The Loudmouth Protestant

March 18, 2016

This is My Confession…

Filed under: Catholicism,faith,life — nickisym @ 5:40 pm
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I’m on the verge of becoming Catholic. This is a confession new to many of you but it isn’t the purpose of this post–I’ll fill you in soon on the impetus for this conversion. This post is about an actual confession, my first confession, also known as the sacrament of reconciliation.

I prepared for confession in the way that only a Protestant could, by making a list of my sins and checking it twice. Actually, this makes it sound easier than it was. I actually had a hard time making the list because I wasn’t sure what I thought sin was anymore.

You see, for the last few years I’ve spent time in Christian contexts that didn’t talk about sin, at least not on a personal, individual level. I attended and graduated from a United Methodist seminary, but sin was rarely a topic of conversation unless we were critiquing church doctrine on sin or talking about the fact that we weren’t talking about sin. And for all the church hopping that I did during my first five years in Atlanta, I was hard-pressed to hear a sermon about sin and repentance. So I lost sight of sin and proceeded to live life unfettered by it. I’ll admit it was liberating to live a life not bogged down by the concept of sin. Oh the places you’ll go when sin isn’t weighing you down. Oh the people and things you’ll do too. But the moment I found out that I had to go to reconciliation, the sheen of my so-called liberated life wore off quickly.

As I inched toward the day of confession I was conflicted. I spent a lot of time trying to eke out a definition of sin using the embedded theology of my Protestant background and the teachings of my soon to be faith tradition of Catholicism. I wrestled with sin as “anything that separates me from God” and how anemic it felt to me because of its highly relative nature. I studied charts on venial and mortal sin, even going so far as to access a website that had a checklist where you can quantify which category you’ve committed more sins in. I journaled about some personal understandings of sin that felt generative for me. Finally I read an examination of conscience for single young adults as well as a general examination of conscience and jotted some notes down about the ways I have fallen short before God, myself, and my fellow human beings.

The day of reconciliation arrived and I was jittery with nerves. It was advised that I attend the group reconciliation service where priests from multiple parishes join our parish for a brief service and then offer themselves as confessors for individual parishioners. I was told that the advantage of this service is that one could choose to go to a priest other than your parish priest to confess–in the case that you feel awkward about telling your sins to the guy who sees you every Sunday. I can’t lie, this was compelling to me as a first timer to this process.

The service started with us singing “Amazing Grace” and immediately I felt all of my emotions well up inside of me and go straight to my eyeballs. I was ready for the words “That saved a wretch like me” to hit me like a ton of bricks but it never did. Why? Because in “Lead Me, Guide Me: The African-American Catholic Hymnal” the lyrics are:

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved and strengthened me.

My mind was blown. I was prepared to proclaim myself a wretch and wallow in the guilt and shame of my sins but God wasn’t having it. How am I supposed to feel shamed and convicted?

The scripture reading for the service was Luke 15:3-7:

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

The priest’s homily focused on the theology many of us were taught about sin, theology that resulted in us measuring our sins and carrying guilt and shame too heavy for us to bear. He encouraged us to reorient our theology around sin in light of this being the church’s Jubilee of Mercy and he challenged us to shift how we approached the moment of confession. He told us not to approach it bogged down by the sins that we are confessing but to confess with the knowledge that God is merciful and we are forgiven. And to keep in mind the parable which shows us that when the lost sheep was found, there was no moment in which the one who found it then stopped to talk about where it had been and what it had done. No, there was just celebration for its recovery and return back to the fold. “He lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.” Mind blown again. Truly I walked in that church expecting that, from the top of the service, it was going to be weeping, mourning, and gnashing of teeth and so far none of that happened.

The homily ended and the music minister played a soft refrain as the individual confessions commenced. The priest and the associate priests of my parish were located in the sacristy and behind the altar, respectively, so I knew where not to go, or did I? As I sat there reflecting on the list of sins I made and of this sacrament I was about to partake in I realized that making my confession to one of the priests in my parish was more important to me than anonymity. If I understand nothing else about confession, I understand it as an opportunity to bind myself to a community through the vulnerable act of confessing my sins to someone God has called, entrusted, and empowered to grant me absolution. Given that, I realized how important it was for me to confess to a priest at my parish as a sign of my trust in him and in the community God has called me to. A community that I fully intend to grow in for the next few years. And so I walked to the front of the room, bowed to the cross, and walked up behind the altar.

Bless me father for I have sinned, this is my first confession.

I wish I had spoken those words as clearly as they are written. Instead I stumbled over my words as the gravity of the moment hit me like that ton of bricks I wanted to hit me during “Amazing Grace.” The priest looked at me and smiled and told me I need not confess to stealing cookies out of grandma’s jar back when I was three. We laughed briefly and then I  went to start on my litany of sins until all the salty discharge that was accumulating in my body since earlier that day finally released itself. My already nervous and clipped speech became fragmented and I could only mutter my words. I managed to get out that I’m emotional because I realize the weight of the moment and it feels very intense. He told me to take my time and I calmed myself down long enough to make my confession.

