Seven years ago today, I packed up my little Ford Focus and headed west. Seven nights ago today, I unpacked an overnight bag and stayed in the yellow missionary house in the bedroom that would one day be a nursery for sweet Webb.
It’s kind of hard to believe that I’ve been here for seven years. Especially when I really thought I was just moving here for seminary and had no idea what would be next. But seven years later, I’ve stuck around. My roots go deep. Now some friends have left Birmingham, and others have moved to Birmingham. I’ve been in various life stages here. I went to school and worked in Birmingham, so I lived the life of a crazed caffeinated graduate student. I got my first full-time job here. I also quit my first full-time job here. I started a new job here and transitioned from worshipping with a body of believers to working on staff at that local church. I started really paying attention to what I eat and to how I treat my body here, so a lot has changed in terms of my physical make-up too. (Side note: if you ever think it’s appropriate to ask someone how much weight they’ve lost, let me just save you the embarrassment by telling you that it’s not. Just tell them they look nice and move on. And for heavens sake, don’t try to guess the number.)
All that to say, a lot has happened (and changed!) in my life over these last years. Today as I was having lunch with a dear friend, she asked me what the Lord has taught me in these seven years in Birmingham. It’s kind of a loaded question, but I’m grateful to have the kind of friend who asks hard questions and who wants to dig deeply into how faith and life intertwine. I’ve been thinking about her question all afternoon and I can think of three really big lessons I’ve learned from (and, probably more importantly) about the Lord
1. He is faithful.
The Lord has been a faithful provider in these years in Birmingham. It’s hard for me to believe that I moved here without a job – even as a graduate student. I can’t imagine just moving to a city with no employment in my current stage of life, but I did it. I didn’t really understand why, except for this call to go to Beeson. But the Lord provided and showed himself so faithful through giving me part-time jobs along the way, scholarship assistance, babysitting gigs, and, probably more importantly, community and friendship and a great place to study his word. God has been so faithful to me in every season – and now I can recognize this clearly. I think my season in Birmingham has taught me to look for those brushstrokes of faithfulness and to count the ways he has provided…which are now so clear.
2. …but, his plans are not our own.
We always think we know how life will end up, and we’re usually really wrong. God has been such a faithful Father to me in these years – really, all twenty-nine of them! But in these last seven years, I’ve also started to learn that our plans are not His plans. These have been the years of dying to self and dying of dreams and loosening my grip on the things I told myself God would provide. He’s a faithful Father and keeps his promises, yes, but there are some promises he hasn’t made to any of us. There are no promises that life will be easy or painless or carefree – in fact, we know this isn’t the case because of the Fall. Everything is broken by sin.
My plan, when I was in seminary, was to graduate and work for some sort of Christian non-profit. I could never see myself working full-time in the local church. And yet now that is where my heart is planted so deeply – in the fellowship of the saints, in a local congregation. In those respects, I can see that the Lord’s plans were so much bigger and better than my own. Even in thinking about transitioning to serve at MBBC, I can honestly say that, a year ago, I had no idea that this might even be an opportunity. I’m grateful for dear friends who thought highly enough of me to consider bringing me on staff. I’m also grateful for the Lord’s providence in our callings, and how he brings us to specific places for specific times and seasons.
I also think that, that day when I packed up my car and moved to Birmingham, I probably thought that, by twenty-nine, I’d be married. Maybe I’d even have kids. I actually just took the idea for granted. Most of my friends from high school and college were getting married. It seemed like what happens for everyone – they get married and have kids and grow old. But it hasn’t happened for me. And these last seven years, if they’ve been a testimony to anything, they’ve been a testimony to the fact that, just because we think things should happen a certain way doesn’t mean they will. Some people wait a lifetime for marriage. Some people wait a lifetime to have children. Some people get sick when they’re young, and die, and leave behind a bereaved spouse before they’ve celebrated twenty or ten or even five years of marriage.
I guess it seems like kind of a depressing thing to learn, but I am grateful for the lesson that the Lord is faithful to keep the promises he has made, that he sustains us, and that he is sovereign. His plans are better than ours. Even when ours are God-honoring and good plans. And maybe sometimes we can see that his plans are better than our own from our earthly perspective, but in some instances, I think it is only in heaven that we’ll really understand what the Lord was doing. Now our perspective is dim and blurry, but one day, it will be crystal clear in the light of eternity.
3. He puts the lonely in families.
On the basis of the second thought, I’ve also struggled with loneliness – maybe not just in these seven years but probably for a long time. Being an introvert who craves relationship is hard. I want relationships – a few close, intimate ones. I remember that, when I was in Columbia, more than anything I really longed to be known and loved. And right when I was settling into community there, it was time to put on a cap and grown and sing “We Hail Thee Carolina” and leave that place behind.
Moving to Birmingham was hard. I was so homesick for Columbia and even for home. For the foothills and for mountains and Gamecocks and a different world. I’ve wrestled a lot with the idea of home over this season. I’ve been so thankful to come to a place where I have realized that home is a longing we all have in our hearts, and that it’s a longing that points us to Jesus. One day, we really will be at home in him. Our earthly homes fail us because they’re only a shadow of what’s come, a brief glimmer of the joy set before us when we are able to dwell in the presence of God, among his people, in his city, illuminated by his glory.
Even if that’s the case, if you are lonely, you still need community. Thankfully, Birmingham has been a place for me to find true, deep, lasting community. I am grateful to have deep roots in this city. I am grateful that I get to see familiar faces in the grocery store, and work with my best friends, and have keys to friend’s houses (and vice versa). I’m also grateful that, as a single person, I’m able to enter into community with families here. Our western church is so focused on the nuclear family that I think we neglect the role of the spiritual household. For those who are in Christ, there are no orphans. The blood of Jesus makes us family in a way that even biological blood can’t match. And so friends and families have taken me in, and opened their lives and homes and worlds to me, and for that, I am so grateful.
So here’s to seven years in a city that has become home. Who knows how many more years this city will hold for me? I don’t, but the Lord does – and he’s proven himself so faithful in these days and months and years in a place that has become so dear and special to me.