Happy Graduation Day!

graduationContinued from here.

Today, my last two classes end, and I have earned my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. Hooray!

I have spent the week reflecting on various aspects of my journey over the past year, but today I would like to focus not on what has happened but rather on who I have become … or, more precisely, who I am becoming.

I have changed over the past year, and it’s difficult to pinpoint which changes have resulted from which factors because all of them have shaped me: divinity school, professional ministry, prison ministry, the sacrifices, and the grace. I have developed a deeper, richer relationship with God. I have learned through experience that I cannot possibly anticipate where God is leading me and that, even when the journey is painful, it’s always worth it. God is bigger than anything I will ever face, and I can trust Him to work even the most painful and difficult experiences for good.

I have learned that God can bring us joy amidst difficult, stressful, and painful circumstances. I have a deeper appreciation of His faithfulness and goodness. I truly believe in the marrow of my bones that I can trust God – that His plan is better than any I could come up with for myself. If you had told me 18 months ago that I would be graduating with a divinity degree, working in professional ministry, or involved in prison ministry, I would have laughed you out of the room. Only God could make such sweeping changes in my life – all in directions I would never have chosen for myself – and make them good.

I have also learned the importance of radical obedience. When God leads you on a path you would never choose for yourself, you need to cling to His leading even more because you are going to have a difficult time finding your ways through the maze on your own. I had to be willing to say, “I love you more” than many areas of my life: more than a higher-paying job … more than avoiding the humiliation of being fired … more than choosing my own path.

To make time for all God called me to do over the past year, I had to say “no” to many things I wanted to say “yes” to, such as fun times with friends, attending concerts, travel, and even simply reading a book for pleasure. I feel somewhat disconnected from some relationships because I simply did not have time over the past year to invest in them. I had to choose between what I wanted and what God called me to do, and I chose God’s plan. I have no regrets. While I never would have chosen where my life is right now, I am immensely blessed by where God has led me.

As I say goodbye to school, I say yes to wherever else God is leading. This is not the end … it’s the beginning of the next chapter of this crazy journey as I radically follow God, no matter the cost.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace in her graduation gown, smiling and throwing her graduation cap. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Reflections about School

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Going to school full-time at a university with a different perspective than my own has been an interesting experience. At my interview for my current job, one of the interviewers was a pastor who attended a seminary for a different denomination than where he now serves. He told me in my interview that it was a blessing to attend a school with a different perspective than his own because it helped him solidify his own beliefs. That turned out to be the case for me as well.

I selected this school for two reasons: (1) It has a reputation for having a strong online program, and I could only attend seminary online in this season of life; and (2) I sensed the Holy Spirit guiding me there. If I knew then what I know now, I doubt I would have selected this school because I definitely do not “fit the mold” of the belief system of this school. However, if I could go back in time and change this experience, I wouldn’t because I have learned so much. While I certainly do not see eye-to-eye on every aspect of the Christian faith as this denomination, I have developed a strong appreciation for the sincerity of their beliefs as well as a deeper understanding of why they believe as they do.

The classes that were specific to my focus on discipleship were excellent, and I learned much that I plan to apply both in my local church and in my professional ministry. I also learned many tools about digging deeper into the context and history of when specific passages of scripture were written to help illuminate the meaning behind the text. I knew next to nothing about the history of the Christian faith after biblical times when I enrolled in divinity school. I now have a much deeper knowledge and appreciation for the factors that shaped the Christian faith into what it is today. I also have a deeper understanding of the differences between the various denominations, which has led me to a deeper appreciation of the elements they share. I also learned much that the school did not intend to teach me. I am grateful for both.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding a large pile of books. Courtesy Bitmoji.]