Practice Resurrection with Jim Janknegt (Elgin, TX)

Welcome to the seventh guest post in a new-and-improved version of the the Practice Resurrection series!

I’ve invited several friends and acquaintances to share a snapshot of their lives during the weeks of Eastertide (between now and Pentecost Sunday, June 9th). As in other series of guest posts, I pray about who to invite and for this series I was contemplating the ways these women and men consistently invite us through their social media presence to regularly consider restoration, beauty, and goodness even, and maybe especially, in the face of difficulty. I’ve asked each guest to share snapshots of their present daily life inspired by Wendell Berry’s  poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.

Today’s guest is an artist I’ve admired and studied for about a decade. One of the most delightful moments our first year moving to Austin was the opportunity I had to attend an event featuring Jim Janknegt, a long-time friend of our congregation at Christ Church. Today feels like another full-circle moment as I’ve often shared Jim’s art, and now get to introduce him more personally to you. Before I’d ever met Jim, I’d heard about his exemplary work ethic as a prolific artist who simultaneously worked a “day job” (see his bio below for an impressive and varied list!) to support his family. While Mr. Janknegt is now retired, this snapshot into a day in his life provides a beautiful picture of what that work/art balance looks like now that his day job involves cultivating gardens and construction projects on his property in rural Elgin, just east of Austin.

Perhaps most striking is the unifying focus of work and prayer (ora et labora) that gathers together all that the Janknegts endeavor as they seek to daily practice resurrection. May we be encouraged to this kind of gladness of heart in whatever season of life we find ourselves, friends. (For ongoing encouragement, I highly recommend following Jim on Facebook or Instagram.)

First, take a moment to tour Jim’s property as he reads us the poem.


A day in the life and a meditation on Wendell Berry’s

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

Ora et Labora- Prayer and Work make up my life. I am fortunate to be retired. I can structure my life as I see fit. We strive for a kind of monastic rhythm. I have not given up work but only do the work that I think is right to do. It largely amounts to overseeing our little piece of land in the country just east of Elgin, TX (which is east of Austin) and painting.  In my quest to live an authentic Christian life it seems right, as Mr. Berry suggests in his poem, to NOT want more of everything ready made. To be authentic means being at the source, the author, so to speak: the writer of the document, the painter of the painting, the grower and cook of the food, the singer of the song, the builder of the house. Right now I have undertaken a pretty big project: building a cottage. I am doing almost all the work myself. It is currently taking up all of my work time and energy. So I am not doing much painting right now. The hope, of my wife and I, is that some day my daughter, her husband, and future children will come and live in our big house and we will move into the cottage. But you know the old saying: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. But plan we do and pray, and work to bring them about.

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Our work is an outgrowth of prayer as our day’s work is punctuated by prayer.  A fellow once said in a sermon to say a prayer before you get out of bed in the morning. I took his advice and have done that ever since. As soon as I am awake, I say a Hail Mary, then I jump out of bed, start the coffee my wife prepared the night before, and make tea for my wife.

Some mornings we go to daily mass at our parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation.” (Homily, May 3, 2009.)

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After mass we break fast with our friends and eat tacos at a local Mexican food restaurant. Chips and salsa for breakfast: why not?

 On days we don’t go to Mass, I start the day off with coffee, mental prayer, and spiritual reading. Our cat, Philos, often accompanies me. Currently I am reading a biography of Blessed Solanus Casey, a simplex priest and Capuchin porter for most of his life. He had an amazing gift of being able to listen to people who came for counseling and then listen to God so as to pray for what they needed. He kept a journal of each prayer request and the answers. Many, many miracles are documented as a result of his efficacious prayers. He was a humble, obedient servant of God.

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 Before we start work, my wife and I pray a morning offering. Last year I made a card with one of my paintings on the front and the morning offering on the back. Here is one version of the morning offering by St. Therese, the Little Flower:

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. 

