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The wife of Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, didn't have many career options.

The wife of Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater, didn’t have many career options. Photo credit: Alice Evans

 

It seems that people in my generation, commonly known as Millennials, have some confusion over this issue of finding their “calling.” And really, can you blame us? We’ve grown up in an era of unprecedented opportunities. We’ve all been told since we were little that we could be anything we wanted when we grew up — if we just believed in ourselves and worked hard enough. Here, have some fairy dust to go along with that thought.

So, do you want to be a politician, a scientist, an artist, a lawyer, or a surgeon? An astronaut, a marine biologist, or a kindergarten teacher? The problem with too many choices is that it’s overwhelming. Our limited brains can’t handle an unlimited number of options. It can be hard enough to choose whether to make spaghetti or tacos for dinner.

It’s also unrealistic to say that we have unlimited career options. Professional athlete is out reach for most of us, I think. Yet many people are lucky enough to have a variety of options. My dad had a bachelor’s degree in International Relations and later decided to get his master’s in Computer Science and became a computer programmer. My friend Holly had a degree in Romance Languages and 6 years later is in the midst of physical therapy school. Her husband was a landscape architect and is now a middle school teacher. So we do have options, and we can even change career paths if we choose.

I’ve done a lot of praying, reading and general soul-searching about my calling over the years. I want to live a meaningful life — I believe there are specific reasons I’m alive and I don’t want to miss out on those reasons.  Here’s what I’ve come to believe about the topic of finding your calling.

Your calling is about more than paid work. Some important aspects of your life-calling involve your relationship to others. If you’re married, being a loving and supportive spouse is a significant part of your calling. Likewise, if you’re a parent, you’re called to be a great one. And we’re all called to be loving and supportive friends to different people at different times.

You have more than one right choice. If life were a test, it would be an essay test, and not a multiple choice one. I believe if you genuinely desire to do something meaningful with your life — then you will. It’s not really as complicated as we make it out to be.

Work is still work. Even if you are lucky enough to make a living pursuing your calling, it’s still work. There will still be moments when you won’t want to do it. You will still have to interact with difficult people, and complete boring tasks.

Examine your talents, passions, and opportunities. We all have specific talents and passions and I believe God wants us to use them to help others. My husband is a talented landscape designer, and he knew he wanted to pursue landscape architecture since he was a little boy. He hasn’t been able to work in the design field for the last 6 years because of the recession, but it’s my belief that he will get back to it — when the opportunity becomes available.

My soul-searching has led me to discover that  — as unfeminist as this sounds — being a great mother and wife is a huge part of my calling. Perhaps the most important part. But I also know that it’s not my entire calling, because I have a passion to do more. I know that writing is part of my calling because I just can’t stop writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 5-years-old. I’ve loved all my freelance writing and editing jobs even when I had to write about horribly boring topics.

Will writing turn out to be the bulk of my paid work, or more of a creative outlet? Or will I go back to being a classroom teacher? There are lots of things about teaching that I love, and some things that are challenging. We’ll have to wait and see what opportunities arise…

Have you found your calling? What is it?

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I’ve been reading the book The Power of a Praying Wife. I was initially a little skeptical about this book because I heard about it from a woman who said we needed to pray for our husbands because “they are our leaders in our homes and in our community.” Hmmm, really? The last I checked our mayor was a woman. I also know of many successful female teachers, principals, medical professionals, lawyers, pastors, etcetera. Yes, men can be good leaders, but so can women. Anyway, I chose not to bring this up at the time as I figured my minority opinion would be consider divisive in the women’s church meeting I was attending. Just because I disagree about something important doesn’t mean I need to get into an argument about it in every situation.

Another thing I initially disliked about this book was the the pink floral-patterned cover. Because, you know, women want to buy books that are pink and have flowers on them. Maybe they could also give away a free Barbie doll with each purchase of this book.

That being said, I picked up a free copy of this book at Bible study a few weeks ago and started reading it and praying through the chapters. I think it’s actually a great book for Christian women, though I may disagree slightly with a few of her comments. Her goal is to help people to improve marriages and prevent divorce, which is pretty important, considering the high divorce rate. Praying for your spouse and children is very important, in my opinion! The book covers prayer topics that I wouldn’t necessarily think of on my own — but now that they’ve come to mind, they seem like great things to pray about. If you can’t think of your own words to pray, you can just read the prayers aloud with your husband in mind. Easy!

We often undervalue prayer and think of it as something you do as a last resort. But truly I think it’s best if prayer is our first resort. Praying about problems before they occur can prevent them from happening in the first place. The further I go on my journey as a person of prayer, the more I believe in its power. It works, not in a God-vending-machine type of way, but prayer can change your heart and the heart of those you pray for and influence the outcome of events. This God-stuff is very mysterious.

I think more appropriate cover art for Power of a Praying Wife would be a picture of a woman running a marathon, or engaged in an intense wrestling match. Or perhaps a picture of a mother bear protecting her cubs. Yeah, that sounds about right. She’s ferocious, and willing to fight to protect what’s important.

