Saturday, August 30, 2014

There and back again

Here is a letter I shared this past week with my seminary community. I wanted to share it with you to let you know about what is next in my great, big adventure.

To the Wartburg Community,

I want to take a moment to share with you a part of my story. I feel like it’s a little long, but it is how and why I came to this place in my discernment.

During my time as Admissions Specialist, I have been given the gift of having many conversations with people who are discerning a call to ministry. I’ve heard them talk about what gives them joy, things that they are excited about, and where they feel they might be called to go.  In the midst of these conversations I have been engaging in some discernment myself, and thinking about some of those very same things in my own life.

Wartburg has been a special place for me since I first visited as a college student. It became even more special when I finally made the decision to come and be a student here. It was a community where I was supported, encouraged and loved. I grew immensely during my time here. I especially loved my job as a student worker in the Admissions office. It was then that I began to think that working fulltime in the Admissions office at Wartburg might just be my dream job.

So, in 2011, when I met Karla at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza and talked with her about the transitions that were occurring in the Admissions office and that they would soon begin looking for an Admissions Specialist, I was excited about the possibility and I asked her to keep me in mind when they began the search. But at that time, I was in the midst of a crossroads in my journey.

I first heard about L’Arche communities through some of Henri Nouwen’s books. L’Arche is an international network of communities where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. The first L’Arche community was founded in France, and means “The Ark,” to symbolize Noah’s Ark and how it was a shelter in the midst of storms. There are L’Arche communities on six continents and in about 40 different countries throughout the world. They offer homes for people with intellectual disabilities where they are not just taken care of, but where they are seen as people with their own unique gifts and talents and spirt to share with others. Henri Nouwen lived the last ten years of his life in the L’Arche Daybreak community near Toronto, Canada and served as their pastor.

My first year of seminary I really began to get into some of Nouwen’s writings, and so a friend suggested I read his bookAdam: God’s Beloved, which is the story of Henri’s relationship with Adam, a core member of L’Arche Daybreak (Core member is what we call the members of L’Arche who have intellectual disabilities, because we believe they are at the heart, or the core, of the community. Those without intellectual disabilities who choose to live in the community are called assistants). I knew as soon as I read that book that L’Arche was something special and something I wanted to find out more about. I didn’t see it as a potential reality for me at that time because I had already started the seminary process and didn’t think I could deviate from that.

The idea of L’Arche kept popping back into my life at various times, but I always had a reason as to why it wouldn’t work out or be possible. But in 2011, after I had served in my first call congregation for about 5 years and was coming to the realization that I needed to be somewhere else, the idea of L’Arche popped up again, and I didn’t really have an excuse this time. So, in conversation with some friends and with a spiritual director, I decided to explore the idea of L’Arche further. I contacted L’Arche USA (which oversees the 15 L’Arche communities in the United States) and began the conversation with them about joining a L’Arche community.

When Amy and Karla contacted me, then, in 2011 when they were ready to begin the process to look for an Admissions Specialist, I told them that I was happy they thought of me but that I had discerned myself in a different direction and wouldn’t be applying for the position. It wasn’t an easy decision, I mean here they were asking me to apply for what I had thought for years would be my dream job, but I was in conversation with L’Arche and wanted to honor that. In May of 2011, I moved into L’Arche Heartland in Overland Park, KS.

L’Arche Heartland is a great community made up of four homes which house 15 core members and about eight assistants. While the homes operate separately, there is a lot of interaction between them. The entire community is constantly getting together for weekly prayer nights, monthly community nights, birthday and anniversary celebrations, weekend trips to places like the zoo or a Kansas City Royals game, and often just to share meals at each other’s homes or to go to the park. I really enjoyed my relationships with the core members and the other assistants and really began to think that L’Arche might be becoming my vocation.

At the end of 2013, when I heard that the Admissions Specialist position was open again, I admit I was intrigued. It had been my dream job for quite some time, and so I emailed back and forth with Jealaine and Karla about the position. When Amy contacted me to have an initial conversation about the position, I thanked her but said that I didn’t think I was interested. I felt that I was happy in L’Arche and was content to stay there. But then, one day out of the blue, Jealaine emailed me the position description with a comment about how it was just to keep me on my toes, or something like that.

I read the position description and it reminded me of everything I loved about working in  the Admissions office as a student. I laid awake for most of that night with the idea running through my head. So I told myself that I would just apply and I would have an interview and then I would tell them thanks but no thanks, and that I was still called to stay at L’Arche.

So the next day I wrote an email to Amy explaining everything that had happened between my last email, where I said I wasn’t interested, and this current email saying I hoped I could still apply. Luckily, Amy understood (she really gets discernment, in case you haven’t figured that out yet) and said I could, indeed, still apply.

I applied, and figured that we would have an initial phone interview and after that interview would be when I would tell them I wasn’t really interested. But instead they called and said they wanted to fly me from Kansas City to Dubuque for an in person interview. So, I flew out, and had a really great conversation with Amy, Karla and Eileen. I really felt like they were people that I could work well with, we had a lot of similar ideas about call and vocation and discernment and what an Admissions Specialist’s role is in the midst of that. I also loved being back on campus, which I hadn’t been since my three year retread in 2009. So it didn’t work out like I had planned. I couldn’t tell them that I wasn’t interested in the position because, after my interview and time on campus, I was actually really excited about it.

So when they offered me the position, I decided I would accept it. I told my bosses at L’Arche that I was going to accept it and we came up with an end date for my time in the community there. It wasn’t an easy decision, and the two weeks leading up to my departure were definitely not easy. I was filled with second thoughts, which I told myself was natural. Of course it would be sad to leave this community I love, but I would be going to another community that I love. It would work out.

Since I have been here at Wartburg, I have met some great people. The faculty, staff and students of this place continue to be pretty amazing, just like they were when I was a student. The prospective students I have had conversations with have been faithful people, earnestly trying to figure out God’s call in their lives. The work of an Admissions Specialist is really good work.

But throughout all of those conversations, I have come to discern that while it is good work, it is not the work I feel called to do. I think if I had taken the call in 2011, when it was originally presented to me, it probably would have been the dream job that I thought that it was. But the truth is, in between 2011 and today, I have had the opportunity to get to know the people and work of L’Arche and I think it was there that my sense of vocation shifted.

I don’t think I made the wrong choice to come to Wartburg. I think I needed to come here to see if this was my call. During my time here I think I have realized that while it is a good job, my heart just is not in it. My heart is still with the people at L’Arche Heartland and so I need to go back there. I deserve to be in a place where I feel called and Wartburg deserves to have someone in this position who feels like their heart is in it.

I am grateful for the time I have had here, for the people I have met and the relationships I have formed. I am extremely grateful for the wonderful people in the Department for Vocation. The office is always a good place to be, with constant laughter and fun. So that makes the decision that much harder, but I still believe it is the choice I need to make.


I make the trip back to L'Arche at the end of next week. It's with a lot of excitement, anticipation, eagerness and joy... but it comes with some sadness. I will definitely miss the colleagues and friends I have made during my time here. I would appreciate your prayers for everyone involved in this transition.

Here's to the coming new adventures!

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