V is for Vocation (Some thoughts on Calling)

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I’m thrilled to have my first piece over at The Mudroom today. This month they are exploring the themes of vocation and calling. I thought I had something to say on that topic, but a funny thing happened on the way to writing it… I got stuck at the dishwasher. Take a look:

If V is for Vocation, then F is for Fineprint. Let me get the disclaimers out of the way: I hold two graduate degrees, and earn exactly zero dollars a month. I am a full-time Mom: a packer of dishwashers and kisser of boo-boos and driver of carpools; roles I never imagined myself in and do not consider myself particularly gifted at or fulfilled by. So what on earth was I thinking when I volunteered to write about calling and vocation?

I had noble intentions of summoning my years in College Ministry: time spent with students talking about how their majors—from entomology to economics—reflected some part of God’s good world, and how their joyful service in those made a difference. Part discipleship, part career counseling—these were conversations I excelled in: hour-long vocational pep talks over countless cardboard cups of coffee in the Student Union.

My plan was to do a little reading: brush up on Beuchner’s definition of how we find our vocation where our deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet, spend some time mulling over brilliant Venn diagrams depicting the intersections between what the world will pay for, what we love, what we do well and what is needed . . .  and after all this, I would write a charming, peppy, insightful piece calling us all to a deeper self-awareness, and Christlike purpose.

This was the plan, and one I was ready to execute but for this one blindsiding problem: the glaring vocational question marks raised by my own life…. (read the rest HERE)

Thanks to the team at the Mudroom for the invitation and the prompt: you got me thinking!

Life as Dorcas: My Name As Gift, Burden and Calling

Today’s post is from my incredibly talented and kind friend, Dorcas Cheng-Tozun. I LOVE the way Dorcas lives her life, thinks purposefully, and crafts her words so beautifully to express things. I am so grateful she agreed to share her story of her relationship with her name as part of the Words That Changed My World series of reader submissions. 

 

Lone Tulip Dorcas

 

When I was young, I hated the first day of each school year. When the teacher was taking attendance, I always knew she had reached my name when she paused for a long time. “Dor… Doris? Dorsis? I’m sorry, I don’t know how to pronounce this.”

I would then raise my hand and correct her, simultaneously enunciating and softening the central consonant that was the bane of my existence. “It’s Dorcas.”

The laughter always came, and I would always stare straight ahead, refusing to make eye contact with anyone. Later came the questions from my classmates, who didn’t know much outside of their affluent, white suburban existence. “Is that a Chinese name?” Snicker. Giggle. “Or are you Japanese? Do your parents have weird names too?”

I would answer them directly because I didn’t know what else to do. “It’s a Greek name. It’s from the Bible. I’m Chinese, not Japanese. My parents’ names are Robert and Grace.” This was usually enough to confuse my peers into silence. But only for a few moments.

Biblical names are par for the course in my family, now Christian for four generations. After previous generations exhausted all the usual names, my parents wanted to get a little creative with me. But as new Chinese immigrants to the US, they had no idea what they were signing me up for.

By the time I reached high school, I had learned to hide my hurt well. But if anyone had been able to penetrate my outer shell of indifference, they would have found a heart full of shame—over who I was and who I thought I never could be, all because of a moniker that invited ridicule in a majority culture I was desperate to fit into.

The ninth chapter of Acts records a beautiful story of a woman named Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek. She is described as a disciple “devoted to good works and acts of charity.” When she dies, all the widows in her community gather to mourn, clutching the articles of clothing she made for them. The Apostle Peter comes at the insistence of other disciples and raises her from the dead, the only record of Peter’s resurrecting someone. The town’s grief turns to celebration, and word of this miracle spreads throughout the region.

I love this story, but I have not loved bearing the name Dorcas. More often than not I have felt my name as a burden.

When I was in college, my eyes were opened to the burdens that less fortunate members of our society bore, burdens that were much more oppressive and degrading than a culturally inconvenient name. I then started a student group whose sole purpose was to build relationships with the homeless community near campus. My peers and I would go out and spend our weeknights asking questions and listening, in hopes of offering some dignity and care to struggling individuals.

One evening, a Vietnam vet I regularly saw named Jerry asked me to remind him of my name. As I always do, I hesitated before answering. “It’s Dorcas.”

His unshaven face, wrinkled and dusty, lit up. “From the Bible!” he exclaimed.

