In 2014 my husband and I had an opportunity to relocate our family to Nashville, Tennessee, and we accepted with open arms. We were wide-eyed and fully in. We had peace about moving, about the opportunities and relationships that awaited us, at the adventures that would present in a big city. After 3 grueling months we found a house, packed all of our belongings into a Penske and drove just shy of 500 miles to our new life.
From the time our Penske touched the curb of our quaint little neighborhood, things fell apart. That feels like a grave understatement, "things falling apart." If we had any sense, I suppose we would have headed straight back to Ohio, never unloading, never touching the soil of out Tennessee life, never knowing what we were missing. Giving up before starting is not my husband and I's nature, so when our housing immediately fell through, along with a large portion of the 3 months rent and deposit we had paid to secure it, we held our breath and hoped for the best.
My brother and sister-in-law graciously and temporarily absorbed us into their home. We unloaded our belongings into their garage and set to work looking for a new rental home. Months of online searches, applications, walk throughs and credit checks, and we couldn't land a place. My husband was new to his job and was self-employed, which did not offer much security to people when they looked at us on paper, even when we offered to pay 6 months rent to relieve their unease.
Every opportunity that presented, somehow fell through. We even got so far as to find a rental where the landlord was gutting a newly purchased home to our preference and specification, only for it to fall through a week before we were to move in. We lost a lot of expensive items in storage due to water damage. All of our bicycles, our grill and our children's Power Wheel and wagon were stolen. I was rear-ended and the police officer lost the original report from the accident. This was not a year of isolated incidents, this was an entire year of events like these strung together.
The family members we were staying with eventually lost their home because of us. Because we overstayed our welcome with their landlords, and because they vied for us. While they went to stay with family until they found a place, we had nowhere to go. My husband's job crashed, he couldn't make enough money to sustain us living in such an expensive city at any other job than the one he came to do. But every time a horrible thing happened to us, God would make a way. It was so difficult not to have anything tangible to put our trust in. We had nothing to take account of. We had to wait for provisions to present themselves to us, and typically they did so, but always at the last possible moment. So although our needs were met and we had perfect strangers offer us a home and their friendship, it was never comfortable to be in a consistent position of waiting.
This terrible and beautiful year reminded me of the Israelites exodus from Egypt. They were handed their freedom, promised a land flowing with milk and honey, and yet found themselves wandering in the desert questioning everything. They always had what they needed, but not much else. They never knew where the next source of water would be or how much longer they'd be walking.
I used to scoff at the Israelites and how they could ever question God after their freedom was given to them in such a miraculous way. Then I found myself wandering in a Tennessean desert of my own, provided for in mysterious ways, but because they weren't comfortable, I found myself asking God where he was. What I wanted wasn't provision, we were gifted that, what I wanted was assurance. I was like the Israelites, wanting to save enough manna for the next meal instead of trusting it to fall again with the next set of hunger pains. I wanted a stocked pantry when God was inviting me to trust him moment by excruciating moment.
This year felt so much longer than 365 days. While my husband and I didn't handle the stress very graciously, we knew that this move was vital to our lives. Sure, nothing worked as planned, or even well, but it was an invitation to understand out faith. We hadn't like the stagnation and resentment that was settling in our faith back home. We wanted a new understanding of God, of ourselves, and we were absolutely getting it.
People back home often wondered if maybe we had heard wrong or maybe we misinterpreted the peace we had about the move to be about what we wanted instead of some divine permission. But I don't believe that God is a micro-manager. I believe that God is always saying yes unless he specifically says no. Because there's this belief system modern Christianity teaches that only wants to recognize the blessings of God as the things that come easy and pleasant. It says that if we're doing things right, it's from God and we deserve it. When we experience hardship, it must be from sin. This thinking really puts too many conditions on God's love, and it also robs the grace right out of our lives. It really feels more like American entitlement than a Christian truth. The practicalities of life were terrible for us, but we were so rich in the truth and love of God. Isn't the Bible proof that things do in fact unravel, including entire belief systems? And isn't that a blessing to be stripped of misconceptions? Deconstruction isn't just about demolition. The purpose is to rebuild and reconstruct something more solid. Something more lasting.
I spent so much time sitting outside and contemplating all of the questions about God that were surfacing inside of my heart. It was fascinating to see all of the curiosities I'd always had, but was told not to ask, only to resurface now that our life was in crisis. This wasn't time to recite a prayer from a book or to stand from some platform and throw scriptures. This was a time to purge and empty myself of all that I had become disenfranchised about. Before we moved, I was at an impasse with God. I didn't like the culture of Christianity and I surely didn't like that my beliefs didn't incite change, within me or anyone else. I wanted to live like Jesus. I wanted peace and love. I wanted something that my beliefs couldn't provide.
That year in Tennessee was a call from Christ Himself. I had been beckoned to ask all of the questions that were stored in my heart from the time I was a little girl. I had some surprising questions that I did not see coming, like "God, are you good?" At first, I felt like I was losing my faith. I felt like a spoiled brat who was questioning God because circumstances were falling apart, but that wasn't what was happening. I thought I had known that God was good, but I didn't really understand that. When life fell apart, I was able to see myself so clearly. I was able to see what I truly believed, and what I honestly didn't know. Those surprising truths knocked the wind out of me. I was taking the indoctrination of my youth as the evidence for Christ, and that was just gross. The chaos of our circumstances made me brave enough to ignore the lies that accused my questions to be faithlessness, and I asked them all.
God answered me. He answered through a series of ways: he led me through scripture that was timely for my heart, he showed His goodness through the kindness of strangers to take us into their hearts and homes, he answered me with love and rebuke, and so much mercy. I think so many times we don't ask questions because we feel like they're not an act of faith. That's what was pressed into me. If you couldn't believe, you emptily recanted scripture or asked for forgiveness and were urged to move on.
I don't believe that faith is blindly following something we don't understand. I think that's conformity. I think faith is trusting the heart of God even when you have no idea where he's taking you or what he's going to ask of you. You can't have faith without trust, and you can't trust something that you don't know. The very reason I can trust God now isn't because I have all of the answers, but because he revealed himself to me through my questions and wrestling that very tender year in Tennessee. I began to see that all of the questions and uncertainties I was suppressing was actually the door for me to know God more fully. My questions weren't a lack of faith, but the very way to find it.