Growing up in my faith.

I decided to go to Seminary on a whim. I was unhappy working at the newspaper in Asheville and I wanted to go to school to become a counselor. God, I prayed, show me where I can go to follow your call. Within a few seconds of Google searching, I found Emmanuel School of Religion, conveniently located only an hour away from Asheville. I had never heard of it before. I had never heard of the “Stone Campbell Movement” before. But it seemed like a good school after playing on their website for an hour and looking at their catalog online at what counseling classes they offered. (Lots of intentional thinking here, can you tell?!)

I sent an “interest” email on Tuesday, August 7. A few minutes later, the Admissions secretary emailed me back to tell me more about the school and that they were still accepting applications for the fall semester. Hmm, I thought. That’s 2 weeks from now. Is that even possible? I began to pray, God, here is this school. I’ve never heard of it. I have no idea how I will pay for this, how I will get off work to go to class. God can I do this? Do you want me to do this? It’s in your hands.

Shortly after, I printed the application offline, filled it out and faxed it in. The next day, the the Admissions secretary told me that I would need to submit my recommendations, pay for the application fee and get my transcripts sent it by Friday. The worries began to settle in. God, today is Wednesday. I really want to go to this school and I know that you want me to go too but how will I get all of this in on time? Father, please help me to get in my forms. I know it is last minute but please help me to get this going.

On Friday at 4 p.m. she emailed me that the last of my recommendation forms had been faxed in and that the Admissions committee would review my application on Monday – barely 2 weeks before Orientation and classes were going to start. On Monday, I woke up very anxious, What if they don’t accept me? There’s only 2 weeks before school starts. God, please, if this is your will. Help me to get in. Help me to do this. It’s your will not mine. I trust you.

By that Friday, I received a letter that I had been accepted and that Orientation began the following Friday, with their annual picnic. My only worry now was to ask off from work since Orientation + School were a week-long from 8 a.m. until 2 or 3 every day. I was granted the time off (Thanks God) and went on to Orientation the following week.

I showed up to the picnic and met a “bible scholar.” He had gone to bible college and it was his second year in seminary. He approached me to introduce himself and he asked who my favorite theologian was. Oh no, I thought, What have I done? My emotions came over me quickly and I excused myself to the bathroom and began to cry. God, I don’t know what I was thinking. Seminary? I’ve only been a Christian for 5 years. I don’t know anything about theologians. I haven’t even read the bible through once. What am I going to do? God please, help me. Tell me this is okay. Give me peace, Lord.

I went back outside and got in line to get my food. Father, send me friends. People to assure me that this is where I’m supposed to be. God give me peace. A few moments later, the man I would later marry walked up to me and told me that he liked my shoes. He invited me to sit with his friends and I found a core group of people that became a support system for that first year. They weren’t crazy. They didn’t talk theology. They invited me over to play video games and watch a movie. And I knew it was going to be okay.

The following Monday, I went into the first meeting and received the biggest worry of all. Why hadn’t I thought about this before? I mean, seriously, I guess I was just distracted with the application process but how did I not think about this… How am I going to pay for this? They told us that Registration was Wednesday and that our payment was due then. We also needed health insurance (I didn’t have any) and books (How did I ever think I could afford seminary). I went to the Admissions secretary and pled my case. Listen, I know classes start on Thursday and today is Monday but is there any financial help that I can still receive this late in the game? A Scholarship? Work Study? Anything? She told me she would check and later said that there was nothing she could do. I immediately went to the Lord in prayer. God please help me to pay for this. I’m here. I’ve requested off work. Everything else is in place. Lord, please help me. Help me find the money to start on this journey. By the end of the day, I was meeting with my advisor for academic advising and he told me that Stadia had planted my church in Asheville and that they had a “Stone Campbell” scholarship for me and that I could talk to the Business Office about getting a student loan to take care of the rest. Hallelujah!

That was my Philippians 4:4-7 life. My worry free-God will take care of everything-life. In August 2007, my hope and my center were in the Lord and I had no worries that were too great for God to handle. Until that October…

On Thursday, October 25th, I went to school like it was a normal day. I went through Hebrew, trembling at the possibility of being called on in class. I ate lunch with my friends, making plans for Halloween and I sat through OTI, listening to Dr. Bembry teach us about the Ancient Near East. At 2 p.m. it was time to go to SME, I went and put my book bag down in 205 and checked my phone as usual. 12 missed calls. All from my sister. Okayyy?

I grabbed my phone and started walking towards the bathroom as usual. I ignored the voicemail notification and just called my sister. Hey, she said, Where have you been? Her tone let me know that she was upset with me. As the baby in the family who thinks the world of my big sister, my heart dropped a little because I knew she was upset with me. I’ve been in class. I said defensively. What’s wrong, why did you call me 12 times? There was only silence on the other end of the phone. I left the bathroom and started walking back to 205. It’s Daddy. He was in a car accident. I stopped. Is he okay? I asked. I made eye contact with my friend Leslie who was on her way out of our classroom. Yeah, um, he’s fine. Just come home. We’re going to Louisiana, you need to come home now. I didn’t know that she was lying to me. I just looked at Leslie, told her that I had to leave and she walked me down to my car.

I don’t really know how long will be. Can you tell Dr. Jones that I’ll email him the details? And Dr. Bembry? Will you talk to Dr. Wetzel and let him know that I have to go home. Leslie assured me hugged me and told me that she would handle everything, closed my car door and I set off to Asheville.

