Joining with Bonnie at Faith Barista for her Thursday invitation, and with Ann at A Holy Experience for her Walk with Him Wednesdays.
Seven members of The Birthday Breakfast Club, January 2011
"With this news, strengthen those who have tired hands, and encourage those who have weak knees. Say to those who are afraid, 'Be strong and do not fear, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.' Isaiah 35:3-4
"Here," she said gently, handing me a slip of paper with her scrawling handwriting on it. "This is the phone number and the date for the next Information Day. This much I can do for you; the rest, you'll have to do yourself."
Five years of questioning, wondering, worrying, and fear.
Five years of wise counsel from trusted friends and pastors.
Five years of deep, even tearful conversations with my husband and my nearly adult children, always asking these questions:
Could I possibly do this?
Could I enroll in graduate school?
In seminary, for heaven's sake?
Was this something God was calling me to do?
Was I heading in the right direction?
Could my life, as I knew it, change so radically and still be my life?
I didn't have the answers as neatly in place as I might have liked. I couldn't quell the butterflies that flittered and fluttered every time I thought about the idea. I couldn't imagine how this would work.
But God put encouragers into my life, strong encouragers and through them, spoke truth to me:
Yes. You can do this - because I walk with you.
Yes. You can do this - because I call you to it.
Yes. You can do this - have a little faith.
That last push - that slip of paper put into my outstretched hand - came from my friend Judy. And Judy was chief among a group of friends who encouraged me to open my heart, my mind and my spirit to the possibility that God might be doing a new thing in me.
This group had a distinctly non-spiritual title. We called ourselves the Birthday Breakfast Club and we came together not to study the Bible, not to spend hours in prayer, not to do any of what most small group curricula tell you a small group should be doing.
We knew each other from church - some of us knew each other better than others. And we decided we would meet regularly throughout the year on or around each person's birthday. And we would meet for breakfast. The birthday girl would have the spotlight - telling her story in any way she chose. The rest of us would focus on that one story-telling woman, asking questions, offering suggestions, celebrating the high points, commiserating over low points.
Gradually, over time, this group became one of the most profoundly spiritual groups of which I have ever been a part. We probed deeply into each other's faith journeys and marveled at God's grace and patience. We laughed loudly and often. We cried easily and honestly. And eventually, we did pray - but it came out of our growing connection to one another, especially as we began to include an annual overnight together, a kind of mini-retreat held somewhere beautiful.
Two of the women in this group happened to be college and seminary professors, Judy being one of those, and their presence helped me to see the wonderful and powerful truth that God calls all kinds of people, including women, to step up and step out into leadership in the academy and the church.
And over the course of the first three years of our BBC group gathering together every few weeks, these encouraging friends helped me to hear the voice of God. The questions asked, the comments made, the observations of my own gifts and personality offered - all of it helped to crystallize for me a call from God to take a gigantic leap of faith. DEEP breath...
I went to that Information Day. I felt strongly nudged to enroll in the M. Div program, the degree that often leads to pastoral ministry of some kind. And when I had completed the application forms, gathered my referral letters, and written the check to begin the process - four of my friends from the BBC walked with me into the Admissions Office at Fuller Seminary and together, we shoved that envelope through the slot. At the age of 44, I began a brand new life.
I answered God's call to me to go to seminary, a call I initially heard as a way to become a more effective, informed Bible teacher. About midway through my experience there, a deeper truth began to emerge - a call to pastoral ministry, surprising me greatly. And once again, these friends were voices of encouragement - asking the hard questions, affirming my gifts, pointing out possible pitfalls, supporting me in the process of discernment.
Because a true encourager is more than a fan, more than a cheerleader - although those elements are a part of the picture. An encourager is one who knows you well, who sees you as a whole person, who calls out the best in you, who gently admonishes the not-best in you and who stands with you, whether the way ahead is smooth or rough.
Four years of seminary, three years of working in my home church while I completed requirements for ordination, and then came a call to serve a church 125 miles away.
And these friends and I have met halfway somewhere near my birthday for almost every one of these last 14 years. And each time we meet, I am once again deeply and oh-so-personally encouraged. What a gift. What a life-changing gift. I am forever grateful for their sweet voices and for that scrawling handwritten note that marked the beginning of my journey toward today.