Work Stories: Kim Akel's care-connecting calling

Welcome to the newest post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

Today’s guest is one of those people who became friend and neighbor in our relatively short, but life-changing season in Austin. She and her husband Mike and daughter Grace lived one street over from us for about two years, and on a few memorable occasions I’d meet her for an invigorating walk to our favorite coffee shop and back home again before most of our neighbors were awake yet. Kim is a fantastic story-teller with a unique skill of communicating both joy and sadness in life-giving ways. I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried every time we spoke, and I’m confident I always understood better what love means. In the short time we were neighbors, Kim and Mike made a life-changing impact on my family (including moving out of their house the weekend of our son’s wedding so my sister’s family could live in it).

Kim’s passion for her work is a force to be reckoned with, and may only be outmatched by her passion for her family and friends. I wish I could meet Kim’s mother, but feel that I probably would recognize her through Kim’s work and friendship. I’m struck by the statement she shares in today’s post about stewarding the pain of our lives. She has done this beautifully, and I hope that reading her work story will encourage each of us to do the same.

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I am a daughter of the most High God, I am the spouse of my husband Michael, and mother to our daughter Gracie. My occupation is to serve as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school. I also work in role that is based on relationships. I serve alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.

I am always filled with both peace and a song when I am working in my sweet spot!

So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

 Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Isaiah 55: 11-13

I wake up with songs on my heart, especially when I am steeped fully in relationship with Christ. Today at 3:00 a.m., my body jolted and I found myself marinating in Dana Dirksen’s version of the song, “Greater Is He That Is In Me, Than He Who Is In the World.” I took that moment to pray that song over my family - that they would know Who is greater, and have an open posture toward the One who is greater and Who is in them.

 Later as I packaged up our daughter for professional teacher school day, I played, “Lord, Establish the Work of Our Hands,” and prayed for our hands, feet, our hearts, and our minds to be established in solid foundation. That the Lord would go before us and prepare the hearts of those in our paths this day, and every day.

Today I have a 7:00 a.m. meeting, so I arrive before the sunrise. I recognize the people waiting in the hospitals aren’t there because they want to be there. Many are in the midst of tragedy or on the other extreme with celebration of new life. Regardless, I am always overcome by the sacred moments I capture… and therefore I am not able to photograph. Instead, this is what it looks like for me on most days, dark and empty as I walk ahead. In my heart I give thanks for each person I have the honor of passing.

 As I walked to my next meeting, my heart sang Audrey Assad’s “Joy of the Lord is my Strength.”   There is a local nonprofit group who focuses on registering marrow donors for patients facing a stem cell transplant. Because of the great need, the nurses and clinical staff invest in the community by volunteering at various events to support the registration of more donors on college campuses, employer groups, and within the area hospitals. I coordinated this meeting in an effort to bring all of the right people in the room to execute on the upcoming marrow donor drives. I make the connection, and then let everyone do their part to make this happen! Because of the partnership with multiple groups, in just three days, they registered nearly 500 people. There are people living today because someone decided to donate their marrow!

 I have worked since I was in junior high school. I babysat nieces and nephews, served nachos and popcorn at the concession stand during my younger brother’s baseball games, cleaned my dad’s house, poured yogurt with my siblings at a local frozen yogurt place, worked at a clothing store in the mall, was a telemarketer at a staffing agency; however, after my mom’s cancer diagnosis, I had a shift in the work I wanted to do with my hands. My heart. 

 Mom had both thyroid and metastatic breast cancer. She had various surgeries, chemotherapies, whole brain radiation, and a stem cell transplant. I have fond memories of her surgeon and her oncologist and even the hospitals in Pasadena and Houston, Texas. My mom worked for a world-renowned computer company and was fired for missing work due to her cancer diagnosis before there were laws to protect patients in that predicament. I found myself in detention at least once a week due to being tardy caused by taking my mom to/from her radiation treatments. 

My mom is my motivation to serve cancer patients and their caregivers, as is my daughter who never got to meet her. She went to be with the Lord twenty years ago in September, which means I am forty. Next year I will have been alive longer than I had known her.

