Find out how to donate to my first year’s tuition here. And if you’d share it on your own blog, your Facebook Timeline, and your Twitter feed, I’d be ever so grateful.
The link includes more detail about how you can help and the summary version of why I want to go to Regent College. But I wanted to use this space to tell the full story about how I started writing and what role it’s played in this life decision.
When I decided in my last year of high school to become a writer, I had no idea what it meant or how to go about it. Chances are that if someone had explained it to me properly I would never have begun. It is a struggle just to put thoughts and ideas into coherent words on a page, never mind the challenge of finding a way to get them in front of an audience.
Nevertheless, I’ve kept writing, and even gotten a few to read or listen to my writing. I went to school and wrote stories for workshops. I started a blog and persisted in posting my thoughts for anyone to find. I preach sermons for my church community and hope they find some meaning to act upon.
It started with the creative writing class I took in Grade 12. Just at the moment when you realize that you need an answer when people ask what you plan to do with life, I decided that I wanted to be a writer. Nobody spoke ill of this. Family and friends all said they thought something like that was going to happen. I got even more encouragement from my creative writing teacher as I fumbled through my first short stories. But despite all the kindness, I recognized the undercurrent of pragmatism: you’re going to need a real career besides that, Steven; you need something to fall back on, Steven, that’s the only way you’ll learn to fly. This was something I tried my best to ignore. I had no enthusiasm whatsoever to enter what I thought of as the “rat race”, or for anything beyond making up stories and writing them down.
Sometime around then my church, Granville Chapel, welcomed a missionary as a guest speaker one Sunday morning. He shared about the things you expect from a missionary — work projects, evangelism, and so on. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember what he said to me when I ended up talking to him after the service. Somehow in the conversation it came up that I wanted to be a writer. And instead of telling me to get a real job or telling me that fiction was too worldly and to go for something more spiritually profitable like overseas missions, this man said, “There’s a call for writers.”
I headed out of high school and into Langara College, eager to pursue what I could now feel was my calling. For once I enjoyed being in school, studying what I wanted to, writing papers on what I wanted to, and choosing my own path rather than having one chosen for me. But when it was over I had a piece of paper that was only half a university education — and more crucially, I had no real sense of what God’s call for writers was or what I was meant to do with my passion and gift.
In December 2012, I attended the Urbana conference run by Intervarsity Christian Fellowship along with the college and career group from my church. There I attended seminars about missions, worshipped in multiple languages, and — in the dramatized Scripture readings among other things — saw the union between the arts and Christian community. I also felt invited by God to stretch my wings a little into an area that I hadn’t been open to before, despite the suggestions by certain close friends. On the last day of the conference I talked to Joe, our pastor who had come with us, and said, “I think I want to try preaching.” His response: “No problem. How about in three weeks? I’m supposed to give the message in the main service but you could take my place.”
It was terrifying. It was an enormous responsibility. But as I got up to the pulpit, I also felt a great sense of calm and relief. The butterflies in my stomach settled and I was able to share with the congregation, simply and briefly, the lesson I had learned at Urbana about hearing God’s call; and also to share the invitation into His service no matter what it might be. Since then I’ve preached at Granville two or three times a year. It’s always an honour to be asked and I always strive to improve. But whenever someone seems to assume or suggest a vocation in pastoral ministry, I chafe. Preaching is wonderful, but I look at it as a learning experience rather than a teaching one. I’m piecing together into words what I’ve learned from both God and the Bible and presenting a research project that I hope others can benefit from. Maybe others wouldn’t see it that way, but that’s been my method. It seems to have helped people.
Preaching wasn’t the end of it. I’ve written scripts for Granville’s Christmas productions, performed dramatic monologues as Biblical characters, and for the last two years I’ve also been in charge of organizing our Good Friday services. I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to serve my church family, especially since these opportunities have taught me what ministry is, the humility to realize when I may not be right, and the spiritual skill of loving people in the midst of personality clashes and disagreements. The most important personal revelation that I’ve had from these experiences is that people seem to really remember and take to heart the things I say. It means I’m very careful when considering what words to use. And it means that when I’m scribbling out a story in my notebook, I feel like I really am making something that God is going to put into people’s hearts. It’s when I feel the closest to Him.
Along the length of this “extracurricular” learning journey, of course, I’ve needed to earn money. The jobs I’ve had have taught me many of the same things that writing for my church has, if in different contexts and expressions. But even so, none of them have been writing work. My pride has kept me from seeking out “menial” copywriting jobs, while my self-doubt kept me thinking that I was never good enough to write this or that novel — and so leave many projects abandoned until an ambiguous “later”. I find myself on the far side of 30 a prisoner of my comfort zone, and wondering how to tunnel out.
I have a new resolve to step into a genuine writing career and pursue my vocation. But alongside that I want to understand more of what it means to have a vocation, what it means to have a calling, and what God’s intention is for giving us these things. I feel I have pieces of the answers, but not the whole. The Master of Arts program at Regent will hopefully give me enough scope to seek those answers, as well the chance to put what I’ve learned into a final creative project that would actually let me spread my wings under God’s guidance and care.