I sat in church this morning full of fear, once again. I feared what I most often fear the most– the future. The moments when I allow myself to fear the future I tend to paint the bleakest forecast for my life and believe it will come to fruition. But this morning as I sat in church thinking of the worst case scenario of what my life might become, I remembered all the things God has done in my life in spite of me. I thought of Nehemiah 9– which if you haven’t read, you must! This chapter has been an anchor for me, a place I always run back to when I need to believe God.
At one point Nehemiah describes my own heart perfectly, “But they, our fathers, acted arrogantly; they became stubborn and would not listen to Your commandments. They refused to listen, and did not remember Your wondrous deeds which You had performed among them; So they became stubborn and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But You are a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness; and You did not forsake them….You, in your great compassion, did not forsake them in the wilderness; the pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, to guide them on their way, nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go.” (Neh. 9:17, 19)
So tonight I spent some time recounting all the things God has graciously guided me into, blessed me with, and changed my thinking in. He did all of this in spite of me. I mean that in the truest sense. All of these things have been nothing short of life changing and all of them I was decidedly and stubbornly opposed to. I don’t really expect any of you to read it all, it’s mostly just for me to recount all the things God has done and thereby increase my faith for what He will do in the future.
There was a time in my life when I was an emotional basket case, a ball of secrets and rage and sadness and I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it. For a year I let myself dwindle down to an outward appearance of fun and humor when inside I was dying. I clung to my sadness like a child clings to their favorite blanket– I wouldn’t let it go, I wouldn’t talk about it, and I didn’t want to get better. The Lord somehow broke through my stubbornness. Through the brokenness He brought my life and testimony became a beam of hope and I was able to publicly testify on several occasions to hundreds of people about the work He had done. He gave me “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.”
My senior year of high school I fought bitterly with my dad, defending my position that God did not want bad things to happen and did not know that they would happen but worked with them when they did. I was furious at him when he told me to “stop telling him what I though and start telling him what the bible said.” I clung to my idea of who God was until I began reading Romans and Proverbs, as well as John Piper. Through His Word and the teaching of Dr. Piper my life and theology has been forever changed to embrace and believe the goodness of God and His sovereignty over all of life– truth which permeates every ounce of my existence.
When it came time to choose a college there was only one place I wanted to look at: Master’s. But after visiting it I thought it was ugly and everyone looked home schooled and there were too many rules so I decided against it. I went on to visit Westmont, Biola, Vanguard…and looked at countless others. Anywhere but that awful school called Master’s. Then, one day the Lord changed my heart. I can’t explain it as anything else but a compelling feeling from the Lord that that was where he wanted me in spite of what I wanted for myself. So I applied. It was the only school I applied to. I got in. And I spent four years (that I wouldn’t trade for the world) there growing in grace, knowledge, sanctification. I gleaned from godly individuals and spent time fellowshipping, playing, and laughing with countless brothers and sisters in Christ. My mind and life were formed there.*
My freshman year all my friends were going to work at a summer camp. I said I would never go with them. I wanted to go home and spend time with my family and at my home church. Mostly, I didn’t want to follow the crowd. I ended up going. That summer the Lord taught me, through the testimony of one of my fellow counselors, that He is the God who caused men like Isaiah to say he should die because he was so sinful, and men like Ezekiel to fall flat on their faces and He is worthy of all of my life. Life cannot be normal or easy, that’s not an option for me. And my life was transformed by the truth that God is my treasure and all-satisfaction.
The next year I said I wouldn’t go back again. I did. That year I counseled girls through physical and sexual abuse, dealing with the murders of family members, pregnancy, miscarriages, crushes, sin, and the love of God. I was just a second year counseling student but I remember spending time on the phone with Dr. Smith asking him what the heck I was supposed to do and say to these girls! God was faithful and allowed me to minister to these girls and show me the cost of ministry. It took everything I had during the day, I cried almost every night with and for these girls, and got up the next day to do it all again. That’s ministry. That’s what it costs to pour your life out for others. And I loved it.
Sophomore year I didn’t want to be an R.A. My resident director asked me to apply, my R.A. asked me to apply, others asked me to apply and I said no way. I wanted to spend time with my friends, go to IBEX, and I thought I could do ministry better without the title. It wasn’t until I walked into Joe Keller’s office (then the director of chapel ministries or something like that) and he told me why I would benefit from pouring my life out, why my life wasn’t meant to be lived for ease and comfort, and why I should pursue being and R.A. if I was pursuing counseling, that I decided to at least apply. I got it. The next two years of my life were shaped by the ministry I did and the girls the Lord had on my wing. It’s been a joy and blessing to see those girls go on to be in leadership positions and be involved in ministry, to see them triumph over sin and become dear friends.
Junior year my dad wanted me to go to Israel. I signed up because he wanted me to. Two days before I left I called him and begged him to let me come home instead of boarding the plane. I was tired, I had just finished finals, I missed my family, I didn’t know a SOUL that was going on the trip, I had never been out of the country before, and the thought of three weeks in Israel just didn’t seem very appealing. I remember one of the guys on the trip asking me if I was excited about it. I had never met him before and my first words to him were, “No, I want to go home.” I walked into LAX two days later and met 8 of my favorite people in the world. My assigned seat was next to Cindi Gundersen, who I had long admired but never had the courage to actually talk to, who is now one of my best friends. Esther Ko and I became fast friends and today she is another of my best friends. All of my best friends today, except for 2, I met on that trip and had some of the best times of my life and learned much about Scripture, Christ, and the incredible blessing and grace of being under the new covenant.
Senior year I did not want to go to Grace Community or Generations Bible Study. I was being pressured by friends to go, and once again did not want to follow the crowd. I fought it and fought it, and finally visited. Today I consider that church and Bible Study to be my home away from home. Through it I met my other two best friends, Bart and Amy Horton. It was through that study that the Lord taught me to be content in singleness. And I have enjoyed many nights of teaching and fellowship, as well as relationships with godly older women. Thursdays and Sundays are now my two favorite days of the week because of my great love for that church body.
There is so much more….but this is already far too long. There have also been countless disappointments, things I desperately wanted that God graciously withheld from me for my good. My guess is that no one has read this far. But I praise the Lord for all He’s done in my life in spite of me and look forward to the great blessings He will continue to bring in spite of my sinful, stubborn and hard heart.
* I wish I could say I didn’t want to live in Hotchkiss and begged for C-Dub (then Oak Tree) or Waldock but was placed in Hotchkiss against my will and found it to be the happiest place on earth. That would make for a good story. But the truth is I always wanted to live in Hotchkiss once my future at Master’s was decided. That never changed. But I did spend my four years there living in the happiest place on earth.