March 17 2021 is a day that’ll probably always be etched on my heart. It was the day my mum unexpectedly went into cardiac arrest and died. I don’t remember much of that day as in the immediate aftermath, a weird fog of shock seemed to descend but I do remember two distinctly life-altering moments.
The first occurred as we were driving away from the hospital having just been to collect my mum’s earthly possessions. As we drove out of the hospital car park, I remember saying to my brother, ‘I want to do this well’. I don’t think I even knew what I meant but looking back now, I realise I was saying, ‘I want some good to come from this’. I wasn’t sure how such a thing was possible but I wanted, needed to know that my God could somehow bring good from it all. The second moment came later that evening when I’m pretty sure I encountered two angels but I wrote about that in another blog post ‘When my mum went to heaven’.
It’s been two years since that day and looking back now I can see how that was ground zero for me. Losing someone you love is the hardest thing in the world and yet knowing Mum was in Heaven shifted our perspective in unique ways. In many ways it was also the start of something new, something desperately exciting. I just couldn’t see it yet.
To provide a bit of background, I grew up in a ministry family. My parents were ministers, my brother and his wife are ministers, my sister-in-law’s parents are ministers…ministry runs through the blood of our family. I’ve always been involved in some kind of ministry too, served on worship teams, preached, worked for Christian organisations and up until early 2021, as far as I was concerned, that was enough thankyouverymuch.
But then all of a sudden the happy, settled life I thought I’d created was disrupted by this ugly great fist of grief. In addition to losing mum, I also started to oversee the care for my dad who has a chronic health condition. In those early days I often wondered how on earth I’d cope with a busy full time job, my own life, all the responsibilities with dad plus the additional issue of living 45 miles away from him.
Initially I started off by splitting my week between my house and dad’s and because I was there so often I figured I might as well join the Elim church (that at the time), dad and another elder were leading. At that point, the country was beginning to emerge from the lockdowns and the church was still meeting online but we could sense that people were eager to get back into the physical building. And so with plenty of fan fare, we excitedly flung open the church doors and once again began meeting in person. That first Sunday back, worshipping together was like balm to all our weary souls.
Over the next couple of months, I was able to call in the help of some of my marketing buddies and together we rebranded the church, even hiring a cherry picker to remove old dilapidated signs from the eaves of the roof. Some other much needed renovations began and I could feel life returning not just to our church but to me too.
A little glowing ember had started to burn in my heart. It was something I couldn’t quite describe but as the weeks went on, there was this growing restlessness to do more, to be more, to share more. We were experiencing such joy and life and peace in the presence of Jesus but I was restless and impatient because I just needed to let others know too. I’d discovered how brutally short life is and how quickly it can be over and there was this growing urgency that I guess (looking back) can only be described as a calling. I’m explaining this badly, I know! But those are the only words I have.
Fast forward to the bright Spring morning when I was sitting in my dad’s home one day idly flicking through my phone. The ‘ember’ was burning a hole in my guts and I found myself googling Bible colleges. Maybe that’s what I needed? Maybe I needed something meaty to get my teeth into, something to banish the gnawing pesky restlessness?
Over the years I’d always been interested in the idea of Bible College but when I occasionally looked, I would quickly write off the idea usually because the time and cost commitment was just too high. On this day in particular though I ended up on the website for Regents, the Elim Bible college and my eyes landed on a one year part-time theology course and whoa, I could feel the fizz of excitement growing. Was this it? Was this what my burning guts were pointing me to?
I read through all the details, discovered I could do it over two years (even better), it was affordable and finally after a long series of events I ending up applying for the course. The following October just seven months after mum died, I started my first module and from the get go, I was gripped. I’ve always loved my Bible but flip, understanding how it was put together, how to correctly interpret it, how to really read it, was utterly mesmerising. I’d sit in the (very cold!) lecture theatre scribbling down notes, taking photos of my notes to send to similarly nerdy Bible friends and later we’d have long discussions over all these new revelations. Everything was coming alive in ways I hadn’t thought possible.
Of course now I was officially a shiny theological student, it didn’t take long for the questions to start.
Are you going to be a pastor?
Are you going to go into ministry?
My response: No I flipping am NOT!
But why…why go to theological college??
