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Posts Tagged ‘Moving forward’

When God Says No

2015-03-17 13.26.22

Today God said “No.”

For months, I felt him saying “Yes” and to trust and wait for him in regards to a particular job. The more I learned about the job, the more that I felt it was so very right for me. I went into the interview at peace knowing that God’s will will be done. I was pretty confident that this was it. This was the something else that I believed God was preparing for me. I felt surrounded by prayer. From my perspective, the interview went very well. I felt privileged to be able to share stories from the various places I’ve been able to share and to talk about things that I’m passionate about. I went home super excited as I had found out aspects of the job through the interview that excited me even more. I had been researching the area and thinking about the potential for missional work and the many things I could explore. I was told they would make a decision in a few weeks and so once again I had to wait. But this time, I was pretty convinced that this is where God wants me.

And then I got the call. It wasn’t what I expected. None of the candidates were a good match.

Instead of a job offer, God has said “No.”

I don’t really know what this means. Other than God closed the door that I was hoping to walk through in the coming days.

The words of John Michael Talbot’s Be Not Afraid speak to me today as I wrestle with God saying no and wondering where he will lead me.

You shall cross the barren desert, but you shall not die of thirst

You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way

You shall speak your words in foreign lands, and all will understand

You shall see the face of God and live

Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me. And I will give you rest.

If you pass through raging waters in the sea, you shall not drown

If you walk amid the burning flames, you shall not be harmed

If you stand before the pow’r of hell and death is at your side, know that

I am with you through it all

Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me. And I will give you rest.

Blessed are the poor for the kingdom will be theirs

Blessed are you weep and mourn, for one day you shall laugh

And with wicked tongues insult and hate you all because of me

Blessed, blessed are you.

Be not afraid. I go before you always. Come, follow me. And I will give you rest.

Looking ahead, I don’t really know what things will look like. And truth be told, I am disappointed. I had begun to dream about exciting things that I could be part of. And while those dreams do not need to disappear, they are on hold until God provides a place for me.

I do know this though: the same God who has led me thus far, will continue leading me. As much as I’d love to be involved in something again and need the increased income, God has provided and I do know that he will continue to do so, even if it’s not in the ways that I expect and anticipate.

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.

Stepping stones

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My mother very prophetically claimed that my biggest problem in life is that I have too many interests. It is a blessing and a curse – for I have many gifts and many passions, but all too frequently find myself at the uncomfortable place of unknowing.

Or rather, feeling totally lost.

Yesterday, I had ample time to think of my future. I am doing reading these days on topics related to the summer program we are launching, with my most recent book on evangelism (awesome book and worthy of a whole post when I am finished). I’m also doing some reading on new monasticism. The wheels in my head are turning – there is so much that *I* can do and there is so much that needs to be done.

Typically, that is energizing. The possibilities are exciting.

But yesterday, I sat in the living room of the family whose boy I look after with almost tears in my eyes because I felt totally lost. I have too many interests. There are too many things that could be done and could be done by yours truly. I’m single, and therefore the sole breadwinner, and as much as I enjoy volunteering my time away bills need to be paid. I had a painful reminder of that yesterday too which might have added to my melancholic state.

In my panicked state, the continuous refrain flowing through my mind was “Trust God.”

Trust God? For those who have journeyed with me, trust has been a huge issue. Trust in a God who has allowed me to go through horrible things is frightening at times. Yes, I know that I’ve written many times about how wonderful it is that God can orchestrate beauty out of ugly things, chaos out of disorder, healing out of pain. But I’m kinda done with the experiencing ugly, disorder, and painful things in my opinion and think that God needs to come up with a new way to teach me.

Trust God with your life, devote your entire life to God, and you can be in for anything. As I read the lives of the saints, they most certainly didn’t have it easy. Trusting in God does not promise a comfortable life. A joyful life perhaps. But last night, I was wanting comfort.

Today I was reminded of a thought I’ve expressed before. Looking back over my life, I am thankful that God didn’t tell me all that I would go through up front. I would have run the other way. I think he gives us enough direction to keep us moving forward. And we take little steps – like steps on stepping stones – on the path he has marked for us. Sometimes we slip, for stepping stones often are slippery or mossy. But God helps us back up and we keep going.

I have an interview booked for graduate school. That is the next stepping stone. Not sure what happens after that interview. But today I feel ok about that. Cause God will show me in his timing – which is always perfect even if I don’t agree with it – and he will show me what to do next, in ways that I can handle.

