One time, I found myself driving around Chicago on a mission not my own. As I drove into the city, I found myself both happy and heavy—excited to be back in a place where I felt most comfortable and happy as an adult, yet heavier and sadder as I passed landmarks that I’d not seen in years. Floods of memories washed over me, and my countenance began to fall as I longed to be back in the place where I’d felt I belonged. Familiar resentment swam around the corners of my mouth; lips downturned as I traipsed back and forth into a big old white van, dreading the moment I’d pull out of my favorite city once more.
As I found myself sliding into the final stage of my backwards grief cycle (trying to calculate when life would free me again to actually do what I’d set out to do in life before I was beset by all the things I had never wanted), The Holy Spirit spoke to me. Three words. I’ll never forget it:
Remember Lot’s wife.
I never intended on being a mother. And I don’t say that as something mean or dismissive of the gravity and importance of motherhood; it’s just that on my list of a dozen or so things I wanted to accomplish in life, wife was last, and mother never made it on the list. In my mind, I’d be the well-travelled, eccentric aunt whose life consisted of exotic locales and book signings and readings. I would sit at the feet of all the authors and poets of my youth sucking up their wisdom, then hold literary court with my contemporaries as a life of letters enveloped me. I would read and write and read and write, my days spent collapsed in a pile of notes and revisions stained with coffee and blueberry muffin crumbs brought to me by my professor husband on his way to lecture, my nights filled with gatherings and poetry and conscious songs and witty essayists and midnight inspiration. I would shower my family with gifts from the Continent, document my adventures in published memoirs and collections of memories manifested as unique gifts and secret treasures.
Instead, I am so many years into doing the last thing that ever crossed my mind, parent to teenage girls–and nearly 2 decades into marriage with a pastor who just figured out he still wanted to pastor then retired out of the blue. I have back-burnered my writing to free moments far and few between, have yet to have a passport by stamped, lived life on schedules not my own. The only place where I felt even a little close to touching a piece of my dreams was Chicago. Being there gave me hope that it would not always be the way it has been.
And yet, the Spirit of God clearly chastised my thinking–my longing for what I had aspired to. After I heard the words Remember Lot’s Wife, these words flowed past my eyes like the ticker-tape on CNN:
This is why looking back is not good—you get salty.
TELL ME WHY God do me like this?
So as I write this right now, I do not spin words into written melodies as someone who has come out on the other side of sacrifice. I am still smack dab in the middle of a life that still feels really foreign to me sometimes (especially when my kids start doing teenage stuff and my husband acts like the American made man that he is). I write from the sidelines of a life that seems as though it is passing me by while I yell about clean rooms and dirty dishes and bills that need to be paid before fun and talk frankly about changing bodies and high expectations and cry lonely tears and angry silent sobs. But I also write from a place no longer consumed by secret frustrations and regret. I finally stepped into what Paul said best: forgetting what is behind and straining for what is ahead, I press toward the mark (Phillipians 3).
It is not one that I had chosen for myself; indeed, were I to tell my whole story about how I got here in the first place, how these years really breaks down, the mark would seem impossible. Yet here I am, determined that if nothing else, I am able to count the former dream as loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ. I am able to rest in this idea that God’s salvation isn’t just about my present and future but my past–eternity. And I can thank God for being the One who was and is and is to come. I can thank God that all these twists and turns MEAN something not just for me but for the kingdom of God.
I get a chance to do what Lot’s Wife missed: an opportunity to do greater and be greater if I just trust God and walk into the unknown and not turn back.
And that is the lesson for today. What is behind you—behind me is not as wonderful as what is ahead. What is coming is greater than what has been. But only if you choose to look at it, look for it, look forward to it. Only you get to decide how your life will go: a place of bitterness and mourning? Or the life of great expectations and joy? Why choose to keep turning around in confusion and regret?
Set your focus. Proceed into the promises.