Tuesday, March 24, 2015

On Planning for the Future

I recently had a student ask me how it is that some kids are able to know what they want with their lives and begin accomplishing it (pursuing it) from early on. My response was multi-faceted, but personally, I was just that girl who knew. I knew how God had equipped me and that He had created me for people. I knew early on that I was called to ministry, although I wasn't sure exactly how that would play out. In high school my peers would come to me with their teenage angst and I would "counsel" them or walk with them through whatever was going on. It felt natural and I loved that they felt safe with me. When I went to college I majored in social work, wanting to one day have a safe place where pregnant moms who had no where else to turn to, could come and find refuge, hope and healing. But it didn't take long for reality to hit my idealistic self in the face, and after a rough internship watching drug deals go bad and babies suffering in drug homes (which I was fully unprepared for as a nieve 18 year old), I decided that I was better cut out for psychology than social work, so I switched my major and my focus. I wanted to be a therapist. I loved studying psychology and I loved my internship. I enjoyed my instructors and soaked up every textbook. I was going to go get my masters straight away, but we were surprised with our first pregnancy 6 months after getting married and all plans went out the window. It took me nearly two years to settle into parenting enough that I was ready to pursue my masters degree. I worked hard, loved every second of it. The work and the time was difficult but so interesting. I was so close to becoming a therapist. My internship fell into my lap, or was given to me as an unexpected gift of God. It was a sink or swim kind of deal...my first day I had my first client, who was struggling with depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation. I was terrified. She taught me more than I ever taught her.
That internship set me up to fall deeper in love with counseling. I learned more than I ever thought possible in those nine months. At the end, I earned a diploma, but was given the real gift of licensure which meant that I could now officially journey with others as a therapist. At the same time, a teaching opportunity opened up. It shouldn't have...they usually don't hire therapists to teach psychology courses. But they took a risk on me and I thought I would try it, having no idea how much I would love it. I earned more classes, counseled, and continued to grow our family. By the time we had three kids, it was time to move my counseling job up here to Holland which also happened seamlessly. After 10 months of counseling and teaching and having three kids I was losing my mind, and had to give up something. Much to my own shock and amazement, I decided to stick with teaching and shelve counseling until another season. At the same time that I gave up counseling,  I was asked to teach online for my alma mater. I continued teaching, now for two schools and growing our family. It seemed that my course was being set and all signs pointed towards the teaching route. I knew that meant I would eventually need a doctorate, but I figured I would go after that once all of the kids were in school. Part of me missed the counseling although I kept my hands in it here and there with case consultations. I had ended my counseling career on a somewhat traumatic note and my spirit warred against whatever calling I had. In fact a few opportunities to pick it back up came along and the mere thought of it would send my heart into a tailspin. Besides, if I could get a teaching job at a 4 year school, I could get free tuition for my kiddos, and since there are 4 of them and college is ridiculously expensive, this seemed like a great goal.
I set my sights on Hope College...a 4 year school right here in Holland. It seemed impossible to ever get a foot in the door there, especially as a therapist with only a masters degree. But a series of interesting things happened and one day I got a call for an immediate need for an adjunct instructor at Hope. And they wanted me. I could hardly believe it.
I have enjoyed the challenge immensely, although I will say it is an entirely new playing field. Everyone there has a doctorate. And no one has a degree in counseling. This semester I have been discussing with a seasoned colleague there about the future. She said that to ever get a full time position at Hope I need a doctorate (which I knew) but also that it would need to be from a Big 10 university. That would mean a move. And it would mean eating, sleeping, and breathing grad school for two years...if I could even get into one of these progams. And in that moment, my plan imploded. Because that just isn't going to work. I have a son going into to junior high and high school and little kids to nurture and practice spelling words with. I cannot, nor do I want to, disappear for two years. And it isn't me. I  still love teaching. But my plan for this second act of my life is not the direction I am supposed to walk.
I am reminded of the last time my plans imploded. It was in Cedarville, OH when I took a pregnancy test that changed my life. When I was a 21 year old senior in college with no insurance and no money and a brand new marriage, carrying a baby in my womb. I am and always have been a "planner" by nature. But in those early years God continuously blew my plans up until I gave them up. And I have never really had to seek out a job since. When I earned my masters I called it God's degree because it wasn't clear to me exactly what to do with it., but I knew I was supposed to get it. I never had to pursue a job or a direction once I earned that degree. He has always made it clear. Always provided.
So here I am with no plan for what is next. I will say that for years I have bristled at the idea of counseling again. I have run from it with many valid reasons why. I am not ready to run back to it. And if I ever do it again I am not sure what capacity it may be. But I will say that this weekend I presented a conference and one of my clients was there from way back in my first year of counseling. I talked with her for awhile, she sat in on my session, and then we parted ways. Right before my second session started, she called me out into the hallway because she had to leave and wanted to say goodbye. She looked me in my eye and said, "Kristen I need you to know that I would not be here today if it were not for you. " "You believed in me, pushed me to grab ahold of Hope, reminded me of what was good in this world, got me help when I needed it, and journeyed with me when I was all alone." Today she has 5 grandchildren and a life full of joy that she could never have imagined 6 years ago when we had to call for suicide prevention. It was the first time in 3 long years that I have felt the tug in my heart. I have no idea what this second act of my life will be now that I am done having kids. But I know Who does. I am going to just keep being faithful in what I have been given right now...4 awesome boys to raise into men, three teaching jobs that I love, occasional speaking engagements that I enjoy immensely. Perhaps Act 2 will be a scaling back, or a pushing forward. Perhaps it will be paving a new way in uncharted territory. I am not even promised an Act 2. So I just want to be faithful in today. Tomorrow has repeatedly promised to take care of itself.
Nap time is finishing up here in this house. I had great plans to finish this blog before my little ones awoke. But Silas woke early needing a bit of cuddling. I went in and rocked him, his chubby little fingers curled tightly around my arm. As I went to put him back in the crib so I could come finish my "plan" of blogging, he woke back up crying. So I gave in and rocked him for a good half hour, dozing myself on and off to the rhythmic sound of his breathing and the soft feel of his chubby cheek on my shoulder and soft hair against my face. It was precious. Something I would have entirely missed had I been too focused on my plan. It is interesting to note that if we open our eyes how many life lessons like this are all around us every single day. We can solve the big, by being faithful with the small. Gain insight into life's big problems by purposely tuning into the little moments of our day.
Life is rather cyclical, and right now I feel all the similar feelings I felt as an 18 year old just starting out. But I am so grateful that I can look back and see God's faithfulness to supply, direct, provide, and instruct. How He used the difficult to teach, and how He made such beauty from the ashes of my original plans.

