Puzzle Pieces Unite?

[Part 7 in a narrative of Liz’s calling into counseling as a member of health care team in an inner city.]

For all my discussions with counselees about overcoming barriers to obedience in their own lives and relationships, I am a wimp. Yet by this point in my journey, I am a desperate wimp, who has been tasting God’s faithfulness and steadfast love and who is longing for answers to prayer.

So I do what many desperate wimps might do in my situation: I hide behind my role with Medical Campus Outreach and start touring the booths at the Global Missions Health Conference. Asking about information for other people feels much more safe than asking for yourself. So I begin collecting information from a group that donates medical supplies to short-term trips, something that could potentially be useful for neighborhood outreaches that MCO holds. A simple conversation about glucometers leads the woman to ask me what I’m passionate about (gulp!) which prompts a conversation with the man in the next booth about neighborhood transformation. Before I know it, he has determined that I need to talk to the people in the black tent and is guiding me there to that booth.

As I explain a few of the key puzzle pieces to the friendly residents—counseling, inner city, healthcare—they tell me that I need to talk to Tim*, who’s wearing a hat. “Seriously?” I wonder to myself, “In all these people, I’m supposed to find a guy wearing a hat?” This is starting to feel like a bit of a wild goose chase…which is exactly what I just prayed for. Hmm.

After checking back in with them two more times, I finally see a guy wearing a hat and introduce myself. I share a 2-minute version of my story, find out that he’s a counselor who is starting a behavioral health program, exchange iPhone contacts, and set up a time to meet for coffee in the morning during the first breakout. “Perfect,” I think, “I’ll be able to pick his brain about setting up a behavioral health program and be back in plenty of time for the closing session.”

The next morning I am sitting outside a Starbucks, sipping my coffee with relaxed anticipation. Eager to learn from him, yet comfortable in pursuing counseling ministry in Camden/Philadelphia, I chat easily about my own life experiences, counseling theory, and puzzle pieces. Four hours later, we return to the conference and talk about setting up a visit to his inner city health center.

And my world shifts in four hours as, unbeknownst to Tim, the puzzle pieces of my life start fitting into a surprisingly coherent picture. Without provocation, he inadvertently mentions every single puzzle piece as being part of the DNA of the center’s approach or of his own plans for integrated behavioral health. Even my passion for global outreach and unreached people groups finds sympathetic vibrations in their desire to train up and send out medical teams to hard-to-reach areas. And even the further study that I desired, which I assumed was impossible and less important, may work out. And I could live, work, and worship in the same inner city community!

Mulling these things over at my hosts’ house that night with others, I laugh at my own pride (thinking that I could have ever planned something like this) and God’s goodness. And as we crawl into our sleeping bags and turn off the lights, I cry silently, overwhelmed that our God could love me this specifically and particularly. What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

The long drive back from Louisville provided ample time to process the earthquake that just took place. I test out the story on my driving companions, whom I didn’t know well before our epic road trip.

“Sounds like you’re going to move there! Would you really leave Philly?” one of them asks incredulously, in part because the Philadelphia area has been home for half my life and I am rooted and embedded in multiple ministry relationships and contexts.

“Of course,” I answer with thought but without hesitation. “I can’t sing ‘to the ends of the earth we will go’ and not go to this clinic, even if it is in the South.” Yet the conversation forces me to think through the road ahead—uncertain timeline of program development, very different cultural setting, and a different type of counseling. I think about telling my family and close friends what I’m contemplating and shudder. “I don’t have grace for that yet,” I remind myself. “When I need it, God will give it to me.”

And He does. My dad believes that this is God’s fit for me and I need to pursue it. My sister is heart-broken because she knows this is what God has for me and starts preemptively missing me. Surely my mom will not support this. After all, she made me write my funeral plans when I was 23 years old and moving into a gentrifying neighborhood to live with my pastor and his family. Yet my mom tells me that she believes that God has been uniquely preparing me for this. Close friends cry with me when they hear how the puzzle pieces seem to be forming a new word: the name of this southern city.

At the same time, my small group reluctantly prays for, and vigorously prays against, this new calling, out of love and a desire to keep me in the area. January starts and the health center is not ready to pilot their program yet, and I have not heard about a visit date. What if this is not what God has for me next?

*Not his real name, of course!


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