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Posts Tagged ‘calling’

Testimonies, Interviews and Casual Conversations

As I apply and interview for various Christian organizations, there is one question that is inevitable, and yet the one I dread most: Can you tell us about your faith journey? I struggle with this question every single time. I typically draw together a few strands of my life:

  • I was homeschooled and my curriculum was heavily influenced by Scripture and so Scripture and prayer were a part of my daily life as long as I can remember
  • I was baptized in a Fellowship Baptist church when I was quite young – while my theology on baptism has shifted over the years, this was an important moment in my life and I was earnest. But I smile to think of what I could have shared as my testimony – my being saved from sin and my desire to follow Jesus.
  • We switched denominations a lot so I had a very rich and varied experience of church.
  • In my teens, we went to an Anglican church which is the place and time when I really started to distinguish my own faith from my family’s faith. It was in this church that I was “confirmed” – after weeks of preparation, the bishop laid hands on me and prayed for me, confirming my faith before the congregation.
  • I discovered the daily office in my teenage years and it is one of the things that held me together. I remember fondly lighting a candle, with music by John Michael Talbot in the background, saying evening prayer or compline.
  • I discovered a love for Scripture – a fascination that God would speak through words on a page and that it didn’t matter how many times I read a passage, God would STILL speak and there was something new there.
  • A pivotal moment in my life was feeling that God was calling me to ministry – not just as a member of the body of Christ, but as vocation. Specifically, I felt called to become an Anglican priest when at the time I was wanting to become a doctor. Much of my adult life has been wrestling and figuring out what that calling looks like. I remember one particular Sunday when I was working for an Anglo-Catholic church many years later realizing I am living into who God made me the most when I am working for a church and seeking to share the gospel with those around me and in the neighbourhood.
  • Sometimes I will mention the questioning and wrestling with faith in university and beyond as I seek to understand God in the midst of the broken aspects of my life.

All these things are true.

And all these things can be shared in the expected five minutes or less or paragraph on an application.

But I’ve never been satisfied with any answer that I have given. It seems so disingenuous. Part of this is because so much of my faith journey is intertwined with my healing journey that it’s really hard to separate the two. And, I’m not convinced that all stories are appropriate for interviews or first encounters.

I’ve been dwelling on this lately. And something came to me.

This isn’t just a struggle with what is appropriate to share. It’s a struggle with two very different testimonies.

The first one – and the one that I usually share – is about what *I* have done. I decided to be baptized. I discovered Scripture. I wrestled with God. I pursued theological studies.

But as the days and years go on, I realized that my faith story is not so much what I have done, but what God has done in me. When I think about my faith development and healing, I recognize that there are things that I have done that have contributed to where I am. But healing has only come from God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. When I think about any of the moments that were significant in my faith journey – the really meaty part of my story – I could not have orchestrated those moments. Sometimes God worked through people. But the deepest, most meaningful moments that have had a lasting impact on who I am and my desire to follow God have caught me by surprise, often coming in moments when I am at the weakest for perhaps the same reasons Paul claims he cannot boast about his own life.

And so, I think the way that I have approached interview or casual questions about my faith journey are flawed. I recognize that I am where I am at only by the grace of God and yet answer as if I have achieved this on my own – or, if generous – that God saved me through the cross, but my faith is my recognition, my response and my doing.

Trust me

This time in my life is characterized by uncertainty.

I’m not sure where I will be living in the coming days. I know God will provide – he always has. But I’m not sure when or where or how. I don’t know if I will be living with the family I have come to love or if I will be branching out on my own after living in community for a significant period of my time in Toronto. I don’t know if God is calling me to the neighbourhood where I am working or if he is going to provide a place nearby the amenities I know and love.

I’m not sure what my finances are going to look like. Moving may impact how many students I have. Moving might increase my rent when I am already stretched.

I’m unsure what my summer will look like. I have a direction – but stuff needs to be put down on paper and it’s not yet. I need to decide on learning goals and think carefully about where God is calling me to not just now but in the future. And I don’t know.

I’m not sure about health. Things are stable at the moment and I’m grateful that I’m only really impacted by constant headaches that are usually manageable. But in the coming months I see the neurosurgeon again and decisions will be made.

I am unsure what I’ll be doing in the fall – like an internship, and courses. But this will be the first summer I do not earn a significant portion of my tuition.

I am unsure of what it’s like to live AND serve in a community. My identity is shifting to a more public and professional identity. This is new and this is scary. I haven’t figured it out.

