My parents gave me a blue bike for my 25th birthday. I lived in Celebration, FL at the time and riding a bike around that Truman-Show-like town was a must.
Our job and life in Celebration was the first big grown up move we ever made. We had been traveling around the country since we got married. We even lived in Tulsa, OK and Denver, CO for 3 months each. But traveling from church to church, from city to city for a few days at a time seems like a normal adventure for a couple in their early 20’s.
Moving to Florida? Renting an apartment? Being on staff at a church plant? Only knowing 8 people in the whole state? Buying furniture? (Or rather, not buying furniture) And generally being a grown up for the first time, in an unknown place was an exhilarating dream-I-didn’t-know-I-had come true.
I loved everything about living in Celebration. I could see the Disney World fireworks from my apartment. The people on our church staff quickly became family. My church became my life. My husband and I did everything together.
And then, three years later we packed up our moving truck and left. No one was there to see us off. We had said quick, tearful good-byes to the kids at our church (good-byes that still haunt me). We mourned with the other church staff who had quit just before us.
Suddenly, the church we helped start was in shambles. The friendships we made were abruptly cancelled. The life we built was gone.
We weren’t who we planned on being. We were supposed to help build a ministry. We were supposed to influence a community, a town for Jesus. We were supposed to plan and problem-solve and work hard for children and their families.
Abruptly we were living in half-a-house that could barely be called a duplex across from a Mexican restaurant and a laundromat back in our hometown? What have we done? Where is God’s plan? What is going on?
I just finished reading Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider from the Art of Simple and she tells a similar story (although a little more exciting) about her move from Turkey to the United States. She says, “The forced departure from our home in Turkey was also a forced shedding of identity; we were no longer expats, living the international life we had both wanted and planned since we were single in our early twenties. We were going to become Normal People.”
When I read those sentences, just pages into her book, I cried. That was me. Leaving Celebration, our church and our friends in 2003 changed my identity. All the plans–good, awesome and totally-worth-it plans I’d had for my life, were gone in an instant. We were leaving the church world–and even more specifically, the church-planting world to become Normal People.
And I didn’t like it.
Oh, we enjoyed our time in that almost-duplex. We went bowling with our friends, found new restaurants (mainly the Mexican one across the street), saw our first niece born and worked only enough to eat and pay our bills.
But all the time we wanted to get out of Normal Life and back into the life we thought God had for us. So, we moved again. Packed up our bags, my blue bike and our dreams to get back into church life. We moved to Birmingham, AL which we thought would be less of a culture shock than the balmy, relaxed Florida. It was only three hours from our families, in an affluent area with an up-and-coming church.
Our plans were coming to fruition–big church, big plans, lots of kids to work with, lots of families to influence.
And then they weren’t. I’ve told the story many times in different ways on this blog. The church wasn’t the fit we thought it was. Maybe we tried to make it fit. Maybe we wanted it to work more than God did. Or maybe it was a stopping place so we could discover what our real life was supposed to be.
Throughout Tsh’s book, you journey with her to Kosovo, Turkey, Oregon, Texas and the Philippines. Her longing for the big international life is evident but in the end she says, “I also know that right now, our family needs to live in the States. We may relocate to another country in the future (oh, I hope so!), but today, next year, and possibly the one after that, our family is supposed to stay in our home culture.” which doesn’t sound like anything profound. But can I tell you that it is?
Tsh and her husband had this grand plan. This big thing they felt like they were supposed to do. And it changed. Changed suddenly and almost tragically. How do you do God’s plan for you if you feel He keeps changing it?! How do you do what it is you were made to do when you’re not allowed to do that one thing?!
I think it’s like riding a bike. Maybe your own blue bike. You step on, wobble for a second and then pedal down the street, around the corner and up the path. But if you’d never turned the corner, you’d never see the path. Tsh says, “The season paved the way for our family’s current chapter, and it’s better than we could have imagined.” One journey leads to the next.
Following Jesus and His plan for your life doesn’t always mean discovering it as an 18 year old out of High School and then moving in, settling down and never moving again. Following Jesus may mean starting off as a lawyer and ending up a mom or starting off as a mom and ending up a NY Times Best Selling author. Or loving a disabled husband while you produce a TV news show. Or raising a foster child for who knows how long. Or having quadruplets or living in Cambodia. I mean, who plans this stuff?
You can’t plan your life. You can only pick up your blue bike and follow the One who has been planning for you along.
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Tsh’s book is more than just the story of her trips around the globe. She tells of her journey to make what she loved about the expat life–slow, meaningful living happen in the fast-moving United States. She discusses education, travel, food, work, entertainment and living deep to “suck all the marrow out of life”.
I dog-eared and highlighted so many pages and ideas. Here’s a few of my favorite quotes from the book…
on work (and especially technology)…
“My playground is Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, and I’m among those who can honestly claim it as my work. And I also happen to carry this around, my playground and my office, in my pocket, instantly accessible. As much as I enjoy my work, I find my soul frequently calling for a rest from the loud cacophony of the Internet….The Internet is clamoring for me to admire and interact with the thoughts of my friends and readers around the world, but the payment ins the dimensional people around me, the ones with whom I live and breathe in community.”
“I’d say, ‘No, go find something else to do,” when my kids would ask to watch TV…to watch television as a default would be to waste our many gifts, and it would darken our family’s souls to the rest of the world. We would act as if we deserved our blessings, and we’d live as though entertainment were our right.”
“If I quickly solve my kids’ boredom problem with movies in the car, the next great video game, a slew of extracurricular activities, or even lying on the floor with them to serve as a playmate because no other kids are around, we’re short-circuiting what could ultimately be a beautiful thing. History has shown that boredom is the impetus to creativity.”
“Eating slower, with more intention, means enjoying food as it was meant to be eaten…and then I whisk, churn, process, blend, and scoop out my concoctions, one step at a time, in an unhurried rhythm that gives thanks for the ingredients created in nature, and in gratefulness for God’s provision of them for our family.”
If you’re looking for encouragement in your everyday, inspiration to live a simple more meaningful life, or some insight on living on mission with your family grab Notes from a Blue Bike. It’s a beautiful read.