A couple of weekends ago I was in Houston at a writer’s conference taught by Beth Moore. I can't even begin to unpack all the wisdom she shared with us in this one day event, but after the panel discussion toward the end of the conference, I had the super special opportunity to spend a few brief minutes talking to Christine Caine. Christine is a giant of the Christian faith – living and loving and serving others with zeal and a holy fire in her bones for Jesus. Her organization, A21, has rescued people all over the world from the clutches of human trafficking. She started Propel Women to celebrate "every woman's passion, purpose, and potential." She speaks with vulnerability about her own story of abuse and abandonment and how that launched her into the ministry work she does today. I was just listening to her speak with Maria Shriver last week in a Facebook Live event and she said, “Often your greatest pain can become your purpose in life.” If anyone could be wallowing in the swamp of victimhood it would be Christine, but instead she has taken that and let God use it for good. Her perspective and teaching is part of the reason I am who I am today and one of the catalysts for starting this blog.
I first heard Christine almost three years ago when a friend shared this talk with me. I don’t know how she found it or what caused her to share it but she had no idea how it would minister to my own heart in the coming days and months and years. I proceeded to listen to it over and over again. It spoke a truth to my heart that for so long I wasn’t willing to hear. Christine's thesis is three words: embrace your place.
Embrace your place. Wherever you are, right now, today, there is a reason you are there. Whatever season you find yourself in. Whatever job, whatever neighborhood, whatever situation, whatever circumstance. There’s a reason you’re there right now. When I first heard that sermon, there were about a million and one ways I wasn’t embracing my place. I hated the season I was in and could not wait to get to the next one. I rehashed daily how I should have gone to hair school instead of college. How my life would be so much better if I would have never done this or that. I replayed my broken relationships in my head and figured out all the ways in which they wrecked me forever and how God couldn't be trusted with this area of my life. Like the visions of Ezekiel in the Old Testament, I was not only in the valley of dry bones, I was the dry bones. One time I had a friend say to me, “It seems like you really hate your life.” And my response was, “I do.” I did. I was sad and desperate. Everyone had what I couldn’t have and I could instantly rattle off all the ways I was being left out and left behind: the house, the good job, the big salary, the dreams realized, the spouse, the children, the friends, the vacations, the dinners out, the amazing dress, the good hair, the perfect life. Anytime I make a comment about someone having something I don’t, my brother will, to this day, sarcastically say to me, “Wow. They must have the perfect life.” But the problem is, I used to believe it and I would “if only” my days away.
See, we like to think that fantasy is harmless. As I thought and prayed about this blog post I read a piece on fantasy that articulated it this way, "Fantasy is living in what could be, rather than living in the reality of what actually is. From pornography, to affairs, to toxic relationships [I would also add addictions and social media]. The list could go on and on, but in each of these you will find men and women imprisoned within the confines of a dream. Stuck in a life they make up with people who don’t actually exist." We daydream about how life could be one day if, how our marriage could be if, how our friendships could be if, where we would be in life if ____ wouldn't have happened. We look at one Instagram photo and tell ourselves a story about how great their life must be. We glorify wanderlust and those who don't seem to have any roots because they're so "free" and we keep changing our job, our relationship, our neighborhood because we can’t find the right fit. We get so caught up in "finding our passion" that we're never settled. I spent a lot of time in toxic situations dreaming up what could be if, which just turned my life into a long paper chain of days waiting to die or waiting for Jesus to come back. So we dream and plot and plan and swipe left but reality is always waiting for us when we come down from the cloud. Reality is always waiting and sometimes reality is so hard. It’s hard and it’s lonely and there is destruction and death and heartache all around us so we leave our reality - our place - thinking up what could be if only. But Christine's talk gave me fresh hope that day.
In her talk on embracing your place, Christine talks about the story in 1 Kings 19 where Elisha is last in line behind the oxen when Elijah comes to anoint him as a prophet. Had he not been there, had he not been faithful to where God had him, he might not have been called up. Had he abandoned his place for something he thought was better, some higher position, some place with more acclaim and celebrity, he might not have been ready for what God had for him. Had he been dreaming and wishing and working to get into another place, rather than be faithful to the place God called him, Elisha could have been passed over. Christine said,
“That place where you think it’s dry, that place where you think God’s forsaken you, the wilderness place, [God says] “I’m going to come and find you when I’m ready for you.” [Elisha] was in the wilderness behind 12 lots of oxen! The guy in the back, back, back of the parking lot... God says, “I’m just seeing if they’re going to stay in place, when they think nobody knows, when they’re behind the 12 oxen, when they’re the least of the least in the most arid and dry conditions, I’m going to see, are they going to be faithful? Are they going to be loyal? Are they going to stick with that marriage? Are they going to keep parenting those kids? Are you going to keep yourself morally pure? Are you going to keep tithing, keep sowing, keep serving? Are you going to stay in place? That’s where he turns up.”