As I pray through this uncertainty, I want answers. But God seems to just be saying “Trust me”.

It’s not the answer I want – I want answers and things to fall in place. But God is saying, “Trust me”

I want my life to be defined and outlined. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I don’t want to live in this uncertainty. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I want this anxiety of uncertainty to leave me magically. But God is saying, “Trust me.”

I want an easier answer – something that I can do without thinking about it. But God is saying, “Trust me”

I don’t know what this looks like. But God is saying, “Trust me”

So, here I am – in the place in-between, in the space of the unknown. I don’t know how to trust.

But I am reminded: Be still. And know that I am God.

so for a moment – even if it’s just a moment – I sit with my anxiety and I allow those words to flow over me like a waterfall. I stop what I am doing to try to be still. I am not still – but I am trying. I am trying to know that God is God. I don’t know – but I am trying.

And I hear the words of my Lord saying, “Trust me”

Serving at the Table

February 16, 2014 1 comment

Today, I visited a church where I will be doing an internship of sorts this summer. It’s a totally different setting from other churches where I have worked and so today I just went to observe and listen and to pay attention to what goes on there.

I have to admit, I wandered in my mind during parts of the service. Over the past couple of months, I have been wrestling with God about calling and ministry. God has heard some pretty angry words from my heart. As I realized some of the potential in this space, I started to get excited. Now, usually that would be a good thing. But I was frustrated as I want to run from ministry these days. I’ve been reflecting on my experiences lately, trying to glean lessons from them, especially as I embark on projects. And a recent ‘aha’ moment enlightened why I am so reluctant to get involved again in leadership. My most “successful” week in which God daily added to our numbers and conversations with children, youth and their families went pretty deep – was also an experience where I felt utterly and completely alone and void of comfort. I won’t go into all the details of what happened that week, but there is a side of the story that doesn’t get told in the joyful celebration of what God did. And believe me, it was amazing and I am blessed to have been a part of that experience. But that deep sense of alone-ness haunts me. Is this what it means to be successful in kingdom work? As I’ve presented this question to God over the past few months, I’ve followed it up with – if it is, then no thanks! I have contemplated, once again, if I should just quit school and get a real job. Data entry. something like that.

And then, unexpectedly, the priest needed someone to serve the chalice and asked me. And I held the cup and looked into each person’s eyes saying “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation”. I have no words to describe this experience. There was something profound and beautiful at being able to share in this sacred moment with other Christians. To remind in words and actions that Christ died for their salvation, that the blood of Christ was poured out for them as this cup of wine was given to them. It was a holy moment. A beautiful moment.

And as I served at the table – I found myself saying yes.

yes to serving. even if it is hard. even if it is lonely.

yes to walking with people, in their brokenness and in their joy.

yes to serving the cup of salvation and reminding others that Christ died for them.

Interestingly, as I’ve been reading about the priesthood and talking to God about my calling, one thing I have said to God is that I have never felt a call to serve at the table. I feel a call to write, to preach, to counsel, to lead, to disciple. But not to serve at the Lord’s table. I could see myself doing it, but never felt called.

Today, I felt called. And it’s a beautiful thing.

A new (old) direction

Yesterday, I got the official word on my “new” direction.

It’s actually quite an old direction.

Here’s the story.

When I was 17, I had the courage to ask God why the heck he had allowed me to endure what I endured. I remember that moment as if it had happened yesterday. I sat on my bed as I heard God gently speak “… the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3b-4). In that moment I felt called to be an Anglican priest.

I told God flat out no. I was going to be a doctor. At the time I was working at the university with my path paved to enter medical school if I could just keep up the grades in university. I loved science and loved studying. Clearly God was wrong.

I was taking online highschool credits at the time and while I finished with a 95% average, I very suddenly became disinterested in science. I’ve often felt that God took that from me. And I’ve often tried to take it back, to prove that I am a scientist at heart.

I spent months in prayer about this. It was a rocky time in my life. I knew if I told my parents this it wouldn’t go that well. But it was hard to hide. So I did. And it went worse than I had anticipated. Bitter words – “you are following the devil” – have haunted me to this day.

I remember praying and crying out to God in confusion. I didn’t understand how God could call me in a way that felt so real and then have the people who are supposed to love me the most be strongly against it. I remember during my prayer times being faced with the question of whether I would follow God if he called me to something and it meant losing my family. Three or so months later I said yes. I didn’t really know what the heck that meant!!!!! Remember – this was about 4 years prior to me leaving home.

