I used to think everything happened for a reason, but after this week I’m not so sure. Everything was going so incredibly well in my life. I had the most fantastic job with the best co-workers anyone could ever ask for. I had an incredibly understanding supervisor (something not many people can claim) and I was living in the city of my dreams – Edinburgh. Not only is the city of Edinburgh beautiful in and of itself, but God also richly blessed by life with so many incredible friends during my year abroad – the kind of friends you can be real with and you can be yourself around (exactly the kind of friends that are hard to find and impossible to leave). Furthermore, these same friends were in the same life stage as me. Although I love my Canadian friends very much and am delighted to spend any free moments I can with them, the reality is that most of them are moving on (geographically), getting married, and having children. That’s wonderful for them, but it can also leave a single person like myself feeling a bit left-out wondering when my time will come (if it will come). Being in Edinburgh was so powerful for me because I finally had friends who were single and loving every moment of their singlehood. I didn’t find them complaining or questioning, but rather seeing life as an adventure that one can partake in with or without a partner. Just by virtue of being with them, I no longer felt that familiar pang in my heart or that insatiable thirst for this unknown variable, instead I threw myself into social enterprises, church ministry, and trying to develop relationships with the intentional community I was a part of. It seemed that although I was only 25, I was in my prime – I was doing what I loved, with people I loved, and for the God I love. However, this all changed in July when due to my visa restrictions I had to come back to Canada.
At first being in Canada was incredibly rich and special. It was great to be able to catch up with friends I had not seen in over a year and to share news with each other and even (in some cases) to meet their new spouse or children. It was also great to be able to finally understand everyone’s accent and get some decent maple syrup (because anyone who has ever lived in Europe knows what a rare commodity this is!). But soon I once again found myself discontented with life. Coming back from the mission field with no real way to fully process my experience made the transition challenging, so did what I perceived to be a lack of interest in spiritual matters from many Canadian young adults. But perhaps the most difficult aspect of all lay in the fact that the job market and the economy is near impossible to enter into.
Prior to leaving Scotland, I applied for a variety of positions. Over the past several months I have been asking God for a clearer vision of where my life is headed. God has spoken to my heart in very precise ways over the past few years so I know the basics:
I know God has called me into organized vocational ministry (whereas I believe all Christians minister in various ways regardless of their professional background, I know God has called me specifically to work with churches and para-church organizations).
I know God has called me specifically to work and share life with adults with developmental and physical disabilities (this has been confirmed through the intense passion He has given me for this people group).
I know that God has called me to continue writing (in whatever format that might take – my personal blog or the occasional article I pitch to outside magazines and websites).
I know God has called me to a specific location to do all of this – Edinburgh (although when I will go back and exactly for how long remains to be seen. Prior to leaving Edinburgh I made the outrageous claim which thankfully a good friend called me on. I claimed that God was calling me to Edinburgh permanently. Although I have not entirely closed myself to that possibility, I now see it was a rather rash comment. In reality, I believe God may be calling me back for another year or two or perhaps for the rest of my life…but then again, maybe not).
So I have the basics down, but I am hoping God makes it clear to me exactly what direction to take and soon. So before I left, I got serious. I sent out resumes to churches, non-profits, hospitals and nursing homes and I was met with the same response: rejection. The rejection wasn’t always rejection because of me personally – in many cases it was an honest statement that the church or organization had no money to pay me and would I like to work for free (I would not). At other times there were issues with timing or my age and lack of experience or my personal favourite the fact that I am a woman and we can’t allow a woman to be a youth pastor. So I got pretty discouraged. Since time was running out (and so was my visa) I decided to stick with the path I knew so well: to remain in L’Arche for another year.
Now L’Arche is a wonderful organization and I will forever be touched and blessed because of the years I spent with them. But being in L’Arche also has incredible challenges that are sometimes ignored by the general populace who have a pastoral and idyllic sense of our community. Additionally, due to circumstances beyond my control, not only did I end up back with L’Arche but in the most rural place you could ever imagine: Orangedale, Nova Scotia (never heard of it? Don’t worry – me neither!). Orangedale is the type of place where you could walk for 5 hours in either direction and you’d still be in the middle of a bush. It’s the type of town that redefines “small town Canada.” It’s the type of town that doesn’t even have a gas station, bank, or children’s play park let alone a barber shop, salon, or movie theatre. When I first set foot in Orangedale I asked myself “why am I here?” I knew it was not the place for me before I even arrived.
