“So why’d you move here?”
It was said with that cynical inquisitive tone that would be insulting if I didn’t know it was so genuine. After all, the circumstances of my new environment don’t directly match my comforts and personal passions.
The month I was given to process my decision was one of the more stressful months in recent memory.
In April of 2016, I was in Washington, D.C., at an IJM gathering. I stayed through the weekend to go and visit a suburb of the District that was seeking out someone to fill a full-time position with Young Life. It took me about an hour to get out there. I spent the day being shown the area, and presumably where I would be spending the next few years of my life.
I love the big city. I love constant opportunities to simply drive twenty minutes and find amazing things to do on any given evening. As I was being shown around the town the only thing I kept thinking was, there’s nothing for me to do here. It’s all an hour away. There’s nobody here my age. They’re all an hour away. I kept asking people what they do for fun out in the suburbs and honestly I wasn’t given a single gratifying answer. Most of the people I met had never lived anywhere but Gainesville, VA. I’m not sure they understood the life and excitement I was coming from.
In Austin, I probably saw a concert a week. And not just nobodies. In Austin, I got into music festivals for free. In Austin, I had one of the greatest movie theaters in the country-where I could constantly go a meet celebrities. There were books stores that hosted famous authors. There was a music shop that every week had free shows and free beer! Nearly everyone who lived there was in their mid-twenties and thirties. I had the beautiful hill-country. I could go out on a boat with friends to Lake Travis. I could hike the greenbelt downtown or hop into Barton Springs. For an entertainment junky like me, Austin is just about the greatest city in the world.
And I lived there. Why the heck would I leave? I’d finally begun making some great relationships. I had a wonderful church community that I had helped lead. And the tacos were pretty much the best on planet earth.
Here I was. About to interview for a job across the country in a small town just about the darn opposite of Austin. The highlights I was shown were two recently constructed shopping centers.
I don’t believe God desires us to disregard our passions. Or that God would call me into a situation that wouldn’t bring me strength and joy. There’s a common joke amongst Christians “don’t tell God what you don’t want to do because that’s what he’ll make you do!” This seems to be the take away from the Jonah story for some reason. I don’t believe this about God. “The last place I want to go is North Dakota, so naturally God called me to North Dakota.” As if God is against your passions and interests. That’s a toxic idea of God.
I do submit however that sometimes we can call ourselves into seasons of life that can help build up the fullness of these desires and passions. I said in the last post and I’ll say it again here. I believe Christ invites us into an abundant life. And I believe in every direction we choose for our lives we should seek to experience this abundance.
I was called a day after my interview and offered the job. The job would be to help develop a Young Life program from nearly the ground up. The ministry had existed in the past in various forms of trials and success. Over the last year or so a committee and a small number of volunteers had helped to keep the name and hope of Young Life in the area. If I were to take the job I would help them create a sustainable leadership program that would transcend any personality and hopefully reach the students of one of the largest high schools in the state with nearly 4,000 students.
This was the exact opportunity I was looking for. God had opened a door that would allow me to learn everything I desired to learn. But did I really have to leave Austin to learn it? Maybe I could find something that would allow me to stay?
I sat in that question for days. The committee and the school kept popping in my mind. How beautiful of a thing that even when the presence of Young Life was all but lost, there were adults this passionate to keep it afloat? There is a school (just ONE of the schools) with nearly thousands of kids that NOBODY is reaching. There is a community that is starving for community. These things burned in my heart.
I could stay in Austin and live off of my gluttony for this city. Or I could go and really be put through the grinder. I could go and learn in ways that I couldn’t in Austin. I could explore what it was like to build up a ministry. I could go after the hope of reaching thousands of lost kids. I could learn. There was screaming opportunity in Virginia.
And yet to accept this opportunity meant wrestling with several sacrifices. D.C. was an hour away. There area didn’t thrive with anything that resembled my previous communities. The church I visited didn’t appeal to me and I was worried being out of the city meant I would only encounter sects of Christianity that often make this progressive leaning Christian feel quite intrusive on. Simply put to accept the job meant being willing to live through some strong isolation. Which in my past often led to great spiritual weakness. I thrive in community. I’m a social butterfly. In Virginia I wouldn’t just have to find community, it was my job to create a Christian community. And this was all quite overwhelming.
