Sunday, January 26, 2014

generosity through transparency

'keep open house; be generous with your lives. by opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven." {matthew 5:16 msg}

some people call me transparent. i see transparency as what fosters authenticity. and Jesus was authentic. he was transparent. because i like to know someone deeply, i find it refreshing when others are transparent in return with me. transparency in my friendships is probably the key thing that has launched the immense growth i've had in my relationship with Jesus since i've been a part of Passion City Church. you can't have true community without true transparency. and Jesus designed us for community. 

'the man who isolates himself seeks his own pleasures and rages against wise judgement' {proverbs 18:1-2}

what is man's all? it is to reflect the image of its creator. that is where we find our truest meaning and greatest fulfillment. 

while some might prefer me to be less transparent- more translucent or opaque- in order to make them feel more comfortable, i want to follow the lead of my Father. and more importantly, i want them to find the freedom to open up with God.

- allowing light to pass through so that objects behind can be distinctly seen
- having thoughts, feelings or motives that are easily seen
- easy to perceive or detect

- allowing light, but not detailed images, to pass through
- semitransparent

- not able to be seen through; not transparent
- hard or impossible to understand

i think Peterson gets it right in his paraphrase of this verse- transparency is not about self-exaltation. it's about generosity. it's about allowing ourselves to let light pass through us- penetrating, life-giving, life-changing, loving light. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Part 3 of my journey to my calling: Renewed Courage in the Waiting

