But that one line ate at me. I kept thinking about it. Is that the message my posts were sending across? That there is only hope down the road, as long as God decides to reveal it to us?
And so a couple of days later, I replied again. I'm trying to be more true to myself in this season of life, and I knew that this slight disagreement could even be a huge encouragement to the friend. I don't believe that hope is only something for the future.
If God has written us awesome stories, it means we are living in the middle of them right now.
Let me explain with two very different stories.
The city that I currently live in has hardly any western food. There are KFC's and Pizza Hut's, which is a nice convenience to have every now and again, but the eclectic, Asia menus are hardly satisfying. Even the grocery stores lack most of the foods that I have grown used to eating during my 22 years of American living. In America, one of my favorite items for consumption is a drink called Arnold Palmer. You most likely know what I'm talking about. Half Iced Tea. Half Lemonade. Half Heaven. It's delicious, and is a drink that I have so many fond memories with over the past couple of years. After all, it was this exact beverage that I spilled all over my MacBook Pro last year (the computer miraculously survived), the beverage that still makes my keyboard extremely sticky.
But around Christmas time, I found out some amazing news. There is a grocery store in our city that carries Arnold Palmers. There are physical cans of Arnold Palmer. And not the wimpy kind that comes in 12-packs and are only 12 oz. They have the 23 oz. tall cans that are sold for only 99 cents in gas stations all across America. Only here they are $3. Details aside, I needed to get my hand on a can.
I knew that the Arnold Palmers weren't going to grow feet and walk to my apartment. I had to get off my butt, travel halfway across the city to the only store that carries them and buy it myself. So one day, my roommate and I hopped on a bus with the grocery store in our sights. We made it there as smoothly as could be, enter the store, and go to the aisle where the beautiful cans wait to be consumed. Nothing. My roommate says there might be one other aisle where they are now. Nothing. Cue disappointment.
During my senior year of college (last year), I was a part time student for Winter Quarter, finishing up my last class of college with a whopping three hours of class every week. So I decided to seek out an internship. I had already done an internship with a large consulting firm during my junior year, so I sought out a marketing internship to get my feet wet in that area. Miraculously, I found an internship that was paid, in downtown Evanston, and had flexible-enough hours to accommodate my class schedule. It was too good to be true. So I jumped at the offer after interviewing.
The internship was a disaster. That's a little dramatic, let me rephrase. The internship was far from an enjoyable experience. I came in thinking I would be doing a social media internship with a home security company, and instead was stuck doing HTML coding for a fledgling startup still trying to find some of its first customers. Not exactly my cup of tea. Our team was three people: me, my boss, and our web developer in Costa Rica. I had hoped to do the internship until graduation in June, but ended up "quitting" (I didn't use that wording when I spoke to my boss) in March, after one quarter. I ended up spending spring quarter jobless, classless, and scrounging every psych study possible to have some cash flow.
Were these experiences failures? Were they a part of a bad story, which can only be redeemed if something better happens in the future? Think about those questions for a second, evaluate them honestly in your head, and give an answer.
I am a firm believer that the answer is no.
Was it discouraging? Yes. Was it hard? The internship more difficult than the search for Arnold Palmer, but of course. Did it feel good in the moment? Absolutely not.
But was it a failure? No. Why? Because I believe that part of living in God's awesome story is actually living it. There will always be conflict in any story, but that doesn't make the story any more beautiful. The conflict itself is part of what makes the story beautiful. Would the moment where Frodo throws the ring into Mordor have been as beautiful if they hadn't spent three movies/books fighting orcs, running for their lives, and battling the evil of the ring? Would the scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon and Robin Williams embrace be as beautiful if they hadn't been at each other's throats for the majority of the movie? Would Marlin finding Nemo have been as beautiful if he hadn't traversed the Pacific Ocean? (whoops...spoiler alerts....)
The conflict itself is part of what makes the story beautiful.
These experiences taught me two different things about the human involvement in God's story and, to some extent, the involvement we are called to have in our own stories.
For one, we are called to be active participants. The Bible is littered with examples of God's people needing to do things in order to see God move. David and his armies had to fight enemies in battle in order to see God's deliverance, Paul had to travel around the Roman Empire in order to see churches planted, and Jesus had to die on the cross for the wrath of God to be poured out on him and sinful men forgiven. There is human involvement in God's story. We are not always called to sit around and wait for God to plop an Arnold Palmer on our doorstep. We are called to follow Christ. There is participation involved, whether it is in your spiritual life, your career, or relationships. I knew where the Arnold Palmer was, so I went to it. I did the work to find an internship. When it wasn't healthy for me, I quit. There was an active participation in these stories.
Second, God is writing an awesome story for our lives right now. It is not something that we need to wait twenty years to see. Even if it is hard right now or it is depressing or exhausting, there is hope that we are in the middle of that awesome story in the present. There is beauty in the journey, even if it is hard. And this is especially true for the Christian, where the end has already been written. I think there is something written in the Bible about a wedding feast, and no tears, and eternity with the Father. But there is so much beauty in the journey to get there as well. There is beauty in grinding out quiet times in the morning despite exhaustion. There is beauty in being stuck in a hard internship, even if you quit. There is beauty in journeying halfway across a city with your roommate just to buy a silly drink.
God teaches us so much through the conflicts that we experience. I don't know where I would be right now if it weren't for my infinitude of failures, mishaps, and wrong steps. But that doesn't stop me from continuing to move forward, even at the risk of failure. I'm learning more about myself, I'm growing as a human, and I'm experiencing a God who guides every step I take in the midst of a beautiful story that he is writing by hand, in the present tense.