Tag Archives: Discernment

By Waiting and By Calm

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I generally like to think that I’m a patient person. Lately, however, all of this waiting is really trying my patience!  Throughout this period of transition, there has always been something to keep me busy – writing assignments, part-time work, Spanish classes, job searches, preparing reflections for my prayer group, networking dates, trying new recipes, hanging out with friends. One of the keys to staying hopeful is simply having something to look forward to each day!

Last week, for the first time in almost 10 months, I finally hit that moment where I just wanted to bang my head against the wall and shake my fist in exasperation.  I am so done with the waiting game!

The most recent round of waiting has gone something like this:

I found this amazing job posting!  I spent the weekend polishing my cover letter … I applied for the job … I had two really great phone conversations … Wait … First interview … Wait … Wait … Second interview! … Wait … We’d like to check your references!! … Wait … Waiting some more … Still waiting … (ugh).

I’ve been assured that this is normal, and coming from the business world, I really appreciate their thoroughness!  The time line has also been interrupted by Holy Week schedules and Spring Break holidays.  (I appreciate that, too.)  Luckily, each step along the way has been met with positive feedback and hopeful signs.  But by now, I feel like a five year old waiting for Christmas, especially since I can see the presents sitting right there under the tree in front of me!

I have to admit though, this most recent round of waiting feels different than the waiting I was doing … say, six months ago.  Perhaps I’m more prone to growing impatient now, because there is a very clear end in sight.

It is much more difficult to wait for something ambiguous and unknown.  Spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, reminds us that waiting is an active, not passive, activity.  Part of the spiritual discipline is to remember that something is happening in the stillness.  Nouwen writes:

People who wait have received a promise that allows them to wait. They have received something that is at work in them, like a seed that has started to grow. This is very important.  We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun in us. So waiting is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more.

From time to time, I pull out my bucket list.  I’ve also gone back to that wishful thinking exercise that I used with our students, “If you could take a semester off, how would you spend your time?” This weekend, I think I’ll embark on my list of Cheap Things To Do In Chicago.  I keep telling myself that there is still time – to spend a day at the museum, to dive into a home improvement project, to go for a long walk along the lake.  Time is a gift, so how can I use it well?

Assuming this job offer comes through, my life is about to get extremely busy!  I keep reminding myself that a year from now, I’m going to wish that I had a little more down time, a little more flexibility, a few more lackadaisical spring days with nothing pressing on my calendar.

Psalm90-4

 

During Lent and Easter, I’ve been reading Tim Muldoon’s book “The Ignatian Workout for Lent” which offers 40 short spiritual reflections based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  On the Monday after Easter (when this misery of waiting brought me to a halt), I read this reflection based on the post-resurrection narrative of Jesus and Peter at the seashore.

The disciples knew Jesus had risen, but they had no idea what this meant!  They had gone back to Galilee and returned to what they knew – fishing.  In hindsight, we see these Easter days as a time of great celebration.  But the disciples were still confused and waiting for Jesus to offer some kind of guidance.  This particular reflection could not have come at a better time for me.  Muldoon writes,

“There will be time for the work of the kingdom; for now, it is enough simply to break bread with Jesus and eat fish with him.  Life after Resurrection is not a relentless cycle of actions to change the world; it involves patient waiting for the Lord.  Most important is not endless activity but willingness to wait for the Lord and simply be with him.  We may be active, but our action will not bear fruit unless the Lord directs it.  Wait for him.” (Muldoon, 152)

As I was putting together these thoughts this morning, I did a quick search of my own writing files.  I found a note, scribbled in the sidebar of a talk I gave nearly ten years ago, when I was making the shift from the corporate world into graduate school.  Given the timing of client visits and other transitions, I had given my notice in April, while I wasn’t starting graduate school until August.  That was a lot of time!

I wrote:  “This period of waiting meant I had time to make peace with my new reality.  It gave me time to make amends with difficult people and situations; time to grieve all that could have been and projects that would be left incomplete; time to create closure on that chapter in my life and truly begin to discern my next career move.”

It’s funny how similar and appropriate those remarks are to my current transition.  These 10-months in between full-time jobs has given me the time and space to grieve and to say farewell to people who were important to me.  It’s also given me a tremendous amount of space to creatively imagine what the future holds and to discern God’s will in the midst of it all.

