An excerpted from Taken by Surprise
by Sue McMillin and Sarah Hemingway
Word count: 500 words
Read time: 4-5 min.
It was good to be back in the United States again, and I thoroughly enjoyed having a respite after my adventures in Sweden. The year was 1974, and soon enough it was time to regroup. I found myself accepting the invitation of friends to come live with them in Madisonville, Kentucky. They had four children, ages one through seven, and they welcomed my helping hands as a part-time nanny,
Not one to let grass grow under my feet, I also signed on as a teacher at the local ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school. Unlike my student-teaching experiences in college, these were great years, filled with the learning and laughter of seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-grade kids. Oh, what a joy they were! I was “Miss Mac,” and I’m sure these youngsters taught me much more about themselves than I ever taught them about academics. I worked hard and so did they, and we all came to love and appreciate each other through the daily grinds of math, English, and science.
In the summer of 1975, after a year of teaching at the ACE school, I was ready for a break from the congestion of city life, and an adventure out west was just what the doctor ordered. I had a friend inWyomingwho led expeditions up into the mountains, and I contacted him after school was out. His next trip was escorting two young women on a three-day trek into theWind River Range. They were to do some map marking, and he invited me to come along. I wasted no time in accepting that invitation. Then I heard of a Christian camp where I could stay as long as I wanted, so I added the camp to my agenda. This was a dream come true, and I was psyched.
I bought a new pair of hiking boots, loaded up my backpack, and headed for the airport. After several changes of planes, I finally arrived in Wyoming. If ever there was a dude, I was it. Because I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, I found the backpacking trip with my friend and his clients pretty exhausting, but that didn’t in any way prevent the thrill of the journey. Days and nights in cool, clean air with breathtaking scenery and expanses of nature were wonderful therapy for this city dweller.
Wyoming was everything I had hoped for and more, and it only whetted my appetite for other adventures. In the days following the first mountain journey, I decided to spend a little more time in the Jackson Hole area. After all, this was summer and I was on vacation. One afternoon, as I strolled along the streets of Jackson Hole, I noticed an ad in a window advertising a week long trip into the back country on horses. The cost was $250, and I had a total of $45. It looked so inviting that I casually mentioned, “Lord, I sure would like to do that.”
Several days later, I heard about a Christian fellowship meeting and decided to go join some of these folks. When I arrived at the ranch, I found a group of about 50 people milling around, enjoying each other’s company. After introducing myself, I stayed to hear the speaker; later, I met the owner of the ranch.
We talked about different things, and in the course of conversation I asked him, “How big is your ranch?”
“Four acres,” he answered.
“Four acres?” I asked incredulously. “How can you run a ranch if it’s only four acres?”
“Well, you see, this is a dude ranch, and we don’t actually house guests here; we take them up in the mountains on horseback for a week at a time.”
Without thinking, I burst out, “You don’t need any help, do you?” (Then I thought, Sue, you ninny, what could you do? You’re just a dude yourself.)
My host looked shocked and answered, “Are you serious?”
“Sure,” I replied, mustering up as much confidence as I could.
“Well, my cook just quit. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. If you’ll cook for us, I’ll let you go on the trip for free.”
God had answered my nonchalant prayer uttered at a storefront down inJackson Hole. I could hardly believe it. I stood in the middle of the living room and wept for joy.
On that trip we saw elk, marmot, and deer, while magnificent carpets of wildflowers spread beneath our feet. Mountains stretched out for as far as the eye could see, and our weather was astounding. I cooked meals, washed dishes, rode horses, fished, and even caught a two-pound “goldfish.” Rushing back to camp, I informed the other dudes that someone had stocked the lake with their pet goldfish and I had caught it. The camp resounded with laughter at my gullibility. Little did I know that I’d caught a two-pound carp.
Before I leftWyomingthat summer, I met another rancher who let me brand some of his cattle. Yes, that year I had quite the vacation.
I returned to school in the fall, refreshed and ready to take on my new charges. We had another great year, certainly one that both stretched and inspired me. Still, I didn’t feel that teaching was my life’s work, so when the school burned down at the end of my third year there, I knew that it was time to move on. I had been talking with friends inFairfax,Virginia, about a new church venture they were starting. About that time, they asked me to come out and join them in the myriad tasks to be done. It sounded inviting, so once again I loaded everything I owned into my 1969 Buick and headed for Virginia.
I was excited. The thought of moving to D.C. and maybe getting a job with a senator was too thrilling even to ponder. What would the future hold? My life hadn’t exactly been dull up to this point, so I couldn’t wait to see what was around the next bend. I didn’t know what it was, but I was ready for it. Or so I thought.
