Many, many years ago now, my husband and I followed what felt like a wild call from God. We left our steady jobs in the suburbs and moved to the plains of the Midwest to live and work at a Bible camp.
We had always been in and loved the work of ministry. We were a couple of young church enthusiasts, both of us former youth and camp program directors with degrees in family and youth ministry. When we learned a camp (one with which we had a history) was hiring two people for program work, we jumped to apply. When we drove away from the interview, my husband was confident that this was our next calling.
I was a little less convinced but excited nonetheless. We’d only been married a couple of years, and this was a major move away from family and friends for both of us. But it was for work we were passionate about, and there was something romantic about living on the windy prairie for Jesus.
Our community, friends, and even our parents were surprised but not shocked. They knew our hearts, and they helped us pack. They thought it was a bit of a wild decision, but trusted us and the God who they knew led our way. We felt certain we were hearing the still, small voice of His leading.
And so, we packed up our whole life into a big U-Haul, drove ten hours west, and jumped in with both feet. We were excited to start this new stage in our life, and fully expected to live into it for quite some time. The camp provided housing, so we decorated the most adorable little house on the prairie. We met some people in the community, and I fell in love with the local coffee shop/antique store downtown. We were in the winter festival parade, loved getting to know groups who stayed at camp, and our families came to visit.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t weep when my mom drove away after her first visit. Because underneath the work I truly loved, I was miserable.
I cried a lot. I found myself unmotivated to do much of anything. This was before texting was a thing, so I spent evenings glued to the desktop computer in the office, following Twitter and reading blogs. The only friends I had lived behind that screen; due to the nature of the jobs we held, we weren’t really able to make many friends near camp. I was terribly lonely; even the new puppy we’d gotten to help, well, didn’t.
The cherry on top of the sadness sundae was that we were also experiencing infertility. To be so alone, both physically and emotionally, was simply too much.
Less than a year after we pulled onto the long dirt road to camp, we drove the truck back out and returned to the very city we’d just left.
It would be an understatement to say people thought, at that time, that we were making a mistake. People were hurt, confused, and angry that we left. I understand their reactions, I really do. But what they didn’t know or see were the daily tears, the aching heart, and the long winding road (proverbial and actual) to figure out where home was.
They also didn’t know that the very week we left, we’d driven that same long road frantically to the hospital in the middle of the night as I miscarried our first baby. I can hardly recall our months at that place without tears because it culminated with such devastation and pain.
As we drove out for the last time, I left some hopes and dreams along that road. Of a long and happy time spent in ministry there. Of an easy transition into parenting. Of making new friends and loving a new call.
I also dropped a few other things off along that road. Caring immensely about what others think. The need to explain and defend myself. Feeling like a failure for not “sticking it out,” and even feelings of failure for the miscarriage. I launched those all out the window and left them there among the stalks of prairie grass.
Because even as our life seemed to crumble, and didn’t make sense to anyone (including us), we heard and heeded the still, small, wild voice of the Lord.
“The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.”
1 Kings 19:11-13
We followed God’s whisper in, and we followed it right back out.
Sometimes it’s like that; a wild decision here, a seemingly scattered choice there. If you can look steadily beyond the shivering winds, the shattering earthquake, and the showy fire, God’s voice will ring clear and gentle. Throughout that year’s journey, through the pain and the loneliness, the fear and failures, the leaving and the leaving again… God remained.
He still does.
Maybe no one understands why your life looks the way it does. Maybe despite your faithfulness, things aren’t panning out as you’d expected, hoped, or planned. Maybe you’ve left a place, only to turn right around and return. Maybe you left a place and never did return.
But if you can hear the gentle whisper of the Lord, you’re never without a way home.