Again, Henri Nouwen speaks of the creativity of waiting:

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

I’ve been given every assurance that good news is coming soon.

Thanks for waiting with me.

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Callings Are Vocational and Locational

kids-vocation

I have a job interview tomorrow.  I could certainly use all of your prayers and positive thoughts!  You can scroll to the bottom for a career update, or keep reading for some additional reflections.

One of my first networking dates last summer was with my friend Andy.  We ran into each other at a mutual friend’s ordination, and we agreed to meet sometime after graduation.  Of course, neither of us knew that the week after graduation would find me searching for a new job!

It was quite fortuitous though, as Andy had recently made a significant and successful career transition.  On top of that, Andy is a compassionate listener, we share interests in both business and ministry, and he was full of great advice.

Andy’s best advice that evening was this: “Callings are vocational and locational.”

I’ve thought about this many times as I discern what’s next, especially when well-meaning friends send me job postings that would require me to relocate half way across the country!  I’ve received job postings from New York to Detroit to Southern California.  I am so grateful to everyone for thinking of me!

The reality though is that I have no desire to leave Chicago.  I’ve lived here for almost 20 years.  All of my closest friends are here, my church community(ies) are here, and I have a strong professional network in this area.  If I’m going to work regionally or nationally, Chicago is a great place to be located.  God continues to do amazing work through my life and relationships in this place.  It would take a pretty incredible opportunity for me to leave.

So, Andy’s little truism has been a great source of reflection as I’ve considered each opportunity that has crossed my path.

Callings are Vocational
The word vocation comes from the Latin ‘vocare’ to call – God calls upon our gifts, our skills, our passions.  God knows our life experience and our personalities.  God taps into our deepest desires, those things which bring us great joy and are life-giving to others.

My year at Amate House – teaching math at an all-girls’ high school in Chicago – was a vocational call.  It answered my passion for service, my propensity for numbers, my knack for teaching, and my desire to make a difference in the lives of young women through education.

It also took place in a very specific location, and East Humboldt Park looks very different today than it did 20 summers ago!

Callings are Locational
Similarly, God invites us to use our gifts in a particular place, with a particular group of people, and within certain geographical boundaries.  In other words, God is not random.  God uses us where we are.

Each year when I travel with students to Nicaragua, we have dinner with Fabretto’s president Kevin Marinacci.  Kevin spent a year in Nicaragua immediately following college.  One year turned into two, then two into three, and the rest is history!  Kevin has given his life to the people of Nicaragua for over 25 years.  And yet Kevin is the first one to tell our students, “You can serve anywhere!”  Whether it is Nicaragua or South Africa or the south side of Chicago.  The location is not nearly as important as responding to the call.  There will always be people in need, God simply asks us to respond wherever we are.

As I consider whether my next move is a vocational or locational call, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the things that give me life and spark renewed energy in me.  What about my vocation and location have always been true?  What “more” can I do for God either by staying here or risking something new?  Freedom is essential – an openness to God’s invitation and the willingness to discern without placing limits on God.

Here are some of the many things that have caught my attention:

I have a pilgrim’s heart and missionary feet.  Chicago has always been “mission territory” ever since I came here 20 years ago.   And yet, I now own a home in the city, my friends are here, I’ve put down roots.  In the midst of the job search, a colleague commented, “Beth, people around the Archdiocese know you.”  Chicago is clearly a locational call.

Meanwhile, another professional acquaintance asked, “Have you thought about being a missionary?”  I presume he meant becoming a missionary and moving to another country.  I replied, “I should really pay attention to this.”  On the one hand, I hear myself saying, “I could never leave Chicago.”  And the next day, I find myself searching online for language immersion programs in Central America.  Perhaps there is another locational calling that awaits.

I remember a conversation I had with a favorite Scripture professor, Barbara Bowe, who encouraged me to heed Jesus’ words, “Put out into deep waters!” (Luke 5:4)  It was her way of saying, “Don’t be afraid to go far, let yourself be stretched, and keep learning!”  My wonderful mentor Fr. Ken Simpson often reflects on that great line from the sending of the disciples “Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way.” (Luke 10:4)  Fr. Ken’s advice was always, “Travel light so you can travel far.”  This is true for geographical travel, as well as following our life’s call.

