Sometimes, I feel like a day is blah. But, increasingly, when I spend time with the Lord in the morning, the day blooms into an extraordinary day. It doesn't matter that my experiments aren't working, who I talk to or what I do. I just glow with the knowledge that I'm with the Lord - it's hard to describe - everything really seems to glow around me.
How God Speaks to Me
1. Through His Word – the most important way. Verses jump out at me, applying in specific ways I hadn’t thought of before. The Word is so important. It’s not only how we hear His voice, but how He restores us, cleanses us and the medium through which He gives us promises to claim and stand on for the day.
2. Through devotionals – the Lord will make things jump out of devotionals just like He does in the Word. It depends on the day. Sometimes nothing jumps out. Sometimes the whole thing speaks right to me. It doesn’t matter which I read – I have too many to read consistently every day. I just read the one I feel that He wants me to.
3. Through people – sometimes people will say something and it’ll burn into my soul – as if the Lord was saying, “That’s for you,” usually with an additional understanding of how it applies. This can happen through anyone, but happens most frequently through other believers.
4. Through thoughts – the Lord puts thoughts in my mind. The enemy can also do this. You can also think your own thoughts. That’s a lot to sort through. I’m still learning the differences. However, the Lord will not give anyone a negative, dirty, ungrateful, unholy thought or one that does not acknowledge Jesus as Lord. That helps. If you want to read an expert on this topic, try Mark Virkler’s book Dialogue with God. He’s also on YouTube, apparently.
What God Has Been Showing Me About Why I'm at Emory
I feel like a puppy sometimes, jumping around at God's feet. "Show me what you're doing God! Show me, show me! I want to *know*!"
God just smiles down at me and says, "When the time is right."
That'll have to do. I don't have to know what He's doing for Him to do it. That's certainly a relief. That God knows everything even though I don't is such a great comfort to me. See Ez. 37:1-2, one of my favorite verses.
Reason #1. for Dr. Salaita
It’s very clear to me that the Lord brought me here specifically. Obviously, it’s not just for me. This was the first one He told me. It was while I was praying, asking God to show me why I was here. I think I know two specific ways that this is true, from what He’s shown me, but not all. Only God really knows. Specifics aren’t important. God's always up to something. I can’t wait to see what!
A related story:
The Lord compelled me to tell Dr. Salaita I was joining the lab and why, so I did. But I was stressed out for quite a while afterward. I worried that he would think I was crazy and slam the door in my face. It's happened before under different circumstances.
A few days afterward, I was praying about it, saying, "God, why the heck did you have me do that? What if he decides to slam the door in my face like professor [insert here] did because I'm too weird?" Never mind that, if God told me to do it, He'll take care of it. He brought me here to begin with. But I tend to worry anyway sometimes.
God showed me that I should quit worrying about me and pray protection around Khalid instead, because no one was fighting for him in prayer. It was a bit of a slap in the face and I realized I was being absurd. Of course that's what I should do.
He also said (along with other things) that Dr. Salaita was worried I'd discover he wasn't as amazing as I originally thought and I'd end up changing my mind, so he was trying to play it safe and not do anything that would scare me away.
I gave God the equivalent of a funny look and said, "... nah ... I must have heard you wrong. You couldn't possibly have meant that. I just told him in no uncertain terms that I was joining. And, he's obviously awesome [insert my lengthy list of reasons here, see addendum at end] - so there's no way he'd worry that. It's illogical."
I felt a raised eyebrow from God. "Are your worries logical?"
"No. But that's not the point!" For the longest time, I thought I had heard God wrong. But. Based on things I've heard, maybe not. Maybe, God knows what He's talking about. *facepalm* Surprise, surprise there.
Reason #2. to pray seeds that will grow into good things later
The last two years, God has been showing me the critical importance of prayer. It's changing my life.
It's the very power cord that keeps believers connected to the Lord's Presence. If we don't pray, we remain powerless. It's no coincidence that the enemy has tricked the majority of us that prayer is trivial.
The Lord has used my prayer partner Esther, a lady in her 70s, to revolutionize my faith and understanding of prayer. He’s also using Mark Batterson’s books The Circle Maker and Draw the Circle: 40 Day Prayer Challenge to teach me.
