Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Life That Has Your Name On It

"Vocational loneliness runs counter to what we intuitively seek for our lives—the comfort and safety of family, the buffer of friendships, the distractions of work. Will these all be taken away? Not necessarily. But you’ll discover that family, friendships, and the distractions of work are not enough to sustain you in your personal vocational journey into God. Instead, there will come a time when you will find yourself taking your relationship with Jesus more seriously, and come face to face with the life that has your name on it and no one else’s." 
--Mary Sharon Moore MTS

Vocational loneliness conforms us to the image of Christ....and that transformation takes time 
and is ongoing.

As I've written about this topic I've come to realize so many people experience a vocational loneliness of some type: caregivers, pastors, priests, nuns, rabbis, chaplains, medical personnel, missionaries, teachers, corporate management, social workers, counselors, "creatives" and leaders in various fields. It is anyone who chooses to step out of the norm into a life of service. The list is endless. Your comments and stories have been an encouragement to me.

My calling is part of my DNA, so deeply entwined in me that it cannot be unraveled from the whole of me. I'm conscious of that fact when I look back at decisions I made when I dated before my marriage to Rich. I knew deep down where I was headed and eventually knew who would be pursuing the same path I was on. That made for some difficult choices at times for someone who was in the late teens, early twenties. But even at that young age, my calling could not be denied. I am so grateful to be sharing life with a man who has the same values and pursuit in life.

Being alone in vocational calling gives us an opportunity to re-examine our motivation and direction in life. Without periodic re-examination we can quickly lose our way and miss the purposeful life we were destined to live. 

As I look ahead to 2016 I'm thinking about these things:

  • Don't begrudge where we are in life and ministry even if it is outside our comfort zone. Remember our calling and take heart knowing God is faithful.
  • Always seek community. We need it. It may not be our ideal, but it will fill a void we feel and possibly lead to new things. It will also encourage others.
  • Embrace the solitude we experience as a learning experience and ask God to reveal more of Himself to us...always a plus and life-changing.
  • Pursue joy in our circumstances. Thank God constantly for who He is and all that He is in our lives no matter what we are experiencing. Take time to enjoy the good things happening around us. Spend time doing what you love.
  • Anticipate adventure and discovery along the way knowing God is always at work in us. We don't know what the future holds. This is not a time to fear the unknown, but to expect new and good things from God.

"The difficult places in life give us the great opportunity to really know and trust God.  But, this requires time. It requires diligent waiting and seeking. Psalm 27:13-14 says, “I am still confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  It’s in this place of waiting and seeking that we really come to know God. And, it’s from this place of deepest knowing that flows the deepest trust." --Pastor Ron Salsbury.   Photography: Sheryl Bullock, copyright 2015

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When loneliness leads you into vocation - Sheila's story

This state of desolation—manifested through a deep sense of loneliness—is all pervasive in all societies and situations today now more than ever!  However, we are a people of hope. “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth!” 
Fr. Ed Broom

Despite careful planning, the expectations Sheila and her husband had for their move to another city over 2,000 miles away, didn't pan out. Once the move was completed everything seemed to unravel. Not only did their expectations in their new town not come to fruition, but Sheila's cancer returned. And after a negative experience with a new oncologist, she added "incompetent medical community" to her long list of complaints.

Looking back she realizes her perspective was skewed and warped in so many ways. She was convinced there was nothing about her new surroundings that had any positive merit. This attitude trapped her in a downward spiral which she now refers to as a "spiritual desolation."

She was trying to adapt to a new town and grieve the loss of the familiar and friends left behind at the same time. She felt very alone and a local support system was no where to be found. Fear crept in and took up residence. She didn't want to live like this.

At some point Sheila realized she was sowing seeds of bitterness in her life. That realization was a wake up call for her. She said "I recognized I was coming against my own faith." Sheila began to ask the question, "What is the purpose of loneliness?" While there are no easy answers for that one, just admitting the loneliness was the first step for her. By asking that question, she began looking for new seeds she could sow to replace the bitterness that had taken root.

Sheila began to look around her at people who were in great need. A compassion for them slowly began to grow in her.

During this time Sheila created an art journal and over an 18 month period of time she filled it with pictures along with words and phrases she wanted to be symbolic of her new thinking. Each page in the journal represented progress toward a changed mind. "It gave me a visual reminder that I was moving forward," she said. She was now looking around her for opportunities where she could minister to others. Gradually, the bitterness went away as she took steps to live out her rediscovered faith in demonstrative and tangible ways.

