I am undone, yet again, by the love of God. I am astounded by what God has brought me through and by what God has brought about in my life. Maybe I am even more amazed by what God didn’t allow me to do. How God didn’t let me serve where my heart wanted. How God closed ministry opportunities that I thought had finally arrived. All because He loved me enough to grow me into who I am now.
When I was getting ready to graduate from college, I had a calling on my heart to do ministry. I thought for sure it was for me to go overseas and teach English as a missionary. I was convinced that I had the right credentials and the drive to make it all work. I looked at all of the possible locations where I could serve on the Southern Baptists’ International Missions Board and applied.
It was heartbreaking when I was rejected from the program. I thought for sure that I was the best qualified person for the job. The thought of the adventure of going to Africa and teaching loving young children my native language and about the love of Christ was thrilling. Mixed into all of that was the thought of being in a country where I would be in danger for my faith. Growing up in a family of strong faith, martyrs were looked up to and put on a pedestal. How much more would I be loved and my work appreciated if I were to die for Christ?
I know that has to sound crazy now, but I am pretty sure that those feelings were not something I was alone in having. At the ripe old age of 21, I hadn’t really tasted fear. I hadn’t experienced loss of someone extremely close to me. I couldn’t fathom how living on the other side of the world would be different from living an hour away from home, and I was broken by the rejection I had experienced.
What felt like “plan B” was going into teaching. I had gotten my degree in secondary education (high school) with an emphasis in social studies (history/government/geography). I was not just a good student, but was voted as the best graduate of my year by the social studies department at my university. I was told later that it was the first time there was a unanimous vote among the faculty. That included professors who only knew me by reputation, having never taken their classes. I had the “summa cum laude” sticker on my diploma and all the honors cords to prove my worth.
I went into teaching and within a few years I was married. My new husband also felt like we had been called to ministry. We went to our local director of missions in 2007, and asked about how we could be college ministers or go about becoming international missionaries. This was at the start of the recession that hit the United States. We were told that since there was a recession started, that we needed to go raise our family because funding was not going to be available to send out new missionaries.
I had it in my mind that the reason God didn’t let me be a missionary when I wanted to after college, was that He was going to send me out with a husband to do His work. After this second rejection, I was stunned. We were stunned.
After a while, my husband and I started talking about doing college ministry. Our campus ministers, Eric and Jennifer, were amazing. They were everything a college student needed: loving, correcting, fun, spontaneous (even with young kiddos), and generous with their lives. I wanted a home like Jennifer’s where the table always had room for one more and young women could see what it is like to have a family. Jennifer mentored me all of my years of college and challenged me to mentor other young women.
I also had a great set of Sunday school teachers in college as well. Tony and Kelli had an open home too. They asked the hard questions and challenged me in ways I didn’t want to think to address. It was still love, but at times it was tough love.
These two families had such a tremendous impact on both of our lives, that we knew college ministry was something we were called to do. We wanted to share our lives in the same way and come alongside young adults the same way we had been mentored and loved.
As time allowed, circumstances changed and we found ourselves at a new church. After just a few months of attending, we are approached about becoming the college ministers for the church. There was one young woman in college and then the potential for several others coming up from the high school the next few years.
It finally felt like all that we had been praying for had arrived. We were college ministers and could open our home to those young adults and mentor them. We did this for four years and just didn’t make the connections we had expected. It felt like most of the youth who graduated slowly drifted away from church instead of joining our class.
I am not saying that all of this was bad. There is one young lady who has become a part of our family through the college ministry and we would go through all of the ministry frustrations time and time again even if it was just for her. There were others as well that we connected with over the years that stayed a part of our family.
Still it wasn’t just our imagination. The core group that we were ministering to, didn’t connect well with us. There was another couple our age in church who they appeared to like more. The group we had finally received after all of these years of praying for college ministry, liked the other couple better. We were approached by the church leadership about leaving the college ministry. We were told not to worry about the college students, because they had already connected with the other couple who would take over the ministry.
It wasn’t just that we were being taken away from the college ministry, the leadership had a new ministry in mind. After they had prayed about it, they could think of no better people than my husband and me to lead it. In our hearts, we knew this potential ministry was something that we could do, and do quite well. Yet, here again we were heartbroken.
Didn’t God see this? Didn’t He put on our hearts to be college ministers? Didn’t He direct us to a church to do that ministry? How could we have been better leaders? Why didn’t we connect? We knew we weren’t the “cool couple” who could make fast friends with our whit and charm. It was just another rejection of something we were convinced God placed on our hearts.
We asked for time to think about the change in ministry. We needed to pray about it. Honestly, we needed to grieve the loss of our dream of being college ministers. We needed time to fully surrender our dreams to Christ: to lay those dreams down; lay down those years of praying over the young people in our care; lay down what we thought was going to be our legacy at church; lay down what we had thought was our calling; and raise to our feet ready to serve in a new capacity.
Even though I didn’t know it at the time, I was right in the same spot Jeduthun was when he penned Psalm 77. Verses 7-9 express how I/ we honestly felt all those many times,
“Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (NIV)
In the midst of all of this, something changed and it wasn’t God. It was me. Long gone was the young woman who never had a fear. Long passed was the person who thought if I just did enough for God, then He would be happy with me. Legalism is a hard habit to break and the pride that goes along with it had broken me. Superiority was stripped and humility and compassion came in its place. I had been undone, broken, stripped, and defeated. Only to raise with peace, joy, compassion, grace, faith, and being much less sure of myself and much more confident in Christ.
Here we are, three years into this new ministry and it is something I never thought I would be doing. A passion I had for teaching and gardening is now being used for God. I am meeting more people and making better connections that I have ever done before. God has proven time and time again, that this was His will to do something far more important in my life than what I could have ever imagined.
What about the college/ young adult ministry we felt like God had called us to do? Was the calling wrong? Did we just miss the mark in understanding what we thought we were supposed to do? Praise be to God, the answer is, no. We have learned that you don’t have to have the title “college minister/ young adult minister” attached to your name in the church bulletin to minister that way.
Over the past seven years, there have been many young adults who have learned that there is always room for one more at our table. They knew going to “our church” wasn’t a requirement for being loved and mentored by us. The years we thought we were missing out on our calling, were years God was growing in us who we needed to be for right now.
Jeduthun finishes Psalm 77 remembering the deeds of God for His people. Verses 16-19, he answers the questions about God,
“The waters saw you, O God, and the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the skies resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” (NIV, emphasis mine)
God didn’t reject us. God didn’t choose to remove His favor. God’s unfailing love didn’t run out for us. His promise and calling didn’t fail. God never forgot to be merciful to us. He was just choosing to lead us down a path of maturity and growth. While we were unaware at the time, He made a way through the waters, though His footprints were not seen.