Around this time, nine years ago, I recall sitting in our in our rented Baltimore rowhouse, trying to understand what we were doing. We had recently accepted Andy’s invitation to start a PhD in Galveston and while I knew unequivocally that we were called to move, I was having more than a bit of trouble digesting the news. This hadn’t been a part of my plan.
At the time I was working a dream job at Habitat for Humanity. I spent most days preparing people for home ownership. We’d look at the available inventory, pick out carpet or flooring selections and within a matter of months I’d be at the title company with our first time home buyers, watching them sign a deed. It is still deeply ironic to me that after a ten year career in real estate, I have still never owned my own place. I’ve watched a hundred or more individuals sign these documents and have never signed them myself.
I now know that this has been a strategic move on the part of a God who knows me better than I know myself.
That summer as I processed our move I read through the book of Jeremiah. This book contained the passage from our wedding and I wondered what God was doing with our hopes and dreams in relation to the verses we had chosen to frame a wedding service, and a marriage, the year before:
“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” …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 hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29: 4-12
A few chapters later, I thought I had my answer. As Jeremiah is absorbing the fact that his city is going to be ransacked and his people sent into exile, the Lord does a curious thing and tells him to purchase a piece of property. In chapter 32, after Jeremiah has prophesied all the disaster that is coming upon his homeland, we see the details of a transaction:
“I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard. “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’ ” Jeremiah 32: 11-15
I remember lighting up at these curious details because it was so reminiscent of my everyday in Baltimore. I read it and felt I had an inkling toward an answer about this strange adventure we were embarking on. I thought God was showing me what I would DO.
I’ve realized in recent months that a move to South Texas was difficult for me primarily because I couldn’t identify with anything about the place I was moving to. Had we moved to Colorado I think I would have handled it better. At least I’d have our familiar outdoor adventure opportunities nearby and could camp and hike and mountain bike any frustrations out. This was familiar to me.
An island on the Gulf of Mexico however was an entirely different ball game. One google search for the nearest forest to get lost in took me to “The Rainforest Cafe.” We had to drive several hours off the coast to find any solid tree cover. So when I read a peculiar passage about deeds and terms and conditions in the midst of an exile, I thought God was showing me what I would do. Maybe, he had lined up a way for me to help execute deeds in Texas. Maybe a part of my identity could stay intact there because I would have at least this one thing to hang my hat on. Courtney, the Non Profit administrator, would stay intact.
While some of this was true…I would eventually return to my previous role and more…it took three years for me to realize that God was taking me to a place I did not identify with so I would finally take the time to ask myself who I really was. The question, after all, is never really “What will I do,” but rather “Who am I, and what am I becoming?” There are plenty of things to do in this world. Too many things, in fact, that clamor for our attention. It is a great gift when we are given the time to ask ourselves: “In a world that clamors for our attention, who am I called to be? What aspects of a multifaceted God am I to creatively display in this life?”
I could write a book (and am trying to!) about all the things God has taught me about myself in the 9 years since we moved. But as Andy and I sense that things are beginning to come full circle I couldn’t help but laugh as I opened a Bible up the other morning and saw it land on Jeremiah 32. This time, I smiled at a different part of the passage:
“…but this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: …I will bring them back to this place and let them live in safety. They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me and that all will then go well for them and for their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul. “This is what the LORD says: As I have brought all this great calamity on this people, so I will give them all the prosperity I have promised them.” Jeremiah 32: 36-42
Singleness of heart and action.
Couldn’t you just cry over that line?
We live in a world where there’s a new thing to fear and a new thing to want and a new thing to “need” every other minute of every other day. Its amazing that any of us are still breathing from the relentless attacks on our identity because all of these attacks do nothing more than tell us we are not enough without them.
Every once in a while though, God will give us an opportunity like no other to push those things down to the ground, letting them die, so that our true selves and our true desires and his true omniscience can rise to the surface. And I don’t know about you but in a world that clamors for our attention I’ll take singleness of heart and action any day of the week. There is no better feeling in the world than the freedom and joy that grows from the foundations of a solid soul.