Change Calling, part one

Change Calling, part one

            “Hello, you’ve reached my crazy, busy life. I’m sorry, but I can’t come to the phone right now. Please leave a message after the tone, and I’ll get back with you in ten or twenty years or so. Your call is important to us…”

College is supposed to be the place you find your calling. In my case, however, my calling was there, hiding from me in plain sight even before college, but I seem to have forgotten to check the voicemail.

The first snowy day of December in 2010 found me skidding helplessly down the frontage road that emptied into highway 11 in Sioux Falls. Alone in my minivan, I was feeling conflicted about the job interview I’d had a few days before, and wondering why I really didn’t want them to call back. The interview had gone really well, I’d thought, but I still had a feeling in my gut that something just wasn’t right.

As I was careening down the hill, my thoughts were divided between finding a clear spot between the cars so I could get down without crashing, and thinking about emailing one of my former teachers who had mentored me through high school. I figured that regardless of whether I got a reply in time, writing it all out would help me get things sorted out. As I reached the bottom of the hill (safely), I decided to sit down and send the email when I got home.

I returned home, I sat down to the computer, pushing aside my unfinished college re-application form, and composed the email. I hadn’t reached a conclusion by the time I hit send, but I knew change was in the wind.

That was how I began my second chance at finishing my college education.
In May of 1993, I left Dordt College (a small college in northwest Iowa –if you know about it, you’re probably related to someone who goes there) after two years, after my dream of teaching art turned to disappointment. I had finished Ed 101 with an A …and the undeniable conclusion that I was not cut out to be a teacher. My “Plan B” was graphic art, but Dordt’s art department then was not what it is today, at least as it concerned digital graphics. So when my dad offered me a job back home with the family printing business, I did the math and moved back home. I figured the degree could always come later, if I needed one at all.

For the following seven years, I worked as a graphic artist and pre-press technician, and found that while the work was challenging and interesting, the magical aura of “This is it! This is what I was born to do!” failed to materialize. My jobs paid the bills and put my husband through graduate school, but when my job title changed from “graphic artist” to “full-time at-home mother,” I was completely relieved. Surely this mom gig was what I was born to do. …And it was.

I found that with a house full of pre-schoolers, my days were full of more than just diaper changes and reading stories. I found skills I was not aware I had –I could manage a home better when I was home full-time, I read extensively on nutrition and voluntary simplicity (partly sparked by necessity as a one-income family). I became a student of my new profession.

In our travels during those years with little ones, we spent a difficult year living in Phoenix, Arizona. My husband had taken a job there teaching, and we quickly found that the job was not a good match. Our church, however, was a perfect match for our needs that year. Like us, our church was in a transitional period, examining its mission, and as a part of that investigation into who we were as a church, they sponsored a weekend seminar designed to help each of us find our own calling as individuals so that we could better bring our gifts together as a church. I honestly didn’t figure I’d find much new information. I knew that since girlhood, I’d loved the idea of being an artist, and while it wasn’t the thing that I naturally gravitated to, doing art was the thing I wanted to do.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Armed with three colors of post-it notes and a blank posterboard, our Saturday-morning assignment was to piece together a storyboard of our life. Negative memories and influences on one color, positive on another, and neutral on the third color. Once that was put together, we studied it, questioning over the big-picture patterns of our lives –where God was moving us, our resistance to that moving, and what that could mean for the future.

To my shock, I found that while art had always come as a struggle, writing (including the work involved in doing the storyboard project) both came easily and naturally and also gave me a joy that I’d previously dismissed. I sat in front of that storyboard the day or two after the workshop, piecing together the clues: I journaled through high school, and I credited it with keeping me sane and emotionally healthy. In elementary school, I was known as the girl with the above-average reading and spelling skills. One sixth-grade teacher published a short story I’d written in an anthology of student work. Another teacher referred to me in a second-grade report card as her “little reader for the Lord” (Christian school teachers… bless their heart). My favorite memories of childhood involve a chair and a book. My favorite place to be had always been the library or Barnes and Noble. A friend in college had read a literary analysis of The Scarlet Letter I wrote in high school and was fairly intrigued by it (“Who writes like this in high school?!” he asked).

