Fifteen years ago this month, I sat in the back row of a nondescript classroom and thought I don’t belong here. Nearly everyone else in the room was at least ten years older than me, and male. I loved the professor and loved what he said even more. He talked passionately about the church, about her story, about our story in it. I was captivated. I was captured by the story. I know now that I also wanted to have a place in that story. I scribbled notes and listened and I loved every second.
But every time someone else in the room interjected a point or used a technical theological word or quoted scripture, I thought two things:
These men love the sound of their own voice.
And I don’t belong here.
Just a few months before I had been accepted to seminary, a skidding 180 from my original plans to attend grad school for exercise science and psychology. I certainly didn’t belong in seminary. My grandfather wanted me to be a judge. My parents always told me in words and action that I would be whatever I set my mind to, and my mind certainly wasn’t set on ministry. Ministry, ha. Just the thought made me laugh. That’s not a career.
I thought people who were in ministry just couldn’t make it in the real world. The walking wounded, some might say. But my experience at a little church plant called Hope had been totally different. We met in a school. We passed the offering in bread pans. The pastors were normal and smart. They used regular voices when they prayed and taught. And they loved me and Dave well, in a crucial time of new town, new jobs, new marriage, new life.
Despite my own immaturity (or maybe because of it) I led in Hope’s fledgling student ministry. I had energy for it, barely out of my teens myself. And these middle school girls, all elbows and braces, they won my heart. In serving, I grew. I remember the first time I stood in front of a circle of girls in the cafeteria where we met. I remember telling them a painful story from middle school, one I would have rather forgotten about and locked away. And as I stood in front of them and looked at their faces, as we laughed together about the hijinks of middle school (that had not been laugh-worthy when locked away in my soul), something in me released. I put words from the bible together with the story and when I did, flint hit steel. A spark flashed and a flame began to burn.
The prophet Jeremiah once described God’s word as a fire within him, a fire shut up in his bones, a fire that couldn’t be contained. That’s what happened in the cafeteria of that church plant. Honesty, freedom, truth crackled and my heart’s been on fire since.
And that’s how I found myself in the left corner of the back row of a seminary class, wondering what in the world I had gotten myself into.
One class turned into two and then reality. What would I do with this fancy theology degree? On the five hour drive down to school each month I would pray and think and question. I had just enough faith to show up for class but not enough faith to believe God would do something with it all. I tried to imagine a life where I had a church job. I had never met a woman on a staff of a church. I had never heard a woman teach. I had never heard a woman even lead a prayer in church. My readings from theology class grew my knowledge but my CDs of Beth Moore stoked the soul fire. Beth Moore was the best bible teacher I had ever heard, and she was funny. Beth (I like to pretend we are on a first-name basis)….well, Beth helped me believe that God could have a place for me.
but probably not in the church.