Monday, March 9, 2015

To Be Known

I haven't blogged in months. My return is so daunting. Every time I carve out the time, I sit down here at the keyboard and literally 2000 reasons well up inside of me as to why I have nothing to say. And I listen every time. I shut the computer screen and walk away. Nearly every day a blog post swirls around in my brain, but each day I am either too busy or just want to avoid the awful feeling I have right now as I sit here and try to type. So I am taking my own advice. Start small. Start with what you know. Hope for the best.

I attended a funeral a couple of weeks back for a woman very, very dear to me. Her son gave a beautiful tribute to his mom. He told a story of how as a teen he was on the football team, and his mom, despite knowing nothing about football and being naturally disinterested in it, attended his games and washed his jersey and supported him in necessary ways. But one day...one day he caught her reading a book on the basics of football. I imagine him peeking around the corner as she sat on the couch trying to study this book. Whatever the scene was, he never forgot that she was making herself a student of her boy.

This story got me in a place that I like to keep hidden. That place that speaks of my own desire to be known. The part that often questions my worth. I realized that I purposely do this with my boys. I always have. I have spent hours watching Star Wars and Ninjago, and researching garbage trucks. I have become very knowledgeable about pokemon cards (something I see no value in aside from the fact that my son is very interested in them) and I can tell you everything you need to know about each of the five Samurai Power Rangers. I do this because I always want my boys to know that they are seen. That they are known. That what is important to them is important to me. That I love their individual personalities and interests. I never, ever want them to wonder if they were known. This doesn't mean they get whatever they want. It means I learn it all, so we can talk about it, dream about it, play it.  Its my way of purposefully connecting with each of my sons. I think it would be easier if we were talking Little House on the Prairie dresses and how to style a barbie doll's hair, but I have learned that easy is rarely best. I remember when I found out our first child was a boy, I called my mom crying. I went into the ultrasound completely sure that I had no preference on the gender of my child. But then when it was confirmed I was carrying a boy, I lost it. The only words I could get out to her were, "But mom, I don't know anything about boys!" Her response to me is one I have never forgotten:" You will, Honey...you will know all that you need to know about boys." And she was right.

But most relationships that are deep and abiding and safe...are those that are purposeful. I naturally connected with my boys by nature of being their mother. But I chose to jump in to their interests. To be more than a bystander in a family of boys as the only female. As a young child, I remember wishing my biological dad knew what my favorite color was. What my best friend's name was. What my favorite cereal was. Even then, I longed to be known. I can still remember the moment in the hospital when Landon was born and I held him close. It was the wee hours of the morning the day after he was born, the sun still asleep. I was all alone with him as I looked into those little eyes and promised to know him. To seek connection with him. So he would know he is worthy of my time and my interest, more than just the typical stuff parents "have" to provide. I promised that my love would be tangibly applied to every area of his life. When you grow up as a child who had what she "needed" from a one parent, but not what she desperately longed for from that parent...it is a precious, priceless gift to be able to choose to offer those things to your own child and know the difference that will make. And this my friends, is how beauty comes from ashes. Life from death. New from old. 

Sometimes both parents fail at knowing their children. These children often have no idea of their worth and set out to prove it in all the wrong ways. There is beauty here too. If you never felt known, never felt loved, then listen to that still small voice that desperately wants to grab hold of the idea that you have a Heavenly Father Who wove you together, who knows you better than anyone here ever could, Who loves you more that your even capable of comprehending, and Who is, in ways we don't fully understand, weaving it all together to bring you Home to Himself.

When remembering his mom, how is it that out of a lifetime of memories, finding her with that book spoke the loudest to my friend? Its because in that instant, he felt known. He felt wanted...and loved. Connected. And safe. And out of that beautiful abundance, he now knows and loves his own children. Purposefully living in the overflow of redemption rather than the deficit of hurt.