Seasons of Change

So often, seasons of change seem to come in my life faster than I can perceive their arrival or process what the change means for me.  My marriage is the best example of this.  Even though we dated for a year and were engaged for another year, I still can’t figure out how I went from being the single girl who, though extremely extroverted, loved living alone in her new Raleigh apartment… to this married woman who spends day after day with this man who has become an inseparable part of me.  We’ve now bought and broken-in two different homes together, moved cross country together, adopted and loved two dogs and shared thousands of little experiences from meals to walks to trips to middle-of-the-night chats.  I know him better than anyone else in his life, and he — me.

I was not expecting at all to get married at age 26.  My mother who was born in 1948 didn’t get married until 1979 (age 30) and my grandmother who was born in 1913 didn’t get married until 1943 (age 30).  So by my mom’s gauge, I was really rushing into this marriage thing!  lol (I think my Dad’s mom got married a bit younger but need to check.)  Besides being ahead of the traditional marriage age in my family, I know I am by no means the prettiest, the thinnest or the “est” of anything among single girls, so I’m as shocked as anyone that I found love at a relatively young age.  But I did find love, or it found me, or Tom found me, or we found each other… however fate works its magic… and my life has changed dramatically.

I now find myself at an almost equally dramatic time of life change.  As nearly everyone knows by now, on June 4, I lost my job.  It’s a tricky thing to explain because I wasn’t actually laid off by my boss or the company I was working 40-50 hours a week for.  Without getting into too many details, we were already in the process of separating from the parent company.  Though my job was going away, I had interviewed for a new job and was told that I got it.  I was only waiting for a formal offer letter the day that two managers told me that I was terminated “effective today.”  I thought they were kidding.  I could have sworn that I saw a hint of a smile in their eyes and they were going to say that it was a joke and in reality, I was finally moving into my new role.  But it wasn’t a joke.  I left the office immediately and cleaned out my space over the weekend.  Never before has a chapter ended so abruptly.

The chapter with this job goes back before our move to Kansas City last June 2009 (one year ago).  It goes back further than our anticipated merge with the parent company and me coming on as an employee (October 2008).  It goes back all the way to October 2003.

In October 2003, I was a 21 year old college graduate just looking for a job.  I didn’t really want to stay in the Chicago area where I went to college for some reason, and I assumed there may not be a lot of job opportunities where my parents lived in Fargo-Moorhead (ND/MN).  With my degree in political science and the experience of living in Washington, DC for a semester study program during college, I felt DC was the place for me.  Thankfully my Aunt Pat (mom’s sister) and her family lived in the DC area so I had an immediate place to crash once I got there.

So in that summer after college graduation, I loaded up my little green car (which Tom still kids me about because I cannot remember the make or model or how I got it, exactly) and headed east.  I drove 10 hours the first day, and then another 10 or so hours the second day.  I had never driven so far alone in my life.  I played loud music to keep my energy level high and my eyes wide open.  I remember how beautiful and quaint the roads got to be as I got to Maryland and then Virginia, approaching their house in Great Falls.  I still remember my Uncle Jim greeting me at the door — I arrived just in time for dinner that night.  My new life, my working life, was about to begin.

The first thing I did in DC was leave DC.  My cousin Julia was going to some Spanish summer camps in Spain and my aunt had decided to go along and get certified in teaching English in Madrid.  I liked the idea of teaching and traveling, and obviously had nothing better to do, so I went along with them.  Summer 2003 went on record as one of the hottest summers in European history.  With the lack of air conditioning in most flats across Europe, 30,000 people (many elderly) died in the heat that summer.  While I am glad I went and had so many good experiences, studying how to teach English in a scorching hot Madrid in August, of all times, the month when literally almost every shopkeeper closes for the entire month and heads to the beach… yeah, well, it wasn’t exactly a vacation.  (Note to self: next trip to Spain must involve much more beach and much more sangria.)

I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that, so far in 7 years, I have not used that teaching certification at all.  But I did go on to work for a temp agency and I also worked at Bed, Bath & Beyond in Reston, a store that is now gone for some reason.  I did whatever I could do until I found a professional job.  And finally, I did.

That October, through an online ad, I got a job as an administrative assistant at a nonprofit organization.  The organization was WorldServe International.  My first two weeks on the job, everyone was in Africa on a trip and I had to hold down the fort on my own.  Within six months, my boss who was the director of communications left the organization and I was immediately promoted.  So you’ll believe me when I say it was trial by fire, but there is no better way to learn than to have to learn.  “Fake it till you make it” became my motto, and I quickly figured out how to do dozens of things.

I did good work and was a very reliable person, which is why when I decided to move to North Carolina in 2005 because of a new, organic church I wanted (maybe even felt called) to be a part of, my boss didn’t want to lose me.  I was no longer an employee, but he kept me on as a consultant with the organization.

