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Detours and Disappointments

How many of you remember family vacations as a kid? The anticipation of a new place. The adventures that awaited you with family and friends. The excitement of the activities planned for the week made you feel like you would burst with expectation. Just like on Christmas Eve, you anxiously waited for the day, and time, to pack the car in the wee hours of the morning, and start on the trip. As the hours dragged on, the excitement started to wane, and fatigue and impatience soon replaced it. Only to be suddenly revived outside the city limits. On the edge of your seat you waited with glee to turn the corner and finally arrive at your destination, oh the giggles and smiles! The journey complete. The hard part over. Now the fun could begin.

But then it rains all week. Or you got sick and missed out on several outings. Maybe your friends cancelled last minute. Or maybe things just weren’t quite what you expected. Either way, your high hopes were quickly crushed by the unmet expectations and disappointment of the week. Anticlimactic. Boring. Bummed. Dissatisfied. You leave with the only hope that next year will be better. When you are older, wiser, have more money, or independence. Surely next time will be all you long for.

I can’t help but think this is us in the journey of life as well. We anxiously wait for a particular season, you know the ones, when you finally “arrive”. Maybe that was 16 when you got your drivers license. Or graduation from high school or college. Or when you finally got the keys to your own place. Maybe it was your wedding day or the day you became a mom. All of these events promised so much. We waited with abated breath, rushing through childhood, our teen years, and running past adulthood, just to finally arrive at the destinations marked for us by generations gone by. Often missing so much God wants to teach us. And often after arrival, feeling defeated and disappointed that it’s never quite as good as we were promised it would be.

I know I have found myself there at every step of the way in life. I am so sure that the next place or the next achievement will bring me all I want. I will finally feel fulfilled in that position, with that job title, with those friends and in that house. If I could just get to that next status in life, I will finally find my purpose and all the glory with it. But each attempt leaves me feeling emptier and wanting more. So, when each destination fails, I quickly pack my bags, fill the trunk and leave. Only dust in the review mirror and high hopes for the next town to give me all I long for.

When I scan back over the years, all the places and people I was sure would give me the purpose I long for, all the achievements that left me feeling empty, all the detours that never quite made sense why God said no, and didn’t give me all I prayed for, my mind is turned to a man in the bible with a similar plight. Moses. A man whose story has so many twists and turns. Many destinations along the way that promised fulfilment but came up short. Many stops along the way that, without seeing the whole picture, didn’t quite make sense.

I don’t know at what age Moses realized he wasn’t an Egyptian. Maybe he always new he was different. Maybe he always struggled with survivors’ guilt or feeling like he didn’t belong. In any case, I am sure he never planned to accidently murdering an Egyptian and be forced to leave his home. I can’t help but assume that when he left Egypt none of his life made sense. And it’s an easy guess that he had zero intention of ever going back. Once settled in the desert, with his family and career, I wonder if he felt, like many of us, is this is? Is this all I will amount to? Will my past haunt me forever? Maybe he even assumed his past would forever define him and so he never even dreamed of being more than a shepherd.

When I compare my life to Moses’s I share in the sentiment. Why me? Why here? Why now? Why did God allow certain circumstance in my childhood, teen years and now as an adult, that felt so crushing, restrictive and painful? Things I never asked for, never wanted to be involved in and definitely did not plan, came to fruition before my eyes. As far back as I remember I never felt like I belonged in any group. I tried so hard to fit in, but rejection always found me. So, I kept driving to the next destination in the journey. Each promising friends and approval, and all the bright and shiny things my lonely heart longed for. And yet, like a rained-out vacation, each came up short. And thus, like Moses, with each failed relationship, job, ambition or big mistake, I just kept running. Finally finding myself in the desert, I surveyed the life I had come to live in. The final destination I had longed for, and I thought, is this really it? How could God ever use me here? Maybe I missed the boat? Maybe I am just not good enough? Clearly not qualified. I guess I will just settle here, under the weight of my past and my failures and just live this average, mundane life.