God has shown me that one of the reasons He brought me to Emory is to pray His will, power and life into other people's lives, especially in the Salaita lab and in the whole chemistry building.
So, I made a promise to myself that the first thing I would do when I come to Emory every day, no matter what, is to circle the building, claim it for the Lord, and pray - for so many things and some things the Lord gives me in the moment.
Most days, I’ll circle the building once. Other days, it’ll be two or three, until I feel the Lord release me. And there was one day two weeks ago, when the Lord told me after I’d already circled the building to get up, go back down and circle it again seven times, praying for Khalid. My ears perked up and I was like, “Ooo! Why?” He just said, “Do it!” So I did.
As I circle, common points tend to be, claiming the Lord’s power and victory, claiming his Presence and peace over the building, dispelling forces of evil, arming myself for spiritual warfare, claiming the Lord’s promises, praying protection around Khalid and Meisa, around the Salaita lab, for wisdom and all kinds of things for Salaita lab members, for all the professors, for all the labs, for me, for my gamer friends, for my church, for Esther, for other friends.
I’ve met Dr. Lynn several times, walking around the building. He asked me what I was doing. Sadly, I was evasive and said I was exercising. That’s *partially* true. But really, I’m praying. So if you’ve seen me, now you know.
Praying through the lab
I also try to come early enough, around 7:45 or so, when there’s no one around in lab yet, to pray blessings over everyone’s desks, each bench and each room in the lab, as the Lord leads me.
I feel it’s important, as I write this, to state what prayer is and is not and what God is not. God is not a genie that gives you whatever you want. I think Mark Batterson says it really well in his book Draw the Circle: 40 Day Prayer Challenge.
"Drawing prayer circles is a metaphor that simply means 'praying until God answers.' It's a determination to pray as long as it takes, even if it takes longer than you ever imagined.
Drawing prayer circles isn't some magic trick to get what you want from God. God is not a genie in a bottle and your wish is not His command. His command better be your wish. [...]
Drawing prayer circles starts with discerning what God wants, what God wills. And until His sovereign will becomes your sanctified wish, your prayer life will be unplugged from its power supply. And getting what you want isn't the goal; the goal is glorying God by drawing circles around the promises, miracles and dreams He wants for you."
Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
And if that's not good enough then...
Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
And then, another favorite:
Genesis 39:20-21, "But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden."
Frequently, as I do this prayer circling, I’ll ask God to teach me Himself out of the science articles I read, to show me questions to ask and to give me prayers and dreams to pray into being over this place.
Promises and visions He's given me to claim
He’s shown me some things that have shocked me. Prayers and promises He wants me to claim for myself, for John, for the Salaita lab. I’m starting to see what I think He’s doing better and better. When I think about it, it fills me with such joy, excitement, awe and longing all at once that I tear up. But I don’t want to spoil them. I’ll let God show you. I think they’re going to happen.
I’m going to keep praying, until I see them.
Reason #3. for Yuan
Yuan is the sweetest person. We went to lunch one day to Panera, and I found out to my amazement, that she was a young believer in Jesus! She’s only been in the U.S. three years, and found the Lord through friends in Texas.
She said she was trying to learn more about Him and be more connected to Him. At once the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You’re also here for her.” It wasn’t an audible voice. But I knew.
I was so amazed, listening to her talk. She gave me a better picture of the spiritual atmosphere in both the Salaita and the Lynn lab. It was as if God was pointing out to me several things, showing me what He was doing and what to pray for all at once.
We talked about how the Lord speaks and this was how I finally convinced her I wouldn’t change my mind about joining the Salaita lab. I told her I knew I was supposed to be here, because the Lord showed it to me. She said, “Ohhh!” Her eyes got wide and she understood me perfectly. She didn’t voice any more doubts. It’s so much easier to explain, like that.
We talked about that and other things. She’s planning on joining me in the mornings, when I read Scripture. I look forward to it.
I cannot wait to see how the Lord grows her. I’m asking the Lord for wisdom about how to be helpful. I’m not always good with words, but if the Lord’s doing it, I know I can trust Him to take care of it.
For now, those are the major points. There've been lots of amazing details as well, but that would fill hundreds of pages. I can't wait to see what else the Lord will show me!