While we were piecing together a church mission statement, I wound up as our small group’s secretary. I was at a table with two professional writers, and both commented on my ability to gather the things we’d mentioned into a clear, concise and complete statement.

Slowly, the light in my mind came on: what if, all this time, I’ve been a writer?

This is what finding my calling looked like. Not a sudden, timely realization, not a goal, not the culmination of a collection of hard-won skills, but a gradual revelation. To borrow a phrase from John Green, it happened slowly, then all at once. (If you missed the reference, ask any teenage girl who reads. She’ll get it.)
As a result of that epiphany, I found myself a few years later back within reasonable commuting distance to Dordt, my old college, but it took me several years to gather the faith to make the jump and finish my degree. But I count that snowy day in December as the day I began my journey back to college. I finished the email, and was shocked to find a reply only an hour or two later, encouraging me to waste no more time if this was where I believed God was calling me. I sent in the re-application, and by January, I had started back –just one class, and no certainty of what would come after that—but I felt a joy that I hadn’t had since those days with a house full of babies and preschoolers. I knew that finishing my education would enable me to be a better steward of my gifts, but I also knew that finishing school meant finding a job at the end of the process. It took me a while to figure out that what I was experiencing was a change of seasons.

By this point, my kids were all in school. I watched my own dedicated full-time at-home mom in “retirement” from her career, and knew from her experience that even though I would be a mom forever, in my case, being an at-home mom full-time was only a temporary job. God was opening me up for another vocation.

(to be continued)

 

 

…just another quick note!

I know, I know. Lots of blog, no substance. This week the profound has been replaced by the practical and the preposterous. So sue me. Anyway, here’s another cool place on the web to check out:  http://www.blueletterbible.org . It’s basically an online Bible reference. You can look up any scripture in a plethora of different versions (even my fave, the ESV), and call up a daily reading section. There are also lots and lots of cool tools to use like study notes, a concordance, a search feature (a lot more user-friendly than the HUUUUUGE Strong’s concordance we had at home), and maps. So, those of you (…ahem, like me) who spend a little too much time on the computer now have no excuse to skip the daily Bible reading. Go check it out!

Thoughts on Stuff and Food and …other stuff

We stopped by the library this morning and I picked up two books by Peter Menzel –“Material World,” which (I’ve not read it yet, only scanned it enough to get the idea) compares the worldly possessions of various people around the world. The second, which I’m almost half finished with is “Hungry Planet,” which is a comparison of what various families around the world eat in a week. It’s absolutely stunning, in the whole sense of the word. Currently, I’ve been revamping our family grocery budget and going back to meal planning after way too long depending on last-minute nutritionally void things like peanut butter sandwiches and macaroni and cheese and frozen pizza. What I’ve discovered from personal experience is that it’s actually far cheaper to eat crap than it is to eat healthy. I no longer wonder why so many low-income families are overweight. When you’re living a busy life and can’t afford to go to places like our local “Main Dish” that allow you to assemble healthier meals to be frozen ahead (an ingenious idea, by the way –one I wish I’d thought up), it’s easy to get stuck in a rut of frozen pizza and sugar- and sodium-laden meals in a box. Food stamps will buy you a lot more twinkies and cheap TV dinners than they will fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grain bread (ask me how I know…), and when you’re shopping with children (something I generally try to avoid), things like Teddy Grahams and cheeze puffs tend to fly into the cart a whole lot more readily than they do otherwise.

I have a love/hate relationship with Aldi. For the non-midwesterners, Aldi is the low-income salvation of many a grocery budget. They have about 95% store-brand items, almost all of which are far below regular grocery prices. White bread can be bought for under 75 cents a loaf, a box of graham crackers for 98 cents, a frozen pizza for under 2 bucks, a large bag of pretzels for around 98 cents as well… The problem is, there’s just so much cheap junk food and processed food there that it’s easy to justify filling a cart with things I wouldn’t normally buy just because, hey, I can “afford” it here! So far, I’ve managed to keep it to a minimum –just buying staples like white flour, sugar, butter (usually around $1.75 a lb. –far below other stores), white bread for grilled cheese, yogurt, milk, cheese, chocolate chips, animal crackers …okay. You see what I mean?