Think about some different areas in your life. Are you doing the best you can in your job or are you thinking about how everyone else has it better than you, makes more than you, has a nicer office than you, gets more perks than you? Are you loving your person and being kind to them, spending your time thinking of more ways to serve them, or are you always venting about who they’re not and what they don’t do and how they’d be so much better if they just did ____ like that other person’s spouse? Are you readily jumping from one date to the next with no follow through and no commitment because you think the next person will be better than the last? Are you sitting in bitterness over a past incident, past hurt, past heartbreak and telling God all the ways he was wrong to bring you there? Are you cruising around on Pinterest and Instagram thinking about how everyone has it so much better than you? Are you living in the land of if only?
You are where you are for a reason but like that saying I've read somewhere on the internet, "Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason is you're stupid and make bad decisions." Listen, I love you enough to tell you the truth. Sometimes God has you in the wilderness but sometimes, more often I think, you walk yourself out there. I know I did. I was always turning left when God called me right. But of course, other times it's just circumstance you have no control over. Sometimes you did nothing to end up there and you're just there. In those moments you can twist yourself in knots trying to figure out that reason, or you can rest in the knowledge that you are not forgotten, you do not go unseen, you are not alone in your waiting and wondering. You have full permission to cry your eyes out in wondering why you’re single or why you can’t get the job you applied for or why your friends get everything you want or why there's this terrible pain in your life, but in that wondering and waiting, be faithful to seek the Lord and what he might have for you here and now in this place. Some of you need to get back in place, or stay in place, and embrace your place.
I guess I can really only speak to your heart here if you believe that God is in control – that he has a plan, that he has a purpose and is steadily working those things together for your good. “But this singleness doesn’t feel good!” Trust me, I know that. I didn’t meet Aaron until I was 31 and I had a lot of lonely days and nights. “But ______ doesn’t feel good! How is this good?” I hear you. I know. I will sit and listen to you and cry with you and try to understand how it doesn’t feel good. But one day, when you look back on your life, I promise you that it will all make sense. Do not despise your season. There is a plan and a purpose. And you might think it's easy for me to say this now - now that I'm not necessarily in a waiting season, now that Aaron came along, now that things seem to be falling into place. But, I can tell you all of this having been in the desert for many years and in many ways. Maybe not the ways that you are, but I've been in the wilderness. And I know that my waiting was loud and long and tear-filled and impatient, but it was not in vain. Neither is yours. I pray that even in my next desert season, whatever form that may take, I still cling to that promise. But even now, there are ways, daily, that I need to embrace my place, like living in the present instead of living for July 29 when I become a wife. Or continually looking forward instead of looking back. This isn't a thing you learn and move on from - much like a lot of life. It's a process.
One of the sweetest things I heard recently was when a friend said to me that they were so glad God looked at me and Aaron and said, “It’s time." It’s time for them to be together. It’s time. One day he’s going to look at you in whatever it is you’re waiting for, whatever it is you’re hoping for, whatever it is and say, “It’s time.” In his sovereign will he will say, “Now,” and you just have to believe that the waiting will be worth it, even if the waiting never makes sense to your human brain.
I sat down with Christine Caine a couple of weekends ago and I said through tears, “I don’t know if you remember the talk you gave on embracing your place, but I just want you to know that it changed the course of my life.” Beth Moore wrote, “Your faithfulness might just be the key to somebody else’s faith.” I can tell you that Christine’s faithfulness to preach the gospel and tell the truth was one of the keys to my faith. What if you embracing your place, staying faithful in your place, is the key to someone else’s faith?
Are you being faithful to stay in place? Are you being faithful in the season you’re in? Are you where you belong even if it's in the desert, in the wilderness, behind the oxen, waiting to get called up? Are you being a faithful friend/employee/neighbor/spouse/parent as you wait for the next season or as you wait to see what God has for you? Is this the word you need to hear today like I did three years ago? God will call you up when it’s time. He will. He will be faithful to show you what's next. He has not forgotten you. You just have to keep showing up to where he has you now. In that talk from Christine she says, “What’s happening when you think nothing’s happening? There’s always a whole lot more going on than what you see. If what you see in front of you, the challenge, the circumstance, if what you see is all you see then you will never see all there is to see. There is always a whole lot more to see than what you see right now… Don’t underestimate the power of staying planted and keep turning up… God’s doing a work in you, preparing you for what he wants to do through you.”
There’s a silent preparation happening all the time – getting you ready for what’s next. All the choices you’re making are building into that, all the people you surround yourself with, all the ways in which you cultivate your own heart and lean into what God has for you. He’s preparing the way so that when he says, “Now" you are ready. But you can’t be ready if you’re spinning yourself in circles trying to figure out ways to get out of the place he has you in. You might feel like you’re in the midst of the wilderness, and maybe you are. Maybe you’re out there for a reason – for that silent preparation. Your bones might feel dry. Your season might be desolate. But, "Sometimes you have to go to a place where you don’t want to be so you can end up where God wants you to be.”
That same friend who asked if I hated my life all those years ago wrote me a card after I got engaged and she said something like, "I'm so happy to see you've created a life you love." The only thing is that I can't take credit for its creation. All I can say is that I got back in my place and let God do the rest.