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)



Doing the Next Thing and the futility of five-year plans. Yes, again.

…Because I still need some practice at this, I guess.

The long, slow slide into summer stability was slower than anticipated this year. I’m just now feeling like I’ve got my “sea legs” so to speak with having the kids home, and June is nearly over. The grey fog that I now recognize as the cyclical depression I get from time to time set in around the time school was over, for me. I’ve felt very much like I’ve been wandering around aimlessly, without a purpose, when it started looking like my one semester of continued higher education was all that was wise to attempt at this point, mainly for financial reasons. I refuse to go into debt to fund an education for myself. Yes, that makes me weird, but it also makes me less broke and with more options than I would if I were carrying a B.A. degree and 5,000 dollars of debt two or three years from now.

So, now what? I’ve learned from experience that three things are my tools at hand when I start to feel that grey fog rolling in. First, daily, intentional prayer and focused devotional time (something that I think most Christ-followers occasionally struggle with. It’s like going to a party where you don’t know many people –you don’t want to go at first, but once you get there, it’s always worth going). Number two is a detailed to-do list. When I feel that fog rolling in, it’s usually about the time I lose interest in doing anything productive, and my home and responsibilities suffer in short order if I don’t just do what I know I need to do, whether I want to or not. The little thrill of being able to cross something off a to-do list is just the upper I need some days. Just do the next thing. Number three? Coffee. Don’t laugh –it’s scientifically proven (and a lot cheaper and probably easier on the system than SSRI’s*).

So, that’s how I’m coping these days, until I sort out what might be the Next Thing I’m supposed to be doing, speaking in kingdom terms. Not that the little things don’t matter, but I sometimes get a little lost-feeling when I hit a turn on the map that I wasn’t expecting. For now, I suppose I should be using more of my “free time” to blog. Excuse me while I cross that off my list for today, will you?

Where I got the “do the next thing” concept:  –credit where credit is due and all that… :). If you’re a mom of littles, or once were, this might resonate some.

*I’m not a doctor, and have some first-hand experience with depression meds. Listen to your doctor on that one, before you listen to little old me. For me, a little caffeine provides the jump-start I need. Your needs may vary, of course.

Thoughts on “Bowling for Columbine,” Back to School Edition

Watching Bowling For Columbine, finally. They’re talking about school violence, and I still wonder what I would have turned out like, had I not been delivered from my own little hellish experience in Glenwood. I know the three years I was there did enough damage on my ability to relate to people –I still assume people think the worst of me and I’ll never fit in. It’s taken decades of willfully deciding not to listen to the voices of self-consciousness picking myself apart to finally approach people with some semblance of self-confidence. It took me about five years to discover that the things for which I was kicked around there were not things to be ashamed of, but to embrace. So, when I heard the news about Columbine back when it happened, after the initial shock, I felt ashamed that I sort of understood -maybe- what would make someone at least think that way. My thoughts of violence never went beyond harming myself, but there’s something really sick and evil about an environment that makes a 5th grader listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Richard Cory” and wonder what it would fix to off oneself. I wish I were kidding. Better, I wish I could go back and tell my classmates that this is the way their words, their behavior, their ignoring me felt.

I went back to Glenwood years later, can’t remember for what, and ran into a school group going through the park. Fifth graders, I’d guess, and I watched them. Watched as a boy mocked the girl in front of him, and watched in third person replay the sort of crap that happened to me. Watched the teacher completely ignore what happened. Wanted to pull that little punk by the collar, slam him into a picnic table and tell him exactly what I thought of little boys who couldn’t keep their punk mouths shut and leave people alone. But I didn’t. And I guess that’s a good thing. Because it likely wouldn’t have fixed anything except my overdeveloped sense of vengeance.

Since then, I’ve discovered that forgiveness really is far better than vengeance, and I’ve healed. Some. I still have that little mocking, name-calling voice, courtesy of the students in my class, that I frequently channel that vengeance on –telling it to shut up and leave me alone. But, really, that experience made me who I am today. It gave me the strength (even if a strength through scar tissue) that really doesn’t give a rip what people think, in the end, if I’m doing what I know to be right. It gave me an appreciation for who I am. It helped me learn when to speak up and when to shut up. It gave me the eyes that see the ignored, the picked on, the overlooked. What got me through those years was, in my own childish, maybe silly way, standing up for the Heather Lebishaks and John Shulls of the world. What did I think when I heard the story of Columbine? There but for the grace of God go I. And I am thankful every day that He didn’t let me go there.