I returned his smile. “Yes! Most people don’t know that.”

He looked at me carefully. I couldn’t have been a particularly impressive sight—I was twenty but often mistaken for someone much younger—but Jerry held my gaze as he said, “You’re really living up to your name.”

Something inside of me stilled. I don’t remember what I said in response or what we discussed after that. But in the fifteen years since that conversation, I have not forgotten Jerry’s words. I thought of them when I decided to pursue a Sociology degree; I remembered them when I signed the contract for my first nonprofit job. His words stuck with me through more than a decade of development work, which took me from low-income communities in California to villages and cities in Malawi, China, India, and Kenya.

Now well into adulthood, I still occasionally run into the too-blunt adult who smothers a smirk before saying, “You must’ve been teased a lot as a kid, huh?” Whenever this happens, the old vestiges of shame threaten to return. But, thanks to Jerry’s words, I think instead of my parents and their pure hopes for me when they named me after a compassionate woman with a servant heart. I think of the amazing opportunities I’ve been given to try to change this world for the better. And I find myself being grateful for this unusual name that has helped shape an unusual life. It has occasionally been a burden, but the reality is that my name has always been a gift, a calling truly worth living up to.

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun HeadshotDorcas Cheng-Tozun is a writer, blogger, and editor who has found healing and hope through words. Previously she worked as a nonprofit and social enterprise professional in the US and Asia. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and adorable hapa son. You can find her online at  www.chengtozun.com or on Twitter (@dorcas_ct).

Photo credit: ‘Lone Tulip’, copyright here. Edited by Bronwyn Lea.

Finding God On The Streets – {a guest post by Brenna Lyles}

In February I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in amiable car conversation with four college women. They were magnificent: they turned a commute (boring!) into a road trip (wildly fun!) We were on our way to hear Gary Haugen speak about the Locust Effect – so I already knew from their interest that they were women with deep convictions. I also discovered that God had gifted some of them to write. A few weeks back, you heard from Tifani Oaks. Today, please welcome my other lovely driving companion, Brenna Lyles, to the Words That Changed My World series!

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It was my freshman year of college when I began to take initiative in my faith.

A series of “college experiences” gone sour led me on a path to a on-campus Christian fellowship. Despite growing up in the church, I had never experienced such a group and I was both intrigued and inspired. I immediately began immersing myself into this community of young people who were sharing their lives together and living with an indescribable fire.

As I grew in relationship with God and fellow believers in the following months, I came to understand the realness of my faith. It was more than just a book filled with intangible theories and moral codes, it was life. And I was finally ready to make it my life.

Suddenly, it seemed the chandelier that was my life went from dull to noticeably lit.

For months, I had heard a voice from within telling me that there was so much more in store for me, that God had a greater plan for me… if I was willing to change. These words came in parallel with a weekly sermon series on the Apostle Paul’s notion of “putting off” the old self and “putting on” God’s best version of me.

So, I started small and changed some things. The obvious things. I stopped swearing, realized the toxic effects of gossiping and my judgmental attitude, made myself accountable to several friends and mentors, and ended a relationship of two years that I knew was both disobedient and holding me back in my walk with Christ.

And, gradually, life seemed brighter and I began to experience a deep sense of peace. So, I dusted off my hands, sat back, and let God take it from there.

I’ve changed. I’ve done my part, I figured. It’s time to wait for God to follow through on that great promise.

But it didn’t come on my time, which left me discontent and irritated. I still had many areas of my heart that needed a little fix-me-up, but I neglected that small detail.

Was all this “putting off” for nothing? I began to wonder as time went on.

I felt God telling me it would take yet some more work.

Perhaps a month or two later, I read Francis Chan’s Crazy Love. The book, in conjunction with my quest for putting on a new self, inspired me to spend a day feeding our town’s homeless people – a population I knew very little about but very harshly judged for their “poor life choices.” I recruited my best friend; we made some PB&Js and drove downtown.

Expecting to simply hand out sandwiches and walk away, I was shocked when these individuals leaped into conversation with me – me, a complete stranger. It was clear they had a deep longing to share their lives, their stories, their downfalls, their journeys, their misfortunes. They spoke of broken homes, running away, addictions, oppression, and – incredibly– God’s grace. I sat on the sidewalk and soaked it in.

I cannot say it was one particular phrase or statement that did it, but I came home that day with their words pulsing through me. I felt renewed and filled and radically changed. I knew I had landed upon something.

