Three months ago, I wrote what was, to me at least, a gut-wrenching reflection on the reality of the last year or so of my life. To say things have changed since then is both an understatement and a misstatement. Just two short weeks after I published that post, the Lord revealed to me, in the way He does from time to time, that a major change would be happening in my life in the next couple of months. As far as revelations go, it was oddly specific—God doesn’t usually give me a time frame like that. But I’d been praying specifically for one, and I think others had as well, so there it was. “Ask, and it will be given.”
Little did I know that some of the most trying times were yet to come.
I’ve reflected with a number of people this year on the fact that compared to this time last year, it feels like the first quarter of 2016 has just vanished before my eyes. Part of that has to do with the fact I’m a lot busier than I was this time last year—but part of it, I know, is because of that oddly specific promise the Lord made me in January. I felt a peace about things that nothing could seem to shake. So, naturally, that invited some shakes. And they just kept coming: a serious scare regarding Luke’s job. A watershed moment in our marriage not even a week later. A dangerous health scare in my family back home. And then, to top it off, my own body started revolting against me, stronger than it has in years.
As I’m sure many of you know, these things in life have a way of piling on top of each other so that the situation overall can become as overwhelming as possible. I used to believe that God would never allow us to be tested beyond our ability to bear; in intervening years, I’ve come to know that He specifically lets us be tested far beyond what we could handle on purpose, so that we’ll realize our dependence on Him, and that He does this not because He’s some kind of sadist who gets a kick out of pain, but because He loves us so much that the thought that losing even a single one of us who could be saved is as painful to Him as losing a child. Because, that’s exactly what it is: losing a child. So God, in His incredible love for us, gives us every chance in the world to realize how much we need our Father. And He does it in ways we neither expect nor are prepared to handle, because, again, that’s the point.
When I got married two years ago, I went into the thing gritting my teeth and dragging my feet. It’s not because I don’t love Luke—it’s because marriage, and everything it represents, meant that for me, I’d have to give up nearly everything I thought I’d been working for. My education was the least of it: I had to give up my dreams. Sure, I’d always dreamed of getting married one day—but first, I wanted to do good in the world. Maybe join the Peace Corps, like my friend Dana. Maybe Fulbright, like a number of my friends have. The options were endless as long as I was single—when I’d done that, maybe picked up a degree or two, then I’d think about getting married. It was all in service of The Plan.
The problem, for me at least, was that The Plan took on a life of its own. As many of you know, I experienced a mental breakdown at the end of my senior year of college. The Lord has given me a fair amount of grit, so I pushed through it and got my crap done, but there are substantial parts of those entire months that I actually don’t remember. But it took me until recently to realize how bad it had gotten. I’d sacrificed everything for The Plan: my time, my friendships, my health. Even, to a large extent, my relationship. I knew something had to give. And I knew, because the Lord had shown me, that one of the big reasons He’d brought Luke into my life was as a counter to my self-destructive tendencies; he was, in a big way, God’s protection of me, the same way my dad was after my biological father died.
I hated the fact I needed protection. One of the biggest myths I’ve told myself over the years was that I could take care of myself—that has never been true, and whenever I’ve tried, I’ve developed unhealthy tendencies that I still wrestle with to this day. One of the big ones was my seeming ability to, as I like to call it, “turn my emotions off.” I am very good at dissociating: when things get tough, it’s almost like I can flip a switch and just focus on what needs to be done, and shut down or bury whatever emotional reactions I experience until I can deal with them later. Often times, though, that has meant they don’t get dealt with. I’ve struggled with repressed anger my whole life. That usually surprises people when I tell them.
The reason these past couple of months have been so hard, though, is that I didn’t have the luxury of dissociating. The nature of the things that have come up is such that all of them are, primarily, emotional issues—dissociating would mean repressing them and not working through them, which is not in my nature. When difficult things come up, I’ve trained myself, and the Lord has trained me, to deal with them as soon as possible. That meant confronting a lot of ugly, angry emotions, all in quick succession—and when the emotions weren’t mine, showing compassion and understanding as some of the closest, dearest people in my life have done the same, all while abstaining from my desire to control the process.
In the end, there was so much going on in my head that I actually missed the first time the Lord revealed what the change was. It wasn’t until a month later, when I was told I’d been accepted to NC State, that I thought that maybe that’s what it could have been; I actually misinterpreted it again, too, until a formal acceptance letter arrived in my inbox and I realized I’d been missing the point this whole time. But immediately, I felt an attack on my joy. What about Duke? I heard. You’ve worked so hard. You’re so smart. You deserve Duke.
Get behind me, Satan.
I wish that’s what I’d said. What I actually did was entertain really poisonous self-aggrandizement for about twelve hours, until I went for a walk with my mentor the next morning and we talked about how silly I was being and how incredibly much sense the offer from NC State had made, and had always made. Hello? They want to pay me to get my Master’s. How is this even a decision? The more I thought about it, the more I realized the writing had been on the wall for months, and I just loved the idea of prestige, of making myself great, or whatever ghost of The Plan was haunting me that I tried to pretend I couldn’t see it. It was, in a sense, what I had always done: I’d always wanted The Plan more than God, until God made me realize how silly I was being and how incredibly much more sense His plan always made than mine.
Now, I’ve never been prouder in my life to say this: I don’t have a plan. I’m about to start a Master’s in natural resource management—what that will look like even five years down the road, I have no clue. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past few years, it’s that the more attention I’m paying The Plan, the less attention I’m paying everything else. Life is too short for that. And Life is better when I’m actually living it, not when I’m kidding myself into thinking I am.