In less than one month, I will board a plane with my cat, each of us bearing a one-way ticket to Seattle. I will leave the city I have loved and dreamed of since I was a child, the city I have called “home” for over twelve years, and I will begin my new life in a new home, in a new city, with (soon) a new husband.
Needless to say, this is a very interesting season of life.
One of the things I have been doing for about a month or so is going through my apartment and pruning my belongings in preparation for my Big Move. I have sold some items and given others away. A corner of my living room is dedicated to Things Going to Salvation Army, and what was once my guest room is now the staging area for the boxes that are packed and ready to be shipped 3,000 miles westward.
Last night I was chatting with my fiancé, and I told him that he will probably be surprised by some of the things I have chosen to keep. I know I am! The purple luggage stand my mom gave me several years ago. My free-standing full-length mirror. My djembe. My metal Strawberry Shortcake lunch box. All of these things will be packed into my car, which will then (if all goes according to plan) be shipped via truck across the country. I am excited, nervous, eager, and mournful. I have never experienced a season like this before.
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One thing that has been pretty cool has been revisiting my notes from over the years. I am a note-taker. In church, I take notes on the sermon. At work, I take notes in meetings. I jot down notes during phone calls. There are sticky-notes-to-self throughout my apartment. And I have two suitcases full of journals that go back to when I was nine years old.
I have notebooks of Morning Pages. Notebooks from continuing education courses I’ve taken over the years on African Ethnology and Teaching English as a Foreign Language and Expository Preaching. I have old calendars and task lists and agendas. And I can’t forget to mention the notebooks of lyrics. I have written a couple hundred songs, and they are cataloged in binders and file folders tucked away in backs of closets and long-neglected shelves.
Articles I started to write during church, but never finished, are now in the clear recycling bag outside. So are scripture verses that were on Post-Its, legal pad sheets of IAM To-Do lists, and envelopes with phone notes. (One was from an early conversation last summer with Karl, when he was telling me about the house he was renovating.) As I have been packing, I have kept the journals and some of the notebooks.
But I have also thrown a lot away.
# # #
There was one particular note I discovered over the weekend that I completely do not remember writing. It is a lined page torn from a spiral notebook, and at the top, written in my handwriting, it says, “LOSERS LIKE ME.” All caps and underlined with a flourish.
I have no idea what was going on in my life when I wrote that. I don’t recall why I was feeling like a loser. But below that title, I jotted out six phrases:
- Cave of Adullum.
- Ordinary, Uneducated Men.
- Leah. The Ugly Wife.
- Tamar. Rejected.
- Gideon. Fearful.
Then, I wrote another list. It is titled, “What God Can Do With Losers Like Me.”
- Win impossible battles. (Cave of Adullum, Gideon)
- Bring forth the Messiah. (Leah, Tamar)
- Start the church. (Ordinary, Uneducated Men – and women)
- Defend God’s honor. (Gideon)
# # #
On Saturday, I went out for brunch with a group of women who were part of a Bible study I hosted for years. It was our One Last Hurrah together before I move away from Staten Island. We had a great time laughing and reminiscing about our memories. In the years we were meeting together every week, we celebrated pregnancies and mourned miscarriages. We prayed for new marriages and strained marriages, and even a few delayed marriages. We walked with one single sister through a surprise pregnancy, and we gathered for some of our meetings around a bed at Staten Island University Hospital, holding our breath as another friend healed from a horrific premature pregnancy and glimpsing her tiny one, covered in tubes, under the glass of an incubator. We went Christmas caroling on my street, we “broke free” with Beth Moore, and we failed week after week to end on time, because prayer felt much too urgent to stop just because 9:30 PM had come and gone.
It was a precious group, and thankfully, some of the girls are still meeting weekly. The beat, indeed, goes on.
In the midst of our fun banter on Saturday, however, one of the girls shared that she is really feeling burdened to reach out to other women in her church. She explained that the women who have been part of this Bible study for years are very comfortable with each other and they have found a groove for meeting together every other week. No one is “in charge,” no one “leads.” They just all meet up and discuss a passage or book, then pray together for one another.
