Every so often, it seems as though God brings us right back around to where we started. The story picks up where you thought it ended, and you realize you that you didn’t go a different way or change directions because it was the end of the road, but God had a few stops for you to make, and the road was under construction. You weren’t ready for the road, and the road wasn’t ready for you.
[Of course, I would break the silence of my blogging habits with a metaphor, wouldn’t I?]
A couple of years ago, I found something poetic. When my church family in 2017 sent me to a worship leaders conference, I wound up sitting next to the worship team from a church family tightly connected to the church family I am with now. Interesting, right? A bit convoluted, right? It only got more surreal my current pastor sent me to that church to learn from their music director, thus helping me grow in my role as music director.
If you’ve been reading for a while, or if you know me at all, you know I’m attentive. A bit spacey in the moment, but amidst it all, I’m actually paying really close attention to what people are doing, how they are behaving, what they are saying, and how they are feeling. I notice things. It is in my personality to watch for patterns, especially how those patterns fit into and affect the larger narrative of people’s lives.
In other words, I’m always looking at the story.
This was one instance of seeing God’s poetry at work in my story. That was the best way I could explain how he brought me around from one point to the next. But until then, a lot of other verses of his poetry completely escaped my notice. Not the least of which was when one friend’s love helped teach me to trust again after another friend’s hurt taught me to be a cynic — a friendship that was redeemed along the way, by the way, thank God. Or when blatant rejection and marginalization by a church steeped in false teaching was undone by a community of believers that actually loved me (circa. 2009). Or when my main goal was to make it big as a musician while also honoring Christ, but then that goal was transformed into worship leadership. Or when my concern was whether I was accepted among adults, but my concern became leading teenagers into Jesus-loving, mature adults when an arts camp invited me to lead their students in worship. Or when I graduated from a Christian school and kept my distance from the hurts I left in the place where they happened, only to have one of my camp students lead me into a position in Christian education with a different school.
That’s a lot of stuff to process, and a very winding story arc. You can imagine how blown someone’s mind would have to be when they suddenly realize how many parts of their life God brought full circle and how it all seemed to fit together. You can probably imagine the confusion and the intensity of the emotions that would have surfaced in watching it all unfold.
And after all was said and done, something new happened. The school I taught at merged with my high school, and suddenly, I was on the threshold of returning to the place where it all started, teaching in a place I never thought I’d see again, in an environment I wished would have flourished while I was there, in an place I wasn’t sure I wanted to be given the history. But after having looked at the various ways that God directed my paths, ways I never could have predicted, I decided I was ready. I made my choice. We were all re-interviewing, and if I was chosen, I would step into the role.
But I wasn’t.
When I got the news, I spent the day brokenhearted. God had done so much work to make me a new person, to empower me to love, to embolden me to bravely face fearful places. To experience this was overwhelming. It felt like everything, all the lessons, all of God’s poetry, was a waste. And I say this knowing full well that God’s plans are not confined to what I can see or understand and that God wastes nothing. I knew, and others reminded me, that if things didn’t pan out, then God had other plans for me besides the ones I thought.
That’s the thing. I was upset — okay, I’m still pretty upset — about my dream not coming true, and even though it genuinely seemed like God’s plan, it most obviously wasn’t because it didn’t happen. And though it may happen in the future, maybe it won’t.
I can’t get hung up on something that might happen. What you perceive is not necessarily what is real.
That seems to be the unending struggle with me, distinguishing between the perceived and the actual. That’s the trouble with being a dreamer, someone who sees the possibilities. They are rarely what they seem, and even when they are, there is usually more to it than you know. Obviously, considering the story that I’ve told, it’s true.
So where does that leave me? I don’t quite know. I just finished my bachelor’s degree in theology and worship leadership. All my other jobs are still perfectly intact. Nothing else has really changed except… me. And maybe that’s the point.
