It's hard to start this post, but I know where I want it to end. You see, it's hard to condense the last 16 years into a decent beginning without starting at the 18 years preceding that (I'm 34 and you can do math in your head, very impressive!).
I grew up in a small (and I ain't kiddin') town in northwestern Minnesota. There were three choices of religion on the buffet - everyone I knew was Lutheran, and everyone else was Methodist and Catholic. It humors me now to think how exotic I used to think it was to go to the Methodist church in Beltrami, MN every year for some special community dinner that they used to have. As a kid, I thought that they were so different, so foreign. And now, I think - for goodness sakes, they were METHODIST - how tame can you get? And don't even get me started on how naive I was about the poor Catholics. I thought they were mystical and weird and I begged my friend Valerie to teach me how to say the "Hail Mary" prayer so I would have something to say while we rode the scary rides at the annual Fertile Fair.
To some, this childhood would have been idyllic. But, I stuck out in Fertile, MN like a sore thumb that had been struck one too many times with a rusty hammer. I am, how shall we say, slightly creative --- and quite emotionally demonstrative --- and I didn't fit in so good with the "farmer kids." As I grew up and was confirmed in the Lutheran church as a pre-teen, I felt like I didn't fit in so good anywhere. I would have moments where I felt so close to God . . . but as I struggled with my self-identity and hating myself as a teenager, I struggled to get by every day and keep my head above water until I could go to college and "find myself."
The fall of my senior year, I had enough. The summer preceding that had been particularly difficult and culminated in me seeing the inside of a padded room for three days. I got myself together and managed to land a role in the school play, starring as "Honey Hotchkiss" in Woody Allen's "Don't Rock the Boat." I had so much fun and I will be forever thankful to my drama teacher, Mr. Rickey, for allowing me to end my "Fertile Experience" on a high note. After that, I enrolled at Moorhead State in Moorhead, MN starting that November. Minnesota had a special program where you could start your freshman year early and your tuition would be paid by the funding that would have paid for your senior year of high school. THANK GOD.
At college, I fit in a lot better. At the time, I was very interested in politics (barf!) and law (gag!) and was certain that I would be a high-powered something-or-other for the rest of my life. I literally - I am not kidding you - carried a briefcase to class every day at 17 years of age. I somehow managed to get elected to the student senate and even have memories of us lobbying at the state capital for lower tuition (how glamorous!). A year later, at age 18 though, life was just "there." Things just weren't going the way that I thought that they should go and I didn't feel inside my heart how I thought a person should feel about themselves. Things were much better than being back at home, but something was still missing.
One of my friends on the student senate, Matt, ended up inviting me to his "spirit filled" church - and as they say, the rest is history. I was scared out of my mind that first night - and no thank you - I did NOT want to be filled with the "Hooooooolllllllllllyyyyyyyy Ghost." But, later, back in my bedroom, door shut and candles burning, holding my Bible and praying, I knew that I had nothing else to lose. I remember Matt and I praying together in my living room soon after that, and I accepted Jesus into my heart and I felt in a way that I never did before --- so pure, so holy, so good, so accepted.
I started going to First Assembly of God in Fargo, ND and things went so fast after that. I couldn't get enough of Bible study, or of church, or of God. To say I was "on fire" would be putting it mildly. I got baptized (again, I had been 'sprinkled' as a child) --- and that spring, I remember sitting in the service and feeling God nudging me HARD as they were asking for people to get involved in the children's ministry. I had always had a heart for kids, being so misunderstood as a child and a teen, I had always hoped that I could help other kids avoid feeling like that - and help them to know God at a much earlier age than I had.
I got involved in the children's ministry and one thing led to another and I was helping out in children's church, directing the nursery for a time, teaching 5th and 6th grade Sunday school. I strongly felt God leading me into full time ministry and took the plunge and started looking into Bible schools (I had already quit Moorhead State in the winter of 1993 when I knew that law wasn't what I was supposed to do with my life). I moved forward and enrolled at Lee University in Cleveland, TN. And I wish, on some level, that the rest of this entry was about my amazing ministry and how God has used me from there to touch thousands of lives. Alas, mine is a different and yet, still special, story. I remind myself when I start to feel down about my journey, about Rahab, and Mary Magdalene, and other very non-shiny, very non-superstar women of the Bible that God still used mightily.
Right before leaving for Lee, I got married. I was 20 and ready to conquer the world and figured that getting married was just a part of that. I graduated from Lee, but my marriage didn't. In July, 1998 I had a shiny diploma in my hands --- and that following February, 1999 --- those same hands were signing divorce papers. I could write so many things - draw flowcharts for you of where the blame should lie - but the bottom line is, I got divorced. Here's a pointer for you - before you take out 10's of thousands of dollars (x's A LOT) in student loans for a PASTORAL MINISTRY degree, you mayyyyyyy want to actually KEEP YOUR MARRIAGE INTACT so that you can ACTUALLY BE A PASTOR.
I was so angry. So very, very, very angry. I had felt God's direct calling, followed Him to Tennessee - spent money I didn't have - and BAM! - I suddenly couldn't do what I really thought He wanted me to do in the first place. I had spent those 3 years at Lee trying to be perfect. I remember sobbing up in the prayer chapel begging God to reveal Himself to me, to let me FEEL Him again - and nothing. That pain stayed with me, and soon, as I worked as a manager in the hotel industry, I would go to church rarely and my prayers were sad shadows of my former conversations with my Father.
