My beloved college chaplain (who married my husband and I almost 7 years ago!) called me up to see if I would come and do the music for this year's Defining Moments High School retreat. It's a wonderful experience focused on discernment for high schoolers who feel called to some form of ministry. You can learn more about it right HERE. Mary K. let me know that I ought to plan on sharing my "story of calling." I laughed and said something like, "It's a pretty weird story! You sure you want me to share that?!?" She assured me that she was serious and that weird stories were welcome. So I've been thinking about that story, about what calling is, and about the many challenges our youth face as they grapple with the idea of being sent into the world by the One who created everything.
When I was just 17 years old I stepped onto the campus of Emory & Henry College as a freshman English major, my sights already set on attending a United Methodist seminary for my masters degree. For the better part of two years I had nurtured a closely held dream of pastoring a church or perhaps even going out into the mission field. I had good pastors growing up and, thanks to an active youth program at Fountain City UMC, I'd been exposed to lots of thriving missions programs around the country and the world. I'd been given so much to dream about because of the way my home church chose (and still chooses) to raise its youth. I was daydreaming about things I'd seen for myself . . .
We all start this way - dreaming because of what we've witnessed. There's nothing wrong with that! We dream, we imagine, and the bravery this gives us can help us to step past the daydream and into whatever the Holy Spirit reveals next. It can take a long time to reconcile ourselves to the thought that our first sense of "calling," while true, might not paint a clear picture of the next 50 years of our lives.
Even if it is true that we will grow to become what we first imagine we'll receive a healthy dose of realism along the way. Imagination is a marvelous source of creative energy, but it only changes the world when we reconcile it to what we actually encounter . . . imagination and real life get along better than we like to admit.
Our collective problem with the relationship between imagination and reality seems to come from our desire to know exactly how everything will end up for us. This train of thought always brings me back to a memory from my 15th summer. I was on my first ever international mission trip (along with a large portion of FCUMC's youth group). I met a missionary who liked to say: "If you actually follow God and allow God to shape your life and control your calling, it will wreck everything." Hahahaaaa! I remember the first time I heard him say that. It seems outlandish, right? And backward. But it's not. He would say all of the above with a smile on his face . . . some of our plans for ourselves and some of the intentions behind our dearest dreams ought to be challenged - perhaps even wrecked and destroyed. Calling has been this way for me. Imagination and calling have come to rest in my normal/real life, and I am consistently surprised by the resulting chaos. Time and time again I think I know what's coming next. Guess what? I'm almost always wrong!
During my four years at E&H I made friends, served churches in different ways, fell in love, had my heart broken, fell in love again, started candidacy, quit candidacy, changed my major (and my minor), and learned lots of things about community service. My seminary dreams were wrecked in the most beautiful way possible - waylaid by the intersection of my practical gifts, legitimate needs in the world around me, and God's prevenient grace. I pray this same intervention for special people I meet every so often - that God's divine interruption would override the world and all of its distractions so that they would look and truly see what could be done with their unique gifts and sense of calling. Preaching is wonderful, but it's not the only way. Also, Methodism is wonderful (my family tree is full of it!) but it's not the only way (I go to an Episcopal church these days). Our Triune God is more creative than we like to allow. If we can see Jesus in the face of the other, read His words, and sense the presence of the Holy Spirit we're going to be fine . . . and we're going to see after a while that God has made a way. All along. God has made a way for each of us. Can we lay all of our dreams on the line long enough to see it?
I was fortunate enough to travel to Austria and Germany with the E&H concert choir as a junior. My favorite stop on our trip was the famous Bösendorfer piano factory. The workshop is a frighteningly beautiful place. Pianos lie about in pieces, waiting to be born, not allowed to leave the last station until they sound just right. By then I had become a Church Music major and was spending my weekends serving local churches. The symbolism I saw in the piano workshop was not lost on me. I took many pictures, thinking I ought to remember this forever: all of the masterpiece instruments go through this process of refinement; all of them are torn to shreds so that they can be born; and when they come to rest in their new homes they'll have to be tuned over and over again.
If I could give our youth any imagine to hang onto it would be this one - the world's finest pianos waiting to be born . . . . and their future of constant tuning, a guarantee that they will never be finished . . . they will always be a work in progress.
When it became clear to me that I'd end up teaching elementary school music and writing songs instead of preaching in a church I was almost angry . . . maybe even embarrassed. I could remember standing up in front of my home church, telling them all I'd been called to the ministry. Have I disappointed them? I could remember being offered a summer internship with my favorite music minister . . . and turning it down to get more experience working with the children because it's what I knew I needed as I followed God right then. Did I let him down? I could remember the sweet couple who prayed for me as a youth and bought me my first concordances and my first study Bible. Would they be sorry and feel they'd wasted their effort on me if they knew where I'd ended up? I don't think so. All those thoughts that hinge on what we think other human beings expect our calling to look like are part of the grand distraction sent to separate us from God. God doesn't deal in disappointment.
God will not be disappointed when you realize the road has changed around you. You need only keep your eyes on the community that is the Trinity itself. And I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by those who love you most - sometimes they will know before you do . . . and when you come to them, thinking it's new news on the tip of your tongue, they'll laugh and say they knew it all along.
I wrote this song for a preacher friend of mine. It's about calling. It helps me sometimes when I feel I may have gotten off track. You can borrow it if you want :-)
It starts with giving thanks. Talk to God about the good gifts you're thankful for, and see where the conversation might go . . .
I can't wait to see some of you at Defining Moments 2017!