Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

In junior high, my daughter was given career aptitude tests. They declared she would make a great pharmacist, an idea that repelled her. She wanted to be a fashion designer, an artist, not someone who studied medicine for years and then worked behind a counter distributing pills.

At the Bible college where I teach, students are pushed to declare a major. They enroll as a Sports Ministry major or a Pastoral Studies major with an Intercultural Studies emphasis. Their career choices are interwoven with their Christian calling which adds even more pressure to the choice. Some students arrive their freshmen year with career goals oddly defined: I am called to work with orphans in Romania.

Really!? How do you know?

My own life’s ambitions have rolled out like a tattered carpet littered with failed dreams. I wanted to be a Bible translator in the 7th grade. Yes, I know it is an odd career choice in junior high. But, I admired a missionary woman who had come to speak at our Baptist church. She was a bit bookish (like me) and loved Jesus (like me), so I figured I could quietly follow in her leather, sandal-clad footsteps. Years later, after claiming my first “C” in a phonetics class, I realized that dream would probably never come to fruition.

I was focused on news journalism throughout college, until I landed a part-time job at a daily paper in Normal, Illinois. I was thrilled by the bustling newsroom and grumpy editors. I proudly took my place at the copyediting station, typed in headlines, and corrected poor comma usage. My heart beat quickly when I earned my first actual assignment and took the paper’s car down to Springfield. As I bounded up the state capitol steps toward my first press meeting, I felt like a real reporter.

Certainly, I had grown up.

But my dream spiraled downward from there. After a few months at the paper, I realized I would never be a dedicated journalist. Rather than thrilling me, the atmosphere of the newspaper office exhausted me. I found the minute by minute news spewing from the AP wire more than a bit depressing. Every few seconds I was reminded that houses were burning, kids were missing, and people died. The cyclical nature of news and the crazed dedication of those true journalists who loved to live at the office quickly sealed my fate. I would never be a journalist – and that was my major.

Since then, my career has taken an odd and unexpected path. I became a teacher reluctantly. I entered public relations because of an unexpected job opportunity. I started fundraising writing because I found I was good at it. I wrote a book – something I had secretly dreamed – but never thought would come true. All of these odd parts have come together in a way I never expected. I can only conclude it was God-ordained. I never would have imagined it and it certainly never appeared in a career-finder chart.

To my daughter and to all of those feeling the pressure of deciding what to be, I offer this bit of advice:

1)      Hold your plans loosely. Know that any dreams or ideas of what you will be or should be may very well change. Life has a way of interrupting or even rerouting those dreams. When I became a mother, I switched to full-time teaching. It fit that lifestyle, and I enjoyed it. Since then, my job has shifted again. And, I expect it will in the future. I know very, very few people who are today what they thought they would be in college or especially high school. It is fine to plan, but know that your dreams may shift, doors may close, plans may change. You may find that what you end up with is better than what you expected.

2)      Expect rough patches. After I graduated, I was floundering. I took a job without benefits. It was a new position, and I didn’t have a desk. I carried my stack of papers and belongings from vacant desk to vacant desk. I was living at home because I couldn’t afford rent. I was depressed. As I made endless copies and sealed hundreds of envelopes, I felt like all my work and ambition had gone down the toilet. That happens. It is part of life. Keep going. Trust that this is the long haul, not a short sprint. Hang in there and keep your eyes open for the next opportunity.

3)      Know what you love. Rather than deciding on a job, consider what you love to do, what you are good at. I wanted to love journalism, but I finally realized that I never really liked being on the staff of a paper. I liked the idea of being a reporter more than the actual job. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my time or lifestyle to achieve that dream. My inclination toward journalism was not completely wrong. I did love writing. I like interviewing and telling stories. I like interpersonal interaction with others. Look at what you are drawn to and let that influence your choices.

4)      Don’t be surprised when some of your dreams fail. Failing dreams does not make you a failure. It may mean that they were never the right dreams in the first place. Our big grand vision is what gets us off the couch and sends us on a journey. But, we can also expect that our ambitions may change as we grow and mature. Very few boys grow up to be a race car driver or fireman. Very few girls are now ballerinas or princesses. We don’t realistically expect those childhood dreams to come true. But, dreaming in itself is not bad. It is shaping our vision.

5)      Be realistic. Think practically about the lifestyle associated with the careers you are considering. If you want to be a journalist (as I did), but you aren’t willing to work long hours or move to a new city to pursue your dream, it might not be the best choice for you. Trying to shoehorn your personality into a job that doesn’t match it will be a painful learning experience.

