Sunday, February 12, 2012

Pursuit of a Path

Patience has never been my strong suit. And let's be honest, if it was a struggle before high-speed internet, it's really a challenge now. We live in a society where we have instant (or nearly instant) access to everything. It's a point and click kind of world. And all that experience with instant access makes us want instant results. Take for example, the relatively clear goal of physical fitness. *Note: I didn't say easy, I said clear.* I went to my first aerobic class recently (not only my first in a foreign country, but truly my first ever) and I'd be lying if I said the hope of instant toning results never crossed my mind. When we put effort towards something, we want that effort to not have been in vain. Of course, in the case of physical fitness, one time of effort, no matter how intense, is not likely to yield any instant results other than fatigue. It takes repeated effort over a period of time to gain results. And that requires perseverance and the determination of refusing to be lazy. Combine laziness and a lack of patience, and you don't really have a chance.

And if it's hard to be patient in circumstances with a clear path or goal, it's extremely difficult when you can't see the path or haven't determined what the goal is. That is where my life is right now. I'm about halfway through my second year with ESI/TeachOverseas, and the time has come to make a big decision: do I stay for another year or do I return to the U.S.? Last year, it was a relatively easy decision. I knew what my heart wanted, and God confirmed those desires. This year, it is decidedly more complicated. And I'm on a deadline: I have to make my decision official by February 20th. I feel like I know what I need to choose, and up until about a week ago, I was feeling mostly confident of what my decision would be. But now? Now, I'm scared, for that choice would mean a path that I cannot see, and goals that I have not yet made. It would mean certain uncertainty in many areas of my life. And if you know me well, you know that I like to have a plan. If I have a plan, I can know what to expect, at least to a degree. No plans = expectations of mass chaos and probable regret.

You might be asking, why is this year's decision so complicated? That's a good question. Here are some reasons:

*Student loans: I can't keep deferring them much longer. But I don't make enough money to pay on them with my job here.
*Job: I have absolutely no idea what I would do for a job in the U.S. and I feel rather unqualified for most everything. And I kind of need a job to pay back those loans...
*Address: The chances are very, very good that my parents will move, if not to another city or state for a new job, at least to a smaller house. I can't quite apply for jobs if I don't know what my address will be. And I would surely be living with my parents again for awhile to build up savings.
*Relationships: While my parents and dog are a big draw back home, most of my friends there have lives of their own now with spouses and/or children to tend to. Here, I have a wealth of friends and other people near my age to spend time with.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both leaving and staying. No matter what I choose, it won't be a complete win. It will be extremely bittersweet. And just thinking about that breaks my heart. So right now, in the days that remain of my decision-making, I am in pursuit of two things. First, a path. Second, peace that will accompany that path.

I have neither of those yet, but I do have hope. I was given a new devotional back in July. To give you some background, I was angry and frustrated when I received it, and out of some sort of rebellion, I refused to read it right away. I took it back to Czech with me, but put it in a poor location where it wasn't easily visible. In my defense, I originally thought it was a great location... Anyway, I didn't start reading it until late December. In that pivotal moment, I saw it and felt a strong pull to open it, if only to read the introduction. It was late at night, and I had an early morning line-up of difficult classes, and after seeing that the intro was more than a few pages long, I almost put it down. But I felt something spiritual at work, as if God wanted me to read it and Satan was trying to keep me from it by attacking my laziness. So I purposefully started reading the introduction to a devotional by Sarah Young, entitled "Jesus Calling." It was much more interesting than I had imagined it to be, and about halfway through it, I found something I'd been looking for (yet not actively pursuing) for years: a bible verse to claim as my own. Everything I'd seen that I'd liked was either someone else's or a verse that is often taken out of context and/or has become overused and cliche. Well here was one that spoke directly to my soul. Isaiah 55:12 "You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace." Finding that verse made the score 1 to 0. Satan was losing, but he hadn't given up the battle. As I finished reading the intro, I thought that I might as well read the devotional for the day. That's where Satan stepped in once again and said, "But Ashley, this devotional starts in January. It's practically the end of December, so you can just put it off for a few days and start it neatly at the beginning with the new year." His argument made logical sense, and I almost gave in. But I sensed the continuing battle and delighted in the opportunity of not only obeying God, but annoying Satan by reading the message for that day. I had just started to truly ponder this decision before me, and so not only was it encouraging then, it is applicable and encouraging now.

Here it is. December 21:

My plan for your life is unfolding before you. Sometimes the road you are traveling seems blocked, or it opens up so painfully slowly that you must hold yourself back. Then, when the time is right, the way before you suddenly clears--through no effort of your own. What you have longed for and worked for I present to you freely, as pure gift. You feel awed by the ease with which I operate in the world and you glimpse My Power and My Glory.
Do not fear your weakness, for it is the stage on which My Power and Glory perform most brilliantly. As you persevere along the path I have prepared for you, depending on My strength to sustain you, expect to see miracles--and you will. Miracles are not always visible to the naked eye, but those who live by faith can see them clearly. Living by faith, rather than sight, enables you to see My Glory.

More recent hope I've found for making this decision and surviving the aftermath is yet another message from this devotional. February 1:

Follow me one step at a time. That is all I require of you. In fact, that is the only way to move through this space/time/world. You see huge mountains looming, and you start wondering how you're going to scale those heights. Meanwhile, because you're not looking where you're going, you stumble on the easy path where I am leading you now. As I help you get back on your feet, you tell Me how worried you are about the cliffs up ahead. But you don't know what will happen today, much less tomorrow. Our path may take an abrupt turn, leading you away from those mountains. There may be an easier way up the mountains than is visible from this distance. If I do lead you up the cliffs, I will equip you thoroughly for that strenuous climb. I will even give My angels charge over you, to preserve you in all your ways.
Keep your mind on the present journey, enjoying My presence. Walk by faith, not by sight, trusting Me to open up the way before you.

If you look at the name of this blog, you will notice it is called "Walking by Faith: Giving God the Wheel and Learning to Sit in the Passenger's Seat." I gave it that name in 2010 as I signed up to live overseas and teach English in a country that I had just recently learned the location of. I knew nothing about teaching. I knew zero Czech language. I didn't even know my teammates yet. Everything ahead of me was uncertain, so the name seemed to fit perfectly. Now, as I get ready to make a decision that could very easily toss me out of my comfort zone again, this blog's name reaffirms itself again.

Like I said, I neither have a path nor peace about the decided path yet, but I do have hope. Hope that comes from my faith that God will lead me in this decision and in the result. Of course, that means trusting Him and choosing to LET HIM LEAD instead of trusting in myself. Once again, I must be intentional about walking by faith and not by sight.