One of the other things that was very instrumental in her healing was reading a book called, "Pursue the Intentional Life," by Jean Fleming. Sheila said that while reading the book, "I saw there was another way to live. I saw the neediness in my soul and released it to the Lord. But that process took awhile! Until I let go of having my own needs met first, I couldn't offer the soil for the seeds of the author's wise words to be sown. As I gradually began to plant the seeds in obedience and faith, the Lord watered and the healing began."

Sheila relinquished her unfulfilled expectations and came to accept that God is in charge of all of it. Some of the difficult things in her life and community have not changed, but her attitude and purpose have.

While Sheila's story is not one of intentionally choosing vocational calling as part of the move, she now chooses to live in her calling. God is using her in ways she never imagined. Although it has not been easy and she still deals with loneliness at times, she has grown into someone who chooses to actively live in hope and joy.

She says, "I'm not looking for a friend any longer. Just give me a place to serve."

James 1:2-6 "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (New International Version)

(This is the 3rd post in a series on vocational loneliness. You can begin reading through the series here.)

Photos:  plant - Aliaksei Matsiushkou
             pencils - Bershadsky Yuri

Friday, October 30, 2015

Loneliness Beckons Us Into Discovery - Ella's Story

"Sometimes God shows you something and then He grows you into it." -Nathan Edwardson
Ella is in her mid-fifties and lives in a major metropolitan city. After her child went away to college she and her husband felt called to move from suburbia into the city to an older, established neighborhood. Being accomplished in photography and music, Ella knew that artists lived in this neighborhood and she had expectations of a greater companionship with those who share her passion for the arts.

One of the first things that happened was the realization that living in the city meant an increase in crime. They had to put up a fence (common in her neighborhood) which immediately made the process of interacting with neighbors more challenging.

It is also a “transitional” neighborhood. Long time residents are feeling displaced and overtaken by those who are tearing down old homes and building newer and more costly ones for their new families or for those who are close to retirement, like Ella. Most people require two incomes to live in this neighborhood. Thus, many women are working during the day. And then, on the other side, the shacks and old run down homes just a few blocks away teem with families struggling to survive. The white people do not greet the black people: FEAR. The black people do not look into the eyes of the white people: DISTRUST. 

Ella goes on to say:

"I know my husband and I are supposed to be here. But, I have had to change my 'suburban' mindset. My mornings are no longer spent meeting moms for coffee to discuss the SAT test or a homework assignment. Instead, I feel that now I am meeting life that is real. I have had to adjust my “judgment meter.” I am learning to listen more. I am meeting people who have a radically different worldview than I. I have become compassionate to those who do not believe like I do, realizing, as Jesus said, that he did not come to condemn the world but to save it."

Ella hasn't been to church much in the past year. She is longing to find one that will be able to connect with the people that surround her and is also true to the Bible. She spends time reading her Bible each day and prays that God will birth something new in this neighborhood. She feels God wants her to pray for women to one day get together for a study called, Who Is Jesus...And He’s Not The Guy You Often Meet At Church.
Ella says, "So, even though I am lonely, I know I have a purpose. My first purpose is to draw my heart close to God and to hear Him. The second is to be obedient and love. I am realizing it is much more important to me to be purposeful than to have friends."

"Our weakness, our story of struggle, even the truth about the cost of our choice to follow God — these are the greatest gifts we have to give to others in their journey." - Rick Richardson

This post is part of a continuing series dealing with calling and vocational loneliness. You can read the previous post in this series by clicking here.

Cityscape - Image: 16661911 kwest
Butterfly - Image: 191699 William Sarver

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Lonely Side of Spiritual Vocation

"Vocational loneliness means handing over your plans, your understanding of how things should be, your very liberty, to the greater forces of the Holy Spirit, to make of your life what God has in mind." Mary Sharon Moore MTS
Rich and I knew when we left our 35 year stretch in Thousand Oaks, California, we were paddling into unknown waters. For one thing, we knew it was time to leave, but we didn't know where to go. It was a strange predicament, for sure. We were experiencing a restlessness and felt like God was calling us out to ???......somewhere!

The next two years in Cambria, California, was an interesting interlude. We'd owned a home there for eight years so we chose to go there first to seek, wait, and listen. With a view of the Pacific Ocean out our front window and the sound of waves lulling us to sleep at night you'd wonder why we would even consider leaving. But both of us knew we needed to move on. Cambria was part of the journey...a temporary landing place.

Then we felt a call to move to Redding, California, where we are now. Although one of our adult children lives here, it wasn't the underlying reason we moved here. I won't try to list reasons why we chose it or try to make sense of it. We just knew. We told God we were open to going where He wanted to use us. We knew we would never be content with the typical retirement living model and wanted to be open to new experiences and ministry opportunities. Since we both do coaching, writing and consulting, we can work from pretty much anywhere.

