Identity and purpose are funny things. Annie wrote:” I am doing well and am resilient since my hubby died, but I don’t feel like I have much purpose or things to look forward to.”
How we think of ourselves, becoming satisfied with who we are, along with meaningful purpose comprises our identity. This week I was privileged to share the MBTI Type Indicator with a young entrepreneur who has been fed negative things about his personality which has sabotaged his identity and positive view of himself. Those who tear him down just don’t understand his unique design. He left with a feather in his cap and I gained significant purpose.
Caregivers, who’ve spent many months or years giving up vacations, classes, outings, neglecting friendships and their normal routine and are no longer needed often experience a loss of identity having to re-discover who they used to be.
Loss of identity can also occur in the aftermath of any radical change in routine or environment. Covid has created this dilemma for people all over the world. When environment, lifestyle and friendships are radically disrupted, reshaping to a former routine often results in an unsettled identity. Missionaries and the foreign-employed identify. Thankfully, solution is out there, but not always easy. With identity intact, one can more easily muster up purpose. Sixty years ago, my identity was battered in far West Texas. I trust that this saga, including two snake stories, will instill optimism.
Earlier blogs have recounted how Ruth from the North met and married Jim from West Texas. We spent our first five years in lush, Waco, Texas where Jim was a student at Baylor University, pastored a small country church and worked at a grocery store. I typed papers for Jim and other students, gave birth to three children and assisted Jim at church. Life was brimming with gobs of friends and rich purpose. After graduation, we elected to delay seminary to catch our breath financially. Jim was sure he could find work quickly in his home town of Odessa in far West Texas where oil wells, few trees, wide-open spaces, blue skies and sandstorms prevail. Foods, accents, dress and lifestyle were different. I didn’t look, behave or sound like a West Texan. Sand-filled wind and long hair are not compatible so I relented to practicality. Adjustment became the new norm.
We stayed with his parents for a couple weeks until we rented a duplex. Mentally, we were prepared to stay a year. Jim hauled cement during the week and preached at various churches on the weekends. The children and I accompanied him on Sundays. Several churches wanted to extend a pastoral call, but seminary was still our plan. However, after supplying many weeks in a row at a fledgling mission south of Pecos, made up of 20 big cotton farmer-families, we felt peaceful that God was leading us to accept their call as full-time pastor with part time pay, fully aware that a supplemental income would be necessary. Energized by the prospect of ministry to young families, we traveled further into the wild west to Verhalen, a wide place in the road.
The house made available to us was adequate but had no well. We had to haul water from a nearby town to fill a water tank on the property which supplied water for the house. We learned to conserve water. There were no close neighbors or telephone lines. Mesquite bushes, sand and rocks made up the yard and the wind with sand began at 10 a.m. and blew all day. I hung clothes and diapers out early in the morning and brought them in before the 10 a.m. sandy wind began. High temps necessitated that the children come inside by 10 a.m. as well. Thankfully, the kids enjoyed reading books, coloring and playing together. Unwittingly, someone gave the children a kitten and we had a little dog they enjoyed.
We learned that we actually lived on rattlesnake hill. The major warning from everyone was “watch for snakes”. Oh, yay! Always carry a snakebite kit which was about the size of a roll of nickels. Never get out of your car at night without flash-light inspection from car to porch so no one steps on a snake. Always be on the lookout for snakes. I had never seen a rattle snake. The environment was totally foreign to me. I had to equip the children to new safety routines. I knew I must be careful, positive and strong because children adjust about as well as the mom.
Jim was hired by his uncle who owned Odessa Butane in Verhalen to manage the business that serviced the homes and farms in the area. Jim had driven butane trucks for this uncle since he was a teenager so knew the drill. This was not only an answer to our financial needs but Jim loved business. But now, a phone was absolutely necessary to care for customers- (before cell phones). We followed the guidelines--purchased poles, dug the holes with borrowed equipment and placed them. Then, the phone company strung lines. As Jim’s only helper, I operated a big yellow machine of some kind. I think it was a small crane.
On a Saturday morning, a few weeks after we moved in, Kay, 4 and David 3, came screaming into the house yelling “Snake”. Jim was on the truck so I knew this was my assignment. Amazingly, the kitten had the snake mesmerized in the front yard. I hurriedly put Kay, David and one-year old Julia Beth into the car, drove a mile to the mercantile; opened the door and asked “Can anybody kill a snake?” I drove back home followed by six pickups. The kitten was still on guard, so a farmer took care of the snake. I can still see the men who spread out like a posse searching the rocky, dessert-like field for the mate. “It will show up”, they promised.
The next morning at church, the wife of one of the rescuers said in front of everyone, with no sympathy for me, “Why didn’t you just pull up a fence post and kill that snake?” I wilted. I could never do that in a million years, I thought. Life here wasn’t going to be easy.
Not long after that, A scream from Kay in the kitchen revealed a coiled-up snake (ready to strike) visible through the screen. Of course, Jim was gone. Again, my assignment. I grabbed Jim’s 22 rifle, never having used one, went out the front door and spied the snake still on the porch. I pulled the trigger, and can you believe that I hit that snake between the eyes--with a 22?
The ladies began to be more relaxed with that pale-faced, helpless pastor’s wife in skirts and loafers. They wore jeans, boots and drove pickups. When I finally showed up at a meeting in jeans, I could feel their acceptance. My identity was gaining ground.
Because Jim was on the truck from early until late, the children and I visited the families to get acquainted with the moms and kids, and offer encouragement which resulted in a solid bonding. Any positive reaction you have with another person generates purpose and that keeps one afloat.
We experienced regular sandstorms, tumble weeds, a plague of moths and howling of coyotes at night. It rained twice one year. We had a flood but before the water was mopped up a sandstorm hit. And then, a phenomena that takes the cake! On a Sunday at 2 pm, we noticed a black wall underneath the sunny sky moving our way, and fast. We realized we’d better hurry and cover the window AC units. The sky turned black; the power went off; the wind whipped and sand swirled around in circles. How glad I was that Jim was home. As I was nursing 3-month-old, Roger, we had to find a way to keep sand out of his eyes, ears and mouth and cover his bed completely. We were a little scared to be truthful. We just waited it out. The wind howled all night depositing piles of sand and dirt inside the house and destroyed cotton crops. A Texas Blue Norther, we learned later, and they don’t occur often. Handling new problems was painful but the experiences forced both of us to learn things about ourselves that we never knew existed, and how well we worked together. We were conscious of God’s presence, peace and protection.
After serving Verhalen for several years, one of the members of the church agreed to take over the butane business so Jim could begin seminary. Jim and I thanked the Lord for the privilege of ministering to those wonderful families. Managing the difficult environment strengthened our teamship. We still maintain contact with some of the members.
Ps 16: 7-8 I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (NIV)
Ps. 91:1-2 whoever dwells in the shelter of the most high will rest in the shadow of the almighty. I will say of the Lord, “he is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (NIV)
Next blog: The resilience of personality: preference-switching in times of stress.