Friday, March 16, 2012

A River Runs Through It

For the past two weeks I have been writing in my other blog, Out of Portland, where I describe my recent adventures in Beijing, China. My trip last September was an incredible experience but this trip was even better.

For one, I was more comfortable and familiar with what I would be facing so that my preparation was quicker and less stressful. Second, our team of seven bonded quickly and experienced a wonderful depth of unity and love. Third, despite many obstacles I received huge answers to prayer and my confidence in Christ increased. And fourth, rooming with Dr. Liz Selzer was a serendipitous experience as she generously offered advice and affirmation in my quest to follow God’s call on my life.

By “call” I mean my final life work, my greatest contribution to the Kingdom, the place where my passion, my gifts, my education and my experiences converge on my purpose for being alive. So what is my call?

I have no idea.

I have hints. I have convictions. I have made choices in my educational pursuits. I see patterns in my personal history.  I have experienced successes. And failures. I know what my gifts and strengths are as well as my weaknesses. I have experienced times of aliveness and joy. I have also experienced deep pain and disappointment.

I also had one of those moments with God when I think He told me something to help me understand how my journey with Christ would be shaped. I don’t presume to “hear from God” but there are times when the moment is so sacred, so outside the box and contrary to what I normally know or think that I can’t help but believe the “voice” was divine.

And what did I hear?

I may never receive THE CALL.

This piece of news came during an exercise of communing with God in nature which my seminary professor assigned to the whole class while on a prayer retreat nearly 12 years ago. I had been wrestling with a decision and decided to pray about it during this exercise. While walking along a small river that ran through the retreat center I encountered God through several metaphors.

The first metaphor was a huge boulder sitting in the middle of the raging spring waters. As I reflected on the rock, these thoughts tumbled through my brain: Harriet, you are like that rock in the river. You are resisting doing this thing I have asked you to do. You will not budge from your comfortable place and flow with my Spirit. Instead you are creating a lot of foam with your complaining of the situation that I have asked you to step into and help to be part of the solution. The real decision you must make is whether to obey me and move or stay where you are.

Rats! I did not like being compared to that stubborn boulder! And I did want to obey. So I submitted my heart to what I believed God was asking me to do.  The wrestling was done. But there was more to the river.

I walked a little further down the flow and came to a small tributary that broke off from the main river. A small island had formed and I could see where the tributary rejoined the river. As I stared at the small stream, another thought converged with my mind: Harriet, this thing I am asking you to do is just a temporary detour. There are some things for you to learn here that you will not learn anywhere else. Don’t worry. Eventually I will take you back into the main stream of the purposes I have for you where you will use the gifts I have given you.

Okay. I can handle temporary. Temporary ended up being three and a half years. And the things I needed to learn ended up being the most painful lessons of my life. But it also ended in some of the deepest healing moments and greatest growth experiences ever. The detour was worth it. And there was one more river metaphor to come.

When I finally pulled my eyes away from the tributary I looked up to observe the rest of the river’s flow. What I saw was a little disappointing. The river took a bend shortly after the small stream reconnected and I could not see much more of its flow. It did not take long for the final thoughts to form: Harriet, for now you will not know where I am taking you. You will not get a clear call to your life. I am asking you to trust me for only the next step. Don’t worry about the far future and what it will look like. Just pay attention. Follow me one step at a time.

And this is where I’ve been since my tributary experience ended six years ago. I still do not know what my “call” is and so far, this is what is supposed to be. I’ve taken little steps along the way. China has been a big step. But I’m still not sure China is a call.

Then I roomed with Liz. The step into China was a step into Liz’s ministry. We talked about what has been growing in my heart to do. She listened and asked questions. With her knowledge of people and ministries across the church landscape, she affirmed the passion forming deep within me. It’s hard to ignore the timeliness of this connection. I think my next step is starting to become more clear.

I’ll try to describe it in my next blog.

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