If you have spent any time at all in Christian circles, you have heard the terms “Called” or “Calling.” These phrases are in bold letters in the “Christianese” Dictionary. What do they mean, though? They get thrown around like candy at a Homecoming Parade, but how do we actually define them? How do we know that we know that we know?
What a fascinating topic.
I have been reading this amazing book, “I Am A Leader: When Women Discover the Joy of Their Calling,” By Dr. Angie Ward. It is all about the callings that we experience, how we respond to them and how we practically walk them out in the world in which we live. The very first chapter of this book, titled “What is Calling,” completely captivated me.
I have experienced a calling on more than one occasion, and there are multiple accounts in scripture of people who experienced God’s call. Abraham left his homeland at the call-the command- of God, and later responded to God’s command to sacrifice Issac. Jonah clearly experienced a call when he was told to go to Ninevah. Then we have Peter, Priscilla, Mary, Esther, Job, Deborah, Noah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David… the list goes on and on. God speaks directly and audibly, through signs and miracles and through other people. In the New Testament, people were often called by the Holy Spirit.
The first time I experienced a call, I pulled a Jonah. If you know me at all, or if you have read my first testimony, (the first post to this blog) then you know that my experiences in my hometown were not awesome. It was the birthplace of my trauma. I couldn’t get away from there fast enough. I graduated from high school at 17, moved to college immediately after my 18th birthday and I was never coming back.
In 2017, I began to experience that Holy Spirit nudge. We were living about an hour away from my hometown. I had three living children and we had recently experienced the late missed miscarriage of our fourth. I knew with confidence that I was being called to ministry and I was struggling with that call, mostly because I was a woman. My husband and I had been driving back to my hometown to attend MY church-the church of my youth- and this calling was difficult to navigate. We knew that we couldn’t do ministry at that particular church while living an hour away, but there was a solid 0% chance that I was moving back to that town. There was no way I was ever going back home.
But God was convicting me to do just that.
I put on blinders. We started to explore, attending multiple different churches in our community. I looked in different children’s ministry groups online, (children’s ministry being the only form of ministry I believed I was allowed to do as a woman) trying to find open positions that were local to us.
Finally, I told my husband that I thought God was calling me back to my hometown. I admitted that it made no sense to me and that I did not like it at all. He was NOT on board, and said there was NO way we were raising our children near all of that toxicity. I can’t say that I blamed him. In fact, I agreed.
So that was that. My husband did not confirm this particular element of my calling. I found a position as a Director of Children’s Ministry just 20 minutes from our home, and I accepted it. Through that position, I got access to a credentialing program through our denominational organization.
Just like Jonah, I had heard God’s call and willingly accepted…part of it. Jonah was willing to be a prophet. He was willing to step out in service of God. He just was not willing to Go to Ninevah. He did not want to serve those people. He did not want to share God’s message with that particular community.
I was really no different. I did not want to go home. I could not go back there. So, just like Jonah, I went and served somewhere else.
I never got swallowed by a great fish. I did get redirected, though. We tried to buy a house near the church I was serving in and it fell through. Then, just a few months into my new position, I discovered I was pregnant. This baby was our rainbow baby- our child conceived after the loss of our daughter, June. My morning sickness was awful and I ended up being hospitalized multiple times because I was so sick I could not keep anything down. I would get dizzy and faint. I lost weight instead of gaining it and was ultimately diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum- a rare and severe form of morning sickness. I also battled debilitating anxiety. Pregnancy after loss is a unique experience, and I spent the majority of my pregnancy convinced that my unborn daughter was going to die before birth. My last child did. Obviously, so would this one.
All of this ultimately led to me stepping down as the Director of Children’s Ministry. I had been serving for about 6 months. My hope was that I would resume my duties after my daughter was born, but that did not ever happen.
When I was about 6 months pregnant, we went back to my hometown to celebrate some friends of ours. It was “Orphan Sunday” and they were in the middle of an international adoption. We were surrounded by our “church family” and not my biological family, and as we left, someone mentioned what a miracle my life was.
