You are a newly appointed Campus Staff Minister just beginning ministry with grad students and faculty when COVID-19 hit and brought a pause to all normal campus activities. For Julie Meissner, this pause came as an invitation from God. This is her story of what happened when she said “yes” to that invitation.
Pause. Breathe deeply. Reflect with God.
Daily, this invitation is extended to us, but do we receive it, or pass? What happens when we enter into God’s invitation to pause?
Reflecting on the past year, considering where I saw God at work, and how I noticed his Spirit moving, I identified three key postures that grounded me in Christ’s love during a tumultuous year:
a posture of abiding,
a posture of listening,
a posture of trusting.
I embraced these postures, imperfectly to be sure, throughout the pandemic. You see, I was a new campus staff minister with Graduate & Faculty Ministries at Texas A&M University in College Station when our national awareness of COVID-19 began to impact our everyday lives. I worked only six weeks on campus in early 2020 before the pandemic cancelled in-person classes and activities, sending us all working and learning from home for the remainder of the semester. I felt my chapter-planting intentions were blown away like flower petals in an unexpected spring storm. As we all know, this life disruption soon became our year-long reality.
“Lord, how am I going to plant a new chapter for graduate students and faculty when I can’t even meet anyone?” I inquired of God. He was, after all, the one who had called me into this ministry, leading me to something of which I had no previous knowledge or connection beforehand. Why would he do that and then allow this? Prior to the pandemic, I had only met a handful of faculty and two graduate students before the shutting down of life as we knew it. Here I was, seeking to plant a new chapter on a huge campus, and I had no opportunity to interact with or meet new people. What was I supposed to do now?
“Just trust me. Keep doing what you know how to do. Listen to my voice. Tend the fire within.”
As a spiritual director and a contemplative, what I knew how to do was spend time listening to the Holy Spirit, keeping company with Jesus, and trusting my Abba Father’s sheltering love. In early January 2020, I attended our National Staff Conference, for which Bette Lynn Dickenson had painted “The Vine” based on John 15 to guide us in a time of Visio Divina and Lectio Divina while there. As a result, I came home and bought that painting for my office, spending the entire year in contemplation of John 15. I had no idea at the time how prophetically that painting would come to depict the year that lay before me. Each morning, entering into a time of centering prayer, I would read these words and go into silence with God for as long as needed:
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit … As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love” (John 15:4-5, 9, NIV).
In those times God lovingly reminded me that this was HIS ministry, not mine, these are HIS people, not mine, and I am HIS, not my own. Therefore, I had no cause to worry or fear anything. I only needed to trust — trust God’s love, trust God’s power, trust God’s will — not just in ministry, but in every realm of my life that felt pruned back to nothingness.
So, I remained.
I remained in a posture of abiding.
I remained in a posture of listening.
I remained in a posture of trusting.
When I would stray from these postures, the Good Shepherd would gently yet firmly lead me back to his place of rest for my soul (Ps 23; Isa. 30:15; Mt. 11:28-30).
“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears. . . . He reached down from on high, he took me; he drew me out of mighty waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity; but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (Ps. 18:6, 16-19, NRSV).
It is only by God’s grace and mercy I stand in this spacious place today, giving thanks as I celebrate God’s faithfulness this past year, even as I grieve and lament the pain and loss it has held. It is a liminal space of holding joy and sorrow simultaneously, a space with which the Lord Jesus is intimately familiar. It has paradoxically felt like a desert wasteland and a lush garden — the mystery of a holy God.
Through the challenges of the pandemic, of not being able to meet people in person while planting a new chapter, living an hour away from the community in which I sought to plant, God overcame and provided for what he originally called me to do. During this virtual academic year, God brought together graduate students from a variety of nations, ethnicities, races, and religious backgrounds, enabling us to offer small group bible studies, morning prayer, dinner discussions, and large group gatherings. He drew together faculty and staff for the purpose of spiritual formation, prayer, and book discussions. God brought a host of people to lunch lectures with guest speakers and a seminar for international graduate students — all being held online. The result of trusting in, listening to, and waiting on God has been the planting of a newly recognized student organization which serves many graduate and professional students, faculty, and staff across Texas A&M University.
I see this as the fruit in John 15 for which Jesus invited me to trust him and to remain in him. The fruit has been much different than anticipated, such as an online community rather than in-person gatherings, distance learning students in other states that are part of our chapter and leadership team, and faculty on sabbatical in other states participating and following Jesus together. All of this has illustrated in living color for me this biblical truth: by remaining in Christ and he in us, we produce his kingdom fruit through the Spirit’s power flowing through us — for the Father’s glory (John 15:7-8).
How are you remaining in the Vine today? What is the Holy Spirit’s invitation to you as you note the ways God is moving in your life? Where is the Spirit inviting you to trust the Father’s love?
“The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this” (1 Thess. 5:24, NRSV).