Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Regent Experience

A speech I gave at the Regent University Commencement luncheon following my graduation on May 7, 2011:

My Regent story begins on a private beach in Monterrey, Ca. on a Sunday morning in March, 2005. Inside the large rental house behind me, the women attending our church’s Spring ladies’ retreat were chatting and snacking following the morning service. I, on the other hand, had decided to spend some alone-time in prayer. On my lap was a 5-year-plan worksheet the speaker had just passed out and in my hand was a pen.

I knew where this prayer was going. “Lord, it’s me again. When and how?” I didn’t have to explain my question, because it had been the same question for 15 years, the time we had served as associate pastors at International Christian Center in San Leandro, Ca.

From the time I graduated from college in 1992 my heart’s desire was to receive a master’s degree. But as a pastor’s wife and, as time went by, a mother of 3 children, there was never a good time to continue my education. Housing prices in California were outrageous and I had no choice but to work full-time as a high school English & History teacher. I also lacked clear direction. Even if I went back to school, what would I study? As a lifelong lover of learning, my interests were varied.

The years passed quickly. In my heart I always believed that when all my children were in school the Lord would make a way for me to continue my education. In the fall of 2005 my youngest son, Ryder, would start kindergarten. But God was still silent on the subject of my future.

So after I prayed my one sentence prayer, I just sat still. The beach was empty and the view breathtaking. I reflected on my childhood years, for Monterrey was where I had grown up. The salty, seaweed scented air and the brisk breeze took me back to my happy years spent here as a pastor’s daughter. I was so thankful for my life and for God’s goodness. Practically lost in this moment of nostalgia I heard a voice whisper, “Major in Communications and prepare for television. “

I knew that voice like my own father’s. “God,” I replied, “I don’t know the first thing about television, and you know I’ve always been afraid to speak!”

But I knew there was no point in arguing. One thing I had learned in 15 years- don’t let fear keep you from obeying God’s voice. I began to fill out my 5-year-plan sheet. For the first time in years, I knew that God was leading me toward something beyond myself. At last my future was coming into focus.

I had one more question. “Where do you want me to go to school, Lord?”

Without hesitation the Holy Spirit answered, “Where do you want to go to school?”

In my mind I considered the direction my life was going. What school would prepare me for television? Ever since graduating from a secular university, I desired to attend a Christian grad school. The only option was clear—Regent University. Regent’s school of Communications and the Arts was the top Christian school in the field of Communications. The Christian Broadcasting Network was also located on campus—a great place for me to gain experience.

But Regent University was across the country—in Virginia Beach, Virginia! How would I ever talk my husband and family into moving 3,000 miles so mom could go back to school? It was so impossible I remember laughing and saying, “God, if this is your will then I won’t have to talk Matt (my husband) into this—you will. And if this is you could you give me a sign?”

After returning home from the women’s retreat, my husband and I sat down to catch up on the weekend’s events. I couldn’t wait to tell him my big news. I related all the highlights of the weekend, carefully holding back my surprise. “Oh, by the way,” I casually added, “God spoke to me this weekend.”

“Uh-oh,” he said. My husband had learned after 17 years of marriage that God’s voice usually meant our wallets would be opened. “What did He say?”

I proceeded to tell him the whole story. He quietly listened with no expression. After I finished he said, “Isn’t Regent in Virginia?”

I nodded yes. Next, he quickly listed in order all the reasons why that would not work. He was very sincere and sweet, and I loved the fact that he was trying to let me down gently. I agreed with him that it was a crazy idea. I left the conversation with “…if this is God He’ll show you and I won’t even have to bring it up again.”

Would you believe that 24 hours later my husband told me to “go ahead and apply?” That’s not all—the very next day a stranger brought a big box of books into the school where I was teaching and my principal said the box was for me. After removing the top layer of books, I smiled at what I found underneath. It was all of Pat Robertson’s books and 20+ cassette tapes of Pat’s teachings inside a tape case labeled CBN. Pat Robertson is the founder of Regent University and CBN. If that wasn’t a sign from God!

Two years would pass before we were able to sell our house and move to Virginia. We arrived with no jobs and no connections, but before our savings ran out, God provided a great job for my husband. Unusual favor of God and influence in the community followed—and in 2009 we started a church in north Suffolk called Three in One Church. After my first year at Regent I was granted an internship at the 700 Club. Four months later, I was offered a full time job as the Guest Segment producer. I am blessed to meet all the amazing guests we have on the show and to work with extremely talented and godly people who share my vision for the world to hear the gospel.

My Regent experience was rich and full in every way. I gained confidence over my initial fear of public speaking—here I am today speaking to you and on Sunday I’ll be speaking at my church for Mother’s Day. I learned the power of storytelling—both with visuals and with words. Before coming to Regent I used to always say, “I’m not very creative.” Now, my title at church is “Creative Director.” I have to give a shout out to my favorite professor—Dr. Pfeiffer. He taught me how to design a website and handle visuals. Who knew that as a church planter, we would need a webmaster? Guess who handles our church website?

Regent taught me you can completely change the course of your life through learning. Even though most of the students on campus were half my age, I learned that my age didn’t matter—it’s still hard work and perseverance that make a person successful.

Regent taught me how to unlock skills I didn’t know I had. For example, I found out I love to write, especially devotionals. Someday I hope to turn my blog into my first book. I found out that I was “technical” -- I learned how to work a camera, a light kit, sound equipment, edit video, be a digital photographer, and even direct . . .well, actually I wasn’t a very good director!

Regent made me believe I could do anything in the field of communications. Right now I’m a producer, but someday I’d like to write a movie screenplay and perhaps produce a movie—there was a time I wouldn’t even say something like that out loud. Now, I know it’s possible.

So, now we’re coming to the end of my Regent story. If you do the math, you’ll find it’s been 6 years since I filled out my “5 year plan” sheet. Who knew? Those things really do work! I can truly say without exaggeration—moving to Virginia and attending Regent University has been the greatest adventure of my life.

Finally, every great story has a hero. The true hero of my story is my husband Matt.**** He took a huge risk by uprooting our family from a comfortable life--a beautiful home, two perfectly good jobs, a large extended family, and a loving church body. He believed I heard from God and, by doing so, he allowed me to follow my dream. I love you Matt Stewart!

*Top picture left: I finally got my picture with Pat!

** Top picture right: "Look Mom, I'm on the program with Pat Robertson!" Yes, I actually said that!

***Center picture: After graduation, Matt took a picture of me with my regalia on. I didn't have it to wear to my graduation ceremony, because I was late and didn't get to pick it up! I was super bummed!!

****At the time of the speech, I didn’t have this last paragraph scripted. I cried my way through this part, and I really don’t know what I said—but here is the gist of it!