September 14, 2015
It’s week 2 of school. Monday night, and I am sitting at a Starbucks because the electricity has gone off at my apartment. It is time to tell my story. Just as the ongoing power outage has forced me out of my place of comfort, so this past summer has been to me like a dark tunnel that ultimately left me scrambling for the light and propelled towards a deeper discovery of God and myself.
If you are wondering why I am at Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) right now, for my second year—even though I had recently announced that I was not coming back—then this blog is to help clear up the confusion. If you’re just here for the story, well then, enjoy.
But I must give fair warning: If you have a perception of me as this perfect Christian girl, who loves the Bible, has never doubted God and always has great faith, you will be sorely disappointed. I’m learning not to care about your disappointment. I did struggle for a bit, wondering if I should even post this, but at the end of the day, I’d rather not base my decisions on fear. So here it goes:
A Rude Awakening
The story begins some time around May of this year. Our first year class was graduating, and I had made up my mind that, yes, I am definitely coming back for second year. First year was awesome, but it’s not enough. I need more—more equipping, more healing, more soaking. I’m not ready to go back to normal life. No way.
So I approached the summer this way. For the first half of the summer, I focused on finishing up all of my Kickstarter rewards and shipping them out to my backers. Then I went on a mission trip to Hong Kong and Taiwan for a month.
I didn’t feel so good. I was starting to feel a lull in my spirit. Oh no, the Bethel pixie dust was starting to wear off. I wasn’t reading my Bible or praying in the Spirit. Did I have the time? Sure. But did I want to? Not at all. I had jumped from Bethel heaven straight into lukewarm hell (if that even makes sense).
I realized something: During the entire year of first year, I didn’t go into the Prayer House once. “What?!” you might gasp. “You mean, the prayer house on top of the hill at Bethel campus that anyone and everyone who comes to Bethel wants to go soak in because they love God and are so grateful to be there?” Yes, that’s right. (Our first year campus is a few minutes drive from Bethel church—lame excuse.)
And on top of that (and this is confession time), I didn’t read my Bible for most of the year. I think there is a reason for that, though not a very valid reason, I admit. I had read the entire New Testament within the first three months of school, so I sort of “allowed” myself to take a break from reading the Bible, for the most part, for the rest of the year.
(Some of you might ask, how did you get away with not reading the Bible at a ministry school? Let’s just say, it can be done. And I read what I had to, in order to get the work done.)
It did take a toll. As I mentioned earlier, I started to feel my spirit draining the minute I got home. I had jumped straight into work (for my Kickstarter): painting during the day, songwriting in the evenings, brainstorming at night. Nonstop for a month. Then I jumped straight on a plane and began doing all things “spiritual,” i.e. conferences and missions and youth camp.
But you see, I was used to that. Besides the fact that I had just spent nine months soaking in Kingdom culture and being pumped up and empowered to take on the world, I was used to acting vibrant and alive on the outside but being completely dry and dead on the inside. This was my condition before coming to Bethel last year, and this was my condition while going through Bethel, first year. I was performing. Not for myself, but for you. For my classmates. For my leaders. For God.
Am I saying that I didn’t gain anything from first year? No, not at all! Even behind my thick mask of performance and approval addiction, God’s love was able to trickle in and do some serious work. The change I experienced in first year is undeniable. I learned to love myself and grow in confidence. I learned that God really does value my dreams, and He is faithful to provide. I learned skills for communication and how to build a community that I hadn’t known before.
I learned all of these things, and yet, these were just “things.” Somehow I was able to go through school, learning all about this Person—God—who seems so amazing, so generous, so kind, and yet not have a vibrant ongoing relationship with Him in the private place.
Eventually I began to believe that I could get by without it—without intimacy with God. No one would have to know. I don’t think I thought that way intentionally; I just believed it to be true. I thought my private life didn’t really matter as long as I learned all the tools I needed to stay useful and valuable in church community. I just needed to be needed. I just wanted to be accepted.
But that plan fell apart quickly.
When summer rolled along, I quickly realized that pretending at home was a whole different scenario than pretending at Bethel. In fact, I couldn’t pretend at home. Home was the one place where my genuine condition could never be hidden well. Everything came spilling out.
Past sins and temptations came thundering back into my life. I collapsed into self-loathing and self-hatred. My disinterest in the Word turned into full-on escape from anything spiritual. I became angry. I had a temper. I lashed out. In full honesty, I scared myself.
