Weekend Daybook: Thanksgiving & Advent edition

Seven days of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from the month

   I’ve been busy preparing for a  Spiritual Direction  residency and haven’t taken any photos this week! Here’s a photo I took earlier this month during a quiet retreat at my Spiritual Director’s cottage in Virginia. This story never, ever gets old.

I’ve been busy preparing for a Spiritual Direction residency and haven’t taken any photos this week! Here’s a photo I took earlier this month during a quiet retreat at my Spiritual Director’s cottage in Virginia. This story never, ever gets old.

(2) new posts in the Work Stories series

  1. Work Stories 2018 wrap-up! (I’d love to hear your stories, too. I hope you’ve been able to hear the stories, prayers, and songs from each week as a blessing and affirmation that your work matters.)

  2. Nancy Nordenson’s two kinds of work (This is the final guest post for the 2018 Work Stories series, and I’m delighted that Nancy gets to be our final word for this year. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of doing the work you’ve always wanted to do or just doing the work you’ve found, may you receive encouragement and hope in her words.)

(3) updates for my internet homes

  1. I’ve added a Tip Jar to my blog page. Would you consider helping to support my work here? Picture the little jar at your favorite coffee shop and that I’m adding a sweet froth to your favorite beverage each time we meet here. Every little bit is appreciated!

  2. A linktree for @a_sacramental_life on Instagram: Finally! Here’s an easier way to specific links through the blog’s Instagram page.

  3. Advent Daybook 2018 subscription: You may have noticed a little pop-up box when you visit the blog. If you don’t receive blog posts via email already, Advent is a great time to start!

(4) links to get ready for Advent

If you've ever considered following the ancient rhythms of the  liturgical calendar, there's no better time to start than at the Church's New Year: Advent. Even if your church follows the civic calendar more prominently than the liturgical, you can follow along with your brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe from the quiet spaces of your own home. You could create -- figuratively or, even, literally -- a family altar. This does not have to be elaborate, time-consuming, or expensive.  Simple tangible acts will impress themselves upon your hearts and minds for a lifetime: a book or two filled with rich images and time-tested writings, mealtime prayers, a candle or two.

  1. Advent home page

  2. How We Prepare For Advent (Join us?)

  3. A Few Simple Ways to Decorate for Advent

  4. Our 10 Favorite Advent Devotional Books (for all ages)

(5) resources to celebrate Thanksgiving

You might enjoy my Pinterest boards: Autumn Holidays & Occasions and Thanksgiving

  1. Thanksgiving Day Prayers & A Family Liturgy of Thanksgiving via Anglican Pastor

  2. For those of us formed by the Lord’s Supper, here’s a way to consider Thanksgiving through a sacramental lens: At the Table via The Work of the People

  3. Host international students for Thanksgiving through Bridges International! For local friends, watch Chris & Kelly Rowley’s invitation here: Thanksgiving Hosting and sign up here: University of Bridgeport Sign-Up

  4. Resources to honor the perspective of American Indians:

    American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving via National Museum of the American Indian

    The Thanksgiving Myth via Native Circle

    Erica Littlewolf of Mennonite Central Committee talks with Hannah Heinzekehr of The Mennononite about Thanksgiving myths, the Doctrine of Discovery and ways to engage this holiday

    Deconstructing Myths of the First Thanksgiving via Oyate

  5. A collection of my Thanksgiving posts , last year’s Conversation Starters For A Harmonious Family Feast & two playlists: Thanksgiving & Autumn Worship 2018

(6) November photos of loft-living in Bridgeport, CT

(7) blog posts from this week in the archives

  1. 2017 - 5 Things I Learned In October (An "examen" sorts for what I learned the previous month - both the weighty lessons and the daily hilarities. Still dreaming about #3!)

  2. 2015 - This Is Why I Broke A Promise To Myself On Facebook (the first of several times) & When Jesus Said ‘Love Your Neighbors’ Did He Mean Muslims, Too? (I meant this question sincerely!)

  3. 2014 - 5 Favorite Quotations On Writing: Kenyon, L'Engle, King, O'Connor, Berry (I need to read #4 every day.)

  4. 2013 - Why We Send Our Kids To A [Broken] Public School (Chapter 8 in the Parenting Unrehearsed series.)

  5. 2011 - Mostly Grateful (When I was just starting to figure out my life plan had been shot to heck.)

