The Orchestra of God

When I was younger, I used to think that God would call me to do something that I would totally dislike. Even worse, I thought he would call me to live in a way that would run contrary to how I was wired. I was so wrong, having a warped concept of God’s love for his children and a lack of understanding of his desire for us to live an abundant life. God has equipped each of us with certain gifts and talents in order to use for his glory, for the general good, and for our enjoyment. I don’t think he would call us to live in a way that was contrary to how he made us.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Emanuel Ax, one of my favorite pianist.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure to meet Emanuel Ax, one of my favorite pianist.

This is how I see it: The kingdom of God is like an orchestra, and each one of us is gifted to play a particular instrument. God, the conductor, wouldn’t call a violinist to play percussion; but God, at times, would stretch the violinist out of her range, training and disciplining the violinist to become the best violinist that she can be and thus helping the orchestra to become the best it can be. At times in our lives, God may call us to play out of our range; but I don’t think he would call us to play an instrument that we aren’t equipped to play.

I see this reflected in my life in South Africa. God has definitely called me out of my comfort zone, but I am still living a life that complements my nature. I live in a beautiful city, not the bush. I am able to use my gifts and talents in youth ministry and publishing to help the church, instead of being asked to use gift sets that I don’t have, such as planting a church.

What are your thoughts about God’s work and call in our lives? What instrument do you play in God’s orchestra? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Back on the Mountain

All Saints' Chapel, Sewanee
All Saints’ Chapel

The carillon is ringing from the tower. Billy and the Boys are picking bluegrass in the distance. Guys are playing Ultimate Frisbee on a nearby lawn. It can only mean one thing–I’m in Sewanee.

A few days ago, I went to visit a good friend in Sewanee. It was the first time I had been on “the Mountain” in a year. To my delight, my visit coincided with freshman weekend. Seeing all the new students with their parents brought back a flood of memories. Twenty years ago, I was one of those freshmen.

Freshmen Weekend, Sewanee
Freshmen Weekend Picnic

As a confident, but somewhat naive freshman, I knew where my life was headed. I was going to major in economics, become a stockbroker, make loads of money, marry, have a few kids, and live the good life. But half way through my second economics class, I realized how much I hated the subject. I would spend most of the class staring out the window, wishing I were majoring in something else. I decided to major in what I love–history.

Life-plan update: major, history. Goal, PhD. Career, history professor
In grad school, half way through my masters’ program, I started having second thoughts about my current career path. After I received my masters’ degree, I decided to take some time off to work in publishing. I had always been interested in publishing, and I wanted to give it a try. I figured I could always go back to school to receive my PhD if the urge was still there. Thirteen years later, I’m still in publishing.

Life-plan update: Interruption, it’s God calling. Goal, to be obedient. Mission, to share and receive the love of Christ
If you would have told my 18-year-old-freshman self that I would be a missionary, I would have laughed in your face. It was nowhere on my horizon. It is amazing where life takes you, and it is even more amazing where God takes you. Although my life is not what my 18-year-old self had planned, it is much more than I could have ever asked or imagined. I’m ready for the adventure that lies for me at the tip of Africa.

Sweet Sixteen

Junior Prom
Junior Prom. Look at that hair!

Earlier this year when I started preparing for my support raising talks, one thing hit me that I had never thought about: my 16th year of life played a pivotal role in my life’s journey.

No, it was not your typical teenage stuff—first kiss, driver’s license, and all of that; but three things happened to me that totally changed my world.

Somewhere in Germany
Somewhere in Germany

Trip to Germany. For my 16th birthday, my parents gave me a choice to take drivers’ ed. in the summer and get my driver’s license or to go to Germany with my mom to visit my brother. It was a no-brainer for me; I went to Germany. It was the first time I had been out of the States, and it opened up a whole new world for me. Never again would my world be small and confined; there was a big and exciting world for me to explore.

Seed Planted to Be a Missionary. When I was 16, a faithful and prayerful person from the church in which I grew up told me that God was calling me to be a missionary. It totally freaked me out! That was the last thing I wanted to do. Life went on, and I forgot about this person’s words until I started my missions discernment process a couple of years ago.