Maybe this isn’t about what job I get or where I work or even what field I’m in. Maybe this isn’t about making every dream I have come alive. Maybe it isn’t even about whether or not I need to stop dreaming so much or start distinguishing between what is perceived and what is real. And to be sure, all of those things are important. But there are other realities that are much more important.
When I first chose to follow Jesus, when he first made himself evident to me, I asked him for one thing and one thing only: to teach me how to love like him.
I can tell you of a certainty that everything I have gone through since then has helped direct me toward love. From the moment I finished high school, to the moment Jesus found me, to the moment I found people who cared for me, to the moment I had to distance myself from people I cared about, to the moment my trust was repaired by love, to the moment I left the church I called home, to the moment I started working with youth, to the moment I started working with developing worship leaders in a school, to the moment that opportunity ceased. All of it. Every single bit, bitter or sweet, has been the Spirit of God answering that very first prayer.
And he’s not done yet.
Have you ever noticed how roads don’t really actually totally come to an end? They are interconnected. They always lead somewhere. And even when the road does come to an end, it is still connected to the rest of it. Even a dead end makes a good turnaround.
When I was graduating from high school, I wanted to teach music. I had even been accepted into the music program at WKU. But then a health issue prevented me from starting. A block in the road sent me down a detour on another road, then another, then another. And after all this time, I found myself back in Christian education and music only for my time in it to come to an abrupt end (or a pause as my ever-optimistic fiancé might put it, but I won’t bet my life on it).
Maybe I could have gone down a different road, gotten my education sooner, but it didn’t seem like the right way at the time. God knew what I would do, and that’s how things went. Instead of keeping me set on my plans, he redirected me. I can sit here and obsess over that moment just like I can sit here and obsess over why it seems to be happening all over again. But here is the reality. Just like we’ve come full circle to talk about reality, all of the roads are interconnected such that if God wants me to come full circle to this job again at a different time by a different way with different life experiences, he will do it. He will put an end to detours and clear the way.
Right now, the way is not clear, but not every road is closed. I’m still alive. That is a simple, basic, obvious truth, but it is so important. Dreams can feel so real that when we die in them, it can feel like we’ve really died even though we’ve only woken up. They can feel so good that it feels bad to be awake. The sun feels like a burn rather than warmth and the darkness like blindness instead of rest.
But that’s not what dreams are for.
They weren’t meant to skew our perception of reality or steal our will to live.
They were meant to enhance our perception and give us the will to live.
And what gives people the will to live like love?
If my very first real prayer was to learn to love, and if God has given me dreams, then whether or not they have all come to pass, have they not all served their purpose if I have loved better because of them?
This is especially true for those of us who have found Jesus’ love. If Jesus really is God in the flesh, if he really died and rose to put love back into our relationships with God, then our careers, though they may glorify God, are not the only ways we can love. In fact, Jesus and his followers said repeatedly that to love is to lay down our lives — yes, even our dreams — for the benefit of others both in this life and especially in eternity.
Because I didn’t manage to hold onto a specific job, am I somehow less capable of love? Not at all. Not if Jesus is the strength of my life. If anything, he has a greater plan to empower me to love by focusing my attention on something else. I might be enamored with what I thought I needed to do to love well, but that doesn’t mean I see the whole picture.
I might see the dead end in the road, but even if I have a compass, a way to estimate if I’m headed in the right direction, that doesn’t mean I know the whole map or how that map is ever-changing. Try though I might, I don’t even make my own itinerary. Even if I did, would it matter? Roads are conduits. They get you from place to place, and you don’t go to a place without a purpose. We aren’t aimless wanderers, and the end of one road isn’t the disappearance of the rest. We move so that wherever we go we bring love where it once was not, and trust me when I say that there are many places (and jobs) that love has not reached. Not just one place. Not just one person. They’re everywhere, and if we quit moving because one or even many places and people didn’t pan out, then others will miss out on the love we bear.
You can miss your destination when you are too distracted by the winding of the road. My destination is not my job. My destination is to love.