Sink, Swim, or Float

God sent me a raft, but I didn’t lay on it. Instead, I stretched my arms across the middle, kept the rest of my body in the water, and started kicking. Because that’s what you do when someone sends a raft to save you, right? You hold on and start kicking because you’ve got to get yourself to shore.

Initially, kicking looked like responding to those queries in my inbox, setting up meetings, and turning proposals into contracts. I made a rudimentary spreadsheet showing the next twelve months and the amount of income I expected when. The reality of being the primary earner and an independent contractor set in. I needed a steady stream of projects and teaching contracts to pay the bills. 

Occasionally I pitched my business to a potential client, but most of the time new clients came to me. By God’s grace, the work kept coming.  But so did the stress and the doubt—like waves crashing into me one after the other. 

I constantly felt overcommitted. Clients didn’t pay me on time. Projects fell behind because of circumstances I couldn’t control. I felt like I couldn’t say “no” to some projects because I had no assurance that more would come. I signed contracts that undervalued my experience and expertise.  

I wasn’t content.

And I was lonely. 

I didn’t have colleagues to connect with regularly. When you work from home or teach online, you don’t have a break room or faculty lounge to find solidarity and support from coworkers. Most contracts don’t yield long-term, meaningful relationships with clients.  

Some Enneagram book or podcast said that Ones may struggle as independent contractors or entrepreneurs. We need the structure and routine a regular job provides. And I’m an extrovert: I need people. 

A regular paycheck would be nice, too. Yes, I know from experience that your employment status can change in an instant. But those twice-a-month deposits would relieve some stress. And maybe I wouldn’t have to pay so much in taxes and so much for insurance. Plus, an employer might contribute to my retirement fund and give me some money for professional development. A girl can dream.

I had been holding on to my raft and kicking. I was miserable. I didn’t want to be a consultant. I didn’t want to be a business owner. I was tired of being an adjunct professor. It was time to kick my raft all the way to shore.

We moved cross-country during the pandemic so that my husband could start his doctorate. Initially I planned to continue consulting and teaching to support our family, but I started scouring the job boards as soon as we got settled. 

I applied for a dreamy job at the university. I didn’t get an interview, and I still haven’t received the automated, “We determined you’re not a good fit for this position” email. Maybe it’s because I misspelled a word in my current job title. (Can I blame autocorrect?)

Then I applied for a job at Home Depot. The Home Depot. “Let’s build something together.” Specifically, “Let’s build some corporate training modules together.” I wonder what my spiritual director would have said about that one. First the faculty development for medical educators. Now instructional design for a big box store.

Well, actually I don’t wonder. Because she said something to me about my quest to find another job. I described all of the stress of owning a business and teaching, of being the primary earner, of managing our household and caring for our kids. I talked about all of my strategies for rest and self-care. And then she asked her question:

“What if you just did your job and stopped looking for other ones?”

This one didn’t take long to sink in.

I had been reading the Pentateuch for Bible study. God delivered his people from slavery in Egypt and led them the roundabout way to the Promised Land. And he stayed with them—among them—every step of the way. He provided water when they were thirsty, manna and quail when they were hungry. He was a cloud before them by day and a pillar of fire above them by night. 

He provided as he guided.

In some mysterious way, the Holy Spirit used those stories from the Scriptures and that question from my spiritual director to make me think about my raft a bit differently. Maybe God sent me a raft so that I could float on it for a while. Maybe I didn’t have to kick at all.

Maybe the raft was for rest. 

Maybe that’s what God had provided–a way to rest, a way to trust, a way to experience his goodness and guidance without my having to struggle to get from point A to point B.

Novel thought.

Yes, I still have to map out my projected income regularly. I have to budget my time well. I have to say “no” to some projects. I have to negotiate fair valuation for my work. I have to wait for accounts payable departments to issue checks. I still have to sit at my desk and tackle my “to do” list Monday through Friday.

I still experience loneliness in my work. 

But I’ve felt more at peace since I climbed aboard the raft—fully aboard this time.

He who commands the winds and the waves also commands the currents that carry us to and fro. 

The Raft

God sent me a raft–a red raft (at least that’s how I envision it). It’s one of those inflatable rafts that’s a little bit translucent so that you can see the water below it and the sun reflecting off of it at the same time; one that’s just long enough so that your feet caress the water when you stretch out on it; one that’s just wide enough that you don’t struggle to keep your balance if a wave rolls under you.

My raft came in the heat of summer when I was swimming hard to get somewhere. I had been applying for full-time jobs for months. By my count, I completed nine applications in a span of two months. Eight of them required much more than a resume. If cover-letter fatigue is real, I had it. 

Most of my applications went to their eternal rest in some Human Resources database. (I have zero confidence that anyone actually keeps my application on file in case I happen to be a fit for another position. Once I hit submit, I’m more often than not at the mercy of an algorithm and not an image-bearer.) 

But then I received an email that someone wanted to interview me. It felt simultaneously like a joke and a miracle. I hadn’t made it past the application stage for a regular, non-contract job in ten years. Imposter syndrome and hope competed for space in my mind. 

The initial interview felt like a disaster. My palms were sweaty, I fumbled my words, and an alarm kept going off on my phone. But something must have clicked, because I had an email five minutes later requesting an on-campus interview. I purchased a navy blue suit, prepped an interactive presentation, and brushed up on a few topics that might come up in conversation. I left that interview confident I would receive a job offer.

The week of my interview, a few requests for contract work appeared in my inbox. Someone wanted me to do some writing. Another person wanted me to develop an online course. A friend wanted to chat about how I might help his organization with their upcoming pastors’ conference. 