My sister’s house in Asheville is an hour and fifteen minutes away – sometimes you can make it in under an hour if you’re speeding. That Thursday afternoon, it took me 30. I sped through the gap with my emergency flashers on. My heart had welled up with fear as I drove home, with time to think. If he’s okay, why are we going to Louisiana. It’s a 16 hour drive. I don’t understand.

I made it to Kaye’s house and pulled in the driveway where she was already waiting on me. She looked sad. My sister doesn’t cry much. She’s the tough one, my body guard and my stability in all things chaos. Stay out here. She said blocking me from the door. The boys are inside. I wondered why I couldn’t see my nephews. Her words were slow. She didn’t seem like my big sister. The strong one in our family. Daddy died.

The rest of that moment is a blur. I remember falling into my sister’s arms and crying. She told me to go to the backyard because the boys didn’t know yet. At 4 and 7 years old, they were only babies. How are you supposed to tell babies that PawPaw is gone? I laid on the trampoline. Motionless, I stared at the brown and orange leaves that had fallen from the tree above me. I couldn’t cry anymore.

I called my husband (we were just dating at the time) and told him what happened. He listened to me and assured me that it was going to be okay. He told me that he would take care of everything school, afterall, I had no idea when I’d be back. He prayed for me and I got off the phone. I looked up and saw two little boys staring at me from the kitchen window. Why is Aunt BB laying on the trampoline? By then, I no longer had tears in my eyes. I climbed down from the trampoline and went inside. We left that night for Louisiana.

My life hasn’t been the same since that day in October. I think differently. I act differently. I pray differently. Even my personality has changed. I once was an ENFP, the life of the party, an “I” on the DISC profile.  But now, I am an ENFJ, or in other words a “control-freak.” A High-“C” on the DISC

I lived in a hollowed shell for 2 years burdened with the fear of the unknown. Grief weighing down on my shoulders. What if David is driving and is hit by someone who is texting on their cellphone? What if I get 12 missed calls again from my sister, except this time it’s my Mom. I no longer rested in the peace that God once gave me. You could say that our “honeymoon” was over. Death had broken us up. Death had sent me on a downward spiral to a place where I no longer trusted God. Where I lived, alone and broken.

But, my story doesn’t end there. There is redemption. Afterall, I’m still here. And I have come a long way since that day. I do pray. I do ask God to take care of me. And I believe wholeheartedly that he will.

Death may have brought me down but God used Death to bring me back up. Two years later, as a part of the seminary program, I served as a Chaplain for the year-long CPE program. Every day, I faced death head on. Patient after patient, I was reminded of my dad. On some days, I was able to rejoice with families whose loved one had triumphed over Death. But on other days, my heart was re-broken once again alongside the family in the waiting room. The whirlwind of grief had swallowed me whole and I had to face my emotions. No matter how well-organized I could be, no matter how many A’s I could achieve, my dad was still dead and the pain was still there. God used death to bring me back to Him and Chaplaincy provided the ladder that I needed to ascend out of that hell.

But I wasn’t quite healed yet. I was still surrounded by death.

It wasn’t until the news of New Life within me that I began to breathe again. Ironically, this breath of fresh air had nothing to do with what I could control. In fact, he’s given new meaning to thought of “Let Go and Let God.” There in my womb was this little baby who I had no control over. At any time, with statistics for both the pro and the con, anything could happen and all I could do is pray. God please take care of my baby boy. Nourish him and love him and keep him safe in my womb. But it doesn’t stop there. When I wanted him to kick, he didn’t respond and at Midnight when I would be sleeping, he was wide awake and ready to play. Even the due date was out of my control. Originally he was due in June but my doctor said I would not make it to Finals week. I would have rather him come the day after graduation but instead I had a c-section 5 days before. I had to learn to have faith again and through it, I learned how to trust God again.

Philippians 4:4-7 means something completely different to me today than it did before Seminary. Before I was a worry-free flower-child, tripping over daisies, without a care in the world except me & God. In seminary, my faith was more anxious but through it, I learned to trust again.

If you were to think back over your life, what are the experiences that have shaped your faith? That have shaken you? That have Broken you? Molded you into who you are today?

What are the redeeming experiences? For me, it was Chaplaincy. Staring death in the eye and climbing out of the depths and hollows of grief. It was New Life, a baby boy who at 3 still brings joy to my heart. My honeymoon with God ended. My trust was damaged but today, my restored faith has triumphed over Death and I have gained a deeper relationship with God. Death has been swallowed up in victory.

When the disciples were with Jesus, one could say they were in that honeymoon stage. The charisma of his love and the promise of his words kept them warm. But in his death, they were left alone and brought to a new level of sadness. But, like me, God used Death to bring them to a new life. Behold, He makes all things new.

There are going to be moments when we can’t focus. When Life seems too hard. There’s too much on our plates. And we feel like we can’t go on. But as Paul says in Philippians 4:4-7, Rejoice and Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Don’t be afraid. The Lord is near. Psalm 145, verse 18 says “the Lord is near to all who call on him.” We don’t have to be afraid of the unknown.

Do not be anxious about anything. But in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Ask for what you need. Matthew 7:7-8 says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Just tell him. Tell God what you need. That’s all he asks.

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is the most important part. He guards us. Like that peace that transcended your understanding. You can’t state why you feel lighter but you do. That’s the peace that guards you. Sure, you may have to pray again. Give it God over and over before the worry goes away but he’s there, guarding you. Guarding your heart. He guards your mind, reminding you to tell him twice. And now that you’ve told him. Now that you’ve asked. He will give you peace. He is our rock and our fortress. Our shelter from the storm of worries.

 

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