Early in my college career, I knew that the Lord was calling me to attend seminary. Since the first nudging, I felt as if He was directing me to earn my seminary masters in New Orleans. During my senior year of undergrad, the collegiate ministry at my local church was having a prayer gathering and revival. I opened myself up to the Lord. I got on my hands and knees and prayed, “Lord! I will go and do whatever you ask of me in order to proclaim your Gospel!” Side note, when you pray big, be ready. God is faithful to answer you. In that moment of praying before the Lord, I felt as if God wanted to me to go to Dallas, Texas for seminary instead of South Louisiana. I remember saying with tears in my eyes, “What?! God, do you not realize that I am from Houston? I don’t want to go to Dallas! The only thing good that comes out of Dallas is I-45. Please, Lord, please! Let me go to New Orleans!” I didn’t want to seem like Jonah and go in a different direction than what God was calling me, even though I knew they needed Christians in Dallas; I just really didn’t want to go to, ugh, Dallas. I wept bitterly praying that God would give me His stamp of approval to study Jesus in the Big Easy. In a gentleness that only the Lord can do, I heard Him whisper, “Tiffany, you can go wherever you want, but just know that the journey in New Orleans is going to be hard.” I got up from my spot on the floor where my tears had fallen. I felt the peace of God, almost like a blessing to go forth. I was going to New Orleans.
I graduated in December from college and started my seminary career in January. Winter in the south isn’t harsh, but I was in for a rude awakening. New Orleans can have a dark undertone that can sweep you in. It’s a lovely city, don’t get me wrong, but if you have a struggle in a certain area of life, New Orleans has a way to allow you to give in. As I was studying all about the Bible in my classes, I was slowly not living for the Lord. In my mind, the Bible became more like textbook instead of the Living Word of God. This was the first time I was attending any type of Christian educational institution, so to study and read the Bible for a grade was a new challenge for me. My relationship with God’s word changed in my eyes though He remained consistent. I no longer read the Bible to grow in my relationship with the Lord. I read it to check it off my homework assignments. This was the foothold Satan used to have me become numb and disengaged to my studies and God’s voice.
The semester finished, and I decided to stay in New Orleans and work. I attended church and hung out with my friends. I didn’t really grow in my faith, but I didn’t really fall either. I just was. I was numb to life around me. Working in the French Quarter at a restaurant, I would go out after my shift with my coworkers, then go home and watch American Idol to vote for Carrie Underwood. Pretty lame, but I guess it could have been worse. I just wanted to be accepted and fit in, regardless of who I was with.
When the new school year rolled around, our campus president hosted a prayer service for the city of New Orleans. We prayed God would bring great revival. We prayed He would open the eyes of those in the city in order for His name to be proclaimed. We asked that God would rain down His Holy Spirit and flood the streets with His praise. We wept bitterly for the Lord to bring revival. We prayed big, and God heard us. God met with us. God was on the move. We thought we were ready for whatever the Lord brought our way. I felt connected to God in a way that I hadn’t in a very long time. I left that service excited and ready to see what He was going to do.
Two weeks later, hurricane season got into full swing. I evacuated to my parents home in Houston with my roommate the Saturday before the storm hit. I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal, so I only brought five days of clothes and all my textbooks in order to study. Surely, we were going to be back in New Orleans by the next Saturday, but then Monday came. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina had ripped through my city, causing the levees to break, flooding the streets. I was not going to be back in a week. I didn’t know if I was going to go back at all. My life became a whirlwind. I was angry, mainly at God, for allowing this to happen. I was finally growing in Him, and now my life was more flipped than the Fresh Prince of Bel Aire.
I didn’t know what was happening. I had plans. Plans to attend seminary. Plans to be with my friends in NOLA. Plans to hang out with some cute boys from my classes. Plans to fit in. None of my plans had evacuate from a flooded New Orleans and start plan B. I did, however, have a plan to attend Catalyst leadership conference in Atlanta in October 2005 with my roommate and other friends, so I made plans to go to Georgia.