I thought it odd, the timing of all of those emails. Surely God knew I was applying for full-time jobs. I asked most of the people who had emailed me to wait because I was waiting to hear about the job I was sure I would get. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. 

By the three-week mark, everyone I knew started urging me to send a follow-up email. Patience, I told them. Job offers take time in academia. You wouldn’t believe the bureaucracy. So I waited. And I prayed. I sought the Lord’s direction even though I was sure where he had pointed my compass needle.   

Then my spiritual director did her thing—that thing where, after having listened attentively, she tells you what you just said and makes a statement come across like a question. Or rather, it’s a statement that makes you question…to the point you come completely unhinged a few days later. 

For months, we had been sorting through matters of identity and calling. I sensed that my calling had something to do with being a theological educator, or maybe teaching people about God. I love teaching. I love the Scriptures. 

“Your calling, as best as you can discern, has to do with theological education, and you are contemplating taking a job that focuses on faculty development for medical educators,” she said. 

Yes. 

No.

The halfway point of my walk—that’s when it happened, the unhinging. Those paces up Aurora. “Holy, Holy, Holy” in my ears and on my lips. How could I take a job where I could no longer talk regularly about the holiness of God? If I worked in medical education, theology would have to sit on a shelf. Sure, it could inform my work and shape me as a worker. But mostly, it would become a hobby. And I’ve seen what I do to my hobbies.

I came home and told my husband I didn’t think I was supposed to take the job and that I would turn it down if they offered it. We both thought I was a little bit crazy. But maybe I could start with those requests for work in my inbox and build my consulting business. Maybe I could teach a bit more. Maybe, somehow, with all of that work, God would keep us afloat. 

The next day, the automated email came from human resources. I didn’t get the job. I was surprised but not dismayed. Within days, those requests for work in my inbox turned into contracts. I sought a few new clients and took on a couple new classes. The paychecks came…sporadically.

Didn’t some preacher once tell us a story about a flood, a man, two boats, and a helicopter? If you want to be saved, you have to do your part; you have to climb aboard. When God sent me a raft, I climbed aboard. Sort of. 

O Ye of Little Bread

Scarcity. Shortly before I was born, my parents experienced it at the gas pump as the Middle East oil supply plummeted.  Long lines of cars circled gas stations as drivers hoped to get a few gallons before the tanks ran dry.

Growing up, the only scarcity I recall was the lack of milk and bread on the shelves in an Alabama grocery store the day before a snow storm.

Now, the closest I get to scarcity is when the last homemade pumpkin chocolate chip muffin disappears from the freezer.  My children whine and ask me to make more as if we have no other viable breakfast options.  Meanwhile, I pour them a bowl of cereal or pop a slice of bread in the toaster.

Economic scarcity has been, well, scarce in my life.  And yet, I recently realized that I have been operating with a scarcity mindset for the past six years.  It took a familiar story in a children’s Bible to help me see the truth and reframe my situation.

Seeing Scarcity

After a long day of teaching a crowd, Jesus saw that the people were hungry.  The disciples asked Jesus to send the people elsewhere to find a meal, but Jesus instead asked the disciples to give them something to eat.  It would cost too much, the disciples complained.

Jesus then asked them to inventory the amount of food among the crowd.  The God’s Story for Me Bible Storybook tells what happened next:

…Andrew brought a little boy to Jesus.  He said, “Jesus, this little boy has five loaves of bread.  He has two little fishes.  How can such a little lunch feed so MANY hungry people?”

Andrew saw five loaves and two fish and calculated impossibility.

Scarcity is an economic term describing the situation in which the demand for a resource, good, or service outpaces the supply.  In this familiar Bible story, the demand for food was high;  the supply was too low.  Five loaves and two fish would never be enough to feed 5,000 people.  Scarcity.

Experiencing Abundance

Where Andrew saw scarcity, Jesus saw more than enough.  The story continues,

The little boy gave Jesus his lunch.  Jesus smiled and said, “Thank you!”

Then Jesus said, “Have everyone sit on the grass.” He thanked God for the little lunch.

And then Jesus broke the bread and the fish and gave the pieces to the disciples who, in turn, gave them to the people.  John’s Gospel records that the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of leftovers (John 13:37). Out of five loaves and two fish–a little lunch–, Jesus provided more than enough. Abundance.

From Scarcity Mindset

This familiar story told in simple words revealed my scarcity mindset.  Instead of five loaves and two fish, I had fifteen hours.  Instead of 5,000 people, I had curriculum to develop, classes to teach, research to analyze, proposals to write, papers to finish, workshops to lead, books to read, social media posts to schedule, articles to create.  How could I do so much in so little time?

Since my first son was born, I have set aside about twelve to fifteen hours per week for professional work.  That time is a gift, but it is also a precious resource. I complain when I lose my work time.  I feel defeated by the amount of work I have and want to do.  Under a scarcity mindset, I tend to clutch my time tightly instead of offering it to Jesus as the little boy generously offered his little lunch.

To Abundance Mindset

This familiar story told in simple words reminded me that we serve a God of abundance, or super-abundance as scholar Walter Brueggemann would say.  When we offer Jesus our little, he has the power to create much.

The children’s Bible helps us imagine Jesus’ response to the little boy who offered Jesus his little lunch.  Neither Matthew or John describe their interaction.  But I think the idea of Jesus delighting in a child offering him all that he has is consistent with the picture of Jesus we see in Scripture.

I imagine Jesus saying to me, “O ye of little bread, bring your little lunch to me and watch what I will do.”

So this week, I am trying to offer my time to Jesus.  In a prayer of few words, I offer up my plans, my dreams, and my fifteen hours and ask him to make the impossible possible.  For he is the one who is able to do immeasurably more, abundantly more, than all we ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).