8 Years

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Tomorrow marks a very important day in my journey.

Some of my readers will know this as my “Exodus Day” – indeed, it was a day that I left behind what I knew and ventured into the road towards freedom.

I’d like to tell the story of that day.

That term, I had been struggling with what was going on at home. I would stay at the university late or stay at a friend’s house or my grandparents’ house to escape the abuse. I had plans to move out in June or July (I can’t remember which month now). Technically, my stepfather had said that wasn’t allowed. So, I found myself a job and a place to live and simply announced it and proceeded as if everyone was cool with it. For me, it was non-negotionable.

But I was struggling emotionally. So I went to friends and shared a little of what I was going through. They supported me, I didn’t tell them much, but told them enough. We were to get together for lunch when my exams were over.

That day was April 28. And over lunch, one of my friends informed me that she was obliged to call children’s aid because there were young children in the home. I tried everything I could think of to get her to change her mind. After all, I knew children’s aid only to be anti-Christian and against families. After awhile, I realized a call was going to be made…with or without me. And I decided that I wanted to take on the responsibility of calling. So we made the call together.

And then I knew I could never go home that night.

That was eight years ago. We were studying Exodus as a Bible study at the time and I really found myself in that story. The abuse was a slavery of sorts – a slave to one’s selfish and misdirected passions. I had been freed from bondage to this way of life.

Yet – as the drama continued and I found myself with an angry family, without a home, and overwhelmed, I found myself saying that it was better at home. Yes, I knew what I was saying – but the desert isn’t a fun place either. I found myself crying out to God like the Israelites – it was better in Egypt. I remember each day as a struggle. Many days I could not fathom getting through, let alone reaching eight years.

And yet, here I am. 8 years later. I love God and know that he is with me. I am thriving in school and work and in life and enjoying all that God has blessed me with. While I have my moments, a joy and peace has filled my life and sometimes I cannot contain it. Each day I am discovering that God’s love is deeper, longer, wider, higher than I ever thought imaginable. I have learned that God’s timing is perfect (though for a perpetually impatient one like myself, I think this will be one of those things I will learn and relearn throughout my life. I have come to see how God can take what is ugly and messy and orchestrate beauty out of it. I can laugh at knowing that God loves me and knows me better than i know myself.

8 years… and there’s still pain, but there’s a lot more healing. The picture above is a clay vase made by a friend of my aunt and uncle. It has become my symbol and hope in healing. For the longest time, I had the other side visible… a woman, with her head down and in chains. And then, I turned it around at some point in my journey… we will overcome some day. I’m not sure one ever stops healing. I think healing and growth continue throughout one’s life.

But my friends and family and readers who have journeyed with me thus far…. we have overcome.

Thanks be to God.

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

Creative Redemption

As I read Andy Crouch’s Culture Making, I am struck by how God continuously redeems the messes that humanity creates. And he does a better job at fixing things than I can even dream to do! Quite honestly, the more I try to fix things sometimes, the more I make it worse.

People have asked me about the special service I held to mark the end of the court journey and to pray for my family. I often haven’t had words. It was beautiful, powerful, meaningful. But one thing that I have said and continue to say as I watch it unfold, there was a lot of creative redemption in that evening. The layers of this creative redemption are still being uncovered.

The sermon I preached was just one – but a significant one – piece of redemption. I argued with God about preaching. I put forth every argument against it I could think of. In the end, God won. Writing it was an interesting process. Preaching is an awesome task – to speak from God’s word. I love to write – but writing sermons is different. I suppose I should strive to honour God with everything I write, but each time I write a sermon I am acutely aware of this. After it was written, I realized that I was probably the only person who could get up in the room and speak these words. I’ve been told by a few people how important this was. I am thankful that God did not let me bow out in fear.

But the elements of creative redemption have been realized after that evening. I want to share two of them along with a recording of me preaching. I hate watching a video of myself and I reviewed it with almost enough cringe to prevent me from posting ;-). But there is something at the end that words alone cannot capture.

I realized that I stood at a podium, in front of people – some who I knew and others I had just met. I was there to speak of the situation involving my stepfather. I was to speak from my heart and to speak truth in a very messy and complicated situation.

The last time I spoke about my father in a public place was in court. This new ‘court’ so to speak held so much redemption of my previous ‘public speaking’. Here I stood in a spot speaking a topic that once held fear, timidity, shame and embarrassment… but this time with boldness, joy and peace. Once again I felt God’s physical presence around and in me. But the context of the small chapel, I testified to a different truth – instead of wounds and pain, I testified of hope and joy.

