Leaders are both made and born. I want to speak about being a “born” leader, which arises out of various things. One of them is one’s calling. What does it mean to be “called.”
My call to ministry is simple. From age 6-7 I knew that I wanted to teach and speak. I’m not sure how children know these things, but I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. At nine years old I worried about moving to TN (from CA) because I feared a southern accent would hurt my “speaking career.” While I wasn’t really a Christian at the time, I loved God, but didn’t interpret this love of speaking as a call to ministry. When I was 18 years old (and by then a Christian), I was studying in England and several of us took a trip to Germany. I was standing by the statue of Martin Luther (the one of him with outstretched arm, speaking from the bible). Suddenly I had the strangest impression that someone was talking with me. I actually turned around, but nobody was there. It is as if I heard a voice saying the following: “This is the speaking I want from you.” I turned back around and faced the statue square on, dumbfounded, but knowing at the deepest core of my being that God was calling me to speak for Him. Because of my (by then) southern roots and traditional upbringing I was conflicted immediately. Why would God call me to speak? I argued right there as I stared at that statue. I resisted the call, saying to God, “I will only speak if you make it more obvious than this that it is your voice that I hear.” When I returned to the states I completed education in theology and nursing, never telling anyone of the call I felt that day. I always said that I was preparing to be a pastor’s wife. In reality, I had the horrible feeling (and it was horrible) that God would not let me go or the call that was now attached to my being. I was so afraid that it would lead me to difficult places (and it has) and to painful circumstances (and it has). I finished college, worked for two years at a lifestyle reconditioning center as a nurse, repeating the challenge to God at various intervals, but never acting on the conviction I had inside. Then I moved to Loma Linda University. One day as I was working as a nurse, my pastor called and asked me to give the sermon at church. I asked why he was asking me and he said, “I’m not sure except that I feel impressed to call.” I remember putting down the phone and crying. I had spoken to nobody of the call and I had the feeling that day that my life was changing – that God was going to make the call more obvious. I gave that sermon and soon thereafter attended a weekend retreat by Kay Kuzma, a well known Christian speaker. At the end of the weekend, she invited anyone who felt called by God to speak to come talk with her. I was the only one who went forward. Here’s the conversation verbatim:
Kay: So do you feel called by God to speak?
Carla: Yes (I was a bit shy, so was a woman of fewer words than I am now)
Kay: Are you sure?
Carla: Yes. Very sure.
Kay: Then I want to invite you to help give my next seminar.
Carla: What?!! (I can still feel the shock I felt then) Do you know me? Have you ever heard me speak?!
Kay: Are you sure you are called by God?
Kay: Then I don’t trust you. I trust Him.
She took my number and called me soon thereafter. I and another woman gave her next retreat a year later. It actually was not extremely successful. There were only about 30 people in attendance. However, someone there heard me speak, invited me to their retreat as a speaker and the rest is history. I have traveled all over the world since. The other woman who spoke with me at that retreat became a physician. I see her about once a month in the hallway. She has also followed her calling.
The next big shock is that LLU School of Religion invited me to be a contract teacher. Then there was the surprise call from the dean inviting me to join the faculty. I had only a bachelor’s degree in theology/religion and everyone else on the faculty had their doctoral degrees. While I had two masters degrees, they were not in religion. But again, I felt God pulling me out from behind the veil of hiding from my call. While I was speaking all over the world, I was not officially identified with theology or with teaching (which is what I always understood as the other half of the call). Very reluctantly (and I do mean reluctantly) I agreed to join the faculty half time (to test the water). There again, the rest is history. I agreed to do a PhD and immerse myself in my call. The dean hired me with the understanding that someday I would be Director of the Center for Spiritual Life and Wholeness. Here I am, finally doing what I perceived at 6-7 years old – speaking and teaching.
There are many things I have not understood in my life, but one thing has been amazingly clear. God called me from a very tender age and I was aware of that in ways that I have never doubted, even when I have doubted all else. Even when others have doubted; I have not – not my call. One time a leader at the university said, “Carla, why are you doing PhD work in theology/religious studies?! You know you will never make a major contribution in that field! (They were encouraging me to do an advanced degree in nursing or family studies). I remember smiling to myself and saying, “Logically, you are correct, but given the pull on my life up to this point, I suspect you will be wrong.”
One would think that I would be at peace now – having arrived at a place where I felt called all along. I wish that were the case, but the pull continues. God continues to urge me forward, and while I cannot tell yet what God is saying, I remain reluctant, but faithful. There is nothing more that I want, but that has never been the issue. I would have been satisfied long ago, and with many other things, many lesser things. The issue (as I have come to understand it) is that God leads us in strange ways and to strange places, and to strange ends. While I am somewhat of a nonconformist in some areas, there is one where I have learned to submit…..to the call of God, wherever it leads, and however difficult. I say this with emotion because there is absolutely nothing more difficult in the whole world, but in the end, I will remain faithful to this, no matter what it takes. Even in the times when I have questioned God’s existence (and I have), the call reminds me that there is a being that takes quite seriously its part in leading me (and all of us).
Some people suggest that God does not call women to speak. This belief has cost me greatly. Some have refused to come to churches where I was scheduled to speak saying, “It is not biblical for a woman to preach.” I remember times when I wished they were correct.
Some people have suggested that “God’s call” is really only a psychological need to fulfill one’s own perceived talents. Interesting concept, but it is not my experience. I do not doubt that God’s call often reflects one’s talent, but there is a real “touchable” being on the other end of my call, and I respect it more than anything else. I will question, become frustrated and even kick against some things, but the being who called me from a very young age I will respect. In the end, that being will win out.
This is the story of my call.