Our new friends and neighbors here in France ask me all the time why we moved here. Why here? Why France? Why this village? None of my answers seem to satisfy them. We tell them we love living here in this quiet little village that is so peaceful it seems to soak right into your bones. We tell them how we wanted a home big enough to hold friends from around Europe who might want to vacation here. We tell them how my mother always wanted to live in France and since we can live and work anywhere, we chose to live here. But, none of that seems to satisfy their curiosity. They know there are trendier places in France to live. Easier places, with communities of expats, English speaking schools, and more opportunity for jobs. But how can we really explain? I find it hard to even explain it to our friends back home, people who have stood beside us as we made decisions that lead us to this moment. How do you explain the hand of God in your life? How do you make someone understand what feels like a miraculous mystery even now?
We didn’t plan to move here. Have I mentioned that? It wasn’t something we hoped for, planned for, or prayed for. It just sort of…happened. But, looking back I can see how it didn’t just happen. It was happening all along and we just didn’t realize it would lead us here. I see how the last two years were shaping us for this exact move. We knew God was leading us into a time of change, we could feel it in so many ways. Our hearts were changing after reading Radical together in 2014. We knew our life wasn’t focused on the purposes of God like we had intended, and we began to pray earnestly that God would change us, direct us, and use us to serve his people. That year there were clues, hints that made us think change was coming. Our prayers intensified and I began to ask God for a word to focus on that year. He blessed me with two, and they were so NOT what I wanted to hear from him, that it was easy to believe they were spoken straight from the Holy Spirit: Hardwork and Humility. That same year, I began an intense seeking of God through the ministry of IF, a group of women asking “IF God is real, then what does that mean for my life?” If I really believe everything in the Bible is true, then what should I do about it? That question echoed through my mind for two years. Weekly I met with friends who were asking harder questions, really diving into scripture and begging God through prayer to reveal to us the many ways we were struggling to see him clearly. I committed to spending more time with God daily, desperate to know him more, and to hear his voice in my life so that I could more fully obey.
In those first few months of intense prayer I became convinced that God’s plan for my life had something to do with my love for hospitality, specifically cooking for large groups of people. I began praying intently about that and soon two things happened. I was offered a position as kitchen manager for our local summer camp, a place we loved for thier vision and ministry to youth. I took that job and began one of the hardest summers of my life. I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to cry out to God and those two words he spoke to me in January were whispered back to me. It was the first of many incredible lessons that are still echoing in my life today. The greatest lesson I learned through that season was that God’s blessings often come through what feel like pain, heartache, fatigue, and fear. God uses the hard things in life to shape us. Those two summers at camp pushed me harder than I’ve ever been pushed to rely on God for strength, for friendship, for guidance, and even for rest. He helped me work through ridiculously long days, extreme heat, unexpected demands, and a host of other situations I was not really equipped to handle. But I survived it. I even managed to succeed at some of our goals for my time there, and I did it all by the grace of God.
The second answer to prayer seemed to come out of nowhere, but it quickly took hold of my heart. I enrolled in the culinary school in Little Rock and watched as God opened door after door to ministry using my skills in the kitchen. But just as quickly as I began, it all seemed to fade away. Within the first month, it became clear that culinary school was designed for those who wanted to work in a commercial kitchen. Most of my classmates dreamed of being chefs in big restaurants or of owning their own restaurant. It didn’t take long for me to realize that life was not for me. Something felt very “off” about the whole thing. I finished that semester with a clearer understanding: God was not leading me to a restaurant. I poured myself into ministry opportunities, thinking it must be the reason for this stirring of my gifts, but that too fizzled despite everyone insisting it was a good and timely work. I became disillusioned. Had I imagined the whole thing? Why would God have me go through all of this if it wasn’t his plan? I began looking at other areas of my life, questioning whether I was pursuing things for my own motives or for God. Was my writing really for him? Was homeschooling my children really bringing him glory? Was I using my home, our possessions, our funds for his work? I started my second summer at camp with these questions burning in my heart and felt certain that God would reveal his plan for us by the end of the summer.
