I wear lots of hats – not literally but figuratively. I’m a wife . . . a pet “mom” . . . a sister . . . a friend . . . a teacher . . . and – most importantly – a child of God. When I wear my teacher hat, I often ask my students to do research. When I do, I always tell them to “consider the source.”
Reading an article about best restaurants in town?
Who wrote it? Does the writer have a vested interest in one of the restaurants and has something to gain from influencing your opinion?
Studying quantum physics?
What kind of education does the writer have? If it isn’t in quantum physics, move on and find someone more qualified.
With that in mind, who am I? After all, you came here to be inspired by Mark. What am I doing here? Why did Mark invite me to be his guest this week?
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m ordinary – you know, the kind of person Mark likes to write about. I live an ordinary life that – from time to time – God turns upside down in order to bless me with the most unexpected, extraordinary gifts.
I grew up in Texas – the buckle of the Bible Belt, but I didn’t grow up in church. I knew “Deep in the Heart of Texas” but not “Jesus Loves Me". I don’t know that I’ve had too many experiences where I felt more awkward and out of place than the first time I walked into a church on a Sunday morning. When the service began, I was lost. In my academic world, I was an "A" student. But in this world of hymnals and Bibles, I was completely out of my element. From the first note of the first song to the last Amen, I was in unfamiliar territory. I couldn’t have found one book in the Bible or told you the difference between the Old Testament and the New. Was the New Testament “new and improved” – like laundry detergent? If so, why did we still need the Old Testament? I was fifteen years old hearing for the first time about Noah, Moses, Peter, and Paul. Who were they? How did everyone else in the congregation (even the youngest kids) seem to know all these stories about floods, plagues, and redemption? And why did they sing about “fountains filled with blood” and being “washed in the blood”? The whole church experience freaked me out and made me want to run – from church and God.
But God pursued me like the lost child I was. He was relentless. It didn’t make me feel loved. It made me feel trapped. I had heard far more about “the fear of God” than “the love of God". And I was truly afraid of Him and afraid of church. Still – I knew enough to understand I needed Jesus to punch my ticket to Heaven. I just wasn’t so sure I wanted Him involved in my life on a day-to-day basis. I didn’t like the idea of “surrendering” to Christ. I’m a control freak who was white knuckling my way through life. But after two years of God’s relentless pursuit, I reluctantly accepted there was no “Plan B” for entering Heaven. I was a little like C. S. Lewis as he described his conversion in Surprised By Joy – “the most dejected and reluctant convert” — the prodigal “brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape.”
Becoming a Christ follower didn’t make going to church any less of a challenge. I couldn’t find the remedial class for beginners. I felt lost. I kept trying to figure out the next step.
“But wait – there’s more.” Isn’t that what we hear in lots of commercials? Just as you think they’ve told you all you’re going to get for your purchase of just $19.95 plus tax and shipping, you hear, “But wait – there’s more.” That’s what I was looking for at church. Surely there’s more to being a Christian than sitting in the same seat every Sunday, singing the same songs.
This is where Mark Goodman enters my story. A friend knew my struggle with church and invited me to hers – where Mark was the new pastor. From the first Sunday, I was “hooked.” This was a different kind of preaching. Mark talked about Jesus like he talked about any other friend. He explained things in a way that I could understand. He described faith as a journey. It’s not one and done. There is more. Salvation is just the beginning of the journey. From there, we learn . . . we experience . . . we grow . . . we do. As I began to learn, I wanted to learn more. Soon I realized I was hungry for God – like I had been starving for a very long time but didn’t know it. I began to understand that I didn’t have to be afraid of God and I didn’t have to earn His love. He is love and He loves me.
In the ultimate irony – one that illustrates God’s terrific sense of humor – I went from being afraid of church to working in one as Mark’s assistant. I worked with him for almost seven years at his church in Anchorage. Only God could have moved a church-fearing, Texas-loving girl to Alaska! When I realized God was calling me to fill that role, I was equal parts terrified and excited. Thankfully – I said “yes” to God, and it led to the most unexpected blessings – the work . . . the friends . . . the experiences. It felt like my whole life had been preparation for “such a time as this.” Although after a few years, God called me back to Texas – I’m grateful the Alaska friendships remain, and I can continue to work with Mark on his blog and his books. (Please note: I wrote books – plural – on purpose. That’s my not-so-subtle hint to him that it’s time to write another one.)
I ask you again to “consider the source.” Who am I? I’m an expert on ordinary. I love how God continues to bless my journey of faith in my ordinary life in ways I could never have imagined.
But wait – there’s more . . .
Reference: Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy. New York: Harcourt, 1955.