“I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and He prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.” John 15:1-2
“I love you, Lord; You are my strength… You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.” Psalm 18:1, 28
*****It is that time of year again: Fall stories! Wholehearted Woman Ministries’ mission is helping women be fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and courageously on-mission for Him – one heart at a time. One of the ways we do that is by sharing real-life stories of Christian women (both past and present) who have decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly in this way. No matter what season of life you are in, God is calling you to a place of deep and wholehearted relationship with Him. We pray that each story told is used by God to fashion your individual heart, to know and experience Him even more deeply, and to joyfully do His will to His glory! “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.” (Psalm 107:2) Read on!
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One of my (Beth’s) most consistent, close friendships has been with my high school classmate, Anna. Throughout the years, Anna and I have enjoyed many experiences together, from acting in our high school theater productions, to connecting over coffee while on break from separate out-of-state colleges, to Anna serving as bridesmaids in each other’s weddings. Even while living in other states, we prioritized phone calls every few months to stay involved in each other’s lives and support one another.
I have so cherished my friendship with Anna over the years but most especially am grateful for how God has brought us through similar seasons together. Over five years ago, Anna had started a doctorate program out west, and I was pregnant with my oldest son, Hunter. Within a few months of each other, God brought both of us back to our home state of Minnesota to embark on a new chapter in our lives. I asked Anna to share about the season she has walked through recently. This is Anna’s story…
Will you tell us about your journey toward teaching the Bible at a collegiate level and pursuing your doctorate? How have you experienced God throughout it?
It was during my first semester of college that I declared a Biblical Studies major not knowing where it would take me or what I would do with the degree when I graduated. Over the next few years, I began to see God cultivating in me a desire to teach the Bible, in particular, at a collegiate level. I fell in love with studying the Word of God on a deeper level and was pushed further academically when I studied it in its original languages.
During the summer after my sophomore year, the Bible was brought to life for me in a new way as I studied in Israel and Jordan. I knew that in order to teach the Bible at a collegiate level much more education was required of me, and so I soon found myself applying to seminary for a Master of Divinity Degree. It was during those four years in seminary that my love for the Old Testament was kindled. I began to seek out teaching opportunities at church for exposure and experience in the classroom and was even given my own Biblical Hebrew course to teach during my last year of seminary. God was so faithful in leading me on this journey to what I believed he was calling me to do; it wasn’t easy, the academics were rigorous and the hours were long, but he continued to sustain me.
As graduation from my program was on the horizon, I knew that the final step needed to teach at a college full-time was a doctorate, and I sensed that God was calling me to this next step. I sent out numerous applications to highly competitive and prestigious institutions. Despite I had a high GPA, good references, and a solid writing sample, I was only accepted to one school. This school was not my first choice, but I felt that this was my ‘Jonah’ moment. I thought God was calling me there, and I did not want to run away like Jonah; I wanted to be obedient and go. I packed up my life and moved half-way across the country in faith that God was leading and directing me in this next phase of life.
Unfortunately, after several weeks at the school it became clear to me that, for a variety of reasons, it was not the right school for me. After much prayer, I decided to leave. I felt like I had just given up on my dream and my calling, and that I was returning to my home state with nothing, except for a pile of debt. I had worked so hard to get where I was and now, I felt like I had to leave. I returned home and fell into a deep and at times dark depression. I wanted nothing to do with academics. I was honest with God about my feelings; I was mad at him and felt like he had abandoned me. I questioned his goodness and his love. Little did I know, he was working out all things for my good.
How has choosing a fully surrendered heart to God led you to be on-mission for His purposes?
A few weeks after returning home I went back to my alma mater to have a discussion with a former professor and the head of the Bible department. I walked into his office feeling like a dog with its tail between its legs, I felt ashamed. I thought that I had failed and that I had let down everyone who had helped me get to this stage. To my surprise that very day he offered me an adjunct teaching position; he told me that God’s call was irrevocable and that perhaps if I got back in the classroom I would someday want to return to academics.
He was right; after one semester of teaching, I enrolled in a local seminary for a Master of Theology degree. I recall getting a call from the financial office on my first day of school saying that they had recently reinstituted a scholarship for my degree program and that my entire first year was paid for; this felt like a confirmation that I was doing the right thing. On my first night of class, despite my fears, I felt completely at home with the material and was relieved to be back doing something I knew I loved.
I slowly began to see the good that was coming from a very difficult experience and how it was making me a better teacher, mentor, and student of Scripture. God then renewed a desire in me to pursue a doctorate. I remember telling God, admittedly in frustration, that if he wanted me to get a doctorate then he would have to make it happen, and that is exactly what he did. It was four years after I left my first doctoral program that I began my second.
I know it will be a long, hard road, but God has taught me that he has always been with me and always will be. I had surrendered my heart to Jesus years ago, but it was when the rubber met the road that my surrender to him was tested. I was reminded that God is a good God and that he loves me. He used a deep valley in my life to teach me and refine me, and he faithfully brought me out of that valley to the next mountain top. He brought about good in what I thought was a hopeless situation. Such is the journey of faith, a journey that I can now share with my students as they walk their own lives of faith with God. There will no doubt be many more valleys ahead, but I walk into them knowing God is with me and that he is using them to further conform me into the image of his Son.
Check out the link below to learn more about Anna, her publications, and more!
Bio link: https://unwsp.edu/bio/anna-rask
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For more stories like this one, check out the book The Wholehearted Woman: Who She is and Why She Matters by sisters and co-authors, Jenni Walker and Beth Doohan. With heartfelt messages that will challenge your faith, stories of other Wholehearted Women, and reflection questions to dive deeper, this is a great resource for personal devotion or small group study!