I sat there in a sea of people, on a communist wooden chair with tattered and faded lime green upholstery. But it wasn't the chair that made me restlessly shift in my seat.
"Hannah, are you going to build your kingdom, or are you going to build Mine?"
Tears streamed down my face. His voice was familiar, inviting and full of grace. Still, that question felt offensive, because it shone light on that piece of my heart I had done such a good job convincing myself was fine. It brought me face to face with my “ugly” that desperately needed his grace.
For those of you who don't know me very well, or are foggy on some of my background, I grew up as a missionary kid in the Czech Republic. So, fifteen years of my life were spent as a "missionary in a foreign field" (s/o to Coldplay!). My parents actually still serve over there with an organization called Josiah Venture and are reaching their 20 year anniversary in February! I keep asking them if they plan on staying there forever and their answer is always the same: “The harvest is ready and our work is nowhere near done.”
I love the way I grew up; it has made me who I am today. However, going back wasn’t in my plan, at least not for the foreseeable future - as if my tomorrow could even be foreseen. People ask me all the time if I plan on returning and following in the footsteps of my parents, and I could genuinely say: "I am open to it and could definitely see someday far in the future when I have a family, but I would need God to call me back very clearly and I don't sense that He is right now." That is all true, but it was what went unsaid that was the problem. I had a different vision for my life and the people that asked didn't see that piece of my heart - my “ugly”. It's that piece where, really, I wasn't even giving God the opportunity to call me back because I was afraid He actually might.
I’ve had several conversations with my dad over the past couple of years about returning. These dialogues would come up as I was wrestling through whatever role I was working my way through in the business world - feeling like what I really wanted to do was get in the trenches with people and develop healthy leaders and teams. The conversation usually went down like this:
Dad: "Hannah, you know that everything you're saying you want to do with your life, describes an actual opportunity and need we have here in central and eastern Europe?"
Me: "I know, Dad. But no. I'm not coming back until I get married or God calls me very clearly. I’m on a track here."
The reality is that in that hidden piece of my heart - the one I was protecting so fiercely - was a plan. My plan for what my life would look like and how I would serve God. It feels ridiculous and embarrassing to even say this out loud, but I keep reminding myself I’m living dented, not polished. So, here was the plan: I’d spend a few years working and killing it in corporate America as I worked my way to the top - not for the sake of climbing the corporate ladder, but for the sake of a good backstory. Like, one that could go on the inside cover of my book underneath a great picture. Then, once I gained enough skills to make me an expert, I’d leave the world I never truly desired to be in behind, take my money and go start a nonprofit organization. With all of that cross-cultural, ministry, production, and corporate experience under my belt, I would help a lot of Christian non-profit organizations produce more fruit, coach leaders, write that book on The Dented Life and travel the world speaking. All for the glory of God, right!? NO! Oh my gosh, no. Do you hear how crazy that plan sounded!? My plan. My ugly. People seeing and knowing me. Me being successful in my work. People looking to me for help. It's laughable.
Now, I feel like I need to say that I do desire to serve God and make Him seen and known in and through my life. I do have a deep deep desire to serve and love people well. I just lived as if how I would accomplish that was my decision. Like my purpose was all mine to define and that if I could be seen and known while making God seen and known in my work - it would be a win-win!
Though I loved my upbringing and believed that God was using Josiah Venture and everyone involved to equip the local church and develop young leaders in Central and Eastern Europe, I didn't believe it was for me. I wasn’t thrilled about going back to what I grew up in. What would people think!? That I’m not capable of being successful anywhere else? That I play it safe? I wanted to be seen and known for paving my own path, and kicking butt doing it. And I was making it happen, working for a consulting firm in downtown Chicago, on my way to becoming a consultant. But at what cost?
What I thought was at stake was my independence and my strategic plan - including my reputation and future. But what was really at stake was my heart. I could say my heart is completely devoted to Christ and I live my life for him. I have been telling God that I would say YES - I would go anywhere and do anything for Him. But was that really true, when back in that corner of my heart, I whispered: "Just not there?" So, as long as that little piece of my heart was saying no and holding out for my plan - putting conditions on the “yes” I give to God, I wasn't really truly saying, “Yes”. That small "no", was a lot bigger than I realized.
You know, in those defining moments in life, where everything you believe about the given situation flashes before your eyes? Everything you just read is what flashed before mine on that tattered green communist chair in the middle of that sea of faces....at Josiah Venture's last fall conference in September. I was there to rest, but God brought me there to stop me from going too far down my own path. That night's speaker had just finished asking the question: "What in your life needs to die, so that you can hear and respond to the call of God?" As He asked that, I heard my Heavenly Father gently asking: "Hannah, are you going to build your kingdom or Mine; make yourself seen and known or make Me seen and known?" The answer to these questions for me was very clear:
1. I need to die. My plan needs to die, so that...
2. I can wholeheartedly, with no conditions and no "no's", say YES to building God's kingdom and making Him seen and known
Jesus said so clearly: “...if anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow.” So, if I am following Jesus, who am I to tell Him what that’s going to look like? That night, when I chose to repent and die to self, to withhold no piece of my heart, no "YES," from God, I was able to hear clearly and respond with obedience. And not begrudgingly. Rather, it was an obedience borne out of love and gratitude for how He has loved me. With total joy and excitement that I get to be all in for my Father, who did not withhold His only Son, but gave Him freely so that I could have an eternity of hope to hold onto as I live. And I get to be all in for Jesus, who said YES to His Father and went to the cross for me because He loved me that much. How could I not respond with a whole heart of YES!?
Jeremy Taylor penned this prayer and oh, does it resonate with my heart as I begin this new year: "Lord, do Thou turn me all into love, and all my love into obedience, and let my obedience be without interruption."
So, here I am. Saying a heartfelt YES to returning with Josiah Venture. Saying YES to starting the support raising process. I’m preparing to move to Estonia (yes, you've heard of it - they invented Skype!), to join an incredible team that is equipping young people in Central and Eastern Europe to fulfill Christ's commission and make disciples. Raising up young Josiah's who will say Yes to God. Being a part of that movement could only start with me saying Yes to God's invitation, and it will need to be followed by a lot more Yeses from me and the people God calls to partner with me in this ministry. I have no idea what God has in store, what twists and turns are on the road ahead. But I do know that my God is big, He is good and I can trust Him as I pursue Him with open hands and a surrendered heart. I want nothing more for my life than to be a woman who says Yes to God, no matter the cost.
And that is my New Year's resolution this year: To be God's without reservation. To withhold no piece of my heart from Him. To always give a resounding, joyful, surrendered, wholehearted Yes to the One who withheld nothing from me. And I believe that from this posture of choosing to say no to some things so that I can say Yes to God, I will actually find that He has greater things in store for me than anything I choose to let go of.
What about you, friend? What invitation from God has you shifting restlessly in your seat? Is there a Yes you’re afraid to give? What is the cost of saying yes? More importantly, what is the cost of saying no?
Oh, that this prayer by Ignatius would be true of all of us this year: "My dear Jesus is so deeply written in my heart, that if my heart were to be cut open and chopped into pieces, the name of Jesus would be written on every piece." No small pieces tucked away for me or my plan.
Every. Single. Piece. Given to Jesus and bearing the name of Jesus.
I’d love to hear from you! Please, please leave a comment or shoot me a message. I can’t wait to talk! And if you’re interested in checking out Josiah Venture or would consider partnering with me in raising up young leaders in Estonia, click here.