“…that, when ye go, ye shall not go empty:”Exodus 3:21
It was a sweltering summer morning as I made my way to the bus. I had been at college for a few weeks and I was still acclimating myself to all the change that had come to my once mundane life. The sky was clear and blue with only the hot sun beating down on those who had found themselves awake at the time. I could already feel the sweat pooling on my forehead as I took my seat in the back of the bus.
Every week, Audrey would find me and plop herself next to me, or on my lap.
I was not looking forward to this.
I had made it a goal of mine to get through the whole bus ride without being noticed by anyone. I was painfully shy and felt uncomfortable around children —and most humans in general. You may ask, “Why did you join a bus route then?” To answer that question as simply as possible, it was required. Every student was required to work on a bus route for at least a semester for their ministry opportunity.
I truly liked the idea of being the “super bus worker” to whom all the kids flocked, but I had already acquiesced myself to the fact that I was content to stay in the background —unnoticed and unbothered. Little did I know that God would change the course of my life that day through the influence of one little girl named Audrey.
She made her way up the stairs, in a leisurely manner, her short hair bobbing back and forth. She was struggling to lift her little legs enough to climb each step until she finally appeared. Her shirt was a size too small which left the bare half of her tummy sticking out. Her pants were stained and dirty, her hair was unkempt and wild. To complete the look, she had the sticky leftovers of whatever she had eaten for breakfast on her face. I thought to myself,
“Don’t make eye contact, Ashley. She won’t want to sit with you, if you don’t make eye contact.”
My plan failed. She locked eyes with me and ran back to my seat, plopping herself onto my lap. I was sure that everyone could hear my internal groaning. I was just not good with kids. I didn’t like stickiness, smelliness, anything to do with body fluids, crying or whining —which is basically the embodiment of children. To top off my distress, she turned around and squished her sticky face against mine. I squinted my eyes and tried to act as if I didn’t notice that she had smeared an unidentified substance all over my cheek.
It didn’t help that the bus felt like a furnace, even with the windows opened. The interesting smells of B.O. and old cigarette smoke combined, were enough to make even a strong-stomached person want to hurl.
I just smiled, even though inside I was screaming.
Every week, Audrey would find me and plop herself next to me or on my lap. At first, I was uncomfortable, but the more I learned of her life, the more God softened my heart towards her. I had lived for a long time with an emptiness of real love and compassion towards the people around me. I thought more of myself and what I wanted than what God wanted.
Now I realized that the bus had become a haven from the crazy life into which she had been born. At church, there were no social workers or uncertainty, but kind faces and compassion. It didn’t matter anymore if her hands and face were sticky or if her clothes were dirty. It didn’t matter if I was shy or uncomfortable, because it was no longer about me. My purpose was to make sure that she knew that she was loved by her bus workers and, most importantly, by Jesus.
I also learned a valuable lesson about how God loves me. I come to Him disheveled and broken by life, and yet He scoops me up into His everlasting arms. It is there that I find refuge from the circumstances that I cannot control or change. I love my special time with Him in which He makes me feel loved, cherished and special.
Here I am four years later and I can’t imagine my life without my bus kids. Every week I get to be surrounded by people who make me a better person. For two or three hours, I get to love those raggedy-looking kids and be an influence in their life. I came empty, but, as I graduate this year, I am going out full.
There was a constant feeling of failure that permeated everyday that I was there.
After my first year of college, I quit my job and I left after graduation with the full intention of never going back. Though I was learning valuable lessons through my experiences, I had become too dependent on myself. I worked all the time, took on a full schedule of classes and was trying to balance all my ministries and social life. Unwittingly, I had cut God out of the picture. Imagine that! I was attending Bible College, but my relationship with God was on the back-burner. At the end of my Spring semester, I was done. I had drained myself to the point of complete emptiness and purposelessness. I went home, got a job and was totally unhappy.
