I know, I know… it’s been a really long time since I’ve last posted to this little blog of mine. But, all good intentions at the start of a new year have to survive the happenings of a new year in order to really make an impact on the person possessing those good intentions for that new year.
Of course, so much has taken place in, to, and around me since my last post in February that I must save those details for later. But in the meantime, there’s something important I need to do for myself and for those I hold dear.
For too long I’ve been working on a memoir, in fits of starts and stops, about a period of my life that ironically enough seems to have come full circle with what I’m now experiencing. But this writing project is super special to me and those closely connected. So, especially now, it deserves my utmost in attention and commitment if I am to bring it to the light of day for others to read and possibly gain some inspiration from.
Therefore, in an effort to move my year’s progress ever more forward, I’ve decided to share a taste of the full work to come. Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Part 1 to my forthcoming book Freedom to Fly: Finding Life, Liberty, and Love in Africa. Hope you enjoy what I have to share.
Sue Monk Kidd’s sentiments lingered in my mind hours after I closed her book When the Heart Waits. I placed it in the carry-on bag stored securely beneath my seat and prepared myself for the flight back home to North Carolina.
Long before arriving in California two weeks earlier, I had this sense of despair that I knew would plague my entire holiday vacation there. For sure I didn’t want to come home at the start of a new year to the same life I was briefly leaving behind at the start of winter break. And, no matter how awesome my time spent away – no matter how many laughs with old friends, sips on aged wines, and visits to culturally rich places – I knew I would be returning back to a life I’d grown to hate.
And what did I believe, at the time, was the root cause of my “vacation blues?” My job.
Beyond unsatisfying or unfulfilling – to me my job embodied TOTAL misery, a place I woke up dreading to return to and viewed as a waste of my day… and much worse, a waste of forty precious hours of my life each week! At the urging of a close friend, I applied for the position a year prior – though I thought very little, if anything, of it at the time. Despite being capable and well-qualified to do the job, my heart wasn’t in making the effort to compete for it – point blank. Needless to say, I was very surprised when, four months after giving an unimpressive poorly-prepared presentation as part of my interview, I received a call from Human Resources asking if I was still interested in the position. Interested, no – curious was more like it, but who’s paying attention to notice the difference? Obviously, they were not nor was I, and that lack of concern, I should have known, would be an omen of dissatisfaction to come for both of us.
By the middle of 2008, most of my work days revolved around me staring blankly at my office’s four crème-colored concrete walls longing for sunlight… plant life… and, most importantly, human interaction! Oftentimes, that longing would lead me outside for a walk down to the small community college’s horse pastures or to another building on campus for open-ended chats with a few trusted colleagues. Then, nine times out of ten, upon return to my office, I learn some big emergency had arisen and, to my supervisor’s horror, I was nowhere to be found! However, sitting planted hour after uninterrupted hour at my mahogany-colored “Director of Marketing and Public Relations” desk felt, to me, like watching paint dry – a task that limited my creativity, dimmed my spirits, and suffocated my passion for life.
No matter how many times I told myself I was professionally better off there, I still missed the social life of my old job at a nearby university gave me before – the constant travel for regional events, the daily interaction with students and alumni from across the country, the “always something going on somewhere” vibe on campus. The very things that had taken a toll on me, I realized I thrived on. So, how did I combat my feelings of emptiness and boredom at work? By throwing myself into community service projects, volunteer commitments, and church ministries at home.
An already active citizen in the local non-profit community, I spent most of 2008 firmly rooting myself in the volunteer positions I held at my area’s Habitat for Humanity affiliate, on the local university’s military advisory board, and in my church’s women’s fellowship ministry. However, securing a key leadership role on the church’s new ministry for international missions seemed like the perfect project at just the right time for me to really pour all my energy into helping develop and implement.
Why the attraction to international missions?
I think it all began with the Peace Corps and Army TV commercials I saw as a little girl staying up late nights to watch Soul Train. To me, to my personality and inner spirit, I wanted to have “the toughest job you’ll ever love” while being “all that you can be.” I wanted to feel that sense of pride and accomplishment in knowing what I did for a living helped others. Because of that desire, I promised myself that no matter what I did in life, I wanted it to make an impact on my community and the world.
During my school years, I researched and outlined a life timeline that included Peace Corps service as well as a career in the Foreign Service. And, for a brief period of time in high school, I even contemplated working in education as a school teacher or guidance counselor. So, throughout adolescence and young adulthood, I purposefully sought ways I could be of help to others on a personal and professional level – from membership in 4-H and Keywanette clubs to a short enlistment in the Air Force, then a year teaching English overseas, followed by AmeriCorps service in my home state.
It was during that AmeriCorps year I was blessed with an opportunity to go on an international mission trip to El Salvador. And from it, I witnessed the level of planning and coordination needed to make a service trip overseas successful. I also experienced the special sweetness that comes in working, eating, laughing, and sleeping alongside those you’ve traveled with in service and those you’ve come to serve. So, when the call came in May of 2008 for volunteers to serve on this new church ministry, I eagerly leapt at the chance to put my passion, my experience, and my organizational skills to work for the greater good of whomever the committee chose to travel in service to help.
Suddenly, all my “dead time” at work was now filled with hours of conducting research on Belize and Burkina Faso, two of the three target countries; typing up comprehensive summaries on the countries’ geography, infrastructure, culture, natural resources, and service needs; outlining a travel itinerary for a medium-sized missions group needing airfare, modest meals, accommodations, and transportation, along with a nice splurge activity to cap off the experience before returning home; and reading, sending, and replying to planning team emails. But, my vision of what a missions trip looked like and what the church leaders had in mind did not mesh as well as I had expected. Requisite luxury accommodations, meals, and transportation for the trip leaders seemed counter-intuitive to missionary service. Not partnering with an established in-country non-profit to, instead, recreate an expensive church event that could not be reproduced or maintained by local citizens seemed to be a mission not focused on meeting the needs of the country’s poorest at all. And, eventually, what seemed like an answer to my work frustrations began to evolve into a frustration all its own.
However, the dangerous thing about frustration is how easily it can turn into anger if not put in proper perspective! And I had reached the outer limits of my work frustration the moment I seriously contemplated quitting my job – and walking away from all responsibility with no back-up plan in place. But thank God for my parents – for their listening ears, understanding hearts, and wise advice.
My dad was quick to tell me, “Don’t leave a job until you have another one to go to.”
Despite having started a new job search within a month of being at the community college, I could not make the dots connect a year and a half later to secure full-time employment elsewhere in the area. But, spending countless hours dwelling on my past mistakes or wishing upon future opportunities was getting me nowhere as well. So, I began the daily practice of reminding myself how blessed I was to have this job despite my unhappiness in it. I told myself that everything a young, educated, single black woman could ask for I had – ownership of a spacious patio home in a thriving college town; a high-level administrative job accompanied by an annual salary far above the productivity level expected in exchange; a newly paid off sport utility vehicle; less than $2000 of credit card debt; and the freedom to come and go without the responsibility of a child, pet, or spouse to contend with.
Fast forward to January 2009…
Tired of wondering at what point in my life I made a wrong turn, I instead purposed in my heart to look forward to the potential of today: not next month, next season, or next year – but TODAY… This day.