Over the five weeks I was waiting to hear from City of Refuge in August, I was starting to lose steam. I was able to spend hours each day with the Lord, but I wasn’t always pressing in for a word of hope to cling to for each day. Over Labor Day weekend, at the last minute I was given a free ticket to attend the Influencers Conference with a few friends from church. This was the first of its kind in Atlanta, and I knew nothing about it. I had had the opportunity to go to stay with a friend at the beach that weekend for free, but had a prior commitment for Sunday that I couldn’t back out on. I was pretty torn and disappointed that I couldn’t go to the beach, because I felt like I desperately needed a change of scenery to get me back on track. Little did I know, I “couldn’t” go to the beach because I was supposed to attend this conference. Because the church hosting this conference, which originally started in Australia and was brand new to Atlanta, there was only a small crowd of about 1,000 people in attendance. Brian Houston, head pastor of Hillsong Church, spoke most of the weekend, and Jesus Culture led worship, with their pastor Banning Liebscher speaking some too. If you know any of these names, you know what a treat it was to only have 1,000 people in attendance! Brian’s first talk was called “Anchor.” He opened with Hebrews 6:18-19, “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.” He spoke about the story of  Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to throw them into the fire for worshipping God instead of worshipping his gods. They responded with, “We do not need to defend ourselves in this matter. If we are thrown into the furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it. BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, WE WILL STILL CHOOSE TO NOT BOW DOWN.” (emphasis mine.) Brian was encouraging us to act out of this same heart of trust in our God who is able to deliver us from the fire. I had no idea when God would choose to deliver me from the fire. At this point, it had been a long journey, and I was ready to be delivered. But what a great reminder that these 3 guys were in a literal, red hot fire, and they still chose to have trust in their God that he would eventually deliver them. Then Brian read Psalm 112:6-8, “Surely the righteous will never be shaken; they will be remembered forever. They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.” He reminded us that just because we may never truly be shaken, if we are steadfastly trusting in the Lord, it doesn’t mean that we will escape feeling a shaking. We are designed to take the shaking but not be shaken loose, and that comes out of being anchored strong in the name of The Lord! My charge for that day? Get back to being strongly anchored in the Word of God and in the name of God. We build our hope through the name and word of God. Our hearts can instruct us only in what they know. So, I needed to get back to “knowing” the word of God. We are not built to live without hope. In Psalm 42:5 David had to tell his soul to hope in God. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him For the help of His countenance.” We have to keep re educating our soul to find hope in God so that it doesn’t come unhinged. David describes his soul as disquieted, but he redirected from anxiety to God’s name and God’s word! How powerful!
Banning Liebscher followed up two amazing messages from Brian with two powerful, mind shifting messages of his own. My two biggest takeaways from his messages were 1) if you're going to fulfill God's call on your life it takes faith and a massive amount of courage. The enemy comes to disarm you of your courage, to dis-courage you, to cripple you. And 2) most times, in the season after a word is spoken over you, you will see the exact opposite happen. When God promised to bring Israel out of Egypt into the land flowing with milk and honey, they then spent three days in the wilderness. timeline was a bit more extended than three days, but my courage was renewed after being reminded of this. I was losing steam because I wasn’t building myself up with courage. My level of preparation in these things is what determines the outpouring on my life.
In one of my mornings spent with Jesus a few days later, I came upon Romans 15:4-5 that says, “God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you.” I wanted to experience the oil of gladness, and not despair. Courage, and not discouragement. So I dug into the word deeper. I also read Colossians 3:16, “Let the word [spoken by] Christ have its home [in your hearts and minds] and dwell in you in [all its] richness and wisdom.” The word “dwell” here is the greek word enoike. It means to dwell in one and influence him. This encouraged me and spurred me on to dig in and to truly be influenced by God’s Word. That’s where my courage would rise up from. I wanted His Word to dwell richly me in every day. And to let it permeate every single part of my soul and dwell in me till it’s flavor was rich everywhere within in me. Tim Keller says, "Faith is not the absence of thinking, but it is thinking and acting on the basis of the Word and promises of God." I’ve definitely learned that to be true.
At some point, I listened to another message from John Piper pertaining to 2 Peter that God used in order to remind me to find a promise to cling to from the Word for each day...something that would last the whole day, or maybe even several days. But to press in and not stop until I found one. On September 30th, I wrote in my journal:
May grace (God's favor) and peace (which is perfect well-being, all necessary good, all spiritual prosperity, and freedom from fears and conflicts) be multiplied to you in [the full, personal, and correct] knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2 AMP)
Peter cannot get past his second sentence in chapter 1 without exposing one of his deepest convictions: that knowing God is the means by which grace and peace become large and powerful in our lives. If you want to enjoy God's peace and be the aroma of his grace in the world, your knowledge of him has to grow- the knowledge of His glory and excellence, knowing and trusting His precious and very great promises. Be firmly established in your faith- firm, stable, unshakeable. Faith in Christ is a power to be experienced. And God's power flows in the lives of those who rely on who God is and His righteousness. We must, day-by-day, go to his Word and search for His promises. Fix one or two in your mind and hold them there before you all day.
I used to view “waiting” as something akin to being a bench warmer. It’s taken several painful journeys for God to teach me that waiting on Him IS playing the game. And as such, it requires phenomenal endurance, strength, training and courage. To embrace a season of waiting is to embrace the authority of God, to willingly acknowledge that He has complete control. And it’s impossible to do that and not come to a place of greater peace. God desires for us to train our hearts to trust the heart of God with greater and greater stamina, so that if He should say to us, “Wait another month…wait another year…wait indefinitely,” we might courageously and willingly respond, “Yes, Lord!” If we do that, we’re not only out on the field, we’re winning the game. And who we become while we are waiting is as important as what we are waiting for. If you can learn that now, whatever your age, bless you. It’s taken me too long! :)
During the four days between my meltdown at church and the Catalyst conference later that week, I had a moment with the Lord where I realized just how great this waiting time had been for me. Truly. I mean, I was able to spend HOURS on end, in my bed (my happy place, ha!), reading, worshipping and just talking to Jesus. I had some of the sweetest moments of my life during those long months of waiting for His vision. To be able to hear His voice so clearly through the words of scripture I was reading, or through commentaries on chapters I was studying, or through worship songs He led me to was such a gift. I finally came to a place where I was able to truly declare (and really mean) that if He never allowed me to have another job ever again in my life, I would still be ok. Sure, I had a mortgage and bills to pay, but He’d taken care of me thus far, why would he stop? If my days of not having a job looked like spending several hours with him, and Him providing service opportunity after opportunity of really fun things to do, I no longer needed anything else. I told him that as long as I was communing with him in this intimate of a way, and able to hear His voice as clearly as I was, I no longer needed a title or job to define me. If you know me well, you know that deep down inside, I was proud that I’d only worked for Fortune 20 or Fortune 100 companies up until that point. I was proud of the titles I had held, and the money I was able to make. But now, I no longer cared at all about what company I was going to work for, what the title or job description was, where it was located in the city of Atlanta, or even if I made $3 a year or $300,000 a year. I decided I just wanted to keep waking up every day and feeling as FULLY ALIVE in Christ in my next job as I was without a job. My faith and my job had always been, unfortunately for the most part, separate. I even want to cringe after writing that, because who admits that? I do, apparently. I loved Jesus, but most people in that building would’ve never known. So, living fully alive in Christ in my job was now THE single, and most important, criteria when analyzing a job opportunity. I did not want what God had down in my heart through this waiting period to dwindle, just because a job came back into the picture. forward back to the Catalyst Conference. Janelle and I were able to attend together, and right before the first session began, a guy who looked somewhat familiar to me came and asked if the 1 seat next to me was empty. I said yes, and he joined us. After that session was over, he asked us a couple of questions, and we came to realize that we all attend Passion City Church. I had trained him for our Touch Team several months prior. He, Bobby, mentioned that he had wavered back and forth on whether to attend the conference or not. He said he couldn’t really afford to take 2 days off from his business, but then he realized he couldn’t afford not to either. And when an email was sent out a few days prior giving all door holders at Passion City a huge discount on last minute tickets, he jumped in with both feet and committed. I was ecstatic, because, in a small part, I was a part of the conversation that led to our door holders getting that discount code, and what a blessing to hear how significant it was in his life. Bobby then said he tried to find any other friends from Roswell to carpool with him and to be able to share in the conference together, but he wasn’t able to find anyone. I remember telling him, “isn’t it so great of God to “randomly” sit you next to Janelle and me, who will make friends with a wall if we had to, and allow us to connect? We’d love to spend this conference with you. I’m so glad God did that for you.” (remember those last two words for later.)