The sin that concerns me the most are the lusts of the flesh.

Yes, I said “lusts of the flesh.” Don’t ask me where I got that language from. I’m sure it was embedded from my Protestant heydays. I proceeded to tell the priest all that fell under the category of “lusts of the flesh” from sexual temptation and overconsumption of material goods to the sin of comparison and not, always, believing fully in the gift of God within me. He listened carefully and patiently and told me to really think about those things I’ve mentioned, particularly, what of them are roots of joy and what are the empty calories. He provided a moment of levity by telling me that if I want a pair of Louboutins I should have them, if it is within my means, and if I would get good use out of them on a variety of occasions. (I’ll admit, I thought this was random because I didn’t say anything about shoes but maybe I look like a “Single Black Female Addicted to Retail.”) He provided me with another example of measured consumption and then he did something that blew my mind again, he converted my language. In moving toward the issuance of penance he told me that “pleasures of the flesh” aren’t all bad but I must think about the role that pleasures of the flesh play in my life. “Now that’s just some advice, here is your penance,” the priest said. Yes, here it comes, the hard blow of a thousand “Hail Marys.”

I want you to list God’s blessings in your life.

“What?!” I thought to myself.

I want you to start a journal and document God’s blessings in your life as you see them.

I thought to myself, “This is penance?” He prayed the prayer of absolution over me and dismissed me.

Walking away from the altar my mind was spinning from everything I’d seen, heard, and felt within the span of an hour. I walked in the church a mess, bogged down with my list o’ sins, and my preconceived notions of how they should be handled and I walked out reconciled with God and more tightly bound to this blessed Catholic tradition and community I’ve found myself in.

 

 

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January 29, 2016

Bread for the Journey: A Mini-Reflection on Life in a Doctoral Program

Filed under: Doctoral Days,faith,life,Vocation — nickisym @ 2:11 pm
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Clarity comes from conviction.

Thus far into a doctoral program I’ve learned that sometimes the hardest part of it is not the coursework but feeling worthy of the post and feeling capable of doing everything that is required and expected of me. I confess that more often than not I feel inadequate because of the sin of comparison and even because sometimes it feels late in the game to be on such a journey. But hearing the aforementioned quote—and a few other words over the past few weeks—is helping me push beyond those feelings.
The quote came from someone interviewing for a position within the school and he shared it as a word of encouragement to a group of doctoral and masters-level students. He told us that the work is not about having the right answers or all the pieces in place but a conviction and a passion for doing important and necessary work for our communities and the world. This is easy to forget in the midst of all of the requirements and the rigor of a doctoral program but I’m thankful for the reminder because I do have a conviction about this work which leads me to clarity about this vocational path I’m on. It’s hard work, my God it’s hard work. This work seesaws between giving me life and dealing me death in all areas of my life, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I never want to forget what leads me to this work and the blessing or being able to do it in the first place.
So thank you to that candidate for the timely word, thank you to the professor who put the bug in my ear to be present for the candidate’s talk—and to another colleague for the invitation, and lastly thank you to God who keeps finding new ways to keep calling me to this work. I hope this is also a note of encouragement to other doctoral students. We made it this far for a reason, now it is time for us to believe in the gifts within us, trust that those gifts will make room for us, and believe that through those gifts we are bringing something particular and special to the table that no one else can bring. We’ve got this!

January 8, 2016

Reflections from the Strip Club: A Heady Night at King of Diamonds

FullSizeRenderA few days after my 35th birthday I went to King of Diamonds (KOD) my first real strip club experience–sorry little strip club on Bourbon Street with women dancing to Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me,” you don’t count. This trip to KOD was about a year and a half in the making as there were many attempts at going that failed. The first attempt occurred during a bachelorette weekend and failed because the concierge convinced us that there were better things to do. The second attempt happened during a close friend’s birthday weekend and failed because of the general exhaustion of the group. With this third attempt in view, nothing could stop me from being the one to conquer this beast. Despite having no real detailed plan for going because my friends sometimes like flying by the seats of their pants, I still had some hopes that on the last Monday in December I would end up in the nation’s largest, most popular black strip club. Fortunately the universe conspired with me and I made it. I didn’t suffer from sensory overload as some suggested I would, I didn’t try to save any of the women stripping, and I didn’t get bored quickly. So what DID I do? I had a good time but I think it was atypically so because I was in my head and analyzing everything I saw with my friends. So here are some of my thoughts from my night at KOD.

