Spring 2020: I was in a season of preparation and new circumstances, preparing to move to Cambodia. I was on the verge of getting engaged to my sweet fiancé. I knew there would be difficult seasons ahead, but in that time I was in a season of early growth. Curiosity and inspiration, or maybe rose-colored glasses, guided my heart, and I envisioned a straight path ahead – one where I would find life-changing relationships, where I would put into practice everything I had learned in trainings and seminars, where the Father would grow and change me.
Fast-forward to Spring 2021. I opened up my retreat guide and I saw the opening session exercise, a “growth rings practice.” I took a deep breath, anticipating what was next. The sticky Cambodia air filled our living room, and nearby sat my housemates, each with their own retreat guide. Our other teammates sat in little virtual windows on the computer screen. We were in the third day of our third lockdown, this one more intense than any of the others we had experienced before.
I began the growth rings practice, but as I reflected on the past year, I could not fit all of the landmarks into the retreat template. A flood of memories washed over me as I recalled what had happened since I left Kansas City—saying the difficult goodbye to my fiancé and “hello” to a year of long-distance relationship, coupled with quarantine, culture shock, language-learning, team life, multiple lockdowns, teaching in person for one week and then having to move indefinitely to online classes, and more. A lot happened in just seven months.
Since the retreat, I have pondered these two questions: Which season(s) am I in right now, and what is the Father’s invitation for me in this moment?
Which season am I in right now? Some days are autumn or winter. You know this grief, the grief over broken expectations and disappointment, the grief that brings waves of tears or deep moments of sorrow. In this, I pour out to the Father my lament: “I thought I would be able to see my students in the next class. I thought I would see those teammates again in a couple of weeks. I thought I would be able to go out in this city and build relationships. I thought I would see those sweet parking guards, that grocer, that street vendor, one more time. I thought I had more time.”
But other days, I have moments where I feel close to springtime, maybe even summer. When I reflect on the past year, I am filled with gratitude at the many blessings that have come out of this season. I am grateful for the privilege to be where I am now. While the lockdowns have been difficult, my team feels like family, and we have been able to support and love one another through it. My local neighbors have become dear friends. It is in these rays of light that the Father shows me the warmth and joy of summer.
Then, I found the Father’s gentle invitation to me in John 15: “Abide in me, and I in you.” A simple instruction that is hard to follow. Why do that when I can bury myself in work, in distractions, in trying to do things my way? Yet, I heard his voice saying, “I am not surprised by any of this. You’re trying to do this without me, and you can’t. Abide in me, and I will make your joy full.”
I look back at where I was last year and gently laugh at the expectations I had. Maybe you feel the same way as you look back over your past year.
Last year, I thought I saw a straight path. I was full of my expectations and plans, but the Father had different, better ones. He has led me to life-changing relationships, but not with those I was expecting. He has allowed me to practice skills I studied in training, but it has looked much different in practice than it did in a classroom. He has grown and changed me, but in ways in which I never could have imagined that I desperately needed to grow and change. The past year has been a rollercoaster of seasons, sometimes all four seasons in one day, but through it all, I see one constant – his invitation to abide with him in his love.
I don’t know what this season looks like for you right now, and the Father may be speaking a different invitation over you in this moment. But there is an invitation there. It may not be what you expected. But his voice is present, gently calling your name. If you are in autumn or winter, he is listening to your lament, holding you in his arms and being a “refuge and strength” (Psalm 46). If you are in spring or summer, he has provided beautiful and creative ways to rejoice and celebrate growth and redemption (Isaiah 35). No matter which season you are in, know that you are invited and there is a place for you in this community.
What invitation do you hear the Father speaking over you right now? If you could summarize it in one word, what word would it be?