by Ellie Gustafson
Anyone looking objectively at my life would think it close to idyllic: Born to a stable family in America, I enjoyed a great childhood, a Wheaton education, marriage, kids, church involvement, writing career, and good health. Privileged, in so many ways. Why was I so blessed? I could have been born in a remote jungle, to a drug-addicted mom, or with severe physical disabilities.
Let’s zoom in, though. Early on came evidence of my perverse human nature. How about standing behind a large fern, looking out the window, and deliberately peeing? Or lying in my crib, pulling off wallpaper. Then the time my friend and I collected some small potatoes from her family’s Victory Garden during World War 2. The main crop had been harvested, and these golf ball-sized tubers seemed a gift for fertile minds. We carted our stash to an elm tree behind the barn at my house. The roots of that huge tree formed a perfect “fireplace” for roasting our miniature potatoes. Never mind that the tree backed onto a field of tall, dry grass. We built our fire, began cooking our treasure trove – and unexpectedly, my mother appeared! While Nancy scraped away the evidence, I told a bare-faced lie: “It was Nancy’s idea!” That the field didn’t catch fire was pure grace.
Many of my later lapses came through pure stupidity, and I tended to think myself too smart to need advice on doing things properly. After all, hadn’t I been high-school valedictorian? I later had good reasons to regret my prideful self-assurance!
Way back, I was a loner. I think I lasted a month in Girl Scouts, and instead of playing with friends after school, I roamed alone over hills and fields, spinning out stories. Later, I avoided church meetings that probed deep into spiritual matters. I wanted to do life my way – a “considerer of lilies,” as I pretentiously described myself.
I was a reader, though, rubbing shoulders with the likes of C.S. Lewis, Phillip Yancey, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Eugene Peterson. I studied Scripture and longed for evidence of the Holy Spirit in my life. The hunger was there; I just wasn’t getting nourished.
By this time, I had started writing. Articles, short stories, then novels. Was that the process that began to work changes? I can’t define just when God zapped me with the gift of caring and loving. In my outline for this article, I had written, “God moved me from outer to inner.” Now, though, I’d say He moved me from inner to outer. Instead of munching on mental and spiritual goodies, I began seeking out people who were lonely or troubled or just needed a friendly smile. Thus hatched my church ministry – a greeter beyond doors. A few in my church are quite put out if they don’t get a hug. Some are marginal, some disabled, some just need a weekly hug. Some need to talk, to download their inner anguish. I listen. I weep with them. I buttress them with love.
God keeps on teaching me, through books such as Surrender to Love, by David Benner, who says, “Learning to love is learning to live. It is becoming fully human. It is nothing less than the reason for our existence. In it alone do we find our deepest fulfillment. For if we find love we find God. And if we find God, we have found love.”
By God’s grace, my self-centered life morphed into a God-centered life – one that will last forever. I want to join that multitude, shouting, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.” Revelation 19:6
And – in that glorious place, COME GET A HUG!
Bio: Having lived a few years, Ellie has collected long-ago memories – playing cowboys and Indians, watching first-run Wizard of Oz, collecting tin foil for the war effort, driving a pony to a red ribbon, getting married and pregnant, and finally, enjoying the pleasures of kids, grandkids, and authoring. Add to this list gardening, house construction, tree farming, and loving on people – all of which bring color and humor to her fiction. One of Ellie’s major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.