GUEST POST by Ally Willis
The flight had been a smooth one—I had a window seat to a sunrise from 30,000 feet up. We had crossed snowy peaks and evergreen forests and the craggily Cascades. As we approached Seattle, Mt. Rainier came into view, a looming peak at eye level.
But then we began to circle, around and around, Mt. Rainier coming into sight every couple of minutes.
Have you ever been in a flight holding pattern? One in which you circle and you circle and the same sky keeps passing you by?
I’ve been in several holding patterns this past year: one before landing in stormy weather in D.C., the ominous billows of cloud blocking our path; one before landing in a blanket of fog in Seattle so thick it looked like we were descending into a white sea; one before landing at an always-crowded Heathrow in London, the watery skies welcoming us to England. Of course, all of it being time added to the flight that could have been spent at the destination, instead.
Life can often feel like a holding pattern, too—circling and circling and seemingly making no progress to our destination at all.
The last year of my life has certainly been a holding pattern. I was miserable in my job. My co-workers were like family and the company a good one, but my job was simply not a good fit. For hours each day, I stared at my computer screen, willing for 6pm to come quicker; my lack of responsibilities meant I had too much time to fill on my own.
A boy that I had trusted too easily couldn’t decide if he wanted me in his life or not, and I sat circling above that almost-relationship for months, waiting for him to make up his mind.
I wasn’t an asset at my job and the boy decided ‘no’ as he dropped me off at the airport on a cold desert night, and I wondered if I mattered at all.
My heart was heavy with hopelessness. I had put my hope in a future I had created in my mind—a fulfilling job, a stable relationship, a comfortable life. I had thought that this job, this boy, this period of my life would be the fulfillment of that hope, but it was a future that wasn’t to be.
Finding myself with broken plans, I also found myself in the midst of a faith crisis. Did God even care about these mundane things in my life? It was “only” job stuff and boy stuff and self-worth stuff, hardly comparable to real problems, like poverty and war and the exploitation of children.
One evening as I lamented the darkness that had enveloped my days, I heard the words—“grace period”. I believe it was a God whisper because I hardly would have given such a hopeful name to that time in my life.
Grace period = a time of preparation.
God loves a good preparation period. There’s Elijah, wandering in the desert, sitting beneath the broom tree, ready to give up. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers,” he says (1 Kings 19:4). And then an angel comes, wakes up this hopeless prophet, offers him some food and urges him to eat so that he may have the strength to continue on in his journey. There’s Jesus hanging out in the desert for 40 days, undergoing temptation and being ministered to by angels, a time to make ready for his ministry ahead.
Our own holding patterns are a grace period, a time of preparation. Waiting can feel dry and lonely like the desert, but it is in that watchful waiting that God can minister to us, equipping us for the tasks that lay ahead.
God ministered to me in my grace period through encouraging friends who listened and prayed, through a miraculous push for me to finally make that first counseling appointment, through church readings and homilies that seemed tailored to my broken heart. I made a routine of spending time every morning with God, my prayers desperate ones. I learned what it meant to cry out to Him in pain. I discovered that He did care about my problems, even if they were “just” job stuff and boy stuff and self-worth stuff.
And though I didn’t see it then, He was quietly preparing me for my current job. In my quest for purpose throughout this grace period, I had prayed fervently about a career shift: should I go back to school to teach high school English? God seemed silent in His reply, but I moved forward anyway, volunteering that spring to help with an ESL class at a local high school to determine whether I could see myself as a teacher.
I later learned that many of these children were refugees, and I left each class with a heart so full, usually texting a friend after, “I LOVE THESE KIDS” in all caps. I learned more about the refugee community in my city and found additional ways to volunteer with refugee youth. Through this experience, God was cultivating a desire to serve these people and welcome them to their new home.
I now work with a local refugee resettlement agency, helping parents enroll and navigate the school system. It’s hard and busy and I often feel unqualified. Since it’s a nonprofit job with little pay, I work a part-time job as well, meaning I now work 50-60 hours a week.
But the fog that hung perpetually over my days has lifted and, most importantly, I have hope again.
As we circled above the mountains preparing for our descent into the fog that blanketed Seattle, our pilot asked us to power down all devices—not just airplane mode, but completely turned off, an unusual request for most flights. We circled a few times more before making our way into the thickness that obscured sight of anything, outlines of buildings and evergreens hardly visible even as the wheel’s touched pavement. But we made it safely, even if we had added 30 or so minutes to our flight time.
Throughout my year-long holding pattern, the waiting felt endless and often unbearable. How long? I wondered. How long must I go on feeling this way? With the clarity of hindsight, though, I can now see the ways in which God was using this year of my life as a means of preparation, equipping me with the ability to make a safe landing into my new reality.
Perhaps it is only in our holding patterns, our grace periods, our waiting that the real soul-deep preparation for our purpose can happen.
Ally is a Louisiana native who moved to Nashville for college and then decided to stay (for now). She buys way too many concert and plane tickets and then writes about it. She puts all things British on a pedestal. Ally runs a blog about life after college called That First Year and also writes about music and travel on her own personal blog.
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