I wanted to quit. I wanted to run away, literally.
But I couldn’t, because I still had a mask to preserve. So I stayed.
At least, I had thought, I will be going back to second year. Everything will be fine then. Everything will be back to “normal” then.
A Sign From God?
Then came time for my roommates and I to start looking for apartments in Redding. It was August—a little later than when we had started applying for apartments last year, but we weren’t worried. If God really wanted us to come back, He would provide a place for us. Turns out, we really needed that faith, because every apartment and townhouse we were interested in, was taken. There seemed to be no available apartments in Redding, and nothing was opening up until at least October.
I shared the glum news with my parents. I didn’t think much of it; in my mind, I was prepared to sleep on someone’s couch if I had to. They, of course, looked at it differently. My mom’s first reaction was, “What if this is a sign from God? What if you’re not supposed to go back to Bethel?”
Now, remember, my spiritual life was pretty down at that point. Anyone else seemed to hear God better than I did. So I pounced on it like a hungry lion. From what I could see, there seemed to be no sign of God in my life at that point. So, “a sign from God”? Sure, I’ll take it! Even if the “sign” was going against my gut feeling that I had since the beginning of summer, this was a sign from God. It’s not like an angel had appeared to me telling me to go to second year. No, that did not happen. So this must be God.
Almost immediately, I started brainstorming for my coming year, what it would look like if I stayed in Fremont. In all honesty, I didn’t like what I saw, but I kept with it. I told myself, if this is God’s will, I don’t need to like it.
I met with my senior pastor and associate pastor. They wanted to know why I wanted to go back to second year, but even I didn’t even know the reason anymore. I felt disconnected from God. I thought, I don’t hear God, so does it matter what I think? I gave some lousy reasons, and even I didn’t think they were reason enough to go back. Unsurprisingly, my pastors suggested I stay in Fremont. They began to dream and make plans for me, saying, “Melody, if you stay in Fremont, you could do all of these things…” They mentioned travelling to Asia, leading worship at conferences and camps, and composing musicals—all of the things I would have been excited about… I should have been excited about, had my heart been in a different place.
But my heart was not in the right place; my heart was unhealthy. I had signed my life over to my parents and my pastors, whether they knew it or not. I treated their words as holy manna from heaven. I didn’t feel the need to discern; I didn’t feel like I had the ability. I allowed their words and ideas, unbeknownst to them, slowly coil around my body like chains that grew tighter and tighter until blood vessels popped and lungs collapsed. I couldn’t breathe.
Suddenly, I needed to escape. Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I felt like I had no option; I needed to run away. If this was the will of God, I didn’t want anything to do with Him anymore.
At this point, I had already informed BSSM that I was no longer returning for second year. In my mind, that bridge was burned. The only option I had left was to run away and move to Hollywood. I was going to pursue a music career. I was going to sell my soul to the devil, basically. I was ready to do that. I was that desperate.
You might be surprised at how my mind was turning. I was too. I thought, if my entire Christian life has led to this, I must be a pretty bad Christian, and maybe it’s not worth it to keep trying. I will never measure up and, as long as I don’t, I will be miserable. Thus, I began to question my faith, my existence. Most of all, I began to question God. Deep down, I didn’t believe that God wanted me to be happy. I didn’t believe that God is good all the time. No. I thought, if He is good, why do I feel like I’m suffocating?
This continued for about a month. Some days, I would see a faint light at the end of the tunnel. I told myself I would try my best to settle down, maybe start teaching private keyboard and voice lessons, working part-time at church, and serving in young adult ministry. Other days, I would have a complete breakdown and start accusing God of suffocating me and planning my whole life for me whether I liked it or not. These were the days when I’d challenge my parents, saying, I could pack my bags and move to LA right now if I wanted to. Nothing can stop me.
And yet I didn’t move. I couldn’t move. I felt paralyzed. Even with all my bold talk about wanting to run away from God and quitting church, underneath all of that bitterness and frustration, I still cared very much about what God thought of me. I still desired to be in His will. Hollywood was an obvious “no-no” (not that I won’t go there in the future, never say never), but I knew that wasn’t where He wanted me. But I didn’t even know if He actually wanted me here, in Fremont.
