I wore a blue sweater dress and black flats with a big bow on the toe.
We stood in a receiving line and I locked hands with hundreds of people, who congratulated us kids like we had done something to deserve it; somehow because our dad was being promoted also promoted us. I remember thinking how important it felt to be the one standing in the receiving line, the one who had so many people that needed to greet you that a system was required. I’ve always liked promotions and titles. I’ve been drawn to people’s work.
For me, ‘what do you do?” is a question that opens the door. Who are you? How have you been made? What’s your contribution to this world? Listening helped me interpret people, interpret the world, interpret me.
But there seemed to be no title for me to imagine after this seminary degree. I rehearsed my answer to “what do you do?” and I imagined myself with dull eyes and a flat smile, hiding my theology degree behind a job in business or fitness, or being the PTA President. My degree would become trivia, a way to beat people at “Two Truths and a Lie.” I imagined myself in future years, new friends laughing, “really? You went to seminary?” I was uncomfortable with the tension and anxious in it, too anxious to stay.
After a year in seminary, I did stay—but I officially transferred into the counseling degree program. I felt relieved. Now I could have letters behind my name and a title and a business card. Unlike my imaginary party conversation about a theology degree, being a therapist felt like something that started conversations, not ended them. I liked people and I wanted to help. I resolved myself that therapy would still be ministry and it would work for us, for our growing family. I graduated while seven months pregnant with our second. I left middle school bible studies behind.
But on the five hour drives to and from school, I still wondered. Sometimes God’s voice comes to me like a passing sign on a highway. You think you’ve read it, but it’s two miles in your rearview mirror by the time you’ve processed what it said. And so there was one passing sign from God and I think it said, “this will only be for a season.” But maybe I read it wrong.
The flame that burned for ministry had begun to smoke under the damp weight of reality: I was a mom now. I made homemade baby food. I went on play dates. I spent afternoons on playgrounds and I researched preschools. Going to the counseling office was like my hobby. I picked up a triple latte and spent six hours listening to grown up problems instead of singing The Wiggles. And then I went back to the socks that needed matching, the dog that needed feeding, the babies that needed cuddling.
I think of my eight years of practicing as a counselor and I call them my “listening tour.” God sat me down on a couch, shut the door and paid me to listen to people. I spent thousands of hours listening. I listened until I knew that every problem is more complicated than it first appears. I listened until I knew that every person is full of potential and full of fear; and that every one of us still has some growing up to do. I listened until I undid judgments. I listened until my heart broke enough and enough times to make the hard parts inside of me get ground up into tiny bits. I listened until I believed I didn’t have the answers anymore. And I listened until I started asking the real questions of God–and needing His real answers.
I made my life as a part-time therapist and a professional church volunteer. Motherhood opened a new world and counseling compelled me to believe I had a place in that world. I started a women’s ministry out of my own need; we met on Thursday mornings in a fellowship hall that another church let us use. I didn’t plan on it but quickly began to teach from the Bible, using old notes from student ministry and new methods I picked up in seminary. I was asked so many questions in the counseling office, and so many of them were similar, that I just started trying to answer them in our Thursday morning group. The questions were deep and personal, about God’s sovereignty, about suffering, about anxiety. I answered them as a woman just learning them myself. The flame still smoldered. When I taught, I came to life. When I brought together real questions with what the comfort and correction and challenges I found in scripture, so real and relevant to the issues, I soared. In the Groundhog-Day season of young mothering, something was becoming new.