a ONE WORD journey

ONE WORD…Countless Breadcrumbs

Every year, I join the One Word community and choose a word to focus on throughout the year. One big reason I do this, year after year, is because this single word encourages me to look for the manna along life’s path.

For 2013, I felt strongly my word was inconvenience. As a person who seems to thrive on routine and focus, I wanted to keep my eyes open for ways the Lord might want me to be inconvenienced. One day, that year, it meant I traded places in the check-out line at Walmart with the man who was behind me.  Another day, it meant I made a u-turn, went through a drive thru, purchased a meal and took it back to the lady I drove by who was standing on the previous corner with a cardboard sign that read Hungry Homeless.

In February that year, my husband, Roger, received word that the job he’d had for five years would be ending. The company he worked for did contract work for the Coast Guard. Due to many cut-backs and less contracts on the horizon, his company could no longer afford to keep Roger employed. They needed to let him go. For some reason, I didn’t freak out about the news. First, his company, thankfully, had given him over two months notice. He would be employed until the end of April. Second, I immediately thought of my one word. Inconvenience.

“Lord, I thought, You have been preparing me for this moment, haven’t You?”

Roger began looking for another job but in rural North Carolina his type of work was hard to come by. We knew if we stayed in the area he would most likely have to commute up to Virginia (at least a 90 minute commute each way). We discussed this option. We also discussed the option of selling our house and moving closer to the North Carolina/Virginia line. But, as we talked, it became clear that neither of us had any desire to do that. Other than for the jobs there was no reason we wanted to pick up and head that direction.

Roger had moved to North Carolina 14 years prior to pursue a new career path. I had moved to 12 years prior to take a sales job with a printing company but had long since quit that job in order to stay home for a few years with our son. I had just recently (two months before my husband found out he would be losing his job) been hired as a virtual assistant and thankfully this new job would be able to move wherever I moved. (Another perfectly timed breadcrumb on the path, by the way.)

The decision became clear, if we were going to make the big decision to pick up and move our 11 years of life together then we wanted to move closer to family. Roger’s family lived in North Georgia and we began to think again about how nice it would be if our then 10 year old son could live closer to his grandparents and his cousins. Also, my husband’s parents were both in their 80s. It would be nice if we could return and have more opportunities to spend time with them before they passed away. As it was now, we only saw them once (maybe twice) a year.

Over the next month, my husband made the decision to say “no” to the many potential software engineer and computer programming job options in Raleigh, Charlotte and Nashville. We were certain had we wanted to move to any of those places, Roger could have had a job in his line of work within a month. It would have been a safer and quicker route for sure. Again, inconvenience, seemed to be threading itself through each decision we made.

With the help of a job recruiter, Roger began concentrating his efforts in North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. By the middle of March he had two job interviews lined up, one in Dalton, GA and one in downtown Atlanta. The plan was to head down to Georgia for Easter and stay the following week for the interviews. We arrived the Saturday before Easter and stayed overnight with one of my husband’s brother, Rick, and his family. On Easter morning, we attended church with him. Rock Bridge Community Church was very similar to the one we had been attending for over a decade in North Carolina. I loved the worship time and the message the pastor gave. As we left the service and walked back to the car I looked at my husband and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you ended up getting the job here in Dalton. We would already have a church to go to.” I couldn’t help but get the sense that God was cooking something up.

The next morning as my husband left for the first interview I wrote the following words on my blog:

Open the right ones…close the wrong ones.

That’s the prayer on my heart. My son and I tagged along this week as my husband traveled down to Georgia for a couple of job interviews. We are staying with my in-laws. My husband left early this morning to make the drive to his first of two interviews today.

I watched him as he left this morning through the carport door. It was the first significant door he’ll need to walk through today. He stepped out the door and into the unknown.

I’m sitting here now, in this dark and quiet house, deeply grateful for my husband.  I am thankful for his willingness and his desire to step out that first door. Yes, I hope the door will lead somewhere. But even if it doesn’t, I want to remember to be thankful for the doors. I want to celebrate these opportunities. I want to rejoice over the possibilities that come when doors open and close. Each one has the potential to lead some place beautiful.  I want to remember that today.