Upon arriving in Raleigh, I dove in to my new consulting practice head on.  I joined the area Chamber of Commerce and numerous other networking groups.  I learned that dressing well, speaking confidently and giving a firm handshake could take you pretty far in life.  I ended up recruiting about 25 clients on my own and serving an additional 15 clients through a contract with an advertising agency — all within 2 years of moving to a new state.  I offered communications and public relations consulting, as well as writing services and much more.  I developed PR plans and business plans, re-wrote website content, created brochures, pitched and wrote stories for magazines and gave people ideas for growing their businesses.  I found the Research Triangle area (Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill) to be a lively environment for business as well as a lively, fun area to explore and live.  The universe seemed to open up its riches of life, joy and possibility and pour them upon me.

Throughout it all, WorldServe remained one of my biggest and best clients.  I kept the title Director of Communications during all those years.  Communications was only the tip of the iceberg of what I handled for the organization… I learned to “do it all” not arrogantly, but just because of our small staff, I had to.  It was invaluable experience.

About the time we got married (2008), the organization said they wanted to stay with me even into a third state — this time, a state of their choosing.  We were anticipating a merger with a global television network and they pleaded with me to move to Kansas City.  In their Kansas City office, they said, I would work closely with the entire TV network staff and develop all kinds of promos and programs that would bring the parent company and the international relief and development organization together in partnership.  Frankly, for the already-identified extrovert in the room, returning to an office and a team environment sounded very appealing to me.  Additionally, they wanted to make me an employee again, which meant we’d have major medical coverage and other benefits.  Goodbye, self-employment tax, too!   The ability to focus on one organizational mission rather than constantly sell and juggle projects was yet another benefit — peace of mind, in short.  I could go to work and then come home.  I could have more of a life.

While Tom was willing to go, I was excited to go.  I was born and (partially) raised in Topeka, just an hour west of Kansas City.  I know this part of the country.  I love this part of the country.  It just feels like home in so many ways — the flat land, the big sky, the friendly people, the way you can count on all four seasons to be quintessentially the season it’s supposed to be… winter is snowy and cold, summer is blazing hot and perfect swimming pool weather.  I felt God had once again aligned the stars just perfectly for me and for us.  It was not a difficult decision to make, except for saying goodbye to some friends.  We drove out of Raleigh in a two-car procession, our dog Pastor in my car.  I cried such tears of mixed emotion leaving those friends behind — they had showed extraordinary kindness and generosity the final week before we left.  Why did they save the nice things till the end?  Just kidding.  🙂  But I knew God was calling us to Kansas City and had opened the perfect opportunity.

Well, fast forward to today.  This Friday, June 25, is our one year anniversary of that teary but hopeful drive out of Raleigh.  We know because it’s also the anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, and we got several texts from friends as we traveled through Appalachia telling us the news.  That was kind of funny that everyone told us, but at the time we had tickets to MJ’s “final” This Is It show in London so we were and are definitely fans.

But anyway, it’s only been one year and the job that brought us here is now gone.  But I hope this story explains why this is the ending of more than a year or a cross-country journey — this is in many ways an end to a 7-year journey that began when I was 21 years old and newly thrust into the real world.  It’s a significant crossroads for me and because I am married, for us.

There are now no guarantees of what will happen next.  I had one interview last week, and I have another one tomorrow.  My only hope and prayer is that, if possible, I find something within a month or two rather than this becoming a prolonged period of unemployment.  Though Tom is working, we really need both of our incomes to make ends meet.  Besides that, I’m a working girl, and don’t enjoy sitting at home all day without purpose.  Even one day without leaving the house can drive me nutty (God bless Starbucks, Borders and all their big box and indie counterparts.)

As of today, I am in a positive frame of mind and extremely hopeful about our future.  As my Mom said about me losing my job, “You will be one of those people who looks back and says that getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to you.”  God does seem to work that way — I’ve seen it many times in my life — and I’m counting on a good story to come out of this one.

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Till We Have Faces

I said last month that I wanted to cuddle up with some C.S. Lewis during December, and I did. Thanks to my your recommendations (Jennifer, Rustin and I can’t remember who else), I chose Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold — Lewis’ “ultimate” novel.  (And Catherine, the space triology is next!)

I don’t tend to pick up fiction (not sure why), but I am sure glad I did.  As the snow started to fall here in the Midwest, the nights grew very long and dark and our imaginations turned toward Christmas stories like the original nativity and so many more, it was good to fall into a story from far, far away and long, long ago.

I’ll try not to spoil it for those who haven’t read it yet, but in essence, Till We Have Faces is an imaginative retelling of the timeless story of Cupid and Psyche.  Now I didn’t know much about Cupid other than him being a big chubby baby that flings love-arrows at unsuspecting singles, but it turns out there’s more to the ancient Greek myth than that.

What’s interesting is that when Lewis heard the story of Cupid and Psyche as an undergraduate (perhaps still a teenager), there was one piece of it that didn’t make sense to him.  In the legend, when Psyche (born a mortal) is off living in a magnificent palace with her new husband, the god Cupid, it goes that her sisters were jealous of her and plotted to make her do something that would ruin her life.  Psyche did what they provoked her to do, and it did indeed ruin her happiness.