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My Mom

I make it my job to have a general understanding of all aspects of oncology and serve as a liaison for physicians who screen, diagnose, and treat cancer and our local and national oncology administrators. I meet with physicians to uncover opportunities for new or enhanced programs for oncology patients and their caregivers, I sit alongside the oncology nurses, nurse navigators and support team who serve our community and always am looking for ways to enhance our community relations. I am the connector, and enjoy being linked to the entire team.

 Our system hosts multiple tumor conferences across the city. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, their physician will present patient’s case to a multidisciplinary team to discuss the standard of care treatment for that diagnosis, as well as what clinical trials are available to that patient. I have seen treatment plans change because of these discussions. This is good medicine!

Several times per day, I receive texts asking whether I am available for a quick chat. Sure! The first time, I spend ten minutes talking through an issue one of our physicians had recently, and we develop a plan on how we can bring the right people into the room to address the issue. The next is about an opportunity to meet with a new physician entering our market, another is a PR opportunity, a nurse navigator needing to talk through a hospital question. By gathering various sources of input, we are able to turn a lot of these short ten-minute talks into a best practice for our teams across the nation.

 Later on, I sit in a planning meeting with my counterparts to discuss an outreach strategy to promote an oncology program to a rural community our system serves. We recognize that many rural communities do not have oncology specialists, and in the coming weeks we bring our medical director out to three rural communities to meet with hospital leadership, emergency physicians, and the local physicians. We also bring our oncology nurse navigator, who shares her role as an educator and advocate. Later in the month, my colleague and I will follow up with those administrators and physicians to hear how the process is going, and hear feedback how we might better support their community.

 While in between meetings, I hear the news that one of my dear friends was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 1 with an aggressive personality. I immediately socialized some of this with my gynecologic oncology nurse navigator, who helped me better understand the cancer and how I might support my friend. Through our conversation, she talked about the miracle that it was found at stage 1, and that is normally unheard of for ovarian cancer. We ended up talking colleges, and uncovered that both my navigator and I graduated at late stages in our lives, at 45 and 30 respectively. It led us to a fruitful discussion on the why behind our roles... She ended our talk by calling my friend "my patient" saying that all Gyn Onc patients are hers, and they are why she advocates for them every day. My daughter is the why behind what I do, and all daughters, so that they might have a mom to stand at their wedding, to watch their granddaughter grow up, to hold hands and talk about the tough times we face.

When I walk among the physicians who dedicate their careers to finding a cure for cancer, or sit with the administrators committed to providing the infrastructure for the need, I am filled with a humble pride that access to advanced treatments are in our community hospitals because of the work these folks do. They give me hope for the future in the world of cancer.

 While at Laity Lodge nearly ten years ago, I heard a speaker retell the story of H. E. Butt exclaiming to Frederick Buechner, "You have had a fair amount of pain in your life.... You have been a good steward of it." That has resonated with me since, in that by continuing to work in oncology I have stewarded one of my most painful experiences. And it actually brings me joy to serve in this way.

 My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace

My mom’s mother, me, and my daughter, Grace


Every day, my siblings and I chat from sun up to sun down on ways we will care for the needs of our mom’s 104-year-old mom, “Granny.”

Last Thursday a family member of mine was diagnosed with tongue cancer, and we happened to be planning a trip to stay the weekend with them. Our time together was an investment both personally and spiritually, and our daughter brought sweet laughter into the home in which my husband was raised. I spent the weekend listening, pondering God’s redemptive plan for the world, and questioning our part in it. Coincidentally, yesterday while meeting with a local medical oncologist, she shared her passion for head and neck cancers, and her story on where this passion originated.

 This fall I became my daughter’s kindergarten co-teacher at a local classical school. For two hours on two days per week, I get to be a part of her education. Being with her in this way, as opposed to previously feeling like I was directing the meals-bath-book-bedtime routine, has somehow managed to multiply the space in my heart, mind, soul, and strength for the Lord, others, and my neighbors.

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I don’t have a building or a title, rather the work of my heart and hands is my ministry. I live and breathe and live out each day as though my citizenship is in the kingdom of God. I don’t care for bumper stickers, wearing a company’s brand on, or align with divisors or denominators in the world today. I think the definition of inclusion is asking someone to a dance. And I hope to live a life asking people to dance, inviting them in to participate in relationship, to unplug from the device (our own and technological) and converse with those right in front of us. That is my occupation.