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This is my first assignment for Writing 101: 20 minutes of free writing. So it’s not as polished as I would like, but here are my thoughts for today. And what about you? Do you believe that prayer works? Would you like to share an example of a time in your life when prayer has worked for you?

 

Jesus asks his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That sounds really nice. Everyone likes to love and be loved. But what does it look like in practice?

When my husband and I first got married, we moved into a large apartment complex in southeast Portland. We soon met our next-door neighbors, an 18-year-old girl and her 26-year-old boyfriend. My first encounter with the girl was when she asked me if she could borrow my bicycle to ride one block to 7-11. Caught off guard by her request, I offered to drive her the one block instead.

Of course, this set up a precedent wherein she would often knock on our door asking for a ride or to borrow money or use our phone. Usually I, being a love-your-neighbor Christian, would grant her requests. Except for the times that I would pull the blinds shut and pretend not to be home.

This girl had a baby from a different daddy than her current boyfriend. Her baby was in foster care and his father was in jail. She was still in high school. She wanted her baby back. She would get him back soon, she often told me.

Her world was new to me. None of my high school friends had had babies or 26-year-old boyfriends or exes who were in jail.

Her circumstances were new to me, but the dynamics of our relationship were not. She was a Needy Person. I’d had other friends who were needy too, friends who made bad choices about drugs and promiscuous sex again and again. Friends who complained about their lives and asked for my advice and then would not listen to it. Friends who took and took and did not give back. Friends whose lives were black holes into which I tried to shine the light of Jesus.

Throughout the year, our neighbors’ problems seemed to get worse. They got jobs and lost jobs. Their car was towed due to lack of insurance. They borrowed our vacuum cleaner and gave us fleas. When they asked us for money to buy a flea bomb, we said we didn’t have cash. They asked if we could go to the bank and withdraw money. We said no.

We moved out as soon as our lease was up, quickly and quietly, without saying goodbye to them. Sadly and predictably, in the following years, I’ve been hesitant to get to know my neighbors.

What did I learn from this? I learned that loving your neighbor can be inconvenient. Sometimes you may get fleas, even though you don’t have pets. I also learned that it’s important for me to set boundaries with people. For example, I do not need to give someone a ride to a place that is within easy walking distance. I do not need to give money to someone who recently quit his or her job.

I do need to seek God’s will in my day-to-day encounters. God’s quiet voice may ask me to buy a sandwich for this panhandler or go to coffee with that friend. Or it may ask me to spend a quiet morning recharging my spirit through prayer.

In the words of theologian Frederick Buechner, “The place where God calls you is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” In order to love those around us, we first need God to fill us up with His deep gladness. The world may have an endless need for love, but thankfully God’s love is endless.

 

How do you find a balance between showing kindness to others and having boundaries?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

When you look at a Pollock painting, do you see a mess that your toddler could have created? Or do you see a priceless work of art?

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I originally wrote this as a guest post for the blog of my friend A.J. Swoboda (ajswoboda.com), pastor, theology professor and author of Messy: God Likes it That Way.

My daughter just had her second birthday. It’s been two years since I first held her tiny body in my arms, felt the gentle rise and fall of her breath. Two years since the timeline of my life split in half — before motherhood, after motherhood.

At two years old, my daughter explores the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

Celebrating my daughter’s second birthday with a trip to the beach. Photo credit: Spencer Crawford

How has motherhood changed me over these two years? Or rather, how is motherhood changing me?

It has given me a new and deeper understanding of what love is. Love is patient, love is kind. Love will let you wipe your snotty nose on its clean sleeve. Love will get up with you at 11 pm and 1 am and again at 3:30 because your teeth hurt and you can’t sleep. Love isn’t grossed out by spit-up or giant poop diapers. Well maybe just a little grossed out.

I had a thought a few weeks ago, perhaps a God-revealed thought: The purpose of life is love. (Ok, I admit this is not a very original idea). If we don’t love others, we are missing the purpose. What does it matter if we’re highly successful in our careers but our lives are devoid of love? Even if we devote our lives to something altruistic, like teaching middle school, but we don’t do it in love — our lives are empty.

So, if our whole purpose for being here on this earth is to learn how to love others — well, what better opportunity than being a wife and a mother? What an opportunity to humbly serve others in love. What a high calling. What a blessing that I have been entrusted with this.

And I’m struck by how much I’ve come to love this tiny person, my daughter. At first she was a stranger who had entered my life like a hurricane, leaving me injured and bewildered. I looked forward to the day when I could go back to an office job and my normal life. But now? I’m so grateful that I have the chance to work from home and spend each day with my daughter.

I’ve always been career-driven and I still would like to have a successful career. But I know now that being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. If you’re a mom – or a dad – I hope you feel the same way.

What have you learned since becoming a parent?

 

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

Even in the desert, life finds a way.

I was going to write a post about my anxiety over our financial situation. Tax season has drawn my focus to our finances and caused muscle tension from my eyebrows to my toes. But then I remembered the gratitude journaling I’ve been doing. Counting my one thousand gifts. And I remembered the sermon I listened to yesterday, from the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus says “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

And does this mean we should try to be last in an attempt to be first in God’s kingdom? No, the preacher says, that is not the point of this parable. The point is that there is no first and last in God’s kingdom. The point is that there is enough for all.

