By Heather Huffman
Intro by Dr. Judi Jackson
With each Campus Preview event (including the one coming up this weekend), I look forward to meeting people from a number of different places who sense God calling them to be equipped and trained for the next step in their obedience to His plan for their lives. Some come to the preview event to confirm a decision they’ve already made to further their education in the mission field of New Orleans. Others come unsure of the city as well as the commitment it will take to complete a degree or certificate. The time spent in classrooms, campus tours, and conversations with students and professors helps visitors to solidify their next steps.
Several years ago, Heather Huffman walked on campus for the first time to begin her seminary journey. Hers is a story of contrast and confirmation. Perhaps there are some similarities to your story as well.
A Personal Experience: Secular School to Seminary Steeple
by Heather Huffman
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It stood tall, slender and elegant like a majestic banner waving gloriously over the entire campus. I stood speechless, unable to leave the sidewalk there. I had seen it from the road before entering to park, felt the magnetic pull from my little Nissan Maxima. But it wasn’t until I stood face to face with it that I grasped the incredible power it possessed, what all it represented—Who it represented!
- That was the year I had been accepted into graduate school at the university of my dreams. My husband and I had moved with our two small children clear across the state of Texas, from Longview to Lubbock, from Piney Woods to the Great Plains. You’d have thought I was a six-year-old girl on Christmas morning standing giddy up under that huge Double “T” sign at the football stadium, gazing in awe at the brightly lit red and black letters. The excitement was palpable, and I was utterly amazed at the opportunity I’d been given after all the prodigal things I had done, after the rough life I had lived.
Little did I know what God had in store for me then, how things would change, what all would transpire—one heartache after another, one lesson learned after lesson learned.
Physical therapy school was quite the challenge, but more than cognitive challenges were soul challenges. Temptations, financial problems, marital struggles, a haunting past—so many things to battle while trying to “get ahead” in the world and finally “become somebody.” But I fumbled my way through it, making mistakes and making “success” eventually.
Then, in the midst of all my continued striving several years after passing state boards, a phone call, one that would change our lives forever. It was my precious brother, Shane, one of my closest and dearest friends, lost—to suicide’s shrapnel.
You know, it’s a strange thing how God takes our greatest pain and does His greatest work. How He miraculously transforms lives through terrible tragedy. How He uses the very thing we think we will never overcome to shape us into to very person we were meant to be all along.
That’s what happened with me, with my husband, with our family. That one split second in time, that one shotgun blast changed the trajectory of everything. After a long period of clinical depression, near divorce, agonizing counseling, and so on, and through God’s persistent, pursuing Love, light shone straight through the darkness. Bright beams immerged through unsuspecting places and broke through barriers long laid down.
Somehow in the wreckage, God picked up the shattered pieces and began forming something new, a different story that would shine His light and ultimately bring His name glory.
Part of that light was a pregnancy.
We already had two sons, young teenagers by this point, but God saw fit to give us a baby girl too, and we were ecstatic! And although she was a paramount tool God used to build His story, the most constructive aspect of the entire structure were heart changes that took place.
It was His Love infiltrated into every crevice, lapped over every boulder, and poured into fresh foundation that made the most significant difference of all. The Light of Jesus became the Light of our home and He had set us on a hill for the whole world to see.
As hearts changed so did our agendas and, before I knew it, I was headed back to school. That’s where God had told me to go. And, like Abraham without a clue, I went.
There I stood staring up again. But this time it wasn’t the Double “T” I had awed years ago. It was a steeple. Perched high on top a large white chapel above an arched window and stately clock stood this incredible spike pointing straight up to the heavens, as if directing everyone’s attention to Him, to the One hovering over the whole New Orleans campus. It immediately felt like home, like the safest place I’d ever been, like right in the smack center of His divine will. I didn’t budge. I just stood there gazing with wet-brimmed eyelids, so thankful for the moment—for the sublime peace of it.
It was my first course at the seminary, and it began with a service inside the beautiful chapel. Walking up wide steps and past broad, supporting columns, I felt a grin as big as my home state stretch across my face. At the same time, I felt a powerful Presence, as if God Himself was carrying a backpack right beside me, guiding me through the tall, inviting doors, and leading me to the red-carpeted aisle of the sanctuary. And there they were — professors and students with hands lifted high, singing a song that echoed lovely throughout the vast house of worship.
And that was just the beginning.
From class to class, I noted the sharp contrast from my prior schooling, a common bond of a different kind here, a family-hood of sorts, a central Theme with a single, capital “T.” Although I was accustomed to papers and textbooks flying about with all those years in secular university, I wasn’t accustomed to prayers and The Book filling an atmosphere like this! It was incredible. This was college all right, but with an entirely different spin, with a singular focus and sole purpose: to make One name known . . . Jesus.
Leaving that day, I walked back to take another look, to gaze high at the steeple another time. Whipping out my phone, I took some memorable camera shots and told myself I’d never forget all God is capable of. I thought of what that steeple represented to me personally. I remembered His hand of protection throughout my wandering years, His blessing poured out on a burdened soul, His Love leading me right up to that place. And I thanked Him for my standing there on Holy ground.
In semesters that followed, I learned I wasn’t the only one who appreciated the towering steeple. The residents of New Orleans had seen it rise above the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. Having a source of light, the steeple had also become a symbol of the seminary’s mission to be a “lighthouse” for the gospel in New Orleans. And fellow students had stories of their own where God had rescued, restored, and redirected them there as well.
And the baby girl God blessed us with after Shane’s suicide? She’s nine years old now. Traveling with me recently, Shaina had a chance to see for herself the stunning “steeple on the chapel” I so adore. A gracious student saw the two of us struggling to take selfies in front of it and offered to help. “Oh, would you?” I replied excitedly. “It’d be my pleasure,” he added. Click. Click. Doing a quick check, we all noticed the frame had cut the steeple off, so of course, we retook the picture to include the point of it all, the steeple pointing to the God of it all!