The stage was a mere platform, less than a foot above the crowd, and I had purposely invited others to share it with me. The student union ballroom was fully opened- round tables and rows of chairs and standing room only at the back. Over 650 people packed the space for the inaugural human trafficking symposium I had spearheaded. Allies who had become friends helped me frame the day that would include a dual track, two keynotes, and multiple survivor-led sessions. It was my opus: the culmination of 6 years of tiresome work and the last big piece of the plan I had been employing in my community.
It was glorious. And it was my exit strategy.
But the next day I sat by a fire, while snow fell heavy and my family skied slopes I no longer had the nerve to descend, and wrestled with God.
Nearly a year earlier, I began to sense a weariness in my soul I could not shake. At the time, I could not imagine an end to my community involvement, but wrote some goals and made a plan. Slowly, they came to pass. And what felt like a dark night of the soul turned into an invitation from the Lord to step away. I felt him beckoning me to let go and follow him. It felt right. My heart and soul needed to breathe from a different airstream. My family needed me to as well.
But with the fire roaring, I doubted God’s invitation. Doubted it was ever really his voice I had heard. Perhaps it was just my fatigue. I doubted if it was really a forever and total exit he offered or just a break. And slowly, a new voice took residence. The symposium was such a success. How could I walk away? The community finally gets it! How could I walk away? This is the height of my career! How could I walk away? And perhaps the most insidious of all, I am needed!
The enemy showed glory and splendor to Jesus, too. Offered it all if he would only worship him. And is not worship of anything apart from God mere idolatry?
Being essential, recognized, and seen are my idols, the things from which I derive value and worth.
The temptation to stay was great.
As snow accumulated outside, passing hours yielded a new invitation. I sensed God was no longer asking me to step away, he was asking me to walk toward obscurity. Who are you if not the expert? Who are you when no one needs you anymore? Who are you if no one knows your name? Far from the questions I expected or wanted to hear, they rang true. This was his voice again, in all the discomfort and unease I have come to expect from him.
The path he is leading me down has required more faith than approaching a dancer in a strip club, or sitting with police during a sting, or talking about pimps and porn with high school students. As it turns out, choosing to close a nonprofit because goals have been accomplished is a counter-cultural rare thing indeed, with no manuals or mentors to guide. And surprisingly, no one needs you as much as you thought they did and nothing transfers as neat and tidy as you plan. No, this exit strategy did not end with fireworks on the symposium stage, or even a parting celebration, but a quiet and invisible stroll into fog.
My stroll. My path at this time. A journey uniquely designed for my heart just now. There is nothing prescriptive about this invite, yet it is sacred nonetheless.
In Dare to Lead, Brene Brown references Joseph Campbell’s quote, “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.” And I know that this is my cave. As with fog, it is unclear and unknown. To colleagues it seems an illogical choice (you were just reaching your stride!) To my justice-beating heart it feels like a failure (trafficking is still happening after all!) But in the small still place of my God-oriented soul it is a gift.
In faith, I choose to believe there is treasure that awaits in the answer to his question. Who are you apart from me?
*A Face to Reframe’s Closing Press Release
Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.