Who I wanted to be … and who I am
foreword by Patty Morwood
I don’t remember exactly when I met Jean Berkmeyer, but it was shortly after she and her family returned from living in Switzerland. The whole church was ecstatic to have them in their midst once again; the excitement was palpable.
We did eventually come to know each other though we were never really involved in the same things. But I kept seeing her and hearing her voice floating down the halls, inevitably accompanied by laughter; and I couldn’t help but laugh myself though I hadn’t been in on the conversation. Jean affects people like that because she is genuinely a funny gal. In fact, she told me she believes laughter is the best medicine and that’s why she’s rarely serious for long. I’ve also found her to be spontaneous, caring, energetic, and always real.
Jean is a middle child, the daughter of a Southern mother and FBI agent father. Poor girl, she was almost kicked out of children’s choir because she was supposedly ‘tone deaf’ and yet she became a music major in college! God blessed her marriage with the man of her dreams who houses a stubbornness just as strong as her own; together they are raising three “beautiful and wildly different” children to the glory of God.
As editor of the church newsletter’s women’s pages, I was fortunate to learn that she can write so I asked her to contribute an article. Of course her answer was spontaneously in the positive! Over time she wrote several articles, all of which may eventually find their way into this blog at some point.
Her essay below is a personal take on Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny. I wonder if, when you read this story to your children, you see yourself there: your willfulness, how you confidently push against the bonds of love, and your secret delight in hearing always, no matter your blind self-orientation, a divine love-affirming response.
Jean has captured the essence of the story beautifully: God loves and God pursues; we are self-focused, ever-pursuing our own thing. For most of us though there is finally an acceptance of the ineffable … God’s saving redeeming love in every aspect of our lives.
WHO I WANTED TO BE … AND WHO I AM
by Jean Berkmeyer
“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.’”
For a great deal of my life I have wanted to be “anywhere but here”, much like the little bunny in The Runaway Bunny. In case you are not familiar with this great children’s story, I’ll summarize it for you. The young bunny announces to his mother that he is going to run away. Wisely, his mother tells him he can but counters with her intent to be there for him wherever he ran. Similarly, at high school graduation I wanted to be a band director or a rock star, and to live a life as far from God as possible. This life of rebellion lasted three years. One night after miraculously arriving home, I spotted my Bible buried under some other books. Upon seeing it, I realized I wasn’t happy and I knew that God was the answer. It was instant. I prayed that night, confessed my sins to the Lord, and never looked back.
“’If you run after me,’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.’ ‘If you become a fish in a trout stream,’ said his mother, ‘I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.’”
By the time I was 21, I wanted to be neither a band director nor a rock star. I wanted to be a home missionary. More than being a missionary, I wanted to be married. I expended a great deal of effort in this pursuit and was completely unsuccessful. By 26, I had given up hope of ever being married. Then my doorbell rang. As I napped on the couch, in walked the most amazing and challenging man I have ever known and 11 months later we married. Suddenly, I was an army wife living in Manhattan, Kansas. I was certain God had made a mistake moving me to Kansas, and while I appreciated His answering my prayer for a husband I did not appreciate the move being the cost. So instead of growing and changing, I made a new plan. I would find a way to move us to the south.
“’If you become a fisherman’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a rock on the mountain high above you.’ ‘If you become a rock on the mountain high above me I will be a mountain climber and I will climb to where you are,’ said the mother bunny.”
Two years later I found myself a corporate wife in Mason, Ohio. Classically discontent, much like the little bunny, I planned my next move –and this one would be south. Not surprisingly, God had other plans. My move south was actually to Zug, Switzerland. While in Switzerland, everyday life was more than I could bear most days. I wept. I inwardly screamed. I was completely broken. The Lord carried me through despite my efforts to thwart Him. While He undergirded me in ways I did not see at the time, He used my hopelessness to show me that He had a plan and that He is in charge.
“’I will join a circus and fly away on a flying trapeze,’ said the little bunny. ‘If you go flying on a flying trapeze,’ said his other, ‘I will be a tight ropewalker and I will walk across the air to you.’”
Then like a blink that journey ended. We landed less than one half mile from our former Mason home. I thanked God for finally agreeing with me and for bringing me to a place of comfort and peace. It was neither. The Lord continued to change me and very little of it was pain-free. The marriage I had longed for was joyless and silent. I could not stand the life we were living and I felt alone. I wasn’t. God was there like the mother bunny fishing for her son or walking the tight rope as her son flew on the trapeze. He was unfailingly present. Being a patient sculptor, He whittled away many of the edges of me that did not belong to Him. While He worked, change came again in the form of a decision that I thought was mine.
For years I had talked about home education. Feeling certain that Jeff would never agree, I felt safe preaching on about its wonders. Apparently I talked long enough and loud enough to convince Jeff to attend a home school convention with me. After two sessions we met up for lunch. He looked at me with that serious gaze of his and said, “We are doing this.” I began to truly panic but, not one to readily admit fear, I plowed ahead. Four years later [now eight+ years] we stand in awe of the path God has laid before us.
“’If you become a tightrope walker and walk across the air,’ said the bunny, ‘I will become a little boy and run into the house.’ ‘If you become a little boy and run into a house,’ said the mother bunny, ‘I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.’ ‘Shucks,’ said the bunny, ‘I might as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.’” And so he did.
At 42, I feel like I am living in my sweet spot. I am a band director. I guide my kinds’ piano practice every week. I take them to the symphony and talk about the great composers with them. I’ve taught three classes of homeschoolers basic music theory through teaching them to play the tin whistle. I am a rock star.
I see it in their eyes when we have a great day of school or I explain a mysterious concept. I am a home missionary. Every day I pour my life into theirs with the knowledge that God will be faithful to complete the work He has begun in them.
I am married to the best man I know, and our marriage is filled with laughter and the knowledge that neither of us is the person we were in the beginning – and that is a good thing.
So as I look back over this year and all those that have come before and reflect, I am content and full of thanks. I am amazed by a journey that seemed so disjointed but was really the trip of a lifetime … making me all I ever wanted to be.
And like the little bunny, I plan to stay right here in God’s hands and be His.
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