This is the second part of my story, Certainty in faith. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.
“We talk about how to be a Christian, but we don’t talk about what it means when you are. We don’t talk about our God experiences, when that’s the very reason to be a Christian. No one comes to faith because they want to follow rules– they come to faith because they want to see God through Christ. They want the Spirit’s presence moving in their life. And that means it’s incredibly important for Christians to share about the Spirit’s moving in our lives. That is our call to testimony– not only who Jesus was and what he did, but what God is doing through Christ and the Spirit in our lives today.”
After undergrad, I was looking for someplace to move to, because there hasn’t been economic growth in New York State in a decade or three, and I really needed to go somewhere else to start out my life. I don’t know why I chose Richmond, Virginia. Sure, I had superficial justifications about it, the size of the city, the opportunities, the adventure, but really, it just felt right, so I went. I found a roommate on Craigslist, and packed up my car and moved south, without a job and without knowing anyone, just knowing that I should go, feeling that Richmond was where I was supposed to be I’ve learned since that that feeling is God’s nudge in my life. When I have that feeling, I know it comes from God, and I know to pay attention.
So I moved to Richmond, started working as a church accompanist, got a day job to pay the bills, and joined in the daily grind. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life. I had accumulated some skills and experience, and using those skills I bounced from one day job to another for 6 years, working in jobs that I could do, but which were never quite right. A couple of positions were work that I loved, but put me in toxic work environments that I couldn’t endure for the long-term. Other positions were work that I could do but had no passion for, but they were with supportive colleagues and tolerable management, and it paid the bills, and in that economy you couldn’t be choosy if you didn’t want to live in your parents’ basement.
I was living in Richmond, but professionally I was treading water, plugging away at jobs that were like ill-fitting sweaters, and wanting so much more. There was nothing I could do but pray and wait for God’s direction, and pray some more. It seemed like eternity at the time, but then– I finally had that feeling again. It was in 2011 that he first called me to full-time ministry, and in 2013 that he sent me to Nashville.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, moving to Richmond was God’s first step of preparing to call me to ministry. For one, Richmond taught me that there was such a thing as a full-time church music director. In the north, that’s not a career option. My introduction to quality choral church music was in my first job as the accompanist at Beulah UMC, and the music director there was my support and encouragement to go out and seek a part-time Music Director position of my own.
I knew I was meant to serve Chamberlayne Heights UMC in Richmond because I got the same feeling of “rightness” when I first saw their job description in October 2010. I wasn’t ready to apply for it when I first came across it, so I said to myself, this job is exactly the kind of job I’m looking for, I hope something like it will be open when I’m ready. To my surprise, God held that position open for me, and I applied for the job in April 2011, and began in July 2011. It was in the fall of 2011, heading home from a rehearsal with the choir, when I knew without a doubt that God was calling me to ministry full-time. That knowledge came to me through that same feeling of “rightness,” and by this time I knew to pay attention.
When I began searching for graduate programs to make this calling a reality, I kept listening to that feeling. It told me that the program at Shenandoah had the right coursework, but not the right organ instructor. It told me that the program at UNCSA had the right organ program, but not the right coursework. And it told me, in January 2013, that Belmont University in Nashville was where I belonged.
This timing of my beginning grad school is where the theory of coincidences is truly shattered for me. Belmont United Methodist Church has interns for several of their ministries, and their interns generally stay for their entire schooling (typically 4 years of undergrad). The music intern position happened to be open in Fall 2013, and as soon as I met with the Music Director, I knew it was where I needed to be. That job alone would not pay my bills, though, so I whipped up a budget and came up with a number, the monthly amount that I would need to find to make ends meet
Belmont Wesley Fellowship, the UMC ministry on Belmont University’s campus, just happened to be ready to add music to worship in Fall 2013. And the campus minister just happened to be part-time on the staff of Belmont United Methodist Church; the Music Director connected the two of us, and that became my second job. When asked how much I wanted to be paid, I gave a range, and they came back with an offer of the exact amount I was short in my monthly budget.
I don’t have enough faith to believe that’s a coincidence.
And so, I made my preparations for Nashville with an absolute certainty that it was where God was calling me. But that certainty didn’t mean that it wasn’t at times completely terrifying. It’s so hard for me to give up the need to control and plan everything, with backup plans and backups for the backups, and it’s scary to trust that God knows what he’s doing, but certainty in faith meant that I would follow where he was leading despite the fear.
Like my undergrad experience, I believe much of what I learned studying at Belmont University I would have learned anywhere; I would have read a lot of the same books, and would probably have pursued a similar thesis topic. It’s the ministries with Belmont UMC and Belmont Wesley that have changed my life and so profoundly impacted my faith and future ministry. I grew as a faith model, a pastor, and a musician, beyond what I had imagined at the start of grad school.
Right now, I’m waiting in faith for God’s next step in my life. I am certain that God has a plan for me, not only because he’s been with me every day since he called me to ministry, but because I have that feeling. That feeling has told me to trust God’s work in every major decision since I graduated high school. Because I can look back and see God’s work in my life that has brought me this far, I can trust that this feeling means that God’s with me, and that the Spirit is present in my life. I know he’s sending me, and I’m confident not in my own knowledge of where I’m going, but in God’s provision for my life. God knows what he’s doing, and I don’t need to.
I am also at this amazing point where I can look back at all of this as justification for the trust I now place in God’s hands, and at the same time, look ahead at the amazing plans God has for me. He called me to minister in his church, and that ministry is just now beginning. I get so excited thinking about the people I will be working with, about how God will use me to feed the church through music, in ministry and in faith.
Faith in God is the most wonderful peace and at the same time, the scariest feeling of free-falling, completely trusting in God’s plan for my life. And yet, there’s nothing that I would rather do than continue to follow where he calls me. God has never, ever failed me, and I wouldn’t want to live without this certainty in faith of God’s direction for my life.
If you don’t know God in this way and you want to, all I can tell you is how I gained this clarity: in solitude, in silence, in prayer, and in patience. It was in silence that I could become aware of God’s nudging, the feeling of the Spirit’s presence, that feeling that I now trust with my life. Be still and listen for God, but not with your ears: listen with your spirit. Long for God, seek the Spirit’s presence with your soul. And be patient- I was 25 before I knew God’s will for my life, and it took another 2 years to get to grad school, 2 more years to finish it; God’s timing is very rarely our timing.
I can’t express how much I wish for this feeling of wonderful, terrifying, certainty in faith for you 🙂
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