by Elaine Nguyen, Class of 2012
Here’s the thing about me: I am a planner. It’s how I function and it’s what I do, often to overwrought and borderline obsessive detail. During autumn quarter of my freshman year, I walked into my faculty advising appointment with all four years of college planned out -- down to what quarter I would take so-and-so class required for my major and fully aware of which courses were only offered every other year. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We haven’t even touched my extensive lists or penchant for color-coding information -- all done via cloud computing to easily sync multiple devices and provide cross-platform compatibility. Of course.
Why exactly am I disclosing this? Because I want you to be able to gauge what it means when I say this week’s Lectio -- on subverted messianic expectations and plans going awry in God’s upside-down kingdom -- resonates with me. With its many doubts and re-evaluations, I feel like this past year has been an exercise in ruined plans and unanticipated changes. Transitions like graduating can do that to you. This summer, in particular, was all sorts of unexpected.
For one, I moved around a lot. Over the span of four months, I finished out a lease, sub-letted, house sat, couch surfed, and then returned home. For another, I was still job hunting. Given that most of my fellow accounting majors had received job offers six or more months ago, I was rather frustrated. Working at my internship took up more space than intended, and many life-giving relationships weren’t given space at all. So on and so forth. It wasn’t a terrible or overly tumultuous situation, by any means, but it’s certainly nothing I would have chosen for myself. I like steps falling neatly into place and, needless to say, post-graduation goals didn’t involve such steps as living with my parents.
And yet -- this was the summer I needed. Oh, don’t get me wrong; I resisted and resented being caught in suspension. But having my expectations broken was a slow revelation, a begrudging transition that led to its own remarkable transformation. Remarkable, really, because it basically happened in spite of me. Remarkable, yes, in that way deserts look like coarseness and desolation until you look again. (That’s a lesson I keep learning -- always look again.)
Look again, and it turns out displacement can be a space for generosity. It’s the strangest feeling to house-sit for people who manage, even in their absence, to extend the warmth and hospitality of their home. It’s a wonderful and curious thing.
Look again, and y’know that whole job thing? There might be biases to confront and ways to re-imagine your context. For me, putting aspects like business networking (which I was inclined to decry as thinly veiled self-interest and disingenuous conversation) in terms of pastoral ministry (i.e., “What does it look like to minister and serve someone I’ve just met?”) shifted my entire perspective. After all, networking involves meeting real people who have real qualities about them if you’re willing to honestly engage.
Look again, and there’s reason enough to be thankful for family. Car problems and a series of doctor appointments taught me -- as much as I fuss about being independent and having everything under control already, gosh -- young adults still need their parents. What ever the shape or scope of our (sometimes strained) relationship is, I am knit to my family.
When you don’t get to choose for yourself, you are put in the incredibly humbling place of learning to receive. When I am stripped of my tools in desert exile, I cannot fashion the image I most like -- human plans with human forms and human beauty; I cannot twist my creative capacity to cast my own limited visions. (Or, at the very least, it’s much more difficult to do so. I’m pretty good at mucking things up and finding ways to build a golden calf or two in the wilderness -- all the while thinking myself terribly resourceful for melting what gold rings and material I do have -- but that illusion gets thrown down rather quickly.) If I respond faithfully, it is posture of dependence. It’s waiting like a baby bird to be fed, open need and all.
A friend once put it for me like this: sometimes God makes confetti out of our big plans for ourselves and uses it to celebrate God’s greater design for the kingdom. On my part, I am learning how to not be a party-pooper when the time calls for it -- how to celebrate when the barrenness of the desert becomes a source of renewal, how to see divine glory when pagan kings are used as instruments for deliverance, how to rejoice when dead has come to life and what was loss has been found.