A few summers ago, when the kids were 8, 6, and almost 4, Jeremy and I decided to surprise them with a trip to the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher. After our week long vacation at the beach, we told the kids that instead of driving four hours home, we’d be driving to the ferry which would carry us over to the aquarium. Their reaction was just what we’d hoped for, excitement and thrill. Anika, our youngest, was particularly overjoyed and seemed more impatient than usual on the car ride.
All the kids peered out the windows looking for the brown signs that gave directions to the ferry, and our 6 year old Dylan, helpfully read the decreasing distances to his littler illiterate sister. “Only 10 miles to the ferry!”
And then, “It’s just 5 miles to the ferry!”
She beamed and asked her older siblings if they’d ever been on a ferry before, and they said they had when she was too little to remember.
As we reached the parking lot with the large barge in the distance, Jeremy remarked that he hoped we’d make this ferry and not have to wait the hour for the next timeslot. Craning her tiny neck and SURELY seeing the huge boat in the distance, Anika questioned, “Where’s the ferry?”
I smiled happily and said, “It’s right there, Honey! See. We just drive on, and it carries our car and us over the water to the aquarium!”
She burst into tears, an angry scowl crumpling her face.
I was confused. Dylan and Addie, assuming she was fearful, tried to reassure her that it was perfectly safe and the car would not be too heavy for the boat.
She kept crying, and finally managed to assert firmly. “That’s NOT a . . . ” (and then I heard her rightly) “FAIRY!”
And she was right. Our ferry was NOT a fairy.
Our plan for a wonderfully fun and unique way to transport ourselves on our journey was unknowingly a totally disappointing and unmagical way to travel.
Even though we’d been totally honest, to her, we’d lied.
Upon reflection, I can understand perfectly why a large automobile-bearing barge would fail to impress a little girl who expected to board a mythical nymph and fly across the water. So even though the experience was meant to be a fun journey, the misunderstanding caused trouble for us all.
A similar experience happened to Jeremy and me in 2007. Near the end of our time as missionaries in Papua New Guinea, Jeremy felt that God was calling him away from teaching in order to pursue a job in music ministry, hopefully in some new state or town. When we moved back to the US in April, we spent the next few months candidating at churches in AL, TX, SC, and NC. At several churches, Jeremy was the last of two finalists, only to have the other person be chosen.
During a drought-filled summer where I was occupied with birthing and carrying for a colicky baby boy, feeling like a failed missionary, and being unemployed and unchosen, we clung to the fact that both of us had heard God say that this was our path.In spite of the failure to find a job, we felt confident that God had set us on this path. When friends and family suggested that he reconsider teaching music, he unwaveringly continued pursuing ministry. The dry hot summer scorched on; our savings vanished; and school started. Each time, we prayed for God to clarify the calling, we heard the same thing. Pursue ministry.
Early in September, after school had begun and after the fourth church we’d strongly hoped for had decided on another candidate, I asked Jeremy how he was feeling (which was a stupid question when the answer was certainly “Not awesome”). He said surprisingly, “I feel like the only way that I would go back to teaching was if God provided an elementary teaching job right here in Waxhaw, so we wouldn’t have to move again. And there isn’t a position anywhere in this county, so I guess we just keep pursuing ministry.”
But we were getting weary.
That night we attended our small group, and somewhat annoyingly, the passage we discussed was Isaiah 40: 31, which was the key Scripture in the song, “Everlasting God” which Jeremy had used in his songlist at every church where he’d auditioned. The lyric “Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord,” had become a truth that made us cringe a bit. Arghh. We’d had quite a lot of waiting on the Lord, thank you very much. A little strength would be nice.
Trudging out to the car afterward, lugging our ever-screaming son, I said, “Maybe we need to stop praying that this journey will end. Maybe we need to stop praying that you’ll get a job. Maybe we are supposed to pray that the waiting will . . .continue–that we will get as strong as we need to be–that this process will not be cut off by our impatience.”
We agreed that we never, ever wanted to have to learn any of this again, and would rather learn this lesson in its entirety, no matter how long that took. We prayed, sitting in the car, that the waiting would last, that our strength would grow, that the journey would continue until we were all the way done.
It felt like a crazy dumb prayer. It felt crazy to say, “Don’t give me the thing you promised me. Keep me waiting for it so I’ll be strong.” But that’s what we did. And really, floating somewhere in my brain was the realization that God hadn’t actually promised a music ministry job. He had just said to pursue one.
We ASSUMED that he wouldn’t have us pursue something without giving it to us, but would he?
I am not sure if it was the next day, or the one after that, but within two days of that prayer of obedience, Jeremy said he felt like God was giving him a peace about checking for teaching jobs. (I knew this was God because Jeremy was BEYOND burnout with teaching.) He happened to check if there were any music teaching jobs available in our county, which I thought was a silly long-shot since school had begun a month prior.
There was ONE job that had posted THAT MORNING.
It was at Waxhaw Elementary School, where I went to elementary school. The teacher who’d begun the school year was suddenly resigning.
In following days, we both felt unequivocally that God had sent us on a path toward ministry to hold us in transition until this job became available. Jeremy applied for and got the job and has been there eight years, his best work experience ever, where’s he’s been Teacher of the Year and impacted thousands of students.
Way back in April 2007, when we left PNG, no amount of money or influence or visions from God would have convinced either of us to move to Waxhaw (the town I grew up in) and resume teaching. We didn’t want to do that. We would not have done it. One doesn’t intentionally move around the planet as missionaries just to wind up back in her hometown 20 months later, having failed. That plan lacks glitter and spirituality and impactfulness. It’s just not what you do.
But God, in his timing and sidetracking ways, sometimes let’s us hear Him say “FAIRY” when He is really saying “FERRY.”
Sometimes, when we agree to follow him, to be obedient, we are bound to misunderstand His higher ways, how they will bless us, how they are perfect for us, how they will be the journey of a lifetime.
But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
When I copied down this passage, I couldn’t help but think that even though it says “eagles” here in the NRSV, it could just as easily say “fairy.” I kind of wish it did. I would like to mount up on wings like a fairy.
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but it turns out that our Father’s plans for us, however little we comprehend them, are always the best. The journey might be longer, more circuitous, maybe even more perilous, but I guarantee, they are worth waiting for. May we chose to “get on board” and enjoy the ride.