Chased by a herd of turtles: Vocational perspectives part one

By Laura Gossman

Editor’s Note: This is part one 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 two of this article read here. A variety of women will be profiled in upcoming months, along with further reflections from Kate Harris herself. 

Recently I had one of those days that when I arrived to the end of it, a weary laugh bubbled out as I sipped on a glass of cheap sauvignon blanc on my front stoop while my husband put our fourteen-month old to bed. Images of the last twelve hours flashed through my head and I thought to myself, “How could such variety of intense, different scenes occur in just one day?”

The one scene that kept recurring in my head was the heard of turtles that chased us earlier that day. But of course that needs some backstory.

One of turtles on Cal Tech's campus that my son and I encountered one day.

One of turtles on Cal Tech’s campus that my son and I encountered one day.

I had recently finished reading a profound little book called Wonder Women by Kate Harris and the Barna Group and I found myself inspired to reflect on the day using the language of this book rather than my normal negative internal language of “tired, overwhelmed, and gerbil wheel.”

Not that these words shouldn’t be acknowledged, but for the first time Harris’s language of coherence, constraint and focus were bringing a joy and peace to the typical whirlwind of a day that I keep thinking shouldn’t be typical. My whirlwind started to settle as I recalled Kate’s definition of vocation as “a lifelong response to God’s voice…comprises all our occupations over a lifetime…and is pursued in small, ordinary, gradual ways.”

This particular day, as usual started around five a.m. when my telecommute portion of my workday begins. I make a pot of coffee while the house hopefully still sleeps and I begin tackling my list of priorities as well as any urgent emails. My first priority was to continue solidifying details for our upcoming board meeting at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. From catering, scheduling, arranging accommodations and location, to finalizing next year’s fiscal budget, my strengths of responsibility and implementation were in high gear.

Emails and reading Wonder Women by Kate Harris for an article series to start off my day.

Emails and reading Wonder Women by Kate Harris for an article series to start off my day.

I then moved on to ramping up my more creative, relational side by spending some time developing a new article series about women and vocation. After reading Harris’s book, I made a list of about fifteen incredible women I know from varying sectors, marital and family statuses, ages and began making notes in Harris’s book margins about ways in which these women I know might relate. What I realized is that vocation and juggling lifelong roles is a human issue, not a female one. The series will be about perspectives on vocation, with a focus on women as these voices are often underrepresented. My prayer is that these perspectives will encourage men as well.

Gather 'round the tables Photo courtesy of Nate Harrison

Gather ’round the tables for a breakfast at a De Pree Center board meeting
Photo courtesy of Nate Harrison

Before I knew it, it was almost noon and time for me to switch gears into mothering a very cute and active one-year old who just started to walk. I was also still trying to coordinate a time and place with one of my best friends, Stacy, who was home from Czech Republic for only one more day. She is a long-term missionary there and even though we had seen each other a few times, we had forgotten to get a recent picture of us and with our kids playing together. We were aiming for 3 p.m., after the naps were done, at a park that was across town, about five miles away. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong.

The afternoon began with a late nap ending at 2:30 p.m. Ben’s first lunch did not go well and suddenly he was grabbing all the old crumbs off the floor so I decided to take advantage of his appetite, with a spontaneous second lunch for him while I rushed to get his bag ready before the 2:45 p.m. lift off time.

After packing all his snacks, diapers, change of clothes and milk, and several texts to Stacy about being late, I load Ben in the car. I breathe a sigh of relief as I settle into my CRV with the sunroof open. Five blocks later my freeway onramp is closed. So is the next one, and the next one after that. Each block has taken me five minutes to travel. I try another parallel side street. Jammed. So is the next street. Forty minutes later I have gone a half-mile and I hear helicopters above me. Something disastrous has happened in Pasadena. I call Stacy to tell her my situation and that I will try one more route and then I will turn around. Ben at this point has stayed relatively calm, but he is beginning to loose patience.

My knowledge of every side street in this town does not aid me at all. After another 10-15 minutes I turn around knowing it will take me just as long to get home since streets are jammed in both directions. I have never seen anything like this other than an hour after the Rose Parade each New Year’s Day.

This should have been the signage during my afternoon Pasadena attempt to meet up with my missionary friend and her children. Photo courtesy by Corey Fisher.

This should have been the signage during my afternoon Pasadena attempt to meet up with my missionary friend and her children. Photo courtesy of Corey Fisher.

Grieving that I won’t see my missionary friend and her children probably for another few years, I decide to redeem the day a bit and head towards Cal Tech a few blocks away now, which has a lovely campus with open grass, babbling brooks, fish, geese and turtles. Oh the turtles. Let’s just say I was too tired to see the sign that said,  “Do not feed the turtles”. More on that in a bit.

After parking on the other side of campus so as to get Ben out of the car as soon as possible, I end up having to carry his 23 pound body a half a mile while I push his stroller. I guess I would scream too if someone constrained me again after 45 minutes in a car seat. It was a warm day. I forgot to bring water. At least Ben has his milk and snacks. I’ll survive. My strength of empathy was in high gear. Strangely enough, listening to my child’s needs often feels like listening to God’s voice as I tap into the intuitions God has given me.

Me and my son Benjamin on Cal Tech's campus.

Me and my son Benjamin on Cal Tech’s campus.

So often I used to think that my paid work was completely separate from my work as a parent and that one role will inevitably always suffer as I tend to one of them and not the other. But Harris has provided a new framework for me, and I am sure others, to consider:

“I chafe at the implicit – or explicit – suggestion that ‘other work’ is inevitably for later. That it is somehow inherently separate from my work as a mother. Or even that such work is at odds with engaged and attentive mothering. In the same way I believe a biblical understanding of gender matters significantly in the lives of both men and women. But when my honest question about stewardship and calling is met with an abstract theological discussion about my “role,” I always feel a bit put off…instead a sufficient framework would provide principles, practices, and guidelines to help women make more coherent, satisfying and sustainable choices suitable to their own unique everyday circumstances.”

Now on to the business of discovering this new framework and probably a traffic jam or two while I figure out what coherence, satisfaction and sustainability actually look like in my own life, work and faith.

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.