Waking Up to My Calling

By

By the time I was a freshman in college, my Dad had been dismissed from the position of Senior Pastor at four separate churches. This is a hard fact for me to admit. It was even harder living through it. But I did, and miraculously, so did my faith. A few years ago, I started trying to write a book about how it all happened but it’s turned out to be much harder writing than I ever expected. And yet I believe I’m called to do it. Saying it that way sounds so pious to me, but I know no other way to say it. I don’t always believe it either, but there have been a few holy awakenings scattered along the path which help remind me of the truth.

The most recent began on a weekend last September, during Hutchmoot.

John and I were sharing a vacation house with three other couples and ended up sleeping in the kids’ room on separate twin beds. There was a skylight directly above my head, and just before the sun rose that morning, it began raining. I’m a light sleeper, so the steady drizzle woke me up. I lay on the bed watching raindrops splash, scurry, and drag down the glass, and I thought about an assignment we’d been given the day before, during a planning meeting with the rest of the Hutchmoot staff.

We were discussing an upcoming storytelling session. The idea was to open up the floor and let people share their stories, but in case everyone shied away from the microphone, a few of us were to have a tale in our back-pockets ready to go. To stay casual, the stories were supposed to be lighthearted and funny. Well, that certainly limits my participation, I thought to myself, and in my head the voice of Anne Shirley concurred, “I prefer to make people cry.”

Though I knew I wouldn’t be participating in the storytelling session, it was early morning and I was in a house full of sleeping friends with nothing else to do, so I silently readied a familiar sad story knowing that for the time being it would go no further than the walls of our room. An hour passed while I thought of two more stories and a way to connect all three pieces together. Hmm, I thought, maybe that’ll be an essay someday. Then, right before I got out of bed and started the day, a possible title, originating from a familiar Bible passage, popped into my head.

A few weeks after Hutchmoot, I was working on my memoir in a burst of inspiration. I’d finished a couple of chapters when that germ of a title, no longer content to stay in its essay jar, popped up its head again. It gradually floated to the top of the page where my book outline lived, and I decided it might work as the title for my book, but I never shared it with a soul. Later on, I typed out the Bible verses containing the title, which I envisioned as the epigraph, onto a fresh, blank page.

Months passed and my initial writing fervor began to wane. The stories I’ve shared in the book can be emotionally taxing to revisit, so there are times when I’ve had to step back from it for a while. Then there are other times when the writing seems to be going well, but my family needs my attention, so I have to climb down from the mountains of my memory, and it can take a few days to gather the time and energy required for a return trek.

When I back away for too long, I begin questioning the value of the writing. I sometimes see myself as an archaeologist and wonder what I it is I’m hoping to find underneath all the dirt from my past. What if there’s really nothing down there, I ask myself. What if you dig and dig and dig and still come up empty-handed? Isn’t it best to leave some things buried? Part of me wants to say yes, and lay this shovel down, but on Memorial Day, God reminded me that my life is his story and he wants me to understand it as much as possible. Even if no one else ever reads it, even if I dig up the same old bones as every other writer, he’s put the shovel in my hand, so the best thing I can do is keep digging.

It was Memorial Day weekend when God woke me up again, quite literally this time, and called me back to the writing of my book. I was staying with my parents while my husband and eldest child had gone to Beach Camp. It was Sunday. No one had to rush off to work, and the kids were sleeping in. Though my awakening was startled and sudden, the house was completely quiet. I awoke with a vivid memory that I felt compelled to write down. The timing of this particular memory didn’t make sense to me, but the compulsion to write about it was familiar enough that I obeyed and pulled out my laptop. The scene in my head was a sad one: I was barely fourteen and we were moving to a new church in a new town. I didn’t want to relive it, but I knew it was a scene that belonged in my book, so I took it down as best I could. I mourned as I wrote; twenty-year-old tears rose to the surface, anxious for release. It was cathartic, but it also left me feeling raw.