There is enough. There is enough for all. God’s abundant provision is enough. Our economy is based on the myth of scarcity, that there are only enough resources for a few and so we should buy more now and fill our large houses with possessions we don’t need.

What if we only took what we needed? What if instead of living in homes large enough to house an entire African village, we lived in tiny but functional homes? What if we lived simply so that others may simply live?

Over these last years of financial insecurity, God has been teaching me the importance of daily bread. We’re receiving enough for each day. We’re trying to make good choices with what we are given. We’re learning to trust. Our faith is being shaped.

When I was in Ghana, a woman told me, “We are a hungry country.” It’s true. Many Ghanaians live in tin shacks with no access to clean water. These people know what it is to suffer. I thought of how much we have in America, and how we are hungry too. We’re hungry, but we think we are full. There’s a nagging emptiness inside that cannot be filled. We try to dull it with shopping. We try antidepressants. We try eating too much, or not enough. We try creating a Facebook profile that will make our friends jealous. But it doesn’t work.

It is only when we come to the place of brokenness that we can find fulfillment. When we discover that we cannot go another day without complete dependence on God’s grace, that we are not the ones earning our daily bread but it is God who gives it to us. I have been learning this lesson. In our brokenness we are made complete.

I can be grateful for that.

 

Dear 60-year-old Ursula:

Well, how are things? It’s hard to imagine life 30 years in the future, so I won’t make predictions, but here are some things I’ll be praying for you about.

I hope you are healthy, both physically and mentally, that years of hiking, running and yoga have kept you fit. I hope you and Spencer are still happily married, and have recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of your first date on Valentine’s Day 2004. I hope you are able to see Marie (and your other children? grandchildren?) often. I hope you have a strong community of friends to share life with. I hope you sit in Bible study knitting hats for babies.

Ursula, I hope you feel beautiful, with white hair and a few wrinkles around your eyes. I hope your wrinkles are from smiling and not from frowning. I hope you really understand how much God loves you, that God’s love is as tangible as the slice of chocolate cake you just ate for dessert. I hope you wake up in the mornings laughing with joy. I hope that gratitude is your first instinct, that if any thought runs obsessively through your mind it is simply Thank you God.

I hope you see the good in people. I hope you’ve welcomed so many people into your home that you’ve entertained angels without knowing it. I hope you’ve given away enough money to save thousands of lives. I hope you’ve been the best mother and wife you could be, that you’ve put the needs of your family ahead of your own.

I hope that love is the verb that best defines you.

Love,

30-year-old Ursula

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

I hope there will be cake and puppy hats in heaven.

Throughout my life I’ve often felt like an outsider, as if I could never be part of the in-crowd. Maybe you can relate to that, and then again maybe you can’t. Since we’ve just moved to a new town, we’re outsiders now because we don’t know many people. At our last church, even though we’d been a part of it for years, I felt like an outsider after my daughter was born because the church was mostly made up of younger people without children. In grad school, I was one of the few married people. In college, I didn’t feel like I quite fit in with the Christians because I was too liberal, and I didn’t quite fit in with anyone else because I was too Christian. Likewise, when I worked at Christian schools, I always felt I had to keep my liberal political leanings under wraps, so I couldn’t really be myself. As a kid, I didn’t know how to make friends, had uneven bangs and snaggle teeth, and was occasionally ostracized by the popular girls.

I assume that everyone feels like this at one time or another, that the sense of not quite fitting in is part of the human condition. Though maybe there are some attractive, outgoing, charismatic people who truly have never felt this way. There have been times in my life when I have fit in and it felt pretty great. In fourth grade, I attended a spring break sports camp where I somehow managed to be extremely popular — everyone wanted to be my friend. (I guess because I used to be good at sports? Or maybe I dressed well that week?). In high school, although not part of the “popular” clique, I did have a big group of nice and fun friends. And most shockingly in college my future husband (who when I’d met, I’d immediately dismissed as too good-looking and popular for me), wanted to date me. Thanks, but I don’t want to be a part of any club that would accept me as a member….(ha!)

The good news for those of us who don’t quite fit in is that Jesus didn’t fit in either. Jesus hung out with social outcasts and as a result was ostracized by the religious leaders of his day. Basically, if Jesus had gone to your high school, he would have been a friend to all those kids who didn’t have friends. He wouldn’t have worn the cool clothes or listened to the cool music. The popular kids would have teased him mercilessly and never invited him to their parties. And yet, Jesus forgives again and again.

The moments in my life when I do fit in and feel well loved are small glimpses of heaven. When my daughter wants to “nuggle,” when my husband asks me about my day, when we share dinner and laughs with friends we’ve known for years. In my mind, heaven is like a huge dinner party with all our best friends, and everyone is invited. And that’s good news.

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What about you? Can you relate to being an outsider? And what’s your idea of heaven?