This is going to be one of those long, personal posts. If that’s not your cup of tea, and I completely understand if it’s not, feel free to sit this one out. But my heart is full, and I need to write to get some of this out.
This story begins nearly four years ago.
I was sitting at a stop sign and God was telling me to turn right.
I had just graduated college, and felt God leading me to visit this church I’d found online called Restoration. When I’d been researching churches in the weeks leading up to graduation, I was drawn to Restoration because of the name, an important word in my personal testimony, and one I still pray over my loved ones. As I’d clicked on Restoration’s link, I was further blown away by the transparency of the pastor and his wife in sharing their own testimony of reconciliation. At this point, I’d had experience with both a church that hadn’t practiced such transparency and a church that had, and had already made a personal resolve to live a life of transparency.
Still, I was a little scared because I knew this was it.
Restoration was going to be my church.
And it was.
I will never forget the first Wednesday night Bible study I attended. Pastor Scobey asked for prayer requests, then led us in prayer. When he got to me he prayed something to this effect, “We don’t know why You have her here, but we want her.” It made me cry.
This is the first time I have ever shared this. (And I am sure I will hear about it from somebody later, but that’s okay). Earlier that day, I had received a letter from the elders of the church in which I grew up. I’d met with them some weeks earlier asking for this letter, as it is common practice in certain circles for a believer to have a letter of recommendation when placing membership. After years of teaching Bible Club, Sunday school, being active in and with the youth, here is what church leadership had to say about me: “Lydia Thomas has been in fellowship with us until recently,” followed by their signatures. As it’s not mine to share, I am not at liberty to go into the entirety of the situation that led to that, but I went into that Wednesday night Bible study really hurting. The last thing I thought was that I’d be wanted. After all, I had nothing to commend me.
And that night, being prayed for by Pastor Scobey, I felt God saying, “Don’t you see, Lydia? I have your back.”
I will never forget how when I started a ministry to artists (a semi-failed ministry, but hey), Pastor Scobey and Melanie were my biggest supporters – both in prayer and advice. I will never forget the prayers and resumes sent out on my behalf. I will never forget the Sunday Pastor Scobey preached on buried talents, and God whispered, “Children’s ministry, children’s ministry, children’s ministry,” something I’d kept buried because when I’d been in children’s ministry before, I was young, and it often seemed like my ideas weren’t good enough, so I started thinking I had nothing to offer. I will never forget teaming up with an older sister in Christ on the children’s ministry. I will never forget being a part of the praise team, and especially the sister who built and maintained a relationship with me (even after I’d left). I will never forget how Pastor Scobey put me in contact with a pastor who originated in Seattle after I’d left.
Oh yes, Restoration was my church.
But. I had major trust issues, and because of that, I had commitment issues. (To a degree, I still do). There was a direction my church began to take, and I can’t begin to tell you how much it scared me. (Not because it was bad, but because it was a really big change). And while God assured me He still had my back, I started not to trust Him, either. Add to that (another thing I haven’t shared before now), I stumbled on a blog that was dedicated to hurting church members, or so it said. Carrying several old wounds myself, I got involved in a lot of the discussions on the blog, which brought no real healing for me. Instead, in reading other people’s experiences, I began to think any involvement with the Church could only bring pain. And God? He hadn’t kept me from the pain the Church could inflict in the past, why would He start now?
To my great discredit, I withdrew, rather than sticking things out.
I am not proud of this – not the mistrust of God and every other authority figure in my life during this season (including my dad), not the wounds that I’d carried with me for years, and certainly not my circumvention of a growth opportunity (put a pin in that, I’ll come back to it) – but I want to be clear, I did not leave because Restoration was not a church to me. I left because I had an attitude problem, and I bounced around because of it until God made it clear I needed to confront my trust and commitment issues.
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago, when I was preparing my debt testimony for an upcoming Vox Dei compilation about living free, I was going through some old journals, and I was convicted once again about my terrible attitude during this season, not just toward God, but towards my local church and Pastor Scobey. I realized I had never thanked him for the things he’d done, besides maybe in passing, and I certainly had not thanked God.
So that’s where it started: thanking God. But from there, God began to prompt me to thank Pastor Scobey as well. In person. He’s moved on to a church in Oklahoma City, so I knew it was going to mean a little drive. Because of my heart in leaving Restoration, I also had a lot of guilt, and I wasn’t at all sure about how my just showing up would be received. God was leading, however, and seeing as how I had plans to leave for Seattle within the next month or so, I decided to take a step, and go up to Oklahoma City. For the first time in years last Sunday, I told God, “I trust you,” and meant it. As always, He had my back.
It was a tremendous blessing to worship with Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, to see Pastor Scobey preach his heart for the lost, and to be welcomed so warmly. I did try to make my reason for being there clear to everyone I talked to – thanking my pastor – and let people know I was heading for Seattle (I don’t know who I was trying to convince), but someone said as I was leaving, “You’re family now.”
Anyway, on my drive home, I started to feel unresolved. I turned on my radio and ignored it. I had done what God had asked me to do and was free to go to Seattle now, where, you know, I’ve been trying to get for the past four years. Except, even with my music blasting, I could tell God was trying to tell me He wasn’t done yet. Even after I got home, I kept myself busy, but eventually it was time to go to sleep. It took me forever to fall asleep, because I was tossing and turning over the fact that this wasn’t over.
On Monday morning, during my devotional time, I eventually asked, “Okay, God. Is there somewhere else you want to go?” I began to pray about it. In no time at all, I was pretty resolved in my heart about what I needed to do.
Even with that, I was not fully persuaded Oklahoma City was the right path. What about Seattle? What about what people are going to think when I don’t go to Seattle, even though I’ve said I am going to Seattle? I don’t even know that much about Oklahoma City! What about the fact that I am a bona fide church hopper? What about how scared I still get thinking about the church and ministry? What about a job? What about…? What about…? What about…? I continued to pray until I was fully resolved, and my what-abouts and what-ifs were silenced. The reality is that it doesn’t matter what I thought or planned, or what people will think about this change of plans. What matters is what God thinks and plans.
As of this week, God asked me to step out in faith to minister and live and work in Oklahoma City.
I don’t have a flashy story about why I’m convinced this is the way, just a bunch of little things: counsel from friends who prayed with me, a biography of George Muller, a vision/burden for ministry, some kids’ songs from a VBS sing-along, being contacted by an organization about a job, and a few verses from Acts 16. I can tell you that because I’m convinced this is the way God has for me, I’m going to walk in it. I’m going to trust God. He knows the hot mess I was before I surrendered my life to Jesus, He knows my wounded and sketchy church/ministry history, He knows my propensity to give up at all of the wrong times, He knows just how I get when I’m angry, and He says, “I want to redeem all of that. I want to restore you. I want to make you into someone I can use.” He’s made it clear that I’ve got a season of growth and equipping ahead, and that unlike three years ago, I need to stick this out. In other words, if I’m going to step out and do this, I’d better be prepared to do it all the way.
Yesterday, I returned to Oklahoma City and placed my membership with Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church. I can’t even begin to say how much I’m looking forward to growing and ministering with them in this coming season. Over the past week, I’ve been looking for employment there, and will continue to do so (seeking administrative assistant positions with hospitals and/or energy companies primarily). Once I have an offer in hand (and I don’t expect it to be too long), I will look for an apartment, and you know, go from there.
Pray with me?
Thanks, y’all. (I guess now I don’t have to let go of saying “y’all” now that I’m not moving to Seattle…)
“In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
And this song has been on my heart and mind this week… Exhale by Plumb.