Friday, March 18, 2016

A TEXAS-SIZED DREAM COME TRUE



It’s taken me months to write this. I’ve attempted to post it many times and didn’t have the right words. Until now. Just a heads up, it’s longer than usual. So curl up on the couch, grab a blanket and some coffee, and get cozy. There’s a lot to take in. Because I have big news. Texas-sized news...


For those of you who don’t know, almost six years ago, I moved back home to New York to knock out the last year of my college. My twenties had a lot of ups and downs which caused some hiccups on my educational journey. Finally, I could finish up my undergraduate work and go right on to grad school. Or so I thought. 

I did finally get my degree online from Liberty University - a Bachelor’s in Psychology with a concentration in Christian Counseling. I was on the road to what I’d always wanted to do (well, one of the things I always wanted to do), which was become a counselor. I was accepted to grad school and ready to tackle it head on full time since I lived back at home again. It make total sense. I had no doubts. Until one day, all of a sudden, I had no peace. I was ready to register for classes but there was no green light from God. 

Here I was, at the place I dreamt to be for so long. The place that seemed clear. The place I worked hard to get to after many, many bumps in the road. And God said no. What the heck!? It was crazy. What was the point of the educational journey up to that point? I was obedient in withdrawing from school but I wasn’t happy. At all. I never wanted to come back to New York. Going to school only made it seem slightly logical. But as I wrestled with God over the course of a year, (a year filled with a lot of trials) it was evident that He called me home not only to finish school, but to be a part of The Lighthouse Church. Once I stopped having a tantrum and surrendered my plans for God’s will, grace flooded my heart, and Lighthouse became more than home, it became my heart. The dream for counseling seemed to have died but I was content right where He had me in the center of His will. 

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015. An unexpected desire to pursue counseling slowly crept in and it really caught me off guard. But I knew I needed to pray about it. Over the course of the next few months, when the thoughts came, I prayed and chatted about it with a few people and prayed some more. But in the busyness of ministry life, it honestly wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. Maybe because I couldn’t bear the thought of disappointment again. Besides, wasn’t this the place He called me?

On a beautiful spring day, as I was driving from Jersey back to Brooklyn (in traffic, of course), the thought couldn’t escape me. I inquired of the Lord. “Is this You, or is this just a warm-and-fuzzy feeling because cap-and-gown time is approaching?” I didn’t hear the audible voice of God, but I knew like I know my name, that He was in this. He revealed to me that He was, in fact, leading me to go back to school for counseling, but specifically to one day counsel and help pastors, missionaries, and people in vocational ministry (along with their families). Immediately it all made sense. 

I was born into a family of pastors and teachers. My dad is a pastor and so was my grandfather. I’ve worked full-time in ministry in several locations and have assisted a total of four pastors. I currently work on staff at a church and know that ministry is a tremendous privilege. That has been modeled to me all of my life. However, it can also be incredibly lonely and stressful. The weight of being overworked, underpaid, misunderstood. The discouragement, the attacks, the fatigue, the low self-esteem. It’s all real for some. Sadly, for many. I’ve experienced it and I’ve seen it. Has God been faithful? Yes. Have I seen His faithfulness in the lives of those who serve Him? Yes. However, the statistics about pastoral stress (and all in vocational ministry) are staggering and cannot be ignored. Even in the best-case scenarios, it’s not easy. But unfortunately, there are worst-case scenarios, too. 

I don't want to see worst-case scenarios anymore. I'm tired of worst-case scenarios. I want to see people set free to be who Jesus has called them to be... so we can do what we're called to do... go and make disciples of all nations. 

In an instant, God placed an unforeseen burden in my heart and gave me a purpose. And looking back over all the years of my life, suddenly, the foggy, confusing moments began to make sense. I had no idea what the call meant exactly, but I was certain it was from the Holy Spirit. How interesting that when I wanted to pursue counseling years ago and the time appeared to be right, He closed the door, and when it was no longer and desire of my heart and I was content where God planted me, that He revived the longing to go this route. But God’s timing is always perfect.

About a week or so after that Jersey-to-Brooklyn drive, I traveled to Kansas City, Missouri and spent about five days on a personal retreat at the International House of Prayer. I look back on that week now and am blown away at the things God revealed to me. I didn’t even fully understand it at the moment, but reading the words in my journal from that week, I see how the Lord so amazingly prepared me for the days and weeks ahead… on many levels. Though the details were unclear, I was certain that somehow, in someway, God would be moving me on to something new and something big. I couldn’t fathom how it would all unfold but I knew it could only be His doing. So, I’d take it one step at a time. 

