Beauty For Ashes

Life seems to be built around a giant question of “what if?”. Framed in certain ways it can be a question that prompts discontent. “What if I made more money? What if I published a book and became famous? What if I lost 20 pounds?” But sometimes the “what if” is right in front of us demanding an answer. A quick one, and we’re given two or three days to soul-search and seek our inner wisdom and voice for the right answer.
In the past few days I have gotten quiet and very real with myself. I was offered a job that would fulfill a need in the life of our family but would require a sacrifice of my desire. You see, I have this grand idea that I am supposed to create a ministry or to work in my church as paid staff. I want to serve and be known and respected. I want to speak into darkness and lies and shine the light of God’s grace down dark corridors. I want to watch people be freed from baggage and shame and to walk closer with God because of that freedom. And the thing is, I know God wants that too…but it doesn’t seem like He wants that right now through my life. I’ve knocked on doors, thrown seeds of faith out to take root, and tended to my hope faithfully for the past year, and what has taken root are all slow-growing, baby saplings that will require my time and patience but not my immediate attention. So yesterday I accepted an offer to a persistent theme in my life: caring for children. My first ministry position after graduating Seminary was as an associate director for a large and thriving children’s ministry. It was fun, challenging in the right ways, and taught me so much about myself, church dynamics, faith, and kids. But when I left it to stay home, I told myself that I probably wouldn’t work in kid’s ministry again. There was in itch I my soul that the position didn’t scratch, and ultimately I would rather be down in the nitty gritty than organizing from up top. In those first few years staying home, I got the privilege of working with a few women as a spiritual director. It was challenging in completely different ways and brought with it an intimacy of knowing and caring for another person at a soul level. But as things tend to do, life shifted course again and took these two beauties to another stage of life and other states in the country. I was left again, jobless. Not that staying at home and raising babies is not a job. For three years it was my exclusive job, and I donned the mantle with immense pride because I knew I was living into something God had already ordained for this time in my life. But can I be honest? It was really hard for me at times to not work outside the home. Pure pride. I somehow felt that I couldn’t relate to other women who did because I didn’t contribute financially, or because nobody was relying on me to fulfill a role. I just…you know, raised kids. And I would love to say that I got over that, but I didn’t. I treated that voice for the lie that it was, and I routinely got very still with myself and that Still Small Voice and listened for the reminder of truth, that being a stay-at-home parent was rewarding, valuable, sacrificial, and necessary for our family at that time. But shame and darkness are nags, and they love to pester us. So pester they did. And still do. But…God was still up to more.
About three months ago as we moved toward fall and going back to school, my daughter’s old preschool director reached out to me and announced they were starting a 2’s preschool program and that my son would qualify. Two days a week, 9am to 4pm. And I jumped on it! Two days a week that I could work! Two days a week that I could hold office hours for a Spiritual Direction practice, or work for our church, or write, or or or or. My brain was teeming with ideas and excitement, and I started the wheel turning towards what I hoped might pan into something relating to ministry. And that wheel just kept getting stuck in the mud. The day came for my son’s preschool orientation. We went in and started checking out the new space they have moved into; he began exploring and I began socializing. I felt compelled to ask the preschool director if they still had any teaching positions to fill in the school. After all, I have friends with their education degrees looking for employment. She responded, “actually Tuesdays and Thursdays all day”. Huh. The same days that my son will be attending the school. Have you ever heard or felt an answer in your gut to a question you didn’t even know you were asking? Well right then and there I heard loud and clear, “that’s for you”. And them almost immediately my brain started to tick away all of the reasons that would make taking a position at the preschool not work. One thousand reasons why it wouldn’t be wise, good, fulfilling, etc. And yet. The prospect persisted. So I reached out tentatively to the director and asked her if I was considering the job for myself, what would she say. She said she would hire me on the spot. Cue more anxiety, more questioning and trying to talk myself out of it, with the main reason being the hours. After what felt like weeks but was actually only two days, I got back to her with my answer. I told her “no”, lamenting that I would love it, if only the hours worked better. And I thought that was it- that I had made the right decision, protecting my freedom to build something on my own and giving myself the time to continue writing with uninterrupted daytime hours. Only that immediate inner leap that I had felt when the job was first proposed wasn’t lying, and that wasn’t then end of the story. Because the director instead of taking my “no” at face value, asked me what my ideal hours would be. I thought. I prayed. I got really honest with myself. Would I really use those hours for work, or would I go out and get my nails done, or shop, or clean, or do all of the things that don’t bring me any joy or fulfillment and can be done at another, less valuable time? I dug deep and responded with honesty. I told her that I could work on Tuesdays all the way until my daughter had to be picked up, and until just after the lunch hour on Thursdays. She said I was hired.
I have been there now for two weeks, and I don’t think I have been this humbled in a long time. I had no idea that I would love working with young children so insanely much. And trust me, they’re challenging. Toddlers and preschoolers are exhausting, curious, beautiful, passionate little beings. They require patience, energy, time, and complete devotion. So does ministry. So does counseling. So does chaplaincy. All of the things I wanted in a ministry or coaching, or chaplaincy job are right there wrapped up in these tiny bodies. God knew that, and His Spirit in me knew that. Every day we are faced with opportunities to give attention to our ego and our reasons, and our relentless brains that love to keep us safe and selfish. And there is nothing wrong with being a little selfish from time to time, or with protecting ourselves. But what I’m getting after, is that there might be a deeper, better, more fulfilling truth waiting to be discovered. It’s likely not going to be found in your 5-year plan or your pros and cons list. Often times, the things that are destined to bring us to the deepest level of joy and fulfillment are the things that don’t fit with the plan or make much sense in our rational minds. But if that flip flop of your belly is there, if that spark ignites that feels like Truth, and if the Voice within speaks before you can drown it out…well then I urge you to look more closely. Allowing a dream to die, or even to just be postponed can feel like a death. But God reminds us that we gain beauty for ashes. His story is always one of redemption. And those ashes just might lead you to a pink-cheeked preschooler taking your hand and saying, “Teacher Heather, I want to show you something”. It might lead you into a place of being able to work out of the home while your toddler is right there by your side. It might lead you into something better than you could have ever imagined.
carter at school