It was just weeks before Easter. I was wheeling a cart of children’s music and CDs down the long hallway to the children’s choir room, that Sunday night. A good friend of ours stopped me in the hallways, “Courtney, I was just talking to Bret. He said you might be interested in going to Haiti, this summer.”
I think my whole life flashed before my eyes. No, really. I heard that sound effect from movies, the one with the crashing and squealing of tires. Yep, that accurately sums up what happened inside my brain as he was speaking. The words weren’t fully out of his mouth yet, when I realized I was literally sweating. For real. Sweat beads were accumulating on my forehead. This was legit panic.
“Oh, did he?” I choked, while my eyes frantically searched the church building for the husband who had ratted me out. “Did he say he was going as well?” I said.
“No…no, I think he just said that you were interested,” our friend paused, “You can think about it, pray about it. I definitely do not need an answer today.” At this point, I noticed he was smiling, slightly amused and perhaps a bit taken back by my flustered reaction to the mention of flying to a different country. It’s worth mentioning that Brandon (we will call him) and his wife, my good friend, are very well traveled people and might be a tad bit more laid back than I am. (Sarcasm. They’re chill. I’m…not usually described with that adjective…ever.)
I don’t remember every word of the rest of the conversation, but I know that I didn’t just “think about it.” I responded with something like, “No, no. Bret was right. I AM very interested. I’m just shocked that he mentioned it to you.”
Following that, I’m rather certain that I rapidly unleashed a game of twenty questions including who, what, when, where, how, and had my husband really given this his blessing? We have three small children. Sure we had talked about this…but really?! I was both excited and terrified that this conversation had happened at all.
You see, I realize most people could have just said, “Yeah, maybe so!” and left it at that. Oh, no. Not me…that’s just not how I roll. I needed details and I have quickly learned, that at the beginning of international mission trip preparations, details are scarce. It is essential to go with the flow; and my heart wasn’t at all prepared, in that moment, to commit to anything without serious answers. I sort of declined and sort of committed all at once with some kind of completely wishy-washy response. Our friend assured me that he would type up some information, bring it to church on Wednesday night, and with that, I continued to the Children’s Choir room. I remember singing a song with the children that included these lyrics, “My soul waits. My soul hopes. My soul sings: Wait on The Lord, be strong, and take heart. Find rest, oh my soul, in Christ alone.”
It was a Saturday morning when I woke up with the overwhelming conviction to surrender the decision to God. While feeding our children breakfast that morning, I prayed. While bathing them and brushing teeth, I prayed. While dressing them in clothes for the day’s outing, I prayed. Before loading our little guys in their car seats, I locked myself in my bedroom and sat in the floor. I clearly remember that prayer.
“Lord, I will go. You know I will go, but I am so scared to go without knowing that you have put this desire in my heart. I have to know that this opportunity is from you. I just don’t want it to be my idea, God. I cannot do this at all, unless you want me to. I don’t want to ask this….buuuuut…could you please…just maybe…I need a sign.”
I rushed to the garage and began to help with the strapping of carseats. I don’t remember what we chatted about on the nice drive to our favorite little place, nestled just outside of town. We parked in the gravel parking lot of (what our family calls, “The Amish Store”) an old-fashioned country store, operated by a lovely Mennonite family that we have enjoyed visiting regularly. (They make the best sandwiches in the world! Our oldest son has declared it his favorite restaurant.) It’s a Stanford family favorite to order sandwiches, buy a dozen of their freshly baked cookies, and eat on the patio of the country store.
We did our usual corralling of the kiddos while our sandwiches were made to order. The boys always seem to gravitate to the same back aisle of the store to see the toy tractors and trucks, while we ensure that they don’t break any of the merchandise. I turned around in the toy tractor aisle and immediately, my eyes caught the words on the wall art in front of me.
The Lord, your God, will be with you wherever you go. ~Joshua 1:9
“Well, Lord, that IS a sign,” I prayed. I remember laughing to myself because of the irony. I had asked for “a sign.” This was, indeed, a literal sign. I elbowed my husband.
“Do you see what I see?” I whispered, my eyes glued to the sign. He smiled. He knew what I had been praying about in the previous weeks, but I hadn’t exactly mentioned my prayer that morning, asking God for a “sign.” I resolved to save the conversation until the boys’ naptime. This was BIG.
At some point, on the drive home, I remember questioning whether or not that had happened the way I felt it had. I nearly wanted to be a skeptic, to make sure that I wasn’t jumping into my own plans. I wanted to be sure that this was God’s plan for me. I was too scared to leave the country unless I could be sure that I was following God before I got on an airplane.
When I told my husband about my prayer and about the literal sign in the Amish Store, he didn’t act as if I had imagined it at all. God had begun working on his own heart in similar ways. We wouldn’t be going on the same mission trip because of the logistics of child care for our little guys, but we had begun looking at the possibility of alternating weeks of the summer as short-term, first-time missionaries. The more we investigated the opportunities for summer missions, the more we heard from God through His provision and as the Holy Spirit spoke to our hearts.
We were deciding whether or not God was calling us to leave our comfort zones. For me, this meant the abandon of my control. If this was really the direction God was leading me, I would have to lay down numerous characteristics of my usual personality. Was the sign in the Amish store truly God’s way of telling me to let go and follow Him? My biggest fear was still that I would jump on an airplane and head in a direction that God had never told me to travel.
Meanwhile, friends from church and even a few members of my extended family had begun booking plane tickets. More than anything in the whole world, I wanted to book a plane ticket as well. No matter how many other people signed up, I was hesitant, paralyzed by the fear that I should not move until I could be certain.
In retrospect, I so clearly see what a mess I was. I was wrestling with myself in the worst way, yet I’m not ashamed of the fact that I, at the very least, took the commitment seriously. You’d think I was signing up for a year…no, no. This was only eight days. (I was the mother of an infant and two preschoolers, though, remember?) So much of my heart shouted, “Send me! I will go!” So many people around me questioned me, warned me, and looked at me like I had three heads at the mention of the Haiti trip.
My heart wanted to follow Jesus. My mind doubted that He had ever called me to leave my little ones for eight days at all. The world seemed to weigh heavily on my shoulders, completely divided into two camps of people. On one end of the spectrum, I could clearly see the group of people who had begun to question my motherhood and it was completely immobilizing. Comments were made and the sting was intense. On the other side, a group of people cheered me on, assuring me that eight days would not declare me a poor mother and promising to help my husband in every way possible. In the midst of the decision, my heart felt chaotic and I doubted that I would ever feel certain of what I should do at all. I was simply in a state of waiting.
**This post is the second in the series, Where My Trust is Without Borders. Thank you for joining me, as I share the (mostly) journaled details of a story that I have been not-so-patiently waiting to tell in full. You can read the rest of the story here, as I continue to share the wordy details of my heart and the journey of that one time that fear didn’t win.**
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