Work Stories: Christie Purifoy's placemaker calling

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

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

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

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A Day in the Life of a Placemaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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What about you?

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

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

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

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

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