Unchartered Territory

2021… In our time together, you taught me a lot.

One of my favorite Bible passages to teach is the story of Abraham and Isaac. God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. (Sounds morbid, but stick with me). Remember, Isaac was supposed to be the son that fathered generations to come. If Abraham killed him, how were these promises going be fulfilled? Also, Isaac had been long-awaited… He was the son that Abraham and Sarah waited decades for.

Genesis 22:2 says, “Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.'”

God wasn’t so specific in his instructions, but He was specific enough for Abraham to keep listening for the next step. He told him the region and then said, “Stay tuned.”

As many of you know, I was slated to relocate to Southeast Asia with FCA in October of 2020. In response to COVID, I was delayed in departure and decided to wait it out back in DC. Towards the end of 2020, I felt the Lord asking me to consider staying in DC. The COVID situation continued to intensify and my 12-hour time difference started to a take a toll as I worked remotely for the Southeast Asia team. This was the most difficult decision that I have ever had to make. Through prayer, solitude and counsel, I decided to lay down my dream to move overseas and take up the DC mantle once again.

The previous DC Director had shifted out of his role and it had remained vacant since May 2020. I can only interpret this as the grace of God to create a space for me back in DC. I had spent so much time since May praying for the new director and the future of FCA in DC. You might just be the answer to the prayers you are praying. Through a handful of heartfelt conversations with FCA leadership, we discerned together that I would transition out of my Southeast Asia role and back to DC. Praise God — two Malaysians were hired to take over my responsibilities in January. We worked together for two months to train and transfer responsibilities.

In March 2021, I transitioned back to DC as the Area Director of Washington, DC serving 8 universities and 52 high schools.

My favorite part about the Genesis 22 passage with Abraham and Isaac is that God asked for Abraham’s obedience, but Abraham had to KEEP LISTENING. If he would have shut off his ears and continued with the original instructions, Abraham would have sacrificed his son (which God never intended).

But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Genesis 22:11-12

There was no doubt that Abraham heard the first command from God: sacrifice your son. But, God was so interested in his ability to remain close to Him and listen for His voice along the way. By listening, Abraham regained His son and celebrated the provision of God from a place that he didn’t expect. Verse 13 said, “Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.”

Friends, I have taught this passage time after time… but to experience it… that feels different. To say, “God, I heard you the first time, but I’m going to keep listening…”

I have felt the breadcrumbs of God’s provision since returning to DC. Breadcrumbs, not in a negative way, but in a “jelly beans along the path” sort of way. A sweetness that confirms that I am heading in the right direction. A posture that feels consistent with my life verse in Isaiah 30:21 — “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'”

Jelly beans feel like an appropriate analogy. You might not see them along the path unless you are really looking for them. There have been a handful of these, but there have also been neon signs with blaring arrows and affirmation.

Perhaps, God’s grandest gesture was the resurrection of my little red car. What a testimony of God’s provision through obedience and even more radical generosity through friends. In August of 2020, I left my car with friends in San Diego, CA (Emma & Kevin). A plan that began as me driving across the country and selling my car in Sacramento turned into giving my car to these DC ministry friends out in California. Signing my car over for $5 was much harder than I ever anticipated, but it’s just stuff, right? Oof. I grappled in my spirit as I thought… not even a tax write-off here. (I could sermonize all day on the things the Lord has taught me through this…) You could say this was a hinge in both of our trajectories.

When I began to discern the shift in “the plan,” I had a call scheduled with Emma in California. As I shared all the had been unfolding, Emma offered the car back. Humbled. Honored. If I had sold that car… it would have been long gone. A tax write-off to sell it and give away the money wouldn’t have resurrected this car. The Lord goes before you in your crazy obedience.

So, in June 2021, I spent the month hopping back across the country on planes to land in California. I picked up the little red car and began my journey back across the country. San Diego > Las Vegas > Moab > Denver > Kansas City > Illinois Hometown Visit in St. Joe (and wedding celebration!) > Fort Wayne, IN > Harrisonburg, VA > DC. A prophetic return from the trip that I made nearly a year ago.

This trip didn’t feel like an undoing of what I had done, but more like a completion. Finishing the circle. Creating time for family, old and new friends, new places and deep-rooted history, grief and celebration. My drive from Moab, Utah to Denver along the Colorado River will forever be a thin place of heaven meeting earth as I worshipped and drove through teary eyes.

My word for 2021: COMPASS.

Initially, I chose the word in reference to its Latin roots — com-pass meaning “with pace.” Stepping back into my DC life, I didn’t want to run ahead of what God was leading me into. I wanted to slow down and walk in step with the Spirit. “Pace yourself, Jolee.”

This word has meant far more than I could have imagined when I chose it. God has used it as a sign post of his presence. I laugh out loud thinking about how I forgot about “Compass Coffee” and “Compass Reality” that exist on every other corner in Washington, DC. Images, songs and signs continue to pop up across the landscape of my life.

As I reflect on the year as a whole, I resonate deeply with this idea of “unchartered territory” and the importance of a compass in this space.

Is it possible that this past year I had to trust God more in the city I have called home for 5 years than if I moved have moved across the world? Isn’t that what God is after? My heart… my trust… my adventure…

For many people, moving to Southeast Asia sounds terrifying. For me, I was ecstatic. Enthralled by new beginnings and fresh adventure… This kind of unchartered territory would, of course be difficult, but would naturally invoke a necessary trust in God as I spent time in a new place, culture and lifestyle.

It’s fair to say that I have needed the true north of God’s presence this last year despite my familiar, physical surroundings…

Navigating difficult conversations, shopping, dating, raising thousands of dollars to send kids to FCA summer camp, maintaining friendships, grappling with disappointment, buying a condo, choosing to be rooted when I was ready to be transplanted, running an ultra marathon, holding the tension of being misunderstood, pruning the lies from heart and replacing them with truth… In this, I have stepped foot into vast plains of unchartered territory.

This year has been a year of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Hills and valleys. Incredible redemption and celebration have existed alongside devastating death and heartbreak.

Yet, I have experienced another part of God’s face. In new territory, you get to experience a new part of His heart, character, discipline and kindness.

Don’t let me withhold any part of my heart from you, God. I know that you don’t withhold anything good from me.

Scroll back to the top for the unexpected COMPASS located right in front of the Capitol Building.