“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)