Sunday, August 28, 2011


Pink Sherbet Photography /Flickr Creative Commons

While the east coast was waiting for the wrath of Hurricane Irene, I was driving a young friend to college for her freshman year, then racing back to deliver her mom and friend to Philly before returning to my own home just ahead of the winds and heavy rain. Traffic was wonderfully light since so many good citizens were heading warnings and staying home.

Driving through the rain, I was reminded of our last real hurricane here in Pennsylvania: Hurricane Floyd, September 16, 1999. I had just started my youth ministry job, and drove through the rain to meet a volunteer leader on a nearby campus. As it turned out, she was wiser than me, stayed in from the storm, and since neither of had cell phones, I wandered in the rain a bit, then drove back through the flooded streets to find my kids had been let out of school early and were wondering where I’d gone.

While it’s hurricane season once again, that earlier season of my life is over: the season of youth ministry, volunteer leaders, kids coming home from school wondering where I am. I’m in a new season: no longer summer, not quite fall. It’s an undefined season, one that leaves me space to drive friends to college, or give time to causes I had no time to think about in other seasons of my life.

Looking back, I’m struck by how immediate each season seems, and how encompassing. I didn’t think much about time as a kid, but I remember during high school, and college, when people would say “These are the best years of your life,” I’d wonder. It didn’t seem that way. Those years seemed hard, long, inescapable. Sixteen seemed forever. The challenges of seventeen went on, and on, and on.

When people ask me my favorite season of the year, I can never really answer. I love spring: migrating birds, wildflowers blooming. I could swim all summer, soaking in the warmth of the sun, savoring cherries, melons, tree-ripened peaches. Fall brings more birds traveling through, apples, amazing foliage, those perfect crisp cool days. Winter is hardest, but it has its own beauty, its own fun, its own challenge, adventure, rewards.

Looking across the seasons of my life, I’d say the same is true: every season has had its own beauty, pain, challenge, opportunity, reward. Some people say “Oh, I loved being a young mom. I’d love to go back to that.” Really? I found it very hard: endless days, sleepless nights, repetitious tasks, mind-numbing isolation. Our culture gives little support to young families; little prepares us for the role of young mother. Yet there was a sweetness I’ll treasure forever: warm little bodies cuddled up safe, fuzzy heads against my cheek.  Amazing toothless smiles. First laughs, first hugs, first words, first steps.

My life in academia was another season: college, grad school, years as an adjunct professor. The challenge of leading a good class discussion. The fun of seeing ideas ping around a room. Books to read, lessons to prepare, stacks of papers to grade stealing my weekend hours.

I’ve noticed that whatever season I’m in, I’m tempted to judge my life, and myself, against other seasons. As a grad student, living in the city, I was part of a neighborhood garden, volunteered as part of a food coop, started and led a youth group in my church, helped launch an annual block party that persists thirty years later. As a young mom, living in the suburbs, I did none of those things. I watched small children, hung out on the playground, talked to other moms. I judged my life: boring! Judged myself: inconsequential, self-absorbed.

In the middle of those young mom years, I was contacted by the editor of my college alumni magazine. She was preparing an issue that would explore the challenges of women caught between career and family, and wondered if I’d write a short article about what I was doing, how I was experiencing my calling. I was tempted to say “No.” I wasn’t doing anything. I wasn’t called to anything. But as I thought and prayed, I saw something new: I was called to be a neighborhood mom.

Instead of an article, I wrote a letter, which was printed in its entirety, under the painful heading “Is My Ph.D. Being Wasted?” I described the years I had spent in school, the Ph.D. from an Ivy league school, the difficult decision to stay home with my kids:

“I’ve been thinking quite a bit about calling lately, and about how people drift into decisions without looking at the consequences of their choices. Some women may be called to work full-time all their lives; others may never work full-time. The important question is, what is God calling you to do? Or me to do? It’s taken me a long time to understand that being a neighborhood mom may be a calling, that being available to my own children and to the children around me may be as much a ministry as going overseas as a missionary.”

In some seasons the task is obvious, the rewards clear. Well-defined jobs are great: they provide a clear answer to that quintessential American question: “What do you do?” And a regular paycheck is a comforting reminder of our economic value.

But there are values outside the purely financial, and job descriptions only God could put on paper.  Lessons that have nothing to do with grades, rewards we can only see when we look with eyes not our own.

Sometimes I’m asked if I’m enjoying retirement. I’m really not retired. I’m not sure I believe in retirement at all. I may change my mind a few decades from now, but for now, I may no longer work for a paycheck, but I’m not retired. Not at all.

If you ask me what I’m doing these days, I'll probably laugh. I have no idea. Each day is different. The assignments vary. I’m a free-lance follower of Christ. Part-time writer. Full-time listener. Back-up for those who need back-up. Watcher on the walls.

This season may last longer than some of the others. Or it may end tomorrow. I have no way of knowing.

What I do know is if I stay close to Jesus, my priorities will be his, his love will shape my days, and I’ll find myself part of what he’s doing around me. If I stick close, and listen well, there will be fruit that will last. Whatever season it is. I think that’s all that matters.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. . . . You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”   John 15
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