But there is something even more beautiful and redemptive than this and it is why I am willing to post the video. You will either have to skip to the end or watch the whole thing to see AND hear what I am getting at. Admittedly, the video does not show the intensity of the moment that I felt, but it gives a glimpse.

Five years ago, shortly after I had gone to the police, life had become unbearable as I dealt with the complex feelings around this and the continued separation from my family. I decided to take my life into my own hands. One night, almost exactly five years before I preached, was the darkest night of my life. I stood before God and renounced my faith. I remember my bold and angry words very clearly – “I would rather die and live in hell then live for God.”

Oh how different my life is now. It’s been a journey of ups and downs and some dark valleys. I have to say I have amazing people in my life who did not give up on me.

I have identified a lot with Peter in Scripture who denied Christ. And the guilt and pain of doing so. I have always loved the story post resurrection in which Jesus asks Peter three times “Do you love me?” Peter was hurt. But there is, I believe, some creative redemption in this for Peter denied Christ three times and was able to say that he loves Christ three times.

Privately I had renounced my faith. But on the night of this service, I was publicly proclaiming my faith. Watch my voice change and the smile on my face, and how I move with a freedom that wasn’t visible in the rest of the video. I publicly spoke to God that I love him – the dearest dealer – that I so love him. Click here for my sermon

Do you know what an awesome gift that has been to me? I didn’t plan it that way. The creative redemption was all God. Do you know how much it meant to me to say to God in front of those who have watched me break and heal, break and heal, that I love God? Do you know how awesome it is to feel love and joy for God with my heart, soul and mind?

I love that I serve a God who creates beauty out of ugly things. I love that I serve a God who orchestrates beauty and meaning that is redemptive.

Pressing on

Words are my friends. I cannot express myself in ways that people understand what is going on for me. I don’t cry. I don’t shout. And most days, I can put on a front that all is well. Words are all I have to communicate where I am at.

The past few days have been dark. Not within me, but around me. Well, there’s plenty of darkness within me and I often find myself kneeling before the throne of God humbled by his love for me, a sinner. But the darkness is around me too. And silence has set in because I have no words. I have no understanding. I have no wisdom.

Marks were posted today and despite doing well most of the term, my final exams brought most of my marks down by quite a bit. For this, I also have no words.

The path moving forward in all the situations I find myself in is unclear. It seems I have a mountain to climb before me and it seems impossible.

It is with a heavy heart that I turned to prayer this morning. As you probably know by now, I pray through the Celtic Daily Prayers daily. They have scripture assigned to each day and a meditation assigned to each month. The meditations, since they are repeated each month, have become my friends. So are the canticles in the morning and evening prayer liturgies as they ground me and focus me on a God who is with me and loves me and is faithful to me even when I doubt such faithfulness. The scripture passages often meet me where I’m at each day. This is something that always amazes me when I follow a lectionary of some sorts – for the verses assigned to today were there long before today happened, when only God could know what today would hold, and he speaks through these words to my heart today.

Today’s epistle reading is familiar but fitting.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:12-14

I was talking with my aunt the other day who mentioned that we are called to someone and not necessarily something. As I look at the darkness I find myself in and my utter lostness of how the night came and how to move forward to the light, I see my own insecurities and neurotic thoughts. And dark words – unkind words – pounce on these insecurities. This passage reminded me that I must abandon myself to God – he must be the one I seek with all my heart, soul and mind. It is his purposes and his delight that I seek. Indeed, it was only a few days ago that God spoke to me “Well done, my good and faithful servant” – a moment that I treasure and left me tearing up on the subway ride to an event. I am to abandon myself to a God who has shown me mercy time and time again and unfailing love.

Instead I look to others for approval. I look to people who will disappoint, hurt and will not give me the love I am searching for. I am not speaking of any person in particular. This is a general tendency I have- a common one, I know. The problem is that if I put my hope in people, I cannot press on. I will forever be trapped.

But if I abandon myself to God alone – one who delights in me, is always faithful to me, and is constantly forgiving me, then I can press on. I can move forward, forgetting what is behind and strain toward what is ahead. I can dwell in the darkness of depending on others for my self worth, or I can cling to the One who passionately loves me.

One of the most influential sermons I’ve ever heard was from someone who said that at the end of the day, God asks two questions: do you love Me? and do you love My people?

All else is meaningless in comparison.

So today, I press on to love God and to love his people, forgetting past failures and resting in the arms of my Beloved.