A Thread of Hope
Then God sent my two housemates to visit me. They were now my “ex-housemates” as I was no longer going back to Redding. We had lunch and a good talk. Before they left, I asked them to pray for me. I said, “In all honesty, I have no idea what I’m doing here. Can you please pray for me and see if God shows you some picture of what my next season in life will look like?” I still had some hope in others’ ability to hear God.
So they closed their eyes and started asking God. After a minute or two, the first thing one of my housemates said was, “Melody… I feel like you’re still supposed to go to Bethel.” I was surprised to say the least. She continued, “I feel like there’s still so much you can learn and receive at Bethel—especially, freedom in God. That’s something you need, and Bethel is a great place to grow in that.” When she said, “freedom in God,” I immediately felt my spirit nod in agreement. She felt it too, saying, “Wow, I really feel God’s peace on that. Melody, I think we’ll still be housemates after all.”
I wanted to slap her arm. Go back to Bethel? School registration was last week, and second year was already a few days into the school year. Who knows what I’ve already missed? And that’s not my biggest problem; I already told them that I wasn’t coming back! The finance department was ready to mail me a refund check for the tuition. I didn’t even have a spot in second year anymore.
“Melody, call them. Just try.”
Okay, I guess that is the least I can do. I will try calling them. Secretly, in my heart, going back to second year, at this point, seemed too good to be true. I felt like I was hanging on to my last thread of hope, my one remaining lifesaver. I didn’t want to raise my expectations for fear of disappointment.
I called BSSM and asked about the possibility of coming back. The lady’s response was, “I don’t think so… but I will ask administration for you.” Okay, so that’s not too bad. Sounds like a fair response. I didn’t dare raise my hopes.
Two days passed. No response from BSSM. I was seriously starting to doubt the possibility. Maybe they forgot about me. Melody, just settle down in Fremont. Forget about Bethel.
This was two Friday’s ago. That day I hung out with a friend, who was also passing by Fremont before heading to Redding for first year at BSSM (first year students have registration later than second year students). During our conversation, I mentioned to her my struggle and that I was contemplating moving to LA because I felt such a hard time settling down in Fremont.
After listening to me, she said, “Melody, I remember, back in March was the first time I heard your songs. I listened to ‘Beauty Arise.’ Such a powerful song. I remember thinking when I heard this song, ‘This girl is learning to fly.’” She looked at me. “Melody, you are still learning to fly. It’s not time to settle down yet.”
I felt cold throughout my body and looked down, “Truth be told, it does feel like my wings are being clipped if I stay here.” I went on, “If I’m honest, I wish I could go to second year. I feel like it was the wrong decision not to go. I listened to my parents and leaders too quickly. I’m not a child anymore, and I need to learn to make my own decisions.”
She responded, “Yes, and you can still do that. Have you fasted and prayed about it yet? Maybe you should try fasting. Seek the Lord. See what He has to say about this.”
I agreed. It was time to get right with God. I couldn’t deny His existence. After all this time of wrestling in my spirit, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that He was there watching me the whole time, and He still had a plan for my life. Maybe it just wasn’t what I thought it had been.
So I decided to fast, starting that day. I fasted dinner, went to fellowship that evening, and that night when I got home, I received an email from BSSM. It said, “Melody, now that you are a student again…”
Whoa—what? Say that again? “… Now that you are a student again, we need to reinstate your tuition…” My jaw literally dropped to the floor. Can it be? God heard my prayers. He paid attention to my little fast—one meal! And He responded this quickly in such a big way? I felt my heart beat out of my chest.
I closed my eyes. “God… is this You?”
“Go.” It was such a soft whisper in my spirit. Then I heard Him say, “Didn’t you say you would pack you bags and leave now if you had to?” Quite a sense of humor, He has.
That night I told my parents. The first person was my mom. I could see the pain in her eyes, but when she spoke then I knew what it was. It was a mother’s pain of letting go.
“I support you, Melody. I think God wants me to learn to let go. You need to learn to make your own decisions.” I was so grateful to her. When we embraced, I could feel her tension, her struggle to let me go. How she wished she could protect me forever! I bet all mothers wish the same thing for their children—it’s their instinct. But that is impossible. At some point, children must learn to fly on their own. Scrapes and bruises are inevitable. And, yes, I might fall flat on my face and break a few bones, but I will get up, and I will be stronger than I ever could have been had I never left the nest.