But here were the facts.
I had always wanted to live a season of my life in the Northeast. When I was in college traveling to Charlottesville and D.C. were some of the best trips of my life. No matter where I lived when fall came I craved Virginia. Some of my most nostalgic memories happened there. In 2013, I went to see my favorite band in Bristow, not five minutes from the spot of my interview. So even out in the middle of “nowhere” there was a 20,000 person music venue that often brought in some of my favorite acts. Less than an hour away was the comfort and entertainment of the big city. (One of my favorites) and less than an hour and a half away was Charlottesville. The Mecca for any Dave Matthews Band fan. To top it all off one of the main reasons I looked towards the D.C. area was that my two closest friends lived in Georgetown, fifty minutes away.
I would spend the whole month considering this decision. It wasn’t as clear as every Christian leader tells you it will be.”When God calls you, you will know.” “Yeah but I could literally do this job anywhere. Do I have to do it there?” I’m adaptable remember! Young Life in Austin provided me the opportunity to wait out the year for a position to become available. Prior to moving to Austin my mother gave me great advice. Spend a day thinking you took the job, and spend a day thinking you didn’t. It worked immediately for Austin but when I applied it to this career, it would be one day filled with excitement and then another day filled with grief. And it did this the whole month. My coworkers were gracious enough to sit through many hours of processing.
I spent this month calling and listening to every voice I could. Many of them experienced with Young Life and the obstacles of building up a community in new towns. I quickly realized how blessed I was to even have these voices. Person after person had wonderful advice that informed my decision making. Many of them experienced with the areas and life surrounding Gainesville. I had to look at my life and think of similar struggles I had in the past. I had to keep grounding myself in my advice I gave to others: “Just go with the Lord.” I had to realize that God has never kept me from making friends in new places. That God has always led me to opportunities for fun. That God has hardwired me to be adaptable. That over the last year he has been shaping me to be okay on my own. In fact I often find more fun and adventurous opportunities this way. Devon, you could manage. And God provides.
What was happening is I was grieving the loss of Austin. When I stepped back enough to see this, there were a lot of things that pointed to Virginia. The challenges were there. But I have a big God who isn’t distant but who is for me. He has promised me abundant life and if I seek it I will find it. I could stay in Austin and wait for some job to come up. And I bet one would. Or I could go and have an opportunity to truly impact a community in need. I could stay or go to either place and God would be with me. I could stay in either place and still find the love and care of Christ. Neither choice had to be a mistake. Because in both places I could go with the Lord. But for the time being, God had paved a way for beautiful opportunity in Virginia. If I was willing to simply go. Austin wasn’t going anywhere. Music wasn’t going to die. People are everywhere.
During this discernment I found out that a friend from college was moving just miles from Gainesville. The week I accepted the job, I found out that Willie Nelson, Dave Matthews, Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Alabama Shakes, and Sturgill Simpson were all coming to that venue in Bristow just miles from my home. And that movie theater…the best one of the planet had recently opened a location less than half an hour from my home.
Because God has promised abundant life. When you go with the Lord, you will find it.
To stop yourself in your tracks and be afraid of the unknown is to miss out on experiencing the mystery.
Life is found in submission to mystery.
Sometimes seeking God’s call is becoming aware of the burning bush. Which of these things is burning the brightest? Or as Moses puts it, “I will go over and see this strange sight.”
What strange sight is calling your attention?
It’s in going to these strange and mysterious sights that we find the holy ground for our lives.
As Frederick Buechner is famously put, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
We can only ask is these moments, “Who am I that I should go.” But it is in this journey that we hear the Lord say, “I will be with you.”
It doesn’t mean we won’t face the challenges we expect. In my first month in Virginia I have faced every single thing that caused me to struggle with my decision. But I have a peace in these struggles, because I know that perseverance is being produced. I know that from this perseverance character is being built, and from this character I will see hope. (Romans 5)
And because I know that the Lord is with me.
And that my calling is that is be with Him.