My dad was a planner. He never seemed to do anything that he hadn’t already thought about and planned for, usually writing it all down on a yellow legal pad. I couldn’t even begin to count how many yellow legal pads he must have gone through during his adult life! We would tease him, and joke about how he never went anywhere without one, even sometimes giving him big packages full of yellow legal pads for Christmas or his birthday. It was all for a laugh, though, because we knew that if there was a pad sitting on the table, with a cup of coffee and a pen next to it, he was working on something important. Sometimes it was something fun, like the next summer’s family vacation. Sometimes it wasn’t so fun…like paying bills and balancing the family budget. But whatever it was, he figured it all out on countless sheets of dull yellow paper.
Oddly enough, I tend to want to write things down on a yellow legal pad myself. It’s not like I’m trying to carry on some family tradition. Sometimes I use white legal pad paper. But I can appreciate what it feels like to take pen to paper – writing, figuring, planning, crossing off and starting over, doodling along the side when your mind is drawing a blank. Then to sit back and look over what you have done, and finding a satisfaction in it. I know that in these modern times, most people do that on a computer. They create word documents and charts, spreadsheets and all kinds of other things that are way more efficient than a piece of paper. But regardless of how we all prefer to do it, sometimes those plans we make just don’t go the way it looked on paper…or on a spreadsheet.
Earlier this year, I cleaned out a room that had been “my space.” My space had been moved to another part of the house and it is now “husband’s space.” After several years of it being “my space,” there was a lot of STUFF in that room. All of it extremely important of course…except for those five very full trash bags that went out to the curb. But among of all that STUFF was everything that we had gathered and done in preparation to be missionaries in the country of Thailand. From the time that we committed to a ministry, to the day we sadly made the final decision that it was time to let it go, four years had passed. I held on to everything related to our going overseas, even quotes from a company that helped families move their pets internationally. By the time I had finished going through it all, there wasn’t much left from our going-to-be-missionaries plan; most of it had become irrelevant and outdated. What I kept is now mainly in the form of documents and files on my computer.
It took me a very long time to “grieve the loss” of what we strongly felt was God’s calling on our lives. I actually went out of my way to not read blogs, Facebook posts or anything else that mentioned Thailand, missionary work, etc. I was envious of those who were already in the field, and those who were successfully getting ready to go. Why on earth would God place such a deep longing and commitment in our hearts for it to never come to be? I don’t have an exact answer for that. But it’s possible that God wanted to see if we WOULD commit, if we WOULD obey despite all of the difficulties we faced when we announced our plans. God has a plan for every one of us, but are we willing to trust Him, and follow wherever He leads? We were willing.
In the time that has passed since we let go of a life in Thailand, God has definitely answered some of the “why” questions, many answers relating to our kids. One of the biggest obstacles we struggled with, both within ourselves and from other people, was the idea of taking our kids into one of the most spiritually dark places in the world. We had been there, and had seen it…and felt it. But God reminded me of the story of Abraham and Isaac, and how we must trust Him with our children and obey when He asks us to do something that our human hearts fear to do. Since making the decision to stay, God has blessed our kids immensely, even more than He had already done before. He has shown us glimpses of His plans for them, and we stand in awe of how He is moving in their lives. Sometimes I don’t think they even realize how much their Heavenly Father is orchestrating the masterpieces that they are becoming. But I realize it. I may not know every single thing that will happen or that they will do in their lifetimes. But God has given me the assurance that they have a purpose and a place, and He has given me the gift of witnessing their stepping out into that purpose. I now know that if they had been in Thailand, they most likely would not have gotten the opportunities they had, and have now, to begin fulfilling their purpose.
Which raises the thought – maybe we “heard God wrong,” and going to Thailand would have been a huge mistake. God just saved us from ourselves by stopping the funds from coming in and making it impossible to continue. I would have to disagree with that because there were so many things that went RIGHT during our preparation time. For one thing, God placed a heavy burden on our hearts for a group of people that most church folk find deplorable. That burden is still there, it’s not like it went away just because we weren’t boarding a Bangkok-bound plane. Those people are not just in Southeast Asia; they are in Europe, and Africa, and South America…and yes, they are right in our hometowns. (I will write another blog shortly about “those people”) What God had called us to do half-way around the world can still be done right here, because the circumstances and the desperate need are still the same.
So as our lives continue on in America’s Midwest, instead of the exotic “Land of Smiles,” we are just figuring it out. We don’t have to figure it out on our own, we just have to be open to what God has already started in us, and let Him lead. We use the talents that God gave each of us, in the places that He wants us right now, doing the ministry He needs us to do. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t think of Thailand from time to time, as I often get reminders. A certain smell that brings back what it was like to walk out of the Bangkok airport and your nose is hit with the scents of spices, florals…and humidity. Seeing something on a TV show and thinking to myself, hey, I know where that is – I’ve been there! Looking out of the window early in the morning when the sun hasn’t burned the fog away yet; in my mind I can see the misty covered mountains in the northwestern Mae Hong Son Province. These reminders can sometimes make me sad, because I miss being there very much. But I know, and am convinced, that God has all of this covered and when it is time – HIS time – we will move into the next chapter of the amazing story He is writing. Wherever that will be!
Sometimes things just don’t seem to make sense. But that is when you have to trust the most. It’s when you have to believe that everything is still going according to plan. Not your plan…God’s plan! Because you may have everything all figured out on your spreadsheet or your yellow legal pad paper, but if you aren’t trusting in Him and going where He is leading, the chances are pretty good that it’s not going to end up like you imagined it would. It’s when you trust and believe that something even more incredible than you could ever dream up happens. Be patient, and be listening. Because one day a quiet whisper will come…
“It’s time now. Go.”
Céad míle beannachta.
(One hundred thousand blessings)