  1. “Women Who Strip” not “Strippers”: It occurred to me that few other women are called by what they do, and pejoratively so, more than strippers. There are the instances where people refer to Sheryl Sandberg as “CEO,” or Beyonce as a “pop star” but Cheryl and Beyonce are also “CEO Sheryl Sandberg” or “pop-star Beyonce Knowles.” They are known not only by what they do but who they are. A “stripper” on the other hand is usually just a “stripper.”  Part of that naming convention is that women who strip are usually not world-renowned–unless their name is Maliah–but the other part is that I’ve existed in a world where stripping is considered a morally questionable and problematic occupation. Among the ordinary people of the world, I’ve heard that strippers are “messed up,” morally depraved, desperate, and lacking in self-respect and dignity. Broadly construed in popular culture, the stripper is an icon in rap culture and someone T-Pain could–and has–fallen in love with, someone Usher doesn’t mind, or someone Drake respects. One night in a strip club made me question the way I refer to these women and think about what it would be to refer to these women first as women and then as their occupation. And maybe they don’t care either way, but my personal conviction is “person before occupation or ability” at all times.
  2. Do women who strip have a union? As I watched the women stripping I couldn’t help but be amazed and concerned. My concern wasn’t about the salvation of their souls but about their job security, their worker’s comp benefits, health insurance, the safety of hiking up and spinning around those poles all night long… Do these women have a national union that not only protects their right to do this type of work but ensures their safety and fair pay while doing it? I’ve read a little about regional union in places such as San Francisco but it doesn’t appear that there is an AFL-CIO-level union for women who strip in America. Maybe someone can make that happen…
  3. There is a light skin/dark skin dichotomy. An early observation that my friends and I made was that there was a difference between the performance of light-skinned women versus darker-skinned women. What we noticed is the light and fair-skinned women exhausted no energy during their performance. They did no tricks, waited for patrons to approach them, and sometimes looked disinterested in being there altogether. On the other hand, the dark-skinned women performed like the rent/mortgage was due after they left the stage. They had all the tricks and twerked exceedingly well. This claim worked across the board with the exception of maybe one woman per group. (Shout outs to Mini (sp?) for being the real MVP that night!) This was fascinating as I assumed every woman in the club would be working like their lives depended on it, but apparently that wasn’t the case. I talked to a good friend and he said, “The strip club operates the same way the regular world does. Pretty people can get by on looks.” So the strip club mirrors the world, huh? I wonder how many other ways I could draw the analogy out.
  4. Women who strip are gifted. Now on to something a little bit lighter. Women who strip are gifted. Yeah I said, “gifted.” I have no reason to mince my words here. I watched those women do things that the average, and even some above average women, could never do while naked. It takes a great deal of confidence not only to be naked in front of strangers but to perform compelling routines to great effect. (It also takes great confidence to assume that your vagina smells incredible after all that work, good enough for you to shove it in someone’s face after you’ve finished sliding up the same pole as the woman before you.) Nevertheless, I say “perform” and not “dance” because stripping is a performance of the sexual. It’s a performance of projected ideas of the sexual and sensual by women attuned to those ideas through their observations of what men want and sometimes what they need. Their performances ranged from being docile “lady in the sheets” to aggressive “freak in the streets.” There was something for everyone in the strip club performance.
  5. IMG_1170I’m low-key scared of women who strip. So about my personal experience at the strip club…I will confess that I was somewhat scared of the women. My friends and I were sitting at the bar which was close enough to watch the women strip on the stage and really close to the women who were cruising for lap dances and VIP room action. Early in the night I broke a $20 into $1 bills so that I could tip the women. I was excited about my $18–because the club charges a 10% fee to break large bills–and I felt ready to tip women. I saw plenty that was worth “making it rain” but I never got up the nerve to leave my bar stool to leave a tip on the stage. I was scared that someone would find out I was there celebrating my birthday and then bring me up on the stage for a dance or put my face in their crotch or something else. For the women roaming I tried not to make eye contact in case they thought I was choosing that night and decided I was ready to be relieved of all my money. I’ll also admit that the thoughts of objectification were running through my head as I struggled with enjoying what I was seeing but not wanting to objectify women–even though I believe these women were exercising agency not being objectified. These strains of thought run deep and even if I’m able to articulate a progressive to liberal view of women who strip, deep down the problem still exists. As the kids say, “There are levels to this thing.” As you can see I was clearly in the strip club with a lot of preconceived notions about how it works and a lot of fear that these women were predators and not just performers looking to put on the best show for all patrons. So what did I do with all those $1 bills? I spent it at an IHOP. Don’t worry, I realize how ridiculous I am for this.
  6. I would do it all over again… You’ll be surprised to know that I would do this all over again. While I spent way too much time in my head during this time in the strip club I think it was a good primer for future visits. I reserve no official judgement for women who strip–even if subconsciously I’m still showing the signs of my prior judgement. I respect it as a job a woman takes up like any other, and I enjoy watching it like a would enjoy any other performing art. As someone with interest in embodiment and dancing, watching a woman’s strip performance is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen. Just like dancing, stripping requires a strong core and control of the body. There is similar precision and discipline that the woman who strips must exercise in order to deliver the best possible performance. I respect that and would definitely go again to see it. So, who knows, I might write another one of these reflections in a few months.

