Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Making opportunities to be useful

If you read this blog at all, you know by the title that I am seeking to understand and expound upon what it means to be useful for service to the Lord. I have been pondering this thought for a little over a year now, following a time in my life when the Lord brought me to a very low point personally to reveal to me just how selfish my views of ministry and service really were!

I have been in my new "home" of Louisville, KY for a little over 2 months - and I have been away from my home in Ormond Beach, FL for 3 months! Relocating here is something that took a few people by surprise and left others skeptical, while my dearest friends were thrilled beyond belief! These close brothers and sisters knew it was coming eventually, and God had laid the groundwork months before - even years before - that played a part in my decision to take this route. I still don't really know how permanent my stay here will be. At this point I have committed with my family to be here at least one year and then reassess the situation at that time. But as I consider how things have progressed to this point, let me explain my thoughts leading up to this decision and the current state of my mind.

I have known for a number of years that God has called me, gifted me, and equipped me for ministry to young women. That is my primary ministry calling, and the one for which I have trained, studied and prayed. I certainly desire marriage and family first and foremost; however, in God's good plan for me He has not brought that to pass at this point. What am I to do? Sit on my hands and work jobs that are not fulfilling my calling for the rest of my life? I am not content to do that, and had grown increasingly restless at that prospect in recent years.

The Lord has given me a rich spiritual heritage in my family and in the covenant community of Riverbend Community Church in Florida. In fact, those things have been such a precious and important part of my spiritual maturity that it caused me great turmoil to consider leaving them indefinitely. Taking a few weeks or even a couple months for a mission stay in Romania or South Africa was hard, but this decision was much more difficult. I knew that if I moved to Louisville, it would be for at least a year or more.

In recent years, I came to rely heavily on the support system of my spiritual mentors and friends in Florida, to the point that the Lord intervened in a very dramatic way a couple years ago. It's a long story, but the summary point is that I needed to be broken of these "crutches" in order to fully pursue God's will for my life! Two very precious friends confronted me about the manner in which I was responding to my life circumstances - I was drowning in emotional distress. Though I was initially offended at their words, with time and intentional reflection, I was able to see the reality of my weakness being exposed, and am now eternally grateful for the ways in which they poured loving counsel into my life! It became clear that the very ministry I wanted to pursue with my life had to be fleshed out in my own heart in order for me to truly love Christ and serve Him! I truly believe that God oftentimes allows us to reach some deep recesses of our sinful tendencies in order to use those exact weaknesses as a means of ministering to others. I have learned over the years that emotional instability and inward-focused thinking is one of the most common sins women struggle with. While emotions in and of themselves are not sinful, they can be expressed and cultivated in a sinful manner.

Usefulness means we have to be willing to go and do the things that might typically be hardest for us. We have to make intentional opportunities to be useful. I think we have a tendency to get comfortable in a place and almost stay in a "bubble" so to speak, which then makes it extremely difficult to identify ways in which God may be calling us to something else. We are often convinced that because things are going smoothly, there is no reason to consider other opportunities. It may not be until years later that we recognize a unique option that we overlooked simply because we were content. This is the rub of being content in a biblically accurate way while being discontent with standing still. The Lord has used so many people and circumstances from my life in Florida to prepare me for something else - maybe someday that will still mean returning to Florida, but for this season, it means coming to Louisville.

He is teaching me that I am able to respond rightly in any situation and circumstance because of Jesus - and that is the ONE thing I have learned most throughout this process! I am not claiming that I actually do respond correctly every time, however, I know that I am able to - because of Jesus. Christ is truly my greatest confidante, my most loyal friend, the wisest counselor...He has given me all that I need in order to live a life that is pleasing to God, whether I am right next door to all my loved ones, or thousands of miles away with no promise of a soon-coming reunion! All that being said, many of you have asked how you can pray for me and since it is difficult for me to respond to each of you individually, I thought I would mention a few prayer concerns here:

