Calling (continued)…

IMG_4304   I have called you by your name and you are mine. Isaiah 43:1

I first felt God calling me into ministry just over 3 years ago.  My mom had passed away suddenly, and I had been in shock and dealing with grief.  When a person grieves she asks a lot of questions of God, even if she knows the answers or knows her questions aren’t meant to be answered.  God can handle it.  He wants the big questions that no one can answer.

So, there I was asking Him what good it was to look forward to anything in life.  Why make plans?  Why set goals?  Dump the bucket list if there is no guarantee of the future.  I felt this way and was pouring that out to God because Mom had been taken way too soon.  There were plans she still had in life.  There were things we wanted to do together… and she certainly would never willingly give up the privilege of seeing her granddaughters become young women.  They were her joy, and she was their biggest fan.

In my grieving I asked God, “Why look forward to anything? What’s the use? There is no point!”

I heard Him whisper to my spirit, “You know that’s not true.”

“I know LORD, I have walked with you for 30 years, and I know that. It’s just how I feel right now.”

God understands our grief. He lets us express it to Him–He wants us to–because He knows. And He loves.

Feeling His calming influence in my spirit, I asked, “Then LORD, what do you want from me?  If life is that short and this uncertain, what do You want?”

“Do what I have created you to do.”

“Will you make that clear to me LORD?  I know where I have passion for your work, but will you make it clear to me?”

A short time later I was filling in for my boss who was vacationing in Florida.  I was working extra hours, doing a lot of manual physical therapy, and my hands were aching.  I was in the middle of seeing a new client one day when I asked her if I could take a short break to let my hands rest.  I jokingly told her it was time for me to begin my second career (away from manual therapy).  She raised her eyebrows and asked me what it would be, and without thinking I told her I would go back to school and get a degree in teaching Bible.

My words surprised me.  Even the thought was unplanned. I had never entertained it before.  And I’m telling you, time stood still.  There was at once a heavy peace in the room that even my patient felt.  I couldn’t say a word and she took a deep breath.  Looking at me now through curious eyes she very slowly and deliberately spoke, “You’re very interesting to me.”

Speechless, I rubbed my hands for a minute trying to comprehend the atmosphere, then set back to work.  From there the patient (I’ll call her Carmen) began to tell me her own story.  It was tragedy mixed with religion in the worst possible way.  That she even trusted me, knowing now of my faith, was amazing to me and a credit to her.  I can only say that God’s Spirit was there in that room.  John 14:26 calls The Holy Spirit the comforter or helper, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” God’s Spirit was so present that He allowed Carmen and me to interact in a way that brought hope and encouragement to both of us.

I continued to pray earnestly for God’s guidance after that day.  What did he want and what was I to do? What was He really saying?

He seemed to be speaking to my spirit regularly now.  I felt Him telling me to step forward and lead.  He reminded me of the great privilege of having training in His Word for so many years, and my responsibility to steward what He had given. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” Luke 12:48.  One time He lay a burden very thick and heavy on my heart saying, “love them.”  The words He spoke to my spirit were of a love that takes action, and not merely a sentimental feeling.

My prayers grew more specific: “LORD, do you want me to go back to school?  That wasn’t something I had contrived on my own.  I certainly have loved learning and always desired to learn more, but never–truly never–had I thought I would return to school for another degree.  Even now it seemed impossible.  There were too many barriers.  I hadn’t the time.  I hadn’t the money.  I had too many responsibilities, like raising my four daughters, attending their ball games, and caring for my father who was in failing health and alone without Mom to care for him.  My husband lost a job during this prayerful time, and I needed to work. I could barely manage the weight I was carrying. The small clinic where I worked was asking for more of my time, and I was holding them off when they were asking for more.  What kind of a degree would I pursue anyway?  I wasn’t even sure what to look for.

But I prayed again, “LORD, this is impossible for me.  But I know all things are possible with You. If you make it possible, I will do it. I will do whatever you ask me to do, and what You have laid on my heart I will follow, as You make it possible.”

Over the next year I continued to pray about this idea.  Is it Yours, LORD, or is it mine?  He gave me constant reassurance that it was His will that I make this major shift, and the barriers began to clear from my path.  It wasn’t an easy year.  In fact, it was one of the most difficult years in my life. I lost my father that year too after several months’ battle with an unknown neurological condition. Yet I saw God working every step of the way, guiding me in what to do.  My girls quit pursuing some of their sports. So long basketball. So long volleyball. Other time-commitments cleared too.

