by Elizabeth Carlson
(Elizabeth is the newest member of our vestry. In July, at our Annual Meeting and Potluck, Elizabeth shared some of her testimony about God’s ongoing work in her life, and she has since written it up for us here.)
In our study of Joshua in the Tuesday morning Women’s Bible Study this past year we read about the twelve stones that God told the Israelites to gather when they crossed the Jordan – so that they would see and remember and tell what God did for them.
I’d like to point out a few stone markers along my life’s journey.
The first would be at my parents’ bedside on the farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. After coming home from the service at Mechanics Grove Mennonite Church one evening I told Mother that I knew I wanted Jesus in my heart, just like the preacher talked about. So we knelt together there beside the bed and we prayed. It’s the mystery of grace, isn’t it? I can say that that’s where my life as a new creation started.
I’m immensely grateful for the solid grounding in the Bible I got in my early years – through my family and through the Mennonite community. In my heart I truly wanted to follow Jesus, but obeying God was sometimes a hard thing for a young girl, especially when it meant a list of prohibitions, and dressing differently from everyone else in public school. So by the time I went off to college, I had discarded both the traditions and the faith of my fathers.
But I loved to read, and the second stone marker would be next to a pile of books – like C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and Born Again by Chuck Colson – many given to me by my wonderfully well-read and wise mother – books that helped me make sense of how I could be a follower of Jesus in the wider world. So during my junior year of college I remember saying Yes: Yes, Jesus I am yours.
The next collection of stones are more of a pathway that begins at that awkward time right after college. With a vague sense of trusting God, I took a seemingly unpromising job that eventually led to eight years of living and working in Amsterdam and England with the Billy Graham Association. The stones mark the path I stumbled along, learning in fits and starts to recognize God’s voice and to follow Him in spite of myself. One step in front of the other, in the daily-ness of life.
A cautionary tale from that time: I remember packing my suitcase to start an assignment in England – it was the first time I had ever traveled abroad – and as my mother helped me lock my suitcase, she said Now please don’t go and meet someone and get married and move to Tokyo or something (Tokyo being the furthest place she could imagine)! Parents, be careful what you tell your children not to do! Because that was about the time I met Blair, and we moved to a different country each year in our work with Billy Graham, and yes, one of those places was Tokyo.
There’s another mound of stones in Tokyo. During that year in Japan, after six years of marriage, I was in deep despair about ever being able to have children. I remember sitting in our tiny flat and weeping and reading from Habbukkuk: Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, yet will I rejoice in the Lord. They are the stones of relinquishment – choosing to see God’s goodness whether it seemed good to me or not.
Fast forward to the year 2000 and another move to England – this time from our home in Minneapolis, with two young children in tow. Blair had left the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, after 26 years, to study in Durham, England for ordination in the Anglican Church. It was a huge upheaval for us, and I hit a brick wall. I had no strength to work on my relationship with God. I couldn’t do anymore. All I could do was to receive from Him. It was a new way of being, and I was helped along by the Anglican milieu in which we were steeped. I call this pile of rocks Grace.
After five years in England, during which Blair completed his Anglican training, was ordained, and served in a small parish church, we felt led to return back to our Minneapolis home even though we had no idea what was next. It was 2005, and we heard of Church of the Cross through Phil and Mary Olson. We felt at home from the very first. Cross has been our faith family as Blair started GoodWORD Partnership, and as our girls have grown. And it’s been a wonderful place to continue my own journey into grace.
Looking back on the day of my baptism as a timid nine-year-old, I recall that I had to give a verse of scripture as a testimony in front of the congregation. In a desperate last-minute rush just to find something to share, I randomly picked John 1:17, which in my little black King James Bible reads: For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
Law, Truth, Grace. I can see now that my loving Father already knew my story.