  6. 2011 - Austin, Nice to Meet You: Holiday Weekend Edition (I need to find those boots and reenact this weekend stat.)

  7. 2008 - Confession (Really, my mother was the worst offender.)

5 years ago

When my sisters flew to Austin so we could make soup together in my kitchen.

May your weekend include some time at home and some time with friends that welcome your tears as well as your laughter. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

Work Stories 2018 wrap-up!

For a couple of years now, I’d been hoping to add one more blog series to my liturgical posts. I knew that I wanted it to be a series that combined both my own reflections and guest posts from some of the people I know and admire. I knew I wanted it to be on the subject of seeing our everyday work lives through the lens of a sacramental life (that is a life that honors both the invisible and the visible realities of our lives). Initially, I was picturing this being a Pentecost series, but for a variety of reasons - for this year at least - I decided to publish the series during Ordinary Time.

We follow the historic calendar of all the saints in order to become more deeply formed by the theology at the foundation of the traditions. What does it mean that half of our church calendar is categorized as ordinary? What does it tell us about the God who created and gives purpose to our lives?

If Advent to Pentecost takes us through the timeline of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, what do we meditate during the rest of the year? For one thing, I like to consider the parts of Christ’s life that Scriptures tell us almost nothing about. We know only a few sparse detail about Jesus in the time between his newborn and toddler days which were spent in various locations of the earth - as his parents sought refuge from Herod - to the beginning of his more formal ministry marked by his baptism in the Jordan River. You could say this was the ordinary time of Christ’s life. The years we can patch together a few details of work and worship made up the vast majority of his days on earth.

If the historic liturgical calendar teaches us to number our days to gain a heart of wisdom, there must be a lot of wisdom to be gained in our regular, working, resting, and worshipping lives. This is the model Christ seemed to have lived, and the church invites us to embrace the same pathway.

With th words of theology professor Wendy Wright, I wanted to consider the last couple months of Ordinary Time as a season:

“…to become attentive to the call of discipleship both outer and inner. What are we called to do? … What are we called to be?”

There may not be another area of our lives that we hold most in common without realizing it: we want to know what we are uniquely made to do in our lives and we spend our days trying to fill the gap between what we were made to do and what we do with our days in reality. This gap is no small thing; it often feels like an ache we can’t name and leaks out in the midst of our day jobs and our too-short weekends. We carry this sense of wanting something more with us into every relationship and every job interview. We know, in our innermost being, we were made for something good and most of us are not sure how much attention to pay to that feeling.

I’ve been delighted to share some stories from a few friends who are on the same journey. Each week we were invited to hear a story of each guest contributor’s work life through a day-in-the-life snapshot.

Thank you to my first guest, C. Christopher Smith, for the work you do which is both theologically rich and missionally compelling. Your work has influenced my own love for reading, writing, church, and meaningful conversations with friends and neighbors. It was an honor to introduce you to you my blog readers in this way.

Thank you, Amy Willers, for inspiring us with your commitment to integrate matters of both the heart and mind, as well as truth and grace in your work and relationships. Thank you also, through sharing your day of small tasks, for reminding us of Mother Theresa’s encouragement to do “little things with great love”.

Thank you, Shaun and Katie Fox, for not only being people who’ve wrestled well with your own calling but also invaluably supporting Brian and me in ours. A series about vocation would not be complete without sharing your story. Thank you for encouraging all of us in the challenge and joy of a wholehearted and collaborative journey of calling.


Thank you, Christie Purifoy, for your beautiful and graciously-told story of placemaking. Thanks from my home to yours for the encouragement to continue planting seeds and burying roots deep into whatever place we find ourselves.

Thank you, Kim Akel, for reminding us that we are called to steward the pain of our lives. Thank you for doing this passionately in your everyday work and for encouraging us to do the same.

Thank you, Jason Harrod, for walking out the vulnerability of making music and friends again and again - all while maintaining a commitment to ask honest questions and search for hidden, complicated beauty in your relationships with God, people, and place. Thanks for encouraging us to do the same through both the rewarding and challenging bits of our daily work.

Thank you, Walter Wittwer, for reminding us that caring for the least of these is not limited to those in social work. We’re all called (and I love how you reminded us that we’re also all on the spectrum of need).

Thank you, Krista Vossler, for reminding us of the kingdom paradox that only as we embrace our hiddenness in Christ do we have eyes to rightly see the unseen realities in our relationship with God, others, and our own selves.