Thank you, Lord, for my husband who has worked hard at setting up interviews. Thank you for all the hours he has spent looking at jobs and filling out online applications. Thank you, for his love and dedication to our family.

And, yes Lord, thank you for doors.  Continue to lead us through the right ones.

Both interviews seemed to go well. At the end of the week, we said our good-byes to Roger’s folks, packed up the car and started off on the 650 mile drive back up to North Carolina. A few hours into the drive, my husband’s cell phone rang. It was a job offer for the position in Dalton.

Over the next few days, Roger would end up receiving offers from both options in Georgia. For us, the choice was pretty simple. Neither of us was too excited about the idea of living in or commuting to Atlanta on a daily basis. We love the area and we were looking forward to moving closer to civilization, but couldn’t see ourselves getting back into the rat race and taking on the extra expense of big city living. Roger accepted the job in Dalton. One of his three brothers lived in this town and his parents were only 45 minutes up the road.

Roger would have to relocate at the end of April, one month prior to the school year ending. We made the decision that he would pack up his pick-up truck and make the trip down by himself. He would stay in his brother’s basement and begin looking for housing options for us. I would stay behind with our son to finish out the school year, we would put the house on the market and begin packing our life up into cardboard boxes.

After my husband accepted the job I began telling friends about our upcoming move. The company I worked for at the time had a private Facebook group where we often bounce work ideas off one another. The group has also become a place where we share the good and the bad going on in our lives. Besides work support, it’s also a place where we can encourage one another, shout our praises as well as ask for prayer. One day I commented that we were moving to the Dalton, GA area. The founder of the company responded to my post. He recommended that I check out a church that a friend of his pastors in Dalton. Before I even read his next sentence, I knew what he was going to suggest. I just knew.

It was the same church that we visited for Easter services. I felt like I was bending down and picking up another breadcrumb off the path. Another nugget, glimmering along a path still filled with a ton of unanswered questions.

This way. Keep going.

It wasn’t a neon sign but it sure seemed like God was unlocking the doors that he wanted us to walk through.

About the time Roger rolled backed into the same state he left 14 years earlier, his mom’s health took a turn for the worst. As sad as this was, I couldn’t help but praise the Lord for His perfect timing. Job loss and relocation is a huge and exhausting inconvenience yet I could see the breadcrumbs every step of the way. Roger, the youngest of four sons, had returned home. He was back in the nest so to speak. He spent his days familiarizing himself with his new job. He spent his evenings visiting his mom at her bedside.

My mother-in-laws health continued to deteriorate. Her desire was to leave the hospital and spend her last days at home. Hospice was lined up, a hospital bed was set up in the living room so she could look out the front window and visitors would have room to sit by her side. The doctor informed the family that it was just a matter of time. It could be a few days or a few weeks.

It was also the end of May, the school year was ending and we needed to make another decision. The plan was for Roger to fly home and help us pack up our belongings into a moving van. He would drive the truck down to Georgia while Sean, the dog and I followed along in the car. Roger and I Facetimed on our phones a few days prior to his scheduled flight back to North Carolina. We weren’t sure what to do. There was a big chance that Roger’s mom would not make it another week but there was also a chance she would, and Sean and I could make it back in time to say good bye as well. The decision was made. Roger said his good-byes to his mom, knowing it might be the last time.

For my last Sunday in North Carolina I attended church with my good friend, Michelle. I wrote the following post on my blog after that service:

This weekend, the reality that I will be moving from North Carolina in less than a week seemed to sink in a little more.  Despite the growing stacks of moving boxes in my living room, the stripped down counters and naked walls, I still don’t think this journey will feel completely real until the moving truck is sitting in my driveway.

My friends had a little girl’s going away party for me on Saturday.  They each took a moment to share some really nice memories. Some of the things they shared I remembered clearly, other memories I had completely forgotten about.