1. Pray that I would be faithful in my personal Bible study daily. It's easy when I am in theology classes and working in a Christian environment to feel like I am being fed regularly but I want to be diligent with my intentional private study.
2. Pray for the many other seminary and college women I am encountering each day. There are so many opportunities to serve and love others - pray that I would seize them!
3. I am being considered for a mentoring "position" here at the school so pray for the selection process to be favorable toward me since my desire is to work with young women.
4. Pray for my parents and their ongoing health and jobs - it's much harder to consider those things when I am so far away. God has been extremely faithful to us, and we praise Him for that!
5. Pray that God would honor my desire for a husband and children, and that He would provide quickly! And praise Him with me that He continues to bring me great delight and comfort in Him as I wait upon those things.
6. Pray for my transition to a new church. There is no easy way to do that after being so blessed for over a decade at Riverbend, but I know that God's people are scattered everywhere and He calls us to live in community with one another.
7. Pray for safety, health and financial provisions in the coming weeks as I plan to drive home to Florida for Thanksgiving and then to Rhode Island for Christmas.

THANK YOU to so many of you who have faithfully prayed for, encouraged and offered support to me during this huge transition! I could not have asked for a better experience thus far and I look forward to seeing how the Lord continues to guide my steps.

"Seek with your whole soul, first and foremost, the kingdom of God, as the place of your citizenship, and His righteousness as the character of your life. As for the rest, it will come from the Lord Himself without your being anxious concerning it. All that is needful for this life and godliness 'shall be added unto you.' What a promise this is!" (Charles Spurgeon)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The provisions of the Lord make us useful

Being in Louisville for a little over a month now has given me several opportunities to see firsthand the abundant provisions of the Lord! Moving "on a whim" so to speak can have some unique challenges to it, challenges which, several years ago, would have sent me packing straight back home! Anyone who knows me well, can attest to my recurrent struggles with anxiety and even depression at times. Over the past couple of years, however, the Lord has truly done a great work in my heart and mind, protecting me from being swallowed up by such challenges. It has been no profound or particular effort on my part, but a great mercy of the LORD in my life as I called out to Him for deliverance. I remember many nights praying in my bed that He would help me to not be so prone to worry, fearfulness and even panic. Up until a couple of years ago, I would quickly become anxious about everything - if I would have enough money to pay a bill, wondering if a friend would stop being my friend when they saw weaknesses in me, panicked about whether or not my leaders and bosses thought I was doing a good job, and the list could go on and on! In recent years, the Lord has been faithful to grant me some measure of relief from these tendencies. I am sure some of that comes with age as we grow in our expectations - for others and ourselves. But the vast majority of it has been the Lord's undeserved grace and mercy being poured out on my life! And now, during this new season of my life, filled with changes and new things to "worry" about, I am able to see the fruits of what He has accomplished. Not at all because I don't still have a long way to go in my spiritual maturity, but because He has allowed me to experience a peace and comfort that has not been a normal past occurrence for me. As I adjust to life here, there have been multiple needs that have arisen - primarily because I didn't really know that I was going to go on a road trip and never go home! All that was with me when I arrived at seminary were the two suitcases of clothing I had in my car for the road trip, along with my iPad, a couple books and a coffee maker (which I providentially took with me and am now so thankful to have)! As I review my list of needed items - some which I hope to have sent here eventually and some which are new based on living in a different climate - I see God's faithfulness written all over it! Already my parents have shipped me several boxes, provided me with financial support that should not be necessary for a 35-year-old woman, and sent me numerous messages of encouragement assuring me that they are confident that this is the Lord's will for my life right now! A precious friend from home sacrificially bought a plane ticket and came to visit last week, bringing with her two more suitcases of clothing and other items from home. A beloved older couple from my home church surprised me with a sweet card that included a very helpful financial gift! My greatly missed college ministry back at Riverbend is helping my parents move all my belongings from my apartment into storage even as I write this. I could go on I am sure, when I think of cards and packages I have received! God has truly provided for each need as it has come up, and the ones He has not yet provided are things that He is quietly reminding me that I am surviving just fine without them and He will provide what else I need in His timing. More than all these physical needs being met, the Lord has graciously provided me with a calm spirit and encouraged heart daily! When moments of temptation arise to worry or be sentimentally focused on missing home, the Lord has quickly reminded me why I am here - so many people have been used to bless my life and my greatest desire is to be better equipped and given further opportunity to invest in the lives of others. And that is truly my hope in being here! For those of you who read this, have been praying for me or have sent words of encouragment - THANK YOU! You are loved and thought of with gratitude and affection often! I covet your prayers, for my spiritual stability, for the provision of further needs, for ministry opportunities to abound, and that I would do all that God has placed before me with excellence from a grateful heart!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A new address...