 At any given moment in crowds or alone I am praying in spirit, silently asking the Lord for the forgiveness of my sins that morning, and over the course of my life. I also thanking God for the forgiveness of the unspeakable grievances committed against me and also against all of my ancestors all the way up to Adam and Eve. I plead the saving, reconciling, restoring, redeeming blood of Jesus over me and my family.  And thank the Lord, that because of what He did before, during, and after the cross, the enemy has no rightful legal claim to me or my family. Randomly I am sometimes called to pray these same prayers over each person if I am in the room with them. Silently and in my heart, sometimes aloud. An interdimensional spiritual shift inevitably will happen in me and around me. Joy and freedom replace fear and bondage. One cannot make this stuff up!

 As I step back and observe my paid and non-paid occupations, the common theme I see as my role is to prayerfully offer care to others. I love making connections among people, gathering information and saving it in my brain Rolodex for a rainy day (for a future connection or resource), letting people be themselves while honing in on the beauty they bring into this dusty world, interceding on behalf of them, and as I lay my head on my pillow each night, I marinate in the humble awe at how grateful I am to be able to listen to the peaceful snores of those I love the most. I get to do this!

 May the capacity of our hearts be enlarged, especially to serve those whom God places right in front of us, in a sacrificial and sanctifying way without expectation of receiving anything in return. Giving care in ways that they need, caregiving with our time, our talents, our all.

Kim Akel is a daughter of the most High God, a spouse to husband, Michael, and mother to daughter, Gracie. She serves as a co-teacher to Gracie who attends a classical school, and alongside local hospital systems and national leadership, hospital administrators, directors, managers, my counterparts on my team, physicians, advanced practice providers, nurses, and practice administrators to grow quality oncology programs.


What about your calling?

What pain in your life might be God calling you to steward in your vocation?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week

O THOU WHO compasseth the whole earth with Thy most merciful favour and willest not that any of thy children should perish, I would call down Thy blessing to-day upon all who are striving towards the making of a better world.

I pray, O God especially —
for all who are valiant for truth
for all who are working for purer and juster laws:
for all who are working for peace between nations:
for all who are engaged in healing disease:
for all who are engaged in the relief of poverty:
for all who are engaged in the rescue of the fallen:
for all who are working towards the restoration of the broken unity of Thy Holy Church:
for all who preach the gospel:
for all who bear witness to Christ in foreign lands:
for all who suffer for righteousness’ sake.

Cast down, O Lord, all the forces of cruelty and wrong. Defeat all selfish and worldly-minded schemes, and prosper all that is conceived among us in the spirit of Christ and carried out to the honour of His blessed name.

Amen.
— John Baillie, "Prayer For the Making Of A Better World"
 

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)

Work Stories: Christie Purifoy's placemaker calling

Welcome to the newest post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

Today’s guest is one of my favorite new author relationships in the past several years. I met her first as a facilitator for a writing group at Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing in the spring of 2016. Christie disarmed the insecurity I was feeling with her beautiful blend of professionalism and personal connection. In a swarm of writers promoting new books, it was her Roots & Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons I purchased at the festival and read cover to cover in my hotel room before returning home. I was in the middle of a bit of a crisis in my own sense of calling and the beauty and grace with which Christie told her story served as a kind of rich rain over some very dusty, discouraged places in my own heart. It also reminded me - achingly - of all the reasons I love the Northeast.

Since then I’ve enjoyed following Christie through her blog, and Instagram account (please don’t miss Christie’s other account, the always-beautiful Maplehurst Gardens account) and am now delighted to listen to her weekly podcast conversations for anyone who’s ever felt the nagging frustration of wondering if her life is too small, too boring or too ordinary to make a difference. I still don’t live in a home where I can tend a garden, but am grateful to Christie’s encouragement to continue planting seeds and burying roots deep into a place anyway. May her work story encourage you in the same way today.

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A Day in the Life of a Placemaker

 Placemaker. It’s a funny little word, similar to homemaker but distinct from it in important ways, as well. I can no longer remember if I coined the word myself, whether I encountered it in some book, or whether a friend dropped it into conversation, but it’s the one word that expresses most clearly, and most succinctly, the sum of my days.

I am a wife and a mother. I am a writer and a gardener. But these roles are wrapped up within the one encompassing vocation I will pursue for the rest of my life: I will cultivate a place and share it with others.

Like the God who made the green hills I call home, I am a placemaker.

