Thirty years ago, I left Delaware and moved to Northern California to go to seminary. I was an out-of-work elementary teacher at the time, and three years of substituting had failed to yield a permanent position. Financially, I could not sustain my life as a single mother with a young son and daughter. Something had to change. I remember offering a prayer to God, asking for a better life.
A constellation of people and circumstances came together over the course of a year to bring me to the decision to move. With the support of my local pastor, permission from my former spouse and the encouragement of a few close friends, I packed up what could fit in our small station wagon, and with my children, drove the distance to San Francisco Theological Seminary.
I had no idea what I was doing. I only knew I had to make the trip. This monumental decision changed the course of my life and my children’s lives, and prepared me for more leaps of faith ahead. It was the beginning of my education on faith, both formally and informally, and it taught me that the foundation of faith is formed in taking risks. It taught me that faith, even in the midst of fear, assures us of what we cannot see or know. It also promises that we are not alone, and we will be given what we need to fulfill our callings.
There are times when we must choose a course of action with no easy solutions. There are times when a decision is made for us, such as the death of a loved one or unemployment. I have always found that the pain of these moments can be relieved only by hope that there is a way through, even if I haven’t a clue what the way might be. Admitting my powerlessness is key. Also letting others know what I am going through helps. Then God has a chance of getting my attention – whether through a suggestion of a friend, a word heard in a Sunday morning sermon or a song on the radio – when I open myself up to help from others. Then with new options, I get a sense God is leading me to a new place. Not a geographic location, but a more grown-up, spiritual awareness of who I am and who God is.
What I could not have known 30 years ago was that my children and I would be warmly received in California, and despite a lack of money, we would thrive as a family. I could not have known that my future would include working as a chaplain, directing a successful nonprofit and serving numerous churches. As I set off for California, I had no idea that my journey would eventually bring me back to Delaware where I would once again serve and learn from our beautiful community.
In Chapter 6 of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus gives advice to his disciples as he sends them out to do great work. “He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff — no bread, no bag, no money in their belts, but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics.” Jesus gave them authority to do the work, and at the same time prepared them for challenges. He cautioned that if a community failed to receive them, they were to “shake off the dust that is on their feet,” and move on.
Jesus knows we will have tough times. No matter what our journey, there will be bumps on the road and decisions that require leaps of faith. We may feel misunderstood and unacknowledged. Sometimes we will fail. The important thing is to trust that we have everything we need. We must remember we are not alone and that faith will grow as long as we continue to move forward.
The Rev. Patricia A. Stout is a retired Presbyterian minister, currently serving as a substitute teacher in the Delaware City Schools. She is an active member of the Delaware Ministerial Association.