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By Laura Gossman
Editor’s Note: This is a part of the Vocational Perspectives series. While a variety of women from different sectors, seasons and statuses will be profiled, it is intended that the reflections deepen anyone’s understanding of faith, work and leadership whether they are male or female. Understanding one’s vocation across the many roles, responsibilities and yearnings is a human reality, not a gender-specific one. For an introduction to this topic read this two–part article by Laura Gossman. Kate Harris in her book Wonder Women also provides a unique language and perspective on vocation that helped inspire this series. Harris also offered further reflections to the same questions we are asking our interviewees in a series of two Fieldnotes articles.
Below are some reflections from Jamaica Abare, who recently passed the California State Bar exam, is a mother of a two-year old and is currently residing with her husband and child in Bogotá, Colombia to learn Spanish. They plan on returning to Los Angeles in December. In a recent interview, she shared with us her understanding of vocation, how constraints in her life play a part in it and how she sees her gifts being used.
Growing up in the evangelical world Jamaica Abare mostly thought that there was one big “plan, purpose or destiny” that she needed to find and fulfill. As she grew in age and perhaps maturity she now knows that this perspective on vocation is far too simplistic of a description of our experience as individuals with a diversity of desires and limited abilities.
Her experience of vocation in its most ideal form is when she has felt her passions meet the world’s interest. In the past, she has felt the most alive when teaching philosophy classes, impassioned by a subject like truth and her students seem to get the complexity and importance of the topic. Jamaica is confident that “who I was created to be has something to do with communicating the complexities and importance of profound truths.”
Although she admits that in the past she dreaded the child-raising stage of life, one of her friends in graduate school used to talk to her toddlers as if they were philosophers, breaking down profound truths about life into bite sized nuggets in the car between bites of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jamaica was fascinated every time she carpooled with them.
She knows that her role as a mom is best lived “vocationally” when she can explain or discuss with her daughter the hard and complex issues of life. When she sees her little girl give up on an activity or task after trying for a very short amount of time, she sometimes stops to discuss why she gave up and when is a good time (if ever) to give up, and when to ask for help. Jamaica is collaborative and interested in the “no easy answers” territories of life and when she invites her daughter into this landscape, she notices that her mind and heart awaken.
Jamaica’s sense of purpose not only extends from her classroom to her motherhood setting, but even to her graduate school days as a Starbucks employee. The days she enjoyed the most during that season were the days she chose to engage customers about their core beliefs and assumptions about life. She always comes back to the “communication of complexity” where, in many contexts, she becomes alive. It’s no wonder why she often fantasizes about not doing anything exceptional and just working at a coffee shop or bookstore!
There are admittedly barriers in her life that at times seem to hinder her ability to live out her sense of vocation and “communication of complexity”. Having passed the Bar a year after her daughter was born, she confesses that her sense of intimidation and becoming a parent just after she graduated from law school have been the most significant constraints in her life.
Wrestling with intimidation and often feeling inadequate in her abilities and knowledge base, she was the person in law school who did not share advice with the mock clients until she felt like she knew every option, angle, and background information.
She observed that most other law students seemed comfortable giving advice even if they knew only twenty percent of the information and situation. This can be an asset in that it can be perceived as humility and also encourages further investigation, but it can also be paralyzing in that she often does not begin big things because of feeling unprepared.
However, when her two worlds of motherhood and the legal field collide, she catches a glimpse of how these constraints are actually gifts towards helping her lean into her evolving sense of vocation. Just as her love for communicating complexities nurtured her parenting approach of her two-year old, her parenting has also nurtured areas of uncertainty in her field. She reflected, “I love the days when my daughter lightened my mood after studying for the California bar by running around with blankets on her head waiting for me to find her. My deficiencies have no relevance to her desire to lay with her mama.”
Focused moments in motherhood have also led her to deeper questions about faith and God’s love for the world. These questions in turn ignite her passion for justice and her inquisitive side that challenges the status quo. This, I believe, is what Kate Harris in her book Wonder Women meant by vocational constraints and coherence. Constraints in one facet of life can often bring clarity, focus in another aspect. In Jamaica’s case, a practical but tender moment as a mom led her to consider deeper life complexities that she thrives on. In one recent blog post from Colombia she writes:
“I had a moment this morning when I saw a glimpse of my soul’s deficiencies. We three were crossing the street on our way to visit another nursery school. My heart felt so tender toward the innocent life in my arms that we will soon entrust to the care of others. Annoyed, waiting for a break in the endless stream of taxis, I somehow stopped for a brief instance to look at the face of each taxi driver. I marveled at my slight twinge of compassion but mostly my calloused indifferent response to the multitude. How is it that God can love the whole world? Does he really feel tender towards each taxi driver like this babe in my arms?”
When she considers the time, place and context that she lives in, there are gifts Jamaica knows she has been given that are designed not only for this day and age, but also the community she lives in.
“I think our world or at least our understanding of it is becoming more and more complex. My brain enjoys thinking about each side of complex situations and appreciating the reason on either side. For better or worse most of my community consider themselves a part of the Christian tradition. I feel like my personality is made for challenging and nudging my community beyond traditional boundaries.”
You can see this trait flow through another one of her recent entries from her time in Colombia:
“It is interesting how Bogotános seem to be very comfortable drawing boundaries for us. From telling me that I should put my child in an upscale school, to telling me that I should take a taxi and not a bus, I feel like my boundaries are being drawn for me. I am sure that the intent is for good – wanting to help. Sometimes though I want to say listen: you don’t know me – I have lived in gritty downtown Los Angeles and my value system does not necessarily equate quality with expense.”
Another way she is embracing and stewarding this gift of nudging the traditional boundaries, is she is actively trying to engage individuals outside of her own race, religion, age group, and political background to learn from other perspectives. While learning Spanish in Bogotá for six months in order to further her desire to work in the juvenile justice world, Jamaica intends on actively pursuing lawyers to ask questions about what works and what does not in terms of young people’s interaction with the justice system there in Bogotá.
I have no doubt that as she resides in a place of welcomed questions, insecurities, constraints and discoveries, she will leave a wake of awe and wonder for others because it will come not by her gifted hands alone, but by her Maker who created them in the first place.
Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership, mother of a growing toddler named Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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