The Backstory on Doing

I got my first job when I was 10.  No, it wasn’t it in sweatshop. My neighbor called my mother and asked if I could babysit her two sons while she and her husband went out.  They would be home by midnight.  Well, they weren’t home by midnight.  They were gone for seven hours and, at the extravagant rate of $0.50 per hour, I made a whopping $3.50.  It’s true. I continued to babysit for that family and then practically every family in my small town of 4,000 until I went to college.

My first tax-paying job was at a small dress shop on the main street of my home town.  I vacuumed, opened shipments, attached price tags, washed windows, etc.  This manual labor earned me the hourly wage of $2.00.  I worked Monday through Friday after school from 3:30-5:00.  Do the math, I was really pulling in the dough.

When I got my driver’s license I could venture to the neighboring town where I became employed at McDonald’s.  I climbed that ladder from mop-girl to fry-girl to order-girl to drive-thru-girl in no time flat.

In my senior year of high school I got a second job opening and closing at a public school day care center.  I arrived at 6:00 am to let the little critters in, went to school mid-morning, then returned after school to wave goodbye and close the place down.  Somehow I managed to work there, keep my job at McDonald’s, and graduate!

When I went off to college I worked several places — day care center, cafeteria, and development office.  Since then I have been a camp counselor, residential care staff, teacher, freelance writer, census worker (seriously), and who knows what else.

I think you get the point.  I have, almost always, had a job.  I took a brief sabbatical when my kids were babies.  I was blessed to stay home with them for seven years, but even then I was always busy baking, cleaning, homeschooling (seriously), leading Bible studies for women and teens, writing chancel dramas and worship songs, and (wait for it) becoming a Mary Kay consultant.

For the third day in a row I am going to say, I am not accustomed to being still.  Ten years ago we moved to St. Louis so that my husband could go to the Seminary.  For the next four years I was the primary wage earner in the family.  By the time he became a pastor,  I had become not only a teacher and department chair, but also the curriculum coordinator and member of the administrative team.

It is in my DNA to be doing.  I see opportunities and know I can meet them.  I see gaps and I know I can fill them. I see problems and I know I can fix them.  So when my husband took the job in Ann Arbor, I immediately started looking for what I could do!  (See yesterday’s post to more effectively roll your eyes at this.) I found several options.  I won’t get into all of those now, because I am trying to be still! (I told you this was going to be a challenge for me.)

The words from this morning’s Bible reading were written just for me, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on, [or dear Kristin, what you will do]…Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns [they aren’t busy doingthey are being], and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6: 25ff)

Doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it? I am a child of God.  That is my identify.  My identity does not come from my work — from what I do.  It comes from whose I am.  I continue my mantra.  I am a human, being HIs, trusting that He will feed me — literally and metaphorically.  I will not be anxious.  I will just be.

I am just a human, being, revisit

This post, written in July 2014 at the beginning of my quest to do less and be more, seems appropriate even in July 2019, at the end of a weekend where I hung out with my granddaughters, simply being.

Many have pointed out the irony of being called ‘human beings’ in a culture that is so focused on ‘doing’. We often find our worth, meaning, and identity through what we do. Strangers, upon meeting, ask one another, “so what do you do?”  The child comes home from school, and the parent asks, “what did you do today?”  The husband says to the wife, “what have you been doing?” It’s fine if what you did was close a million-dollar deal, get an A on a paper, or promote world peace, but not so great if what you did was file for bankruptcy, get in a fight with a friend, or simply change diapers all day. When we form our identity or measure our worth based on what we do, we may end up struggling with perfectionism, workaholism, and, in the absence of peak-performance, depression.

I must admit from the start, that in the world of doing, I have been an over-achiever. I stood at the starting line of adulthood declaring that I was going to win. I was the mom who, while holding a full-time teaching position, trained for and ran a half-marathon, baked cinnamon rolls and tortillas from scratch, clipped coupons, and made all my children’s clothes (just kidding on that last one). You get the point. I have got doing down. To a fault.

I often do when I don’t want to feel, or when I need to be in control, or when I am angry or afraid.  It is my way of avoiding the interior me — the human being.  

So when my health began to shift and I suddenly found myself unable to do all the things I like to do and started to be, it was pretty ugly. I began to be angry, and scared, and depressed, and worried, and sad, and bored. I didn’t like to be with me. I was downright whiny — and this momma has never done whiny!

My strategy to cope with this was, of course, to do something!  While I was struggling to manage all the responsibilities of my full-time-plus position as a teacher and administrator of a high school, I spent evenings and weekends applying for all kinds of jobs where I could do less! After about six months doing that, I got an interview and an offer to do, shockingly, more!  And then,….and then….a solution was provided! I didn’t have to do anything!  My husband was offered a position that relocated us to a new environment and provided me with some time to just be. And here we are.