Where was I? Oh. Food and world hunger. And Peter Menzel. Anyway, it’s really convicting to see a picture of a week’s groceries for a family of six in Australia (think lots of frozen fish sticks, sausage, soda –oh, and did I mention the family is overweight and diabetic?), then turn to a week’s groceries for a family of 5 in Bhutan. Whoa. Talk about extremes. For the homeschoolers out there, this would be a fabulous book for a unit study for upper elementary kids, by the way –lots of opportunities for doing charts and graphs and comparisons… Even before I cracked the book open, I’ve been concerned with the amount of trash we’ve been generating lately. It’s been around 4-5 bags a week. Probably not a lot for some, but for us, that’s quite a bit more than normal. Lots of food packages, which means we’re probably eating too much processed stuff. I’ve been inspired by the book to work toward more cooking from scratch, less empty calorie snacks (which probably account for my extra 10 lbs…), and thinking more about my attitudes toward food.

I did Weight Watchers early last year and managed to lose almost 15 lbs, 5 of which I’ve regained over the summer. The whole “weight loss journey” was started by a fast from “junk food” and desserts for a weekend. That experience taught me a lot about my attitude toward food, and let me know that something had/has to change. I, for some reason, have come to think of food (specifically snack food and desserts which make up far too much of my diet) as entertainment and a luxury rather than nourishment. I know that what I eat directly affects my health, mentally and physically, but somehow, I don’t want to carry that out to living in light of the fact. I’m quite comfortable ignoring it and going on, sick of being overweight, sick of being short-tempered and sugar-crashed, but not so sick of it that I will stop buying Pringles or quitting after two chocolate chip cookies. Doing Weight Watchers taught me that I don’t have to live that way, and dropping Pringles from the shopping list and eating fewer cookies has a very real payoff in my energy level and my attitude. 

However, I’m not sure that was the answer in and of itself. Basically, their plan is a well-organized system of the only diet lifestyle that works: Eat Less (or at least better) and Move More. I don’t feel like paying money for someone to tell me that any more. Somehow, though, not having a weekly weigh in and keeping a record of what I eat has not helped me this summer –there’s 5 lbs. more of me than there used to be. The old attitudes crept in again. Accountability is, I think, one thing that helped keep me on track.

Bringing it full-circle, I think reading this book helped wake me up to the fact that what I view as needs and moan about not having really isn’t that essential after all. Tonight, my little victory was squashing the urge to call for (or make) pizza and instead using the eggs that are going out of date and the leftover cooked brown rice in my fridge to make a souffle (in case you’re interested, it’s the “Cheese and Rice Souffle” in the “More With Less Cookbook” published by Mennonite Central Committee) …which, by the way, tasted pretty good. And it means a few less things to haul to the curb next Friday after I’ve had my weekly frustration session after cleaning the fridge of all the forgotten items I meant well to save, but didn’t use because I ate what I wanted instead of what I should have (“ooh! cottage cheese! Darn! That was supposed to be in a lasagna …three weeks ago! Aaargh!”). Somehow, I don’t think they have those problems in Chad… I have such a long way to go.

Paying Attention

Well, I think I’m finally experiencing the beginnings of writer’s block. Or at least, the dam that broke around the time I started this thing is starting to level off. Maybe I just need to take another shower. I always get my best ideas there. Quit laughing –I know I’m not the only one who does that. I checked in this morning and, if you’re really perceptive, you’ll see that I added a little counter to the side (unless I’m the only one that can see it…). 128 hits to this site as of this morning. Now, that’s scary. Either I have a couple friends who just have way too much time on their hands, or I have more friends than I thought. Wow. 128 reads.

The older I get the more I am becoming a firm believer in serendipity. After Sam and I took the “Charting Your Course” seminar last …I guess it was last January or February in Arizona, I started shifting once again from art to writing more, and since I’ve done that, it seems I’ve been deluged with confirmation that I’ve just really been not paying attention for a long, long time. There’s a post on my Xanga blog (Wed. Sept. 27) dealing with a lot of this story, so I won’t repeat it here, but I just am amazed by how God weaves things together and punctuates our lives with the “a-ha” moments at just the right times, and leaves us scratching our heads as to why we were so slow to pick up on that still, small shout of God’s.