6)      Keep striving. If you really want something, don’t give up. This is especially true for artistic careers. It is not easy to become a writer or a musician. It takes time. It takes years of doing jobs, sometimes unpaid or on the side, before you can actually spend quality time pursuing your true calling. Your career dream may not be lucrative. That’s okay. You will do it anyway.

I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that a career builder test would never have predicted my path. Only God knew, and I am thankful for His hand that guided me in ways I never expected.
For years, Psalm 32:8 was my favorite verses: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go, I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

God knows you better than anyone else. He has His loving eye on you. His ways are not our ways. His path is best. Trust in that. Move ahead. Do what you love. Enjoy each stage of your life without focusing on what you never achieved.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Sorting Stuff and Those Copper-Coated Baby Shoes

The blue storage tub that was pushed way to the back of our cement-floored "sump pump" crawl space. It is hard to get back there, and a bit musty, so I don't venture very often. But, we are trying to sort through our piles of stuff in preparation for a move. It is time to get serious...

We have been in our current home, in northwest Indiana, for almost 20 years. It is amazing how quickly that time has passed. As I tackle the monumental sort and salvage task, I am learning a great deal about my sentimental, pack rat tendencies.

In this particular bin, I discovered yet one more box of baby things. My "baby" is now 16 years old, almost 17. I found a little pair of shoes, a tiny red sweatshirt with "Door County" embroidered on it. A slightly stained t-shirt from our trip to Cape Cod when my daughter was only six months old. There is the padded Bible and her mini, board version of Good Night Moon. In the same box was a copper-clad pair of shoes turned bookends that belonged to my husband.

All choked up and sentimental by this unexpected trip down memory lane, I showed the slightly stained bib to my daughter. She wrinkled her nose. "Eeeewwww. Why didn't you throw that away?"

Honestly, I don't really know!

It is amazing how much stuff we can acquire without even trying. Was it only 20-something years ago that Milt and I, newly married, struggled to furnish the rooms of our new house? Today, we have boxes of things that we haven't looked at in years. We have more than 100 VHS tapes - some personal, many movies we love and haven't yet acquired on DVD. I have piles of cookbooks that are no longer as necessary, thanks to the Internet. We have at least 30, yes 30, gallon cans of semi-used-up paint in every color and shade. Pastel mint green, taupe, multiple shades of ivory, a horrible, vivid blue I'd rather forget.

So I sort, and sort, and sort some more.

I make rash, vengeful decisions. I grit my teeth and put those copper-shoe bookends into a plastic giveaway bag. Then, feeling a bit nostalgic and guilty, I snatch them back out again. Poor things, all neglected. What will the people in the thrift store think that some heartless mother donated her own child's baby shoes? No, they must go. Soon I find myself entering crazy zone with no ability to discern what should stay and what must go.

For those of you who are now worried, know that I am okay. I've come out of the other side. Deep breaths. Lots of sighs. Some photos snapped. The giveaway pile is growing. I realize that this is how those scary hoarders begin, so I've had a garage sale and called the donation center. 30 boxes and bags piled up to go in the garage.

Maybe I'll add the copper shoes to the mix.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Here is the Church: What My Children's Church Pastor Taught Me

When I was in grade school, a young couple, Rich and Cheri, were hired to pastor the youth at our little First Baptist Church. They were students at Chicago's Moody Bible Institute, and in exchange for housing, they served part-time at our church.

As a part of their job, they would hold a children's church service every Sunday morning in our slightly mildewed church basement. I don't remember if we were dismissed from the adult service entirely or were sent down just before the sermon, I do remember that we loved it.

The group of about 30 kids, kindergarten to 6th grade, would rush down the linoleum steps as quickly as we could to take our place in the rows of metal folding chairs. They were arranged like a mini-sanctuary with a wobbly wooden podium front and center, the upright piano pushed to the right. We were squirmy and energetic, a hum of nervous energy in ruffled bobby socks and clip-on neckties.

Cheri would get us started with the singing. We had plenty of audience participation songs "Stop! and let me tell you" was one of our favorites. Volunteers would hold up the cardboard STOP and GO signs as we sang along to the peppy tune. Sometimes I would try to accompany the group with my limited piano skills, stopping and starting as I hit the wrong notes.

As kids, we were encouraged to participate in all parts of the service. We sang solos, played piano or our new school instrument, and passed the offering plate. Rich would give us a mini-sermon. Cheri would help us memorize a Bible verse - wiping away words on a blackboard as we tried to remember the disappearing sentence. We would have "sword drills", struggling to find the location of Bible verses in our King James Bibles. If we won a contest, we would "fish" for prizes behind a blue sheet with an actual pole. They were imaginative and fun, but it was still in the style of church.

