Lately I’ve been thinking about and having conversations with other people about the idea of being imprisoned in a metaphorical, spiritual sense. It’s a season when you just don’t feel like you have what you need to do what God has called you to do. I have been through the wasteland and discovered who I am and who God is and who God says I am. But now, I just feel stuck. I don’t lack the vision, but I do lack the resources…the time, the money, the magical networking connections and coincidences that make a project go. It’s a time that feels like God is intentionally keeping my world small. I dug the ditches, but he has to make it rain. I set the sails, but he has to make the wind blow. There is no rain, and there is no wind.
Maybe it’s a career that you want to have, but just can’t get the right opportunities. In fact, you land exactly where you don’t want to be. Maybe you are a full-time working mom that would rather be a stay-at-home mom, but the money just isn’t there or you feel like you’re working alone. Maybe you dream of adopting a child, but your life circumstances make that impossible. Maybe you want to serve more at church, but the real job in the real world takes everything you have. Maybe you have big plans for what you would like to do, maybe even kingdom work, but you deal with a chronic illness that robs you of energy and keeps your world small. Maybe it’s been a series of unfortunate events that has taken away people or events, and you feel like you are starting over. Maybe, like me, God gave you a dream, but the dream doesn’t put money in the bank, at least not as much as your family needs.
Almost a years ago, the walls had closed in so much that something needed to change. I had publishers that were interested in my book, but none that actually pulled the trigger. I was booked to speak for a women’s retreat, and then I was unbooked. I was told there was a teaching spot for me at church, and then there wasn’t. So I did an online Bible study that was very successful, and then I tried another one that didn’t work so well. The entire year felt like a series of “yes’s” followed by “no’s.” The walls were closing in, and the money was tight too. We had cut everything I was willing to cut out of the budget, so it was time to make a change.
Reluctantly, angrily, I started looking for a job, a very depressing process when you haven’t held a full-time job in 13 years and haven’t even had a part-time job for three. I sent my resume off into cyber space with no response. It didn’t stand a chance next to people who had actually been getting real experience while I was at home with preschoolers. I made excuses about how I could never find something that would fit my schedule or pay enough to cover childcare expenses.
But when I told some friends I was looking for a job, I got a part-time job as a personal assistant that could work around my schedule. This job got me working again. I remembered how good it felt to be paid for the work you do, something full-time motherhood doesn’t grant. I also realized that my purpose in life was very simple: to love and serve people no matter where I was.
Then at the end of the summer, we decided I really needed to be working full-time, another Facebook post got me a another part-time job as a PR assistant. This prompted me to find a full-time childcare solution for my 4-year-old. I worked in the morning in Nolensville and then drove to downtown Nashville in the afternoon. I was still loving and serving people, and my work was appreciated. That felt good, but I began to realize that I really missed teaching. I was made to teach.
Then I found out about a long-term substitute teacher position at my son’s middle school. I was offered the job, even though it meant having my own son in class. But the benefit was that I got to know his friends and teachers. When the teacher I was subbing for came back, I started subbing every day. I remembered that I loved teaching. One day when I was subbing, I met the principal and told her that “Any day I’m teaching is a good day.”
The depression and the anger slowly lifted, but the uncertainty remained. But God had a plan, a plan that he unfolded right in front of my eyes. I interviewed for a high school English teaching position that was opening mid-year. The principal offered me the job at the end of the interview. What?? So here I am, loving and serving people, teaching senior English, Film as Literature and Creative Writing at a school that “does things differently” with a different kind of students. It’s a perfect fit for me.
I was talking to a fellow teacher this week. He asked if I still felt like I was still in prison. I smiled and said, “I’ve been moved out of the maximum security part and now I’m on a work relief program.” I don’t know when this sentence will end. I don’t know if the walls will magically fall down, and I’ll discover this is my new dream. I do know that I really love my job. I am grateful for God’s provision for our family and for group health insurance. Any day I’m teaching is a god day. Anywhere that I can love and serve people is a good thing.
That’s the trick of prison: learning how to be who you were made to be, to be fully alive and not give up hope. Joseph modeled that for us in his prison experience. He was still a leader. He still used his gifts. He still interpreted dreams, and he never lost hope. At least not in the parts that we see. He ultimately trusted God with his dream, and that’s what I must do as well.