“What a moment you brought me to. Such a freedom Lord, I have found in you. You’re the healer, who makes all things new. Yeah, Yeah, Yeaaaah. I’m not going back, I’m moving ahead. I’m here to declare to you, my past is over. In you, all things are made new. Surrender my life to Christ. I’m moving forward.”
“Moving Forward” Israel Houghton
“Moving Forward” has been my theme song throughout this whole process. It represented so much of what I was doing from being able to let go of that young man to being able to walk into this new season without going backwards. But “Moving Forward” started out being easier sung then done…
Last time we left off in this series with my turning my application in mere hours before it was due and all there was left to do was trust God and wait. Initially I was sitting pretty with the knowledge that there was nothing else left to do but wait. I couldn’t change anything, I just had to watch and wait. But as the days turned into weeks, I started to realize the serious implication of what I had just done. It didn’t hit me hard until one evening when I checked my mailbox and saw an envelope from the school. I pulled the envelope out of the mailbox as if I were wearing an ovenmitt and the envelope was a simmering tray of lasagna. It was the slow and steady pull that you do to make sure no sauces drop on the oven floor or, worse yet, you. I looked at the envelope and I saw my life flash before my eyes. I realized that right there in my hands, I held my future. My acceptance or denial would, either way, change the trajectory of my life and I wondered if I was ready for either response. Despite being a little afraid of the outcome, I ripped open the envelope only to find a letter thanking me for applying to the school and telling me that I can check my admission status at any time on the school’s web system. Whew! False alarm. But still, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I had to make some pretty major decisions.
Quite some time went by before I would hear anything else from the school. A part of me was hoping that I wouldn’t get in just so I wouldn’t have to uproot my life and so that I could continue doing business as usual. But life is never that simple. One day as I was tending to business as usual I saw that a voicemail had arrived on my cell phone. It was in the middle of the day, from a strange number and so I wondered to myself, “Who could this be?” I called my voicemail and listened to the message from a voice and a person unfamiliar to me but an institution that was. It was a representative from the school calling to congratulate me on being accepted into the program. I replayed the message about three times and then just sat there in a state of shock. Me. Going to seminary. Really?
Upon being accepted, I told very few people because I just couldn’t believe it nor did I know what I was going to do with that acceptance. Would I decline the acceptance, defer the acceptance or accept the acceptance? It felt like the choice was mine and not mine all at the same time because, after all, this is seminary we are talking about and while there are people who make the decision to go, there are others who are lead to go. Slowly but surely I was discovering that I was in the latter portion of people, not the former.
I went on the warpath with my prayers, not really accepting God’s silence as an answer and not settling for just a glimmer at the end of the tunnel but wanting a gigantic spotlight to show me where to go. I figured that if God, knitting me in my mother’s womb, knowing me before I was born, knows every little thing about me, surely He knows that He created me to be a creature of habit, security and certainty. I wasn’t absolutely comfortable with dropping everything and going back to school without being absolutely sure that this was not just a good choice, but a God choice. I was in extreme waffle territory. Not the breakfast food but the state of mind where one day you could ask me if I was going and I’d say yes, but maybe an hour later I might say no, and an hour after that I’d say maybe.
My first waffling had to do with that young man. Now, before anyone thinks this entire story revolves around him, it doesn’t. It only seems that way because I didn’t write this in a strictly chronological fashion. Had I written it that way, he might have been two strong paragraphs in one post as opposed to a paragraph per post. Nevertheless, he was my first waffle. It was in the midst of our better days when there still seemed to be hoped and I decided that maybe, just maybe, I could go to school where I was accepted and then a year later I could transfer to a school near him. I’m sure this is also where the straw broke the camel’s back because I know when we make plans God is known to laugh and I’m sure God was having a Def Comedy Jam in heaven watching me change the plans He had for me for a man He didn’t have for me. So, as I have said in every post of this series, the young man went away. But now, finally, we can see the denouement. God removed him for manifold reasons, some known to me, others not, but what I do know for sure is the moment when he was removed and I got over it, I was able to stop waffling about going back to school. With him out of the picture, I knew that school was in one place and one place alone. There were no transfers because God didn’t admit me into any other school but the school I got accepted to. Who am I to change His awesome plan?