Later that evening, after overhearing me share an update on my job progress, or lack thereof, Bobby asked me some more questions. He first asked me what type of job I was looking for. And that point, as nice as he was, it took everything inside of me to hold myself back from saying, “I’m SO tired of people asking me that question!! I don’t have a daggum clue, and I can’t give you an answer. I’m just waiting on God!! Don’t you know that?!?” Thankfully, I skipped that thought and just told him I didn’t know, but I did know that God was stirring up several passions in my heart, either new or renewed, but I just couldn’t put any of the pieces together, and that was the main reason I was at Catalyst. I was hoping God would finally put the pieces together for me. I told him what my past experience was, and he just politely smiled. Then, he asked me what I thought the passions were that God was stirring up most in me. During my interview process with the solar company, I ran across my DISC behavior profile test that I had completed several times while at Home Depot. Even though I had read through the reports on my natural behaviors several times, I had never read a few words on page 2 until I was reading them before my interview with the solar company. They said that I place my highest priority on building relationships, and connecting people. Interestingly enough, I knew that about myself to some degree, but when I read those words in writing on that paper that day, something in my head shifted. I realized how deeply I REALLY LOVE PEOPLE. So I mentioned this to Bobby and said that I’d love to do something that allows me to build relationships and love on people. And the next words of out his mouth changed the course of my life. He asked, with a great big grin on his face, “have you ever considered real estate?” I promptly said no. It was my go to response, of course, since one thousand people had asked me “have you ever considered (fill in the blank here) before?” literally over and over during those 7 months. Not one time did their suggestion or idea spark any interest in my heart. They always fell flat. So I had become accustomed to shooting a no really quickly back to any suggestion. But as soon as this particular no came out of my mouth, I felt the Holy Spirit grab me and say hold up a second. And in that moment, He reminded me that a year ago Philip, the director of Bright Futures that I had been serving with, sat me down and tried to get me to seriously consider real estate. He knew I would be great at it. But, at the time, I was still totally wrapped up in working for select companies, with select titles, and real estate did NOT fit in my box. Oh, can you hear me laughing now? Because I am. It’s funny to me. God is so patient with me. I told Bobby that I would pray about it that night. I also said that I had no idea what it would take to get started or what it would look like. He said that it would take about $2,000 to get started and about 4-6 months before I’d be making money. The $2,000 didn’t seem like a huge number to me. I didn’t really have it to spend, but it didn’t feel impossible. The 4-6 months of not making money felt impossible. But I decided to pray about it anyways.
A few minutes after our conversation, the evening session began. Our Passion worship team had come in to lead worship for that evening, and I could feel the atmosphere shift in the room even during soud check, when no one was around. It was maybe the most powerful time of worship I have experienced. The last song that Kristian sang started with the words: Promise Maker. Promise Keeper. You finish what you begin. When this song began, I was in a very calm state, standing still with my eyes closed and my arms out in front of me and my palms facing up. And in that moment, I saw Jesus standing in front of me. He took hold of my hands and said “Karen, I am a promise maker and I’m a promise keeper. And I WILL finish the work I began in you. You are not forgotten. I love you.” Tears were just rolling down my face. Even if I didn’t receive his vision for my next “footstep”, as I desired so much, THIS was enough for me. I saw Jesus. Funny enough, the night before when I couldn’t fall asleep, I was reading a book by Beth Redman, and happened to read through the chapter called You are not Forgotten.
Fast forward to the next day. Session after session, I was feverishly typing notes into my phone as fast as my pointer finger would go. There were some powerful messages. Mind shifting. I ran into an old friend from PCC who moved up north to go to seminary school over our lunch break, and we had a quick 20 minute catch up. I told her what Janelle had spoken over me the previous Sunday and told her I was desperate for God’s eyes to see what was next, but at that point in the conference I hadn’t had any breakthrough moments yet. After lunch, and during the second to last message, that moment started coming at me. Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey was speaking. Brad from Catalyst had asked Cory if twenty years ago, after graduating law school, Cory saw himself where he was today in twenty years. Cory said he struggled with his vision and path for the future. He said he started working for a non profit straight out of law school, and many of his advisors around him thought that was the worst idea. They hammered him to get on with a top law firm. Cory struggled with how to move forward. Should he take his path, or the path that all these people wanted for him? At some point, he said, someone gave him the best advice, which was to find his mission, his purpose, and to stay true to that. So he had to take time to figure out what his mission was, and then he kept that front of mind with every decision he made. And that’s how he ended up where he is now- with great influence, loving his job and the opportunities God brought his way, and running for a seat on the Senate. I was so tired during his talk, and couldn’t focus much on anything else he said but this part. Something clicked when I heard that. Afterwards, Janelle needed to leave early and I was saying goodbye to her. She allowed me to process some things out loud. I told her about how I saw Jesus during worship the night before, and that I hadn’t received a vision from Him, but seeing Him was enough for me. Then I mentioned how much Cory’s talk struck a chord with me. I told her I needed to figure out what my mission was, and that from that I believed God would show me my next job. And then I, kind of off the cuff, mentioned my talk with Bobby from the previous night. I told her the same things as I wrote above, and said I focused in on telling him about how I want people to be a major focus for me. If you could’ve seen Janelle’s face when I told her that story. She had the biggest smile on her face, coupled with a “HELLO?!! are you hearing yourself!” look. She said, so calmly, “um, Karen. I think that’s your mission. That’s your purpose. PEOPLE ARE YOUR PURPOSE! Connecting people, and getting to know people, and helping people feel known- THAT’S WHAT MAKES YOU FEEL FULLY ALIVE!!”
Oh man, more tears came down my face. Yes, that was it. My eyes were opened to see, that people are my purpose. It all seemed to come into focus now. After all, Bobby said at the end of our talk, “You know real estate is all about people, right?” hmmmm. Wow! I said to Janelle how crazy this was, and how much of a relief it was to now KNOW. I told her how Bobby said it would cost about $2,000 and take about 4-6 months to get started, and that the $2,000 didn’t seem too big, but the 4-6 months did. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “I don’t know why you’re even bringing that up right now. If God called you to this, He WILL provide.” I agreed. My mind was blown. I had waited for this for so many months. Years, really. And now I had the eyes to see. Janelle needed to head out and I was so tempted to leave early with her since I was so exhausted and on information overload. But there was a strong tugging in my heart to stay. So, I did. Andy Stanley was the last speaker, and spoke directly after my conversation with Janelle. He gave a great talk about Leadership 101. In the very middle of his talk, he stood up from his chair, told everyone they needed to stop what they were doing and look up at him. He said, “Someone here needs to hear this word. Everyone listen. Eyes up front on me. There’s someone in the audience who needs to hear this: Do not EVER let money or finances stand in the way of what God has called you to.” And then sat back down and continued on with his talk that had nothing to do with that word. I wanted to jump up from my seat and scream out loud that that word was for ME! And I knew, without a doubt that God was calling me into real estate.
Two days later, at church, I ran into the one and only Bob Day. Bob is on our financial oversight board at church, and has been super successful in commercial real estate. He is also a connector of people. So I asked him who he thought I could meet with to find out more about real estate. He said while he was talking, God told him I needed to meet with Rich Richardson and to call him the next day for his information. The next night, I was babysitting for a friend. When she and her husband came home, they asked me about Catalyst. So I told them the story and Meredith said they knew several people in real estate they could connect me with. When I asked her to share a name, she looked at her husband and said, “I think Rich Richardson would be a great person for you to meet with.” And over the course of that week 5 other people mentioned Rich as well. Mmmm, k...clearly I needed to meet this Rich Richardson guy! So I set up a meeting with Bobby, from the conference, and with Rich. More to come on how those played out and how God gave me some incredible confirmation that I am definitely a connector of people.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Part 2 of my journey to my calling: The Active Waiting

