My husband has gone turkey hunting… He thought I would sleep longer, that I would not be awake much before he got back. He hung blankets over the windows to ensure that his night-shift nurse would keep slumbering, while he pursued those bearded wild birds. I awoke, though, at 9:30, and it seemed like time to get up.
And now it feels like time to write a blog post—a nostalgic and thoughtful time. Sometimes I recollect my life like a narrative, tracing the threads that tie it all together. Sometimes I become anxious, allowing my eyes to focus on the failures and the pain. Sometimes I allow the mistakes I have made, my imperfections, to define me. This is often how that exercise goes. But then—thanks to the grace of a loving heavenly Father—my attention is grabbed by something else, something outside of me, and I stand back and let the shame and the sorrow and the regrets wash away, as I stare at the thread that ties all of my past together. The thread of redemption shines clear in His Love; He calls me His child and uses each thing for His glory. My past? It is not a record of my own worthlessness. No. It is a record of redemption, a record of His worthiness, a record of His love for me…
I think the reason I’m mentally reliving my past recently is due to an exciting tidbit of news I have to share. Do you remember last spring, when I mentioned working on a book about my experiences in Bangladesh? Thanks to the kind people at CLP, How Beautiful the Dusty Road has been accepted for publication.
In editing this book, one more time, my mind has again retraced the path that led me to Bangladesh, and the love I found there. In writing, somehow, we do look for that thread that weaves our story, and for me, that story starts long before Bangladesh. Let me tell you about the grace that has held me together, the God Who has kept me from falling.
I remember, as a 19-year-old, sitting beside a river one day, crying. The reason I was crying might seem funny, but it didn’t feel funny at the time. I had just come from a meeting with an academic advisor, and she had more or less informed me that my goal of becoming a nurse would take the next 4 years of my life. She seemed confused by my anxiety at that fact—as though wondering what else a 19-year-old Mennonite girl has to do other than go to college for 4 years. She had no clue, right? What 19-year-old Mennonite girls want to do is get married—not all, but probably most—and I was not immune.
Did I have a crush on someone? Yes. Am I telling you anything else? No.
Four years seems long when you are nineteen. So I sat there by the river and cried, as I pictured myself studying and working my way through college while all of my friends pursued life, love, and romance… Eventually though, a peace settled over me. I could not picture what the next couple years of my life would look like. I didn’t know if I would fail out of nursing school, which nursing school I would go to, or if marriage would ever be an option. I didn’t know if I would be a missionary nurse, or some other kind of nurse…
But I felt God nudging me to move forward, one step at a time. I surrendered my future to Him—all my longings and fears. And He pointed out my path, moment by moment.
That path walked through dark places. Weeks before I started my RN program, my dad received a terminal diagnosis. His cancer had metastasized to his brain. Looking ahead, afraid and unsure, I asked my mom if I should drop out of nursing school. Goals like college seemed to have little value.
“No,” she said. “You need to go to nursing school. You need to keep living.”
So I went to nursing school. The first few weeks I lived right on the edge, barely staying sane. Over that time, my brother received a stem cell transplant for his own battle with cancer and lived in the hospital for weeks. I remember going to classes and rushing home to visit him… Somehow, God pulled me through it. One step at a time.
The next summer, at the end of my junior year, my dad moved into the down-stairs room where a hospital bed was set up. We knew the end was near, but we didn’t know when it would be. Again I asked my mom if I should drop out of nursing school—plan to not return for my senior year.
“Just wait and see,” she said.
So I waited. My dad took a turn for the worse the day before my last Med-Surg test. I emailed my instructor, to let her know that I might not be able to make it in the morning. She replied with compassion, answering that I should do whatever I needed to do, that a test could be made up.
The next morning my dad was better, so I went and took my last test. I passed it—I don’t remember what grade I got, but, thanks to the grace of God, I passed. Not that I cared much anymore.
I went home and stayed home for the next few weeks, helping my mom and dad however I could. My dad passed away the Thursday morning before the Tuesday we were due back at school. The morning following his funeral, I returned for my senior year.