Meanwhile, Graham was struggling through his own path. Radical had stirred in him a greater desire to live and use all that we have for God, but he felt confined by his career. Working twelve hour days with little or no vacation in a high level salaried position was providing well for us financially, but depleting him of all his time and energy. It felt impossible to imagine taking on any sort of ministry work with so little time available in his life. Add to this the poisonous relationship he had with his boss, and my husband was barely surviving. He began having mysterious pains in his chest and sudden dizzy spells. He had a perpetual headache and was fighting hard to keep depression at bay. The more he desired to live for God, the less he felt able to, and this left him feeling hopeless. My first summer at camp left him alone in Little Rock every week, only able to visit us on the weekends since it was too far to commute. This gave him time to really question what God was doing. By the end of the summer he was wondering if maybe he should quit his job. It seemed the only solution, but one filled with lots of fear and uncertainty. It took nine more months and a lot more pain before he finally decided to quit and start his own business…just in time for us to move to camp together. We were sure that God would show us what to do by the end of the summer, and at the very least, Graham would have more free time to spend with us and to spend in ministry.
But the end of the summer came and went. We finished our work at camp and left the next day for a mission trip in South Dakota as a family. We spent two weeks working there, wondering what God was doing with us. Then, we went home and packed for another adventure: Virginia Beach. We spent the next year travelling between Virginia Beach and Little Rock, all the while praying that God would show us what we were supposed to be doing. Virginia Beach is the home of Graham’s largest client, so it was good for us to be there where we could build relationships for his career, but it was good for our family, too. It became a place of rest and focus. In Arkansas we had a lot of commitments, but in Virginia Beach we only knew a handful of people and so our time was spent together as a family, or working. Life became very simple, restful, and it began to change us. We began to ask strange questions. What if we sold our house and didn’t buy a new one? What if we didn’t really live anywhere in particular? What if we traveled? What if we just went wherever God seemed to need us? What if…?
This is going to sound strange, but it was the first time in twenty years I’d ever heard my husband talk like that. He is a planner, organized and very analytical. He had his life planned by the time he was seventeen and we’d followed that plan to the letter. Suddenly, this man was dreaming. A friend of mine calls it “dreaming with God.” It was beautiful to watch, and I began to realize how much God had changed him in those two years since we first began to pray together for a radical change in our hearts and in our life. God was clearly at work. He had taught me that I could work hard, embrace humility, and serve others with my talents in ways I had never expected if I would lean on him for strength. Now I saw how much he’d been teaching Graham, too. He had learned to let God have control of his future, to let go of what he “owned” and consider it God’s, and to believe that God could open doors that we can’t even imagine are there. This last lesson was what lead us to France.
We look back now and see how impatient we were. We started this journey thinking God was going to immediately answer our prayers and move us into ministry. Immediately. I can’t stress this enough. Honestly, I think I could write an entire book on this one topic. From the moment we first felt that stirring as we read Radical, we were sure our lives were about to be completely turned upside down. That is, of course, exactly what happened, but it took longer than we expected to see the end result. Why? Because the radical change that first had to happen was inside of us. Our lives changed because we invited God to come in and change US. That took time. It is still happening, as a matter of fact. In the last two years we’ve learned to think differently about nearly every aspect of our lives. There was a great “letting go” that had to happen before God could hand us anything new. We let go of our plans, our own designs for our careers, our home, our belongings, our friendships to some extent, and even family. We let go of trying to own everything, control everything, and the constant desire to have more. We still struggle with some of those things, years of conditioning are hard to erase, but we are slowly submitting more and more to the things God has placed on our hearts. It took two full years to get us to the point where France could happen, and this is why I can tell you we never planned for it. Here’s how it went down.
“It looks like God wants us to buy a house in France for missionaries.”
“Yeah. I guess we’ll have to sell everything. It will be too expensive to try to take things with us.”
“I think you’re right. Good thing we can both work from anywhere in the world that has internet.”
“Yeah. So…I guess we’re moving to France.”
That was it. It was almost more of an assumption than a deliberate discussion. Why? Because we couldn’t deny what God had been setting up all along. It felt so obvious! We thought we were going to be serving God in some simple way in the U.S., but by the time this opportunity came along, there was no denying that every single crazy thing in our life for the last two years was all about this. We were already positioned to leave everything behind, fund a portion of the house, live abroad in a home we don’t fully own, and host families that need someone to welcome them in with open arms and a table full of good food.
I know some of you reading this have similar stories about how you ended up in God’s work. But an awful lot of you may have found yourselves begging God to use you, and then never finding your place. I encourage you to embrace the good, hard, messy work of God inside of you first. Dig in with him, be determined to seek him out, to wrestle with him in your spirit, and to allow him to change you. That is where the work of God really happens, inside of each of us. Do you want to go out and do something amazing for God? Then, sit down and let him do his work inside of you.