words and images: Jessica Sowards
I was born in south Arkansas and have spent the great majority of my thirty years living within the state. My life has not led to many travel opportunities. Partially because I did not seek them, largely because I could not afford them. Even still, when I talk with well-traveled people, I want to assure them that if not all who wander are lost, not all who stay put are stuck.
There is a place in this big, scary world that is carved out just for me. It’s a old house on a handful of acres. There are five boys inside, chickens in the yard, a kitchen full of cast iron and a beautiful man of God on an orange tractor. I know who I am. I know what I want. I have found my tribe and my niche and live in great thankfulness for it.
But then, Jesus. He does like to call us out of our comfort zones, doesn’t He?
The day we moved onto our little farm, the day we unloaded the U-Haul® into the old house on the four acres and I saw my dream of homesteading become reality, a tornado ripped our community apart. It killed my friend April Smith’s sons, Tyler and Cameron, and would have wrecked our world, but Jesus. Just a week after that storm on April 27, 2014, millions of people heard the story of April’s faith from a viral blogpost I wrote from my kitchen table. I was nursing my son Ezra when I wrote it. And when I watched the page views climb at a mind-boggling rate, with dozens of numbers added per second, my mind reeled. It is incredible what God will do when you choose to be content where He has placed you.
Now, almost two years later, I tap away on my Mac® book from 20,000 feet in the air, returning to my boys and my farm from the other side of the country where April and I just shared hope with a congregation reeling from their own unexpected loss.
They had scheduled us for this event several months ago. The women’s pastor even took a little flack for bringing in a story about hope in the face of death to an event titled “Joy.” But she had felt the urging of God. She saw that joy was not circumstantial and held tight to that unction she felt when she first heard our story.
Less than two weeks before our arrival, when the tickets were bought and the hotel was booked, the sweet church family awaiting us suffered the unexpected loss of their thirty-nine-year-old children’s pastor. And just like that, it all made sense.
After spending Friday night speaking about the kind of joy the Holy Spirit gives and seeing God move in a mighty way in the hearts of His people, April and I had the whole of Saturday to explore California. I woke up early, four a.m. by Fresno’s time. And I knew that 1,772 miles away (I Googled it), my boys and my chickens and my sweet husband were waking up too. I sat up in bed and began to search the internet for a rental car. It was the strangest feeling when I realized I had no grasp of where we were in the city. So I typed it in the search bar, “Where am I?”
We drove to Yosemite first. Up the winding roads, past the kind of scenery I had only ever seen in movies. We stopped in a mountain town I’ve forgotten the name of and began debating what hole-in-the-wall we would choose for lunch. Reading reviews, and checking for distance, I realized again, I didn’t actually know where we were. So again, I asked Google, “Where am I?”
The Sierra Nevada mountain range is a thing to behold. We pulled over at the first sight of snow, got out and slipped around in suede shoes with no coats. April hit me in the head with a snowball and I inhaled the mulchy mountain air in such deep gulps that I became a little lightheaded. We drove past a frozen pond, which I can tell you doesn’t really happen in Arkansas. And when we’d had our fill, we got back into the car and asked our GPS to take us on the four-hour trek to Monterey Bay.
By the time we reached the sea, I’d had to search our whereabouts at least three more times. We got to see California, from her big sky and snow-capped peaks to her dried-up rivers and severely low reservoirs. We reached the bay thirty minutes before sunset. The fog was rolling in and the whole place seemed muted, almost like a dream. We ran down the shore, the cold saltwater licking our heels. We wrote Tyler and Cameron’s names in the sand and took selfies with waves. Then we prayed.
And though I knew my exact geographical location, I couldn’t help but ask Him, “Where am I? How did I get here?”
I’ll never forget that, standing there looking at the Pacific Ocean for the first time and realizing that truly, I could not have taken myself there. I am only an Arkansas girl: born, raised and content to stay put. I have no great wealth. I couldn’t even drive the rental car because I learned upon picking it up that my driver’s license had expired without me realizing. Truly, God carried me to that beach.
It’s a humbling thing, to live a life of doing His business. I am altogether unworthy to do anything at all for Him. But, Jesus. To be honest, I never asked for this. Taking up this role has required trust and obedience I could only find in Him, and even still, I often find myself surveying my life and feeling a great sense of awe that it looks the way it does. It often feels completely foreign.
I ask Him regularly, “How did I get here? Why me?” And I feel like He’s answered. He called Peter out of the boat to walk on the waves. He called him out to a place that he had to keep His eyes on Jesus or else sink. Our comfort zone was never on the list of things He promised us. He instead calls us out on the waves and gives us His spirit to comfort us as we walk there.
My comfort zone is home. It’s Arkansas. It’s a farm and motherhood and chickens. And the only reason I have any of that is because of Him. Because when I make His business my priority, He makes the desires of my heart His. He called me into this completely uncomfortable life and gives me the grace to live it. So I get out of the boat. I step off of the farm and onto the plane.
I may have to ask Him regularly, “Where am I?” but the answer is always the same. He always assures me, deep down in my heart, “Daughter, you are in my hand.”