It was a Sunday morning soon after the new year in 2020 and my pastor was nearing the end of his sermon. I don’t remember the particular topic or the scripture from which he was preaching but I do remember that his gaze seemed to zero in on me as he issued the following challenge to the congregation: “Some of you know what God has called you to do. You know the direction He wants you to go. So you need to get after it. What are you waiting for?” As he spoke, I waited for his head to turn, for his eyes to scan the room. They didn’t. Whether he realized it or not – whether he intended to or not – he was speaking directly to me. I swallowed hard and prayed silently: Message received, Lord. It was time.
About five years before that church service my career took a sudden turn. In addition to my regular duties as our City’s Emergency Manager, preparing employees, residents, and businesses for a disaster, I was asked to develop and manage a new bureau within the Police Department. Supervising a small team of people, my responsibilities would now also include crime prevention, community outreach, media relations, and volunteer management. With this new role also came the privilege of being the only female civilian serving on Command Staff. I would be a part of a team of eleven leaders who set our organization’s direction, made promotion selections and policy decisions, and represented our personnel’s needs, wants, and desires to the Chief of Police. With some trepidation, I accepted the opportunity. When I did, God made it clear that this assignment would end in five years. Although I had planned on retiring in nine years, He impressed upon me that His timetable was different than mine. He set my retirement for 2019. I wasn’t about to argue with Him.
The feelings of gratitude and humility soon gave way to sheer terror. In order to best manage the stress of this new challenge, I chose to brainstorm my goals for the next five years. Since I had also just moved into a new home, there were home improvement tasks weighing on my mind as well. And, as a writer, there were writing goals I hoped to accomplish in that time frame too. So instead of focusing strictly on work goals, I expanded my brainstorming exercise to include all three of these areas. Perhaps putting them down on paper would stave off at least some of the overwhelm.
I stuck five poster-sized sheets of paper on the wall, one for each year. I wrote the year at the top of each page, starting with 2015. I added two vertical lines on each sheet and labeled the three columns for each area of my life I was trying to organize – Work, Home, and Writing/Personal. On the last sheet, 2019, I noted toward the bottom of the Work column, “RETIRE.”
I stared at the five blank sheets in front of me, took a deep breath, and began to write. The more I wrote, the more thoughts buoyed to the surface. I focused on those heaviest on my mind, the work-related tasks. I thought about what I hoped to accomplish and how long I needed to realistically complete the task. I designated a color for each column just to please the artist in me. If my mind wandered to a home improvement task, I switched pens and wrote it down in the middle column of whatever year seemed plausible, or affordable. In the Writing/Personal column, I included physical fitness goals and a few spiritual things like Bible study and hosting a life group as well as writing projects. I effortlessly switched from year to year every once in while crossing something out on one sheet and adding it to another. The more I wrote the better I felt. Giving this multitude of tasks life outside of my head and each its own place in time over the next five years brought a sense of peace.
After 30 minutes or more I stepped back from the five giant sheets and took another deep breath. Few thoughts remained in my head. They were all displayed in colorful splatters of barley-legible ink staring back at me. The work-related tasks dominated every sheet, thinning a bit on the last two. The Home column tasks felt just as overwhelming outside my head as inside. Recognizing the investment of time, effort, and finances helped to maintain that underlying anxiety. My writing goals sparsely dotted the first three pages. The luxury of spare time and energy to write failed to materialize even on paper. But the personal goals helped to fill out that rather empty column on each sheet.
I scanned the list of projects, reading each one and filing them away in my head by year. As I reached the last sheet, 2019, my focus had been on that one word, “RETIRE,” but now another phrase caught my attention. There in the lower right-hand corner of the page was the year 2020 with a line under it and the words, “MOVE TO NEW YORK.”
Wait, what? Who’s moving to New York? I’m moving to New York?
I remembered writing those words. They flowed from the pen without a single thought. That was the problem. The notion of moving to New York never once entered my mind. The thought of trading my life in the perpetual sunshine of Southern California for the frigid winters of the northeast was pure fiction. I mean, I loved New York. I fell in love with it the moment I first set foot in New York City ten years earlier. I visited as often as possible and explored different areas of the state, falling even deeper in love with the Hudson Valley. It was my vacation destination, but it was never a place I thought I would live.
In the midst of the flurry of questions that now ran through my mind, the sheer terror I had just calmed tried to shake me once again. But something far stronger consumed me. It was unlike anything I experienced before, difficult to define. Writing down those four words changed my state of residency. It was that simple. As soon as the ink hit the paper it was so. As if God snapped His fingers and in that instant, I went from being a Californian to a New Yorker, its fruition merely delayed for a few years. How it was all going to happen was a complete mystery. But in faith, I believed. If it was truly God’s plan for me, He would make it happen.