Krista Vossler5.jpg

Thank you, Nancy Nordenson, for encouraging us toward hope no matter where we find ourselves on the spectrum of doing the work we’ve always wanted to do and just doing the work we’ve found.

Nancy Nordenson3.png

In between the lines of the thousands of posts I’ve logged into this blog since 2006 you can hear my own aching questions of vocation, calling, and work for Brian and me. If nothing else, the nearly twenty-eight years of our marriage has been trying to help each other figure out what we’re going to do when we grow up.

In some beautiful ways, God has helped us gain deep peace in this question and we feel like we have some answers to the question of our callings - as individuals and as a couple - that will probably stay with us for the rest of our lives. In addition to the lifelong callings of being husband and wife, mother and father, we now can add priest (Brian) and spiritual director and writer (me). Whatever else develops for us as we age (grandparenting? caregiving for family members? book writing?), we are grateful for some hard-won confidence that the recent vocational arrivals will stay with us into eternity. Hard-fought, hard-won and all the more rewarding for the sometimes excruciating insecurity on the journey.

As a part of the inaugural Work Stories series, I wrote wrote 3 stream-of-consciousness reflections on our journey:

I’d love to hear your stories, too. How have you been able to recognize the truth that some of your most extraordinary qualities are demonstrated in your ordinary work?

I hope you’ve been able to hear the stories, prayers, and songs from each week as a blessing and affirmation that your work matters.

With that in mind, let me conclude the series with some of the words Nancy Nordenson concludes Finding Livelihood:

Consider your own experiences of work, no matter whether your work falls short of or far exceeds what you thought you’d do in this life. You are at once worker, witness, and narrator, protagonist and minor character. Write your experiences ... Scribble in the margins your longings and disappointments, your passion and needs, your aspirations and limits, the tension of your planned life and your given life.
You’re aiming for glimpses of what’s really going on here: how work becomes more than what it is and how you become who you’re meant to be in the process; how you find livelihood even as you are making it.
— Nancy Nordenson, Finding Livelihood: A Progess of Work and Leisure

Share with us, won’t you?

Work Stories banner FB.png

Work Stories: Nancy Nordenson's two kinds of work

Welcome to the newest post in a 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.

This week’s guest is one of the voices I’ve listened to most deeply on the subject of work. Nancy Nordenson’s book Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure is a good and true reflection on the tension between light and shadow that most of us hold every single work day. In the book she tells her own story of the work she chooses and the work she’s been given which, on most days of her life, are two separate kinds of work. The fact that she shares this sometimes-discomfiting message with literary beauty puts the book at the top of my list of favorites on the subject of faith and work.

Imagine my delight when, unexpectedly, I met Nancy in person at a writing event a couple of years ago. I’d been wandering around the campus in a self-conscious daze, searching for a friendly face who saw me for me and not my credentials. And that’s when I met Nancy and her husband, Dave. We’ve remained online friends ever since, and I treasure her hopeful, thoughtful, authentic voice in the middle of all the digital clamor.

This is the final guest post for this year’s series of Work Stories, and I’m delighted that Nancy gets to be our final word for this year. No matter where you find yourself on the spectrum of doing the work you’ve always wanted to do or just doing the work you’ve found, may you find encouragement and hope in Nancy’s words.

p.s., I’m honored to be the first place Nancy’s publicly shared the title of her newest book! Please visit Nancy’s website to read more about her new project, and do sign up for her email newsletter. It’s a gem!

Nancy Nordenson headshot.png

I have two kinds of work. Creative writing: this work doesn’t add financially to our bottom line, and in fact, has taken away a fair amount, but I consider it a spiritual vocation. And medical writing: this work pays the bills and takes up the bulk of my time. Given, however, that medical writing is about the human body and what makes us sick and what makes us well, even this is within the spiritual vocation realm to a considerable extent. My guess is that most jobs intersect with this realm if you consider them a certain way. Hopefully, both my kinds of work contribute something of value back into the world.

Creative Writing

My day typically starts with prayer and some devotional reading, often from the Bible, and often taking place somewhere near a window looking out on the backyard, preferably in the direction of a river birch tree that we planted about 7 years ago. I then work on my current creative writing project. I’d like to say the creative writing work happens every day, but honestly, it often gets usurped by my other work that overflows its parameters. But for the purposes of this piece, I’ll assume it’s the best of days. I use this hour or so before I start my paid work by writing or by editing something already in process. I often work with pen and paper, tape and scissors.

