When was the last time you said YES to something that you felt totally unqualified for? Were you nervous? Anxious? Did you go back and forth between saying yes and no? Did you pray about it?
And then what happened after you said YES? Did you start that task? Did you love that person? Did you get that job?
When I was 22, I said YES to something that I was totally unqualified for…. I said YES to an internship in Mexico City, working with and for people living with HIV.
Y’all, I was NOT qualified.
When I was in college, I withdrew from a class because I was FAILING it and I didn’t want an F on my transcript. I was FAILING that class because when I did actually go to class, which was rare, I would sit there passing notes to my best friend and flirt with the guys in my class. The only way to withdraw was to go before the Dean and make the case that you shouldn’t have been in that class in the firstplace. I really really didn’t want an F on my transcript. Mostly because I knew my parents would kill me. So, I went to the Dean and made my case and got the withdrawal approved.
That class? Spanish.
I said yes to moving to a country where I didn’t speak the language. I knew the basics, but I was nowhere near fluent. Not to mention I knew nearly nothing about HIV. I knew it had something to do with AIDS, but I couldn’t have told you why.
But I still said YES. Why? Partly because I had to get the heck out of North Carolina.
When I was in college – probably that same semester of that Spanish class – I met a guy. We started dating and got engaged my senior year. We started planning a wedding and then a few months after I graduated – on the DAY I went dress shopping with my bridesmaids and family – we called it off. I was devastated. Heartbroken. And, just a mess. All of the plans and dreams that I had for my life vanished in a moment with one decision.
[This photo is of me a few days ago…sitting on the bench in Chapel Hill where we got engaged. I have so much more joy and peace now than I ever did back then and I’m so grateful that God had a different plan for my life.]
But I knew it was the right decision. It was the first time where I felt what is described as the peace that passes all understanding.
I called to tell the friend whose kids were going to be the ring bearer and flower girl in the wedding about the broken engagement. She said, well Liz….if you need to get away, I need an intern in Mexico City for a few months….are you interested?
Let me be straight up honest and say that I didn’t say YES right away. I felt totally unqualified. [see above for how well I spoke Spanish.] And….I had never been out of the country by myself. [I had been out of the country a whopping two times on cruises to the Caribbean and the Bahamas…..both times with a bunch of friends who were way more worldly than I was.]
But, I didn’t have to move right away, so I figured that I could use the time to get ready. So, I said YES and then y’all, I picked up that dreaded Spanish textbook and started to study. I did my homework. I got a tutor. I got prepared.
When I made it to Mexico City a few months later and the hotel forgot to send a driver to come get me, I knew enough Spanish to find a phone, call the hotel and explain the situation. But, it took me sitting in the airport for three hours trying to work up the courage to do it. I had three large BRIGHT BLUE suitcases all piled on top of each other and I was sitting on top of all three. In the middle of a walkway. It was like a scene from a movie. Young white girl, sitting on top of a pile of luggage, surrounded by people walking from place to place, knowing no one and not knowing what the heck to do. Eventually I came to the realization that I couldn’t sit there forever, so I mustered the courage to do something and I acted. I used my broken Spanish and my driver superheroes were there in less than an hour.
Let me tell you what happened next. I fell in LOVE. Not with a guy. I fell in LOVE with serving other people.
That three month internship turned into a year and a half of working in Mexico City, 12 years of working for that company, travel to and living in nearly 50 countries and a career dedicated to working for and with people living with HIV. It’s still what I do today. But now I get to do it at home, in the city I grew up in, the neighborhoods I went to school in….and the zip code I now own a home in and do life in……the zip code that is harder hit by HIV than any other zip code in our state.
God’s plan for my life was so much bigger than my own plan for my life. I would be a totally different person if I hadn’t said YES to that internship all those years ago.
What I was also doing was saying YES to God. To the cause He put in front of me.
I obeyed that instinct to do what that internal voice – the Holy Spirit and voice of God – was telling me to do all those years ago. I still lean into that voice. I couldn’t persevere without that voice.
But I don’t think I would have heard that voice had my heart not been shattered. Had my dreams notbeen crushed. And had I had nowhere to go except to the Father.
In The Cause Within You: Finding the One Great Thing God Created You to Do in This World, Matthew Barnett who started the Dream Center Los Angeles (which has become the model for other dream centers across the country) writes, “Often the causes that God has designed us for are revealed when we are at the lowest point of the valley, not the pinnacle of the mountain.”
I was in that valley.
God healed my heart when I started serving others. And y’all, let me tell you….my heart has been shattered a few times since and EVERY.SINGLE.TIME part of the process of healing was about me serving others. Mimicking Jesus by loving others. Loving the people He puts in front of me. God pulled me close, He comforted my spirit, gave me wisdom and then lit a fire within me to do more of His work.
In my brokenness, God helped me find my cause.
Here’s the thing about a cause – it is ALWAYS about serving OTHER people. Not yourself.
And, it looks different for every person.
The cause that God has designed for you is tailor made for you.
God uses you – ALL of you – in His plans. That means He uses the good decisions and bad decisions. That decision you made in high school, or last year, or last week that sent you spinning? He can use it for the cause He has designed for you.
Y’all, I’ve made so many bad decisions. Failing Spanish was the outcome of many bad decisions.
Here’s another thing about a cause though – YOU have to say YES. You have to say YES to what and who God is putting in front of you.
If you aren’t seeing the need – those opportunities to serve – then you probably need to get out of your bubble because you’ve insulated yourself against REAL LIFE.
“Test drive the practice of serving other people and let God orchestrate everything from there.” (Matthew Barnett) He will help you find the cause that He created you for.
And, when it gets hard…..KEEP GOING.
More from that Barnett’s book…. “When you are invested in a cause, you submit to others, serve whenever possible and stay engaged in the battle, no matter how difficult it becomes. People motivated by ambition often walk away from the battle when it gets too tough, looking for something that’s easier to master. Those driven by ambition are all about making it big. Those who focus on their causes want to help others do well.”
Don’t be motivated by ambition. Be motivated by cause. And persevere when it gets hard.
“We rejoice in our sufferings…knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5
Since that time in Mexico and traveling the world, my cause has expanded. It began working on behalf of people living with HIV and now includes other groups of people who are marginalized. All of whom are made in the image of God and loved so much by Him.
God used my time outside of Charlotte to train me. My eyes were opened progressively along the way. And then He brought me back. And my eyes were opened even more. To the realities of living in Charlotte in poverty. To the lack of affordable housing. To the inequity in our public schools. To the barriers to health care. To the reality of systemic racism.
There are so many challenges that are put in place by individuals but also so many that are systemic. AND there is Hope in Jesus Christ. He came as a disruptor…of man and systems. I am happiest when I am serving. Being used by God, as part of that disruption and His ultimate solution, is incredibly gratifying. [and sometimes equally challenging]
Every single person can be restored to health and their own dream can be pursued. When you help someone else, it’s usually you who is helped more.
So get out there. See the need. Serve someone. And find the cause that God has created you for.