Dear Family & Friends, Where do I begin? It is overwhelming to try and communicate briefly what the LORD has done in my life in recent weeks! But He has been so faithful and abundantly clear in providing for every decision and every need! First I want to thank you so much for your committed prayers and loving words of encouragement throughout this whole process. As many of you know, I came to Louisville a couple months back with my mom for a job interview at Southern Seminary. Although I did not get that particular job, the Lord used that experience to make me more aware of His drawing me to pursue something different with my life. Ever since I finished my master’s degree in biblical counseling, I have been searching and praying for God’s will to be revealed in how I could be more useful in the ministry for the Lord. Being at Southern started to deepen my interest in possible PhD studies, as well as broaden my ministry experience opportunities. After returning to Florida, I continued to pray that the Lord would make it very clear if I was to consider relocating to Kentucky, and that if I were supposed to do that, He would make it so obvious that there would be no confusion or heartache over it. The Lord truly heard my prayers! After resigning from my job at Riverbend Academy mid-July, I embarked on a month-long road trip, ending my time in Louisville to visit my dear friends, the Clutterhams. First I enjoyed some time of spiritual refreshment and fellowship at Riverbend’s youth camp, then I spent a couple days with a college friend and her new husband in Maryland, and then I was able to relax with my sister and here family for ten days in Rhode Island. I have to say that God was so gracious to give me this extended time to encourage these precious people He has placed in my life, as well as giving me time to reflect on the past couple of years and the future. Ever since leaving my job in Florida and throughout my road trip, I have been sending out my resume to many places in both Florida and Kentucky. Florida has been completely silent! Kentucky, on the other hand, has been filled with phone calls and job interviews, none of which seemed to work out – until the day I had planned to start my drive back to my home in Ormond Beach! On that final day I received a very promising call from a classical Christian school nearby to the seminary – they asked me if I could come the next day for an interview and if I would actually be willing to work 5-6 hours helping them with some computer software issues in their administrative offices (for my Academy friends, RenWeb – need I say more?). So the Lord provided a potential job opportunity as well as some needed income after being unemployed for about a month! Sayers Classical Academy is where I will now be working as the Support Services Coordinator, which is basically a liaison between the school families and the teachers. This school has a two and three-day program allowing families to have their child(ren) taught by an instructor part of the week, and then at home the remainder of the week. My job will be to prepare the curriculum for the parents/students for home, and make sure it stays aligned with the teacher’s programs in class. About 85% of their employees also attend Southern Seminary. I will also spend some of my job assisting the School Director with correspondence, editing and basically representing the school through the admissions process. The beauty of this type of school is that I am already familiar with much of what they do from the similarities it has to Riverbend, yet the partial scheduling allows me the flexibility to take some classes at Southern. I am also in the final stages of interviewing for a part-time evening position as an Enrollment Advisor at Southern Seminary. I will find out early this coming week if I am getting that job. Together, these jobs will allow me to make a living and pursue my PhD, as well as provide many opportunities to minister to college students and families. Originally I thought that if I found a job here I would come home and spend a couple weeks packing up and saying my farewells and then return to Louisville. However, I think the Lord knew that it would be better for me to get settled here and come back to visit Florida in a couple months – my heart could not handle such a dramatic goodbye! School started at the seminary this week and at my new job in another week, though I am heading to work this Monday already! Every detail has been so orchestrated by God that there has been little wavering in my spirit about it. My heart will always be tied to Riverbend and Ormond, but the greater part of me has grown into a stable and settled piece of mind that the Lord has called me here for this new season. Every need has been met so far, and the ones that have not, I know they will be soon! The same day I got my new job, I went to the housing office at Southern and was able to find a large single dorm room for the semester, which will give me until December to get acclimated and find a suitable apartment. I have already met a really nice young lady who is a potential roommate! Meredith’s husband, Joshua, was able to help me make decisions about what classes to take and how to navigate the waters of PhD-land. My mom and dad have been cheering me on the ENTIRE way – Mom and Summer are already on top of coordinating how my apartment back home will get packed up. And when I called the Wheaton’s to tell them my news, they offered to help bring some of my stuff up in a trailer in a couple weeks (thanks so much Ernie & Kelly)! Do you see how carefully and abundantly the Lord cares for His people? Never have I seen it with such clarity! There is no human explanation for how sweetly God cares for me, and yet He does. And even in the moments when my heart jumps and I think, “What have I done?” one word comes to my mind – JESUS! In the past couple of years, I have pleaded with the Lord to help me just love Jesus and to always look to Him as my closest confidante and the true lover of my soul – and HE has become that most assuredly! Scripture has come to my mind the past couple of days like a flood every time I sense a fear or doubt well up in me. When I wonder how I am going to pay my tuition bill this Monday or how I will be able to sleep in a musty and empty room for a couple weeks until my things arrive, He is there. I am absolutely certain that my God loves me and will take care of me in every possibly way! And that is only because He has taught me (sometimes through fire and storms) to love Jesus! I could go on, but I am sure you don’t want to read such a long letter. I wrote mainly because it has been a crazy week here and I cannot possibly answer every phone call or text as I try to register for classes, buy my books, move into my room, figure out where to buy my groceries, how to cash a check when my bank doesn’t have a branch here…it goes on and on! So by writing this letter, I hope you feel like you are a part of my story – you are! Whenever people ask me about my church and my friends, I can always say that God has given me far more than I ever thought possible – and that truly is why I wanted to do something like this. Because I don’t ever want to regret selfishly enjoying those gifts without seeking to become that to others. PRAY for me! That the Lord would truly use me and mold me to become as useful to Him as He desires, and that He would enfold me in His presence as I adjust to this new season. I will miss you all so much, and miss our dear fellowship and mutual ministry to one another. But I cannot wait to send you further updates and to praise God with you at all that He has done! Through the love of God our Savior, all will be well Free and changeless is Hid favor, all is well Precious is the blood that healed us Perfect is the grace that sealed us Strong the hand stretched forth to shield us All must be well (Matthew S. Smith) Your Loving Daughter and Sister, Melissa

