Tag Archives: calling

One man’s rant through career, calling, and creative work

A great little read through one creative’s useful ramble about making a career in creative work, even if your passion isn’t your day job. It starts out sounding like a business manifesto but really this is a piece about working out your calling when it’s hard to make that fit the job market.

Part of understanding the creative urge is understanding that itʼs primal. Wanting to change the world is not a noble calling; itʼs a primal calling.

6.HowToBeCreative (opens PDF) which was hosted at ChangeThis

(I couldn’t get the link to the PDF to work, so I’ve attached the PDF to make your life easier….but I want to make sure you see the ChangeThis attribution since this PDF isn’t mine.)

Good read: The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com

A a delightful read on vocation and calling that focuses on the small bits of life. Satisfaction emerges from small acts of love and meaning.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

via The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com.

To my students, upon their graduation from high school, May 2015

Script for the commencement address at New Covenant School,
May 22, 2015

Friends, parents, students, and—most importantly—NCS Class of 2015:

It is with deep gratitude that I take the podium tonight to celebrate your completion of a very long race. I am honored that you asked me to speak at your commencement, and as a return favor, I promise to keep my thoughts short and to the point. It’s no light calling to stand in front of talented, bright young people and say anything that might be considered ‘wisdom.’  Even a fool, when he keeps his peace, is considered wise—so Solomon tells us—so I will keep my words few.

To return to the school where I spent a decade of my life teaching is an emotional experience this evening. I taught many of you as far back as that awkward junior high phase, when all of your friendships were messy and the boys were still playing with plastic Army men while the girls, having grown a foot taller and discovered “real men,” whispered in the corner about all the hott guys in the movies.

Therefore, we share some of the same fond memories from the years when I taught you Shakespeare and Dante and Greek mythology, or dragged you kicking and screaming into a new Latin conjugation, or taught you how to survive “Honey If You Love Me Smile” without cracking up in drama class.

Several of you were in the 7th grade class who performed that Sherlock Holmes play that was just a bit outside your reach for performance—but I was so proud of you for trying.

DSC01822You dressed up as cave men for Barbarian Day that year too and, if I remember correctly, recorded an adorable video of Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies,” rewritten as “All You Cave Ladies.”  I’m pretty sure I’ve still got that video footage tucked away on YouTube, for bribery. Just in case.

And although I wasn’t here to take you all the way to the end of your high school journey, I can see that you’ve grown into a fine group of young adults, capable of tackling the challenges you will soon face in “the real world.”  I imagine it feels like you’ve learned all the things, taken all the tests, survived all the projects, and swum through all the drama. Drama in the interpersonal sense, not the cooler “on stage” sense, though you’ve done that too.

Now you’re sitting here in these seats at NCS for the last time, on the cusp of the biggest transition you’ve ever faced—to this point at least.

What I want you to remember, above everything else you will hear this graduation season about your accomplishments and your future and your potential, is this:  Your life is not for you.

Did you hear me?

Your life is not your own.

This simple idea flies in the face of everything the world is telling you. Around every corner you will hear people telling you to follow your passions (a good idea, really) and to pursue your dreams (sure) and to make sure you select a major in college that will make you a lot of money (a riskier gamble, in my opinion).

I’m here to tell you what is a much less popular idea, but very true.  Your life decisions affect more than just you. They affect everyone around you.  And that’s important.  If you’re going to accomplish anything in this life, you’ve got to recognize that you cannot do it alone. And you cannot do it for yourself alone.

The Apostle John records Jesus’ words:  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24).  And in case we missed the point, Matthew tells us,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).

You’re not living your life for you.  You’re not picking a career just for your benefit, though your life’s work will bring rich benefits to your life and your family and your community.  You aren’t on this planet to make yourself happy, though a life lived in the Grace of God and for the Kingdom of God will most likely be a life of Joy, for God is a Father who loves His children.

You’re here to love.

Jesus, when asked to name the “greatest commandment” that we all should ‘focus on,’ replied with an answer that you know by heart:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the Law and Prophets.”

You weren’t put here to love yourself.  You were put here to love God as hard as you can with everything you have all the time, and to love other people.

It’s easy to make this mandate complicated than it is. We can get all caught up in arguing over who we’re supposed to love and whether we think they “deserve it.” (Not that any of us deserve the Grace that God pours out on us every single day; He sacrificed Himself to absolve our sin and loves us fully and completely when we were absolutely unlovable.)

