Heed the Call

Twenty-some-odd years ago, I met a woman I don’t remember at a location I can’t recall. I couldn’t tell you what she looked like, why we struck up a conversation, or how long we spoke.

What I do know is that she planted a seed.

She told me that she was a Child Life Specialist and that she worked with kids and their families who were suffering challenges from illness and other major life transitions. Something in me connected immediately to what she had said.

I couldn’t have named it as such at the time, but the resonance I felt was electric and I remember hearing clear as could be…

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids someday.

I heard it, I felt it, but I had absolutely no idea what it meant. Fresh out of college with a degree in Child Psychology, I was surprised I had never heard of her job before and had no idea how I would even begin to pursue her line of work. My body was so busy buzzing with energy that before I knew it and could think to ask her any questions, she was gone.

In the instant that followed, I couldn’t think of how or where or when my actually working with terminally ill children (you want to do what??!?) could happen or possibly come to pass, so I pushed it aside.

In fact, the very idea of it shocked me so much, I shoved it deep underground.

This mystery woman planted a seed in me that day that has been diligently taking root all these years and is beginning to break ground.

***

When Trooper passed away this past February, I knew something big was coming.

She was my comrade in arms for 15 long beautiful years and her aging, decline and eventual passing was a milestone for me; we did everything together, went everywhere together and I knew my life without her would never be the same.

It made me ripe for change.

I had more free time than I had had since I was single and puppyless. My mind-space — sacred territory that was reserved in large part for wondering how Trooper was doing when we were apart, how long it would be until I was home, what we would need to and get to do when I got there — was suddenly wide open space, an unencumbered vastness I wasn’t used to.

So, the coming change I sensed wasn’t so much about taking on a new hobby or pastime. I knew this; I had always followed my dreams to any distant shore they lured me toward. It was more that I was open, fertile, receptive to what might be yearning to be borne by my life.

I was ready. But for what, I didn’t know.

***

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids someday.

Looking back, I recognize that I kept this knowing from surfacing over and over again over the course of those 20+ years even though it did its darndest to show up.

It showed up in my mid-twenties, when I studied Shiatsu, Qigong and other forms of energy work. I was drawn to volunteer at a local AIDS shelter doing this healing bodywork, which taught me instantly that I was in over my head.

There was much more work I needed to do — personal inner work — in order to prepare me for the rawness of such an endeavor.

It showed up in my foray into grad school to study Experiential Education where something pivotal began to surface for me: a theory for how Creativity and Experience and Spirituality intersected and intertwined, serving as the energetic source of what moves and drives and connects people in purpose with their lives.

But I felt like I didn’t have enough to go on, so I left.

It showed up as I studied to become a creativity coach, exploring many inspiring ideas and working with a few eager clients, but it didn’t fit.

Still I was searching.

It showed up in my clear realization that I was not cut out for the corporate life. I made many attempts to find my way professionally in work that I was good at but didn’t enjoy, which only left me feeling disconnected and unfulfilled.

Even after getting laid off with a generous severance package buying me a few months of time to seek out what was next, I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

I didn’t know it then, but can see now that with all my starts and stops I wasn’t failing as I had judged myself harshly for at the time — I was laying very important groundwork.

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids someday.

It showed up in earnest ten years ago, when T and I found out we couldn’t have children and a confusing torrent erupted in me. I had been torturing myself, trying so hard to make the right choice with the options left to us. But it seemed that the right choice for me (no kids) was not necessarily what I realized I had believed the right choice should be (who chooses not to have kids?) and struggled desperately to reconcile it.

It was only when I was able to get quiet that I recognized that not having kids was exactly where I needed to be. I couldn’t be sure, but I had the distinct feeling that there was something different waiting for me if I allowed myself to choose my heart.

Whether there was or wasn’t the promise of something else, I was square on the path of learning to listen deeply to myself and I did my best to honor what I knew.

The roots grew deeper.

It continues to show up in my passion for writing, which I’ve done day in and day out for all these years — the stories, the novels, the children’s books, the memoir, the blog. All an adventure in self-expression, self-discovery and self-love.

It is here in my writing — the thread that weaves itself unfailingly through my life — that I’ve seen the seed that was planted all those years ago begin to emerge.

I am ready to heed the call.

***

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids someday.

In the space that was created by Trooper’s passing, I have been able to hear more clearly what is being asked of me and my life. Somewhere in me, I can tell that I have something to offer these kids. I can imagine where my passion for the creative process of owning one’s truth and telling one’s story might be of benefit.

Instead of disregarding the call as the seedling surfaced this past spring, I began sharing it with people.

Tentatively at first — after all, I didn’t have a plan.

Because that’s what any well-prepared, successful, non-crazy person does, right? Has a plan? Makes sure they have it all figured out and can see the end game before it even starts?

Not me.

At least not so much anymore.