Our favorite part was at the end of the service when they revealed who had been sitting in the "quiet chair." They had selected one seat in the "audience"...if you had been in that seat AND had also been quiet and well-behaved, you received a beautifully-wrapped present. If not, well....I don't remember that part.

Rich and Cheri inspired us because they took us seriously and helped us learn to "do" church. They taught us that we were the church, we didn't just attend it. We were a part of it, included. They modeled Christ to me, even at a young age.

Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Rich on the phone. I am in my late 40s, and Rich and Cheri now have grown children and grandchildren. I work at a Bible college, the same college from where they graduated, and they were just about ready to head back to the mission field. They have served in the Philippines and now are teaching and leading the church in the Ukraine. Rich is teaching the local church about the role of missions. He said some of the pastors are learning about evangelizing outside of their home country for the first time. Cheri has hosted the first-ever women's conferences in the Ukraine, spreading over the borders into neighboring countries. Women are hungry for that encouragement and the fellowship of other Christian leaders.

They are serving God and returning to the Ukraine, even during a time of fighting and persecution. They realize that their task this year won't be easy.

As I listened to that same calm voice that had spoken of God and the church to me so many years ago, I was profoundly thankful. I am glad God sent Rich and Cheri into my life at such a young age. I am glad they took the time to invest in children who grew up to care about Jesus and taught me that the church is so much more than just a building. I am glad He has honored their lives of service and that they are still serving God so well today.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

They truly represent Church to me.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fannie Farmer and Victorian Cooking: A Book Giveaway!

I picked up this fabulous book, Fannie's Last Supper by Chris Kimball, and decided to host a book giveaway so you can love it too! If you are a foodie, a Downton Abbey fan, or just someone curious about what it was like to live in Victorian Boston, you are in for a treat (or, rather, a 12-course extravagant meal).

Chris Kimball is a chef and magazine editor and owner of a Victorian era home in Boston. After researching the Boston Cooking School and Fannie Farmer, he decided to undertake the creation of a meal that perfectly replicated the common foods, cooking methods and style of turn-of-the-century urban America.

He had help, of course, but cooked a beautiful meal on a wood-burning iron stove in a steaming hot kitchen - so hot that the chef's pants melted onto her legs. I thought this entire book was fascinating - and (for the truly adventurous) it includes recipes.

They made a mock turtle soup which involved making stock from a calf's head. Calf's hooves were boiled to create gelatin (a bit disgusting) but the product is gorgeous.

Apparently formal Victorian meals involved as many as 12 courses served in two hours or less. As many as 131 pieces of silverware were used for each person for each meal. The silver covered dishes we see in formal settings were useful as Victorian diners did not want any smells coming from the kitchen. Because of this, the kitchen was set far back from the dining room and food needed to be carried down long drafty hallways...thus the covered dishes.

You will enjoy his careful research and the trials and tribulations of recreating the past. They filmed this as a television special. Also interesting is the study of Fannie Farmer herself, who was a rather practical version of Julia Child - a woman who knew how to cook, teach, and market herself.

As a faithful watcher of Downton Abbey, I found this book often making me think about those formal dinners at Downton. I know you will love it.

To enter to win - just leave a comment! I will choose one person and send you the book!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can You Wear a Pompadour to Church? Review of Adventures in Churchland

I can't believe I missed this book when it was first published! Adventures in Churchland tells the story of rockabilly drummer Dan Kimball and his search for Jesus through the harrowing world of the evangelical church.

They were not prepared for him with his Doc Martens (and flashy yellow stitching) or his slicked back, 50s-pompadour style hair. He was even less prepared for evangelical worship songs that sound like Celine Dion and Christmas pageants where men wore bed sheets as costumes.

I found myself chuckling and nodding out loud - and wincing more than once - as I read his account of an "outsider" approaching the church with honest questions.

Dan has it right. It's not about what we think church "should" look like. It's about Jesus.

He finds his way in through an 83-year-old man in London who gives him a cup of Ovaltine and invites him to meet the real Jesus.

This is a book about Jesus and church and finding your way home. It is a book about the need to shed our preconceptions of what church is and what church-goers should look like. It is a book that speaks truth in a way that is easy to hear.

As someone who was raised in the church and loves the rockabilly scene, I adored this book. I want all my friends, believers or not, to read it. The foreword is written by rockabilly legend Wanda Jackson. There is a chapter about the faith story of Johnny Cash.

It challenges those of us inside, those dyed-in-the-wool churchgoers, to step outside of our comfort zone and make sure that not all of their friends are Christians. We are too isolated. We lack relevance. We need to be in the world, but not of it. Amen!

If you haven't read it, please do so.