Last fall, I interviewed for a position at a local parish.  It was both vocational (using my gifts) and locational (in a specific place), but for many reasons, it was not the right opportunity at the right time.  It would have been a safe and easy assignment at a time when I knew God was calling me to something more.  It was one of those very early moments of saying “no” in order to say a deeper “yes”.

Finally, one of my favorite prayer poems is Mario Benedetti’s “Te Quiero” – a love letter of sorts to those who commit their lives to serving God and God’s people.  I am often moved to tears by this stanza:

and for your open face
and your wanderer’s footstep
and your weeping for the world
because you are of the people I love you

I have an interview tomorrow.

It is an incredible job opportunity and a great career move!  I would be working for a Catholic organization for whom I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration.  It would allow me to stay based in Chicago while making an impact on a much wider scale, and it aligns perfectly with my desire to live in greater solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe.

Furthermore, it feels like a calling – an invitation to become more authentically who I am.  It is both a vocational and a locational call.  I’m pretty sure this is where God is inviting me next.  Please pray for the clarity to hear the call and the courage to say yes.

I am so grateful for your prayers of support and presence on the journey!

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Saying No In Order to Say A Deeper Yes

girl-playing-snowBack in the Fall, a friend of mine ventured this guess, “I bet anything that come February, you’re going to have four job offers, and you’ll have to decide which ones to decline!”

While I was flattered by her words of encouragement, I was also feeling quite lost in the wide open ocean of unemployment.  I was reluctant to believe the truth of what she knew from her own experience.  I was swimming around all sorts of interesting opportunities, but I had no real sense of direction.  While she had the clarity and foresight to know that good things were indeed on the horizon!

Fast forward a few months.  It is a new year with new writing projects on my plate.  I’m taking Spanish classes, while still routinely searching for jobs and coordinating networking dates.  In the past month, I have withdrawn from two potential job opportunities, eliminated a third option, and I’m continuing to pursue an exciting fourth.  My discernment radar is running overtime these days trying to read the “signs” of what’s ahead!

I’m learning a lot from allowing certain doors to close, and I’m trusting that each “no” is paving the path to a deeper and more profound “yes”.  Here are 4 things I’ve learned:

1. The Heart of the Matter
I really enjoyed this segment from the “On Being” blog by Courtney Martin. She uses the image of pruning and describes of spiritual art of saying “no” as essential to our very survival.

“You say no so you can say yes. It’s sad in the way that all limitations are, but also liberating. You are human and finite and precious and fumbling. This is your one chance to spend your gifts, your attention, most importantly your love, on the things that matter most.”

Every “no” along the way has helped me clarify what my heart truly desires.  I see it most prominently in my writing – in each request for an informational interview, every cover letter, all the points on my resume, and even when I have to explain why I am not pursuing a particular lead.

For so long, all I could see were the pieces on the cutting room floor.  I had no clear sense of where I was headed, but I knew for certain what I did NOT want to do.  Finally, like a sculptor, I’m beginning to see a clearer picture of what my future is becoming.  And much of that clarity has come from clearing away what no longer fits, letting go of what no longer belongs, and chipping away to the core of who I am – who I have always been.

All four opportunities – each one a distinct role within different organizations – fuel my passion for service and social justice, feed my desire to do meaningful work, combine my background in business and ministry, and open great possibilities for making an impact in the Church and in our world.

As it says in that beautiful prayer often attributed to Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. It enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”

2. No to Fear = Yes to True Spiritual Freedom
One of my favorite discernment exercises is a simple pro/con list, usually scribbled on the back of a recycled envelope, and later elaborated in my journal.  Not long ago, a friend connected me to a job that initially looked so good on paper!  However, there were red flags during the informational interview; and as I made my pro/con list, things became very clear.

When it comes to listing pros and cons, it’s not about “tipping the scale” in one direction or another.  Rather, this exercise is really about paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit within.  My list revealed a lot about where I am free to respond to God’s call and where I am stuck in fear.

One of the items on my pro-list was, “I am certain I can do this job really well!”  I laughed!  One would hope that I would apply for a job that puts my skills to good use, right?!  So, what’s really behind that comment?