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While no two of my days look exactly the same (and that’s probably true for most of us—this is the day that the Lord has made, after all), these autumn days share a distinctive rhythm. I rise at 6 to darkness and a mostly quiet house. My husband cooks breakfast and spends time with our older children before they leave for school. I sit in a corner of the parlor to read and pray.

Our place, the one I am making with my husband and four kids, is called Maplehurst. It’s a red-brick farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. It has quite a few bedrooms (those nineteenth-century farmers needed a lot of live-in help) and a few acres of land, and we love nothing more than to fill those bedrooms with guests and those acres with neighbors, friends, even strangers.

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We grow vegetables and flowers, and we keep a baker’s dozen of egg-laying chickens, and, since we moved in six years ago, we have planted many, many trees. I intend to stay, to send my own roots deep, and watch those trees grow.

The rhythm of my days changes with the seasons. In spring, I hustle to clear debris and plant seeds. In summer, I take my kids to swim in the community pool and out to taste that Philadelphia favorite: water ice. In winter, I sketch new garden plans and read stacks of books. On this early autumn day, the work of laying the garden to rest hasn’t yet begun. I am still cutting dahlias and bringing them indoors, still deadheading roses, still letting the chickens loose to forage under the tomato vines.

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But as I do in every season, I am writing. My second book will come out this March, and there are final edits to make, my newsletter to write, and magazine articles and book reviews to revise. I am making beds for guests. I am choosing paint colors for the kitchen cabinets that desperately need a new coat of paint and researching safe paint strippers for the 100-year-old bedroom doors that appear to be shedding 100-year-old paint.

When my youngest leaves for kindergarten, I walk up the narrow back stairs to my third-floor office in order to write. When the words begin to blur, I go for a walk or try some yoga. Lunch is always leftovers, sitting alone at our large kitchen table. Afterwards I water the potted plants and feel the sunshine on my skin.

My big kids walk themselves home from school in early afternoon, so the two hours after lunch are always a race—write the emails, check the to-do list, begin a new draft—how much can I fit in before they walk in the door? Once the screen door slams hello, afternoon is for checking in, checking homework, reminding everyone twice and three times to practice piano. Then, while the kids run around outside or do their homework behind closed doors or bicker in another room, I light a candle, pour a drink, turn on some music and prepare dinner. One more exhale before the chaos of family dinner and bedtime routines. In between one thing and another, I am reading Harry Potter with one son and Betsy-Tacy with one daughter.

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This season has also brought the joy of creative collaboration. Writers are solitary creatures, introverted writers even more so, but I recently launched a podcast with one of my oldest and dearest friends, fellow writer Lisa-Jo Baker. Welcoming her to Maplehurst every few weeks to record new episodes may be the sweetest part of my working life these days.

In the evenings, once the kids have settled down and we have closed the doors that are so in need of new paint, I remember a hundred things I should have done, meant to have done, and somehow didn’t do. But my husband has just washed the last dish, and I remember, again, that all those things can wait. This is the day that the Lord has made, and while we can’t pause time, there is always time to pause.

 

Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature from the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for a picket-fenced garden and a writing desk. She is the author of Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons (Revell) and Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace (forthcoming from Zondervan).


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What about you?

What are your various roles and what word(s) might describe the way they come together to encompass God’s calling on your life?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week:

 
Unless you are working, O Lord, I work in vain; unless you are watching, O Lord, I watch in vain; so let me trust in you as I work and rest in you as I sleep.

Let your favor be upon me, O Lord my God, and prosper for me the work of my hands - O prosper the work of my hands!
— Bobby Gross, Living the Christian Year: Time to Inhabit the Story of God

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)

Work Stories: Shaun and Katie Fox's already/not-yet calling

Welcome to the newest post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

When I imagined this series I knew immediately I wanted to ask the guests for this week to be included. Shaun and Katie Fox are not only dear friends, but people who’ve wrestled well with their own calling and invaluably supported Brian and me in ours. You could almost say we first became friends because of our mutual desire to more deeply understand the meaning of vocation. While we’ve become connected beyond those initial conversations, we never stray very far from them.

