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 twopart 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 by Cathy Fisher, MSW, LCSW and  Assistant Professor of Social Work at Azusa Pacific University. She is also the mother of a two-year old daughter, wife to Corey and avid surfer and adventurer.

When Cathy Fisher was in her twenties she saw vocation simply as her career, profession or major of choice. It was several years after she earned her Master’s of Social Work that she accepted a new job as an executive director of a Christian non-profit youth program. Prior to this she had worked for secular social service agencies, and while she always saw her work with clients as her calling to glorify God through acts of compassion and service, it was more of an individual experience then an integrated corporate experience. Cathy explains, “by ‘corporate’ I mean experiencing the convergence of my skills and spiritual calling in company or “in concert” with other like-minded individuals. In secular or government social service agencies, Christian social workers are taught to dichotomize, separating professional service from personal faith. While there are good reasons for maintaining boundaries with clients and not imposing religion, there is a need to reclaim the values and passion our faith can bring to our work.”

R.O.C.K Teen Center in Eagle Rock, California. Cathy was the original founder and first executive director over 15 years ago and it still serves the Los Angeles community today.

R.O.C.K Teen Center in Eagle Rock, California. Cathy was the original founder and first executive director over 15 years ago and it still serves the Los Angeles community today.

Today as Cathy serves as faculty member at a Christian university she describes a new sense of congruence as her faith and professional practice are called upon in her role as a mentor, teacher, trainer and administrator. In her reflection on vocation Cathy shares “I now feel like I experience my vocation and calling corporately rather than in dichotomy, as faith is integrated in all aspects of the institution.”

The notion of experiencing vocation corporately raises a handful of questions: does one have to work in a Christian environment to intentionally integrate their faith in a corporate manner? If many of us answer yes, what does this say about the church’s response to their congregants in secular domains that want to live out their faith at work in an un-isolated manner? If God cares deeply about the world, shouldn’t those who know Him have corporate expressions to aid in their journey?

While Cathy’s vocation has evolved professionally she admits now that “My definition of vocation has broadened, to me it now means a person’s unique gifting and skills, which one can apply to serving others across multiple settings regardless of secular or religious labels, i.e. vocation is not only my service to my employer, but my service to my family, my church and in the volunteer projects I take on outside of work. Vocation is not just what I do but who I am. Reading Dr. J.R. Clinton’s book (1993) on leadership development helped me recognize that my past work experiences were training grounds for a future roles when God brings about convergence in the life of a leader.” Cathy adds, “R. J. Clinton talks about the stages of ministry (or professional) maturing and life maturing, leading to the fourth stage of convergence where there is a perfect role-match of giftedness, experience and spiritual maturity.” Currently she sees herself in a professional and life maturing phase, with glimpses of convergence to come. As a new mom, she also recognizes that she is just beginning a new calling/vocation to motherhood. Her prediction is that as her daughter gets older, she will need to draw on every ounce of her gifting and skill to help her mature.

Cathy and her daughter Kelly during her earlier months of life.

Cathy and her daughter Kelly during her earlier months of life.

Like many women in a post-modern America, Cathy finds that she is constrained by economic realities. She relates to many middle class families who struggle with the burden of student loans, car loans and home mortgages. Cathy juggles working full-time, arranging childcare and raising their two-year old daughter. This is not by choice Cathy explains, but because she and her husband need two full-time incomes to manage their cost of living in southern California. Cathy admits that this lack of choice when it comes to juggling motherhood and her professional work-load brings constraint to her life.

Given the limitation of 24 hours a day, Cathy identified an additional constraint is the constant need for time management. One wonders how working mothers like Cathy cope? Cathy acknowledges that women who seek to pursue higher education, professional careers, community or church involvement, marriage and motherhood often find themselves living stressful lives. As Cathy reflected about the other side to these stressors she said, “Many of these limitations are gifts because you learn to be grateful for simple things in life, and have greater appreciation for unexpected joys. This constraint can produce godly contentment, humility and a greater valuing of spiritual resources.”

Cathy expressing victory after a morning surf session catching some waves.

Cathy expressing victory after a morning surf session catching some waves.

For much of her career Cathy has been employed in the non-profit sector. Cathy points out that while the non-profit work paid a lower salary, she felt it was an acceptable trade-off for being able to engage in jobs or roles that she felt called to and uniquely gifted for. Regardless of whether one lives out their vocation in a non-profit or corporate entity, time constraints can often be the common denominator when juggling various roles and pursuits. Cathy admits, “I have come to recognize that I cannot be excellent at every role, and I have learned to surrender certain expectations and prioritize what is most important. Embracing my limitations has made me more comfortable with vulnerability and increased my compassion.”

Ironically, the constraints that brought about this consequence of vulnerability and compassion probably make her a better social worker than she was ten years ago. A better wife. A better mom. A better friend. I don’t conclude that lightly. I have known Cathy for almost fifteen years and I can affirm these growing characteristics in her.

Cathy, Corey and Kelly Fisher in 2012.

Cathy, Corey and Kelly Fisher in 2012.

Her surrendering of imperfections has brought about excellence in other traits that point more clearly to a Redeemer that was constrained and surrendered in the ultimate way. We embrace constraint in our vocation not because we have to, but because it is the model that Jesus Himself lived.

As Cathy enters her forties, she has had a growing recognition of how God has been uniquely shaping her for service and leadership in this present time. She references Dr. Diana Garland who recently wrote an editorial piece in the Journal of Social Work & Christianity capturing twenty years of emerging trends witnessed in congregational social ministries (Garland, 2012). Cathy deeply resonates with Garland’s observation that church leaders are increasingly focusing on addressing systemic community issues of poverty, violence and disparity.

As Cathy expanded on this she shared, “This renewed engagement in social ministries by American Evangelical and mainline Protestant congregations has been called a social justice movement or social gospel movement. Our society is facing growing threats of economic failure and government shut-downs. Local communities must work together, share resources and take responsibility for their welfare. Given my passion and professional experience in mental health, social work, program management and community organizing, I feel I have a unique vocational opportunity to mentor emerging Christian leaders. Likewise I recognize my own spiritual journey and years of reading authors engaged in social justice and evangelism are sources of wisdom to help equip young people. Vocation must be accompanied by manifestations of Gods power if we are to transform communities. My calling is to help Christian milliennials embrace what Ron Sider names ‘good news and good works is a theology for the whole gospel'”.

Cathy Fisher with one of her students receiving an award at a graduate hooding ceremony at Azusa Pacific University.

Cathy Fisher with one of her students receiving an award at a graduate hooding ceremony at Azusa Pacific University.

Cathy is slowly beginning to find some rhythm in her life, two years after the birth of her daughter. Situated in an academic setting gives her seasons of intense professional work where some days she is away from home longer than she would like. The academic year also provides periods of rest, play and reflection. She has found that reading and writing are increasingly becoming tools to further her vocation, both at work and in community life. Embracing every moment of new motherhood also continues to give her perspective, that in the midst of vocational demands, she can simply be a child loved by her Father God.

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 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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