I have spent the last nine months thinking I was going to France after graduation.
I am not going to France after graduation.
It’s a long story, folks, but it holds a lesson if you can hang with me. About a year and a half ago God began to lay on my heart a very strong desire to live outside America for an extended period of time. The catch was, I wanted to go for the express purpose of sharing the Gospel. I.e., I didn’t want to study abroad. I wanted to go be immersed in another culture on mission. I kept that very broad goal in the back of my mind.
Last spring I began to entertain the idea of going on STINT with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ International). Cru has been the central part of my college years and I have had so many great experiences with the organization it seemed like the natural choice. My thought process was, “Why not?” I will never be as free to make the choice to live abroad as I am right now. No job, no kids, no spouse. This is the time to go.
Cut to summer 2012. I returned to the Walt Disney World Summer Project as a student staffer. Over the course of six weeks my life was changed through the wisdom I gained on the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I began to ask God to speak clearly to me about what He wanted me to pursue throughout the course of my senior year. And speak He did. The more I sought counsel about STINT, the more I was convinced there was no reason not to do it. It was the perfect fit: one year, evangelical focus, cultural immersion, and all under the umbrella of a ministry I was familiar with and passionate about. The more I opened my heart to it, the more God affirmed it.
Then one night I had a dream. Sparing unnecessary details, this dream involved me being directed to notice a literal sign that said “Win. Build. Send.” (Cru’s motto). Wedged between the slats of that sign was some sort of medallion that was handed to me. The medallion said simply “France.” I woke up right after reading it. It slowly dawned on me that God had spoken clearly to me through a dream. From that day forward, I was determined that STINT was His call on my life.
So I waited. I waited from July until November for applications to be open. I waited from November until late January to be accepted. I waited until February to be given specific instructions. The process took months longer than I had realized it would. I had moments of wrestling with God. I questioned whether or not I could stand the waiting. I questioned whether or not STINT was really what I wanted to do. I questioned whether or not my dreams (both literal and figurative) had been legitimate. All the while I felt strongly convicted to continue pursuing STINT exclusively, trusting the Lord as internships and other opportunities passed me by.
What I’ve yet to mention is that all throughout this process, returning to Disney was my back up plan. I told myself that if I fell flat on my face with STINT, I’d just go back to the most magical place on earth. This plan was so vague that it didn’t dawn on me that there were steps I needed to take (such as applying for a job) in order to have that option. Apparently I thought I was just going to show up on Main Street, USA and demand a polyester costume.
Enter March. One day while sitting at the desk at work, I ventured over to the Disney careers website. I had no intention of doing anything there. I honestly don’t even know how I got there. But my little visit made one thing clear: applications were due that very week. I began to panic. I realized if I wanted this to be my backup plan, I had some serious work to do over the course of a couple days. The more I started to think about that, the more unsettled I became. It was as though the second I entertained another option, the STINT house of cards toppled. I ended up skipping a class one day to fill out six Disney internship applications. I entered spring break with a heavy, confused heart. STINT was still what I desired to do, but so many little things kept discouraging me. I couldn’t discern if the Holy Spirit was leading me or if I was just allowing my own fears and worries to discourage me from God’s call.
The week I returned from spring break I received the news from my orthodontist that I will be in braces for about another year. This was something I had prayed over for months. I held out what was apparently a very naive hope that my braces would be finished early. I knew that God was powerful enough to make that happen. I had to adjust myself to the reality that though He could make that happen, He had not seen fit to. As ridiculous as it sounds for orthodontia to keep one from fulfilling one’s dreams, this was a very legitimate roadblock. Even after communicating with STINT there was no indication that the issue would be resolved. I would need to be in the United States until my braces were off.
At the same time all of this was going on, I was in the Disney application process. After waiting months and months to hear about acceptance to STINT, I was astounded at how fast the process moved. I was accepted within a week of having submitted my application. Faced with two options, I continued to fear. If I don’t go to France now I’ll never go. If I back out of the Disney College Program, they’ll hold that against me if I try to work there in the future. What if I end up sitting in a cubicle ten years from now, looking back wistfully on the big dreams I had that never came true. Am I just chickening out?
A whirlwind of worries and questions flooded my head. Through it all, God reminded me who He is. He led me to His word. He filled my life with people who would listen, counsel, and enter in to what I was dealing with.
In Isaiah 46: 8-11, God says this:
“Remember this and be brave, take it to heart you transgressors. Remember what happened long ago, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God and no one is like me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done saying, my plan will take place, and I will do all my will. I call a bird of prey from the east, a man from a far country for my purpose. Yes, I have spoken, so I will also bring it about; I have planned it, I will also do it.”
So there is one question answered. If God has called me to go to France, as I believe He has, I will get there. It just isn’t going to look quite how I thought it was.
I also thought of Joseph. Joseph dreamed that one day his brothers would bow down to him. And that dream came true. But only after years of betrayal, slavery, slander, imprisonment, and unfairness. Even as Joseph was favored he dealt with the cruel irony of the distance between his dreams and the places he found himself. But ultimately God had to walk him through that pain to enable him to provide for his family and restore his relationships with his father and brothers.
Just because I dreamed about France doesn’t mean God owes it to me. He has laid a dream on my heart and only He knows how it will come true. Jesus Himself spent 30 years training to be a carpenter before he began his earthly ministry. He knew His purpose the entire time, but He waited patiently until the Lord directed Him that the time was right.
Years before Joseph dreamed his dreams, his father Jacob got into a literal wrestling match with an angel of the Lord. As they tussle, Jacob says something interesting. He says, “I’m not letting go until you bless me.”
Three days ago I found out that the leaders of the Cru team stationed year-round at Walt Disney World are walking through a devastating experience. The need for leaders they can trust will be huge this fall. This confirmed for me that God was deliberately leading me to return to Disney because He knew that need was going to arise. I officially backed out of STINT and accepted my offer to go on the Disney College Program in a merchandise role. After nine months, everything has changed in the course of a few weeks.
So I cling to the Lord. I am not letting go until He blesses me. I will nurture the dream He has given me even as I accept that it is not coming true right now. I am trusting that He will use my time on the College Program to direct my next steps. I am going blindly to a place that was my backup plan, with a dream in my back pocket, reaching out my hand for the Lord to guide me. And rather than let the uncertainty paralyze me, I choose to let it free me.