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  • Writer's pictureS Oliver

Ministry, Motherhood, the Messiah and Surrender

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

raising the white flag

Most people think a seminary education is primarily an academic experience but my formation and learning was greatest outside of the classroom. I wasn’t quite sure how to mix this thing called motherhood with ministry or the Messiah, especially since I started my seminary career in 2010 as a mature, single woman. (Yes, I’m being kind to myself. I had already had two careers under my belt.) My seminary life quickly turned sour when within a period of 5 months I found myself stalked and terrified. Attacked. (Stabbed 28 times.) Left for dead. Paralyzed. Married and a step-mom. I didn’t think I’d ever return to seminary and certainly didn’t think I’d return as a married mom!

I had to quickly learn how to shift priorities and pull off a balancing act that would make even “super mom” cringe under the best of circumstances. Thank God that my spinal cord injury was not complete. With rigorous rehabilitation, countless alternate therapies and much prayer I learned to walk again and exactly two weeks after my release from the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation, she came. It was her regular weekend visit. I had fallen in love with her long before then. She had a slow, reluctant smile and a quiet, easy way about her. She came and she went. On Sunday. Then she oddly returned on Tuesday and I knew somehow that she was never leaving. I lifted my eyes to heaven and thought, “You got jokes, God!” I couldn’t even care for myself. What was I going to do with me, my walker and a kid? Little did I know that she would be the ointment of joy for my wounded, withered spirit. Neither could I imagine how the grace of God would perfume my life.

With my husband’s encouragement and help, I/we returned to seminary. Few, if any, really knew the extent and intensity of my injuries. I had no balance. Zero. Without my cane, I could not take one step. I was still struggling with PTSD which also affected by verbal skills. These legs… well, they had little to no sensation. I was plagued by a lack of proprioception (awareness of the position of body parts) which adds a totally new dimension to walking by faith! The nerve damage caused my body to be two different temperatures. So I could be burning up from the knees up and freezing from the knees down plus I was always fatigued. In spite of it all, I was determined that since God has given these gifts: a second chance at life, a second chance at seminary, a husband and a daughter that I was going to be the best wife, mom and student that I could be. I only had one request and one request only – the grace to do it.

As I juggled ministry, motherhood and the Messiah, I spent the first year feeling very guilty. If I spent too much time on ministry (which in this case was being a student), I felt terribly guilty about being a bad mom and not spending enough time with the Messiah (prayer) or my husband for that matter. Nicole absolutely loved ramen noodles but ramen for dinner always translated into guilt for dessert, at least for me. She never complained about Chinese food, pizza or a trip to Wendy’s but she vehemently refused dinner at McKay, the campus cafeteria. That was her limit. But, OK, everybody complained about McKay! She was incredibly gracious about dinner and I learned to be good-natured about my interrupted study time. Often my study time was broken so I could assist Nicole with her studies. It is in these small spaces – helping her to rewrite an essay, sharing my opinion on a dance she choreographed or spelling a word – that I began to understand God’s grace in new and exciting ways. You see, God’s grace is not just that unmerited favor in salvation but it is that gift that empowers us to act with poise and kindness even when we are frazzled, irritated and exhausted; it is the ability to reflect God’s love in challenging times and these times, indeed, were challenging. Of course, there were days, many days when I was just pooped. Drained and done-in from my physical challenges, I was blind to grace and not the least bit interested in God doing a blessed thing in me. But God persisted. The challenges of back-to-school nights, special programs and activities, homework, hanging at home with friends, getting sick at school, whining, the yelling to get the dishes done, dressing appropriately and everything else you can add to the life of a teenage girl became spaces to learn of God’s grace. Somehow, God’s grace conquers and covers our flaws allowing us to fail forward. Surrender. I was learning. It’s all about surrender. Surrendering to what is – I was powerless over it anyway. Surrendering to God. Allowing God to have God’s way.

I was always guilty about something. Not being a wonderful mom. Not being a fantastic wife. Not being a phenomenal student and not spending enough time in prayer. My prayers became “breath prayers”, the proverbial S.O.S. “God give me grace today.” “Lord, I need patience.” “Help!” “Lord, if you don’t ____________, I will __________.” You can fill in the blanks. Wasn’t seminary supposed to be a time of getting closer to God? I thought so, but I never seemed further away then I felt during my seminary life. These moments of grace didn’t seem to be enough. I felt inadequate as a wife. Inadequate as a mom. Inadequate as a minister. I went to Field Ed to sharpen my skills of ministering to others, yet there were so many times that I needed others to minister to me and they did. There goes grace again and I quickly learned that God not only wanted to extend God’s grace through me but God wanted to extend God’s grace to me. I was reminded of surrendering. Surrendering to what is – I was powerless over it anyway. Surrendering to God. Allowing God to have God’s way. It was one of those times when I was guilty; guilty about not spending enough time in prayer and in God’s presence. My assignment for my preaching class was to preach on Zacchaeus, you know, the tax collector in Luke 19. The Holy Spirit ministered to me powerfully through that text in this way. “So often we think that we must devote hours to personal Bible study, devotional activity and prayer to find God’s favor… but there are those who will tell us that even the smallest effort can result in an enormous encounter with Jesus. Today, we meet Zacchaeus – despised, rejected, [he was] long on money but short in stature. So this short man leaves the crowd to climb a short fig tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. You see, the sycamore tree is a fig tree with low lying branches, so it didn’t take a great deal of effort to climb. …But even the smallest effort gets Jesus’s attention. Beloved, Jesus is still abounding in grace (that word again) and is eager to meet us in our smallest efforts. We may not have hours, but Jesus can transform our days, our lives, our experiences in just one short moment. Jesus still comes to seek and to save the lost – even those lost in seminary.”

Surrender to what is – you are powerless over it anyway. Surrender to God. Allow God to have God’s way. God’s grace is sufficient.

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