I told my friends that these last 12 years have been the best years of my life.  I arrived into town when I was 28 years old.  I was starting over with nothing but two dogs, some kitchen pots and pans and a commitment I made in prayer to the Lord that I was determined to do life on His terms during this new chapter.  I was done running away from my fears. I was done settling.  I desired something better.  My only plan was to cling tightly to the One who could offer that to me.

Over the past 12 years I’ve watched God take my life and make something beautiful out of all the broken pieces.  He’s given me joy and freedom and peace. Life has not been without trials or without heartache but He has been true to His word.  He has held onto me through all of life’s ups and downs.

As I stood next to my friend, Michelle, at church yesterday, and sung these words, my mind went back to that first summer in North Carolina.

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You would lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me 

So much had changed and yet here I was, blessed to be standing next to the same friend who first reached out to me when I arrived in town. We have journeyed this portion of the road together the whole time.  Our sons have grown up together.  We’ve encouraged one another.  We’ve laughed with one another.  And, yes, we’ve cried with one another.

I know the two of us have not been on a long journey to Mordor and I know that neither of us are hobbits (Michelle is way too tall to be a hobbit) but I couldn’t help but think of the scene in “Lord of the Rings” when Frodo says to his best friend, Sam, “I’m glad to be with you, Samwise Gamgee…here, at the end of all things.”

I know that this is only the end of this particular chapter.  Our friendship will go on…but it will be different and there will be adjustments. And, even though I can’t pack up my friend, Michelle, and take her with me,  I am thankful that I can pack up 12 years of God’s grace and goodness and carry that with me.  I am looking forward to what the Lord has planned next in both of our lives!

The next few days would be the most draining few days of our lives. We packed the truck in record time. At 4pm in the afternoon our entire life was crammed into a 20 ft box on wheels. Because of our desire to get back to my mother-in-law, we immediately hit the road and began our 650 mile journey back to Georgia.

We did make it back in time. Again, I saw the beautiful breadcrumbs…even in valley of the shadow of death.

The same week we pulled into Dalton we went back to the same church we had visited on Easter Sunday and the same church that was recommended to me on my work Facebook page. As we stood for worship the band began to play their set of songs for the morning.

One exhausting leg of our journey was over. We had reached our destination. But I knew the big reason we were brought there at this season in our stories was still ahead…saying our goodbyes to a beautiful lady, the mother of my husband and the sweet grandma to my son.

The other challenges I knew we would still have to figure out seemed to pale in comparison, but they were still there, taking up residence in my mind and in my heart. We would need to find a home to live in, and would need to sell our old house back in North Carolina. There was still so much road to travel. As the worship band started to play, a thought bubbled up to the surface and I knew. It’s going to be that song again, isn’t it, Lord?

This is amazing grace
This is unfailing love
That You would take my place
That You would bear my cross
You would lay down Your life
That I would be set free
Jesus, I sing for
All that You’ve done for me 

I smiled. Tears came to my eyes. Another breadcrumb! It was almost like God had his arm wrapped around me and was reassuring me. I’ve got this, Child. I’ve got this. I was there then, I am here now and I will be with you in this next chapter too.

Nine days after we pulled into town, Mrs. Knowles went home to the Lord. It was a difficult and painful journey to watch. We prayed she would let go. We prayed the suffering would end. We prayed she would finally be at peace.

This season of transition and loss was much harder on my husband than it was on me. And for obvious reasons, he was the one who had the tedious work of looking for a new job. And in the middle of all that stress, he was the one who had to come to terms with the passing of his mom. I’m not saying that watching a loved one die is an inconvenience but I will say that losing a loved one is certainly never convenient either. I personally had to walk down that road when I was 18 when my mom’s five year battle with breast cancer came to an end. I was all too familiar with the road my husband was on. No, grief is never convenient. Not when you’re 18 and not when you’re 50. Grief is never the ideal path we want to walk down. Good-byes are the hardest part of this journey.