So why did I go? I felt obligated. I felt stuck since I couldn’t find another job. And people kept telling me maybe there was a reason God was calling me there. In the first few weeks along with becoming stir-crazy I faced depression. I felt unhappy, unable to open up my heart to those I lived and worked with. I felt like I could never call this place home. This upset me. I tried everything. I called friends in Canada, Skyped or Facebooked friends in Scotland, prayed an insane amount of prayers, cried an insane amount of tears, and read an insane amount of Scripture passages. But nothing helped. I felt let down. I felt I had failed God. I felt that because my friends kept reiterating that there was a purpose to be here, that I was supposed to serve in some way or learn some new lesson but that I seemed incapable of allowing that to happen that God was greatly disappointed in me. This fuelled my depression and made me even more disappointed in myself.
However, one day on one of my long, aimless walks I ended up just pouring it out before the Lord. I neither blamed God or questioned. I simply asked Him: what’s Your opinion of this mess? I told Him that if He wanted me to stay, I needed some support. I couldn’t do this alone. I needed confirmation, but also supernatural provision. I asked Him to make me happy. But He didn’t do any of this. Instead He spoke another word of hope and encouragement into my heart.
God told me He was not disappointed in me. He said if I left I would not be punished. He said that He’s not the type of God that messes with mental sanity just to make a point. God doesn’t force depression on us just to teach us to “be content in every circumstance.” He doesn’t run us ragged just to teach us to think of others more and ourselves less. He doesn’t ignore our bleeding hearts for the sake of converting another bleeding heart soul. God wants what’s best for us. He wants us to serve – but He wants that service to come from a well-spring of joy, not from a depleted stream where there is literally nothing left.
Sometimes people make following God’s will so easy. They make it sound like He’s a genie in a bottle. You ask Him a question: should I go there, should I do that, should I study this, should I marry him and He will instinctively give you an answer and then right away reveal the reason for His answer. I do not believe this is truly the case. Sometimes in life God makes it clear what we are to do, but more often than not, He allows us to use our brains and exercise free choice. It’s like that meme that keeps popping up around Facebook “yes, everything happens for a reason: sometimes the reason is you make stupid choices and now you have to live with the consequences.” Sometimes we might pray and pray and pray over a decision, but still not feel confirmation one way or the other. Sometimes we might actually have to wait until we take the job, move houses, or go back to school before we know for sure if that’s the place to be. It’s not because God withheld that information from us in order to make us miserable…sometimes it’s just because that’s what needed to happen: there was a lesson in the journey (even if there is no lesson in the destination).
So is any experience ever really wasted? Sometimes we start something and it goes terrible, but we see later it was meant to be. My first year of seminary was like that. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and probably for the wrong reasons. I was unhappy, but looking back I see I was meant to be there because that’s where I developed my heart and passion for people with disabilities. If I never would have gone, I don’t know where my life would be today.
On the other hand, one time I applied to be a youth pastor at a Chinese Church about an hour away from Toronto and that really didn’t work. The cultural barrier (enhanced by the fact that I, myself, am biracial) was too much, and I had too many car issues to continue the drive. So I quit. But because I quit, I was offered an even better position as a Christian Education Intern at a Pentecostal church right in the heart of Toronto. Was it God’s will that I be a youth pastor and quit after a month? I can’t say for sure. I honestly don’t think either the kids or I really got anything out of it…I think it was just one of those things. A fluke that happened, but that God redeemed for something even better.
So really I think it’s hard to blame God every time something doesn’t work out because I honestly don’t think everything happens for a reason. But then again, maybe it does. If you’re in a job you can’t stand or a location you don’t like, maybe there is a lesson in all of this. Maybe the lesson is simply to push yourself to find something different, to take more time deciding on a career before pursing it just for the sake of money, or to finally be able to stand up for yourself and do what’s right for YOU rather than just what others expect. Then again maybe the lesson is even more simple. Maybe the real lesson is just to trust that you can back down with no repercussions. That God really is not disappointed with you.