I didn’t like cities. As a young prairie child, going to the city meant an hour-long drive one way, hours of grocery shopping, traffic, general traffic noise, and more grocery shopping. It was generally the worst way for a girl to spend a Saturday.
A few years later in middle school, we watched a little promo video for an inner-city VBS. I remember thinking, Wow I would never EVER want to do that. It doesn’t even look fun. Not 5 years later I was indeed a part of that same VBS and having the time of my life. Even though I was barely out of childhood, my former preconceptions of cities were shattered and replaced with an excitement about city life thanks to the host of opportunities and adventure it presented.
I think God has a sense of humor. Not because I think He is a cruel God and has all manner of tricks up his sleeve, but because His call on our lives when we choose to follow Him is usually way outside of our limited ideas. During teenage years when I thought about adult-hood (which was quite often and with much regularity), there were certain ideas and goals I had in mind. Some things such as career and location were vague. Others were more specific, like whether or not I wanted to name my kids after various cars or opt for Russian royalty instead.
There was one thing I knew that I wanted to avoid: a short-term missions trip to Asia. It appeared to be the “in” thing and seemed like some sort of rite-of-passage for Anabaptist youth. You graduate from high school, work a couple years, go to Asia for a month or more, come back and live small-town American for the remainder of your life. That was NOT going to be me. I would maybe go to visit my missionary friends, but never for some short-lived mission experience.
This past winter I did just what I said I would never do (go to Asia on a short-term trip) and found it to be more fulfilling than I had ever dared hope. During that month, Jesus met me in so many real ways, and I had this feeling that I needed to come back someday. It was one of my team members that suggested Thailand. At first the idea excited me, but eventually waned to a lukewarm, half-hearted idea. I didn’t especially love Thailand (although the food and friendly people were nice). I didn’t love it because, well, tropical countries just aren’t my forte. Also, let’s be honest, everybody goes there. And I didn’t want to be a part of the “everybody.” Or something.
So I came back to the US and started a new position at work and moved to the city (It’s true. My childhood self never saw that one coming). I have no regrets on these decisions, but my heart was restless, wanting something else that seemed elusive and far out of reach. Fast forward several months and the Thailand idea hits me in the face again. This time I know it’s a wake-up call because the restlessness was burying me in discontent and apathy. Jesus never forced me to this decision, but I know. I know that following Him even if the feelings aren’t there brings so much joy in the end. It’s always, always worth it, even when it might be hard or non-glamorous.
This winter I’m going to Thailand for 2 months. Call it a personal vision trip or trying out the overseas missionary life or a desire to see what Jesus is up to. Whatever it may be called, there is a clear distinction in what my ideas once were and how graciously He has guided me in HIS direction, which always end up being way better than my plans.
If I’m honest, there is a piece of it that is scary when I think about plunging into this kind of risk again. Living by faith is always harder in the moment than looking at it from the outside. But I’m also convinced it’s the best part. I don’t always know or even need to know what it looks like. No matter, I want to live in such a way that I need Him to come through for me. Experiencing that kind of faith is much harder and more beautiful than can even be described because every experience is different.
I don’t want to go to Thailand, but I’m going anyways. Not because I have reached a plateau of grandiose spirituality where nothing is felt and everything is obedience. Rather, because I am a messy, little human who has an ingenious and kind Father. He prepares accordingly, and gives the want the moment I need it and not a minute sooner. The Great Commission was never about my feelings anyways.
“Let’s show up to life. Let’s prove how beautiful it can really be. Let’s face the conflict, redeem it, conquer it, and allow it to mold our character. Let’s participate in what God is doing in the world.” [Donald Miller]