I got ready for church, hoping the feeling would fade, but as I put on my sundress, I began to feel self-conscious about the tattoos it made visible, which would be seen by everyone in Mom and Dad’s small Baptist church. An old, familiar need—impressing church people so they would like Daddy—resurfaced. To make matters worse, it was the Sunday before Memorial Day; Dad was sure to pull out his patriotic script, and I was sure to feel twelve years old again. Then there were my kids, who aren’t exactly used to traditional Sunday mornings and were acting whiney. Honestly, I can’t believe we even made it to the church without having a major fight on the way.

We sang hymns I didn’t remember, and for the most part the kids sat quietly. No one stared at my tattoos, at least not that I could see. Then the kids were dismissed and Dad took the stage. His liturgy continued in its usual manner for about fifteen minutes, and then it happened. It was an aside, not part of the main message at all, perhaps even thrown in on the fly, but Dad alluded to my passage, the one I’d written down months before as my epigraph, and then he actually spoke aloud the three words I’d chosen for the title of my book.

I’m not ready to share that title yet, but what Dad said next was just as wonderful. “It’s good to remember things,” he told the small crowd, and my eyes filled with tears. It was one of those rare moments when none of the tears spilled over and onto my cheeks, but their very presence served as witness, to me, of a holy encounter.

“We wake, if we ever wake at all, to mystery, rumors of death, beauty, violence…” says Annie Dillard in the first essay of her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and I’m struck by the possibility that I spend most days wakened only in the physical aspect of my being, while my spirit slumbers on inside me. What does it take for these Lazarus ears to hear? How many times must Jesus call out my name, and why can’t I make it through the rest of my days, without doubting the reality of his voice? Behold my microscopic faith.

Yet, God mercifully continues to call. May the eyes of my heart flutter open just in time; may the full weight of his gaze falling directly onto me be itself the sun that wakes my spirit for eternity.


24 Comments

  1. Peter B

    We’ve been feeling pretty dead (or maybe just numb) for the past year. Thank you for this — but especially for expressing, in that last paragraph or two, what I fear and desperately need.

  2. Paula Shaw

    Thank you, Janna. This was beautiful. And it reminds me that paying attention to our lives. . . what’s really, really happening, what God is saying to us at any given moment, through things that may seem mundane at the time, or through things that may slap us in the face to get our attention. . . paying attention is hard, but it’s so, so necessary to truly live.
    Once again, I wish I had a ticket to Hutchmoot so I could meet so many of you people. Last year, I had to give mine back because of a knee replacement surgery. Boo. I’m gonna get there one of these days. . . until then, I’ll keep reading all the goodness you and others put on these pages. Thanks again! 🙂

  3. Michelle

    Janna, thank you for putting your thoughts and experiences down on paper in faithfulness and sharing here. It sounds like you and your family have traveled a difficult road and yet one that probably overlaps roads traveled by many others, even if its not obvious on the surface or in casual conversation. May your writing bring healing to your heart and bless those you share it with. Can’t wait to see you at HM.

  4. Margret

    Thank you, Janna, for the encouragement as well as the confirmation. Your whole post moved me, yet parts of this paragraph rocked me:

    “When I back away for too long, I begin questioning the value of the writing. I sometimes see myself as an archaeologist and wonder what…if there’s really nothing down there. What if you dig and dig and dig and still come up empty-handed? …God reminded me that my life is his story and he wants me to understand it as much as possible. Even if no one else ever reads it, even if I dig up the same old bones as every other writer, he’s put the shovel in my hand, so the best thing I can do is keep digging.”

    Thank you for putting into words the fierce fears I felt just yesterday as I began something I’ve needed to do for a long while, and for helping me prepare not just for the blisters from the shovel and the sore muscles that accompany the labor, but the satisfaction that comes from obedience to the One who loves each one of us unconditionally.

    All of Heaven’s best to you and yours,
    Margret

  5. Bailey Gillespie

    This was perfect timing from the Lord. I, too, have been compelled to write a memoir of sorts, yet I find that inspiration and motivation only comes at inconvenient times; and I also consistently doubt the validity of what I have to say. Thank you for being honest. I can’t wait to hear the three-word title! 🙂

  6. Scott Richardson

    Janna,

    Looking forward to connecting with you at Hutchmoot in a few days… we were “dismissed” as missionaries by our sponsors in a little church in West Texas, while still living in Romania. We felt called to stay there and to finish that chapter of our story, until God called us home 9 months later. We, too, have been deeply hurt by the church, and yet, inexplicably and mysteriously, we still love her. I can’t explain it other than to say, “She’s the Bride of Christ, and I love her still”.

