As a young child, I was afraid of the dark, especially when it was bedtime. Although my mother placed a small nightlight in my bedroom, the bulb’s dim output did nothing to allay my fears. Before I finally drifted off to sleep, I would imagine someone or something hiding in the shadowy recesses of the room I shared with my younger sister.
My fears were so palpable on some nights, I would awaken my mother to bring me a glass of water under the pretense of being thirsty. On other nights, I would beg my sister to let me crawl into her twin size bed to sleep.
Eventually, I outgrew my fear of the dark. However, I’m still baffled by the overwhelming angst robbing me of sleep on many of those childhood nights.
Humankind’s most common fears, according to various studies, include the following: fear of being socially unacceptable; a fear of heights; a fear of bugs, snakes or spiders; a fear of closed spaces; a fear of flying; a fear of the dark (or what might be hiding in the shadows); fear of getting a disease; fear of blood; fear of violent weather and a fear of dying.
When I saw you driving up, I thought to myself, they love Jesus.”
But, it wasn’t just the new shirt my friend was wearing that led to a stranger’s remark when we stopped at a gas station to fill-up on our way to the Colorado Christian Writers Conference last month. Before the young woman had even read the words on Clarice’s shirt, she’d already recognized fellow sojourners.
The shirt my friend wore proclaimed, “Messy Bun and Jesus kind of day.” It was an appropriate thought for a day spent on the road.
The stranger approached as I was filling up the gas tank and Clarice was cleaning the windshield. “I just love your shirt!” the young mother said.
Our pre-ordained meeting with the young couple, who were traveling from North Carolina with their six children to their home in Ogden, Utah, came as we drove across Kansas. It opened the door to an uplifting conversation. The husband and wife are worship leaders in their church and were returning from outreach work to other church groups. After exchanging email addresses, we agreed to stay in touch.
Photo by Carol Round
Driving east after a four-day writers’ conference in Colorado ended, my friend and I were anxious to get home. We’d spent most of each day in workshops and visiting with other conference attendees. I’d also led two workshops.
We met accomplished authors and those who dreamed of becoming an author. While there, we listened to the stories of both and shared our own stories of disappointments, trials, victories and hope. We made friends. We encouraged each other.
On our daily walks to and from our housing to the conference center, we marveled at God’s creation. Snow-capped mountains towered over the valley where we stayed. Abundant wildlife, including elk, roamed freely around the grounds and in town. Although we’d been warned, we never encountered any bears.
Each day’s view of the towering mountains reminded me of : “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”— Philippians 2:3-7 (ESV).
Two recent conversations led me to think about the vast cultural and behavioral differences in the United States. One of the women resides in a northeastern state and was visiting her mother in Oklahoma. The other woman is a recent transplant from a western state.
During the first conversation, the woman who was visiting commented on the attitude differences between people in her community and this one. Her observations led to the conclusion that people in this state are friendlier, more helpful and more caring.
The second conversation mirrored the other woman’s observations, adding specific incidents she had noticed. She noted the small courtesies, like holding the door open for a stranger in a public place and being made to feel welcome in her new community, including her new church family.
Later that week, I had the opportunity to visit with two older women who have always lived in this area. Their lives exemplify Philippians 2:3-4. Both are well-known for their giving, loving and humble spirits.
Trying to punch my pillow into submission, I tossed and turned in the unfamiliar bed, hoping to get some much needed sleep before I spoke at a women’s event the next morning. I never rest well in a hotel bed. I doubt I’m alone.
However, it wasn’t just the strange surroundings leading to my insomnia. I was emotionally, mentally and physically drained. Not only had I been in preparation for the speech I would give the next day, I was also preparing for an upcoming week-long event in Colorado, where I would be speaking twice at a writer’s conference.
In addition, I was trying to juggle my own writing and marketing schedule and keep up with life—the responsibilities and commitments of everyday living. As I lay in the hotel bed, I not only wrestled with my pillow, I found myself, like Jacob, wrestling with God. It wasn’t the first time.
Even before we say a word, God knows what we need.
After almost 13 years of writing this weekly column, I was struggling with my calling—the one God had led me to after I left my 30-year teaching career. I’ve not missed a week, nor have I reused one of my over 600 plus columns. My calling was not part of my post-teaching plans but God’s redirection. How much longer would He ask me to continue?
As I spent countless hours that night praying for sleep to come, my frustration led to crying out to God. I wanted to give up. I needed a fresh vision for my life. I needed to know if He wanted me to continue on this path. Did He have something else in mind? I begged God for clarity because I know He is the author of peace, not confusion.
Pulling up to the intercom to place my order at a fast food place, I noticed something amiss. Normally, the vehicles waiting in line would have pulled up a ramp to the window to pay for and pick up their meal. However, they were bypassing the usual route and parking next to the ramp.
Before I could figure out what was happening, the employee taking orders explained. “We have a problem with a car blocking the exit. You can still order and follow the line in front of you or come inside.”
After placing my order, I drove forward where I could finally get a glimpse of the vehicle interfering with traffic. When I looked closer, I realized—and felt sorry for—the young man who had evidently tried to exit the ramp too soon, leaving his car straddling the concrete barrier to his right. I’m sure he was not only embarrassed, but his car was probably going to require some major work.
To minimize the delay, restaurant employees were scrambling outside to collect customers’ payments and then returning with their orders. Even though their usual routine had been disrupted, they were taking the challenge in stride without complaint. They even apologized for the delay.
Have you ever had one of those days when everything that could go wrong does? Maybe you’ve been moving forward, following God’s directions, when you make a wrong turn. You wonder, “Where did I go wrong?”
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”— 1 Peter 4:19 (NIV).
When I was a teacher, one of the questions many of my high school seniors struggled with was what to do after graduation. Some were focused, knowing they were on track for college, higher vocational training or military service. Others planned to go immediately to work after school ended, while some struggled with their future choices. Even some of those on a chosen path were often uncertain about choosing a major field of study, basing their decision not on a passion for the career, but on the rewards of a lucrative paycheck.
In later years, when I had an opportunity to visit with some of these graduates, I discovered some were disillusioned with the path they had chosen for the sake of monetary gain. Their career choice left them with an emptiness they couldn’t understand.
In an article titled “Frederick Buechner on Calling: Your Deep Gladness & The World’s Deep Hunger” by Ryan Pemberton, the author writes the following: “In his refreshingly witty spiritual lexicon, ‘Wishful Thinking,’ Buechner points out that the English word ‘vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, ‘to call,’ which ‘means the work a person is called to by God.’”
Additionally, says Pemberton, “‘Calling’ assumes a caller. As Buechner notes, for the Christian, this Caller is the living God.”
Concerning vocations, Buechner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”