With that out of the way, I figured it would be smooth sailing, but it wasn’t. Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road in terms of the logistics of getting to school. Particularly, how in the world was I going to afford it? I found out that the school was a private institution–something I didn’t know before I applied. (Yeah, I really just took a blind leap of faith.) I didn’t care whether the school was private or public when I applied, all I knew is this is where I felt lead to go. And so I had to become a squeaky wheel, haggling with the school financial aid folks, filling out the FAFSA forms, speaking to a bishop–actually his assistant–just doing anything to see if I could squeeze a few dollars out of the institution, out of the government or out of my denomination. The result of all of that was my getting a little grant and a loan so large that I harbored the great hope–and still do–that the rapture will come before I have to start paying the loans back. Despite all of this, I knew that I could never let money or my lack of it be a deterrent from starting school in the fall. Money never stopped anyone who felt sure in the natural that they should go to medical school or law school, so why should it stop me in the spiritual when I have received the call to go to seminary. Two waffles down, X to go. With the young man out of the way and the financial situation sort of rectified, one would think that I shouldn’t have had any problem with just boldly declaring that I was going. That was still far from the case. Now I had to deal with myself.
I’ve lived in New York for nearly eight years and in that eight years I never imagined that I would leave the city–despite the fact that I would say at least once a year that I am giving New York 7-10 years. But I just didn’t feel ready to leave yet. I had recently moved into a beautiful apartment with great views of Brooklyn. I felt like I was finally walking confidently in who I was in this city with great friends and the fact that any place I went I was bound to know at least 5-10 other people in the room. I felt like Norm from “Cheers”. Besides that, I had a really great church home, was involved in ministry there, had a great church family and just a lot of creature comforts I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up. Not to mention the job that ensured I could not only do something that I loved, but it ensured I kept the beautiful apartment roof over my head, kept tithing and offering, and kept the creature comforts I enjoyed so much. But knowing all of this, and even looking at the list right now, those are all things of the world, things that make life comfortable and I knew I wasn’t called to be comfortable. As I continued to discern my way through, God kept on revealing things to me about myself that answered the question of why now was the time for me to move and pursue His vocation on a more complete and full-time basis.
God revealed to me that He had given me most of what I wanted over my eight years in NY and the time preceding that in college. I wanted to go to school to study journalism, He let me do that. I wanted to move to NY to pursue a career in magazines for fashion and entertainment, He let me do that. I wanted to spend my money on whatever I wanted, He let me do that. I spent over a decade doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it, how I wanted to do it, why I wanted to do it, where I wanted to do it and with who I wanted to do it with and He let me do it. But how much longer could I survive on doing what I wanted to do? I wanted more out of life and I wasn’t going to find it unless I decided to put my trust in God and see where He wants to lead me. If I knew nothing else at this point in my life, I knew it was time for me to trust someone else besides myself and that person is God.
More of my “Nos” became “Yes” and I found myself opening more to the journey that God wanted to send me on. I started to read books that would help me to get up the courage and go. John Ortberg’s “If You Want to Walk On Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat” was one of the most pivotal books that I read and it helped me stop looking at myself and start looking at Jesus and trust Him much more with my life. I was strengthened and encouraged by reading,
“God generally helps a person’s faith by asking them to take the first step.”
“There is a danger in getting out of the boat. But there is a danger in staying in it as well. If you live in the boat–whatever your boat happens to be–you will eventually die of boredom and stagnation.”
“You will never know God is trustworthy if you don’t risk obeying him.”
I knew that this was about giving my life over to God to make something more of it. It was about doing what God wanted me to do knowing that He had allowed me to do so much of I wanted to do. And so the process of moving forward continued. But every time I made a declaration that moving forward was what I knew I was supposed to do, something or someone would try to convince me otherwise. This time it was a close friend, who after I told him that I was going, shared with me that he didn’t think it was the right move. He had a gut feeling that it wasn’t the right move for me to make and even if I did make it, I wouldn’t be there for long. His words hit me hard and I began to wonder if there wasn’t a bit of truth in them because earlier that day, a spiritual mentor of sorts, alluded to the fact that I might go but not be there for long. And so, the morning after those conversations, I took it to God in prayer and seriously petitioned for a sign that moving forward was His will.
