Going Against the Flow:
Kari Astleís Story
From Volume 4 Issue 5 of Unless the
Lord ... Magazine
Mr.Crank asked me to write out my story for the sake of other ladies in their 20ís who desire to be married but donít want to be pushed into our societyís mind set of independence when they remain single. When he asked me to do this I was humbled because I have made plenty of mistakes and many of you readers have probably done better! However, I realized this is an appropriate time to write since I am now 29 and it is always good to reflect back and consider what was learned in a chapter of oneís life. Secondly, because each person is a unique weaving of Godís tapestry, I know that we must encourage one another through what He has woven into our lives.
I donít believe there is any one model to follow when it comes to issues such as college, dating, and careers, but I do believe that Godís principles speak into these situations in each of our lives when we seek His way from our hearts. What goes on in our hearts is what God is most concerned with. I have seen Him use many different circumstances to weave His design into His people.
Usually, when we choose to apply Biblical principles to our lives, we soon find ourselves doing things quite differently from the rest of the world around us. This was the case for me, even though my nature is to want to "fit in" and not stand out as different. (I was a shy child who did not want to be in the spotlight.) Thus, one of the first things God showed me as a young Christian teen was to fear God and not man. I latched on to the concept, but of course, God is still in the process of weaving the fear of Him, not man, into my life. Looking back, I can see why He wanted to teach me that first: because He was going to lead me in a path quite different from most and I certainly wouldnít be "fitting in."
Even as an adult, my parents and I have had to make several hard decisions that would result in opposition, as we would be going against the flow. However this was something God had prepared me for through what He had already begun weaving into my life.
I had to go against the flow when we started home schooling in the 80ís (still a pioneering time for home schoolers). I was literally classified as an "alien" when we lived in Great Britain for six years, and I had divorced and remarried parents in very family-minded church and home school circles.
We all have circumstances, whether in or out of our control, that make us feel different from everyone else, but what is important is what we do with those situations. We can either go from bitterness to anger or with the Lordís grace we can go from victory to victory. I have had a little of all of the above!
Before sharing more about my young adult choices concerning college and career, let me give a little more background leading up to this time. As I said, my parents were divorced when I was a toddler, then when I was age six, my mom met and married Tom Rees in Tulsa, Oklahoma. None of my parents were seeking godly and Biblical direction for their lives at this time although they attended church. My dad, Fred Astle, had moved to Florida and kept in contact with my brother and I through phone calls and twice-yearly visits.
I was an introvert and was happiest playing outdoors with friends who shared a love for animals and nature.
School was an uncomfortable environment for me, so I latched on immediately to the idea of home schooling when I heard of it. Thus fifth grade was to be the beginning of a new era for my family and me. Since this is not an article about our homeschool years I wonít tell of the sacrifices, opposition, and spiritual strengthening that came with our entrance into the homeschool world.
The next year brought more change: my step-dadís transfer to Houston, Texas. Looking back, I can see how God used such changes to turn my heart toward my parents, home and family and away from worldly tastes.
New godly friends in Houston who also home schooled, along with attending seminars about building families, and joining a church full of like-minded people, all contributed toward the renewing of our own minds to walk in Godís ways. Our family didnít look like the others around us - we were made up of divorce and remarriage and many mistakes, but through grace and repentance, God began to do a new work in us.
When I was 14 God moved us again: this time very far away from all the comfort of being with like-minded friends. We moved to Great Britain for 6 months Ö which turned out to be 6 years. Through the struggle of my "loss" of a life I loved in Texas, I began to draw close to my only friend Who I found was always with me through these changes - Jesus. I sought God in everything and loved my quiet times with Him. I sought His will in dating and realized I wanted to wait for God to bring me a husband in His time without my giving my heart away at a young age before I was ready to be married. Thankfully He showed me His will in not dating while I was a teen to protect my time, body, heart and relationship with Him.
Even within Britain we moved two more times, but the longer we stayed there the more we loved it. I was a youth leader in my church. Because of this I stayed in Scotland an extra year after graduating from "home school high", but as I turned 19, I began to look at going to college in the States. At the time, I was most interested in nutrition and missions, so I looked for Bible colleges accordingly. Our church was very missions minded and through them I had become acquainted with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). YWAM has a university in Hawaii, which gave practical training in missions. I liked that approach, so I applied for their pre-requisite program into the University, which was a 6 month Discipleship Training School. As the time drew near for the program to begin I got a call from their headquarters saying they had received all my application forms except the pastorís reference form. I had my pastor re-send the form. They called again Ö still no form and the class was now full. By this time I was having second thoughts about going anyway, because youth ministry in Aberdeen was going well, I had found I enjoyed counseling the young people, and had built some good discipleship relationships.
