In 2015, my husband and I told our friends and family that we would be moving from Seattle, Washington to Birmingham, Alabama so that we could attend Highlands College and in 2016, I walked into my first class purely on faith. Although I had confidently moved across the country, leaving the only place I had ever lived on the premise that I was called to the ministry life, I was hesitant and unsure if I really had anything to offer or if my role would be more supportive of my husband’s evident call to serve the Lord. But two years later, I am proud to say that I am walking out of my Highlands College journey a different person.
The first semester brought me a lot of clarity on what my role in ministry would be. It was during this semester that God showed me my calling and I spent a good deal of time working on developing myself and my gifts and talents. My second semester showed me the secret sauce of how Church of the Highlands is so successful, and I found peace in enjoying the process of growth. Within my third semester, I learned what it means to have a Biblical worldview and think creatively. And to conclude, my fourth semester taught me how to care for the hurting and solidified the foundation that would be built on for the rest of my life.
Although these snippets are great, I feel I cannot do my two-year experience justice without expanding on each one further.
My teachers in the first semester talked about steps I needed to take to be an effective leader. Like I said, I was extremely insecure in my calling – questioning if I really had a call on my life to impact others, and I needed a lot of direction and clarity as I was embarking into ministry – an area I never felt qualified for. But within a few weeks of classes starting, I was attending my first ReCreate women’s conference and in between sessions I was walking back to my seat and looking at the stage. At that moment, I felt the Holy Spirit say, “You are going to speak at a women’s conference one day.” I was shocked, but I could also see where God had gifted me to fulfill this. From then on, I became more motivated to learn and grow, knowing I was unprepared in that moment to fulfill this. When Steve Blair shared in class a month later, “Stop trying so hard. Quit trying to be all things to all people. You need to find your sweet spot.” I made a decision to really pursue God and I left each class with pages of notes and started implementing what I had learned in my life. I began to see where God was working in my life and had obviously called me to reach others. I was shown by Matt Minor that “my gift, although it fulfills me, is not for me. Ministry is the intersection of my spiritual gift and what other people need.” I struggled for a long time how I could use my gift of speaking in the church. In the meantime, I kept finding myself serving in the nursery, loving on babies and encouraging their mamas. In my fourth semester, I would come to see that I kept ending up in that department because I was designed to have a heart for families and I find so much joy in caring for the babies while Mom and Dad are growing in Christ which makes their family better. And seeing the smile on their faces when I tell them something special that their child did during service fills my cup.
Furthermore, something that I was taught in my first semester that I still strongly implement today is how I spend my time. Pastor Chris said, “Your success in life is determined by your daily agenda.” Since then, I have put a high value on my time. Although it was challenging at first, it really helped me to write down what was important to me and put those things on my calendar before anything else. Steve Blair said, “God’s stuff is always simple, it’s just not easy to do.” Implementing a Sabbath, for example, was not easy to fit into our schedule as first, but over the course of the past two years, it is now a very anticipated day of the week for our family.
Within my second semester, I got to take a peek behind the curtain of how Church of the Highlands runs their church through their vision and how they keep their procedures simple and how they create their culture. This grew my love and respect for the church and its leadership. I also learned the importance of relationships and how to keep them healthy and thriving in and outside of ministry.
During this season, I was a new mom and was really struggling with how I was going to fulfill my calling along with the next 18+ years of motherhood. I felt an urgency to be in full-time ministry immediately and I did not see how I could be in ministry and be a parent. But Beth Cunningham said, “God will never call you to something at the expense of what He requires of you.” I found a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders when I realized that although I was called to be a speaker, it would be in His timing and for right now, I was required to be a mother. Sometime later, during my third semester, while talking with a mentor, I would learn that “being in ministry” does not necessarily mean you work for a church, rather it is an outpouring of your life. Pastor Layne said, “You don’t have a personal life and a work/ministry life. It’s not separate. It’s just life.” A great example of this is my blog. I overcame my fear of blogging in August of 2015 when I decided it would be an easier way to keep friends and family in Seattle in the loop of what was going on in our lives. While being in Highlands College, it has morphed into a way for me to share practices and principles my family has cultivated. During 21 Days of Prayer and Fasting in January of 2018, I asked God to show me what my ministry was supposed to be. A week into the 21 Days, the Holy Spirit told me to “just keep blogging.” The statement that Beth Cunningham made – “God will never call you to something at the expense of what he requires of you.” – rang in my ear when I heard the Holy Spirit. God wanted to use my season of motherhood to minister to others, and I have been told by good friends that my blog has brought a lot of encouragement to them and their family. Pastor Beth’s encouragement has been pivotal in my growth as I navigated my place in ministry, and I am so thankful for her wisdom!
My third semester started off by realizing that not every Christian has a Biblical worldview. I was fascinated to see the intricate details that create your worldview that I was blissfully unaware of. Despite the circumstances overcoming our world today that leave us all to have our own thoughts and opinions, Pastor Layne said, “the circumstances on earth do not change the character of God.” Furthermore, Gina Cox stated, “Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.” Overall, the class was eye-opening and just because you are a Christian does not necessarily mean you have a Christian worldview.
I was also extremely inspired by the classes we had on creativity. I have always thought of myself as a creative person, but this class taught me how to cultivate that and steps I could take to reach my full creative potential. Mattye Woodcock said, “turn your ‘if only’ statements into ‘what if’ statements.” I found myself dreaming more during this semester. Creating a “bucket list” and writing things on it that seems really farfetched, but with God are possible.
And finally, my fourth semester of Highlands College taught me how to care for others. Casey Floyd said that “pastoral care is not black and white. It is very gray.” Casey encouraged us with every interaction, whether in pastoral care or in our everyday relationships to “encourage, share a scripture, pray, and give next steps.”
To conclude the semester, I was reminded of all that I had learned over my two-year experience and was refreshed with some thoughts from our first and second semesters. Reminders, like we need to manage our time and resources because how we spend our time and money, shows what is most important to us. Chris Hanna said that “God doesn’t bless disorder,” and it is critical to remember that “God does not look good when we arrive late or are unprepared.” These statements reminded me of the importance of my time and how leaving margin in my schedule will allow for clarity.
In summary, Bubba Massey said, “If you rush the foundation, you risk the rest of the building being shaky, uneven or broken.” Although these past two years have been long, hard and exhausting, Highlands College has provided me with such a firm foundation for my heart and life that any ministry that comes from me will be far better than if I had embarked without this experience. My first day at Highlands College I was new to Alabama, pregnant with my first child, and I could not confidently tell you I was called to be in ministry, but on my last day of class, not only do I call Alabama home and have two gorgeous daughters, but I am confident that I have been chosen to be in ministry. I can assertively tell you that I love being a vessel for God to reach the hurting, to be the hands and feet of Jesus by encouraging families through what the Lord has been revealing to my own family.
Each week I learned something new, and most nights I left class feeling like my mind was going to explode from all the wisdom I had just absorbed. Because of Highlands College, I am a better wife, mom, friend, employee, leader, and woman. Highlands College changed my life, and I am forever grateful for the wisdom and blessing God has put on this academy.