This is not a whine, or complaint.
It is, however, a statement of what is.
25 years ago, this weekend, I was commissioned (ordained) as a Salvation Army officer (minister), alongside 51 other people with whom I ate, studied, played, prayed, preached, and traveled in ministry. We were – are – the “Followers of Jesus”.
I did so not out of a strong sense of divine calling (in fact, the night we signed our covenants to serve as Blood and Fire officers in The Salvation Army for the rest of our lives, I felt a nearly overpowering urge within me to not sign, a voice, almost, saying this is not for you…), but out of not knowing what else to do.
I was born and bred to serve.
I knew no other expression of Christianity than that which wore navy blue uniforms, called each other by rank, and populated those ranks with souls rescued from abuse, addiction, and overall life trauma.
I was young – 22 – and I wanted to make my parents proud. This was the natural progression for a young lady who rose through the ranks as a Junior Soldier, Sunbeam, Girl Guard, Senior Soldier, and Graduate Corps Cadet. “Officer” was next.
After being commissioned, I lasted two-and-a-half years, miserable every day, knowing that my path had to be different, because the path within The Army could not possibly reflect the joy and peace of God promised me.
Not one day of joy, not one day of peace…just longing for something else.
I was 25 when I walked away. After much prayer, and fasting, and more prayer and fasting, I resigned my commission and followed Jesus on faith alone.
Against the counsel of leaders, I walked away and followed Jesus.
Even though it broke my mother’s heart, I walked away and followed Jesus.
Not looking back to answer the questions of others and address many raised eyebrows, I walked away and followed Jesus.
The road hasn’t been easy, but along that road I have discovered the love of God in so many different ways, in so many different places, and with so many different people.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes – or what I thought were mistakes. There have been dark spots…places where this sheep was truly lost and could no longer hear or see the Shepherd…
…but it was in those times that I discovered just how creative and out-of-the box He is when He comes to the rescue.
Mistakes? Maybe. Wasted time and life? Not at all.
I do not regret my choice.
I have returned twice to lay service in The Army, and every time, it brought out the worst in me and ended badly – very badly. No one can say I didn’t try to find a place within their ranks – I most certainly did.
That this worldwide, beloved-by-many Christian church, known for its selfless service to the indigent, the poor, the ignored and oppressed, is not my place is no longer in question.
I have found my place. After a long journey through many denominations and experience gathered from countless forms of vocational and avocational ministry, I have found my place. A quieter, more isolated and solitary place, one that relies on secret prayer, unspoken devotion, and receives no great attention. No banners, no bands, no flags and drums. And I continue to follow Jesus Christ with joy, just as do those of my dear friends whose place remains in that band of spiritual soldiers. Perhaps because it was woven into my very DNA, I continue to love the unloved, never reckoning the cost…and I am happy. I am at peace.
On the 25th anniversary of that momentous event, I can’t help but miss the relationships, the camaraderie, the sense of unity and purpose and direction – almost a “lockstep” with companions that a more solitary walk with Christ just doesn’t have. I miss the late night, post-service “afterglows”, the common stories, and the wordless glances where volumes are communicated in an instant. I miss a common paradigm for life and service. I miss the music…how I miss the music…
It is a family – a family within the family of God.
As I look at pictures posted on Facebook of my sessionmates celebrating the 25th anniversary of our commissioning, watching many of their children celebrate that same, powerful event, a solitary tear is trickling down my cheek. Not one of regret, or even sadness. It is a tear of nostalgia, a tear of contemplation as I reflect on just how unique the journey for each individual follower of Jesus is. Unique and tailored to most fully develop the image of our Savior in each one of us.
The day I walked across the stage at the Scottish Rite Auditorium in Long Beach, California, to receive my commission and my first appointment, General Paul A. Rader spoke this Scripture to me, and it has echoed in my soul for the last quarter century:
For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)
Even though my path has been different, and life has taken turns and detours I never even imagined, the Lord has shown Himself strong on my behalf – so many times, and in so many ways.
His tender mercies have flanked me behind and before, and He is acquainted with all my ways (go read Psalm 139!).
I am still, in every way and now more than ever, a Follower of Jesus.