly, I’ve been woven back into the life I left months ago. I can attend graduations. Meet my friend’s newborn daughter. Play games with my grandmother. Take walks with my sisters. Hug my brothers. And bask in my first American spring in years.
But all these blessings came with a price tag: my plans.
I thought I was going to spend my summer in Israel; God thought differently. As my plans began to unravel, I had one short week to decide what to do: stay in Jerusalem, or return home to the U.S. I’d like to say I remained completely calm, but I didn’t. Fortunately, my family was willing to support me in my drama queen moments, which were many.
“It’s unsettling,” I exclaimed to a faraway sister, “not to know which hemisphere I’ll be in by next week!”
“Pretend it’s an adventure,” she advised.
An adventure? It’s not so simple, this moving from one continent to another. There’s intense pressure as I attempt to synchronize departure date and to-do list, telescoping my life back down to two suitcases and a carry-on. There’s saying goodbye (which never seems to get better with practice). I experience a wrenching feeling, as if part of my life were about to be amputated. And jettison my just-grown-comfortable routine for …
Well, I’ll find out when I get there.
During the years I spent volunteering up and down the east coast of the U.S., I decided that if I ever had a blog, I’d call it “I’m Here … but I’ll be There in a Minute.” After numerous trips overseas, it seems even more appropriate than ever. With all that practice, shouldn’t I have made friends with unexpected adventures long ago? Perhaps, but I still fight change. It upends my sense of identity, rearranges my mental map, frustrates my homing instinct, and knocks me right out of my groove. I stumble around asking, Where do I belong? What am I supposed to do? What comes next? And I get tired of answering all these questions with “I don’t know.”
I was planning to see my Swedish friend Emma in Israel this summer. In the middle of that decision-making week, she popped up in my chat window, asking where I’d be when she arrived. I sighed, and typed yet another “I don’t know.” And then it hit me. I never really know what my life will hold next: not what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be living, or even what hemisphere I’ll be in. I only think I have these things figured out.
The book of Proverbs says, “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”Proverbs 27:1 The book of James adds:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” — yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance.James 4:13-16
The uncertainty God had allowed into my life simply revealed the ignorance I live with every single day.
Many good seasons of life are profoundly unsettling. College. Graduation. Courtship, marriage, parenthood. A milestone birthday, or a move. A new responsibility at church, or a new job. In the transition period, roles, expectations, sometimes even identities are in a bewildering state of flux. I can tell you from experience that until I’ve figured out what I’m meant to do in this new season, that satisfying sense of a job well done is hard to come by.
When I arrived back in the U.S., I didn’t know exactly what God had in mind for my summer, or precisely how long He wanted me at home. I felt sidelined, stalled, useless, and just plain lost. Didn’t I need to know the future before I could plan my next step? Perhaps it was for times like this that Jesus told the parable of the talents.Thanks to Kevin DeYoung for bringing up this parable in the context of God’s guidance. In effect, He says, “You don’t know when I’m coming, but you do know what to do: Invest the resources I’ve given you!”
Uncertainty isn’t a dead end; it’s a wake-up call. I can have no real idea what my future holds, and still move forward with confidence in God’s directing power. I can boldly make plans, keeping an ear open for His redirection. Believe me, I’m tempted to hide out until He shows up. But He wants me to invest, and lavishly.
Let’s say I know exactly what to do, and I’m doing it with all my might. There are still lessons for me to learn, because frankly, even success can be unsettling. After all, is there any guarantee that I’ll be able to pull it off again? For all the satisfaction and enjoyment I get out of my work, I still have moments of stark fear with each new article I write. I have no way of knowing what I will say until I have said it, and I am acutely aware that no words worth reading will be forthcoming, unless I have help from the One who created galaxies … out of nothing.
“My grace is sufficient for you,” He says reassuringly, “for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That’s why “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”2 Corinthians 12:9
Uncertainty about the future not only strips away my illusions of self-sufficiency, it puts my trust in God to the test. How fast are my faith reflexes? How long will I fear before I turn to Him? How soon will I remember that His plans for me are good? Weakness and uncertainty are meant to remind me to camp out in His power. And there’s absolutely no better place for me to be.
Discombobulation, Here We Come!
Before my first visit to Israel, I expected change and upheaval in abundance. I didn’t expect to encounter it in the local airport, before I even left American soil.
It was a hot but miraculous May afternoon: 18 suitcases, nine carry-ons, and nine Adamses were all lined up at the check-in counter and ready to go. But with just three hours before our flight, an over-zealous airline agent with misinformation about our tickets was about to keep us grounded. My parents explained, cajoled, and finally ran down a very long hallway in search of a more sympathetic official. Meanwhile, I babysat the baggage — and time kept evaporating. It was hard to pray. It was hard to trust. The best I could do was to inwardly look up towards Jesus every now and then and say, “I know You can handle this.”
While other travelers swirled past me, I had time to stop, sift through my motives, and decide that this trip wasn’t all about me: It was for Him. I had a moment to remember Who was in control. And I had the privilege of seeing Him work on our behalf. There — in the confusion — I met God. I met Him in a way I never would have if everything had gone according to plan.
I’d like to think that someday I’ll have it all figured out. If I could just convince God to hand over a detailed five-year itinerary every so often, then I would glide through each transition in my life without a single misstep. But I know what would come next: I would wave airily and begin walking away. “Thanks God,” I’d call over my shoulder. “See you later.” And I’d head off down the trail, alone.
I tend to view change as the enemy, but according to my Creator, the real enemy is a self-confidence that shuts Him out. That’s why upheaval isn’t an emergency; it’s a mercy. I’m quite sure that at the bottom of it lies His desire for my attention and companionship — and “as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”Psalm 73:28 (NASB)
I suspect that following the One who had no place to lay his head means I willingly say, “Discombobulation, here we come!” But as change continues to chase me, I’ve worked out a philosophy that fits my nomadic life: I’m here now, but I’ll be somewhere else in a minute, so I’ll enjoy this experience while I can. Jim Elliot said it better: “Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation which you believe to be God’s will for you.”
Even uncertainty, upheaval, and change.
Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.