This is Part 2 of a collection of questions and musings regarding the callings I’ve felt during the last three years. You can read Part 1 here.
Every January, my university hosts month-long mission trips to countries around the world. For the past two years, I’ve watched friends go and come back changed. I’ve always thought my junior year would be an ideal time to make the plunge, and the application deadline is fast approaching.
But a unique writing opportunity has come up too. Next January, my department will be hosting a seminar on writing for children and teens, the very area I’m most drawn to. I take a few trips to our campus prayer chapel to pray and journal, and to my surprise, I find myself feeling led to take the writing course. So I do.
It isn’t until months later that I realize if I hadn’t taken that course in January, I would have almost certainly been too burnt out by an overseas mission trip to go on the spring break trip to Indianapolis, the very one where I felt such a strong calling to service.
Shortly after my Indy trip, I serve as a volunteer at a weekend retreat for high schoolers held at my college. In the weeks beforehand, I recruit several other writers to help me create a month-long devotional for the students to take home with them. It’s the first time I’ve combined my passions for writing and serving, and despite the frustrations of blending several writing styles into a single, consistent book, I love the experience.
During the retreat weekend, I help set up rooms for events and take them down afterward, answer questions at the 24-hour call desk, and watch as dozens of teenagers stream forward during the “altar call” time of one service. I’m both exhausted and energized. I return to my room Sunday afternoon and sleep for a few hours, but later, I write in my journal: Suffice it to say, I learned that serving other people makes me extremely happy.
It’s a lesson I should have learned years beforehand, and to some extent I did. But going to Indianapolis, helping with the retreat, and a dozen other smaller experiences this semester collide to solidify the realization.
A week into my summer, I’m off to a writer’s conference I signed up for several months ago. Despite my positive youth retreat writing experience, I’m feeling a general disillusionment toward the whole writing world, but something the keynote speaker says catches my attention: “If God has given you the ability to write, how dare you not use it?” His words echo those I wrote in my journal years before, during one of those second-guessing times.
Before I have time to breathe or consider those words too deeply, I’m traveling a thousand miles across the country, from Wheaton to Colorado Springs in one day, to complete my summer internship at a publishing house. I immerse myself in the world of words and stories and books and come home with 60 more (free) books than when I left.
But something about the experience is also dissatisfying. For one thing, I discover that sitting alone in a cubicle all day is really boring. For another, even though I’m working at a Christian publishing house, I don’t feel like I’m helping anyone.
I realize again that I’m not cut out for the corporate world, and because I’m still on track to graduate with a writing degree, I start looking for writing opportunities in the non-profit world. Writing related non-profit jobs are scarce, though. I have difficulty finding them and even more difficulty finding the right one. And so, I’m left, still waiting.
After weeks of waiting, I receive a response to my application to work at the same inner-city Indianapolis ministry that I visited in March 2012. I’ve been accepted – not for the year-long position I hoped for, but as a summer intern. I’m confused, since I felt led to apply for a year, but surely God can use even a short summer to teach me, so I accept.
For the next eight weeks, my world is completely rocked. The kids I work with are amazing, but I realize my lack of an education background severely impedes my ability to discipline firmly and set healthy boundaries. I am exhilarated by their honest, curious questions about life and God, however, and when the opportunity comes to stay at the ministry for the full year I originally applied for, I gladly accept.
It has been a long time since I’ve written for fun, and when I see a number of Facebook friends talking about doing NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I decide to participate. Since I’m working my first full-time job, I decide against trying to complete the official goal of 50,000 words and go with the more reasonable goal of finishing a novel I have already started, which equals about 20,000 words of writing.
The writing process is good for me. It gives me something to look forward to when I come home from a long afternoon of working in after-school, and I lose myself in world-building and re-familiarizing myself with characters I love. I feel a pleasing satisfaction as I watch the pages fill and the word counter in the lower left-hand corner tick toward 95,000 words.
I finish my writing goal by November 30 and sit back, basking in a regained love for writing.
Around the same time, I start overhearing and learning the stories of my fellow employees at the non-profit I work for, and I’m amazed at the depth those stories add to my perception of both them and the ministry. An idea for a blog is evolving in my mind, one that would combine story and ministry.
It’s time for another decision: where to go when my year of ministry ends in May. The thought of leaving full-time ministry makes me feel a little guilty. Serving Him full-time is what God wants, right? But I’m not sure how much longer I can keep this up. I’m exhausted, both spiritually and emotionally.
Then I stumble across the story of Jesus healing the demon-possessed man in the region of the Gerasenes. The man has lived alone among the tombs for years, tortured by demons and abandoned by everyone in his town. So when Jesus heals him, he is incredibly grateful and asks to go with Jesus. He asks to give his life to following Jesus full-time. But Jesus refuses, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”
It strikes me then that Jesus doesn’t always call us to far away countries or cities. Sometimes He calls us to return home. With that, I feel released to do what my heart has been calling me to do, to go home and write.
This story doesn’t have a tidy ending. I don’t have the perfect answer as to how God wants me to use my passions for writing and serving. But I’m starting to see the pieces.
This blog is a part of it. I’ve had a blast interviewing all of the founders, employees, and volunteers at the ministries I’ve featured so far. Their passion for what they do is contagious, and without fail, I come away from the interviews feeling invigorated and excited to share their stories.
Some parts of the picture are still blurry. My desire to help people has narrowed to working with kids, and I have a particular passion for orphans and foster kids, but I don’t know how that will play out yet. I have several novel and story ideas I have worked on for years and care a lot about, but I don’t know if or when anything will come of them. I have a nerdy love for writing exegetical papers, and I think it could be fun to write an in-depth Bible study, but right now, I wouldn’t know where to begin.
Slowly, I’m learning I don’t need to see the whole picture, though. I just need the next step.
Taking that January writing course allowed me to go to Indianapolis for the first time. Working in Indianapolis gave me real-life writing and serving experience. Coming home introduced me to more new writing and serving opportunities. The next step always comes, even if it doesn’t come quite as soon as I would like.
One verse has helped throughout this whole process: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”
I can’t see the whole picture, but He can. So I’ll wait. Sometimes patiently, sometimes…not so much. But I’ll wait. And someday, I won’t have to look through a glass darkly anymore, because I will see face to face.
When/how do you hear God’s voice? Are there “pieces of the puzzle” you understand now that didn’t make sense at the time?