On May 6th, 2017 we stood on crowded academic lawns in black gowns, in emptied out cottage bedrooms, and next to packed up cars and said goodbye to the last four years. We held each other for one last moment knowing that we'd never have the exact moments we had here ever again. I looked into the eyes of those that I had been deeply planted next to, and knew it was time for us each to be replanted. We had new jobs, new marriages, new schools, and new states to be in; roots that had formed in a place where none of us were more than one mile apart..now were going to have to reach hundreds and hundreds of miles away.
And if I'm being honest, in the almost two years that's followed, all I did was run. Striving to be this. Running to be here. Working to prove that. Trying with everything I had to be the one that was picked. I ran and I ran until everything within me was a dull, muted, left out in the Georgia summer sun green. Much like the earth around me, I was gasping for air, longing to be poured over with water, and aching for a reminder of what it felt like in the spring. With every mistake I made and every night I longed to be back at that cottage kitchen table-- I felt the color fade a little more and the exhaustion set in. I was drying up, my colors were fading, and my voice became a recording simply trying to feed out everything everyone wanted to hear. And as I walked into my first Pennsylvania winter: I unknowingly labeled myself with unworthiness-- for what colors were left for a tree so far removed from the garden in which she was planted?
That question is one that will get you if you aren't careful. It'll be daunting and scary and will eat you alive in the post grad season if you let it. Because I think one of the biggest races we ever run is the one in the first few years after we walk that stage in black gowns. For the first time since we were kids we weren't all to some degree on the same playing field. We aren't all students. We aren't all still working towards some goal that's down the line. We are thrust into the 'real world' and all of a sudden there's a pressure to be the one who is being the most successful, the most happy, and the most put together. We also typically have to do it far away from the people who have closely surrounded us for the last three to four years. It felt like almost over night that social media became an even bigger version of 'my horse is bigger than your horse' showdown. Then all of a sudden I found my 'post-grad castle' which I proudly threw into the heat of the comparative game crumbling to the ground throwing me into the storm of almost 13 months of transition.
Thirteen months. That's a long, long time to be in on-going, ever-moving transition, but I know that God knew all too well what He was doing. There was no mistake when He had three women walk into my life at the start of 2018 that would be the first bolts of lightening in a giant storm. First it was learning theology matters (I mean really, really matters), having to stand up for what I believe, realizing just because you stand up doesn't mean the ending will be what you want, leaving a job I thought was my dream, deciding I may never want to work in ministry again, searching for new jobs, interviewing for job after job, opening my heart ever so slowly back to working in His church, flying twelve hours north for an interview, accepting a job in Pennsylvania, moving out of my house in Rome to back home, packing up my entire life, moving to a state where I didn't know a soul, starting my first full-time position in ministry, navigating a new staff, learning what it's like to live at least 800 miles from your friends and family, trying to make new friends, learning a new boss and church staff, dying my hair purple (yes, really), transitioning out the boss that hired me, moving into a time with a temporary supervisor, preparing for a new church building to open by the end of the year and I'm quite positive there's a handful of things I'm leaving out because I'm writing this before my morning coffee has kicked in.
And wow, yes, my eyes got wide and my breathing got shortened even writing all of that. Yet in true transparency, I didn't reveal any of all the messy on my social media because I still kept asking myself the question: what colors can be left for a tree so far removed from the garden it felt its deepest planting? If I edit and transpose the colors to what I wish were there would they see that behind the scenes I feel lonely, overshadowed, and falling behind in the game?
One of the biggest honors in these last thirteen months has been being able to take a group of 50-70 middle schoolers into a series pulling the story of Esther apart. Guiding them through chapter by chapter what it means to take an extravagant story and find ordinary truth for our lives. And in the way He always seems to, as I was preparing to teach my teenagers He was teaching me more than I could imagine.
In studying the first chapter of Esther, I stumbled on to a kingdom going through a dramatic transition. Complete with a few characters who in their own context..I think felt a little bit like me. Overshadowed. Struggling to keep up. Unable to meet the standards over them. Even the namesake of the book, Esther was separated from all that she knew to compete in the palace to fill the exceptionally large shoes of the queen before her-- all while hiding the secret of who she really was.
Yet as I looked deeper in how Esther carried herself in the midst of a shadow darker and larger than I can begin to imagine, I saw a response that stopped me in my tracks: In the hiddenness of the shadow she was standing in, Esther faithfully allowed God to build her into someone she never would have become any other way. She became a Jewish queen to a Persian king. She became the saving voice for her people. She became a vessel for God to paint his providence and perfect justice years and years before He would send His chosen son. Which if you ask me, is really really stinkin' cool.
Which leads me towards the encouragement I have for you that I'm truthfully still daily learning how to apply myself: This season you might be in, whether it's feeling overshadowed, falling behind, or dried up from being in a place that feels so far in from a garden in which you were once planted...hold tight because He might be making you into something that you could not become any other way. In the toughest moments and hardest days, I feel myself turning back again and again to the first moments of Esther. Not because she was any more confident, gifted or grounded but because I can only imagine she was feeling just as pressured to keep up. Yet when she could have given up or pretended, she remained humble, quiet and kind..and patient to allow God to work out His will. Then what God did as the story play out, well, that's something I'll have to encourage you to read for yourself.
Yet our stories, sweet friend, are still being written; don't give up before He makes you into what He's intended all along. Even on the nights that feel empty and the days which bring a hollow loneliness from friends far away. On the days where the transition seems never ending and without cause. Even in the darkest moments left you crying out, 'Why does everyone seem to have this but me?' Those are the moments He's using, He's molding, and He's never absent.