one girl's struggle to embrace God's design for relationships,
one woman's journey into wholeness in marital intimacy.

Article by Sydnee Bryant
The Pipestone Flyer

Local Writer Explores God, Sex and Marriage in Latest Book

By Sydnee Bryant

From deviant to devout Christian, local author Nancy Fowler Christenson’s transformation from a carefree, loner youth into an author, singer, and mother of four is chronicled in her work. Christenson, who lives at Cloverlawn, near Millet, has settled into married life after a wild-child youth that included sex, drugs, dropping out of college, and working as a camp cook at a ranch in the middle of nowhere. But even after Christenson traded in her “bad” habits for devout Christian faith, the path to marital bliss and self-acceptance wasn’t an easy one. Christenson shares her story of fighting to re-discover the passion in her then-new marriage in her latest book Made in Heaven, Fleshed Out on Earth: One Woman’s Journey into Wholeness in Marital Intimacy (Tate Publishing; 2009). Here’s the story of how Christenson gave up her “wild” ways, turned her love of writing into a career, and found God along the way.

The daughter of a homemaker and a doctor, Christenson grew up in Castlegar, British Columbia. She began developing her musical gifts at an early age, a talent she says she garnered from her father. “I believe that I got a lot of my gifts from him,” Christenson said. “But he was never really allowed to develop his [gift].” Her father’s father believed that “foolishness like acting and singing and writing were not real vocations,” Christenson said. Her father never realized his dreams of becoming an actor and instead went on into medicine.

It is clear her father’s inability to pursue a career in the arts has affected Christenson in many ways. She named her publishing company Ogden Fish Publishing in honour of her dad, who used the pen name Ogden Fish, because he loved the author Ogden Nash and he loved to fish. Her father passed away a few years before she began to write. She dedicated her first book, Yes, I Really Was a Cowgirl (Ogden Fish; 1997), to him.

Despite his own experience, Christenson’s father never outwardly encouraged his daughter to pursue a career in the arts. “I don’t feel that [my parents] outwardly encouraged me, but I don’t think they quite knew what to make of me,” Christenson said. “I think there was something in their generation that you must not make your children proud or vain.”

Still, Christenson’s mom encouraged her to take piano lessons. Christenson also taught herself how to play guitar at age 11. But whenever Christenson would play for her parents, they were “strangely silent” about it, Christenson said. “I would play them a song and they would listen and not make any comments. But after one [song] my mom said ‘Did you write that?’ I think she was kind of saying ‘Wow,’ but she didn’t even say that it was good,” Christenson said. “It wasn’t proper or something.”

Her mother began to support Christenson later in life after Christenson began writing professionally. “My mom was very interested in my coming back to our hometown [to do a performance] after I published the [first] book,” Christenson said. “She didn’t say she was proud of me, but I know she just basked in it.” Christenson is going to dedicate her latest project, the accompanying music album for Made in Heaven, Fleshed Out on Earth to her mom.

It seems that Christenson’s writing career is something that happened to her, rather than something that was carefully planned out. Christenson’s parents insisted that she attend university and that sparked her devotion to writing. “I was sent off to university duly when I graduated and I was expected to get an education,” Christenson said. “I was kind of bewildered there and I dropped out after two years.” Her university education helped contribute to her future career by providing her an opportunity to write more. She started to write every day, which helped her to hone her craft. “One of the best ways to learn to write is just to write and write and write,” Christenson said.

She left university in the “turbulent early seventies, when everything moral was being questioned,” Christensen said. “I was so bewildered my first year there, and then I began to conform to what I saw there.” Christenson got caught up in the casual sex and drug use that defines the historical period of the seventies. It is this lifestyle, and her departure from it, that inspired her first (self-published) book Yes, I Really Was a Cowgirl. The book is about her time spent working as a camp cook at a large cattle ranch. “I was alone most of the day out there in the middle of nowhere, and I just loved that. All of my emotions, both negative and positive, were poured into my guitar.” Christenson thrived on being alone, with only her thoughts and her music. “I was a loner at different times … I went off and was a hermit in a cabin for a few months … I like to be alone,” Christenson said.

During her time as a camp cook at the ranch, her boyfriend died in hang-gliding crash. This helped to spur her transition from a wild child to a Christian. “That was probably the beginning for me, because when he died I had never faced death before and I knew instinctively that he was not gone,” Christenson said. “[His] body no longer had life in it, but I had a very sure sense that the life that he was could not be extinguished just because the body that it had been in was dead. My focus up till that point had just been on life itself, and now I had seen that death is kind of a frame around the outside of a life,” Christenson said. “It just enlarged my perspective greatly, and I began to question things, like, did I believe in reincarnation?”