As I pondered my own pro-list entries about “being able to do the job”, I recognized my own fears.  I don’t like asking for help.  I hate not knowing the answer.  I seriously dislike the awkwardness of the learning curve and those first few months of “being a beginner” that comes with any new job.   While being good at one’s job is important, I quickly realized my own need to address that “fear of failure”.

Directly across, over on the con-list side, I wrote, “No clear opportunities for growth or advancement; pretty sure I would be bored after a year.”  I knew immediately that God was calling me to something “more”.

The pro-list gave me a lot of fruit for prayer and discernment.  As for a new job, the con-items were much more compelling.  It did not take me long to realize that this was going to be a great opportunity … for someone else.

3. The Temptation to Do … Anything!  
There is a part of me that is really itching to get back into full-time employment.  To be honest, as much as I love the flexibility of being at home, I’m ready to go back to work.  In between the job search and freelance writing, I have been very lucky to see my family and spend uninterrupted time with friends.

But over the past month, I’ve caught myself in the temptation to “do anything” even if it’s not related to my career goals.  Recently, I was very tempted to say “yes” to a company that would have given me a short-lived ego boost, just to see their logo next to my name on my Linked In account!

Pride is a subtle thing.  Pride gets the best of us when our self-worth is defined by our work, by a job title, how much money we make, by the status of people who surround us, and by measuring how much we can accomplish in any given day or week.  A healthy sense of pride is not a bad thing!  One of my friends is fond of saying, “It takes a certain amount of ego-strength just to get out of bed in the morning!”  We begin to slip into unhealthy, even sinful pride when we place our own needs and egos above everything else.

One of the most fundamental definitions of vocation comes from Fred Beuchner.  “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hungers meet.”  Our vocation in life rests at the intersection of our deepest desire and the world’s greatest needs.

I’ve spent plenty of time reflecting on my skills, passions, and strengths.  As the “heart of the matter” has become clear, I find myself paying more attention to the world’s deepest needs, hurts, and hungers. Where is the world in need of my gifts?  I’m ready to give my heart full-time to meaningful work again, but it also means waiting for the right place and position to open up!

4. Who Do I Want to Become?  
I have a very wise mentor who often asks provocative questions for which I do not have all the answers.  Recently, she asked me, “Who do you want to be at 55?  What do you want to be known for when you retire?”  This was not a frivolous exercise of dreaming big.  Rather, it was her lead in to say, “This next job needs to be the first step towards who you want to become.”

I thought about her advice when I said “no” to an entry level role that would have been perfect for me ten years ago.  Similarly, I’ve declined roles that might be ideal in the future when I want to slow down and think about retirement.

Sometimes we approach discernment as if all these potential opportunities and decisions exist someplace far off in the distance, beyond our reach.  There is great value in “death bed” discernment, which considers the question, “How do I want to be remembered when my life is complete?”

But discernment also invites us to recognize the things that are unfolding before our very eyes.  Lately, I’ve been pondering, “How am I responding to the ways God is already at work in my life?”  Or as Tim Muldoon says in his introduction to his on-line Lenten retreat, “I invite you to reflect on the work God is doing in you and for the world through you.”

My discernment has been a tenuous balance between what is unfolding here and now, and how that relates to who I might become 15, 20, 25 years from now.  We need to do both!

I don’t know that either my friend or I could have predicted that I’d have four great opportunities arise all during the month of February!  But as the month comes to a close tonight, I’m excited to report that there are some pretty exciting things unfolding for me!

As I wait for new information to be revealed, I trust that all of these moments of saying “no” were in fact a clear and faith-filled “yes” to something better that is yet to come!

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Being In Transition … An Update

Starved Rock 2005I sometimes get the sense that people are afraid to ask how the job search is going.  It’s not that they aren’t curious or concerned.  Perhaps they think I’d rather talk about other things.  Recently, a friend who I hadn’t seen in quite some time said, “I bet you’re getting tired of this question….”  I’m always glad when people ask.

Up until a few weeks ago, I had a steady part-time freelance writing assignment.  I enjoy the work, and I especially appreciate the flexibility of working from home while looking for full-time employment.  A few weeks ago, I learned that the next phase of the project had been delayed and won’t pick up again until mid-October.  This has given me a lot of extra time to concentrate on my job search – too much time almost!

