We all have a story–a dynamic, ever-evolving story. And each story has moments of pain, joy, frustration, and redemption. How can they not in this sin-stained but grace-pierced world? This is my story. A story that highlights God’s overflowing goodness.
My father and mother married the year after they graduated from college—a biologist and a nurse. For several years, my father taught biology and coached while my mother stayed home with their first child, my older sister. When my father received a call into the ministry, my parents headed to southern California for my father to attend Fuller Seminary. After completion of his M.Div., my father took a solo pastorate in a small church south of Seattle. The second year into that pastorate, I was born.
Childhood brings unnumbered positive memories. That lovely brown carpet in the picture above covered our small living room (or should I say playroom?). While my mother stayed home with my sister and me, my father worked two blocks away at the church. Evenings when he came home were full of games and family time. Some of those games were the usual: Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, Uno. But then there were the made up games: hide the glow-ball, rough-house, on-top-of-the-world, bucking bronco. We sang songs. We danced. We read the Hardy Boys, Ramona Quimby, Little House on the Prairie, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. We celebrated Advent by acting out the biblical accounts of the birth of Christ. We celebrated Easter with Good Friday services, Seder meals, and hiding colored Easter eggs. We camped for weeks each summer. We rafted. We hiked. We watched slides of former vacations.
In the backyard, I practiced on my homemade balance beam, concocted mud pies, played croquette, frisbee, and baseball. Forts were made from cottonwood branches. Once, we dug a hole in the corner trying to reach . . . yep, China.
Laughter permeated our house, and something even more important: scripture reading and prayer.
Every Saturday night was blessing night. My father sat us on his lap and prayed over us. It’s not that we didn’t pray on other nights. Bedtimes always included prayer and songs (I can still hear my mother singing “America the Beautiful” and “How Much is That Doggy in the Window”). But Saturday night was special. I remember one prayer in particular when my father prayed I’d approach the throne of grace with confidence. How beautiful and poetic, I thought, and then found out he’d prayed those words directly from Hebrews 4.
With my dad as the pastor, I spent a lot of time at church. I didn’t mind it, though. The sanctuary felt holy; the fellowship hall in the basement, expansive. While parents had prayer meetings, children ransacked the downstairs with games of sardines, lost, tag. Locking up the building with my father meant holding his hand as we checked doors and windows. The dark rooms bothered me, but I always felt safe with my dad. Then we would walk down the hill to home.
The world loomed around, large and scary, but next to my father, everything felt good and safe. And this is the hinge of my testimony. Security. Routine. My entire childhood was flanked by these things. Predictability. Structure.
So is it any surprise that my childhood struggle was fear? Of the dark, bad dreams, new things. I worried that an earthquake might split our 950 square-foot house and send my parents room floating in an opposite direction from my room. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous.
My mother’s answer to my fearfulness was to teach me scripture. I memorized Philippians 4:4-8, and then I memorized Psalm 121. That began my love affair with the Psalms. Fear and anger abide in the Psalter. I related. My soul bathed in those ardent praises and fervent cries for help.
One thing that has sometimes bothered me about my testimony is that I don’t have an answer to the question, when did you accept Christ as your Savior? I do have a memory of praying with my mother to ask Jesus into my heart, but it’s a vague memory. I’ve loved him as long as I can remember, and again relate to the Psalmist, “Yet you brought me out of the womb, you made me trust in you even at my mother’s breast . . . you have been my God from my mother’s womb,” (Psalm 22:9, 10). From earliest memory, I’ve loved to sing to him. Loved his Word.
This, friends, is what I mean when I say that my testimony praises his goodness. Only He could have placed such love in me by his grace, for sin ran (and runs) amuck in me: selfishness, pride, the need to be in control, a mean-streak, a loud-mouth, fear, a quick temper. For the first years of piano lessons, my mother had to sit with me when I practiced because I’d throw my books across the room. I threw other things, too, and I have too many memories of making my mother and sister cry.
Which leads me to one of my most memorable moments. Something had to be done about my out-of-control mouth. I said what I was thinking whenever I wanted, and it wasn’t beautiful. My mom had tried James 3 on me, and even though I felt convicted, I couldn’t change my habits. (Have you had a Romans 7 moment when you can’t do the good you know you should?). One afternoon, after coming home from middle school basketball practice, I stood in the shower and cried out to the Holy Spirit. “You have to help me,” I said. “You have to change me, because I can’t do it.” The shame of failure was too great for the perfectionist in me. And that moment was a turning point. I look back on that prayer as the time I realized God’s power overcame my helplessness. That He had to do what I could not.
