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Like the widows holding up the garments Tabitha had made for them to show Peter how important she was, people hold up my mother’s intangible traits to remind me that she left behind gifts we can still hold.

As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

During adolescence my view of my mother’s occupation as a stay-at-home mom turned from the unquestioning admiration of childhood to the judgmental conclusion that she was not living up to her potential. I still respected Mom greatly; I just thought she could be doing more with her life. As a home economist, she spent her time chauffeuring us around, serving on church and school committees, tending her ever-expanding flower gardens, and providing (sometimes unrequited) emotional support for her friends. Mom was, I think, happy and fulfilled in her life as a friend, spouse, and mother. However, I had watched too many Disney movies about escaping the provincial life and sang too many Christian rock songs about being history makers to believe that her quiet, generous, ordinary life was carpe diem enough.

Years later a campus minister told me of a friend who said, “So many people talk about feeling a calling in life to a particular career. I just feel like I’m called to be a friend.” Mom could have said the same thing, I thought. I still didn’t know quite what to make of her vocational legacy as a full-time listening ear and sounding board. She had died three years before this particular conversation.

In the few years between her becoming an empty nester and her death she had told me several times that she was thinking of pursuing her master’s in counseling. “You should do it!” I said, overly eager, any time she brought it up. When she had worked “real jobs” before I was born, it had been in helping professions, counseling and supporting victims of sexual abuse and young mothers. Anyone who knew my mother for more than five minutes poured their life story out to her. She once attended a counseling session and ended up listening to the counselor for the entire hour as the woman my mother was paying poured out her heart. My mother would be an excellent therapist; she pretty much was one already to the many friends and family who held her dear.

But she never seemed to get around to applying. When I’d follow up about it, she’d say, “This isn’t the year for it.” “It’s hard to go back to school.” It was never quite the right time.

I wish my reasons for asking were simply to support her dream, but there was more to it. I wanted her to make more of her life. While my views on living a meaningful life had grown since my teenage idealism, I still was buying into the myth that the value of one’s accomplishments were enhanced by the letters behind their name or the titles they bore. Sure, Mom found meaning in her friendships, in leading a tight-knit Coffee Break Bible study and church small group, in caring for her elderly mother and the ornamental flowers around her yard. But wouldn’t it be more meaningful, more valuable for her to have her own thriving counseling practice?

She was mustering the courage to apply for the master’s program when she discovered a lump on her breast. When she died, I secretly regretted that she never started. It didn’t occur to me until years later that maybe she was never meant to, that she never needed the degree, the practice, the title to live a life completely worthy of her calling.

Almost six years after she died, I became a mother. I was grateful that by this time there were enough voices in Christian discourse calling us back to the sacredness of chores, the holiness of everyday activities, as Brother Lawrence had centuries earlier, so that I could find value and meaning in my domestic endeavors. I relied so heavily, so desperately, on friends and church ladies during that postpartum period. A friend told me as she held my newborn before washing my dishes that she felt called to support new moms. She’s called to be a friend, I thought, and I was honored and humbled by her calling.

"Your Mom was an absolutely beautiful person," a woman from my home church said to me recently. "Kind, mature, deeply compassionate." I've heard this over and over again from people in the years since Mom's death. She was so warm, so hospitable, so generous, so thoughtful. Like the widows holding up the garments Tabitha had made for them to show Peter how important she was, people hold up my mother’s intangible traits to remind me that she left behind gifts we can still hold. Her legacy is a career of welcoming everyone, of making people feel heard, valued, and loved.

Now I work in campus ministry, where we talk about the intersection of faith and calling. We talk about how the work post-secondary students are preparing for through their students is holy and good and redemptive, whether they are going into helping professionals, such as personal support workers, or training to be elevator mechanics. In the specialized as well as everyday work, they are fulfilling their callings to take part in building the kingdom.

But I also want them to realize that our calling is not just found in our paid vocations. To assume so is to fall into the idolatry of our culture that says our true meaning is found in how we make our money, that service that is not funded is less valuable, that every human needs to be financially lucrative in order to be worthy. To assume that our paid vocations are our highest callings is to diminish the many beautiful and varied aspects of what it means to be human, God's image bearers. Perhaps some of us are not called to make money. Perhaps some of us are called to many things or a few things, to be a volunteer or a listening ear. Perhaps sometimes we build the kingdom through loving our children, through listening to our friends as they struggle through infertility or difficult marriages, to spread compost on a bed of zinnias and know that they will grow in summer. And that is calling enough.

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