When I first felt called to seminary I decided this was the moment in my life where I would be adventurous and go BIG. I started looking into schools in my hometown and quickly learned that somehow being a woman disqualified you from earning a Masters in Divinity. This was tough. And I was left with literally 1 option in my city. And to be honest, it wasn’t the flashiest, most difficult school either. And theologically speaking, they came from a completely different background than me.
And so, being the overachiever, straight-A student that I am, I decided I would take this opportunity to attend a top ranked Seminary.
The catch… we would have to move.
There were great schools all over the country. And the more I looked into them, the more I desperately wanted to do something adventurous like pack up, move across the country for a few years, and immerse myself into graduate school. I was stoked.
The catch… God kept closing doors.
Tommy and I had only been married a couple of years when I came to him with the brilliant plan of quitting my full time job, packing up, moving to California, and attending graduate school. Good thing I snagged the greatest, most supportive husband ever. Any normal husband would have thought his wife completely lost her mind and would have immediately sought counseling. Tommy, on the other hand, entertained my adventurous plan with me. We talked, dreamed, and discussed what life would look like if we did this. And, to my surprise, God shut the door on my BIG adventurous plan and revealed that I be faithful in the small, little school in town.
So, I was obedient. Kind of. I started attending the small seminary in town but dreamed of bigger and better schools. Of when I would be able to transfer and attend the school of my dreams. I dreamed of my classroom discussions and travels across the country. I had the perfect plan; I would go the small school in town for a couple of years and then transfer to my dream school. It was perfect.
Until… it never happened.
Until, a little over halfway through seminary, I knew God wanted me to remain where I was and graduate from the small, theologically diverse school in my hometown.
This remains one of my greatest regrets in life. I spend 2 and a half years dreaming of a different school, time, and season in life. I went through the motions and was never fully present where God placed me. And so, when I finally came to terms that THIS was, in fact, where God had me… I mourned the loss of the relationships, friends, lessons, and classes I never fully experienced.
I wish I could admit this was the only time in my life where I got caught up in dreaming about the hypothetical future and forgot to live in the complicated present… But it’s not.
Time and time again, I am guilty of “When-Then” living.
WHEN I go to my dream school, THEN cell spy I will really invest in my education.
WHEN life slows down, THEN I will be the wife, mom, friend I want to be.
WHEN the girls get older, THEN I will be able to enjoy this stage with them.
WHEN I get through this work week, THEN I will be able to enjoy my time with my family.
“WHEN- THEN” living is the quiet temptation that lurks in the shadows of my life’s day-in-day-out struggles.
Recently, I came across a passage in 1 Kings 17. Here, God directs the prophet Elijah during a drought, to go to a widow’s house and ask her for some bread.
Here’s what it says in 1 Kings 17:12-13:
“As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’” She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.
Yep, that’s crazy. You read it right. Elijah asks the widow for some food. The widow says, I’m about to make some bread for me and my son and then we’re just going to die… Elijah, I don’t have enough for you too. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen.
Elijah doesn’t buy it and instead responds with, BUT FIRST make me some bread and then God will supply you and your son with more than enough for each day.
The widow says WHEN I get more food, THEN I’ll give you something to eat.
Elijah says nope, it doesn’t work like that with God. BUT FIRST give me all you have, and then God will supply you with all you need. It’s a reversal on our human logic. When I get more money, then I’ll give more away. When I get more time, then I’ll do what God is calling me to do.
When I…. then I …. That’s logical, right?
But here God is calling the widow to step outside of the “WHEN, THEN” and faithfully live in the “BUT FIRST.”
Those 2 little words are pretty powerful if you stop and think about it. Those words cause me to live in the present. To trust when I’m lost and confused. To give when I’m empty. To let go when I’m clinging. To embrace when I’ve forgotten.
I can’t help but wonder how applying these 2 little words to my daily life would impact not only my faith but also the way I embraced and lived each day.
If I stopped saying to God, “When ….. then…..”
And instead chose to say “but first.”
I’d be lying if I said my life wasn’t ridiculously busy and complicated right now. Sometimes I have days so full with joy and hope and love that I can barely hold it in. And others… well, I feel like I am doing all I can to not drown in the craziness of this season.
But what if my hope and focus wasn’t on the next “fill in the blank” that was going to make my life a little easier and instead on embracing the BUT FIRST of each day.
BUT FIRST I will be the mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend I want to be… despite the schedules, craziness, and busyness surrounding me.
BUT FIRST I will fully live in each day I have been blessed with.
BUT FIRST I will use the little time, resources, energy, love, faith, and hope I have TODAY. One day a time.
Those are the 2 little words I’m seeking to live by today.