By Jemelene Wilson
Throughout childhood, my answer to, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was always, “A cheerleader.” Long before the Dallas Cowboys hired cheerleaders, that was all I ever wanted to be. I was convinced no one wanted to be a cheerleader more than I did. In my sophomore year of high school I was the mascot; in my junior year I was pep Commissioner, and in my senior year it was explained to me that I was too large to be on the squad. I felt for years that being a cheerleader was an unfulfilled passion.
It’s been the same way with ministry. My desire to bring the hope of Christ to children and youth came from the belief that I was called into ministry. As I entered college, it was explained to me that I would not be allowed to work toward a degree in Christian education. Only men were allowed in that program.
Twenty years ago, we took our little family to the last Jesus Northwest Festival. It was a three-day event of music and camping, with multiple stages where well-known Christian artists performed or spoke to adoring crowds. The theme that year was more of a question. “What’s Your Passion?” could be printed on any style shirt you desired in a tent alongside booths hawking everything from posters to jewelry to decadent food you would normally find at a county fair. As we stood in line for autographs, we’d ask the question to those around us, “So what’s your passion?”
The answers “Jesus” or “heaven” were often the answer, although one artist, during an interview on the Jumbotron, said fishing was his passion. It was clear by the crowd’s reaction that his answer wasn’t really what they were hoping to hear. After all, this was a “Jesus festival,” and it was all about him, wasn’t it? Perhaps the guy hadn’t been into the theme, or maybe his passions were more eclectic, or just well rounded.
It would be easy to stop asking the question if I still believed the path I follow is contingent on my position. The beauty is in the Creator, who put those desires in my heart in the first place. Too often I’ve tied my passions to positions that hinged on the approval of others. When I reached out past the structure, however, I realized how much freedom there is in everyday spaces. I have plenty of room to live dreams full of passion and fulfillment without boundaries.
I’m a cheerleader now. I don’t wear a sassy skirt or carry pom-poms. I manage the office at a rural elementary school. My job is to cheer on frustrated teachers, worried parents, and children who need to know how valued they are. With kindness, I encourage them to try harder or cheer for the great things they’re doing. I teach them how to use kindness to battle unkindness. We fist bump over triumphs and discuss what it means to try harder when everything looks impossible. On Fridays, I blast 80s music on my computer because everyone needs a dance party at least once a week.
My pulpit is a desk. Without saying a word, I preach the Savior’s love every day. I’m a minister, meeting people in their struggles right where they live. Best of all, I’m living my passion in the most surprising place, and I didn’t even think to look for it here. It seems to have found me.
Jemelene Wilson is a passionate storyteller who writes of faith, hope, love, and food. She’s madly in love with her pastor husband and mama bear to two daughters. Grace is a fairly new concept she is exploring with her life and words. Mama Jem believes we should live gently and love passionately. You can find more of her writing at jemelene.com.
Photograph © Levi Guzman, used with permission