January 6, 2016

And It Begins: The Genetics Journey via 23andMe

Filed under: family,life,transparency — nickisym @ 9:16 pm
Tags: , , ,

As a person adopted at a young age I’ve lived most of my life with a lot of unanswered questions. I don’t know much about my birth mother except for the fact that social workers claimed that she would have made a good mother, she had hay fever allergies, and she was quite pretty–this according to a description of her, I don’t know what she looks like. For most of my life, thus far, I’ve been ok with not knowing much about her but I am growing increasingly wary about not knowing the things about her that effect me such as ancestry, carrier status, wellness, and traits. I’m tired of filling out medical forms and primarily answering “No” to questions about all manner of illness and disease. Tired of telling various people “No” when asked whether I’m Somalian, Ethiopian, or Eritrean. Tired of a general lack of knowledge about where I come from and how that impacts who I am. Hopefully, I’ll receive some answers through the DNA collection service, 23andme.

IMG_115723andme is the first and only genetic service that delivers reports directly to clients through an FDA-approved system. Once they receive this vial of my spit–yes all it takes it a vial of your spit–they will run tests that will yield information about my ancestry, carrier status of certain diseases, wellness, and other traits. I will finally know a little bit more about who I am, what I have, and what I may pass on to the next generation. This feels like the beginning of knowledge. It’s the key that will unlock information about myself that has been unknown for the better part of 35 years, information that I’ve increasingly become interested in knowing over the last five years. I’ve found that in my 30s, the greatest challenge of living with an adoption narrative–aside from the pervading issue of abandonment and being chosen, which are still pretty big–is not knowing some of the intimate details that make me who I am.

I have no problem with my inherited narrative of being adopted at eight months old by a married couple, the woman from New York and the man from Jamaica, who came together to give me a chance at this thing called life. They instilled in me a strong value system, raised me in a religious tradition that has imparted its own value system, and loved me and protected me from the moment they set eyes on me and still maintain that same level of love and protection to this day. I’m thankful they adopted me into their family which is now my family, a family that has made me a cultural Jamaican, a fighter, and a strong lover if not always by word, surely by deed. But at 35 it feels like I need to know more. More about who I am, the science and biology behind who I am. I want to know for me but also for who might be…

It dawns on me that these questions are important not just for myself but for my future children–when I decide to have them. I don’t want them to have the same life of filling out forms in which they answer “No” out of ignorance. This is why knowing my carrier status is so important. I also want them to know where they come from and not just to assume that because their mother is a black woman of Jamaican cultural heritage, that is their story. This is why knowing my ancestry is important. In general I want them to have a rich narrative about their life filled with the love, care, and compassion I came to know through my adoptive parents but also filled out with the knowledge of who they are because I know who I am.

That any of this filling out of a life narrative could happen from me spitting in a vial might be wishful thinking on my part, but I hope that I will come at striking distance of fuller knowledge of myself. Stay tuned as I start this journey on the verge of becoming knowledgeable about myself…

PS: A big thank you to my parents for two great gifts; first the gift of adopting me into their lives and now for this 23andMe kit.

 

 

December 26, 2015

He Knew Me: A 35th Birthday Lectio Divina

Filed under: faith,life,transparency — nickisym @ 3:29 pm
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Him: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you a prophet to the nations I appointed to you.

Me: Ah Lord God! I do not know how to speak. I am too young!

Him: Do not say I am too young. To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you–oracle of the Lord.

This was one of the scriptures from my morning devotion, apropos because it is pretty much what I imagine a conversation between me and God would be like. God would tell me how he formed me and has chosen me for a particular role in the order of life but I would respond, “But I’m too young, too unknowledgeable, too quiet, too…” I’m good at being too logical. I can be chosen and still question my worthiness for the position. I have no problem with talking back and asking questions that I, deep down inside, already know the answers to. But the aforementioned scripture from Jeremiah reminds me that even in the midst of our doubting our capabilities, God still entrusts us with big work that someone is depending on. Even when we think we are too young–as Jeremiah felt–God wants us to walk boldly in the direction God is sending us in with the knowledge that God will be there to protect us and catch us if and when we fall.

This scripture involving Jeremiah’s doubtful response to God also reminds me of a film I saw recently called “The Giver.” The film is about people living a seemingly utopian life that is actually rather dystopian because they are living within a social system which has removed war, pain, suffering, difference, and choice. Their lives are engineered for a version of perfection down to their “family unit” in which dinner conversations include feelings moments and a phrase I found intriguing, “precision of language.” This phrase is used when a citizen is perceived as using the wrong language to describe a particular feeling and is meant to sharpen their language to exclude all unnecessary words. For me, “precision of language” means that I exclude all language that would suggest doubt and uncertainty in that which I’ve clearly been chosen for. My first response can no longer be, “But I am too…” Instead my first response will be, “Yes and yes,” casting belief in what is possible before I consider the ways it is impossible. I’m going to trust God more this year and trust the gifts of the ultimate giver, God, for God is with me to deliver me.