I’m also delighted to share the first of a few “dual calling” posts in the series. While none of us ever walk out our vocational journey alone - indeed vocation leads us into community rather than apart from it - there’s a particular challenge and joy for married couples in this life-long quest for vocational wholeness. There’s no family I know who embodies this challenge and joy more wholeheartedly than Shaun and Katie. May their story encourage your own today.

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Hi everyone! We’re Shaun and Katie Fox, and we’re honored to tell our story here on Tamara’s blog today. We’ve been married for 13+ years, and we have two daughters, ages 11 and eight.

We serve as co-leaders of an arts ministry at our Anglican church here in Austin, Texas. I (Katie) am a musician and a writer, and Shaun is a designer, photographer, bookmaker, and woodworker, among other talents. We’ve always had a passion not only for the arts, but also for artists, and early in our marriage we had a chance to be shepherded as part of an arts ministry at another church.

We also read the book L’Abri, and wondered about creating a similar community that was geared toward artists. We began to dream of a future life together that includes the arts and artists, shepherding and mentoring, encouraging, and living in community, with space for beauty and hospitality and flourishing. Our life together looks different than we thought it would when we first got married, but we continue to take baby steps toward that dream.

Right now, however, our typical day isn’t spent together, but at our separate places of work and vocation. We get up early, and get our kids fed and lunches made, and then we say good-bye for the day, and Shaun heads to his office around 7:15am. He’ll take over the story of his day from here.

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Howdy! I work as a digital product designer for a company called ShipStation. We build software that offers shipping solutions for business owners. My job’s all about understanding the business owner’s needs and making software that’s as easy to use, and intuitive as possible.

I spend a good amount of time interviewing our customers and gathering data to understand how they use our software, and then digesting that data to identify patterns and needs. I then work closely with our team of developers as we build new features for the customers. In the picture below, my team and I are visiting a jewelry maker here in Austin.

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I have a great team of designers that work with me, and I really enjoy being with my co-workers. My typical day is full of meetings and spending time working through ideas with other team members.

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I love the work that I do, even though I continually look ahead towards other things. I try to steal all the time I can after hours to make art (currently obsessed with woodworking, and I’m building us a new bed) and to work with Katie on arts ministry plans.


 

I’ll let Katie take over to share about her day now.

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Hi everyone, I’m back. :)   My time looks very different from day-to-day, and things are a little less linear for me than they are for Shaun.  

After Shaun leaves, I finish getting our girls ready to go, and then I leave to take them to school.  Our older daughter attends school at a part-time co-op, so she’s at home with me two days a week. Although she’s pretty self-guided, I make myself available to help her with schoolwork, if needed.

If I take both girls to school, I get home again about an hour later, and then I eat breakfast, walk the dog, tackle the dishes, start the laundry, and take care of general household tasks.  Then I sit down to work. Depending on the day, that could look like a number of different things. Working on plans for arts ministry programs and events has been a big part of most of my days for a few years now.  But leading the arts ministry is equally about caring for the artists themselves, and sometimes that means meeting with them, and spending time listening, or praying, or crafting emails and writing letters.

I also lead an occasional adult choir at our church, and whenever we’re preparing to sing for a special Sunday, that takes up a lot of time. Finding the right music for the particular feast day or celebration and our particular group of singers is time-consuming, and once I have found the music, I need to spend time studying it and practicing conducting. Many hours of preparation happen before we even have our first rehearsal.  

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This fall, I entered Fuller Seminary as a part-time MA student, so right now a big part of my calling is simply to do my schoolwork. Everyday includes a couple of hours of reading, writing, and/or online discussions. My degree concentration is called Worship, Theology, and the Arts, and I’m so excited and thankful that I have this opportunity. I made the decision to go back to school after going through a discernment process with Shaun and some other trusted friends, and it feels good to be taking these steps toward our future dream.

 
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By about 2:45pm each day, I stop working and move into the next part of my day: school pick-ups, and any after-school appointments and activities for our younger daughter, who has cerebral palsy. Managing her condition used to be a full-time job, but in the past year or so, things have settled down a lot, and it’s not so all-consuming anymore. We’re very thankful that she’s doing so well.

Shaun gets home from work around 4:30, and we like to cook dinner together. Afterwards, he usually does clean-up while I get our younger daughter into bed, and then we spend time with our older daughter until her bedtime. Then once both girls are in bed, we work on arts ministry plans together. Our evenings are usually spent talking, dreaming, brainstorming, sometimes arguing :) , and dreaming about the possibilities.  Sometimes we separate to do our own art-making – that kind of dedicated time is especially important for Shaun, since he’s at the office all day.