Amen. 
— St. Therese

Then I get to work. I really enjoy making things. I think back on my childhood and all the times we spent using our imaginations and playing: digging holes, scrounging wood and nails to build clubhouses, and climbing trees. Here I am a grown man, digging holes for foundations, sawing and hammering wood, climbing scaffolding and ladders; I feel like a kid getting to do the things I’ve always loved doing. Right before I start work, I make the sign of the cross and ask for help from our Lord and the intercession of a saint. For this building project, I ask for the help of St. Joseph. When I am painting, I ask for the intercession of Blessed Fra Angelico, my patron saint. When I am about to do something difficult or different, I say a quick prayer.

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If I weren’t occupied with this building, I would be gardening. My wife is taking over some of the vegetable gardening while other things are just on hold. I still get to enjoy the many plants and trees we have planted since we moved here over 20 years ago. I learned how to do aqua-ponics and found it was a great system for propagating perennials. I haven’t kept count, but we have planted over 200 trees of many different species. One of my favorite books (and animated movie) is The Man Who Planted Trees.

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Around noon we break for lunch. Today I made tuna salad with lots of veggies, nuts and fruit thrown in. Like the ancient Christians we choose to not eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays in reparation for our sins and the sins of the world.

After lunch, I take a nap. Naps are civilized. The world doesn’t come to an end if you take time for a nap. After the nap, more work. Over the years, I have learned many skills for which I am grateful. I think of myself as a maker, a creator. The general paradigm I perceive in our culture is to become really good at one thing, say being a doctor or investing. Make as much money as you can, then pay people to do everything else you need done. It is living primarily as a consumer. Money becomes a divide, an insulator, a barrier between need and work, creating or making. It separates us from meaning and authenticity by restricting us to a life of mere consumption.

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At three o’clock we stop what we are doing and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I bought this beautiful rosary at Clear Creek Benedictine Monastery in Oklahoma. We usually sit outside to pray, enjoy the beauty of the land, and watch the birds.

Here is the beginning prayer:

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us. And the ending prayer: Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
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 Then more work. I am often accompanied in my work by the animals we keep. Here is our peacock.

We also have chickens, guinea hens, two dogs and one cat. And today I found a Cardinal fledge hiding in a nest while I was peeing by a bush (another benefit of country living)!

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After a shower and supper, (my wife is an excellent cook by the way!) we pray the Rosary for the many intentions of our family, our friends, our church and the world. When we pray, the Communion of Saints surrounds us. Does the head go anywhere without the body? When we pray, Jesus, the head, is present, and his body is present as well, his body made up of the saints in heaven. We have a place to pray that reminds us that it is not just “me and Jesus” but Jesus, us, and our many friends we have made that are not bound by time or space. Some of these icons we made, some we bought, and many are gifts from friends.

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Sometimes in the evening, we watch TV (I like building shows, cooking shows and crime dramas) or listen to audio books or listen to music or read.  I stopped watching the news a long time ago. I have considered the facts, (things don’t end well), and I am still joyful. Then it is time for bed. Sometimes I wake up around 3:00 am and can’t get back to sleep. I usually pray another divine mercy chaplet until I get sleepy.

 Ora et labora, work and prayer are not so different as Reverend Reginald points out:

It is, therefore, as necessary to pray in order to obtain the help of God, which we need to do good and to persevere in it, as it is necessary to sow seed in order to have wheat. To those who say that what was to happen would happen, whether they prayed or not, the answer must be made that such a statement is as foolish as to maintain that whether we sowed seed or not, once the summer came, we would have wheat. Providence affects not only the results, but the means to be employed, and in addition it differs from fatalism in that it safeguards human liberty by a grace as gentle as it is efficacious, fortiter et suaviter. Without a doubt, an actual grace is necessary in order to pray; but this grace is offered to all, and only those who refuse it are deprived of it.

Therefore prayer is necessary to obtain the help of God, as seed is necessary for the harvest. Even more, though the best seed, for lack of favorable exterior conditions, can produce nothing, though thousands of seeds are lost, true, humble, trusting prayer, by which we ask for ourselves what is necessary for salvation, is never lost. It is heard in this sense, that it obtains for us the grace to continue praying.
— "The Three Ages of the Interior Life" by Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.