Things had reached an all time low in the summer of 2002. By that time, I had switched fields and was working in administration. I was living a 'sexy, single' life in Birmingham, Alabama. Like Carrie on the television show, I would often scramble for rent money after buying a pair of really cute shoes or an outfit I had to have. I went out with friends on my birthday that July, and met a guy at the bar. Note to anyone who actually reads this thing: try not to pick out dates when you are inebriated. I met someone and we started dating and as they say, one thing led to another.
By that September, I was so sick of myself it was hard to look in the mirror. I looked back on the past several years and the "yuck" I felt inside was so similar to how I had felt when I was 18 and knew I needed God in my life. After a business trip to Florida, and a terrible storm on the way back, I ended up looking out the window of the tiny plane and praying a prayer of forgiveness in my head while the CEO of the company sat across from me engrossed in his laptop. I prayed to my Father and told him how sorry I was that I had made such a mess of things, and I asked Him to make me clean, I rededicated my heart to Him and I felt Him make me whole all over again.
The plane landed, and I, never being one to not move forward on a decision immediately, called my boyfriend and broke up with him for the third time. That Sunday, I was in church, on my knees at the altar and made the prayer that I had made that Friday "stick." Again, this is part of the story where I wish I could tell you about how God used all of my poor decisions mightily for His purposes, where He reopened the door for children's ministry, and how I now have the ministry that I first felt Him calling me to all those years ago.
Instead, two weeks after I had prayed that prayer of dedication, I found out I was pregnant. Lesson #2 - If you ever have any hope of having a respectable, church-given position - it's not good to be divorced - but ----- it's really not good if you're knocked up. Also, it's probably a really good idea to not break up with anyone until you are SURE you are not pregnant. The story of my single pregnancy is a story for a different day because the lessons that God taught me in those months would fill this computer screen much fuller than it already is. Suffice it to say, God truly taught me what the words of Romans 8:28 meant: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. I felt God's hand on me during that time in so many ways and although a single pregnancy may not have been the 'best' plan, or a box that I would have ever have checked for myself on purpose, God used that time to change me permanently for the better.
Now, it's 2009 (almost 2010) and I was laying awake in bed tonight thinking about 'the calling' that God gave me so many years ago. I am remarried and have been active in my local church, but for the most part, God has kept the door to children's ministry at least partially closed. As I told you in the last post, God has been doing something unique and different in my life this past year, much like He did during my single pregnancy. He has revealed things to me that were pretty hard to swallow; and I know that, based on what He shown me, that the original calling that He gave me is pretty much gone. For years, while I was plodding through Bible classes and theology that were WAY over my head, I had counted on that calling. When I had felt fully restored and was remarried, I felt sure that calling would be likewise restored. When I quit my job and had tons of extra time on my hands, I knew just how to fill it. And yet, no.
So, as I was laying in bed tonight, praying, wondering about my future . . . I got a vision of my children in my mind. Sweet baby Trinity, who I get to see and hold and feed and change and love, every day - time I never got to spend with Emelia as a single mom. Wonderful loving Emelia, who has a heart so tender and filled with compassion that I wonder what I ever did to deserve such a beautiful human being in my life. Not to mention, my stepson Trey, who is well on his way to being a network newscaster and who keeps me in stitches with his jokes and antics. I had tears running down my face and onto my pillow as my heart was filled to overflowing with the love in my life from these kids. The gift that God has given me through their love.
And, that's when I realized (yes, I am a slow learner sometimes) - that God still has called me to the ministry of children. Maybe not in the way I thought it should be, maybe not according to my original plan, but in a way that He can bless and honor if I will only submit to it. I read somewhere, not too long ago, about a mom who felt called to the "mission field of motherhood." And that phrase has stuck with me. I don't even really know how amazing it would feel to be called to China or Africa or somewhere exotic and fulfill God's plan in a phenomenal way - how awesome to be able to call oneself "a missionary."
God hasn't called me to any of those places. He hasn't even called me to where I thought I was called when He first called me. Instead, I have been called to very small church with only 5 parishioners including myself. I am a very special missionary in a very exotic port-o-call (it even has sticky grape jelly on the countertops). I am called - TODAY - to be Jesus' hands and feet to my husband and my children. I am called to be the heart of my home and be genuinely kind and loving to all people under five feet tall and to honor and submit myself to the man in my life who is five foot nine.
I am called to keep a clean and tidy house and to have a mostly yummy meal on the table most nights out of the week. I am called to kiss boo-boo's and to read bedtime stories and to say prayers and sing songs. I am called to be a helpmate and to somehow maybe resemble something of the Proverbs 31 woman if all the stars are aligned properly that day. That's it. I'm not standing on stage doing object lessons. I'm not holding a microphone unless it's attached to the family karaoke machine. I am called to stay in proper relationship with my Lord so that my family can be in proper relationship with one another. That is "the calling" - my calling.
Growing up, my mom had a little sign with the words "Bloom Where You Are Planted" on it. For years, I thought that I had a say in the planting or where my blossoms would end up, or better yet, how they should be displayed. Now, I realize that instead, I need to be paying attention to my roots and focusing on feeding and nourishing my soul and those around me. God will do the rest. Blooming is a choice and living the calling that God has in your life - TODAY - is a choice. I can't say that every day in my house is like an episode of "The Waltons" or "Little House on the Prarie." Somedays, I think I might be starring in an episode of "The Jerry Springer Show" or "Roseanne." But, tonight, as I prayed, God showed me the heart that I have for my kids and even if that's the only children's ministry He ever gives me - I know now that it (and they) are enough.