After she was laid-off from the ranch, she decided to change vocations. “I went off to be a barmaid in Fort McMurray, because it was something I always felt a young woman should do if she wanted to be fully rounded.” During her time as a barmaid, several women she knew who had recently converted to Christianity told her they were praying for her. Up until that point Christenson had hated Christians. “I had no use for Christians. I was really antagonistic towards them,” Christenson said. “Christians just gave me the creeps.”

Still, Christenson was intrigued and wrote to two of the ranchmen who had been on her crew, and who had recently converted to Christianity, and asked them to send her some books on Christianity. Christenson then began going to Christian ladies’ meetings with some of her recently converted friends. When she came home from the first meeting, she felt that God was asking her if she wanted to open her life to Him. “And my heart was saying ‘yes,’” Christenson said. “I was a changed person overnight.” She became calmer, harder to upset. The people around Christenson immediately noticed the change in her. “God just kind of showed up—I don’t mean that I saw Him—but He made Himself very real to me and made me aware that He loved me,” Christenson said. “I suddenly found that He was real and that He had a very personal interest in me. And I yielded to that. And although I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my life, I asked him to change me if there was anything that wasn’t right. And that was when my heart began to turn away from a lot of the things I had gotten into.”

A few years later, Christenson met the man who would become her husband. They had a whirlwind six-month courtship, during which they abstained from sex, Christenson said.

They asked God to give them the best that He could give in a marriage. “He answered, but not in the way we expected. He answered by allowing the bottom to drop out of the feeling end of the marriage,” Christenson said. “Simply put, as soon as the vows were said, the passion, at least on my side, went dead. And I couldn’t have been more surprised or bewildered.” She felt her past was coming back to haunt her, as the ghosts of lovers past began to fill their bedroom. “And so began a more than 10-year journey to get those feelings back—not that we had a map to get there. We didn’t know how to fix it, but we believed that God intended to fix it,” Christenson said. “I was desperately disappointed, especially for my husband’s sake, because I loved him so much. We weren’t completely shut down, because we did have four wonderful kids in those ten years, but it was not the way I imagined it was going to be. It was in the 11th year of our marriage that God sovereignly brought healing to my heart and blessed us with the stuff that fairy tales are made of.”

Christenson has now been married to her husband Greg for 26 years. The first 11 years of their marriage is the subject of her second book Made in Heaven, Fleshed Out on Earth. Christenson hopes that her book can help other people struggling in similar situations. “Every day of my life, I am grateful for my marriage. It’s everything I hoped it would be,” Christenson said. “I would dearly love to help other people find the richness that I have in my marriage.”

Christenson’s marriage, her family, and her faith are clearly priorities in her life, despite her busy schedule as a writer. Christenson doesn’t attend a conventional church but instead is a part of a group called Lifegate. “It’s very non-religious. There is a sense of reality [there],” Christenson said. “Many churches feel stiff.”

Christenson’s oldest son, Ben, shares his mother’s love of music. He currently plays piano on cruise ships. Christenson is proud her son has followed in her musical footsteps, and she encouraged his gifts along the way. “I never wanted him to think that he had to get a ‘real’ job,” Christenson said.

Christenson has allowed her four children to find their own way when it comes to religion. “I thought that because God was real to me, they would naturally catch that too, but they all in their own ways came towards God at different times,” Christenson said. “But it’s not as simple as that, because each person walks their own journey.”

Christenson’s latest project is recording a CD of the original songs that are woven throughout her second book. Twelve of the songs will be included with the audio version, which is an abridged version of the original book. She hopes to complete a full two-disc CD of all of the songs in the book by Christmas. Christenson is also working on a sequel to her latest book, because the publishers said the original draft of Made in Heaven, Fleshed Out on Earth was too long for one book. Christenson also plans on recording the 26 original songs that are sprinkled throughout her first book, Yes, I Really Was a Cowgirl.

Nancy Fowler Christenson’s latest book Made in Heaven, Fleshed Out on Earth: One Woman’s Journey into Wholeness in Marital Intimacy (Tate Publishing; 2009) is available at Wisemen’s Way Bookstore in Camrose and Caelin Artworks in Wetaskiwin. For more information on Christenson visit her website at www.ogdenfish.com.