I felt very shaken through having "missed Godís will". In the meantime my parents had heard of a training course in Indiana through the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). It was a counseling course on setting people free with the application of Godís Word. At first I was resistant to this because my adult heart was not yielded to my authorities guiding my life and I was ready to make my OWN decisions, especially after being forced to make all those moves. But God began to remind me that He chooses to use authorities to help direct us and, after all, the moves were by His hand and had always turned out to be good. He broke my pride and I decided to go to the course in Indiana which my parents had suggested.
The 3 week time there was enlightening and life changing. There, I saw even more the importance of looking at life situations through a Biblical world view and not the worldís. Instead of using the worldís philosophies to answer questions concerning young adults, I began to use the Bible to answer questions such as: "why do I have to be out of the home at age 18?" "What is Godís purpose for me, and in light of that, why would He have me go to college?" "If God made women to be helpers and I am presently unmarried, whom am I to be a helper for now?"
It was through answering these questions with a yielded heart to a Biblical perspective rather than to "everyone elseís perspective" that I happily returned home to continue in ministry in Scotland and pursued my interests in creative ways with my parents as my "head".
I became interested in photography, so I signed up with a photography correspondence course from London. Also, I had received instruction in English horse riding and owned horses for several years, and we decided I should put that experience on paper: so I took and passed the British Horse Society level one instructor exam. Also, my desire for childrenís ministry began to grow as I spent more time teaching with Scripture Union school clubs and summer camps.
As I approached the age of 21 it was time for the inevitable move and again a heartbreaking one. My step-dad got a job offer in Bakersfield, CA, and we all knew it was time to go back to America. This move, along with each move in the past, caused us to take a fresh look at goals and priorities. Now that we were back in the States, should I again consider college? I was definitely at a crossroads with many options to consider in our new location and a whole life to start over. There was a local college to consider, and our pastor even told us of large scholarships available to home schoolers through another college.
We felt stuck, because on the one hand, God had burned into me a commitment to staying with my family and not to gain an independent spirit. On the other hand I wanted to be responsible and have a degree to enable me to support myself and any dependents I may have in the future.
At this time, when the next step seemed unclear, I sought God to show me His purpose for my life again and to see if college was necessary. Then three influential books came across my path which God used to steer my heart toward what He had for me: "The Way Home" by Mary Pride, "The Shaping of a Christian Family" by Elizabeth Elliot, and "Open Heart, Open Home" by Karen Mayes. Each book centered around women focusing first on their own family, having ministry from the home, and helping with financial means from the home. I found Scriptures throughout the Bible that reflect this concept, but I am going to share those at the end of the article in order to keep the flow of the story.
Soon after we settled in Bakersfield, my parents requested that I sit down with them to brainstorm about my desires and goals. We all prayed first, then set a time to meet to write out my bents, giftings, and calling on a large poster sized paper. I still have that paper, but the content of what is written on it doesnít stick with me as much as the feeling of love and unity I got from my parents through that "brainstorming session." Again, we were all in unity about my direction and priorities and this time it was a new phase of life. I was nearing the end of college-age years and still had not chosen to go the college route. We needed each other as a family to walk this untried ground.
We did prayerfully consider my going to college, this time for a degree either in childrenís ministry or a teaching degree (education). We weighed out the pros and cons of college vs. pursuits from the home. For me, the pros of staying at home far outweighed the pros of going to college.
Here are some of the pros I came up with for going to college vs. staying home (from a female point of view):
*I would have a diploma that would help me get jobs working for employers outside the home.
*I could set up a home business in photography which could go with me anywhere, allowing me to be flexible to my familyís needs, whether I am married or not. I would not need to rely on an employer.
*I could continue in ministry opportunities with children and learn from already established, excellent childrenís ministries.
*I could get experience in areas I need to strengthen through apprenticeships, correspondence courses, or ministries instead of spending money and four years doing many unneeded courses.
*My heart could stay more towards home without being encouraged to have an independent spirit.
At this crossroads I got a new sense of direction, and although I didnít know what I would be doing 5 or 10 years down the road, I did have the next step clear. I felt secure as I went forward into the things God gave me at hand to do with balance and obedience to Godís authority and my earthly authorities. I wish we had done more of those brainstorm sessions earlier!
Life in Bakersfield did indeed get very full as I started in with the tasks God laid on our hearts. I purposed to finish the photography course I had started in London and to seek the help of a local photographer in learning the more difficult aspects of it. We found one who was willing to let me apprentice with her. This turned out to be one of the best learning opportunities I have had in photography, as well as a chance to be a witness in her life. I simply began to copy the things she did with lighting techniques, backgrounds, and composition and ended up passing the correspondence course with flying colors.
