Thursday, March 15, 2012


2 a : the work in which a person is employed : occupation

Over the course of the last two days, my girls and I have encountered two people who truly enjoy their vocations.  The first was a park ranger at an area park.

As a family that has been doing the Fun Jar for nearly a decade, I didn't think there was a Metro Nashville park we hadn't visited.  I was wrong.  Beaman Park is lovely - it has a nature center, several trails to choose from and, best of all, a creek that runs along one trail and is perfect for playful children (and their mother).  When we arrived, we headed to the nature center and went straight to the outdoor map.  We had barely started looking when the ranger came out the door of the nature center and asked if we needed any help.  I explained that this was our first visit to his park and he went on to offer his suggestions for the best place to start, all the while patiently answering questions from K about star moss, orchids and owls.

A few things stood out to me as we finished talking to him and headed back to the van to drive to the trail he recommended:  1) he didn't have to come outside and talk to us when he saw us looking at the map.  He easily could have thought we would seek him out if we had questions.  2) he came out and willingly engaged with us because he was proud of his park and what it has to offer.  He likes his job and he likes telling people about it.

The second encounter was this morning at the zoo.  Our trip was a short one since we wanted to get back to our neighborhood in time to meet K for lunch.  So we prioritized.  First up:  elephants and giraffes.  As we headed that way, we passed the lorikeets.  B wanted to stop.  A wanted to wait for us outside.  ("The sign says those birds will bite when provoked.  I'll wait out here," offered my cautious firstborn.)  B and I entered the lorikeet area, where birds were zooming about, sipping nectar from other guests who purchased it, landing on heads, arms and playing what seemed to be a bird version of relay racing.  It was lovely, lively and fun.

As B and I stood there, a bird landed on the head of a little girl who was none too thrilled.  The zookeeper helped get it off and called the bird by name as she took him onto her arm.  Surprised, I asked whether all of the birds had names.  "Yep.  All 67 of them," she replied.  She went on to tell B and I that just like a teacher whose students are hard to tell apart at the beginning of the school year, the birds all look alike at first glance, but that their differences become more apparent as you get to know them.  We learned more in five minutes of talking to her than we could have learned in five hours walking around the zoo alone.

These two experiences had prepared me for an e-mail I received today from a friend who is thinking of starting her own business.  She wanted honest feedback, which I offered, but the thing that stood out the most strongly to me was that this business idea is so much more than a job, a way to make money.  It's an outpouring of who she is.  And I think that's one thing that makes work satisfying.  Makes it more than a job.  Makes it worth doing every day.

Another realization from seeing these three people go about their vocations with joy, confidence and willingness: I feel this way about my current occupation of homeschooling A and B.  Sure, there are days when I wish I didn't have to figure out one more way to explain why it's easier to reduce fractions by canceling before multiplying or make one more reminder about the need to stay focused on the task at hand.  But these are mere moments.  And in the scheme of things, they matter far less to me - they stand out in my mind less - than hearing B say she read more than the assigned number of pages because she was so interested in Nat Turner's account of the slave uprising or seeing A create a diorama of a scene from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

I am joyful, willing and confident about this role I am playing.  Like the park ranger and the zookeeper, I am happy to share my work with others and tell them about it.  Not to sway them to my way of thinking, but to share my delight.

I once had a family member try to convince me not to major in art history because it wasn't practical.  I was instead encouraged to choose a major that would lead to a vocation and perhaps see art history as my avocation.  I was uncharacteristically sure of my decision regarding my college major.  Fifteen years out, I would not change a thing.  I suppose art history has become my avocation rather than my vocation, but my decision to major in what I loved was a pursuit of joy.  And I think choosing a vocation should be more a function of pursuing joy than pursuing a paycheck.

A vocation is more than mere occupation.  In fact, the first definition of vocation listed on Merriam Webster is "a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call to the religious life."  A true vocation comes not just from your college major, your skill set or your choices in life - it comes from a seed God plants in each of us.  Which is why it's so very beautiful to encounter a park ranger or zookeeper who love their jobs.  We are, in a way, watching those divine seeds bloom.

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