When I first learned that the writing project was delayed, my heart sank to the floor.  It was the first time during this transition that I experienced that momentary sense of dread.  It finally hit me that I am unemployed.  This new reality of “not working” nearly knocked the wind out of me.

Being laid-off from a job you love is enough to send even the most healthy and emotionally stable person into a temporary identity crisis.  Who am I?!  And who am I without those daily tasks and workplace relationships?  I never thought that I was a person who placed my entire self-worth in my job, but I could feel my confidence quickly slipping.

For those who might find it helpful, here are three things that keep me grounded:

1. Shortly after I was laid off, a dear friend said to me, “Beth, it really doesn’t matter what you do for a living. No one cares if you’re the janitor or the CEO.  We love you because you’re YOU.  Your life already has meaning, value, purpose.  You don’t need a fancy job title to prove your worth to us.”

I come back to this reflection often … especially on those days when the emotional roller coaster threatens to hurl me downhill.  I know that my life has meaning and purpose, and good things await me in the future.  This season of being in between jobs is part of my story, but it does not need to define who I am.  Frequent coffee dates, networking lunches, and play dates with my god-daughter help remind me of this as well.

2. I have a routine and a to-do list. I still set the alarm clock and get up at a reasonable time each day.  I spend time in prayer, and I try to get to the gym most days.  I make myself a to-do list, even if it includes simple things like “take out the garbage”.  I’m learning that finding a job is a job unto itself, and that I will wear myself out doing it 24×7.  I try to keep my internet searches strategic and limited.  Too much time on Monster quickly turns into a mindless obsession and leads to endless worry!  Life is about balance, and I’m learning to balance my career discernment along with everything else.

3. Finally, I learned a valuable lesson several years ago. “You have the right to tell your own story.”  (How I learned this lesson is a tale for another time!)  Each of us has the ability to speak the truth about our lives.  Words have meaning, and words are important.  Sometimes, we have to learn to tell the story differently.

Simple questions like, “what do you do?” or “where do you work?” were quite complicated at first.  I had no desire to jump into the pity party pool of “I got laid off, and let me tell you…”  So recently, I’ve been practicing a new story line – one that is both hopeful and true.  If our faith teaches us anything, it is a story of HOPE.  My story goes like this:

I’m a writer, and I work from home.  I had a long career in campus ministry and before that I worked in corporate consulting.  I’m in transition and looking for full-time work.  I’m hoping to find a mission-based organization where I can put my project management skills to good use (ideally Catholic, but I’m open to other non-profits too).  In the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of networking and using the extra time to brush up on my Spanish.

I can say this, because I know my life has meaning and purpose and value – and because for right now, it’s true.  Feel free to ask me how it’s going.

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Of Spiritual Writers and Poets

booksWhen I packed up my office, I brought home NINE boxes of books!  Well, to be honest, some of those boxes contains file folders, photographs, and my cross collection.  But most of them are books!  There are plenty of things keeping me busy these days, but I try to spend a little bit of time each day reading, and I have a plethora of books from which to choose!

I always start the day with scripture – usually in the form of the daily mass readings or sitting with the psalms from the liturgy of the hours.  I especially enjoy Pamela Greenberg’s translation of the psalms and keep of copy of her book The Complete Psalms close by.

My coffee table is cluttered with books about discernment including the classic Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, a well-worn copy of When The Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd, and a copy of Henri Nouwen’s posthumously and recently published Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

I’ve started a running list of definitions for ‘vocation’ and ‘discernment’.  These three are scrolled into my journal, and I refer to them often:

  • The purpose of discernment is to know God’s will, that is, to find, accept, and affirm the unique way in which God’s love is manifest in our life. To know God’s will is to actively claim an intimate relationship with God, in the context of which we discover our deepest vocation and the desire to live that vocation to the fullest.  It has nothing to do with passive submission to an external divine power that imposes itself on us. It has everything to do with active waiting on a God who waits for us.  – Henri Nouwen, Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life.  
  • The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it.  So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs done, but to become aware of what God is doing so I can respond to it and participate and take delight in it.  – Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor (as quoted in When the Heart Waits).  
  • What makes our daily life a vocation is our willingness to use it as a way of praising God, regardless of how mundane or boring it may currently seem to us.  … Pray to the Holy Spirit, in order that you might more fully listen to and do the will of God in your life.  Pray for wisdom to know God’s will, courage to do God’s will, and hope to love God’s will.  – Tim Muldoon, The Ignatian Workout

