The Faith Story of Rachel Young

I want to say at the outset that I vacillate between Stages 2 and 3. I have hit significant “walls” now at ages 24 and 34. These walls have a similar pattern: getting caught up in the work of Stage 2 without the intimacy of Stage 3, then burning out and getting discouraged in my spiritual journey. Moving past these walls into Stage 3 has required surrendering my ego and my agenda, and each time I have experienced God’s healing.  Every time I hit and then move past a wall, my experience of Stage 3 gets deeper and pushes me toward the sacrifice and obedience of Stage 4. Rather than share my whole story, I’m only going to take you from my childhood into my mid-twenties – into that first wall and what followed.

Stage 1: Come and See

My parents are deeply committed Christians. Each of them grew up going to church, but both had powerful conversion experiences in college, in which they experienced what it’s like to have a personal relationship with Jesus. My father is a retired Presbyterian pastor.

I never consciously responded to the Stage 1 invitation, but my whole childhood was infused with the invitation to “come and see.”  Church was part of my weekday life. It was where I went to visit Daddy during the week and where I was loved by a multitude of people – church secretaries, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, and friends of my parents. Worship services, Sunday school classes, Vacation Bible School, and reading Bible story books all taught me about Jesus.

Stage 2: Come and Follow Me

My parents tell me that when I was four years old, I asked Jesus into my heart. As best as I could understand it, I told Jesus I wanted him to be a part of my life and save me from my sins.

I don’t remember this conversion moment. But, I also don’t remember a time when I didn’t want Jesus to be a part of my life.

Growing up as a Presbyterian, I had ample opportunities to grow in my knowledge of Jesus. Even in the small churches my dad pastored, attending Sunday school was a given. And I really liked learning about faith. I enjoyed learning Bible stories and memorizing Scripture verses.

I still have my student Bible – it has notes scribbled all over it and the binding is breaking. Several times as a child & teenager, I tried reading through the Bible, but I usually lost steam after getting through Genesis. I tried to keep a quiet time, in which I would read my Bible and pray.

I also had ample opportunities as a child and teenager to take part in church activities – weekly worship, church potlucks, youth group, service opportunities, summer camp, and a Christian version of the Scouts called Pioneer Clubs. Church involvement was a given in my family, and I didn’t mind. Church was a safe place, with people who cared about me and whom I loved in return.

It was probably no surprise to anyone that in college I declared a major in religion. My very favorite course was called “An Introduction to the Christian Faith.” It covered major themes and subjects related to following Jesus. The information wasn’t new, but I soaked everything in – I took reams of handwritten notes and loved to study.

And it wasn’t just about study. I sought to live like Jesus – to be a kind and compassionate person of integrity. I knew it was important to serve others, so I volunteered in nursing homes in late high school and throughout college. However, I did not like stepping outside of my comfort zone. Then, the summer before my senior year of college, I heard a clear call from God to “go” outside my comfort zone. I took my first international mission trip as a result. I also decided to spend my first year after college as a Presbyterian Young Adult Volunteer and moved to Hollywood to work with an urban ministry.

Stage 2 is a comfortable stage for me. Study fits so well with who I am. I love being productive, doing things for Jesus and for my faith.  But I discovered after college that study and serving lose their luster when I am faced with a crisis. And that’s what Hollywood was for me.

Stage 3: Come and Be with Me

I spent three years in Hollywood, living with fellow volunteers working for the Hollywood Urban Project. For so many reasons that I don’t have time to describe, I hit a faith wall there in Hollywood.  The challenges of living in this neighborhood wore down my spirit. Plus, the Gospel I had learned so much about in college felt insufficient in the face of the deep pain of poverty ravaging the lives of my neighbors. So what if these people went to Heaven when they died if they had asked Jesus into their hearts? What about their lives today? How in the world could Jesus make a difference?

Thank God, I had several significant mentors my first year in Hollywood. They taught me the importance of self-care – of attending to my emotional, spiritual, and physical health. To be healthy person who engages in mission and ministry, I had to be willing to move into increased intimacy with God and the empowerment that comes from it. I also had to be willing to be vulnerable and so move into the embrace of safe, spiritual friendships.

I remembered that back in high school I had experienced a taste of what it meant to respond to Jesus’ invitation to “come and be with me.”  I had gone on my first silent retreat in 12th grade and loved it. So, in Hollywood, I more intentionally incorporated silence and prayer into my life. I read poetry and novels more than nonfiction books about faith; I sought to be with God in places of natural beauty.