Currently, I’m working on my third book, this one about hope. My current working title is Being on The Way: The Practice of Hope (and this is the first time I’ve named that title publicly). I started this project about four years ago, and it’s not yet clear how much longer it will take before I can call it complete. Hope, once you start considering it deeply and over time, is not as simple as it initially seems. A first piece from this work was published at Art House America, and if you’re interested, you can read it here: https://www.arthouseamerica.com/blog/knotted-gossamer.html

 My current writing project as it was this past spring; it’s in a little better shape now.

My current writing project as it was this past spring; it’s in a little better shape now.

My creative writing work started about 23 years ago and could be described as slow moving. I’ve always had another job and a good amount of that time was also spent raising my sons. The two books I’ve written have each taken about 8 years or so to write, find a publisher, and be released. I sometimes get uncomfortable admitting to this slow pace, but on the other hand, it is what it is considering my other work expectations. Plus, on a deeper and very real level, I think it often just takes a long time to think about and live into complex topics, let alone write about them.

Thirteen years ago I went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University, a low-residency program with a unique art and faith emphasis. My primary goal in enrolling in the program was to become a better writer. My secondary goal was to deepen and broaden my understanding of faith and how it informs and is informed by art. In the program I realized just how deeply these goals were intertwined. Better writing necessitates a deeper and broader spiritual sensibility, and vice versa. I mention the program now not to name a credential, but because it continues to have so much to do with who am I am and what I’m about.

I try to re-enter the creative writing work again in the evening. This is mostly in the form of reading rather than writing, but reading always feeds writing. I usually write posts for my blog (Markings) and my newsletter (Dear Reader) on the weekend. Other things always compete with this evening and weekend time, however—including cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping, and spending time with my friends and family so not everything on my list gets done and things take longer and longer. Plus, honestly, my brain is often very tired at the end of a work day, which is another reason my creative work takes a long time.

Medical Writing

 Websites frequently on my computer screen during my work day.

Websites frequently on my computer screen during my work day.

When it’s time to start work, I usually move away from the backyard windows to the desk in my home office. For about 16 years, my medical writing was all freelance, but a little over 2 years ago, I shifted to working as a full-time employee for one of my long-term clients. I am very grateful for the routine paychecks, the camaraderie of colleagues, and the opportunity to be part of something bigger than what I could conjure alone at my desk. My medical writing is typically for a physician audience under the umbrella of continuing medical education. For each project, I’m the writer on a team that’s led by a faculty comprised of one or more physicians. Most of the completed projects are available online, but sometimes they are presentations at medical meetings. A few of the topics I’ve written a lot about over the years include hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis. There are always new topics as well and so much to learn. Lately, my projects have included Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple other kinds of cancer. I spend a lot of time on the websites of the National Library of Medicine, including ClinicalTrials.gov and PubMed.

Final Thoughts From Behind the Scenes

 St. John’s University Guest House in Collegeville, Minnesota

St. John’s University Guest House in Collegeville, Minnesota

I’m very grateful for my work and creative writing projects, but I don’t want to end this post suggesting a glorious life where all are living happily ever after. Too often, when we talk about work in an all-positive frame, those reading or listening may be left feeling like they’re doing something wrong. To be honest, if readers of Tamara’s blog were all sitting around a dinner table together, I could share troubling stories about work life, starting with the first day of my first real job, in a hospital microbiology lab, when my coworkers voted on whether to walk off the job in protest for how the staff were treated. I could tell you of the evening many years after that first day in the lab when my husband came home late from work, holding a cardboard box filled with his office stuff, and told me he’d lost his job, just as we had two sons in college and I had started grad school. If we were together around that dinner table, I would listen to your stories as well. We could talk about the hard questions associated with work that books by “experts,” particularly Christian books about work, or dare I say sermons about work that we occasionally hear from the pulpit on Sundays, seem to want to avoid. Work is not just a place from which to serve others or a place to earn money, but a place of human struggle for the one who works, a place of human transformation.

Nancy Nordenson4.png

I wrote an essay shortly after my husband lost his job called “A Place at the Table,” first published in Relief Journal, and that was the crystal for my second book Finding Livelihood. I wrote that essay as an effort to deal with his job loss, to make peace with it, but I kept writing what became the book to make peace with work and to explore where work fits on a lifelong spiritual journey.