After settling in with my friends, I rolled up my sleeves and quickly got involved in the life of the church. I knew I’d need to find work, but I wasn’t sure just what it would be. Several months passed, and still unclear as to what I was to do, I took a job at the Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU). I planned to be there only for about six months, but I ended up staying six long years.
I must confess, this was not a happy time for me. In fact, it was horrible. I don’t know exactly why, but after only a few days in my job at NFCU, I was miserable. The job was neither stimulating nor rewarding.
Oh, I got promotions, and the jobs were “excellent” jobs, but I was becoming more and more depressed. I descended into such a chasm that I started going to bed at seven o’clock every night. And the only thing I looked forward to was my bath. I even convinced myself to take a bath every other night for fear that I would not have that to look forward to.
This time was especially difficult, because in the past, God answered my prayers almost immediately. I was used to having him there with answers. But this time he appeared to be strangely silent. I knew he was there, but I just couldn’t hear any answers.
Finally, after four long years, I was at the end of my rope. I had prayed all along, but now, in absolute desperation, I poured out my heart to God, begging him to help me. I told him I’d seen his power. I had traveled halfway around the world and had seen him move mightily. I remembered all that he had done in my life, yet now all I seemed to be doing was pushing papers and making Xerox copies, more miserable with the passing of each day. I knew there must be more to life than this, but my perspective was gone. I fell on my face before him. God promises to hear our prayers, and he assures us of his love. He always comes through — sometimes a lot slower than we choose — but he always answers. This time he came crashing through.
Very shortly after my encounter with the Lord, my pastor reflected, “You know, Sue, when my wife and I have been in your home, we’ve noticed how organized you are. Do you think you could teach people how to get organized?”
I laughed. “Me? Organized? I’ve never organized a thing in my life.”
I actually had, but it was very little — my own room, my school classroom, and a small filing cabinet at the credit union, hardly enough experience to warrant starting a business. Besides, I thought, if I started anything, it would have to be a “ministry.” I don’t know anything about a business. So we forgot the conversation, but God didn’t.
Several weeks later, a friend of mine, with no knowledge of the previous discussion, mentioned to me that I should read a fascinating book she’d just finished. It was called Getting Organized. I was floored. I knew then that God was speaking.
I bought the book, lay down on the bed, and started reading it. Now you’ve got to remember that I was depressed, and nothing had excited me in nearly four years; I’d just felt numb. I read the book for about twenty minutes and whammo! I jumped off the bed and said, “This is it! This is what I’m supposed to do with my life!”
I was charged, energetic, almost giddy. It all fell into place. I already knew everything in the book, even though I had never read a thing on organizing, nor had I ever organized much. I didn’t know what goals were and could barely balance my checkbook. But I knew what that book was going to say before I even read it. I finished it in one sitting, got to the end, and saw that it was written by a single woman inNew York. I said to myself, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it.”
Excitement and adrenaline are great, but when I cooled down I realized that I didn’t know what to do next. No one offered classes in getting organized, and I couldn’t think of anyone who might train me.
So I called some men and women in my church, told them I was starting a business in helping people get organized, and told them I didn’t know what I was doing. I asked if they would be willing to be my guinea pigs. Could I lean on them?
Their response was great. For the next year, almost every night and every Saturday, I organized for those wonderful, supportive people. I learned, I listened, I watched. I stumbled, I failed — but I learned. I read countless books and took before and after pictures. Slowly I was growing into my business. One year later, I gave my first seminar to the women in our church. It was an instant success. My confidence soared. I was on my way.
For the next year I remained employed full time but began to make a little money organizing. By the end of the second year in the business, I decided to leave my full-time job and, by faith, step out and trust God to help me run things. In 1984, two years after the initial revelation, I quit my job and have never looked back.
What an exciting year 1984 was! I learned so much about myself and God’s people. It was challenging and thrilling to be helping people, making money, and loving it all the way to the bank. Early in the business, I did question the Lord concerning the importance of cleaning out closets. After all, he had told me in 1968 that he would use me for encouraging his people.
“What does organizing a kitchen have to do with thekingdomofGod?” I asked. “How can an organized desk help people to get to know you, Lord?” The Lord spoke and said, “Sue, you start the business, and I’ll show you.”
After a few months of setting people free from their clutter, I saw how they were released to function more efficiently in their personal callings. I saw that God had given me a practical gift, and if I was faithful and would give it out to all those I met, he would set them free to be all they could be.
Life was turning around, and I was as vibrant in my new calling as I had been bored in my old one. The puzzle was coming together, I had a new lease on life, and this time I felt like I’d come home. Little did I know that even this adventure had just begun.
“I waited patiently for God to help me; then he listened and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out from the bog and the mire, and set my feet on a hard, firm path and steadied me as I walked along. He has given me a new song to sing, of praises to our God.” —Psalm 40:1-3 (Living Bible)