Designed for Work: The High Calling Synchro Blog

There are seasons in life, I am learning. And sometimes the rougher seasons are the very ones in which the work we do can be a source of inspiration and solace, a place of ministry and renewal. The details of this part of my story have been shared before, but it’s good for me to remember and to celebrate.

The six year stretch between 2005 and 2010 was a tough one for us. At times, it felt as though my family was riding a dangerously out of control roller coaster, careening from side to side, tilting on one very narrow edge as we rounded some treacherous turns and corners.

Here are a few ‘highlights’ from that season:

My dad died in February of 2005, leaving my mom both exhausted from care-giving and desperately lonely for her partner.

My husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer two months later, enduring painful and debilitating surgery and a long, rocky recovery. 

Our son-in-law was applying for long-term disability, literally fading away before our eyes. His wife, our eldest daughter, was beginning an intensive 12-month master’s degree program in special ed — after almost 20 years of being an at-home mom. Their three boys were struggling to find their bearings in this new universe.

Our middle daughter’s 3rd boy was born in distress, tiny and in the NICU for 5 days.

Our daughter-in-law needed a slightly dicey C-section for her first-born, just weeks after her cousin’s difficult entry into the world.

Our son-in-law entered the last year of his life with multiple hospitalizations, and a miraculous six-month respite, giving us all some memories that were lovely and lasting. That year, 2008, ended with a devastating pneumonia that took his life in a matter of hours.

My youngest brother landed in the ER with a severe leg infection, requiring a long list of care-giving efforts from all of us.This began a hard, downward spiral of missed diagnoses, homelessness, sober living residences, heart surgery and eventually, sudden death in 2009.

The very next month, our beautiful town was hit by the first of two wildfires requiring evacuation from home and church, plunging our worshiping community into emergency mode for months on end.

As I said, it was a difficult few years.

And every week, except for vacations and emergencies, I went to work. Many people wondered why: why do you want to step into other people’s difficult situations? Why do you want to visit the sick? Why? Haven’t you got enough on your plate already?

I don’t know that I can fully answer that ‘why’ question, but I will try to write a coherent list of possible reasons here:

work grounded me;
work reminded me I was not alone;
work taught me about community;
work provided an external focus;
work brought at least the illusion of order to my terribly disordered world;
work brought relief from the weight of worry that
was a constant companion;
work allowed me to stay in touch with the
creative parts of me as well as the care-giving parts;
work gave me a different place to look,
a different place to reflect,
a different space in which to be me –
the me that was called and gifted and capable.
As opposed to the me that was helpless, impotent and
overwhelmed.

My life was spinning frantically out of control,
at least out of my control,
heading down deep and dark crevasses that terrified me.
Work was more easily containable,
expectations were clear,
contributions were valued.
Work was grace for me during that long,
long stretch of Job-like living.

Work was a gift,
a gift of God to a weary and worried woman.
And it brought me into contact with people
who could bear me up,
who could tend my gaping wounds,
who could be as Jesus to me,
even as I tried to be as Jesus to those
I loved most in this world.

I did not do any of it perfectly. Lord knows, that isn’t even possible and it surely wasn’t true.

The end of 2010 brought the end of my ‘official’ work life. I have missed it at times. But I am discovering that even in the different structure, schedule and, yes, ‘work’ of retirement, God is underneath. And around and in between. Just as God has always been. And somehow by the grace and goodness of God, we are still here, clinging to the sides of that coaster car, doing our very best to enjoy the ride.

I am linking this with The High Calling’s bi-weekly synchro blog, this time on the theme, “Designed to Work.” Please check out the other posts in this link-up, and while you’re at it, read the fine articles published by THC this past week. They do such good work there!

 

Vacating the Premises: Reflections on Getting Away from It All

Linking with the fine people at The High Calling for their week on vacation reflections. . .

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 Oh, yeah, this was a LONG time ago. One of our almost-annual treks to Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierras to stay with my husband’s extended family and fish, play board games, hike to town, enjoy the beauty.

Many years ago, I began a bi-monthly gathering for women just behind me in the mothering cycle, most of whom had brand new babies and maybe a toddler or two. At some point during those five years, I was asked a good question:

What one thing would you recommend we do to encourage the building of a cohesive and committed family unit?

