What do you want to be when you grow up?
How often we have heard that question over our lifetime and how often have we asked it of children and teens we have met along the way?
Looking back over my shoulder, it seems I was asked the question before I understood the question, before I even knew myself well enough to answer it. As a result, the answer to the question was often guided by my parents’ desire and my inexperience. It strikes me as also the wrong question. Would not a better question be “who do you want to be when you grow up?” That question focuses on the essence of who God created each one of us to be and certainly would lead to the answer of the other question we hear.
I now have the benefit of seeing more clearly the truth of the process of discovering the answer to either question. My rearview mirror allows me to see the bigger picture.
As a little girl growing up on a farm in Ohio, I did not have a wide-angle lens of the world. Neither of my parents was blessed with a great deal of education, but my dad wanted all he could possibly give me as a result.
Because my parents observed me trying to help my younger brother who was born with both physical and mental handicaps, my mother began to tell me (and others) that I ought to be a teacher, a special education teacher. But as my reading skills grew, I dreamed of other places and things. I made up stories in my thoughts and imagined singing in Broadway musicals far from the farm.
Even though I was raised in a Christian home, the idea of what the Lord might have designed me for was not on anyone’s radar screen. I did a lot of singing at church and in a 4-H girls’ trio that went to perform at the state level. Later I participated in many choral groups and a few high school musicals, but the closest I came to a stage was when a few of my high school teachers recognized the limits of my exposure and took me to an excellent theater in the round where I tasted the off-Broadway musicals and plays that were offered there. I learned to play the piano and saxophone as well, but singing was more “my thing”.
My trajectory had been set toward teaching, however, so college took on that path with degrees in elementary and special education. Tucked into the mix was an advanced writing course I tested into that nurtured my love of writing high school English teachers had noted as well. I enjoyed elementary teaching exposure, but I silently determined I would not teach a special education class as a result of the immersion I experienced in my family as my brother developed more challenges along the way that my parents looked to me to solve.
College surprised me with a handsome soon-to-be-commissioned Marine Corps officer who fell in love with me and opened the door to the possibility of a broader world. When I said “yes” to his marriage proposal I had little awareness of what that might mean and how many months we would be apart due to his deployments. Worse still was discovering one of those would mean 14 months apart while I was pregnant with our first child.
On the other side of military life, I settled into the joy of having a husband safely home and one and soon two small children to care for along with our home. I had no grand thoughts beyond the gift those were to me. Little did I know what all would be ahead.
As a retiree of three years, I see the scope of God’s design and plan. I did not have any specific plans, but the Lord began to open doors that led me on what I now see as an adventure and gift that I cherish. I will not bore you with all the details, but when I share the timeline keep in mind I never sought out any of the positions or jobs that came to me. In each case, someone called and asked me. Incredible!
The first stop was working as a correspondent for a local newspaper for three years from my home with options to write not only locals news items, but also to write feature stories and take photos to go with them. Next came a leadership in a countywide women’s ministry opportunity connected to an international organization for three years. At the end of that, a call from our local school system took me into the role of reading tutor and then learning disabilities tutor. God also had the last word about teaching special education when the local superintendent called and asked me to teach a junior high special education class. I did that for 13 years while my husband and I became involved in helping lead couples weekends for National Marriage Encounter, began lay counseling classes at our church, and then graduate school to earn a degree in clinical counseling and marriage and family therapy.
From there I would be asked to join a Christian private practice and later my church staff. That last stop was a broader step beyond counseling and gave me options to innovate and create new ministries. None of these things were on my radar screen when I was asked what I wanted to be.
When I retired I had no specific plan except to enjoy a different pace from what had become the frenetic one I had been living. (Did I forget to include traveling to married children’s homes hundreds of miles away to stay connected and then connect with six amazing grandchildren??) But a writers’ boot camp I hesitantly risked taking on the end of a vacation to Yellowstone National Park required that I set up a website and several blog posts before I even attended. Yikes! So here I am with a new direction, passion, and ministry connected to the writing I never had time to do. There is also a book I am working on.
Who knows what the Lord may have in store for us if we let Him lead us? And guess what? He often will be leading us even when we did not see or recognize it.
Jayber Crow in the novel I’ve been reading by the same name would understand well. Let me share why I know that in his words:
“Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise. All the important things have happened by surprise. And whatever has been happening usually has already happened before I have had time to expect it. The world doesn’t stop because you are in love or in mourning or in need of time to think. And so when I have thought I was in my story or in charge of it, I really have been only on the edge of it, carried along. Is this because we are in an eternal story that is happening partly in time?”