As I look back over the years of my life, they are coming into clearer focus. It's as if I can see my life on a linear timeline, and there are events that stand out; events that taken by themselves, look to be not worth much consideration and seem disconnected. But as I find myself increasingly in opposition to the world's standards, or in situations where my faith and theology are at odds with my fellow Christians, then I am beginning to see a pattern...
There were all the times that I felt, as a child, that I just didn't quite belong to "the crowd". I know that many of you have shared that same feeling and experience. We moved a lot when I was in elementary school, and it's never been fun to be the "new kid".
There were small moments along that timeline that seemed bright and shiny; like the time I won an essay contest in 3rd grade for writing about John Glenn's orbit around the earth. My paper was written on those big sheets of lined paper and hung for all the parents to see on Parents' Night. I was too young to take the hint that this was a gift God had given me.
But more often than not, during those awkward elementary and junior high days, the timeline looked a little more dreary. After a move from Utah to Illinois, I ran for Student Council five times during the 5th grade ... and lost each time! At least no one could say I was a quitter, right? I just held my head high and moved on.
And the move from a small country school to a metropolitan junior high was perhaps my least favorite time of adolescence. I was at that awkward stage of development; 12-years-old, tall and gangly, and thrust in the midst of an 8th-grade class who had grown up together. To say that I was the outsider is to put it mildly. At the beginning of that school year, I woke up with a stomach ache each morning, dreading to go to school and feeling so isolated. But by the end of that year, I had somehow found my own way and counted everyone from the school bully, to the "popular" kids, to the loners like me as my friends. I guess I simply made up my mind that I would not give in to defeat.
The timeline during my high school years is highlighted by one particular event. Once again, i was not among the popular clique at school, but yet as I look back, I was not excluded from their circle of friends. I see myself during that time as associated with all the kids I went to school with, yet separate from them; kind of set apart and distant. I will never forget one girl, who was way more experienced than I was in every aspect of life. She told me that I was a "late bloomer"; that I would come into my own in college and find my way later in life. So, even though I picture myself as kind of on the sidelines during those years, I found an old newspaper clipping in my mother's cedar chest after she passed away. There was a photo of me, the undistinguished high school student in my conservative skirt and blouse, standing with a sign protesting some perceived wrong at the school. If you knew me during those years, that doesn't really fit the profile. But a seed of boldness had taken root.
As we move along the timeline towards my college years, you will see me moving into roles of leadership. I was voted by my fellow dorm mates to be an Advisor to incoming freshmen; then as a Resident Assistant in charge of an entire wing of girls, reporting to the head of Women's housing at the University of Texas. I was paid my room and board as compensation and it was a job that I loved; mentoring young women and creating a cohesive atmosphere of mutual respect, while learning to relate to other girls of different races, social classes, and interests. It was the beginning of a very satisfying part of my college career, and I loved the responsibility and the challenges.
Little did I know that I would soon face one of the biggest challenges of my young life up to that point. It wasn't long before I got a taste of what it felt like to run up against "the establishment" of any organization or group. The faculty and university leadership had their way of doing things and you followed their rules, without question, or you could suddenly find yourself on the outside of the "good ol boys" network; or in this case the "good ol' girls" of the Women's Housing Authority.
It all started with a simple University election for Student Body President. The Housing Authority faculty member that was my boss made it quite clear that she expected everyone under her authority to vote for a particular candidate. Well, that wasn't the way free elections worked, was it? When I pushed back a little, I was quickly demoted in my position, called in and reprimanded, and told I needed to quit causing trouble if I expected to keep my job, which was essential for me to afford the cost of my next semester. I was moved to a less prestigious area of the dorm, and put under different "management".
Now, you must remember that I was 20 years old, and admittedly not at the height of my maturation process, but I thought I saw the handwriting on the wall.... there was a black mark by my name that I would never be able to erase, and harassment was likely going to follow me the duration of my position with the Housing Authority. So I gave my resignation that very moment. (The smile on the Director's face told me that's what she was really after). In my idealistic state of mind, I was no longer going to be their punching bag.
