"And thou hast not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place." Psalm 31:8
HALFWAY THROUGH last semester, I was swept over by wave after wave of startling, cold revelations. The academic path I had chosen to take for so many years disappeared with each ensuing crash, revealing only more shifting sand. "All Thy billows and Thy waves have gone over me." Whereas I had thought to finish my course, the Lord had other inscrutable plans. As I wrote to a circle of faithful, praying friends - almost exactly three months ago today:
"I'm standing at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptians closing in. I am standing by to see the salvation of the Lord. This morning, I prayed that when dry ground appears, that I would have the discernment to recognize it."
It took a good many years for me to realize that while I value research, my heart is on full-throttle in the classroom, tutoring, office hours, casual conversations - with my students. So, I applied for several teaching positions. In the end, it was an off-handed suggestion from my mom and a facebook message dashed off to an old friend that sparked the chain of events which (paraphrasing the Irene Hixon Whitney Bridge), "picked me up and placed me where I always wanted to be." It so happened that a community of high-school learners in Eagan called Trinity needed a full-time faculty member to teach French, as well as other fascinating humanities courses. As I met people and saw the culture of the school in action, my jaw dropped. I had the distinct sense that I had come home. All that remained was to wait and see if the search committee agreed with my hunch. Thanks be to God, they did. I begin this fall.
When you have lived in Egypt for most of your life, you get used to believing that maybe that's all there is. Head down, making bricks, sun in your face, press on. You live with the rhythm of the Nile tides, the rainy and dry seasons. Eating cucumbers, leeks, and garlic. Yum. But surrounded by an endless pantheon of foreign gods, you grow used to the daily sacrifices, the ones that that stink in the nostrils of the Most High. Sometimes it takes a sign and a wonder to pull you out and make you see how very unfree you are.
For me, it took a few harrowing months of stormy sea until the swirling eddies collected at my feet, and I could see well enough again to walk forward. Meanwhile, the landscape had completely changed. Before, the path through and toward academia had seemed to stretch on obstructed (and forever), but now the way was firmly blocked. My committee did not think that the path I had been forging was best finished in this department, at this particular juncture. Explanations abounded, though the matter was entirely, breathtakingly...inexplicable. I exercised the ingenuity and strength that the Lord gave me to effect a solution. What could I change that would not compromise my main priorities - department, program, advisor, school, campus? Nothing. Lord, what are You doing? The hearts of those in authority are "like water in His hand...He turns them whichever way He chooses."
Confusion, anger, sadness...these all took their turn with me, as it is the way in times of unknowing. Our hearts. He made them to feel, and it is good. (But not to stay there.) After a time, He picked me up. I brushed the gravel off my knees, and the seawater out of my eyes. That dream was buried and grieved, at least till a future time. Now I began to get really curious. What had He cleared my mind and heart (and schedule) to do next? Like many aching souls in this time, I began the laborious process of presenting my credentials to the slumping job market. Rework the CV for each, can I learn the corporate jargon fast enough, interviews with a disembodied voice several states away, face-to-face and fearful (did I do all right?), will you take someone part-time? Meanwhile, the daunting hurdle of preliminary PhD exams, endless meetings with faculty, and still having something left to give my students at the U.
The Israelites traversed the dry ground with miraculous curls and crests held back by the Lord's mighty power...only to fall into a humbling wilderness. I am no stronger than they, so Lord preserve my thankful heart and keep me from grumbling when it gets hard again. For the moment, though, I'll spend the summer whooping and singing at the top of my lungs: He has triumphed gloriously!