If you didn’t get a chance to read Part 1, you can do it here. It helps set the stage for this part of the story. It was March 2013 when I was laid off from Bluelinx. I took a couple of days to rest and recover from what happened. Immediately, though, I knew that I wanted to use my newly found free time for a purpose. And within a couple of days, there were a few projects at church that I was able to jump on board to help with. Shortly after that, Bright Futures Atlanta, an academy and after-school program on the Westside in the Bankhead neighborhood that I have been serving with for a couple of years, needed some full-time help. This wouldn’t be a paid position, but I wasn’t worried about finances. Remember how God had already shown His provision over my finances? It was a perfect way to set me up to serve without the real need of being paid. So for the next 3 months, I worked with them to fundraise for their new building through the Georgia Tax Credit Scholarship Program (which if you don’t know about, you should! It’s a FREE-to-you tax gift for underprivileged children) and through planning their annual Golf Tournament. I was able to raise about $50,000 for them through the tax program in a month and a half, secure over $10,000 in donated gifts for the raffle and auction, which helped raise about $30,000 from their golf tournament as a whole. I call that a win-win. It was mutually beneficial for them and for me. God gave me purposeful things to do with my time, as I was waiting for Him to lead me to my next career path. The week after the tournament was over, though, I wasn’t really needed there full time any longer. I could still show up at any time, but I began to feel the pressure of needing to secure a job. I decided to take a day off to unplug from everything again. I hadn’t done that in a while, and I needed a fresh word of encouragement from God in order to be able to press on. That afternoon, I was driving the 45 minute drive to my chiropractor’s office. I came to a part of the road I was on that didn’t have a stop light for a couple of miles. In that moment, there were no cars ahead of me or behind me, in either direction. I had my radio off and was praying out loud. Up to that point, I had had some sweet moments of worship and scripture reading that day, but no “word” yet. When I came to this part of the drive, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “See how I have you on this wide open road. This road is empty- don’t get distracted by other drivers. This road is long and narrow, with no stoplights- don’t be tempted to speed and go too fast. This part of the road has no side streets- don’t be tempted to turn to soon. I can turn you to the right or to the left at any time. I just need you to keep driving forward, and I’ll turn you when I’m ready.” “Okay, Lord. As long as I can hear your voice, I’ll keep driving,” I said.