We've been here going on five years now. And it has been a steep learning curve. This is not my comfort zone. With that statement I should say that returning to what we had in Southern California is not our burning heart's desire either or we would be back there by now. Once you hear and follow that vocational call, it is not easy to turn your back on it.

What I've learned:

When you choose vocation and significance over familiarity and comfort, you will experience loneliness. 

Probably the most challenging part of loneliness for me has been the lack of an intimate friendship or two here where I live. If you are female you know what I am talking about. I need a friendship that has been tested, tried, is safe, has common interests and levels that go down a long ways. It takes time to build something like this, but you can sense early on whether a friendship can go that distance or not. I realize few can. I've coped with this friend void by staying in touch regularly with a few close friends in Southern California and visiting them often, along with my siblings.

Some people say, "when you move you find out who your true friends are." But that doesn't express what I'm trying to say. Not everyone makes an effort to stay in touch with you after you move. These people don't really stop being your friends, but the type of connection you have with them does change. You realize they are part of a past chapter of your life. It becomes more of a history. To be resentful or refuse to let go of that change is pretty much a waste. I've been down that road.

Most of us know you can put yourself out there, be surrounded by people, and still be in a place of loneliness. I'm far from being bored. I have plenty to do and what I do is fulfilling. And I love being near grandchildren. The challenge for me has been how to cope with the loneliness. In some of my middle of the night conversations with God, He reminds me He didn't force us to come nor is He forcing us to stay. But at times He also whispers in my ear with an eager anticipation that intrigues me:  "Don't miss what I am doing here." Then I remember that's why we came.

(This is the first post in a series on the subject of loneliness in living out your spiritual vocation.)

Quotation:  Mary Sharon Moore, Copyright 2012.

Photography: Sheryl Bullock Copyright 2012

Friday, June 12, 2015

What's Love's Got To Do With It?

Well, quite a lot, actually. If you ask my friend, Gail, she will tell you that love is the key to a joyful life.

We've known Gail and her family for many years. We met her and her husband, Larry, when we moved to Thousand Oaks, California, as newlyweds in the 70's. Gail was one busy mom during those years with three active grade school children.

When their children were in their teens, they moved to Roseburg, Oregon for a job change for Larry. In the meantime we moved a couple times too. So it was especially nice to hear from Larry and Gail a few months ago as they were passing through our area and to share a meal together. Beyond the parenting years, Larry and Gail have been blessed with five granddaughters and two great grandchildren.

As we caught up on the last twenty-plus years, Gail turned to us at one point and said "I need to tell you I have Stage 4 Pancreatic cancer."


We are never prepared to hear words like that, are we, especially from someone who is healthy, vibrant and probably the youngest great grandmother I know. She went on to tell us she'd had a routine scan last fall in preparation for some other surgery she was about to have and there it was...a spot no one wants to see on a scan. This was not what she was expecting either!

She explained that her doctor said she probably had about a year, at the most, to live and her only real treatment option was chemo which would likely make her sick for months diminishing her quality of life. This course of treatment would extend her life by about three months. Gail said, "I have perfect peace about all this. I made the decision to skip the chemo and enjoy this next year of my life."And she has. She had no symptoms for months and enjoyed many activities and trips to reconnect with friends she hadn't seen in awhile.

Gail's life has been one of loving others and serving her Savior. Her family will be the first to tell you she has lived out her faith in Christ so beautifully in the small things and now in the big things. From the day of the diagnosis she said she felt an incredible peace. She has welcomed the prayers for her healing and is willing to continue life here or in Heaven. Her attitude has been encouraging to those of us who have heard her story. She even manages to have a sense of humor relaying how one day when standing in line at the drug store waiting to purchase toothpaste a thought came to her. "Hmmm, I wonder if this will be the last tube of toothpaste I'll need to buy."

There was no sense of panic in trace of entitlement to more years of life. There was just a beautiful surrender consistent with her relationship with God. There was even joy on her face. I have to say the joy thing left me amazed.

A couple weeks after our visit, Gail sent me a note telling me she had just heard a teaching by John Piper on the scripture verse, Romans 8:28. He focused on two words in this verse, "good" and "love." She summed it up in this way:  We need to love God more than the good things we want from Him, more than the pleasures these sufferings take away from us. We can trust Him to bring about "good" through the difficult things we endure. His grace will get us through whatever trials we experience. Gail knows she can completely trust God with His purpose for her life.

This has left me wondering if my reaction to a trial like this would be as reflective of total trust in God as hers is. Do I love God more than the good things I want in my life?

What about you?

"God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him."  John Piper

Photography by