Boxed In: Letting the divine open your heart

A small decorative box, lid is slightly open

I put God in a box, but the sacred just squeezed right out of the side. It was the height of the recession, and I aptly labeled the box “new job” and “desperate.” I prayed fervently for this singular outcome, but the divine just kept cleaning out the dark corners of my heart, the places I would not willingly go on my own, and managed to usher in healing and just enough light so I could make my way.

I remember sitting in a brightly painted lobby, one afternoon, in my interview suit. I was waiting to be called in. It was a group interview, that time, for an afterschool program. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but I figured I could do it for fun, for something to look forward to as the hours of my days dragged on. I joined in the single-file line of applicants as we paraded quietly into the conference room. I’d been in education for close to twenty years. I’d coached teachers and principals. I’d worked with superintendents. I’d even opened a charter school.

But when the interview questions were over, none of which addressed my background, and I learned that the position was nothing more than a disciplinarian, I decided to withdraw. The woman in charge, in her button-down shirt and jeans, seemed genuinely shocked. I wasn’t sure why. I thanked her once more and headed back to my car. Alone in the parking lot, it hit me: No one in that room thought I was overqualified. “No one, God,” I said out loud. I looked around at the neighborhood, at the empty lots and boarded-up houses, and knew that I was no more immune to suffering than anyone else.

When I decided to enter the job search, I did not know I’d still be searching two years later. I did not know that the decision to listen to my heart could lead me so far afield. I did not know that trying to let go of work that had once been my passion, but no longer fueled me, would mean I’d be competing with 350 overqualified candidates who had thirty years of experience when the job required seven. I did not know that I would land on the wrong side of the recession, recycling the same two pairs of jeans, yoga pants, and sweats.

But I also didn’t know—nor could I foresee—that I’d fall in love with gardening, that early in the mornings when the city was still asleep, I’d dig my hands into the earth and feel God’s presence right next to me. I didn’t know that I’d find myself tutoring a handful of my nephew’s friends and fall back in love with why I chose education in the first place. And I never once suspected that I’d actually start to heal a health issue that had plagued me for years.

I was even more surprised that I shed my reservations about networking and learned to ask perfect strangers to coffee and actually enjoy it. I opened my heart to an unexpected ministry, one that offers community and renewal to men and women struggling to conceive. My first book went into reprints. I dusted off my second manuscript and decided to be a part of another oral history project, one that interviewed people who had lived through the segregated South, and the segregated Church, and had emerged stronger and wiser and freer.

There was—and still is—so much I do not know. I tried hard to see the hand of God in all of it, in the good and the not so good. And it changed me, stretched me beyond what I thought was possible, and left me with a growing sense of peace. I know people like to say there is a plan, and I can’t say if that is true or not. All I know is that God is bigger than all the ways we try to box in the divine, to limit what is limitless.

I never did get that job that I wanted so badly. I kept my business going, and even on my worst days, I am still profoundly grateful. We are all called to dwell in the mystery of the divine. The invitation is always there. And so is the love.