God, I decided, must want me to be a nurse. Why, I didn’t know… My own desire to be that educated, successful nurse had waned. My love of nursing and the feeling that He had a plan was still there…
And so, I graduated nursing school. Following my graduation, I spent two years anxiously trying to learn how to work on a variety of units in the hospital. By that time, many of my friends had married and were somewhat distant from my life. A few were left, and I was grateful for these. But I hit a sort-of stalemate—still grieving, a little restless, feeling at times like a failure. Was this God’s plan for my life?
I now believe it was. You see, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that God does not look at life the way I look at life. He doesn’t require me to accomplish amazing things every moment. He doesn’t love me just for who I am, or what I can do. He loves me for the person He is making me through redemption. He rejoices when He watches me walk through trials and come out a little wiser and a little less selfish. He rejoices when He watches me break and realize that I am nothing, nothing at all… Even though it hurts.
God is looking at a different picture.
Somewhere in my spiritual struggle to feel that God had a purpose for my life, I decided I needed a term at Bible-school. And so I went to Faith Builders Winter Term, feeling a little like God would show me a big mission—reveal to me that He was calling me to India to save the orphan babies, for instance. Instead, He told me what He had told me so often before. “Wait on me. I am with you. I love you. I know the plans I have for you, and they are very good.”
I shed some healing tears and went home to cheerfully plug back into my hospital career.
And then Ben. Not India, not a new job. Just a boyfriend and then a pandemic.
Wait, God, what?
And then, the possibility of spending six months or longer in Bangladesh opened up, just like that. The missionary nurse position I had once dreamed of.
Well, God, do I want that or do I want to stay home and finish dating Ben?
I prayed, I watched for direction, I surrendered it, and I realized that whether I went or not had little to do with what I wanted, and much to do with what God wanted. There was, after-all, a pandemic raging. There were no airplanes available from JFK to Bangladesh.
Only weeks before my scheduled departure, the airlines resumed business. My visa? Returned to me speedily. My COVID swab? Negative—despite the fact that my mom was even then infectious, as we know now.
God wanted me to go. And so I went.
And my time in Bangladesh helped persuade me that the boyfriend I wasn’t sure about was the man I should marry. And I do not doubt that God orchestrated that too.
Through the darkest, most confusing, times in my life, God pointed out the way, moment by moment. That is how, when I look back and realize my darkest failings and my own inadequacies and wonder why I am where I am, I know. It is not me. It is God.
Has he ever failed thee yet? Never, never, wherefore fret? Let not thy heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid… ~Amy Carmichael
I would encourage each one of you to trace the thread of your own life back and remember how God placed you where you are and how He has led you faithfully. The exercise stirs worship and gratitude in my heart, and I have no doubt it will do the same for you.
Back to the subject of How Beautiful the Dusty Road—that book-to-be recounts more of my story of God’s faithfulness. And that manuscript, in itself, is an example of God’s leading.
I was inspired to write the story of my time volunteering soon after I started working at SALT clinic in Bangladesh. I began journaling, even though I had no idea if or how I would be able to write my story for the public.
I was frustrated, meanwhile, when I realized that I needed to take more classes than I had been planning to graduate with my BSN in Spring 2021. Somewhat mollified when I saw a creative writing class available, I signed up. Then I received an email that the class was cancelled. Irritated and faithless again, I emailed someone and asked if there were any other writing classes they would recommend, pointing out that I was very disappointed that they had cancelled my class.
And then I got the emails that said that the writing professor of the dropped class would like to do an independent study one-on-one with me, and she would help me with whatever writing project I would like to work on. I had a dream just waiting for an opportunity like that.
Well, God, you surprised me again!
Suffice it to say that God works in mysterious ways, and our own frustrations and doubts profit us little.
Hath God forgotten to be gracious? Hath he in anger shut up His tender mercies? And I said, This is my infirmity: but… I will remember the work of the Lord… ~from Psalm 77:9-11