One week later, on Memorial Day, I was getting ready to head to a friend’s house for a cookout. I woke up, and started my day in bed with Jesus, reading and worshipping. At some point, the song “Oceans” by Hillsong, came on and I started balling as I sang “You call me out upon the waters, the great unknown where feet may fail. And there I find You in the mystery, In oceans deep, my faith will stand. And I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves. When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace, for I am Yours and You are mine” And then, “Your grace abounds in deepest waters. Your sovereign hand will be my guide.  Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me, you've never failed and You won't start now. Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters, wherever you will call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.” I had sung this song for many weeks already, but on this day, it was really hitting me hard. I put it on repeat and sang it through multiple times. At a certain point, I was becoming late for the cookout. So I got in the shower, but I kept it on repeat and sang it several more times while in the shower- still crying my eyes out. My heart was telling God this is what I wanted, but my flesh was feeling grief over giving up the control and forcing myself to keep driving until He turned me, to step out onto the waters where my feet might fail. During the hour drive to my friend’s house, I turned on pandora, and song after song after song came on that expressed exactly the words my heart needed to say out loud to God. I was an emotional wreck, but what a cleansing day that was.

As I was updating my friends that evening about my current thoughts and desires, one of my friends mentioned that He knew about an opening at City of Refuge. COF is a ministry, also on the Westside of Atlanta, that brings hope through Jesus and life transformation through many amazing branches of their ministry to the least and last of the Atlantans in their neighborhood. They are also in Bankhead, which is one of the poorest and most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city. COF happens to host the Bright Futures Academy space on their campus, and I had come to know several of their leadership on staff well during the last few months of working closely with Bright Futures. I was thrilled to think of the possibility to work with them in a new, soon-to-be-created Program Manager role. Over the course of the next four months, we stayed in talks about this position, and I felt like the Lord was going to open the door to working with them. At first, it felt perfect. As I mentioned earlier, even when I took the sales job with Bluelinx, I felt the Lord stirring something in my heart that was bigger and different than any job I’d ever thought of. This job with COF fit the bill of “something completely different” than corporate America perfectly. I would be able to have some influence over major parts of their business. And it would allow me to use multiple passions and gifts, instead of being pigeon-holed into a small list of responsibilities, as I had experienced in corporate America, with no influence on decisions at all.

