Friday, March 29, 2013

It's EASTER! And what better time to reflect on the sacred cross, our Savior, and all the wonder, confusion, and gratitude it provides each and every day in my life.  If ever there were three emotional days to examine how we grieve, feel lost, and then rejoice in the surprise of our redemption - this is it.  The resurrection means so much more than just one day a year we slap on white patent leather shoes and fill baskets with even means more than providing a way towards our everlasting hope (in which case, is there even anything beyond that?).  It means that while the days might seem long and worrisome, and the years fly by like a blink, I can rest NO MATTER WHAT in the knowledge that my Jesus has already conquered my fears, defeated my guilt, and paved the way for my best life.  That's not just HUGE in the grand scheme of my time here on's sometimes how I make it minute to minute through the mundane, chaotic days of this present time.

Matilda made this in nursery this week.  Seemed fitting.
I'm going to share a story from my past with you today.  I was recently reminded of this story, and I've told it many times over the years as circumstances in others lives (or even my own, again and again) called to the relevance of its lesson.  In hindsight, it is a great crossroads in my life, and the gratitude I have towards learning this lesson early on in my life continues to grow as the years go by.

Allow me to set the scene.  I was 17 and in high school.  To say I hated school was probably an understatement.  I had a hard time grappling with who I was, who others were, and why I felt like a square peg in a round hole all the time.  What I didn't know was that this was called "typical" for my age, and so my completely normal situation continued to feel more and more depressing as my emotionally immature self struggled to make sense of my awkward surroundings.  I wanted out.

Through a difficult process of working hard and wearing my parents down enough to help me, I managed to take on extra homeschool classes along with my regular public school work.  This made me haughty and very unpopular at school, only motivating me beyond belief to work harder and leave sooner.  My parents were sympathetic and probably my only cheerleaders at the time when I decided to take on this extra load in the goal to graduate a full year early from high school.  I say this to let you know that I didn't "skip a grade" as some people who graduated from high school at 17.  Instead, I did the entirely same amount of work - I just did it in three years.  This made me wildly unpopular among my peers, but again, this only fueled my passion for getting the heck outta Dodge.

This isn't to say I wasn't smart.  I'll lay it right out there - in a tiny school (did I mention there were 16 students in my class?) it wasn't difficult to remain at the top of the class.  I managed to keep a perfect GPA, and as I entered my final semester of high school I felt like the world was my oyster as I began to look at my choices for college.  (There's really no way to state that without it sounding like bragging.  So - sorry - but, this is important for you to know as the story moves ahead.)

Choosing a college is certainly a crossroads in many people's lives.  It can steer you in entirely new situations and locations.  It feels daunting and exciting and I was feeling all these things as I began to dream about my new world, far away from my present surroundings.  My parents, however, were more cautious with their recommendations.  My older brother had gone out of state for college, while my sister had stayed closer to home.  As I was the baby of the family, it quickly became evident that my apron strings had a tighter radius than I would have liked, and the battle over college applications began.

Compromise was found at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois.  While it was out of state, it was a drivable distance.  Not only that, but it was my mother's alma mater, and there was a loyal familiarity that came with sending her daughter that far away to a "known" situation.  Great amounts of prayer and thought went into this process, and I proudly applied to Moody in the spring of my Junior/Senior year.  I had the grades, a decent ACT score, a killer essay, family connections (my uncle went to Moody as well) and the passion of a stallion to take on the Windy City.  I was a shoe-in.  I bought a parka, winter boots, and by February I was already telling all my friends and family that I was moving to Chicago over the summer.  I dreamt about meeting my roommate, taking walks by the lake, going to a Cubs game, and hanging out with a new clique around one of those famous pizza parlors.

It was a chilly day in April when I got a letter in the mail from Moody.  My parents were so excited, my dad drove all the way out to my high school to meet me right after class.  I still remember the shock of seeing him as I walked out the doors, seeing him waving that envelope in his hand with a proud smile already spread across his face.  This was it!  This was the letter I'd been waiting for to come and rescue me and take me on the path to my new life!

I ripped open the letter, my best friend and my dad standing right next to me.  It was so exciting, I was shaking and getting goose bumps all at once.  I read it so quickly I had to read it again.  I read it again.  Again.  And then I stopped.  We regret to inform you... Again.  ...regret...  I kept reading it as if the words would change as I blinked back the tears that inevitably started to form in the corners of my eyes.    And it sunk in, slowly:  Rejection.

I sat in shock as my dad and best friend comforted me.  It was so confusing.  It was so painful.  It didn't make any sense!?  How could this be?  What was I supposed to do now?  I had so many questions and so many emotions, my future suddenly felt like I was being sucked into a giant black hole.  It was the first time in my life I felt entirely helpless.  I had done everything right, God, why is this happening?

