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.

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