Here’s what I’ve learned: when everything and everyone around you is messy and complicated and uncertain, you sit in stillness and quiet, and you wait for the Next Right Thing.
It is both simple and complex. It is straightforward and mysterious.
But to bravely step into the NRT, as it will henceforth be known, is to step into wholeness and peace and joy, knowing you are precisely where you need to be. To bravely step into the NRT is to discover what Brian McLaren refers to as aliveness. The beauty and thrill steal your breath, the contentment bathes you with strength and equanimity.
This is what I have learned.
God has tilled the soil of our family and planted seeds of justice and mercy from the beginning. I vividly remember a distinct nudge while Michael and I were starry-eyed college students: Your home will be a safe place where Love is found. Even with ridiculously polar-opposite personalities, Michael and I share a love for hospitality and opening our home whenever we can to whoever needs it. Hosting guests in our home—whether it was our tiny newlywed apartment or our ginormous 5-bedroom McMansion—fuels us and energizes us and offers us a sense of purpose.
We have grown to know God as the master conductor, artistically and perfectly conducting a grand symphony of people and circumstances in a way that shows off his greatness.
We have been shaken from our sleepy, linear, 90s church culture and pushed forward into the Kingdom where Jesus lives among the least—the marginalized, the outcast, the forgotten—and we have learned to find him and join him in those places. We have learned that true religion is not how we follow the rules, but how greatly we love.
One of the top-priority goals for our kids is this: when they are grown and living their adult lives (not with us), if they ever reach a season of life when they are not serving and loving people well, they will be physically uncomfortable. I want justice and mercy so deeply ingrained into the marrow of their identity that they will be restless and unsatisfied until they jump back on the train.
That’s where Michael & I were last spring. After reading Interrupted in 2012 and launching into a life with new eyes and new passion, we reached a season of stagnancy. It happens. We still had the same fervor, but fewer outlets to expend it. So we began to pray, What next? Who do you want us to love? How do you want us to love? Where? When? We’re getting a little antsy. Show us the Next Right Thing.
Embo came to our church several years ago, and she and Meghan became fast friends. Embo has spent most of her life being bounced and shifted and occasionally drop-kicked from foster homes to homeless shelters to friends’ homes, and back to foster homes again. Nomadic, unstable, and inconsistent doesn’t begin to describe her experience.
Yet this girl—this intelligent, strong, faith-filled, resilient girl—defied all the odds and graduated high school with honors last spring at age seventeen. (No one, including her, is exactly sure how she was able to graduate early, but her last high school counselor added up the credits from the 28 [that’s a real number] schools she attended and said she could. So she did.) College was the next logical step toward her goal of becoming Dr. Embo (and I have no doubt she will), but because she was still underage and still officially in the foster care system, her options were limited. She would have to be placed with another foster family with no guarantee for transportation to her classes.
Michael and I found out what was going on, and we looked at each other. This was a no-brainer. This was our NRT.
We talked about it and prayed about it. We talked to our kids, who all know her well. Everyone was on board (which is a total understatement. There was much rejoicing and whooping and cheering, as if we had announced we were moving to Disney World).
You would think it would be a harder decision. You would think there would be more back-and-forth, more weighing the options. There wasn’t. We just knew.
I mentioned the idea to her last summer, and at first I thought her silence meant hesitation. Not at all. She was just speechless…and really, really happy.
My favorite novels often use chapter breaks to switch perspectives and tell the story from another character’s point of view. Let’s back up the truck for a minute.
Embo moved into her fourth foster home last spring, and like most, it was not a great situation. The weight of her experience—all of it—threatened to crush her, but she would have none of it. She began to write—raw, honest reflections on her identity, her family, the foster care system—with perspective and vision beyond her years.
About this time, Jen Hatmaker put together a launch team to review and promote her new book, For the Love (which, by the way, is a great read). Five thousand women applied, and 500 were chosen. Embo was one of them.
While the launch team met on a private Facebook page, those who were not chosen formed their own group to cheer on Jen and celebrate her book. They called themselves The #4500.
(I know, right??? Golden.)
Because writers write, Embo expressed her fear and grief and frustration one day in a blog post, then quietly shared a link on both the launch team and the #4500 pages.
This is where God starts showing off.
These precious women, including Jen herself, rallied around our girl like Mother Hens. They embraced her and loved her and cheered her on, they made sure she knew that they saw her, that she is not forgotten, that her life and her voice matter. Within this rich soil of abundant grace and love, Embo began to flourish. She courageously dared to have hope.
While Michael and I prayed for God to show us who to love, twelve hundred women began to pray and ask God to provide a home and a family for Embo.
After the required background checks, calls to personal references, and a four-hour home study, a judge issued an order to declare We Belong To Each Other. Legally, she named us Temporary Possessory Conservators—but we prefer “family.” During Embo’s first week with us, I had exactly two moments of holy crap, we have four kids! This is right, right? We heard You correctly? We’re doing the right thing?…but then she missed dinner one night for a meeting, and her absence was palpable. We are not complete without her.
Someone recently stopped me at church and thanked me for welcoming Embo into our family. Thank you, I replied, but honestly I feel like we should thank her. Our home has never been more alive. We’ve never encountered the presence of God more tangibly. Nothing has ever felt more right.
The NRT requires only one small step of courage. And knowing the NRT requires only your stillness and willingness to listen. I’m not a hero. I’m not some example to be lifted up and honored. I’m simply one woman inspired by great women to be still and be brave.
What is your NRT? It doesn’t have to be something huge, like adding another child to your family. It could be a phone call, or a job application, or a walk. It could be a beginning or an end or a choice to continue for one more day. It could be saying yes, or saying no. I’ll tell you mine: in a specific relationship, I need to bite my tongue and not be a jerk. Baby steps, man. It’s too much for me to be mushy and gushy and kind and sweet with this person. Not yet. I have to take the first step to simply shut my mouth. That I can do.
Be still, be quiet, be expectant. Ask for the next step. Only one step. Then courageously pick up your foot, just one foot, and move.
PS: Our girl is well on her way to Adulting (it’s a verb). She’s taking a full load of classes at the community college while working both an internship and a part-time job. Our family is a safe, stable launch pad for her. We’re working on budgeting and time management and will soon teach her to drive so she can get her driver’s license when she turns 18 in the spring. My friend, Morgan, with the support of the launch team and the #4500, has started a fund for Embo to buy a reliable, low-mileage used car. When you’re being still and quiet and waiting for your NRT, would you ask God—or your inner voice or whoever is speaking to you—if investing in this amazing young world-changer is your NRT?
You can read more about Embo and her car fund here.