Set the world ablaze
Who were you called to be?
I have been struggling to determine my purpose. I haven't had a full time job since I was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2018 and most days, I still can't imagine being physically capable of returning to a full time schedule. Yet I find myself wondering, what am I supposed to do?
This summer has been so strange, in a multitude of ways, but the weather specifically has had me feeling 'off.' I love summer, I grew up spending most days June through August by my Sittou's (grandmother) pool. All of my birthday parties were either Hawaiian luau or Mexican fiesta themed, complete with swimming, pool games and water balloon tosses. And every summer my family spent a week at the beach in Rhode Island.
But deep in my heart, I've always been an autumn girl. I love the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze, the rich scents of apples, cinnamon and earth, and the way the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds, producing great bursts of light at any give moment, just to be hidden entirely the next. By mid-August, I'm usually longing for fall. I am tired of the heat, I am tired of my summer wardrobe and I am longing for the comfort of a crisp fall evening.
But as the saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing. And that's what this summer has felt like to me. One long autumn. At first, I embraced it. I lit some (non-toxic) candles, read a lot, made soups and set my heart to think about the beauty of fall leaves, instead of my nonexistent roses that refused to grow due to the bizarre weather. But those feel-good fall feelings never came. I felt a bit depressed.
I think I love autumn because it always represented a fresh start to me. Even though I grew up hating school, I loved the newness that it brought ... new clothes, new routines. As an educator, I loved fall for the same reasons (although being the one that was now purchasing my wardrobe, there were probably less new clothes.) But this autumn, I won't be a student or an educator so I am finding it doesn't hold the same allure.
Who am I called to be?
I've been a shoe store employee, a substitute teacher, a legal secretary, a pre-k teacher, a tutor, a nanny, a 5th grade teacher and a first grade teacher's assistant. I've loved some of these jobs. I've had amazing days and terrible, no good, awful days. I've seen my creativity thrive and I've seen it be stifled. I've had proud moments and I've had moments I wish I could do over. But none of those jobs answer the question "who am I called to be?"
As a society, we are so quick to define our lives by what we do. "I'm a banker, a college professor, a farmer." But do our jobs truly define who we are at our deepest level?
I feel like God has been challenging me the past few days. When he created me, did he say "This is Stephanie, the teacher" or did he say, "This is Stephanie, my daughter." Being a teacher, the thing I went to college and grad school for and invested countless late nights and early mornings and excruciatingly long days, disappeared with a cancer diagnosis. But my title of daughter has held steadfast. What have I invested into that role? What have I sacrificed for that title?
I recently read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, a pocket sized book of only 112 pages. But I haven't been able to put it back on my bookshelf yet because it is such a challenging book. I feel like I need to go back and reread parts of it, to fully glean from it all I can. Brother Lawrence was a monk in the seventeenth-century who devoted his entire life, his every moment, to God. But there was nothing pretentious about him. He simply believed and lived by the belief that "There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God." (Lawrence 44)
Nicholas Herman, who became Brother Lawrence, had a unique conversion experience:
One cold winter day, while carefully observing a desolate tree deprived of its leaves and fruit, Herman imagined it waiting soundlessly and patiently for the hopeful return of summer’s bounty. In that seemingly lifeless tree, Herman saw himself. All at once, he glimpsed for the first time the magnitude of God’s grace, the faithfulness of his love, the perfection of his sovereignty, and the dependability of his providence.
On the face of it, like the tree, Herman felt like he was dead. But suddenly, he understood that the Lord had seasons of life awaiting him in the future. At that moment, Herman’s soul experienced "the fact of God," and a love for God that would burn bright for the rest of his days. (Fairchild 2020)
Such simple imagery, used in such a profound way to completely change a man's life.
I used to love the band Delirious? and recently discovered their lead singer, Martin Smith, has released music as a solo artist. I fell in love with his music all over again and started looking up some of his old songs. As I listened to one of my old favorites, "Obsession", I felt my heart longing for the kind of passion that Smith sings of:
What can I do with my obsession?
With the things I cannot see
Is there madness in my being?
Is it wind that blows the trees?
Sometimes You're further than the moon
Sometimes You're closer than my skin
And You surround me like a winter fog
You've come and burned me with a kiss
And my heart burns for You
And my heart burns (Smith 1995).
Both the song and Brother Lawrence's experience speak to the power of God's creation and its ability to move upon our lives. And here I am, feeling like I am in some eternal sunshine of the autumn mind. I have to wonder if God isn't trying to get my attention ...
I may have been called for a time to be an educator, but that isn't who I am. I am a daughter of God. A lover of His presence. One who marvels in His beauty and longs to make His name known.
Maybe my fresh start will look different this year, and maybe God is granting me this extended autumn to prepare my heart for what is ahead. I may have had an impact as an educator, but my greatest influence is meant to be for God. If I seek His heart and learn to hear His voice, I will never doubt who I am. In knowing who I am, I can and will set the world ablaze.
All my love,
Brother Lawrence. The Practice of the Presence of God with Spiritual Maxims. Fleming H. Revell, 1967.
Fairchild, Mary. "Biography of Brother Lawrence, Practitioner of God's Presence." Learn Religions, Sep. 8, 2020, learnreligions.com/biography-of-brother-lawrence-5070341.