    My mom kept our mostly monthly newsletters for years … and a couple of years ago, gave them back to me, all neatly filed, for Christmas, with the admonition, “You need to write a book!” Now given the fact that one does not write a book merely so your Mom can read it (not sure who else would be blessed by our tale!), I haven’t done so yet. But I’m open to asking God if that was HIS voice I was ignoring, or just Mom’s wishful thinking.

    May God bless your labors, and may your story bless others who have been similarly wounded, but yet, inexplicably, keep loving the church. It IS good to remember …

    Scott

  7. Leanne

    Janna, I am glad to see into your heart a bit here.

    On a sillier note, I’m happy that I made it into a Rabbit Room post. (Granted, it’s an implicit appearance. But I’m happy to be mentioned, even as a sleeping friend. I’m going to miss the skee ball this year. What will we do at 2a.m. without that game room?)

  8. Tamara @ This Sacramental life

    Janna,
    I would love to hear more of your story. I am a pastor’s daughter and now married to a pastor — something I vowed would never happen. I’ve daydreamed often of connecting with other pastor’s kids and sharing our stories somehow. Thank you for what you’ve shared here.

  9. Amy K Radford

    I feel a kindred heart in you. I was encouraged by your openness and vulnerability. I always wrote. To meet it was as natural as breathing. I never thought of it as a calling until this summer. It is an amazing thing when your soul connects who God made you to be and how he longs to use your story. Each messy little thing can become beautiful.

  10. Jaclyn

    Oh my goodness… Thank you, Janna. I started a new position of ministry, and have been forgetting to take my breaths and my steps by faith… and consequently been suffocating and stumbling =) What a beautiful way to word this situation and remind me that Jesus continues to call out my name even when I don’t respond to him.

  11. Teela

    Janna, I’m so proud of you. You have a gift for assembling the letters into words that are beautiful and make us all want to dig deeper. Looking forward to reading your book, b/c I know you will finish it someday and it hopefully will be a healing balm for this tired soul. God is good and He is faithful and I’m thrilled His has given you this precious gift of writing. I’ll love you forever….. mom

  12. April Pickle

    Behold His creation. In you, in your story and in your telling of it. Keep writing! Keep writing!

  13. Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Janna, I came here at Seth Haines’s suggestion. So glad I did. Thanks much for this essay. I’m writing a memoir, too, and I keep running up against the same doubts and questions you articulate here. I’m not sure why it’s so encouraging to know I’m not alone, but it is, and I’m grateful.

  14. Shannon Boyd

    Thank you, Janna. Anne Shirley. Reliving your past. 20 year old tears. Writing because it’s who you are and not necessarily because it’s for the masses, though words of redemption always matter to the masses. It’s His story and your story. Thank you for all of these things. Your post encourages me greatly on about 10 different levels. The deepest shalam be yours.

  15. Renee

    Janna, I read through this twice. Thank you for your open-hearted honesty. The tapestry of humanity amazes me. Though your specific situation is different, I, and it seems others, share your struggle. Doing the best we can to answer God’s call on our lives in the frailty of our flesh. Oh that I could live and move and have my being constantly in the manifested presence of the Lord! The battle between the flesh and spirit is relentless. Doubting often, I too, go on in my ‘microscopic faith.’ Praise for the mercy of God! I look forward to one day reading your memoir. <3

  16. Laura W.

    “God reminded me that my life is his story and he wants me to understand it as much as possible” – Janna, the truth of these words offer a call to all of us to examine the good and the bad in our stories and see God’s hand of faithfulness writing each chapter.

    I was glad to meet you at the Eric Peters concert in Chattanooga this past June, and it’s an encouragement to be able to “meet” again through this post. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey. May the Lord continue to give you courage to face your story and find Him there.

  17. brother

    “And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”
    ― Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

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