Thank God for GPS and the Holy Spirit

No one has ever actually died at the hands of my driving, but my friends will tell you that they’d all prefer it if I wasn’t in charge of getting us from point A to point B on any given trip.  And, if I’m being honest, I’ll admit that there are things that I’m really good at but driving isn’t one that immediately comes to mind.  Poor depth perception, a lack of ability to estimate time, and an incessant need to look at whomever is speaking have all wreaked havoc on my credibility as a driver. 

In addition to my less-than-stellar driving skills, I also get to claim being directionally challenged as a potential reason why I’m not the designated driver for any weekend road trips.  I can convince myself that north is south quicker than a sports car accelerating in the express lane.  My mother and brother can instinctively know whether we should turn left or right when the way is unclear.  I do not possess this instinctiveness and will, instead, be staring at the license plate of the car next to us, trying to make sense of it’s custom vanity plate instead of checking the GPS as would be helpful.  

On a driving trip to Dallas with my mother many years ago, in the middle of one of the massive mixmasters that Dallas/Ft. Worth is known for, I missed my exit and rerouted myself, heading north instead of east as I should have been.  I had a small but mighty panic attack while my mother causally navigated us to where we needed to go using back roads and a general sense of us needing to go “that way.”  We arrived at our destination on time and not at all hurt thanks to my mother’s intuition and no thanks to my dramatic flair in determining that we’d likely never ever reach my aunt’s house because of my exit blunder and would be stuck in traffic for the rest of our lives.

Every trip needs entertainment, right?

There wasn’t a specific instance where I suddenly knew what God’s voice sounded like.  It was more of a gradual thing and only when I heard something other than His voice did I realize that I had a semblance of what His sounded like.

I grew up going to church every time the doors were open.  My brothers and I were expected and encouraged to read the Bible.  I was given a wide berth and a lot of grace when it came time for me to establish my own faith, apart from my parental influences.  And, still, it took me twenty years to be able to recognize when God was speaking.  I’ve never audibly heard Him like Moses did at the burning bush.  But, within my spirit, inside me, I have heard Him many times.  Promptings to do things that would bring Him glory.   Rarely straight answers to questions, usually more of a reminder of who He is and what His purpose for me is.  Nudges. And, I’ve come to realize that the time I’ve spent studying scripture helped me know what He sounded like, but it is only when I get quiet that I actually hear Him.

Attention Deficit Disorder wasn’t a thing when I was growing up.  But, I am convinced that had it been, I would have benefitted from medication to calm my active mind.  I’ve been told that there are two basic and broad avenues of attention deficit.  One of these broad options is when the brain is so focused on a single thing that it only computes exactly what it’s focused on, leaving everything else that’s happening by the wayside, almost as if it’s being ignored.  And then, the other option is that the brain is reading and processing everything as if there is no filter and everything is getting through so nothing is actually being consumed, intellectually.  The latter option is exactly how my brain works.  And, I find that being quiet and still happens so infrequently that sometimes I completely miss what God is saying in my spirit.  It’s not enough for me to sit in a quiet room with my devices turned off.  I have to quiet my mind and thoughts.  I have to stop talking – in my mind and to myself – to give God space to speak and for me to hear Him.

Similar to my terrible driving and lack of directional skills and the panic I feel when I miss an exit,  I am terrible about living each day as if I know what’s going on, insisting that I know what needs to be done and how it needs to be done better than anyone else.

I come from a long line of list-makers.  We Brants like a check-mark next to a task to show what we did with our time each day.  These lists act as motivation to get things done and affirmation when I can check them off the list.  I write a To Do list nearly every evening about what I’d like to accomplish the following day.  Some tasks roll over to the next day’s list if I’ve not been able to get everything done, and some tasks get scratched out because I’ve determined to do something different.  But, most tasks go on the notepad each night and get check-marked by the end of the next day.

Earlier this summer, I had this epiphany about how I’ve pushed and shoved my way through each To Do list without stopping to consider if what I’ve been doing is what God has wanted me to do that day.

