The dolly for Sue. A cute little rag doll who sang, smiled, and played well with others on the island. The million-dollar question on everyone’s mind when watching this show was “Just what is wrong with that toy, anyway?”
Despite Rudolph-creator Rankin apparently joking at one point that this doll had been abandoned, the truth is, it would appear that this question has gone largely unanswered. The bottom line seems that one day, she or someone else decided she was less than whatever standard held for what should be a successful toy, and she was condemned to the isle. Another toy amongst our group of exiles—a bird who swims instead of flying—is seen floating in the background of scenes, literally. Could these two oddballs have something in common?
I (Allie Henson) would wager that they do. This fact is found in that some people—both those who stand out as a fish-out-of-water-type, and those who look like they fit in just fine—can be continually plagued by the nagging suspicion they simply don’t fit in. It could be as simple as perhaps their knowledge that they are operating outside their optimal avenue of calling, or it could be that the interests, personality styles, or even demographic (population structure) surrounding them doesn’t quite match their own background. I’ll never forget the years of watching my mom (Nita Horn) operate as a pastor’s wife and helpmate to my dad. For years, I watched her efforts at balance while her perceived role of duty and her truer identity—you know, the one that intertwines with your calling—didn’t completely align with one another. To be clear, it wasn’t that her role as his helper and partner were necessarily in opposition to who she was truly meant to be, it’s just that while it was playing out she was unable to see how the one contributed to the other, and vice versa. Only after years of dedicated obedience to God’s calling, would she realize how her faithfulness in one avenue (that of duty) would open the door for the calling which connected to her truer identity to come to fruition. And during this time, despite her efforts to fit in, she somehow could never escape the awkward feeling that she just didn’t quite. Allow me to explain.
For the reader who has read No Fences: It Started With a Plastic Pony, it is quickly apparent that my mom is a farm girl, through and through. When she wasn’t playing with toy horses as a little girl (hence the title of that book), she was imagining them, drawing them, or—if she was lucky—interacting with the real thing. Upon giving her life to God during her young adulthood, soon-after followed by my dad, these two decided to enter the ministry. But, while this vocation should be impacted only by the noble cause of the Great Commission, it is at times, unfortunately, filled with other dynamics as well. One can encounter those who make it a political realm, others see themselves as a type of hero, while still others use the ministry as a veil behind which they seek—through their own means—to redeem past mistakes but forget to bring God along in their endeavors. In short, while there are many devout and well-meaning people in this line of work, there are also flawed and misled human beings whose expectations on themselves and each other can bring about mishaps.
I grew up watching both my parents navigate this arena with as much grace as people can muster. Those in ministry live under the great constraints that people themselves attach to such roles, which can impede a person’s true ability to connect with oneself. For my mom, there were aspects of her person which simply took a back-burner during those years. For example, the farm girl hat went on a back-hat-rack-rung, while the official uniform for nearly every pastor’s wife in the 1980s—a below-the-knee, straight-cut skirt with matching blazer jacket—was donned. The long, country girl hair was cut, layered and rolled into perm rods, rendering the pre-approved, cookie cutter, minister’s wife hairdo sported by nearly every woman of this position during that decade. She wore it well, but those who really knew her were aware the fit was a little “off.”
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DO YOU FEEL LIKE A MISFIT? PERFECT! GOD HAS BIG PLANS FOR YOU!
For one example, my mom can take a set of drums for a serious run. Several years ago, my parents renewed their wedding vows for their 40th anniversary. All the BFG (Broken for Good with Joe Horn) band members brought their instruments and jammed out during the reception. There was Nita Horn, decked to the nines in her lacey wedding ball gown, a giant cloud of billowing, white poof spread out behind a set of drums; jaw squared as her determined eyes focused on a pair of hands moving two drumsticks faster than most people can even visually follow. Seeing such a sight was a first for everyone in attendance: the bride drumming the song “Wipeout;” tearing it up without mercy, while a crowd of onlookers saw a side of Nita Horn that they didn’t know existed.
Yet, I remember a time when I was very young, mom had stopped drumming for a season. Some of the early churches my dad worked in were fairly hyper-conservative; rendering it unladylike for a woman to wear pants; but equally indelicate for one to sit and work the leg pedals on a set of drums in a dress. Then, there were those who thought it inappropriate for a lady to play drums, others didn’t mind a female playing, but thought it an undignified for a pastor’s wife. And, this was in those churches which would allow drums in the first place, as opposed to those which perceived the whole notion of adding rhythm to the music to be “a little too close to that rock and roll music” for comfort in their own assembly.
Thus, she repeatedly relinquished the opportunity to play drums, and for years didn’t even own a set.