And then God worked an unexpected healing in my life. I found out about the opportunity to volunteer for six weeks on the Island of Iona with the Iona Community. Between my second and third year in Hollywood, I spent six weeks in Scotland cleaning toilets, hanging laundry, chopping vegetables, and, in my free time, wandering around this beautiful three-mile-long island. I established great friendships with people from around the world. I participated in morning and evening prayer in the Iona Abbey, and I especially loved the songs we sang.

As I flew back to Hollywood from Scotland, I noticed I had written a prayer by the medieval scholar Thomas à Kempis on the first page of my travel journal. I had underlined, “make clean, make glad, make bright, and make alive my heart.” And I realized that God had done exactly that – without my being conscious of it! I had spent six weeks in the company of God’s people, being with Jesus in ways precious to me (like being in nature and in music), and God had healed me!

It was most clear to me that I had made a shift from Stage 2 into Stage 3 when I began my seminary coursework a few weeks after I returned from Iona. I loved being back in school, but the classes that interested me most were not the classes I so hungrily consumed in college. Bible classes were all right, but the chance to think about urban ministry – and how to do urban ministry in a sustainable way – that was exciting!

I fell into a pattern of spending time with God while I ate my breakfast, sometimes by reading Scripture, other times by reading the words of my favorite spiritual writers. I prayed while I walked to the train station and in my car commuting to school. And, you know what? This heart shift made me a better missionary in my neighborhood. I wasn’t as concerned about outcomes (in producing something) as I was in establishing meaningful, compassionate relationships with the students I mentored. I learned that living like Jesus arises most naturally when we choose to be with Jesus. As we embrace and are empowered by the Holy Spirit, we also engage our world in a deeper and healthier way.

The Faith Journey of Marilyn Wadkins

Exploring Christ: I grew up in a family that always went to church. My mom’s father was a Church of Christ preacher, so my mom made sure we continued in that tradition. We attended a local Church of Christ and heard Bible stories on Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening. My dad’s parents were Missouri Synod Lutheran, so when went to visit them, I got a taste of a mainline denomination and liturgy.

I enjoyed the harmonizing of the congregation in the Church of Christ music. My mom has a beautiful soprano voice and I learned the alto line, so we made a pretty good duo (songs and music are still an important part of our lives). It sometimes seems that God speaks to me in song titles, or in the words of songs that just seem to pop into my head at times when I am struggling.

My most vivid memory of when I really sensed that Jesus became my Savior happened when I was eleven. I was sitting in the Fellowship Hall at my family’s church, and I was with the other kids watching a slide presentation of Jesus’s crucifixion. I started crying and felt for the first time that he had suffered for me. On November 1, 1964, after about twenty verses of “Just as I Am” following a revival sermon at our church, I walked the aisle and was baptised. Stories of Jesus were always a part of my life, and finally I began a relationship with Him, too.

Growing in Christ:  In my twenties I became a worker in the kingdom. My husband was baptized. When I was twenty-three, my younger brother was force fed LSD, and he became a paranoid schizophrenic. The church I had grown up in was not supportive of my family, and we began attending an Episcopal church where therapist and author John Bradshaw was teaching a Sunday School class. John and his wife Nancy were counseling my parents. Although I continued to go to church, I struggled with understanding God, and more specifically, understanding prayer.

My 1st Wall: My brother (David) wasn’t getting well. Healing wasn’t happening. He heard “voices.” We tried finding him a halfway house that he could live in with supervision and medication, but David didn’t like being around “crazy” people, and he didn’t like the way the medicine made him feel, so he left town and became a homeless person, living wherever the weather was conducive to sleeping on the street. He returned to Houston when I was 27. We tried letting him live with us, but by that time we had a one-year old son. David had moments of violence when he slipped into his other personality, and it wasn’t safe for him to be in our home. I was also afraid of what he would do to my parents or my sister when he was off his meds. I prayed constantly for protection for my family and healing for him.

A major turning point came when I was invited to a Bible study on grace, lead by a pastor who was planting a church in a school. The church established a building at the front of our subdivision, and I began to volunteer there. Eventually they hired me to be the part-time Business Administrator, and as the church grew, I became a full-time Program Director/Business Administrator.