 

As the penultimate prayer, I have long loved the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and believe in the true presence of Jesus: body and blood, soul and divinity. It was only recently that I learned the body of Christ we consume in the Eucharist is the RISEN body of our Lord. What better way to practice resurrection?


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James B. Janknegt was born in Austin, Texas in 1953. He attended public schools. He graduated with a BFA from the University of Texas in Austin in 1978 and an MA and MFA from the University of Iowa in 1982. After his return to Austin he exhibited his work in various galleries and museums in Texas and the U.S.

The Janknegts converted to Catholicism in 2005 and were received into full communion in 2007.

In 1998 the Janknegts moved from Austin to Elgin, Texas where the have an ArtFarm. They grow artists, fruits, vegetables, chickens, goat, guinea hens, peacocks, and ducks. They also have two dogs.

Jim  always worked full time to pay the bills and painted in his off hours. He  painted billboards, dressed store windows,  drove a taxi, sold plumbing and hardware supplies, worked as a graphic artist assistant, ran an offset printing press, been a procurement officer and a building manager and taught private art lessons. He worked as the building manager for the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin until he retired in 2015.

When he is not painting he enjoys reading, building things, gardening, tending to animals and camping. He also enjoys watching movies and listening to music.

You can view and purchase Jim’s artwork at his website. You can also follow him at Facebook and Instagram.


(You can see all the Practice Resurrection 2019 guest posts here.)

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 the 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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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.

Work Stories: Krista Vossler's hiddenness 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 a kindred spirit from our time in Austin. From the time Krista and her husband Blake welcomed our entire family into their small apartment in the middle of a hot summer for a homemade dinner when she was like nine months pregnant, we’ve known we’d be lifelong companions. It’s been my delight to watch Krista wholeheartedly pursue her calling as an artist, mother, wife, peacemaker, and friend with integrity and wholehearted surrender. She is fiercely committed to each place and relationship Jesus invites her to pursue, and we, her neighbors and friends are all better for it.

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 selves. In that hidden place, we see and are truly seen. As we read today, may God grant us His eyes and ears to see what is hidden yet glorious in each wild and precious life.

p.s., If you live in Austin, you can hear Krista’s music at the Parish House (1618 Ashberry Drive) during the East Austin Studio Tour this coming Saturday, November 10 at 4pm.

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Lately, when thinking about vocation, this line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” comes to mind: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/
with your one wild and precious life?” I’ve often wished it tattooed on my forehead, mirror-image so that when I wake up in the morning and stumble into the bathroom, I can read it first thing.

At the moment, I am a homemaker, a homeschooling mother, a musician, and a co-laborer with my husband at a three-year-old Anglican church plant. More importantly, I’m hidden with Christ in God. I’m made to work and love out of this identity--to welcome and encourage, feed and comfort strangers and friends; to nurture my children and raise them to be peacemakers and little lights in the world.

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Real talk: While the above paragraph is good, glorious and true, I have consistently struggled with vocation and calling since birthing my first child eight years ago. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but I am slowly learning to listen to the Holy Spirit and recognize the call to rest in my identity in Christ. And to be bold enough to acknowledge my vocational desires, while being rooted enough to bless others’ work without playing the comparison game.

A few mornings each week, my goal is to get up before my kids so I can hit the treadmill--mostly for my own mental health, but this week due to Austin’s boil notice and the fact that we’re recovering from a parasite-that-will-not-be-named, I’m sleeping until they wake.

We eat breakfast, do chores, see my husband off, check e-mail briefly, tidy up; and then we’re off and running. The school day begins with a collect from the Book of Common Prayer, a hymn, and scripture. Part of my vocation is embedding life-giving words into my kids’ hearts. This crucial time helps me do that even when I’m feeling in need of revival. After that, it’s up to the kids to set the schedule for the morning, but our non-negotiables are snack-time with poetry and exercise of some kind. A couple of mornings a week we’re at a nature class, sketching at our local wildflower center, hitting up our favorite art museum, or taking piano lessons from Grandma; but most days we’re hunkered down at home reading, singing, baking, playing, dancing, memorizing, observing, creating.

