It has been over a year since fresh words have graced this page. I haven’t forgotten. In fact, I’ve sat staring at this screen countless times, but the words kept coming out all wrong.
When I look back over the last year of my life, it is hard to fathom that it wasn’t actually a decade. The sheer quantity of work and effort and sweat and tears that were poured into that year is astounding. They say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, but I don’t believe that I truly understood the depth of this quote until I was forced to step up, nose-to-nose with the enemy.
When I accepted the position as the Executive Director at a retreat center and outreach ministry, I knew that the road ahead was not going to be conducive for smooth sailing. Ministry, working for the glory of God, is the most challenging job there is. I had learned that through two years of leading online book studies, and through the numerous attacks my leaders and I experienced as the enemy attempted to thwart our efforts.
What I didn’t know when I accepted the position was that the majority of those attacks would come through fellow Christians.
I’ve watched my dreams get broken
When I received the phone call to let me know that the search committee, a panel of six, had come to a unanimous decision that I was exactly what they were looking for and more, I was elated – scared to death – but elated.
For the first time, possibly in my entire life, I felt that I was walking hand-in-hand with the Lord. I was beyond excited for what He and I would do together in this place.
I have dreamed of writing faith-based retreats for more than a decade, and having the flexibility, the real estate, and the resources at this center at my disposal, I felt that my time had finally come. Plus, I had the opportunity to serve the Lord while earning a paycheck. His work didn’t have to be just a side hustle.
But two weeks before I was handed over the keys and responsibilities that came with the title, I was made privy to a small portion of the shocking revelations that would be made about the true state of the organization. The mountain set before me was built by a financial fiasco, zero notes on how to run and conduct business, no policies or procedures, limited support staff, distrust, and a strong reluctance to change.
So on my first day when I was handed a wad of keys and told to “make it your own, sweetheart”, my dreams of what God and I would do together were already crushed.
“The Lord gave me what I had,
and the Lord has taken it away.
Praise the name of the Lord!”
Job 1:21, NLT
In You I hope again
Months crept by, as I slaved away at the overwhelming load of work. And somewhere along the way, I went from being the unanimous decision to Enemy No. 1. I desperately tried to cling to my sanity while those that I was supposed to be walking with side-by-side in ministry tore me to shreds with their words and made me feel guilty over the overwhelming amount of work that I was required to handle solo.
But praise God for the support group of friends and family that didn’t give up on me, especially when the ugliness of my sin surfaced through angry outbursts and bitterness. They preached the gospel to me and encouraged me to,
“Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
– Peter Böhler, friend of John Wesley
And little by little my shriveled faith began to grow again.
In a counseling meeting with my pastor, he told me that the dream that I had doesn’t need brick and mortar. In a digital world, I could still pursue my dreams of writing and leading faith-based retreats. And for the first time in what seemed like an eternity, hope flickered to life within me.
It felt like God’s way of saying, “You’ve always had these gifts and passions. Now go do something with them!”
No matter what
So as the stress levels continued to climb at the center, and anxiety attacks came crashing in in waves, I began to seek after what I believe God was calling me to all along.
It was time to trust God more than ever before.
I decided to conclude my time at the center, just shy of a year, but fulfilling my responsibilities to the work mission teams that I had spent the better part of 8 months coordinating.
Sitting next to my saint-like parents at their kitchen table, I submitted my two week notice without another job lined up. And we all cried.
It was disappointing and heart-breaking. But once I had hit send on that email, I felt at peace.
There was no way to know what was ahead, but I held tightly to that hope that had sparked to life within me.
I know I’m safe inside Your hands
Sometime in June I had submitted a resume to my Alma mater, West Liberty State College, which is now a University. But I hadn’t heard anything back, just like the countless other applications I had submitted online.
But as I was attempting to escape a torrential downpour during a trip to Pittsburgh, my phone rang to tell me that I had an interview two days after my job at the center came to a close.
My skin was still sun burnt from the afternoons working beside missionaries as I drove onto the West Liberty campus. Inside of me was a strange swarm of emotions. Nostalgia for my days as a student mixed with the sting of hurt that was directed at me in the form of “Christian talk” during my last days as an Executive Director.
As I waited for the interview committee to call me in, I focused on the lessons that I had learned in the most challenging 11 months of my life:
- God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.
- People of faith can sometimes disappoint you more than the un-churched.
- A community of believers can also be the best people in which to trust your life.
- Anxiety and depression while serving the Lord is not something to be looked down upon.
- I am more than capable because no matter what, I’m safe inside His hands.
And the following day, I received another call offering me the position that I now hold, at the college that I, and most of my family, have attended.
The transition from Executive Director to Administrative Secretary has been interesting. Going from 65 hours a week to 37.5 has been a shock to the system, as well the ability to work in an environment where my efforts are appreciated and praised. But the most challenging thing to adjust to are the “aftershocks” that have shaken me to my core as I detox from a year lived in a constant state of crisis, running on pure adrenaline.
There’s a lot of healing to do in overcoming the hurt and disappointment of the ways some things were handled in my previous position. There’s forgiveness to extend to others… and myself.
There’s also a new appreciation for the Lord’s grace when He gives and takes away.
When He Gives and Takes Away
The last year has turned my life upside down. But I learned that when He gives and takes away, He will return to your empty spaces, a fullness that is more true and more wonderful than one could imagine.
“On the mountains I will bow my life to the One who set me there.
In the valley I will lift my eyes to the One who sees me there.
When I’m standing on the mountain I didn’t get there on my own.
When I’m walking through the valley I know I am not alone.”
– Hills and Valleys, Tauren Wells