Several years ago, I boarded a flight bound for Russia. It wasn’t the first, and it wouldn’t be the last; but our approach to the airport in Shannon, Ireland makes it stand out from all the others. As usual the seatbelt light came on, the pilot told us we were beginning our descent, the flight attendants prepared for landing . . . but then something changed. The plane leveled off, and we began a new course. For an hour and a half, we circled Shannon, waiting for the fog to lift so we could land. Our constant change in direction could be seen in the sunlight coming through the windows: First from one side of the fuselage, then from the other. We were in a holding pattern, and all we could do was trust our pilot to get us there.
A few years later, my mom stood in our kitchen and made the frustrated declaration, “I feel like your life has been in a holding pattern for ten years!”
She was wrong…It had been thirteen years.
Just before I turned twenty, I went to Russia to spend a school year working in an orphanage. I fell in love with Russia and her people and decided to stay through the next school year as well. The following spring, I went home to Montana with plans to return to Russia in the fall.
My plans fell by the wayside when the unexpected happened. Over the next ten months, I helped my mother care for my grandfather. In those months, I came to know more about the man I’d always admired. We shared mutual interests and could sit and talk for hours. I often thought back to my childhood. I remembered arriving at his Indiana farm and rushing into the kitchen with its glaring, single light bulb dispelling the shadows of late evening. I remembered him stooping down with arms spread wide and then scooping me up into an enormous flannel-wrapped bear hug. I could still feel his end-of-the-day whiskers rub against my neck as he said, “OH, that’s a good one!” But in those days, in-between trips to Russia, I came to know more than Grandpa’s smile and embrace; I came to know him.
In February, after Grandpa had gone to Heaven, I returned to Russia to finish out the school year. When I returned to the States three months later, I faced questions. What was God’s next step for my life? I waited and prayed and waited. I worked at Taco Bell. I took a training course. I waited. Then a phone call came, and I was headed back to Russia.
This process, sans Taco Bell, repeated itself time after time, each spring bringing new decisions. Would I stay? Would I go home? Would I come back? With each decision came times of prayer, times of waiting; times of trusting, learning, and growing.
One spring, I made the decision to go home for six months, the longest furlough since that first ten-month trip eight years earlier. I needed to go, to rest… but I didn’t know that I wouldn’t be coming back, not like I had before.
After 6 weeks at home, my “flight pattern” changed. It went into a much longer holding pattern than ever before. My grandparents needed someone to care for them. While my heart ached to be back in Russia, I was keenly aware that where I was, was special. In the months ahead, I would come to know my grandparents as never before. We would eat together, laugh together, cry over Hallmark movies together, struggle through falls and doctor’s appointments together. My heart would be pushed to new extremes of love, anger, hurt and compassion. And through it all, it would grow.
Fifteen months later, I moved back to Montana. I enrolled in a Bible college and hurried through a two-year course in sixteen months. Almost immediately, I headed back to Moscow to survey several ministries. I was sure by the end of the trip I would know exactly where God wanted me—but I didn’t.
I came home discouraged. I remember going to a conference and kneeling at the front of the church, weeping and asking God what I had missed, what I was supposed to do, what was wrong with me. I spent hours praying, searching the Scriptures, journaling and praying some more.
Days and weeks turned into months. I got a job. I started an editing business. I continued to wait, to learn, and to grow, taking little steps along the way as God directed.
Nine months after I had returned home, we launched the website for “Forbid Them Not” and a new ministry had begun—something I had never anticipated. What has followed was worth all the moments of living in-between “not knowing” and “knowing”.
Waiting can be hard, but in the waiting we grow.
I once stood at the edge of a wide mountain meadow. The grass was short. The flowers were delicate and grew close to the ground. Looking out from that vantage point I realized something—things don’t grow well on the mountaintop. If you want to find growth, you have to go to the valley.
We tend to dislike the valley experiences; they are darker, you can’t see as far. But the growth that takes place in the valley gives us the strength to make the climb to the peaks.
Last week, I was blessed with the chance to read an advanced copy of “The In-Between: Embracing the Tension between Now and the Next Big Thing” by Jeff Goins. It has been a gentle reminder—Don’t forget to live “the in-between”. Live. Wait. Grow.
Three thoughts from Jeff’s book caught my attention:
“If you and I aren’t paying attention to our lives—if we don’t possess the patience to examine our gifts and talents—then we just might miss what we were made to do.” (pg. 93)
“The word “disappointment” comes from the idea of literally missing an appointment. It originally was used in the context of meetings and gatherings. If you disappointed someone, it meant you told someone you were going to do something and then didn’t keep your word. So what does it mean if we are disappointed with life? Did life make a promise to us that it didn’t keep? Did she promise to always meet our expectations or to keep us comfortable? Can we really be angry with God that things don’t turn out exactly the way we thought?” (pg. 129)
“Our problem, then, is not one of impatience, but entitlement.” (pg. 157)
Somehow, we seem to think we’re entitled to having what we want, when we want it. But that isn’t how God’s plan works. Like any other fruit, the fruit He wants to see in our lives must first bud, grow, and ripen before it is fully mature.
Don’t rush through the valleys, the holding patterns, the “in-between”. God has a purpose for you there. It may be simple “in-between” moments with family. Or, it may allow you to hear God’s still, small voice moving you toward the very thing for which He has prepared you—whatever the case, it is a gift.