Now, I know this might not seem like the end of the world to you.  But, as a 17 year-old, this was my entire world.  And there it was, printed out on a crumpled, tear-stained rejection letter, just as cold as the breeze that hit my damp cheeks that day so long ago.  I felt sick with confusion.

A few days after the shock wore off, I received a call from the Admissions Department of Moody.  [Now, having worked at a Christian college for a few years, and being married to a guy who worked in an admissions department of a Christian college for years...let me just say that what happened next NEVER happens.  I've never heard of it happening before or since, so take that for what it's worth.]  I took the call, nervous that they were going to give me a long list of reasons why I wasn't qualified to attend their school.

"Emily?" the girl admissions counselor sounded nice enough.
"Yes." I tried not to let my voice shake.
"I wanted to call you and talk to you about your rejection letter from Moody Bible Institute.  I wanted to let you know that you are more than qualified to attend our school."
"I am?" I was even more confused now.
"Yes, you are.  But, as our staff reviewed your application, we got the feeling that you might be called somewhere else.  We gathered as a staff and prayed over your application, and we all determined that you need to look elsewhere first, to be sure you're not supposed to go somewhere else.  We'd like to encourage you to keep searching, and if, in another month or so, you feel like you are still supposed to come to Moody, then we'll be happy to accept your application."
"Oh.  Um, okay.  Thank you."  I had no idea how to respond to this.

And that was pretty much it.  I had been rejected out of consideration for my best life.  Now, at the time, it just felt mean.  It seemed like a cruel joke to play on a hopeful teenager.  But, it changed the entire course of my life.  Not only that, but it flipped the hearts of my parents inside out, and they allowed to let me continue my search to find the perfect school God had for me.

Three weeks later, by myself, with a video camera and a backpack, I found myself on a plane to California.  I had never been to California before and it already felt like home.  I spent two days touring Biola's campus, recording as much evidence as possible to convince my parents that this was where I belonged.  As soon as they watched the video upon my return, there was no question about it:  that was the school for me.

Biola has been the setting for multiple milestones in my life since.  I've met incredible influencers of my life there, I worked there, I met my husband there, and we even got married there (yep, at the chapel right on campus!)  But, those times would have never happened if I hadn't opened that harsh, confusing letter on that cold day in April so long ago.  Shortly after I began my time at Biola, I looked back on that bitter day with new appreciation.  I was struck by how God so evidently directed my path.  I was so grateful for the temporary pain He put me through in order to distinctly make me aware of His calling on my life.  I was (and am) so astounded at how God loves me enough to let me throw a fit and hurt and not get my way - only to reserve the ultimate for my better future to come.  What a good Father we serve!

Hindsight is such a lovely, comforting thing.  It's also a reminder that God's faithfulness has times of looking cloudy and unwarranted, undeserved and completely unfair.  Yet, His faithfulness remains, despite our circumstances.

I'm so grateful to serve a God who saves the best for us (even when it doesn't look like we may have thought).  Who teaches us to pray for His will and not our own (don't worry, He already knows what we want anyway).  Who reminds us that second best is not enough for His children or His glory.  He is good, and He can't not extend that goodness to His beloved.

When Jesus' friends and family saw Him on that cross, bloodied and burdened and dripping with the angst of generations yet to come, they must have questioned God's plan.  How could they not?  How could goodness possibly come from that?  What a horrific three days that must have been, mourning for Jesus, seeking and asking God to please, please, please make sense of such utter confusion and injustice.

And then came Easter morning.  Bursting forth with hope and joy...and clarity.  Instant hindsight of God's perfect plan rose that day.  Hallelujah!

We all have some kind of crossroads story in our life.  Most of us can remember a distinct time when one path would have altered our future significantly, for better or for worse.  But no matter which road I take in life, no matter how rocky or confusing, there is no path I'd rather choose than the road to the cross.  Laying my burdens and sin and guilt and shame and worries all at the perfect feet of Jesus.

No matter what chaos surrounds us.  No matter what status updates or twitters come.  No matter what storms we endure.  No matter what laundry mountain I climb.  No matter what devastating news I receive.  No matter how small, how massive, how heavy or light...the cross is my compass, and Christ my guide.  It's already all been considered, it's been conquered, it's been consistent.  And when we serve a God who already knows what's best for us, we can rest assured that the road ahead will bring new stories of hope, of goodness, and gratitude.

Praise be!  Jesus is Alive!  Happy Easter.

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light
And the burden of my heart rolled away
It was there by faith I received my sight
And now I am happy all the day 
-Isaac Watts (1707)

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