I’m not saying I haven’t gone there at times — even as recently as a couple of months ago. For a while, I was sure I had to have BIG plans for a BIG project in order to even get in the door and get anyone to take me seriously or give me the time of day. But I know now that that isn’t what I need.

I just need to show up and tell the truth.

My truth.

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids someday.

And that day is drawing nearer.

***

I trust that support is key.

After a lifetime of feeling burdened by the idea that I have to do everything myself, I know without a doubt that developing a support system as I move forward is essential. In this, I am supporting myself. This support is essential not only to my own well-being, but also in my ability to open to the connections required for this calling to become a reality.

And oh, the connections!

In fact, the very act of co-creation begets that there are two — someone being called and someone doing the calling. If we remember that we are supported from the get-go, that we are living and breathing in partnership, it makes the whole prospect of moving off the beaten path into the unknown much less daunting.

None of us is in this alone.

IMG_8819As soon as I began telling people the truth of my calling, as soon as I let go of the need to know the how and the why and the what for, as soon as I began asking for what I need to feel supported — even something as simple as asking for a tribe of likeminded and likehearted souls to sustain me — everything I need to take baby step after next baby step has arrived.

As with the mysterious seed-planter I met all those years ago, I’m “randomly” discovering the perfect people to talk to and share this journey with.

People who work in hospice and palliative care, people who work in all aspects and avenues with kids, people who write and create, who dream and seek, who listen, who love, and most incredibly of all, who always seem to know who I need to talk to and can connect me or direct me there.

Even seemingly unrelated people from my past I’m finding are now in this community — past employers, old friends.

It blows my mind every time these connections emerge.

And then there are people like you, dear readers, who embrace the process of discovery as I do and show up to this page, generously sharing your thoughts and encouragement.

It’s like magic.

Through this process of listening and telling, being patient and unattached to the outcome, I’m learning how to trust. I’m learning how to let things unfold. I’m learning how to do my part in this beautiful act of co-creation with Spirit, letting go of what doesn’t flow.

I finally have the miles behind me to realize that the only way that I will be successful in keeping this beautiful calling alive is to ask for what I need and trust my support system to encourage me as I learn, remind me when I doubt, lift me up when I falter.

And dance with me when the playful spirit of joy and mirth make it impossible not to.

We all need this kind of support in our lives. Because I am so very sure that one is never meant to do this kind of work — the work of the soul — alone.

We are all being called.

For that’s what I believe this is.  I will work with terminally ill kids someday is not a dream, or a whim, or a wild hair. Writing a book, for me, was a dream. Trekking in Africa, another dream.

Working with ill and dying children is a calling. One that I humbly trust I am now ready to heed.

Frederick Buechner describes a calling as, “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

What need do I think I’m going to fill?

To be honest, I don’t know. And that’s OK. I’m at a point in the process where I trust I don’t need to. I couldn’t have planned for any of this; Spirit is clearly a much better story-shaper than I.

I’m just doing my best to be with the discomfort of not having any of it figured out.

What I do know is that my work will involve writing, creative self-expression, and a sharing of stories. This is the source of my deep gladness. My belief is that we all — in any state of health and wellness — have an innate desire to share our experiences in order to connect meaningfully with ourselves and one another.

Which I know well from personal experience, is the world’s very deep need.

 

Where does your deep gladness meet the world’s deep need? What truth about your purpose do you need to tell? 

I’d love to hear.

 

There is powerful energy in the truth-seeing, in the truth-acknowledging, in the truth-heeding.

As much power as in the truth-telling.

I’m going to work with terminally ill kids and I’m well on my way.

It gives me such pause to imagine that this journey has been well under way for more years and in more ways than I will probably every know. I think back to all of those moments of sadness and despair when I wanted more than life to realize my purpose, and see now that it was within me all along. Likewise, I can also see now that those experiences were simply a necessary part of the process.

Oh, how I wanted so much to know it all and do it all then in that moment!

But how else could I have become who I am today, with access to the skills and knowledge and passion to move forward in this work?

I didn’t have this before. But now, I do.

Living my life — putting one foot in front of the other even when it didn’t make any sense — gave me that.

Sitting here in the interesting space of hindsight, I can see that we are all unfolding beautifully, imperfectly, right on time.

The seeds that life plants in us emerge as they’re ready. And as hard as it sometimes is, we can trust they’re doing their job growing roots when they’re not.

I might actually be getting comfortable with the idea that I don’t need to know much more than that.

As for the rest?

I have to say, these past months have been such a riot of synchronicity and wonder, I absolutely can’t wait to see how this wild and crazy ride turns out!//

Look for my contribution on 11.21.14 to the blog Wonder Anew‘s birthday celebration. Susan Michael Barrett began the Wonder Anew project by asking us all The Question: “Is there a positive change you’ve made or want to make in your life? What is it and how did you do it?” Feel free to contribute your own answer over at the blog.