During my work day I coordinate trade shows for a living. I am very fortunate to work in a small three-person office that is a satellite for a much larger company based in Ohio. We get the perks of the corporate world - excellent medical insurance and vacation time, for example - with the friendly, intimate environment of a small business.
I love my job and the people I work with, but even after eight years I find I still deeply miss working in the graphic arts. I've found ways to some work some creative writing and design into my administrative role, but actively creating has become just an occasional condiment instead of the main course.
As we move through Advent I can't help but think back to the time when my career changed course. I had been working in the graphic arts for six or seven years. When the print shop I was working at closed up my intention was to look for a similar position elsewhere. After six months of searching I had a lead on an opening in a local design department that sounded ideal. At the same time I went for the interview I also got a call on an administrative job I had applied for. The graphic department interview went very well and I was called back twice more. The admin interview went well, too, but a few days later I got a polite thanks, but no thanks letter.
Now it might seem like the first job was a shoe-in (it certainly seemed so at the time), but what actually happened was the first company was bought-out over night by another company and reversed their decision to hire additional design staff. While that was happening, the candidate that the other company had hired in my place didn't work out. They called me back, asking if I might consider the job after all.
After six months of waiting tables on a semi-full time basis I really, really needed a better job. In the end it all came down to dollars and cents and what I needed to do for my family. At that moment in time, trying to hold out for a job in the field I wanted would have been purely selfish and I knew it, so I did what I had to do and took the admin job. It was an adjustment, getting used to dealing with typing and spread sheets and answering phones again. Instead of waking up excited about the creative challenges ahead of me that day, I was waking up feeling grateful that I had a job to go to, yet sad about the loss of my hard-won career in design. It was like I had to put the most authentic piece of myself away for eight hours a day and pretend to be somebody else. Eight years later I've managed to integrate the two a bit better, but the feeling of loss and being an impostor is still there, lingering in the background.
So what, you ask, does all this have to do with Advent? Just this - sometimes what seems like a twist in the road that takes you away from where you want to go winds up taking you exactly where you needed to be without knowing it. Being able to accept those twists and turns with an open heart leads us to Grace. To paraphrase something my Pastor said in his sermon last week, Faith isn't about believing what you want will happen if you pray, it is about accepting whatever happens prayerfully and with trust. In my case, the admin job was the essential element that allowed two friends and I to start our non-profit; we ran the first copies of our newsletter off on the copier in my office after hours. The company tuition reimbursement program allowed me to finally complete a modest college degree. Most recently, it was the fact that this job is family-friendly and local that made it possible for me to jump into kinship care as a foster parent. Had I been working in a high pressure design environment I don't know that I could have managed it.
Advent is a time of preparing to accept that which Christ symbolizes in our lives: Change. As we move towards Christmas I'm trying to keep in mind that change is good. I'm also reminding myself that uncertainty need not be a negative, but rather it can be an opportunity to seek Grace if I allow myself to be open to it. Eight years ago I thought I knew where I was going, until life put me on another course overnight. The truth is that tomorrow is always unknown, although we might try to convince ourselves otherwise. The things that we need to cling to are the things that Jesus taught us; Love thy neighbor, forgiveness, kindness and tolerance. Advent gives us a framework to ponder these things and prepare ourselves so that when Christ comes into our lives, we will be ready to follow him wherever he leads - even into the unknown.