Peace and hope to each of you in your work lives, paid or not. And thank you to Tamara, for inviting me to be part of this series.

Nancy Nordenson is the author of Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure, (Kalos Press, 2015), and Just Think: Nourish Your Mind to Feed Your Soul (Baker Books, 2004). Her writing has appeared in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Indiana Review, Comment, Under the Sun, Relief, and in other publications and anthologies, including The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (Cascade), Becoming: What Makes a Woman (University of Nebraska Gender Studies), and Not Alone: A Literary and Spiritual Companion for Those Confronted with Infertility and Miscarriage (Kalos Press). Her work has earned multiple "notable" recognitions in the Best American Essays and Best Spiritual Writing anthologies and Pushcart Prize nominations. By day, Nancy works as a medical writer and has written for a variety of venues, including continuing medical education programs and national and international medical symposia. Nancy graduated from North Park University in Chicago with a BA in biology and chemistry and earned an MFA in creative writing from Seattle Pacific University. Her website is www.thelivelihoodproject.com.

What about you?

In what ways do you think of your work as a spiritual journey?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week

May you have livelihood in the fullest sense of the word.
May your eyes be opened to the larger transcendent reality that enfolds your work.
May you live and work in the flow of God’s love and grace, to you and through you.
May your work be absorbed into the overall spiritual journey that is your life.
May your longing for meaning be satisfied even when your daily work fails to satisfy.
May you be refreshed in the time and space of Sabbath-like leisure.
May we all make peace with the shadows.
— The Benediction from Nancy Nordenson's book Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure

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

Weekend Daybook: the voting, hiking, praying edition

Seven days of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from the week

 kept this candle burning as a prayer reminder throughout this week.

kept this candle burning as a prayer reminder throughout this week.

(2) photo essays about everyday work stories in America

I’ve so enjoyed hosting the Work Stories blog series this fall. At the same time, with only one week left in the series, I’m aware how lacking in socioeconomic and racial diversity the stories represent. I offer the following two excellent photo essays (one journalistic and one artistic) as a supplement. Enjoy!

  1. 24 HOURS IN AMERICA: Documenting moments across the country, large and small, quiet and indelible. via NY Times

  2. NightShift: Photos by Florian Mueller via Faith is Torment (I find these fascinating and can’t help picture them as an icon for the nativity. Anyone else see that?)

(3) new posts in the Work Stories series

  1. Walter Wittwer’s learning-from-the-least calling (I love how Walter reminds us that we’re all called and we’re also all on the spectrum of need. May we look around our places of work and be encouraged through Walter’s story for God’s mercy to flow through us.)

  2. Krista Vossler’s hiddenness calling (Krista’s words remind us of the kingdom paradox that only as we embrace our hiddenness in Christ do we have eyes to rightly see the unseen realities in our relationship with God, others, and our own wild and precious lives.)

  3. The call that rose up like a road to meet me (More personal reflections about our journey of work, calling, and vocation. “Like the way people describe love at first sight, I knew immediately this invitation was just right for me.”)

 Related: the IG Live video conversation brian and I had about our attempt to be Via Media voters. You can  watch it here.

Related: the IG Live video conversation brian and I had about our attempt to be Via Media voters. You can watch it here.

(4) recent & brief articles following election day

  1. Your Catholic 2018 midterm roundup: health care, wages, abortion and more by Michael J. O’Loughlinvia America Magazine (“While the waviness of Tuesday’s midterm election continues to be debated, Sister Simone Campbell called the day “a tremendous success,” at least when it came to the dozen U.S. House races targeted by the “Nuns on the Bus” national tour that ended earlier this month outside President Trump’s Florida home.”)

  2. After the midterms, can the new Congress work together? Here’s where they could start. via America Magazine (“Several legislative opportunities stand out as ripe for bipartisan action.” May it be so!)

  3. Have Evangelicals Had Enough Yet? via Jesus Creed (“With these latest reminders of how much hate is waiting in our nation to ignite into murder, have we had enough demagoguery yet, or do we want more?” Written before the mid-term election, and worth asking all the more.)

  4. The Demise of the Moderate Republican by George Packer via The New Yorker (“Ryan Costello, a centrist wonk, ran for Congress to solve problems—but his colleagues fell in line with Trump’s parade of resentment.” As a person with a penchant for centrists, I found this interesting and also discouraging.)

