“Well, I guess they’ll have to learn the hard way.”
Ever heard that phrase? I have. Lots. And honestly, it became what I expected. Whenever I think I have to learn something I automatically assume Jesus will be harsh in order to teach me.
Spoiler alert: He never is.
Two years ago after moving out of a toxic situation in Philadelphia and into a new environment in NYC, I knew I had to learn to choose Jesus again. I expected it to be brutal, painful and harsh on his end. The lesson, I assumed, would grow me but also punish me for needing to learn it in the first place. Much to my surprise, that was the opposite of how Jesus responded. Over the next year he slowly beckoned me and romanced me to a point where I was in love with him not because he brought me to my knees, but because he was so kind and gentle despite my constant rebellion. And during that time, I realized Jesus never wanted to punish me or “teach me the hard way.” He wanted to invite me back into relationship with him.
I mentally crossed off that lesson from the hypothetical spiritual checklist: Jesus teaches with patience, gentleness and kindness. I thought I’d gotten it fully and yet, as is his character, he is teaching me the same lesson again to an even greater degree and more beautiful depth.
After two years adventuring, growing and healing in New York City, I felt the call to move to southern California, which was ironically the one place I’d always sworn I would never live. Again, Jesus was so gentle and patient. It wasn’t a jolting epiphany or harsh command from him. He truly eased me into the idea – though he didn’t have to. After a few visits and a lot of prayer, I felt my heart turn. California wasn’t just where Jesus wanted me to be, it was also where I wanted to be. I saw that the desires of my heart were changing too. It was less about me and so much more about wanting to be where Jesus called. It didn’t really matter that the new call led me to a place with beautiful beaches and lots of family – though that’s certainly a plus! It mattered that Jesus wanted me there and relayed that he had a purpose for me, though I’m still not entirely certain what it is. He could have called me just about anywhere.
I finally understand what it means to long for what the Lord longs for. This also requires me completely throwing out any “five year plans.” My friends keep asking me if I think I’ll move again within a few years somewhere new or back to New York. They’ve known me a long time as the girl who always has a plan, sometimes leading much further into the future than is even realistic. I’ve always loved schedules, structured goals and timelines. But somehow in the past few years, Jesus has loved me in a way that completely undid those tendencies. He has called me to multiple months of stillness and rest this year – something I usually dread – and in that effort to obey I’ve found new peace and developed a stronger trust in who he is than in my own plans.
That season of learning trust turned out to be necessary for deciding to move. In some ways I knew plenty about California. Both my parents grew up there and I still have plenty of extended family in the state, as well as having spent most of my Christmas breaks here. But on the other hand, I had almost nothing figured out logistically when I made the decision.
I first noticed the call Jesus had put on my heart in January, but had no inkling he would call me to move that same year. As I felt more and more convinced of the path Jesus was beckoning me on, it became harder and harder to even pretend that staying in New York was an option. It was a decision that truly pushed me to pray, consistently seeking wisdom and direction. New York was my dream city and I had planned to live there for… well pretty much the rest of my life. I was invested in my career path, my church and my community. Leaving wasn’t a light decision. As I prayed, I realized that moving across the country wouldn’t just be a difficult decision emotionally – it was a logistical nightmare. I would need a car for the first time in four years, a new job in a city where I knew no one in my profession, and an apartment. So as I poured out prayer into page after page of my journal, I said this: Lord, if you really want me in California, I need every detail to fall into place. I am already overwhelmed with work, school, church, etc. and the thought of uprooting my life and all the details involved is too much. Lord, if this is your will, clear the path for me to get there.
And I have to say that truly there has never been a time where the Lord was so absolutely clear in what he wanted and so direct in answering such a vague prayer.
First it became obvious that there would never be an easier time to leave New York. My jobs end date and the end of my lease in my apartment ended the same week. At that same time my church would be transitioning to a new pastor, my best friend Regan was also moving out of the city and even my therapist was retiring. There would be virtually no loose ends if I took the leap and left at the end of July.
But still, it would be easier to renew the lease, find another job and transition with my church than to uproot. Jesus wasn’t done, though.
I began heavily interviewing with a job at a creative and exciting company that prioritized company culture. It was a break from the fashion industry without being too far outside the realm of what I was used to. My cousin agreed to sell me his car that was at my home in Colorado for half the price of what I would’ve gotten from anyone else and even agreed to let me pay it off over a year in monthly payments. My aunt and uncle generously invited me to live with them for the first weeks or months until I could get my own place.
