Thankful in Unexpected Places

November 20, 2017

A 720-square-foot apartment on the southwest side of Sioux Falls was never the plan; it was never the dream.

Five weeks out of high school, an infant to the real world, I stepped off of a plane in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was being called into missions; I knew it with every fiber of my being, and more than anything, I wanted to radiate His splendor through my life. I was desperate to preach the gospel; to invite lost brothers and sisters home. So, clad in a red dress with black tights, with a belly full of chicken, beans, and rice, I breathed in South African air for the first time. It smelled of mildew and home.

And home it was. I relished every opportunity to squeal “Ima!” (Zulu for “stop!”) as I punched the roof of the 12-passenger-van-turned-taxi with all my might each time we drew near to the laundromat on Grace Street. I’ll never replace the countless hours I spent by my dorm’s bedroom window staring out at the landfill across Commissioner Street praying for revival in South Africa. I desperately tried to take it all in; to grasp what He was doing in me and through me and around me, and as conscious as I remained in that season, it never felt like enough. It was like drinking from a fire hydrant, and it felt like purpose. I longed for those days to stay forever.

When God brought me almost literally kicking and screaming to Dordt College, I swore it would not be for long. I did everything I could to hate it; to call myself back into missions… and not once did God comply with my feeble heart’s desires. In 2014, I resented him for that. Today, I am so thankful.

Fast forward to March 9, 2017, when I sat in Dordt College’s John and Lousie Hulst Library and tentatively filled out an application for the Director of Youth Ministry position at First Christian Reformed Church in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I had already been accepted into the Masters of Divinity program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, but something so very foreign to me was writing a cover letter explaining my qualifications and ambition for a job I wasn’t sure I would even get an interview for. Just a few months later, I was excitedly babbling to the head pastor that I would gladly accept the position.

A college friend who also moved to Sioux Falls exclaimed to me a few weeks ago that she never expected to see me here after college. I must admit that I never expected to see me here, either. I had dreams of Southern California, of West Africa, of Southeast Asia… yet the only door God allowed to remain open was the one I stepped through on June 22, 2017.

My experience of God has been that He is the great re-director of plans. When I asked for adventure, it was quite intentional of Him to lead me just 58.6 miles north-and-west of my childhood home. I know I’m not alone in this ache for a story filled with wild adventure and moments that steal the very breath from our chests. But here is what I do know: It all matters, because it is all somehow part of a plan of Kingdom-coming-ness that we are in the midst of in this day and age, even here in the places and spaces I never dreamed I’d stay.

So, I am thankful. I’m thankful that I don’t get to be the one creating the plot for my life. I’m thankful to write the small stories that fill it with each day that I’m alive. I’m thankful because, even though the last 5 years have been full of unprecedented amounts of kicking and screaming, He still patiently calls me “beloved.” It is no small task to remain faithful to the mundane of our lives – taking care of children, diligently cleaning the shower drains, early morning dog-walking – yet He is there. I know this with all that I am because He meets me there, especially on the days when I’m at the end of my rope. He tells me He will provide when I don’t see a way. He reminds me throughout Scripture that His concern is for my tears, even the ones that flow out of a place of unmet expectation. He whispers to me of the feast being prepared in Zion, to which I will one day be a cherished guest. I am thankful to be claimed by Him in the midst of my attempts to plot my own future, and to find myself surprised by how perfectly He knows me through small reminders each day that He sees and He cares.

I always thought that living a good story meant living a wildly unorthodox life saturated with adventure. For some of us, it does. But perhaps you’re a little more like me – living smaller than you ever thought you would. May you discover that the word “small” does not mean “unfaithful”; that the Kingdom delights in manifesting in the ordinary and exists as foolishness to those who don’t understand. I’m thankful for the way He’s molding me, shaping me, and delighting in my total ordinary-ness as He guides me on the path that can only lead to Himself.

About the Author
  • Carlye Gomes is a 2017 Dordt graduate with a degree in Theology: Missions & Evangelism. She currently serves as the Director of Student Ministries at First Reformed Church in Sioux Center, IA.