But that spur-of-the-moment and rash decision cost me a lot. Without that job, I could no longer afford to go to school that semester. So I withdrew from the University, right before beginning my senior year, and had to figure out what my next step was. Making that call home was not very pleasant. My father was not happy, to say the least, and told me that I had thrown away my entire college education. I promised him that I was going to get a job, save up the money, and return to school in a year. He didn't believe that I would (or could) carry through with that promise, and that hurt. I had lost his confidence and respect and I was literally out on the street with no idea or plan for what came next.
That was a time when I prayed to God to get me through this and help me to survive this lonely and desperate situation. I will admit that I instinctively turned to Him, while not really knowing if He would hear me or respond. But within two weeks, I was sharing an apartment with that best friend and another girl, and I found a job within 2 miles of our apartment. None of us had a car, so I walked to work each day. I'm afraid to admit that we hitch-hiked to get our groceries ... absolute proof that God was watching over me! We struggled financially, but had enough to pay our rent, buy a few groceries, and splurge on Christmas gifts for each other. That Christmas I got knee socks, dental floss, and new barrettes from my roommates, and the memories of us decorating our Charlie Brown Christmas tree still make me smile. I have to tell you it was one of my most favorite and meaningful Christmases of my life.
In the meantime, my father and I reconnected, and I will always remember him calling me and telling me, "You may not always agree with your kids, but you never stop loving them." That healed a painful wound. But I made good on my promise to him. I worked that September to May, enrolled in summer school and the next Fall semester, and graduated in December. It had been a long, emotional, trying, and scary time of my life. But I had persevered, followed through, and never gave up.
There's a reason that I have related these events in my life, which are trivial in actuality. But as I look back on them, I am convinced of one thing .... I think God either brought me to them, or allowed me to experience them through my own folly and foolishness, as a test of my dedication, steadfastness and determination to complete what I thought was a righteous cause. Perhaps that is just a rationalization and a product of my imaginative mind, but as I look at each of these points along my life's timeline, I think it was all part of His plan to ready me for the purpose He has designed me for.
In each of these seemingly insignificant and not exactly earth-shattering instances, I faced personal adversity; knew what it felt like to be ostracized and alone in the battle; yet I never curled up in a ball and quit. Would I do that for Him? Perhaps He needed to know my character before He carried out His purpose for my life. Because nothing has really changed. In the 29 years since my true conversion and the beginning of my salvation process, He has brought me to different adverse situations and I have had to call on that same spirit of tireless tenacity to stand on my faith. There have been times where He led me to a wilderness for 7 years, where I learned to trust Him for everything... His provision, His faithfulness, His protection, and His mercy. The Enemy endlessly whispered his lies that I had reason to worry about each of those areas of relationship with my Lord. Then He took me through a difficult time with my Church of 20 years and I had to decide whether I would stand on the Word or join the church in compromising with the world. Once again I had to choose the lonely route.
And now He has entrusted my husband and me with a ministry that we didn't seek, but we know with all our spiritual discernment that it is where He wants us to be. And as with anything outside the normal boundaries of the church establishment, it is not easily accepted. But I honestly think that my life's timeline is showing me that I have been tested and fire-proofed, so to speak, to deal with this latest adversity as well. And it is an important one.... because at the heart of it are people and their eternal salvation. It is about saving souls for God's Kingdom and I cannot quit, nor will I give in to the Enemy's tactics. Because, you see, God has known all along this journey I would take. He has known my character and what I'm made of. But He had to show me what I'm made of; had to give me a history of standing with Him by my side, so that as these times become increasingly difficult, and the Enemy's attacks become more severe, I will know in my spirit and soul that I can weather the storm. I will know that He will not forsake me nor leave me; just as He was with me throughout all the other events of my life. And most importantly, I will be able to do the work He has purposed for me with complete trust and confidence in Him through my unflinching faith.
I started writing this blog with the intention of encouraging each of you. I want you to look at your own timelines. My story is not unique nor especially praiseworthy. Each of us have experienced mile markers along the way that have made us who we are. Look at yours, and ask, "What was God showing me? How has this shaped me, and how can it be used to bear fruit in the Kingdom of God"? Because I promise you, our lives are not random and neither are they accidental. There are "Divine Appointments" all along the way. The question is, will you see them for what they are and fulfill the purpose for which you were made? Nothing is inconsequential or insignificant. Be the person God has made you to be!
1 Peter 1:6-7 " In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ."