What Happened After My Husband Quit His Job

God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be. That’s been my experience anyway. The vision isn’t necessarily focused or clear. It doesn’t come with steps or money or sure-things.

my husband quit his job

But it does come with hope, and that’s what keeps you going in the fog.

For months I’ve been looking forward to writing this post. Back in March I shared it in e-letter form with my newsletter subscribers and now it’s time to share it here on the blog – what happened when John left his job as a youth pastor.

Almost two years ago, (in a post I wrote here called Why My Husband is Quitting His Job), I quoted these words from Ann Patchett:

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When I first shared this quote, John and I were living in our own what now? kind of moment, preparing to leave his position at our church of six years (after a total of twelve years in youth ministry) to . . . well, that’s just it.

We didn’t exactly know.

But we did see arrows, faint as they may have been. So we followed them and here is where they have led so far.

The Arrow of Grief 

After John’s Dad passed away during the summer of 2011, we knew things would never be the same for a lot of reasons, the main one being that John was broken open by grief.

After the funeral, John went back to work, back to routine, back to his regularly scheduled life. But his soul lingered with the grief. It wasn’t long before the disconnect between the pace of his life and the state of his soul began to show itself in the form of panic, sleepless nights, and intense fear.

That was Fall 2011.

He was unable to keep pace with the demands of his highly relational job as a youth pastor so the church gifted him a three month leave to catch his breath and to simply be human.

During those three months, he didn’t check his email, meet with students, co-workers, or parents. He completely disconnected from the demands of work. This, I know, is a rare gift. We are ever grateful to our former church for allowing him this time.

I promise this post will not be a recap of the last four years of our lives. I go back that far only to communicate that this transition has been slow, deep, and far-reaching. And it has been about more than simply quitting a job.

The Arrow of Desire

Long before his Dad got sick, John and I had many talks about the future.

After years in youth ministry, we began to notice the parts of the job that brought him life (relationships, small group discipleship, connecting with students on a soul level, teaching deeper life in Christ concepts) and the parts that wore him out (traveling, games, programs, hype).

I would try to initiate dream talk, you know the kind: If you could do anything regardless of income or location, what would it be?

While I was able to chatter away about moving to a big city or writing books together or traveling the country for a year with the kids, John was always more hesitant.

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Even in hypothetical conversation, he was unable to take pretend risk. His mind simply wouldn’t allow his heart to dream.

Logic and limits often get in the way of longing.

It’s important to be able to answer the question: What do you really want?

It can be scary, but it was only when John and I began to honestly explore the answer to that question in the presence of God that we started to get a hopeful vision for his vocation. But it didn’t come the way we thought it would.

The Arrow to Each Other

During those few months away from work, John traveled to Colorado Springs to participate in a week-long course in spiritual direction taught by author and psychologist Dr. Larry Crabb.

We both thought his time there might bring some kind of vocational clarity.

What actually happened surprised us both. God met John during that short time away, his Spirit traveled into the deepest parts of John’s soul and poked around, turned some things over, and woke some things up.

This awakening didn’t come like a glorious sunrise or a blooming flower. Instead, it arrived more like a summer storm: dark clouds, thick air, rolling thunder.

But here is where we learned that desire often lives next door to grief inside the soul. Access the grief, you wake up the longing as well.

As a result, John came home more alive as a husband and friend than I had ever seen him before. There was still a long road of healing ahead, but now he had a focus – he wanted to be fully available as a husband and father in ways he had been previously closed off. 

Looking back, I remember hearing myself telling people in the months following his return that it wasn’t so much that John had changed, more that he became more fully himself. 

We thought we needed clarity, a good next step, a vision for whether or not John should stay in his current job as a youth pastor or move on to something else. Instead, all God offered was an arrow pointing from John to me and from me to John.

We wanted to know the way and instead, he showed us each other. 

For the first time in our marriage, we began to cultivate a respectful curiosity for our mutual desire as a couple. And the only thing we knew for sure is we were to move toward one another. And that was it.

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The Arrow to Nowhere

After many months of conversation, prayer, and counsel from trusted mentors, we finally knew it was time to move on from youth ministry even though we didn’t know what was next.

The first six months after he left his job were dedicated to rest, recovery, and home. It was during those six months that my book A Million Little Ways released so the timing was nice. He maintained our home rhythms while I worked, traveled some for the book, and began preliminary work on my next book.

We started to attend a small church, quietly getting to know a new community, re-adjusting to our new rhythm, re-learning how to sit together on Sunday morning (!!) as well as how to relate in a church where he wasn’t a pastor. 

Those six months turned into nearly a year before we actually had any clear indication of what the second half of John’s career and ministry would look like. We walked through some hard days, some hopeless what-are-we-even-doing kind of days where it seemed like the arrows led nowhere.

But we kept coming back to the promise of God, knowing he wouldn’t leave us alone.

We also often revisited what we knew for sure, that John’s desire was to somehow serve our local community, to enter intentionally into relationships, to do small group discipleship, to connect with people on a soul level, and to teach about how the Gospel intersects with our daily life.

The Arrow to Community

After a time of listening, waiting, and resting, we decided to gather a small group of people together who we called our “Co-Listeners.” 

We invited them into our living room, fed them dessert and coffee, and were grateful as they listened to John’s desire and our fears and then helped to discern what might be next.

It was during that meeting that long-time friend and mentor, Mike Moses, spoke up.

“John, you know I’ve had a non-profit ministry for a long time here in Greensboro.”

In fact we did know. Mike’s ministry had a huge impact on John’s life and the life of our extended family many years ago. He’s been a fixed point in our Greensboro community for years, a trusted voice that always points to Jesus.

“And you know I’ve retired . . . “

Yes we knew this too.

“I haven’t used the non-profit for several years now. It has no money, no place, and no director. It’s basically vacant. But I’ve kept the name active with the IRS because Carol and I have been praying, asking God to bring someone along who might take it over.”

This we didn’t know. 

This was interesting.

And though it would be many months before all the legal and administrative details were taken care of, I knew in my spirit that very night as I sipped my coffee and ate my cake that this might be the next step in the journey.

And in fact, it was.

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John is now the director of Grace Discipleship, a 501c3 non-profit ministry here in Greensboro that exists to connect weary souls with the Gospel of grace.

What does that look like?

You can find out more about his ministry here.

I know I could have simply given you a link to John’s ministry website and sent you straight over, but I wanted to give you this background stuff for a few reasons.

First, many of you have prayed, sent emails and notes asking about John’s transition. This was so meaningful to us.

Second, I know a lot of you are in the midst of your own transitions, looking for arrows in your own life. I wanted to share what it has looked like for us to believe God often gives a vision of things before they actually come to be.

We still have lots of questions, new kinds of fears and hesitations. But we’re thankful his work now has a name, a shape, and even an office space!

Sometimes it looks like you’re going nowhere, or that you’re headed in the wrong direction. But maybe none of that is the point.

Grace Discipleship Greensboro

I’m convinced God is less interested in where we end up as he is in who we are becoming.

Whether we’re employed or unemployed, encouraged or discouraged, filled with vision or fumbling in the fog, more than anything, our Father just wants to be with us.

He loves us, wants to walk with us, and as we follow the arrows, they’ll always lead us close to his heart.

If you’re in a What now? kind of place these days, maybe it will help to remember Ann Patchett’s words, that “what now? can also be our joy.”

May it be so for all of us.

Learn more about John’s new ministry Grace Discipleship here or learn a little more about who John is here. He’s pretty much my favorite. You can sign up at his website to receive monthly updates directly from John.

If you would like to read more personal stories from me like this one, I tend to share those in my monthly newsletter – you can sign up here to get those each month in your inbox, as well as first-word news, my current reading list, and more encouragement to help your soul breathe.

3 Questions to Help Determine Success

The other day someone asked me a question that, at first glance, seemed like it should have been easy to answer. But when I couldn’t quickly respond, I realized the answer is waiting beneath some layers within me that will take some time to uncover.

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Here’s the question: How do you define success?

It was asked in the context of my work (writing and releasing books, in particular) but as I’ve thought about how to answer it, I’ve considered many aspects of my life.

I considered all the various ways I’ve measured success in the past:

When I was a student, success meant good grades, graduation, and living on my own.

When I worked as a sign language interpreter, success meant receiving my National Certification.

When John and I were dating and I knew I loved him, success meant marriage.

When our kids were small, I would probably have said success was having them sleep through the night.

It’s an important question to ask yourself but as I’ve thought about the various ways I’ve defined it throughout my life, I realize how tricky it can be to answer.

If I’m not careful, I will measure success based on something outside myself.

When my soul feels overwhelmed I can almost always trace it back to my trying to define success in terms of an outcome I can’t control.

For me, April has come in like a lion roaring: lots of deadlines, a hundred tiny decisions, longings I can’t quite articulate, and several creative ideas that I’m not sure where to channel.

So far this month, I’ve had to confront some of my own limitations, both as a writer and as a person. And while I know that the best place to meet Jesus is at the corner of my longing and my limits, actually standing at that intersection can feel disorienting, especially when I can’t fully discern how he’s going to show up there.

This morning I sat facing the window, palms open on my lap, breathing out the questions and breathing in hope. It’s counterintuitive to sit still when I’m feeling rushed on the inside. But the truth is that stillness is my souls greatest need.

Sifting through longing, activity, and expectation can feel like walking through a jungle, a canopy of leaves overhead, blocking out the sun. It takes real inner work in the form of silence and listening to find the open, sunlit field of my life in Christ.

Success for me is less about an outcome and more about that inner work. It has to be.

I want to base success on an outcome, but to do so betrays my souls deepest longing. And while I know there are times when real metrics have to be used to measure progress and that numbers aren’t the enemy, when my breathing feels shallow and my soul confused, I have to come back to these three questions:

Am I depending on my Father in ways I’ve not had to depend on him before? 

Am I bringing every care into the presence of Christ?

Am I becoming more fully myself?

Today, these are my metrics. For now, this is success.

The Surprising Truth About Finding My Calling

When John and I first brought our twins home from the hospital, I was secretly horrified that the doctors let us take home these tiny baby girls born seven weeks too early. Shouldn’t a responsible grown up be in charge?

3 Surprising Lessons I Learned When Finding My Calling

We didn’t feel capable but we didn’t have time to wait for our feelings to catch up with our reality. There was too much work to do.

When it comes to finding my calling as a writer, I have made several surprising discoveries similar to how I felt as a new parent.

1. A feeling of competency and arrival may never come.

At first I waited for it, then I thought maybe I got this whole calling thing wrong since I still felt so inadequate. Now, I see this can be a gift if I want it to be. I refuse to wait to feel qualified, certified, or professional.

Instead, I’ve given myself permission to work from a small, curious, and willing place. From here, I watch countless brave strugglers doing the work of art around me and I’m happy to be among them.

2. Embracing my limitations is better than fighting them.

There is a temptation to think if I only had more time, energy, money, or talent then I could finally reach my potential. But I’m learning the importance of listening to my limits to see what they might have to teach me.

Instead of holding me back from what I think I should be doing, perhaps they can lead me forward into the work meant just for me.

3. The work I love and choose is still work. 

I can say with a fair amount of confidence that I’m living in step with my calling. Still, as much as I love what I do, it helps to remember that it’s still work. The great writers I admire don’t wake up feeling inspired or breathing out sparkly dust of wisdom and talent.

They wake up needing coffee and a shower just like I do. And then they get to work. Often their process looks like a lot of hair twirling, window staring, and procrastinating. But they don’t give up. They persevere through the boredom, the discouragement, and the distractions to create work that matters.

I may admire and learn from others, but I don’t disrespect their work by romanticizing their process. Work we love is still hard work. It helps me to remember that.

This week my friend Jeff Goins released a free ebook on NoiseTrade about finding your calling. He invited 15 people with different voices and perspectives to answer just one question: What’s one surprising lesson you’ve learned about finding your calling?

This post is my answer to that question as well as my contribution to the ebook. When you download it for free, you can read what Seth Godin, Sarah Mae, Joshua Becker, Bob Goff, and several others had to say.

If you are in a season of longing to figure out your own calling, be sure to check out my most recent book on calling and creativity, A Million Little Ways. You might also enjoy Jeff’s newest book, The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do - coming in March.

Why I’m Listening to Jerry Seinfeld

With barely three weeks left until school is out for the summer, many of us will begin transitioning into a different kind of daily schedule, one where the day-time agenda shifts. I will still do my work, but the pace will slow and we’ll all settle into a new kind of rhythm together.

New Rhythms

I wish I could say I glide gracefully into the summer schedule, but the truth is I limp and fight my way through this transition every year. This year I’m accepting that it will take some time to settle in to the slower pace and the constant presence of small people. But I’m also going to learn on purpose in whatever ways I can. For example.

As a writer, a part of my self-imposed job description is to pay attention to the world around me and the world within me and then to see how they connect.

I am always listening for reminders about focus, about saying yes to the right things, about remembering what I do and, even more importantly sometimes, what I don’t do. Teachers are everywhere as long as we’re willing to learn from unexpected voices. Yesterday I found a teacher while listening to an interview Alec Baldwin did with Jerry Seinfeld.

Alec points out that, with the success of his TV show in the 90s, Jerry could basically do anything he wanted to do now, be as big as he wanted to be. Here’s a peek into the conversation. (From Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwinoriginally aired October 14, 2013 on WNYC 93.9 FM)

Alec Baldwin: You could have your own channel. The Jerry channel.

Jerry Seinfeld: Yeah, but I didn’t take that bait.

AB: Why?

JS: Cuz I know what it is. I know what it is, that’s why.

AB: What is it?

JS: You can’t pull that over on me! Cuz I’ve sat in all the chairs, I’ve been in all the rooms. I know what it is. Look, Alec, you’ve been there, right?

AB: Yes!

JS: You can’t trick me into thinking…

AB: Thinking what?! Share with the people.

JS: …that that’s good.

AB: That’s not good why?

JS: Because most of it is not creative work. And not reaching an audience. You wanna be on the water? How do you wanna be on the water? You wanna be on a yacht or you wanna be on a surfboard? I wanna be on a surfboard. I don’t wanna deal with a yacht. That’s a yacht. Some people want a yacht to say See my yacht.

***

This morning, I read an article by Dr. Shelly Provost called How to Tell If You’re Following Your Calling or Just Feeding Your Ego. It’s good, you’ll want to read it, but the gist is here:

“Your ego fears not having or doing something. The lifeblood of the ego is fear. Its primary function is to preserve your identity, but it fears your unworthiness. As a result, ego pushes you harder in order to achieve more . . .

A calling expresses itself quietly, through the expression of subtle clues throughout your life. It is unconcerned with you attaining or accomplishing anything. Its primary function is to be a conduit for expressing your true self to the world. What you do with that expression is less important.”

And then, the most revealing statements from the article: “Ego needs anxiety to survive. Calling needs silence to survive . . . Listening to your life and discovering what it’s asking of you is your calling and it requires more silence than most of us are comfortable with.” (read the whole article here.)

In other words, your ego reacts to fear while calling responds to reflection. Both can be important, but the question is which is moving you forward? Which is motivating you in your work?

***

The connection of these two ideas is loose in my mind and given more time, I’m sure I could flesh it out fully. But blogs aren’t necessarily for fully-fleshed out ideas, at least that’s not what I do here. As I consider these two teachers, Jerry Seinfeld and Dr. Provost, here’s what comes to mind today.

Ego always has one foot on the shiny deck of an imaginary yacht, the promise of power and acheivement holding her strong above the water.

Calling takes off her shoes and stands barefoot on the wet top of a surfboard, where the risk of wipe out is great but so is the opportunity to ride the waves.

Here are some questions I ask to find out if I’m letting my ego get carried away:

  • Do I know I need margin but am afraid to take it?
  • Do I want to say no but am afraid of what I’ll miss?
  • Do I want to say yes but am afraid I can’t pull it off?

Ego speaks loud in the chaos — impatient, competitive, and scared. Calling rises up from the silence — focused, generous, and free.

My Husband the Pastor

John graduated from seminary and got a job working in youth ministry right before our wedding. For the next twelve years, he took the trips, led the studies, planned the games, taught the lessons, scheduled the concerts, met with the parents, baptized the believers, prayed with the doubters.

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He celebrated the graduates, grieved with the dying, and sat with those they left behind.

A lot of the job was hard. Some of it was life-giving. The best part for John was the people – his fellow pastors, the students, the volunteers.

That’s the part we miss the most.

Eight months after John left his job, I’m sharing at (in)courage an update of where we are now, along with two important lessons no one ever thought to teach us. Join us there?

simple thoughts on faith and leaving

Many of you have written me kind notes of encouragement since I first shared with you about why my husband is quitting his job. Your emails, comments, (and even some letters!) have been cool water on dry days for us. Today, five days before his last day as a youth pastor, we are encouraged, thankful, and filled with hope.

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I have wanted to update you on how things are going as it relates to John’s job and what comes next, but before I do that there is something that has been rolling around in my soul and I’m unable to move forward in writing or in thinking until I find the words to express some thoughts regarding this transition.

Since we announced to our community and to the public that we have made this Very Big Decision to quit our perfectly acceptable job with our perfectly regular paycheck, we are never sure exactly how people are going to respond. But there are some common themes to most of the responses we hear:

You have so much faith.

You are brave.

You are an inspiration.

And every now and then, we also hear what people say behind our back to friends and relatives: What in the world are they going to do?!

I think I love that one the most, because I know that’s really what many are thinking but they worry it will offend us if they say it to our face.

I understand where people are coming from when they say all these things. I’m deeply grateful for the encouragement and don’t want to take away from the genuine and heartfelt support people so kindly offer. But I wanted to take a few moments and point out some of the unspoken assumptions that might hover invisibly over words like “you’re brave” and “you have great faith.”

There is a part of me that gets a little squirmy with the implication that we have faith in greater measure just because we are leaving a job.

It’s true, faith is often required to leave a job.

But faith is also required to stay at a job.

“I’ve never attended a ‘steadfast obedience’ party at work. I’ve never been invited to a ‘staying put’ get-together. I’ve never heard of a ‘sticking around forever’ shindig. And I haven’t for one simple reason: We live in a corporate culture that celebrates people who leave and ignores those who stay.”

Jon Acuff, Quitter

We have to be careful not to point to outward actions as the only implication of an inward reality. You can’t always tell from an outside glance what is happening on the deep level of the soul. Over time, theses realities become clear. But be careful to elevate those who seem to be making noticeable decisions that have obvious impact over those who make small decisions in quiet corners with little noticeable impact at all.

All movement requires faith no matter how big or small it may look on the outside – whether you’re stepping into the unknown or stepping into the same thing as yesterday.

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John and I have have been praying for over two years about what might be next for us. For two years, we have quietly waited, listened, and stayed right where we are. During that time, no one said we were brave or had a lot of faith because there was no action to point to as proof. But those years of waiting and listening were necessary for the movement happening right now – the kind of movement people can see.

Maybe your movement is small right now, too. Maybe you watch as others around you seem to be making “big moves” and have “great faith.”

Take heart, friend. The size of your faith isn’t really the point; only the size of your God.

So yes, we are leaving a job. And over the next few days, as kind friends and curious bystanders send us off and say some of these lovely words, John and I will receive them with gratitude and beg God to filter words of praise for us through the person of Jesus who did only what he saw his Father do and said only what he heard his Father say.

May it be so of all of us no matter how big, small, or ordinary our next steps might be.