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Even though we currently lead an arts ministry at our beloved church, we hope that someday our ministry will be from our home as an arts center, with space for art-making, gallery space, and performance space, where artists could come for a night or a month or six, and grow and learn and flourish. Even now, all the plans we make have that end in mind. For example, we recently hosted our first house concert, and we really enjoyed it. Hopefully that kind of thing will become a regular event.

For now, with all the things we do with our days, we’re very much living in the already/not yet tension. We’re striving to be content and faithful in our present daily callings, while also faithfully pushing ourselves towards our larger, eventual vision. Being a good spouse, parent, coworker, homemaker, student, artist, or arts pastor is the substance of our daily lives, but we are also working to prepare for the next season with anticipation and hope.

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions about arts ministry, feel free to ping us at christchurcharts.org. We’d love to connect with you.


Shaun and Katie Fox live in Austin, Texas, with their two lovely daughters. They have been co-leading the arts ministry at their Anglican church since 2015. Shaun is a software designer, but strives to spend time making art on the side. Katie is a grad student at Fuller Seminary, a writer, and a choir nerd who loves to annoy her children through operatic communication. You can read more about their arts ministry adventures at christchurcharts.org.


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What about you?

How would you define the various parts of your daily work life in a “already/not-yet” timeline?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week:

Dear Lord, You alone know what my soul truly desires, and You alone can satisfy those desires.

I have prepared a place for you, says the Lord, a place that is for you, and only you, to fill. Approach My table, asking first that you might serve. Look even for the lowest tasks. Then, the work of service done, you may look for your own place at table. But do not seek the most important seat which may be reserved for someone else. In the place of My appointing will be your joy.

Lord, show me the right seat; find me the fitting task; give me the willing heart.
— A Prayer for Wrestling with the Call of God, Hild of Whitby (612-80)

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)

Work Stories: Amy Willers' calling in a life transition

Welcome to the second post in a brand new series of guest posts on the subject of our everyday work lives. For the remaining weeks of Ordinary Time, I’ve invited some friends to share a one-day snapshot into their work life that will help us see what they know to be true right now about who they are made to be.

I feel privileged to be able to watch the journey of calling unfolding in this week’s guest as she navigates the integration of her various gifts, skills, and passions. I’ve only known Amy for two years, but have quickly stepped into kindred conversations with her and am delighted to share this snapshot of her daily work with you all. While this particular day in her work life includes only a bit of Amy’s work as our church’s Children’s Ministry Director, please know that she embodies this calling in so many deeply loving and creative ways.

Amy inspires me with her commitment to integrating matters of both the heart and mind, truth and grace in her work and relationships. (Someday, maybe she’ll give me permission to tell you all the way she first introduced herself to me when we showed up at Church of the Apostles two years ago. It’s a good story, and may be the best introduction I’ve ever experienced in my life.)

Hi, I’m Amy, and I’ve spent the last seven years as a stay-at-home mom, with a few other part-time jobs on the side. But this year, I am in a transition: instead of stay-at-home mom with young kids at home, I am a stay-at-home mom with kids in school! Even though at this point it only affords me twelve hours of alone time per week, it’s causing me to examine my calling, as most transitions do. What do I want to do with this extra free time? What are my priorities?

What is God calling me to do to serve Him?

 I don’t think we should ever stop asking that last question, whether we are in a natural transition of life or not. So I try to consider His will for me for the future, even as my days are full of the various callings in which God has placed me now

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I drop my kids off at school and begin my day with a breakfast meeting with one of my current bosses: my dad. In examining the options of what I’d like to do with my new-found free time, the first thing that came to me was helping my parents. They are getting older but are still extremely busy! And as an only child, it will come to me to step up and care for them more and more. They don’t need physical help at this point, but they do need help with their business. So that’s why I am here at breakfast with my dad, discussing work. They run a very successful AirBnB, and believe it or not, that sometimes takes a couple hours per day to administrate! Occasionally I will help with cleaning, but for the most part I spend my time responding to inquiries, booking dates for people, sending information, and coordinating schedules.

