Happy 2021! Are you ready to try again? As we forge ahead, there will be many blogs out there telling you how to make sure that 2021 is filled with less surprises than 2020, how to plan for anything, and how to secure your future no matter what. This is not one of them. Actually, this one might just wreck your plans. This is my story.
The Best Cup Of Coffee Of My Life
I remember the day well. I was still in my pajamas, staring at the clock. I remember that the number ticked from one minute to the next and my stomach did a flip. I caught a glimpse of the coffee pot from the corner of my eye, the light was still on – hot. I knew that if I didn’t hurry and run up the stairs, get dressed, and jump in my car, I wouldn’t make it on time to take my exam -the exam I had spent two years preparing for -the exam that would secure my life. I looked at the stairs, then I looked at the coffee.
Have you ever prayed these words – “Lord, let your will be done?” If you did, how did you feel afterwards? Brave? Scared? Did you feel more confident in your faith, or in yourself? Did you keep praying them again and again because every time you did, nothing much actually happened. And so you figured that whenever the time came that God made his will known you would be ready, smiling and surprised at how much God’s will looked like your own? Turns out, I did. Only, I didn’t realize this until the day God’s will and my will came to a head right there in my coffee scented kitchen.
Two years before this crossroads at the coffee pot, I had made a life changing decision. I left my ministry career and went back to school to pursue a new field, social work. I wish I could say I only made this decision after lots and lots of intentional prayer, but I had already made a pros and cons sheet, so I was good, right? So, with my life plan in place, I quit my job at the church and took a leap of faith, enrolling in grad school full time to earn a master’s degree and start a new career.
Truth be told, it was almost too easy. Never before have I ever been more “successful” at anything. I did well in my classes and repeatedly secured the internships that I requested. I did well in my internships and had a job waiting for me upon graduation. In fact, everything that I had outlined in my plan worked out perfectly. All but one little thing. I wasn’t on the path that was meant for me and on the inside I was dying.
Have you ever been there? Have you ever had people congratulating you on something that looked good on the surface, maybe it even got you a bunch of likes on social media? And has that same thing felt not so shiny on the inside? If so, then you get where I was. For two years, I ate, slept, and breathed my studies, working up to graduation when I could take the social work licensing exam and become an official “success”. And for two years I died a little bit inside each day as I missed my ministry calling more than words could say. To put it gently, I was not in a good place. My self-proclaimed leap of faith had sent me crashing into the ravine.
While I knew that I had made a mistake leaving ministry, I also knew that finding another ministry position would take a miracle as my husband owns a local business so relocating for a job is not an option for me. But, as it happened, a miracle appeared. For the first time that I could remember, a special needs ministry job was opening up in my city. In fact, it was the job of my dreams, the position required someone to help churches start their own disability ministries. It was everything I always wanted, and it was coming open the exact same month I was graduating from school. Wow! Who would have thought that God’s will for my life actually did look so much like my own will? I was smiling. I was ready.
And then just like that, everything changed. A scary virus from across the world came sliding into the States and our nation went into quarantine. Budgets were cut and the position was eliminated before I even got a chance to apply. To put it gently, I was crushed. I had already made the difficult decision to pass on the social work job that I had been offered, as I knew I was not the right fit. There was not one single job in my new career path that I felt right for and now my one and only hope for professional redemption had just slipped away like sand through my fingertips. Graduation was looming and all that was left of my great leap of faith was a mountain of school debt and the realization that I had nothing. Leap. Crash. Drown.
I began to feel more and more hopeless, embarrassed to have spent two years and lots of dollars earning a degree in something that I couldn’t use. I didn’t understand how I had ended up here or what I should do next. I poured through the want ads, which were especially sparse considering most of our country was in lock down, and still could not come up with a solution. I tried and failed to convince myself that I could push through in the field that I knew I wasn’t meant for. One Sunday, In desperation, I found myself on my knees in front of the altar at my church. I had finally come to the end of myself. Have you ever been there?
At that altar, with a sweet friend praying beside me, I said these words. “Lord, I lay it all down. I surrender. Let your will be done.” When I rose, I felt spent, but I also had clarity. Please hear me on this, what I have learned is that sometimes clarity come in pieces. We don’t always get the whole picture at once. This was true for me, because when I got up from that altar, I still had no idea what God’s plan was for my life. I only knew what it wasn’t. I was not made to carry the load of social work. He made other people to handle this very important calling, but I knew with crystal clarity – I was not one of them. I was not supposed to keep going in it. Period.
Which should be the end of this blog post. I prayed. I cried. I laid it down and I said all of the right things. But it isn’t, because even though I knew without a doubt what God did not want me to pursue, the next day I got up and studied for the social work licensing exam again. Why? Well, if I got my license then if God’s plan didn’t meet my expectations I could still come back to the plans I had set for myself and be “successful”. After all, what if His plan for me didn’t look good on a resume? What if His plan was hard? What if I tried His plan and failed? I mean, what could it hurt to have my own Plan B?
And so I continued to study, maybe not with as much gusto as before, but I still did the self quizzes and study guide with regularity. This continued until exam day, the very morning when I stood sock-footed in front of the clock, deciding what to do next. To my right were the stairs that would lead to my daytime clothes and a short drive to a secure future. To my left, was the coffee pot, where one more cup of java goodness would make me too late to make the exam. If I chose the coffee I was choosing trust. Let me tell you something, trust is a hard choice.
In the end though, it was easier than I thought to fill my mug, splash in a little extra cream and sugar and crawl back into bed. I still didn’t know what God had for me, but I knew from a lifetime of hard lessons, that trusting God is always better than trusting myself. So, I pulled the comforter up high and let the aroma of coffee curl under my nose. I opened my laptop and watched the little clock numbers in the corner tick by. I laid there taking sip after sip from my mug until the clock said that all hope for a Plan B was gone. Then, I breathed easy for the first time in two years and sat there in the sweet space of surrender. I had finally lived out the words that I had prayed so many times. “Lord, let your will be done.” Closing my laptop, I rested there in the quiet, and enjoyed the best cup of coffee of my life.
Have you had yours yet?
In the end, I never got my social work license. I never went back to the want ads. Something else happened instead. The same week that I was scheduled to virtually graduate from school, I was also scheduled to be a guest speaker at our district’s Children’s Ministry Directors monthly meeting talking about special needs ministry. Due to the stay-at-home orders that had been issued, the meeting switched from being in-person to being over Zoom. This meant that I couldn’t pass out any printed materials to show the group what we were discussing. As I thought about how I could best communicate with others online, I thought, ‘I sure wish I had a five-minute video to explain how to serve kids with disabilities. Hmm, maybe I should make one….’
In June 2020, Barb Stanley founded Wonderful Works Special Needs Ministry, an online resource platform that helps equip churches to serve children who have special needs. The ministry specializes in five minute training videos that are fun and user-friendly. Wonderfulworks.net
If you have ever had an experience where you had to choose between God’s will and your own, what did you learn? Use #mycoffeestory and share your story!