Placeholders and Providence

The theme of my last blog post over three months ago is that I survived my first and last year teaching, and I had no idea what would be next. Here’s the Sparknotes version of Summer 2018. I do have a legit blog post below, so if you have a short attention span, spare yourself and scroll to the meat.

June:

  • Restored my soul — and tested my knees — on New Hampshire’s unforgivingly rocky 90-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail.
    Mt. Wash

    • There are notes to write a blog about this
  • Reconnected with my old youth group leader and his growing family in Boston
  • Rendezvoused with my family for a restful vacation among the rolling green fields and classic red barns of Vermont

July:

  • Pressed on with Edward Jones’ arduous ten-stage application process to train to be a financial advisor. Found out at the end of the month that I didn’t get it.
  • Committed to Funemployment Round 2 by booking Scott’s Cheap Flight and Wow Air ticket to France and Iceland, respectively.
  • Life in Greenville: yard work and cleaning, friends, parties, Cove Creek camping,  live music, cycling and mountain biking, Anglican theology class, helping with youth group
    IMG_4499
  • Babysat as much as possible — most consistently for two very cute and shockingly articulate 3 year- and 18 month old sisters
  • Best friend Kayla’s bachelorette weekend in Savannah
    IMG_4596

August:

  • Seppie, my new roommate, moved in! And we threw one heck of a Welcome to Greenville party in her honor.
  • Was recommended, and then interviewed for, Director of Village Wrench
  • Whirlwind unplanned Iceland adventure with Rosa Marie
    • Met an AT thru-hiker named Daniel; we split a rental car and ended up tagging along on his itinerary.
      Iceland
    • No blog notes written…
    • Bookended by Kayla’s bridal shower before and Brooks and Alyson’s wedding in Greenville when I got back. Dog-sat Lola while they honeymooned.
  • Got the job! And dove right in!

This summer was one for the books — fast and full and fun. The seasons are changing, but since I’m on a flight to Paris right now, this spurt of world gallivanting isn’t quite over. I’m grateful that I am about to spend ten days enjoying a rare dose of sophistication over French cuisine, cafes, and wineries with my parents and Rosa Marie. Ro and I will then tackle GR20 in Corsica, which is notoriously billed as the toughest, most beautiful trek in all of Europe.

Sadly, the school where I taught can pretty accurately be compared to a prison, and as soon as I was released from the classroom at the end of the school year, I felt like myself again — a grown-ass, confident, joyful woman capable of planning a lot and executing it all well. The past three months have been refreshing and life-giving, while simultaneously tiring — in the satisfying kind of way. Ultimately, they brought clarity and purpose, but most weeks also seemed ambiguously hazy and directionless.

Let’s return to a reference in my last post when my mom comforted — err, borderline confronted — me Memorial Day weekend with this sage advice:

“You have to trust that God has another opportunity six months down the road that you can’t even imagine right now, one that is altogether better.”

Though our foresight is usually as blurry as a sheep’s, and the journey is often more winding than clear-cut, looking back at what has happened in our lives can help reveal the way forward. Backtracking into hindsight sheds light onto our stories and the way that God was weaving that twisty path and leading us when we felt lost.

For me, He has been faithful not just in providing, but in guiding my steps to the very best situations. I particularly think of my roommate and new job, and I am utterly overwhelmed and excited for what has, with almost no work on my end, fallen into my lap. The Lord has been SO good!

I suppose that’s not too surprising, because He is good, and he does love to give good gifts to us, his children (James 1:17). Like children, though, we often think we know what is good or right for ourselves, when there could be something better. Our suppositions may be fine, but they’re usually not the best; waiting requires patience and trust.

Being the “get stuff done” gal I am, these two characteristics are especial weaknesses of mine, which I think are broadly evident in today’s consumeristic America as well. Other cultures are better at going with the flow. In Iceland, the phrase is “petta reddest;” in New Zealand, “she’ll be right.” These sayings lean into believing that all will work out as it should. Since I’m not going to sit on my hands and wait for that to happen, I’ve noticed God giving me “placeholders” to make me stay put and hold on, waiting for the best thing he has in store.

Seppie

SeppieI began the roommate search before I had even closed on my house this past February. I’m too extroverted and relational, and winter is too gray, and a mortgage too expensive, to live alone. Via a mutual acquaintence, I had connected with a cute gal who would soon be moving back from Myrtle Beach. We met up at the Kava bar, hit it off pretty well, and she verbally committed to living with me after Easter. As spring progressed, we kept in touch, and she gave me updates. She was always honest and considerate, but in the end she wanted to keep saving for a house, and it didn’t make sense to move in temporarily with me.

Meanwhile, my friend Rob, who I know through Rosa Marie and backpacked in the Smokies with last year, texted me and tells me his sister Seppie is thinking of moving from Charleston to Greenville this summer. Do I need a roommate? “She is super fun and loves Jesus and people, and y’all would have a blast together.” When Roommate 1 fell through, I reached back out.

Get this: Seppie and I grew up about two miles apart, and we went to the same (massive) high school. Our siblings and parents were friends, but we never crossed paths and never knew each other. Which is a shame, because Seppie is the loveliest, most down-to-earth, authentic, easy-going person I know.

