I don’t know if you ever get in this predicament, but I am finding myself in it a lot lately. I’d say it’s unique to bloggers or writers, but I’m not so sure now. Indeed, it may be a predicament common to all that have turned a bend in the road, to all those who have come to a point in their lives that they did not expect to be in. Yes, my predicament is that I’m haunted by particular paragraphs I wrote only a year ago, published for others to see, paragraphs that I’m starting to be ashamed of. Not because I was cruel to others, or wrote something silly (though there might have been an hint or two of that). No, no. I’m haunted by these paragraphs because I was so cruel to myself.
How? I called my own dreams silly.
These are two such paragraphs.
I knew that path. DTS students often come in all shy and nervous about committing to “living life on the edge” and being forever “ruined for the ordinary”. To them, YWAM is that crazy family you don’t understand and the most obscure job title you can ever imagine. To them, “missions” has kinks, bends, and turns, with no GPS devices to tell you where to go. Yet I always pictured myself on this path. It was adventure, it was home, it was normal.
This is what it looked like: You graduate high school. You rebel against the “norm” and don’t go to college, because God has called you to do a specific job, and he doesn’t want you to rely on society’s definition of success. You do DTS, you get smashed by the Holy Spirit in lecture phases, meet incredible people, and get your heart broken and called to the nations on outreach then go back and staff on that base. You do some awesome secondary schools and while you’re at it some cute guy comes and says he likes you. You’ve ministered together for awhile so you pray about it and then you get married. You go into missions. You move to another country. You serve there and have lots of hard times but the good always outweigh the bad and the Lord always provides. You start a ministry, a family, and write a book. Repeat.
I mean, I didn’t say that those things are silly, nor was I outwardly cruel to myself. I followed by explaining that YWAM life is highly diverse so there’s no way that prescription follows suit with any one person. Yet trying to be funny (as well as poignant) by listing a very common dream for girls in missions, I revealed something about my own heart. I myself had those dreams.
Who said I never wanted to do DTS? Who said I never wanted to do secondary schools like School of Worship and School of Writing– that I’ve grown up hearing about all my life? Who said I wouldn’t like to marry a cute guy in missions, write a book, or have a family? Who said. All I said is that God had told me not to do DTS, and I thought it was probably a good thing because the YWAM world was all I had ever known.
Some YWAM kids don’t want to do DTS because they’re tired of the hello-goodbye of missionary life. However, my reason for planning not to was because I believed God had called me out of it for good. With a somewhat suicidal sense of duty, I let those dreams die without any express order from God to kill them. I instantly thought– oh, I’m not going to do DTS? God doesn’t want me to? I better let those dreams die quick so they don’t cause any problem in our relationship. (Rather than talking with a man who very much wants my heart, not my blind obedience).
Woah. Don’t you see what’s going on? I run away from honesty, in hope to keep people happy. Isn’t it much easier to let dreams die, to mock them even, rather than let people know that’s really what you wanted to do? My brothers quoted this from the thriller The Village
the other night: “Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them”
. Yes, a classic Norris tongue-twister. But think about it. What are we so afraid of? What am I so afraid of? And what happened in my relationships as a small child that made me think I had to shut down my heart in order to value others?
I mean, seriously, that’s what I did.
I heard, you are not going to do DTS, you are going to start something new. Not ever? Maybe, but most likely not. Devastated, I protested, but YWAM’s my family! And there I revealed the dual reason why God would take me out of it. I had a sense of belonging in the organisation, but had little understanding of the people outside of it. Clueless of that, I still trusted that God was leading me. I do that with authority. I grew up in a safe environment where I learned to trust first (this trait means I can swing between gullible and faithful). Yet hell’s onslaught creeped in, whispering that it was a sin to be honest if I wasn’t fully trusting, or if I was feeling against it. If I said what I wanted– when I was given such specific orders (don’t do a DTS or be involved with YWAM, yeah?)– it would hurt His feelings. He wouldn’t be pleased with me.
Whereas, in my experience the past four years, it’s been the complete opposite.
You know what God told me, when I was wrestling with the idea of actually gunning for it, doing DTS and going to Australia? Despite a student loan, newly made home in New Zealand, and lack of primary teaching experience?
“I’ve been asking you what you want for so long– that if you ignored this now, you will be hurting ME.”
For some reason, no matter how many times He asked me what I wanted, deep down I felt it was selfish to reply. DTS? No, God, I’m doing university at the moment because I know you wanted me to do it, and oh how I love living in New Zealand and you are fulfilling my desires here! After university I planned to get a job– I did not want to go into missions with a student loan. But that didn’t work out the way I expected. Since deciding to do DTS, I’ve ranted with God why He let me think that was the plan for so long. I would have been saved from so much heartache in the past year, right?