We can argue over “who is my neighbor,” when really the answer is simply to love the person in front of you, the people around you, the people in your way, the people you’d rather not have to deal with.

If you invest your life in other people, if you focus your career goals not on money or fame or power but on bringing the most good to the people you’re supposed to love, then you will find what you really want out of life: fulfillment. Meaning.  Joy.

If you came to NCS when Coart and I taught here alongside Jack Knipe and Joey Thames and Debbie Smith and so many others, you might remember some of the “catch phrases” that peppered our conversations in class and at recess and as we sat around the lunch tables.

Remember this?  The “good kid” isn’t the one who stays out of trouble. The good kid is the one who does good.

Goodness—righteousness—in the biblical sense is active. It’s not passive. It’s not wimpy. It’s not sitting back and allowing other people to assume all the risks or finding a way to get what you want without getting caught. It’s impossible to separate being good from doing good.

Your highest calling, dear ones, is not to “achieve greatness.”  It is to walk the path that your Savior already walked, the path of the Cross, the path of sacrifice and hard work and sometimes tears in pursuit of loving God and loving others.

It is your choice. But the call—the vocation—I set before you today is the call to live a life centered on the love of God in your life poured out into the lives of others.  It’s ok if you don’t know what that means. It’s ok if you aren’t settled yet on who God is or how He fits into your life. If there’s one thing God is very good at, it’s making Himself known to you at exactly the right time. He will find you.

Pursue a life calling that matches your talents (what you’re good at) with a deep and difficult problem in the world that you’d like to help solve.

Start now. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten your college degree or “know enough” or have earned enough money to be “stable” or figured out what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’m 20 years older than you and I’m still “figuring out what I’m supposed to do with my life.” But I do know that whatever my job title may be, whatever your job title may be (and remember, your job might not have even been invented yet), our mutual calling is to Love God and Love Others.

Because the incredible thing about Love is, the more you pour out, the more you have to give.

God bless you as you walk your journey. I cannot wait to see where you go and what you do in the power of the God who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6). Thank you.

LINK: Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling – Sometimes a Light

Good post from Hannah about a better way to see marriage, calling, Kingdom work, and the balance among them.

Of all the neighbors you are called to love, your spouse is the closest one. This means that being married will naturally limit your ability to pursue other callings in the Church. But Scripture also makes it clear that the call to marry is rooted in a larger call so that even as we enter it, we remember that marriage itself is not all-consuming. It is only part of how we serve the Lord with our whole hearts and lives. This is true for men. This is true for women.

via Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling – Sometimes a Light.

Slow Journey toward New Paths

I realized last year that I’ve never really put any thought into “designing” my own vocational path. I’ve “fallen into” three interesting jobs thus far, and I’ve enjoyed each of them. But now I’m realizing I intentionally need to identify my strengths, decide what field deserves the next two or three decades of my attention, and lay my foundation to pursue opportunities in that field.

I don’t have a tight direction in mind, but a few more thoughts about work, calling, career have coalesced for me in these opening months of 2015.

  • I would rather work with people than things. I’m handy with organizing details and tasks, but I’m best handling ideas as they relate to people.
  • I would rather work in a team or collaboratively than alone.  While people can wear on me (it’s my introverted streak; yes, I have one) and while I get more done when I’m alone than when I’m around people, I much prefer community of work than individual achievement.  Working near people is a decent start; working with people (both as a team member and in the sense of working “on” people) is my preference.
  • I would like the opportunity to lead my own team (and build it), devise a goal based on an institution or supervisor’s overarching strategy, and develop the plan to meet that goal.  I’ve never really been interested in “management” and that’s not what I’m looking for, but I’m a little tired of being a subordinate.  In the right field (something that ties into my experience), I have the skills needed to lead an initiative and do it well.
  • To this point, I don’t have any interest in striking out on my own as an entrepreneur. Maybe an idea will grip me so forcefully that I’ll find myself trying to make it work, but that impulse doesn’t drive me.  I’m happy to jump on board with someone else’s mission (that aligns with mine) so we can be in it together.
  • I have a generalist’s mindset. It’s hard for me to narrow down my work to one task/skill type; I prefer a flow of different opportunities throughout my day, and the flexibility to switch up what I’m doing. For that reason, I’ve never really wanted to pursue a PhD (for longer than a few months).  I hoover up ideas and store that information for later use. To drink deeply of just one field hasn’t been my thing.  Now, that might have to change – in academia, a PhD is almost a baseline requirement. But PhD’s are essentially research degrees, and “doing research” isn’t the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. (But “answering questions” does….)
  • I like to provoke people and ideas (and by extension, institutions or projects) to become better versions of themselves. That’s way more fulfilling than almost anything I’ve ever done.  Short-term, I can draw great satisfaction from a project well-done (a magazine published, directing a play and seeing the performances, pulling off a big event) but the really deep well in my soul is filled by helping people grow.
  • Issues surrounding education mean the most to me. If I had to choose a primary tribe for membership, I’d go live with the educators. (Sorry, creatives, musicians, gamers, readers, calligraphers, chefs, theologians, researchers, designers, and librarians! Y’all come in a close second, though!)
  • I’m a helladetermined problem solver. (Read: Stubborn.) I hate hearing “we can’t do that….” if that means everyone is going to just give up. Obstacles are opportunities. Problems can be solved, overcome, or pushed aside if the overall goal is valuable enough to everyone involved.  There’s almost always a window open when you think the doors have slammed shut.  If it’s worth doing, it’s going to be hard. Suck it up and find a way forward.

