In our seventeen years of marriage, Chris and I have lost many things—some important and some not so much. We’ve lost our keys, our way, important documents, our minds, a baby, our jobs, and sometimes hope. Though we’ve never lost our faith, over the years it has certainly been shaken. Last year, Chris and I lost something we didn’t even have yet—a life we might have lived. Buckle in—this is a long one. Sorry, not sorry?
My husband has been in the processes of becoming an ordained pastor in our denomination for several years. Like many other fields, churches are often looking for people with several years of experience—but how can candidates gain experience when everyone only wants people with experience? It’s the typical dilemma for almost anyone going into a new field.
Last fall, a church is southeast Mississippi took an interest in Chris. Being from California, this was not somewhere I was interested in moving—all I could think of was humidity, alligators, snakes, small town, and y’all. Knowing how difficult it is for aspiring pastors to find their first call, I decided I needed to take an interest—you know, put the interests of others ahead of your own. I’m so holy.
Anyway, I looked up the town history, read some blogs, watched a few episodes of a home renovation show filmed there, researched the real estate market, looked up nearby shopping and restaurants, found the closest beach, and looked up the weather. You know—a full workup. When the church called Chris an invited us out for a visit, we had already done the work to open our minds, so we asked the Holy Spirit to open our hearts.
Southern hospitality is no lie. Everyone we met on that four-day trip was incredibly warm. I did not meet one person about whom I thought, “Meh.” Well, maybe just one. Our hosts were absolute gems and we learned everything we needed to know about football culture in Mississippi from their son. Over the course of our stay, it felt like we met half of the church. As we shared meals and swapped stories, Chris and I began to envision life there. I told him, “I really like this place. These could be my people.” I sensed my heart opening to the potential of doing life there long-term.
I remember the moment I knew God was calling us there. All of the sudden, I felt strangely detached from California. As we processed our trip, prayed separately and together, we agreed God was calling us to that place and we were ready to go. As we waited for the call from the pastor, we worked on our tentative plan to move across the country. In our minds, the decision was clear. So you can imagine how incredibly shocked we were when a week later, Chris received a phone call saying they would not be offering him the position.
I don’t know what to do when God says, “Just kidding.”
We cried—it was hard. It was a lot of rejection all at once. The church, the pastor, the elders, they all rejected us; some days it felt as though God rejected us. We knew that wasn’t true, but it certainly felt that way. Rejection has a funny way of making you question everything—don’t believe the lies you tell yourself about yourself in the midst of rejection.
We prayed—lamented really. “God, why did you tell us yes, but they told us no? We are so confused and frankly, we feel betrayed by you. They made the wrong decision—why didn’t you tell them the same thing you told us?” Rejection has a funny way of making you doubt in the dark what God clearly said in the light. When in doubt, return to the source of light, life, and truth. You may not find the clarity you’re after, but the embrace of God is the safest and truest place to be.
We shared the news—that was difficult. We got a lot of advice we didn’t want to hear, some of what we wanted to hear, and a little of what we needed to hear. Rejection has a funny way of making people say weird things—don’t base your entire relationship on how someone responded to the news of your loss. They’re doing the best they can.
Truthfully, rejection is just really funny. It wasn’t the fact that this was the first church to go past the initial interview stage and invite him out to visit; it wasn’t the fact that we recognized what that church needed and believed we were uniquely called and qualified to fill their need; it wasn’t even the fact that many people we met seemed to say (and often actually said) we were needed there—it wasn’t any of those things. It was the reality that our expectations did not match our experience.
About a week later, as I was mulling over the events the previous two weeks in the shower and praying for God to help me understand what was happening, I distinctly heard the Holy Spirit whisper, “They’ll change their minds.” Through tears, I said aloud (angrily), in the shower, to God, “You’re crazy.” But if I can be a little transparent, I’m a little crazy sometimes too and I can dig a low-key crazy vibe. So I shrugged my shoulders and agreed to pray that this church would change their minds.
