For a 21-year-old, it was devastating news. My head hung as I stared at the floor in disbelief. The letter from the Dean of Academics dangled in my hand. I was now on academic probation. I knew I’d been teetering on the edge due to below average grades. But I never thought it would lead to academic probation.
My incoming fellow freshmen classmates graduated just days before. They were moving on to the next phase of life—new jobs or graduate school. And here I was, on the cusp of flunking out of college.
What a struggle it had been up to this point.
My shoulders slumped, bearing the weight of shame. “How did I get myself into this mess?” I thought to myself, “Why do I struggle so much academically?”
In college, assigned research papers posed major difficulties. For me it was a surmounting struggle. The lethal combination of poor writing skills, insufficient understanding as to how to craft credible research papers, and low confidence in my ability to do so, felt as if a noose suffocated me. As a history and political science major, I couldn’t avoid research papers.
In high school I scored low on the English section of the SATs, reflecting my stunted grammatical development. Growing up I permitted my hearing impairment to negatively curtail my confidence in my scholastic endeavors. Instead I focused on exceling in athletics—academics took a backseat. Once in high school, I never wrote a research paper (during my senior year, the English teacher dropped the requirement for us to do a research paper, much to the delight of us students)—needless to say, I was insufficiently prepared for the rigors and demands of writing in college.
Often I spent days trying to piece something together that resembled a research paper. On numerous occasions I trudged to class to hand in a research paper that I was utterly ashamed of.
Shame engulfed me.
SUMMER OF ‘96
Meanwhile, according to the Dean’s letter, I was required to immediately enroll in summer school. I notified my summer employer that I was unable to work. I repacked my bags and drove two hours back to school.
I was informed that I had to earn a 3.0 (or better) that summer in order to avoid academic suspension for the year. I signed up for Psychology 101—and I received permission to retake two courses by appointment that I had previously failed (a philosophy course and one of my upper level history courses). The grade that I earned in the retake courses would replace the previous “F” grade. Since it was a class by appointment, it meant the majority of my grade would be contingent upon research papers. A risk indeed, but one I had to take.
I only had one shot.
In the midst of this adversity, the Lord met me in a powerful way as I lived off campus, alone. I worked diligently on my courses while also pouring out my heart to the Lord. Considerable time was well spent in prayer during that lonely summer as I sought to draw near to the Father’s heart. Psalm 34:18 summed up that season of life, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”
My professors went above the call of duty to assist me. Dr. Stephen Longenecker—my history professor at Bridgewater College—came on campus to meet with me even though he had the summer off. He was gracious in sacrificing his time to meet; he also allowed me to write papers on the sociological impact of the religious fervor of the second great awakening. He knew it was a topic dear to my heart and assigned books that would allow me to tap into my passion. To this day I’m utterly grateful for his sacrificial help.
At the conclusion of the summer semester, I was overjoyed to learn of my grades: I earned my first “A” (Psychology 101) outside of a P.E. course; and I earned B’s in the other two courses. I was elated—and grateful.
In all, it was a life-changing summer—a pivotal moment. In the midst of personal humiliation, God used it to refine my character by making me more Christ-like in all areas of my life.
I graduated from Bridgewater College the following spring of ’97. I didn’t have to take a full course load so I also pioneered a campus ministry. During the course of the year, it became evident that I was indeed called of the Lord to continue in this pursuit beyond graduation. Though I never quite mastered the nuances of writing research papers, I ended on a strong note academically.
After graduation, I visited friends in Virginia Beach. At one point I was in the car with Gary Russell, Director of China Harvest. We’d just visited the campus of Regent University. In the car I mentioned my desire to continue my education in order to be equipped for the ministry. As I prepared for full-time campus ministry, such an option was quite appealing. However, it was terrifying too. In that moment I recognized the lie that fueled the anxiety associated with the challenges I had academically: I felt stupid. I came face-to-face with this sinister self-defeating voice. Instead of retreating, I felt stirred within to confront this diabolical root in my life.
By the grace of God, I determined to do something about it. And I did.
In the posture of prayer, I cultivated a deeper hunger for Him. This translated to a voracious appetite for reading. And I consumed books. Over the course of the next few years, I read several hundred books. Journaling became a daily habit—I wrote all that the Lord taught me. I listened to hundreds of cassette tapes. Learning became personal, rewarding, and stimulating—finally I started to understand how I best processed information and learn. It was deeply rewarding.
I was able to attack the deceiving lie that I was stupid. Within a few years I graduated from Christ for the Nations Institute with a degree in Practical Theology—and then I earned a M.A. in Organizational Leadership from Regent University. The whole program was completed online. I vividly recall at the orientation, Dr. Patterson promised each student one outcome of the program: “You will become a better writer!” She was right on. Writing was the primary staple of each online course. By God’s grace I was able to excel at a higher level than what I’d done previously in my undergraduate studies. I had the self-efficacy to do the work required of me. And in the process I became a much better writer.
THE CALL TO WRITE
Over the years since I first entered into fulltime ministry in ’97, I had this sense percolating within: I was called to write. This seemed to contradict my life experiences, especially during my early adulthood years. One day an artist who was a praying woman, said to me with great authority, “Brian, you’re going to write lots of books. Not just one, but many. Get ready.”
Over the years this inward conviction grew that I was indeed called of God to write.
It is a calling from the Lord. Before the gift emerged, the call was there. Yet at times there was no evidence but for the still, small voice of the Lord within whispering, “I have called you to be a mighty pen in My hand!”
As I shared previously, my own pen was anything but mighty. Many complimented me for my legible handwriting, “Wow, you have nice handwriting for a guy!” However early on no one ever praised me for something I’d written. In other words, there was nothing in the natural to suggest I possessed a gift for writing.
The gift was hidden. It was a treasure to be unearthed through a struggle. And what a struggle it was.
In 2007 I stepped out to start a blog. I was reminded of Zechariah 4:10, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin.” I made myself vulnerable. I put myself out there for others to critique—but in doing so I also allowed others to encourage me. At roughly the same time I also joined Facebook which was another outlet for sharing my thoughts through writing. As a result many commented how my writings inspired them in their walk with Christ. This was deeply touching considering the challenges I had years prior.
Now I’m pursuing the Lord’s call to write. The struggles early on fashioned me into the man that I am today. The struggles served as the means for the Lord to bring forth the hidden gift of writing, dormant within. Whatever your struggle is today, allow the Lord to use it to make you more Christ-like, and to prepare you for your calling in Him.