In February of my 21st year my dad in Florida got cancer so I spent several months with him to help him during his chemotherapy treatments. I also managed to go on a missions trip working with children in Australia for two weeks later that spring. (Going to Australia was a long-time dream of mine.)
After the summer, my dad needed my help pretty regularly until the Lord took him home in January of 1997. I was glad that I was available to go help him since he didnít have any family living with him, and even more glad that God allowed me to have some precious time with my dad, who had recently grown in his walk with the Lord.
Back home I began a home business of making and selling photo greeting cards. I found out all the legal aspects of setting up a home business in California and got rolling. I was in business only 10 months before we had to move to Texas. Did I make a profit? No! But it was a learning experience that money couldnít buy: I gained confidence in handling government and legal red tape, I gained confidence in building relationships with business owners in order to sell my product, and I got more photography experience.
In childrenís ministry, I worked with a Bakersfield churchís outreach (who were teamed up with Teen Challenge) to a "colony" of homeless families. They did a weekly kids club with the kids and helped with their physical needs. To get training in this area I began working on a childrenís ministry correspondence course from a Bible college. I also sought out the wisdom and training from the Advanced Training Institute and the IBLP ministries. I had the opportunity to work with several of their childrenís programs.
The summer after my dad died, in 1997, I took a job at a camp in East Texas as a wrangler teaching horse riding to kids. My brother lived near the camp and my grandparents were not too much farther away in Oklahoma.
On the one hand, this provided some much needed physical and mental refreshment after the stress of my dadís cancer battle. I was in my element being in a "horsey" environment again with others who were equine specialists. On the other hand, I struggled with living three months constantly amongst people whose walk with God was not paramount for them. Because of "rooming" with such friends full time, I did not always make the best decisions that summer.
Once back in Bakersfield, I decided I wanted to pursue the new taste in my palette for using horses to minister to kids and people. I responded to an ad looking for volunteers to help with a riding for the disabled program. The stables were only 10 minutes from my home, I quickly made friends with the people there, and before long they had me teaching some of the classes.
Again, I learned through apprenticing with the head instructor there, and decided that I wanted to get an American certification for teaching horse riding. I did this by attending a certification clinic at a Christian Camp in Pennsylvania and came home certified with Certified Horsemanship Association (CHA).
It was through the ATI ministries that I heard of Character First!, a new program designed for public school classrooms. I sensed Godís hand in finding Character First! because I had the desire to minister to kids in school, but (as I already explained) was not pursuing an education degree. Soon I found myself in Oklahoma with my mother to do the training at the headquarters. After training, we both practiced teaching to eager kids in Oklahoma City classrooms.
My mom and I knew some teachers in Bakersfield, so we were ready to get started in our hometown. We taught in five classrooms one day each week. As a mother/ daughter team, we learned we had to keep our own relationship protected through prayer. Looking back, I still remember the joy that shone on the kidsí faces, which must have reflected the joy we had in sharing Biblical principles with them during their classroom time.
Also during my years in Bakersfield, I enjoyed working with the teen girls in my church. I especially had a heart to help the junior high girls make choices before they became teens to be "all God wanted them to be." I wrote and taught a Bible study on that subject to a handful of them and have since had a chance to teach it to other groups.
I was 24 when we moved to Houston, Texas. We hoped this would be our final move since we were closer again to family and old friends and were Texans at heart. My "college age" years had come to a close also, and I can see Godís Sovereign hand on each decision we had made. God knew that I would need to be flexible to help my terminally ill father, He knew the best way for me to become well acquainted with photography, and He had plans for me to bear fruit in ministry to children and teens.
Again, in a new era, new location, and still single, I prayed about what to pursue next. One of the first things I did upon arriving in the area, was to make contact with SIRE, the Houston area riding for the disabled program, which the Bakersfield people had told me about. I found out that they would require me to be certified with NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) and they would be happy to help me pass the test by giving me teaching hours and allowing me to make the necessary riding and teaching video at their center.
After passing the NARHA certification, I began teaching there once or twice a week. Now, after having been there as a part time instructor for five years, I have never once grown tired of helping people with disabilities through the power of horse-human relationships.
While my parents began their search for a house in Houston, three months after we moved there, I accepted the opportunity to write with the Character First! team in Oklahoma City. I lived in OK City for three months while finishing the particular project I was asked to work on. On the weekends I had the blessing of spending time with my grandparents in southern Oklahoma. Again, this was a mark of Godís perfect timing, as my granddad was nearing the end of his time on earth, and any time spent with my grandparents was always special to me since I had a close relationship with them.