There was a constant feeling of failure that permeated every day that I was there. I kept telling myself that this is what I wanted, but, deep down, I knew it wasn’t. I gave myself every excuse in the book to stay. I even started looking at online schools so that I could study to become a social worker. I never lost that love for kids that was ignited through the bus ministry, but I was planning to use it in a way that God didn’t intend for me to use it —at least not at that time. After many failed attempts at a second job, I was discouraged. There was no way that I could pay for online school without a second job. My $9.45 an hour at McDonald’s was not going to cut it!
One day, I took a step back and looked at my life in its current state. Was I really happy? The answer was a resounding “NO.” I started looking at where my unhappiness began. I realized that it was when my relationship with God faltered. I was never very dedicated to my personal walk with God growing up, because my life was filled with Jesus. I went to Sunday School and church, listened to good gospel music and read good books. I was in a “bubble” of spirituality so I never had to exert myself to manufacture the appearance of Christianity. When it was put to the test, it crumbled under the pressures of life.
Where do I even begin?
I didn’t want any quick fixes or any fake happiness. I wanted something real. So I decided to start with the basics of being a good Christian —read the Bible and pray. I got a Bible reading schedule and started writing out a prayer list.
It was amazing to see how God changed me day by day. I grew to love Him the more I got to know Him. Once I started doing this, I wanted to grow even more. I started inviting people to church, witnessing to the people around me and trying to be an example for Christ at my job. In my revived and thriving relationship with God, I decided to go back to college. Coming back to school was scary, but I knew that God wanted me to go there and to finish. He has proven himself faithful to me in my dependence on Him instead of myself. I was empty, but now, as I graduate this year, I’m going out full.
In time, God would again use my emptiness as a vehicle for purpose.
This past Summer, I was preparing to start my senior year. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life —I was afraid. Uncertainty over the future made me feel insecure about God’s timing. Up to this point, I believed that you went to college, you got married and then you went on to serve God. I believed that all life’s big moments were packaged neatly into a four-year time span. My time was almost up! I had seen no progress towards the expectation that I set for myself. This left me feeling obsolete and empty.
I felt like a failure.
I overlooked the merit of all I had accomplished within those four years and how much I had grown. I chose to focus on the conventional things that I lacked instead of what I had gained. I felt like all He had been doing in my life up to that point was useless. I was so fixated on the cookie-cutter version of what I wanted my life to be that I couldn’t see past the “here and now.” In time, God would again use my emptiness as a vehicle for purpose.
In spite of it all, I continued to go to work each day and actively serve in my ministries on the weekends. I continued praying for God to open a door or give some type of clear direction to my life. I didn’t want my college career to end this way. During this time of waiting for an answer, I strengthened my relationship with God. Spending more time with Him was a priority. I had learned not to put Him on the back burner of my life just because I was stressed or uncertain. I adopted Psalms 34:1 as my anthem,
“I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise shall continually be in my mouth.”
I decided that I would not let my circumstances change how I praised God. I would bless Him continually. He had proven through the course of my life that He knew what was best for me. I knew I could trust Him even if I was afraid. I had to become empty of the dreams and expectations I had for myself and give them to God. I had to decide to let Him have control.
About halfway through the summer, I was given the opportunity to apply for an internship with Little Fish ministries in South Africa. To me, this was the perfect opportunity to put the desires and skills, that God had given me, into action. Little Fish ministries strive to meet the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the orphans and abandoned children of South Africa. They have C.A.R.E programs, they work with the missionary families in the surrounding areas, they actively reach people with the Gospel, etc. After video calls, messaging back and forth and much prayer on both ends, I was offered the internship —and I accepted. Now, I am bound for South Africa this coming August for 3 months.
All the things that I had learned, all the moments of emptiness, had finally come full circle. I could see the evidence of God’s hand in it all. God never forgot about me. He never threw me to the side. He was just waiting —waiting for me to once again become empty.
First, I had to become empty of self. Then, I had to become empty of my dependence on myself. Lastly, I had to become empty of my own dreams and expectations. I became empty, but now, as I graduate this year, I am going out full.
I don’t know where this incredible life with Jesus will take me, but I do know that, wherever He leads me, I will not go empty.