Led to Church Home. I was in the choir when I was in high school, and each year we would perform Handel’s Messiah with the Nashville Symphony. My junior year, we couldn’t have our dress rehearsal at TPAC, so we practiced at a local church. I remember walking into the church, thinking it was the most beautiful church I had ever seen. I had no idea what type of church it was; I didn’t even know in which part of the city it was located. I just thought it was beautiful. Six years later, I became confirmed in this church’s denomination and four years after that, I visited this church in my quest for a church home, unaware that I had been there ten years earlier as a 16-year-old. It was St. George’s, my new church home.

So, as you can see, God was doing some major work behind the scenes of my 16-year-old life, and I had no clue. It’s amazing to look back now and reflect on how these pieces have all come together.

Saying “Yes” to God

It took me quite a while to muster up enough courage to meet with my priest about my sense of call to do mission work. I knew once I confided in him, I would truly have to examine if this was a God-calling or not. I was still scared that it might be. Periodically, over the next year and a half, we would meet together to pray and talk. His gentle guidance and prayerfulness was exactly what I needed. I felt encouraged.

In the fall of 2010, we felt as though it was time for me to move forward, and I entered a formal discernment process at Direction Pole at Cape Point, South Africamy church. For the next eight months, I met with a body of faithful and prayerful parishioners who had committed to serve on my discernment committee to help me determine whether or not God was calling me to mission work. Working with this committee was a humbling experience, as I had to be vulnerable, totally honest about my spiritual journey and life. But having a group of people walk this journey with me for many months has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.

There was a general consensus from the committee that God was calling me to mission work in South Africa, so I continued to move forward and the discernment committee morphed into a sending a committee. There were so many details to work out, and I felt a bit overwhelmed: with which mission agency should I go, and what type of work should I do? Although I had a desire to work with young people and to use my publishing skills, I really didn’t have a clear sense of direction of the type of work God was calling me to do. It took God a while to work out the details, but God was at work behind the scenes in amazing ways. In the words of a new friend, “When we say ‘yes’ to God, he takes over and takes care of the rest.” I feel like this is so true of my journey. Once I said yes to God—“yes, God, I’m willing to go”—God took over, taking care of the details.

I will be going under the mission agency SAMS (Society of Anglican Missionaries and Senders), and I will be serving with Growing the Church, an Anglican organization that serves the entire province of Southern Africa. I will be doing youth development work and working with their media ministries. For more information, check out my blog “Placement Decision: Growing the Church.”

Besides giving you a glimpse of the background story of why I’m becoming a missionary, I hope this discernment series blog will help you take a closer look of what God is doing in your life. What might he be calling you to do? I believe that God has callings for each of us. Some of these are general callings; others are more specific. Some are for life; others are for a season. Perhaps God is calling you to help the elderly neighbor next door, to tutor a child who is struggling with reading, to go on a mission trip, to become a lay reader, to become a foster parent, to become a teacher, priest, or writer. Who knows? Working for God’s kingdom knows no bounds, and God equips us with gifts for a reason. Remember the wise saying of my friend, “When we say ‘yes’ to God, he takes over and takes care of the rest.”

NOTE: This is the third post of a three-part series that recounts my discernment process to become a cross-cultural Christian worker in South Africa.

Nudges

South Africa, Planting Garden
the vegetable garden begins

In the fall of 2007, I returned to South Africa. This time I went on a outreach trip with my church. We helped our “sister church” with their ministries by planting a garden to help support their feeding scheme, in which they feed 200 orphans a healthy meal once a week.

We also helped to build a new home for a family of six who lived in a nearby informal settlement. I have never felt more fully alive as I worked on these projects and interacted with the South African people. I felt a deep-rooted joy like I have never experienced. I was blessed to return to South Africa several more times on outreach trips, and each time I had this same sense of joy. Sometimes it was so hard to come back home. As the plane left South African soil, I would feel as though a part of me was being ripped apart, being left behind in South Africa.

South Africa, Children Eating
some children the feeding scheme serves

Over time, this sense of being called towards something began to transform into a nudge, a gentle prodding to do outreach work in South Africa. But life went on. I worked, played, met another guy, fell in love, and got engaged. Yet in the midst of the excitement and stress of wedding planning, every now and then a voice would speak to my soul, saying, “What about South Africa?”

