Carolyn Custis James was recently listed as one of 50 evangelical women to watch and recently published the award-winning book Half the Church. She wraps up the 2012 leg of the Women in Ministry Series with this story about her calling into ministry:
"You need to find out what God wants you to do with your life, and I’m not the answer."
When my brand new husband of one month uttered those paradigm-busting words, I’m sure my face distorted like the face in Edvard Munch’s The Scream. I was flummoxed that the Texan sitting across the table was telling me I had a calling of my own. What a revolutionary idea!
Growing up in a devoutly Christian family in Oregon, I absorbed the belief that besides being a mother, the calling of every Christian wife was to support her husband’s calling. Quite simply I took that to mean I did not have a distinct calling from God. My calling was subsumed in my husband’s calling. So it took a while for this new revelation to sink in, but it did—with a vengeance.
That doesn’t mean it was easy to get from where I was then to where I am now. Anyone tracing the early trajectory of my life would be hard pressed to explain how I ended up doing the kinds of things I’m doing now. The roadmap I started out with didn’t lead in this direction. I never dreamed of writing books or speaking at conferences or becoming a spokesperson for the ezer-warrior and the Blessed Alliance between God’s sons and daughters.
I enjoyed an idyllic upbringing. My father was a wonderful pastor for 65 years (he preached until he was 91). I inherited from both my mother and father a passion for God’s Word and a burning desire to serve God’s people. Ministry is in my DNA. Had I been a fourth son, instead of the only daughter in my family, I would have gone straight to seminary after college and prepared to be a pastor like my dad. But because I was a girl that option was off the table.
Like other women, I embraced simpler aspirations inspired by what I learned in church and observed in the lives of women in my circle of family and friends. I hoped for marriage and motherhood, expecting to minister as a volunteer in the church—teaching a women’s Bible study and putting those years of studying classical pipe organ to good use. My central calling, I believed, would be to support God’s calling on my husband.
But as we all discover sooner or later, God has a way of shaking things up. Right out of the starting blocks, I faced the reality that my path didn’t match the roadmap I meant to follow.
Instead of marriage, I landed in a long stretch of singleness. Instead of motherhood, I fought and lost my battle with infertility. When God unexpectedly blessed us with a daughter, instead of being a stay-at-home mother, I combined motherhood with breadwinning as a software developer while my husband earned two doctorates. Instead of finding my calling in Frank’s, I needed to find my own calling. While Frank was convinced marriage was weaving our two callings together—in deeper ways it turns out than either of us ever imagined—he valued my gifts and challenged me to follow God in developing and using them.
Those purposeful bends in the road that seemed like detours raised questions for me about God’s calling on his daughters lives that ultimately shaped my ministry. They drove me back to Scripture in search of answers for all his daughters no matter how our particular stories play out.
Early in my single years, I realized women were often subsisting on an anorexic spiritual diet. Never will I forget my embarrassment at the spiritual fluff dished up at my first women’s brunch. I shuddered to think some man might poke his head in and discover the pabulum we were ingesting.
The discomfort I felt went well beyond personal preference or the ridiculous ‘Mary versus Martha’ caricatures. The stakes are exceedingly high when women fail to dig deeper into God’s Word and think theologically. I learned that the hard way whenever circumstances forced me off the approved path for women forcing me to think for myself. God lit a fiery determination in me to raise the bar for women. I drove a stake into the ground for women to take themselves seriously with When Life and Beliefs Collide—How Knowing God Makes a Difference.
Literally over night (3:00 am to be exact), the realization that every woman is an ezer-warrior (translated “helper” in Genesis 2:18 at the creation of woman) expanded my ministry with a call to action on behalf of God’s kingdom. That call took on a disturbing urgency when I read Kristof and WuDunn’s Half the Sky and wrote Half the Church—Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women.
From the opening words of the Bible, God’s calling for me—for every female who has graced this planet—remains unaltered no matter how many unexpected bends we encounter on the road of life. We are God’s image bearers and ezer-warriors in a Blessed Alliance with our brothers to advance God’s kingdom wherever he stations us.
Our calling is grounded in God himself—unchanging and indestructible—and, as I am learning, doesn’t always follow the roadmap we choose for ourselves.
About Today’s Guest Blogger
Carolyn Custis James speaks internationally and writes deeper books for women that men read too. She earned her B.A. at Westmont College and her M.A. in Biblical Studies in the first class of women at Dallas Theological Seminary. She is passionate about unearthing the Bible’s message for 21st Century women and recovering the foundation that supports the deep conviction women have that God calls us to full engagement for his kingdom. You can read her blog and find out more about her ministry at www.whitbyforum.com.
About the Women in Ministry Series
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to:
- Provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry.
- Encourage women to explore their God-given callings.
You can stay updated on the latest post each week bysigning up for the weekly e-mail list. (You also get a free E-book!)
Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed.Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.” For more about the comment policy or submitting your own story, read here.
NOTE TO READERS
We’re taking the rest of 2012 off and will resume again in 2013.