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Posted on Mar 16, 2010 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 7 comments

The Blank Canvas

The Blank Canvas

Does God have a plan for your life?  Are you one of the special ones for whom He has set out a purpose?  Or are you just wandering through life, a background person in the lives of those who are special and called of God?

My pastor tells us often that God has given each of us a “vocation” – a sense of calling that pushes us to do things because we’re made to carry out a certain mission, even when those things don’t make sense to others.  Writers may not ever make any money or have stability, but they must write their thoughts down.  It’s in their bones and they can’t exist any other way.  An engineer must figure out how to make things run better.  It’s just the way it is.  But I talk to many people who don’t feel a sense of calling, who don’t feel there’s something they simply must do.

When I went to seminary, the leaders of my school realized that if we didn’t know ourselves, we could never know others.  Since pastors primarily work with people, they required us to get to know ourselves.  We took assessments and went through steps and read books.  We learned our personality and temperament, our work style, the role we most often play in a group, our strengths and weaknesses, and more.  I learned a lot about who God has created me to be while I was there.  I learned that it’s more valuable to improve our areas of strength and be the best (an expert) in one thing, than it is to be a well-rounded person who can do most things decently.

When I meet people who don’t feel they have a sense of calling, my assumption has been that they don’t know themselves well enough.  They haven’t submitted themselves to the battery of tests, to self-assessment, and to significant prayer time on the matter.  (I spent years in prayer and regular fasting before God finally told me to go to seminary and then it took three years until it was actually time to go.  But I didn’t give up.  I just kept asking Him what to do and where to go until He finally answered me.)

But last week I went to hear Donald Miller, a popular author, speak and he said something that stunned me.  He said he doesn’t believe God has a specific plan for most people’s lives.  He said it isn’t a biblical concept.  He said God has a specific plan for some people’s lives, but it’s a small percentage of people.  He said he believes that when we’re born, we have a big, blank canvas in front of us with lots of colors to choose from and we make our own design on it.  That’s God’s gift to us – our free will – and our lives are our own to shape and design.

That is a hard thing to hear for someone who has submitted herself to total obedience and is waiting for God to give me direction on the next steps in my life.  I believe God does have a specific path I am to walk and that my success in the Kingdom of God depends on my obedience.  I believe I can live a life of frustration and fear, as I have in the past when I wasn’t obeying God in all things, or a life of victory and joy through total obedience.  But if God doesn’t have a specific plan for my life, then who am I obeying?  Is it possible that I am painting my own canvas and obeying my own desires?

My mind has been whirling with these thoughts.  As I went back over my life, I realized that there are a few times when I have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has spoken to me clearly regarding the direction of my life.  At times I obeyed right away and other times I allowed misery to overtake my life before I submitted.  I can look at the results of those times to convince myself, if no one else, that I had heard from God.

  1. God told me to move to Nashville, TN.  I obeyed and am very thankful.
  2. God told me not to date the sociopath, but I didn’t know why He was telling me that because the guy seemed great, so I ignored Him for a year, which led to misery.
  3. God told me to go to Regent University to seminary.  It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  4. God told me to wait for a ministry position after I graduated and to turn down the secular jobs offered to me.  I obeyed and am thankful.

When I look at those things, those very specific things, it’s hard for me to imagine that God doesn’t have SOME kind of plan for my life.  All of them were hard.  At the time, they were all much bigger things than I could do on my own, or even wanted to do.  I know they are things I didn’t make up on my own.

Once I got to Nashville, I didn’t feel any specific calling about where to work or go to church.  I think it’s possible that it didn’t really matter and God could work with whatever I decided.  Or it’s possible that He was guiding my every step and didn’t need to give me a thundering word of direction because I was stumbling upon His will without it.  I can think of many times in my life where that’s been the case.  I made the best decision I could make, given the information I had, and God has used it.

I suppose it’s possible that I am one of the few people (in Donald Miller’s concept) who God does have a specific plan for.  But that seems like a terribly arrogant thought.  I don’t really buy into the concept that I’m special.  I think it’s narcissistic.  It seems much more reasonable to me that God does have a plan for everyone’s lives and we have to learn to listen and obey.

I’m really struggling with this issue and would love to know what you think.  Here are a few Scriptures I found to support my point of view.  Is your opinion different?  Please post your comments below.

Proverbs 19:21 (Amplified Bible)
Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.

Psalm 33:10
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to naught; He makes the thoughts and plans of the peoples of no effect.

