“For I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
Are you really living where you live? No, that’s not a mistake. I meant to ask it just like that. Many people fail to really live because they’re longing for where they came from or where they’ll be going. They’re just biding time.
When Waylon and I got married, I felt like Cinderella . . . and Dorothy. I was whisked away into the sunset by the handsome prince; but I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore! Being from Alabama, Louisiana isn’t the place I would have chosen to spend my life. It was an adjustment. But now, these many years later, I am so thankful. Waylon and I have had a wonderful life together. Both girls were born here—Anna in Baton Rouge and Emily in New Orleans. God has blessed us beyond measure. To live here was not my plan. But, it was God’s plan.
Living in Louisiana is a little different from living in other states. Actually, it’s a lot different. People in Louisiana “catch the phone.”
They “make groceries.” Bring can mean take— “Do you want me to bring you home?” And, birthdays! Turn forty? Not here. Here they say, “I just made forty.”
The first time a friend told me that she passed by my house, I asked, “Why didn’t you stop?” She looked at me like I was crazy and said, “You weren’t home.”
“How did you know?” I questioned.
“Because I just told you, I passed by your house,” she said with great aggravation. By the time I figured out that “passed by” didn’t really mean “passed by” but “stopped by,” our conversation sounded like an episode on The Three Stooges. I didn’t know if I was Larry, Curly, or Mo.
The names here are a little different, too. I grew up hearing surnames like Smith, Jones, Johnson, and Taylor. Here? The names are Leblanc or Peltier. And then the “o” names—names like Boudreaux, Breaux, and Thibodeaux. Geaux figure!
The real kicker came, though, one night at church when we first moved to Louisiana. It was a Wednesday night at what Baptists call prayer meetin’. A voice from the back of the church said, “We need to pray for the Boudreaux family because John caught a heart attack and died.”
“John caught a heart attack?” I asked myself. I was accustomed to hearing that someone “caught a cold”— but a heart attack? I wanted to laugh out loud, but this was clearly a very serious prayer request.
After the prayer request for John, the person added that the wake would be held the next night. Wait just a minute! Didn’t they just say he died? Now they’re going to wake him? These people in Louisiana! How am I ever going to figure out what they’re saying?!
Little did I know then that I had better get busy adapting to and learning the culture. God had plans for us to be in Louisiana a long time. You see, when we first came to New Orleans, our plan was to stay three years, earn a master’s degree at seminary, and return to Alabama. However, God had different plans. Here it is thirty-six years later, and we are still wonderfully living in the Bayou State. We laugh and say that God drove a stake in New Orleans, tied a rope around our ankles, and said, “You can go anywhere you want—as long as it’s within a sixty mile radius.” That’s what we’ve done since we moved here as newlyweds.
I like God’s plans. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. This is home. I love it here. I love the climate, even the humidity. I love the food, whether it’s jambalaya, crawfish pie, file` gumbo, or all that other good stuff Hank Williams sang about.
And I love the people. No matter how they spell their names or express themselves, the folks here are very loving and generous and always want to give you a little something extra. That’s called lagniappe.
Jeremiah encouraged the Jews living in Babylon during the sixth century BC to make the most of their time while there. They would be in exile there for seventy years, a lifetime for many of them. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet of God basically told them, “Bloom where you are planted”— settle down; build houses; plant gardens; bear children; don’t put your life on hold (Jeremiah 29:5-6).
So, the question remains, “Are you really living where you live?” You may be a minister’s wife like me, the wife of a husband who gets transferred a lot, a seminary or college student, a denominational employee or spouse. My advice is the same as Jeremiah’s. Settle in and live—really live—where you are for however long you are there. The Lord placed you where you are for a purpose. He wants to pour His blessings into your life . . . and use you for His glory!
The promise he made to the exiles in Babylon is your promise, too. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Martha Bailey is a pastor’s wife. She and her husband Waylon minister through First Baptist Church of Covington, Louisiana. She is also a mom, speaker, and author. This article is adapted from “Plans for You” in Putting My Dress-up Clothes Away: because big girls live in the real world (Insight Press, 2007).