During the latter part of his 15 years living and working in the inner city, my husband started getting restless. That restlessness that sometimes precedes movement.
We had immersed ourselves in Christian Community Development as it plays out in urban America. We lived and breathed kids. By this time, we had four of our own, and were raising a teenage neighbor who had been abruptly kicked out of her home. We led youth groups and cell groups, did discipleship and led an adult home church. We mentored volunteers. We helped to run an after school program. We called the crack hot-line repeatedly. We went to lots of barbeques. We tried to raise up indigenous leaders. We were busy, and I was comfortable.
I don’t get restless. I settle in. So my plans to grow old in the ‘hood, and to always be easily located in the rocker on my front porch were unpleasantly upended when Todd’s restlessness began.
Frankly, my husband is kind of a restless guy. For instance, he’s always wanted to be a missionary. He told me this when we were dating. I didn’t really believe him. I thought he meant “I want to be a missionary” in the same way that I say, “I want to open a pastry shop,” “I want to learn to Salsa dance,” “I want to plant vertical gardens all over the back yard.”
He didn’t mean it that way. He meant it in the way that he means lots of things, I’ve come to learn. He meant that he thinks about it, prays about it, talks to people about it, wonders about it, and waits for the day when he can do it.
Doesn’t it count that we’re doing cross-cultural ministry in an American city, I wondered? Isn’t that missions? Can we say that it is, please? And of course, it is. My husband, however, wanted something more. After all, the inequalities and injustices and brokenness that had initially compelled both of us to want to love people in the inner city are certifiably greater in places other than the good ol’ U.S. of A. The poverty is deeper, the options fewer, and the name of Jesus isn’t so well known.
That’s why we moved to an affluent suburb.
Well, it is.
More How God Made Him
You see, along with a deepening burden for the third world, Todd also felt an increasing desire to use more of what God gave him, to be more of how God made him. In our years of urban youth work, we were doing a lot of retreat planning, domino playing and GFS snack shopping, but there were large swaths of who Todd is that were going untapped. Some of the restlessness was coming from those places.
You see, along with a deepening burden for the third world, Todd also felt an increasing desire to use more of what God gave him, to be more of how God made him. Some of the restlessness was coming from those places.
I’m going to take a moment to brag on my husband. He is a super smart nerd. He loves to learn, he’s great at strategizing, he’s an amazing manager, and he can Make. Things. Happen. (He also can dominate on the basketball court.) We wondered: does God care about those parts? Does he want to use them?
In the I-can’t-quite-follow-it ways of the Holy Spirit, there became a building convergence of our gifts, experience, needs, brokenness, burnout, convictions and desires that propelled us forward. Of course, we weren’t able to see the ways the Spirit was working. We were mostly, well, confused. We are still confused. (I am more confused than my husband). And God is still working.
Todd started talking about his desire to shift, wiggle, get out, change, and maybe see what it would look like be useful in the third world. He asked around, networked, and career counseled, and one thing began to emerge with some clarity. There’s a real impact to be made on the quality of people’s lives through business. We’d done the 501c3 world. We knew non-profit. We had friends doing NGO’s overseas. But if God had made Todd interested in and able to do management and economics, then perhaps this is where he would best use him. Why not just come in on the ground, pulling the hefty levers of big business, and sharing Christ and his love on the corporate dime?
With a bit of light shining on the pathway, a baby-step emerged. Go back to school, get an MBA… relish how God made you! We were lucky enough to already be living in a big university town (Go Bucks!), and Todd was accepted into the business school. For the first time in many years, a new sphere was opened up to us. And for the first time in a long time, Todd wasn’t “Mr. Todd, the Bible study guy”, he was just another guy on campus. Outside of the ministry machine and in the student union, we both learned more deeply what it looks like to just follow Jesus. We had to figure out what it means to be a light where you are, and to love the people he brings your way.
We Were Where We Were
We prayed so much during those days. (Uncertainty has such a wonderful correlation to dependence, am I right?) And God blessed us so much, too. Todd was winsomely open about his faith, and we looked for opportunities for “real” conversations over beers and over books. I was invited to be part of an Asian Spouses Club, and although I’m not Asian, I was thrilled to be there when someone asked if we could learn about the Bible. I was even more thrilled to partner with a friend from South Korea to teach the story of the gospel. Several Chinese classmates, eager to understand “American” Christianity, asked Todd to study the Bible with them, too. We were where we were, and we were following Jesus, and he provided work where we were, and the means to do it.