At that moment, only one step was clear, I needed to start the application process. But there was only one place I felt to consider; the place I’d secretly dreamt of one day attending (but never actually thought I could)… Dallas Theological Seminary.

Deep down, for too long, I don’t think I really believed I’d get accepted. After all, it’s like the Ivy League of seminaries with heavy-hitter alumni like Chuck Swindoll, Priscilla Shirer, and Tony Evans. For years, I didn’t see myself as ever measuring up. But aside from the school itself, the fact that I’d even want to go to the state of Texas was a work of God. For many years, Texas represented pain. That was where I lived in the short time I was married. Years ago, just hearing those five letters made me cringe. So the fact that I wanted to move there was miraculous. And it showed how deeply God has healed my heart. It doesn’t sting one bit now. Suddenly I was actually very open to the thought of going to Texas.

**Plus, Chip and JoJo live in Texas. I seriously want be their friends and have a Fixer Upper farm in Waco for my ministry and counseling center one day. Like, seriously. I’ll save that post for another day. Let's just say that I have Evernote folders filled with thoughts and ideas. It's good to dream again...

Just a few short weeks later, at my church, I learned about a series of tragic events and the pain literally affected every area of my life: my job, my church, my home, and my emotional, spiritual, and physical health. In an instant, I found myself in what would be the most difficult season of my entire life personally, while needing to love, lead, and support others in the same aftermath. It re-opened wounds of the past for me and countless people I love. I wouldn’t wish this intense pain on my worst enemy. 

Then, in the middle of ground zero, I got a letter from Dallas Theological Seminary saying that I was accepted into the Masters of Biblical Counseling program. The best news ever at the worst possible time. 

In light of all the drama, I kept it quiet. I shared it with my parents, the leadership of my church, and a few friends. But it was not the time to announce such news. Not at all. There was too much going on to even think about it. To think about it would mean being happy about it. But I couldn’t do that in the middle of mourning. It would be like throwing confetti at a funeral service. So, I shelved it and figured I’d come back to it in the new year. 

In the months that followed, things did not get easier. In many ways, they became more difficult and still are quite hard. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know it's too soon to be able to articulate that magnitude of what God has done and continues to do in me in this season. I’m still in the thick of it and there’s more to process. But this I can say: In the midst of most excruciating anguish, the peace of knowing where and how God called me was overwhelming and beautiful. The pain of this season has only made me more passionate about caring for others in their pain, specifically people in ministry. I know this mess was not in God’s perfect will but He certainly allowed it to prepare me for what is next. In order to heal, we have to feel. I feel it, for sure. And I’m slowly healing (yet again) to one day help others heal.

On this roller coaster ride of emotions, His grace has flooded me in ways I’d never experienced and enabled me to do more than I ever imagined possible. Grace that I will share with others in the path God has ordained for me to take; to finally do what has been in my heart for decades: to counsel, to write, to teach. I wish I could adequately convey the joy in my heart and the excitement for what’s next, which is moving to Texas this summer to attend Dallas Theological Seminary. An enormous step of faith, a gift from God, and a dream come true. Tears flood my eyes as I type this out. I’m both humbled and honored for this to be my reality.

Thank you to the precious family, friends, and loved ones who have supported me in prayer and with timely words of encouragement. You know who you are and I am eternally grateful for you.

I ask that you please keep me in prayer as I transition from full-time ministry to full-time school work. (I’m definitely carving out at least a month for full-time rest between the two!). I’m not naive to think it will be easy. In fact, there are great challenges ahead of me, even now. But I look forward to embarking on this long-awaited journey. As I mentioned, this is a step of faith and not everything is clear just yet. But I trust that when God guides, He provides. I am confident that He will provide all I need as I finish up in New York and all I need in Dallas: a church, tuition, rent, transportation, a job, a community of friends, and more. Your prayers are very much appreciated. Please let me know how I can pray for you, too.

Can’t wait to share the updates and praise reports. 

Love, 
Jenn


“And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:19





1 comment:

Wilma M. said...

Wow Jen! Thank you so much for sharing so the raw, the beauty, the truth. I am so very excited for the part of journey that God has you on. Hoping you will continue to blog as God leads. I am always so encouraged by your blog posts. Praying God's best for you in Texas.