When I first became a Christian, I liked to say that God spoke to me through external circumstances.
I would get nudges...some stronger than others...Let's face it: some felt more like full body-checks that knocked me off course...
But it was always through events that were beyond my control that God spoke to me.
Scholarships. Graduate school acceptances - or rejections.
And it made sense. I was (and still am, to some degree) a hardened skeptic. If God spoke to me in my head, through my own thoughts - I would tell friends - it would be totally ineffective.
Not because God's power is limited.
But because I'm so gosh-darned stubborn and skeptical that I would constantly - constantly! - second guess myself.
Well, that sounds like a good idea, but is that really God speaking or it that just me? It sounds an awful lot like me.
External circumstances, however, were beyond my control.
And sure, the lifelong skeptic in me could chalk it up to coincidence.
It was a coincidence that the school where I did my master's did not even choose to forward on a funding proposal to do a Ph.D. under my same supervision, working on my same project. (This sort of funding was supposed to be a fairly sure-thing, my academic friends advised me.)
It was a coincidence that the only other school who accepted me wanted me to start back at the undergraduate level (I was applying for a Ph.D. program).
It was a coincidence that the school that I did get into is one of the few in the country that do something resembling theology in their religious studies department. (At the time of applying, I didn't know the difference between theology and religious studies, nor did I know that divinity colleges even existed.)
And then the school where I ended up going awarded me an internal scholarship for the exact amount of the lost scholarship (which would have kept me doing something completely unrelated to theology and in no way advancing the kingdom of God)...down to the dollar.
And of course, this was an ongoing process. Maybe I should just stay at the school where I'm doing my master's... Nope. No funding. Okay, then. McMaster it is. Or...maybe McGill is a better fit. Oh? I have to start back at undergrad? Well, maybe not. I guess it's McMaster. Nudge. Nudge. Nudge. Every time I got off course.
But hey, I was already convinced that God exists (that's a topic for another day).
So, given that He exists, it would be foolish of me to say... Nah, this is really just meaningless junk that I'm reading meaning into in my own head.
So that's how God used to speak to me. (And He probably still does, but I'm kind of awful at paying attention...)
And I remember one day asking a friend, when she said that God spoke to her, what she meant. She told me that it was like having a conversation in her head.
Imagine a God who has conversations with His creature. If we're honest, I still have no framework, really, to conceive of this. It blows me away.
But what I learned is this: God speak to us using the methods that suit us. He uses those things that will get our attention. Sometimes its external circumstances and "coincidences", sometimes it's our own voices (or His voice in our heads - this is still the wildest things I have ever heard), sometimes it's other people or...
...and here's the point of my story...
...sometimes it's an iPod.
Bill Hybels tells a story of a young woman who was driving on a twisty backroad late one night, when God spoke to her through her iPod.
"I admit I was a little preoccupied, and as I rounded the elbow...I took the bend a bit too sharply. I hadn't noticed my speed until my iPod shuffled to the song, 'Real Gone,' from the Disney movie Cars. The lyrics talk about slowing down before you crash, and as I sang along to the catchy tune, I realized it was advice I should immediately take."
"I looked down at my speedometer and took things down a notch (or ten). When I looked back up, I saw a truck barreling toward me from the other side of the road. The load it carried was oversize and barely could fit on one side. I inched over to the right to give him more room, but the shoulder was uneven and rough." The truck passed, but Keri Lynn was not out of the woods yet.
"As soon as I heard my right tires hit the gravel, I knew things would not end well... The wheel jerked out of control, and before I could grab it to steady it again, my car swung wildly to the left, onto the other side of the street. In a matter of seconds I careened headfirst into the far-left ditch, flew back out of that ditch and somehow came to a dramatic stop. I stepped out of my car unharmed, which is when I saw a massive telephone pole up ahead. Who knows the damage I could have done if I had not slowed down? And who knew God spoke through iPods?"
Lately I've had the same sort of experience of God speaking to me through my iPod.
In addition to being a hardened skeptic, I'm also a bit of a control freak and prone to bouts of self-doubt. Which means that that little voice inside my head that says, You're not good enough, has been really loud lately.
Not fast enough finishing a Ph.D.
Not earning enough money to contribute to my family's bills.
No marketable skills.
Not keeping the house clean.
Yelling at the kids.
Not good enough.
And no matter how many times I shout, "Get behind me, Satan! I am doing the best that I can," (Usually in my head. Once out loud.) that self-doubt always creeps back.
So I've been running.
Something that I never thought I could do again. (Thank you, shin splints.)
I loaded some contemporary Christian pop music onto my iPhone, got out my earbuds, and started running through the forest going, "Yay, God!"
Inevitably, this pulls me out of my self-doubt funk, teaches me some important lesson about myself, and sets me back on track. (I think. Jesus lead the way. But please make the way CLEAR. I need a big neon sign that says, "Go here. Do it now.")
Hillsong United's Oceans
Rend Collective's My Lighthouse
Danny Gokey's The Comeback
I will hold on just a little bit longer. I am an overcomer. God, take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.
Turn a corner. Dodge a tree branch. Yay, God!
Honestly, this has left me almost crying on the treadmill at Goodlife more than once. (On those days when the forest is too cold.) Quite the sight, right?
"Ma'am, are you okay?"
"Oh yeah! I'm just crying while running because I'm - just for this one moment - not holding on but letting God hold me. No big deal."
Having a Mary and Martha moment.
But music, I'm learning, can speak to our souls. It's emotional rather than rational. And the self-doubt monster absolutely does not respond to reason.
And, it seems, many of these lessons of letting go and letting God, as they say, are ones that I need to be reminded of on a very regular basis.
And, of course, God speaks to us in many ways: through Scripture, through books, through people, through events, and sometimes even through an iPod.
P.S. I've also taken to praying these lyrics while running through the forest lately. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters. Wherever you would call me.