A Different Life

My pastor asks a question...

A few weeks ago, the pastor at church asked an interesting question during his sermon. He asked, “Where would you be today if you weren’t a Christian?” The focus of his sermon was on making good life choices as we follow Jesus. But my mind wandered off, pondering less tangible aspects of his question.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how radically different my life would be if I wasn’t a Christian. Now, just to make it clear here at the beginning of this post, I am NOT talking about my spiritual life. Yes, God has changed my life in significant ways. Yes, I would likely have gotten into major trouble with bad choices. Yes, my faith in God is what has gotten me through some very dark places and times. The focus of my ponderings, though, is on the physical and relational ways I would not be the same person if Christianity had not influenced the course of my life.

Here are a few of the things I’ve thought of:

If my parents were not Christians, they would not have chosen to attend a Christian college. Thus they would not have met, and I wouldn’t have been born. (Whew! That’s a pretty major one to start with!)

When I was little, my family met with another family and a few single guys to start a new church in the town we lived in. We would never have met without a mutual interest in Christianity which would have meant that those long-time friends and I would not still be interested and involved in each others’ lives and ministries. (I’m so glad to still feel supported and loved by Vera and Louise, in particular!)

Actually, MOST of the good friends I have had over the years have been people I have met in various church or ministry settings. My life is so much richer because of their influence. And, when we have faced challenges (pregnancy bed-rest, husband’s cancer, death of son, etc), we have received significant practical support from our church “family” in ways that our scattered biological families could not provide.

During elementary school through middle school, I enjoyed time each summer at a variety of camps. Perhaps if we were not Christians, my family would still have sent me to camp. But I know I would not have good memories today of time spent at Camp Burton (a church camp in northeast Ohio), Camp Cherith (a girls-club camp in Ohio) and Csehy Summer School of Music (a highly focused music camp run by Christians in Pennsylvania).

For that matter, I don’t know if I would have the same love of music if it weren’t for Christian influences. I learned part singing and harmonizing during hymn singing at church. I listened to and eventually participated in choirs and musicals put on at church. I gained confidence in playing instruments in front of others largely through performance opportunities at church.

During turbulent, rebellious years of adolescence, I was significantly influenced by my “second mom.” Mom Peterson was a stabilizing presence. She could speak things into my life that I could not hear during that time from my own parents. I could feel total acceptance from her, partially because she was not responsible for disciplining me. (She is also the one who arranged for me to go to Csehy music camp.) Thanks, “Mom”! (And thanks, Mom, for letting me spend time with a second “mom.”)

I don’t know how much exposure to and interest in foreign cultures I would have if not for Christianity. My parents often invited international students and co-workers into our home, especially for Thanksgiving dinner. Would they have done this if they did not view it as a “ministry”? In a similar way, I was influenced by annual missions conferences at our church. Each year I heard stories about cultures from around the world, and saw wonderful photographs. During the rest of the year, I read all the missionary biographies found in the church library, and hunted for stories from other places at the public library.

Related to my life-long interest in different cultures, I have enjoyed learning new languages. I delight in practicing Spanish whenever I get the chance. Although I was good at book-Spanish because of good teachers in the public schools, my fluency was developed during high school by spending a summer in Mexico teaching Vacation Bible School in Spanish with Teen Missions International. Most people I know haven’t used the language they learned in high school since those long ago days in class. I suspect my on-going interest was strongly influenced by that Christian-ministry-based time in Mexico.

I would not have met my husband, Randy, if it weren’t for my involvement in a “college and career group” at church during college. This group celebrated Fourth of July at the home of a cousin of one of the group-members. Randy came to the picnic as well, as a friend of that cousin. We met, we dated, we married.

