Remembering God’s Faithfulness in My Life
On an evening walk with good friends and neighbors Bruce and Di Murphy, Di said to me, “Well, what are you thinking of proposing for your sabbatical project?” After I identified my five ideas, Di’s response inadvertently influenced the choice I would make.
Let me share some background. Raised in the Mennonite tradition, I am a product of a Mennonite high school; later I served on the board of directors of another Mennonite high school for six years. I teach graduate students in the College of Education at George Fox University, and all of my research has been related to public high schools. For 20 years before coming to Fox, I taught at the high school level. I grew up in the Midwest, where I have relatives and good friends seldom seen because I live so far away.
My conversation with Di, a retired educator herself, moved my idea to do research in Mennonite high schools to the top of the list. But then she said, “You know, sabbatical is also about revisiting your roots.” She went on to remind me that for Jewish people, the Sabbath was a time to remember God’s faithfulness, suggesting that part of my sabbatical might be to reflect on God’s faithfulness in my life. Bingo!
There are 28 Mennonite high schools in the United States, so I decided I would choose eight in states where I have lived or have relatives. My visits to the high schools would involve interviewing students, teachers, parents, and administrators about the strengths of the school, as well as offering a workshop to teachers. Thus, my experience would involve a road trip that combined my sabbatical research, visiting relatives and friends, and reflecting on God’s faithfulness.
Just a week ago I returned from a six-week, seven-state trip from Kansas to Virginia. My husband, Karl, joined me for the last two weeks. It was a bigger project than anticipated—I covered a total of 3,600 miles, spent a couple of hours to a couple of days with 76 relatives and friends, slept in 18 beds, and interviewed 93 participants for 30 minutes each from the selected high schools!
Visiting high schools was the “work” part of my sabbatical project. Reflecting on God’s faithfulness was the “Sabbath” part of my project. When revisiting places, I considered my “Cloud of Witnesses”—persons who had mentored or spiritually cared for me for a time or place in my life. How did their influence help shape who I am today? What am I doing to pass on their legacy? Where did I see God’s faithfulness? (listed in the geographical order of my recent trip)
• In Hesston, Kansas, I recalled meeting and dating the man I would later marry. Our first date was a picnic along a river where we cooked hot dogs and sauerkraut in grape Kool-Aid because Karl forgot the water! I am blessed because he loves God and me more now than he did when we got married.
• In Manson, Iowa, with my sister I visited the place of my birth, houses where we lived until moving to Indiana in third grade, our grandparents’ farm (now a cornfield) where we ate every Sunday dinner, three cousins and an aunt, and our mother’s gravestone.
• In Hopedale, Illinois, I visited the only living sibling of either my father or mother. I cried when I left her—not because I would probably not see her again, but because dementia has changed the Aunt Bernice I once knew.
• In Indianapolis, Indiana, I recalled walking that long aisle at a Billy Graham crusade when I was seven years old to say “yes” to Jesus. I was and am still called to this Christian life. First Corinthians says, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
• In Goshen, Indiana, I spent quality time with two of our aging parents. Between us, Karl and I have three living parents in their 90s. Their lives are a testimony to God’s goodness in my life! I have a goodly and a godly heritage. Psalm 119:90 says, “Your faithfulness endures to all generations.”
• In Goshen, I also visited the church where I grew up, where we went as a family three times a week, and where I was baptized by my pastor, Russell Krabill. As I sat in that church a few weeks ago, I recalled kneeling to pray (or sometimes falling asleep!) for long periods of time at Wednesday night prayer meetings. And with much fondness, I remembered my youth sponsors, Howard and Sylvia Cross, and the influence they and others had on my life.
• Also in Goshen, I spent two days at Bethany Christian High School, where I graduated, one day leading teachers in professional development, and the other day interviewing. I was reminded of my former academic and spiritual community as I made several trips to the hall where my classes’ graduation pictures hung.
• In Columbiana, Ohio, we visited Midway Mennonite Church, where we attended for eight years. Midway was the place of our “church formation.” Karl and I knew no one when we moved there and chose this church independent of family ties. Midway became our family and was the place that nurtured us as we involved ourselves in the ministry, programs, and people of the church.
• In West Liberty, Ohio; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Harrisonburg, Virginia; I experienced an unexpected blessing. While reflecting on my own Cloud of Witnesses in each location, I had not considered that I/we were a part of other persons’ Cloud of Witnesses! Jerry, Deb, and Owen went out of their way to tell us the contribution we had made to their lives.
The sabbatical project resumes as I write reports of each high school and a summary article. But I continue to reflect on God’s faithfulness in my life. The song “Great is Thy Faithfulness” has these words: “As thou hast been, thou forever will be.” I rest in knowing that God will continue to be faithful in my life. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”