What no one told me about following my calling.

When I was 7 years old I stood in front of my classroom of peers holding a collage of magazine photos representing “What I Wanted To Be When I Grow Up.”  In the very center on a dotted line my teacher had written NURSE for me in bright red print.  I had used as many photos as I could find of nurses-filling in the gaps with photos of women taking care of others:  feeding them, holding them, loving them.

Saying I wanted to be a nurse at 7 years old was a pretty lofty goal for someone who couldn’t remember to brush her teeth and picked her nose, but I still remember that for years when someone would ask me “what do you want to be when you grow up” I felt a lot of security in knowing that I had a solid answer for them.  Just like the girls who said “teacher” and the boys who said “firefighter” there was a direct path to get there if you were privileged enough-and that I understood even at that ripe young age.

Be a good girl.
Follow the rules.
Make good grades.
Stay out of trouble.
Go to college.
Know the right people.
Get hired.

All these years later as my life has taken a very different path I’ve spent a lot of time wondering how I could be so certain back then of what I wanted to do and how to do it.  How come there are so many of us in our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s so uncertain about the most important things in life?

Being strong and confident.
Sharing our stories.
Raising children (our own or others).
Loving well.
Taking care of our physical, mental, spiritual selves.

I can’t help but wonder how my life may have been different had the questions been different.  What if instead of asking what I wanted to be when I grew up people were asking me what I was passionate about?  What if they asked me what came easy to me and in what ways I knew I was talented?  What if they asked me about my life experiences-the good and bad-and how they were shaping me into who I am?  I can’t help but wonder how life may be different if we were more willing to focus on the wholeness of one another rather than the ways we can restrain one another into fitting into the busyness of the current culture.

No one told me how difficult it would be to follow my unique calling in life, but they did reinforce over and over again how I might guarantee myself certainty and comfort.  But is that promise of certainty really true-or are we all waking up and realizing that what we thought was a sure path to comfort is in reality the hurried path to loneliness that is bought with too much consumption, busyness, and distraction?

When I look at where I am now I realize that I am exactly where I wanted to be at 7 years old-but I just didn’t have the ability to even see it as an opportunity.  My unique calling was instead something out of reach-impracal-unrealistic-silly.

A mom of four kids.
An empowered wife with a strong husband.
A full time farmer.
A birth and breastfeeding advocate.
A writer, speaker, community organizer.

What no one told me about following my calling in life is that it would go up against every single thing that I had ever been taught.  I would have to face family and friends and tell them about each next small or big step I was taking that didn’t make sense to anyone but me (and most often Nathan).  The expressions of my passion, suffering, talents, and experiences would feel offensive and downright crazy to others while for the first time in life I was starting to feel like myself.

No one told me that with practice and time it gets easier.  The feelings of despair are only temporary as you learn to speak up for yourself and not need the approval of others.  The intense fear that comes with judgement, manipulation, deceitfulness, jealousy gets more manageable with time.  When I care about birth, breastfeeding, food access, faith, equality there are people who think that I am making too much out of nothing.  The same may be for you in what you are being called to care about-whatever that is.

That is what it sometimes feels like to follow your calling.  It’s hard.

I know now that in following my calling I’ve been brave. Men and women that I admire and respect-who have also been brave-tell me so.  Brave for being willing to choose a path that I hadn’t seen anyone else ever take and a willingness to take the time to clear the way for others to follow.  Brave because everything in me wanted to give up.  To take the path I had been trained and groomed to take.  The path that made me a team player.  I’ve finally been told the secret that on the team where I just “go with the flow” no one every really wins.

I’ve learned that one of the bravest things we can do is to break free from the chains that enslave us when do not understand our worth.  To have a willingness to make small and big decisions that are in the best interest of ourselves, other good people, and our communities at large.  In order to do that I must learn that it’s okay to do things that for years I had been told weren’t okay.

I can say no.
I can set boundaries.
I can step away from some good things, if necessary.
I can choose “my” good every time.
I can choose to surround myself with people who are loving and kind.

When I choose to do what I know is right then I am choosing to give my good right back to people who not only deserve it, but who will do good with it.  I can prepare myself for the bullies who will make things difficult.  I can seek mentors in my life who will cast wisdom on my good and bad.  I can ask the people around me-especially my children-the most important questions that shape their future.

What are you passionate about?
In what ways are you talented?
What are your life experiences teaching you?
How might you use all of those things to do good?
How can you prepare yourself for the bullies who might fight your good?
How can I help you?

My daughter Elizabeth and I moments before a speaking engagement where I choose to overcome fear and be brave.