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A Particular Course of Action

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Calling´ko-ling n (14c) 1: a strong inner impulse toward a particular course of action especially when accompanied by conviction of divine influence.

I am convinced that God has a “particular course of action” in mind when He calls people to do His bidding. In fact, in His infinite wisdom, He plans that course far ahead, weaving events together in ways we can never foresee to reach that goal.

The particular course of action for my life was set in motion with my parents, who were missionaries to Thailand. Dad remembers his calling clearly. A rough and tumble farm boy from Minnesota, smack in the middle of World War II, he was a bomb demolition expert stationed on the New Hebrides Islands, about 900 miles east of Australia.

Made Willing

An army sergeant led Dad to the Lord before he was shipped overseas. There, he experienced the constant threat of death. In one close call, the military had brought in a new and different type of Japanese bomb, which he and his crewmate were to trying to defuse. Dad left the building to retrieve a tool. No one knows what triggered the bomb, but it exploded. There was not a scratch on his crewmate’s body, yet every bone in his body was broken from waves from the concussion bomb. The man did not survive. Perhaps this incident, and other brushes with death, prepared my dad’s heart for missionary work.

Dad met missionaries in New Hebrides and watched them work among the islanders. Through their witness, as well as a challenge given to him by an army chaplain, he felt called to the mission field. He said, “I woke up one day and knew that is what I needed to do with my life—be a missionary.”

Meanwhile, Mom was following another course. She was a poor kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Because her father was an alcoholic, Mom had to quit school at age 16 to go to work and take care of her seven brothers and sisters. Yet, when she was only four years old, she had already announced she wanted to be a preacher.

Two well-known figures influenced her life. Her Aunt Cora took Mom to Salvation Army meetings. There, at age six, she was led to Jesus through a sermon by Commissioner Samuel Brengle. Another couple from The Christian and Missionary Alliance insisted on taking her and her brothers and sisters to church, where at age 13 she felt called to be a missionary. But in her teens, she wavered in her decision until she went to a Word of Life summer camp, and Jack Wryzten challenged her to “be willing to be made willing.”

Nothing Is Insurmountable

After military service, Dad headed off to Nyack [N.Y.] College. Mom, in line for a promotion at an airplane factory, realized that God’s course of action for her life required her to quit and immediately go to Bible school. At Nyack, my parents fell in love.

Dad felt called to New Guinea, but because of cannibalism there, the C&MA was not sending any new candidates. The next opening was in Siam (now Thailand) if my parents could raise their own passage money.

The C&MA required missionary candidates to serve two years in a pastorate, so Mom and Dad ministered at a church in Prattville, Alabama. With Dad’s $50-a-week salary, saving the $1,000 passage money seemed impossible. But Mom was a prayer warrior. She prayed each day for the money and asked Dad each night when he came home if he had the check. And sure enough, one day he did!

A couple in Toledo, Ohio, had asked the C&MA for a list of missionary candidates. The couple randomly picked my parents and sent $1,000 for passage. Little did they know what effect that course of action would have decades later.

h3. More than an Education

As an MK (missionary kid) in Thailand, I had a unique upbringing. At first, we lived in Nongkai, a small town across the Mekong River from Laos, far away from other foreigners. I remember a happy childhood with no deprivation. Although by American standards we were very poor, we were rich compared with other Thai kids.

My mother told me I accepted Jesus at age four; although I don’t have much memory of it, I always knew I believed in Jesus as my Savior and had been saved. From age six, I went to boarding school in South Vietnam and was away from my parents nine months of the year. My “training” for my calling had begun. Thousands of miles from my parents and in a dorm with many others kids and few adults, I learned independence, decision-making skills and strength to handle tough situations—all qualities I would need in the future as a judge and justice.

I also learned about different countries, governments and cultures. Although Thailand is a constitutional monarchy, it is run by powerful prime ministers who are regularly replaced in mostly nonviolent coups. South Vietnam was a “democracy” that degenerated into chaos with the Vietnam War. When the war became too deadly, our boarding school was evacuated to Malaysia, which was controlled by sultans who were strict Muslims. I grew up in countries that had no free speech or religious freedom, where the media was controlled by the government. Little did I realize such exposure would be a wonderful education for my future responsibilities.