The part of Moses story that amazes me the most, and gives me an abundance of hope in my own journey, is when God calls Moses. He finds him, hiding out in the middle of nowhere, thinking he was done, and shocks the socks off of him by giving him a place and a purpose in the unlikeliest of circumstances. God equips, and fully qualifies, Moses to go back to Egypt and free the Israelites. I can’t imagine the amount of humility it must have took to turn around and walk back to the place of his greatest mistake. To own up to his faults, failures and past. By obeying God’s calling, Moses was giving a clear and physical declaration, that all the accusations the evil one would long to try and hold him to, didn’t define him at all. That he would not remain hidden and disqualified by the evil one’s defeating taunts, but that he would walk in the victory and the name God gave him.

Despite Moses’s human quirks and limitations, not to mention his past failures, and so many parts of his story that didn’t make sense, from his childhood to his years as a shepherd. It was these exact places that Moses had been, and the things he had experienced, that completely prepared and trained him for this particular task. Any other Israelite that would have tried to walk into pharaohs palace and demand their freedom, wouldn’t have made it past the first guard. But Moses, having lived there, was welcomed in. Any Israelite slave of Egypt would not have known how to survive the harsh desert conditions. But having spent the past few decades there, Moses new how to lead the people through. God did the rest. He just needed a willing vessel. A vessel he had refined and molded through all the difficult life circumstances Moses had experienced. All the disappointing destinations along the journey, had purpose in God’s hands. Even though Moses didn’t see it at the time.

I think that God longs to call many of us out of our deserts and give us a new name. He longs to gift us with a fresh perspective of the journey. One that shines light on the dark and raw places in our history and show us there was a reason for all of it. The places he has taken us throughout our life, all had purpose for the places he wants to take us. Each new destination in life has the potential for great disappointment and defeat. But if we hand our confusion and pain over to God, he will lead us and he will heal us and make sense of the mess. Maybe, like Moses, we won’t see it for a very long time. And that’s were faith plays in. Faith that says, “I will trust the process God. I will trust you are up to good for my life, even when it hasn’t felt good. I will trust your plan, the destination and the detours. And I will always be a willing vessel to be used when you call. Even if it’s calling me back to painful places. I will go, and I will trust you to lead me and heal me.”

Moses’s story is one of undeniable grace and redemption. From the beginning when God protected him from death, to his return to the place of some of his greatest regret and shame, to watching God work miracle after miracle as he led his people to freedom, each part of his journey required faith in a God who can and will work in and through us. A God who is able to weave together incredible stories of purpose and healing. We just have to slow down and enjoy the journey. To pause in the seasons that don’t make sense, that feel like there is no meaning, and allow God to work in and through us. Not every point along our journey will be in the big cities with excitement and fulfilment. Some points are for us to rest, reflect, heal and grow. Quiet places for God to teach us more about him. For us to learn to trust him and deepen our faith. So that when God does call us, and he will, we will be ready to answer that call. Not already defeated by all we just “know” will eliminate us. Not disillusioned by all the disappointing stops along the way, or failed attempts before. But full of trust in the truth that every part of our story is important. And in God’s hands, can be molded into something beautiful and worth experiencing. If we always rush through the boring stops, if we speed past the caution and warning signs, if we automatically disqualify ourselves because we stumbled when the road was too difficult, or stop short because the journey has been unsatisfying, we will miss out on so much God wants to show us about who he is, and who we are in the bigger story he is crafting for our lives.

Despite what anyone else would say, despite what the GPS is beeping at us, despite the hold ups and unplanned turns, God still has purpose for each of us. He always has a plan for our good. Often it won’t look like what we wanted or expected. But if we let him, he will do miracles in and through our story far beyond our hopes or dreams. He just needs us, like Moses, to let him use our stories, by being a willing vessel, wherever the journey leads.

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