Two years ago I didn’t even know the answer to “Are you Spirit filled?” on the questionnaire about water baptism. I grew up in church, in a Spirit-filled, non-denominational, tongues-speaking church in California. My husband and I met in youth group, around which our social outings were structured. My parents are Saved, my entire family can do proper church-speak. My husband is a volunteer Chaplain.
And yet, I hesitated.
Concerned, Pastor James asked me, do you hear God?
I said, Yes, I think so.
And then it was on with God and me. He invaded my thoughts, my conversation, my ideas, my writing. He butted His way into my teaching, my marriage, my parenting.
It was rather inconvenient.
A few weeks later, my boss called me into his office to review my previous semester’s teaching evaluations. They were less than stellar and I was indignant. He wrote up his recommendation to University administration, not fully supportive, but not against reappointment for the next year based on comments from students. I left in a huff; angry, bitter and offended.
I knew he was right. I was slipping and it showed. I was one year away from a finished Ph.D. with the hope of tenure on the horizon. I had screwed it up because of my attitude and I knew it.
The next week my husband was away, not with me at church on Sunday. I was still leaving pissed off nearly every Sunday, which meant I was not liking what I was hearing – a good thing. If a difficult subject is registering with me, challenging me, my initial reaction is anger. That’s how you know it’s working. Hence the boss meeting. This particular Sunday the worship was particularly strong and it crushed me. Literally, I crumbled in my seat and knelt. He said:
These three words became my internal mantra. Before each class, I paused to repeat these words. I stopped the sarcasm with students and started asking myself what I would want as a student. Clear communication, thoughtful assessment, self-deprecating humor and kindness.
I’ve heard him since then in other ways. Sometimes the voice is firm, but not harsh. Often it’s funny and a little sarcastic, which speaks to me. When I was struggling with understanding headship prior to us getting married, He was very clear.
I distinctly remember walking to the bathroom at lunch after Sunday service at a favorite local cafe. I was angrily churning about Pastor Sonny’s message about the role of women in the church and in marriage. As a professional women and single mom who was currently holding up the world (humility… see it?) I was indignant about being seemingly restricted from whatever roles I chose in our forthcoming marriage. I excused myself for the restroom, noticing the wood floors in the aging downtown building were warped and uneven, silently wiping unspilled tears. Frustrated and confused. I heard:
It’s not your job.
Literally, He stopped me in my tracks halfway to the bathroom. (Moms, you know it takes a lot to stop a woman on this trajectory.) The sentence was visceral, loud and unmistakable. It was not my voice. I felt immediate relief and the mantle of responsibility for our family lift off my shoulders. Oh, look, it’s floating across the restaurant and landing on my soon-to-be-husband. Sucker.
Since then I’ve started listening more. It’s hard to describe how I know it’s not my voice in my head. I can’t control the thoughts, and I know it’s Him. He’s saved me several times since I’ve started practicing my soul-listening skills.
The following year, I was again in my boss’s office for the next teaching evaluation review. His comments were positive and the student assessments were much better. My kind, humble and accountable work showed and it was noted on my letter. Also noted was one area for improvement. As soon as I saw the criticism, my go-to indignant response started to erupt my chest. Immediately, He squashed it and said:
Shut your mouth.
And I did. Later that year, after I was denied a tenure-track position. I was incensed. Sound familiar? I tore off on my motorcycle, leaving a surprised mother-in-law with the kids. As I rode by myself, a rarity, the tears streamed down my face. They kind of hurt at 60 miles per hour (ok, 75 mph). My husband found me coming back and we ended up in a deserted corner of the marina parking lot. It was beautiful and tragic as I had a toddler-approved throw down hissy fit complete with Oprah-style ugly cry in front of my husband. The hubs was cool; he just straddled his motorcycle with arms crossed and watched the show. When I loudly protested at his cool demeanor he said, “I don’t know why you’re so upset. You’re not even supposed to be there anymore.” Meaning, there were better things around the corner. In my head, after I calmed, I heard:
Don’t you trust me?
I’ve learned to listen to that voice. I’ve heard it described as a small, still voice. It’s never small and still with me because I’m stubborn, hardheaded and dense. But, I hear Him more now and it’s a good thing. Recently, I heard Him rather loudly and it actually startled me.
I met a friend for coffee (tea). She shared a verse that kept repeating in her head throughout a difficult and painful situation. Or rather, a fragment of a verse: lean not unto your own understanding. Lean not lean not lean not. I knew this was part of Proverbs 3:5-6. The previous summer in the heat of my job/school pressure, my mother gave me (ok, maybe I said I was borrowing it permanently) an elastic and metal bracelet on which these verses were inscribed. I held on to it through school and work, wondering where my career was going and how this seemingly God-forsaken advanced degree was going to pay off. Tenure track (not even tenure, just the opportunity to apply for a position that would eventually lead to tenure, a necessary career progression in academia) was not happening at my current employer. It was completely out of my control. I’d done everything I could and was still. not. happening. I heard Him.
Again. Don’t you trust me?
Like, haven’t we been here before? Tone. Jesus had tone.
The bracelet reminded me to trust Him and He would work it out. I couldn’t see it. The path was crooked and out of my view. In the natural, I was not entitled to see the plan. Eventually, it worked. It all worked all at one time, in fact, the next summer. BOOM! It’s only of God because, let’s face it, I’m a complete idiot.
Fast forward to living deep in the blessing and sitting with my friend, listening to her pain. She mentions the verse and I hear:
GIVE HER THE BRACELET!
Like, people, He was really loud. Unmistakable. Clear. It actually startled me and I flinched. I took off one of the bracelets, the one that referenced lean not and said, “You mean this verse? Here, take it. It’s yours.”
And that’s how I hear Him now; in reference to others. Loud. Clear. Direct.