 
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After breakfast, I only have an hour or so left before I pick up my son at preschool, so I rush home to do a little work of a different nature. I respond to emails and do a little planning in my capacity as Children’s Ministry Director at my church. And then I get to do a little writing for my blog. This is one of my favorite parts of they day: sitting alone either here at the crafting table (some would call it the dining room table) or on the deck and writing, brainstorming, planning, or just daydreaming - whatever the day calls for. And I’m so thankful that I have the freedom to spend some of my time doing this.

 
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After picking up my son, I decide to do a little cleaning up. I wish this photo could be another perfectly staged one with a lovely little flower in the background, but I figure a huge pile of laundry will be relatable to by most. And isn’t it just the perfect image for the work of a stay-at-home mom? The endless laundry, dishes, picking up, etc. and the feeling that I want to do something more important than these menial tasks (and frankly, something with more recognition and acclaim would be nice, too!).

And then I remember that I can even glorify God in these small things. And that is what he is asking of me right now, and perhaps it will always be so. Sometimes that is a hard lesson to learn.

 

I also get to organize a drawer filled with my children’s ministry things. And that’s always fun.

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I make dinner while my daughter does her homework in her nightgown. It’s still pretty early but she and her brother had played in the rain earlier and were soaked through. She takes after her mom and will use any excuse to climb into her pajamas, and I must confess that “very wet clothes” is better than my “jeans are too tight” line.

 
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It’s finally evening and after bedtime I can sit and do one of my favorite things: crochet. I have a small business of making hats and garlands and other small accessories and it gives me an excuse to sit and work while I watch TV. But tonight I feel discouraged because my hand hurts as I whip up small pumpkins and hearts for garlands. I wonder if I will have to give this up and it makes me sad.

Today was a very average day for me, filled with pursuing my various callings in very small tasks. But I love where God has me right now, and even as I continue to consider where I should be and what I should do for Him, I am content with what He has me doing right now.

Amy works part-time as Children’s Ministry Director for Church of the Apostles in Fairfield, CT. She also authored a children’s book based on a story from her childhood, “Amy’s New Puppy”, (available on Amazon) and blogs semi-regularly at amybarkerwillers.com. Amy loves crafts, reading fiction, singing loudly in the house by herself, writing, and being with her family. She and her husband, Ryan, have a daughter, Audrey, in second grade, and a son, David, who just started preschool. 


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What about your calling?

What have you learned about yourself and your work as you navigate transitional seasons in your life?

Let us know in the comments below!


A song and a prayer for all of us this week:

LORD! GIVE ME THE COURAGE and love to open the door and constrain You to enter, whatever the disguise You come in, even before I fully recognize my guest.

Come in! Enter my small life!

Lay Your sacred hands on all the common things and small interests of that life and bless and change them. Tranfigure my small resources, make them sacred. And in them give me Your very Self.

Amen.
— by Evelyn Underhill as found in Prayers From the Heart by Richard J. Foster:

(You can read all of the Work Stories here.)

Charting our calling

During this blog series on Work Stories, here’s some stream-of-consciousness reflections about our journey of calling/work/vocation.

   January 2010: charts representing the timeline of Brian's life and our search to know God's calling for his life..

January 2010: charts representing the timeline of Brian's life and our search to know God's calling for his life..

We’ve been talking about calling around here lately. It’s not exactly a new conversation - more like a new level of learning on a conversation we’ve been having for more than twenty-eight years we’ve been engaged and married. We tell our kids that we did everything backwards: married, had kids while Brian was working on his bachelor’s degree and not even landing his first, “real” salaried job until we had three kids (and added another within a year). Of course “backwards” is a relative term. Other than the covenant-type, “I Do” decision, who decides what order the rest is supposed to happen?

When we say backwards, we’re acknowledging that there’s some wisdom in being a bit more stable before adding children. Things like college degrees, salaried jobs with health insurance, and appropriate housing are generally a more hospitable way to welcome children into the world than the alternate. At the same time, there’s nothing like welcoming children into the world to add clarity and ambition to one’s sense of calling.

So, we started our family while Brian was a full-time college student and a full-time manual laborer at a car dealership. I worked every sort of odd job - tutoring, cleaning houses, cleaning offices, assisting in a library research room, and babysitting. We were just ignorant enough to be happy about it all. When we look back now, it totally stresses me out, and I’m guessing at the time our family and friends were freaking out a little bit. (I remember when I told my Mom Brian and I wanted to get married before we finished college and she, naturally, asked how we planned to afford it. I gushed “MOM, I could live in a cardboard box and eat Nutter Butters for the rest of my life just to be with Brian.”)

