This is an oft-repeated quote that is quite Bravestery:
There are two great days in a person’s life–the day we are born and the day we discover why. –anonymous
In the book this quote was attributed to Mark Twain. If you go to Google it is attributed to some more men I have never heard of. If you do a deeper dive you will find out that no one knows who said it first and it is very likely wrongly attributed to Mark Twain and that there is a growing problem of Mark Twain being attributed to quotes he never said. Now you know too.
I read this quote in a book I was recently reading and it struck me, but in a different way. I can name two great days in my life that have shaped me to be who I am. Neither of the days are when I was born (though I’m sure it was a great day for the rest of the world?!?!?!!!, or at least my parents) or when I became born again (a day I remember distinctly and one that definitely changed the trajectory of my life). There are two distinct days that I know why I was born. And these two days have defined my life.
The first was when I received my call into full-time ministry. Notice I didn’t say when I accepted the call into full-time ministry. That came some months later as I was quite happy with my life at the time. Over these past decades I still claim that those two years before my call into full-time ministry were the happiest of my life.
These were my ages 18 to 20 years. I moved 2 hours from home, went to a business school, got a nice business job before the school ended, had great room mates and then moved into a really cute small house by myself (!!) that came with a huge yard. I also had a nice boyfriend, a really ugly car but it was mine, and friends. The best part was I was involved with the youth ministry at the church down the street. For many reasons—probably all due to the Holy Spirit—those two years were precious for ministry. Even talking to some of the teens now from back then (we are now 37 years older) still reflect upon those years as the first time or the nearest time they felt the presence of God in their lives.
One weekend I attended a singles conference and the speaker was a pastor I had heard of at a church near my family. My parents had just started to attend that church and recommended I hear him as this singles conference was near me. He was a good speaker. He was motivational. But I don’t remember what he taught that weekend. What I do remember—and still remember very distinctly—is the call God placed on my life that Saturday night. It came in the form of a detailed vision during the worship time. It shocked me, especially the clarity of it, but I went on with my very happy and ministry-centered life.
Over the next three months my life felt unsettled. Work definitely became an unhappy place. One day in my unhappy office I made out a pros-and-cons list of whether I should leave everything and go to Bible college, the specific one my vision told me to go to. The list on the pros side was long but putting this out on paper showed me that my way to peace was to follow the vision.
I talked to my parents who directed me to talk to their new pastor, especially since this calling was his fault. He heard my story and got me enrolled into that college that day over the phone. (I’m pretty sure my parents were hoping for a different result.) I left my job, my house, my boyfriend, and that church in a week and started the first step of that calling. That same pastor hired me to be one of his youth pastors a year later and was with me through all of the ordaining process.
My life has been a wild frontier ride ever since. My life has been defined by that call ever since. Where I live, whom I married, all of it has centered on this call of my life. Even the part that is now 25 years of disappointment in God. This continual wrestling with God has also defined my life.
The second great day of my life was when I became a mother. That is an amazing story and it has nothing to do with childbirth, pain and contractions, and that beautiful moment when you hold your baby for the first time. I’ve never experienced that. I never could experience that. (For those of you walking through infertility, I know it is a whole different kind of pain.)
I knew in my gut from an early age that I would not be able to have children. I just knew. I knew so much that one time I was dating a great guy who I would have liked to have married but he very badly wanted children. I told him I wasn’t having children. We literally fought for 4 hours about why I would say this or know this. It was a painful fight but I just knew and early love wasn’t going to convince me of something different. Of course, that relationship ended.
I was content with this lot in my life. I had my full life of ministry and I “mothered” on many teens. This was sufficient.
Until I started ministry with this one group of boys.
I met them through substitute teaching. At that time the school superintendent begged the clergy to get involved with the schools. He wanted us on campus, clerical collars and all, so we could have a calming and influential presence. I decided to substitute teach on my off days. Sad note is our clergy network committeed this possibility out so that nothing was ever done due to fears of insurance coverage and other minutia. It’s been almost 30 years since we had this opportunity locally and we’ve never been asked again.
