Off-season: When You're Not Where You Wanted to Be, When You Wanted to Be There

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In three weeks, my family and I will quietly glide across the line sectioning our lives into before and after. And it will be as innocuous as stepping onto an air-conditioned airplane.

With an escapade like living in Africa—and really, in many ways embedding ourselves, and it in us—we bear the marks inside. Strangely, truthfully, I have fear this plane will land me back in a place I was giddy to leave seven years ago.

My thirtieth birthday was approaching. From childhood I’d pictured and prepared myself for a lean, vibrant life overseas. Instead, my approaching birthday found me squarely in Little Rock, a fistful of miles from where I graduated high school. I wielded a deep inner fatigue unique to welcoming four children in five years. (No. No twins. A couple did feel like twins.) Insert the picket fence and the dog—and you can picture the level of contentment I both seized with two hands and questioned, even while cherishing my life. I mean, I knew how I got there. I was grateful I was there. But still, I wondered. How did I get there?

Through a lot of wrestling and some wise listening ears (my husband’s included), God fully  renewed my resolve to serve completely wherever He positioned me. At the time, I had no idea that Africa lay mere months ahead—and that it would be just as dazzling and crushing as I’d speculated; more so.

Now, I confessed to a friend a few months ago with a sigh, it’s back to unloading the dishwasher.

You will never just unload the dishwasher, she said kindly. (I will always remember this with gratitude.)

When we were making this decision, I’d listen to music as I was jogging, and chew on our circumstances. Sometimes I had to steer myself away from songs like Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”:

I said somebody’s got to take care of him
So I quit school and that’s what I did

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so we can fly away?
We gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way

When you feel like your season is off, it’s tempting to flirt with escapist thoughts. To fantasize about alternate realities. To let thoughts run wild without taking them captive. To do anything, really, rather than be still, my soul; bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.

It takes work to replace lyrics like those–with lyrics like these: For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. It takes work to root and establish my soul in God’s love, and to remember my significance lies there–not in where I live, how much I sacrifice, my mental resume, or even my dreams’ fulfillment.

I thought of all of this last night as I lay in bed, vainly prodding myself to sleep. I thought of Jesus, and the fact that He must have been planing and sanding some quality, lovely furniture for more than a decade, watching His friends find lovely young women and bear adorable young children. Timothy Keller suggests that at the wedding of Cana, when Jesus said, “Woman…my time has not yet come,” He may have been thinking as many single people do at a wedding: my time, my wedding, is still on its way.

In light of all the gifts laid up in Jesus, God’s timing with Him may have seemed wasteful. After all, His “peak” was a period of about three years, right?

I guess what I’m saying is this: Jesus knew what it was to wait. To have a proper time for every obedience in His life.


The Either/Or’s

John Piper suggests here that sometimes our obediences aren’t competing; there’s simply a time for each of them. Or, as my friend said to me after my strained, “But I feel like I’m made for Africa!”: If He made you for Africa in these years, He’s made you for something else when He brings you back.

Calling is a nuanced, loaded term right now (don’t miss this post, “The Cult of Calling“). We make a lot of critical, significant decisions based on calling. But as I’ve mentioned before, my callings include “wife” and “mom” and a whole lot of others right now. (The Apostle John—a “Son of Thunder”—may have been bewildered when Jesus added “care for my elderly mother” to the list of His callings. Loving those around us, I think, is that important.) Amidst all our dreams, loving well and trusting God remain constant: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances–for this is God’s will for you. 

I suppose that in my confusion at God’s timing—my irreverent struggles with feeling “benched”—I join the ranks of Jeremiah, Joseph, Moses, Esther, Ruth, and so many others who wrestled with God’s timing and ideas for their lives. I think of the apostle Peter, comparing his prophesied life’s end to John’s: “But what about him?”

Jesus’ response: What is that to you? You follow me.

They, too had to lay aside ideas of what they were supposed to have, supposed to be, supposed to be doing. It takes time for our souls to agree with the Psalmist: My times are in Your hands.


When Your Rearview Mirror–or Windshield–is Overwhelming

As I leave, I think of my dear Ugandan friend, Olivia. Both of her parents died of AIDS when she was a teenager. She labored through inhumane hours with difficult bosses to put her siblings through school—and is, at 32 and unmarried, at last preparing to graduate with her counseling degree. God is of course using the years unspooled behind her, the stories of weary caregiving or harsh treatment from relatives to propel her toward serving His people in Uganda. She has an edge and a passport with them I will never have because of the story God’s written for her. His impeccable timing, like any mind-blowing symphony, is both meticulous and sweeping.

Dr. Ed Welch observes Jesus’ antidote to our hand-wringing worries: Seek first His kingdom.[1] You’re the King, God. You rule excellently over my times. You clothe the lilies radiantly. You see. You do care.

So as I zip closed overstuffed bags and our too-much-for-words life here—I choose to root myself; to trust God will continue to make His kingdom come here as I leave and in suburban America as He brings me back.

And that in time, my heart will arrive, too.


Like this post? You might like

The Broken Heart: On Leaving Africa

Doubting the Dream Weaver

Memos to Myself: On Keeping Your Heart Soft When Times are Tough

For the Day When You Feel Powerless, Parts I, II, and III

Don’t Waste the Waiting





[1] Welch, Edward T. Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest. New Growth Press (2007), p. 110. Kindle edition.

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