Middle school . . . it was messy. In our public school district, three elementary schools fed into one middle school. The convergence of so many people, combined with my acne and low-self esteem, added up to a perfect storm. I dreaded going to school. I never felt good enough, pretty enough, smart enough. Isn’t that how we all feel during those crazy transition years? I was one of those shy kids who hated any attention thrust upon her–with one exception: basketball. Since third grade, my father had worked with me on b-ball skills. Now it was put to the test. And I passed. Basketball and piano became my niches, the arenas of life I felt good about myself.
College was a wake-up for me. At Whitworth University, I met a girl who was better than me at basketball, piano, and writing. And she was prettier. Goodbye to my security in those safe zones. Hello new experiences. For someone whose idol was routine, being shoved out of my seventeen-year cocoon was like a freefall off a cliff. I had to learn fast if I had become a beautiful butterfly those many sheltered (and wonderful) years.
So I poured into scripture, Isaiah 35 to be specific. The highway of the redeemed became my vision for my identity, where I was now, where I’d be someday. After an initial adjustment period, I loved college. Loved it. Frisbee Golf, dorm leadership, an internship with a local church, a trip to Thailand. With a major in English writing and a minor in religion, I graduated with straight A’s–almost. But I still didn’t feel smart. I’ve always felt like I’ve stumbled through school, studying hard, and somehow landing great grades, but I’ve never been satisfied with my knowledge. I’ve always felt like I should know more.
Are you catching a theme, here? Striving became my go-to for my relationship with Christ as well as my need to feel good about myself through success. If I only tried harder . . .
Grace crashed down on me the year after I graduated from college and moved to North Carolina to work with a non-profit ministry, Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International (PRMI). I made two friends right away, and the three of us young women prayed weekly together. Intimacy with the Lord permeated this time of my life from those prayer sessions to my Sunday afternoon hikes up the mountains in which I lived.
And then I met a boy.
I’d never dated, so this relationship took off like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. He worked part-time for PRMI while attending college. In the backroom where we worked together amongst humming machines and bookshelves stacked to the ceiling, we talked and talked and talked. He sat by the copier with the hood of his sweatshirt up like a shield, but I prodded him and peeked beneath the hood of his heart. And what a beautiful sight I saw.
My first impressions of Nate: tall, dark, handsome. And a loner. He was sort of a maverick. But one who loved Jesus with a passion I’d not seen before. Nate’s dream? Smuggling Bibles. Paying the ultimate price for Jesus—though I soon convinced him that though we should be ready for martyrdom, we needn’t presumptuously seek it out.
I loved him right away. We married a year later, in the middle of his senior year of college. He’d argued he was too young to be married, “I don’t even own a toolbox.” A trip to Lowes, and I fixed that issue. After his graduation from college, he suggested I attend seminary. I’d thought of it, dreamed of it, but he gave me the push. I remember the conversation when he told me I needed to go, needed to do something with my life that included meditation on God’s Word. So he sacrificed for me: time, money, his no-city lifestyle. We moved to South Hamilton, MA, and I started at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with the aim of becoming a small-town pastor.
Then, in June 2006, one year into a three year degree, in a stifling hot studio apartment, the pregnancy test said positive. I cried. I’ll never forget the utter feeling of helplessness. Change was happening, and I would never be the same. Something grew within me. A new life only Nate and I could have made. We were terrified.
Nate’s solution was to move us back to North Carolina where we could live with his parents while I finished seminary at a satellite campus. Having realized I was more interested in the academic side of ministry, and not the pastoral, I changed from a Masters of Divinity degree to a Masters of Biblical Studies.
In February 2007, our sweet daughter was born.
In May, 2008, I graduated. I took a job at our church leading the praise team during an interim season in the life of our church’s worship ministry. In December, 2009, we welcomed our son. There were now two of us parents and two children. A good ratio.
And then life picked up speed. We bought our first house. I started giving piano lessons while my position at church expanded. Amidst teaching Bible study, being involved in music ministry, and keeping things afloat at home, I began to write.
And write, and write, and write. “Put the computer down,” my husband said. Then as soon as he was asleep, I’d write some more. Fiction. A dream come true. Yet, terrifying. Because writing story is a vulnerable enterprise.
Why fiction? you may ask. Excellent question, and for the answer, I steer you over to my fiction page.