warning: VERY long post below.. We have to review our spiritual autobiographies we wrote last fall and reflect on how we’ve changed. I thought about just posting parts of this, but oh well, here’s the whole thing. It’s important we take time to write down the stories of our lives so God might use them to inspire others. Or at least in the hope someone might learn from mistakes we make. written in the fall of 2007… On July 27, 1982 at 1:37pm I was born to the excitement of first-time parents, Dave & Kim Beckett. I was whisked back to a modest home in Elida, Ohio. A banner welcoming me hung from the garage door. I basked in adoring parental love for my first three years. My father was a United Methodist pastor serving two churches north of Lima, Ohio. I was taught at a young age the value of a loving church family. My brother, Ryan, was born in 1985 and I finally had a sidekick. I was quickly put in the big sister position of “second mother.” I made sure Ryan followed the rules or at least got in trouble when he broke them. My sister, Lauren, soon joined our growing posse in 1987. It was now even more important that I help my parents around the house. I relished the chance to put my hands on my small five-year-old hips and give direction.
My father followed the United Methodist appointment system to Trinity UMC in Lima, Ohio. I loved playing in the church gym and spending time with him in his office. I was very proud of the sign I made: “This is the office of Jenny, Ryan, Lauren and Jeremy’s daddy.” My brother, Jeremy, made our family complete in the fall of 1988. I was now a full-time helper along with my kindergarten demands.
Spiritual traditions were plentiful in the Beckett household. Mom and Dad came around to pray with each of us every night. During family meetings, we passed a cross around when it was our turn to share. We could always count on my grandfather to choke up at Thanksgiving when he shared all that he was thankful for. There were Christian phrases and verses displayed in places all over the house. I remember learning St. Francis’ of Assisi’s prayer because it was posted in my parent’s bathroom.
In 1991, our parents sat us down to say we were moving to Alaska. At nine years old, I only cared about my 3rd grade friends, my church friends and if there was a McDonalds in Alaska. When I found out I’d get new friends and there was a McDonalds, I was ready to go! We loaded up the car, said many tearful goodbyes to our relatives and headed west. My world got bigger and bigger with each state we passed.
The next seven years overflowed with sports, friends, good grades, band, swing choir, youth group, traumatic P.E. classes, father/daughter breakfasts, winter activities, jazz band, All-State band, first kisses and volleyball. I made the middle school varsity team and fell in love with volleyball. I loved the teamwork, camaraderie, and playing the game. I continued to play my freshman and sophomore year at a small high school. In 1999, we made a move north to Anchorage and I entered a high school of over 2,500 students. I made the Junior Varsity squad as a junior. My dream was to help my team win the state championship my senior year on Varsity.
Volleyball season ended as the Alaska winter descended. I was thrilled to make a varsity off-season squad. It was understood players in this league were the best in the city and training for high school varsity teams. I finally had made it! One night after a hard practice, I felt a dull ache in my right forearm. I was used to sore arms from a hard workout but this was a different pain. It stayed with me through the next week. The first doctor said it was compression syndrome. Another doctor ruled out carpal tunnel syndrome. It became very painful to play piano for church activities. I went to many types of physical therapy over the next several months.
In the meantime, my senior year was fast approaching and my dream looked ready to fall apart. I gave everything I had at the first day of tryouts. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play. I drug myself home and collapsed on my bed in tears. At tryouts the next day, I talked with the coach and shared my situation. He was supportive and mentioned he needed a team assistant. I jumped at the opportunity to still be “on the team.” I tried my hardest to enjoy the season from the bench but it didn’t make it okay. I watched with longing as our team was marching towards the state championships in November of 2000. Meanwhile, I was getting very involved in leadership at church. The church offered to send me to Exploration 2000 in Dallas. It was a national event for young adults 18-24 considering a call into ministry.
I had a doctor’s appointment three days before I left for Dallas. The tentative diagnosis was fibromyalgia. I raced home to find out more and every sentence hit home. Someone finally understood what I was feeling! It was a mixed blessing.
The weekend in Dallas changed my life. I spent three days with thousands of young people who felt called to serve God with their entire life. My small group leader revealed she also had fibromyalgia. She helped me through the weekend in so many ways. One night after worship, I called my parents at home to get the news. It had turned out Alaska’s state volleyball championships were the same weekend as the Dallas conference. The choice had been easy. My girls won state. The team I was supposed to be on won state. I wasn’t there. But I couldn’t have been happier.
Our airplane flew northward and I pressed my face against the frigid window. As I listened to Steven Curtis Chapman singing, “Dive,” I saw one bright, shining star in the sky. God was speaking to me. I felt the deepest part of my soul make a decision. This was it. I’m not turning back. God you have all of me; for the rest of my life.
I faced the reality of returning to my daily life as a fibromyalgia patient. I really struggled with the invisibility of fibromyalgia. My siblings did not understand why I was released from many chores. I didn’t have a cast or bruises. I can’t describe how painful it was for my loved ones to believe I was pretending to be in pain. As I moved forward with a call into ministry, I also felt a growing resentment from my siblings. I felt utter loneliness as siblings and friends didn’t understand why and how I was making changes in my life. I shared a call into ministry with my father and it pushed my siblings away.
God guided me to Florida Southern College in 2001. I was thrilled to attend class among swimming pools, sand, and palm trees. God stretched me through different people in college. They believed such different things than I had been taught. I was raised in the laidback and open land of Alaska and was suddenly dropped into the South. I was extremely challenged but emerged with a strong faith and an openness to engage others of different faiths. God led me through challenging religion classes, leading a campus ministry, and playing in the chapel band. God also led me to my future husband, Aaron, and we were inseparable throughout college. God matched Aaron’s gentle, patient nature with my outgoing, impatient nature. We were married in June of 2005 and blessed to have our two fathers officiate the ceremony.
Two months after we were married, I got a phone call that my best friend, Alisha, and her boyfriend, David, got engaged. Alisha and I have been friends since 1999 and we both made the journey from Alaska to Florida Southern College. We were determined to find cute Christian boys! David was one of Aaron’s closest friends through playing in chapel band together. We were thrilled they wanted to get married! Aaron and I were honored to be their best man and matron of honor in July of 2006.
We continued to stay in touch as best we could. God was showing me how friendships change after college and into adulthood. We have to make a big effort to keep them strong! Unfortunately, Alisha and I rarely communicated that following year. Aaron and I made a visit to Alaska to see family and just saw Alisha and David once. It broke my heart to see how things had changed.
A month later, we got an early morning phone call on the day of our second wedding anniversary. David had been killed in a plane crash. David was a pilot and loved what he did. The worst moment of my entire life was seeing Alisha walk down the aisle at his funeral with her mom on one side and David’s mom on the other. They were literally holding her up. And just eleven months earlier, she had walked down the aisle to David to be married. The cruelty of life ripped my heart into shreds.
We spent some time with Alisha and I felt God directing my steps and words as I sought to comfort her in some way. We committed to better communication in the coming months. A couple days later, I was driving to work and I glanced up at a beautiful morning sky. I was overwhelmed with the feeling of how happy David was at that moment. I knew without a doubt where David was. Life would continue and God had a lot to teach us through death and celebrating life. I continue to learn a lot about the nature of God as I help love Alisha back to life.
Two months later, I entered my first semester at United Theological Seminary. God is teaching me countless lessons each day. My soul feels like it is home. I soak up every bit of wisdom and knowledge my professors have to share. My contextual placement is a crash course in Leadership 101. I am thrilled to be serving God in this place.