I don’t know why God said that to me, but I do know God said it. I know what you’re thinking. Kristen, you were just sad and hoping they would realize their mistake and you just want things to be different and so you know it was you who said it, not God. My friends—sometimes when God says something, it only makes sense to you. So, for sixty days I prayed they would change their mind. With the exception of two people, I kept this prayer private. No one else needed to know what I was praying—it was me and God…and Kelsey and Chris.
Around the sixty day mark, God finally said something new—and it seemed crazier than the first thing. I sensed the Lord leading me to reach out personally to both the pastor and our host family. Not through Chris—myself. So I ignored that one and kept praying because I’m not that crazy.
I continued praying for weeks and God’s voice continued getting louder until suddenly I could no longer pray without being bombarded with this absolutely insane message—reach out to them. My ears would just ring. It became clear to me, in both my mind and heart, that this was actually God. Before doing anything, I spoke with Chris. To my utter shock, he gave me his blessing to do what I believed God was asking me to do. Two weeks later (because who does something crazy like immediately—exactly no one), I sent a text message. It wasn’t even two full minutes before I received a response.
I will not share specifically what he said, but the message I received was warm and heartfelt. It affirmed what we believed to be true while we were in Mississippi—we were loved and they were sad. It was enough for me to know we hadn’t misread the signs and I am so glad I text him, but sending one text message was only half of what God asked me to do. I still needed to text the other person. So two weeks later (because who am I to break a good pattern), I sent the other text message. It wasn’t two hours before I received a response affirming the exact same things.
I was done—I had been obedient to do what God asked me to do and it was enough. I had nearly forgotten that God had asked me to pray that they would change their minds. I was just relieved to know our emotional intelligence wasn’t in need of major repair. I didn’t plan on getting a second text message the following day—but I did and it was a reminder that God wasn’t done yet.
Again, without sharing the details of the message, it simply confirmed something God told me in the shower two months before—two people over two thousand miles away were praying for something to change. They had absolutely no idea that I had been praying for this exact moment. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my obedience in this simple act—sending a text message—would catapult me into an intense season of prayer and trust.
To be clear, we were not sitting around waiting for eleven people to change their minds, but we were praying for them by name. I made three really sweet connections while we were out there in October and we keep in touch via text and social media. I felt especially connected to one of them and so when she asked me if there was anything she could be praying for, I asked if we could talk on the phone. We chatted on FaceTime the next day and I shared what had happened. She joined me in prayer—now there were six of us praying. I promise it gets weirder.
On the night before Easter, Chris had a dream about our host and he woke up to a text message from him. I had a sense that one of my new friends needed prayer and after I reached out, she shared openly about an incredibly difficult season she and her husband were walking through. So many mini miracles have happened because of obedience, but there have also been some significant hardships. Mississippi experienced a series of devastating tornadoes and a hurricane, the world shut down due to COVID-19, and many churches are recovering and reorganizing their priorities with regard to staffing needs because of COVID-19.
Just two weeks ago, my friend who shared her struggle with me earlier text me a victory photo—I just wept. I was so humbled and honored to be part of her prayer team, even from over 2,000 miles away. Obedience made that moment possible. I will never regret sending that scared text to the pastor and our host and I’ll never forget receiving a text sharing news of answered prayers—never.
I cannot go into the nitty gritty details of every small thing that happened between the first “no” and now, but I will tell you this: the answer right now is still no. It may be no forever. Does that mean God lied to me? No. It means that God isn’t done. From this experience, I learned the value of obedience. I learned that sometimes being obedient feels uncomfortable and that it doesn’t mean I will get what I hope for. It means that God is still with me—and always will be.
I still hope the church in Mississippi changes their mind, but even more so, I pray that we remain acutely aware of God’s presence, guidance, faithfulness, love, and grace as we walk forward in faith, whether that path leads us to Mississippi or somewhere else.