The family emergency event was taken care of and life settled into a routine. I went about my day, went to work, helped out at home, attended church, and spent time with friends. It was far from boring. But it felt so ordinary and bland. It wasn’t anything important. I wanted to make my days count for something significant. There was a desire to do something that made a difference. I longed for something more.
The extreme situations I’d experienced had somehow set a bar. The typical lifestyle that surrounded me just wasn’t enough. People I grew up around lived a predictable life. They didn’t seem passionate or highly motivated about anything. I was acutely aware how short life really was, and it felt like I was wasting it. Shouldn’t there be a purpose besides just getting through life?
Of course, living with family and helping them out was one of the purposes. I knew I couldn’t stay there forever; I would need another purpose. Church didn’t offer much, either. The youth attended church because that’s what was expected; yet nothing of significant value was taught or implemented. It appeared that life existed for chasing one enjoyable thing after another. Watch an entertaining movie. Order a special coffee drink when going for a walk. Explore a new trail. All that was fun, indeed, but it lacked anything meaningful. I longed for something unusual in my life. Whatever it may be.
And miraculously, I stumbled right into it. Aunt Nancy and Uncle Stephen, who resided a few hours away, had kids who were part of a youth group of extraordinary purpose. That group was planning a mission trip to a poor, remote part of Mexico. They had been preparing themselves for months by learning songs in Spanish, having regular prayer meetings, and holding fundraisers for the trip. This was exactly the inspiration I needed!
Very shortly after, I made the transition to live at my cousin’s house. It was too late for me to join the group going to Mexico, but it didn’t matter. I attended every meeting they had, helped out at the fundraisers, and began learning the songs.
It was such a refreshing feeling to be surrounded by young people who had a sense of purpose. A purpose greater than themselves. Their energy revitalized me. They were on a mission to help. They were going to make a difference. There was this incredible energy with this group of young people who were doing something for a greater good.
However, it consisted of a lot of work: purchasing food and household items in bulk to separate them into individual packages, arriving early to prepare meals and desserts to sell at the fundraiser, and remaining late to clean everything up. After that, all the money had to be counted and all the coins had to be rolled up into coin rolls to be taken to the bank. I had never seen such an enthusiastic, unique approach to life. Of course, this youth certainly spent time together trying various coffee drinks and exploring new trails, yet it was a completely different experience. Their daily routine had meaning.
Meanwhile, my job search began. I had enough money in my account to last me a few months, for things such as my phone bill, car payment, and extra spending money. But after filling out dozens of applications without any callbacks whatsoever, I began to get worried. This was not good. I never had trouble with getting jobs before.
One month went by. Nothing.
I expanded my search to temporary job agencies. Towards the end of the second month, I had an interview. Being quite desperate for the job, I arrived an hour early. It seemed more worthwhile to drive around and explore the area. I drove out of the parking lot in my white Honda Civic and thought about how fantastic this job would be. My car had been taken out on a loan, and it was my first major purchase, something I was proud of, but it surely wouldn’t get me anywhere if I couldn’t pay for it. My financial situation was not great. So lost in thought I became, that I also lost track of time. Tires squealing, I popped an illegal U-turn and raced back as quickly as I dared, eyes peeled for any signs of police cars.
I pulled in and parked abruptly. Sweating profusely, I used the deodorant stashed in my bag and avoided looking at the clock. Hopefully my car clock was a few minutes early. Or rather, many minutes early. It wasn’t.
I didn’t get the job.
My hands were bruised from smacking the steering wheel on the drive home. How could I? Argh! I decided to try one more week of regular job applications and then would begin applying at fast food places.
Praise the Lord, another interview was set up for me almost immediately, and I got hired on as a customer service representative in a household appliance shop. It certainly was not a glamorous job, as I had hoped for when originally filling out all my applications, but it sure beat working in a fast food joint. But, as ironic as life can be at times, another opportunity became available just one week later: somebody from the Mexico group had cancelled and that spot was available, if I was still interested.
Of course I was interested! Everything I had been helping out with would be even more significant if I went on the actual trip! People had booked their spot half a year in advance, and I stopped asking when I learned there were no spots available. The only minor little inconvenience with this opportunity was that the group was leaving in two days. What were my chances? It was a shot in a million but only one way to find out. My supervisor was most definitely not impressed with my inquiry.
She looked at me with obvious annoyance. “You do realize you just began working here a week ago, don’t you? Even though I’m extremely supportive of mission trips, the timing is just not going to work. I’m sorry.”
What did I expect? That she would let me go? I gave her a short nod and dragged my feet out of her office, while my brain scrambled frantically for another solution. I waited until my lunch break and called Uncle Stephen.
He sounded surprised, probably because I was calling during working hours, but most likely because I’ve never called him before. “Hello? Is everything OK?”
“Hi, Uncle Stephen, yes, it’s fine; I just have an enormous problem. I really don’t know what to do. I need some help. Do you have a minute?” Before he could say yes or no, I rambled on. “You know how I’ve been so excited about the church mission trip? I really wanted to go but couldn’t but now somebody cancelled and that spot is offered to me and I have just enough money left to pay for that spot. But I also needed a job for so long and finally I got one, but they aren’t letting me take a week off to go on this mission trip. What should I do?” My heart was thumping furiously as I paused for a breath.
There was a gap of a few seconds on the line. Then Uncle Stephen said, “Now, I can’t tell you what to do.”
What? That’s what I needed right now! I desperately needed somebody to tell me exactly what to do, because I didn’t know! That’s precisely why I had called him in the first place!
He went on. “You have to make this decision yourself; it’s your life.” He spoke thoughtfully, selecting each word carefully. “I have a question for you: how often does an opportunity such as a mission trip occur?”
I closed my eyes to focus on the question. My foot was tapping rapidly against the cement ground. I was sure that organizations supporting mission trips existed, not that I knew of any off the top of my head. “Well, I ‘ve never had that opportunity, but it finally presented itself. To me this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“Alright. Next question: how often do opportunities for employment occur?”
That was easy. “All the time, just depends what kind of a job.”
“Yes,” agreed Uncle Stephen. “Certain opportunities exist less often, and others more often. Make your decision based on that.” And that was the end of the conversation. It was the greatest advice I’d received in a long time.
I was too chicken to quit in person, so I called it in that evening. Then I began packing for Mexico.
This trip was a critical factor in helping me begin the journey of discovering who I was as a child of God and what exactly my purpose was on this earth.