My dad’s response was much more practical. “Where will you live? Do you have enough money? How much luggage will you be bringing?”
The next day, I attended a Labor Day camping trip. I was so glad I still decided to go (I would have packed all my bags and started driving to Redding on Friday night if a friend hadn’t stopped me). It was a good chance to update some of my friends on my new status and say goodbye.
I got back from camping on Monday evening, started packing at night and drove up to Redding first thing on Tuesday morning. I arrived at Bethel Campus around 12:30pm, just in time for the first official class of the entire second year. Wow, God. Your timing is impeccable.
I stepped into Bethel church with a completely new perspective and expectation for second year. This was no longer my “back-up plan” to be “normal” again after a depressive summer. This was a miracle. This was my second chance for true intimacy with God. I’ve experienced what’s like to have a shallow, face-level, performance-based relationship with God; I’ve known what’s it like to believe in lies about my powerlessness and weaknesses—it’s suffocating and unbearable and completely not worth it.
During worship, I knelt down and started crying. I felt like kissing the ground. This is my miracle, and I have truly tasted and seen that the Lord is good.
What I’ve Learned
So that is my story—my journey back to Bethel, if you will. A few lessons I gleaned from this process are listed below:
- Parents and leaders may want the best for you, but that doesn’t mean their “best” is God’s “best” for you.
- God tells us to honor our parents. That is so important! But honoring doesn’t always look like blind obedience, no questions asked. We still need discernment. There is a way to honor whilst in disagreement.
- Don’t treat the words of man as the words of God. This always ends badly.
- Your private life is way more significant than your public life. An outward performance cannot make up for true intimacy with God. You will get drained, and you will burn out, if you don’t maintain a good amount of “oil” for yourself (Mt. 25).
- After ministry school, it’s better not to jump headfirst into a pile of work. Give yourself time and room to build your pace with God and dig your own well, because the “crutch” is gone and now you’ve got to learn to stand on your own two feet, spiritually speaking. You can no longer get away with leaning and gleaning from others’ anointing and spirituality to sustain you or make you feel good about your own spirituality. Be prepared for when that illusion shatters.
And some more personal revelations I discovered about myself:
- Most of my misery stemmed from the fact that I didn’t trust God, and I didn’t believe that God was good all the time. The truth is, God is good all the time, and He is worthy of our trust.
- I can hear from God; He does speak to me. I cannot keep relying on other people to tell me what God’s saying. Holy Spirit lives in me, and He will guide me into all truth. I have the ability to know God’s will for my life and to obey it.
- Having grown up in a Christian home and being a PK (pastors’ kid—plural possessive, since both of my parents are pastors), I struggled a lot with measuring up to the “perfect image” projected on me, or that I thought was projected on me. Past experiences and wounds kept me locked in a prison of my own performance—for my parents’ sake, for my own sake, for God’s sake. I thought He enjoyed my act—I mean, years and years of faithful service, trying to please God and man, even if it was mostly outward, is something worth admiring, isn’t it? (With a fearful tremble in my bones, I imagine this scene playing out when I stand before God face-to-face: “Lord, Lord, did I not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ And He will say plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!’” ref. Mt. 7:22-23) So the answer is no.
- I have the best pastors in the whole world. They sincerely just want the best for me. The reason they suggested that I not return to Bethel was because, at that time, I couldn’t communicate clearly what was in my heart. I had sabotaged my own desire because of the deep roots of shame and powerlessness in my heart. Later when I sent an email to them about my new status, their response was that of complete support. They even said they were proud of me for making my own decisions and following God! That’s true healthy leadership.
That’s it! I wanted to get everything out there, all at once. I wonder, who has the time and perseverance to read this entire thing! If you did make it to the end, I congratulate you. Now, you know a little bit more about me. I’m not really so perfect. No, I’m actually pretty messed up (I even wanted to sell my soul to the devil at one point). But if that encourages you, in some weird way, then I’m happy. 🙂
Life is a learning process from day one. I know I am still learning, and there is still so much for me to learn. But that’s the beauty of life: It’s an adventure of discovering God, discovering ourselves and each other and this world that He has given us. As we grow older, I don’t know that we ever get closer to knowing everything there is to know, but perhaps we can get better at learning.