From a young age, we’re asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s an infinite possibility question that we also know comes with aspirations based on our family, community, and personal values. We’re expected and encouraged to say we want a secure job such as a doctor or businessman, to make a difference as a teacher, or a dependable desk job. For many, their community is heavily influenced by their Christian faith.
My childhood wasn’t this way – at most I’d experience church and Christian faith a few weekends in the summer with my aunt and grandmother in Wisconsin. But, at home in Michigan, we didn’t have a community of faith. So my answer as an older child, when asked this question, was I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was 11, and animals were cool.
But all of my ideas about my future began to shift once I joined a church community.
When I was 13, I asked my mom to bring me to the church where she married my dad, the church where I was baptized. I wanted to explore more of what my grandma and aunt would share with me during my summer visits. I loved their community, the ritual and routine of worship, song, and coffee hour. I wanted to be a Christian and, thanks to my family’s history with a local congregation, I fell into Lutheranism.
My adolescence was formed by the catechism and sacraments. At the time I didn’t know the difference between my grandma’s Baptist church and my new Lutheran worship. I just enjoyed being with and bringing people together by leading Sunday school, participating in the youth group, singing during worship, and going to Mexico on mission trips. I threw myself into the church I’d discovered. I found fulfillment in serving my church and world community. I found a foundation for my values, and I began to wonder if I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Maybe even a teacher in a church.
When it came time to choose a college, I was set to go to a university in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, when the month before moving up there my pastor shared his alma mater with me. I fell in love with the small campus, being closer to home, and the fact it was a Christian campus. I would be able to easily continue my routines of worship and virtuous activities. For a while, I even fell in love with the idea of serving the church professionally.
It was perfect – to serve the church, bring a community together, meet people where they were, and support families. But I kept getting redirected or intrigued back to secular studies. So I ended up graduating with a generic major in psychology. It was becoming more and more clear that, no matter my job title, I wanted to be someone who helped people and families feel equipped and supported in the community they found themselves.
My New Community
Following graduation I married and moved from Michigan to Minnesota, which turned out to be an entirely different climate and community than I expected. I started my family, obtained a graduate degree in family life education, and began my career in the field of social work.
For the first five years I supported adults living independently with disability support, while simultaneously exploring church communities with our daughters to find the one we felt to be home. Yet, just as a Minnesota summer suddenly rolls through autumn and into frigid winters, our family and my life began to change.
This new season of my life found me all at once divorced, ashamed, a single mom, heartbroken. I became someone I didn’t understand, a person I didn’t feel my church was ready to see.
Yet, what had started as a cold and lonely new season, feeling lost during my most vulnerable moments, I was able to experience a new community. I made friends with people far beyond traditional church walls.
My community became filled with people like me, people doing what they had to do to provide for their families, nuclear and non-nuclear. They offered me a new perspective on community. While living beside these open-hearted people I moved into the next and current chapter of my life.
A New Calling
During my time as a single parent and social worker, I was able to meet people in the midst of their own authentic, messy, lives and learn their stories.
This taught me more about how to be a supportive professional and friend than I had ever learned before.In this season that seemed cold and lonely at the start, I was able to find exactly the place where I’d felt called before college.
I was now someone who not only could help people and families feel equipped and supported to face everyday obstacles, but someone who finally felt like she belonged.
When I was a child, I thought that the only way I could serve was by leading directly in the church. But as an adult, it turns out there are so many beautiful opportunities to be in and among the people of God. I have become a servant to my community. I have been able to experience a deeper sense of spirituality by meeting and listening to those who don’t even walk into a church potluck.
Because it’s about daily showing up for those in need.
“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for there is no work or though or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). That’s the scripture I believe in. That’s what I’ve grown up to be.
It’s never been a simple question. What do you want to be when you grow up?