The God of Second Chances

Karen’s Story:  As I picked up the phone to call the registrar, I thought about my detour to Tarshish and hoped I could still catch the ferry back to Nineveh. Like Jonah, I ran away from what God assigned me to do. Now I wanted to fix it, but I worried my disobedience had exhausted God’s patience.

It began the summer before both of my kids headed away to school. I know kids grow up, go to college, and find jobs, but I hated the quiet house.

Feeling adrift, I sought God’s direction for the next chapter of my life. As I perused my kids’ course catalogs, I realized I wanted to take all of the classes. Then it occurred to me––I could go back to school.

But what would I study? I had a passion for the Bible, but what would I do with a seminary degree?

The next week, I heard an author talking on the radio about his time at seminary. The way he and his seminary colleagues demonstrated the love of Christ to the homeless community impressed me. The school even had an online degree program for people like me. Later that month, I signed up for a free class to make sure my dusty brain still worked. The prospect of attending seminary felt exciting. After praying, I believed God had given me the desire to go. With my husband and friends cheering me on, I completed my application.

A month later, an acceptance letter arrived with a book written by one of the seminary’s professors. But soon after the letter, doubts began to taunt me: Why do you need a degree? You could just learn this stuff on the internet. Do you know how much seminary costs? You’re too old and not nearly smart enough. What if you fail?

Buying into these excuses, I deferred for a semester. Before I knew it, a year had slipped by.

I finally received a polite letter that said if I ever wanted to attend seminary, I would need to reapply. I had nearly forgotten the idea. As I drifted further from God’s call, I had the audacity to complain, “God, why won’t you give me anything meaningful to do?”

That spring, my mom wanted to take a trip to Scotland to celebrate her 80th birthday. On a Sunday morning there, we attended a church within walking distance before our excursion to the Highlands.

Instead of his original topic, the pastor preached about sticking with the plan God gave you for your life. Five minutes in, my mouth turned into a desert, the seat hardened like cement, and my turtleneck became a brillo pad around my neck. Could someone please turn on the air conditioning?

By the time the service ended, I knew I needed to go to seminary.

When we landed stateside, the semester had already begun. Like Jonah after three days in the belly of a large fish––bedraggled, repentant and scared––I called the registrar, explained my situation and begged for re-admittance.

As he did with Jonah, God gave me a second chance. I soon found myself engrossed and overwhelmed in academics. Fearing failure in one course, I wailed to my husband “I might have to drop this class!” Having a bit of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) made it difficult for me to write papers efficiently. While researching, I would travel down interesting tributaries––not realizing I had drifted off course. In the end, I often needed to eliminate much of what I’d written because, although fascinating, it had nothing to do with the assigned topic.

To remedy my disorganized tendencies, I took a class in logic. When the textbook arrived––replete with strange symbols and equations––I wondered if I had made a mistake. I wrestled with the homework for hours each week, while some students finished in 20 minutes. Despite the difficult equations, I loved learning to build logical arguments which helped me defend the Christian faith.

I enjoyed the projects requiring me to put what I learned into action, such as having conversations with unbelievers about faith. I enjoyed using creativity to express what I learned. For example, I told the story of the entire Bible from the perspective of an assortment of odd characters – among them a bricklayer at the tower of Babel and a rock badger who lived on Noah’s ark.

The doubts and excuses proved wrong. Many classmates had had previous careers, and some had grey hair like me. If I had tried to learn solely over the internet, I would have missed valuable interactions with others. I needed the accountability of a class to push me through the required reading, projects and papers. As for fear of failing, I now know if God calls me to something, he will give me the grace to finish it––not in my own strength, but in his.

This past December I completed my degree. God’s next plan for my life remains uncertain, but even if seminary only served to deepen my relationship with him, I have been blessed. Unlike Jonah, my re-direction involved flying over – not landing in – the ocean, but we both learned God’s grace gives second chances.

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