Within moments of landing on foreign soil, God began to use a variety of people to say the same message repeatedly. “You are meant to return to this place for a longer time.”
While this happened a number of years ago, I can hear the words still ringing in my ears. If they had been said by one person, I would have shrugged my shoulders and wondered if it was really God speaking to me. However, God wasn’t that subtle or that quiet about it. A principal at a school said it. A pastor in a different city on the other side of the country repeated it. A colleague said it again at a conference. Yet another pastor in a fourth different city said it again. It was impossible to miss. It felt like God wrote it on a billboard in billboard size letters. In that moment, I fully agreed. I would return. I would do what was asked of me. I would obey.
Fast forward to the day I was meant to leave home. I had said goodbye to my students. I had turned over my computer and my keys. The school bag was empty. The bags for the journey were locked and loaded. If I had been allowed a choice, my parents would have driven me to the airport and straight through departures and right back home. I was scared. Internally I was freaking out! How could God really be asking this of me? This was a bigger obey than I was capable of.
I have set the Lord always before me. Psalm 16:8a (NIV)
Day and night I’ll stick with God; Psalm 16:8 (MSG)
I chose obedience. It was scary. I was headed to a place I had been before but I was not with anyone I knew well. This was an adventure not of my own design but rather of His. And God showed up! In deeply personal ways, God showed up!
Prior to heading through security I ran into a colleague from a previous job. We had worked closely together. We had shared an office! Over the course of a number of summers we had grown to have a friendship. She was headed overseas and so was I. We were both travelling alone and somewhat nervous about the experience. The first leg of our trip was made on the same flight. We didn’t sit together, but I knew someone on the plane! God showed up!
While I was waiting on the other side of security, I noticed a group of students waiting to board at the same gate I was. One of the women, who seemed to be in charge of the group, looked very familiar. She was more than familiar. She was a former teacher of mine. I had last seen her when I was a junior high student. But her smile of recognition and her warm greeting were a balm for my concerned and anxious heart. God showed up again!
As I waited in a foreign airport to catch my next flight, I wondered how God would show up here! The people I had known on my initial flight had all arrived at their intended destination. I was the only one moving on. I couldn’t know anyone in this part of the world, could I? I doubted God’s ability to show His presence here! And God reminded me of His presence in the midst of my doubts. A parent of one of my students walked through the airport right in front of me. Not a single word was exchanged, but it was as if God was putting his exclamation mark on my journey! “I am with you! See it! I am in front of you! I have a plan for this experience. I will use whatever means necessary to grab your attention to show you that I am with you and know what I am up to! Worry and anxiety are not meant to be part of this! I am with you!”
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8b (NIV)
I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go. Psalm 16:8b (MSG)
I needed those moments. I held on to them tightly. I was so grateful for the tangible evidence that my God was going before me. The obedience journey of that part of my life was one in which I learned so much. Lessons about flexibility and learning to let go. Lessons about forgiving and loving people. Lessons about family and investing in others. Lessons about His faithfulness. Lessons about my priorities and His plan.
Left to my own devices, I would have driven straight through departures and returned home. I would have missed His tangible reminders displaying that He is always before me. I would have missed His provision. I would have missed His surety and steadfastness. I would have missed the adventure He had for me. I’m so grateful I put myself in His hands.