There is something about October, with its chill autumn evenings and the freshness of the leaf-scented air. It is both bracing in its wholesomeness and nostalgic in its cozy, crisp, and reminiscent atmosphere. I cannot ever encounter October apart from so many memories, along with back-porch fire pits, and apple cider, and walks that purposely meander towards the crunchiest of fallen leaves.
It was two years ago in October when I knew that Lynchburg wasn’t going to let me go. Little did I suspect what the next two years would have in store, as I sat reading Kierkegaard’s Works of Love in the splendour of a perfect autumn day. But through many and various, joyous and difficult, unexpected and uncontrollable changes, I never once entertained a doubt as to whether or not indeed Lynchburg would decide to slacken its grasp on my affections … until a few months ago.
I hadn’t been working, since there’s no substitute teaching to do in the summertime. Most of my friends and housemates had grown apart or moved away. I was, quite suddenly, no longer the member of a church. And the last remaining thread by which I was still connected to Lynchburg was being rather persistently tugged at, until I wondered whether it also might not break. And under the weight of this lack of responsibility, this utter infinity of possibility, I took a walk to clear my mind. This time it was mid-July, the trees were green and full of leaves, the wind was lively though the air was dense and warm.
My heart directed my steps once more towards Percival’s Island, where I sat for awhile in the midday sun, and prayed and wept. I could come to no clear understanding of where my circumstances might lead me, and it rent a very deep corner of my heart even to think that my time in Lynchburg might come to an end. And as I prayed and wondered, I just felt an impulse: right or wrong, give it time. Stick where your roots have grown deep, though they no longer drink deeply the waters of old associations. Wait, and persevere, and see what God will do.
Within a week, I received a phone call asking me if I’d like to interview to work as a care attendant for a ten-year-old boy with cerebral palsy for a couple of days each week. And thus, with the acceptance of this unexpected opportunity, the first of my new responsibilities was secured, and the problem of “career” for me was solved, at least for quite some time. I could never have predicted what an abundant blessing this one simple occupation would become. It at once provided me with meaningful, year-round employment (which nonetheless still allows me to sub during the school year, which I also love), along with the joy of caring for a child who delights in my company and who continues to astound me with his growth and his abundance of love. His grandparents need me and are grateful for me, and I am ever more grateful for their kindness and generosity as well.
The problems of church and socialization have been far more complex, discouraging, and humbling … and they’ve taken quite a lot more than a week to solve. For though meaningful, robust, life-giving work makes up some part of my fulfillment in life, the dearth in my life of Christian fellowship and dedication to a church family, and … well, “hanging out” with people … left me still largely unsatisfied and unhappy. Visiting church after church, elevating hopes only to have them disappointed week after week, feeling a constant sense of unsettled, uncomfortable out-of-place-ness — church shopping and its many intricacies could probably fill a blog post of its own. I wanted to belong, but in a meaningful sense — not just because there are people who are trivially like me, but because there are people who desire to submit wholly to Christ, to Scripture, and then to one another. I wanted to be useful, but didn’t want to have to create a place for my usefulness. I wanted to have order and liturgy and depth. I wanted there to be a perfect place … but there isn’t one.
And so, after finding no church particularly suitable to my situation, I went with my Lynchburg family to a church they’d heard about via some podcast or blog or something or other. It was okay. I dunno, I kinda liked it. I didn’t have that “this is it” feeling, but I also didn’t feel out of place. We visited again. I don’t know, what about this or that shortcoming … maybe not, but still … maybe? Tired of feeling conflicted and confused, tired of bouncing about for months from church to church, longing for commitment, I prayed that God would clarify my thoughts, would humble my desires and align them with His own, would help me to see the church as He sees it, and to see whether or not He wanted me to have a place in it.
And that’s when I met Nancy, whose name, interestingly, is the same as mine. And she introduced me to people and sat with me during church since I’d come alone, while the others who’d been visiting with me were away for the weekend. And she invited me to lunch with about twenty or so other twenty-somethings. And the people at lunch invited me to Thursday evening get-togethers. And I was giving people rides to and from lunch, and talking and laughing and having fun, and worshiping God genuinely in the service, and feeling quite myself, and quite at home … “this is right.”
Last night, before any of that, I had decided to begin reading Works of Love again, because I find that about every two years, I need to be reminded of what Christian love truly means. And as I sat on the back deck reading today after church and lunch, my thoughts returned to that October two years ago, and I gratefully and joyfully realized that God hasn’t finished with my time in Lynchburg yet. And so October this year marks somewhat of a new beginning. Little do I know what the next two years might bring. I don’t know what all I may come to do, or how I may come to do it, or with whom, or why, or when. But I do know where, at least for now.
And I am forever more and more amazed at the quiet, subtle workings of Providence in my life. How loving of God, and how very kind and merciful, to grant me opportunities unexpectedly, to invite me and to grant me the impulse to submit to them, to guide me through them. I’m not the type to jump at the chance to hang out with large groups of people or to chat with people I just met or to take a job at short notice on a whim. But I almost always find that I’m better off to have taken those opportunities than otherwise. And regardless of the means He uses, whether trial or blessing or chastisement or community (that are really sort of all jumbled up into one wonderful thing called His will, which is perfect and good), God somehow orchestrates my life so beautifully — would that He will indeed take captive my every fleeting thought and emotion, and keep me by the knowledge of His faithfulness far away from the presumptuous sins of dissatisfaction, faithless and hopeless dejection, pride, and self-seeking ill-humor. I am glad that He understands me better than I understand myself, and knows what I need better than I know, and provides for those needs so naturally and easily and far more completely than I ever could. I do not yet know what church life or work life or home life or anything really will look like even a few months from now, but I am humbled by the grace of God in granting me the faith to believe that He, at least, knows very well.