Marye Colleen had her year mapped out: she was going to enroll in an online degree program in Australia and then use the flexibility to travel and teach English to kids in Thailand. All of that went out the window when the pandemic struck. The interruption is forcing her to ask some difficult questions of herself, and to listen in a new way.
I have a current theory about COVID-19. If we’re among those blessed with our health, I believe the virus’ effects and slowdown and closed doors and forced changes are here to teach us something God’s been trying to show us for a while now. Maybe this time we’ll get the message.
Here’s my story of tuning into God’s message to me through an unexpected change in my plans.
Until March 2020, I had the perfect plan for my life’s next chapter. I was excited to have enrolled in a one-year, online diploma at an Australian institution. I would spend a few weeks with friends and family in Australia and work on my course. I would then fly to Chiang Mai, Thailand to teach children English and continue my online studies.
Why did I add the Thailand opportunity? My ego, pretty much. It was never really about the profession itself. I needed a job to fund my year of studies. Instead of getting my Australia work visa and undertaking a minimum-wage hospitality job (the logical and easy route), I decided that teaching English in Thailand, though logistically far-fetched, would look the best on my grad school resume. But if I’m honest, the real reason had to do with feeling better about myself when I told friends and family my upcoming plans.
While this plan was literally months in the making, it fell apart in less than a week. The day after I got to Perth the pandemic escalated. Within a few more days, my teaching job was gone. I was indefinitely in Australia on a tourist visa without a job. With Australian citizens banned from non-essential international travel, the majority of Australian airlines ceased operation, leaving a return flight to the U.S. inordinately expensive.
Besides, what work would I even do in the States? The outdoor education job I’d held prior to my move had just laid off all its employees. I would have been one of them. The tourism sector I’d spent the last couple years working in was functionally closed, so I didn’t see much incentive to head stateside quite yet. With a forthcoming ban on domestic travel within Australia, I cut my Perth travels short, and flew across the country to stay with my aunt and uncle (thank God for them!) and plot my next move.
Like thousands of workers across the globe, I lost my job and my immediate future security because of COVID-19. So many others don’t have my privileges and have to provide food and shelter with no income, care for others, navigate unstable family life, and deal with their own health issues if they get sick themselves. I’m doing my best to use my relative stability to support those who are not doing as well through this pandemic.
I’ve also tried asking myself: What is God trying to tell me, here?
It’s been three weeks since my entire year-long plan changed. In reflection, I believe that God is teaching me humility and present-mindedness through this change of plans. He is reminding me of what’s always been true: no matter the plans I make, nothing is really under my control. The present moment is the only guarantee. That is easy to see now, as the future year I’d built for myself crumbled away in a day.
Even my luggage situation reveals the truth of the maxim: “We plan, God laughs.” I have ended up with an extra suitcase of fancy teaching clothes and items for a job I no longer have, for a country I’m no longer moving to. What a lesson. I’m literally carrying around the weight of all my planning and prepping for the year abroad that maybe wasn’t meant to be.
God has revealed that basing my choices on what others think of me is running me into walls. It’s not the first time I’m learning this lesson. I see now that I had made the English teaching plans for the wrong reasons: comparison and pride. Now that circumstances have stripped away the professional roles and housing independence and financial security that I wanted to cling to, God is inviting me to base my life on what lasts. I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do with that, but I’m listening. That’s new.
While it may not be the reality I planned for, I’m finding lots of everyday joy in its simplicity. And it may even be — like so many other challenges, changes, and hands I’ve been dealt — that this change in my plans will play out for my benefit. But I have to remember I’ll see that in God’s time, not mine.
For now, I am living everyday as best I can in the small, happy bubble my world has become. I sometimes check for news of timelines for lifted travel restrictions, but mostly I’ve accepted it will be a long, long time. There’s a peace in my newfound surrender that I’m not the one calling the shots in my life. In fact, God knows, I never was.