The smell of a green, old-fashioned Expo marker consumed my home office. It was all I had on hand. My husband and I had just moved back to our childhood hometown unexpectedly—our own re-entry—and I was trying to make sense of it with a used white board and a stinky marker, probably last uncapped in the 90s.
Scattered across the board were my dreams and hopes for this new season, along with—if I were being honest—my grasping for significance.Having left what felt to be a worthy location and ministry, being plopped down in the Midwest was not on my radar, until of course it was. Although life was in many ways easier, I missed so much: rich community, meaningful ministry, and hard-earned cultural competence. And so the white board began to fill up. “Plant a church on the north side.” “Help rescue victims of trafficking.” “Start a city-wide marriage ministry.” The list went on. It was wild.
Did I tell you that I had just had my first baby too?
My husband came in to find me sitting on the floor in front of the board, high on stink, and wondering how to get it all done. My plan was to share with him these amazing things that God put on my heart (which was true) and see where he sensed the Lord was leading us. The conversation would be full of synergy as we thought and prayed through our next steps. I truly thought this new-to-sleep-deprivation dad amid his own re-entry would be eager to start the next thing. Ha!
It became painfully obvious quite quickly in that conversation that he was not on board.
As we talked, I realized that I was high on another kind of stink too.You see, even though those ministries were (and still are) dear to my heart, and even though they were (and still are) valid ways of serving Jesus, I—as many of you have also realized—thought that some jobs, some places, some ministries are fundamentally better, more holy, more noble, and more spiritual than others. Serving God in South Africa: holy. Serving God in Sam’s Club: secular. And it was not until I was stripped of those places, those job titles, and those roles,—which is so very common in re-entry, if not even synonymous with re-entry—that I realized just how much I relied on them to feel like I was doing the worthwhile thing, the valuable thing, the meaningful thing. The stink was pride, a pride that says I alone can determine what is sacred and what is secular, what is a worthy calling and what is not.
Through gentleness but firmness, my husband exposed the lie. I soberly put the cap back on the marker, but the stink still hung in the air and in my life. What I and that room really needed was some fresh air, but where would I find it?
One place was John 21. Peter, after hearing how the Lord was calling him, asked about John, “What about him?” Jesus’ response: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? Follow me.”
Yes, that’s the fresh air I need. I must keep my eyes focused solely on Jesus and following Him wherever He leads me to go, even if it means my own hometown.What matters is my obedience to His lead.
Sacred is walking in obedience. Secular is walking in pride.
So back to my white board. Of all the things on that board, He led me to do only one of them (and that was creating Returning Well: Your Guide to Thriving Back “Home” After Serving Cross-Culturally). The others I prayed that God would fill the need. And He has. Now 8+ years later, there is a new church planted on the north side, several thriving marriage ministries, and trafficking is being addressed at multiple levels.
The bottom-line for me was (and still is) this: I need to daily humble myself and ask the Lord, “What is it that YOU have for me, even in this unexpected place stripped of what I once knew to be me? Because whatever YOU say is important for me is what matters, even if others don’t see it as a holy vocation.You have the full picture, I don’t. And I want to play my part well, whatever part it is that you have for me. And that will be enough for me…more than enough.”
If you are in re-entry, what will help you find that time to lean into the Lord to discern His desires for you in this next season?
Friends, this is the Velvet Ashes Team and we wanted you to know that not only has Melissa written Returning Well, she also offers Returning Well Groups and Returning Well Coaching. If you are getting ready for re-entry or are in the throes of re-entry, Melissa can help.