You know that scene in Hunt for Red October, where the US submarine is right behind a rogue Russian sub, and the unpredictable Russian captain, Ramius, gives an order that throws the US team into chaos?
“Conn, sonar! Crazy Ivan!”
“All stop! Quick quiet!”
“What’s goin’ on?”
“Russian captains sometimes turn suddenly to see if anyone’s behind them. We call it “Crazy Ivan.” The only thing you can do is go dead. Shut everything down and make like a hole in the water.”
Sometimes God feels like an unpredictable Russian sub captain. Sometimes His Crazy Ivans are so drastic, all you can do is go dead, shut everything down, and make like a hole in the water. Two months ago, we were hit with that kind of curveball.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
At the beginning of this year, we flew to Africa, after nine long years away. We traveled to Kenya, Botswana, and Zambia, and while there, spent time with an aviation ministry we believed might be a good fit for our heart and skills.
For me, returning to Africa after all this time was like seeing a sweetheart after a long separation, with all the requisite anxieties. Will it be what I remembered? What if it’s changed, or I have, and the love is gone? What if I just imagined this twenty-year passion I’ve had for this country, and as soon as I return, the illusion evaporates?
For Dennis, who did not feel the same level of adoration for Africa during our last trip, he wondered, Will it be what I remembered? What if I hate it, and my wife still loves it?
My anxiety dissolved as soon as I stepped onto the warm tarmac at Jomo Kenyatta airport and walked down that narrow airport hallway with its flickering yellow lights. Tribal drummers played in the baggage area, and as the smells of diesel fumes, sweat and spices swirled around me, I had only one thought: I am home. I am finally HOME.
I once heard a story about a little boy who always went into the woods to say his prayers. One day, his mother asked him, “Why do you go outside to look for God, when God is the same everywhere?” The boy replied, “I know God is the same everywhere, but I am not. So, I go where I can feel God and listen to God best.” Africa has always been that for me. The place I can feel God.
Best of all, this time, Dennis felt the same. With every sunrise, with every Land Rover ride down rutted, red dirt roads, with every shy handshake from a dust-covered child, we knew. This is home. WE are home.
We returned to the States convinced that a long-term commitment with the aviation ministry in Africa was in our near future.
And then it wasn’t. Our application fell through, and we were left heartbroken, numb, and wondering how we had missed God’s voice in the process.
At the same time, we transitioned to a new church, and Dennis was deployed for a month to support a Navy Seal team in California as part of his Navy Reserve duties. While he was away, I noticed strange issues with my memory, mood, and motor skills, and was diagnosed with brain damage most likely caused by childhood trauma. Shortly thereafter, I was hit with severe diverticulitis and spent three weeks unable to eat. Then came another three weeks where I couldn’t walk due to a re-injury of my spine.
Those were not our best months:) In the midst it all, we cried out to God for answers – or at least, Dennis did. My conversations with God were a bit stormier and more Irish, and I did most of the talking.
One day, when I finally calmed down, I sensed God speak to my heart and ask me: “If you had to choose between going to Africa, and helping save one marriage here, would you stay?” My answer was immediate. “Of course I’d stay.”
Through the rest of the year, we poured all our hearts, all our energy, all the service we’d planned for Africa into serving people here. We stepped into leadership as the Young Married’s ministry leaders at our church, and found that there were indeed marriages God wanted us to fight for. I got involved in our church Women’s ministry and served as one of the speakers for this year’s Women’s retreat, Dennis began weekly mentorship meetings with a great guy in our Young Married’s group, and we worked toward new growth in our church missions program.
This fall, my company, PulsePoint Design, charged into its tenth year of business, and Dennis took on more responsibility in his management role at Braselton Homes, and in his work with the Navy Reserves. Our hearts were still broken over Africa, but our plates here were full.
Then, the curveball.
It was a Saturday afternoon, and we had a decision to make. Dennis’ time with the Navy Reserves was up, and we needed to choose whether he would re-enlist, or get out completely. Since his work with the Reserves provides my medical care, and since our dream of Africa seemed farther away than ever while our work and ministry here kept growing, we felt re-enlistment was the right choice, and he did so that day.
Monday morning he received a message: “You’ve been recalled to active duty. You’re being transferred to the Middle East.”
We didn’t see that coming. At all. Dennis has been out of active duty for eleven years. Plus, in the three years he’s been a reservist, the recalls to active duty for his unit have been extremely low. Yet none of those facts change our reality: In a few months, we’ll move to a military base in an Arab state. We know Dennis will work in a high-security-clearance post, but we have no other details, because the Navy can’t disclose them until shortly before departure. Information is given on a “need-to-know” basis.
So right now, we’re trying to figure out how to dismantle our lives. Home, vehicles, belongings, everything we can’t fit in several suitcases must be rented, sold, or stored. After a decade in business, my company is closing its doors. We’ll be forced to find homes for our beloved animals. The loss of our church, ministry, and friends will be tremendous.
We always believed that when/if the time came to leave behind our lives here, it would be to run towards something we loved as much or more. We knew the love and vision in our hearts for the place and the people of Africa would make the sacrifice a little easier to bear.
The last year Dennis was in active duty, he was gone ten months out of twelve. The day he got out of active duty, I threw a “Freedom From Indentured Servanthood” party, bought a massive cache of fireworks and invited all of our friends.
Leaving everything I love to return to that life is a death beyond words. It’s a Crazy Ivan that seems particularly…well, crazy. My only consolation is that if I have to be 8,000 miles away from my hairdresser, at least I can wear a burka.
If anything, this year—and this most recent change of direction—has made one truth vividly clear: We are God’s to command, and His to pour out. Our lives are subject to His timing and His direction, crazy and painful as that may be at times. As Henry Blackaby said so eloquently, “He has the right to interrupt your life. He is Lord. When you accepted Him as Lord, you gave Him the right to help Himself to your life anytime He wants.” And when the grief stills, when our hearts quiet, we know this: we would rather have Him.
Wishing you a year full of the most important thing of all: faith that does not fail.