My name is Emily Petti and I’m going to be a sophomore at Cornell University.
I want to start out by saying that this was my sixth mission trip with PPC, and I have absolutely loved every single one of them. The moment I realized how much this one stuck out to me was when Sean asked us who would like to give a sermon this Sunday, and my hand shot right up. For the previous five trips, as passionately as I felt about them, I had never volunteered to give a sermon before. It took me a little while to work out why I wanted to today, but I realized that it was because this week finally brought to light something that someone said to me on my very first mission trip.
I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that God has a plan for his people. But this is a very difficult thing to understand. It seems like if God has a plan, things shouldn’t be going wrong all the time. What’s more, we deserve to be enlightened about this mysterious plan of his, but we’re not. We have no idea what it is, and how are we supposed to figure it out?
The first time I was prompted to think about God’s plan for me was on my first mission trip five years ago. I was the youngest of my crew of six, going into freshman year of high school. I looked up to this one boy in particular, Taylor, who was going into his freshman year of college. After leaving the mission trip, I read all of my care cards, and found that Taylor had written me an awesome note. What he said always stuck with me. I brought it with me so I could share it with you all. He said:
“Emily, having you in the group was a godsend. You are funny and have an eerily sarcastic voice. You will most likely have great groups in the years to come, but don’t forget about crew #15. Staying in touch is what we will do. Stay classy, don’t change. God has a plan for you. Taylor”
In the past five years, I have not once forgotten the last line of that card.
“God has a plan for you.”
I thought it was pretty cool that he said that to me! I had absolutely no idea what he meant by it, but it felt pretty special that someone I looked up to would tell me that God has a plan for me. I wondered what holy secrets he knew that he could say that so confidently.
My eyes were opened this week. I started to see glimpses of what it really means for God to have a plan for us.
So if you were following our blog, you may have seen a couple mentions of sledgehammers…? If not, I’ll recap briefly. My group got to our site on the first day all excited because we knew our assignment was to take out a porch and build a new one. We came in with a plan: demolish, and then build.
It turned out that the existing porch was concrete, and we spent all of Monday smashing it with sledgehammers. We only knocked down about a foot of concrete on either side of the porch by the end of the day. At this point, we knew there was no way we were going to get to the building part.
This was God’s first test for us. We would just have to patiently spend the rest of the week dealing with the concrete. God surprised us with a different plan, that we weren’t so sure we liked. But the week proved differently. His plan wasn’t to make us miserable, or challenge us physically, or see how many pieces of concrete we could carry before falling over. It was to teach us to be calm, patient, diligent, and open-minded.
I would say his plan worked. We were encouraging each other that week with enthusiasm that I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced, even in my most intense soccer games. It also put a ton of things in perspective for me, and all that concrete actually helped me leave behind a lot of annoyances that I no longer found important.
I was also struck that week by a few comments that our carpenters made about their jobs. So if you don’t know, this year’s mission trip was different than previous years because we were working with experienced carpenters on the job site, rather than doing it pretty much all by ourselves.
One of the days, Carolyn and I were expressing to the carpenters how incredible it was to be working with professionals who were so talented at their job. The two men looked at each other, and sort of laughing, one of them said, “Well we’ve never been called professionals before.” We didn’t really know what to make of it.
Later on, we were all talking about school, and one of them said “Well if I knew I would end up here in my life I would have worked a lot harder in school.” They told us to keep focused and work hard in school so that we wouldn’t have to do this type of work for a living. They said all of this with a laugh, but in talking with them further it was clear they didn’t really take pride in the way their careers were turning out. This life of working as low-paid carpenters was not what they had planned for themselves or their families.
I think it’s so easy to see their situation and think that it’s very sad. They’re not making much money, while their jobs are more physically and mentally taxing than most of us can probably imagine. But if we open our eyes, we can see the beauty in this situation. God is at work here, and he has a plan for them. Every day that they work to repair the homes of underprivileged families, they are spreading love and hope to everyone they interact with. This reached through to us as volunteers. They were honestly our personal miracle workers that week. And then on top of that they were so amazingly grateful for our help.
After the week I feel like I have a new understanding of God’s plan for us. I don’t think we’re necessarily supposed to know what it is. It’s not always about figuring out our careers, or making our relationships with our friends and families perfect. It’s not even about having a clear layout of a project and following it step by step.
As much as we’d like it to be perfect, God’s plan is messy and unclear. It’s about living with love and compassion, and just seeing where that takes us. It’s about opening our eyes and seeing God in strange and unexpected places, like underneath a house in Hazard, Kentucky. After six mission trips, I now see how Taylor said those words to me so many years ago with such confidence. Because it’s not about figuring out exactly what God’s plan is, but simply knowing that he has one.