It has been God's way of working in our lives - his modus operandi - to point the way ahead of time. Linda and I have rarely been forced to scratch our heads about the future, about God's will, about our next adventure. He's shown us what's next sometimes before we were ready to accept it; sometimes before anyone else knew about it.
We parked one Christmas night at midnight in the parking lot across from a tiny country church in agrarian Southern California and prayed. But the prayer was unnecessary to determine what God was up to. We knew we were headed to Nuevo for a new thing. The prayer was more like, "God, are you sure? You want to rethink this? Nuevo? Don't you have some other options?" The church had been ravaged by internal strife, had struggled by with about thirty-five congregants, and had meager resources with which to pay a pastor, save for the offer of the parsonage next door to the church and painted the same color (always a disadvantage for the parson).
But we knew. We were going to live there. It was what God planned.
Seven years and lots of ministry later, God pointed his finger to the northeast. Linda and I were celebrating our anniversary on Mt. San Jacinto. After dinner we took a little hike, sat on a rock overlooking Palm Springs, and I said, "Larry told me he mentioned my name to a church in Michigan that needs a pastor." Linda didn't tell me at the time, but a few weeks later she let it out that when she heard those words on the mountain, her stomach turned and she became nauseated. It wasn't the celebratory dinner, it was the surety God had placed in her heart that Royal Oak, MI was to be our new home.
From that June day we talked about going to Michigan with an almost arrogant presumption. "When we live in Michigan it will snow at Christmas." "When we get to Michigan we'll have a big garden." Meanwhile, the folks in Royal Oak were just barely getting started with the search for a pastor, and they had a pretty good idea of who they wanted that pastor to be, and it wasn't me.
They didn't call me until February. They flew Linda and me out in April for an overnight interview. We were told later that the trip was just a formality; the search team had a candidate in mind but thought they should investigate another one so that they could say they'd done their job. But if Linda and I had any doubts before that visit, they were all gone by the flight home. We were becoming Michiganders.
When the congregation held a meeting to take a vote, and the meeting was going on three hours, I admit I began to think we'd misinterpreted God's signals. But we squeaked by on the vote and went back to CA to pack our bags for the Midwest.
These last four years, however, things haven't been so clear. We're flying by the seat of our pants. It's not that God has left us - abandoned and lost without a map. There have been times when our direction was sure: leaving the church, bringing my parents from CA to live with us, pursuing writing, speaking, and the interim position at Livonia. But the distinctiveness of God's former dealings have changed. Now he leads not by photographs, clear and bright with good contrast, but by impressionistic grace, a Monet with blurred blues and dappled golds which creates the atmosphere of his will, not necessarily the details. He provides a lilly pad at a time, and we carefully tread out on the water.
Here I stand, on this lilly pad, for this summer. I have a deadline of September 1 to finish a book project that began just a few weeks ago. The decision about which lilly pad in this broad pond is the next location for my feet will have to wait until September. Until then, here I stand.