Somewhere during this four month courtship with COF, another opportunity came my way to do distribution sales and supply chain work with a newish start-up solar panel company. The way that opportunity came my way felt like huge favor from the Lord. I met with the hiring manager the day after he first reached out. He mentioned he had been looking at my resume since March (it’s was now June) trying to figure out where to hire me into the company, and he basically said he would do whatever it took to bring me on to the company. Our meeting went well, but I was hung up on the commute, which would be miserable. He told me to go home and mull it over and he would reach out after a trip the next week. After two weeks of then not hearing from him after I told him I’d like to move forward in the process, I was getting anxious. This opportunity excited me a great deal, and COF hadn’t confirmed they were actually going to hire me. I kept wanting so bad to reach out to this solar company manager and ask him what the delay was and to remind him how interested I was in this job. (read: I wanted to take control of the situation and force it to play out my way.) Something in my spirit kept telling me no. A few friends would ask if I had followed up with him, and again I would tell God I really needed to call him or send him an email. He must’ve gone on his emergency trip to New York and completely forgotten about me or changed his mind, right God? I needed to refresh his memory! I remember every single morning one week waking up and asking “okay, God. is today the day I can follow up with this guy?” And I just kept hearing, “No.” At the end of that week, as I was preparing for my bible study that night in 1 Peter, I was listening to a message on 1st Peter Chapter 5 by John Piper called “Anxieties: To be Cast not Carried.” Growing up in church, I had heard verses 5 and 6 many times before, but Piper presented them in a completely new light for me that struck me to the core. From the NASB version, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may lift you up at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.” Piper went on to say,
“The threat in this text that tempts us to be anxious is not explicitly prison or injury or slander or plundering of property or loss of money. The threat is humility. Or to put it another way, the reason Peter deals with the problem of anxiety is because he is dealing with the problem of humility. Somehow the command for humility makes the command to cast our anxiety on God more urgent, more needed.” And then the mind-shifting part, “The NIV and RSV put a period at the end of verse 6 and make verse 7 into a new sentence. "Humble yourselves . . . Cast all your anxiety on him." But that break obscures the connection. The NASB and the KJV don't have a period because verse 7 does not start a new sentence in the original Greek. It is part of the sentence in verse 6 and continues with a participle: not, ‘Cast all your anxiety on him . . . ," but, " . . . casting all your anxiety on him.’ ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ Not: ‘Humble yourselves. And cast your anxiety.’ But: ‘Humble yourselves . . . casting your anxiety.’
Casting your anxiety on God is crucial if you are going to humble yourself under God's hand and clothe yourself with humility toward each other. Casting your anxiety on God is not simply a separate thing that you do after you humble yourself. It's something you do in order to humble yourself, or in the process of humbling yourself. It looks like humility is a threat that causes anxiety. And if we are going to be humble with God and with each other, we are going to have to cast our anxiety on God. That's the connection between verse 7 and what goes before. But why does humility create anxiety? Why does humility take courage? Why do we need someone to take our anxiety away in order for us to be humble? You can see the answer easily if you just start thinking of some examples of humility…It means, when you've made a mistake, admitting it and saying you're sorry. It means, when you are weak or sick or inadequate for a task, not being too proud to ask for help. It means doing some ordinary jobs and spending time with ordinary people and being indifferent to accolades.
...The secret of humility is being able to cast your anxiety on God. Note the connection between humbling yourself under God's mighty hand in verse 6 and casting your anxiety on God in verse 7. God is the focus in both verses, and the connection is this: before you can put yourself humbly under God's mighty hand, you have to put your anxiety confidently in God's mighty hand. God wants to be a burden bearer because it demonstrates his power and puts him in a class by himself among the so-called gods of the universe. Here is where the rubber meets the road. How do you practically make the anxiety transfer from your back to God's back? The answer is: trust that he cares for you. Believe this promise. Trust him. It's a matter of practical trust. That promise does not hang in the air. It is connected to a command and the promise is meant to show you how to obey the command. The command is, Cast your anxiety on God. The promise is, God cares for you. That means, he cares about the thing that has you worrying. He wants to be trusted for that. Lay a specific anxiety on God. Trust him specifically that he cares about that. Believe that he is God. His purposes cannot be thwarted. When it says that he cares, it means he will not stand by and let things develop without his influence. It means he will act. He will work. Not always the way we would. He's God. He sees a thousand connections we don't see.”
Wow, even grabbing those lines from Piper’s message and pasting them here just boosted my courage again! God said to me, “I’m saying no to you following up with that manager because that’s you trying to take the control back...again. I’m asking you to humble yourself to my control. I see a thousand connections you don’t see, and I’m at work. Just trust me. And cast your anxious thoughts on me, not just because I’m God and I’m big enough to take them, but because I truly care for what you care for. I love you.” He’s so patient with me. So patient. So I waited some more. A week later, I got a call from that sales manager’s co worker in Supply Chain. She said they had just gone through a two or three week transition where the entire organization was reorganized and that I was no longer needed on the other manager’s team, but that she now needed me on her team to build out their supply chain. What?!? They wanted me in a critical role, to build their supply chain basically from scratch. I was floored. I met her for lunch 2 days later, on a Saturday, and again, she expressed complete interest in me. After going to the beach for a week later that day, I check in with her on my return. She wanted me to meet with her boss, to get a better picture of the company, and to make sure this is what I wanted before I signed on. The meeting with her boss and one of her teammates went terribly. I walked away having no idea what had just happened, and why they spoke so poorly of her as a manager and of the company. I still have no idea why all of that came about the way it did, and then evaporated into thin air after my meeting with them. However, I am thankful I didn’t take that job without meeting those guys before hand to know it wasn’t a great fit for me. And in hindsight, where I’m at now is a million times better for me than I even thought that job could be.
After being let down by not getting that job with the Solar company, I was back to waiting solely on the City of Refuge job. I had another meeting with the guy there, and he told me they were finally ready to fill the position. He was told he must post it to the public for two weeks, and that after he sifted through the resumes that came through, he would meet with me and 1 or 2 other people to narrow it down. But he gave me the impression I was going to get the job. Fast forward another five or so weeks, and after several cancelled meetings with him and unreturned phone calls, and I was getting frustrated in the waiting. I had waited long enough. I was ready to be back on a schedule. I was ready to have a job again, something to give me purpose. At church one Sunday afternoon, the friend who first told me about the job about four months prior, now told me he had heard they filled the position. As soon as the words came out, he could tell I didn’t already know and he felt terrible. I tried not to react in front of him, but I was crushed. And confused. And I needed a moment to release all of those feelings. I texted a few friends. None of them were at church that day, and one of them was in a meeting in that moment. After talking myself out of going home and getting in bed to ignore what just happened, I decided to wait for Janelle to finish her meeting. Thankfully, she knew all of the details leading up to this moment, and all I had to say was that the job was filled, and she knew exactly how I felt. I remember saying (actually out loud) that this was the last job in my view and with it being gone, what would I have to put my hope in. As soon as those words came out, I came face to face with them. I knew that ultimately, my hope is found in the Lord, but without this job I had nothing tangible to look towards. There was now nothing else that “looked different” than any other job I’d ever had to hold out hope for. In fact, there was now no job at all to hold out hope for.
I told Janelle that I felt like I was in this really long tunnel, and that I was smack dab in the middle of the long tunnel. It was so long that I couldn’t see light either in front of or behind me. Just total darkness. It wasn’t oppressive darkness, but I simply could not see where to place my next step. I told her that I desperately needed a vision, or a job description. I needed even just a tiny ounce of light to shine on the space in front of me to show me where to place my foot. I was desperate for eyes to see His vision. Tears were slowly rolling down my face, but I was in the middle of our volunteer room, and I was trying to hide them from everyone. That lasted only a minute, as Edy Rouse turned the corner and saw me wiping tears away. As she walked closer, I put my finger out to her and said firmly, “Don’t touch me. I WILL lose it.” She’s so great, and decided not to listen to me, and pulled me close. I clasped my hands in front of my face and started sobbing. This was the hardest, and loudest, cry I’d had to date in this whole journey since being laid off. Edy and Janelle began to pray over me. Mind you, Edy had no idea in that moment what she was praying for. Sweet Lucy, from our building staff, came along and prayed over me with them as well. And at the end, Edy said “God, I don’t know what’s going on, but I know you can calm her spirit. Would you do that now? Rush calm over her, and give her peace.” And instantly I stopped crying. After the prayer was over, Janelle said she felt the Lord say to her that He was going to give me a vision before He was going to give me a job description, and He was going to do that for me at the Catalyst Conference, which was four days away.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Part 1 of the journey to my calling: Leaving my job at Home Depot

