My Spiritual Formation Final written 2 hours before the deadline (293a)
When I started VLI, I was in a very different place than I am right now. I had been studying the bible on my own, in women’s bible study, and in a couple of different small groups but was yearning for more. This yearning came from a place of desperation.
About two years before starting VLI, I was engaged to be married to a man I thought I loved. I became a Christian after meeting him but I don’t believe I fully understood what I was getting into. He taught me how to be a “lukewarm Christian” and what it meant to believe in God but not necessarily be a “follower of Jesus.” Not knowing it was wrong to have sex with my boyfriend before marriage, I had sex with him. Not knowing it wouldn’t be pleasing to God to move in together before we were married, I moved 2,500 miles away from my family to live with him. During our five and a half years together, we rarely went to church and we rarely read our bibles but we did pray together and I prayed on my own. I believe it was me praying to God and asking for help that God didn’t just give me over completely to my sinful ways. Praying led me to feeling convicted about having sex and living together before we were married and, after I got laid off from my job, my mom asked me to move back in with her. God completely paved the way for me by providing me with a new job within a week of moving back and a chance to reflect on what I had been doing.
I would like to say that I ended up giving my life back over to God at that moment but I can’t. I ended up ignoring His commands to break up with my fiance for about a year until my fiance hit me and I couldn’t hide from God’s commands any more. I listened up, broke up with fiance, and when I got home, I fell on the floor crying and I remember telling God that I had nothing else in this life and I needed Him to guide me and tell me what to do.
God led me, through my best friend, to the Desert Vineyard where everyone accepted me and loved me even though I was terribly flawed. I started praying more and reading the bible every day. I read about serving others and God led me to helping out with the homeless ministry and to being discipled by Pastor David Swift. I was so shocked that, even though I was so flawed and knew so little about the bible and barely was getting to know God, that this pastor would talk to me and teach me and help me help others. I started attending his young adults small group that would meet every week to discuss real life situations we were faced with and what the bible said about how to deal with them. In that small group with Pastor David Swift and Pastor Richard Hanley, and in a small bible study with two of my closest friends, God started stirring in me a desire to know even more about Him and His Word. This led me to applying and attending VLI.
I said I was in a place of desperation because I was desperate to know more; more about God, more about Jesus, more about the Bible, and more about theology. I remember telling God that I didn’t want to preach but I would love to gain some more intellectual knowledge about Him for my own personal use. I was in for a huge shock! I didn’t believe that God would call me to preach or teach, let alone lead worship. That first quarter of VLI included the Preaching and Teaching Mentoring though and, with the encouragement of my fellow classmates, pastors at the church, and me half listening, God finally broke through to me and showed me that He had given me a gift of being able to teach His Word and lead people in worshipping Him, and I shouldn’t doubt that or let it go to waste. Even now, after teaching and leading worship consistently for over a year, it still moves me to tears thinking about how insecure and self conscious I was before VLI and how scared I was to open my mouth and teach others what I know! Now I readily accept opportunities to study God’s Word and teach others what God has revealed to me through prayer and study.
Also, if you had heard me play guitar and sing a year ago, you would not believe I am the same person. God has used an amazing and talented worship leader, January Squires, to help guide me and mentor me into a worship leader. Even though I had some talent, I was so afraid that everyone would judge me if I sang off key or couldn’t play the correct strumming pattern, I didn’t want to play guitar in front of anyone other than my best friend who I knew would say I did well no matter what. January heard me before playing during one of our lunch breaks on a weekend intensive and took me under her wing and helped me learn chords and encouraged me to keep practicing and practicing and practicing. I practiced at home and in my small group by leading worship and, after about 6 months, I started leading worship for Acton Rehab.
Throughout my journey with both preaching/teaching and leading worship, God revealed something to me. He told me to “own it!” He showed me that I was letting my insecurities get the best of me and hinder me from serving Him in the way that He designed me to serve Him and that I couldn’t do that any more. I had to own the fact that I am a teacher and a worship leader. I needed to own the fact that I was His daughter and I was made just the way He wanted me to be made and that my past was in the past and has helped shape who I am today. I don’t remember the exact date when I finally realized I owned it but I remember that it was after leading worship for the small group during my two months leading the study in the small group when I took ownership and surrendered my insecurities to God. From that moment forward, fear has not prevented me from preaching, teaching, or leading worship.
That’s not to say I haven’t had my moments when I’ve felt inadequate or not fully up to the challenge but I’ve come to recognize that those are the times when I haven’t been spending much time talking to God, or reading the Bible, or having heart to heart conversations with my accountability partner. While I started attending VLI with a strong relationship with God, it started to deteriorate a little when I got caught up in the studying for exams aspect of VLI. I started trying to cram all this knowledge in my head and lost sight of why I was attending VLI in the first place; for growth and to know God and His Word better.
Then VLI introduced the Spiritual Formation plan and we had a quarter that we learned about spiritual disciplines and it helped me focus again. I started taking more walks to make sure I’d have time alone with God and found that I really enjoyed the practice of Lectio Divina. Meditating on God’s creation and His Word in new ways, as well as talking to Him on our walks, helped build a stronger relationship between God and me. Playing worship by myself just for the sake of worshipping God and not leading others has also helped me remain joyful and in love with God which, in turn, made me enjoy and be able to worship God better while leading others in worship.
After these two years of being in VLI, I feel so much more confident, less insecure, definitely smarter, and definitely closer to God. I feel as if I know Him better because I have a better understanding of His character and a deeper connection than I had before starting VLI. I’ve been broken down and built up for His Glory a few times and He has made me so much stronger than before. This awareness of who I am – His beloved daughter – and who has made me to be pushes away my insecurities and my flaws to help me teach his people and lead them in worship. I still mess up and have times when I ignore Him (or try to at least) but it’s easier now to listen and follow his lead and to get back up when I mess up. God has given me a place within the Church and VLI, through the curriculum, the mentoring, and the spiritual formation plan, has helped me gain the courage and the resources to carry out whatever plan God has for me presently and in the future.