God often doesn’t do what we think he should.
This is something author and speaker Leslie Leyland Fields knows from experience, whether up to her neck in ministry opportunities or covered in frigid salt spray fishing for salmon off the coast of her home in Kodiak, Alaska.
Leslie was still recovering from her most recent overseas speaking trip when she took time to share her thoughts about parenting, dealing with fear and following a God who doesn’t play by our rules.
THE MESSIER TRUTH
Leslie has raised one daughter and five sons, so she has plenty of practice handling the unexpected. When I asked her what has stretched her most as a mom, she laughed and said, “Just everything!”
“I’ve had so many meltdown moments,” Leslie explained. “I remember when my kids were young I felt so deeply frustrated that my home life was so chaotic. It felt so different from what Christian radio promised and from the messages I heard [from] the pulpit about what a Christian home and family should be.”
Discontent with trying to achieve the “perfect” Christian family ideal, Leslie decided to uncover the truth about biblical family dynamics and parenting for herself:
“I undertook a two-year study from Genesis to Revelation, looking specifically at everything related to family and parenting. And I discovered that [much of the church’s understanding was] just completely off. … I looked at God’s life as a father. … He calls Israel ‘my firstborn son’ (Exodus 4:22). And when I looked at what that relationship was like between God and Israel, suddenly it was like, ‘Oh! That looks a lot like my relationship with my kids right now!’ There’s heartbreak and frustration. … I realized we had created a perfectionistic model of a Christian home that no family in the Scriptures could live up to.”
Leslie also realized that the common belief that good parents are always calm is unrealistic. “God did not [fit] our own model of a ‘perfect’ father,” she explained. “He got angry and frustrated!”
Because God sees the full picture, he often chooses to do things in ways we wouldn’t. And Leslie came to understand that we ultimately don’t have power over our children’s choices either: “You have so little control. And that’s part of lie we’re taught [as parents]: that you have control over your children.”
If our goal is to simply teach our children to obey our rules, Leslie believes we’re missing the point of parenting: “If you get the outside looking good, then you feel good as a parent because your child is doing all these things. But it really is only the heart that matters — and that’s a lot messier.”
CERTAINTY IN FEAR
For Leslie, fearing for her children has sometimes been just as difficult as parenting them.
“My kids are all wild Alaskan kids,” she said. They grew up exploring the wilderness and taking boats out from the family’s island to fish in sometimes treacherous conditions. Leslie knew that there was potential for danger, but one experience with her son, Noah, brought that possibility into sharp focus for her.
“When [Noah] was 13, he had an ATV accident and was hurt really badly.” Leslie grew quiet as she remembered: “We were out fishing — remote, isolated, [with] no roads.”
With serious injuries to his face and leg, Noah needed to get to a hospital, but an extremely heavy fog meant aircrafts were grounded. A pilot friend of the family’s heard about the accident and responded, flying nearly blind around the edge of the island to reach them. Leslie and her youngest son, just a baby at the time, joined Noah on the floor of the plane as they flew into town. Leslie will never forget what happened next:
“It was just white out the window. And about five minutes in, the plane went straight up — the most vertical bank I have ever experienced. I knew we were about to hit a mountain. I knew we were going to die.
But the most amazing, wonderful thing happened — I knew Jesus was with me, so profoundly that I was calm. … I was not afraid. I knew that [whether we lived or died] we were with him and we would be safe.”
This close call cemented the truth of God’s presence in Leslie’s life. In that near-death experience, years of studying, memorizing and teaching Scripture crystallized into certainty.
“[Jesus] was there with us,” she repeated. “I knew it with every cell of my being. I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t hear him, but I knew he was there. That was a real turning point for me. I lost the fear of death. … There’s danger at every turn, but we don’t have to live in fear.”
ON THE MARGINS
Leslie recently traveled from the remote wilds of Alaska to another place on the margins of global attention — a desert region of East Asia.
She was initially invited to teach a group of women how to write down their faith journeys. But about an hour into Leslie’s seminar the program director stood up and said: “You know, Leslie, I’m sensing that the women don’t feel worthy to write their stories. Can you speak to that?”
Leslie stepped out from behind the podium and told the women the parable of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find the one that had wandered away (Matthew 18:12-14).
“I am the one-hundredth sheep that Jesus went after,” she said through tears. “I was an invisible, lost, lonely, desperate teenager in New Hampshire, with no hope and no future. … Every one of us here — we are that one-hundredth sheep.”
In a culture well-acquainted with the life of a nomadic herdsman, this story resonated with the women, bringing tears and a passionate sense of freedom as they dove into writing their own stories.
“There were so many moments in [East Asia] that just caught my breath,” Leslie recalled. One unexpected interaction after another reminded Leslie that God sees and loves those on the furthest margins of society. While there, Leslie was invited to preach to a small congregation of new believers who met in a yurt. She met a tiny, frail older woman who was blind in one eye.
“She has nothing that the world values,” Leslie marvelled. “She doesn’t have education, youth or beauty. She doesn’t have a platform. … And yet Jesus came after this woman, pursued her … and brought her to a saving knowledge of him. … Jesus saw her infinite value and paid the highest price for her — his own life.”
This experience reawakened Leslie to God’s wild love — “the kind of love that goes out into the remotest places like an island in Alaska, and to the outskirts of a city, to a yurt, to this old woman who no one sees.”
PLAYING BY GOD’S RULES
Although she recently turned 61, Leslie has no plans to slow down; in fact, she’s gearing up for a new season of ministry with new projects on the horizon.
“I feel 25!” she remarked, her laughter as youthful as she feels. “The Lord just keeps renewing my spirit and giving me energy and desire and joy that does feel childlike. I get so excited, it’s ridiculous!”
Following a wild God — one who so often does things contrary to our way of thinking — has led Leslie into a place of liberating surrender. She explained, “One of my favorite verses is this: ‘I run in the path of your commandments, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32, WEB). The beautifully true paradox of that [is] that following God brings the joy and energy to run, and that he’s given a path to follow. … Its focus and boundaries lead us to absolute freedom.”
And Leslie knows that God is wildly passionate about bringing everyone into his freedom — even people in the world’s most remote places where Scripture isn’t yet available in a language that speaks to their heart.
“If people are going to love God with their heart, soul, mind and strength,” Leslie said, “they need to hear God’s Word in a language that does speak to their heart, soul, mind and strength.
What happens if ... hearing God’s Word in the language of business or academia speaks to just a single part of their being. God’s Word wants to speak to our entire being. I think only a heart language is really able to accomplish that.”