I was almost 50 years old before I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.
My mother knew in third grade. When she took a hygiene class, she decided then and there to become a nurse. She also knew early on that she wanted to teach others to read. If you had asked me in grade school, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I would have replied, “a missionary nurse and schoolteacher like my mom.”
In junior high “Uncle” Bill, one of my boarding school teachers, stopped me one day on the sidewalk and challenged me to consider becoming a missionary doctor instead. Because I loved and admired him, I agreed to do so in order to make him happy. The problem was, I neither felt drawn to working with sick people, nor did I have a propensity for the sciences of any kind! But I did know that I fell in love with Miss Pat’s English class.
During my senior year of high school in the USA, I began to panic. What should I do next? My parents were overseas and unable to help me with college decisions. Mrs. Casler, my friend Cindy’s mom, suggested I attend Word of Life Bible Institute, a one-year school of Bible training, before heading to medical school. And so I did.
At the end of that year, I visited a nearby Christian college to check out their pre-med program. And that’s when it finally hit me—I was pursuing someone else’s dream. With a sense of relief, I gave it up, only to flounder—what do I do now?
Enter Ron, a guy I dated a few times. “Go to TTU,” he suggested. “They’re offering a full tuition scholarship for MKs (Missionary Kids).” And so I applied.
Am I seeing a pattern here?! I didn’t like or know how to make decisions. I just went where others directed me.
I remember sitting in a large classroom when I first arrived on the TTU campus. I was supposed to be filling out forms, including my intended major and class schedule. I didn’t have a clue what to do! The only constant up to this point in my life was that I knew I wanted to become a missionary. I leaned over to the student next to me and said, “I don’t know what I want to major in.”
“Just put down Education,” he replied. “Many students do that. You can always change later.” And so I did.
It was when I took my first education class that I began to back-pedal. A friend who was in the midst of student teaching said she was required to have perfect handwriting and it felt like she was acting all day, and it was exhausting. The thought of teaching frightened me.
Okay, so now what? To become a missionary, I knew I needed to know my Bible, so I switched to a Bible major. Now here was something I was familiar with.
Enter Speech 101 with Dr. Euler. Though the thought of public speaking terrified me, I had enough poise apparently to impress the teacher. “You should consider an oral interpretation speech major as well,” he declared. At first I balked at the idea, but again, a teacher has clout and I listened. The literature appealed to me, and my performances in junior high and high school plays gave me something to build on.
When I got married and didn’t end up on the mission field, I wondered what good my speech and Bible majors did me. I suspect it was my husband Scott who encouraged me to apply for a job teaching English and speech at Berean Academy, a small Christian school. But my four-year teaching experience there exhausted me. It was hard work—mentally, physically, emotionally. I felt intimidated by American teenagers and couldn’t relate to them. I was too young and inexperienced to handle a classroom, but I enjoyed the challenge of trying to keep my students from getting bored. I also enjoyed directing plays and preparing students for speech competition, but again, the work was extremely demanding and I made many embarrassing mistakes. Thankfully, Mrs. Calvert was a sympathetic and supportive supervisor, along with some parents who encouraged me.
Raising three babies and keeping house and moving four times kept me busy by default for the next several years. When we needed the extra money, Scott found out that a local junior college was hiring evening English teachers and urged me to apply. I returned to teaching, but again it was through someone else’s initiative.
It was while we were doing some in-service teacher training that the light bulb finally came on in my mind. We were introduced to the topic of brain studies and were examining how different brains are wired. After taking an assessment test, each teacher was instructed to approach an easel, take a pushpin, and place it in their dominant brain quadrant. I was chagrined to discover that my pin landed on the green square whereas most of the other teachers put theirs in the blue section. Apparently I was working against my natural bent, and it made sense why teaching exhausted me so. And I realized for the first time that all my life I’d been pursuing other people’s directives rather than following my heart.
Shortly after that, we moved to Tennessee, and I had to step down from all responsibilities at church, at school, and in the community. I was starting over with a new life and many possibilities. One Sunday morning I sat riveted in my seat as Pastor Dean asked the question, “What is your passion?” That sermon, along with its guidelines, became pivotal in my understanding of who I was created to be. At first I didn’t think I liked what I knew about myself. All along I pridefully thought of myself as a professional—someone with status and education. But now I realized that I got far more pleasure out of shuffling papers around than trying to influence and push people to perform a certain way. I had been an introvert in an extrovert profession.
I jotted down in my journal that I loved order, the preciseness of grammar rules and the repetition of data entry. I also knew I had a passion for reconnecting MKs. I was already meeting those needs as editor of Simroots (a magazine for adult MKs). Life was getting neater and tidier, but I knew I needed more than that to keep me busy while the girls were in school. I just wasn’t sure what.
And then it happened. My world flipped upside down and got messy again. In walked Minna Kayser, a very wounded, suicidal adult MK who landed on my doorstep and stayed. I know now that it was a God-event of epic proportions. (You can read all about it in our book Diamond Fractal.)
I never in my wildest dreams would have thought that working in the counseling field would be a good fit for me. It is far removed from sitting in front of a computer all day and losing myself in organizing script for a magazine. What was God thinking!?
To this day, I’m still not sure what happened. How did I get here? How has a speech and Bible degree and classroom experience and proofreading skills prepared me for this inner healing prayer ministry? How is this related to how my brain works? I’m a visual learner, not an auditory one, and yet what I do requires intense listening. I don’t have the gift or the passion for traditional counseling. I don’t even have the traumatic past that often draws counselors and psychologists into this career. I don’t get it! This calling is so much a God-thing that I am left shaking my head in wonder.
I’m still editing Simroots, and I still enjoy connecting MKs, but my real passion now is watching the light bulbs come on in people’s hearts and minds when God speaks truth to them in a prayer session. What astonishes me is that I got catapulted into this work without the skills or training at first to do it. I got thrown into the deep end before I knew how to swim.
I seem to have lived my whole life in default mode, following instead of leading, listening to others rather than listening to my heart. Was God’s voice in Uncle Bill? The stranger who sat next to me on the first day of school? Did He direct Ron so I’d end up at TTU? Or use Scott to get me into teaching?
Why didn’t God just show me or reveal to me my passions way back when I was a little girl—like He did for my mom? Why did I wander for so many years in areas that didn’t fit me? Am I such a slow learner? Or is that all part of the growth process, the learning progression?
The funny thing is, contrary to my friends’ observations, I don’t feel gifted at all for this ministry. But my mother the nurse, my first role model, claimed she could never do what I do. She didn’t even understand it when I tried to explain it to her. Is this a supernatural, spiritual gift or is it physical—the way my brain is wired to think after all? The fact that God does all the work and I get to watch makes me think that anyone could do this ministry if they just had the training and a willing heart. But I know now that not everyone is called to do what I do. My conclusion? I have learned that when God calls, He equips.
How did you figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up?