Days after Stu and I got married I picked up my life and moved to a place I’d hardly given a passing thought to until it was my destiny. We moved for the job, a fresh start, adventure, independence, a place to establish ourselves as husband and wife, to leave and cleave.
No one expected us to move to Arkansas. No one expected there to be anything to move to Arkansas for, especially not the corporate job Stu had landed. I once called a company I’d ordered product from, asking if they had any real people in Arkansas I could meet with, and the customer service rep chortled.
“Is anything in Arkansas?”
“I’M HERE!” I said with a little too much indignation. I wasn’t very nice to him after that.
But that’s how we’d responded at first, too. We figured we’d keep to ourselves (because who would we talk to?), do a lot of hiking, focus on our jobs, focus on each other.
We were closed-minded. We hadn’t allowed room in our hearts for the notion that God might have bigger plans for us than we had for ourselves.
Arkansas was such a pleasant surprise–the beautiful landscape, the sugar sweet people, the sincerity of our church, the perfect little coffee shops, and then a job that stole my heart. Soon there were more good days than bad. Lonely nights spent crying (me crying, Stu commiserating), missing our families, wondering when we’d return home and have friends other than just each other turned into coffee dates that weren’t just obligatory but earnest, returning to Arkansas after a weekend away and feeling at home, finding a joy and purpose in my days I hadn’t even asked for.
My life had been nothing but transition, isolation, picking-up-pieces for the past year. Conway felt like this beautifully wrapped gift, like God saying, “I know your year crushed you but don’t worry, it’s all over now.” It was everything I felt I needed.
We’d believed that we’d come to Conway for Stu’s job. That’s what had brought us there, and realistically, that’s what was sustaining us. But in hindsight I don’t believe that’s why we were meant to be in Conway–it was for the job I stumbled into, the church that taught us so much about what it means to be a part of the Body of Christ, and the opportunity to learn how to be husband and wife with hardly any distractions.
I was so fickle. It didn’t take me long to decide Arkansas wasn’t so bad after all, and it didn’t take me long to lose trust when things changed. I acted a bit like a five year old when it came time to move. I had been letting go all year, learning that my plans are so far from perfect, allowing my mind to change, and when I had a chance to try it again I absolutely revolted. I was sad and terrified to move, for a while I was a little angry at God for sending us something that I so so didn’t want, for bringing us another rough night when the daytime felt so warm and welcome. I fought and resisted and argued with God until there was no choice left and I had to give into the undeniable: it was time and it was right.
When my life turned a corner I acted like God was rationing his goodness to me, like he had decided I’d had enough and it was time to take it away. I ignored the proof that was in my past, closing myself off to the idea that God would lead me and carry me into a new season just as faithfully as he did before. Like a fool, when God blessed us once we moved to Virginia I was thoroughly surprised, even wary.
I arrived rigid, with my arms out in front of me like a marionnette. I stuck with what I knew — family closeby, old friends, familiar habits. It was all sweet and good but it was inhospitable. I spent my days aching for my old job, my Sundays icy towards any new church, my mind closed off from what might lay ahead.
I closed my eyes to this: all throughout Scripture God asks his people to leave and trust, to lay down their current comfort and move forward in faith that God has better things in store. In Genesis God tells Abraham to leave everything and simply go. He doesn’t say, “You’ve had enough. That’s enough goodness for you.”
Instead, in his very next breath: “I will bless you.” Even though he leads Israel through 40 years of wandering he still carries them to the promised land. Later, when they are exiled, he promises through Jeremiah that he has plans and a purpose for them. The Old Testament is filled with God pulling the ones he loves out of comfort and bringing them to something better. In Isaiah 46:4 he promises, “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”
God does this for us too, I just haven’t always trusted him enough to see it.
Bit by bit my careful construct of indignation broke down this year. I found purpose, we found communities of faith, I found new rhythms, spent more time with dear friends, but none of that was of any importance compared to this: I found that old realization, the one I am ashamed to have cast aside, that God will not carry me to a place where he does not have a purpose for me. I was oh so childish, immature, arrogant, even blasphemous in my perception of God. When all my emotion was stripped away I realized that I had limited God to the reality that I could see.
In the end, all this brought was hurt. It confused me. It isolated me. It robbed me of the beauty of a new season. It stole from me the comfort and peace and joy I should have found in Christ when I was navigating all the newness. It shoved an enormous barrier between me and God, between me and the One who has promised never to leave or forsake me.
Really, God had been preparing a new place for me. Not better, not worse, but beautifully different. He placed lessons and people and challenges here that I have been delighted to encounter. He was eager to show me that different is not worse, that he is full of surprises, and limitlessly good.
I don’t know where you are, what corner God has pulled you around, what goodness he has asked you to leave behind, but I can promise you this: as difficult as the process may be, his goodness is unlimited and there is more that lies ahead.
God will not forget you. He does not ration his goodness. He is infinitely good, infinitely faithful, infinitely trustworthy; his holiness is not affected by your fickleness. He might lead you into exile for a time, but his hand is around yours even still.
Maybe the best thing Arkansas gave me was the proof of a promise: that if I trust the Lord’s plan, he will prove faithful, and he is good.