I began to research Graduate programs in ministry and Bible, but all of them seemed to be focused on clinical counseling or on leading a church.  I knew that neither was my calling. I also knew that financially I would need to continue to work as my girls were coming of age to graduate high school and pursue their own college degrees.

My answer was as beautiful as the story God had painted thus far. In the fall, about a year after my calling, I attended a Christian college fair with my daughter and stopped at a table Grace Seminary had set up (even though the fair was aimed at high school students).  There I learned that Grace was starting an online Master’s Degree with an emphasis in Women’s Leadership. The young recruiter invited to come to campus and meet the professor developing the program. Within two weeks I met with Dr. Hill and discussed the program. It was just what I was looking for.  The new program was half theology and half ministry. I would become more rounded in the Scriptures, and also receive instruction on ministering to those in need. Grace College is only an hour from home, so it would be easy to travel there if needed. They even offered that I could take a couple class on campus. They were just opening the new program, and if I committed to Grace I would be the first woman admitted.

I prayed harder. There were still a few barriers.  I was working in a job I really liked in a small clinic with a great boss and staff. Even though I was feeling called toward ministry I knew that if I cut back it would affect more than just myself. I prayed about that too. Over the past several months the clinic had slowed down and they really wanted my help to generate business.  “LORD, what should I do?”

My answer came through another.  We were riding back from a pre-planned marketing meeting when my boss said he had something to tell me and it wasn’t easy for him to do so.  He said the owner had called him the day before and cut everyone’s hours, including mine, since I was not a salaried employee.  Basically, it meant no work for me except for one specialty area.  It should have been bad news, in fact pretty scary, since my family depends on my income. But I was flooded with peace.  I remember saying, “Its okay…I know God has another plan.” God had already been showing me that I would be moving on from this job, and this was His confirmation.  It was sad for me because a great experience was coming to an end (in fact the clinic closed altogether about three months later), but it was a promise from God that He was now controlling my future.  I was watching Him work.

The last piece of the puzzle was awaiting its place.  The financial.  Tragedy and loss can be a good teacher no matter how hard it is.  It was very difficult losing my parents within 14 months of each other.  There are holes that will never be filled, and questions that may never be answered.  But a last gift perhaps (and proof of God’s provision) was the fact that after the bills were paid, and the accounts divided between my brother and me, there was just enough money in Dad’s account to cover the cost of the degree from Grace. Including my books, it wouldn’t surprise me if the number was to. the. penny.

ALL of the roadblocks had been cleared.  Only fear could hold me back at this point, and I prayed that God  would not let me be controlled by fear, but be controlled by Him.  So on January 7, 2013, my birthday, I began classes toward my Master of Arts in Ministry Studies and Women’s Leadership.

As I sat at my desk reading the syllabus, my phone rang.  Remember Carmen, the patient I was working with when The Holy Spirit was so present in the room?  She called me.  She had somehow found my number and she called me.  It had been over a year since I had seen or heard of her.  She wanted to know how I was and if I was pursuing what I had told her about.  I cried as I told her all God had done in a year’s time and how I was just sitting down to begin doing what He had provided.  She gave me an update on herself as well, and told of how God had healed her when doctors had given her very little chance of survival.

God is good!  Despite all of our trials and fears He hears us and He is near.  He is an excellent provider, and and even better friend.

So here I sit on January 7, 2015 just 7 weeks from completing my degree.  I have loved every minute.  I have worked very hard.  I have stayed up late, and I have struggled through tough concepts.  But God has been gracious with me.  So very gracious.  He has provided the time and the work flexibility I have needed to get it all done.  I have never missed an assignment and never regretted the decision to forge ahead where God had laid a path. My family still loves me and they say they don’t feel neglected (but don’t ask my garden about neglect). Oh, there have been times along the way where I have stopped to ask myself what I am doing. Is this really headed anywhere?  Why am I sacrificing abundant opportunities in my profession?  Why did I spend money on this when my daughters are starting college? Did I really hear from God or was I just making this up?

Then He reminds me how He has provided at every step.  He assures me that He has called me to what I am doing.  He provided me with a new friend who also has a deep passion for ministry.  Her encouragement has prodded me through some spots when I felt stuck. He gave me a fellow learner in my program whose love and support have been invaluable. He also provided a “big sister” who is a pace-setter and wonderful example of God at work. How can I doubt what He has shown me, and how can I doubt that He has a plan ahead as well? 

God is good at providing all we need (Philippians 4:19).  I am so thankful.  I am so humbled. I am so challenged to continue on this journey that God started in my heart.

Pray for me?  That I continue to hear His call?

Thanks.  I will be praying too.

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