Another way I recall watching her work to adequately fill the role of godly woman in leadership was in the way she faced each day after day without a stitch of makeup in some of those churches which believed that cosmetics were the work of a Jezebel, followed by seasons of striving to learn the trending makeup and latest hair styles in those churches where dressing your best on Sunday meant taking every available measure to make oneself look as beautiful as possible; including using hair products, cosmetics, jewelry, and any other measure available to women of the secular world. The message itself seemed to change from one assembly to another as well; and sometimes within the same congregation. (During one of our final read-throughs of this book, Donna reminded me that when she was about 15 years old, she was approached by a woman in the church who told her she should wear makeup and dress in a more grown-up fashion for church, to “look her best for God.” The next Sunday when she arrived with cosmetics on, a different lady from the same group of attendees took her aside and told her it didn’t look appropriate.) This was the roller-coaster my mother traversed. After leaving one church in particular which allowed no modern indulgences where women’s appearance was concerned, we moved to a more contemporary community. This was one of the sweetest congregations we ever belonged to, where a kind-hearted and well-meaning group of ladies—upon seeing my mom’s wardrobe—quickly pooled their money together and went and bought some new, “more modern” apparel so she would feel more glamourous.
Now, before the reader mistakes my point, I want to clarify that she was in no way wishy-washy about her opinions or doctrinal boundaries. Her ability to go bare-faced in one church and then “glammed out” at the next are no indicator of her own personal opinions shifting as rapidly as the world around her: rather, she understood that, as a pastor’s wife, her ability to blend with and reflect the needs of the current congregation would add significant cohesion to dad’s ministry. This was an era wherein considerable thought, doctrine, and preaching were afforded to the myriads of issues that can become stumbling blocks (Romans 14). She had long since decided that what she cared about more than whether or not she wore makeup in any setting was whether or not she and dad had an effective ministry. Thus, she strove to find the same balance that Paul found when he discussed being all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:22). More than anything, she wanted to be effective for the Kingdom.
And yet, in the privacy of our home, there were many, many times that I watched my mom fix her hair or choose an outfit, and she would stand in front of the mirror gazing critically at her reflection. I remember saying things like “Mom, you look pretty.” Often her answer was, “Thanks Althia, but I don’t really look like me.” At that age, I wasn’t able to fully recognize her meaning behind the statement, but as I watched her enter subsequent phases of her life I recognize the conundrum she was feeling at those moments. She knew who she was, and she didn’t fully feel as though she had arrived at her final, end-game destination of ministry. And yet, she knew that she was where she had been—for that time—called to be. She didn’t really fit in, but she was comfortable in the knowledge that she was fulfilling a season of obedience… as though following a trail of bread crumbs. Those around her were unaware of her misfit status, but it was there beneath layers of determined submission to the path God had her and my dad both on. But, looking back, I recall the times that farm girl stood in front of a mirror, reflecting the expected suit-and-high-heels look all the other ministers’ wives were wearing. Because she was focused on the success of the actual ministry endeavors she and dad were involved with, the disconnect she felt between her identity and her ministry was nagging, but never destructive.
However, anyone who has read No Fences: It Started With a Plastic Pony or The Boy from El Mirage will quickly know that years of faithful service in these avenues eventually led to the founding of Defender Publishing, followed by Skywatch TV, and eventually Whispering Ponies Ranch. And, if one has read those books, they will also know that when Nita finally got her horses as a young adult, after a lifelong desire to have some, she sold them to pay the first month’s rent when she and Tom got married. For all those ministerial years, she dreamed of one day having a farm and some horses again. And, of course, this dream came true. But it was years of faithful service to God in other capacities which pushed her comfort zone and also taught her myriads of pertinent lessons which changed her dream of having a farm with horses into that of using it for ministry. It was operating outside her comfort zone in diligent obedience which changed the “someday I want” to “I have been called.”
And, here’s the best part. By the time the dream of this pony ranch was realized, the farm girl inside—her true identity—had also grown into a seasoned minister, with decades of experience in women’s and children’s ministry which refocused the direction of the vision from “hobby farm” to “therapeutic pony farm where traumatized children meet the love of Jesus.”
This is where it’s vital to differentiate between doing what your hands find to do, and making sure your hands find what you were meant to do. Our lives have a season for each, and without the balance of both, we can never reach out true, God-ordained potential. If one knew their end-game calling, they would skip all the strange, unplanned encounters and uncomfortable lessons which ultimately serve to prepare us for that calling. And yet, if we do not watch for those areas where our dream and our practical work-load come together, we may become so preoccupied with busy-work that we confuse our life chapter with our calling. For many of us, this means going through seasons where, for reasons we may not even be able to put our finger on, we simply feel that we do not fit in. During these eras, it is vital to prayerfully and patiently obey, knowing that more will come.
