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By Laura Gossman
Editor’s Note: This is part two of an introduction to the more personal side of why we are choosing to do a series on Vocational Perspectives with an emphasis on women, inspired by Kate Harris and Barna Group’s book Wonder Women. For part one of this article read here. A variety of women will be profiled in upcoming months, along with further reflections from Kate Harris herself.
Kate Harris in her book Wonder Women writes, “In general, I’m comfortable with how my various responsibilities hold together to bring rich multi-dimensionality into my life and identity. But at other times, I acutely feel the disparity between my roles and responsibilities. My passions feel at odds with each other, threatening to tear my sanity and/or my soul to bits.”
I can relate to this tension in more ways than one.
Roaming around Cal Tech’s campus with my one-year old son, we came upon some geese and I marveled in Ben’s wonder as he threw up his hands like a mummy walking as fast as he could to chase them across a grassy quad. It was later I realized this nice quad was riddled with goose poop the same color of the grass. At least I actually put shoes on him this time, which I often do not. Yes, I am that kind of mom. I want him to feel the grass between his toes.
We made our way over to the other end of campus and found the man-made brooks and coy ponds I had heard about. I squatted on the ground with another mother of a five year old as we exchanged backgrounds a bit. She was from Russia getting her PhD at Cal Tech. We smiled as we pulled out the same crackers for our kids. My mind wandered back to the vocation article series I was launching and wondered how her Russian culture influenced her concept of vocation. My strength of connectedness was in high gear, being used as a response to the woman God put in front of me.
As our kids ate their crackers, some of them inevitably fell to the ground. Engrossed in conversation with this mother, I continued to let Ben make a mess and reach for the turtles. But in an instant Ben and I were surrounded by about four or five turtles attempting to nip at Ben’s toes. About a dozen more turtles were at the cement bank rapidly, and yes I said rapidly scurrying up shore to grab a piece of the action. I might have put an intentional cracker on the ground earlier while I was talking without much of a thought. I mean turtles are slow creatures and don’t they just eat plants and mosquitoes?
As soon as I lifted Ben in the air out of danger and placed him firmly on the ground six feet back, moments later the turtles were at his feet again. Ben longingly reaches for their snapping mouths and sharp claw feet. I remove him six feet back again. More turtles are coming out of the water headed in our direction. I repeat these steps until finally I say goodbye to the mother and her son. “Oh but they are friendly, your son will be fine,” she said. I am thinking to myself, I’d rather not find out. My strength of activator and responsibility are in high gear now. If God can use a donkey to speak, He can use turtles to get my attention.
Chased away by a herd of turtles. Not many can claim this has happened to them, and fewer still will probably say it’s even believable, or that it has anything to do with vocation and the tugs and pulls it entails.
This small little event represented the constant state of exercising various identities and spaces where I feel connected to my Creator. Simultaneously my love for the outdoors, connection with women, cultural diversity and my son were all colliding in this turtle stampede. Now my various interests and sense of calling don’t and shouldn’t always collide, as that would be a tad exhausting! However, I was moved by the end of the day when I thought about Kate Harris’s framework of stewarding the various, unique aspects of our lives. For me, it’s not about having “it all” or “balance” even though sometimes these conversations have helpful insights. A refreshing, more sustainable sense of life has begun to brew inside my soul.
It was post-turtle chase that I noticed the feeding danger sign. I laugh at myself and instead of feeling like an absent-minded mother, I am grateful that instead I was more focused on both Ben’s joy of exploration and conversation with this woman then paying attention to the silly sign.
After a bit of discovery time on the paths along the brook, I notice Ben needed a change. To be sure, it was indeed what many new parents call a “blowout”. Not wanting to wander around campus looking for a bathroom with a changing table, I decide to pick a plot of grass and clean him up. Unfortunately, Ben can never stay still anymore and the little pad was useless. Ben was rolling in the grass half naked, half dirty. I must have burned enough calories for a 45-minute workout by the time I was done.
In all honesty, it is moments like these I miss the quiet mornings of De Pree Center work and wonder what the rest of the world is doing. The same feeling comes up at times when I am “on the clock” and wonder what moments I am missing out on with Ben. While mothering and working outside the home does bring a new sense of focus and cherishing each side of my day with more intention, with that focus inevitably comes some loss. But as Christians, don’t loss and joy go hand-in-hand?
The afternoon traffic jam had been redeemed, just not in a way that I had imagined. So often, when I care for Ben each day I am both tired from being bored with the same activities around the house, but overwhelmed and tired with the energy it takes to go out and try something new. Between the gear, feedings, sleep schedules and unpredictable nature of kids and LA sometimes it is the “lesser of two evils” to just stay at home.
But today was a different day. It was supposed to be a day of memories made with a dear old friend and her kids I never see. Instead, it ended with dear memories of my child discovering a new place in the world and how it interacts with him. I learned more about my son and his adventurous spirit, and the strength and energy I didn’t know I had after eleven hours of spinning wheels already.
After another traffic filled two-mile ride home that took twenty minutes, I was grateful that Ben was in good enough spirits to eat a good dinner and a full serving of milk. As the day would have it however, this dinner ended up all over the floor and my husband after Adam threw him in the air a few too many times. I told him “you are feeding him a second dinner.” Ready-to-eat-guacamole to the rescue. It is filling, fast, and preparation-free. More of it ended up as hair gel as he fussed to be put to bed.
That was my last image of Ben for the day before I escaped with my glass of wine. I look up at the palm trees and hear a flock of birds talking to each other. As the sun sets on the swaying palms, they suddenly all fly to another tree. I am reminded of a similar scene on a farm I saw in Kenya many years ago. My heart swells with memories of that time. My host in Kenya had taught me to literally run through a muddy but beautiful field at sunset to catch a spectacular sight of birds flying all at once in community from the field troughs to their nightly nesting place. God speaks to us in similar ways regardless of location, season or circumstance. I must keep my ears and eyes open to truly understand and steward this life He has given me.
Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her MA 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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