Our Desert, part 2
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper…. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:5-7, 11-13
Our desert experience started with an oasis.
The ministry we were working with had a program that could be applied for, where you spent a year working at their international headquarters in a behind the scenes role, while also spending a good portion of time being built into and cared for as staff. So, we moved to Orlando, FL. I was ½ way through my first pregnancy when we moved. We joined up with staff members from all over that were participating in this one-year program.
In my mind, I can still breathe in the thick Florida air, heavy like a mink blanket. I see the Spanish moss as it sways all melancholy with the wind and yet against it, clinging unrelentingly to tree branches above. This is the place that we became parents to our first treasure, and it is also the oasis launching pad for our first steps into the desert.
In this bittersweet, life-changing, transitional, stopover-year, we met amazing people. We were poured into by those around us who had experienced things that were as diverse as the places they came from. We took it all in, along with the gnawing sense that we might need it for the time to come and the fear of our desert-path ahead, ready to spread like a rash on the road before us.
There were many who gave and loved on and poured into us that year. One couple in particular wrote on the very fibers of my heart. They had gone through multiple losses of babies prior to that year – I’ve yet to meet another couple who has lost as many of their own. Toward the beginning of the year, they found out they were expecting once again. We rejoiced. Our conversations were filled with hope for the life to come from both of our bulging wombs. We thought, surely now was the time for their hopes to be fulfilled. Months before our first was delivered, these dear friends lost their precious baby, again. And on the day of our firstborn's delivery, my dear friend was scheduled for her D and C...at the same freaking hospital. What are the seemingly cruel odds?
It goes without saying that it would have been perfectly understood and acceptable if they had moved away from us in friendship. We would have understood. But they didn’t. They moved closer. While I was in labor, and they were on their way to her D & C, they came to see me and encourage me. That is just crazy. Ain’t nobody got the heart-capacity for that, right? But they did. And they weren’t crazy and they didn’t have to do any of what they did. Who does that? Jesus. These friends were in their own awful desert but they loved us because they knew his love for them. And in tears, they proclaimed how faithful God was to them despite all we could see and understand.
Giving anyway, even when you are so thirsty you cannot see straight, might just be the most thirst-quenching thing you can do. Love others in the desert? It’s possible. I don’t have it figured out but I know I was the recipient of such healing love. And I will never, ever forget it. I didn't even know how much I needed it at the time. It is a clear and marked reminder to me now that God is indeed faithful and powerful, even through desert-travelers and desert-pain.
After Florida, God brought us back to Hamilton County, Indiana. This is last place I wanted to be sent, to be completely honest. Aside from no desire to leave ministry and the way we were able to use our gifts and live adventurously, I had no interest in residing in homogenous suburbia. But he brought us here, anyway. And now, almost 5 years after that move, I see that He is in this place, moving. He didn't give me a layout of why we needed to move here or why we had to go through what we went through as we wrestled with uncertainty, confusion, doubt, loneliness, or the death of some of our dreams. I asked him for that multiple times a day for days on end - in anger, in tears, in quiet surrender. The husband asked him daily to call us back into full-time ministry for a time. He didn't do either. At least not in the ways we were hoping for at the time.
But He was moving. Throughout every dry, silent, thirsty, lost-on-the-inside-step, he was moving and calling us to contentment, to joy, to the loss of past "dreams" to find HIM. He IS the reason. He IS the point of wherever we find ourselves.
In the desert, we can choose to humbly do as God told his people to do when they were in exile in Babylon. He didn't tell them exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it that way -at least not in the way I assume they wanted. But doing some of the following things are exactly what has begun to set my heart free from the box I wanted to keep myself in. This box of living post-change as if we were made to get back to what was before the change, as I wrote about in my 1st post on the desert.
Be intentional to seek community though every attempt at relationships feels like rolling out of bed after a nightmare and a night of terrible sleep. Do it anyway. Even when it feels like you are the one doing all the work and you don't feel like you fit in with the people you are surrounded by. Ask yourself how you can build into the place you find yourself in, no matter how lost you feel and no matter how much the place may feel it doesn’t “fit.” Build anyway. Be an oasis for to someone else around you, though you are thirsty yourself. Be an advocate for peace among your neighbors and co-workers or for the little people you lead at home. Bless the community you are in whether you want to call it home or not. Because God loves the people there, no matter how awkward the people and place may feel to you. Ask him to show you how much he does. Keep asking yourself, "How can I serve my family, my neighbors, my city, my church family, my friends, and every person I encounter in this place? Even if you feel like your gifts don't apply in this season or stage or city - keep asking yourself how you can use them to build and to love. There is no formula to any of this. It probably won't resurrect your old dreams like you might be hoping for. But it may move you to beyond a dream-come-true. What if we were meant for way more than seeing our own dreamt-up dreams come true? What if our biggest dreams are really puny and we were made to move and grow and change in sync with the dreams and heart of God himself? What if it takes the desert or many deserts to do this?