For many reasons I ended my engagement; and at the same time, I decided I needed to pay attention to this nudge that wouldn’t go away. In the following weeks, I went through an epiphany. I know this sounds nerdy (hey, I embrace my inner-nerdiness), but I distinctly remember spending a few evenings thinking and writing about my life, the American life, and the life we are called to live as Christians: The American way of life is one big cycle. Where’s the meaning in it? Our parents work hard. Why? So that we can we attend good schools, be involved in activities, be well-rounded. Why? So that we’ll get into a good college. Why? So that we’ll land good jobs. Why? So that we’ll marry, have a family, and work hard. Why? So that our kids will attend good schools. . . One reason I broke up with my fiancé was that I felt boxed in, confined, stifled. I was getting trapped into this cycle of life I didn’t want. I wanted out.

Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with marriage and a family (and yes, I still want these things for myself), but I feel as though God wants much more for us than that—whether we’re married or single. (Yes, even singles fall prey to a similar cycle of life.) I believe God wants us to step outside the cycle and to make a difference in our little corner of the world. Through Jesus Christ, we have abundant life, and God wants us to enjoy it. I think we often sell ourselves short.

After a few weeks of my philosophical and theological musings, I started to carve out some intentional time of prayer. If God was calling me to do outreach work in South Africa, I wanted to be certain. Packing up and moving away from my family, friends, and comfortable way of life to live halfway around the world was no small thing! I wanted to make sure that it was God’s voice I was hearing and not my own. I spent a lot of my prayer time reading “calling stories” in the Bible—Abraham and Sarah, Gideon, Jonah, Jeremiah, the Twelve. I would end my prayer time listening in silence, which was hard for me. A billion thoughts raced through my mind, and I often fell asleep. But I felt I needed this time of silence to listen to God, since I don’t have much silence in my life. It would have been easy for God’s voice to get drowned in the noise of my life.

Turning aside to pay attention to this nudge to do outreach work in South Africa was both exciting and scary. A few days into 2009, I mustered up enough courage to meet with my priest. “I believe God is calling me to be a missionary in South Africa,” I said.

NOTE: This is the second post of a three-part series that recounts my discernment process to become a cross-cultural Christian worker in South Africa.

Wrestling in the Mist


@ Pringle Bay (SA) with BFF

My first and only international business trip took me to South Africa over the new year of 2006-2007. My best friend Anna got to go with me. It was a magical time. I felt a soul connection with South Africa; it was a feeling like I have never experienced before in my international travels. On the last night of the conference, I remember looking up at the stars and feeling as though I would return someday to South Africa, but I didn’t know when or how.

In the spring after I returned home, I entered into a season of restlessness and spiritual wrestling. I recently broke up with my boyfriend, and I was angry. I was being considered for jury duty for a capital murder case and that process made me question my long-held beliefs about capital punishment and our justice system. I had a lot of questions for God, big questions: Why doesn’t God bring the right man in my life? How could a loving God allow so much injustice in the world? Why are some people born into environments of unimaginable abuse and poverty with no way out, while others are born into loving families and communities? I kept thinking about the poverty I saw in South Africa, the young man in Nashville who was about to be tried for his life. I was frustrated, angry, and having serious doubts of faith. I wanted answers from God. I was miserable, and I was making everyone around me miserable. Looking back, I think this crisis of faith was much worst than I thought at the time; it scares me to think about how close I was to throwing in the towel, to walking away from God.

Thankfully, God is much more persistent in his relationship with us than we are in our relationship with him. God doesn’t give up on us. He used some key people in my life, including my dad, to help me get through the time of wrestling. Like Jacob of old, I believe I emerged stronger in my faith. I never did receive answers to my questions; but with God’s help, I decided to trust God anyway. I am learning to live with the questions.

Funnily enough, once I came to this point in my faith journey, I started to have a sense of being called towards something. I didn’t know what, but I felt as though God was calling me towards something, to do something. It was a time of mistiness, but I felt warm. It was a time of uncertainty, but I felt hopeful. I was no longer scared.

NOTE: This is the first post of a three-part series that recounts my missionary discernment process.