While planning and preparing are incredibly important, I have to accept that if I’m terrible at directions and driving, chances are I’m terrible at guiding myself through each day.

And, if I’ve been given this Spirit, indwelling, to help me do what I can’t do on my own, wouldn’t it make sense to make my lists every evening but to come to God with open hands each day so that He can guide me to what He wants me to do?

With that thought in mind, I’ve started, just after my alarm goes off each morning, before my day starts asking, “God, what do you want me to do today?”

Giving God space to make my day whatever He wants has prompted a shift within me.  My daily actions and interactions have followed suit.  Most days, I carry on, working my way through my To Do list – emptying the dishwasher and calling about getting my lawn mowed and writing for a new nonfiction writing challenge.   But, there are times when I know that He has orchestrated something within the ordinary simply because I’ve given Him the space to dictate what my day will look like.

Doing this for even just a few short months has strengthened my ability to hear God.  On top of the scripture reading and praying, this simple question has opened a communication line that has connected me to God in a mighty way.

And what about you?  Are you a good driver and know what to do and where to go?  You’ll still want to hear what God has planned each day.  Slow down.  Take your hands off the wheel.  Let God tell you what to do and where to go.

Or, are you like me – flying by the seat of your pants hoping someone knows where you are and how to get you back on track?  You’ll want to hear what God has planned each day.  Slow down.  Take your hands off the wheel.  Let God tell you what to do and where to go.

And, see if this little question – God, what do you want me to do today? – doesn’t create space for Him to remind you that He has you right where He wants you.

Other Duties As Assigned

I spent a long time in college.  A long time.

It took me five and a half years to finally finish undergrad with some semblance of a degree and, eventually, an additional two years to wrap-up my post-graduate degree.

Flitting between five different colleges and four different degree plans, I took a bunch of classes in all those years of college.  All kinds of them.  A little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Everything from Intro to Tennis (The instructor was cute, and I became a founding, card-carrying member of the Corey Hill Fan Club, sitting on those bleachers where I’d gotten out of, yet another, workout because of some ridiculous reason I made up on my way to class.) to Intro to Costuming (I learned a new, less-creepy meaning of the word “spiders” and how, based on my sorely lacking sewing skills, I should refrain from quitting any day job that might come along).

When I finally settled on the bread-winning major of Elementary Education, the classes seemed to fit me better. I relished the classes and soaked up the processes.  Teaching.  Kids.  Books. Technology This was what I was made for.

But, in every job description I’ve ever seen and signed, the phrase that brings the expectations portion to a close is, “And, other duties as assigned.”  Even a skeptical mind knows that this phrase is meant to encompass all the things that a supervisor might not have thought of and those tasks that might be added onto a position as things come up. I’ve, unfortunately, heard countless stories of employers who take advantage of that phrase, as if the words act as the contract of an indentured servant.  But, it seems to me, in my experience, the healthy space between the listed expectations on a job description and that line about other duties as assigned is where the good stuff is found.

One of my favorite places and time of learning was when I spent my days in an elementary library, reading to kids and helping them find books that made their eyes dance.  After a class full of four-year-olds filed out of the library one afternoon having just heard a precious rhyming story of forest animals preparing for a party while tip-toeing around a hibernating bear, one of my littlest learners stopped in front of me.  She dramatically stamped her foot and pointed to her shoe.  It was then that I noticed her shoelaces strung out behind her foot.  “Will you tie my shoe, Miss Brant?” she inquired.  I sank down into a sitting position, criss-crossed my legs, took her shoes, re-threaded the laces, and retied her shoe.  She skipped off, new books tucked in hugged arms, thinking nothing of what just happened, but I couldn’t stop smiling.

