Perhaps I was a bit stuck. I had prayed and sought advice. My life was full of people encouraging me to take a leap of faith. (Up to this point, I had been more of a baby-steps kind of girl rather than one to leap in faith, you know?!) I wanted to book my plane ticket so badly, and I watched others sign up without any visible hesitation. As the mom of three little ones, I was paralyzed by the fear that I would travel on my own will, because I knew that this was a desire in my heart. What if that is all it was? Was God calling me to go? I wasn’t about to leave the country for the first time on my own will. The self-doubt was accompanied by concerns of others. Some couldn’t imagine why a mother would ever leave her young children and husband behind for eight days and make a relatively big trip out of the country. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that I was going to find the courage to do such a thing either. How loudly did I need to hear God speak?
There had been that time I had prayed, hesitantly asking God for (maybe just a little) sign. Then, there was that (literal) sign in the Amish store. What was I waiting for? Had I imagined the first sign? Clearly, I was wrapped up in doubts and uncertainty. I was simply running out of time and at this point, would have to book one of my flights separately from the majority of the team if I chose to go at all. The clock was ticking.
On Saturday night, I had texted my good friend, whose husband would be leading the Haiti team. I anxiously typed something like, “I just need some sort of itinerary. Could you please send me details about the trip? I need to know what we will be doing or maybe a schedule of events.” What can I say? I’m a serious planner. I meant business.
The reply from my calm and kind friend was something like, “Haha! You’re so funny! We don’t really have an itinerary just yet…or a schedule of events. We’ll not know specifics about what we are doing until we get there. We may be building benches for the school. We kind of have to be flexible and do what they need. Hope that helps!”
Well, Courtney Stanford doesn’t like to be flexible when her anxiety is causing her skin to crawl. (This is a real thing with anxiety…it becomes extremely annoying at times.) I trust this friend and love her dearly, but I was feeling sheer panic and my slightly controlling nature was less than appeased by her response. Bless her heart. She was being patient with me…and I was feeling a bit batty, myself! Questions and concerns raced through my mind and I eventually fell asleep…eventually.
Sunday morning, I walked into the adult class that I teach, with a heavy decision lying on my shoulders. I’m an open-book, so very few of my feelings are ever well-masked. My stress was nearly becoming a visible companion sitting beside me. I told a room full of young adults that I was praying about whether or not to go on the trip to Haiti. They were thrilled that I would consider such a thing! I’m notorious for being a safety-conscientious scaredy cat. My small group was quick to offer encouraging words and committed to pray with me about the decision without any hesitation at all.
Easter and Palm Sunday were right around the corner. Our church was in the midst of Upward Basketball season. I was busy making plans for summer as the Vacation Bible School director and helping our women’s ministry group plan the annual Mother’s Day banquet. The upcoming spring revival was well under way. My husband was diligently preparing the church choir and praise teams for the spring cantata. We were in the middle of co-leading a Wednesday night Bible study and I was attending a friend’s study on Monday evenings. Plenty of people were well aware of my impending decision and I was being covered in prayer by numerous Christians around me. I’m not exactly one to keep my feelings all bottled up inside. If I’m a wreck, it is likely that you’ll hear it directly from me. Yet in the middle of a rather busy season for our church, I hadn’t found the time to chat with my pastor about the possibility of joining the Haiti mission team. This was unusual because his wife is one of my good friends, our sons are great pals, and my husband is on staff at our church. We chat on a very regular basis. (Truthfully, I pretty much chat wherever I go, in general.) Still, this whole Haiti thing had gone under the radar, which would quickly become a blessing in disguise.
I left Sunday School as I always do, picked up our oldest child from his classroom, and headed to the choir room for a brief run-through of the choir special. My mind was racing. As much as I love worship music, I remember absolutely nothing about that service…before the sermon. The sermon, however, will not be quickly forgotten.
Tired from all of the anxious tossing and turning the night before, my mind was in and out of the message. I heard words here and there, but my ears tuned in just in time to hear our pastor say, “Sometimes, you just have to get in the boat! You don’t need plans to get in the boat. You don’t need an itinerary to get in the boat! You won’t always have every detail, just GET IN THE BOAT!”
Simultaneously, I gasped and my husband squeezed my hand with a quiet laugh. I could truly feel eyes on the back of my head. I tried to turn, ever so casually, in my pew and when I did I could see eyes (lots of eyes) bugging at me and friends smiling at the irony. The friend I had asked for an itinerary the night before? She had heard it too. We both had big eyes and exchanged a fast glance, as she leaned around the heads between us. I turned to the front and began playing those words again and again in my head. “You don’t need an itinerary. Get in the boat. Just get in the boat.” Oh boy. This was it. It was so clear. The struggle was over. I was getting in the boat…or on the plane, that is.
Sigh. Thank you, Lord. He had answered me. He had spoken loudly and clearly and we had ALL heard Him, speaking through my unknowing pastor. The Holy Spirit does that, you know. He works in other hearts and gives words to say. Sometimes we have a story to tell or a message to share and we don’t know whose ears it will fall on. Without a doubt in my mind, the words, “Get in the boat,” were meant for my ears. Those words were for me to hear. I heard it loud and clear. It was time for me to obey.
When church dismissed, friends and members of my Sunday School class passed me saying, “Get in the boat, Courtney!” We all laughed as we passed each other by. Then, I was standing with several members of the Haiti team. “Just get in the boat, Court,” said my aunt who had also decided to join the adventure.
“I guess I’m in!” I laughed. The weight of whatever it was I was carrying: fear, doubt, insecurity, or procrastination…it was all behind me. I felt both affirmation and peace as we headed to the church office to book my flight, as well as the flights of two other members who were signing up at the last minute. This was it. It was real. I had always dreamed about this, but I am not sure that I ever really believed that I would make any decision that would require me to leave my safe, little box.
The plane ticket was purchased. I was in the boat…locked in…for real. A friend who had been working the sound board that morning, told me that he had laughed out loud in the balcony, when our Pastor said to not worry about having an itinerary. Yep. My life had been driven by itineraries and schedules. Yet, this was something bigger. This was way beyond my usual tasks and projects. A trip of this nature called for courage that family vacations didn’t exactly require. If I had known then, what I know now? Well, I would have known that even the most detailed agenda would soon become of very little importance. I had just signed up for something beyond my realm of comprehension. All I knew was that I was in. I was all in and there was no climbing out! I was in the boat for a God-sized adventure and nothing could have truly prepared my heart for the journey ahead of me.