A most unexpected blessing came when Todd’s class divided into teams to choose consulting projects. One of the options was to work with the government of Ethiopia to help improve the agricultural supply chain there. Todd was able to persuade his group that this would be an ideal project, and not long after, boarded a plane for East Africa! Of course, God used this hugely in our lives—in making connections with believers and business people in Ethiopia, and in seeing that he is masterful in working out his own supply chain. He has an eye on every need, and as the owner of cattle on a thousand hills, is able to maneuver the supply where it’s needed.
Although we had sweet fellowship in our local church, Todd was eager to not only be a light in grad school, but to be in a community of lights on campus. A small, but grounded InterVarsity group was the perfect place to enlarge the conversation about Christ at school. That connection wove into place another thread in our journey, which was Todd’s time at Urbana.
He went alone right after Christmas, and returned with more clarity and deeper confirmation that he should continue taking next steps. We were introduced for the first time to the body of thinking on Business as Mission, and honestly, I was so glad to see other people putting words to the ideas that had been bouncing around in my husband’s brain and the passion pounding in his heart.
In the Ring with Todd
If the first baby step was “go back to school and get an MBA”, the second one was, “trust God to put you into a multi-national company”. Todd was hired by the largest food producing company in the world! There are literally hundreds of places in the developing world where his career path could lead. The first place it led was to the suburbs of Ohio.
Yes, we were actually going to move, and to set this thing in motion. This created the forum forRound 1 of several subsequent bouts in the ring with Todd, and then with the Lord. You see this was (and largely still is) his thing, not mine. Suddenly, his thing was actually going to require me to give up some of my things (oh, you know, the small stuff like family, friends, our church, our ministry, being known by people…).
One question pressed on me the heaviest: Is this what God wants, or is it what my husband wants? Because leaving a difficult and discouraging ministry in the inner city for graduate school and a shiny new job seems suspiciously similar to selling out. And moving to Africa, while not glamorous, could be seen as Radical! Spiritual! Not Mid-Western and Mediocre! I thought (oh, so spiritually), I’m willing to do this if it’s God’s will, but not if it’s to soothe my husband’s identity crisis. And how would I know it was God’s will?
Well, I was hoping that he sent certified letters.
I didn’t share those thoughts and fears with Todd during Round 1. They seemed too terrible and condemning, and although the thoughts were swirling, words like that hardly came to the surface of my brain, let alone out of my mouth.
With concerns like these, and such standards for “Knowing God’s Will” as I had, you’d wonder that I’d ever budge. But it’s amazing how gracious and kind God is. The extent to which he condescends to speak our language and meet us where we are is excessive. He allowed my fears and weak resolve to simmer on a far back burner, unaddressed, while he taught Todd and me a basic step in moving forward.
Just Get it Right
Todd and I are some of the most indecisive people I know, and for opposite reasons. He wishes each decision could be the right one. I am rather ambivalent, and get lost in the fact that no one thing is very much better or worse than another. We’ve learned to get past our joint paralysis in many ways, but can still get rather stuck. This may sound corny (and Forrest Gump-y) but a wise friend said to us, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You just have to pick one”. As someone who had been a nurse, and an artist and a stay at home mom and a missionary in the Amazon and a teacher and all those things at once, and an artist again, she reassured us: Of course you don’t know for sure what to do with this burden! Of course there are innumerable good options! Of course you might move forward and find you’ve made a mistake! But…that’s okay! Make a choice, and savor it!
We were so grateful to be dispelled of our idea that we had to do the right thing. Isn’t God sovereign? Isn’t he working everywhere? Doesn’t he draw us to himself and change us and cause us to love more deeply whether we’re here or there? Our process became so much less about us doing the right thing, and so much more about who God is, and what he is like.
We were thankful for our friend’s counsel (which included, “you can always come back”) especially in light of the fact that most friends responded to our idea and plans with wide, glazed over eyes, a bit of tentative nodding and then many, many questions and concerns.