Being.

A long time ago, a huge group of people was following Jesus around, so he walked up the side of a mountain and started speaking to them. He said, “You are the salt of the earth….you are the light of the world.”  He didn’t say “Be the salt of the earth.” Or, “be the light of the world.”  He said “you are“. The word ‘are’ is the present tense plural form of ‘be’ We are already the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our identify is not dependent on what we do. Our identity is firmly planted in Christ. We are His.

I enter this time of rest and be-ing chanting this mantra, “I am His. I am a human, being His.”

I will pray that you find some space to just be today, too.

Epilogue: Five years later, I’m still trying to find the balance between being and doing. I’m discovering in many areas of life that balance is not about choosing one option (i.e. being) over another (i.e. doing) but about finding ways to live in the tension of the existence of both. Our identity is based on who we are in Christ, and He calls us to do — to live our life — out of that truth. We can do great things because of who He has made us to be, which is really not as easy as it sounds, especially in a culture that values accomplishment and status. We can easily forget that the most important is already done; we quickly fall back into patterns of trying to do more to earn position, identity, or status. However, when we realize that our identity is based on who we are in Christ, we can freely do without the added pressure of earning our worth.

As I watched our granddaughters this weekend, I loved them every minute — when they were charming, when they were naughty, when they were sleeping, and when they were showing off. My love for them was not based on what they were doing; I am simply in love with their beings. As they grow, others may not be so kind, but the One who made them — and us — will love them through all the things that they do, while they learn who He has made them to be.

The same is true for you and me.

Be kind and compassionate to one another.”

Ephesians 4:32

What to do, What to do

That is the question of the year.  Yes, year. One year ago, my husband and I were flying from St. Louis, Missouri to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a job interview. We knew almost immediately that he should take the position, and just moments later, that I would stay in St. Louis with our daughter for her senior year of high school and continue in my teaching position during that time. Yes, it would be challenging. Yes, all of us would be faced with tough choices, but it seemed like the best decision.   After all, it was a position that was practically crafted with him in mind; I had been having some challenges with my health that were making a shift in profession seem inevitable; and, this move would take us home to Michigan after nine (for me, ten) years in Missouri.

The year did indeed have some challenges — hours and hours on the road for him so that he could spend short weekends with us, new responsibilities for all of us: groceries, cooking, yard work, car repairs, etc., and missing out on key moments such as his installation service, our daughter’s soccer games and late night study sessions, and my faculty farewells.  However, I must also point out some of the unexpected perks.  After twenty-three years of marriage, we experienced a bit of renewal through our ‘long-distance dating’ relationship.  Don’t get me wrong, we annoyed each other at times and had failed communications, but we were genuinely happy to see one another after long stretches, enjoyed dinners and walking hand-in-hand, and even took advantage of FaceTime, texting, and (for me) the dreaded phone call. Additionally, our daughter and I got to have some great ‘roommate’ experiences: cooking for each other, watching late-night TV, helping each other out in a pinch, and yes, arguing.

But the year is just about over. The movers come in nine days. Our daughter is heading off to college in four weeks. My husband is well-established in his position, and I am faced with the question: What to do?

I am not accustomed to being still. I always have an agenda. Except now. On the advice of my doctors, I have committed to not working “at least until January”. I have Psoriatic Arthritis, an autoimmune disease that seems to worsen under fatigue and stress. The past year has pushed those limits, even though I have stepped back from many responsibilities.  In the past couple of months I have been virtually unemployed (other than the details of moving). This has, indeed, improved my health, but I may be losing my mind! I am the top scorer on Words with Friends, I have put together several jigsaw puzzles in those two months (one of them was 2000 pieces!), and I am reading novels of no literary merit whatsoever!  So, what am I gonna do???

I know, I know, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46). Did I mention, I am not accustomed to being still? I am trying.  I am committing daily time to Bible study, I am taking a daily walk with my dog, I am, as I mentioned, reading. I am trying to be still. Really. But how am I supposed to do this until January???

I have been mother to four, graduate student, teacher, pastor’s wife, writer, English department chair, curriculum coordinator, and on and on and on. And now, the nest is empty, the pastor took a non-congregational position, and I am unemployed.  What to do?

I have many options in front of me, but those aren’t important right now.  I have committed to being still and watching to see what God places in front of me.  It will be a challenge, to be sure. Just yesterday I was two pages into a job application before I deleted the file, chastising myself, “It’s not even August!”

I sense a long journey ahead of me. So, how about for the next several months I share my journey on this space and together we try to be still and see what God presents before us.  I mean, I gotta do something!