But Lewis never accepted that telling of the story.  Though just a simple detail, Lewis felt that surely the sisters could not see the divine magnificent palace.  They weren’t jealous; they simply didn’t have eyes to see the dwelling of the god Cupid.

Let me put it one other way.  When Lewis started thinking about this story as a teenager, he approached it from the angle that the humans were in the right (their doubts were well-justified) and the gods were wrong.  It wasn’t fair!  It wasn’t that they were jealous of their sister; they simply couldn’t see her new palace and concluded that she must be mentally unstable.  She must be living in a make-believe world and they had to end it for her own safety.

But as anyone who knows Lewis knows, the author of this book wasn’t the same person a teenager that he was later in life.  At the age of 32, C.S. Lewis had a profound conversion experience.  He reoriented his life away from doubt and instead, embraced Jesus Christ.  He became a Christian.

My favorite part of the book is, of course, the end.  Well now I am really spoiling it for people who haven’t read it.  Dang it, stop reading this blog now and go get the book!

Anyway, the end is satisfying and not.  I’m curious what someone whose heart isn’t open to God would think of it.  After hundreds of pages of the narrator making her firm case against the gods, she finally gets her answer in the end.  Of course, it’s not the answer(s) she expected.

It reminds me of something that Os Guinness is famous for saying to confused college graduates wondering what to do with their lives: “We are not called to something; we are called to Someone.”

Somehow, that is all the answer we need in life.

A new blog, an epic topic

I like making lists.  Do you like making lists?  “To do” lists are the most common, as well as “to buy” lists to remind me what to pick up at the store.

But have you ever made one of those lists where you write down everything you are thankful for?  A gratitude list.  For me, it always starts with Tom, my family, a place to call home, good food to eat, the love of God (who is Love), our dog, and eventually gets to the more trivial… “brightly colored post-it notes…” and “10 more minutes on snooze.” lol Or similarly, maybe you’ve made a list of things that make you happy.  These lists are fun to make.

Well in some ways, I see my new blog as an ongoing discovery and celebration of these best things in life… things that constitute The Good Life, at least for me.  Sometimes a recognition of the little joys in life.  And sometimes, on a deeper level, an intimate, introspective look at the things that truly matter.  …if there even is a distinction between those two (we will see).

I realize this phrase “the good life” has as many meanings as interpreters.  For many people, “the good life” means forsaking busy civilization and learning to live peacefully and self-sufficiently in nature.  For others, it means acquiring the most luxurious goods this world has to offer and never needing to worry wear your next dollar will come from (quite the opposite!).  For me, it means something else entirely.  It’s a way of life that I am beginning to think about and define in this 27th year.  And well, I’m just bold enough to think the entire inter-cyber-net-universe needs to get this inside scoop!

I think an incredibly fascinating place to start with this search, as with all searches, is Wikipedia.  This site holds all the answers, if you didn’t know.  But since it’s community-edited, it’s always interesting to see what has been said and what’s been left out.  “The Good Life” entry is fascinating for this reason.  It’s relatively short for such an immense topic.  Why is it that this is all that’s been written about the ultimate experience of human existence?

THE GOOD LIFE

The good life is a term for the life that one would like to live, or for happiness, associated (as eudaimonia) with the work of Aristotle and his teaching on ethics.

RELIGIOUS APPROACHES

There has been a pattern in the life of the Christian Church of monasticism or ascetism, wherein members of the body of Christ separated themselves to be consecrated to a more contemplative lifestyle, or decided to live in voluntary poverty in order to better meet the needs of the world.

Recent developments in this field have been made by what some call the new monasticism. Young men and women, both monogamous married couples and celibate singles, share their homes and lives, usually in the inner city as a means and method of growing in their faith and ministering to the marginalized and hurting people surrounding them.

NON-RELIGIOUS APPROACHES

There have been many instances throughout history, especially American history, of individuals or groups of individuals attempting to return to a simpler state of existence, or, as Henry David Thoreau said, “to front the essential facts of life”. Thoreau wrote his influential memoir Walden about his personal experience with simple living. A century later, Helen and Scott Nearing published a series of books on “the good life” detailing their alternative lifestyle.

SEE ALSO

* Eudaimonia
* La dolce vita (The Sweet Life) – Federico Fellini’s 1960 film may be seen as an antonym of ‘the good life’ concept
* Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle

REFERENCES

* Living Faithfully in a Fragmented World by Jonathan R. Wilson
* The Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing
* Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
* School(s) for Conversion edited by Rutba House
* The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claibourne
* Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald J. Sider
* Walden by Henry David Thoreau
* The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder

…Back to me now.

So that’s a very interesting look at what is meant by “The Good Life.”  I will be reading some of these books and other materials and digging deeper as part of this blog.

But I also have my own ideas of what needs to be on the “official” entry.

Stay tuned…