A bit selfishly, I continued pursuing encounters with this community both in and outside of my town. Street ministry became my comfort zone. It always starts with a, “Hi, how are you today?” and ends planted on the sidewalk, immersed in conversation.

Each story I am told, each vulnerable soul I meet softens my heart – something the Lord knows I need. I am humbled by the people I have met, as I’ve realized that we are broken just the same. I am uplifted to experience an overwhelming percentage who are in love with Jesus.

Paul’s words in Romans 8:38-39 are reality for me, as I’ve realized that other’s sin and my sin are no different; drug addictions are no worse in God’s eyes than shopping addictions. Neither are outside the bounds of God’s forgiveness; neither can separate us from His love.

I have learned to better love everyone without judgment; to strive to meet the relational needs of others; to understand God’s love more fully and deeply. I yearn for a different kind of justice.

The words I felt God speaking into my heart over a year ago and the words of the poor and powerless have truly changed my world.

I’m putting off a hardened, self-focused self for a new, humbled, loving, empathetic, and selfless (yet still imperfect) me.

This coming fall, I will serve as a leader in a community service ministry team within my Christian fellowship. I hope and plan to make serving the homeless community and seeking justice my life’s work in whatever capacity the Lord calls me to.

This was the great promise.

1654409_10203230162420911_385578085_nBrenna is an aspiring journalist, blogger, and Communications and Economics student. In her down time, she can be found training for half-marathons, dancing around her apartment, sipping coffee, or cooking up a delicious, healthy meal. Brenna is a lover of breakfast, country music, public radio, theological books, and quaint downtowns. Her life’s passion is listening to and telling stories of extraordinary people. Brenna blogs at http://aninterviewwithexistence.wordpress.com/, and you can find her on Facebook.

photo credit: James Lee Flickr – Creative Commons

Moses in Red Heels

I am loving the ‘Words that Changed my World‘ series so much! Today’s guest is Aleah Marsden: a gem of a writer who I count as a true friend. This is a story I’ve been waiting to share with you!

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I do not recall the exact words of the conversation, just the echoes of her question remains. Something to the effect of: why load your future family down with the debt of an expensive degree you don’t really need to do what you’re supposed to do—be a stay at home mom?

Apparently my teenage self was too preoccupied to take in the weight of that moment. Too distracted by the twinkling engagement ring on my left hand, hinting at a new and shiny future, to notice the heavy stone that had just been dropped into the pool of my soul.

I have looked back on this moment often, almost unable to recognize the girl who smiled and nodded away her hopeful ambitions with almost no second thought. I was told the path of following Christ was that of sacrifice. Even if the sacrifice was my very self I would willingly give it. So, for better or worse, in sickness and in health, I laid down my plans for the “big picture.”

It would be four kids and the better part of ten years before I would begin to realize the cost of my unquestioning commitment to the idealism dropped into to my open hands. Countless tears shed in frustration and bearing the guilt of always feeling like a square peg with a round purpose. Always praying for contentment but unable to shake the feeling I was swimming against a great current; unable to escape the pull of the vortex of the dream for my life I still felt swirling inside.

Then came the words I will never forget.

I had spent years praying God would send me a Moses; someone to help lead me out of the Egypt of my own design. My Moses stepped into the scene wearing sassy red heels. She was the mother of a college student I had been mentoring. Jenn is many things I am not: tall, outspoken, truthful, and direct. She would be intimidating were it not for her boisterous easy laugh, quick wit, and giant smile.

We were sitting on my kid-stained couch on a sunny Friday morning and I had just poured out the angst that had been pooling inside for so long. She looked into my eyes blurry with unshed tears and said, “Have you ever considered writing?” One small new question that crushed the stronghold the former question had held for so many years.

In that moment, in the sunshine of spring, watered by my own tears and nourished by my mentor’s wisdom, the seed of my dreams buried for so long beneath dry soil—sprouted. And from what I thought was death new life flourishes.

profile picAleah Marsden is a stay at home mom of four who wakes up at 5am to study the Bible and write because she discovered physical exhaustion is more manageable than emotional exhaustion (i.e. consumes copious amounts of coffee). She blogs about life, faith, and studying the Bible at DepthOfTheRiches.com. Member of Redbud Writers Guild. Connect with her on Twitter: @marsdenmom