However, this girl knows of others in their church who need a group to plug in to, but there isn’t one for them. She is feeling a stirring to start one, but there is something holding her back. In her words, “I just don’t feel qualified to lead a Bible study!”
I couldn’t help but smile when she said that. I had just discovered my little “LOSERS LIKE ME” note, so this simple fact was fresh in my mind when she shared this confession: over and over and over throughout scripture, God calls out the least likely individuals to carry out his plans and lead his people. Moses was inarticulate and fearful. Rahab was a Gentile. Gideon was mealy-mouthed and double-minded. Many of the first disciples of Jesus were uneducated, ordinary men and women. Yet God worked through them, accomplishing great things in spite of their great weaknesses.
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I reminded my girlfriend of this, as I encouraged her to seriously consider starting a new Bible study for the under-served women in her church. One of my favorite bits of bumper sticker theology says, “God doesn’t call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” Oh, what God can do through a willing heart! One who simply opens her hands toward heaven and says, “Here I am, Lord. Use me.”
# # #
On Sunday, my church was packed. There were more people at New Hope Community Church on Sunday than I have ever seen there before. Late comers had trouble finding seats. And the reason was, it was the dedication of our new building. Somehow, over the past two years or so, New Hope has gotten a new face. And not just a new face – we’ve gotten new bathrooms, new walls, new rooms, new paint, new carpeting… the church looks beautiful.
And one of the points my pastor made, as he celebrated the transformation from the “ugliest building in Staten Island” to the most beautiful building in West Brighton, was that he was completely unqualified to lead such a mission. “Prior to planting this church over twenty years ago, my only jobs were paperboy and tree-cutter. I have no idea how to run a corporation. No one in their right mind would ever enlist me to lead a business or run an organization. Yet here we are. And you all know that this is not my doing. God works through weak vessels. All glory goes to God for what has happened here.”
The guest pastor, from a church that has helped us tremendously with this renovation by sending skilled craftsmen and laborers to help out, preached a similar theme. We are a church with very little in the way of financial resources. We are a church in a forgotten neighborhood in the Forgotten Borough, yet we are, as our mission states, “a house of hope in a world of pain.” The celebration on Sunday was a testimony to what can happen when the people of God believe that he is bigger than our circumstances, competent over our weaknesses, and able to do more than we could ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.
In other words, he is still able to turn water into wine.
# # #
If I’m honest, I don’t actually feel like a loser most of the time. But I also don’t feel qualified for most of the things I am doing. When I am asked to preach or write or be part of a new project, I have to work hard to quiet the voice in my head that is always telling me, “So-and-So is way more qualified for this.”
The truth is, So-and-So probably is way more qualified. But that’s not the point.
As I see it, there are two things that qualify someone for work in the kingdom of God: God’s will and humankind’s willing heart. Over and over in scripture, I read about people who were stumbling, bumbling, blathering specimens of humanity – yet they were available to God. He said, “Go,” and they did (albeit sometimes reluctantly.) He said, “Stay,” and they did. He said, “Lead my people,” and they did. And when they didn’t, God raised up someone even more unqualified to finish the job; think of Deborah and Jael!
# # #
I don’t know how you’re feeling today, but I do know that you probably have more potential than you think. Have you been feeling haunted by an idea to do something that will take you way out of “I can do that!” territory? Have you set aside something that you’d like to try, because you’re convinced you’re not qualified?
Let me challenge you to embrace the fact that you are probably exactly where you need to be in order for God to do something great through you.
And if you feel qualified to do something that God seems to be shutting the door on, let me challenge you to consider whether your sense of being qualified is a stumbling block. I have been in that place too, where I was serving under someone whose skill level was not as strong as mine, yet God seemed to appoint them and not me. Why would God work through me if I was going to take all the credit at the end? He’s God; I am not. The clay does not direct the potter.
Let this be a nudge to humble ourselves before God, offer ourselves in his service, and be prepared for whatever may come.
After all, he can still turn water into wine.