Transforming Purposely: When the Rubber Meets the Road at FPU

Transforming Purposely: When the Rubber Meets the Road at FPU

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes)

Those who know me well know how much I enjoy cycling. I started this adventure in 2008 to find ways to stay fit and have fun. I bought my first bike for Mother’s Day and quickly upgraded to an expensive road bike by July 2009. I was on my way to doing everything from participating in 100-mile rides to multiple-day cycling trips. I caught the “cycling bug” and was on my way down the bike trail of life and up for the adventures. Riding was my passion, and everyone knew that I could be spotted on the bike path or out and about riding on Saturday afternoon.

The quote above speaks to me in so many ways. In 2017 my life took a drastic turn downward. The ministry job that I was engaged in for 26 years came to a screeching halt and I was (metaphorically) thrown from my bike in a way that jolted me and left me paralyzed in my faith.

It was an incident that left me searching for God and his intention for my life. Where was God in this situation? Was this his will for my life or were others plotting their evil ways and justifying it as God’s way? The torment of this whole ordeal was so overwhelming that I needed to escape all the questioning that was engulfing my waking hours. This was not just a flat tire, but a midlife catastrophe with bruises, shattered bones and a broken heart.

I did the only thing I could think to do. I jumped on my bike and rode, and rode and rode, often with tears streaming down my cheeks as I set out. Looking back, I realize that these rides were not just my need to get out and cycle but were also some of the most intimate moments that I had with God. I talked, he listened and I listened as he talked. His spirit nurtured my soul and gave me the resilience I needed to continue. “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary” (Isaiah 40:31).

When I speak to students regarding their journey and decision to come back to school, it does not take long for them to share the obstacles they have faced in their adult lives. Some come with huge amounts of regret, kicking themselves for dropping out of community college in the first place. Others desperately want a new life and one that is fulfilling and hopeful. I know their pain and heartache. I know the encouragement they need to find the strength to continue and complete their education. My appointments with these adults are first encounters with compassion to understand their circumstances, fears, vulnerability, dreams and, most importantly, their hope for themselves.  

Not all are ready to tell their story, but many will reveal their wounds and struggles, which gives me an opportunity for holy listening. Holy listening is not just hearing words but paying attention to everything. Where do I see God in their story? How is he working in their lives? Where are they being called? How can I assist them to discern? Discernment is not simply making a list of pros and cons, but seeking a deeper truth. It is an opportunity to go deeper and dance with the divine: processing feelings, unexplained coincidences, examining energy, pondering images, etc. These all are gifts from God that are leading to something greater within us, to our purpose. It can feel like a treasure hunt with clues along the way to guide our steps. But until we can sit still and truly be present and examine their importance, we may miss their meaning and God’s message.

I remember one appointment very well. I noticed that the applicant’s file had numerous opportunities listed but all of them were deferred. I said to her, “Well, it looks like you have been thinking about this for a long time.” She hesitantly stated that she has been inquiring for almost 10 years. I asked, “What is holding you back? And she blurted, “I am afraid of failing.” As our conversation continued, we had an opportunity to discuss what failure looked like for her and how this had affected so many parts of her life. I simply said, “Don’t you think it’s time to let hope lead the way and trust that God is leading you?” She breathed a sigh of relief and told me that she needed to hear that if God was truly leading her there was no way she could fail. Fall maybe, I reassured her, but failure is not part of God’s plan.

Meeting all types of students from different backgrounds is one of the biggest joys of my job at FPU. Some days I ask God, “I wonder who you will bring to me today, and I pray that I may use my holy listening wisely.” I love their stories; they make names or faces come alive and I get to meet the authentic people behind the pages. I always schedule my appointments for an hour because often the first 30 minutes is storytelling, and we connect on a deeper level. I am humbled to be given the opportunity to form this connection because I know that God is using me to help these students Transform Purposely and see their hope for themselves.

I don’t tell them that going back to college is going to be easy—on the contrary, I tell them it will probably be one of the hardest things they have ever had to do. But I remind them that God will carry them and when they feel like giving up, there is this amazing grace that will scoop them up and strengthen them to continue the journey. For me it’s like cycling up a very steep mountain. You grind and grind with sweat pouring down your face and looking down so as not to lose focus, and when you get to the top it’s a sweet victory. The view is always more beautiful that you ever imagined.


Susan Rizo

Bakersfield Campus Outreach and Admission Representative