My response surprised a few, I think. It wasn’t particularly ‘spiritual’ in nature. I did not recommend a regular family worship time, though I believe that is a fine idea for many families. I did not recommend regular church attendance, though that, too, is great to do. I came close to saying this: “Find a way to offer service together as often as you can,” because I believe that is an essential ingredient. And service can look like a lot of things, beginning with the practice of hospitality in your own home.

No, I didn’t say any of those things. Instead, this is what I said:

Find a way to get away every single year. Make traveling as a family a priority, no matter what that looks like for you. 

And I stand by those words. I believe there is nothing better that we can do for our children, for our spouses or for ourselves than to get a glimpse of God’s greater world, to tickle our toes under the sheets in a place that is new to us, to look at the wonders of nature, the complexities of city life, or the remarkable diversity at play in human culture.

So if I had to pick one such getaway and call it ‘the best,’ I would hesitate. A lot. Why? Because every trip was the best. The best we could do for that year, the best destination for us at that point in time, the best. True, some were better than others. But even the rough ones have made for great storytelling. So maybe I’ll string a few of those less-than stellar ones together in a short list and leave it at that.

The year we rented a trailer, sight unseen, saw it coming toward us over the freeway overpass which went directly over our chosen trailer park and realized that FIVE of us would be cramped into 14 feet for a full week And one of us was 14-months-old and getting an ear infection. 

The year we pulled a rented tent trailer, not realizing our station wagon didn’t have a hearty enough transmission to get us there and back. 

The year we put camping gear on top of our car and never took it off because it rained every single day for 3000 miles of National Park trekking.

The time we crept to a motel from our soggy tent at 5:00 a.m., trenches and tarps having totally failed to keep the deluge at bay.

The time I backed our rented car into an unseen cement post below the van’s back window. Thank goodness we bought insurance that trip. 

Our 30th anniversary trip to Italy which was part fiasco and part triumph, involving a lost wedding diamond, and a couple of miraculous discoveries. (A story told at another website earlier this month.)

And, of course, no list of mine would be complete without this one. The two times early in our married life when we took a camping trip without the poles for our tent. True, it was two different tents on two different continents, but still. Twice?

Yes, twice.

 

Ribbons ‘n’ Roses — Reflections on Creative Arts as Ministry for The High Calling

This essay was written several months ago and shifted between editors at The High Calling. It’s posting today during a week of emphasis on visual and creative arts as ministry. Click here to read the entire piece. . .

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The sun would just be coming through the early morning clouds as I drove through the quiet, on my way to the Flower Mart in downtown Los Angeles. It was part of the ritual, the dance, of doing this work that I loved. I only did it part time and I only did it for seven years, but I loved it.

It began with our eldest daughter’s wedding. We were on a budget, I enjoyed working with flowers and I saw an opportunity inviting me to leap. So I jumped in with both feet. I applied for a resale number from the state of California, hired a friend to design a logo and business cards, and “Ribbons ‘n’ Roses” was born.

I worked with a good friend to produce beautiful floral décor for about two weddings or parties every month. I loved the creativity, the people, and the beauty of each arrangement, but I suppose my favorite part of all was that early morning drive to the Flower Mart, a place packed with rich delights and unholy confusion. Most of the mart is contained in one enormous, two-story warehouse with scores of individual flower vendors and one large supply center. Driving into the garage while it is nearly dark and then emerging into this brightly lit, bustling activity center is an exercise in delightful cognitive dissonance.

Carts and trucks are loaded, advice is given, cash is handed over, packages are wrapped—all of it infused with the sweet scent of flowers. With the car loaded and my bills paid, I would usually end the morning with breakfast at the adjacent Chinese diner. I would listen to conversations between buyers and sellers as they ate their char siu pork, rice, and eggs, absorbing as much information as I could.

I had no training, you see . . . 

Come on over the The High Calling to find out more . . .

Show Me the Way — Reflections on Retirement for The High Calling

I’m writing at one of my favorite places today — The High Calling, working this time with Sam Van Eman as part of a series on transitions. Join me there to read the whole essay — and engage in the conversation.

Painted in Waterlogue

For nearly 25 years, my life looked like this: raising three children, volunteering in church and community, editing school newsletters, teaching Bible studies, and hanging a whole lotta wallpaper (It was the 70s, remember wallpaper?). I think they called what I did then, ‘staying home;’ all I know is that it was the hardest and most rewarding work I’ve ever done.

In my early 40s, our family life began to shift. My kids were in college, with the eldest one married and the younger two getting closer to marriage every day. I attended a day-long retreat that offered interaction with career counselors, and began to dream about possibilities for the second half of life.