At that same library, I spent months teaching my students with severe developmental disabilities how to check out their own books.  I’d spent time teaching every other student the five or six steps to check their old books back into circulation and then to turn around and check out new books for the week, and while it took a little longer to learn and more supervision, my four unique learners were able to check their books in and out each time they came to the library.  And, as was my normal send-off, I’d walk these students to the door, give high-fives, and tell them that I loved them.  One of these unique learners who rocked an extra chromosome better than anyone I ever knew would turn around and point at me and say, “No!  Love YOUUUU!”  It was the highlight of my week.

Recently, I was called upon to discipline a high school senior after his failed attempt at being funny on a digital platform caused parents to be upset.  The kid was hilarious but didn’t consider his audience.  He didn’t mean any harm but certainly didn’t consider the effects of his poorly planted humor.  I started the conversation by telling him how funny I thought he was, how I had read aloud to colleagues the banter in question while we all laughed until tears rolled down our faces.  And, then I brought up timing and audience and how pivotal both variables were to landing humor.  I told him that I hoped he continued to be funny and that he’d continue to work on his delivery so that he’d get maximum laughs.  And, then I told him that if he ever did that again on a school-owned platform, I’d hunt him down.  We laughed because after all these years, I’ve gotten better at my own delivery to warrant maximum laughs.  As he was leaving, he turned back toward me and said, “Thanks for this, Miss Brant.” And, I don’t know that I’ve ever felt more proud of a disciplinary moment.

None of these instances fell under the official expectations listed on any job description, but they are the other duties as assigned that have taken up the most space in my memory.  They are, to me, what made each job fulfilling.  These other duties made every day worth it.

And, so while some employees balk at the vagueness of those other duties as assigned, I’ve come to appreciate them as being what really makes a position.  Underneath the expectations, usually at the bottom of the job description, look for the magic phrase.  It might just be the good stuff that’ll make your day worth it.

Fill ‘Er Up

Back when drivers stayed in their cars and relied on gas station attendants to fill up gas tanks and wash windshields, my little four-year-old self sat in the back of my parent’s white Mercury Monarch with faux burgundy leather interior watching the experience unfold.

I loved the pleasantries exchanged between my dad and the attendant through the rolled-down window that Dad would have hand-cranked when he pulled up under the overhang of our local Amoco gas station. Dad always liked to learn each attendant’s name so he could answer appropriately when they asked, “How you doin’, Mr. Brant?” “I’m doing fine, Mr. Reggie. How’re you?” The simple exchange about weather and car parts and the daily grind leveled both men to a commonality that boosted rapport and built loyalty that brought them both back to that same gas pump some days later, like clockwork.

Once services were rendered and a gas card produced, the attendant would go into his station and come back out with a small, plastic clipboard, the gas card propped such that it stood up tall and out in front was a receipt waiting for my dad’s signature. The attendant would hand the clip board to my dad through the open window who would, in his typical flourish, sign the receipt and hand the clipboard back to the attendant.

Then, because magic sometimes happens in the most unassuming places, the attendant would peel back the layers of the recipe until he found the customer copy, tear it from its side binding and hand it to Dad. Well wishes and gratitude were exchanged, Dad would hand-roll his window up, and we’d be off to wherever it was we were headed.

But, my mind was still back on that receipt. Had anyone else seen that? What kind of hocus-pocus had I witnessed? Dad signed the top page, but the bottom page had his signature on it, too. How in the world? It was more than my young mind could process, having never heard of carbon paper or triplicate receipts.

And I’ll tell you, that magical appearance of a signature on a page that hadn’t actually been signed as happened with the triplicate receipts given at gas stations the nation over was the deciding factor for my decision, at the age of four, to be a gas station attendant when I grew up. I shared this news proudly whenever asked to decide my future career and was only swayed on this idea at seven or eight when I learned that being a teacher meant you got to be in charge and, being the youngest in the family and therefore always being bossed around, being in charged and bossing others around seemed far more magical than some old gas receipt.

Thankfully, and much to my parent’s relief, the teacher-thing stuck, and when I entered the workforce after college it was to be a fourth grade teacher and not a now-nonexistent gas station attendant.