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I didn’t always plan on having kids nor did I always want to homeschool, but this journey of joy and destruction (our family’s joking-not-joking phrase for what child-raising has been to us) has been a place of deep healing as well as a place where I have had to recognize my need for God in new and devastating ways. Will I homeschool forever? I don’t know, but in this season it’s been a beautiful thing.

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After lunch, I attempt to check in with myself and God--where and why was I impatient? Are there triggers that set me off? How am I feeling in my body and spirit? If the kids are engaged in reading or building quietly, I practice Lectio Divina or listen to Pray-As-You-Go. Today I’m struggling after a particularly intense session with my EMDR therapist, so I’ve got some interior work to do. Thirty minutes to an hour later, we’re back at it--with a break for tea-time--until we leave for ballet (for my daughter), spiritual direction (for me), or a meal-drop (for a friend).

Nights are for lesson-planning, song-writing, studying, offering hospitality and/or connecting with my husband. At the moment we’re helping to plan a gathering about living the liturgical year, and I’m processing notes from a conference I recently attended so as to share it with our church community. I plan on joining the Anglican Multi-Ethnic Network for a group call tomorrow night, but tonight I’m heading out to get caught up with friends who function as a family.

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More real talk: Vocational callings--outside of homemaking and hospitality--generally end up being embodied in small ways at this stage in my life. I play an occasional show and help out at church by being on the worship team. Though I long to do more gigs and connect with more people through music, it’s not possible at the moment. At times, I feel like giving up, throwing the towel in on this “whole music thing.” But it’s one of the spaces where the Holy Spirit comes rushing into my life in a palpable way--where I feel most alive, my truest self.

In the same way, my call to serve people on the margins looks less like going to rallies, writing salient think pieces and being a social justice warrior and more like owning white privilege, confessing my sins and connecting with, reading about and listening to people who don’t look like me. This in itself feels like hard work right now, but I’m pondering ways I can affect change on this front. I’m feeling a bit of a shift in our church community and I hope to get in on the action as we grow into our name and our calling.

Because of the hiddenness of much of my vocation and Christ’s desire that we minister to those overlooked and forgotten, I’d love to share this song in closing--a song that breaks my heart wide open every time I hear it:


“Little Things With Great Love” (listen at the link below)

--By Audrey Assad, Isaac Wardell, and Madison Cunningham

In the garden of our Savior, no flower grows unseen;

His kindness rains like water on every humble seed.

No simple act of mercy escapes His watchful eye —

for there is One who loves me: His hand is over mine.


In the kingdom of the heavens, no suff’ring is unknown;

each tear that falls is holy, each breaking heart a throne.

There is a song of beauty on ev’ry weeping eye —

for there is One who loves me: His heart, it breaks with mine.


Oh, the deeds forgotten; oh, the works unseen,

every drink of water flowing graciously,

every tender mercy, You’re making glorious.

This You have asked us: do little things with great love,

little things with great love.


At the table of our Savior, no mouth will go unfed;

His children in the shadows stream in and raise their heads.

Oh give us ears to hear them and give us eyes that see —

for there is One who loves them: I am His hands and feet.

Krista Vossler is a third-culture kid who still can’t believe she’s put down roots in the great state of Texas.  She’s a lover of Jesus, her husband, two kids, and the Anglican Way. Occasionally, she sings for her supper (er, tips).  Check out her latest recording here or come out to The Parish House during the East Austin Studio Tour (November 10, 4pm).  If you want to meet Krista at church, visit Church of the Cross in Austin, TX.  Finally, if you’re an Anglican interested in racial justice and supporting multi-ethnic churches in your denomination, check out A.M.E.N. (the Anglican Multi-Ethnic Network).  


What about your calling?

What are some the ways you feel hidden in your pursuit of God’s calling on your life?

A song and a prayer for all of us this week

 
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
— a prayer for Compline from The Book of Common Prayer

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