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Patience is a virtue, right?

My patience has been wearing on me while I wait upon an answer as to whether or not I will be moving in the near future, for a specific job that I have truly set my heart on. It's my dream job - using my education, ministry experience and spiritual gifts, all while making a living doing it! Considering that I would have to move in just about three weeks overwhelms me when I also consider that I have no idea if I am doing that or not! Well, as I have been waiting, a couple of dear friends have been quick to lovingly correct me when my attitude becomes irritable (which it has!) and express a lack of faith, as if I am assuming God won't give me what I desire, which is this job. Sometimes I think when we believe so firmly in God's sovereignty, it does become tempting to not pray as fervently about our desires because we rest too loosely in thinking things like, "Well, God's going to do what He wants anyway so what's the point?" This is foolishness, and yet I find myself living there at times! Recently, I read this story about a time in Francis Schaeffer's life when he was faced with an almost immediate and sudden death. While my situation really has nothing in common with that - I am not going to die if I don't get this job! - there are elements of his account that brought great encouragement to my soul this morning. I really hope you'll take the time to read this. I was impacted by how he remained steadfast, with no panic or distress - He was confident that the Lord would act on His behalf, and I am sure equally confident that if the Lord didn't act in the manner he was asking Him to, then it would be for his ultimate best. It would serve for maximum usefulness!