(5) photos from this week’s walk in the woods

Mountain Laurel Open Space in Fairfield, CT

 IG Screenshot from a lecture we attended last weekend from Dr. Danny Carroll (see resources below).

IG Screenshot from a lecture we attended last weekend from Dr. Danny Carroll (see resources below).

(6) recommended links as you pray for the “migrant caravan”

  1. Dr. M. Daniel Carroll Rodas - Hispanic Immigration: (We had the privilege of hearing Danny Carroll speak at our diocesan convention last weekend on the biblical lens for immigration. I’m looking forward to sharing the video from those sessions. In the meantime this is an excellent resource.)

  2. Sarah Quezada’s interview with Matthew Soerens of World Relief about the migrant caravan traveling toward the U.S. (Sarah is quickly becoming my go-to source for down-to-earth, factual, biblically-informed, and gracious information about immigration and refugee issues. I especially recommend her to you if you have children at home that you're trying to educate about the current crisis.)

  3. Humanitarian groups at U.S.-Mexico border prepare for the migrant caravan by J.D. Long-García via American Magazine (“While it may be more than a month away, humanitarian groups on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are already preparing for the possible arrival of the migrant caravan from Central America.”)

  4. The ‘crisis’ of the migrant caravan is one of misperception Antonio De Loera-Brust via America Magazine (“The 3,500 or so unarmed men, women and children seeking asylum in a country of 350 million represents as much a threat to the United States of America as a glass of water is to the ocean.”)

  5. 12 Children’s Books About Refugees (Picture Books) via What Do We Do All Day (“My hope is that these books help you open an honest dialogue with your children about the plight and experiences of refugee children and families around the world. Teach your kids to be the change.” I suspect these would be beneficial for readers of all ages.)

  6. Children of the Caravan via Reuters (I’ve heard people say that journalists exploit children for political agendas. Children are exploited constantly and from every direction, it’s true, but this is definitely not that. I pray that journalism like this fits is more like Jesus pulling a child to his knee in order to help his followers get the Gospel “Whoever welcomes one of these, welcomes Me”.)

(7) blog posts from this week in the archives

  1. 2013 - God and Sisters Are Not To Be Ignored (For Kaley on her November 5 birthday!)

  2. 2011 - Enlarged in the Waiting (“We live from grace to grace in this life.  The space in between is the waiting and it always feels like we're not going to make it.”)

  3. 2011 - My One Parenting Strategy That Actually Worked (And Alex wrote about it in his college application!)

ADVENT IS COMING! ADVENT IS COMING! Which is to say WAITING IS COMING on December 2! (That doesn’t quite roll of the tongue, but is a pretty good description of life, don’t you think?)

  1. 2016 - How We Prepare For Advent (Join us?)

  2. 2016 - A Few Simple Ways to Decorate for Advent

  3. 2017 - Our 10 Favorite Advent Devotional Books (for all ages)

2 years ago

A Veteran’s Day ramble with Brian & Leo on the Pequonnock River Trail in Trumbull, CT.

May your weekend include some time at home and some time with friends that welcome your tears as well as your laughter. Peace...

The call that rose up like a road to meet me

During this blog series on Work Stories, here’s some stream-of-consciousness reflections about our journey of calling/work/vocation. These are reflections in the rough and subject to change as I continue to grow up to be more like Christ and more like the Tamara he’s always intended for me

 Summer 2016 - St. Declan’s Way, Ardmore Peninsual, Co. Waterford, IRELAND

Summer 2016 - St. Declan’s Way, Ardmore Peninsual, Co. Waterford, IRELAND

On a recent visit from my parents, over soup and sandwiches at a local cafe, we reminisced about the job my mother worked as a waitress when I was in elementary school. It’s one of those stories that’s become a matter-of-fact part of our family history, but deserves more than just a footnote. For a short period of time when I was in fourth grade, my mom served barbecue chicken to hungry diners. She was a waitress. At the time, she was pregnant with her fourth child. She gave up the job when her manager was nervous she’d slip on the greasy diner floor.

My mom’s college degree is in English. It’s a degree that’s helped her in various work positions over the years, not to mention in the significant role she’s played in teaching each of her six children to love reading. (She’s been a little less successful in teaching all of us to love proper grammar. But she keeps trying!) She used that degree to teach school for a few years, substitute teach a few years, write free-lance magazine articles now and again. Her last job before officially retiring was teaching English as a Second Language to immigrants and refugees in my hometown.