Me: Because I WANT to. And that is that. End of discussion.
And so it continued throughout that first year, me in stubborn ass mode, pushing back the questions and pretty much laughing at the very idea. But despite college, despite all the learning and the reading, the restlessness continued to grow.
By this point, church was doing really well. Services were thriving and we’d formed an alliance with another bigger Elim church which would soon grow into an incredible partnership with us eventually officially coming under their leadership. All of a sudden, all sorts of new possibilities began to form and the future was exciting.
But still there it was, gnaw, gnaw, gnaw….until one Sunday morning on my way to church, I had a worship playlist on in the car and the song ‘Change my heart oh God’ came on. As I sang along to it, I realised I was actually praying it too. I began to say it out loud, ‘Lord, if you really want me to do this then ‘change my heart’. I’ll do it, if you want me to…but change my heart’.
Yeah, that was a bit of a daft, dangerous prayer!
A few weeks later, our senior pastor rang to ask if I’d consider being part of the local leadership team at church. In many respects I was already doing it but this was a way of making it ‘official’. I was really happy to keep on serving in this way and then at the end of the phone call without planning any of it, I heard myself saying out loud, ‘at some point could I chat to you about applying for minister in training?’
As the call ended, I remember sitting on my sofa, phone in hand, gob open in shock. WHAT HAD I JUST SAID??? Where did THAT COME FROM???
But as I slowly processed and mulled and prayed, I remembered that dangerous prayer in the car a couple of weeks beforehand; ‘change my heart oh God’. It would seem the creator of the universe had taken me seriously.
A few weeks after that, we met on Zoom to chat and I can only say that I was filled with so much excitement. I’d done my research and knew it was possible to combine minister-in-training with a full time job (which I love) and so with all the pieces slowly falling into place, my heart was fizzing over at all I felt God was showing me, saying to me. And so with some trembling, nervous enthusiasm I began the long application process. WHAT WAS I DOING? This is HUGE! But yet at every step, just as I got to a (metaphorical) door, it would spring wide open in front of me and so I’d take the next step. I shared privately with a few close friends and they nodded (and laughed a little), ‘yeah Paula, we told you’.
Ok, ok, ok! Apparently everyone else saw it and I didn’t…once again it seems I was the last to know.
It took me nearly three days but I finally submitted all my paperwork and then began a long wait to see if I’d be offered an interview. Finally after around three months of me see-sawing between ‘yes it’ll happen’ and ‘no it obviously won’t’, I received a date for an interview.
In March (10 days before the second anniversary of mum), I spent two days being rigorously grilled, poked and prodded by a group of very wise leaders. Over the three weeks and one day since the interview (not that I was counting), I refreshed my email box repeatedly. Maybe today would be the day? No? Maybe tomorrow? Ok, no? Maybe the next tomorrow then? What if they said no? What then?
I felt God speak to me during this time too reminding me that I shouldn’t ever despise the waiting. Waiting is a time where we can grow our muscles, strength and faith for the assignment ahead. And he also reminded me in a beautiful way at just how far he’d brought me and our family in the space of two years.
The unexpected death of mum could have shaped our lives badly with the many life changes it brought and yes, it’s been really, really hard but at the same time, out of death has come new life. Our hearts have been revived, beautiful new friendships and relationships have been formed, the church is alive, well, thriving and bursting with plans for the future, I’ve (nearly) completed Bible college and perhaps most interestingly, God has transformed my stubborn ‘no’ into an enthusiastic, whole-hearted, bursting with life and excitement YES. Only God could do something like that.
And oh yesterday after approximately 528 hours (honestly I was not counting…ok, ok, I was), I received an email inviting me to join the Elim Minister In Training programme.
Going back to the very beginning of this story just over two years ago, God’s hand was on the journey all along. Even on the day mum died and as I mumbled in shock to my brother ‘I want to do this well’, God was preparing a way ahead, laying pathways for new doors to be opened. He planted me in a loving, thriving church which gave me the boldness to try out Bible college and surrounded me with wise, loving people who have cheered me (and our family) on every step of the way.
What’s next? Well, three years of training (alongside my regular day job) and a brand new adventure.
Out of death has come new life and God has transformed my ‘no’ into a yes.