With all these pieces falling into place with little effort of my own, I called my parents over Memorial Day weekend and after discussing all that had happened, we realized the decision was clear. I would move to California in August.
Even with all of the factors pointing to this decision, I still encountered periods of doubt. Was I really making the right choice moving to a new city for the third time in four years? How could I leave all the people on the east coast who had become a family? Was it wise to leave the first city I had found that truly felt like home? It was in these times I had to truly exercise the trust I’d built with Jesus earlier in spring. Even if that particular day had not revealed a sign or affirmation regarding my move, I had to remember all the Lord had already done.
But I found as I exercised this muscle of trust it became stronger and I felt increasing peace and joy about what was to come. Certainly, if the Lord had called me and made the path so very clear, he had great plans for me. And Jesus continued to clear the way. At that point I’d already committed to the move. I wouldn’t have backed out or stalled even if Jesus had not continued to pave the way. But He did so out of kindness and love for me, his daughter. It once again widened my perspective of who he is. He is a God that gives good gifts – not just for his own end, but also purely for his children’s enjoyment.
The day after I left New York to visit my hometown for a few weeks, I still didn’t have a job officially nailed down. I flew home Monday afternoon and by the following afternoon had received great offers from two opportunities. I officially accepted a job and would be financially stable. The next morning as I thanked God for all that had happened both in my time in New York and to enable me to start a new adventure, I mentioned that I still didn’t have a place to live after my aunt and uncle’s. But I remember kind of tossing it in nonchalantly. I felt confident that if the Lord had provided so far, I wouldn’t be sleeping in the streets of Los Angeles. Three hours later a family friend called and asked if I wanted to take over her room in her rent-controlled Santa Monica apartment within walking distance to the beach. No, I’m not kidding.
Jesus totally could have given me a dumpy apartment. Honestly, if the rent was less than my New York apartment that was more than enough for me. And yet, he gave me an apartment better than I had hoped and it was a whopping $600 less than my rent in New York. I was shell-shocked and my parents actually burst into laughter when they heard because at this point it was almost silly for us to not expect something like that to fall into place.
My Dad and I set out on our road trip to California in my little silver Acura packed with suitcases. We arrived after racking up 17 hours on the road and spent the week unpacking, catching up with family and also attending some business appointments my Dad scheduled while he was in town. And of course, Jesus just didn’t stop. It’s comical to the point that I laugh while typing this. I met with Young Life and immediately got plugged in with all types of opportunities there. Then I went to pick up my Dad from his business meeting and was introduced to an assistant there who – yes really – just so happened to be Christian and invited me to her church and bible study.
And to be honest, I could fill ten more pages with all the ways Jesus has shown up. The thing that really strikes me is that I didn’t do anything to earn or deserve any of this. Jesus has asked relatively nothing of me as he has blessed me with everything from an affordable car to friends within days of moving.
I knew a lesson I needed to grasp was to acknowledge that all good gifts come from God, not from my human efforts. I knew I struggled with pride. If I could’ve predicted how I would’ve learned to subdue my pride and glorified God, I definitely would have guessed it involved losing things I loved and several levels of pain.
Yet, Jesus looked at me and smiled. He looked at my rebellion and loved me so deeply that it changed me and enticed me to leave it behind. I wasn’t scared out of my pride, commanded or dragged. I was romanced into a deeper relationship with Jesus and as a result began praising him for all things. I was given so much grace, love, mercy and blessings that I could do nothing but worship a God who gave me so much more than I could have imagined and certainly more than I deserve.
I’d like to note that this amazing time is a season. Right now, my life is abundant in very obvious and tangible ways. I can clearly point to my car, apartment, job, etc. and proclaim abundance. However, there are other seasons that feel very dry. Earlier this year I had no job for months and was barely scraping by to pay my rent and buy groceries. If you looked at my circumstances, especially my finances, you could easily ask how God was abundant or gracious. But, God is equally gracious, kind, loving and abundant right now as he was earlier this year. I am very, very grateful for the circumstantial abundance he has given me in this season. I am more grateful, though, for who he is and the ways he gives me spiritual abundance constantly. Jesus loved me then just as mercifully and fully as he does right now.
I am so quick to punish myself or expect punishment from him. But that punishment was taken for me on the cross. It is finished. Jesus is kind and gentle, always. He never fails to give good gifts. Sometimes they are in your face and obvious. Other times, they are subtle, like whispers in the wind. His faithfulness is permanent – unlike our seasons in life.