These are the promises I’m making to myself on my 35th birthday: To trust God more and to speak well of myself and my capabilities.

Oh yeah, and welcome to my new blog, another promise I’m making to myself to write more, for me, this year.

August 19, 2010

Learning to Let My Guard Down: An Intro to Southern Living

Filed under: life — nickisym @ 8:17 pm
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If you have kept up with this blog in the last few months you know that I have moved from the Big Apple to partake in the consumption of “millions of Peaches.” In other words, I’ve gone from living in New York to living in Georgia while I pursue my higher theological education at Emory University. I’ve only been down here in Atlanta for a week and school hasn’t even started yet but I’m already learning a few lessons, the first of which is, “Let Your Guard Down.”

Having lived in New York almost eight years, I have learned to have my guard up for many reasons. First I had to have it up while I rode public transportation because I didn’t know who was going to rob me. Then I had to have it up for the apartment landlords because I didn’t know if they were going to rob me. Then I had to have it up for the people in New York because I didn’t know if they were going to rob me. Essentially in New York I learned to have my guard up at all times because I never knew when I would get got, bamboozled, boondoggled, swindled, hoodwinked, jooksied, ganked, or hosed. But now that I am back in the south, I am not sure how advantageous it is to walk around with an invisible bulletproof vest and uzi at all times. I realized that this afternoon…

As I walked up the stairs to my second floor apartment and put the key in my door I heard a voice on the other side say, “It’s open!” I thought to myself, “That must be coming from the apartment across from me. Maybe the guy is calling out for his wife to close the frigerator door because she left it open.” Again I jiggled the key in the door and the voice says, “It’s open.” I turn the nob and it is indeed open. I walked in my apartment to find the maintenance man on the kitchen floor fixing the garbage disposal. I am shocked at the sight of him though I know that the garbage disposal in my apartment is broken. I ask him, “Don’t tenants get a warning before you come into their apartment? It’s a little jarring for me to walk in my apartment to see you here.” He says, “I am here at your request.” I say, “Ok…well thank you.” I retired to my room trying to think of when I made the request and I realized that when I turned in the “Move In Condition Form” I said that the garbage disposal was broken along with the draw in my bathroom so that must have been my “request.” I can be quite the legalistic person so, in my mind, I felt that a request would be an actual paper that I filled out requesting for the work to be done. But apparently that is not the way they do things. I sat in my room working while the man was in my kitchen fixing the garbage disposal and in about five minutes he was done. I said thank you but then I asked about the broken bathroom drawer which he told me he already fixed and he slammed the door in front of me.

It was after that moment that I knew this wasn’t about him as much as it was about me and needing to learn to let down my guard because everyone isn’t out to get me. I thought about the things that I want out of this life including the opportunity to love and how I’m sure that my hardened ways have prohibited me from getting what I want because I’m always giving someone the side eye when I should be giving myself the side eye. I talked to my roommate who has yet to move into the apartment and I let her know that I might have made an enemy with our maintenance man to which she told me in her very pastoral way–she is a second-year MDiv student–that I should be careful about how I respond to people, I should understand that this is the South and things are different and that most men here are ready, willing, and able to help a woman without wanting anything from them. I agreed with her wise words and I told her that I planned on apologizing to the maintenance man because I really think that I could have handled the situation better.

No sooner than I hung up the phone and looked out my window, I saw the maintenance man’s truck rounding the corner. I jumped up and took the work order papers that he left in my apartment–it was someone else’s work order, not mine (look at God providing opportunities for reconciliation!)–and quickly ran out of my apartment. By time I got to the street he had just stepped out of his truck and I walked toward him saying, “Two things, the first of which is I want to apologize to you for my behavior earlier. I am new here, new in the neighborhood and new to this city and I don’t know how not to be on guard. But I know you were just doing your job and I am truly sorry if my words and actions offended you.” I also handed him the work order papers. He accepted my apology and actually said that he didn’t take offense because he thought maybe I was having a bad day. He was actually standing rather close to me which I don’t take very well from people I barely know, but I knew it was a moment to apply the wisdom I had received. So I stood there, looked into his eyes which were the tired eyes of an honest, hard-working man who has seen it all and been through it all and I listened to him accept my apology, I apologized to him again and he extended his arms not for a handshake, but for a hug. He said, “We hug down south.” Normally I would have side-eyed a comment like this, but I decided to live in the moment and let our reconciliation be sealed with a hug. He said he understood all too well my Northern disposition because he has dealt with many people who have moved to the area from up North. He told me that I’d get the hang of things and to let him know if there is anything I need and then we went our separate ways.

I was humbled and I promised myself in that moment that I would learn how to let my guard down. To not see every person as a potential robber baron of my tangible or intangible goods. I even thought about some other people who I probably need to make amends with because I’ve made my time of knowing them about having my guard up more than making it easy for them to know me. At almost 30 it seems high time to learn how to work the synergy of guarding my heart and letting my guard down simultaneously to see if I might come closer to the things I desire.