I started going to a Bible study that very soon became central to my life. I had the courage to tell the pastor that I felt called to ministry – to which he responded “Cool” and suggested that I get my feet wet. In second year university I was somehow able to take graduate level introduction to the Old Testament courses despite my GPA not being the greatest. I loved those courses.

And then I suddenly left home. Everything changed. I was finishing up 3rd year university, but now I had to support myself. So much crazy stuff happened that year.

A couple of years ago, I applied to Wycliffe and they accepted me. Again, I loved those courses. But then I hit difficult times with the trial and my grandmother’s passing.

Almost a year ago, I decided to move forward with or without my family. Part of this was a decision to study psychology. I worked so hard in those courses and I loved the material. But it wasn’t me.

In December, I found out my stepfather was beginning his sentence. On the subway to an event, I realized that I had lost my family, but I was still following God. I was reminded of that conversation with God almost 12 years ago and heard God say to me that I am his good and faithful servant with whom he is well pleased. Tears came streaming down my face during that subway ride for those were words that I longed to hear from God. Longed isn’t a strong enough word. I’m not sure I can find words to describe that ache in my soul of wanting God’s love and acknowledgement so desparately.

And then I felt God say – “you are ready now”.

Ready? I knew exactly what that meant. But change direction, again? I wasn’t sure if I was indeed ready. I also knew this meant that I would need to talk to others. A call to ministry is one that needs to be discerned in community and is not something I can simply decide to do. It took me a little bit to get up the courage to mention it to a few people. For a little while, I kept it to myself.

But then, in the entire University of Toronto, I wasn’t able to get into any courses but theology related ones and a research methods course. If this was God’s way of pointing me in a direction, he certainly had a sense of humour.

I had a frank conversation with my counsellor who at the end of our meeting said “Sounds like the call of God on your life”. One of the people who knows me best and would tell me honestly had given me the go ahead. I knew I couldn’t keep silent. I approached people to be references or to pray and was shocked by the unanimity of response.

Yesterday, I had an interview with the principal. It was shockingly casual. I guess I’m not really a stranger to wycliffe, having had my foot in and out for 10 years. But I guess I pictured something far more intense and invasive. The conversation went on as if I’d already been accepted. When asked if I had any questions, I did ask when I would find out – “very, very soon. You’ll find out very soon.”

20 minutes later I got the call and an offer of admission.

I’ve been accepted to do a Masters of Divinity combined Masters of Theological Studies in Urban Development.

A new – yet also very old – direction.

Here by the waters

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After writing this post, I went down to the water to build an altar out of the rocks to praise Him.

I am writing this from my new favourite coffee shop, with a delicious cup of coffee beside me, listening to some awesome Steve Bell music, the sun streaming through the window, and a view of the lake.

Today, my to do list is shrinking. My cold is easing. My energy levels are increasing.

But I have a huge smile I can’t wipe off my face.

Things in my life are starting to come together. Slowly, but surely. Things for the summer program are getting more and more exciting as I continue to dream and contact people and explore possibilities. How amazing it is to be able to dream about doing what you love and then actually getting to do it!!!!

And my application to grad school is in. Finally. I could jump up and down in excitement. Not because it’s in or that I’m in yet. But because I know I am walking the path that God has called me to and that this is in his hands… and THAT my friends, is an incredible blessing and joy beyond anything that I have words for.

Soft field of clover/ Moon shining over the river/ Joining the song of the river/ to the great giver of the great good.

As it enfolds me/ Somehow it holds me together/ I realize I’ve been singing/ Still it comes ringing/ Clearer than clear

And here by the water/ I’ll build an altar to praise Him/ Out of the stones that I’ve found here/ I’ll set them down here/ Rough as they are/ Knowing you can make them holy

I think how a yearning/ Has kept on returning to move me/ Down roads I’d never have chosen/ Half the time frozen/ to numb to feel/ I know it was stormy/ I hope it was for me learning/ Blood on the road wasn’t mine though/ Someone that I know/ has walked here before.

– Steve Bell, Here by the Water

Calling revisited

There is a moment – a conversation with God – that is in the forefront of my mind these days. It is a formative conversation that took place more than 10 years ago. I am a little perplexed by why it is on my mind so much in the past couple of weeks. But actually, I am more perplexed by my own response – that instead of resistance, I find myself turning to God with the words that Mary spoke – be it unto me as you have said.