But, what if I had continued on the path to becoming a gas station attendant?

Aside from the obvious salary differences and uniform expectations, I wonder how different I’d be as a gas station attendant than I am an educator.

Here’s what I’m getting at: my personality, strengthens, weaknesses, and talents were shown long before I signed my first job contract in 2002. The person who I am, the employee I was to become, the difference I was to make was stitched into my very being long before anyone noticed these traits in a job review.

We’re all in the same boat in that way.

The Bible tells us that God knit us in our mother’s womb. He created us – knitted us – with strengths and talents and gifts and weaknesses from our very start. (Psalms 139:13) He made us exactly as we are and exactly as we’re supposed to be. Our purpose in life – in every day dealings and in career choices, in the way we parent and the way we handle stress, the paths we lean toward and the routes we avoid – can be seen in little ways and sneak peaks in every person beginning at birth.

This is great to keep in mind as our kids grow up. It might help us through some rough behavior in their younger years.

But, it’s also really helpful for us, you and me. Once we find ourselves in the forest of families and careers and responsibilities and middle-age, it can be really easy to forget who we are and what our purpose is. Sometimes, in the middle of all the stuff, we find we can’t see the way. And, it behooves us to pause and remember what it was that caught our eye and gave us joy back when our peripheral wasn’t so crowded.

I have always been a people-person, and I’ve always been someone who seeks opportunities to help another. It’s no wonder I hung on every word during our weekly gas station visits – those exchanges highlighted skills, task, and talents that I possessed and in which I was gifted. And, the coolest part is that those are skills, tasks, and talents that I still possess and in which I am still gifted.

Lots of things have changed in the forty years between now and then, but who I am at my very core isn’t one of those things. The gifts God knitted within me in my mother’s womb are still tightly stitched into the fabric of my purpose and calling all these years later.

When my niece was in Kindergarten, at a moment when her teacher stepped out of the room and her classmates lost their minds and were running crazy within the classroom, she stood up on her desk and yelled at everyone to quiet down and to get back to their seats. Her teacher stepped back into the room in time to see everyone else in their seats except my niece who was still standing on her desk, daring her classmates to act up on her watch. She got in trouble that day for standing on her desk and yelling at her peers, but those skills and talents and gifts serve her well twelve years later as she works to obtain her degree in Theater Tech. She’s going to make an amazing Director for some huge Broadway show in New York, one of these days, and we all should have seen it coming from as far back as Kindergarten.

And, what about you? What is it that you loved doing as a child that has manifested itself in your daily life? What do you need to get back to? What beautiful thread that was knitted within you inside your mother’s womb needs a chance to shine?

The First Day

I forgot to turn off my alarm.

The same alarm that has sounded at 5:50 A.M. for nearly all of my 20-years of gainful employment rang this morning at exactly the same time it has rung every morning. And, as always, I turned it off in a sleepy stupor with thoughts of how early I should go to bed tonight to prevent this same sleepy stupor tomorrow morning. As is my morning routine, I rolled over, pulled the quilt around my shoulders tighter and took stock of what the day would look like for me: what meetings I’d attend, whose needs were priority, how I could get to one building in time to catch one person and still make it to another building for a meeting with this other group of people. And that’s when reality struck: I had no where to be and no one with whom to meet.

I was, for the first day in my entire twenty-year career of employment, since I graduated from undergraduate school back in 2001, unemployed.

I hadn’t been happy in my job for some time. And, through some hard knocks, painful shaping on the anvil, and a whole lot of Holy Spirit, I could see clearly that my joy and value and worth was totally and completely wrapped up in what people thought about me and the work I did, and something had to change.

The Bible teaches us that if we built our house – not really just a house but our lives or our careers or our family or our wants and wishes – on the sinking sand of pleasing man and trying to stay in step with the world, our house will, eventually fall, and I could feel the walls of my house giving way.

