I knew in 5th grade what I wanted to be when I grew up. My teacher, Mrs. Atkison, a wonderful teacher whose name was so hard to say we simply called her Mrs. A and who had a slight obsession with all things cow print, gave us an assignment to write a one-page paper outlining our future plans.
From that day on, I didn’t budge from my plan. I was going to be a doctor. I graduated from 5th grade and that cow-clad classroom, and as I moved through the rest of school I made sure to take all those smart sounding classes like Physics, Calculus and Anatomy & Physiology. I pushed my love of books and writing to the back burner because there just wasn’t time for those anymore. I graduated from high school and headed to Bama never even second guessing my major–Biology/Pre-Med. I waded through Organic Chem, Physics and so much Calculus that I began to think my TI-89 calculator was my best friend. And while I barreled forward with my plan, an uneasiness in me was growing.
When I got my MCAT scores back a few months before graduation, I was devastated. I did not have the score I needed to be admitted with early admission. (If your score is high enough, you can be admitted through the early admission route and have your spot secure and happy while everyone else is still freaking out about getting in.) At the time, I couldn’t think of anything worse, but now I can look back and see God’s hand quietly guiding me. I tried to push that bad news aside and concentrated on regular admission. Meanwhile, Matt and I finished up at Bama and moved back to Mississippi. We got married November 2005 and I got a call a few weeks before our wedding letting me know that my med school interviews were scheduled for the Monday after our honeymoon. There’s a wake-up call after a week of wedded bliss.
I showed up to my interviews, three of them total, and found out that I would be meeting with two female physicians and one male. I don’t even remember my interview with the man, but I’ll never forget my interview with each lady. After finding out that I had recently gotten married, one of the female physicians told me to, “Take a picture of your husband so that you’ll remember what he looks like in four years when you see him again.” Not exactly what I wanted to hear after being married for ten whole days. And after leaving that joy-filled interview, I went to my next one where the other female physician asked me how I planned to balance family life and work. I gave her my thoughts and asked her how she handled it. She said, “Well, I’m on my third marriage so I’ll let you know how this one goes.” I left the medical school building that day with my stomach turning. The uneasiness that had crept in my last year at Bama was now something I couldn’t deny. While I know amazing, strong women who have done a beautiful job balancing being a physician, serving God through their practice and the lives they touch, and being a wife and mom, I couldn’t ignore what God was telling me any longer. That wasn’t the plan He had for me.
You see, the back story is that in 8th grade I surrendered to the ministry. I never doubted that this calling was real. I simply thought I would add that calling to the plan that I already had in the works. I thought, every once in a while, I could do some medical missions and be done with it. I would still be able to do what I wanted and, sort of, obey Him at the same time. But as I walked out to my car from the medical school that day, big tears streaming down my face, I knew my plan wasn’t going to fulfill me. I knew, in that moment, my plan was going to have me running in 89 different directions, never being “all there” and disappointing those I loved most. I had to let go. When I look back now, I know why it was so painful to give up my plan. My pride liked the status that came with the letters “M.D.” My ego liked the illusion of “having it all.” And my performance-driven self liked the way people talked about my accomplishments and how bright my future was. I know now that’s why I hung on so long. I was afraid of who I might be without that future status and title.
That began the first of my lessons on letting go of control and trusting God. (A lesson I apparently need repeatedly because my life seems to regurgitate this theme on a regular basis.) I was talking with Matt’s step-mom the other day and she asked me, “Elissa can you believe that ten years ago you were headed in a totally different direction?” I sat back on the couch with the phone up to my ear and smiled. It was one of those reflective moments where I realized the beauty of how God reveals to us his good, pleasing and perfect will. It isn’t all at once. Rather, it’s step by step, with just enough light on the path to show me where to put my next footprint. I fought so hard for so long because I believed my plan would fulfill me and satisfy me. But we will never feel more fulfilled than when we are living out the purpose God created us for, whatever that purpose may be. Discovering God’s purpose has been a slow journey for me, a journey I know I am still at the beginning of. One step at a time, the light just barely reaching past my toes.
I’ll never forget the morning, a little less than 5 years ago, when I woke up and God finally got through the hardness of my heart. The week prior I had taken a spiritual gifts and it came back with encouragement as my top gift. I didn’t feel like “encouraging” people was a real gift. The other gifts like teaching, exhortation, prophecy and giving all seemed so much more substantial (especially those with fancy sounding names like exhortation). And if I was being really honest, encouraging other people took the focus off of me. And at the time, I was in such an insecure spot in my life that my pride was looking for other people to heap praise on me, not the other way around. In that moment as the morning sun streamed through the window just past my bed, God showed me how powerful words are, that they have the power to give life to those around me. God said to me, “This. This is the plan I have for you. I know you don’t think it’s much right now, but I’ll show you what I can do with a willing heart.” I realized God had given me a gift with words, but He had not given me that gift solely for my good but for the good of His body. From that day forward, it has been my mission, my purpose, my goal to encourage those around me with every fiber of my being. Now, the greatest compliment someone can give me is to say my words encouraged her. Because when someone tells me that, I feel like I am doing the thing God put me here to do. I feel like I am carrying out my purpose. And there is nothing that gives me greater joy and greater pride than watching God use such an imperfect and stubborn person like me to share with others how valuable they are in God’s eyes.
Yesterday morning I was working on a talk for a ladies retreat I’m teaching in a couple weeks, and after flipping back and forth in my Bible and writing as fast as my hands would go, I stopped and held my Bible tight against my chest, the same way my oldest holds her beloved pink kitty cat, and smiled. I still have so far to go and so many ways I need to grow, but living out the purpose God created me for is so much fun. It isn’t easy. I feel inadequate about 110% of the time. He asks me to do scary things and makes me uncomfortable more than I care to admit, but I know in the deepest part of my soul that His plan is truly good.
… And while I may not have stuck with my “What I want to be when I grow up” plans in 5th grade, I do love some Chick-fil-A. So, at least all that cow print taught me something. 😉