You see, becoming a judge is what I was called to do. I never felt called to become a missionary or pastor. I came to America, as most MKs did, to attend college. After changing my major a few times, I settled on studying law. It was something that seemed challenging yet enabled me to move anywhere in the United States to be with my husband. It was more of a practical career choice than any sort of inspiration. But before I even started law school, a “small feeling” grew into a solid conviction that I should become a judge. It became my calling, and I have felt that way about it ever since.

His Plans Are Greater

So how did a particular course of action take me there? First I was accepted into the Ohio State University School of Law on the first try, after being told it was too late to apply. Second, I was hired by a small trial firm at a time when almost no law firms were hiring women. I was in the courtroom constantly, which was the best training possible for becoming a good trial judge. In doing my job well, I not only opened the doors to trial work for many other women, but I also earned respect from lawyers who would later support me in my campaign for judge.

My plan was to try to become a judge by age 50 or so, as that was the youngest age among most trial judges I knew.

But that wasn’t God’s particular course of action. At age 34, I had the opportunity to run for office. I defeated an incumbent to become the first woman and the youngest trial judge in
my county.

Seven years later, I again planned out my own course of action, trying to lay groundwork for the federal bench. But God pushed me in a different path. From about 800 judges in the state, I was selected by the governor to be on the Ohio Supreme Court. This was unexpected, and the odds that I would be selected over more experienced judges further convinced me that it was God’s plan.

The work of the Supreme Court is full of great responsibilities and challenges, but the exposure I’ve had to restrictive governments and other cultures has significantly assisted me in balancing the rights and freedoms that are involved in Supreme Court cases. All the training and experiences of my youth have made me a better jurist.

As a trial judge, I had worked on many charity issues and reforms. However, my role as a justice on the Supreme Court has given me even greater opportunities for action. I am involved in several projects, from reforming the process of adopting abused and neglected children to working on reforms for persons with a mental illness who are trapped in the revolving door of the criminal justice system. With the “clout” of my title, I have been able to bring about real attention and reforms to this area and feel that this is part of why God gave me this important job—so that I would have a big platform from which to preach the need to treat persons with mental illness with compassion and medical care instead of prison.

Divine Intervention

Has “divine influence” guided the fulfillment of my call? Because of Violet Moon, I know it has.

When I was in private practice, I worked on many wills and estates for members of my faith community, the First Alliance Church of Columbus, Ohio. One of my clients was Ethel Morris, a sweet, older widow. One day, Morris told me her sister, Violet Moon, had to have serious brain surgery but her insurance had been cancelled.

I offered to investigate and learned that a medical side effect of Moon’s condition was memory loss, which accounted for her forgetting to pay the insurance premium. After consulting with doctors and the hospital, I persuaded the insurance company to reinstate her coverage if she remitted the back premiums. As a result, Moon’s very expensive (and successful) brain surgery was paid for by insurance.

Later, my parents were visiting from Florida, so I called Morris to be sure she would be in church that Sunday. “Oh, I must call Violet,” she said. “She loved missions, too, and would want to meet them.”

When she called, Moon was excited. “What are their names?” she asked. “I may know them.”

“Corrine and Elmer Sahlberg.”

There was a long pause; then Moon said, “Thirty-five years ago, my husband and I gave $1,000 to Corrine and Elmer Sahlberg to go to Thailand. I didn’t know they were Eve Stratton’s parents!”

Even the greatest skeptic can hardly believe it is mere coincidence. No, it was part of the divine influence that has guided my calling. And everywhere I speak, whether to business groups, association meetings, Rotary Clubs or women’s groups, I share the story of Violet Moon. It is a way of sharing my faith without ever having to “preach.” They can see how Moon’s action in sending my parents the $1,000 was guided by God. Her gift affected her life, my life and the lives of many others who have heard our story.

So I believe if God calls you, His divine influence guides your particular course of action, sometimes in ways you cannot foresee, but always within His plan.

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