“What We’re Doing”
Post-move, and well into Round 2, this is still the case. Todd and I try to talk about what we’re doing. We call it “What we’re doing”, or “What we think God wants” because we don’t know what else to call it. Todd, who has this sense of burden, and who has led the way in trying to follow it, has a very difficult time explaining ourselves, except to say, “I think God wants me to move in this direction, so I’m going to knock on doors until he lets me know otherwise.” The truth is, we haven’t been able to answer many of their questions because, well, we don’t have answers. It’s hard. I wish we had a slick brochure with succinct, bulleted points to pass out. I wish everyone said, “That’s a great idea! We’ll pray for you!” but I’m starting to suspect God doesn’t deal in brochures and certified letters.
I must add that I am now slightly more accepting of the vagueness of “What we’re doing”. (Although I’d be lying if I said that I liked it!) You see, from somewhere below the landscape of our safe, small-town suburban home, there are periodic rumblings which bring to the surface the big issue: where is God going with this?…
- Todd re-connects with an old friend, and makes new friends: among them, a believer in Kenya who is eager to use his business savvy for the Lord, and American brothers eager to invest in Africa.
- In a conversation with HR at work, we hear, “Spin the globe and throw a dart. We can take you anywhere.”
- We make friends with an Ethiopian ex-pat who is just returning home to plant churches among his unreached people.
Each time these kind of things happen, I find myself startled out of the here-and-now haze, and forced again to grapple with the question of God’s will, and of “What we’re doing”. The Lord has been faithful to bring my fearful thoughts from the back burner to the front again, and he has allowed me another measure of light, which gives me what I need to move forward the next little bit.
In the last Round, the Lord dealt with my fears by dealing with my heart. “Oh, I see!” he said. “You’re concerned about whether or not your husband’s identity is intertwined with this burden of his. Good job noticing that he has sin. Don’t worry, though. I’m working on that.” (When God talks to me, he is tender, yet makes good use of sarcasm!)
I’m pretty sure the Lord spoke to me when he said, “You know, there’s all this stuff you’re unsure about, right? Well, here’s one thing you know you’re supposed to do: support your husband. Be his cheerleader. Let him know you’re with him in good times and in bad, even if those bad times are a result of decisions he’s made.”
Oh my goodness.
The Clarity of Gray
The clarity of this call—for me to own what God is doing along with Todd, has been powerful, and as is often the case, has led to a wider swath of clarity. This is not cookie cutter Christianity here, and is not a call for all women to be yes-men (yes-women?) to their husbands in all situations. It has been, for me, a venture into the grayness of life that easily frightens my right-versus-wrong religious heart.
Yes, my husband is proud sometimes, and can make an idol of success. And yes, my husband has a burden on his heart that we believe is from the Lord. Yes, he is a bit messed up. And yes, God wants to use him. And yes, God wants to use me—in the midst of my fear, laziness and anxiety—as I stand by my husband.
Six years into the suburbs, God has our hearts in a place that can feel unsettling. Restless and still. Still but not static. Worked over and working. There is discomfort in the ready-set-not-yet-ness. But there is greater comfort.
Sitting under, “Be still and know that I am God”, we stop moving, but he does not. He isn’t particularly limited either by our forward motion or by our stillness. In either case, he is the one who initiates, persists and loves first. And while much is uncertain about where all this is taking us, several things are increasingly more certain. God is everywhere. And he has plans to work in us and love through us anywhere we are. He has given us a great sense of purpose as we hurry up and wait.
He is Doing His Work
I am so much more confident that God knows, and he places. The neighborhood we moved into, the schools my kids go to, the art shows I’ve worked at, the cubicles in Todd’s office, the lines in the grocery store!… all filled with loved people, some of whom are ready to hear Good News. He has had work for us to do in our church and in our circles almost since we set foot on the ground.Most of this work challenges our hearts—our boundaries, our self-interest, our knowledge, our idolatries. We have found it impossible to follow God into his work without submitting our hearts to be worked over.
And he is doing this work.
So that’s where we’re at. We’re neighbors. And when we’re in the groove with Jesus, and knit together with his people, we can be good neighbors. My restless husband still hopes to be a good neighbor somewhere else, and personally, I think that will happen. We’ll see. But until then, we’re learning to respond to each of his gracious calls, trusting that he knows “What we’re doing”, and more precisely, what he’s doing.