“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)
If I could choose one word to sum up my life this past year, it would be perseverance. My direction has drastically shifted: from taking a leave of absence at Bradley to feeling led to take pastoral classes and pursue world missions. Up until last summer, I had some security blankets I didn’t want to give up. I tried to keep God at the center of it all, but it wasn’t right. Those things drew my eyes toward a shiny yet unhealthy future of pursuing my own selfish desires, and I placed my worth and identity in those things. I kept asking God what he’d have me do after one lost security blanket left me exposed and confused. Soon after, I had no security blanket- nowhere to run to or cling to. Initially, I let anger toward God rise in me. My future was the most uncertain it had ever been, which is bad news for anyone like me who thrives off of plans, goals, and checklists. I very quickly realized that my only chance of getting out of that dark pit was by surrendering wholeheartedly to God. Instead of asking him “why did all this happen?” I instead started asking “what can I do to grow from this? Where do you want to take me since my future is wide open?” …and then I buckled up for a crazy ride. The months after that were filled with learning about who God is, finding my identity in him alone, and gaining confidence in who I am in him. I was never confident up until that point. I had battled feelings of not quite fitting in and feeling rejected throughout the years, so instead of being hurt and jealous any longer of people who lived life on their own terms and got what they wanted, I started seeking God for answers about who he says I am. One perfect example of this struggle I had to overcome is Psalms 73:21-24: “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.” Envy would creep in, insecurity would whisper “you’ll never have what they have”, YET (“yet” is key: see above verse again) God still loved me,chose to guide me, and gently turned my gaze from those shiny wishes dangling like a carrot in front of a bunny to him instead.
While I was realigning my identity in Christ, I also accepted the call to eventually do world missions (which I now realize is a bit sooner than just “eventually”. Like two years). I also felt prompted to become a mentor at my church’s youth group and start my own small group, both of which were way out of this introvert’s comfort zone. In high school and college, I was a follower, not a leader, but I was that follower at the back of the line who didn’t want any attention for fear that my face would turn into a tomato. As God guided me through these new experiences, he kept placing stories about Gideon and Moses in my path exactly when I needed them- stories of courage and relying on God for strength when the odds seem insurmountable. But the key to discovering my specific calling to become a pastor wasn’t by praying hard enough or doing enough churchy things. I had to lay my worries down, give up my desire to know what my future holds, and simply seek God. Sounds easy, right? It’s not. It’s so easy to get into the mindset of intentionally or not intentionally thinking “If I follow God, maybe x,y,z will happen!” “If I follow God, I will be guaranteed an easy road!” “If I follow God, He’ll give me everything I want and give me answers to everything I ask him!” You get the picture. But oh, how much harder it is to say “God, I’m sorry for striving to figure out my future. I lay it all at your feet. Have your way in my heart and my life. I don’t care what happens as long as I have you. Please draw me closer to you and open my ears to hear your voice and my heart to receive whatever you want to do in me. All I want is to be close to you and know you.” Talk about bold prayers! But that’s exactly what I had to do because I couldn’t stand the pain of worrying about what I should do any longer. When I stopped worrying and started fully trusting and leaning into God solely for who he is and not what he could do for me, he gave me my calling to be a pastor at the most unexpected of times, and it was only a week or two after I prayed that prayer! I have learned and gained so much by jumping out of my comfort zone, and after experiencing just how faithful he is to make up for the gaping pit of all I lack, I want to do things that scare me even more.
Now I’d like to back up a moment and park at another mountain I’ve had to overcome: chronic illness. A few months into surrendering to God, some health issues started flaring up. All through high school I had dealt with some health related problems to a certain extent, but I just assumed it was all part of the process of being a teen. NOPE. By January of this year, I had constant nausea, migraines, muscle twitches and aches, joint swelling, and about 15 other issues (not even exaggerating: I counted). The first doctor told me I was depressed and that my other issues would disappear if I could get my emotions under control first. Being told I was a depressed hypochondriac made me feel even worse about myself, so I sought the opinion of a second doctor. He patiently listened to my long list of symptoms, and he started running some tests. I felt like a human juice box (too gross? Sorry). I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue, and nutritional deficiencies. I began treatment and immediately noticed a difference in how I felt- my depression disappeared into thin air, I could be on my feet for six hours at work without swollen knees again, and I got my energy back! These things usually take some time to reverse, though, and so it’s been in my case. I’ve had to learn that chronic illness is not something to be ashamed about; it needs to be addressed and talked about so that loved ones know we’re not just overreacting hypochondriacs. It has also taught me to be empathetic towards others who battle depression, anxiety, and physical pain on a regular basis. My mindset in the midst of the pain and depression had to transition from asking “Is God still good? I’m surrendering to him, yet he’s allowing me to feel like I’m dying” to instead declaring, “Even though my circumstances are painful and inconsistent, God IS consistent. God IS good. He loves me and wants me to come out on the other side stronger than I was before. I’m choosing to rely on his strength when it’s difficult for me to walk, eat, work, or smile.” Making healthy lifestyle changes was an uphill battle, but once I learned what helped nourish and heal my body and what didn’t, I had to leave the rest of my healing up to God. A few weeks ago, I felt him whispering to my heart to let go of some concerns and worries, one of which was my health. I felt peace wash over me, and after starting treatment recently for another health issue, most of the residual pain I’ve had flare up once in awhile is gone! I’m still not completely better yet, but I feel better than I have in years. He has assured me, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
You see, with all the obstacles and hurdles I’ve faced, God’s love remains. I believe he’s allowed me to experience pain, rejection, loneliness, uncertainty, and health problems in order to make me sensitive and empathetic towards those who are lost and hurting. I’ve grown more through painful experiences in a year than I have at any other point in my life. Because I surrendered every aspect of my life to him (relationship status, career path, health), he is doing new, beautiful, incredible things. I’ve had to learn that there is no perfect progress, only imperfect progress. I’d rather make imperfect progress than no progress at all; all that matters to me is that I’m moving forward. Beauty rises from the ashes, and change is usually painful. But God is there through it all, and he doesn’t care what you’ve done, who you are, or whether or not you’ve run from him like I once did. He uses those with willing hearts, who are ready to get uncomfortable. There have been many times that I’ve doubted I have what it takes to jump and take risks, but “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
I don’t particularly enjoy being vulnerable, but because rejection, insecurities, fear, faith, and chronic illness tend to be difficult topics to wrestle with as a young adult, I decided to open myself up for everyone to see. It’s important to recognize that we’re all humans on this twisting, winding journey called life, and that we’re not so different as we might seem. We all struggle and strive and fall, but it’s in those failures and setbacks that we learn to get back up and find new strength. For whoever stumbles across this mess of words, I want to leave you with this: You are resilient. You have worth and significance and purpose. You are valued and loved. And you’re capable of far more than you might think.