Some people have alphabet magnets on the fridge. Some people use their fridge to display achievements; like an A+ on a test, or an awesome behavior report. Some people keep their doors bare, and others stick everything they can onto them–calendars, invitations, coupons, etc. For as long as I can remember, my grandparents’ refrigerator door has been covered with pictures.
With the exception of a few pictures of my family, the majority of the faces on the fridge were faces of people I did not know; faces of people who gave up comfortable lives in the States for lives spent working in foreign countries. I remember so many times standing in their kitchen staring at the door, reading the names and locations written in the corners of each picture. I loved hearing stories of these people from my grandparents, and I loved hearing stories of my grandparents’ own travels.
My grandparents used to go on month-long trips each year. I distinctly remember one year, after we picked up my grandparents from the airport, we went back to their house to hear about their trip and to get our gifts they brought us (because let’s be real, that’s the part kids care about the most). They brought me a doll, as they did each year, and some Thai Winnie the Pooh books. That night, they were talking about long-term workers they met, and I remember thinking how cool those people were and how cool their job was. Some of these people were added to the fridge.
Fast-forward roughly 10 years, and there was little 15 year old me hopping on a plane to Nicaragua for my first international trip. I honestly signed up for the trip because I thought it was the cool thing to do. I wanted to have the pictures of manual labor, hugging orphans, and be able to tell others that I brought people to Him. My heart aches thinking about how self-centered I was going into that trip, but my heart also rejoices at how much my mindset changed during that week.
Everything changed the afternoon we spent at an orphanage/school/group home for people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. My heart broke when I saw the facility. It was so overcrowded and understaffed. Their uniforms looked like circus outfits. Their living quarters were minimal. There were even rooms that looked like cages for zoo animals. I remember being so broken, thinking about the differences in how the US views and treats individuals with special needs versus how Nicaragua does. At this point in my life, I already knew I wanted to go to college to study Special Education, but Nicaragua showed me how much other countries need change in their systems. It also inspired me to do more here at home.
Long story short, I went back to Nicaragua the next year and that is when I really started thinking about doing this long-term. I came home from the second trip with the perfect plan: I would graduate college, marry the man of my dreams, and we would spend two years living overseas before starting a family back in the US. There are so many things wrong with the plan I had. The first and biggest problem was actually having the plan. I think we get ourselves into trouble when we make plans like that; we invest so much into it that when things don’t work out according to the plan, we freak out. (Spoiler alert: things didn’t work out and I did freak out.)
Senior year…nothing crazy happened, but He was at work. It was a seemingly picture-perfect year. I had a boyfriend, won homecoming queen, made straight A’s, got into college, knew what I wanted to major in, earned amazing scholarships, the whole shabang. From the outside, everything seemed to be falling into place. On the inside, a lot of things were falling apart and I was freaking out. I was so dissatisfied with my life. Nothing made me happy. My joy was suppressed because I was trying to find fulfillment in having a perfect life. I was not spending time with the Lord; I was just going through the motions so people would think I was some great girl. I even fooled myself into thinking I was that great girl. Well, surprise! Going through the motions doesn’t offer any sanctification or growth. Lukewarm people get spit out. Branches that bear no fruit are thrown into the fire. This continued until my freshman year of college.
My first year of college was definitely difficult, but was also a time of great growth for me. The Lord led me to strip myself of some distractions and through that my reliance on Him grew each day. I earned straight A’s, had a great job, and was cultivating some really great friendships. This go around, my hope and strength and satisfaction was from the Lord. It’s amazing what putting the Lord first will do. It’s crazy how it can and will change everything!
The summer before my sophomore year of college I signed up for a 2 week, mid-semester trip to Nepal—so clearly, things were still going well, right? Sure…until I started to miss the familiar and comfortable things about my life that I “gave up.” I looked for answers from the Lord and when He did not give them or have one I didn’t like, I’d morph things so that they fit my plan. Time with the Lord decreased, I withdrew from friends, and the anxieties of work and school were taking over. I didn’t like my life. I felt like I was constantly treading water; my joy was suppressed.
One day, a million little things were going wrong (along with the regular college breakdown of “what am I doing with my life” mixed with a little bit of “can I drop out yet”) and a simple conversation with someone caused me to snap. I felt alone, incapable, and like I had nowhere to go. The things and people I was chasing were crumbling around me and rejecting me and I felt worthless. I remember walking to my car on campus trying to hold in tears until I got to my car; the floodgates broke 30 yards from the parking garage. I knew I had a choice. I could cry for a minute, suck it up, and go into work pretending everything was fine…or I could submit to being broken and search for help. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit gave me the boldness to do the latter. I got in my car and drove straight to work and walked right into a coworkers’ office.
This happened just a few days before I was supposed to hop on a plane to the other side of the world. So, combine school stress with work stress and now mix in crazy amounts of feelings of inadequacy and you’ve got a girl, 3 days before an important trip, who is being crippled by anxiety and fear to the point where she’s constantly crying and getting physically ill. I contemplated not going; I felt horrible inside and out and thought there was no way that I would be an asset on the trip with considering how weak (spiritually and physically) I was. Thankfully, though I had been tuning out the Holy Spirit’s guidance for so long I wasn’t even sure what it felt like, I felt that there was still some kind of purpose in me going.
The actual trip deserves its own post, so I’ll save the details for that and just give you the bare bones of what God taught me for now.
- Nothing else matters when eternity is at stake. School, work, relationships…they all take the back seat to our call as disciples.
- When you are obedient to God’s call and are walking in His will, the details you were once so concerned about will seem so small.
- Everything else I learned can be traced back to #1 or #2.
The reason I took this long detour about my life in a post where I began talking about refrigerators is I wanted to show that after a lot of wrestling, prayer, running, and hiding…I feel like I’m supposed to be like those people on the fridge. In the midst of one of the most overwhelming times of my life and through the past few months of working through some difficult things, God has remained constant and His call (Matthew 28:19-20) has never changed. I’ve wished it would for the sake of comfort and I’ve tried to twist it to fit my hopes of an easy life in America—you know, by thinking/saying things like, “He wouldn’t really ask me to move across the world and leave my family,” and “Well, there are many people from other nations coming to the States, so maybe staying would be just as beneficial.” The first excuse is a flat out unbiblical lie (see Luke 9:23, 9:60, and 14:26). The second is an accurate statement, but is sinful for me to say because it is not what I truly feel the Lord calling me to. He may very well guide me that way, but right now, I cannot let myself diminish what I feel led to.
Despite my current struggles, doubts, and fears, I have full confidence in the Lord’s power to use ordinary, broken people to make His name great. I refuse to be lukewarm. I refuse to fall into the stereotypical American lifestyle. Praise the Lord that despite my disobedience and despite my inadequacy, He still can and will use me.
Pray for me as I continue to seek guidance from Him about my future. And friends, keep an open space on your fridge for me.