God has such a terrific imagination. Creation is proof of that!
And so am I. I never imagined the directions my life would go, but God did.
I never imagined I’d become an ordained minister. I didn’t grow up in church. And I’m an introvert with a capital “I.”
Mom and Dad couldn’t agree on a denomination in which to raise their children so decided to skip church altogether. My first remembered experience with a religious institution came in third grade when a friend invited me to attend her Sunday school class. The teacher offered a free pen to visitors who raised their hand. I was too shy, so left without the pen and never went back.
In high school, my older sister invited me to the youth group at the church she’d started attending. The thought of meeting a group of new people terrified me. But one Sunday evening, I tagged along. I never looked back.
Along with Youth Group, I attended weekly worship and sang in the choir. Mom wrote out the words to the Lord’s Prayer on a scrap of paper so I wouldn’t be embarrassed. I still have the note, one of my greatest treasures.
In that group of loving Christian people, I found the place where I belonged. At the age of fourteen, I professed my faith in Christ and was baptized. When the senior pastor left for a new church I was asked to speak at his farewell party on behalf of the youth. My journey into ministry had begun.
I studied Psychology in college and graduated not really trained for anything. I couldn’t imagine. But the youth pastor at my church had imagination. “You love children, you love the church. Why not go to seminary and get a degree in Christian Education and teach in a church?” It was as if lighting had struck. That’s it! This is what I am meant to do!
I moved a little further down the path that God imagined for me.
The first seminary I looked into didn’t have a degree in Christian education, and I’d be required to take preaching classes and all the other courses aimed at those heading for ministry. I almost ended my search there.
I felt like Moses: “O my Lord, please send someone else!” (Exodus 4: 12). I could not imagine serving God as an ordained minister and had no intent of taking preaching classes.
Then I discovered Princeton Theological seminary in New Jersey, across the country from southern California. They offered a degree in Christian education. Perfect! However, the deadline for applications had passed. I applied anyway, and was accepted, and a short time later, off I went. I thought I knew what God imagined for me. I was so, so wrong.
It started during the daily Chapel, which I loved. As I listened to other students preach, a quiet, soft whisper of a voice stared saying to me, “Kathy Long, you can do this.” The voice was persistent, and I began to listen. After much thought, prayer, and discussion with my advisors, I came to the unlikely, impossible conclusion that I was headed for ordained ministry. I chose to finish my Master of Arts in Christian education and then pursue my Master of Divinity. My second year at Princeton, I met a young man pursuing a call to ministry. The rest is history.
We married, graduated, and sought a call as pastors in the same congregation. Churches willing to consider that option were few and far between. Right about the time we were seriously considering taking a job in Alaska at a fish cannery, we were called to serve as Associate Pastors at a church in southwestern Pennsylvania. Few people in those days had ever seen or heard of a clergy couple, let alone a female minister. But they used their imaginations and gave us a chance. They loved and encouraged us. We welcomed our three children into the world.
After eight years, we moved to Illinois to accept calla as Co-Pastors at a much smaller church. They couldn’t afford two pastors and we couldn’t afford to split one job. It took a great deal of imagination and faith on both sides, but we cobbled together 1-¼ positions and settled in to grow together.
Not long after moving to Illinois, I started writing early in the morning, to clear my head before starting my day with 2, 4, and 6-year-old at home and a new church to serve. Once I began writing, I couldn’t stop.
One day, as I read a book to our youngest child and rocked him to sleep, God whispered in my ear again. I imagined how wonderful it would be to write a book that other parents and children could share like this. In my “spare” time, I turned my writing to children’s books and taught myself the ins and out of getting published.
Over four agonizing years, I amassed 250 rejections. My children witnessed my despair firsthand. One year during our annual visit to see Santa, our youngest asked nothing for himself but said to the stranger in a red suit, “Could you please publish my Mommy’s books?”
I began writing secular books, lullabies and animal stories, but couldn’t get my foot in the door. Instead, my ministry, love of children, and writing blended together, and I began writing faith-based books for children.
Finally, with no help from Santa but a lot from God, I had my first book accepted for publication. It was worth all those years and every rejection.
That book, What is God Like? launched a series that sold over two-million copies in over twenty languages. I never could have imagined that. But I know who did.
Six years ago, I shed the chrysalis of my black clergy robes and stepped into a full-time vocation as a writer. It is a calling for me, as sure as being called into ministry so long ago.
Last year, I imagined a story about two children, very different from one another but wanting to be friends. “Will you be friends with me?” Does it matter if “my hair’s curly, yours is straight?” Or if “I am messy, you are neat?” Eventually, the children realize, “We’re all different. That’s okay! Life is much more fun that way.” And so the friendships begin and my new book, Will You Be Friends with Me? is being released on July 7.
I can’t wait to see where God’s imagination leads me next.