Walking backwards in the dark

As many of you know, last year on November 1st I chose not to renew my contract at the school where I had been teaching for five years. I wrestled with God and he won. He asked me to trust him and I said okay. True as it is, saying it that way makes it sound less painful than it was. Pieces of me broke in that wrestling match. I cried rivers of tears and tossed through sleepless nights, but all that’s a different story. The immediate result was that I surrendered and resigned my position. That was pre-pandemic of course. The world felt normal last November. Crazy, but normal … and I thought I had seven long months to figure out the next step.

In January and February, I explored various possibilities. I researched schools, renewed my teaching certificate, updated my resume, and posted it to a few job sites. Then … March. The COVID wave hit South Africa and everything changed. Lockdown. Virtual learning. Masks. Isolation. I stopped looking for a job and focused instead on mental/emotional/spiritual survival. I needed to make it to June.

In June, God perfectly and miraculously provided for all the steps needed to fold up my life in South Africa and return to the US. I still didn’t know what I was going to do next or where I would land. I only knew it was time to go – so I went.

Home with family, I slept my way through jet-lag and a quasi-quarantine period, trying to recover from the burnout that had happened in the last half of the school year. Gradually, I restarted my job search. I applied to almost 30 schools in the southeast (NC, GA, SC). From those thirty applications, I got two interviews and one job offer. Still I had no peace. Feeling foolish and confused all over again, I turned it down. What should I do? Where should I go? Why?

I moved to Savannah, Georgia on August 1st. The reasons are difficult to explain, but in short: it was the decision that gave me the greatest peace. Not clarity, but at least peace.

I don’t say all of this because my life and its chaos is that important. (It’s not important, though some out there find the twists and turns mildly interesting.) I share this dull chronology for two reasons. First, whatever my illusions of being a writer, this blog is still essentially a newsletter. Many of you seem to enjoy my news just as much as I love reading your newsletters when they cross my inbox, so this is your latest installment.

The second reason for this post, however, is to share a thought – something between a realization and a sensation. If life in a pandemic has proven anything, it is that no one can see tomorrow (obvs). More than that though, it has proven to me that we are not even facing forwards. Life is in fact a whole lot more like walking backwards in the dark. The eyes of our body may face forward, but the eyes of our hearts face backwards. Apart from the rare prophetic vision, we do not “see” life coming at us, we only remember. Our inner eyes shine like headlights on the past, and we assume that tomorrow will be like today only when, looking back on a string of todays, we see a pattern. It’s a funny image: we predict tomorrow based on yesterday while standing in today. There are, however, at least two problems with this habit. First, “today” itself is not yet clear. Knowing where we are in the present is like trying to catch the shapes and shadows in our peripheral vision. It only becomes clear the farther we step away from the moment. Second, we have no assurance that this moment or the next will follow the pattern of those that have gone before.

Thus the questions we beg: How do we navigate? Who do we trust?

I have wondered what to call this “between” year of mine. I know where I’ve been but I’m not sure where I’m going. I am unemployed but not without work. Life has actually been quite busy since August. Among other things, I am managing two AirBnB’s, tutoring conversational English to adults online, reading stacks of books and working through a set of online courses for my own professional development, taking care of nieces and nephews whenever I can, and trying to set up a small sewing business. The last item needs the most work. I’m not very far along and my sewing room is still a mess, but that will now be my focus in December … at least, that’s the plan. Is it a long-term plan? A short-term plan? A distraction? Or a new direction? I don’t know. It’s just one plan among many that I hold (tentatively, hopefully) even as I walk backwards in the dark.

7 thoughts on “Walking backwards in the dark

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  1. Great metaphor, Lillis. There’s a reason for your gap year…you’ll realize it when it’s behind you. Maybe you’ll return to teaching; maybe you’ll branch in another direction. It’s a complicated (if not horrific) year for most. Keep us posted!

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  2. I read your post today 2 times. The 2nd time giving it a new title – life is more like “walking forward in the light”. Your intelligent. Think on the new title. Pray on it.
    And please vow to never use the adjective ‘dull’ when describing your life! That word just doesn’t exist in your body, mind, or soul.

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    1. Hi Tim, I appreciate your thoughtful reading. The idea that we are walking backwards in the dark is scary, but Biblical. Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boast about tomorrow for you do not know what a day may bring.” And Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And also James 4:13-14. We cannot see tomorrow — neither the trouble nor the blessings that might be hidden there. I ask “who do we trust?” rhetorically, since there is only One who can see what tomorrow holds and therefore only One to trust. Submitting both to the unknown and to God’s providence is fundamental to faith.

      And, it’s true that life is not dull. Only this particular telling of it is rather uncreative. Listing the steps in order doesn’t usually make a story very exciting. But I wasn’t trying to be exciting or dramatic. I would rather get myself enough out of the way to focus on the lesson in faith. I hope that helps clarify a bit. 😊

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  3. Beautiful as always. A secondary benefit to cleaning up my inbox…I can savor again your communications and feel again the gratitude and love I have for you as you share your insights on life.

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  4. We talked about this idea in my writing group on Saturday… of… we only look backwards and literally see our past and our memories. It’s hard to “see” our future… and you are right, except for that rare prophetic moment/glimpse. And yet we still make plans and we still muster up a vision and a future for ourselves. (Well… I hardly ever do, actually, which is no way to live… to just mainly let life happen to me… but, God is helping me with that and I am seeking him for his vision, which I am more confident of than my own… actually I really wouldn’t know if I’m more confident of God’s plan than my own because I’ve never really made a whole lot of plans and worked toward them coming to pass. So… let’s just say I’m grateful that I had this revelation early in life… that seeking God’s plan and vision and working toward it is profitable.)

    Anyhow… speaking of making plans… I really do need to make mine up for my students tomorrow!!!! And I think this is the perfect place to begin… from these your thoughts, and my own, on the future and plans. 😉 (And I am certain you’re tired of me sending you messages now, anyway. But… I just couldn’t help it… I had to read and engage with you. ❤ Peace, friend.)

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    1. I’m glad that these thoughts can be a help to you. They are not original to me, but they are helpful I think. It is good to remember that we are not leading the way, even in our own lives. It is good to lift hands to heaven and say “Your will be done!” And “lead me in the path everlasting.”

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  5. Hey Lillis, your life and its “chaos” are not only important but also fascinating. You definitely qualify as a writer. First, with your “Dune Hopper Diary” emails, you were a blogger before blogging was even a thing. You practically invented blogging. Second, between social media and “self publishing” the bar for who counts as a writer is much lower now than it has ever been. I trust that everyone who reads your writing will agree you have far more claim to that title than so, so many who pass for writers these days. My life has been characterized by walking backwards in the dark. Thus, this post really spoke to me. Thanks for your courage and honesty. I have absolutely no doubt that God has a purpose for this gap year and He will certainly bless your obedience.

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