"Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?"


Today (December 1st, 2020), Facebook reminded me that 5 years ago, I wrapped up a 5-week run of Ain't Misbehavin' at Portland Center Stage in Oregon, and flew back to New York City to re-enter my life there. I had just applied to seminary a few days before Thanksgiving and was excited about the possibility of leaning into this strong calling I felt to deepen my theological knowledge. I was still under the illusion that I'd be able to maintain some sort of performance career, so I kept my manager, Greg, and he'd continue sending me out on auditions. I was becoming very picky about what I'd say "yes" to--

Would I go on that national tour of Hamilton that he wanted to send me on or would I go to seminary? Would I leave to do a 9-month stint in After Midnight on an international cruise ship or would I go to seminary? 

That was the question over and over again. I decided that I'd still do local stuff in NYC or short stints in other cities. Even as I entered seminary in fall of 2016, I never imagined that I'd be where I am today--

-an Associate at a well-known church in Charlotte, North Carolina
-a minister, licensed at the church I loved and adored in Harlem and where God called me out of hiding in the balcony and ushered me into the mystery
-ordained at a church that loved on me and nurtured me throughout seminary, led by women of color
-living in another part of the country that I'd literally never been to before I was flown in for my final interview

I couldn't have written this story 5 years ago--or 3 years ago--or 2 years ago--if I tried! 

Thus enters the question of the decade--one that has dominated interviews and first dates--one that has lingered and caused great anxiety as I fumble over the words to a response that I don't quite believe:

"Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Almost as soon as I stepped foot on the campus of the church where I currently serve, people were saying things to me like,

"You won't be here long."
"Somebody's going to come and snatch you up."
"We should put you on a five-year contract so nobody can steal you away."

I was caught in a awkward position (not unusual...I'm awkward af) as I'd fake a half-smile and utter meaningless rebuttals like, 

"Oh...No!!  just got here! " 
      or
"I'm here, now. Let's celebrate that." 
      or 
"Are you trying to get rid of me already?" playing on my comedic wit to win them over. 

I didn't quite know how to respond or why it made me so uncomfortable. I'd just sit with those feelings, wondering if the people saw something I didn't. My therapist would say, "sometimes, our bodies give off signals that we're not aware of." So, I'd wonder, "Am I giving off signals that I'm not happy here?" "Is my body--unbeknownst to me--telling the people that I'm on my way out even though I just got here?" Did I say something that made folks think that I was using this as a stepping stone on the way to becoming a senior pastor? 

I'd sit on my couch and stare at the walls for hours, wondering if everyone knew something I didn't. I'd just moved 10 hours from New York City to Charlotte with very little assistance. None of my friends were available to help me pack. No one was available to be at my new apartment when the furniture arrived. I arranged every piece of the move myself, from the packing to the loading, to the deliveries, and the unpacking. Thank God for Brandon (one of my bff's) who lent me his ear and his car when I arrived in Charlotte. How would I be ready to move so quickly, and where was this personal and communal anxiety coming from?

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" the interviewer asks.

I know that I am capable of senior pastoring some day, but I'm certainly not in a rush. My ego doesn't need the title "Senior Pastor." It didn't need the title "Reverend" but I guess that comes with perks like housing allowances and respect when I minister at other churches. I have found great joy in my denominational work and my songwriting--in my mentoring and my academic pursuits outside of ministry. My various extracurricular endeavors stabilize my ego in ways that keep me grounded and not reaching for the next big ministry thing. The truthful answer to the question that everyone asks is, "I don't know." 

I don't know. 

I don't know where I'll be in 5 years. 

5 years ago, I was living my dreams as a performer. I'd just signed with a new manager who believed in me and my talents and was sending me in to meet producers of the hottest shows. 

And there was God, moving mysteriously in the shadows. 

4 years ago, I was having the best fall ever. I'd fallen in love with this cute boy and my Christmas season was LIT, you hear me! I'd convinced myself that I didn't want to do parish ministry; I wanted to be a chaplain at a hospital or a college. I'd switched my concentration from Systematic Theology to Psychology and Religion and was setting myself up for PhD programs in Clinical Psychology so that I could work in the faith-based psychotherapy sector. 

And there was God, moving mysteriously in the shadows. 

3 years ago, my then partner and I were thinking of leaving New York and moving to where he could find work. North Carolina was on the list but I'd never been here before. I'd begun my preaching ministry and it was becoming clearer that parish ministry might be a calling after all. I was 3 semesters into seminary and my future was wrapped up in my partner's future--and I was okay with that. 

And there was God, moving mysteriously in the shadows. 

2 years ago, after my partner and I officially went our separate ways, I heard about this church in Charlotte that had a position open that sounded interesting. It was a unique church--truly something I'd never seen or heard of before in the south. I didn't think I was qualified, but I'd gone to bible study that week and one of my pastors pulled me aside and asked me why I hadn't applied for a different job. I told her that I thought I was unqualified. She politely scolded me and told me that I needed to put myself out there--that I was worth it. So I did. I put myself out there.

And there was God, moving mysteriously in the shadows. 

I'm at that church now. It's going well. I like Charlotte (enough) and I'm leaning into the unknown (hey✋ Frozen, girl!). 

"Where Do You See Yourself in 5 Years?" 

That question hit me hard today after that Facebook memory popped up. I had no idea I'd be here and it was not in any of my plans. Yet, here we are and here God is, moving mysteriously in the shadows. 

As for the next five years? I don't know. 
As for next year? I don't know.
Hell, as for next week? I don't know. 

I don't know. And I'm learning to be okay with that. I'm hoping that we can begin to have conversations with each other about learning to be okay with the I don't know. I have learned so much on this journey and I want you all to know that while I value "plans"-- 5-year plans, family plans, strategic plans--life happens in spite of our plans. If there's anything this year has taught us, it's that we should all be saying "I don't know," over and over again, as much as possible. 

The hymn says:

I don't know about tomorrow
I just live for day to day
I don't borrow from the sunshine
For it's skies may turn to gray

I don't worry o'er the future
For I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him
For He knows what lies ahead

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds my hand

-Ira Stanphill, writer

"Where do you see yourself in 5 years?"

I hopefully see myself living 
day to day, 
not worried about the future, 
and empowered by the hand-holding presence of my mysterious Creator. 

I am not skirting your answer. I am being absolutely, authentically honest. Could you be the same?

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