“Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” says the artwork hanging on my living room wall. The words sit within a tangle of orange squiggles. Whether or not the artist, Hugh McLeod, meant for the squiggles to represent the jumbled feelings that come when life takes a different direction, they do for me.
Relocations have been those transitions. The first move happened for me at the tender age of eleven. Suddenly uprooted, I lost my friends and an idyllic childhood on our family farm in the depths of the English countryside. My parents had no choice but to leave when a family dispute over a will left us without a home. Grief, insecurity, and hopelessness settled in as I tried to develop new friendships and navigate an unfamiliar lifestyle in the city. Those memories have faded and emotions have healed. But, it can take time to find confidence when such upheavals are thrust upon us.
Back in the Squiggles
Fast forward a number of years and a second move planted me back in the squiggles when my husband and I expatriated from across the pond. To be fair to myself, this move included other major life changes—a newborn baby, and leaving behind my career.
I have actually always been one for adventure but, the moment the blue line appeared, the nesting instincts kicked in. I stood in the bathroom of our newly purchased home, pregnancy test kit in one hand, phone held to my ear in the other. “I’ve been offered a job here,” my husband said from Massachusetts, “I’m pregnant,” I replied.
A visa to the States doesn’t come easily, and as the weeks turned into months, I hoped it wouldn’t materialize. We had spent one whole year searching for our dream home in a neighborhood made famous by Maggie Thatcher just south of the Thames and had moved in a few months earlier. “We’ll live here for 10 years at least,” said my husband as he turned the key in the lock.
And, I loved my employment in London’s newspaper and magazine industry, working hard to climb the career ladder at the BBC. With an MBA in the pipeline, “now,” I decided, “was the time I could take a break from my job, and start a family.”
With this transition, I did have a choice, or rather I was part of the decision. The job opportunity seemed good for my husband and I didn’t have the heart to dig in my heels and keep us where we were.
But, a fresh sense of despair engulfed me as I stepped off the plane at Logan airport. I was not ready to swap my urban way of life for the leafy suburbs of Boston. My work suits hung unworn in the closet representing my former life. I wondered why I had bothered to pack them but struggled to part with them. “What do you do all day?” asked a new friend, a working mom. I couldn’t give an answer. I felt defeated and without a purpose, even though I had the joy of being a mother. Tightening our spending from two salaries to one became a burden. Having no family or friends to witness those important baby moments—the first roll, first smile—was heartbreaking.
“I’d follow my husband anywhere,” said one woman across the circle at our church small group. Her response hit hard since I’d just shared my difficulty with settling down. I dwelled on her ability and my inability to globetrot, although she had never done so, and the disappointment I must have been to my husband sitting beside me.
God’s Good Plans
But, I’ve learned a valuable lesson when I’m in the orange squiggles—when I’m thinking “this is not where I should be.” And when I feel like I have failed because my plans, which were good, have not come together. I’ve realized that what seems like lesser plans, are in fact God’s good plans, and I should be dependent on him each step of the way.
“For I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
So often we quote Jeremiah 29:11 but are unaware of the context of this verse. God spoke these words in the middle of the chaos of exile as his people were taken to a foreign country. These words were said to a people mourning their loss of home, who wanted to return to all they knew.
“Build houses and settle down,” God instructed “plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage…” (Jeremiah 29:5-6). Don’t stress and strive to find a way out of your circumstances, God was saying, because my plans for you are good.
Settle down? For years purchasing an electric hand mixer epitomized acceptance of God’s plan for us to stay in the States and not return to London. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but battling to bake and cook with a hand whisk, you could say, represented my struggle to take on what God wanted for us.
Yet, I had to learn one other lesson, as did the people in exile.
“Call on me,” “come and pray to me,” and “seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13) is the invitation God gave to his people.
I discovered God never turns down heart-felt cries for help when we’re sitting in the squiggles. “When you come looking for me, you’ll find me. “Yes, when you get serious about finding me and want it more than anything else, I’ll make sure you won’t be disappointed.” (Jeremiah 29:13-14, The Message). That, I’ve found, is true.
When we call to God, he does listen. When we seek him with our hearts, he does respond. And he releases us from the captivity of the squiggles of despair, grief, insecurity, hopelessness, and so much more.