Still, there was a season when the family budget required her to pick up work at a chicken barbecue joint. When that time came, that’s what she did.

I’d like to think that I learned this kind of scrappy work ethic from her. I could also have learned it from my father who pastored for years without a salary and patched in the budget holes by driving school bus, picking apples, and painting houses. My parents tell us the stories of times the budget gap threatened to outsize the various income streams my parents brought in. Like the time it was the middle of winter and we ran out of heating fuel. My dad kept the wood stove stocked with wood and we all slept in the living room to stay warm. One story includes the details that we were also sick and had no money for medicine and no money for gas for the car to drive to the store to get the medicine. That’s the kind of story a kid like me remembers. As it turns out, it’s also memorable because the story concludes with a man from church randomly calling my parents to say God told him to give us money, and by any chance did we need anything?

That’s the sort of story a kid like me remembers.

My own work stories include all sorts of scrappy problem-solving. I’ve mentioned it before, but want to say again that I’m grateful for every job I’ve ever worked - from cleaning offices at a convenience store to washing other people’s laundry to learning code in the nick of time to make good on a client’s project to typing newspaper articles for the teeny-tiny town we lived in when my kids were babies. On more than one occasion I cleaned houses and worked retail hours in maternity clothes - just like my mom.

Along the way, thinking on my feet and being willing to learn whatever I needed landed me a couple corporate jobs that put me in the breadwinner’s seat for a short time. It’s a work history impossible to fit on a resume or plot on a budget spreadsheet. I’m grateful for every single opportunity, and not afraid to say I’m a little bit proud of the grit and gumption each position represents.

Unlike my parents, siblings, or husband, I don’t hold a college degree. This is not something I think about consciously, but it is a storyline that runs through the foundation of my work history. No one kept me from getting a degree. I did that all by myself and with a sort of naive abandon. I really, really, really wanted to be married and have children more than any other option I could imagine. Lots of people can do both of these things, but the trajectory of our life made it feel (almost) impossible for me.

My shortened college years actually began my senior year of high school when I just couldn’t wait one more year to accelerate my learning. When I was a junior in high school, my mother read a book about autodidactic learning and it sparked a little fire in me. This is another foundational storyline undergirding my work history. While I don’t have a college degree to hang on my wall (and, technically, only a GED for my high school years) I have never - not even for a day - stopped studying and applying what I learn to my everyday, real life.

I’m grateful for this opportunity as well. What a privilege to have the opportunity, resources, and ability to learn whatever I want whenever I want. I’ve been wealthy in opportunities to learn. I’ve learned job skills, yes, but also deep truths and invaluable lessons learned only in the school of life. For me this meant the lessons imprinted on my heart by the Holy Spirit as I pursued living from my truest self within every context - home, job(s), church, relationships, health, parenting, blogging, reading, writing, recreation, and marriage. I collected highlights from many of these lessons on this blog and in the journals I store underneath my bed. Each celebration and crisis, and all the mundane moments in between, offered me opportunities to grow up into my truest self. That is, if I had eyes to see. Sometimes I just got grumpy from all the unconnected dots of my journey and watched television instead.

As each of our four children left home to enter into their own vocational pilgrimage, I began to fret more and more the lack of college degree on my wall. I felt that the work I’d done for a quarter-of-a-century deserved the kind of recognition that could be framed on the wall or highlighted in a resume. But, alas, no matter how many times I tried no one would give me a plaque for being a mom and wife and all-around-decent human. I began researching what it would take for me to finish my journalism degree and tried to figure out how we’d pay for yet another tuition. I’d worked for several years accumulating publishing credits to help me write free-lance, but if I wanted any sort of salaried writing job it seems I’d need a degree (and probably a graduate degree after that).

I held onto the idea loosely in between celebrating my kids’ graduations and my husband’s seminary graduation, I tucked away potential course descriptions and program requirements. At about the moment I was ready to re-apply with my alma mater, I lost heart. I didn’t want to go that road, partly because I no longer respected the institution that held a couple of years of my college transcripts. I got stuck with no other ideas.

