(#3 excerpt from Ch. 1 "Climbing to my summit" from Leona's book-in-progress)
Choosing my direction
Within the framework of God's sovereignty and His generous gift of man's free will, He allowed me to make critical choices at specific times in my life. Looking back from my summit, I realize that those decisions determined the direction of my entire life. I was a strong-willed, stubborn child. I was adamant that I would decide for myself. I determined I would be the one to choose whose expectations I would try to meet, and they wouldn’t be the expectations of my parents. From the time I was very young, I resolved to leave my hometown as soon as I grew up and go to “some other place--any other place!” Perhaps it was the immigrant blood in my veins from my forefathers. I didn’t want to pursue the settled comfort zone that my parents valued so highly and urged on me. I believe God put this desire in me.
Without a doubt, a major defining choice was when I found God. That put me on a trajectory to conform to God's will instead of insisting on doing everything my way. Because of my godly generational roots, which I knew nothing about until much later, coupled with my grandmother’s prayers for her little charge, I was restless and searching from my earliest recollection. Instinctively, I seemed to know it was God for whom I was searching. He would fill the void in my young life all the way to the summit.
I recognize now that my choice to go in God's direction was also the work of the Holy Spirit. God was actually pursuing me, choosing me, while I thought I found Him, had chosen Him. That was still part of my insistence on self-determination. I wanted to decide whom I would follow. When I discovered who God really was, and what He had done for me, I was eager to submit myself to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. I surrendered my way to His way without reservation and forever. That commitment gave me security and direction and, at the same time, catapulted me into a life of adventure and risk. God didn’t instantly change my life, my negative attitude, my distorted view of my heritage, or my low self-esteem. God accepted my surrender, turned me around in the right direction and continued His process of my lifelong transformation.
Accepting myself “as is”
Because I had been ultra-critical of myself, my imperfect body, my shy, introvert temperament, always comparing myself unfavorably with others, it was a pivotal decision to finally accept myself the way I was. I realized that God loved me and accepted me unconditionally. Moreover, He fashioned in detail and according to His deliberate plan, all parts of my body while I was still in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139). I was finally on the road to a proper perspective on my authentic self and being comfortable with who I am. I had the sense that God was in the process of changing me from the core, including my attitudes and perceptions, aligning me toward His best for my life. I became a new person in Christ right away, but the outworking of that newness would take my entire lifetime.
In my summit years I am learning a new aspect of accepting myself “as is.” By the time I became comfortable with living in my own skin, that “skin” began to "go South"—it has become gravity challenged and my youthful tight skin, in a physical sense, has become loose and wrinkled! Because that comes with the aging “gift package” too, I am in a learning mode to accept that gift with humor and gratitude along with my calendar peers. I am not defined by my skin, my outward appearance; I am the inner, immortal soul who lives in that skin. I am still the “me” God uniquely created and chose to be His own throughout the seasons of my life.
When I was young, I struggled with finding my identity, as most people do. That also takes a lifetime because “what you will be, who you will be, you are still becoming,” and that is a process. Now at the summit I believe that I know who I am, and I’m at peace with that discovery. I am who God intended me to be and who He has been working on all the years of my life.
That has segued into the following choice: To follow God’s plan for my life, not mine. Before I left high school, I began to understand that God has some special life purpose for me. My sense of destiny became strong and was a defining factor in my future decisions. That has given meaning to all the decades of my life. Although I couldn’t have expressed my purpose in life in my early years, as time went on it became clearer. God Himself and what He wants to do in my life is still central to my thinking, ambitions, desires and goals. I would say that I never lost the awareness of God’s purpose for me, even at this latter stage of my life.
Embracing my gifts
College was a defining period in my life when I sought for and formulated a world view based on sincere inquiry into the basis for my Christian faith. That provided me with a satisfactory frame for the picture that would be my life.
I decided not to care what people say or think, if I know clearly what God wants me to do. That was a major decision with far reaching consequences that flew in the face of my strong desire and need to be approved by others and accepted by my peer group. It was hard on my inferiority complex to become still more “different” when I married someone from another culture and anticipated spending a lifetime identifying with that culture overseas.
I envied my friends who were obviously more gifted and talented than I. Eventually I decided to stop whining about what I lacked. I thought God passed me by when He gave out His gifts. Eventually I decided not to look back over my shoulder at my disastrous failure at piano lessons! God intended a different keyboard for my fingers—it was to be the computer keyboard for word processing which had not even been invented until decades later. I finally discovered and accepted with joy God’s gift to me of creative writing. That bolstered my self-worth and enabled me to have a fruitful lifetime of service for God.
In embracing my gift, developing, exercising, and teaching others the writing skill, I discovered not only one gift but a cluster of gifts. In my adult years writing led to speaking, teaching, traveling, publishing, broadcasting, and related ministries. Even now I am unwrapping new gifts within that one generous gift from God.