Instead, God showed me that He was so pleased with me for planning to deal with gravity of what He had entrusted me, in training to be a teacher. It showed Him I was faithful and willing to obey, and made Him even more willing to ask me what I wanted– I just needed to ask and receive. Yet I often forgot the vital life-blood of this relationship: honesty, with the good and the bad. Truly, He cares far more about the sincerity of our hearts than the flawlessness of our obedience. That has been my life-long lesson, all twenty-one years of it.
Yet before we can be honest? We need to stop pretending that yes, I’m fine, I don’t need anything.
Yes, I need. (Don’t we all? It’s a very freeing revelation). I need to feel safe.
And he shows that in a dozen different ways. We just have to close our eyes and listen.
Then black turns to an auburn dark. Candlelight flickers on the walls, dancing behind the shadows of thirteen men I know so well. Their names are as familiar as Sunday School, they know me as the ‘cloud of witnesses’, but this world is a different one and I wait to hear what they have to say. But no, they are not talking, they are listening. And now their mouths are dropping open and their eyes widening– as suddenly, the one man we know the best is stooping down in the dust of their floor with a bowl of water.
I know this scene well. Haven’t I heard this taught on countless times, servant leadership drummed into me in teacher’s university as well as childhood on a missionary campus? The towel, the mess, the dripping liquid in the dust, the ugly feet– but I rarely see it as a picture. Instead, it’s a black and white page and I scrutinise with a scholar’s eye, trying to extract principles from this story rather than a person.
Yet my vision is interrupted by someone saying now picture yourself there… and I’m there. Am I in the centre? No. My strongest feeling is that of intruder, I’m a gate-crasher on the most important moment of their lives– the King of Kings scrubbing their feet. And I’m in here? And I feel this pull, this yearning, as Peter is protesting with Jesus about needing to be washed, I hear, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will…” and yet it’s all playing out like a radio turned down, because I am deep and loud in my secret desires. I know what it means to have Him wash my feet. Wash mine, I plead inwardly, even though I’m a wallflower in a room I shouldn’t even be in.
Am I dreaming? He’s beckoning me, a woman and an outsider. Sit down… and He’s on his knees, my willing feet are already in the cool water and unlike the others, I know how this action has shaped history. But, forget the myriads of books written on leadership because of this action. Think of the story He is writing now. Because, as dirt is lathered off my feet, he looks up at me with a kindred-spirit, smiling gaze and says simply,
“You’re safe here with me.”
Personality, not principle? He’s someone who calls me in when I feel I’m on the outskirts of belonging. I place myself as the wallflower, He meets me where I’m at and draws me closer. He doesn’t overwhelm me with so many eyes on me, He quietly leaves the group to look at me, to wash my feet, He knows me– and safety for you will look different, for you are a different person than me.
But if I can say anything to you, don’t be afraid to let Him know what you want.
It reveals a heart at home.
I don’t know if you’ve found yourself in this predicament before. To worry about what you’ve said in the past, to rant and rave, concerned about what other people would say about your past mistakes. But then? You somehow realise that He has been there all along, and even in those days of confusion you still made your relationship a priority– with prayer room visits and quiet times, fasting days and Holy Spirit nights. Yes, now I don’t regret the predicaments. Because what is a story without some sort of strife, without a character’s development that makes us gush at movie’s end? Don’t doubt His ability to pen a good story out of hell’s ink smudges.
I can’t claim to have it all sorted out. I still have questions, wonderings– still don’t understand everything that has happened in the past five years, or why things turned out the way they did. Yet I do know that things become progressively clearer with time, and then hand-in-hand with Him beats all. We don’t have to understand everything, just one thing. Love. We need to know He cares, that we’re safe to share our hearts and so is He (He has a lot to share!). Then we find ourselves entangled in not just My Story or even His Story, but instead, Our Story. That’s relationship, isn’t it? All of us together.
“…that they may be one even as we are one,
I in them and you in me”
-John 17:22-23 (ESV)
What a glorious predicament.
Photos: Gideon’s Heights cottage, Tauranga, New Zealand (one of my houses this year). Endless supply of feijoas (best fruit in the world) courtesy of YWAM Marine Reach trees. Kitchen door, scripted by Natalie Neubauer with lyrics by Steffany Gretzinger, Out of Hiding (Father’s Song).