It’s true. The very fact that I live this life is a testimony to the power of God.
As we made the hour long drive home, my husband nonchalantly said, “I do think we are going to have to move here.”
I had to pick my chin up off the floor.
So, we began the process. We spent some time in prayer, and we just told God that we were willing. This thing that had always been a hard “no” had finally become a “Here we are God, send us.” We asked the Lord to make a way, if this was truly his desire for us. It made no sense. We would be moving nearly an hour further from his work. I did not have job in that town, and there was no real need for me in formal ministry at our church.
When we prayed, there was not a lot of specific direction. We were called to the community and to the church.
I was about to have a baby. We still had a house to sell in another state, then we had to find a home that would fit our budget and family size (6 of us), purchase it and relocate before school started. There were so many pieces that had to come together in order for this to happen. Our prayer was for God to make the way so clear that there was no denying the command had come from him.
Our house sold before the baby was born. A friend’s parents were selling their perfect home, right within our price range. We closed on the home at the end of July, just in time for us to get settled in before school started for the big boys. All of the pieces fell together perfectly.
Once we got settled in and school started, I began to volunteer at the local pregnancy resource center. I believed that my unexpected experience with the loss of our June, at just 15 weeks gestation, and the opportunity that we had to see, hold and touch a baby at that developmental age put me in a unique position to serve women having unplanned pregnancies.
Just a few months after I started volunteering, the Director of the center had a very premature baby and went on an extended maternity leave. I was asked to step in as the Assistant Director to cover her duties until she returned to work. She decided not to. Now, less than three years later, I am the Director of three of our 12 pregnancy centers. We are serving more women, in more ways, meeting them right where they are, walking with them as they journey toward grace. God is so much bigger than I ever imagined.
It’s a small town. Many of our clients know my background. They know my family. They know that I grew up in poverty, the daughter of a drug addict, and that builds their trust in the center. I “get it” in a way most “church folks” do not. God is using my trauma to serve the community that birthed it. It’s a beauty from ashes story.
I’m still not completely sure why God called me to this particular church. I am serving in youth ministry now, and the students we serve have expressed the same thing- that I “get it” in a way that many others do not, because of the way I grew up. God is using my story there too, I suppose.
But even more than that, I believe that my time in this church has been, and continues to be about my own internal growth and dependence upon the Lord. It’s an Abraham and Issac story. It’s about obeying, no matter what. Through all of my experiences here over the last few years, my focus on intently listening for God’s voice above the noise of all of the other voices has grown. I have drawn closer to my King. I am dependent on Him.
I have battled, most of my life, a desire to please people. Growing up in the environment that I did, people always expected me to fail. I was determined to prove them wrong. I was determined to make sure that people saw me as a success. My experiences here have taught me that success in the eyes of man is irrelevant. It does not matter how others view my decisions. It only matters that I am obedient to God. My obligation is to obey, and not to concern myself so much with how the chips fall in the aftermath of that obedience.
I’m reminded of Abraham and Issac. Abraham was clearly commanded to sacrifice Issac. God did not tell him to go and look for a substitute. God did not tell him to show up and another way would be revealed. God asked Abraham to be willing to do something, and Abraham showed up, completely willing to honor that call. It was not until he was at the altar that the alternative was revealed.
Sometimes God gives us the command without giving us a full explanation for how it is all going to turn out. Abraham did not end up sacrificing Issac, but he was still originally commanded to do so. He did not change course until God told him to. I think there is a lesson in that. We should honor the last clear call we were given, until God gives us another direction.
For me, calling has been, and continues to be, complex. The Holy Spirit continues to speak to me, and my obligation is to obey. What about you?
What does it look like when the Holy Spirit calls you? Have you ever experienced calling? What about confusion in your calling?
If you are a woman who has experienced a God given calling, or are struggling with the concept of discovering your calling as God-honoring woman, I highly recommend this book. I Am A Leader by Angie Ward releases in March of 2020.