Isaiah 46:10-11
Declaring the end and the result from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure and purpose, calling a ravenous bird from the east–the man [Cyrus] who executes My counsel from a far country. Yes, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and I will do it.

Even though I have a different perspective from Donald Miller on this issue, he’s still one of my favorite authors.  I’d encourage you to check out any of his books.


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Posted on Jun 29, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 3 comments

And So the Story Goes, Part 4

Eventually a graduate assistant job opened up in the Divinity School to work with one of my favorite professors who was also the director of Career and Alumni Services.  She was finishing her PhD in Leadership Studies and her main area of study was burn-out in pastors.  Through working with her I learned a lot about the importance of taking care of myself in order to take care of others.  I also learned a lot about how to put together a résumé, interview skills, job hunting skills, and networking. 

I was the Divinity School Senator for my second and third semesters in school.  I had not considered how I would replace the 50% scholarship I had for that position in my fourth semester.  When I realized I would lose it, I went to the financial aid office and begged them to help me.  All the money had already been given away though and they did not offer me much hope, but said they would look at it again.  In faith, I went home for Christmas and decided not to worry about it.  Two days before Christmas my parent’s home phone rang and the call was for me.  It was the school financial aid office calling to say they had given me a 50% scholarship for academic excellence and future ministry potential.  It was the best Christmas present I could imagine!  I ended my time at Regent with a 90% scholarship.  God was so good to me.

When I graduated in May 0f 2006, the school held a commissioning service for the graduates.  I wasn’t certain what a commissioning service was, but there was a nice dinner so I took my dad with me.  I thought it would be nice to introduce him to all the professors I had told him so much about.  When we got there, I looked over the program and realized that the school was giving out awards.  My roommate told me she really hoped she didn’t receive any awards because she didn’t want to get up in front of everyone.  I had the exact opposite feeling – like I would just die if I didn’t get something.  After dinner and a special speaker, they began announcing awards.  I was recognized for being one of nine students in the school nominated for Who’s Who.  They went through numerous awards and my name was not called.  I believed that every person who received an award deserved it more than I did, but I was really hoping for just one.  I felt the sting of disappointment. 

When they got to the last one, they said a few words about it.  I wasn’t really listening.  I was too busy feeling sorry for myself for not getting anything.  And then the craziest thing happened – they called MY name!  Shocked, I shot up out of my seat, looked around, and quickly sat back down again.  I was confused.  Surely I had misunderstood.  But my dad was there telling me to go up on stage.  My fellow classmates were encouraging me as well.  Pat Robertson and the dean of my school were both there to congratulate me.  I received a beautiful plaque with my name on it.  I had received The Award of Excellence for the Outstanding Graduate in the School of Divinity.  It was the highest honor and was given to the student who demonstrated the most potential for future ministry impact and took into account all aspects of one’s academic life – grades, extra-curricular activities, campus leadership, and so forth. 

After that our professors walked around the room and prayed for each of the graduating students.  I was unable to tell my dad much about my professors because they were so busy telling him what they thought of me.  It was one of the best nights of my entire life.  I was totally overwhelmed by the amazing things God had done for me.  I went to Regent in a state of complete brokenness and fear and emerged as the top graduate.

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Posted on Jun 27, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 1 comment

And So the Story Goes, Part 3

The school did a good job of helping the new students get to know one another and within a couple weeks I had made some friends.  We had a great time together and became a family.  I got to class early because I wanted to see my friends.  We studied together and got to know our professors socially.  It was a totally different experience from college.    I found that my brain still worked pretty well, I really cared about what I was learning, and I made good grades. 

In class that first semester, one of my professors responded to a comment I made by suggesting that I run for student government (called the Council of Graduate Students – COGS) and implement my ideas in the school.  What he said impacted me, but I was so beat up emotionally from the last year that I couldn’t imagine having the courage to campaign in an election.  I prayed and asked God to confirm it if that was something I was supposed to do.  Within a couple days the current Divinity School Senator from COGS came to me and asked me to run for office.  Each school had two Senators who served for two semesters.  It was set up to always have a Senator who was new paired with one who was experienced.  She was to be the Senior Senator the next semester and wanted me as her Junior Senator.  My heart leapt at the idea, but my confidence was terribly shaken.  The guy who I would run against was Mr. Popular Athlete in his third semester and I was a first-semester nobody. 