I have more to figure out. I can’t figure out what area of education draws my interest the most. Is it professional development for faculty? Is it curriculum development to implement better active learning and engaging methodologies? And should I focus on higher ed or K-12 ed? My teaching experience is in K-12 but that arena is so locked-down right now because of Common Core and assessment-driven strategies that I can’t imagine being very effective in it. But I don’t know enough about higher education to be effective there…


Gender and Calling: A few thoughts

Yesterday I wandered around in the not-all-that-brilliant observation that I can’t really get a grasp on my own calling (what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet, my personal mission statement, whatever you want to call it) without viewing that very question from within the complex network of relationships that surround my life.

We all draw circles of influence and relationship in our lives—often including spouse, parent, and employee (or perhaps entrepreneur).

And for me, as a woman within conservative Christianity living in America, that means I haven’t had an independent sense of my calling in life. It’s always been a calling alongside.

Let me hasten to clarify: I’m not complaining or unhappy with the alongside-ness of my calling. But I do want to pause to recognize what that means for me:

1. Because my calling has for the past couple decades been inextricably linked to my husband’s, I don’t plan clear, guiding goals for future accomplishments in my life and work (more than a year or so down the road).

I’ve never felt the pull toward the FUTURE the way Coart does.  Perhaps that’s a part of my personality – that I’m totally happy living “in the moment” – but that doesn’t match the way I view milestones at work: starting the new year, dreaming up a new project, thinking “what if we did this next year…..” is actually very energizing for me.

But I don’t seem to develop those same questions or daydreams about my work as a whole.  I don’t spend much time considering questions like “What if I started a company to ……?” “Should I be writing a book about …..?” “What big problem or need in the world would benefit from my skills and experience?”

2. Because my calling is alongside, I don’t pursue opportunities that would launch their own trajectory that could radically depart from Coart’s.

For example, I’m not pursuing any job openings right for any reason since he’s finishing a PhD within 18 months, and his future employment will make all the difference in where I end up living and working.

[Again, I’m not complaining AT ALL, especially since Coart has always been very conscious of what is best for the two of us together, not just me. And he’d be happy for me to launch something new.  And he provokes me to be a better version of myself (far better) than I would be on my own – more thoughtful, more analytic, more caring, more capable. I expect that he’s more disappointed at my vocational myopia than I am.]

3. And then there’s the really big one ….  Parenting.  Knowing that childrearing totally up-ends the apple cart of a woman’s career planning has had a profound effect on the way I “imagine” my life’s work and calling — and that has been true since the day I got married.

We don’t have kids (yet) but we both want to raise children. I assume kids will work their way into our lives sometime in the next few years.  We both want that.

I don’t plan for the future because, as a woman, I feel like I have very little control over what my future circumstances will be. 

And that plays out in a variety of ways, including this:

I know what I’m good at: provoking people to flourish as better versions of themselves (usually intellectually, sometimes spiritually).

But I can’t really tell you how that’s going to play out in the world as a whole, because I can’t lay much claim to controlling the context in which I do and will work.

And that, my friends, is kind of frustrating, honestly.

Calling within community

This isn’t going to be rocket science, folks, but I’ve been chewing on this lately so let me throw a couple thoughts at you.

Within the overused phrase “it takes a village” nestles a vital truth: We aren’t on this planet to live life alone, or for ourselves individually.  Our existence, and our understanding of where we fit in this universe along with it, is caged within the network of relationships that form our context.