Seppie stayed with me one weekend in April to interview for two jobs, and got offers for both of them the following week. We made dinner together, and I felt like I found a friend from long ago. We’ll never actually have that decade of childhood that seemed so likely, but I sure am grateful she is a part of my life now. She teaches first grade at one of the best schools in Greenville, and living with Seppie this past month has been a dream. What a blessing to have a housemate who is also quickly becoming a built-in best friend!

My pace is not sustainable for most, but Seppie is just as energetic. It’s rare to find someone who is down for almost any proposal or plan I have, or to do so with such an enthusiastic, open posture toward meeting others and having fun. Seppie says yes. Not many people would go on their own to an extended invitation birthday party when I, the mutual friend, couldn’t make it. Seppie did. We split produce boxes and watch movies and ride bikes and contra dance and go to yoga together. She is always quick to laugh, and thus is joyful; listens well and prays often, thus wise, thoughtful, and caring. Just as she feels like God worked out everything for her to move to Greenville, I sense the same assurance about getting to live together. Really hoping things will stay that way for a good long while.

Village Wrench

VWIt’s not everyday a boss calls you to suggest you apply for a job. Or accommodate a 7 am interview because you’re flying to Iceland for the rest of the month. What the freaking heck, I can’t believe I’m the new Director of Village Wrench!

Village Wrench develops leaders in West Greenville by building the value of hard work and social responsibility through bicycles. It’s a nonprofit under the umbrella of Mill Community Ministries; we take gently used donated bikes, tune them, and resell them; offer free bike repair and bike earning through community service; run a youth development program where students are paired with a mentor mechanic and build a bike together while learning character values; and provide job skill training in the bike shop.

There are a lot of puzzle pieces that make this position feel God-ordained and very right.

  • My Bike: The first week I moved to Greenville, I walked into Village Wrench looking for an affordable road bike.
  • My Hobby: The process to finally securing said bike was a little messy (thus my job has now been created), but once I got it, cycling became my newest favorite hobby. I get to be in Creation the same way as hiking, but using a tool that lets me explore more and go faster. The backroads of Travelers Rest and the Saluda watershed are helping me become part of the cycling Mecca Greenville has become.
  • Village Church: Meanwhile, I started attending Village Church last fall, and later learned that the “Village” in both names are not coincidental; members saw a need and tangible way to serve and interact with the community, and in 2013, Village Wrench was born.
  • West Greenville: Spending a year at Carolina High gave me a real understanding of the marginalized demographic we serve. I have relationships with students who can plug in to Village Wrench. I know Greenville and its nuanced population pockets in a way I couldn’t have a year ago.
  • All the Hats: I will be ALL things Village Wrench — organizational implementer, program development, (future) master mechanic, youth mentor and teacher, marketing and PR guru, community bridge builder, event planner, and fundraiser. Unlike teaching the same 90 minute lesson three times a day in the same room, I think the variety in my job will make my days much like this past summer — full, fast, and fun.

In comparison to landing the Best Job Ever, it’s so clear now that Edward Jones was not right for me. I had my justifications, but deep in my gut, I was still hesitant. I’m not great at diversifying job prospects; I take one thing at a time, and if it doesn’t work, I move on to the next. Edward Jones was my place holder until the Village Wrench Director job came along. It was something legitimate to pursue, and I did so seriously. By the end of July, I had already made it through the interviews and business plan and final “day in the life” exercise. I had taken the initiative to shadow a local FA prospecting through a neighborhood and had a long conversation with a financial advisor family friend.

At Kayla’s bachelorette party, I was just waiting to hear back for the final decision. I woke up in the middle of the night, and couldn’t fall back asleep. As clearly as I’ve heard the Holy Spirit in a long time, He said, “It isn’t right, Jessica, let it go.”

I felt a little like a disobedient Jonah. I shot back, “Whelp, I’ve worked really hard, and I don’t know what else to apply to. You’re going to have to close this door, because I’m going to keep walking through it otherwise.”

So He did. I got a quick call Monday morning informing me that they would not be extending a job offer. I let my wounded pride wallow for about 30 minutes before that feeling was replaced with an odd sense of relief. Wednesday night before theology class at church, my friend Heather said, “Jessica, I recommended you for a job today.”
“Oh? I need one of those,” I joked. “Do tell more.”

It was for Village Wrench, and I got a call to apply the next day. Ironically, the call came in as I drove to buy a mountain bike from a Facebook ad. My world is quickly becoming one of bikes, and that seems pretty right to me.

Providence

In a time of need, Jesus has provided for me. He gave me the best roommate and job I could have imagined. The last two weeks have involved lots of meetings with key Village Wrench players, community leaders, and bike folks, as well as quality time with Seppie. When I see God’s providence so clearly in my own life, it gives me the faith to trust in whatever is to come. He heard my prayers and answered my calls, this time and many other moments before these needs arose; I know he will again.

One component of jumping into a newly created nonprofit position is the necessity to fundraise over half my salary. I’m not quite as excited about this reality when I return from France as the rest of my job, but I know it will be a special opportunity to share the Village Wrench story and invite people into our mission.

This side of heaven, life ups and downs, the hazy unknowns and future challenges that await each of us, are just as certain as the sun’s rise and set. In my weakness and wondering, I will lean into Jesus and his faithfulness. In his provision, I will praise Him for knowing best. And, I’ll remember that this life is but a flash in comparison to eternity, and I can hope that the ultimate best is always yet to come.

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