Addendum: Summary of How the Lord Showed Me I Was to Be in the Salaita Lab, in Short Form
1. I prayed for four years for the Lord to direct me to the right lab in grad school.
2. I prayed very specifically for the kind of boss I wanted:
a. One who wasn’t terrifying, forbidding, condemning.
b. One who didn’t mind questions.
c. One who would enjoy talking with me on a regular basis about science and ideas, like once a week, not once every three to six months. Someone with whom I could communicate and having a working partnership.
d. One who treated me like an equal.
e. One genuinely excited about science.
3. I also asked the Lord for an interesting project. Something that combined all my interests.
How God Answered…
None of the labs were a perfect fit for me at Emory, but I thought the Lynn lab might be the closest, so I zeroed in on them. But I kept running into Dr. Salaita. Too many unlikely coincidences.
A. At the last minute just before I came, I added Dr. Salaita to my interview list.
B. During the scavenger hunt. I was one of the few who arrived early enough to participate in this. We toured the Salaita lab as part of it. I met Dr. Salaita…
C. Which led me to look at his students' posters later at the poster session, looking for research I might like.
D. Which made me realize he was doing synthetic biology I hadn’t previously read about and interested me…
E. Which led me to listen more carefully to his talk during the interview and ask about the synthetic biology, but there wasn’t time enough to talk about it.
F. But then, he sat next to me at dinner, after I’d already picked a table.
G. I got to ask about the synthetic biology project.
H. He explained it to me. I realized, it wasn't on his website, so I'd never heard of it before.
I. It suddenly dawned on me that this was a project that combined all of my interests into one thing (what I asked for), and that Dr. Salaita certainly was not terrifying (a) – he was the most encouraging and positive person I’d ever seen – he didn’t mind my stupid questions, which were many (b) – he treated me like an equal when he talked (c) – and he was glowing with excitement about science (d).
1. I talked to Dr. Salaita several times later, and though I was terribly nervous, somehow, if he talked long enough, I eventually became unscared enough to converse. He was very patient. He somehow managed to keep talking in a long stream through my silence – then stop at once and listen intensely if I said anything – adjusting his stream of conversation to match. It was a relief not to be forced to talk all the time.
2. Every time Dr. Salaita talked to me, it was on my level, as if to an equal. Other professors are nice in a similar way. It’s hard to explain though – with him, it’s even more so. He doesn’t ever make you feel stupid.
3. He was not offended by my ignorance. He acted as if that could be changed and it was no big deal. That was huge to me.
4. I sent a gigantic list of questions about some of their papers, to see what would happen. He actually liked the questions. In other contexts, I very carefully watched his grad students talk to him, in lab meetings and elsewhere. He did not appear to mind questions from them either. He also continued to be positive. I have a more complete picture now that I’ve been working in his lab. The overall image remains intact.
5. I was worried that if I worked in his lab, I’d never work with cells. The Lord showed me the day after I mentioned this to Him, that it wasn’t true. The lab did work with E.coli and mammalian cells – it just wasn’t immediately visible, since they collaborated with other labs to do much of it.
6. I discovered that he met with his students once a week, to talk to them about their projects and ideas.
7. I loved the research project (Kevin’s) in the Salaita lab far over and above anything in the Lynn lab.
8. I discovered that not only the project, but the whole research area excited me, like an electric current was running through me. Nothing else in any other lab did that.
9. I discovered that the Salaita lab appeared to run efficiently, the people were generally happy and worked hard. The Lynn lab people were also happy but the atmosphere felt wrong for me - slow paced, plodding, like a large, inevitable and slow-moving gear. I felt it would frustrate me to work there and I would be fighting the current, while in the Salaita lab, the way I worked would not be thought unusual.
1. And I met Mary Radhuber who works at Emory, had known Dr. Salaita somewhat the entire time he'd been there and who confirmed all the points to me again about Dr. Salaita, including ones that I could not directly see, telling me how awesome both he and Emory were, and said I should definitely go to Emory. I felt at once as if God had handed me something and said, “Here you go. This is exactly what I want you to do.”
2. My last vestiges of doubt disappeared on the last day of the visit, when I sat in the hotel foyer, and a random person sat next to me, which happened to be Wallace. He asked me where I would pick. I said Emory. He said, “Me too!” Mary came over and we all talked about how awesome Emory was for over an hour. That conversation allowed the last pain I had associated with actually pressing the button and making the decision to dissipate.