Nearly three years ago I felt like I was called to move back to Bakersfield. I was at a Jesus Culture conference, dealing with heartbreak and complete uncertainty about my future after yet another job that looked promising, and should have been an open and shut situation, fell through. Standing with 3,000 other people in a beautiful building in Midtown Sacramento, I felt so clearly in my spirit an ache for the last place I would have expected. Beyond feeling an overwhelming sense of rightness, the very next thing I knew with an inexplicable certainty was that I couldn’t talk about it yet. Instead, I was supposed to go on a 21 day fast with a church body that I wasn’t even a member of.
I hated fasting. My parents had done it quite a few times when I was a kid, and it meant that the house didn’t have any of the good food, and that everyone was a little bit closer than normal to hangry. I love food, and I love to cook for people and share food that is ridiculously good with the people I break bread with – and fasting kind of dampens that. It becomes a little bit less enticing when someone says to you, “Hey, do you want to come over and eat this vegan chili that I made because I can only have fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the next few weeks?” But I knew in a way that I couldn’t explain away that I needed to.
So, I fasted. And I failed at it a lot. I don’t know if you know this, but if you want to feel like an exemplary Christian, fasting is the very last thing you should do. Bringing your wants and cravings, your habits and temptations, into submission in such a basic and vital way – you certainly are brought face to face with your own shortcomings. I almost quit so many times because I thought that if I couldn’t do it perfectly, that it couldn’t possibly be honoring to God. I didn’t yet understand that faithfulness to God doesn’t require you to never waver, or to never fail at whatever it is you’re doing, it just requires you to be determined to get up and keep going when the missteps do come.
And then I moved home, and felt like I was supposed to start a bible study doing what I did best. Taco Tuesday took up much of my Instagram feed, and we had good study and excellent food, but it only had 5 people at its biggest meeting, and circumstances nobody saw coming meant that it was cut short after only 6 months. I thought for sure that being called to a place would mean that God had a career ready and waiting when I got here…and the back up to my back up fell through in spectacular fashion. I worked a collection of unexpected jobs, and then when my back up plan did open up and I started working in the classroom, I had a couple of opportunities for full-time work that everyone thought I was a shoo-in for. Can you guess what happened next? Yep. I didn’t even get an interview for a job that I’d been doing, and doing well, for the 4 months leading up to the position being flown.
I had thought that I would live with friends, and we’d do ministry out of our house, loving and feeding people. I moved out on my own in faith that God would work though that (and because as much as I loved my parents, I could only live with them again for so long). The roommate situation I had set up completely fell through and I was struggling to pay rent every month. I was doing graduate school, and stressed to the maximum, and not able to work as often as I’d been doing before, further pushing the already iffy financial situation. I thought I’d heard God in a couple of different situations that required immense faith, and I wasn’t seeing any progress. I want to find a way to force progress or to cut and run before I got hurt, and it seemed like the only thing God was saying was “just wait for it.”
I finished my graduate program and got a job working in that field, that fell out of nowhere into my lap. I loved the work that we were doing, and threw myself into it. I noticed after a couple of months that I was consistently feeling more and more drained. But this was the work that I had moved here to do! I was ministering at two very different places each week, involved heavily in my church, and doing good work within the community. I was finally making Bakersfield a better place, after 2 years, I was doing what I’d been called here to do, so I just had to buck up and power through. And I just kept getting worse and worse. My body started to show signs of the stress and exhaustion I was feeling, and I wasn’t kicking the summer cold I had caught. I’d get a little bit better and then a lot worse. A cold turned into a sinus infection, which drained down and settled in my chest, which then turned into bronchitis, finally turning into pneumonia.
I had nothing left. Everything I knew to do to pull myself up and keep on going made the situation worse. It was still a couple of weeks before the school year started, so I tried to ignore the nagging feeling that I needed to leave that job in favor of a few more paychecks and prolonged financial security. I’m a sucker for control, guys. That nagging feeling didn’t dissipate, and after a few therapy sessions that involved more and more and more confirmation, and a realization that maybe I’d been a teacher in some capacity all along, I turned in my notice. I knew choosing me and stepping out in faith was terrifying, but I also knew that it was right. I thought for sure that stepping out in faith would lead to a big pay-off. And the big, well-paying teaching job that I applied for and logically would have been an ideal candidate for, withdrew the job posting and encouraged me to apply again should they decide to repost it.
I wept when I got that email. I knew that my bank account couldn’t get much emptier, and that there was not a ton of room between my credit card balances and their maximums. Then student loan repayment started at a higher rate than I was anticipating and had budgeted for, there was an error with my paycheck so it didn’t come in at all that month from one of the school sites, I got my first speeding ticket and got into a fender bender. All within the same 30 days. Ya’ll. This has been my 2016. It has been littered with prayers that sounded something like, “Lord, if you don’t come though I’m going to spontaneously combust. Everywhere. Messily.”
And though nothing has felt like the big thing that is still coming, I’ve managed to come through each of these things by the skin of my teeth. I’ve never had a season where the Lord has stripped me of control so systematically, but I’m still standing. And heaven help me if my spirit doesn’t keep coming back to how good God is. That feels obnoxious to type, because this year has been really really freaking hard. Maybe the hardest of my adult life so far. In fact, this season, these last three years of being called back to Bakersfield, have been full to the brim of things that were difficult, painful, and routinely overwhelming. Literally nothing has ended up like I thought it would. I’ve probably spent an inordinate amount of time in the last 1000 days crying, so stressed out it felt like I couldn’t breathe, in fear, or doubting that God would come in on time. But I’ve not spent a single one of those days abandoned, or left high and dry.
Maybe that’s encouraging. I hope that it is. In a season littered with a series of things that feel like failure, I know that God is at work here. I know I’m supposed to be here. I know I’m loved, treasured and worthy. I know that when everything that seems like it can fail, ends up doing so in spectacular fashion, I’m still able to get back up and keep going. I know that regardless of the situation, I’m not handling this alone. I know that if God is true and good, as He has proven Himself to me to be, that all of this will be worth something in the end.
If you’re in a season anything like mine – you’re not alone. It’s not a mark of your worthiness as a person, or a sign of the future waiting for you. I don’t know why it’s not worked out like you thought it would, I don’t know why what should have been enough ended up falling short. I don’t know why we have to struggle and sit in the unknown space, hearing God consistently say, “Wait for it. Wait on me.” I don’t have answers beyond the fact that God is good, and this waiting is not in vain. You are stronger than you’d ever expect, and you don’t have to weather these storms alone. I don’t think that makes the waiting any easier, but there is power in knowing that you’ve got support, even from unlikely sources, and that this part won’t last forever.
“We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken…So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 & 16-18 MSG