Close to Christ: I became a workaholic for the Kingdom. My brother David ended his life on my parents’ back porch when I was 31. The next year, my husband and I went to the Holy Land.

I decided to become certified in Christian Education at Perkins School of Theology. Seminary opened my eyes to a new way of understanding the Bible (I had no idea how many books had been written about what people thought the Bible said). The professors encouraged me to ask questions and to struggle with finding answers. The Bible became more than just stories; it became a way to connect to God, to understand God. I took a position at a larger church and became the full-time Director of Discipleship, responsible for Children, Youth, and Adult Discipleship. I also assisted with leading worship. My husband and I lead a couple trips to the Holy Land, Greece (Journeys of Paul), and Italy (History of the Church). I decided to seek ordination, took additional seminary courses, and began going through the ordination process.

My second wall: I started feeling the walls of the church closing in on me. It seemed like the church was taking over my life. I wanted the church to build relationships with people who were struggling. Then a relationship from the past came back to haunt me and brought back memories of my life before my brother’s overdose. I went into counseling to deal with my anger at my brother and what he had done to our family.

Back to Close to Christ: I became a builder for the church. I left the church I’d been working at to become Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity. The job was fascinating, but overwhelming. I decided to take my last class in worship, was ordained, and began to look for another church position. My husband and I decided to start looking for a home away from Houston, hoping for our lives to slow down a little bit. We bought an old plantation home in the country that was a Bed and Breakfast and Event facility. I left Habitat for Humanity and found a part-time position at a church close by.

My 3rd Wall: The B&B ended up being a lot more work than we anticipated. The more we advertised, the more guests and events we had, the more staff we had to hire, and the more paperwork we had to do. My husband continued working and commuting to Houston. I could not manage the B&B and the church, so I left the job at the church. This was a great time of reflection for me, but I missed working at the church. We decided to hire a manager for the B&B, and I found a full-time position as a Minister of Education in College Station.

I found myself doing church work at the B&B and B&B work at the church. I couldn’t get away from people. I came to the point of deciding that I needed to leave my husband, leave the church, or sell the B&B. God didn’t seem to be answering my prayers for sanity. We put the B&B on the market and our manager left, so I had to leave the position serving the church to manage the B&B. I was very unhappy. I missed the “busyness” of the church. I was lonely and angry. I couldn’t find God in the beauty and quiet of the countryside.

Back to Close to Christ: I found a Minister of Education position at a church back in Houston area and started commuting to Houston. I put the names of some people who came to look at the B&B in my Bible, and eventually the B&B finally sold.

Eventually there was trouble at the church between the senior pastor and the associate pastor, so I hired an executive coach who had visited the B&B to help me with the staff dynamics. My coach was an answer to prayer and an angel sent by God. My life seemed more manageable. God was listening!  

Then my younger sister became very ill from the Lyme disease she had been struggling with since 1988 (a year after my brother died), and she had to go on disability. My parents, who had previously planned to move back to Houston to live with my sister, decided to stay in Georgetown. So I went on temporary leave of absence from my position at the church to help take care of my sister and my parents. During this time away from the church, I took a certification course in executive business coaching and became very interested in the coaching approach to ministry. My goal since then has been to teach churches and people in ministry coaching techniques that have made my life and my ministry so much more effective.

Abiding in Christ: My husband and I decided to move closer to his office, and I left my paid position in the church. I am able to make time to read, pray, do things at church that I enjoy (teaching children, singing in the choir), cook healthy meals, exercise frequently, and visit with friends. Working part time as a coach has allowed me time to do the things I love.

Being a leader is primarily what has helped me grow more deeply in love with God. When someone would ask me to stretch myself in a leadership position, I grew when I accepted the challenge. I meet with my spiritual director frequently. I have learned it is okay to say “no” to some things so I can say “yes” to the things that are better for my relationship to God and to those who are the most important people in my life. I truly believe God used those “walls” to open doors.

Marilyn is extremely passionate about the value of coaching in any situation. She became certified in Executive and Life coaching in 2013, took Vibrant Church Initiative’s training, and began coaching churches in 2014. After visiting the Ascending Leaders website, she took a couple of their courses and participated in a session of DiscipleOn. She has seen a variety of denominations from all over the country struggling with the same challenges. She says, “when people grow in their faith, there is hope. When their relationship with God is strong, the world is a better place.”

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