And so, one week into my stay here in Atlanta and I think I have learned a precious lesson that could possibly open me up to a lot of great experiences. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of letting my guard down.

July 23, 2010

Hear the Music of My Life Thus Far

Filed under: God,gospel music — nickisym @ 10:49 am
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Where I Started

Where I Am

My Testimony: Part 3, Moving Forward

Filed under: God,life,Uncategorized — nickisym @ 10:39 am
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“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.

The Beginning…

July 22, 2010

On Being Adopted: The Story of Two Births and the Afterlife

Filed under: faith,God,life — nickisym @ 8:00 am
Tags: ,

As I said I would in my last post, I am now sharing the personal essay I wrote for my application to seminary. I’ve always carefully guarded this information feeling that first it made me strange or weird, then I guarded it because I didn’t trust many with knowing about this very personal part of my life and now, finally, I recognize this as a story not for me to keep to myself but to share with as many who would read this so that some might be blessed.

The Birth

Like many traditional families, my family has a gigantic keepsake Bible. I remember seeing it throughout my childhood and watching it go from completely composed, to falling to pieces. I used to look at that Bible every so often, not necessarily to read it, but just to flip through its large-print pages. But one day I felt compelled to start from the beginning of the Bible where the family milestones were documented. I read the recording of the family marriages, which were many, and then I turned to the page listing the family births, which were much fewer. There on the page of family births, in a list of five names, mine showed up third and read as follows, “Nicole was born to adopted by _________ and ________ born on December 26, 1980.” I nearly dropped the massive Bible when I read those words. “Adopted?” I said to myself. I immediately ran into the kitchen and interrupted my mom, who at the moment was preparing breakfast. With tears in my eyes, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me I was adopted? How could you just let me read it in a book without telling me yourself?” With tears in her eyes, she said, “I was going to tell you, but I wanted to wait for the right time.”

Right then and there became the right time for her to tell me:

My biological mother, a teenager about the age of 16, who conceived me in a chance meeting with a military man at a party, gave me up for adoption on the day of my birth. I would go from this young woman’s arms to the foster care system for about six months while various couples in search of the perfect little girl would come in and out of my life. My adoptive parents were initially offered twin girls, but it fell through when it was discovered that the parents of those children lied on their application. My parents discovered me in my seventh month of foster care. My mother told me that when her and my father came to see me, I ran directly to them as if I already knew that they were to be my parents, and that was enough for them. What they saw was a child, who despite her circumstances, had love in her heart and desired to be loved. My parents adopted me when I was eight months old and went forward with giving me the life that I could only be given by the grace of God.

I didn’t think that finding out about my adoption would change my life—since I didn’t know about it in the first place—but it did. Finding out that I was adopted brought with it many questions. “Why didn’t my biological mother want me? How could she give a child up and never come back for it? Should I look for her?” It was like a little fox in my life, creeping up at the most inopportune times. It wreaked havoc on my self-confidence, my friendships, and on any relationships that were in formation because I was always afraid of people letting me go and never turning back. It was both the gift and the curse. The gift being that it allowed me the freedom to not feel pressured to find my biological mother because she gave me up so early in life, and the curse being that I existed between a tension of wondering about her and the life I might have had had she never decided to give me up. Opening that Bible on that ordinary day affected my identity, but soon enough everything would change.

After opening that Bible to find out about my identity in the world, I began to open it up to find out about my identity in God. It was a process that took about 10 years and within those years I would go from being active in a large Southern Baptist church in high school, move on to be a sporadic attendee of various Baptist churches in college and then I would take a hiatus from church altogether and decide that I wasn’t ready for a committed relationship with God. But, like Jonah, I couldn’t escape God’s call on my life for long before He called me a second time.

I received his second call when I moved to New York to pursue a career in journalism. While I thought I was on the fast track to becoming a fashion and entertainment journalist, God was bidding me to draw near to Him. He gave me a thirst and a hunger for His righteousness instead of for worldly success and critical acclaim.  He changed my appetite for the things of the world and began to awaken within me a real desire to know Him. I knew then that I had to search for a church home and it didn’t take long before I found that home in the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, an African Methodist Episcopal church. (It helps to mention that I had come full circle when I arrived at the Greater Allen Cathedral because when I was a child, I attended The Allen Christian School, the school owned by the church.) It was there that my spiritual formation really began and God revealed to me the information about my spiritual adoption.

The Rebirth

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a Friday night young adult Bible study and I was sitting on the right side of the chapel being attentive to the minister’s teaching about spiritual adoption. In the midst of his lesson he told us to turn to Ephesians 1:4-6 and he read the scripture aloud, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.” As he read this, tears welled up in my eyes at the thought that not only had God planned my earthly adoption, He adopted me into the family of Christ and secured my place with Him for eternity before I was even knitted in my biological mother’s womb. It was preordained for me to be given up and adopted so that I could eventually understand the significance of my spiritual adoption and the fact that I was always kept. I had already considered myself a “born-again Christian” from my Southern Baptist days, but that night, I was given a true spiritual rebirth. I came to see my physical adoption as a small part of a bigger portrait that God was painting of me. I began to live, not just exist, in this new identity of spiritual adoption and God put me on a fast track to spiritual maturity through my involvement in various ministries in my church and most recently my work.

