Our family recently enjoyed our first sunset on the Pacific Ocean. While it’s difficult to rival the sun’s striking display, we found ourselves more fascinated by the sets of footprints in the sand. With the brilliantly colored sky at our backs, we curiously examined the imprints left by others. What kind of person walks straight down the shoreline, just out of the water’s reach? And who jogs along, dashing in and out of the ocean’s froth? We turned to see what pattern our own steps made, and we were surprised to find that these trails revealed quite a lot about the identities, personalities, and purposes of those who left them.
This experience inspired us to consider the footprints of our family through life. A quick glance would not reveal anything noticeably different or unusual about us. As a white, middle-class family living in the U.S., our path may at first seem linear and well trodden. However, upon closer inspection, we see that it’s woven in and out of the changing tide, doubled-back at times, and even grown faint in some places. We ask, How can we be leaving such wild footprints? And we’re realizing that the pattern of our steps reveals our efforts to intentionally and consistently walk as Jesus did, listening to the Holy Spirit’s guidance for each next step.
Moving toward full surrender
My husband, Bob, and I were both raised in Ohio. When we got married in 1999, we jumped with both feet into serving in camp ministry, teaching positions, and pastoring the youth of our church. During the next eight years, we experienced invigorating conversation and challenging mentoring from our senior pastor and his wife. They challenged us to re-evaluate our preconceived ideas of God’s expectations and our own expectations related to following Christ. We asked ourselves how we would measure “success” in life, balance priorities, and make decisions. And they helped us recognize the difference between submitting with full abandon to God’s leading and remaining compelled by our own desires and expectations.
One of the significant family decisions we made during this period was that I would stay at home after the birth of our first child. While we were excited about this change and strongly felt that God was calling us to it, there were questions that each of us struggled with in reaching the place of full surrender. Could we trust God to provide financially for us? Was it worth giving up the status and respect I’d established in my five years of teaching? Why would God call us to this, while many other godly families had spouses who were both still working where God had gifted them and raising their children at the same time? In the end, while recognizing that there was no clearly Scriptural right or wrong in this area, it was the compelling voice of the Spirit, our own personal preferences, and the encouragement of other believers that motivated us to make the decision we did.
As the years progressed and another child was added to our family, we had a surprising but timely call to interview and join a Brethren in Christ church in Abilene, Kans. We prayerfully considered moving our family four states away and into the most rural setting in which we had lived. With both of us strongly sensing that this was where God was leading, we quickly embraced our new life and were loved into the community in Kansas. Over the course of the next few years, we slowed down to a more leisurely stroll in wide open spaces. Our children enjoyed rich friendships, a delightful school experience, and a huge yard for imaginative adventures.
During this season, Bob and I also learned to take a regular Sabbath rest in order to minister out of fullness instead of frenzy. This was not a move toward legalism, with allowable or non-allowable activities on a particular day of the week, but rather, a recognition that God created a time for worship and renewal. This means that we intentionally take a day to put aside our work in order to spend time reading the Word, reflecting, and enjoying time with our family and friends. We also made the decision to eliminate television from our home for a period of time. These new patterns focused us more on others and on listening intently to the voice of God. They were simply family steps of obedience.
On solid ground
After only two-and-a-half short years in Kansas, we received a phone call from a BIC church on the West Coast. If we accepted this invitation to serve, it would take us the farthest we had ever been from the familiar and safe circle of friends and family. After discussing all of the reasons why this move was unrealistic, Bob and I again went to God in prayer. Rather quickly, we realized that this was a path God wanted us to explore rather than to reject. The next few months were some of the most difficult and lonely we had ever experienced, yet we both clearly felt that God was indeed leading us to the next leg of our journey in Southern California.
Presently, we are going on three years serving the friendly, diverse, and genuine community at Solid Ground Church (Alta Loma, Calif.). During these last few years, God has been challenging us to closely examine our family’s use of time and ways we can more generously use our resources to bless others. We also continue to learn how to intentionally preserve margin in our lives in a Sabbath rest. The practice of these intentional family decisions often marks us as “different” from others.
The journey continues
Through all of these family transitions, the one thing that we have learned is that there is not one perfect formula for many of the decisions which Christ calls us to make as individuals and as families. For us, nonconformity is not a goal in and of itself. Rather, living a life set apart and different than the world around us is the natural result of walking with Christ and being obedient to the Holy Spirit.
People have sometimes assumed that nonconformity and being “set apart” means living in isolation, yet we have found that God’s call has led us into deeper community. Over the years, we’ve sought wisdom from other believers, encouraged non-believers to ask questions, and explored life and faith with others.
I don’t think following Christ usually means walking a clear, straight-forward path, nicely marked out for us. Rather, as our mentors and the great heroes of the faith teach us, the journey of following Christ and living by the Holy Spirit sometimes means leaping into the waves. At other times, it means leaving the water to sit in the sun or inviting others to walk with us.
We, as a family, don’t even begin to claim that we have all of this figured out, and we so value the voices and wisdom of other believers in that conversation. We intentionally surround ourselves with those who walked this stretch before us, as well as those who are still searching for how God wants them to live. But of one thing we are convinced: The best place to be is wherever God is leading—just for the next step!