I had, for some time, been feeling God’s nudge that it was time to move on to a place where my house could withstand the charging winds and debilitating sun. My spirit was pointing out that my joy would come when I put myself in a place, a position, a posture, that would provide the best environment for God’s gifts and strengths to grow and flourish within me. …and that environment wasn’t where I was currently working.

So, I hit the gas pedal on looking for a new job. I dutifully completed and submitted hundreds of applications. I went on tons of first- and second-level interviews. I even made it to the final round of several jobs. But, nothing came through for me.

About six weeks ago, I hit my knees in petition to God. Seven months into “Operation Get A New Job”, and the fruit of my labor wasn’t showing. I had nothing. What in the world?! I could feel His nudges to leave and had put in the work to find my next place of employment. Why wasn’t this all coming to fruition? What was I doing wrong? And, where was God?

There’s a story in the Bible of a group of fishermen who have been out in the Sea of Galilee all night but have caught no fish. Jesus meets up with these disappointed fishermen and directs them to cast their fishing nets into the lake on the other side of the boat. He tells them that if they do this, they’ll catch more fish than they can pull up out of the water. The men do as instructed and watch as the nets begin to break under the weight of the amount of fish they caught. (John 21:1-9)

I happen to believe that it wasn’t that the fishermen were fishing in the wrong place all night. And, I don’t think that Jesus pointed them to the spot where the fish were biting. These were experienced fishermen who spent all night fishing. They knew what they were doing. They’d, likely, already dropped their nets in that very same spot at some point in the night. I think the power and magnitude of the moment is that they’d exhausted all their efforts and upon hearing Jesus’ commands they acted immediately, the fish crowded their nets, because that’s what God does when His children are obedient to the teachings of Jesus; He blesses them with more than they could ask or imagine.

And, so, because I grew up in church and read the Bible every day, I asked God in a very undignified, know-it-all prayer, “God! Where is my job?! Am I putting my net in the water on the wrong side of the boat? Tell me which side! I’ll drop my nets wherever you tell me!”

The story from the Bible of these fishermen and their loaded nets would take on a different tone if Jesus had commanded them not to drop their nets on a different side of the boat, but to stop fishing, altogether. If instead of an alternate way to catch fish, Jesus called the fishermen to come ashore and leave their boats, the fisher men might have gawked a little. They might have sat back on their haunches and considered the effects of doing such a thing. They might have calculated this month’s rent and an empty pantry, and they might have worried about the loan they took out earlier that was coming due. They might have considered how the couch slept since that’s surely where they’d sleep once their wife found out they’d not made a dime that night and had stopped fishing because that’s what Jesus had told them to do. The story would have had a different ring; it would have been swallowed differently, don’t you think?

That being true and understandably hard to do, had Jesus called those fishermen to leave their boats and stop fishing, God would have filled their nets in some other way because that’s what God does. When His children are obedient to the teachings of Jesus, to His call on their life, God blesses them with more than they can ask or imagine.

In a quiet whisper, early one morning, six weeks ago, I heard God tell me, in my spirit, “I told you it was time to leave; I didn’t say you needed to get a new job.”

God called me to step away from my boat and to stop fishing.

As I’m sure those fishermen would have done if the instructions had been different, I told God about rent and an empty pantry and my debt and how upset my dad would be. I told Him that it seemed irresponsible and not really socially acceptable. I told Him that I was scared and had trust issues with not being in control of situations. The only response I got from God on all of these really solid reasons NOT to follow Him was a quiet but steadfast, “I know.”

So, a little over two weeks ago, I resigned at my job. Yesterday was my last day.

…and today is my first day of unemployment.

I have no idea what God is doing.

I have thoughts of being an Educational Tech Consultant and creating an online Digital Citizenship course and writing a book about my Grandpa Arthur.

But, the truth is, the only thing for sure thing I know to do is to write. That’s what God has called me to do. And, I am leaning into and believing that because I have followed His command in obedience, He will bless me with more than I can ask or imagine.

What has God called you to do? Are you doing it? What is standing in your way?