Sigh. My kids go back to classroom school tomorrow after two years of school at home. One of the things I desperately loved about keeping them home was being able to keep them from what I’d experienced. But I can’t keep them in a closet forever, and I’m not always going to be the one able to teach them the lessons they need. Sometimes those lessons come through some really crappy experiences, like my years in Glenwood. And as much as I will do my best to protect, defend, walk with them through those crappy experiences, I can’t prevent them. But you can bet for sure I’ll be waiting for them here at home, hugs, cookies, milk and listening ear at the ready. And I’ll know to tell them that maybe punk little kids have a story of pain they’re not letting on. If my kids know they’re loved by God and loved by their family and know the things that make them awesome, maybe they’ll be able to discern that that punk little kid is a liar, and they won’t believe his lies because they’ll know the truth, and can kick it in his face. Lovingly, of course :).

endnote:  Of course, we know a bit more about Eric and Dylan now. It looks more like there was some very real mental illness going on there, beyond the usual family issues and teen angst of being an outsider. Millions of kids survive an outcast existence in school and never think of violence. Some do. Either way, I will always view Columbine more about the evil behind the eyes of the person holding the gun than about the gun itself.

Little-Known Facts about the Christian Reformed Church

I am in a little bit of shock. On my bouncing through the internet, I came upon a message board post by a CRC member who holds to the “full quiver” (holding to the idea that “God should plan our families”) ideology. She stated that our church policy is officially against the use of birth control. Knowing that that couldn’t possibly be true (no way!), I decided to check the CRCNA site –here’s what I found.

She was right. The CRC came out with a statement in 1936 (the article points out that it was in a period of “birthrate decline” –I don’t know what they were trying to point out by saying that; if they meant it that we’re not currently in a birthrate decline, their argument fails miserably …but I digress) that hasn’t since been reversed, although it was challenged in 1971.

In 1936 the CRC spoke out against birth control, stating that married people should follow the biblical mandate to be fruitful and multiply and therefore produce as many children as is compatible with the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the mother and the children. No subsequent synodical decision has changed this official position. [emphasis mine]

Kinda makes one wonder what else the CRC officially holds to, now, doesn’t it?  Well, it does leave the disclaimer I italicized. That right there would disqualify the CRC as being officially “full quiver” minded, as I understand it, but a whole lot closer to the ideal I see from the Catholics I’ve known over the years. File that in the “things that make you go hmmm…”.

Maybe I’m just remembering incorrectly, but I don’t remember seeing large families as a good thing, or, for that matter, seeing kids presented as much more than an inconvenience in my growing-up years. The idea that God works through families, and that kids are a blessing was a new one to me. I don’t think my heart really changed about that until we went through our course through CCL. Sure, I wanted to have kids someday, I just didn’t really think about why. Our CCL course was the first place I saw the family (even the large family) presented as one of the primary ways God works through people. Sad, but that’s what I remember. Since then, I’ve known several more families (large and small) that have lived out this ideal to be a portrait of Christ and the Church. I just don’t remember feeling all that valuable or important as a child. Value and importance came with adulthood. Childhood was a necessary evil. Did I get that idea of myself, or was I listening to the wrong people? I don’t know. I do know, however, that the spine-chilling terror I used to have about having another kid is pretty much gone now (no, that’s not an announcement), and I’m having a much easier time loving my kids for who they are and not for who I hope they’ll be someday. I’m not counting the days until they’re gone. It grieves me when young parents do nothing but complain about the kids they only see in the evenings and weekends. It bothers me when stay-at-home moms feel they have to constantly assert how much of a sacrifice their lives are. Actually, I’ve been missing Elanor, who’s been gone all day this year, and I’m looking forward to summer. I even refused to put Amaryah in the optional Friday preschool class –and it wasn’t all for financial reasons. Yes, I do dream occasionally about what life will be like with all of them in school. It just came to me that I’d miss having that extra morning with her here. She’ll be gone soon enough. Well, enough rambling for now. I was just really surprised that the CRC was of that position –then again, we used to joke about “evangelism by childbirth” in college. Maybe there’s something to that, after all.

Adventures In Frugality …Making a price book, finally

After reading the idea in Amy Dacyzyn’s Tightwad Gazette, I’ve long intended to do a written-down price book –a list of items I regularly buy with the best prices I find at each store along with the date. Finally, I started one tonight. I’m still bumping my way around MS Excel (I can’t remember how to do the formula so I can automatically figure out the unit price, but I’ll find that next time) and I’m doing a spreadsheet I can update and automatically sort …and get the program to do the math for me :D. At any rate, it’s been a real eye-opener already. I’ve found two things out: first, stores often have sales on certain items on a cyclic basis  (–does everyone know this already and I’m just really dense??), second, what is a “sale” at one store is more often than I realized, way less everyday at another store. Now if only I had the computer knowledge to make my millions on a program that would download local sale information, combine it with a coupon database, and a price book …hmmm. The only problem is, of course, is that that would take all the fun out of it, and anyone who would care about that sort of thing would probably figure it wasn’t worth paying for. Oh well.