I was young. I was almost seventeen. I told my mom about the abuse for the first time as one of my siblings had said something. Up until then I had stayed silent to protect my mom from being hurt and with the idea that if it was happening to me, it wasn’t happening to my siblings. The prospect that I had been unsuccessful in protecting my siblings made me unwilling to sacrifice myself any longer. Those were bitter and painful days.

I remember a moment so clearly. I was sitting on my bed, alone in my room, and I finally had the courage to ask God “Why?” Why had he allowed me to suffer in this way?

I was expecting silence.

But I got an answer.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

I felt God was calling me to work in the church, as an Anglican Priest.

Young I might have been, but I was not naive. I had seen what goes on in churches – the power struggles, the hypocrisy, the gossip.

I told God flat out no. I was going to be a doctor. I loved science. I loved people. But work for a church? no thanks – God, you have the wrong girl.

But I couldn’t shake those words. I tried. I poured myself into the sciences. And while I got marks in the high 90s, I suddenly lost all interest. It was meaningless.

I spent the next few months praying and discerning and fearing what my parents might say. I wanted to be sure this was indeed from God before I dealt with their reactions. And then I had the courage. I was met with a stronger response than I had anticipated – “You are following the devil”.

At 17, I knew that an important question was before me – Would I be willing to follow God, even if it meant that I would lose my family?

How strange that 11 1/2 years later, this moment is ever before me. This past term has been incredible formative. I have gone from having a pretty relaxed schedule to an intense schedule with deadlines. And I have met them and been successful. I’ve been asked by many people how do I cope – and the answer is a lot of prayer and a lot of coffee (although, thanks to my body revolting against me, it is usually tea). This term I have learned to cling to my master and to find hope and comfort in him alone. I have seen that I *am* capable. I love psychology and I have done well in all my science classes seeing marks that I have never seen before. I have what it takes to do a PhD in clinical psychology. And God has given me gifts that could be used in a powerful way, I am sure of this.

But I took a course called Foundations of Community Engagement this term that totally messed up my nice little tidy plan. Truth be told I don’t see myself charging people money to care and to set boundaries that I care within a timeframe. And while I absolutely love psychology, I have yet to write a blog post about any of the fascinating things I’ve studied.

I work for a church. And when I day dream, I am thinking about the people I’ve met and the neighbourhood and how I might get more involved. The five hour a week contract is limiting. But the ideas seem not to be limited. I think of the first year university student who faithfully comes out and I chat with every week. I think of the young families that I have been connecting with. I think about the neighbourhood that is crowded with people and ways to reach out to the community.

I love planning services. I love planning liturgy. We are planning a service that the children will be involved in. My creative mind has been all over this. And I wonder – perhaps I could preach?

WHAT? preach?

so I’ve preached 3 times now. I love preaching. I love the process of preparing the sermon, I love public speaking, I love teaching. I’ve been told by a few people that I should preach more often.

I’ve been thinking of volunteer work as I think about preparing a grad school application. I’ve looked at research positions at mental health institutions, thought about a crisis line. But what am I eager to do? to start a Bible study.

I love nothing more than to sit over a cuppa something and talk faith with someone, or to be present in someone’s suffering. This term I made three trips to the ER to be with people and sitting with them felt right. Not just because they were friends and I would gladly be there for them, but more in an existential way – this is where I belonged.

I’d rather read and write about theology than psychology.

I have always felt a call to hospitality. Having Bob and Peter present for my Christmas was the best thing ever.

I have a powerful and beautiful story of God’s work in me, of his unfailing love, his redemption and faithfulness. That story needs to be told again and again.

I started to tell Chris about my recent ponderings. He listened and didn’t add anything until I said “I don’t know if I could submit to the institution of the church”. His response was wise and well said “Well, you’ve already submitted to the institution of education”

My course load is up in the air for next term. I’ve been on waitlists for a bunch of psychology courses. But unless 100 or so students decide not to take the various courses, I don’t have a hope in hell of taking them. So I added a course by a professor that I really like – it’s a theology course. The other day, just for fun, I added another theology course as I need to have a full load. And I got in. And I’m super excited.

all these things and my recent conversations with God have me wondering if there is something to that call that I felt 11 1/2 years ago. And if perhaps, now is the time to follow.

cause if it is, then – I am ready.