From an early age most of us are asked the question: what do you want to be when you grow up? The implication (and pressure!) from this question is that you need to “be” something when you grow up, that whoever or whatever you are right now isn’t the point. The point is what you will be or do at some time in the future. The point is the job title or the degree or the pay grade. The point is not about character or authenticity or self.
When I define myself by a particular title or job things can easily go awry. Take for example the sabbatical I was given almost two years ago. After the initial “Yay I don’t have to work for three months!” feelings started to slip away, I began to struggle with my identity. If I’m not working, who I am? How do I define myself outside of the title “youth minister”? During that time I realized how much I depended on my work for my identity. That sabbatical helped me begin to embrace other parts of myself – parts that aren’t dependent on a paycheck or daily schedule or business card. I began to find my worth outside of my job.
As I was working through that identity crisis, I learned about my infertility. Now I was asking questions like: if I can’t be a mom, what’s the point? I struggled with concepts of legacy and names and DNA. I always imagined part of my identity would carry the name “mom.” Without that name, who would I be? Thankfully I have a lot of wonderful people in my life that helped me see my legacy goes far beyond names and DNA.
All of this gets me thinking about purpose. What is my purpose? Why am I here? Why was I born to this family, at this time, in this location? I don’t think any of us are created for one specific job – yes, people are born with particular skills and gifts that lend themselves to particular jobs, but I don’t think our future is set as soon as we’re born. In other words, I wasn’t born to be a youth minister or an event planner or a quilter or… So, what was I born to do?
The other evening as I was walking with Denali I was pondering this blog. What is the purpose of my writing? Why do I write? What does my writing add to the Universe? Without much notice or thought this sentence manifested itself into my mind: I pay attention to the ordinary and discover the extraordinary. I don’t where this came from – it just appeared. For the rest of that walk, I repeated that sentence to myself over and over again: I pay attention to the ordinary and discover the extraordinary. I couldn’t stop saying it.
This felt big. This felt like an opening. This felt like…my purpose.
I started to think back over my life:
- In elementary school I wanted to make something special for my parents for Christmas. I cut out ordinary pictures of me with parents and found ordinary vases and decoupaged the pictures on the vases to make something extraordinary (or so I thought and my parents generously confirmed). I saw ordinary items and found a way to make them extraordinary.
- In middle school my younger brother and I wanted to give my mom something for Mother’s Day. I had a red and white polka dot skirt that I apparently didn’t wear anymore. We cut up the fabric and made a heart pillow with hand stitching of our initials on one side. An ordinary skirt turned into an extraordinary gift of love.
- Much later when I was a youth minister I was driving to work. With my sunglasses on I looked up to the sky and saw a small rainbow. I took my sunglasses off and the rainbow disappeared. That night during youth group worship, I remember talking about how there are some things in nature only meant for you to see, things that are given to you in that moment to help you with whatever you’re facing. I noticed the ordinary and shared how extraordinary it can be.
- On a regular basis, I take a trash bag full of no longer worn shirts and create a quilt. I take clothing that once belonged to someone’s loved one and create a blanket to wrap up in when the nights feel longer than they used to. Ordinary pieces of clothing become extraordinary reminders of love.
- This morning as I was sitting at a stoplight, I looked up through the open sunroof because I heard birds singing. I saw two birds sitting on the wire. I don’t know if those were the ones singing, but I said to them, “I hear you.” I hear the ordinary and realize how extraordinary it really is.
When I look at my life with this frame around it, I begin to see the connections everywhere. With this purpose, it makes sense that I spent the majority of my career up to this point with teenagers, in churches, on mission trips, in small groups. My purpose is bigger than a job though. If I understand my purpose, my job no longer carries the weight it once did. I can live out my purpose at work or in the garden or walking down the street or writing a blog or reading a book or spending time with friends or listening to a band or FaceTime with my nieces. My purpose isn’t limited to a time or place or person – my purpose is present with me at every moment, in every place. My purpose isn’t tied to my paycheck. My purpose isn’t tied to what I create or produce. My purpose is about being present to what Life shows me.
I pay attention to the ordinary and discover the extraordinary. Although I think I’ve been living this out for most of my life, for the first time I’ve put words to it. This doesn’t mean I have to force extraordinariness out of every situation. I just have to pay attention and what wants to be seen will be seen.
I pay attention to the ordinary and discover the extraordinary.