Sometimes God says, "No." And sometimes He says, "Not yet." Sometimes, we have plans, and even when we feel sure they are in His will, He shows us that His plans....and His timing....are far more perfect than we can imagine.
This post might be a little long...
Almost two years ago I began the long process of applying for the Journeyman program through the International Mission Board. This is a two-year overseas program for single college grads in their 20s. Though my heart strongly desired to go at the end of college and I completed a portion of the application then, I knew somehow that I was supposed to stay here for awhile and work first. So I waited. And when I felt God allowing me the opportunity to start the process again, I was so excited. I have to admit, I never actually thought I would finish. (There are three parts and after completing each, the IMB sends you the next portion if they feel you are prepared to go on to completion...part one - basic information, part two - more details about your calling to missions/short testimony, etc., and part three - which can take several months - health screening/survey/detailed info, summary of beliefs, auto-biography, etc.)
I finished the application process in July of 2010, and so the waiting began. It was definitely only with God's hand that I finished the entire process! I knew it would be at least December before I heard anything for sure, but didn't have an exact date. Oh how hard it was to wait. During that waiting time, God placed other challenges in my life. My teaching job had moved to a new building, I was feeling very discouraged and inadequate at what I was doing each day, and I was very lonely for friends my age. It was hard to keep focusing on living with purpose where I was each day.
Then, on a snow-day off of school in January, the news finally came! I had been expecting it to come by mail, but it was actually an e-mail. I was accepted into the program!! Again the waiting process continued as I hoped and dreamed over the next six weeks about what the three-day job interview conference would bring, who I would meet, where I would go...how God would use me! (I also faced feelings of anxiety and discouragement in wondering if I was really "qualified" to go.) My plane ticket came in the mail, I had a list of names of all the other people coming, and everything began to seem real!
And then, God slowly began to show me He was closing a door. In January, after being a little sick several times during the school year, I finally went to the doctor to see what might be causing the low fevers and fatigue I had been experiencing. There were several days since Fall that I was so tired, all I could do was lay on the couch, and I had no appetite, plus a low fever, which of course also meant staying home from work. I was convinced much of it was just due to the very stressful year I was having and a lack of rest due to that, and I still believe those were factors, but anyway - the doctor I saw decided to test for something called Lupus. I had heard of it before, but it was honestly just something I had seen on a billboard driving down the interstate once or twice, heard a commercial for on t.v., and knew one of my friends had been diagnosed with early in her life. And so, on January 24, I was diagnosed with Lupus. You can read a little more about it here, if you're curious. The names sounds awful, and the symptoms certainly can be, especially for people who have multiple symptoms. It can change a life forever. It is an auto-immune disease that is still being researched because there is not a simple known-cause, and the symptoms can come and go or "mix and match." I am so thankful to say that I have had no more fevers and fatigue since being diagnosed and being prescribed medication for it, and I have also had no reactions to the medication, which many people do have. For now, I'm living with something I "have" but honestly don't feel like anything is different for me health-wise. Praise God for this - He is so good!
But - I share all of that to show that God closed a door. It was (and is) so hard for me to understand why God would so clearly open a door, allowing me to be accepted into a program I had dreamed about...then say, "No." I still believe in my heart somehow that it was not a, "No..." but a, "Not now..." because I also know He has given me the desire and passion to serve and to care for others around the world. He does not give us desires and just leave them there to look at. God uses them...in His will and His timing.
It was actually one year ago yesterday that I found out I would not be going to the conference after all. After finding out about the lupus, I had e-mailed the health office that handles all the clearance process for the JM program. I never heard back from them, so I assumed everything was still ok and they would talk to me about it all at the interview conference. Then I got a phone message from my interview consultant. He told me he was sorry for the health concern that had come up, and once I regained health clearance we would be in touch again to restart the process. I remember standing in my office at work, devastated, angry, frustrated, confused, sad, and crying out to God, asking, "Why?!..." A wonderful friend from work came and prayed with me, and I began the process of making phone calls to figure out what had happened and why it had taken so long for me to figure it all out. It turned out, they had replied to my earlier e-mail, but had left the underscore out in my e-mail address, and I never received the information saying I could not go. Here is a blog I wrote after finding out.
And so - I began to slowly let go. I realized this had been my dream and passion, but yet it really wasn't mine. God gave it to me. And it was (and is) His to use in His perfect timing and manner. I still often wonder and question how He is using and will use my heart to serve others and share His truth and joy. I have prayed often throughout this year to be an example of who He is, to my children and co-workers as well as any others I meet each day. I have continued the process of healing from the disappointment of a dream set aside for the time, and have begun seeking out what God has for me now. What He has in store for me here. Without this change in plans, I would not have been encouraged by a dear professor and friend from my university to pursue a degree in TESOL. I would not have spent a second year in the building where I teach now, meeting new co-workers and getting to know others I hadn't had the chance to visit with. I would not have grown in confidence as a teacher or had the privilege of being a friend and mentor to another new teacher. I would not have spent the year living with a wonderful friend from college who has encouraged me to walk strong in my faith and uphold my standards and desires to serve God wholeheartedly. And there are so many other things I could list.
But one thing remains true. God is faithful. He says yes to His promises. His Word is truth, and He places desires in our hearts that align with the will He has for our lives. My job is to listen. I am to be still and seek Him each day, one step at a time. I am to thank Him for the challenges and growth He has provided this year. I am to pray for the future He has in store for me while living the plan He has for me right now, where I am at. I have purpose in Him. He loves me more than I can ever put into words or understand with my human mind.
If God had closed the door in another way - if I had not been accepted to the JM program, I might have doubted the heart He has given me for missions or wondered what I could have done better to be accepted. If He hadn't allowed me to be diagnosed with Lupus, I would not understand the challenges that can come with an auto-immune disease or relate to others who experience similar health concerns in their lives. I wouldn't have another piece added to my testimony to share with and use to encourage others who are facing disappointment and uncertainty in their lives. And again, I could go on and on.
It's not always easy to be thankful. I'm usually not certain why God has me here, or what He has in store for my future. I often ask why, and feel inadequate. But God is bigger than my questions, and though I wish He would just drop me a note saying what His plans are for me, so I can give it the stamp of my approval, I think it is exciting to know only He has the answer to the mystery! I choose to trust Him with that today, tomorrow, and the next day. And I think now, I am finally beginning to see what it meant when I decided 20 years ago to give my life to Jesus and ask Him to lead me. It means I am not the author. He is the author. And it means my story will be far better than anything I could ever have written myself! :)
"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." -Jeremiah 29:11
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take." - Proverbs 3:5-6
"Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you through Christ Jesus." 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (I always have to remember that it says in all circumstances, not necessarily for all. That can be the toughest part...)
Thanks for letting me share another (long) piece of my testimony...and the story God continues to write each day!