We hadn’t been married long when we were asked to provide Sunday transportation to a Cambodian refugee family sponsored by my family’s church. That opened up a wide variety of paths—our on-going mutual admiration, mutual support, mutual fun friendship with Barb & Nicky Nichols and their family; our involvement in my family’s church including starting a young-couple’s group which provided many more friendships for us and for our growing number of children; and our involvement in working with Cambodian refugees. Eventually this led to my parents taking in a Cambodian mom and her two young children—my little sister and brother today. No church? No long-time friends and No extra family…

Speaking of my parents, we have been influenced by their generosity. We have watched them through the years as they faithfully gave a double tithe, reached out to help others in tangible and intangible ways, and, at one point, even gave up their home to a family from overseas! It’s not that non-Christians are not generous. It’s just that my parents were motivated to do these things because of their faith and their example influenced us as well.

When our oldest son was hospitalized with asthma as a toddler, we developed a connection with the resident overseeing his care. Dr. Houts and I would likely never have kept contact except for our families’ mutual interest in missions. He and his wife spent time working with Native Americans in the Southwest before returning to private practice in central Ohio. We very much appreciated his skills as a pediatrician and highly recommended him to Randy’s little sister when they were expecting their first child. In addition to his medical skills, Dr. Houts’ strong Christian faith was a comfort to Rebecca and Alan as they walked through medical crises with their son and as they dealt with that son’s death a few short years later. What level of care or concern would they have experienced from another doctor if we hadn’t connected with Dr. Houts years earlier because of shared Christian faith?

We spent three years in South Carolina for Bible and cross-cultural training for eventual ministry overseas (which did not end up happening). During those years we learned to better understand and appreciate rural Black culture through our involvement with an AME church. Time spent together was stretching for both us and our African American friends. Beyond learning to love some of our new friends there, it affected the names of two of our children. Nettie would most likely not have been named “Janetta” – partially chosen in honor of Ms. John Etta. James was named for our special friend who was the jazz organist at church. Who knows what other names they would have had instead?

We have been homeschooling for the past 19 years. There are many non-Christian homeschoolers today. When we started, however, secular homeschoolers were few and far between. We might never have heard about homeschooling if we had not been in Christian circles and been reading Christian magazines. “Mom” Peterson (mentioned above) was a significant influence in our considering such a radical option for our eldest daughter. We were encouraged to stick with it and not give up, in part because of participation in homeschool groups, most of which were church based. (I should make it clear, however, that we do not homeschool for religious reasons. We homeschool for academic and social reasons.)

We most likely would never have owned our “play farm” in Central Ohio if it were not for Christian faith. We loved the property when we first saw it, but quickly learned it was way out of our price range. I would never have continued to interact with the realtor if my young son had not been repeatedly telling me to “call the lady back, Mama. I’m talking to Jesus about it.” I couldn’t bear to deflate his faith with real-world “truths” (no way could we afford this place), so I humored him and “called the lady back” more than once. And by the end of that week, after a number of miraculous happenings, our meager offer was accepted. The farm was eventually ours.

As mentioned above, Christian friends have walked with us through difficult times. In addition, after our son died, we probably would not have heard about or considered going to Cornerstone of Hope for grief counseling. I truly believe the counselors and peer-to-peer groups there were critically important in healthy processing and long-term healing for all of us in dealing with this devastating loss.

During all of the life-struggles, our marriage basically shattered. Time spent with Randy’s brother and sister-in-law in Denver and later with his little sister and brother-in-law in Ohio were supportive and a big help to us and our two youngest kids. I don’t know if that help would have been enough to keep us together long-term. A marriage support group, new friends, and a counselor (all Christians) in Denver did lots of listening and spoke many truths into our lives. And a godly couple, who took a personal interest in Randy when he returned to the school in South Carolina a few years ago to finish his master’s degree, were a significant influence as well. If not for support, encouragement, and prayers from these Christian friends, we would likely be divorced today.

Finally, we are now living in remote New Mexico, working with local Navajo. I can’t imagine any way that we would be here today, if not for our being Christians and open to the idea of ministry; my sister being involved in a church where she saw and forwarded information to me about this position; and the board being open to God’s leading in accepting “wounded” folks such as ourselves.

Going back to our pastor’s question: “Where would you be today if you weren’t a Christian?” My life would certainly have been different in significant ways.

What about you?

 

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