Before going on with more details of different opportunities God brought into my life in my later twenties, I should share the emotional struggles. I definitely hurt with wondering why God had not allowed me to get married yet. Also, in some ways, living at home started getting harder, because the older I get, the odder it looks to still be living with my parents.
I really had to identify some lies of the enemy about life and marriage. The enemy would like for me to feel that my worth is found in being married and having children. He would like for me to believe that a "real adult" shouldnít be dependent on parents. Yet the truths from Godís Word are quite different. He will fulfill His purposes for me and my worth is found in loving Him. (My worth is nothing if I am looking to a husband to give it to me) and He places the lonely in families (so why should I displace myself out of family and make myself lonely?).
I have attended many weddings and showers, heard many comments such as, "as soon as you give up the idea of getting married, God will bring your husband", and have had several "Mr. Wrongs" come into the picture. While all of those things keep alive the desire to be married, God was doing a deep, indescribable work in my soul of satisfaction in only Him.
At times, it feels like a constant battle to fight the lies and struggles that come with singleness, and other times I feel overwhelmed with the blessings of singleness. I am learning that the key is to thank God in every circumstance. A favorite quote I keep in my bathroom is: "if you are not content during the journey, then you wonít be content at the destination." If I am not content as a single person, then I wonít be as a married person either. Thus, I found that the more I embraced what God has for me in the present, the fuller my life became.
When I returned from the Oklahoma writing project, I began to apprentice with the childrenís minister at our Tomball church and organized a few childrenís programs there. I got to put together childrenís outreaches to Latvia and later with a team from our church to Honduras.
When I wasnít preparing for a missions trip, I was at home doing more and more childrenís ministry. I taught with an already established Character First team for a couple of years in the Hempstead and Tomball areas.
I like to think about how many children I have enjoyed teaching and working with during my twenties instead of just having my own. I also have not yet mentioned how much of a blessing my own nieces and nephew have meant to me by being able to enjoy them during this time. Again, not that I donít desire children of my own, but as I focus on the blessings of so many children already in my life, I see Godís hand of goodness.
Our first two years in Texas we lived in the Tomball area while my parents built a house in Hempstead. A year after moving to the new house, we sensed God leading us to leave the familiarity of the old Tomball church (where we had also attended when I was in Jr. High) and get locally involved in Hempstead by going to church there.
I found this to be the beginning of another new era as I began to adjust myself to life in a small town with a culture all its own. I began to love the tight-knit friendships and the simpler lifestyle common in rural Texas. When we had been a year at our new church, First Baptist of Hempstead, I began to ache to work with kids again, after all the childrenís work I was involved with in Tomball. I noticed that the church didnít seem to have a childrenís minister to whom I should inquire about getting involved with children, and I became burdened to minister to children there. I spoke with my pastor about this and the conversation ended up being a new door for me to walk through: as a volunteer childrenís coordinator for the church.
That just about brings us up to the present. I have continued to teach at SIRE and have been teaching horse-riding lessons from my home as well. I slowly started getting photography jobs by word of mouth, and finally went into business officially as "Creative Portraits" doing families, children, seniors, and some weddings.
There have been full time job opportunities that have come up both in the area of childrenís ministry and photography, but the value of having my own home business has far outweighed the enticements to work outside the home. I am more able to be flexible to family and ministry opportunities that arise, and continue to grow in business expertise.
Because of the questions and comments I have received concerning my continuing to live at home with my parents, I have prayed and searched the Scriptures on that subject in order to have a Biblical perspective on what Iím doing. Looking at the book of Ruth in chapter one, I noticed that when Ruthís first husband died, there were only two choices mentioned: either she should return to her parents or she should stay with her mother-in-law. Although she was a grown woman and able to make her own decisions, she listened to her mother-in-lawís advice while she was with her. God grieves for widows and "solitary" people, and His way of taking care of them is by placing them in families as Psalm 68:6 says. On the practical side, how is a woman living alone, but wanting to be married, going to be prepared to show deference to others in the home, to cook for others, to share home responsibilities, and to walk out family relationship issues?
Growing up I had always desired to get married and have children, so I never had it in "my plans" to be single this long. However, as Psalm 23:6 says, "surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life". I can gratefully say of the Lord that His goodness has followed me every step of the way. I donítí know what the future holds, but I do know the future is held by my trustworthy God, Who promises to let goodness and love follow me all my days. Charles Stanley has a quote that reminds me to wait for Godís plan, and not to settle for second best: "There is one thing worse than waiting on God, and that is wishing you had."V