I’ve wanted to sit down and write this story of God’s relentless, patient, long-suffering and abundant lovingkindness over the last 2-3 years for awhile now, but it’s felt too big to put on paper. I should’ve been writing the pieces of this story along the journey. I’ve literally spent as many as 4 hours recounting all the details of part 3 and 4 of this story to friends in person. Those are some good friends, to indulge me like that! But, with my terrible memory these days, I want to be able to read this again in six months, in six years and beyond to help remember. Reminding ourselves of God’s faithfulness is what helps us build our courage back up to press on. I can’t promise this will be a quick read, but if you’re in need of some remembering or recounting of the ways God loves us on in every detail, this will be worth it for you. Part 1 today, Part 2, 3 and 4 coming over the next couple of days. (I told you this was long!)

If you didn’t know me well during the years I worked at Home Depot, consider yourself pretty lucky. Renee McKenzie can tell you firsthand that I cried or screamed almost on a daily basis over the last 2 years of working there. To make another super long story short, and to help set the scene for where this change all began, it’s important for me to remember God brought me through and out of that situation. I worked there for about 5 years, and at some point, out of my own pride and stubbornness, I began digging a deep hole for myself. One that I could not, in my own strength, get myself out of. Not all of what I went through there was of my own doing, although parts of it were. Some of it was just pure injustice. In fact, I think it began with injustice. And out of that, anger and bitterness was born. There were multiple things that happened to either tarnish the relationship and trust I had built with other people towards me or to tarnish my name with people I needed on my side. The last thing was a project I was piloting alone for the entire company before rolling it out to everyone else. It went very awry and fast, to the tune of almost $20million of inventory going to the wrong places. Inventory that would never sell in those places. It wiped out our vendors, and therefore it wiped out our future 3 month supply, and it caused me and my buyer to completely miss every financial goal we had for the year end after having had a pretty decent year. The guy who lead the project was a jerk and didn’t believe me enough to even look into the issues I brought to him, let alone make any changes. My manager, and senior manager were not on my side either, and didn’t want to make waves. So I asked my buyer (who held all of the power anyways) to step in to make things change. I knew he was on my side and I knew his words held power. I wanted to do the right thing for my business, truly. But, I also wanted to stick it to the jerk who wouldn’t own up to his errors. Little did I know just how much visibility this “small” soon to be big project had with every level of leadership in the company. That was the worst decision I made to date. I should’ve kept going up the chain in my own line of business until I felt heard. Instead, I took the easy route. And at the end of the day, my manager and senior manager disowned me, and the project lead made it his life’s work to make sure everyone in the company knew I was trouble, always negative, never supportive of anything and to attempt to get me fired. Over the course of a year, I tried to leave that team. I’d take almost any other job in that building at that point. I interviewed for more than 40 jobs, and each time was the second to last person in the process. On many occasions, I was told the job was mine, but then the offer wouldn’t quite reach my desk. Why? Because either my senior manager or the project lead would find out about it and call the hiring manager to make sure I didn’t get the offer. For more than a year, my closest friends begged me to just quit. They were tired of seeing me mistreated, and tired of hearing me complain. But I was stubborn and kept saying I hadn’t heard the Lord tell me to leave. And with over 5,000 jobs in that building, surely there was ONE out there for me. I was bitter, and stuck inside my head, and although towards the end I was turning to Jesus for help and rescue, I still was not ready to let go of all the control. Even when I was put on notice that the next wrong move I made would get me fired, I still wasn’t ready. I was able to spend a weekend with my aunt, one of my spiritual mentors, during the last several months of being at Home Depot. She said she felt like the Lord was saying He was taking me through the fire of refinement and that He wanted to break me of my stubbornness and show me what true submission looked like. She also told me He said for me to just be quiet. Somewhere inside of me, even though I was hanging tightly to the control, I was trying to release it little by little and allow Him the room to change me. So I hung on to her words, and those of several others confirming the same things. I was desperate and waiting for Him to get me out of the mess.