At the at-risk middle school I chose I met these boys. I met lots of teens but these boys clung to me. I remember this time well. I remember these stories well. I had no idea what to do or what was going on. I recognized it as a God-thing but it didn’t fit into any church definition. During school I couldn’t get them to leave my classroom before or after school (or during school, it’s not like they were good students). During school they wished me to eat lunch with them. Eventually they found ways to get me over to their homes. I met their parents and sat on “the corner” with them. For hours. They often “stole” my car keys so I couldn’t leave. Why would these boys want to be seen with a substitute teacher after hours? On the corner? I just prayed—a lot. I was a single woman at the time hanging with these boys. What was going on?!
After a year-plus of this I had a young man from my church home from college. He felt God told him to spend his summer working with me. I’m sure he assumed it would be church youth ministry work. I asked him to come with me when I was with these boys. He did. Over the summer he grew a relationship with them and I had some safety with his size and manhood.
At the end of the summer he asked me if he could invite them to visit him at college in a few months. He said he could arrange for them to stay in the dorms and have a real college experience. At this point none of these boys were ever going to college. When it came to actually planning this weekend I had 13 parents give me their children to go on this college visit weekend because they told me that none of their children are going to college and maybe this would change that direction for them. I had 13! And just my vehicle. Thankfully a parent volunteered to drive one way and another volunteered to pick us up on Sunday.
That weekend changed my life. But that is not the day I’m talking about yet. Brian’s college Bible study had all sorts of good stuff planned for the students. Saturday night they planned a skit and Bible study and asked if they wanted to become Christians. I didn’t know this was coming. All of them said “yes.” I watched this happening and thought to myself, my life is forever changed. What am I doing?
I came back knowing I had to disciple this rough bunch. So back to not knowing what I was doing—without Brian’s help. Eventually along came John, who himself was a new Christian but he sure could relate to this group! (His life story is the stuff movies wish they were made of.) We stumbled along. Eventually John and I got engaged.
Before I get to this great day I have to repeat this part of the story yet again. It’s my favorite. When I finally said yes to a proposal, we told the boys first. With what I thought would be a joyous moment was received as so-so. Until the boys pulled me aside later on that evening and said to me, and I quote because I can still hear this, “We like John and all but we think he will be like every other stepfather and take you away from us.”
I called John that evening in exasperated tears (which I don’t often do). I didn’t know what to do and how to move forward—and I had finally said yes to a proposal. I thought this was the right thing! From that conversation John and I decided that the kids would be a part of our wedding including giving me away to John. My favorite wedding photos are the ones with the boys in them. It was a different wedding, including flashpots during the ceremony.
Four months before our wedding I was watching a Touched by an Angel episode. This one was about an at-risk boy being abandoned. I was weeping. I was weeping deep in my gut. I couldn’t breathe. The pain of that abandonment broke me. I clearly heard God ask me, Will you parent these boys? You’ve mothered many teens through church ministry but I’m asking you to parent these boys.
(I haven’t seen that episode of Touched by an Angel since. I’m afraid to. I’m afraid of feeling that much pain again.)
And that is how I became a mom to these four boys and why my boys are all nearly the same age. Our relationship grew even more like a family after they finished high school (only one actually graduated at the ceremony, ahem!). Over the longevity they have come to learn what unconditional love is, what support through it all looks like, and how faithful and near God is to them every time. It has taken longevity for them to understand this. I, and now John, have continued to parent with wisdom (which is sooooooo hard!). The blessing is we are now grandparents to five! And all five know now that they are loved and secure. I’m still not sure about my mothering skills but I am surprised at how skilled I am at being Oma! (Yes that is me in the picture being the coolest Oma ever last Halloween.)
I know I was born to be my boys’ mom. It took me obeying the call on my life to place me where I needed to be for them to find me.
What are your two great days?
Maybe during this season of your life the question of why were you born? haunts you. With the stuckness of your life right now, you feel far from the right street you should be walking down. Far from that purpose with your regrets holding you down and keeping you stuck. How about starting the moving forward progress by just finding your two great days? Maybe one is the day you were born? Maybe one is the day of your salvation? Or maybe one is that dark and lonely day you decided to change the path of your life? When it felt impossibly hard and you knew you were all alone. That is when bravery defines you. And it sure is better than shame defining you!
Take some time to think back to those brave moments in your life. How did they make you?