So I was thinking about calling the other day on my decently long commute to/from work. Why am I on this planet? What’s my mission in life? What are the goals I want to accomplish in the next decade?

And that’s when it hit me — my grasp of my personal calling isn’t the only variable in the equation.  My calling exists within the network of relationships that form my life.

Let’s trace that idea a little further.

When I was a young adult, entering college, I had a pretty firm idea of what I wanted to do with my life.  That understanding of my calling turned out to be incorrect, but it led me into a useful degree program and I wasn’t too far off, all things considered.  But the determining factors for my calling arose from my understanding of myself.

(I should note that I was coming out of a branch of Christianity where Knowing God’s Will For My Life™ was an essential element of discerning calling. Since God never seems to resort to sky-writing to point out His will to people, I was left to relying on the general (and clear) statements in the Bible of what God wants people to do (don’t murder, love your neighbor, don’t sleep around) and my very subjective understanding of what God wanted me to do with my life (be a missionary). It kind of messed up my directional compass for a while, but Grace is big and growing up helped straighten me out a lot.)

As an early 20-something, my life was truly all about ME. Setting aside the fact that I felt like I was following what God Himself had told me to do [and maybe He had; I can only tell you the experiences I had, I can’t really tell you whether they’re legitimate] I was thinking primarily about myself.  I was busy mapping the way for my life, my calling.

Of course, college years are full of the tense thrill of wondering who you’re going to fall in love with and marry.  Right? 🙂   “Is it that hott guy who sits next to me in speech class?  Oh, he has a girlfriend. Darn.   Is it the nice guy who picked up my umbrella out of the gutter? Well, he’s not showing any interest…..”    I met Coart when I was 20 or so. (He was the interesting guy in my Greek class.) We were dating by 21, engaged at 22, and married at 23.

My grasp on my calling shifted—and now it had to include this other human being with a sense of calling and particular package of gifts.  I wasn’t only building a road map for myself any more. The map had to be a joint effort, and only one person can be in the driver’s seat at a time.

Even within the Bastion of Fundamentalism, we were pretty progressive when it came to gender roles.  I knew how the submission thing was supposed to work in marriage. But Coart wasn’t interested in a woman who lost her identity in cooking dinner and making babies. And I wasn’t the kind of woman who wanted a Mrs. degree in place of an actual education.*

But my calling has always been contingent on his. That’s a reality of married life—whether the couple is traditional or progressive.  One of your “callings” will likely take precedence over the other’s. That might even shift back and forth throughout your years together. But the couples who decide to live in separate cities so they can each pursue their callings as if they were each single? I struggle to see how that’s an effective marriage. (Perhaps it’s a great friendship with “legal” benefits.)

The only way I can fully understand my calling is if I nest it within the larger circles of the relationships that form my life.  I’m going to pick up that thread tomorrow….

*Bonus story: it was my senior year of college as Coart was planning his graduate admission for a PhD program in Old Testament and finding an assistantship to pay for it, that I found myself starting at the graduate catalog in frustration. The sensible path, the one that led most directly to my operative “calling,” was to take an MAT in teaching, probably in one of the secondary ed fields since I’ve never really been that great with little kids.

But it didn’t feel right.  I didn’t have the pre-req’s for any of the MAT degrees; I was kind of scared of the student teaching semester in the big, bad, terrifying public education system; and I wasn’t even sure that teaching was my calling, though I figured it would play a large role in whatever we ended up doing. (At that point, we figured Coart would be teaching in a seminary overseas once he finished his degree, and I’d end up as the missionary wife who might get to teach a class now and then on top of all the domestic and familial and ministry duties of that life.)

What I really wanted to do was study theology.  I wanted to do “what the men get to do”: spend time concentrating on difficult and important questions.  That MA in Bible (the academic foundational degree for the PhD programs) seemed to just glow on the page.  Yet that seemed foolish.    All but one of the students in the seminary theology programs were men, because the only people who needed that kind of training were men.   The few women who braved seminary relegated themselves to the Counseling degree, or maybe Church History. (No danger of a female Church History major entering the pastorate, right?)

Coart’s solution was simple: “If you want the MA in Bible, why don’t you study that?”
“But”—I protested—”what will I do with it?!”
He looked at me and laughed.  “Follow the desire of your heart.”

So I enrolled.
And much of the intellectual course of my life was set in the two years I plowed through hermeneutics, linguistics, theology, argumentation, rhetoric, research.