My time then was filled working for a digital ad agency in downtown Austin and helping my husband apply for job positions in the southwest and northeast. (These were the two locations I was willing to live plus one potential mid-south location that we eventually turned down because I didn’t think I could handle learning another sub-culture of the U.S. My learning has limits when it comes to making a home.) When Brian accepted the call to serve as Rector at Church of the Apostles in Fairfield, Connecticut, we began preparing for a move that included me not looking for a new job. We didn’t know exactly how that would work financially, but we knew that the new chapter of our life would be the time to reopen the unfinished story of my own work and calling.

In the mayhem of moving cross-country and setting up home and community in Connecticut, I almost didn’t notice a digital invitation land in my inbox from a woman I respected, but barely knew. She said I came to mind as someone “who might be interested in participating in the Spiritual Direction program” she’d attended several years ago. I sort of inhaled the rest of her note to the closing sentence: “feel free to take a look and see if something stirs in you”.

Something did, in fact, stir in me. I can’t quite describe it, but I knew it was something beyond my self-perceived ideas of what to do with my life. I experienced an inner, quiet confidence that I was being invited to something that my heart longed for, my experience had primed me for, and my life was ready to explore, but that I’d been totally unaware of before that moment. I didn’t know it before I read the email. I knew it after I read the email. For most of my life, I’ve entered new experiences after frenzied periods of study and sometimes scrappy, sometimes just ignorant “fake it till you make it” game plans. This opportunity came to me with zero effort on my part. Like the way people describe love at first sight, I knew immediately this invitation was just right for me.

I still had to go through the formalities of applying and being interviewed and figuring out how to pay to accept the invitation, but I knew it was the path I was supposed to take. Very, very few times in my life have been this certain for me. I suspect very few will ever be again. In all the years of stumbling along, putting one foot in front of the other I rejoice in this one moment I feel like our Creator let the road I’m to take rise up to meet me.

For the past year-and-a-half I’ve been telling people “I feel like God whispered this call to me years ago, and then kept track of what I’d totally forgotten”.

I don’t think of this opportunity as a reward for good behavior, or even as a “good things come to those who wait” sort of thing (which is true, but not what this is). I believe that God held everything in my life together - all the unfinished sentences and unread books and incomplete degrees - to form a new chapter. As my friend likes to say “He wrote straight with the crooked lines” in my life. Even though I’ve experienced minor marginalization for my lack of academic pedigree, I have no idea what it means to make a life in an environment of oppression, devastating poverty, and systemic prejudice. I almost didn’t want to tell this story out of reverence for the majority of the world who have not experienced even a day in a work environment that honors their unique giftedness and dignity.

There’s been a cost. I can’t live in a house with enough bedrooms for my kids to visit and pay for this course at the same time. For now, I can’t continue using time and creative energy to pursue free-lance publication. I had to let go of some of the things I thought I knew about God and people and myself, in order to make space for all that I don’t know (and maybe never will). I’ve had to allow what I thought were assets from my gifting and experience to feel like liabilities as I’m re-formed by what I’m learning in this new chapter. It doesn’t feel like an expense, though. It feels like a luxury. I get to respond to an invitation from the Creator. And you do, too.

I don’t know when you’ll hear the next step, the one that takes you deeper into what is true about who God is and who you are made to be in HIm. I don’t know what the invitation will cost you or what you’re likely investing right now with the work you do today. I don’t know who the Caller will enlist to help get your attention, but I know that He knows. He is magnificently efficient in letting no part of your life go to waste to accomplish His purposes in us and through us. He’s also wildly (and sometimes a bit aggravatingly) unpredictable in the paths He allows us to pursue - and the ones He doesn’t. I have an entire scrapbook full of the plans I’d set up for myself and the six-figure income I was on track to earn with one company. I don’t even know where that scrapbook is right now. It’ll be good for my grandkids to pass around and laugh about at some distant family reunion.

For now, I am basking in the long-awaited epiphany that God sees me. He sees us. He knows us. He knows the number of our days and the number of all the days left before He sends Jesus to once and for all invite all of us into the fully-restored peaceable kingdom. In that day, I fully expect to be waiting tables for those who’ve never been served a meal they did not suffer to obtain. (Every time I have the opportunity now to serve the oppressed, I’m just practicing for that day.)Until that day, God sees each one of us. He knows us better than we know ourselves and He keeps track of every unfinished part of the story He’s writing. For now, He keeps inviting us to become who we will be forever.

I’m doing it right now.

And so are you.

You can read more about what spiritual direction is and what I’m offering as a director here.