At 16 I felt a “call” to “full time Christian service.” Had I been a male, I probably would have said the “pastorate.” But at that time and in the denomination I grew up in, that option was off the Communion table.
What that walk “down the aisle” to proclaim this commitment to my future to my congregation meant was that I wasn’t aiming to be a good “church lady ” (thank you Dana Carvey for ruining that term) but instead I knew my profession would be in the faith community. I also knew it would require a deeper understanding of faith and, at the time, that translated into seminary.
The masters I received was a legitimate arts-focused exploration of all things communication — I just also learned how to report on Paul’s missionary journeys. My first paying gig (even as I was writing my thesis) was with a group that helped churches interpret missions. That “group” was 1.2 million members strong and in 10 years I went from a marketing specialist to becoming one of the department heads and in my mid-30s was supervising as many employees as I had years on this earth. That’s the last time I went “up” the proverbial ladder.
A marriage that was shaky got me to Houston. Though my faith was evolving by this time and I was longing to be Mary Oliver’s “bride married to amazement” who was “embracing the world,” I had to settle for occasional trips to train others. I couldn’t bring myself to ruin the ministries we both had claimed– his in youth work and mine in communications. Those trips included one that literally took me around the world – Houston to Thailand, Thailand to Turkey and then Turkey to back home.
And “home” is exactly what Houston became. Even when the walls around me and my husband were crumbling, I found friends who felt like long lost brothers, cousins and extensions of my existing family who I dearly loved but where far away in Tennessee. I learned I could choose a family and I did. They packed and unpacked me when I moved my things from the 4-bedroom house and my failed marriage to a 1 bedroom apt, and again to the 2 bedroom where I expanded my chosen lot with even more diverse faces and stories, and then to their own homes and storage as I explored what was next for me. (This move coming after I realized my understanding of God was never going to be shared by the pastors I worked with daily and that I no longer shared theirs.) They ushered me off that year with a fine dining experience that transformed my rented condo into a linen covered bistro. They waited as I drove my red Beetle across country, explored writing and took an ESL class “in case I ever traveled the world and needed money.” They were waiting to advise me on proper furniture placement and paint colors in the last locale I claimed for our mutual benefit of game nights, gourmet delights and pool conversations that took us physically and metaphorically to the deep end. And this time, they accepted my art into their foster care and bought items they really didn’t need in order to fulfill my desire to go “unencumbered” into my next pursuit of what now has been a lifetime of professional service. They even held a commissioning of sorts with pulled pork, red velvet cake and words of blessing.
They have seen me through travels to the exotic – Manchu Pinchu, Ecuador, Iona off the coast of Ireland, Angor Wat, Ethiopia and many more – and jobs that could have easily made me neurotic. (As in when I stayed a stint too long in the wonderful world of politics and clutched that “calling” to service as the only preserver to keep me from going under in what felt like a sea of insanity.)
They get why so much of this post has been enclosed in quotation marks. Those marks are the marks of understanding. After years of teaching “mental models” I understand that each person brings their unique interpretation in images, stories, and experiences to every word we believe to possess a shared understanding of. (And, yes, I know I just ended that sentence in a preposition but my mental model of good writing says I can!) The mental models each of us bring to the table where faith, service, calling, and profession are on the menu are vast and the discussion that could be prompted by this one brief post could extend for hours.
And with my friends, my family, the conversation has and will continue to do so. We keep changing therefore our mental models do as well.
My understanding of my “calling” now takes me to another land where I finally get to utilize that certification to teach English that I obtained years ago. I’m going as somewhat of a paid volunteer – not exactly a profession but close enough.
Would my 16-year-old self approve of how I have fulfilled that stirring in my soul that she responded to? I want to think there was enough of a seeker in me back then that she would have (secretly) relished the twists in my path that brought me here.
I’m taking her, the love of my framily, and my ever-evolving understanding of why I’m here on this orb with me to Costa Rica as I embrace my next chapter. I have a feeling it’s going to continue to be an “amazing” ride!