But then she said the magic words that made me unable to turn her down…  “There’s a 50% scholarship for all Senators.”  That did it!  With her assurance that she would help me campaign, I made posters and handed out candy and asked everyone to vote for me.  Mr. Popularity didn’t really campaign at all because he was so sure he’d win.  Campaigning forced me to get to know a bunch of the students and I won the election.  My second semester of grad school, 70% of my tuition was covered. 

It would take another whole post to tell you all the wonderful things that happened in my life as a result of that position.  It meant so much to me and I threw myself into the work.  I became the chair person of the university-wide Spiritual Committee whose job it was to enhance the spiritual formation of the students in every school.  I got to meet with the Dean monthly and was again reminded that God opens all doors, not man.  I learned leadership principles first-hand.  It was such a blessing in my life and an affirmation that I was where God wanted me to be.  My broken spirit was being restored and at times it felt too good to be true.

Because of my work in student government, my third semester on campus I received a 40% Dean’s Leadership Award, taking my total scholarship percentage to 90%.  When I was told that, I cried and prayed and thanked God and danced a little jig. 

Also during my first semester at Regent, my parents received an unexpected financial blessing.  My father was in need of a new car and could have purchased something very nice with the money.  Instead, my parents bought an older, used car for my dad and bought me a used, low-mileage, cute little car that was a huge blessing! 

Let me backtrack a little too and tell you that the reason I moved to Nashville in 1998 was because I wanted to be a professional contemporary Christian singer/artist.  The ironic thing was that once I moved to Nashville, I basically stopped singing all together.  I think I’ve sung less than half a dozen solos in Nashville in ten years.  I had laid that down within the first couple years of realizing that being good was not enough.  The musicians here are THE BEST and they know how to promote themselves and write songs and play instruments.  I like to sing, period.  I don’t know how to promote myself, I don’t know the right people, and I’m not THE BEST.  I was okay with that in spite of the protests of my parents.  But when I got to Regent, they were looking for people to help lead praise and worship for university chapel services.  I auditioned and became one of the leaders.  Suddenly I was singing again and trying to lead a whole band – which is different than singing a solo to a track!  I remember leading one week and looking up to see Pat Robertson standing three feet in front of me and worshiping along with me and nearly losing my breath. 

With one notable exception, God gave me back every single thing I had lost in the previous years.  I felt like a starving child staring at a banquet table full of food just for me.  It was more than I could take in.  But yet, there was still no husband.  Very nice guys were all around me, but the ones I liked didn’t like me back and the ones that liked me didn’t bring peace to my soul.  I dated one guy in particular who was just wonderful, but every time I prayed about a future with him my stomach clenched in knots and I had no peace.  I knew we weren’t meant for one another.

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Posted on Jun 25, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 2 comments

And So The Story Goes, Part 2

Three years earlier I had gone through a time of intense prayer and fasting to determine what future God had for me.  I felt God speak to me very clearly that I was to go to seminary because He was calling me to full-time ministry.  This thought had never occurred to me before and it took some time to wrap my mind around it.  The school I was interested in had a distance education program, so I assumed that was the way I was to attend there.  I would not consider leaving Nashville. 

My job required me to travel extensively and I was often out of town Tuesday through Saturday for weeks on end.  With the hours I worked and the demands of travel, I wasn’t able to focus on school work.  I spent several years applying for other jobs, trying to find something that would pay a little more so I could afford school and stay in town.  With nearly every job opening, I made it to the final cut only to lose the job to someone else.  It was very frustrating and I couldn’t figure out what God was doing.  When I got engaged, I truly hoped that we would go to seminary together, which made a lot more sense to me than going as an unmarried female. 

When my engagement ended and everything else fell apart, I knew that God was telling me to GO to seminary – in Virginia Beach.  He was going to get me there, even if He had to kick me out of Nashville by force.  We moved around a lot while I was growing up: I went to 2 elementary schools, 2 middle schools, and 2 high schools – and then I changed colleges three times in four years.  All this transition made stability and security very important to me.  I don’t like to move.  I wanted to live in Nashville for the rest of my life.  Leaving didn’t appeal to me, except that I knew a change of scenery would probably do me some good. 

There was also the huge financial issue of going to school.  I still had debt from my undergraduate degree, plus credit card debt.  I’d worked hard to reduce it significantly, but it wasn’t gone.  I had no idea how I could pay for graduate school, but I applied anyway and prayed hard for financial aid.  I asked God to prove Himself and if He really wanted me to go, I would get a 100% scholarship.  The financial aid letter came back with news of a 20% grant.  I was beyond disappointed, but I knew the minute I read that letter that God was not releasing me from the call.  I had to go.  God led me to the book of Proverbs and showed me many times how Solomon commanded us to get knowledge, get wisdom, and get instruction – and that it was worth any price.  With fear and trembling, I decided to take out student loans.

