Thursday, April 12, 2012

April 12th, 2012 Written by: Aaron Badida

On May 6th, 2010, I wrote down a prayer to God telling Him that I felt like I was being pulled so fast toward my future, and that I felt like I was at risk of forsaking so many important things to get there just so that I could find a tentative sense of security in a plan I had complete control of. The legend is true: I had mapped out my life at 7 years-old, and up until that point, I figured I had done pretty well making my way down my checklist of ambitions. 
As many of you know, God brought us to our knees the next day when we found out that dad’s cancer had returned. Since that day, I can say that the Holy Spirit has manifested itself in a completely different way in my life, a way that makes me crave stronger faith and desire a servant’s heart. 
I can’t help but think of the story in Matthew 4:18-20, where the Bible tells us of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples:
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
That last sentence always gets me. We don’t get an explanation of their thought process or a detailed justification of their actions. They just left what they had been doing and followed Jesus. They might’ve thought they were secure in what they were doing as members of a fairly lucrative career in a society that depended on fish to eat. It was probably what they had expected to do for the majority of their life. But then there’s this glorious interruption. 
About a year ago, I was confronted with that same command: “Come, follow me.” I never would’ve expected the call of God to come and transform my life and desires like it did. He met me at a time of pain and brokenness after losing my father, and He began to show me that no obedient child of God was too weak to bear the burden of a call to serve the Kingdom in ministry. 
Since then, I feel like God has allowed me to go to those places that humble me, grow me, stretch me, push me, and test me. Beyond just preaching the Word of God, coming to understand the breadth and depth of ministry and servant leadership has brought me to a place where I can’t imagine doing anything else. 
It took me a long time to accept the God-given ability to preach and share the gospel. I fought it, and I fought it hard. I struggled with doubts, insecurities, and opinions. I think the classroom had been the only place I had ever really felt fully confident. My grades and my success academically drove me. In fact, success became nearly all-consuming. But as I drew nearer to God and servanthood and began to realize the irrefutability of a call to ministry on my life, it became an exhausting feat to walk away from where God wanted me. There were times when I would feel mentally and physically worn down, nearly sick to my stomach, trying to make myself at peace with going away and abandoning the pursuit and preparation for ministry. Perhaps I was grieving the Spirit as I continued to pray for clarity, feel the urging from Jesus to move in the direction of ministry, and consistently choose to walk away from it. 
I express all of that to say that my decisions for my future are not impulsive or unmotivated. I explored many universities, enjoyed the experience, and worked incredibly hard to maintain my success academically. But at the end of the day, that’s all I ever saw: my success. I had positioned myself for a constant pursuit of an unattainable level of success, and had never once considered fulfillment. I came to realize that to hear my Heavenly Father tell me before His throne “Well done, good and faithful servant” is more precious than any acceptance letter can ever be. 
I was blessed and privileged to receive an acceptance letter from Princeton University, along with nearly a full scholarship to attend their institution for four years. I am incredibly grateful for the school’s generosity, and I understand the value the world places on that opportunity. But I know in my heart the decision that glorifies God and gives me peace is the decision to decline their offer and attend the University of North Florida. 
I have received a very generous scholarship offer from UNF that would provide me with the funds necessary to participate in an internship/leadership college program through Celebration Church. It would also allow me to save up money, and attend seminary debt-free if I choose to after finishing my undergraduate education and internship. God has opened the doors for me to pursue His call on my life, and I am incredibly excited about all the opportunities to practically prepare myself for ministry in a church that calls out and develops leaders under some incredible pastors. 
Thank you to everyone who has been persistent in prayer for this decision. Some people, including my friends, family, teachers, pastors, and church leaders have been incredibly patient and helpful in encouraging me to seek God’s will. I am blessed beyond measure to have those people in my life, and I cannot express how much their support has and will continue to mean to me. 
For the first time in over a year, I feel at peace about my future. I am waiting expectantly for what God is going to do. I know I have so very much to learn about ministry and preaching and leadership, and I know that God has to continue to help me work out my own shortcomings and insecurities and dependence on myself. 
To close, a little light reading: 
"'Not called!' did you say? 'Not heard the call,' I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world."
-William Booth

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Laura's Story

Although I never actually had the pleasure to meet Laura in person, I could tell just by talking with her that she had a very tender heart and a lot of determination inside of her. That determination was pretty much summed up in one of Laura’s favorite quotes, which I loved:  “When something bad happens you have three choices:You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you."
 Laura was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer which resulted in a double mastectomy in January of 2011. As with many breast cancer patients she has had to under go chemotherapy and radiation in the months to follow, and all at the young age of just 51. Laura’s battle has not been easy,  she has endured many complications from chemo and radiation. As with many cancer patients I have spoken with, Laura shared the heartbreaking stories of radiation burns and scarring, just one of the many side effects these courageous warriors have to battle.
Outside of the world of cancer, Laura has been married for 24 years and is a mother of two, a daughter Claire who is 22 and a son Billy who is a college freshman. She is a “snowbird” from Wisconsin and has called Orlando her home for the past 28 years, where her parents also have a home. 
I asked Laura to share about the day she had to break the news to her family that she had cancer. She said everyone really showed such strength and support, and that she found such comfort in her kids who would say to her “Mom, we are going to get through this!” Laura reminded me that kids are so much more resilient than we often give them credit for. 
Laura explained that telling her parents was very difficult. She spoke of how her mom carried such guilt and would often say “It should have been me, not you.” I am sure most mothers would feel that exact same way, because nobody but a loving mother could have that compassion and sympathy for their child. Laura comes from quite a large family, and having to get them together and tell them all was very emotional she said. At first they seemed to be in a state of shock and very melancholy, but quickly they realized that they would need to rally around her and move forward. Laura's situation really displays how often times the cancer diagnosis can bring forth conflicting emotions in those we love as they struggle to overcome their own fear to find the strength to offer support when it is needed most. 

She said that looking back she can remember feeling overwhelmed, yet so very thankful and extremely grateful for the love and support of her family, neighbors, and close friends. Laura so humbly said “We could not have made it without the love and prayers of those that rallied around us.” Laura said she has a huge box of cards and letters that people have sent her, and that she will often go back and re-read them and is reminded of how so many loved and cared for her. 
I am always so awestruck by the fight and willpower that cancer patients exude. Laura would say things like “I wasn’t going to give up, and I wasn’t going to give cancer a chance to take me over, I have way too much to live for.” When I hear these words of determination, I am often left speechless at the strength that our mighty God gives us when we are in the midst of a terrible storm. Laura had made that decision not let cancer define her, but to let it strengthen her instead. 
I could definitely relate to Laura’s story as she spoke of trying to keep a routine and a sense of normalcy in her day-to-day life. I think that is a very important part of life with cancer, whether you are the patient, a caretaker, or a family member. Laura said she wasn’t willing to sacrifice a second with her kids or what was going on in their lives. Decisions like these are the ones that make sure cancer doesn’t win. 
Laura is currently scheduled to under go reconstruction surgery this Wednesday and I am sure she would appreciate any and all prayers. She says she looks forward to getting back to volunteering which she very much enjoys doing. 
As we finished speaking, Laura shared with me how a friend had given her a devotional prayer book that she would read everyday and how she would find such great comfort and peace in it. I know that peace and comfort she speaks of. It is indeed one which is often far beyond anything we can truly comprehend.  

As I read back over my notes in preparation for writing this story, I remembered the  softness of Laura’s voice as she spoke and how she seemed a little shy. But that was only on the outside. On the inside she is strong, a fighter with an inner voice that screams out to continue to live life to the fullest.