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my cloud of witnesses

i had it all planned out.  well, not planned, per se; but certainly the way had been paved.  my grandfather had started an accounting firm, all four of his sons (including my Dad) had worked there, and it would be a no-brainer for me to get my foot in that door and continue the family business.  i took accounting in high school and liked the balance and symmetry of what i was learning at that level.  there was a crisp cleanness to it, what with all those little rectangles, like little mouths just waiting to be fed an endless stream of numbers. 

i did well at it, and when it came time to choose a college major, which for all the world to me felt like carving out the name of a career in stone, a stone that you  would then carry with you in one way or another for the rest of your life; i chose accounting.  but it was only a few weeks into "Accounting 1" that first semester at grove city college when i realized that i wasn't really convinced that i wanted to do this for the rest of my life.  as i began to ask a most terrifying question, "if not this, then what?" i started asking people who knew me best what i would be good at.  i wrote letters to high school companions spread out across the country now in college.  i sent emails to my mentors, my youth pastor and some volunteers from my church who had invested part of their lives in me.  i called old friends.  all of this reaching out to say this: "i've been feeling like i am being led to do ministry of some kind, whatever that means.  i just wondered if you thought this would be a good fit for me."  without fail, every friend and mentor gave me the same response: an enthusiastic and robust 'yes!' 

you would think that i would have found enough reason at this point to consider changing my course of studies, but one major hurdle remained.  i had yet to tell my parents, whom i thought would be devastated not only that i was changing my major, but that i was in effect leaving the idea of committing to the family business.  i entertained ridiculous notions that my parents would think i was copping out somehow, or that i was taking the easy route (what was i thinking?).  in the end, i sat at an old wobbly wooden table in the student union and nervously blurted it out: "i think God is calling me to ministry. i need to change my major from accounting."  and they didn't yell and they didn't freak out and they didn't even look surprised.  it may not have been their exact words, but they both responded with something like, "we wondered how long it would be until you figured it out.' 

what a cloud of witnesses. 

that is one of the acmes of my "call story."  it started long before that, of course, with my family's own journey in faith, and continued with my experiences in my home church and youth group.  God had been at work in me long before my freshman year at college.  but it was there when i finally started to face it, but it was too terrifying for me to face alone.  and that's where that cloud of witnesses came in.  from pastors to teachers (i had even contacted my high school calculus teacher!) to friends and grandparents and parents, every single one affirmed that my journey did not likely lead to accounting, or at least it wouldn't end there.  the signs i had thought were leading me there were signs that i was misreading and self-imposing.  the truth was God was practically shouting for me to follow a different way, though i couldn't hear it for a long time. 

i am thinking of this today because the United Methodist Church's general board of higher education and ministry is holding a conference called Exploration 2013 in denver this november, aimed at helping young people understand or come to terms with the calling God has on them.  i believe God is calling each and every one of us, but how we hear and respond to that call, whether to being a better plumber or pastor or pediatrician, is really the question.  this conference will help young people discern those types of questions, and affirm the call God has on them.  if any of my readers are feeling called to ministry in some way, i would encourage you to talk to those who know you best, and to consider trying to attend this conference (i know scholarships are available to help with the cost).  if i didn't have the input and guidance of others, i might not be a pastor today.  i might still be filling boxes with  numbers, wrestling with that feeling in my gut, urging me to step out beyond my comfort zone and start a journey with an unknown ending. 

i am so glad i had others to affirm and reinforce and tell me how obtuse i had been to not see it until i did!  i pray such a cloud of witnesses for you. 


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