One thing I had learned well in Nashville is, “It’s all about who you know.”  I knew our church’s senior pastor was friends with the dean of the school.  I tried to set up an appointment with the senior pastor to ask him to let his friend know I was coming to the school.  But our senior pastor was in the middle of writing a paper for Oxford and couldn’t meet with me.  I was devastated, but God reminded me that I knew Him and He is the One who opens and shuts doors. 

My mother and I scheduled a trip to Virginia Beach in July to check the area out and look for a roommate, housing, and a job.  The university hired writing coaches, so I applied for that job.  In the interview it came out that I was a professional meeting planner.  The person interviewing me stopped the interview and took me to meet her co-worker who was trying to hire a graduate assistant to help him plan student workshops.  My background and experience were perfect for what he needed and I got hired.  I was one of the only students who went to school with a job already lined up.  It was such an encouragement to me. 

Not only did that job suit me, but I was put in a cubicle in a large room with other people my age.  We all got along great and had a blast working together.  I used to go in on my days off just to say hi to the friends I worked with.  It also led to a secondary job as the newsletter editor for the university.  Almost everything about that job was a blessing to me and I relished the good atmosphere after what I had just left.  It was healing to my soul.

I had a hard time finding a place to live because housing is so expensive in Virginia Beach and my cat was not exactly a positive thing to perspective roommates.  I prayed and prayed about what to do, not wanting to leave Moses the kitty behind but unable to find a place to live.  Several days before I was to leave for school, I got a call from a woman who rented me a room in her house close to the school and let me bring Moses – all for a really good price. 

After being out of school for six years and struggling with severe depression in college, I was also terrified that grad school would be too hard for me.  I wondered if my brain still worked like it used to or if I’d have to study 2 or 3 times harder than everyone else.  I worried that my professors wouldn’t be interested in teaching a girl.  I was full of fear.  Thankfully I had a few friends who encouraged me and believed in me.  They listened faithfully and repeatedly told me that I could do it.  After all that God had already done to pave the way for me, two weeks before classes started I panicked and seriously considered not going after all.  Through the prayers and encouraging words from my friends, I finally accepted that this was the time I was to go and nothing was going to stop me.  Once my mind was made up, I dove in and gave it everything I had.

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Posted on May 13, 2009 in Before Marriage Blog, Spiritual Life | 1 comment

Life Has Snuck Up on Me…

Life has snuck up on me recently and prevented me from writing,  As the church’s Community Groups Minister, I was asked to launch small groups church-wide and given very little time to do it.  I also planned a Ministry Fair and a women’s event.  Oh yeah, and I had my regular daily work to do as well. 

The Ministry Fair is over.  The women’s event is this Saturday and I’m just tying up a few loose ends with that now.  And God gave me the grace and energy to write the curriculum, recruit leaders, train them, and get 20 new groups started for the church’s Community Group Ministry – in about a month.  (Thank you to all the wonderful friends who helped me.)

So why am I writing this and not some fun, interesting story?  Because tomorrow I leave for Virignia Beach to take a class at Regent University School of Divinity.  I graduated from there a few years back, but I didn’t get to take all the classes I wanted to take.  They have a great alumni program for continuing education, so I decided it was time to take another class.  This class is called Models of Biblical Discipleship and it’s all about effective ways to disciple people.  While I was at Regent, I worked as the graduate assistant for the professor who is teaching the class.  I’m so happy to be able to take another class from her. 

I’ll go to Virginia Beach tomorrow and will be in class Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  The rest of the semester the class will be online.  I feel a little nuts trying to take this on right now, but I’m also excited about it.  I’m also making a mini-vacation out of it, staying a couple days after the class to enjoy the beach.  Hopefully I’ll get some sunshine! 

Before you get too worried about me, I want to acknowledge the amazing friends that God’s given me.  They have been wonderful during this time.  They’ve listened to my ideas and given me great feedback, brought me meals, researched, edited, and made sure that I keep working out and taking time to laugh.  Even in all this craziness, I made time to get a sunburn because I was having such a good time talking to friends on the patio of Starbucks that 3 hours passed and I have a lovely farmer’s tan and peely arms to show for it.  I am greatly blessed.  (By the friends, that is – not the peely arms…)

I’m hoping to return to actively writing very soon.  Now I’m off to pack!

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