The Afterlife

My fast track to becoming a fashion and entertainment journalist was derailed shortly after that Bible study. It was confirmed for me that it would be as I awaited the start of the 2005 Watchnight service at my church. I was given a revelation that I would be in the number of people who were to be laid-off at Time Inc. early in 2006. Despite this news, a certain peace fell over me. Peace was with me when my boss gave me the fated news in late January 2006. Ironically, the news of my job consolidation was delivered to me exactly how the news of my physical adoption was delivered, on a fluke. I received a call from human resources about another job within the company and I immediately rushed to my boss—without tears in my eyes—to ask her why I was being offered another job. She told me my job was being consolidated but I was given four months to look for a job before my layoff would go into effect. During that time, I looked and interviewed for several jobs in fashion and entertainment journalism, but they all fell through.  In the fourth month, a job came looking for me. It was a multi-faith website started by a former Newsweek editor who wanted people to “find and walk a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness to their lives.” I had never heard of the site before, nor was I looking to become a religion reporter, but somehow I was compelled to send a cover letter and resume. In a few weeks time, I was contacted for an interview. Three interviews later, I was offered the job and became an editor at the world’s largest multi-faith and spirituality website. To many, it was a questionable career move that would throw my career off track. To others it was a strange move for a Christian to make because the site wasn’t solely Christian. But, to me, I had to believe that God positioned me there for a reason.

In the midst of many faiths and spiritual traditions, Beliefnet became the test of my spiritual maturity. I learned how to engage in interfaith dialogue in personal and professional relationships; I cultivated a love for classic theologians such as John Calvin, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther; it stimulated my desire to go deeper into Biblical texts not only for my sake but for the sake of those whom I worked with so that I may be an effective minister; and it nurtured and sharpened the only gift that I am certain God has granted me—for the moment—writing. It is my experience at Beliefnet that has helped me apply the knowledge of my identity in God and has even challenged my knowledge of Him. And, for the purposes of my current pursuit of a theological education, it is Beliefnet that has stirred within me the desire to become a student of the word of God and theology so that I may become a credible leader who will effectively bridge the gap between the world and the kingdom of God.

It is my belief that I have lead a full life thus far, but there is yet more in me that I believe I must now turn over to God so that He may be glorified. He spared my life when I could have been another casualty of the foster care system or even aborted. It was Him who ensured that the strikethrough of my arrival in the family Bible was not a deletion of my importance, but a catalyst to understanding my spiritual placement in the book of life.

If I was pre-destined, then the Creator already mapped out my family, my talent, and my life’s journey.  What could have been a soul-crushing experience resulted in a deeper appreciation of God’s love for me and in turn my love for Him.  I do not know what my “natural” life would have provided.  Would I have even known the Lord the way I do now?  Who’s to say?  But I can say that I live as a whole woman, living on the benefits of my adoption—both of them, and preparing to be a vessel for other souls looking for the love that can only come from the Father above.

July 21, 2010

My Testimony: I’ll Trust You, Part 2

Filed under: life,waiting on God — nickisym @ 8:00 am

In the previous post, you’ll recall that I mentioned that I was preparing for something at the same time as the young man was preparing for his pivotal moment. But, as I do more often than not, I was more consumed with helping others than helping myself. It was easier for me to encourage and pray for someone else than it was to encourage and pray for myself. But now that he was gone I was left to my own devices and God finally had me where He wanted me.

You see, after nearly eight years of wavering on going back to school, God finally gave me the green light to go back, but it wasn’t for what I thought it would be. For as long as I have been a journalist in New York I have always harbored thoughts of going to Columbia University to get my Master’s in journalism. A Master’s degree from Columbia was a stamp of approval in the industry, it opens doors that no mortal can open. So, to me, that was always going to be the school I applied to on the day I decided to apply to graduate school. But for many years I kept letting application deadlines pass. Then, because I started to work with religion and spirituality as my full-time job at Beliefnet.com, I saw that Columbia had a dual master’s degree in journalism and religious studies and that became something to aspire to. I spent a while researching the program and its requirements and then, just like the journalism program, I let the application deadline pass. But this time around there was something different about my consideration of this program. I felt that I was closer to my next step in life. I was thrilled to life and scared to death but I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that I also thought the program would be too difficult and challenging for me.

I let some more time pass before I started to think about school again and this time, a friend, who is a peer in the industry, asked if I ever considered seminary. Mind you this friend doesn’t know much about me, personally, but somehow he discerned enough to suggest this (that, to me, is God). When he asked, I didn’t scoff, I actually walked away from the conversation and began to pray about it.