I thought about teaching. I began a small floral business in my garage. I talked to God, my husband, my children, and my friends.

And then there was this pastor/friend who gently suggested that I consider enrolling in the fine seminary just five miles down the hill from our home. That idea resonated deep inside me, and I began to ponder what it might mean.

About five years later, I began my life as a seminary student. There I experienced a direct call from God to pursue ordination and work as a member of a church staff. I graduated when I was 48, took an unpaid position for three years while I jumped through hoops for ordination, and then—at 52—began a 14-year commitment as Associate Pastor about 120 miles north of our home in the San Gabriel Valley. My husband and I made the move. He commuted to his own job until we both retired in 2010.

I’m not sure I can find words to describe how difficult it was to make that last transition. Retirement. I loved being a pastor. I had done hard work to become one, and I wasn’t sure what not being a pastor would look like in the community in which we now live. I had only ever been a pastor here; a member of the workforce. No one knew me as a family person, my former primary identity. Who would I be now?

So I did a lot of prayerful listening—listening to the Spirit’s words within me, listening to my family and my friends, to my co-workers, and to the deepest parts of myself . . .

Please click here to read the rest of this post . . .

 

What Remains – A Community Book Review

When I began regular blogging a little over three years ago, I discovered so much rich content out here in cyberspace. A favorite place to read good content quickly became The High Calling, an online magazine with a long list of contributing editors and writers, all of them writing about living an integrated life — a life of integrity — at home, at work, at leisure, in our culture. Then I went to a writing retreat they offered in September of 2011 and another one in 2012 and discovered that these people are for real, that they’re funny and smart and loving and sincere. So whenever I receive an invitation to write for them, I am honored and grateful. Today, I am writing the third in a series of four reflections (Laura Boggess, Jeanne Damoff and Seth Haines being the other three contributors) on the book, The Geography of Memory: a Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s, by poet and essayist, Jeanne Murray Walker. Here is an excerpt and a link:

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She is old now, and increasingly frail. Her hair is a beautiful shade of white and though her blue eyes are clouded a bit by near-blindness, they sparkle as much as they ever have. And her smile?

It lights up a room.

On a good day, I see that smile a lot. I see it when she stops to greet everyone she passes—people whose names she does not know or cannot remember, people who are suffering from the same kinds of confusion and cognitive loss that she is, people who live and work in her assisted living unit: guests, cleaning ladies, visiting musicians … Everybody gets a glimpse of that magical smile. And everyone who is on the receiving end moves away from that encounter flashing a great, big smile of their own. My mother is the most naturally extroverted, hospitable person I have ever known; even into her 90s, doing daily battle with dementia, those parts of her still shine into my life and the lives of everyone she meets.

I am so grateful for these pieces that remain as she and I walk this hard road together, this journey through the unraveling of her mind. And I am grateful for Jeanne Murray Walker’s stories about her own travels through this strange terrain in her compelling book, The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage through Alzheimer’s.

Please follow me over to The High Calling to read more and to join the interesting conversation happening in the comments. Click here.

 

The Sister I Never Had — The High Calling

 

Celebrating Anita’s Birthday in Choma, Zambia, 1966

About a week before Christmas last year, a wonderful thing happened to me: I was invited to contribute an essay to one of my favorite online magazines – The High Calling. The first idea I had contained the germ of what the essay eventually became. It proved to be an extremely difficult piece for me to write. It’s been 18 years, and the grief is still so strong. I would be honored if you’d follow this link to read the entire piece over at THC . . .

 

I never had a sister. But I had Anita, with whom I shared adventures, stories, dreams, fears, prayers. We logged a lot of life together and made a lot of memories.

She phoned me one day, eighteen years ago: “Are you sitting down, friend? I have stage 3 breast cancer.” We spent that weekend with our husbands, walking the beach, praying about what direction she should take for treatment. After choosing an expensive and controversial alternative course, she enjoyed 14 months of remission. We wrote notes across the miles between our homes almost every week during that time.

But one night in a darkened theater, we came to watch their son perform in a college play. I twisted around in my fold-down chair to see her, standing in the back of the auditorium the entire performance, her face lined with pain. Looking at her, haunted and frail in the dim light, I knew with every fiber of my being that she was dying. And, oh! She saw that I knew! Her eyes brimmed briefly with tears, we said goodnight and she never allowed me to contact her again. . .

Please follow me over to The High Calling to read the rest of this story. . . 

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