An Experiment…

I’m doing an experiment… One thing I miss about getting the paper when we were in AZ was the Sunday paper coupons. Of course, I got my paper for free then since I was doing a route, but I’ve been wondering if using the coupons would total enough in a month to pay for the subscription. So, here begins my experiment. My weekend subscription to the Sheb. Press costs just over $9 a month –I figure if I am diligent, I can pretty easily recoup that in a month. If it winds up being more savings than that –I just may spring for a daily subscription :). We’ll see…

Oh –one more thing I realized recently. I used to not use coupons because 90 percent of the time, the store brand wound up being cheaper even compared with the name brand + coupon, so I figured it wasn’t worth the time. Now that we live near an Aldi –I figured it was totally useless. Then I realized that the secret to making coupons work is to team them with sales. Duh. Should be fun! Now, if only we lived near a CVS pharmacy again. If you do, check out their “extra care” program and some tips at MoneySavingMom. I found out about the program by accident, and even without trying wound up with a $25 gift card once or twice in Arizona. Things really add up if you do all your prescriptions there as well –with me being on Synthroid, and three kids, one of whom is prone to ear infections, it added up very quickly. If you know how to play the game, you could do even better than I did and make your out-of-pocket expenses at CVS next to nothing.

Cool site to share…

File this under the “mommy files.” An online friend mentioned this site in a post and I couldn’t help but share it with y’all because, hey, you never know who you’re going to meet who could use this. It’s a site called, and it’s an idea I’ve had in the past, but didn’t have the time or administrative skills to do it myself. Fortunately, someone else has, and from the looks of it, they’re doing a fabulous job. This is an organization that gives cloth diapers and cloth diapering supplies to low income families. Our family alone (and this is factoring in the cost of the diapers themselves) has saved more than 2,000 dollars over three kids by doing cloth diapers, and that’s only figuring doing cloth part-time. Disposables are expensive –I’ve averaged them between 25 cents (name brand on sale) to 12 cents (target brand on clearance in the HUGE box) a PIECE. Figure the average newborn uses 10 to 12 diapers a day (if you’re changing them as often as you should 😉 ), and the average 1 year old uses around 5-8 a day, and it gets pretty expensive, pretty quick. Add in disposable wipes at around $2 a box, and it only adds to the misery. Low income families can get help with the food end of things, but no program I’m currently aware of covers diapers. It’s a real-life serious need for a lot of families in tight spots.

As far as the laundry aspect of cloth, I can speak by experience and say that it’s really not that bad, especially if you’ve already gotten over the “dealing with bodily fluids” thing that makes you a mom anyway. To me, it’s just another couple loads of laundry a week. I do a diaper load about every other or every three days, and since I don’t currently have a clothesline (working on that…), I dry them in the dryer, which accounts for most of the cost of using cloth. If I had a space to line dry, it’d be even cheaper (plus, the UV rays from the sun bleach and help sanitize the diapers. See, you learn something new every day!).

What do I do with them? I use prefolded diapers and velcro covers, so I don’t deal with pins. With wet ones, I either (if I’m lazy) dump them straight in the diaper bin or give them a quick rinse in the toilet (helps with smell, which isn’t that bad anyway if I do a diaper load every 2-3 days). With the “soiled” ones, I shake off the solid stuff, swish the diaper in the toilet a bit to rinse off the extra, wring it out a bit with my diaper duck, and throw it in to the bin. When laundry time comes, I throw the diapers into the machine, run a short cold water prewash with 1/2 the recommended detergent, then follow it with a good long hot wash with another 1/2 dose of detergent. Sometimes I double rinse if they still look a bit soapy, sometimes not. Some moms use bleach, but I haven’t had problems yet with smell, and they get sanitized very well from the hot water and a hot dryer. After that, I toss them into the dryer (or hang them on a line if I have one). Fold ’em up, and they’re all ready for re-use. Cloth wipes (baby washcloths or Wal-Mart cheapie washcloths moistened with plain warm water or a bit of Dr. Bronner’s soap diluted in water) go right in with the diaper laundry. Total time spent not including machine time –about 25-30 minutes a load, or about the time it would take me to drive to Sheboygan and back to BUY diapers, less the time wandering the store and wrangling kids. Not really a big deal at all, but for $2,000 over three kids, I think it’s a pretty good one.