Given the unexpected nature of my departure, there are several other books that have proven helpful not only for people in transition, but also during times of abrupt change.  Several years ago, I discovered Robert Wicks’ book Riding the Dragon: 10 Lessons for Inner Strength in Challenging Times.  He offers this parable for those seeking a new perspective:

[This] … is an unasked for and unusual opportunity to be graced with radically new ways to relate to ourselves, others, even to life itself.  There is a Persian proverb that sums it up well: “If life throws a knife at you, you can catch it by the blade or by the handle.”  The question is will we recognize and take this opportunity, or will we only focus on the suffering and miss the opportunities for radical inner change that this spiritual experience offers?

Another great book is The Other Side of Chaos: Breaking Through When Life is Breaking Down by Margaret Silf.  I devoured this book in less than a day!  It includes short chapters with titles like “God Bless This Mess”, “Can Bad News Be Good News?”, and “Will You Save Your Life or Spend It?”  I’ve enjoyed Margaret Silf’s writing for many years.  She is a witty story teller who quickly cuts to the heart of the matter while extending deep insights to her readers.

Finally, in my work with college students, Transitions and Seasons were common themes – from  retreats, to spiritual direction, to graduation, and when saying good-bye at the end of the school year.  I amassed a myriad of poems and prayers for times of transition that I promise to share from time to time.  One of my favorites “The Annunciation” by Denise Levertov prompted me to check out her collection of poetry from the local library.  In it, I discovered several new favorites.  In closing, I will share just one that seems to capture this journey on which I find myself:

A Traveler
by Denise Levertov

If it’s chariots or sandals,
I’ll take sandals.
I like the high prow of the chariot,
the daredevil speed, the wind
a quick tune you can’t
quite catch
but I want to go
a long way
and I want to follow
paths where wheels deadlock.
And I don’t want always
to be among gear and horses,
blood, foam, dust.  I’d like
to wean myself from their strange allure.
I’ll chance
the pilgrim sandals.

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Some Definite Service

John_Henry_NewmanI am still clearing out emails.  I have to admit, back in June, the task of responding to email was too overwhelming for me.  After ten years on campus, there were countless relationships with colleagues, alumni, students, and community members – many of whom I intend to stay connected with in one form or another.  My heart is filled with gratitude for all that we were able to do together, but hitting “reply” one last time from my .edu address was a painful reminder of the finality of my work there.  Be assured that I still have the best intentions of replying to everyone who wrote with a thank you or words of encouragement or job leads or offers to review my resume! 

This week, as I was shuffling through a few more notes, I came across an email from a student.  She is a graduate student at another major mid-west university.  Her parents live in the Evanston area, so although she was not a Northwestern student, she would occasionally make her way to the Sheil Center during breaks from school.

We would spend a few minutes talking before/after mass, and one time she even sat in on a class I was teaching.  I often found myself offering a genuine “welcome home” whenever she wandered in during those times when her school was on break but Northwestern was still in session.  

When she saw the message about my position being eliminated, she sent an email to let me know that the Newman Center at her university had an opening.  She ended her email with this P.S. …

Much prayers and blessings and hopes for the road ahead.  I look forward to seeing where life takes you!   By the way, I thought you might like to know that (to my utter surprise) I’ll probably be taking theology/scripture courses for the first time this school year in (hopeful) preparation for a graduate certificate in Spirituality after my PhD. Thanks for being part of what got me started down this weird and wonderful winding path – our brief interactions in Sheil made a deeper impression than you know!   

Wow!  Ministry is a humbling profession.  We never really know the depth of our impact.  Endeavors that were significant to me sometimes went unnoticed.  On the other hand, I am amazed when students remember the smallest favors or words exchanged in quick succession.  I’ve heard students repeat lines from my classes, retreat talks, and late night conversations – even many years later.  Little do we know the impact we have or the reason why God has situated us in a particular place at a particular time. 

Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prayer “Some Definite Service” provides some wonderful reflection during times of discernment.  He reminds us that God indeed has a plan for our life.  And there is something in particular that God desires for us, although we may never see the fruits of it in this lifetime.  We are able to serve God in every time and season of life.  God uses every part of us to accomplish his divine work.

Some Definite Service

Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman

God knows me and calls me by my name.…

God has created me to do Him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me
     which He has not committed to another.
I have my mission—I never may know it in this life,
     but I shall be told it in the next.

Somehow I am necessary for His purposes…
     I have a part in this great work;
I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection
     between persons.
He has not created me for naught. I shall do good,
     I shall do His work;
I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth
     in my own place, while not intending it,
     if I do but keep His commandments
     and serve Him in my calling.

Therefore I will trust Him.
     Whatever, wherever I am,
     I can never be thrown away.
If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him;
In perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him;
If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.
My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be
     necessary causes of some great end,
     which is quite beyond us.
He does nothing in vain; He may prolong my life,
     He may shorten it;
     He knows what He is about.
     He may take away my friends,
     He may throw me among strangers,
     He may make me feel desolate,
     make my spirits sink, hide the future from me—
     still He knows what He is about.…
Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see—
     I ask not to know—I ask simply to be used.

from Meditations and Devotions,
“Meditations on Christian Doctrine,”
“Hope in God—Creator”, March 7, 1848

I am grateful for these reminders today.  I am especially grateful for the many people who have written to tell me how they see the impact my work has had on their life.  It helps me to name my gifts, my strengths, my priorities, and my successes as I enter further into the job search.  And it also provides a tremendous amount of hope that God is using my life for his purpose (in ways that are paid and unpaid, career related and personally fulfilling) even if I don’t see the end result quite yet.

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Without Volatility There Is No Opportunity

There was a brief moment of panic over the weekend that sent me scrambling for my journal and a pen.  I quickly scribbled a long email and sent it off to four good friends, then fell asleep midway through a pro/con list for a potential job lead.  One of the women in my circle soon responded with this psalm prayer:

Our soul waits for the Lord who is our help and our shield, for in him our hearts rejoice; in his holy name we trust. (Psalm 33:20-21)

love-happyI breathed a sigh of relief; it was a good reminder that I don’t need to have all the answers today!  I’ve been out of work for two full months now.  Most of that time has been spent traveling – including a long-awaited 3-week vacation in Europe, plus an additional week with my family here in the States.  I’ve spent plenty of time catching up with friends and overall just enjoying the summer.

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, it is time to get serious about the job search.  I have a handful of informational interviews set, and I had my first official meeting with my Career Coach today.  My weekend email exchange reminded me that writing is good medicine for discernment and for processing the flood of emotions that come with being unemployed.

I am so accustomed to walking with our college students through their big life decision that it now feels strange to be on the other side of the discernment conversation.  There is so much that I am learning, re-learning, and being reminded of.  I hope these reflections are helpful, as I chronical the highs-and-lows of trying to understand and uncover God’s plan for my life.

One sure guarantee though- insights will come from the most unexpected places!

While on vacation, my brother and I were talking about “risk”.  My brother is a commodities trader; he knows all about taking risks!  It’s how you get ahead in the stock market; you have to be willing to take a risk when everyone else is holding tight.  This is especially true when the market is unstable.  No one wants to take a loss, so they hold steady.  But, as my brother reminded me, those who take risks during times of vulnerability are the ones who are most apt to see the greatest gains.  Without volatility, there is no opportunity.

“Well, there’s a new motto to live by!” I replied.  “Without volatility, there is no opportunity.”

While it is certainly true for those who venture in the stock market, it also rings true for the adventures of the spiritual life.  Everyday life is full of fluctuation and change.  But in those moments of real vulnerability (cancer diagnosis, a job loss, an untimely death, etc.), our tendency is to hold tight to what we already know.  And yet, these are the moments of greatest learning, the moments that hold the greatest potential for encounter with God.

This lesson was at the heart of my anxiety this weekend, as I discerned whether to venture further into a safe and easy new job opportunity; or whether to wait and risk something yet unknown.

Thanks for walking with me as I risk new adventures and wait upon the Lord.

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