The plan had been to complete college degrees together and for six months we worked toward that goal. What we’d imagined about a cute little newlywed, college-student life got serious real quick when we discovered we were pregnant. Each weekday, we’d drive the twenty-minutes to campus trying to make 7AM classes, arriving late because we didn’t factor in enough time for morning sickness. I’d politely ask Brian to pull off the road, lean over some guardrail and lose my breakfast and then we’d hustle to class.

In addition to taking a full load of classes, we both worked jobs - me in the reference library on campus and Brian in a pharmaceutical warehouse from 4pm to midnight every day. We saw each other from midnight to 7 AM and a tiny bit on the weekends, and tried to figure out how to do things like find an OBGYN without health insurance in a fairly-rural, slightly-barbaric medicaid system. (My first appointments as a pregnant woman took place in a kind of locker room where I shivered in a paper gown in a little cubicle waiting for a nurse to open the curtain that separated me from a long row of other curtained cubicles to walk to the examining room. I’ve literally blocked out the memory of actually being examined in this cattle-call arrangement.)

I will never forget the joy of leaving our newlywed apartment near our college campus with a little U-Haul hitched to our Buick Skylark and heading back to our hometown to find an apartment near grandparents, aunts, and uncles to welcome our first child. We’d started the journey at the beginning of the semester with $200 in our pockets and no place to live. At the end of the semester, we cashed in a few savings bonds I’d been given as a kid to pay for the trailer (I’d received the savings bonds in exchange for anchoring a kids’ television news program in my hometown. A story for another day.) We headed toward New York with even less money in our pockets and still no place to live. Thankfully, my grandparents welcomed us into their home for the first couple of months while Brian found a job (cleaning cars at a dealership he’d worked at before we were married). Thanks to a wonderful Catholic hospital system, our home town also came with a much more comfortable low-income health care provider. I mean it when I say God bless Lourdes Hospital and the De Marillac and De Paul clinics.

A few weeks before Andrew was born, we moved into a second-floor apartment on Rotary Avenue in Binghamton and I hustled that little place into shape. I was also just blissfully ignorant enough to not think twice about teetering my nine-month pregnant self on a metal kitchen stool to paint our kitchen (trying to compensate for the cockroach problem we’d just discovered). While I was in the hospital recovering from the twenty-six-hour labor and delivery, my mother was in the apartment a couple blocks away painting and stenciling the nursery.

This all happened within the first year of our marriage. It was a bumpy, nonsensical way to start a life together. We don’t necessarily recommend it. At the same time as I look back from our current vantage point I don’t know how we would have gotten here any other way. To be clear, by here I mean we still have no money in our pockets, we’ve traipsed from home to home in our vocational journey, but there is a sense of having arrived into our rightful place in the world. Like a highly disorganized flow chart, we’ve adjusted each stage of our life “If this happens, then we live here”, “If that happens, then we move there”. On the one hand it’s been a messy, backwards way to live; on the other hand it’s been beautiful and full of the sort of grace and mercy that makes us feel unimaginably wealthy. You might even say lucky.

While I’m certain we didn’t plot every new iteration of the chart correctly, I do believe we’ve been following the overall direction of our Shepherd Jesus as he leads us ever nearer to the purposes of God for our lives.

Recently I was chatting with a friend during a church potluck supper. He was feeling emotionally staggered under the weight of an ill-fitting career. He’d reached the point where most of his emotional energy went into the kind of flow-chart calculations that precede a major life change. When he asked me about how Brian and I felt about the moves we’ve made from New York to Austin to Connecticut I said a sentence I didn’t even know I believed until after I heard it come out of my own mouth:

The path to discover our calling has brought us to a place better than anything we’d imagined and has cost us more than we ever expected.

I couldn’t tell if that encouraged him or not, but not long after that he left his job and he and his wife sold their house and moved a long way away. I think about them a lot and wonder if he’s thought again about the unimaginable outcomes of pursuing one’s calling.


I’ll write more on our vocational journey on another day. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about what you’re discovering as you pursue your life’s calling. Drop me a line?