Sometimes life’s inconveniences hurt. They sometimes confuse us. They sometimes exhaust us. But, in the end, as you retrace your steps you realize that the detour was necessary to bring you back to exactly where you need be. Had my husband not lost his job when he did, if my husband had not gotten the job in Georgia when he did, he never would have had that extra time with his mom. During this whole season, I couldn’t help but think of the words Mordecai said Queen Esther “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” Anytime God seems to pick us up and plop us down like this, I think of this verse. There’s a reason for every uncomfortable detour in our life. There’s a reason why we are led down new paths and through unfamiliar doors. And, most of the time, we can’t see the big picture when we are going through it. We can’t see that all of life’s inconveniences are positioning us to be exactly where we need to be…for such a time as this.

And He certainly has been true to His word.

Another task Roger took on while my son and I were still back in North Carolina finishing up the school year, was the “fun” scavenger hunt of trying to find a house for us to buy. His new coworkers suggested he focus his search in the Ringgold area. They have great elementary schools, they told him. When he was not with his mom, Roger spent his time searching the internet and working with a realtor. I remember how one Saturday he even called me on Skype, walked around a few potential houses with his laptop, and showed me what each room looked like.

Shortly after my son and I joined Roger in Georgia, accompanied by a realtor, we visited three options Roger thought might be the best fit for our family. The first two options were fine, although one would need quite a bit of TLC. When we walked through the front door of the third option, I instantly loved it. I kept thinking, as I walked from room to room, this is the one. Then we walked out onto the screened in back porch, there was a porch swing at one end. “Does the swing come with the house?” I asked the realtor. She assured me that it did. Yep, I thought. This is the one.

To my husband, it almost felt like the search was over way too quick. We both liked that house but it was only the third house we looked at together. Could the search really be over in a day? We discussed it over the next couple of days and decided that, just to be safe, we would look at a few more houses. We found three options we liked and asked our realtor to set up an appointment for us to visit each of those the following Saturday. Here was our thinking: We will look at these three and if none of them gave us the warm fuzzy “this is it” feeling then we would move forward with the one we liked.

Friday evening arrived and Roger received a phone call from our realtor about the appointments she was trying to line up for us. “You are not going to believe this,” she said “but all three options you have selected have denied a showing for tomorrow, all for various reasons. This never happens.” She apologized to us but I knew we had our answer.

Open the right doors and close the wrong ones, Lord.

I thought about the prayer I prayed three months earlier while sitting in a dark living room at my in-laws house. I smiled. God didn’t just close those doors…He bolted them shut!

Less than three weeks after pulling into Dalton, we were signing the papers to begin the loan process on the house in Ringgold. The process would take about a month and if all went smoothly we would be in our new home by July 15. I began thinking about what we should do about church. Ringgold was located 30 minutes from Dalton. Do we commute to this church? Do we find one closer to our house? If we commute, what about small group? That week I began praying for guidance. I started to get the sense that we should find a church closer to our new home. But, why would the Lord lead us to this one, just to move us away a month later?

When Sunday came around, we attended church again in Dalton. When it was time to give the message, a different man walked up on the stage than the pastor. He introduced himself as the pastor from their newest church location, they had that just opened the doors to this campus back in January just down the road in Ringgold.

I looked at my husband, eyes wide. I mouthed the words, did you hear that?

They have a campus in Ringgold. I thought to myself. Of course they do, Lord! Of course they do!

The closing on our house went seamlessly. After we signed all the papers and the previous owner handed us the keys to the front door, it was time to move in. Six weeks earlier, we had placed all our possessions in a storage unit in Dalton. We rented another moving truck and spent the morning repacking the truck. Later that afternoon, Sean and I drove the car to our new house, arriving a few minutes before Roger, who was driving the truck again. We stood on our new front porch and waited for him. I spotted my new neighbors stepping out their front door and walking across their yard towards us.

“Hi” they said “welcome to the neighborhood!” Craig and Allison had lived in this subdivision for years and loved the area. They told me if we needed any help to just let them know. Then Allison handed me a gift bag, a housewarming gift. I glanced down at the label on the bag and read the words The Bread Basket…a loaf of fresh bread was inside.

I smiled.

Wow, Lord, that’s one big breadcrumb!