And, I wonder how many of us are wandering around, still not hearing it. I wonder what I’m still not hearing yet, because I’m not so deluded as to think I’m getting it all yet, either. But, how did I miss all the clues? …I’ve loved reading ever since early elementary years, and most of the notes on my report cards had to do with either reading or writing. It drove me NUTS in first grade when the kids in my class read aloud slowly and without expression. I just didn’t understand how they could be so apathetic about something so exciting. It never occurred to me that someone could have trouble with the mechanics of reading. Now I understand differently, but it still bothers me that kids (or most adults, for that matter)  just don’t read any more. One of my favorite memories growing up was trudging home from the library in the snow with the latest Laura Ingalls Wilder book to read curled up on a chair by the Christmas tree, trying to see how quickly I could finish the book while still catching the story. So, that love was instilled in me a long, long time ago. And, I loved writing as well, although it wasn’t something I did on purpose. I just wrote as therapy. I kept a journal through high school (…and I’ve thought more than once about burning it) to keep myself sane. It was a sounding board, a captive audience. The page guided me to the answers I needed more than once. I didn’t need to perform when I wrote –it just happened. I didn’t have any iron clad self-imposed expectations to fulfill. So, maybe that’s why I’m so surprised, and so not surprised at the same time that this is the thing that it seems, I’m all about.

When we were first married, Sam and I attended a small church in Cedar Hill, Texas that became like family to us. Our pastor became acquainted with a couple who had a ministry of healing prayer and hosted that couple one weekend to do a workshop on it. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I volunteered to be the subject for …examination?? I’m having trouble coming up with the right idea here. Anyway, we sat and talked about my background, where I came from, so to speak, and some of the struggles I was having –one of which was finding out where I fit, cosmically speaking. I was having a huge problem doing anything artistic, and, at the time, I thought that was what I was all about. At the time, I thought perhaps illustration would be a good venue for me, since I love books so much… Sigh. I was missing the message again. Anyway, we prayed about this, and as we did, Claire began to see a pile of books, beautiful books –of course, we all thought that was going to be the books I would someday illustrate. I now know (serendipity again…) that those books weren’t the ones I was going to illustrate with drawings, but word pictures. Those are the books I will write, and the book of my own story being written each day by the things that surround and impact me. The serendipity part of this is that I just last week came across the business card of this couple, and now that I have the rest of the story (or at least, the next part of it…), I can let her know what that vision was about.

 Sam and I watched The Weather Man with Nicholas Cage this weekend (disclaimer: it’s yet another movie with a wonderful story line, thought provoking, but with a couple totally unneccesary scenes that trash up the entire movie… I hate it when they do that.). It’s basically the story of a man who just wasn’t paying attention, and his life was in ruins around him (quiet ruins –the type that most people experience, but no one really notices) because he was living life as if he was sleepwalking through it. He just wasn’t listening. Now, there was no mention of God, or even the Oprah-esque idea of a Higher Power (…theres another blog entry coming on my impressions of the “Church of Oprah.” Stay tuned.), so the ending was basically as empty and answerless as the beginning, but it made me wonder how many of us every day lead, as Thoreau would say, “lives of quiet desperation.” Do we really need to? True, paying attention costs us. It costs us safety and comfort at times, but look at the result of those that have listened (Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, Tony Campolo, for example)! And look at the alternative! Who really wants to shuffle through life from alarm clock to Leno every day just going through the motions? But how many of us do just that thing ourselves? What would happen if we all just paid attention for a day or two? Maybe it would change the world.

**A note for the easily impressed –if you highlight the burgundy colored words in this entry, you’ll find a link pertaining to what I’m talking about, for example, if you click on the words “The Weather Man,” I’ve linked to Focus on the Family’s “Plugged In Online” site so you can get a review of the movie, and also some information about it, should you find it worth slogging through the muck enough to watch it.