A few months later, and about a couple weeks before the final straw, I served at Lift, a worship leader collective at our church led by Louie and our worship team. Christy Knockels gave a talk that changed my focus and my life. I learned that this pruning process I was going through was for my protection in the long run. I really understood that only Jesus can give me the stamp of approval that my soul searches for, and that sometimes He withholds approval from others because He wants me to know that only He can provide that need for approval that He himself created in me. I walked away with a new mindset that I would surrender my position for His presence- the deep longing to be promoted out of this job, surrendered in place of knowing Him more fully and feeling His presence constantly. I walked away knowing how dwelling and delighting in Him was much more necessary than anything else. Psalm 37 verses 3 through 6 became my life verses. “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He’ll validate your life in the clear light of day, and stamp you with approval at high noon. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.”

A short time after that I remember crying on a friend’s couch after taking a personal day off of work to ignore the hurtful conversation I had the day prior when I was told I had one more strike left, and she asked me “now do you feel like it’s time to cut your losses and quit?” “No,” I said, “I still don’t feel like that’s what God is saying to me.” I think every person around me thought I was just plain nuts. But looking back, I definitely did not hear God say that to me...until He said that to me. After one really intense week, I have a pivotal conversation with a trusted co worker who the Holy Spirit used to finally knock some sense into me. I rallied the troops around me- all 10 or 11 older women from Passion City, who the Lord put in my life to come alongside me with wisdom and lots of grace. I asked them to cover me in prayer over the course of that weekend as I felt the need to completely unplug from people and life and get on my knees before God to hear if He was really asking me to leave my job. That Sunday morning, after a couple days of feeling a lot of confirmation, I still wasn’t completely sure. I told God, very candidly, that I felt Him leading me towards leaving, but something in my mind was holding me back from saying yes. I couldn’t put my finger on what the issue was, and I told him, “you made my brain. You figure that part out. You figure out what I need to hear from you to be 100% confident that you are telling me to quit my job, even while I have a mortgage and no other means to help me.” And right behind that, he gently said to me, “your issue is that you don’t really trust that I will provide another job for you. You think there is a chance I will leave you hanging. This is your chance to put into practice everything you’ve learned about me. If you trust me, you will say yes to this. Step out and see that I WILL provide.” And so I did.

The best, most restful, life-giving, faith building 2 months of my life followed, and then I took a job in sales for building products. The way that job came about is a God-story in itself. It could’ve only been God. But, in the back of my head, I felt something stirring in my heart that felt bigger and way different than this job in sales. Nonetheless, buying and/or selling were on my list of next roles to venture in to, and this job encompassed both supply chain management aspects as well as sales. It would be a great “get my feet wet” in sales role. Two people in my life said that this job would be a great stepping stone. Little did I know, it really would be just that. 9 months later, after the company realized the economy hadn’t bounced back enough quite yet, they let me and the other new guy go. I was stunned and mostly upset about how shady it all went down. But, the day before being laid off, I received 2 checks from my mortgage company, after beginning the process of refinancing my mortgage many months earlier. They were for the previous month’s mortgage, which I didn’t need to pay, and the remaining balance of my old escrow account. I knew immediately when I was laid off that God was already in the details of this part of the story. Those checks were a way for me to know that He was already on the scene, working things for my good and for His glory, even five months prior when the refinancing process began. Let’s be honest, He knew waaaay before five months, but to see that His hand was at work even before this all went down was mind-blowing. He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides.

...Part 2 tomorrow.