No sooner than my knees lifted off the floor and I began to move, the work of looking into different seminaries took place. God was opening doors and telling me who I should talk to regarding this next step in my life and soon enough I had a list of schools to consider. Princeton, Yale, Union, Duke, Drew, and Emory. Those were the six schools that I was considering. I knew someone at all of those schools except for one and so that one is where I started my research. I first visited the school’s website where immediately the images of the campus and the chapel blew me away. I could feel the breeze through the trees through my computer. I could feel the energy and spirit of the campus coursing through my veins. As I read about the academic program, the concentrations and the contextual education, I felt drawn to the program. Feeling this strongly about what I read on the website, I wasted no time in booking a flight to check out the school during the open house weekend and thanks be to God I could afford to book the ticket and get the rental car because of a gift card I had received.

Upon arriving on the campus on a chilly evening, I was greeted by various faculty, administration, current and prospective students. It was a nice and warm place and though I had taken this journey alone, I didn’t feel alone because every other person in the room was searching for something bigger than themselves. Even in the moments where I was tempted to be sad because everyone had brought a plus one–be it their parents, their significant others or their best friends, I knew that I wasn’t really alone. I spent the weekend immersing myself in the school, absorbing everything from the brief lectures on Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, to the stories current students told about how they came to the school, to fellowshipping with the prospective students. From that short weekend with that group of people, I felt a true sense of community and a connection that I knew I wanted. This was the fall of 2009, October to be exact, and the application deadline was January 15th. That meant that I had a little over two months to gather the courage to put my faith in motion and apply.

Over the next two months, I prayed, I sought counsel from trusted friends and family and I spoke with a leader in my dance ministry. The latter conversation took place in late November 2009 during a rehearsal for our church’s annual Christmas Candlelight service. I had so much on my mind that I had decided not to minister for Candlelight but instead take the time to be still. With tears in my eyes, I shared this with one of the leaders of the ministry and told her how seminary came into view. I was crying because having the words come out of my mouth made me feel like I had no other choice but to move forward. I knew my words would be manifest sooner rather than later. That evening she told me that I should move in the direction I felt God was calling me to and in moving in that direction, He will reveal His plan. She even told me that she would be a reference should I decide to move forward with the application process. And so, with that, I walked away from the rehearsal with moving forward in mind.

On December 1 I started my application to the school. I gathered my references, started to think about my personal essay and did the necessary reading for the academic essay. During my annual Christmas vacation, God blessed me with the theme of my personal essay–of which I will share in the next installment  of the series. Though I started writing the essay in Orlando I couldn’t finish it. No matter how hard I tried, how many words I wrote, how much time I spent, the words just weren’t flowing. But who came to help me finish the essay?

Remember the young man that arrived on January 1 and was taken away two months later? Well, he is partially the reason why I was able to get the essay done. Him and Jonah (yeah, that Jonah). When he e-mailed me on January 1st, the subject line of the e-mail was “Decision” and in it he asked me if I had decided to apply to seminary–he knew I was considering it because of an e-mail correspondence we had in November. I responded and told him that I had decided to move forward with applying and I was working on my personal essay, to which he responded by sharing with me the sermon from his church’s New Year’s Eve service on Jonah.

It was in sheer amazement that I read his notes from the sermon because I’ve heard Jonah sermons multiple times in my life. They’ve always coincided with what I was going through. Like the time I was running from something and I heard a Bible study about when Jonah was running away from his God-given assignment in Nineveh to rock the boat to Tarshish. The young man shared with me what happened when Jonah decided to do what God had told him to do–go to Nineveh– which resulted in his trip to Nineveh being shorter than usual.

“Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a days’ walk.”

Jonah 3:3b-4

A journey that was supposed to take three days only took one. I had read this book many times but I never paid attention to the fact that when Jonah decided to do what God told Him to do, his journey was much shorter for it. Before the young man shared this with me, I had decided that it was going to take one week to write my personal essay. But once I read his notes, did my own personal study on Jonah by going back to the previous sermons I’d heard, read the book of Jonah and read a commentary, I felt a determination unlike I had ever before. Thereafter, my best friend and I went to a local coffeehouse and I set forth to work on my personal essay. Three hours later, which was 21 hours and 6 days earlier than I had anticipated, I had finished my personal essay. I turned my laptop over to my best friend and I let her read it. She suggested some changes and edits and then we left the coffeehouse, me with a complete essay and the lesson learned that when you set forth to do what God told you to do, His timing is perfect and sometimes expedited. Later on that evening I thanked the young man for sharing that on-time word and I told him that I had completed the essay. (As I write this, I look back at that moment and think that maybe his purpose was for that moment and that moment alone and everything else was secondary. Only God knows…)

I eventually completed the application mere hours before the deadline, submitted it and all I had left to do was trust that God knew what He was doing and wait on Him. But little did I know, the application was hardly the hardest part…

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