Ten years ago tonight, I was driving back to Fort Worth from Dallas, crying so hard that I could barely see the freeway in front of me.
Life was stressful. I was five months back into life in the US after two years in Namibia, and I was struggling. I was sorry that I had come back home, where relationships were hard, seminary was overwhelming, and my ministry job was not what I thought it would be. The only thing I had been certain of when I left Africa was that I was going back one day, but five months into life stateside, I wondered if I was fit for any ministry at all, given how tired, depressed, and hopeless that I felt.
I came into work early one Sunday morning before all the children’s activities were set to start. There on my desk was an envelope with nothing but my name written on it. No return address, no note, nothing. Inside, there was a ticket to go and hear Elisabeth Elliott speak on November 14th at a small college in Dallas.
Whoever gifted me with this ticket had no idea that Elisabeth Elliott’s books had been with me as I had walked my own road of faith, from a new teenage believer, to a young collegian wondering about calling, then as a bona fide real missionary to Africa. Elisabeth Elliot herself, of course, had been a foreign missionary to a very unreached people group in Ecuador, had been there as a young mother when her husband was killed sharing the Gospel, and had since gone on to minister to the very same people who had murdered him.
She knew how hard life could be, obviously.
Her words had so encouraged me so often in my young walk, and I knew that on the night I was to hear her speak, she would have some words from God, some counsel from Scripture, some encouragement for what I was currently going through.
When I got there that night, I pulled out my journal and opened up my Bible, ready for some comfort. I hoped it was forthcoming when she stepped on the stage. She was older than I expected she would be, since everything I had read of hers was written when she was a young woman my own age. She was more authoritative than I expected she would be, speaking in a very clear, very firm voice that everyone in the crowded auditorium could hear.
And she was a lot meaner than I expected she would be, delivering a message that basically said, to my wounded and tired heart — suck it up, and die to self, you selfish, whiny, missionary girl.
I can’t fault her for that, though, because God bless her, she was being Scriptural, and she was, at that point, saying the very words that God had likely been communicating to my deaf heart all along. My heart’s cry again and again had been this — God, what do You want me to do? I feel so hopeless. What’s the point of my job, seminary, living here? What should I do, what should I do, what should I do?
And that night, Elisabeth Elliott gave three points and a poem. Which is great, because I love me some three points and a poem, y’all…
1. Obey God.
2. Read your Bible and pray.
3. Do the next thing.
Simple stuff that any number of the budding theologians I sat next to in my seminary classes would have rolled their eyes at. So obvious. But still powerful, even in its simplicity, if only for the reassurance it gave me to just keep on with obeying what God had called me to, seeking Him, and being ready to do the next thing, whatever it happened to be.
No answers. No clear answers or directions. No confirmations that I was doing what I should be doing.
Only this. Obey. Seek. Go.
I was completely inept at everything else stateside. But this? I could do this.
And so, on the drive back to campus, I found myself in tears, affirming to God again that He was who He said He was, that He is who He said He is, and that He will be who He says He will be.
And that’s that. I resolved to be okay with knowing nothing more at this point. It wasn’t for me to know right then where I would be, who I would be, what God would be showing to me a week from then, a year from then, or even (oh, the very thought!) a decade from then.
I would just do the next thing.
And so, ten years ago, I went to sleep, not knowing that the next thing would be something completely unexpected…
To be continued…