When I graduated from college, I always assumed I’d go on to graduate school — either to business school or to seminary. I knew what career path an MBA might lead to, but I’m not sure I had ever heard of a Master of Divinity, and I didn’t want to be a “preacher.” They were just two possible disciplines for continued schooling, considered by a young woman searching for a plan and a purpose.
Business School was a good choice, because academically I could do the work — and I felt a certain expectation from others that I use those gifts. Why consider seminary? There was a much stronger pull that originated from deep within me. One to learn more about God. A haunting if you will, that there was so much more to faith than I knew. I wanted the integrated faith-life I read about in Norman Vincent Peale and others. I was quietly and desperately searching, but not at all sure for what.
In high school, I spent many nights with my friend Joni. I was keenly aware of “something” different in the lives of her parents, precious Jack and Sue. They were a fabulous example of a Godly couple. I’m not sure if they knew that all those many teens flowing in and out of their home were watching and learning so much from them. I know I was. And many of us would attest to the positive impact they had on our future walk as Christians, well after we all moved away.
In Jack and Sue I saw a gentle and loving conviction to live out their faith. If you spent the night with them on Saturday, you went to church with them on Sunday! They said prayers before meals that weren’t memorized, but conversational! I saw them praying together in the porch swing once, when no one else was around. God and faith were woven into their conversations and daily lives with us as naturally as the weather, our dating lives, and sports teams! They laughed with us and listened to us. They seemed to sincerely value and respect teenagers, and care for us as individuals. I knew they had something I wanted, though I couldn’t have named it at the time. Looking back, I thank God for the seeds of desire for HIM that Sue and Jack planted in my heart.
College graduation came, and on its shirt tails a wedding. I still planned to go to graduate school soon after. The MBA idea faded, and I looked into the only two seminaries in my new town. One did not have female students and the another believed the Bible was ‘fairytales’ to help us live better lives. Needless to say, I didn’t go to seminary. Still I felt the hole, the gap. As a young mother, I once considered the four of us moving for me to go to seminary. I was almost through the application process for online classes at Dallas Theological Seminary, when they realized I was in a divorce process, and wisely suggested I hold off until it was resolved. In all these explorations of seminary, I was very thoughtful — and not all that prayerful. It was all my idea for what God might want me to do for Him.
Finally, on Memorial Day of 2008, sitting on my front porch at Alligator Point with my Bible and journals, I felt God’s call to seminary! It was irrefutable and compelling unlike any time in my life. I knew I was supposed to go to Atlanta to RTS — that fall. I started planning; anything else would have been disobedient — of that I was certain. I started looking for schools for my Sophomore and Senior in high school to attend. I searched for a home in Atlanta and put my Tallahassee house on the market. I applied to RTS, stating in my application that I felt “called” to seminary, possibly to write? I wanted to know all there was to know about God and the Bible. To put to rest the confusion in my heart over denominational differences and some of the mysteries that baffled me. I wanted God to change me and use me! I was willing to do whatever he wanted me to do… I wanted that something I felt was missing, despite all God had done in me.
Much went well initially, and I took it all as confirmation from God that I had heard Him correctly. In early August, my children and I moved to Atlanta. By early October we were all settled in school and had moved into our new home. I had been through a lot in both my marriage and my divorce. I had learned so much about God and myself. Truly, I had grown quite a bit.
Then in October of 2008, I began a new journey of suffering and growth. All the rest of the things that I had unwittingly been putting my faith in were stripped away. I was on quicksand and everything around me was unstable. The market crashed, and I had only passive income. I was a stranger in a new town. My mom and dad entered a new season of life and health, as my father was diagnosed with aphasia. My relationship with a boyfriend ended and with it an intense revisiting of years of painful rejection. My children all had serious illnesses. One hated Atlanta and both were struggling more than I ever anticipated. I was struggling and alone more than ever before. Was this really God’s plan?
Skipping all the details of how “life” as I knew it was stripped away, I found myself in an un-welcomed pattern. I would get the kids to school, then spend all day in my bedroom, reading, writing and praying. I would rally as best I could when they returned in the afternoon. I remember one day wishing God would just take me… because I couldn’t take the pain of this life anymore. That was my lowest point, and also a new level of brokenness and surrender that allowed the Holy Spirit to teach me and change me in deeper ways.
As only God could arrange it, I had the semester-long assignment in a class on devotional classics to read as much of one author as possible, and to write a paper and present their works to the class. I chose Henri Nouwen, and as I read, and wrote, and wept in my bedroom alone, I learned a little more about what it means to say I am His Beloved. Jesus met me in such loving and intimate ways, that I almost welcome the next dark, midnight hour in my life. His faithfulness touched me. His love penetrated me. I am His.
It was all His plan. I learned a little more about why I might have been called to Atlanta and to seminary. Notice, it was never a call to a formal church ministry. I wanted to master the Bible. I wanted to know more about Him. Instead, as I called out to Him, when all I thought I could count on was gone, He answered and revealed more of Himself to me.
I realized that what I was looking for was not knowledge, but a deeper more intimate and ever-present relationship with my Lord. That’s what Jack and Sue had, that I had wanted way back in high school. I had learned enough by then to know (in my mind) that my personal relationship with Jesus was the key, but it wasn’t my reality. In my darkest hour, Jesus penetrated my heart. The path from my head to my heart can be a long and treacherous passing. He taught me that it was okay that all those years, I had been wanting to learn more about Him. But what He wants is for me to engage more regularly and more deeply with Him. To seek Him and Him alone, above all else.
This is obvious to me now, as the concept would have been to me even at the time, but I am stubborn — slow to adapt. I am an experential learner, and my Creator knows it. He had many reasons for calling me to RTS and Atlanta. I believe my husband, Rob, is one of them. Stripping away false gods and worldly security is another. Many reasons I may never understand, but I do know this: He went there before me and was with me through it all. He loved me and provided for all I needed at each step. He taught me to seek Him first, even as I study His Word and learn more about Him. He brought me though the fire, a little more refined — and I want more and more of HIm. I’m still learning all that He already taught and continues to teach me. But there is no doubt, I encountered my Savior and did not and cannot remain unchanged.
The joke around seminaries is that they can be a cemetery for faith. During my time at RTS, ultimately, I didn’t seek a degree, I took only Bible classes and eventually only audited those. It was important for me to stop “performing” in class and to acknowledge why I was there both to myself and to God. Now I am in Tallahassee again. The Atlanta chapter was four years brief! I am still searching and learning. I’m still impatient with myself and how slowly I am growing, but I know for Whom, through Whom, and by Whom all things will happen. I will Trust Him, and I am more fully alive!