I spent the next five years making my way through those lists. Many of the goals written that day shifted in both priority and desired outcome. Several were never attempted. But those four words written in the bottom corner of the last page never changed. The feeling that consumed me the moment I wrote them down existed just as strongly no matter how much time passed. I would live in New York in 2020. I knew it would happen, just didn’t know how.
So when my pastor issued that challenge in January of 2020, all those barely-legible ink splatters that once dominated my thoughts and consumed my to-do list were behind me, except one. I knew exactly who God was speaking to through him. It was time for me to take possession of what God had for me in New York.
I was recently reading the book of Joshua. Joshua was the man God chose to lead the Israelites after Moses died. He was the one who would bring them into the land God had promised them. Commentators believe that the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites took about six or seven years. In Chapter 18 of Joshua, we learn that the conquest was over. The Promised Land now finally belonged to Israel. Here’s what the Word says,
“The whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh and set up the tent of meeting there. The country was brought under their control, but there were still seven Israelite tribes who had not yet received their inheritance. So Joshua said to the Israelites: ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has given you?'” Joshua 18:1-3 (NIV)
After forty years without permanent housing, the Israelites finally had the opportunity to put down roots. The land promised to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, more than 400 years earlier was no longer a dream for some distant generation. It belonged to them. And yet seven of the 12 tribes had not yet grabbed hold of what God had given them. God used Joshua to challenge them. “What are you waiting for?”
I’m sure fear played a part in their hesitancy. Lack of familiarity with their surroundings and simply being in a new place certainly would have caused some anxiety. Transitioning to a completely different lifestyle, from nomadic tent-dwelling to permanent homeownership would have made anyone hesitant especially if tent-dwelling was all you had ever known. But this land was God’s gift to them and it was time. He had prepared the land for them and them for the land.
I relate to the hesitancy of those seven tribes. Leaving the comfort of familiarity, not to mention family, friends, and loved ones created some reluctance in tackling that last-standing goal of mine. Going from the relatively mild change of seasons in Southern California to the definite and dramatic seasonal changes of upstate New York brought all kinds of doubts into my mind. I wouldn’t know my ability to handle a tough winter until I experienced it, and then it would be too late to turn back. And, although I had been a homeowner (not a tent-dweller), I was going from suburbia to rural, from the choice of any number of Target stores within a 10-mile radius to one Target store 40 miles away. Aside from this comfort-driven apprehension, I struggled with the simple fact that I had no clue where to begin. I needed to move what felt like a mountain and I wasn’t sure which rock to pick up first, or how to do it.
Those doubts, fears, and uncertainties kept me still. I knew and firmly believed God wanted me in New York, but I needed to hear those words of my pastor just as the Israelites needed to hear them from Joshua. New York was God’s plan for me. Now I had to take possession of the promise. My belief had to translate into action. He had prepared the land for me and He had prepared me for the land.
This May will mark two years since I became a New York resident. When I think back to how insurmountable a feat it seemed, I’m amazed at how easy God made it. Each step fell perfectly into place when it was supposed to even in the midst of a global pandemic. God orchestrated every person He knew I needed and every one of them blessed me with their kindness, expertise, care, love, and patience. I love every season I get to experience here in New York, even the winter, and I feel blessed to live somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of what I once knew. I may not know every detail of God’s plan for me here. But I know He’s placed me here for a purpose and discovering that purpose is part of the adventure.
I’m not sure why God had me share this part of my journey with you. I can only imagine that at least one of you may have needed the same nudge or challenge that I needed and that the Israelites needed. Has God given you a promise, direction, or instruction? Is it fear that’s holding you back? Uncertainty? Doubt or discomfort? In the words of Joshua, and my former pastor, “What are you waiting for?” If He’s prepared it for you, He’s also prepared you for it.
Thank you, Father, for your faithfulness to your promises. I pray, Lord, that we would trust you in those promises and take the steps you want us to take when you want us to take them. Lord, help us to know in the depths of our being that if you have promised something to us and have made clear to us what our next step should be, you will be faithful to carry us all the way through until the promise is realized. Help us to take hold of that promise with both hands and let go of the doubt, or fear, or uncertainty that has become like a security blanket to us. Lord, thank you for placing the right people in the right places to help us take each step and for giving us the nudge of encouragement we need. Give us the confidence to step out in faith. In Jesus name we pray, amen.