In October of 1996, I was beginning my senior year at a BGC affiliate college. I was majoring in chemistry because I couldn’t hack the math for the physics tract I had begun four years earlier. It was an incredibly difficult major for me because I was attempting to force my artistic mind into a scientific determinism, for the high ideal of Amish-Mennonite practicality and determination. After all, art came too easy for me—so, why not go to college and have someone help me learn the most difficult and useful thing I could think of.
So, there I was, an Amish-Mennonite (in a covering and skirt) living in the dorms on campus, where it is almost certain, everyone knew of me. People still talk about how I used to rollerblade in my skirt. For them, it was unusual. For me it was the norm. My college year where some of the most formative and transformative times of my life. I made some radical decisions and invested into significant relationships. One of the moments of decision occurred on a night in October of 1996. My struggle of existing between two cultures was threatening to tear me in two. I believed it was my call to return to the Mennonite community after college to become an instigator of reform, and I would have nothing to do with that which compromised that position. Yet on the other hand, there were others who tried to get me to leave my community to join their ranks. The battle was relentless. As I tried falling asleep, I suddenly saw a picture in my mind. The closest thing I could liken it to was the vision that Paul had of the sheet of unclean animals but I didn’t believe in visions back then. However, I was too tired and bothered consider it odd, so, I asked the Lord what it meant. God showed me that this was a representation of my life in 20 years. I was appalled. I had not met my goals. I had pursued them but because I had pursued them selfishly I had become the very image of the legalism I was in a battle against. I was appalled and terrified. I saw the consummation of my despair in my death at the age of 40, leaving behind a husband and three small children.
I cried, “Lord no, this can’t happen!”
Then the Lord showed me another vision of my funeral. This time I was in the coffin in a week. At the funeral service I saw my two mentorees. I saw them take up my cause, my mission in life. My headstone would have said: birth 7/7/74, death 10/7/96. I would have been 22. But I begged the Lord for my life. “Lord, no, this can’t be it! What will my sister Joanna do?” I cried. She was the closest person in the world to me. She was my protégé, my best friend, my confidante. All my discipleship and love was poured straight into her. I heard the Lord say to me, “Either, you will die or she will die.” I responded by saying, “Okay, Lord, then let her die if she is willing, I would rather bear the pain of her death for the rest of my life than to have her bear the pain of mine.” It is easy to die and enter quickly into God’s rest. But it is difficult to remain behind when someone takes a piece of your heart to the other side.
A third choice came to me. I took it. To follow wherever he would lead. I signed the blank check and currently the Lord is filling in the amount. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I knew it would be worth it. I took on a new name to signify my change of allegiance. I didn’t know what my new name meant at the time but like Abram to Abraham and Sari to Sarah, my destiny was in the hands of my creator.
Within a week I had dropped out of college. I was moving into an apartment in the inner city with a friend. I was repenting of the sin of indifference, sectism and superiority of my people. I was being called to live incarnationally among those I encountered in every day, trying to love them, serve them, listen to them and becoming one of them. Now, those of you who know me know I do nothing half way: I dove into living the incarnational life as best as I could conceive of it with all my being. My companion in this leap of faith was Abraham on his way to
Over the next 10 years, I befriended Somalis and Mexicans and Asians and Africans. I felt a special connection to immigrants because, like them, I was an alien too. I hung out with addicts, ravers and Goths and witches and pagans. I’ve inserted myself into the situation next door where I befriended several addicts, a sex-offender and alcoholics. I live in the home of a former prostitute and drug addict. I did finish my degree at Carthage and while there hung out with the publicans and sinners too: there was Molly the self-absorbed dream interpreter, Russ the alcoholic, Peter the preacher’s son, Ursula the atheist and career mom.
In the Summer of 98, I moved back to the Twin Cities to live with my sister for the last 3 months of her life. After arguing with God profusely about her impending death, she died suddenly in a car accident. Her headstone says: birth 9/4/76, death 11/4/98. She was 22. I was a mess for the next few years at least and friends helped me find a job where I could be in a healing environment. That is where I worked, studied theology and poked at the small church movement. My scientific determinism became tempered by a more artistic mysticism. Reason, facts and rules became more contextual and relational.
I have felt at times like I was walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Relinquishing the protection of the structures in which one is raised has its consequences. Trusting God is was and is absolutely essential. I have learned to hurt with people and for people. I have had to learn forgiveness and grace and humility and have needed it in return. I have been over whelmed and I have overwhelmed others in return. I challenge and am challenged. Most importantly, I have learned to love the people into whose faces I once looked past.
On the night in 1996, I didn’t want to give up my dreams, ideals—that which I understood to be my identity (a self-created identity). I was strong-willed and determined. However, God in his faithfulness has done what he promised in the words of Christ. Whoever, finds his life shall lose it: and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.10:39. I’ve certainly been sent as a sheep among wolves (10:16) and sometimes I feel like it would be a good idea to work some porcupine quills into by wool. But the subversive success of the kingdom is dependent upon weakness, humility, harmlessness and wisdom. When Jesus sent out his disciples in Matt 10, he tells them what to do and how to do it (v. 5-15), then he tells them what to expect and how to think about it (v. 16-42). Jesus isn’t just giving a brilliant oration here. It was that too but it also became the living, breathing reality of the first followers of Christ. Why should I expect anything different for my life?