I was at Moe’s yesterday grabbing some lunch and started making small talk with the guy making my burrito. It’s fun to go to a place regularly because they make your food just the way you like it and after a while you can chat the people up. And this guy in particular calls me “Hon,” which is adorable/sometimes I get a little weirded out by it, but whatever. Anyway, I was standing there and must have had a dreamy, far off look in my eyes because he said, “You look so happy.” I smiled and said, “Yes, I am! I love this place.” Of course, I’m happy lately for other reasons, but it’s true that I get all giddy inside when I order a junior Art Vandalay. Mmmmm.
And I realized then, there’s no better compliment than being told you look happy. How often does that happen? People may say you look good or nice, but it’s rare that people comment on an emotion that emanates from your heart. I’ve always thought of happiness as a secondary emotion; what I mean is that I feel like being “happy” is fleeting and having a deep abiding joy is what matters. We can be joyful even in the midst of deep sadness, knowing that God loves us faithfully and passionately. But I think happiness comes from things in our world finally going well; it’s in the heart of course, but it has more to do with outside factors. My mom has always said, “Happiness is a choice, not an experience.” I usually agree with her, but lately I’m experiencing happiness that I had nothing to do with.
One of my parent’s friends told me recently how good I looked – beautiful was the word she used (hey, I’m just quoting her). I’m telling you this because it was such an amazing compliment. It was wonderful because I really believed her, which used to be and usually is difficult for me to do. I told her that I think it’s because I’m happy. In the past month, I’ve found myself smiling in the car and feeling laughter bubble up from deep in my soul. Being happy changes our countenances and people react to it. Even the guy at Moe’s saw it, which blows me away.
Why am I so happy, you ask? Well, I would like to say it’s complicated – and in truth, the story is quite involved and it’s been a long process to get here – but the reality is it’s quite simple: This summer I heard God telling me who I am. This is huge! Over the past few years since I graduated from college and especially in the past year and a half, I’ve been confused, lost, frustrated and sad. It got more intense when I moved home from Colorado and had literally no clue what I was doing, but I realize now that I’ve been feeling those things for a long time. Moving back to North Carolina just made me face those dark parts of my soul and everything came to a climax. Looking back, I would call that time the “dark night of the soul;” sounds intense, I know, but there’s really no other way to to describe it. In short, I didn’t know who I was and I kept looking for a job or people to give me my identity.
Ever since high school, I’ve wanted to be on Young Life staff. I think after I really started walking with the Lord, God put in my heart the desire to be in full-time ministry, but I had a lot of growing up and waiting to do. In college, I grew tremendously in my relationship with the Lord and around every corner, He revealed parts of who I am. I learned that my passion is relationships and loving people – especially young people – and through that to introduce them to Jesus Christ. I went through YL leader training, but never got the chance to lead because of one thing or another. I’m not sad about that because I had some great experiences in college, including working at a camp in Colorado for a summer and spending a semester in London.
After college, armed with my middle grades education degree, I moved back to Mount Airy and taught 7th grade Language Arts and Social Studies. I liked teaching, but really just wanted to have something to do while I was a volunteer YL leader at the high school. My heart was set on YL staff and so I wanted some experience as a leader. It was hard being home, but also good for my heart. I learned a lot and was healed of some old wounds. I kept feeling God saying to wait on going into ministry, but my heart was restless and after 2 years at home, I lit on out of that small town and moved to Colorado. Once there, I went on YL staff and quickly realized I was not ready. It was so much harder than I ever realized, but I ended up having a deeper love for it than ever before. After a tough year on staff and dealing with a growing homesickness, I made the decision to move home. I love Colorado, made great friends and sometimes miss it desperately, but I knew it was time to come home.
And ever since then, I have wrestled with many demons and gone through the biggest refining process of my life. I thought I’d come back and either get a teaching or YL job, but it just didn’t happen. I was naive and stubborn, reluctantly taking a job at Banana Republic here in Winston and beginning work at the regional office. I thought all of it would be temporary, but here I am, over a year later. A job came open at the boarding school where I now call home and so I moved to Winston and into a whole different world. As I’ve said before, being at the school has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. Working there and part-time at the regional office has given me a lot of free time to think, pray and cry out to God. He’s taken me on a journey of self-discovery that probably would not have happened if I hadn’t slowed down.
A few months ago, I decided to sit down with a counselor and work through all of my junk. Jayne has been amazing and loving; I could not ask for a better friend to help me peel back the layers of my heart to reveal what I really want. So through working with her, crying a lot, and talking with other good friends and family, I finally saw what God was trying to show me all along. I see now that He has created me to be a leader. It may sound simple, but it’s had a profound impact on my life. God has constantly put me in leadership roles and created me uniquely to boldly lead people to Him. Even at the most organic level, He put me as the first of four girls in our family – I’ve griped to my mom that I don’t want to be a role model and I never asked for this role, but here I am. I am the first (even though I have an older brother, I’m the oldest girl) and I think it’s my responsibility to love my sisters well and lead them when I can.
The time for sulking about being in Winston and being a trailblazer at the school needs to end. Even if I don’t like it – which most of the time I don’t – God has called me to restart YL there and pave the way for ministry. As much as I feel inadequate to do this and reluctant to be a true leader, people are following me. It’s time to lead. Whether it’s starting a bible study with the other house counselors, which I’ve done, or figuring out ways to bring the Gospel to the high school girls, I must lead. It’s a funny thing: I’d much rather follow people and have someone else do the hard work, but at the same time I can’t help but be a leader. It’s in my blood; it’s who God created me to be. The potential has been there for a long time, but I was too afraid to let God bring it out. I’ve called myself a YL leader for a long time, but I don’t think I ever realized what it meant. Now I do and the task is huge.
These past few years I’ve been waiting for God to prepare the right time and place to put me on staff, but I see now that the real work that needed to be done was in my heart. I had to believe in who He has made me to be before I could head out into the world of full-time ministry. Now I understand why I kept hearing Him say, “Not here, not now…just wait.” Never a “No,” but a “Wait,” which is much harder to swallow, I think. So now I will pour my energy into figuring out how to have YL at this boarding school and in January, I will apply for full-time YL staff. Yippee! I feel like it’s finally time. And all the work I’m doing here in Winston will prepare me for wherever God sends me. I can sit down with a regional director and say, this is what I’ve done. I’m building my ministry resume, as it were. God might call me to stay in Winston a little longer, or He might have me go be an area director somewhere. Or I might be placed in a town that needs a woman to love other girl leaders, who knows. But the coolest thing is I feel like I’m called to be a leader wherever I am, wherever I’m needed. There will definitely be times when I’ll follow – and that will be refreshing – but I’ll fill the need as I see it arise. That gives me so much peace and freedom because I don’t feel like I have to tell God exactly what I want and where I want it. I’m willing to go wherever and do whatever.
Phew, that was a long story. Maybe no one will read all of this. But that’s my story for now and that’s why I am so happy. I finally feel a peace and contentment deep down in my soul that I don’t think I’ve ever felt before. I know who I am. And the restlessness is gone. I think of a line from one of my favorite movies, Legends of the Fall, when the narrator is talking about Tristan – when he finally comes back home, the old Indian says, “I think the bear inside him was finally asleep.” I think the bear in me that wanted to run far, far away and never stay still has not just fallen asleep, but left me. In his place is a calm sheep who is eager to hear the voice of her Shepherd and willing to follow His voice anywhere. I hope that’s what people can see on my face and in everything I do.
May the beauty of the Lord rest on me.