Thursday, May 29, 2008

SPIRITUALITY AND MISSION // The second part of my spiritual autobiography

Here is the second half of the spiritual autobiography. I did some major tweaking in it - the one I turned in didn't do the topic justice for the page limit I had. It's long but should read fast. (Maybe we'll see this in book form someday?)

I lived and worked in Nashville for 10 years. I didn’t know anyone when I moved there. I didn’t have a job or career plan. I just knew that was where God wanted me. I was there to work in the Christian music industry. And I did, successfully, for 10 years. Everything came easily; everything came as God planned. I had good jobs and great jobs, job changes and layoffs. Always God provided: financially, emotionally, spiritually.

Then January 2007 arrived. I was in Atlanta for the Passion 07 conference, working for the media relations firm that represents the Passion Conferences. I had the easy job of writing one press release each day for the event. In exchange, I got paid and had access to the conference for free. This was the third Passion Conference I worked in this capacity. This would be old hat.
But two things happened at this Passion Conference: I heard Francis Chan speak for the first time and I heard Beth Moore speak again. When Francis spoke, I was completely captivated with not only his message but with his teaching and communication style. I became an instant fan. The next morning, I remember I was working on my computer while Beth was speaking, when something made me stop and look up. I don’t think it was anything in particular she said. But as I looked up, that something (what I now think was the Spirit leading) said inside me, “That’s what I want to do. I want to be a Beth Moore. I want to travel and speak. Hmm, that’s odd. That’s nothing like me.” End of thought. Back to the computer. End of conference. Back to life and work in Nashville.

The first half of 2007 brought the normal course of life – though Francis Chan’s Podcast from his church in Simi Valley were added to it. I continued freelance writing and editing, working for a company based out of Malibu, Calif., called All Access Music Group, volunteering for my church and making coffee drinks at Starbucks. I dealt with relationship issues, bosses, deadlines – normal “life in America” stuff.

The next encounter with that Spirit voice came at a women’s retreat in May. The retreat took me from that normal course of life and it was there I felt the Spirit once again lay hold of me, asking me to release some recent disappointments and my own expectations for my life. I remember telling God, “Whatever you have for me. My hands are open.” If only I knew….

One month later I walked into my office and sat down at my computer and something changed. That stirring came again. That voice spoke up, “I cannot do this anymore. If I am still coming into this office for the next two years, I won’t be in God’s will.” The thought startled me a bit. I always thought I would be in Nashville working in the music industry. That’s why God led me there. Rather than move past the thought, as I did the Beth Moore one, I let it sink in. And there was immense calm. I even flipped it around and asked myself the question, “What if you do stay?” Without pause, I answered, “I will be miserable if I have to do this any longer. I need to do something that will affect the church and the kingdom.”

There was my answer. Almost immediately, I started exploring my options for a master’s degree, one that would equip me to serve my sister and brother-in-law in their overseas missions work. The search was short. Within one week I applied to the MAGL program at Fuller…and then I waited. I received my acceptance letter about six weeks later. I was not accepted to the MAGL program but to the MACCS program. Exciting but not exactly how I pictured it. The MACCS would require a move to Pasadena. The MAGL could be done from the comforts of my organized life in Nashville.

I talked to God about it, asking him why this program. I never got a straight answer. Through the conversations, though, I believed that this was what he wanted me to do. So, I started with two online classes in the fall. I was not in a rush to move to California. I pushed that requirement to Fall 2008 or later. I figured by that time I would have a chance to get all my home and life affairs in order. But in mid-October I had a conversation with David Crowder for a feature story I was writing. Our conversation centered on justice, compassion and the church’s role in such missions, the very topics and questions that I was exploring in seminary. I hung up the phone from the interview and in an instant, I heard the Spirit say to me, “You have to go now. You need to get started on this. You cannot wait.” I guess by this time I learned something about that voice. I trusted it. Sure, it had told me some odd things, like “I want to be Beth Moore.” But now I was getting it. I had told God, “Whatever you have for me.” He heard me and took me up on it. Without hesitation, without question, I said, “OK. How this will work in two months, I have no idea, but OK. I’ll go.”

Within two months I packed up my Nashville life. I moved most of it into three friends’ homes and drove the rest to California. And in the process I discovered with 98 percent confidence that this was the road God paved for me (the other two percent worried about renting my house). You see, or 18 months, I had been working for a company based in L.A., so my job came with me. God opened housing at Fuller in my budget within six weeks and provided tenants in my house the same day I moved into my Fuller apartment. And I was only 40 minutes from Simi Valley and Francis Chan. I smiled at God when I realized that one year to the day that I first heard Francis preach in Atlanta, I left Atlanta with my best friend bound for L.A. One year to the day that I heard the Spirit suggest a Beth Moore-type career, I was on the road to California. My entire life, the whole direction, the story as I knew it had completely changed – literally in one year.

Ten years in Nashville opened my eyes to the ups and downs of mixing Christian ministry with business. Those years also saw me in God-given jobs that taught me invaluable lessons and provided me with numerous skills for the work that lies ahead. Most of all, life in Nashville and all its ministry and career opportunities taught me how to rejoice in all things, especially the unexpected things.

I have two tattoos (for now). The one on my right wrist is a cross, facing me, as a constant reminder of God’s compassion and Jesus’ obedience. The one on my left wrist is the word “REJOICE.” This comes from my reading of another influence, John Piper (introduced through the Passion Conferences as well). If one word sums up my life now, a life so rich in Christian heritage, so rich in God’s faithfulness, yet so challenging in the day-to-day, it is the word “rejoice.” Philippians 4:4 says, “Rejoice always; again I say rejoice.” In all things I rejoice. I rejoice in the childhood of protection. I rejoice in the circumstances of adulthood. Not much rattles me now, not much shakes me. I’ve learned that nothing surprises God (thank you, John Piper), so whether things look bad or good, I just rejoice in the fact that God is bigger than any of it.

Now in my 30s, when I look in the mirror and see the scars, I’m reminded. I’m not reminded of a dog attack. Rather I’m reminded of my life and I become overwhelmed with gratitude to God. I almost shouldn’t be here but I am and I cannot take the credit. I couldn’t save myself from such massive trauma as a baby. I realize again that this life has little to do with me. I didn’t pick the parents that would raise me in the tradition that they did. The college where ultimately my faith became my own was not my first, second or even third choice. I certainly didn’t plan a career change and a move to California at 32.

A friend once told me that 10 percent of life is what happens and 90 percent is how you respond to it. What happened as I accepted my context, as I accepted my culture, as I accepted my faith tradition, as I lived out that story? What happened as I simply learned to rejoice in all things? What happened when I chose last summer to live life with open hands? God slide Nashville over to the side and placed California in the center of my open hands. Even as unexpected as California was, as untimely as it seemed, there is no doubt that it was God’s leading. I look in the mirror at those scars and I know that God loves me and he has great things for me. He turned the page to an unexpected new chapter of his story in me. I kind of asked for it though. Still, it’s a chapter that I never imagined and one that I’m thrilled to be living for him and with him.

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