Hermey the Elf
While Hermey the Elf was not an actual toy in the Rudolph movie, he was a misfit. Imagine an elf living on the North Pole who, instead of wanting to make toys for children to receive at Christmas, wants to be a dentist.
As will be discussed in an upcoming chapter, ministerial roles often become typecast into pre-determined categories. Then, those who don’t fit these pre-casted roles often feel excluded, isolated or become confused about whether or not they have been called in the first place. (On that note, allow us to clarify a point for the reader: all Christians have been called! Matthew 28:19-20). Sometimes, either as a result of this confusion or the inability to discern specifically what is it we are called to, we pour ourselves into the nearest job, merely because it is where we find ourselves. Having made a case for the validity in a season of obedience, we will certainly do nothing to discourage people from going about this busy-work. After all, it is this busy-work that makes up a great part of our earthly contributions to Kingdom work. And, it is certainly better to operate on behalf of Heaven at nearly any level than to develop a lackadaisical attitude and sit idly. The thing is, there is much greater fulfillment and more unique and lasting fruit which can be gleaned as a result of us finding our true fit. By operating within our own God–given talents and abilities, we end up with more diverse and dynamic forms of ministry.
Over the years, I have seen many individuals mistake their life chapter for one of calling. This misplacement of title and status can have strange and unexpected negative outcomes. For example, I have watched many parents whose “calling” is whatever stage of ministry which is speaking to their own children at any particular time. For women, this lands them in the nursery early on, after which they might graduate to the toddler’s s class, and eventually primaries… you see where I’m going with this, don’t you? For men, this may be boys’ clubs, followed by youth ministries, and so on. Each of these individuals is following the calling on their lives to be a good parent. And, because this is the ministry that their child is receiving from, it makes sense that they would feel the need to contribute in return. But this is different than the call that is separate from others in a person’s life: one that is unique and exists between themselves and God. Often, through a season of obedience—often that service provided by devoted parents in ministry—the individual destiny surfaces. However, it is vital not to confuse the two. For those whose “calling” promoted out of each age bracket simultaneously to their own children’s growth, these could someday find themselves with both empty-nest and empty-classroom syndrome, saying, “Well, God… now what?” Such loss, for a parent who has intertwined his or her life chapter with calling, can leave the individual suddenly jarred both personally and ministerially, because there operations have been built upon their kids needs and not their own areas of strength.
Recall that all the time he was building toys, Hermey the elf was aware that his calling was not in toymaking. He just knew that dentistry was his passion. And, continually, he advocated for this. For those who struggle to see the differentiation between obedience and destiny, it is often a conundrum which lands them in a state of ministerial burnout. They have hulked up in determination so many countless times that they become uninspired, unenergetic, unimpassioned, and un-nearly everything else that it takes to do the same—often thankless—job day in and day out.
If the work you are doing has you tired, and wishing for a break, pray about this. Perhaps respite is just what you need. Or, maybe there is more to it than that. It could be that you simply must continue because you are in a season of obedience. If this is the case, God will give you confirmation and strength. If your feelings are as they are because God is ultimately leading you to another path of output, pray about this as well. Find others whose Godly feedback you trust and seek counsel. Unfortunately, ministerial burnout often comes about as a result of certain (usually difficult, tedious, or seemingly unrewarding) jobs that simply do not get volunteered for by many individuals. Thus, those who take them on often feel trapped in them, thinking no one will step up to replace them should they take a sabbatical. Pray about this as well, and discuss it with trusted peers. If God is leading you away from a job He wants continued, He will bring another laborer.
The important issue for an individual is to pray for God to reveal the calling on a person’s life, while paying close attention to your own emerging interests, passions, strengths, and abilities. And, it’s important to note, that some of these strengths may take our service out of the institution of religion, and into our communities. There are many places that a person can shine the light of God’s love to our lost world which fall outside the walls of the church. Myriads of forms of community service occur in civic buildings, community areas, schools, big brother and sister programs, community parks, other forms of volunteer work, not to mention the everyday interactions one has at work or in his neighborhood. These are all areas where individual can fulfill his calling.
Finding this path doesn’t look the same for everyone: some begin on a path of ministry and soon discover a series of unique and unexpected doors open which sequentially, leading them into a place they never expected. Others take on one form of ministry which they operate in for their entire lives. The important thing is to surrender in obedience, doing what you find, while simultaneously and prayerfully asking God to reveal a personalized plan which follows your own strengths and talents.
UP NEXT: The Square-Wheeled Caboose