Catalyst was amazing. There was so much passion and zeal for what the Lord was doing. Now mind you, I was still struggling with what just happened in my life. I was like a canoe floating in the ocean longing for someone or something to be tethered to, but the conference provided a moment to feel normal again. The speakers were amazing, and one in particular got me fired up: Erwin McManus. This guy spoke with such passion and fervor for the Lord. My hand actually hurt from all the notes I took during his talk. I turned to my friend, half jokingly, and said, “Man, I wish I could be his student, like an intern or something.” To which Joe replied, “He has a program at Mosaic. Just go on his site and apply.”
What?! Could this really be happening? Did I have to go through one of the worst natural disasters to hit the USA in order to study under Erwin? To give the abridged version of the process: I applied for the internship, got interviewed many times, and was offered one of five open positions to serve at Mosaic with Mr. McManus. O.M.Goodness. When I got the call, I praised the Lord. I did a happy dance. I was beyond stoked that I would be moving out to California, but… I didn’t have a peace. You know, that nagging feeling like a child pulling on your shirt saying, “Wait. We aren’t finished.”
I prayed to the Lord and asked for wisdom. I turned down the internship. I could feel Jesus saying, “Go back to New Orleans. I told you it would be hard. Roll up your sleeves; we have work to do.” I told my peers about turning down the position and moving back to Louisiana. I had one friend tell me, jokingly, that I was praying to the wrong God. It didn’t look right on paper. I had what so many of my classmates would have wanted, to study under a big name, but I wanted to be right by His name. I wouldn’t be running to an internship; I would be running away from the hurt people who needed to see that God didn’t give up on them. I didn’t plan on what happened, but I’m thankful God had it all planned out.
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).” I thought I knew what I wanted. I wanted to be important. I wanted the fancy role and to be admired for my resume. Thankfully, The Lord knows me better than I know myself (See Psalm 139). I had plans, but how I would have orchestrated them wouldn’t have been for my good or God’s glory. I prayed for things that I wanted, but the way God answered them, I never would have planned. I went back to New Orleans, and God used me to mentor teenagers, plant a church, help locals reopen restaurants, and serve young singles all over the city to connect with Jesus, just to name a few things. I was part of His purpose. I connected to the Lord deeply, relied on Him and not my studies, and grew in my knowledge and relationship with Jesus. Not only did I get to be creative and help be a part of the rebuilding of an amazing city, I met my husband who is from Michigan at a worship gathering. I wanted all those things, but I thought I had to run away to California to get it. The internship wasn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t what God wanted for me. He had a different plans for my life for His glory. One purpose for my life was to learn lessons that I’m not sure I would have grasp unless I lived them out. I was used by God to make an impact in ways I never would have dreamed, and I am still being used by Him in Michigan, a place that wasn’t even on my radar in 2005. This journey hasn’t been easy, but I’ve never been alone. Satan will still bring up that I could have taken the “prestigious” road and gone to California. I’ll admit, I struggle with wondering the “what if” at times when I watch an Erwin McManus talk. I honestly believe that the enemy will use those “what if” moments to have us look backwards and cause us wonder instead of looking forward to the Lord and gaze in amazement. In those moments, I hold on to God, by reminding myself by what is in His Word:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.” – Proverbs 3:5-8
I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I know Who holds tomorrow. I don’t know all the ends and outs of my life thus far, but all I asked when I first trusted Jesus was to live an adventure. The best adventure stories are the ones you don’t know how it will all work out, but it does. With any adventure, there will be times when I will need healing and refreshment. I won’t lean on my understanding, rather I will trust the One who invites me to be a part of His purpose, even if He would call me to Dallas. Because, as hard as it may be to believe, I would rather walk to Dallas, than walk in disobedience.
Photo courtesy of Mosaic.