After I arose from my prayer, I turned on a sermon CD I received the night before and I let it play while I was getting ready for work. The pastor was talking about Jesus and the young ruler who asked Him what must he do to be saved. Jesus told him he must sell everything and follow Him, to which the young ruler became despondent because He barely wanted to leave all of his creature comforts. And the pastor said,
“He could not leave what was secure, comfortable and nailed down and just walk away with Jesus. With human beings it is impossible to hand God everything. I know it sounds strange, but if you give yourself away to cause of God, if you give everything to God, you don’t have to chase happiness anymore, you are going to wake up one morning and be happy.”
At that moment I felt that God was speaking to me. That was the core of why I was uncertain about the move because I felt I had so much comfort and security here. It was time for me to let all of that go though. But that was just the first of His signs to me.
After that I continued to listen to the sermon on my iPod on my way into work and as I stood there listening on the 6 train, right as it pulled up into the station by my job, I randomly reached into the back pocket of my jeans and pulled out a piece of paper. That piece of paper was a stub from my last flight to Atlanta. Besides evidence that I was wearing soiled jeans, I felt God speaking again about my destination. But He wasn’t done. Finally I got to my desk at work and I logged onto Facebook to see a new message waiting for me and that message was from a person I had met at the International Christian Retail Show years ago. We kept in touch on a sporadic basis so that he could keep me posted on his work and also so that we could see if there was opportunity for him to fit in on the site I worked for. But in his e-mail, he said some poignant things including asking about when I’ll start working on my book–I’ve never mentioned a book to him–but most importantly the last ‘graph in his e-mail said that if I was ever in his area, there are some people he’d love to introduce me to if it helps or just to say hi. At this I paused and my mouth dropped open because his area is the area where the school is, which I’ve never talked to him about. I knew God had to be speaking and speaking loudly and I heeded Him at this. But, just as made my declaration the enemy was ready to challenge me yet again. So though God moved the man, the financial barrier, and showed me signs that He wanted me in school, I still had one more barrier to entry, my job.
I strongly believe my job at Beliefnet is what set the foundation for my future, although while I was there I didn’t know. A million times I asked God, “Why am I here and when will I leave?” But He always had me to stay just a little bit longer. But as seminary came into view, the acceptance letter arrived, and other doors started to open, I wondered how and when to break the news and even if I should break the news because I had a very good thing going there. Maybe I should just stay. I was trusted with so much, beyond anything I could ever imagine, and I worked with some of the most talented, intelligent, funny, caring people you could ever find in an office. A part of me didn’t want to leave because it was a secure place. My job was stable, I had just gotten a promotion after waiting many years, everything seemed good, until it wasn’t.
This the part where I can’t say too much because it’s sort of legally prohibited, but I think that is just fine because I am sure you, dear reader, are in need of respite from all the starting and stopping, waffles, roadblocks and every other thing which has clogged my moving forward unrestrained. So to make a long story short–too late–my stable job became not so stable and just a few short weeks ago I was laid off. But don’t worry, this is a good thing because I finally feel that I know exactly what to do, thanks be to God. It was pure divine intervention. So with that, here is what this has all lead to…
I’m moving forward and that moving forward will find me in Atlanta, Georgia at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology to start work on my Master in Divinity. Does that mean I’ll be a preacher? I don’t know. Will I be a professor? I don’t know. But what I do know is this is what God wants me to do at this point in my life.
They say, “Everything happens for a reason.” I say, “All things work for the good of those who love the Lord and are CALLED according to His purpose.” Having gone through everything I’ve gone through to get to this very moment, I know that it all worked out for my good. I don’t regret a moment of my life this year. I don’t regret having met that young man and going through the things I did with him because it made me stronger and more open to the possibility of love. I don’t regret all the doubts I had because without the doubt I wouldn’t have received the evidence that this is God’s will. I don’t regret not even really having the money to go because in having empty hands I am now truly open to God’s provision. I also don’t regret being laid off because it is that moment that has allowed me to really get to the point of my entire life and that is that I have to trust God. And with that, I’m moving forward.