I remember the plane landing in Moscow. I watched from the window as a heavy snowfall filled my view. The runway felt too short. Cabin doors opened. People gathered their things. I turned around to check the back door of the plane; sure enough it led to the same place, a Russian winter.
Courage pulled me out of that aircraft into a foreign airport. Exiting baggage, I saw a man with a small sign, Tver InterContact Group, Katie Burgmayer. I stood for a moment wondering if I should identify myself. I meandered while he puffed his cigarette and eventually we collided.
He drove me a few hours to the city of Tver where I would study abroad the next four months.
I was dropped off at a big gray apartment building where my host family lived. I learned on the first day not to trust the elevator. Inside the apartment, I was met by startling hospitality. My hosts were a couple who were giving up their bedroom to me. They would sleep in the living room for months while I stayed with them.
Window. The first thing I noticed in my room was the window. When I saw it my heart warmed for the first time since departing home soil. Windows to me are a meeting place with God. I dropped my stuff and sat down on the bed. Eyes out the window, I remember feeling so far from home and entirely alone. Tver. A city where I knew no one. I had no family, no friends, no church, no one to speak english with ... nothing but a bed - a window - and God.
The following days I watched the world bustle from my window; people covered in fur from head to foot scurrying around below. Moms carried their children on sleds through the ice covered streets. Cars managed to drive in extreme wintery conditions with no traffic lights to direct them. In time I would descend the stairs of my building and step unto those streets myself. A foreign pedestrian, watch out!
I had a mile and a half walk to school in the mornings. Imagine a neon sock tacked to a blackboard and you'll have an idea of how I looked against the scene of that city. I would slip and slide all the way to school in wonder at how the Russian women could walk in heels on ice as if it were not ice at all.
By the time I got to school my face was often frozen. Temperatures were consistently twenty below or even more. Inside the school lobby I would stand still and wait for my face to defrost so that I could let out a "Dobroye Utra!" (Good Morning!) to the only person in my world, the school secretary.
Sounds miserable, I know. But if you could see the look on my face when it defrosted, you would find a broad smile. To me this was adventure, and I loved it. Live or die, I was all in.
When I look back at my journals from Russia, I find that my intimacy with God was nailed into place during those months. He was all I had to lean on. I have since seen patterns in my history with God where He draws me away to develop a stronger direct connection with Him. In these times, He is re-established as my chief leader. Russia was an extreme experience of this for me.
I've been thinking about these times as it relates to knowing God as a personal leader. It makes me consider the vast number of people who are getting hurt by spiritual leaders. Its concerning. In part, I think this hurt has to do with poor leadership. On the other hand, I'm beginning to see that it also has a whole lot to do with ungodly expectations that we put on our pastors and leaders.
In a teaching I recently heard, I was struck by the simple question, "Did Adam have a pastor?" I would add, "Did Moses?" "David?" Did the man who wrote "The Lord is my shepherd" have any other consistent leader in his life besides God Himself?
God has been desiring face to face relationship with people since the very beginning. A mediator for His care was our idea, never His best. Does that mean I don't need leaders in my life? No. But it does mean that I refuse to put an expectation on my leaders that is meant to be on God.
There are times when we are removed from the care of others. Maybe its finding out your family is not a safe place for you, or your pastor has no time for you, or you have landed like I did in an entirely foreign world. Whatever the case, know that you are not off the grid. Most of the heroes in the bible were in the same boat. Consider that God may be shifting your dependence to keep you safe. He is the only thing that never shakes.
It took me time, but I learned in Russia how to walk on ice. I bought a fur hat and began to blend in, I worked my way into the hearts of a few people, and fell in love with their language. But most of all what I learned was that God is my shepherd, and when I have Him, I have everything I need.
What if you and I got a hold of "The Lord is my shepherd," and could therefore help care for our leaders instead of burdening them to be God for us?
It was on an ice covered land that I learned dependence on God. I wouldn't trade that experience for the world because direct dependence on God is exactly what gets tested when our world shakes.
I believe in spiritual leadership. I believe in being covered, connected, cared for and engaged in a spiritual family. Its really important. But I also believe that there is one spot for primary leader in your life, and only one safe Person who belongs there.
When it comes to leadership, He is not second best. He is the best.
The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need. Ps. 23:1
Katie Luse is a speaker and writer who is passionate about navigating life with eyes on a hunt for beauty.